As a bard connoisseur, one of my favorite things Pathfinder changed about bards in 2e is making the source of their powers actually be part of their class in the way of muses. No more vague “power of music I guess?” as an answer to how you made that goblin explode. A bard is inspired so greatly by their muse that they tap into some sort of power. Music is still there as an option, but so are immense versatility, great knowledge, and powerful combatants. All of these can inspire you independently as a magical source. Muses grant powers that mimic their nature; maestros augment their compositions, enigmas excel at Recall checks, and polymaths get a ton of versatility. It’s super flavorful and I love it.
Last year I wrote three articles for Wayfinder, the annual Pathfinder fanzine (you can download it for free here!). The first was based on a project I worked on for a while: the Tragedy Muse, a bard muse based on negative emotions. Rather than being inspired by art, knowledge, skill, or combat, this muse is meant to be specifically channeling power out of sorrow, fear, or loss. It can be about spreading such pain to others or protecting allies from it. Overall I was very happy with what I came up with for the concept.
Unfortunately, there’s a little thing that can get in the way of such designs being entered for publication: word count. Articles like these can only have so many words in them for the sake of space. A lot of times this leads to stuff needing to be cut. In this case, I had to remove a couple of feats and trim down others.
But I don’t have a word limit like that on this blog.
So, in this post, I present the Tragedy Muse in its complete form. I’ll go through each part here in full (the feats that give Focus Spells all just give the spell and a Focus Point if it isn’t a cantrip, so I skipped reprinting those). If you’d like a sheet with the complete rules, you can download the files on the side.
The tragedy muse on the whole is meant to have themes inflicting and relieving emotion effects, mental damage, debuffs, and persistent damage. I wanted the muse itself to give a bit of both the protective and offensive paths you can take. Phantom pain is a great starting spell, assaulting your enemies with mental damage and sickening them, while Succor Song acts as the protective side of things.
The original version of this feat only added emotion effects to the compositions, which I wasn’t ever really happy with. Emotion effects just aren’t common enough for this to be as good as other muse-granted feats. I wanted to add “pain” effects, but that’s not a thing anymore, and there isn’t a “doom” trait either. I considered “curse” effects but those are also sort of infrequent. I settled on giving resistance to mental damage to both inspire courage as a sort of compromise, and I also gave it to inspire defense because it didn’t really make sense for courage to be better at defending something than defense. I still think it’s a little lackluster, but it’s okay for what it is.
Wizards can take a feat at level 2 called Nonlethal Spell that lets them cast things like meteor swarm in a way that won’t actually kill anything. Rather than just make that feat for bard, I wanted to make it so you can spread it to your party. Negating a -2 penalty can be substantial, but how often you actually use nonlethal attacks is probably pretty low. Hopefully this feat might make it more appealing to do so. It’s worth noting it says allies “can” make their stuff nonlethal, so it isn’t forcing the team to use it.
I wanted the muse to have a way to counter fear effects. Unfortunately, the base feat you get kind of buries the importance of fear in the “emotion” trait. Succor’s Refrain is meant to remedy this. Now your inspire courage not only helps prevent fear but it can remove fear as well if you keep going with it. Champion gets a similar ability through aura of courage, but this is a much wider area, so I made it cost an action to balance out.
I realized partway through designing the feats that all the low level options were support. None of the damage or debuff things were lower than level 8, so I wanted to make a tame, fitting debuff. Essentially this is the same as a Demoralize check, but with a few perks. No skill training necessary, no Linguistic trait, and no one per day limit makes it handy in different ways, the downside being you can’t use this as freely for an action sink. Overall, I think it’s in a decent place, but this is definitely one of the feats I’m less confident about its balance.
I really wanted to focus on persistent damage more than I had a chance to in the Wayfinder article. This feat was supposed to be sort of like the persistent damage version of inspire competence, giving the bard a way to sort of cheat the system with Performance. Easing suffering through your art is a central concept for the muse, if you decide to go that route. At first I thought this ability was too good for a single action, but the more I thought about it, the more okay I was with it. It costs a focus point, so it’s not spammable, and in my experience you rarely have more than one or two people with persistent damage at a time, so it’s not that huge a deal.
There are two things I knew I wanted to do when I started thinking about this project. One, I wanted to do something with Dirge of Doom since it’s already a great feat for the concept. And two, I wanted to make a feat called Dirge of Gloom to do it. With Doom and Gloom (get it?) you frighten things and give them persistent mental damage. This capitalizes on the muse’s power to really tear into a creature’s psyche, assuming it has one.
What’s the opposite of comfort? Pain! What’s the opposite of removing persistent damage? More pain! Obviously this combos well with Dirge of Gloom, but I made it the same level so it wasn’t such an automatic progression. You can also completely skip Doom and Gloom but pick this up if you already have other persistent damage like a wounding dagger or alchemist fires.
So far the muse has a lot of fear effects and mental damage, but I wanted to be sure to include something less “dread” focused and more “sorrow” focused. The idea of a spell overwhelming an enemy with depression and apathy so it simply doesn’t act fit the bill. Originally I made a kind of composition version of this, which was… okay. I’m just a sucker for metamagic feats that add effects rather than simple adjustments to how it’s cast, so I tweaked it a little and came up with this version.
This was one of my favorite spells in 1e. Short and wonderful. The effect is much more potent in 2e though, what with the way crits work. I made sure to not require the muse for this feat. It wasn’t the most specifically on brand thing anyway, and this way any bard can take it.
This focus spell is sort of meant to be a merging of both the offensive and defensive themes of the muse. You’re protecting your allies by making your enemies agonize over their hostility. Combined with stun or slow effects and you can completely shut down a target for a bit. It’s pretty high level and might not even work, so I made sure it worked at least slightly on a successful save as well. All things said, I kind of wish I could make this a just a little stronger maybe, but I’m not sure exactly how I would do that.
I don’t really like feats that require a feat from the previous level-set, but this didn’t feel big enough to be any higher. The warrior’s regret spell does this in a way with a lot more damage but much easier to get rid of. Plus this is an automatic effect tacked on to a different ability. In a weird way this is more persistent damage, kinda?
The ability to make debuffs ‘contagious’ is something I thought of adding right at the beginning of the process, but boy is it hard to put into the proper words. Luckily, I can explain it in greater detail here. Basically, you make all debuffs in the area sort of… echo. The spell kind of copy-pastes the afflictions to all of your enemies in the area. Anything fitting the theme of a tragedy debuff gets spread throughout the area of effect. The sources can be friend or foe, but it only spreads to your enemies. You take all the applicable debuffs any creature in the area has, find the highest value of each, and now all enemies have each of those debuffs at that highest value. Hopefully that idea comes across easily enough. I thought about naming it something cheeky like “Misery Loves Company” but I went with what I felt was more appropriately weighty for a top level ability.
One last thing: I wanted to write a level 20 feat that would act sort of like an area-breath of life-type spell, bringing allies that died in the last round or two back to like, undoing the tragedy of heroes falling in battle… but turns out they made something like that already. The Song of the Fallen feat, written in one of the APs, accomplishes this close enough to what I would have done that I just decided to not bother. And honestly, Empathic Reverberation is a big enough, cool enough effect to be a “capstone” as it is, so really it’s fine the way it is.
And that’s it! My homebrew bard muse, expanded out a bit from its original publication in Wayfinder. As with every other personal creation of mine that I post on this blog, please feel free to incorporate this material in your own games and share it with anyone you think might be interested. Please just refer people back to this blog so they can see the source material, and let me know in the comments what you think about it all!
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