Todd Kenreck: Bards can be the most inspiring and humorous parts of any D&D adventure, but there is one college, the Bard College of Whispers, that can be far more nefarious.
Mike Mearls: This is easy. It's the Dark Sun bard, right? It literally was like, "You have dark sun. You have this bard," who's very interesting because it's so distinct. I love it when settings take classes and finagle with them because then it lets us expand with the classes in D&D as a whole. Then it's fun, so yeah. The College of Whispers, it's the Dark Sun bard. It's the sinister bard. When he shows up, he seems like a very, "Oh, he's here to detain us and he's here to spread news." But no. He's actually here to completely screw you up and the fun thing to me about the College of Whispers' bard, it's a great example of what makes Dungeons & Dragons fun. This is a character type that it isn't about combat. It's about breaking the game narratively. It's about messing with the NPCs and messing with the environment, in terms of the social fabric of your campaign. That's what really appealed to me was this idea, just going in much harder on a character who can manipulate and mess with others, but doing it in a way that was satisfying. It's tricky.
It's very easy to just make it very how I think ... just too empty, where it's like, "Oh, you just get a big bonus to your charisma checks." A good dungeon master can roll with that, but when I see the College of Whispers design, it's to suggest things you can do to mess with NPCs that feels reliable. The College of Whispers is all about turning people against each others and isolating people. So my hope is that someone plays this type of bard and thinks, "Oh, what I want to do is infiltrate the bad guys' organization. I don't want to just go in the dungeon and fight everyone. I want to go there as a traveling bard and then perform and then start turning them against each other." Right? Because, see, that's when D&D's fun. To me, combat in D&D, I like having the miniatures. I like the big tactical thing, but to me, that's the least interesting expression of Dungeons & Dragons.
To me, the most interesting expression of Dungeons & Dragons is when it's just pure creativity and you're coming up with some wacky plan and it's all about the tension within in the party and the keeping the DM on their toes, in terms of like, "What is the party gonna try next? What does this mean for the campaign?" Part of the inspiration of this bard at college came from a campaign I was playing in a few years ago where it's pretty typical fantasy campaign. Then at one point, the cleric in the party had an audience with our patron, this noble, who was supporting us. So none of the other characters are there, except for my character, who was very suspicious of this patron. So I think I was invisible and in the room and the party's cleric murdered our patron and did it in a way that no one knew that he had done it. It just shocked everyone at the table. But it turned out the character had this secret agenda to kill this guy. It was awesome. It completely turned the campaign on its ear and I love those moments.
That's what I want the College of Whispers to do, is to mess with campaigns, to teach DMs, don't plan out too much and then roll with it. The players are gonna mess with your world. That's what makes the game fun is when things take a bizarre sideways turn. Now, if you're playing a College of Whispers bard, don't be a dick about it, right? Don't ruin the campaign so that no one else is having fun. But mess with it in a way that makes the game more exciting and interesting for everybody. That's what D&D's all about, right? As a dungeon master, my favorite sessions are ones where at the start of the session, I think the campaign is about this or that and at the end of the session, it has gone some direction I never could have predicted and I'm furiously thinking what's next week gonna be like? That's how I stay engaged with the campaign. I love it when the players mess with stuff.
So a College of Whispers is essentially the kind of bard I hope to have in my next campaign because that's the exact kind of character I like having messing with my campaign.
Todd Kenreck: Not for you to play, necessarily, but have someone in your campaign that's playing that.
Mike Mearls: I don't think anyone would let me play one because I'm already pretty notorious for being a pretty much a loose canon.
Todd Kenreck: Oh, you were very disruptive?
Mike Mearls: In a good way, I hope.
Todd Kenreck: You pointed me out and said I was being disruptive in your game.
Mike Mearls: No. You were fine. You were fine.
Todd Kenreck: I want to get some poison, not that I would've helped against the jester.
Mike Mearls: He was undead.
Todd Kenreck: The undead jester. God, that creeped me out to the point of almost having a nightmare.
Mike Mearls: Oh, nice.
Todd Kenreck: Undead jester seems like, normally that's not creepy, but something about it. I'm like, "Oh, this is not great." It's the razorblade.
Mike Mearls: Yeah. Those razor blades, the straight edge. Take a dagger. Give it D12 damage and call it a straight edge and suddenly, no one wants to mess with that.
Todd Kenreck: No, no. It's way more creepy.
Mike Mearls: That's Dungeons & Dragons in a nutshell. That is. When you have an effect on people, just using words and concepts. That's storytelling.
Todd Kenreck: I am very excited for the College of Whispers.
Mike Mearls: Cool.
Todd Kenreck: Typically, this is a bard who isn't in your face, strange or creepy. He's pretending to be a happy-go-lucky bard.
Mike Mearls: No, he's messed up. If he's creeping out people, he's messed up.
Todd Kenreck: You can find the Bard College of Whispers in Xanathar's Guide to Everything and you can purchase that book on dndbeyond.com by following the link this video description and also earn preorder bonuses as well. I'm Todd Kenreck. Thanks for watching.