I’m thinking back to my first games of 3.0 again. It was right before Fellowship of the Ring came out in the theaters. So, I proposed an all-halfling game. The party ended up being the Halfling Ranger (the sheriff), the Halfling Rogue (just brought back in chains from being caught stealing in the city, handed to his cousin the sheriff by the city guard), a high falutin’ Halfling Bard from the Silver Cities and a Half-Orc Fighter who watched over the party like a warrior-mother with a bastard sword should.
In that part of the world, dragons ruled the empires…color of the dragon having no bearing on alignment…blah blah blah.
As the DM, I fell in love with the Bardic Lore ability. It allowed me to deliver back-story for the world all over the place and sometimes, on a good roll, it forced me to come up with shit that I had never considered, handing the players the True Name of the Hag Queen or the secret entrance to the Ogre King’s fortress.
One night the Bard’s player could not show up and the players went forth into the hills infested by monsters, ruled by an Ogre King. “What is in the hills?” the Rogue asked.
“Do you have a lore skill?”
“You have no idea.”
“Could we find a library and do some research?”
“The nearest library is a few days travel away and it isn’t much, a local human duke with a few books and a few dozen old scrolls.”
I suddenly felt like a dick-move Dungeon Master.
But to hand them information felt like doing a disservice to the Bard’s ability. If they have access to the ability when the character isn’t even around, what is the point? The Bard felt mechanically shafted in a bunch of ways and to toss out his Bardic Lore when he hadn’t even rolled felt like it whittled the Character Class away to almost nothing. They went into the hills and dealt with the problems there without the benefit of information, without their precious Bardic Lore.
I had a technique problem, though. Failing a Bardic Lore roll had no consequences as I ran it back in the day. It should have. Going into a dragon-emperor’s lair or a drow nest or a city ruled by necromancers with bad info should make the game messy and make the characters’ lives a glorious mess in some meaningful way. I’m looking at failed circles rolls in Burning Wheel, failed rolls in Mouse Guard and failed rolls in Apocalypse World as my inspirations here.