With Dragon magazine content growing more and more scarce in the last months, I don’t get much in the way of great articles to review. Thankfully, this month has brought us a small gem, in the form of a class article for melee bards called Bards of Wolfstone. Signed (like so much DDI material) by Robert Schwalb, the article is short (four new powers, three feats, and a couple pages of backstory), but makes up for it with a combination of polished mechanics and imaginative ideas.
Rules-wise, this article is remarkable in its lack of filler items. Granted, it would seem like this is an easy accomplishment when you are only delivering a handful of feats and powers, but I had grown accustomed to rates of 50% or higher subpar or unplayable items, regardless of article size. Here, there is only one skill-centric feat I’d be inclined to dismiss, and even that one provides enough utility so as to be useful in games where Intimidate checks are relevant.
We get four new encounter attacks for melee, weapon-using bards, distributed across all tiers. They all share the peculiarity of counting as both primal and arcane attacks (since an affinity for primal magic is the defining characteristic of the Wolfstone Bards referenced in the title), but are otherwise conventional bard powers. The mere fact that they are playable melee weapon attacks is good enough news for many bard players, as the range of options for melee builds of the class was pretty slim. Mechanically, these powers are based on the creation of zones that last for a turn, boosting you and your allies or punishing enemies that end their turns there. The fact that these zones work regardless of the attacks hit or not makes the powers particularly attractive.
Rounding up the article are three new feats available to bards of any build. My favourite is Battle Cadence, which boosts the sliding effect of your Majestic Word while providing a small damage bonus. Wild Virtue is also rather nice, as it grants free movement when your bardic virtue is triggered. Finally, Words of Wrath is the least impressive of the three, as it affects intimidate checks - but, that said, it has a strong effect if you do use that skill.
As for the article flavor, it has a clearly nordic inspiration, with bards leading barbaric tribes against frost giants and similar creatures on frozen regions. Interestingly, it follows up on a previous Dragon article (the also excellent Humans of the Wild, from Dragon 386) which introduced the community of Wolfstone. This is a rare case of continuity between Dragon issues, and I’d like to see more like it. There is even some mechanical continuity at work here, as the article cites yet another previous source (Class Acts: Bard. in Dragon 376) as including an ideal paragon path for this particular breed of bards. Of course, the fact that Mr. Schwalb is the author behind all these articles doesn’t hurt, and less prolific writers would have a harder time trying to pull this off.