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Dark Harpist

by G Scarbi

Hallo guys! ...I'm sorry for my dragon's "present", but I've forgotten my "Huge-shovel-with-the-ultimate-disintegration-chamber-full-of-black-pudding" spell, so... no-one's going to leave anyway, isn't it?

...In my crystal ball I've found a new kit (or class if you translate it in OD&D), which I think is interesting... I'd like your opinion, before leaving for that boring meeting with my old Academy comrades - You know how that work, isn't it? ...All those Monster Summoning and Meteor Swarms for instant hamburgers...with that bothersome fellow who's always turned into a frog notwithstanding he's a 18th level Illusionist...yeah, such boring things you think this is going to interest my old teacher, always saying "Yes, I've read this in a book too"? Or may be there's something wrong? May be it looks a bit exaggerated!

Dark Harpist

Specialty: Dark harp-player
Qualification: Dexterity 13, Intelligence 16, Charisma 15. Since dark harpists want to master the deadly power of the Dark Harping (which they call "Soul Tune"), they often have to do evil things for fiends and undead (for they are the primary source of the knowledge they search)...and they become so paranoid that they feel compelled into killing anyone who finds what they they may be of any non-good alignment (LE and CE included). A bard of good alignment may be allowed to learn Dark Harping and being an ex-apprentice of a dark harpist, but he CANNOT take the Dark Harpist kit (and he's surely hunted down by true Dark Harpist)! Only human, half-elves, elves, tiefling (optional) and half-orcs are allowed to become dark harpists.
Human, half-elves and Drow elves are unlimited in their advancement. Other elves can advance up to 15th level. Tieflings can advance up to 18th level. Half-orcs can advance up to 10th level.
Description: Some songs can reach the soul of the people and make them feel as it touched it as the wave of a warm, placid water... In a very far past, a group of wicked bards, called the Dark Coven, searched in ancient inhuman tomes and traded human souls to fiends in order to learn how make use of this characteristic of music to forward their selfish dreams of power and wealth.
But fiends enjoyed to give them few pieces of information or wrong ones, so their search went on very slowly...mostly through experiments on human and demihuman victims...
Eventually, their leader, Lorghan Ashadow, struck a bargain with one of the most ancient fiends...he'd have been turned into a demon and the Dark Coven would have fought a war for the fiends, but the ancient fiend would have given him all the knowledge he wanted.
That was a really idiot bargain for after Lorghan was turned into a lowly nearly mind-less demon form, stripped of all his former knowledge, the fiend (who'd be called Jaughar in the few books of the Dark Coven's members the harpist have put hands on) whispered "all the knowledge he wanted" in the ear of the dull-witted creature. Then most of the Dark Coven members were employed in ONE, eternal, war! Some flew and wrote down their knowledge in books or choose the path of Undeath in order to keep on searching. Now, a few sects or lonely searchers found the knowledge of the Past and are following the same path the Dark Coven followed...but they are back, they are the Dark Harpists...
As their name implies, most Dark Harpists employ some kind of harp as their instrument, but there are some notable exception of guitar- and lute-using Harpists (as a rule, they can ONLY choose a stringed instrument and they're trained to use harp).
Role: Dark Harpist are lonely, "shady" people...they are something like the bardic version of the necromancer wizard as far as society's interested (they've the same grim outlook most necromancer have). They tend to be foreigners in every country they come...even in their own country. Most people doesn't know their powers, but that's what draws a line between them and society.
Often they are members of secret Dark Harpist society, but its secrecy's mostly due the paranoia strikes most of them after becoming what they are, since most Dark Harpist are always travelling and aren't going to tell anyone their business. Sure, there are a few inns and shops scattered around the world, which show a dark harp in their sign, but they are they rare places for them to gather and find shelter. Dark Harpists, due to their abilities, sometimes sell themselves as assassins, but they're always paranoid about being seen using their powers so that's not a regular job.
They've no real place in society and they're always looking for something they cannot find in their present place (and it's likely they'll never find)...yeah, for power...but may be even for a peace with themselves that learning the Soul Tune stole them.
Most often they are lonely (since Dark Harping makes no difference between friends and enemies), but if they travel with a party often try to pass themselves as thieves (often trying to disguise their missing thieving skills as failure in using them), if they're not utterly sure their comrades aren't going to steal their knowledge (and that's not a simple thing, since the most enhanced trait of a Dark Harpist is his utter paranoia).
If he's with trusted comrades or his comrades aren't looking at him, a Dark Harpist is a truly invaluable ally due to his large choice of weapons and his mastery of Dark Harping...even form after using Dark Harping in combat, their paranoia fuels their courage (for they're not going to allow an enemy with that knowledge to live!).
Secondary Skills: Dark Harpist can choose any secondary skill, but they're past life's so far from them that they don't remember them very well (Dm should take note of this and act of consequence).
Weapon Proficiencies: An initial weapon proficiency slot must be spent on either the dagger or knife, for they're the best ways to silence someone who "knows too much" (the Dm can rule other weapons, based on the setting the character's from...a jambiya for an Arabian-like setting, a stiletto for a Renaissance-like setting.). Otherwise, the Dark Harpist's unrestricted in his choice of weapons.
Non-weapon Proficiencies: Bonus: Dark Harping, Musical Instrument (Harp*), Singing, Ancient History (Dark Coven). Suggested: Herbalism**, Ancient Languages, Reading/Writing, Artistic Ability (Composition).
>*= If you use different type of harp in your campaign, choose one type ONLY<
>**= since poison's a good & quick way to deal with "knowing-too-much problems<
Armour/Equipment: Dark Harpist can use any weapon. He can wear any type of armour up to, and including, chain mail, and he can use shield, but he's forbidden to use any kind of helm or helmet (anything don't allow a clear hearing makes most of them mad). Dark Harpist often wear black or dark blue clothing, grim-looking gear (with something reminding death) and their instruments are silvery, but that's not the rule. Their instruments are the only thing's absolutely always kept clean, but their clothing can be kept as they like.
Special Benefits: Dark Harping : Although Dark Harping is a non-weapon proficiency and everyone (with a lot of non-weapon slots) able to find a mentor could learn it, Dark Harpists are true masters of this art. Whatever they've achieved this mastery through dark pacts, strange unknown potions or through simple, mono-maniac training, they've honed this art to levels unreachable by others. That means:
* When a Dark Harpist uses Dark Harping, he rolls a non-weapon proficiency roll and subtracts that roll from his score (finding what'll call the "Soul Score"), as anyone with that proficiency does...but now he rolls that number of 8-SIDED DICES for damage!
* A Dark Harpist's the only one who can add additional slots to Dark Harping (although he never paid the initial cost), allowing him to do more damage or effects through his skill.
* A Dark Harpist can augment the Dark Harping's range with a simple penalty to his roll (which is subtracted from his score, diminishing the damage):
Range (S - M - L) Penalty
30 - 100 - 150 0
50 - 120 - 170 -2
70 - 140 - 190 -4
90 - 160 - 210 -8
* A Dark Harpist causes a penalty of -1 for each 3 levels to victims' (which could mean allies') saves vs. Death Magic (when saving against Dark Harping damage).
* At 5th level, a Dark Harpist learns the "Tune of the Heart", the way to control his Dark Harping in order to "chain victims' hearts" to his will. This means that he can choose to use the "Soul Score" to charm thrice that number of Hd (as per Charm Person and the victim MUST to be a "person" as this song is created for "persons"). Victims are allowed a saving throw vs. spell with the Dark Harpist's penalty (the same used for the Death Magic save) and this "Tune" has the same duration of Charm Person.
* At 7th level, a Dark Harpist learns the "Tune of Awakening", the way to control his Dark Harping in order to "awake people from their Sleep of Death". This means that he can choose to use the "Soul Score" to animate five-times that number of Hd of skeletons or zombies (as per Animate Dead, but he MUST have the right or an higher number of corpses or skeletons he needs). These skeletons and zombies are more intelligent than their common counterparts (Int 3-4), they can use weapons and are under Dark Harpist's control. There is a few little problems :
* Notwithstanding their higher intelligence (which allows a bit more tactics), their commands must be of the same kind of their non-intelligent counterpart, since they're conveyed through the notes of the Dark Harpist's instrument (I know it's strange, but it works in this way).
* They are animated only as long as the Dark Harpist plays his instrument; should he stop or lose his concentration (as per spellcasting), they'd at once go back to the Sleep of Death (turn normal corpses and skeletons).
* The Dark Harpist's disturbing the dead from their eternal rest in order to animate such corpses and skeletons. He knows what's doing and it's not a good action (many Harpists are evil, but maybe a neutral would have more scruples in doing such a thing).
* The undead are animated only as long they stay within ten times Harpist's Dark Harping score in yards., for they've to "hear" the song.
* Should the undead be destroyed by a priest, shouts of joy would be heard as the victims go back to their eternal rest. The Dark Harpist takes 1 hp/level of the turning priest as a backlash (no save). Should be only a share of undead be destroyed, the Dm can rule the damage or not, as he wants.
* At 9th level, a Dark Harpist learns the "True Tune of The Soul", the way of take away the soul from a victim with Dark Harping and forcing it in one of his instrument's strings. He have to choose one target and the notes are so tailored to that target that none else can hear them. He has to be within ten times his Dark Harping score in yards. Dark Harpist has to know well his victim (he has to gather at least 10d100 gp-worth knowledge about him/her [Dm shouldn't roll this at's better if he choose the cost, which could be higher]). When everything's ready, victim saves vs. spell (no penalties). If he/she fails his/her soul comes out of the body and happily follows the music into the string the Dark Harpist's chosen. No more than one soul can be trapped in a single string, but a string could be taken away from the instrument. If the string breaks (on a 20 on Musical Instrument roll or on Dark Harping roll), the soul's freed. If the soul comes from a singer (or someone with a Singing proficiency and a charisma of 13 or more), each of such "soul-string" gives the Dark Harpist a +1 bonus to his Musical Instrument and Dark Harping rolls with that instrument (I mean the roll's lowered by one, if it's not a natural 20).
* At 12th level (and for each 3 level after that; so at 15th, at 18th,etc.), a Dark Harpist with an Artistic Ability (Composition) can try a check with a -5 penalty to create a new "Tune". The new "Tune" can roughly duplicate a Necromancy, Conjuration/Summoning, Alteration (and only "polymorph" kind) or Enchantment/Charm of a spell level which is not higher than 1/3 of Harpist's level (should he fail, he can try when he reach the following level and then the next...but if he fails three times in a row, he's lost his chance). The player can change the spell in the way he wants, but it should be balanced and be accepted by Dm.
* After 12th level, a Dark Harpist can learn old, forgotten "Tunes" with a Dark Harping check with a -5 penalty (he can try once per level, but there's no other problem), if he finds them. T The Dm should create these, using guidelines given above (but he may give a little more power...since are "old Tunes") and give them to the player after an hard adventure (dealing with undead or fiends or other nasty, long living things!).
Thieving Skills: A Dark Harper starts knowing the following thieving skills :
* Backstab
* Move Silently (Base 20%)
* Detect Noise (Base 20%)
* Read Languages (Base 5%)
And he gets 20 points to distribute between them at 1st level and 15 additional points every time he advances in level (they are adjusted by Race, Dexterity and Armour Modifiers).
Killing Knife/Dagger: Due to their natural paranoia, Dark Harpist are ready to stab in the back anyone discover their "secret". So they can specialise (with hit and damage bonus as per fighter) in dagger OR in knife (they've to pay specialisation).
Special Hindrances: Now comes the "funny" part...
Non-Standard Thieves' Skills: Dark Harpist have the thieving skills listed above and ONLY those one.
Limited Spellcasting Abilities: Dark Harpist cannot cast spells in the "normal" way (till the 12th level they've ONLY their standard Dark Harping abilities) and they cannot use any written magical items at 10th level. Limited Bardic Abilities: Dark Harpists cannot influence reactions, rally allies, counter song as normal bards can (I don't mean they can in another way, they CANNOT...quite simple).
Loneliness: Dark Harpists NEVER attract followers (they could have appendices, but they are not followers and their gaining is to be role-played carefully).
Grimness: Knowing how to use songs which touch people's hearts to kill, subdue, animate and steal souls isn't a thing which leaves one's soul unchanged...Dark Harpist take a grim outlook that make them not great in conversation. Then people always feel them as "foreigners" and/or scary people (there's something strange, unnatural, in them). That's a -3 penalty to reaction.
Paranoia: Should Dark Harpists be less paranoid, maybe one of their old sayings would be "Keep your paranoia healthy, paranoia's your best friend"...but they're much more paranoid when they are together than they're alone (other Dark Harpists are their paranoia's favourite targets), so they're not going to joke about that with their "comrades".
Every Dark Harpist is paranoid and is always thinking everyone else wants the knowledge he has and everyone else has no qualms about doing him any sort of nasty things in order to learn that (and that's true for most Dark Harpists). Dark Harpist's paranoia has no gaming effect, but should be role-played.
After the 12th and after his first discovery or creation, a Dark Harpist becomes TRULY paranoid - now he has something every creature in the world would like to have - and, when I mean "paranoid" I mean he's truly mad. Apart from his paranoia (which targets anyone's not Dark Harpist's best friend with the guilt of wanting his "treasure" [yeah, a Dark Harpist becomes a bit you remember Gollum in the Lord of Rings? With all that talking about his "treasure"?...ok, take away all those talk with the "treasure" and about the "treasure" -a Dark Harpist's not going to talk about his new "Tones", but he's not so crazy as to talk "with" his new "Tunes"- and you've got something very near to a 12th level Dark Harpist with a new "Tune"] friends are free from this "guilt" and Dark Harpist's not going to kill everyone he meets without a right hint of their "interest") a Dark Harpist's almost normal.

Dark Harpist in D&D: I think Dark Harpist could be turned to D&D statistics with the following changes :
* Use thief's (or bard's...but I've never played bards in D&D) level advancement, attack and saving throws tables.
* Use thief's skills advancement.
* Dark Harpist is character dexterity minus 4. For every 3 levels, a Dark Harpist adds a + 1 to this score. This score's used even for learning "Old Tunes".
* Dark Harpist can only be of Neutral or Chaotic alignment.
* At 12th level and at each 3 level after, a Dark Harpist can create a New Tune with a wisdom check with a -5 penalty.

Dark Harpist in Mystara: May be Dark Coven was a secret sect who lived in ancient Nithia, but that'd make very difficult for a PC to find "Old Tunes"...may they can find them in the Savage Coast were Nithians weren't utterly destroyed.
I don't know what fiendish "eternal war" could be fought by Dark Coven in Mystara (I was thinking about the Blood War, but in Mystara there aren't the "standard" planes)...change that story as you like.

Dark Harping (4 slots; Group : Rogue; Dex - 4)
To use Dark Harping proficiency one's to use a musical instrument, an harp. He plays such a music which touched the living and "animated" (undead or magical construct) matter in such a way as to "slashing" it.
Dark Harping has visual effects (waves of blackness and bluish eldritch mist start from the player and quickly reach the victims) which can be turned invisible by a Dark Harpist (if he wants, and only HIS waves), but that are unavoidable by non-Dark Harpists.
When "visual effect" reach victims, it "slashes" them as huge, cold claws (that's not very's more like being passed through by "force blades", which sometimes scratches people and sometime rends it to threads). Some flesh (or other material makes the victim) is rendered and some else is simply disintegrated in black ash.
In game mechanics, one rolls 1d20 and subtracts the result to his Dark Harping score. The result's what I call "Soul Score" and it's the number of 1d6 victims have to roll for damage.
Victims are anyone (including allies) within 150 yards radius (anyone can hear the music; so if, Dm rules, creature with a keen hearing would be affected in a larger radius). All victims aren't affected in the same way, for longer one's from the Dark Harping player less is the damage :
* All creatures within 30 yards are affected by full "Soul Score" (short [S] range);
* All creatures within 100 yards are affected by "Soul Score" minus 2 (medium [M] range);
* All creatures within 150 yards are affected by a "Soul Score" minus 5 (long [L} range);
Obviously a source of very loud noise or a bard's counter song may affect the Dark Harping, lessening the effect as much as halving the damage (as ruled by Dm; but never less than 1/2, since a part of Dark Harping is an attack to target's soul).
Then, victim can roll a save vs. Death Magic in order lo halve the Dark Harping damage.
For immunity purpose, half damage's due to draining and the other half's due to disintegration.
In order to learn how to use another stringed instrument (other than an harp type) for Dark Harping, one's to devote another non-weapon proficiency slot, which doesn't add bonuses to the Dark Harping score (This is allowed even to non-Dark Harpists, but only Dark Harpists can enhance their Dark Harping score through training - non-weapon proficiency slots -).
A natural 20 means that one of the instrument's strings break (Dark Harping cannot be used with an instrument with broken strings).
A natural 1 means that all victims in 30 yards radius (may be more if the player is a Dark Harpist, but always in short range) are rendered to bloody threads if they fail their save.

Well... maybe this is not very interesting... but, notwithstanding, I can entertain myself thinking I'm the most handsome, the most intelligent and the most skilled necromancer ever came out of that Academy >evil necromancerish-grin<