Alternate Title: "Ragar's preparing to DM and has 4th Edition D&D on the brain"
The Bard: Who needs the healing power of the gods when you've got folk music?
Speaking of “different”, let’s switch gears and talk about the bard. There are bards in other MMOs (e.g. EverQuest, Rift, Forsaken World, Lord of the Rings Online), so it’s been tried before. It’s even an available class in Dungeons and Dragons Online, though that one’s based on 3rd Edition D&D rules. The problem with those bard iterations is that applying those models to the Neverwinter combat system doesn’t quite work. In each of those other games, the bard is relegated to a support role – singing songs to bolster his allies and debuff his foes. They could also do some healing and do some damage, but they were never quite as good as someone who specialized in that role. Instead I’d like to see the bard fill an obvious role rather than the “well if we don’t have a third good DPS, we’ll bring the buffbot” slot. In 4th Edition D&D the bard is considered a Leader class, the closest thing that ruleset has to a true healing class, so let’s build this bard to be a healer.
If he’s going to be a healer bard, we should give him a caster-type weapon instead of making him a melee bard: that leaves wands, songblades and musical instruments. Since wands should really be a signature weapon for a wizard-type caster and there’re already plenty of other bladed weapon wielders in this MMO, we’ll say he uses musical instruments and ignore that whole “needs to be +1 or higher to use as an implement” bit from the book. Now the question is how to make this guy different from our current healer class, the Devoted Cleric.
From what I’ve read about the current cleric model (didn't get the chance to try this class in the first two weekends), their healing abilities are all over the board: AoEs that heal friends and burn foes, debuff spells that heal allies that attack your target, a targeted heal/HoT, etc. Their class feature even allows them to supercharge those powers, but the timing has to be controlled since you can only boost for so long without recharging. Cool feature for a healer with a divine power source, but it doesn't really fit an arcane musician class like the bard.
Looking back at other interpretations of the bard class, there are two models that really stood out: the "song twisting" style of EverQuest and Rift where much of the skill to the class came from keeping multiple buff/debuff/healing/DPS songs rolling at the same time, and the tiered song system of Forsaken World and LotRO's original Minstrel model where you linked abilities in a combo by starting with first-tier abilities and progressing to a crescendo with some burst heal/attack. Both of these systems have their perks and they're certainly different than any of the other Neverwinter classes, but it's that limited action set model that makes fitting either of these systems difficult. I do have an idea though and it actually comes from another LotRO class, the Warden.
The LotRO Warden is built around Gambits: you have these other base abilities and depending on the order in which you use those abilities, your Gambit attack would change. My thought for a Neverwinter bard would take this and apply it to the bard's At-Will powers and his class special button. Depending on how you chain your left and right clicks in combat, you could get a different special move. Use your basic attack song three times in a row and it becomes a burst attack power chord. Do the same thing with a healing ability and now it creates a zone with a HoT effect. Switch between the two and now it's a party DPS buff or an AoE cleanse effect. When you factor in the other At-Will power options you would unlock as you level up, the options can get fairly expansive. Even as someone who only does dungeon healing with friends, you could have an At-Will set for AoE damage, one for burst damage tank healing, etc.