Today we bring you a write up by /u/jhsharp2018. They had some ideas around the Bard/Monk that they felt we didn't touch on. Rather than let all this great info go to waste we had him write it up for you!
Valor - Lore - Sword - Glamour - Whispers - UA- Eloquence
Open Hand - Shadow - Elements - Drunken Master - Kensei - Sun Soul - UA - Astral Self
First let’s look at the hobgolblin’s Iron Shadows, masters of infiltration and a secret police of sorts. Whispers/Shadow would fit nice here. He travels as an agent of a powerful warlord procuring magic for the advancement of the hobgoblin clan. Whispers/Kensei would also work as more of a weapons specialist. The Dagashi from David Eddings’ novels fit perfectly with this trope. They even have a special throwing blade/boomerang for flavor. Tieflings or half elves would fit well here and you could be an agent of a thieve's guild or a Zhent-like organization, maybe a double agent against the Harpers. A duergar could be a good race with their added stealth and abilities. Drow agents for Bregan D'aerthe that could infiltrate cities in the North to open new markets would also fit this combination. Shadar-kai would fit here well too as they search out for some trinket the Raven Queen desires or against the Nagpa’s machinations.
Glamour is often overlooked but it's a nice fit for the Eladrin race in MToF and it would pair well with Kensei, Open Hand, or Sun Soul. Kensei would be some sort of traveling sword disciple banished from the Summer Court. Open Hand is a hermit aesthetic who eschews weapons. Sun Soul would be some sort of Fey-dark warrior that follows the Great Hunt when it goes after the fomorians and evil firbolg. Glamour and Kensei would be good as some sort of drow order dedicated to the overthrow of the matron mothers or as heralds to other races in the Underdark.
Valor gives us the warrior poets of old. Your Bravehearts and other inspirational heroes. How can you lead the resistance unless you travel into the mountains to find the mad hermit that fights with the very elements or who’s sword moves like a snake? Valor and Radiant Soul? You must be the vanguard of a Holy Order dedicated to hunting down and destroying undead. Paladins wait for you outside of town to tell them where the rumors say the monsters are. Like the Spanish Inquisition but for undead, and well maybe witches too. You want to free an oppressed land or subvert the mad duke’s garrison. Live in a nation where arcane magic is illegal or highly controlled? Now you're pretty good witch-hunter. Your skill with magic and ability to drink immense quantities of ale and fight better for it make you legendary in local taverns. Astral Self monks have focused their valor to embody a spirit warrior that always has their back. If you came from some sort of rough borderlands or you lost your entire unit during some far off war and then went to a monastery and contemplated your next step in life you may be a Bard/Monk.
Lore is a good one for the curious explorer. You have a sage or archaeologist background and seek the lost bits of magic and information from a previous age. As you move through the way of the elements your appearance begins to change perhaps turning you from human to genasi.
The Avatar, the Last Airbender is the best example of how cool WoE could have been. It needs a rework and there are a bunch of cool homebrews you can find online. Perhaps you are a dwarven seeker of ancient blacksmithing secrets. Crafting exceptional items with your magic and making your blades extensions of you when you fight as a Kensei or Open Hand monk. With the dual wield feat twin battle axes or hand axes you are a terror in combat.
Lore is also the path of a jedi, you could use UA Mystic instead of bard to get it perfect but if your DM doesn’t allow that you could pull off a jedi with Lore/Kensei or Sun Soul. Make a really short githzerai and level him up and you have Yoda from Limbo. You got left behind on the material plane and now seek an outpost or your hated enemies the githyaki or illithids.
Lore/Shadow would be some sort of ninja mystic covered in tattoos that stalks the night taking life or property. The Malazan books are full of magical assassins that step through the shadows and can fight with the best of them. Lore bards make great agents of any kind of organization. The Harpers seem to be mostly composed of bards, but a jack-of-all-trades is useful anywhere and to everyone. Alignment shifts can be played out as they become more selfish or focused on their desires. When is enough knowledge, enough? Never. So the bard keeps pushing the party forward to get what he seeks.
As a short side note one of the unspoken rules I like to use is I make the character with the highest charisma the “leader” of the group...intentionally ask them as the DM what’s the party going to do? What’s the plan? The more intelligent characters like the wizards usually hate this but the high charisma is that sense of presence that translates into leadership or people just looking to you for answers. Make them earn that high charisma...and if you have warlocks and paladins in the same party it becomes an ego contest. I always urge players to play their character and see what happens. Ignoring what the low charisma character says IS role playing because barbarians are clueless anyway.
The cool thing about the multiclass thing you guys are doing is that it hardly ever translates to someone you know playing it. NPCs are where it's at. I need an NPC that can do XYZ so now you reverse engineer your multiclass from the type of party helper or villain to put in the party’s path. I start with the hag who is slowly cursing and killing a whole village, but she once captured a human monk and twisted his mind with magic that translated into a Glamour bard abilities. When he wears her necklace made from finger bones he gains the abilities and powers of a 5th level Glamour bard. He is twisted by its evil magic and his body is misshapen, he fights like a drunken master because of his hunched back and club foot. Bobbing and weaving in a most unnatural way. You want to really fuck with a party? make a vampire a 6/6 sword bard/kensei and call him Vampire Hunter D all the spells come from the face hand and whatnot.
Sword bard is really cool. You’re a performer with weapons. So knives, hatchets, blades of all kinds. Of course you could start as circus folk, but maybe the performance aspect comes from some religious ceremony of your people. Human sacrifice morality play? Or,and I LOVE this, you are a traveling executioner. Check out the book “The Faithful Executioner” )you are a master with that blade and the common folk expect you to put on a good show and the gentry expects you not to fuck it up. One day you just say the hell with it...now the king’s men are after you and you find yourself at a monastery of the ShaoLin studying the five animals, when you reach 3rd level you attain your Astral Self and the Ghost Crane takes shape when you expend ki and starts wrecking shit. But you still got that sword you can carve flesh with if the ki runs out.
The two musical assassins from Kung Fu Hustle are a perfect blend of martial arts and musical magic. Make the instrument the arcane focus and a weapon and things could get interesting. The source of a bard’s magic can be something totally innocuous like a music box or two metal fighting sticks they bang together. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has the monk/hype man thing down. Maybe the sword you carry gives you your bard levels because it is sentient and famous? You master your kung fu and then take it on the road to do demonstrations and spread the word that your kung fu is the best there is. Maybe you have some other crazy martial arts weapon, or maybe you just use a stick. You could give a monk proficiency in improvised weapons to do the same damage as their unarmed strikes. Now you can go into an orc cave and Jackie Chan them with their own furniture.
An Eloquence bard with a Kensei monk would be a badass traveling lawyer. The executioner trope would work here too. I’m pretty sure this is what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was, but with a battle ax.