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If there is one constant when it comes to bards, it’s that they like to talk. Most think it’s because they love the sound of their voice. And, while they do, they use words because they have found power in them. Much like the Wizards consult their books and the Warlock pleads to the Patron, the Bard has found that words whether spoken or written hold a bit of power all their own.
“Bards say that the multiverse was spoken into existence, that the words of the gods gave it shape, and that echoes of these primordial Words of Creation still resound throughout the cosmos” PHB p. 51
Even the ancient Hebrews of our world believe that their God Jehovah spoke everything into being. So it is not far fetched to believe there is power in words. With a word, one can uplift, enlighten, enrapture and encourage. But, on the other hand, words can be used to destroy, deceive and bring low the mighty. Even those without power must be careful what they say. Words have meaning. Words have consequences. Words have power.
But some Bards have found power not in the inspiration, but in the cutting words of sharp whit. Such are the students of the prestigious magic school of Strixhaven who call the college of Silverquill their alma mater.
As with times past, I find much inspiration for my D&D sessions from the cards and lore (Vorthos) of Magic the Gathering. So it is no surprise that the new set for MTG coming out in the next two weeks, Strixhaven, would inspire me to create content for future games. Touted the ‘School of Mages’, Strixhaven is unfolding five colleges of the most unique styles of magic I’ve seen in a while. And, among them, the College of Silverquill demands to be noticed.
Silverquill is like the magical debate squad; ready to duel at any moment. Defending their honor with ‘Sharp Style, Sharper Wit’, they use words to drive their point home and subdue their enemy. Proudly, they call their part of the school ‘the college of eloquence’ for they pride themselves in their way with all words. But it goes much farther than mere oratory. There is, quite obviously, magic in words. And they make it their business to draw this power out. But, to really understand them, we need to look a the two opposing powers that created, not only their school, but the very Elder Dragon that originated this style of magic.
For those who don’t know Magic the Gathering, the powers of all planes come from five forms of mana represented by the five colors of the MTG color wheel; White, Blue, Black, Red and Green. I don’t have time to discuss all of the colors and the base of their powers right now. Let’s just stay with the two colors of Silverquill; black and white.
Because black and white are from such differing philosophies and opposing frameworks, they are called ‘enemy colors‘. Where Magic the Gathering excels rests in their ability to make the ‘mana base’ of each plane unique. On the plane of Arcavios where the school of Strixhaven resides, these enemy colors explode into a natural frenzy of power; a torrent of each of these five opposing colors. The ‘SNARLS‘, as these ‘torrents’ are called, are the focal point of these warring building blocks of magic. And the collision of the powers of light and shadow, black and white are what makes Silverquill so special.
You see, white is the color of order and unity; the essence of the collective. And black is the color of individual ambition. These opposing ideas clash in a beautiful blend of unity and personal best. Each student attempts to get their best barbs in; all the while pushing the team to victory.
How does this translate to D&D? I dropped an article months ago about Bards being more than just a song and dance. And I believe I touched upon something that Silverquill helps flesh out. As I began with, Bards are mages of the word; whether spoken or written. And these students of both the light and darkness, I believe, have perfected this in part.
Now, I can hear some of the MTG diehards shouting that it’s a school of ‘MAGES’. How do Bards fit in?
Well, seeing as there are no Bard creature types in Magic the Gathering, you won’t find them there. But, no matter, a great deal of what they’ve done with Silverquill just oozes Bard. But there is plenty of room for many other classes of D&D to be represented by this college. Just as the school of Strixhaven has, not only Wizards, but Druids, Warlocks and Clerics, each school can be flavored to enhance many of the magic classes.
What follows is simply my musings. You may take what works for you and leave what doesn’t. Also you may obviously do what you want with Silverquill. Please share you ideas in the comments below or hit us up on social media.
CONJURERS OF THE LIVING WORD
Wizards of the Coast, the creators of MTG content, dropped a load of information in their Planeswalker’s Guide to Strixhaven. Although I disagreed with them splitting the white and black in that article, there were some amazing types of ‘Mages’ that can spur a myriad of ideas.
First up, Inkwrights, Quillmancers and Glyphweavers are titles of those that ‘conjure energizing verses that manifest as living ink’. Now, although conjuring is one of the D&D schools of magic and brings thoughts of sorcerers and wizards, I still think this is a good subclass for a bard. They have found the power in the written word to an extent that it lives and bends to their will.
As an Inkwright, possibly they could bring to life what is in a book or scroll. For example, you pick up a book about bears and conjure one from its pages. I think you could take cues from the many conjuration spells; using them as a guide and framework. Using the conjure animals to create the inky bear. Or even conjure an INK ELEMENTAL the same way you would a water or fire elemental. This gives you a ton of possibilities. Conjuration spells include many teleportation-like spells; misty step, teleportation circle and dimension door, for example. You simply flavor them with shadow and ink. But conjuration does SO much more. Destructive spells like Incendiary Cloud suddenly becomes an Ink Storm. And, one of my favorites, Spirit Guardians, brings an army of inky creatures; especially the college mascots: INKLINGS.
“Think of an insult so vicious, so vulgar, that you hesitate to speak it aloud. The strongest, most aggressive inklings are born from such scorn.”
Embrose, Silverquill dean
Inklings could be used as familiars (although Bards don’t usually have them) maybe it would be better for a wizard INKWRIGHT. But a Bard could deal in them just as well, I think; keeping one as a pet and conjuring them as a swarm or large being. Keep in mind that Inklings gravitate around creatures of utter disdain for those around them and the bitter sarcasm that pours from their lips. They’re not usually conjured by a nice person.
Quillmancers are more versed in creating their own prose and, therefore, original creations. Conjuration spells used by these spellcasters need no source, just ink and scroll or anything else to write on. If you go wizard with the Quillmancer, the quill can be their spell focus. Use the 5E spells reimagined as rising from ink and shadow.
Glyphweavers deal in symbols of power. Drawn from the ancient arts, your character may find the power of their spells emanating from magically drawn images rather than the spoken or written word. You may find that, no matter what class you use for this character, they will deal heavily in Abjuration. I see glyphs like the spell Glyph of Warding emanating protective magic. As a strong support character, the Bard would be most helpful protecting the team. You may try to flavor the Rune Knight as a Glyphweaver Fighter.
Inkcasters, duskmages and shadewings are just darker versions of the above; conjuring “inky voids of shadow magic, sometimes crafting them into living flying creatures called inklings or weapons made of pure darkness”. They deal with the same ideas listed above about Conjuring. You may dip into the vast history of D&D and Shadow Magic from all editions to get ideas for some new spells.
BATTLE HYMN OF THE BARD
Warsingers. Silver Tongues and Battle Poets use the power of ‘vocal performance to stir the hearts and energize the air around them’. This is the most Bard-like of all the groups of Silverquill. Although more military than most bards, these three specialize in stoking the fires of war. They rally the troops and spur them onto victory. What differs is how they approach this.
Warsingers use their singing voice, obviously. A Bard of song will fit in nicely here; raising a battle hymn to inspire the team. Just as easily, a strong song of a past victory could strike fear in the hearts of the enemy.
Silver Tongues know exactly the right thing to say. Words just flow naturally in the heat of battle and even otherwise. Use of your bardic inspiration is just one example. Embodying a disheartened comrade with the right word at the right time is key to many victories.
And Battle Poets pull from the annuls of the grand poets that expound upon the victories of past armies over the enemy.
These three fit in almost the same mold of any bardic spell or subclass flavor. They veer off into their own direction in relation to the vehicle of their delivery. Singing a well known heroic song, Speaking words of faith to help your team or pulling from the more fancy medium of the poetic orators; they all do the same thing. It’s simply a question what flavor you’re looking for.
BLACK AND WHITE:
COMPLIMENTS, SECRETS REVEALED OR CUTTING ANALYSIS
There are several of these that both overlap and contradict. Vainglories and Honormancers ‘wield the power of a perfectly crafted compliment to enhance a persons most splendid attribute’. Scornmages and Luminancers ‘bring light to bear on shameful situations and hold corrupt institutions to account’. Bantermages, shadelocks, witstingers, and Daunters ‘use their incisive observations to pierce the confidence of their rivals’.
These, to me, are all shades of the same thing. Bards, as stated before, being spellcasters of the word, come about their craft quite differently. So, as with the others, there may be no need for a new subclass for each, just a reflavoring of the old. The main driver of your character isn’t that tried and true subclass anyway. It’s what YOU do with it.
Vainglories and Honormancers deal in personal observations of a subject that have been fine tuned to bring out the best in them. Vainglories may develop this as an uneducated piece of random compliments. Doesn’t have to be true as long as they believe it, right? Honormancers will be intelligent, very wise observers of people and know exactly what to say about what the person actually has (whether in certain aptitudes or past glories) to bring them to that height again.
Scornmages and Luminancers are detectives of sorts. They observe and investigate an individuals or an institutions framework and are apt at finding the cracks in the damn. Scornmages know the dirty little secrets that you’ve been hiding and have no problem using them as a weapon. Luminancers may be a bit more diplomatic about it, but they will not stand for immoral goings on or actions by said individual or institution that goes against their core beliefs.
And Bantermages, shadelocks, witstingers, and Daunters find the weak points of their opponent and use it against them to wear down their defenses. You don’t have to overcome an enemy physically, if they are beaten mentally. Much like the Scornmages but with a cruel bent. With them, the phrase ‘cutting words’ take a whole new meaning. Once these analytic prodigies latch on to a weakness, they lash out with expert precision, cutting their opponent down to size. I would think this could be a geed flavor for a bard/rogue combo. Combining the killing precision of the master assassin with the analytical magic of the shadows. You could possibly flavor an arcane trickster subclass for the Rogue.
That’s just a few ideas for new D&D characters based on Silverquill. As I study this more, If I find any of this I think is Subclass worthy, I’ll work it up. Which of these do you think deserves to be worked into a subclass? What are your thoughts on flavor and style? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on our social media.