The list of suggested instruments in the current books for D&D 5e is limited to say the least. We’ve all gone off book for our proficiencies at some point and I think that’s a beautiful thing. The world is full of diverse musical instruments that are too often passed over for more traditional choices.
To help remedy this situation we’ve dove deep into the world of musical instruments and scoured the globe for choices that should feel right at home in a fantasy setting. Read through a few of our favorites in depth or skip to the bottom for our full d20 table of extra instruments.
1 - The Zither
Coming in many shapes and sizes the Zither is a many stringed instrument commonly found in northern Europe and China. Chinese and European Zithers are generally easily visibly distinguished by shape, Chinese Zithers being long and thin while European zithers tend to have a more compact and wide form.
They are usually played while sitting in the lap or on a flat surface and plucked with the fingers or a pick. Some zithers are played similarly to a horizontal guitar with frets while others are played openly like a harp utilizing both hands to play separate parts of the tune simultaneously.
The ornate and flexible designs and portability of this instrument makes it a perfect choice for a traveling bard already, but the sound puts this choice over the top as anyone who listens to it is guaranteed to be struck with that medieval fairytale feeling which compliments TTRPGs like D&D so well.
6 - The Sistrum
Commonly associated with ancient Egypt the Sistrum has a light and simplistic design. Consisting of only a handle and frame with floating metal crossbars and rings allowing the Sistrum to be played with one hand through shaking.
Its compact form makes it a great instrument to travel with and to play in battle while wielding a one-handed weapon. The simplistic construction makes this a very accessible instrument option as it could feasibly be made from any material from metal, to wood, to clay. This also means it is easily replaced or repaired if broken over the course of your adventure.
11 - The Fujara
This long and imposing instrument might help the bard appear as a monk with a staff from far away. Consisting of two attached wooden pipes this instrument is almost always played while standing with the Fujara held vertically and braced against the body. The Fujara is played by mouth and has only three tone holes, meaning much of the sound manipulation comes from the musician’s mouth.
Aside from its imposing construction and potential for wielding as a staff this instrument will work well for certain bards as it is commonly associated with the working class. The Fujara is sometimes referred to as shepherd’s pipe as it was played by shepherds for recreation. A bard with a background in farming or wandering would suit this instrument well.
20 - Berimbau
Perhaps instead of a monk your bard wishes to appear as a ranger, maybe they have a special instrument helping them multiclass in both? Then the perfect instrument for you would be the Berimbau!
These musical bows consist of a wooden bow with a steel string and dried and hollowed gourd, it is often played while in motion and even has ties to martial arts through its use in capoeira. This makes it a perfect choice for taking on the road or even using the midst of combat to inspire your party or entangle your enemies in its hypnotic rhythms.
The Full Table:
Of course, these choices, and the rest of the 20 compiled in our new table barely scratch the surface of all the amazing instruments out there for your bard to choose from, but it is a great start. With our table you can inject fun and diverse musical traditions into your setting with a single dice roll or pick from a wider variety of options for your next Bard and let us know how your creations turn out.