# [RPG] What counts as a spellcasting focus for bards

barddnd-5espellcastingspellcasting-focus

Inspired by this question: Can a multi-class spellcaster have one thing be two different focuses?

The PHB, on p54 says:

Spellcasting focus

You can use a musical instrument (found in chapter 5) as a spellcasting focus for your bard spells.

And yet on p53, the PHB in the introductory description of bards, gives examples of three bards:

Bard #1:

Humming as she traces her fingers over an ancient monument in a long-forgotten ruin, a half-elf in rugged leathers finds knowledge springing into her mind, conjured forth by the magic of her song—knowledge of the people who constructed the monument and the mythic saga it depicts.

Bard #2:

A stern human warrior bangs his sword rhythmically against his scale mail, setting the tempo for his war chant and exhorting his companions to bravery and heroism. The magic of his song fortifies and emboldens them.

Bard #3:

Laughing as she tunes her cittern, a gnome weaves her subtle magic over the assembled nobles, ensuring that her companions’ words will be well received.

In each example, the implication is that the bard is casting a spell, and the implication is that the action of the bard is central to the magic, and at least to my reading, that the voice, sword/mail, and instrument are spellcasting foci. Maybe it is meaningless fluff, or maybe the implication is that those are all spellcasting foci.

There are two parts to my question:

• Is it reasonable to assume that RAW or at least RAI that the implication is that in the case of bards, they can use 1) their voice, 2) an improvised musical instrument, or 3) a bought musical instrument?

• And if such an assumption isn't RAW/RAI, what are the implications to allowing it as a house rule?

I see these examples (not just for the bard, but for all classes) as very good ways of showing how those classes exist in the world, what their roles are, and how they fit into the game from a narrative perspective.

That being said, the examples need not represent spellcasting at all. Not all spellcasting requires material components or a focus of some sort. In the examples provided, I can just as easily see those as representations of the bard's class features rather than the bard casting spells. I also don't know that the examples need to exactly match what can be done in game, for the same reason -- they're narrative examples, not gameplay examples. They might also be incomplete examples.

The first example is most likely a demonstration of the bard casting Legend Lore, which has V, S, and M components. The M components for this spell have a specific cost (250gp worth of incense and 4 ivory strips worth at least 50gp each), which means a bardic focus can't be used to cast it, so in this case, if she is casting Legend Lore (and it sounds like it, from the narrative description) there is no bardic focus.

The second and third examples seem to be narrative descriptions of various uses of the bardic class feature Bardic Inspiration which also doesn't require any sort of focus or musical instrument.

Is it reasonable to assume that RAW or at least RAI that the implication is that in the case of bards, they can use 1) their voice, 2) an improvised musical instrument, or 3) a bought musical instrument?

As far as RAW is concerned, you have one option: a musical instrument. I understand this is vague. The description in Chapter 5, Equipment (5e SRD) says:

Musical Instrument. Several of the most common types of musical instruments are shown on the table as examples. If you have proficiency with a given musical instrument, you can add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to play music with the instrument. A bard can use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus. Each type of musical instrument requires a separate proficiency.

The table in question is the Tools table, relevant section reproduced below:

\begin{array}{r|ccc} \text{Musical Instrument} & \text{Cost(gp)} & \text{Weight(lbs)}\\ \hline \text{Bagpipes} & 30 & 6 \\ \text{Drum} & 6 & 3 \\ \text{Dulcimer} & 25 & 10 \\ \text{Flute} & 2 & 1 \\ \text{Lute} & 35 & 2 \\ \text{Lyre} & 30 & 2 \\ \text{Horn} & 3 & 2 \\ \text{Panflute} & 12 & 2 \\ \text{Shawm} & 2 & 1 \\ \text{Viol} & 30 & 1 \\ \end{array}

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, of course, and your bard could use any musical instrument that exists in your world. However, the fact that playing a musical instrument has a specific entry in the rules says to me it's more than just banging on something and making noise. The fact the they require proficiency says to me that not just anyone can bang on a drum to make music. I also take it to mean that the bard requires proficiency in the instrument in order to use it as a bardic focus. This is not explicit but it stands to reason, since you need proficiency to 'use' a musical instrument, and a bard must use the instrument as a bardic focus -- this is the RAI part. I have a hard time believing that any designer intended to allow a bard to use a lute as a focus without being able to actually play the lute.

Taking all of this into consideration, I think it would be a stretch to allow a bard to bang on his armor, hum a few bars, or use some other type of improvised musical instrument, and without proficiency, use that as his bardic spellcasting focus.

1. Voice -- No. And even if so, you'd have a hard time saying your verbal components if you're also humming out a few bars as your arcane focus.

2. Improvised instrument -- No. You don't have proficiency in "banging on your armor."

3. A purchased instrument -- Yes. No problem there; it's in the rules.

And if such an assumption isn't RAW/RAI, what are the implications to allowing it as a house rule?

Not too much of a problem here. It's a cool narrative device. Spellcasting foci aren't required ("you can use a [thing] as a spellcasting focus" in every mention of foci in the class rules). It doesn't really affect the bard's ability to cast his spells whether he has a focus or not -- there's always the option of a component pouch -- and not all spells require foci. All in all if you want to allow it there's no real problem; in the end it doesn't make much of a difference.