I had a crazy idea last night for an alternative bard concept and I don't know how well it would work mechanically or thematically in actual play. Basically the idea is a bard but instead of musical instruments, they have gaming sets. Instead of three musical instrument tool proficiencies, they get three gaming set tool proficiencies. Instead of getting an instrument in equipment pack, they get a free gaming set. Instead of using a musical instrument as an arcane focus, they can use a gaming set. Things like Song of Rest and Countercharm and Bardic Inspiration and other things using words or music can still use words or some use of the gaming sets (playing games to Song of Rest instead of playing a song, telling your buddy that he's got a high card for Inspiration, etc).
Might sound crazy but the idea I'm picturing is the gambler, card player, stage magician, (tarot) card reader, or the like. (Think Setzer from FF6 or Gambit from the X-Men) They are highly skilled in their games of chance and skill. They might carry around a deck of cards and a pouch of chess pieces and a bunch of dice and coins and use them in their magic spells. Present low cards for psychic spell attacks and high cards for party buffs. Face cards can be presented for specific spells like charms and suggestions. Or holding up a chess pawn to cast dominate spells. Dice and coins could work well too, shaking them and rolling them (and maybe being a little too meta by having the bard "roll for damage"). Take it one step further and maybe the visual features of spells take the forms of gaming items such as spectral cards or giant chess pieces or rolling dice. Maybe really REALLY leaning into the concept would be using sharp cards as weapons but that could get weird having your casting deck and your fighting deck...unless magic? A slightly magical gaming set might be helpful so you don't damage your precious games.
I don't think a gaming set bard would be mutually exclusive with any of the bard colleges...at least not any more than instrument bards would be.
Thoughts? Edits? Anything needed to make this work?
The Tarot card bard, or even a standard playing card deck, is a concept I've seen come up on more than one occasion...it works with a bard who likes to captivate people through either fortune-telling or high-stakes playing, and gives them something to do at your local tavern that isn't related to music. in combat, the bard could just be shuffling these cards (or they're floating around them), and he's randomly drawing them to bestow a magical effect.
It also gives you an excuse to say "You've activated my trap card" for a token cheesy moment...maybe for a Lore Bard's "Cutting Words".
I love this concept and got inspired so I mocked it up. It's just the first ideas that came to me, so it might not particularly balanced or good, but I liked the idea of a gaming set bard being a master tactician and manipulator. I would have liked to incorporate decks of cards, flipping coins or dice in there more but you can flavourfully reskin anything pretty easily. It also does technically give you an eighth level spell one level before you should be able to cast it, but oh well. I also liked the idea of this bard needing time to prepare, so they aren't as good in unexpected encounters. Let me know what you all think!
College of Games
At 3rd level, when you choose this college, you gain proficiency in three types of gaming set of your choice. You can use a chosen gaming set, a piece from a set, a deck of cards or a type of dice as your arcane focus by attuning to the chosen item over a long rest, as long as you are proficient with it. If you play a game on any of these gaming sets with an opponent, you both make competing intelligence checks. If you win, the loser is charmed by you for the next minute. While playing the game, sleight of hand checks can be made against your opponent with advantage, and you have advantage on any persuasion, deception or insight checks you make against the opponent.
At 3rd level, you can spend ten minutes planning a strategy using your gaming sets. You and up to eight creatures who spend the full ten minutes with you gain the benefits of the strategy session.
For the next hour, you can use your reaction to do one of the following a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier:
Give one of the chosen creatures an extra ten feet of movement on their turn.
Attacks of Opportunity are made with disadvantage against one of the chosen creatures until your next turn.
One of the chosen creatures gains advantage on a saving throw of your choice.
Game of Chance
At 6th level, whenever a creature attacks another creature within 30 feet of you and you can see both creatures, you can use your reaction to place a wager on whether or not the attack will hit. If you guess correctly, you regain a use of your bardic inspiration. You can use this ability a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of one).
At 14th level, as an action on your turn you can weave powerful magic through the pieces of your gaming set and bond one piece to a creature. You cast the Dominate Monster spell on that creature provided it's in sight and within range, except the target does not gain advantage on the save if you are fighting it and you can have it immediately move up to its movement towards you. You do not need to concentrate on this spell, but if you use your action to do anything other than control the target with the gaming set the spell ends. The spell also ends if your gaming set is destroyed.