JoshuaD’s New Bard Handbook
Handbook Version 51 – 2017/12/17
About the Bard
This class is AWESOME. I think bard is one of the most balanced, dynamic, and fun classes to play in the game. I didn’t appreciate how many options and abilities were available to it until I dug into the various source books. Sure, you don’t have the raw power of the nuclear classes, but you can be in a party with other tier 2-5 classes and really shine. The bard can be adapted to a bunch of different play styles: caster, gish (sword-mage), arcane archer, face, crowd control, skill monkey, and healer. He can usually fill a number of those roles at the same time, and does so effectively.
I have played a lot of different characters, and the bard is by far the most fun I’ve had. Wizards and things like the DMM Cleric possess campaign shattering nuclear power, but where’s the fun in that? The DM is pissed at you, the other players are pissed at you, and the campaign ends early. The bard is what D&D should be: dynamic, rewards creative play, powerful without being over-powered, and his abilities are friendly to other PCs. I cannot recommend the class enough, especially for your next low- or mid-powered campaign.
Why I Wrote this Handbook
Dictum Mortuum wrote a really good handbook for the bard, but I felt it didn’t go deep enough, so I wrote this handbook to be a bit more comprehensive. That being said, the original handbook is great, and I recommend reading that one as well as this one to get multiple view points.
Other Resources and Thanks
Here are some of the resources that helped me build this handbook. They are all very good, I recommend that you read them as well:
- Dictum Mortuum – The Bard’s Handbook – The original handbook. Very good stuff here.
- Endarire – Breaking Down Inspire Courage . A handbook dedicated entirely to maximizing inspire courage, one of the best features of the Bard’s class. Definitely worth a read.
- Cards’n’Dice – Bardzilla – An interesting take on the bard. Not comprehensive, but a few good angles.
- Treantmonk – Guide to Being God (A wizard) – This doesn’t directly apply to the bard. However, he talks a lot about crowd control, area effects, and spell use, so this is a good read.
- Relentless Imp – Metamagic and you Very useful reference for metamagic feats.
- Dictum Mortuum – The Familiar’s Handbook A good resource for bards who are going to get a familiar. Worth reading if you’re thinking of going that direction.
- Caedrus – The Fear Handbook For those bards who want to terrify their opponents, causing them to cower in the corner and cry like babies.
- IMarvinTPA’s spell database – A comprehensive searchable database for spells. For closed content it only gives book references, but it’s awesome anyway.
- The Unoffical Tome of Battle Tools Page – Very easy-to-navigate reference for the book of nine swords, which we can gain access to via the martial feats. Not a common choice, but strong.
In addition, each the following members of the Giant in the Playground Forums helped contribute to this handbook: Hiro Quester, Gabrosin, Troacctid, Red Fel, Telonius, ComaVision, eggynack, Saintheart, QuickLyRaiNbow, Theodred theOld, and Greg Campbell. Thanks guys!
Also, some people have commented here with some really nice observations. Additional thanks to Gold the Gnome Bard, Malcom Towner, William Wordsworth, Davide, Stuart, Aion Haruno, Xethik, Psycho Mantis, Toteca, and Elmer.
Color / Symbol Legend
- Best – This is a very strong option and is almost always the best choice, or one of the best choices.
- Strong – This is also strong, but you may or may not want to take it depending on your build.
- OK – This is a reasonable choice.
- Weak – This is either mechanically weak, or has a very narrow application. I don’t recommend taking this feature.
- Terrible – This is absolutely terrible or nearly unusable.
Source Books Used
I used all of the official source books and also included some items from dragon magazines. The Dragon Magazines are a little more difficult to review comprehensively, so I included the peaks I could find, but may have missed some items. You should be warned that Dragon Magazine features are typically unbalanced and should be reviewed with a critical eye before being accepted into your campaign.
This Handbook’s Length
This handbook has gotten long. I don’t think you should try to read it straight through. Instead, use it as a reference.
I had a choice between only including the best or more stand-out items, or trying to be inclusive of all reasonably possible options. I chose to be inclusive. I think this will help more people and help people create diverse builds that I might not have considered.
A Note on Ability Evaluation and Character Optimization
When designing characters, people often focus on only level 20. I recommend doing more than that.
If your campaign is anything like the games I’ve ever played, you start at low levels, slowly progress through the mid levels, and, if you’re lucky, you get to play some teen levels before the game falls apart.
Even if you have a dedicated play group and make it all the way to level 20, the abilities you get at levels 1-5 are going to get a lot more play than the abilities you get at levels 15-20. Keep that in mind while designing your character. I recommend that you look at the build every four levels (or at specific key levels, depending on your class) and consider how you’d like the character at each of those level.
If you know you’re going to start playing at a high level and continue to play after reaching level 20, then of course this does not apply to you. But for most people, level 1-10 are much more important than levels 11-20. Make sure you keep that in mind while developing your character. Remember: the goal isn’t to optimize some theoretical mechanic; the goal is to optimize fun.
- Archer – The bard makes a fine archer. The only problem he faces is the 3/4ths base attack bonus. It’s a feat-intesive thing, but definitely doable.
- Blaster – The bard does not make a good blaster. He has a few direct damage spells on his list, but not many. (but That’s OK, because blasters suck anyway.)
- Buffer – This is the bard’s best role (and easiest to fulfill). Inspire courage is very strong, easy to make much stronger, and it’s one of your core class features. Your spells can support this role as well. Buffing is something the bard is always going to be good at (unless you actively work to make him bad at it). The bard has access to a poor-man’s version of the Cleric’s Divine Metamagic Feat, so 24-hour persisted buffs are also an option here, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
- Caster – The bard has a really solid selection of spells, particularly crowd control and social spells. He also has good access into the illusion school, which opens up a world of possibilities. The Sublime Chord prestige class lets the bard get access to 7th – 9th level wizard / sorcerer spells, so an optimized Bard is capable of being as strong as an unoptimized sorcerer pretty easily.
- Debuffer – Aside from the good list of bard spells that debuffs opponents, the bard is a solid class for going into fear effects (see the fear handbook link above). The bard also gets access to Doomspeak (although at later levels) which is one of the strongest debuffs in the game.
- Healer – The bard is the only arcane class that gets access to heal spells. I don’t tend to recommend taking them, but if your party is light on healing, you can get the job done. In either case, the bard should carry some wands of cure wounds to help heal between fights (he can activate them without chance of failure since the spells are on his class spell list) or a wand of lesser vigor (once he’s high enough level to succeed on the Use Magic Device check).
- Melee – You can become a pretty big powerhouse in melee, surprisingly. There are ways to get into full plate mail, dual-wielding can be good, and you can output a lot of damage using feats like knowledge devotion and snowflake wardance. Your hit points aren’t great, so you have to be a little careful not to get squished, but you can definitely develop your character to output a ton of melee damage. This direction really benefits from Metamagic Song and Persist spell, too.
- Social / Face – The bard makes an amazing social manipulator and face of the party. He can pump all of the social skills (except intimidate) he has a lot of social-related spells (charm, fascinate, suggestion, detect thoughts, etc.) and has some social related class-features. The more creative you can be in social situation, the more fun you’ll have playing this class.
- Stealth / Skill Monkey – The bard has three-quarters the skill points of a rogue, and a lot of good class skills. He makes a great stealther / skill monkey. His most natural use of skills is for social stuff, but he can easily be sneaky, and the two aren’t exclusive.
- Tank – The bard doesn’t make a great tank. Generally, you can leave that to the fighter classes. You can output damage or manipulate the battlefield; let them get beat up while you play chess. That being said, a melee bard can build a little tanky if he goes deep into the crusader class (It has a d10 for hit points).
- Weapon and Armor Proficiency – Getting access the longsword and shortbow is nice. The best thing here is the Whip, which can be used to trip opponents from a distance with some special advantages. Also, the Arms and Equipment Guide (P10) has a “Whip-Dagger” that you can use with no additional proficiency required, that does real damage rather than subdual. You should definitely carry one and look for opportunities to use it. At higher levels, this will probably lose its appeal. At lower levels, it can be a really solid option. Also, a bard doesn’t suffer Arcane Spell Failure in light armor, which is very nice. (Elven Chain is a good idea once you can afford it, or halfweight drow armor [Forgotten Realms – Underdark source book] ).
- Spells – A Bard’s spells are, of course, his strongest class feature. He has limited spells know and limited spells-per-day, so it is important to choose your spells wisely.
- Bardic Knowledge – This is OK. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it, but I think there are better options if you’re taking alternate class features.
Bardic Music – Along with spellcasting, this is the core of the bard class. There are many different kinds of bardic music:
- Countersong – Because it takes a standard action to activate and only protects against sonic or language-dependant magical attacks, this is very weak. It’s possible to go an entire 20 level campaign and never have a situation where this is the right choice. It will be also virtually impossible to get this to protect against instantaneous effects. The one place it has some value is to try and break the effect of a continuous effect, but even then, it has to be a sonic or language based attack. I recommend swapping this out if you can.
- Fascinate – Fascinate gives -4 to spot & listen, and keeps the target from taking any actions as long as they are not threatened. The ability is limited to one target per 3 levels. This feature isn’t that great, but it has some fun in-game applications. It is most useful as the pre-requisite for suggestion or mass suggestion. A creative bard with a reasonable DM can find some nice tricks with this ability.
- Inspire Courage – This is one of the best reasons to play a bard. +1 to attack and +1 to damage doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you do the math across an entire party, it adds up to a lot of extra damage. When you use feats, magical items, and additional bard levels to get this bonus higher, it becomes responsible for a metric ton of damage. Obviously, this ability is stronger in a party of physical combat characters, and weaker in party of casters. The best part about this is it makes your fellow players happy, because their characters are more effective. Win-Win.
- Inspire Competence [Requires concentration] – This is pretty weak. A +2 to a single skill for a single ally, for maximum two minutes. There are better things if you’re using alternate class features.
- Suggestion – This is an OK feature. The big limitation it has (compared to the spell) is that you can’t use it in combat, because fascinate is a pre-requisite and you cannot fascinate in combat. On the other hand, the DC to resist this is almost certainly going to be higher than the spell’s, which is nice. Half-elf bards (or other bards with generous DMs) will want to look at getting the spell Suggestion (so you can use it in combat) and swapping out this feature for Command, which is a little weaker, but less restrictive in how it can be cast (and also not on the bard’s spell list).
- Inspire Greatness – This is a solid feature, if you manage to stay bard for 9 levels. It gives extra hit dice, a small fort bonus, and a bonus to attack rolls that stacks with inspire courage.
- Song of Freedom [Requires concentration] – You’ll probably want to multi-class out before getting this ability, but if you get up here, it’s nothing special. It will be useful occasionally.
- Inspire Heroics – Again, you’ll probably be out of the class before you get up here. If not, it is an alright ability that grants +4 to all saving throws.
- Mass Suggestion – This is OK. Unfortunately, the requirement that the targets be fascinated is very limiting, both because it means this can’t be used in combat and because it limits the number of targets. “Mass” really means “handful” in this case.
Alternate Class Features
The bard has some really nice options for alternative class features.
Bardic Knack (PHB2, p 35)
Lose bardic knowledge, gain the ability to use half your class level in place of skill ranks
This is solid. I recommend it over bardic knowledge, but you may want to use this class-feature-slot for something else. It’s worth noting that if you’re going to be multi-classing early, the benefit of this ability is more limited, because the bonus is calculated based on bard level. I would rule that any Prestige Class that advances Bardic Knowledge would also advance this feature, but you will have to check with your DM for his ruling.
Bardic Sage (UA, p 49)
Adds additional spells and bonus to knowledge in exchange for a higher need for intelligence and reduced duration of Bardic music abilities.
This is interesting. If you can have a maxed-out charisma and a 16 intelligence, this might be worth pursuing. The big upside is an extra spells known, which is typically a hard limitation for bards. If you go into sublime chord, you can switch to charisma-based spell casting for level 4+ spells.
Bard College (DrM332 85)
Get a +1 bonus to two skills and make two other skills cross-class. The Blackburn college gives you +1 to diplomacy and gather information, and makes knowledge (dungeoneering) and knowledge (the planes) cross-class. Yes please. There are a few others here, too, benefiting climb, knowlege (nature), knowledge (history), knowledge (the planes), decipher script, and knowledge (arcana). Those aren’t too exciting. But the Blackburn College is a nice clean upgrade.
Drow Bard (DU, p 57)
Gain poison use; lose bardic knowledge and 1 bardic music use/day.
If you are a Drow and want poison use, this is a fine way to get it. The cost isn’t too steep. I don’t typically go this route, but I think it’s an OK option. Don’t forget that you’re actually losing Lore Song (not bardic knowledge), which is bonkers good.
Divine Bard (UA, p 50)
Wisdom used to determine if you can cast a spell, Charisma used for all other factors, some spells added to the bard spell list.
This makes the bard have to pump wisdom to 16, and wisdom is his one easy dump stat. However, you do gain the ability to cast in full armor (letting you dump dex) so this might be worth looking at for a melee bard. The spells you gain are not exciting. In addition, your spells become divine spells instead of arcane spells. This could impact some prestige class options (and open up some options in the divine prestige class options that I haven’t explored in this handbook). Thankfully, sublime chord and lyric thaumaturge are still available to divine bards.
Fey Bard (UA, p 58)
gain animal companion, nature sense, resist nature’s lure, and wild empathy as a druid. Lose bardic knowledge, inspire courage, inspire competence, inspire greatness, and inspire heroics.
Mechanically, this is a big loss. This is an interesting way to roll your own ranger/caster, but I don’t endorse it. The animal companion is pretty solid at low levels, but falls off at higher levels.
Gnome Bard Substitution Levels: (RoS, p 147)
- 1st level: Gnome Cantrips
Effectively gain extra level 0 spells
Gnome Cantrips effectively net you one free level 0 spell known. I normally recommend taking all three spells you are granted by this ability (prestidigitation, dancing lights, and ghost sounds) anyway, so this 3-for-2 trade is really a 1-for-nothing trade. That is, free!
- ..and Counter Fear
This isn’t great, but it comes together with gnome cantrips. Counter fear is about the same strength as Countersong (i.e. terrible). You’ll want to get a DM ruling to see if you can swap out “Counter Fear” for things you could normally swap out countersong for.
- 3rd level: Inspire Defiance
Lose Inspire Competence, gain resistance to mind-affecting stuff
+2 to saves against illusions and mind-affecting spells and effects is better than inspire competence, but this probably isn’t the best option.
- 6th level: Phantasmal Song
Lose Suggestion, gain a Fear-like Song
The low distance and limited effect makes this nothing exciting.
- 11th level: Secrets of Bardic Trickery
lose a 4th level spell known, get three spells known
I wouldn’t recommend phantasmal image as one of your 4th level spells, and neither color spray nor touch of idiocy have much value at this level, in my opinion. If you are a gnome and you like phantasmal image, then this is a no-brainer; get two other spells for free. I think I pass, though.
- 1st level: Gnome Cantrips
Half-Elf Bard Substitution Levels(RoD 157)
- 1st Level
Lose Countersong, Gain Soothing Voice
This is an amazing upgrade. If you are a half-elf, do it. If you’re not a half-elf, see if you’re DM will let you do it anyway.
- 6th Level
Lose Suggestion, Gain Command
I think this is very strong. I recommend doing this and picking up suggestion as a spell. This way you can use suggestion in combat, and you also gain command.
- 8th level: Secrets of the Diplomat
Lose a 4th level spell known, gain bonus spells
I don’t think this is worth doing. Sending is a pretty underwhelming spell. I’d like to pick up command, but not at the cost of a 4th level slot. If you like sending for some reason, then this becomes great.
- 1st Level
Harbringer (DrM#337 93)
Lose Fascinate, Countersong, Inspire Courage, Inspire Competence, Suggestion, Inspire Greatness, Song of Freedom, and Mass Suggestion, gain fear-based abilityes.
I think this is pretty cool, especially for a fear bard. Unfortunately, it’s an all-or-nothing approach. You can’t pick and choose which abilities to swap. Instill fear is about as good as inspire courage, encourage failure is a little better than inspire competence, I like dishearten better than inspire greatness, Dirge of Binding is very strong, and Drain Prowess is definitely cooler than mass suggestion. We did lose fascinate, countersong, and suggestion without any direct compensation, but the other stuff is pretty cool. I would definitely look at this for a fearmonger bard.
Spellscale Substitution Levels(RoD 110) You can pick and choose which of these substitution levels you take.
- 1st Level
Lose Bardic Knowledge, gain Draconic Bardic Knowledge
A straight upgrade to bardic knowledge. Gain bonuses on konwledge checks related to dragons, as long as you maintain knowledge (arcana). It’s not bad, but there are better alternative features for bardic knowledge.
- 3rd Level
Lose Inspire Competence, gain Inspire Arcana
Activate to Give your casters a +1 to Caster Level. Inspire competence is weak, but this is also pretty lackluster. The big downside is that it requires concentration to maintain.
- 6th level
Improve Suggestion at the cost of one second-level spell-per-day
This is pretty solid. Not amazing, but solid. I like getting +2 to DCs on things like suggestion; when I cast a spell or activate an ability, I just want it to work. That being said, losing one spell per day is a little sad. Definitely worth considering.
- 1st Level
Healing Hymn (CC 47)
lose fascinate, boost natural healing and healing spells
Fascinate is needed for suggestion. If you’re swapping out suggestion (via half-elf sub levels or some other method) and have any way to take advantage of the healing boost (Wand of CLW would work) then this is pretty solid, and the sleep thing is nice too.
Hymn of Fortification (CC 47)
lose inspire competence, use bardic music to generate protection from evil type effects
This is a clean upgrade to inspire competence.
Inspire Awe (DrM 13)
Lose Inspire Courage, Gain Inspire Awe.
Opponents become shaken, with a chance at saving. The debuffs are strong with a wide-range of harm and the save DC is pretty high. This is good if you don’t want to go deep into inspire courage, or if your party doesn’t have very many melee characters. This is also a core feature of a fear-escalation bard.
Lose inspire greatness, gain inspire hatred.
Cause an opponent to hate and attack his ally unless he passes a will save? Sweet! I love the flavor, and it seems like a better use of a standard action than inspire greatness.
Inspire Turning (ECR 206)
Lose Inspire Competence with the ability to boost an ally’s ability to turn undead by spending a bardic music attempt they gain +2 levels on their turn check.
If you are in a party where this is relevant, I think it’s definitely better than inspire competence.
Lore Song (DS 8)
Lose Bardic Knowledge. Once per day (per two bard levels, i.e. lvl 1, 3, 5, 7, etc.) immediate action, add +4 bonus to an attack, save, or check roll.
This is probably the best swap out for Bardic Knowledge. Knack is also strong, but this one naturally min-maxes.
Mimicking Song (DS 8)
Give up countersong. Use bardic music to give allies a +2 bonus on move silently.
This is probably an upgrade. In-character, it’s a little funny to imagine, but I think of it as the bard generating a magical sound-cancelling wave (two sounds can theoretically cancel one another). In either case, if you don’t have somewhere else to dump countersong, this is probably an improvement.
Music of Creation (ECS 34): (You can also take these as feats)
- Haunting Melody – This is either very strong or below average, depending on DM’s ruling. I think the fairest rendition of the ruling (that is, read as intended) is that this takes a standard action to activate. If so, it’s meh. If, instead, it “piggy-backs” any bardic music you activate (I think this is Read as written) then it can be very strong. You can see discussion on this topic here: http://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/63506/does-haunting-melody-use-a-standard-action/
- Music of Growth – I can’t think of a use for this. Maybe in conjunction with Savage Bard and summon nature’s ally? Still seems weak.
- Music of Making – Doubling the duration of conjuration spells is nice. If you have a lot, you may want to consider taking this.
- Song of the Heart – This is a good replacement for Inspire Greatness if you get up there. A passive +1 to inspire courage, plus other conditional benefits. It’s a shame this requires inspire competence as as a pre-req. If it didn’t, this would be an amazing swap for inspire competence.
- Soothe the Beast (Replaces Inspire Competence) – This is OK, but seems worse than the things it replaces.
Planar Bard(PlH 29) – This is the sort of ability could be good in a very particular campaign. The things you give up aren’t exciting, so if the gains are something your DM tells you want, then go ahead.
- 3rd level: Planar Inspiration
Lose Inspire Competence, Use music to protect people from planar effects
- 6th level: Planar Dissonance
Lose Suggestion,Temporarily redirect portals to new locations.
- 12th level: Planar Discordance
Lose Song of Freedom, use bardic music as a precipitate breach spell
- 3rd level: Planar Inspiration
Repel Domination (ECR 206)
Lose suggestion, gain a +2 bonus on saves vs mind affecting spells and abilities of the undead, if you succeed in the save they become shaken.
This is weak. Suggestion is a solid ability; don’t give it up for this conditional, passive, and small advantage.
Savage Bard (UA 50)
Must be chaotic, good fortitude and will save, poor reflex. Modified skill and spell list. Illiterate.
I think this is the right base for a summoner’s bard. As pointed out by Elmer below in the comments section, this will give you access to the Greenbound Summoning feat, which is really really strong. Aside from that, Illiteracy is sad. Gaining fort instead of reflex is nice. Losing prestidigitation is absolutely miserable. Losing read magic is sad. On the whole, not a choice I’d take in general, but it seems very strong for a summoning-oriented bard.
Spellbreaker Song (CM 35)
Lose countersong, can use bardic music to disrupt casters, giving them 20% spell failure chance.
This isn’t much of an improvement over countersong. The fact that it disrupts all casters is a big advantage, though, especially if you can sustain it throughout the combat (it doesn’t require concentration to maintain). 20% against two or three spell casters over a handful of turns is pretty nice.
Undead Bardic Knowledge (ECR 206)
Replace Bardic Knowledge with specialized knowledge about the undead
Works like normal bardic knowledge but with a +5 competence bonus. Only good if you’re going to be in a campaign that’s all about undead. The big advantage to bardic knowledge is diversity, and this takes that away.
Your choice in ability scores is going to depend a lot on what sort of bard you want to be. A caster/face/control bard doesn’t need strength or dex, where a melee or archer bard is going to want some.
A Bard generally wants a high charisma, a low wisdom, and a good balance between the other four abilities, depending on the direction you are going. Melee bards can skim on the charisma a little, if they want, to pick up some additional physical stats.
- Strength – Depends on the build. A bard will do combat damage sometimes, so a 10-14 here, when possible, is nice.
- Dexterity – This is highly build-dependent. AC and ranged attack is nice, and you have a lot of skills that get bumps from Dex, but economy will probably not let you dump a ton of points here. 10-12 feels about right, generally.
- Constitution – Extra hit points are always helpful. 10-14 here seems good.
- Intelligence – This stat is a sponge; give it everything you can that you don’t need in the other slots. Extra skills are really great.
- Wisdom – This is the bard’s easy dump stat. The primary benefit a bard gets from wisdom is will saves and a bump to spot / listen. Weak.
- Charisma – At least 16, preferably 18. Charisma is the stat bards use for casting, giving the bard bonus spells per day and a higher DC for spells that have a save (many bard spells). It also pumps the two best skills in the game: Diplomacy and Use Magic Device.
No Level Adjustment
- Aasimar, Lesser (PGtF template applied to Aasimar) – +2 to Wisdom, +2 to Charisma, Darkvision, and a small bonus to spot and listen. Not my first choice, but a solid race.
- Azurian (MoI 7) – A modified human. Lose extra skill points, pick up a point of essentia. I haven’t researched essentia a ton (I probably should) but if you’re using it, this is probably better than human for your character.
- Dwarf (PHB) – Not a good pick for the Bard. Nothing we’re excited about, and it reduces our most important stat. If you want to be a dwarf, you should look at some of the other options (listed below) which at least don’t dump CHA.
(UA 11), Dream(RoS 88), or Gold (DMG 171)] – No big upside here, but if you want to be a dwarf, none of these offer CHA penalties, which is nice.
- Elf, Star (UEast p9) – +2 Cha, -2 Con, Favored Class Bard, Normal Elf Stuff, Can ghost touch weapons at night.
- Gnome (PHB) – This is a pretty good choice, especially for casters. The +1 boost to illusion DC is solid and I love the extra cantrips per-day. Small size is a mixed bag, but on the whole advantageous for a non-melee oriented character. This is a strong choice if you’re building core-only, but it falls off if you’re playing with all the splat books. It’s 4 stars in core-only, and 3-stars if you include all the splat books.
- Gnome, Whisper (RoS 94)- +2 Dex and Con, -2 Str and Cha. Silence is a nice spell like ability, but not for -2 CHA. Pass.
- Goblin, Bhuka (Sand 39) – Not an exciting race in general, but the best way for a bard to be a goblin (if you want/need that for some reason) because of no CHA loss and no level adjustment.
- Gruwaar (DR317 p25) – +2 to Dex and Cha, -2 Str and Wis. Small, 4 legs, fey, can cast disguise self 1/day. Darkvision.
- Half-Elf (PHB) – Half-elves are really strong, assuming you have access to the alternate class features from RoD. The +2 to diplomacy, low light vision, and other minor race features are also pretty nice. I wouldn’t take this race without access to RoD, but I would seriously consider it in the context of those alternate class features.
- Half-Elf (Jungle) – Same as half-elf, but you ca +2 to bluff and sense motive instead of diplomacy and gather info.
- Half-Human (DMG 171) – Same as half-elf, but you lose the diplomacy bonus to gain longbow proficiency (Bard already grants longsword). I think this is a worse option, but something you can look at. You’ll have to get the DM to approve getting the alternate class features from RoD, but he really ought to.
- Half-Orc (PHB) – There’s really nothing here for us.
- Half-Orc (Desert) (UA 12) – No CHA penalty half-orc. You lose the strength bonus, but get a con bonus. If you’re in a point buy system that’s probably a wash for you, so this is good. You also lose darkvision (in favor of low-light vision) which is sad. If you’re trying to go half-orc, perhaps for a fear bard, this is your best choice.
- Halfling, Strongheart (FRCS 17) – Bonus feat and a lot of the typical halfling fare. Effectively a small-sized human (but no bonus skill points).
- Human (PHB) – As usual, human is the best option. Bonus feats, bonus skills, and free multi-classing. It’s got everything.
- Human, Silverbrow (DrM 6) – Gain dragonblood subtype, featherfall 1/day (and more at higher levels), +2 to disguise, but lose bonus skill points. Solid.
- Illumian (RoD 52) – A really interesting class, especially for melee rogues. If you take the Aeshkrau word, you can dump charisma as a stat. You lose a lot of the social skills this way, but it’s an idea.
(RoTD 39), Arctic (UA 10), Desert (UA 13), Earth (UA 17)] – A way to get the dragonblood subtype, which can help with draconic aura. Take a look at all 4 to see which you like best if you go this route, all four are about the same strength. Another trick is to take this race and start with the dragonwrought feat. Be an old man and get +3 to all mental stats without the normal penalties to the physical stats. A little cheesy, and it effectively costs you two feats (compared to being human.)
- Other Dragonblood Races
- Magic-Blooded Template (DM 306 p65) – This is stupid strong. You get +2 CHA for -2 WIS, Low Light Vision, +2 to Knowledge (arcana) and spellcraft, and gain 4 cantrip uses per day. The only downside is you get favored-class: sorcerer and lose any other favored class. Unless you’re a strange build or a melee-multiclass bard, this doesn’t matter at all.
- Raptoran (RotW 68) – No level adjustment and gain the ability to fly via race. Flying is cool.
- Spellscale (RotD 26) – Can transfer into spellscale race by undergoing a rite after level 1. +2 to Cha, -2 to Con. Low light vision, A cool “blood-quickening’ ability that lets you get a range of race-based benefits each day.
With Level Adjustment
These are generally only worth looking at if your DM will allow you to do a Level Adjustment buyoff. Otherwise, losing levels of class progression just can’t be justified. Usually, these are most useful to look at when you’re starting a campaign in the teen levels and don’t mind being a little behind the rest of your party for a while.
+1 Level Adjustment
(RoD 92, MM209)– +2 Wis and Cha, Darkvision, some other small benefits.
- Catfolk (RotW 92) – +4 dex, +2 cha, 40′ move, low light vision, +2 to listen and move silent, and +1 to AC. Not a bad package for a bard.
- Celadrin (DR 350) – Bonuses to Chrisma and Dex, +4 to Sing, Dark vision, bonus to diplomacy, normal elf stuff. Not bad.
- Draconic Creature Template (Dr 149) – +1 AC, +2 Str, Con, and Cha, Dark vision and low light vision, +2 to intimidate, two claw attacks.
- D’hin’ni (DR351 p54)-+2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Wis. Darkvision 60′, +1 bonus to saves, +2 to some sneaky skills, prestidigitation at will! I love prestidigitation.
- Gnome, Chaos (RodS 86) – +2 to Cha and Con, -2 to Strength. Some cool spell-like abilities. Not great.
- Jaebrin (MMV 93) – +2 Cha, -2 Str. Low light vision. Immunity to enchantment spells and effects. +1 bonus to DC for enchantment spells she casts, +2 on perform, bluff, diplomacy, and appraise. A bite that does will damage. Not bad.
- Mephling, Air (Planar 10) – Gain flying, small size, favored class bard, and a weakish breath weapon. +2 to Dex and Cha, -2 to int. Not bad, but not worth 1 LA.
+2 Level Adjustment
- Adu’ja (DR317 p22) – Be a plant. +2 to Charisma. Some other cool abilities, like +4 to diplomacy and perform (although minuses to bluff and sense motive). Heals fast when in sunlight and well watered.
- Domovoi (Frost 122) – +6 Cha and bonuses to most other stats. Get some spells. Interesting.
- Dragonkin (Dcn 151) – Might be an idea for a melee bard starting at higher levels. You get fly, +8 to strength, bonuses to other stats, are large, detect magic at will, 7AC and some other cool things.
(MM 103, Und 10)– +2 to Charisma, Int, and Dex, -2 to con, spell resistance, spell-like abilities, and darkvision. You also get the normal elf stuff and sensitivity to bright light.
- Gloura (Under 88) – +10 dex, +4 con, +2 wis, +6 cha, Darkvision 60′, low-light vision, DR 10/Cold Iron, Fly 60′, light armor proficiency, simple weapon proficiency, CHA bonus to saves and deflection AC. That’s a lot. I’m not sure if I got this right?
- Phrenic Template (EPH) – +2 to int, +2 to Wis, and +4 to Charisma. As you level up, you pick up a bunch of psionic abilities. This is definitely very strong for a bard, if you’re comfortable with the level adjustment.
- Half-Fey (FF) – +4 to Cha, +2 to Dex, +2 to Wis, and -2 to Con. A pretty fast fly speed with good maneuverability; and a selection of useful spell-like abilities, including charm person at will, which is pretty fantastic.
- Satry (MM 219) – +2 to all stats but Strength. Bard is favored class. A lot of nice benefits, including +4 to perform and damage reduction.
- Shadow creatures (LoM) gain shadow blend, which gives you total concealment in any illumination less than full daylight. Basically, it’s permanent greater invisibility. It’s kind of insane. You also get to choose from a laundry list of powerful special abilities like fast healing, evasion (good combo with invisibility), and plane shift (to or from the plane of shadow only) as a spell-like ability.
- Yuan-Ti Pureblood ( MM 262) – +2 CHA, Dex, and Int. Darkvision, some feats, special attacks, spell resistance.
+3 Level Adjustment
- Witchknife (MM3 112) – +4 to cha and other stat boosts, sneak attack damage, psionic effect spell-like abilities. Maybe worth looking into if you’re starting the campaign at high levels.
+4 Level Adjustment
- Doppleganger (MM 68) – +2 to all stats, and a total of +4 to wisdom. Darkvision, extra bonuses to everything, detect thoughts as a special ability, and change shape as a special ability. If you’re playing a high-level campaign and can do LA buyoff, this might be worth looking into. Would be absolutely miserable at low-levels.
- Pixie (MM 236) – +6 to Cha, bonuses to other stats (but dumps strength) . Can fly, some Damage Reduction, gain Greater Invisibility.
+10 Level Adjustment
- Firre Eladrin (BoED 169) – Unlimited uses of bardic music. This is absurdly broken, especially if you can do a level adjustment buy off. Take a Firre Eladrin, go into Bard / Sublime Chord, pick up the feats Metamagic Song, Persistent Spell, Quicken Spell, and Lyric Spell. Now you have unlimited spells per day and you can make every single one effectively permanent. The only real limitation here is that your list of known spells is narrow. Spend the rest of your feats on additional spells, and you’ve got yourself a monster. I think this build makes a better NPC villian than PC hero.
A bard has a relatively high number of skill points per level, and has access to a wide range of skills. The bard’s best skills are the social skills, but he also has some other interesting things going on:
- Appraise – Not really worth getting. You can prevent NPCs from taking too much from you on sales / buys with a very stingy DM, but not really exciting.
- Balance – I don’t recommend putting any points in this. It may come up occasionally, but it’s hard to get a lot of value from points here.
- Bluff – This is a very strong skill. I like taking this, along with the other social skills, and maxing it out as much as possible. Five ranks grant a +2 synergy bonus to Diplomacy, which is great.
- Climb – If you like this for flavor, it gives the DM opportunities to give you cool dungeons. It doesn’t tend to give you the ability to beat general encounters, so I don’t recommend picking it up.
- Concentration – Since you’re a spellcaster, this is essential (unless you pick up the feat Melodic Casting, in which case you can ignore this one).
- Craft – I don’t like using finite skill points to generate gold (a DM-controlled resource). For that reason, I don’t recommend taking this skill.
- Decipher Script – It’s less expensive to take read magic as a cantrip and learn all of the languages through “Speak Languages” than it is to get this up to a level where you can get any practical use out of it. Pass.
- Diplomacy – Arguably the best skill in the game, I recommend maxing this out. It gives you so many opportunities to resolve conflicts and get allies. Very dynamic, very strong.
- Disable Device (Cross-class) – This is an OK skill, but its cross-class for the Bard. I think there are better places to put your points.
- Disguise – This has some cool role-playing opportunities, and can add a lot of flavor to a campaign. The downside is that the mechanics aren’t super favorable to the player, and the times you’ll be able to apply it in a regular campaign aren’t too often. It’s OK.
- Escape Artist – Being grappled sucks, and Escape Artist can help you get out of that. If your DM is good at the rules, he’ll probably send a few grapplers at the casters. This can help mitigate that.
- Forgery (Cross-class) – Because this is cross-class, it’s hard to get much out of it. It’s a cool ability with a lot of uses, so that’s cool.
- Gather Information – This is a fine ability, and fits right in with the other social-skills I recommend. It might overlap a bit, but with a good DM, I think each social skill has its own realm.
- Handle Animal (Cross-class) – Not really worth putting points into.
- Heal (Cross-class) – Not really worth putting points into.
- Hide – This is an OK skill for every class. You can go on espionage missions with the rogue, if you’d like. Not amazing, not bad.
- Intimidate (Cross-class) – It’s a shame this skill is cross-class, because it’s a strong skill and fits in well with the bard’s social package. It overlaps with diplomacy a bit, but it has some unique uses, and is really cool for roleplaying. There aren’t any easy ways for a bard to get a class skill. For fear-monger bards, this is a key component. For non-fear-mongers, you can take it or leave it.
- Jump – Five ranks gives a bonus to tumble, and there’s a nice skill trick which can be good. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s much here worth pursuing this one.
- Knowledge – Knowledges are a good skill in general, and become absolutely insane in conjunction with knowledge devotion and the skill trick Collector of Stories. If you’re going pure caster, this can be a dump. If you’re going archer or melee, this seems like something to really consider.
- Listen – This is a good skill that will get a lot of use throughout any campaign. Wisdom is our dump stat, which is sad. I usually want more active things (and leave the listening to the barbarian or rogue) but this is definitely worth considering. If you’re going into the Sublime Chord prestige class (one of the best for a Bard) you’ll need 13 ranks here, so keep that in mind.
- Move Silently – Same as hide. If you and the rogue want to be buddies (or if there’s no rogue) this is maybe worth taking. It has some application, but not as many as you might like.
- Open Lock (Cross-class) – This might be worth taking one rank in, if you get bardic knack. Otherwise, leave the locks to the rogues, wizards, or barbarians to solve.
- Perform – Essential for a bard. Keep this near max for one type, but there are some levels you can skimp on maxing out if you need, based on what bardic musics you’re gaining access to. I recommend doing something that doesn’t require an instrument, like singing, whistling, or oration.
- Profession – Boring. If you want to say to your DM “I spend a year making money”, then go ahead. Not something I’m interested in doing. Kill monsters and fight bad guys. That’s more fun. Professions are for real life.
- Ride (Cross-class) – Dump this skill and avoid horses. Q E D.
- Search (Cross-class) – It’s a good skill, but it’s not our strong suit. I usually let someone else in the party cover this ground, and just assist when I can.
- Sense Motive – Five ranks gives a synergy bonus to diplomacy. That’s great. Otherwise, it does help protect the party from being bluffed. It’s a solid skill, but not amazing.
- Sleight Of Hand – A lot of the bard’s spells are social based, and being caught casting can really a limiting factor. Sleight of hand enables you to cast secretly in two ways (using the skill and using a skill trick) which I’ll outline below in a special section. For that reason, I love this skill.
- Speak Language – A lot of the bard’s skills and spells are language dependent. The more languages you speak, the more opportunities you have to use those skills. There is a strong argument that this skill is not subject to the normal “Max level + 3 ranks” limit, which means you can pick up all 19 learnable languages at a pretty low level.
- Spellcraft – Lets you identify magical items with a high enough check and detect magic (MIC 217). That alone is a good enough reason to get into this class. It’s also required for some of the better prestige classes.
- Spot (Cross-class) – A good skill that I leave to other PCs.
- Survival (Cross-class) – Cross class and limited application. It will only really solve problems by the most difficult and strict DMs. Leave this to the ranger or rogue.
- Swim – This skill can save your life, but you don’t typically need a bunch of points to get value from it. As DM, I like to make encounters that reward multiple types of skills, and swim is easy to do that with. But it’s not something you need.
- Tumble – If you’re a melee bard, this is great. If you’re an archer bard, it might be OK. If you’re a face / caster bard, pass.
- Use Magic Device – One of the best skills in the game, I also recommend maxing this out. However, you can probably ignore it completely for the first 3-4 levels.
- Use Rope (Cross-class) – This skill is just bad.
Skill tricks are a game feature from Complete Scoundrel. They let you spend 2 skill points to pick up “skill tricks”, which are effectively mini-feats. Due to the high number of skill points and many roles that a Bard can play in a party, skill tricks can be a nice resource for a bard. Typically, you want to choose skill tricks that suit your character. Two skill points aren’t a large investment, so if you’ll be able to get some use out of the trick, it’s generally worth taking. Here is a list and my opinions on each:
- Acrobatic Backstab – This is best for a rogue, but if you’re a melee bard who uses tumble a lot, it’s not a bad use of skill points.
- Assume Quirk – Usually, if you’re using disguise, someone who knows the person you’re pretending to be is going to be in your line of fire. Getting a +4 to +10 on disguise in this scenario is a pretty good investment of two skill points. This will typically be best for someone who maxed out disguise and wants more points.
- Back on Your Feet – Really strong vs trip attacks. If I’m a melee / tumbler class, I’m taking this.
- Clarity of Vision – This is strong if you don’t have the ability to see invisibility some other way. The fact that you only get one round per encounter isn’t super exciting, though. If you somehow have 12 ranks in spot, this is a fine pick up. Because spot is a cross-class skill for bard, this is hard to get.
- Clever Improviser – This one just doesn’t get enough bang for the buck, especially for a non-rogue.
- Collector of Stories – This is solid if you don’t metagame. It’s especially strong if you’re a combat bard who takes knowledge devotion (and your DM rules that the +5 bonus improves your Devotion roll.) I take this as a combat bard and pass as a caster bard.
- Conceal Spellcasting – I think this is solid. Most of our spells are going to be social spells, and being able to cast without detection helps a lot. You should also look at Races of Stone (Page 133) for additional info on concealed spellcasting with sleight of hand. (Additional info here).
- Extreme Leap – This is a fine pick up for any tumbler bard. No skill entry cost (because you almost certainly have 5 jump for the synergy) and you get a little extra move when needed as a swift action. Not amazing, not bad.
- False Theurgy – I don’t typically run into counterspellers. If you do, this can be good to make sure a spell gets through.
- Group Fake-Out – I don’t think feinting is terribly good. For that reason, I also pass on this. If you’re into feinting, this is a fine upgrade for a low cost.
- Healing Hands – A mini-heal spell when dealing with dying characters. Can really help in a low-magic campaign, but this gets eclipsed by a Wand of CLW pretty quickly. Not great, and not really for a bard.
- Hidden Blade – Don’t take quick draw as a feat. If you have it, I guess you can take this feat. But I have trouble seeing this come up more than once in an entire campaign.
- Leaping Climber – I have trouble thinking of a scenario where speedy climbing is necessary, and where a few feet is the difference that matters.
- Listen to This – The best use of this is to bring non-understood languages back to the guy who can understand them. But you ARE the guy who can understand them. Spend the skill points on speak languages, not this.
- Magical Appraisal – This is OK. If your DM lets you get an artificer’s monocle, you can probably pass on this, but it’s a good trick for only 2 points. You can also gain this ability by pumping spellcraft, so lots of options here.
- Mosquito’s Bite – Most bad guys act like they didn’t get hit anyway, and why would a bard be using a light weapon? Pass.
- Never Outnumbered – We don’t have intimidate, this range is low, and demoralize opponent isn’t a great use of a standard action. Pass.
- Nimble Charge – This seems pretty good for a melee bard. A little narrow, but no real downside. The way its worded makes it sound like a passive always-on ability, but the general rule for skill tricks is once-per-encounter. I would want the DM’s ruling on that question, but it seems OK.
- Nimble Stand – Not bad, butI’d get Back on your Feet instead.
- Opening Tap – Not for the bard. Not even great for a rogue.
- Point it Out – A high entry cost, a bard isn’t typically the Spot guy in the party, and the effect is pretty limited. I’d pass.
- Quick Escape – Getting out of a grapple or pin at a swift action is really nice. This ability isn’t worth 14 skill points, but if you have the escape artist already, this is probably worth picking up.
- Quick Swimmer – I have trouble imagining a scenario where this matters at all.
- Second Impression – If you’re all about disguise, this is good. In general, it seems a bit loose for 2 skill points.
- Shrouded Dance – This has no application for a bard. Pass.
- Social Recovery – This isn’t too strong, but it pumps your diplomacy a little if you also have a maxed out bluff. The main problem is the interpration of “fail”. If you’re aiming for friendly, and you land at neutral, can you use this to push it a bit higher? If so, maybe it’s worth taking. Otherwise, someone who has a maxed out diplomacy is never going to flat “fail”, making this useless.
- Slipping Past – The problem this skill trick solves doesn’t happen often enough to matter.
- Speedy Ascent – Same as quick swimmer and jumping leap. Unless you’re simulating a climbing competition, when is this going to make an actual difference?
- Spot the Weakness – Not a bad skill trick. It helps vs the big armored guy a lot. Bards don’t tend to have a good spot skill, so this might not be great for you unless you picked up spot as a class skill from somewhere else. If you did, it’s worth considering at least.
- Sudden Draw – Don’t take quick draw. If you did, and you imagine this scenario will ever arise, you can spend two skill points for a really cool story. Mechanically, this is very weak.
- Swift Concentration – This is strong if you have spells that require concentration to maintain. It effectively gives you one more standard action, if you like those spells otherwise.
- Timely Misdirection – So many ifs and conditions. Pass on this please.
- Tumbling Crawl – This is a good ability; anytime you can get out of reach of AOOs safely is nice. I just have trouble seeing it come up often.
- Twisted Charge – This is solid for any melee bard. Not amazing, but just solid.
- Up the Hill – Like the swim and climb skill tricks, I just don’t see this making an appreciable difference.
- Walk the Walls – This has such cool visuals. I don’t know when you’ll get a good use out of it (you need a perfect scenario) but man its super cool.
- Wall Jumper – I have trouble finding a use for this.
- Whip Climber – I’d love to be Indiana Jones, but 15′ reach on a whip plus a 7 skill point dump feels rough.
Prestige Classes and Multiclassing
An optimized bard is a multiclassed bard. There are a lot of options here, especially considering the different roles it might want to be. I’ve tried to make as large of a list as possible, but there are a lot of options out there, so I may have missed a few of the more obscure ideas.
There aren’t a ton of great base-class dips for a bard. That being said, there are a few worth considering, and there are others which aren’t bad and might be fun for flavor, or fit a particular character you’re trying to build.
- Beguiler (PHB2 6) – Same as rogue, but instead of sneak attack you get some cantrips and level 1 spells. Not worth setting back all of your bardic class features. Pass.
- Binder (ToM 9) – This is a cool class, but I don’t see any benefits to cross-classing into it.
- Cleric (PHB 30) – Probably the best general single-dip base class in the game. You get a bunch of really cool effects. There is a handbook for this: http://brilliantgameologists.com/boards/index.php?topic=2773.0
- Crusader (ToB 8) -Strong for a melee bard. You get access to a white raven stance, which you can use to pick up Song of the White Raven feat, giving you Inspire Courage as a swift action. You also get maneuvers, can delay taking damage to yourself, and you gain some extra damage output tricks. You get a lot of punch from in a single level dip into this class.
- Dragonfire Adept (DrM 24) – This class is similar to the warlock in mechanics. I don’t see any advantage to going into this; it doesn’t directly synergize or amplify any bard class features.
- Dragon Shaman (PHB2 12) – A one level dip gets you 3 draconic auras, and +2 to fort and will. Not good, but if you really like draconic auras this is OK.
- Fighter (PHB 37) – Not worth going into for the bonus feat, IMO. Progressing your bardic music or going into crusader will be better.
- Hexblade (CW 5) – There’s a lot of cool stuff here, but it’s a solid downgrade from the bard’s package because we don’t get spell progression.
- Marshal (MH 11) – Nothing exciting here. It has some bard-like abilities, but they don’t stack at all.
- Monk (PHB 39) – Unless you’re doing this for flavor reasons, pass.
- Paladin (PHB 42) – Definitely weaker than progressing bard alone, or going into Crusader / Cleric, but there is one feat that supports this build, so it’s a little stronger than something like Monk or Ranger.
- Ranger (PHB 46) – There’s really nothing here for a bard. Not worth dipping for combat style (you’re better off doing that with fighter and it’s not good).
- Rogue (PHB 49) – Sneak attack is nice, but its only 1d6. I don’t recommend dipping this class, and multiclassing for a number of levels will just set back your bardic music and casting.
- Swordsage (BoNS 15) – Doesn’t give access to White Raven stances, which is a big benefit to going into this book. I recommend Crusader or Warblade instead.
- Warblade (BoNS 20) – Also good for a melee bard. You get access to white raven stance (opening up the feat Song of the White Raven, letting you inspire courage as a swift action) and some bonuses to reflex saves. Not as good as crusader for the bard, but still strong.
- Warlock (CArc 8) – Not worth dipping into. You just get an eldrich blast, which is a flashy long-bow. You have much better things to do with 1 level.
Bard Specific Prestige Classes
These are going to tend to be the strongest prestige classes available, because they are designed to continue to improve or enhance your bardic musics.
- Battle Howler of Gruumsh (DrM311 69) – A really good class for the melee bards out there. You lose some good skills (diplomacy, UMD) but you do pick up Intimidate. You continue to progress in bardic musics and bard spells, you get a +1 to inspire courage, you gain the ability to rage! and you gain the ability to activate bardic musics while raging.
- Dirgesinger (LM 43) – Become a bardic necromancer. Lose bardic spell progression, get access to five new songs across five levels, all undead related. Some of the songs (Sorrow, Grief, Horror, Awakening) are pretty strong. Losing spell progression is sad, but this is cool to look into, especially for a fear bard.
- Dawncaller (RoS 103) -Must be a goliath. No spell progression. Pick up some barbarian-like bardic musics. Not great, maybe worth considering as a two-level dip to get another +1 to inspire courage and darkvision.
- Divine Prankster (RS 107) – Must be a gnome. Get full spell progression, good reflex and will saves, wizard BAB progression, and some cool additional bardic musics. Definitely worth looking into for the gnome bards out there.
- Dwarven Chanter (Web) – This class is underwhelming. It increases your bardic music count which is nice, but otherwise there’s not much. The +2 to bonus to class level to skills (max +20) is interesting, but difficult to take advantage of in-game because of the very long daze afterwards. War chant would be good, except the ally side doesn’t stack with inspire courage. The rest of the stuff is really flavorful, but difficult to apply to an advantage in-game.
- Evangelist (CD 39) – Lose bardic spell progression. Pick up some OK bardic musics and skill abilities. Has a bad feat entry cost, and no spell progression. Mechanically, this is weak.
- Green Whisperer (DM311, 69) – You continue to progress your bardic music and spells, but you lose some key skills, and the benefits are pretty boring.
- Hafling Whistler (Web) – This class is OK. Full spell progression of any bard class (looking at you, sublime chord) and a lot of cool spell-like abilities. It does not increase any of your other bard class features, though, which is sad.
- Harper Agent (PGtF 58) – Continues to progress bardic knowledge, and increases spells levels 2-5. Otherwise, the abilities it is granted are pretty weak and it requires a crappy feat to get in. Pass.
- Heartfire Fanner (DM314) – Give allies feats, give a little bigger boost to an ally under inspire courage, and get full casting and full music progression. It would be pretty good if not for the steep feat entry costs, especially because the feats are garbage (Negotiator and Skill Focus: Perform).
- Lyric Thaumaturge (CM 67) – This is a great class. It is a good alternative to the basic bard progression. You can start taking it at level 7, which is a good break point in the bard class, and it lets you pick up some spells from the wizard list, some extra spells per day, and a few other cool abilities. Level 4 and level 7 are natural break points, but there’s nothing wrong with going all the way to level 10.
- Memory Smith (DM311 68) – The thing that makes this good is that 1: it doesn’t have a steep entry cost; and 2: you continue to progress in bardic music progression from the base bard class and bard spells. Basically it’s a free add-on to the bard class (at a small cost to bardic knowledge.) That being said, the benefits aren’t great; you basically add a bunch of spells to your list that I don’t like.
- Mourner (DM311 67) – Similar to the memory smith. You have a really low entry cost, and you progress bardic musics and bard spell casting. Because it’s basically an add-on, it’s gotta be at least OK. If you’re in an undead campaign (or maybe if you’re doing necromancy stuff) this is something worth looking at.
- Ollam (CAdv 66) – A Dwarf only class that grants some bard-like abilities. 5 levels total, levels 2,3, and 4 improve spellcasting. Definitely a pass.
- Seeker of the Song (CA 56) – Lose bardic spell progression, but pick up a lot of special bardic musics, plus the ability to combine bardic musics and activate musics as a swift action. If you want to go all-in on bardic music, this is a good class to do it with. Requires Skill Focus (Perform) as an entry feat, which is sad.
- Stormsinger (Frost 71) – Full spell progression and some additional bardic musics. Requires two bad feats for entry, though, which is a real bummer. I haven’t looked at this too deeply, but I feel like there’s the potential for abuse by maximizing the winds ability, especially because the class itself gives you the ability to boost your caster level. (It’s also worth noting that this is one of the few bard prestige classes that is compatible with Divine Bard.)
- Sublime Chord (CA 60) – Get up to 9th level spell casting with this class, plus some cool abilities. Entry cost isn’t too high. It pulls spells from the wizard / sorcerer list or bard list, whichever is better. A great 2-level dip or 6-level dip. (Then you’ll want to use something that progresses spellcasting to get to 10th level casting of this).
- Troubadour of the Stars (BoED 78) – Requires a weak feat to get in and progresses spells every even level. It stacks with bard for progresses all bardic music abilities, though, which is nice. You also pick up detect evil at will some additional bardic musics, and some other cool abilities. Worth looking at if you want to be a bard/paladin type character.
- Virtuoso (CAdv 89) – Can be used to increase the spellcasting levels of sublime chord along with your bardic musics. You also pick up some OK new uses of Bardic Music. Not great for progressing a bard build (because you lose one level of casting) but good with sublime chord. You have to give up one level of spellcasting to get into this, but you get full progression after that plus the musics.
- Virtuoso (SaS 22) – The 3.0 version of Virtuoso is much stronger than the 3.5 version. You progress spells every level, you gain most of the core bard abilities, and you pick up a bunch of new abilities. As a DM I wouldn’t allow the 3.0 version of this class. But if your DM will let you, it’s very strong.
- War Chanter (CW p87)- Lose bard spell progression, pick up strong alternate combat-oriented bardic music abilities. It’s a shame that we lose spells with this class.
- Abjurant Champion (CM 50) – Five level full casting class and full BAB that grants some really cool abjuration-related effects. Bards don’t tend to have abjuration spells, though, so the application for us is limited. (Dispel magic and resistances are the only good spells on the bard list). If you can figure out a way to take advantage of this (probably gaining access to spells via sublime chord or lyric thaumaturge) it’s a very powerful class. However, generally speaking, it doesn’t benefit a bard.
- Arcane Archer (DMG 175) – Elf or Half-elf only. Lose spell progression and bard ability progression. Pick up some really cool arrow tricks. Not strong, but it has nice flavor.
- Arcane Duelist (Web) – Two feat tax (dodge and moblility). Lose spellcasting progression. Get good reflex and will saves. Get a bunch of really cool extraordinary and spell like abilities. The big question I have with this class is why are we getting only 1/2 base attack bonus!? +5 across 10 levels is insane for a class that’s focused on melee combat. This has really cool flavor, but is weak.
- Battle Dancer (DrC 26) – I think this is pretty weak. You might want to look at it as a single-level dip to get a Charisma bonus to AC, but because you have to be unarmored for that bonus, I prefer just buying some armor.
- Duelist (DMG 185) – Some cool-ish combat abilities, but at a huge cost: no spell progression and three bad feats. Pass.
- Eldritch Knight (DMG 187) – Lose one level of casting progression and bardic music progression for full BAB and a bonus feat. Requires proficiency with all martial weapons, which means you’ll have to have another dip somewhere. Worth looking at, but in the end you do better progressing bard most of the time (Maybe there’s a wonky gish build with Sublime Chord and this?). Even putting aside the loss of a level (or two!) the increased bonuses to inspire courage outweight the slightly better BAB progression.
- Jade Phoenix Mage (BoNS 115) – Full BAB, 8/10 spellcasting progression, Devoted Spirit maneuver progression, and provides two powerful early class features: Arcane Wrath, where you can turn a spell slot (even a cantrip!) into a bonus to attack and damage, and Mystic Phoenix Stance, where you pick up small CL and AC bonuses and up to DR 10/evil, which really adds up. If you hold off on most of its levels until after you go into Sublime Chord, it can help you progress SC to ninth level spells and still get you to around +17 or so BAB at 20th. Good early, good late. If your DM allows Tome of Battle, this should be blue for a combat bard and purple for a Sublime Chord gish. (Thanks to Gabrosin of the Giant in the Playground forums for this summary!)
- Knight Phantom (Five Nations 41) – Lose bardic music progression to pick up full BAB and some ghost-flavored abilities. Not bad, not great.
- Spellsword – Easy to enter, but no bardic progression and spell progression only on odd levels. This is best as a 1-level dip; you get 1 BAB, 2 fort, 2 will, and 10% ASF reduction (which can help you carry a shield). Something to look at as a melee bard.
- Suel Archanamach (CArc 63) – Starts its own spell progression, and adds some combat – related feats. Not great, but might be worth looking at once.
- Swiftblade (web) – Pretty cool prestige class for gish builds. Definitely worth considering for 3 levels, and I could see going here for 9 or 10 levels. The only problem is that it has a pretty high feat tax.
Spell Progression / Abilities (Not Bard Specific)
These are notable classes that continue spell progression and grant some abilities, but don’t progress your bard-specific abilities.
- Archmage (DMG 178) – Three bad feats to get in and no bardic progression. The High Arcanas are kind of cool, but not really worth the cost for a bard.
- Ardent Dilettante (Planar 55) – Progress spells at every level but first. Really high entry cost that increase as you level up in the class, but some nifty benefits (3 bonus feats) and it progresses Bardic Knowledge. This class is going to be one that you have focus your entire build on, but it’s got some things to recommend it. I don’t think it’s the most powerful choice, but it might be fun.
- Blood Magus (CA 26) – A casting focused class that progresses spells but offers nothing to the bard.
- Dread Witch (HoH 98) – A fear-based caster class. You get 4/5 spell progression and a bunch of fear-based effects. This is the prestige class for fear escalators.
- Exalted Arcanist (BoED 61) – Gain some exalted spells. The feat entry here, and losing one level of casting, is sad. I’m not in love with the new spells it gives you access to, so I think this is a pass.
- Fatespinner (CA 37) – A high level prestige class that’s great as a 4-level dip. You stop improving your bardic knowledge and bardic musics per day, but you get a bunch of really cool re-rolling abilities. I love this class.
- Green Star Adept (CArc 41) – 5 / 10 spell progression. Slowly turn into a construct. Nothing special for a bard.
- Harper Paragon (PGtF 181) -Requires that you get into the vow feat tree.Doesn’t progress any bardic features, but gets you into some paladin / ranger like abilities while continuing to progress spells.
- Heartwarder (FaP 197) – Has a really high feat tax and no bardic music progression. On the upside, you gain bonuses to charisma and charisma related effects, as well as full spellcasting progression. Pretty cool.
- Incantatrix (PGtF 61) – 10 levels of spell progression. No bardic ability progression. Pick up some cool concentration and metamagic tricks. I don’t think there’s much here for a bard, it’s better for a wizard or sorcerer.
- Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil (CA 44) – This is a very strong class, but it’s got a high cost to get into and doesn’t fit the bard mold well. Leave this one to the wizards.
- Loremaster (DMG 191) – 10/10 spell progression, no bardic ability progression. Pick up “secrets” that give some minor benefits. This is weak.
- Mage of the Arcane Order (CA 48) – This could be cool for a bard to get access to a wider range of spells, but it was designed without spontaneous casters in mind. You’ll have to talk to your DM about how to make it work.
- Master of Masks (CS 52) – Only progress spells 4 levels out of 10. You get a lot of neat abilities and some really cool flavor, but mechanically you give up a lot more than you gain.
- Mindbender – A reasonable good 1-level dip or 3-level dip. You only progress spell casting on odd levels, but you pick up cool abilities like telepathy.
- Mythic Exemplar (Ktolemagne) (CC 86) – This will give you spell progression for every level but 1 and 10. Not bad. In addition, you’ll get a scaling bonus to will saves, +5 to some skills, +4 to Intelligence, Identify 1/day, and SR 10 + CL. And at level 10 you get +2 to any stat. Not great, really, but it’s got some cool flavor. I’d look at Human Paragon before this.
- Mythic Exemplar (Reikhardt) (CC 86) – 1/2 spell progression. Scaling bonus to will saves, continues to scale inspire courage and inspire greatness, +4 to charisma, dominate person as a swift action, and the capstone of another +2 to an ability score. Kinda cool, not great.
- Nightmare Spinner (CM 74) – 5 level class, get spell progression for four levels. Pick up a bunch of pretty strong fear-related effects, and also get additional spell slots per day (but only for illusion spells). Definitely strong.
- Rainbow Servant (CD 54) – If this grants access to all cleric spells at level 10, its worth looking at. I don’t think it’s good, anyway, but anything that expands the bard spell list is interesting. You get 7 levels out of 10 of spell progression, and some cool special abilities.
- Ruathar (RotW 122) – Three levels of spell progression and some cool abilities. It doesn’t do anything to advance your bard skills, and the abilities aren’t that cool. Probably a pass.
- Shadowcraft Mage (ROS 120) – 5 / 5 spell progression plus cool abilities. Must be gnome (or your DM can add a different restriction). Offers an effectively wider spell selection through shadow tricks. It’s pretty cool.
- Shadowcrafter (UD 43) – An illusion-oriented casting class. 10/10 levels of spell progression, plus pumps to the Shadow spells. This isn’t great, but it’s OK.
- Tainted Scholar (HoH 114) – Full spell progression, but requires a will save to multiclass out of. A lot of taint-flavored stuff here. I don’t recommend this on power level, and the taint stuff can be restrictive. If you like the flavor, take a look at it. (But it’d probably be better to do this as a pure caster class instead of the bard).
- Urban Savant (City 100) – Full spell progression. You have to pick up the “favored” feat, which is pretty weak. Grants a mini-knowledge devotion class feature, you also pick up low-light-vision and some substitution skills for diplomacy. This is generally pretty weak.
- Wild Mage (CA 68) – 10/10 spell progression. Not terrible, not exciting. If you like the flavor, it’s OK to take. There are stronger options, though.
These classes are from Unearthed Arcana. These don’t prove to be a good option in the end, but it took me a lot of trying to fit them into builds to come to that conclusion. The +2 boost to a stat is a real big temptation, but it’s not worth losing bardic ability progression and a level of casting (or worse). That being said, maybe you have a build where they make sense, or you like the flavor, so I included them here.
- Drow Paragon (male only) – A one level dip is worth considering. Not great because it doesn’t advance any other classes or class abilities, but you do get spellcasting and additional uses of spell-like abilities.
- Elf Paragon – Doesn’t advance bard spells. Pass.
- Gnome Paragon – Not bad, but you lose one level of spellcasting.
- Half-Elf Paragon – At best a two-level dip, which avoids the primary reason to take a paragon class: the stat boost. Pass.
- Human Paragon – 3 levels, two of which progress spellcasting. Gain a bonus feat and +2 to a stat. Not bad, but usually hard to work into builds.
I don’t tend to think hybrid classes are a good idea from an optimization point of view, especially if you’re coming from the bard as a base class. You’ll see that reflected in the analysis below. That being said, the Apostle of Peace and Priest of Ur both have some serious potential.
- Apostle of Peace (BoED 51) -Get 9th level Arcane Casting in 10 levels. This + Bard + Sublime Chord + Mystic Theurge is really cool. You have to go into the Vow feats to get into this class, but the vow feats can be good if your DM and party members are comfortable with how they impact the campaign. Check out the example builds section for more info on this.
- Arcane Hierophant (RotW 108) – Designed as a Arcane / Druid hybrid, a bard could theoretically go into this. I recommend passing, though, there’s nothing too exciting here.
- Arcane Trickster (ToB 47) – Mage / Rogue hybrid. Pros:Full sneak attack progression and full spell progression. Cons: This is built targeting a wizard, not a bard, so no bardic abilities progress.
- Bladesinger (RoF 179) – A lot of required entry feats, most of which are bad. It also has its own 4-level spell list rather than progressing the bard’s. There’s one really cool ability, but this is a pass.
- Divine Crusader (CD 33) – Relatively easy to go into, and it’s a good way to get high level arcane and divine casting. Bard, Sublime Chord, Divine Crusader, and Mystic Theurge. Voila. You also get some cool stuff like Weapon Specialization and Darkvision.
- Daggerspell Mage (Cadv 31) – Arcane / Rogue hybrid. 9/10 spell level progression, sneak attack progression, and some cool knife like abilities.
- Divine Prankster (RoS p107) – A gnome-only Bard/Cleric hybrid PrC that focuses on Perform (Comedy). It gets a really powerful ability at 2nd level, that lets you consume a turn/rebuke undead attempt to get +10 against the check to recognize a figment as an illusion. The first thing that comes to mind are the shadow evocation and shadow conjuration spells.
- Enlightened Fist (CA 34) – Arcane /Monk – 8/10 spell progression, continued progression of monk abilities, some cool abilities.
- Fochlucan Lyrist (Cadv 47)-Bard / Druid hybrid.You progress Bard and Druid spell progression, along with bardic class features. You can’t get into the class until level 10, though, which means you are going to have a lot of lower-level spells, but be severely gimped at higher level spells. You also don’t get the best features of the druid class. I think this is worse than going pure bard or pure druid, but that’s how things often are with hybrid classes.
- Geomancer (CD 41) – Divine / Arcane hybrid. Progresses one side of the spellcasting and adds some abilities.
- Imaskari Vengeance Taker (Underdark 37) – Gain sneak attack and poison use, 5/10 spell progression. Can seek out one particular creature using clairvoyance and divination. Not really anything special here for a bard.
- Mystic Theurge (DMG 192) – Arcane / Divine hybrid. Progress bardic spells and divine spells simultaneously, no other benefits. Not a good idea for a bard in general (combined with a cleric for example) but can be very potent when combined with Ur-Priest, Divine Crusader, or Apostle of Peace.
- Rage Mage (CW 72) – Wizard / Barbarian hybrid. This doesn’t really seem to be worth anything to the bard. Just included it here in case someone is looking to do bard / barbarian.
- Ur-priest (CD 70) – Get 9th level Divine Casting in 10 levels. This + Bard + Sublime Chord + Mystic Theurge is really cool. This has the strange pre-req of a good fort save, so you’ll probably have to build using savage bard. Check out the example builds section for more info.
If your DM will let you take a flaw (see: Unearthed Arcana) take one. If he’ll let you take two, take two. More feats more better.
- Able Learner (RoD 150) – Human or doppleganger only. Buy cross-class skills ranks for 1 point (instead of 2). Still subject to the 1/2 max ranks. Not bad, I’d probably do something else though.
- Battle Caster (CA 75) – You can put a bard in mithril full plate this way. Pretty cool. (You could also look into half-weight armor, to accomplish this without a feat).
- Craft Wonderous Item (PHB 92) – Pay: time, 1/2 the gold cost, and 1/25th gold cost in XP to make any wonderous item. The purpose of this feat is to force your DM to let you get an item he doesn’t want to give you. Look, you’re playing a bard, the master manipulator class. Use some of those skills in real life and talk your DM into granting reasonable access to wonderous items, and save the XP, skill points, and feat.
- Darkstalker (LoM) – Hide a little better vs. creatures with blindsight and blind sense? Terrible.
- Drow Legacy (DotU 220) – Half-elf only. Lose standard half-elf benefits. Get some drow benefits (+2 will saves vs spells, darkvision, hand crossbow, and some spell-like abilities) along with a -1 circumstance penalty to attcks, saves, and checks in bright sunlight. Losing the +2 to diplomacy is a big hit, but I do love spells. Even though these spells aren’t great, they’re spells! The +2 to will against spells is pretty good too. On the whole, this is a fine choice. Not essential, but I’d be considering it.
- Daunting Presence – Standard action to activate, single target, gets a save, and benefit is minimal. Pass.
- Flexible Mind (DrM #326)- Gain two skills as class skills (and get a +1 untyped bonus to those skills). A great way to get into intimidate.
- Imperious Command (DotU) – Requires intimidate 8 ranks, and depends on demoralizing in combat. If you succeed, the bad guy cowers for 1 round (and then is shaken the following round). The skill trick “Never Outnumbered” lets you demoralize multiple opponents at once. If you manage to do this to multiple opponents, you can get some pretty good action-economy (trading your turn for multiple opponent’s turns). This is pretty cool if you have a way to get intimidate to 8.
- Improved Initiative – This is a solid feat. Bards are buffers / controllers, and that means they like acting first. That being said, there are usually better options unless you are restrained on what books you can use.
- Jack of All Trades – This isn’t great at all. Dump one point in the skill if you really want access to it. Not worth a feat.
- Leadership – Most DMs ban this feat, and for good reason. A bard is particularly good for this feat. It requires a lot of book-keeping, and may make your ally PC’s jealous of your time in the spotlight. But its power cannot be denied.
- Master Manipulator – The first ability is another fascinate, and the second ability doesn’t do too much. I think this is a pass.
- Momentary Alteration (UA 94) – If you’re exposed to “alter self” you can take this feat and use alter-self for 1 minute once per day as a spell-like ability. Alter self is really strong, but I don’t know that this feat is exciting despite that.
- Minor Shapeshift – A cool feat that passively gives a bunch of buffs, but the bard has trouble getting into it with his spell list (there are no polymorph spells on the bard list except alter self, and you need a 4th level one). One appproach is to take heighten spell and alter self (you can now cast a 4th level alter self) or to go into sublime chord.
- Negotiator (PHB 98) – +2 to Diplomacy and Sense Motive, untyped (so it stacks with everything). This is better than it initially seems.
- Nymph’s Kiss (BoED 44) – This is an easy feat to overlook, but man is it jam packed. +2 to all charisma related effects (diplomacy, bluff, etc.) +1 bonus to all saves against spells and spell-like abilities, and 1 extra skill point per level. It’s a strong, passive feat. Obviously, take it at level 1 if you’re going to take it.
- Skill Focus (Diplomacy) (PHB 100) – An untyped +3 bonus to diplomacy is actually pretty good. Especially for a core bard.
- Residual Rebound (UA 94) – 5% chance of returning a spell targetting you on the caster. It’s cool, but I don’t like being targeted with spells and 5% isn’t enough.
- Scathing Wit (DrM 291) – Opposed intimidate check as a full round action to give opponent -1 to everything for a number of rounds equal to your charisma modifier. Not a bad debuff.
- Summon Elemental Reserve Feat (CM 47) – As long as you have an open 4th level spell slot and a summon spell of 4th level or higher on your known spells list, you can summon a small elemental (air, earth, fire, or water) for 5+ rounds. Pretty great utility feat. The earth elemental can earthglide through walls and doors! This is very cool and very useful. I like its diversity.
- Touch of Healing (CC 62) – A reserve feat that lets you cure your party to half of their max hitpoints, as long as you have a 2nd level spell slot open and a healing spell on your known spell list. I don’t love this, but if you want to be a healer, this is strong tool to do that.
- Trivial Knowledge (RoS 145) – Gnome only. Roll knowledge and bardic knowledge checks twice, take the higher of the two rolls. This might be pretty good with knowledge devotion if you have the feat to spare (although, it’s hard to be a gnome and combat oriented). Otherwise, leave this.
- Versatile Performer – Use your highest rank perform for up to int-bonus other perform checks. This depends on your DMs way of playing. If she requires that you have the required ranks to use each instrument for perform, that really limits your ability to take advantage of the instrument boosts. This feat can offset that by letting you have all of the instruments available to you. If your DM is lax about this rule or interprets it softly, then there’s no reason at all to take this feat.
- Wanderer’s Diplomacy – The first ability is a method to get the DM to do something he doesn’t want to do (never a good idea) the second ability can be solved with skill points via speak language, and the third ability lets you use bluff in place of diplomacy. All are pretty underpowered.
If you’re going to pick up a familiar (a strong idea) you should read Dictum Mortuum’s excellent Familiar’s Handbook.
- Celestial Familiar (BoED41) – This isn’t worth getting to add the celestial template to an existing familiar. However, it opens up Coure Eladrin as a familiar, which is one of the best familiar’s in the game.
- Improved Familiar (DMG 200) – Improved familiar makes your familiar even more cool. There are a lot of really strong options here.
- Obtain Familiar (CArc 81) – A familiar can be a really nice boost for a bard, especially something that can speak and activate items. There are handbooks on this topic if you’re interested in it.
- Planar Familiar –
- Psicrystal Affinity (XPH 49) – Gain a Psicrystal as a familiar. Also good. I think it’s basically the same as a regular familar with some cool flavor.
- Wild Cohort (Web) – Not a familiar, but having an animal companion is pretty great too.
- Arcane Preparation (PgtF 32) – Allows you to prepare spells ahead of time with metamagic applied to them, rather than doing so spontaneously (and having to cast at full-round speed). Rapid Metamagic is a better option, use that for this effect if you want it.
- Arcane Thesis (PHB2 74) – Make one spell cast at +2 CL and get a metamagic reduction of one for it. Definitely cool.
- Coercive Spell (DotU 47) – (+1 mod) Spells that deal damage also reduce targets will by 2 for 3 rounds. This would actually be pretty good, except that it requires the spell deal damage, which the bard doesn’t have a lot of.
- Chain Spell (CArc 76)- (+3 Mod) There are a lot of bard spells that this applies to. Worth considering for your higher level feats.
- Disguise Spell (+1 mod) Hide the fact that you are casting spells for +1 spell level. There are ways to do this with Sleight of Hand (see that section) and Skill Tricks (see that section) so I think it’s better to pass on getting the feat; feats are valuable things.
- Easy Metamagic (DRM 325) – This will let you persist 4th level spells. IF you’re going all-in on persist, this is something to look into, but otherwise probably a pass.
- Extend Spell (PHB) – (+1 mod) I think this is the best metamagic feat available to a bard. Many of the swift-cast spells can be really improved by doubling their duration (but you’ll need the Rapid Metamagic feat).
- Fell Drain (LM 27 )- (+2 mod) If your spell does damage, the bad guy also gains a negative level. This is quite good if you have a damage spell you like.
- Heighten Spell (PHB) – (+1 mod) Spell DC is everything. The harder your spells are to resist in clinch moments, the more effective you are.
- Metamagic School Focus (CM) – Reduces the metamagic cost of a particular school of magic by 1. The main purpose in getting this is to let you persist a particular school of spells one level higher (so max 5 on persist spell if you go all-out here).
- Metamagic Song – Lets you consume bardic musics (an overflowing resource) to reduce the metamagic cost of spells. There are two big limitations to this feat: 1. You cannot increase a spell’s level to higher than what you can cast (severely limiting the options with persist spell) and 2. You have to either reduce it entirely or not at all. Still strong.
Persistent Spell – (+6 mod) Not worth considering unless you’re going into PrC Sublime Chord (9th level casting) or if you’re picking up the Talfirian Song feat (which effectively increases your max spell level to 9). Even there, the benefits are a little limited, since, at best, you can extend 3 rd level spells. This is also very cheesy and might piss your DM off. That being said, here is a (hopefully complete) list of spells that are candidates for persisting. Obviously, due to your limited spell list and bardic musics per day, you’ll have to choose a few of these carefully. It’s also worth nothing that these spells are usually not the best choice for casting purposes, so you might want to substitute into them at later levels, instead of having them be dead weight all game.
- Level 0: Detect Magic, Fleeting Flame, Ghost Sounds, Ghost Harp, Know Direction, Light, Minor Disguise, Percussion, Read Magic, Resistance, Seeker’s Chant, Silvered Weapon, Songbird, Summon Instrument
- Level 1: Accelerated Movement, Ambient Song, Ancient Knowledge, Comprehend Languages, Crabwalk, Critical Strike, Detect Secret Doors, Disguise Self, Expeditious Retreat (swift), Expeditious Retreat, Focusing Chant, Friendly Face, Ghost Pipes, Inspirational Boost, Instant Diversion, Invisibility (Swift), Ivory Flesh, Joyful Noise, Loresong, Lucky Streak, Master’s Touch, Mimicry, No Light, Obscure Object, Quick Swim, Scholar’s Touch, Serene Visage, Silent Image, Stay the Hand, Sticky Fingers, Summon Monster I, Undersong, Ventriloquism
- Level 2: Alter Self, Animate Instrument, Animate Rope, Battle Hymn, Bladeweave, Blur, Cat’s Grace, Create Fetch, Detect Thoughts, Eagle’s Splendor, Elation, Fly (Swift), Fox’s Cunning, Grace, Harmonic Chorus, Harmonize, Heroism, Invisibility, Lively Step, Mesmerizing Glare, Minor Image, Mirror Image, Misrepresent Alignment, Peaceful Serenity of Io, Phade’s Fearsome Aspect, Proud Arrogance, Rage, Resounding Voice, Sculpt Sound, See Invisibility, Silence, Sonic Weapon, Sonic Whip, Sonorous Hum, Speak to Allies, Stretch Weapon, Summon Elysian Thrush, Summon Monster II, Summon Swarm, Surefooted Stride, Tactical Precision, Tongues, Tune of the Dancing Weapon, Weapon Shift
- Level 3: Blink, Displacement, Fortissimo, Gaseous Form, Glibness, Good Hope, Haste, Hymn of Praise, Infernal Threnody, Invisibility Sphere, Major Image, Phantom Steed, Puppeteer, Sonic Shield, Speak with Animals, Speechlink, Summon Monster III, Tiny Hut, Verraketh’s Shadow Crown, Weapon of Impact
- Level 4: Sirine’s Grace, (More to come).
- Practical Metamagic (RoD 101) – Another way to reduce the metamagic cost for persist. Probably not worth getting in any other build, but very good if you’re going the persist route.
- Quicken Spell – (+4 mod) Also very strong. The cost is high, but being able to cast as a swift action is amazing. Because you’re a spontaneous caster, you’ll also need Rapid Metamagic to get the benefit of this feat.
- Rapid Metamagic – If you’re going metamagic, this feat is very nice. Lets you apply metamagic without increasing the spell cast time.
- Reach Spell – The bard has a few OK touch spells. If you think you’re going to be using a lot of them, this is worth considering.
- Sculpt Spell – (+1 mod) One of the best metamagic feats, but, unfortunately, it does not have too much application in the bard’s spell list. If you focus on choosing spells that have area effects, you can get a lot out of this. You should note that the 10′ cubes should probably be read as being contiguous, which makes the effect worse than if you can put them anywhere.
- Silent Spell (PHB 100)- (+1 mod) Bard spells cannot be enhanced by silent spell, so this is a dead feat for us.
Spell Improvement Feats
- Augment Summoning (PHB 89) – Give your summoned creatures +4 to STR and CON, meaning more damage and more hit points. A “pied-piper” bard is a cool idea, especially since Inspire Courage gets stronger the more allies you have.
- Captivating Melody – Consume a bardic music and pass a DC 15 + spell level perform check to increase the DC of an enchantment or illusion spell by 2. Pretty good. I like heighten spell / metamagic song better, but this is solid.
- Enchanting Song – Increase the DC of an enchantment spell by 1 by expending a bardic music. Requires spell focus (enchantment) which is pretty lame, and it’s not 100% clear that you can activate this multiple times for one spell.
- Echew Materials (PHB 94) – Get rid of material components. This is generally bad, but could be part of a secretive spellcasting package.
- Extraordinary Concentration (Cadv 109) – Pass high DC concentration checks to concentrate as move or swift actions. If you fail, you lose the spell. This would be good, but it’s hard to make the risk of failure reasonably low enough, so I suggest passing on this (or getting it at level 18.)
- Extra Slot (CA 79) – Gain an extra spell slot, one lower than your max spell level. Not bad.
- Extra Spell (CA 79) – Spend a feat to get another spell on your spell list. The biggest limitation to the bard’s casting is his list of spells known. This is a fine way to expand it if you have the feats to spare. There’s a question of whether you can pull from another list (druid, wizard, cleric, etc.). I think you can, but you should check with your DM.
- Improved Summoning – For a summoner bard this can be really good. Build up a group of minions, make them better by augmenting, and stack inspire courage on top. Pretty cool.
- Lingering Song – Bardic music lasts 1 minute instead of 5 rounds after you stop performing. A harmonizing weapon can accomplish this, and melodic casting can effectively accomplish this (with some additional benefits). I think this is a pass. However, as Hiro Quester pointed out, this allows you to stack bardic musics on top of each other, which is nice.
- Lyric Spell – Lets you consume bardic musics to get more spells per day. More spells is good, and bardic musics can be an overflowing resource, especially if you’re not going the metamagic route.
- Melodic Casting – Two big benefits. 1: You can use perform instead of concentration for casting-related checks. 2: You can cast spells or activate magic items while maintaining bardic music. This is also an entry requirement for the very strong PrC Lyric Thaumaturge.
- Misleading Song (ROS) – Spend bardic music to increase illusion caster level and DC by 1. Requires spell focus (illusion). I strongly recommend Metamagic Song and Heighten Spell instead. Same effect, much more versatile.
- Mobile Spellcasting – Move while casting as a standard action, letting you effectively move twice your normal distance in a turn. This can help you stay out of trouble. You risk losing the spell though (you must make a high concentration check) which is a big downside.
- Precocious Apprentice (CArc 181) – Must be taken at level 1. Get access to a 2nd level spell right away with a special spell slot. Once you become able to cast level 2 spells, lose access to that spell but keep the slot. In addition, at all levels you get +2 to spellcraft. I am taking this feat everytime I play a 1st level character and I’m not confident the campaign will last until level 6. I’m not sure if it has a place in a level 20 build, but it’s definitely reasonable at all levels and amazing at levels 1-3.
- Talfirian Song (RoF 170) – Requires Tethyrian human. Increase the DC of your illusion spells by expending bardic music slots. I prefer Heighten spell & Metamagic Song (because it’s general case) but there are some distinct benefits to Talafrin Song: no cap on the amount you can dump into it, and it only requires one feat. There aren’t a ton of illusion spells that I recommend that have DCs, but a few important ones do. (Shadow conjuration and shadow evocation, for example). This also opens up a loophole with persist spell and metamagic song (see persist spell above).
- Versatile Spellcaster – Use two spell slots of a level to cast a spell a level higher. Not bad.
The vows are a really strong option for a bard. That being said, they are campaign warping due to their restrictions and power level. If you go this route, you should make sure your DM and other PCs know what they’re getting into. It can be good if everyone’s prepared, but if not, these options will probably ruin your campaign.
- Sacred Vow (BoED p46) – +2 to Diplomacy checks. Not great, but an entry feat into the Vows. Given that it’s an entry feat, it’s not a bad effect.
- Vow of Abstinence (BoED p 47) – +4 for saves against poison and drugs, but you can’t drink. Bad.
- Vow of Chastity (BoED p47) – +4 to will saves against charm and phantasm effects, but you can’t get laid.The effect is limited and not great.
- Vow of Nonviolence (BoED p47) – This is interesting for a caster bard. +4 to all spell and ability DCs, but you can’t do any damage or kill anyone else. It still allows you to do area effects, debuffs, and buffs. Requires a specific build, but can be strong. Requires Sacred Vow, which isn’t a great feat. Because of that, I prefer Metamagic Song and Heighten Spell, but this is interesting too.
- Vow of Peace (BoED p48) – This requires vow of non-violence. +6 to AC, +4 to diplomacy, a permanent aura of calm emotion, weapons that hit you can shatter against your skin, if you have vow of poverty, you get an additional +6 to AC. All in return for additional restrictions about killing things. Very strong.
- Vow of Poverty (BoED p48) – Take magical item progression out of your DMs hands. This is nothing special for a bard.
Bardic Music Feats
- Arcane Accompaniment (PHB II) – Expend a spell slot to extend the duration of bardic musics. Not worth a feat at all.
- Arcane Flourish (PHB II) – Swift action to give up a spell slot to increase a perform check. Not great. Your spells are typically better than a small bonus to perform (and many spells can give you that, if you want it). Not worth spending a feat on this.
- Artist (PGtF 33) – Bardic music is a pretty abundant resource, but if you prestige out and are doing metamagic reduction, this may be worth taking. Also good if you’re taking Lyric Spell. This is worse than Extra Music, IMO, but it’s very similiar and you should consider both if you’re considering either.
- Chant of Fortitude – Use bardic music to keep allies conscious when they’re at negative hit points. Kinda cool, but not worth a feat.
- Chant of the Long Road (CS 74) – Spend a bardic music feat to offset the non-lethal damage from hustling for 1 hour. Y U C K.
- Chaos Music (DM326 80) – This is great. Go into something like Lyric Thaumaturge for four levels and effectively get 4 levels of class features for one feat. Quite good. This is most effective if you have 5 or 11 levels of bard, but even if you get two class abilities with this, you’re doing great.
- Chord Of Distraction – Immediate action is nice, and the ability can help out your rogue party members. The cost of three bardic musics is really high, though.
- Doomspeak (CoR 21) – Gives target -10 to attack, saves, ability checks, and skill checks for 1 round. Will negates. This feat is alright, but the intimidate 8 requirement makes it so we can’t get into the class until level 13 unless we gain intimidate as a class skill. The DC to resist is very high, and it can help you lower the defenses of a big bad guy for the rest of the party. It’s OK, but not great.
- Dragonfire Inspiration – You need the dragonblood subtype. This effectively gets somewhere between an additional 0.5 to 1.5 point of damage per attack for everyone affected by your inspire courage. (Teammates get +Xd6 damage instead of +X to attack and damage). If your DM will allow this to stack with inspire courage, it’s bonkers good. If not, then it’s OK. Probably worth one feat in some builds, but not worth two (there’s a feat that will give you the dragonblood subtype). See my long section on the math and rules on this feat below for more information.
- Dragonsong -+2 to DC to resist bardic music effects and +2 to perform checks involving song, poetry, or any other verbal performance. Pretty solid, but not amazing.
- Epic of the Lost King – I love that you can activate this as a move action. I don’t like that the effect is so limited. Pass.
- Extra Music (Cadv 109) – Bardic music is a pretty abundant resource, but if you prestige out and are doing metamagic reduction, this may be worth taking. Also good if you’re taking Lyric Spell.
- Focused Performer (DrM338 p89) – This feat sucks. It’s almost useless, but you need it if you want focused performance.
- Focused Performance (DrM338 p89) – Modify bardic music in certain ways, by consuming bardic music slots. This would be better if it only cost one feat. With the feat tax of Focused Performer, I think this thing is a clear pass.
- Accompaniment – Costs 3 uses, lets you sustain two musics at once, requires really high perform check each round. That’s rough and the benefit isn’t that exciting.
- Dramatic Pause – This is bad. The benefit to ‘being able to attack’ doesn’t do anything at all. You can already attack with all of the musics listed excpet for fascinate, and attacking destroys fascinate anyway. Casting spells is nice, but use melodic casting instead.
- Harmony – This is pretty OK. Doubling the targets on the single-target effects is nice. Very good action economy here.
- Individual Performance – Doubling the benefit of inspire courage is absurd.
- Projection – Who cares?
- Rhythm – Extending bardic musics isn’t too exciting.
- Riveting Performance – This is really narrow.
- Green Ear (CAdv) – Affect plants with bardic music. This seems really weak unless the campaign setting is especially plant-heavy.
- Haunting Melody -See the alternate class features section.
- Ice Harmonics (Frost 48) – Cause nearby ice to explode, dealing 2d6 + CHA_MOD damage in area around the exploding square. Damage is weak, and range of application is tiny. Pass.
- Inspire Spellpower (RoS) – Spend a bardic music to increase ally’s caster level by 1. Not great at all.
- Ironskin Chant – At the level you get access to this, the damage reduction just isn’t worth that much. There are better uses for a feat.
- Melodic Casting (CM 44) – A solid feat. Lets you avoid putting skill points into concentration and lets you cast spells and activate most magical items (by command word or spell completion) while maintaining bardic music. It’s an entry feat into Lyric Thaumaturge. As far as entry feats go, this is a pretty painless one.
- Music of the Outer Planes (LoM) – Use bardic music to sicken, vitalize, or lull aberrations. If you have a lot of these in your campaign, this might be worth looking at. In a standard campaign, it will be too narrow.
- Requiem – Use bardic music to affect undead creatures as well (although they only last half the duration). Not generally good, but there may be campaigns where this is valuable.
- Song of the Heart -See the alternate class features section.
- Sound of Silence -Two bardic musics is a little expensive, it requires a standard action, and the effect isn’t amazing. Pass.
- Subsonics (CA 112)- Lets you activate bardic musics without anyone knowing. It’s cool, but not amazing.
- Undertone of Heresy – Increase the DC of your bardic music effects by 2 by spending an additional bardic music. Not bad, but dragonsong is a better version of this (it has a little more pre-req, but no recurring cost).
- Warning Shout – Not bad. Can give an ally +5 to reflex and evasion, as an immediate action, for two bardic musics. A little narrow, but solid.
- Words of Creation (BoED) – Doubles the bonus on inspire courage. Absurdly strong compared to other feat options. And it has some other mild benefits. You can read this as doubling the bonus written in the PHB (pretty solid) or you can read it as doubling the bonus after all additions have been made (ridiculously strong).
- Arcane Strike – Not bad for a melee bard. We have limited spell slots, which makes it less appealing, but it is a nice way to power a lot of force into one standard action.
- Battledancer – A really limited and constricting +2 Morale bonus to attack. This doesn’t stack with bardic music, so it’s complete garbage. Even if it did stack, it would still be pretty bad. Pass.
- Boomerang Daze – Requires proficiency with the Talenta Boomerang or Xen’drik Boomerang. Any target you hit with those boomerangs must pass a fort save or be dazed for 1 round. You can combine this with the feat boomerang ricochet (same book and page) to hit mulitple opponents at once.
- Combat Expertise (PHB 92) – Not great on it’s own, but it’s a pre-req for a few nice feats.
- Combat Reflexes (PHB 92) – Get more attack of opportunity (free actions are awesome) and never be flat-footed when it comes to making them. Not bad.
- Combat Panache – This is hard to get into because it requires intimidate 8. Otherwise, the three abilities are all pretty good. Nothing amazing, but cool and solid.
- Improved Bull Rush (PHB 95) – No AOO for a bull rush and +4 bonus. Not bad, but not great on its own. It builds into Shock Trooper, which is pretty good. In general, this idea isn’t great for a bard, but it’s something worth looking at.
- Improved Disarm (PHB 95) – Not bad, but not every enemy carries a weapon. It’s OK, and worth looking at if you’re core-only, but there are definitely better options.
- Improved Trip (PHB 96) – Opponent doesn’t get an attack of opportunity, you get +4 on the attempt, and you get a free attack if you succeed. That’s a really nice package for one feat. The only downside is that it requires combat expertise as a pre-req.
- Martial Stance / Martial Study (BoNS) – See the section below for a detailed analysis.
- Point Blank Shot – A feat tax. It’s bad, but you need it to get into all the archery builds. (Unless you talk your DM into being nice to you).
- Power Attack – A solid feat, especially in a class that has a lot of ways to get a higher attack bonus. The math on optimizing this each round can be fun to figure out.
- Precise Shot – Effectively +4 to ranged attacks most of the time. Not bad for an archery Bard.
- Scorpion’s Grasp (Sand 52) – Requires improved unarmed strike, but lets you initiate a grapple after striking with a one-handed light weapon for free (without an initial touch attack). You also get to attack with the weapon in grapple without the normal -4 to attack. I don’t now of a grappler bard build, but man this feat is strong enough to build around.
- Shock Trooper (CW 112) – This is really good if you’re building into this tree. The tree itself is probably not worth getting (Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack) but if you do, man this has a lot of umph. Three abilities, all solid.
- Snowflake Wardance – Gain a charisma bonus to attacks, be fatigued afterwards. Pretty solid. Not as good as knowledge devotion, but you could definitely take both if you’re focused on melee.
- Song of the White Raven – If you can get access to a white raven stance, this is great. You get to turn on inspire courage as a swift action. If you’re a combat oriented bard, dipping into warblade or crusader for this might be worth looking into. You can also build into this with Martial Study and Martial Stance. Three feats is a lot for this, but the benefit is a free action the first round of every fight. Worth looking at, especially if your DM is allowing flaws for extra feats.
- Two Weapon Fighting / Improved Two Weapon Fighting – This could be good on a melee bard, especially combined with snowflake wardance.
Multi-Class Specific Feats
- Devoted Performer – Allow free multiclassing between Bard and Paladin, and stacks the levels for calculating smite evil and bardic musics. Not bad if you’re going into the Divine Prankster prestige class, but not amazing.
You can find these feats in DrM 311 and DrM 325, and also in the Dragon Compendium Volume I, page 91. All of the bloodline feats are very, very strong. They give six or nine spells to your list for one feat. Probably overpowered, but you should check with your DM. If he’ll allow it, great.
- Air Bloodline (DrC1 91) –
- Anarchic Bloodline (DrC1 92) –
- Axiomatic Bloodline (DrC1 92) –
- Celestial Bloodline (DrC1 93) –
- Draconic Bloodline (DrC1 96) –
- Earth Bloodline (DrC1 97) –
- Fey Bloodline (DrC1 98) –
- Fiendish Bloodline (DrC1 98) –
- Fire Bloodline (DrC1 99) –
- Illithid Bloodline (DrC1 100) –
- Necromantic Bloodline (DrC1 102) –
- Penumbra Bloodline (DrC1 103) –
- Plant Bloodline (DrC1 104) –
- Serpent Bloodline (DrC1 106) –
- Water Bloodline (DrC1 109) –
- Celestial Light (DrC1 93) –
- Dragon Sight (DrC1 97) –
- Elemental Theurgy (DrC1 97) –
- Fey’s Fate (DrC1 98) –
- Friend of the Earth (DrC1 98) –
- Kin Mastery (DrC1 101) –
- Lawful Discipline (DrC1 101) –
- Mind Weapon (DrC1 102) –
- Power in the Blood (DrC1 105) –
Draconic Aura Feats
(DrM 16) – Gain a draconic aura which activates as a swift action. Grants a +1 bonus to the noted thing for yourself and all allies within 30′. If you have the dragonblood subtype, this ability scales with level (+2 at 7th, +3 at 14th, and +4 at 20th) which makes it good (really, DMs, just let it scale regardless of dragonblood). Here are the options:
- Energy (DrM 86) – Gain a bonus on a save DC for spells and abilities for acid, cold, electricity, or fire effects (no sonic). Very narrow for us.
- Energy Shield (PHB2 13) – Melee attacks vs you and allies cause attacker to suffer 2x bonus in damage of a particular type.
- Insight (DrM 86) – Improve decipher script, knowledge, and spellcraft.
- Power (DrM version) (DrM 86) – Bonus on caster level checks to overcome spell resistence.
- Power (PHB2 version) (PHB2 13) – Bonus on melee damage rolls. Maybe in the right party this could be good.
- Presence (DrM 86) – Untyped bonus on bluff, diplomacy, and intimidate.
- Resistance (DrM 86) – 5 x bonus resistance to acid, cold, electricity, or fire.
- Resolve (DrM 86) – Bonus on concentration checks and on saves vs. fear, paralysis, and sleep.
- Senses (DrM 86) – Bonus on initiative, listen, and spot. Remember, this benefits your whole (nearby) party. This one is sweet.
- Stamina (DrM 86) – Bonus on constitution checks and fortitude saves. Pumping fort is nice for the bard.
- Swiftness (DrM 86) – Boost climb, jump, and swim, and improve climb, fly, and swim speeds. Meh.
- Toughness (DrM 86) – DR 1/magic for each point of the bonus.
- Vigor (PHB2 13) – Fast healing back up to 1/2 max hit points. Pretty cool.
Hidden Talent Feat
(XPH 67) – Hidden talent is a feat from a sidebar in the expanded psionics handbook. The best choices are amazing, and even the bad choices are pretty good. It gives you one psionic power and two psionic “points”. Typically, that means you can use this power twice per day.
You use Charisma as the key ability modifer, which is good for saves, and you’re a level 1 manifester (which might be bad for PR).
Here are the best options:
- Adrenaline Boost (CP 78) – +2 to Dex and Str for 1 round, swift cast. An all around buff for combat, not bad.
- Attraction (XPH 78) – Mind-affecting. Get the target attracted to something, but not blindly obsessed. Can be cool, but not too strong.
- Biofeedback (XPH 80) – DR 2/- for 1 minute. Meh.
- Chameleon (XPH 82) -+10 to hide for 10 mins.
- Charm Person (XPH 82) – I would pass on this because your DC is going to be really low.
- Compression (XPH 84) – Man, if this didn’t last only 1 round, it’d be great. As it is, it’s very bad.
- Conceal Thoughts (XPH 85) – Target gets +10 on bluff vs sense motive and +4 save bonus vs read mind magics, lasts 1 hour / level.
- Control Light (XPH 87) – Lower or raise lights 100%. Lasts 1 min / level, but requires concentration.
- Control Object (XPH 88) – Make a weak creature or give +4 to unlock. Cool flavorwise, but not exciting.
- Claws of The Beast (XPH 83) – Gain natural weapon claws. 1d4 damage. Yuck.
- Deflection Field (CP 82) – Get +4 deflection bonus to AC, but you have to concentrate. Yuck.
- Deja Vu (XPH 91) – Mind-affecting. Make target subject repeat their last action, will negates. There are a lot of cool uses for this.
- Demoralize (XPH 91) – Mind-affecting. 30′ burst on you, enemies must pass will save or be shaken (-2 to lots of stuff) for 1 min / level. The save is pretty solid and the effect is great for fear escalation. This and haunting melody could be quite…. frightening.
- Destinty Dissonance (XPH 91) – A minor debuff on touch attack. I’d pass.
- Dimensional Pocket (CP 83) – Make a 1 (or 2, if you augment) pound item disappear for 1 hour. Pretty cool.
- Elfsight (XPH 98) – Get all the sight-based racial elf benefits for 1 hour. I prefer the soulmeld.
- Empathy (XPH 99) – Mind-affecting and requires concentration. Detect surface feelings in any creature we can see. Provides +2 insight on bluff, diplomacy, intimidate, or sense motive checks the round after you stop concentrating.
- Entangling Ectoplasm (XPH 104) – Ranged touch attack to make target entangled for 5 rounds. (medium sized debuff).
- Expansion (XPH 105) – Same as compression. Would be really cool if it didn’t last only 1 round w/ this feat.
- Force Screen (XPH 108) – +4 shield AC bonus for 1 min. Duration is a bit low. Meh
- Grease, Psionic (XPH 111) – Just like the spell grease. If you’re tight on level 1 slots, you can take this instead of grease and then pick up a different spell, like inspriational boost or improvisation.
- Matter Agitation (XPH 114) – Slowly set stuff on fire with your mind. Kinda cool flavor-wise, but uses aren’t amazing.
- Mind Link (XPH 120) – Communicate telepathically with anyone without the need for a common langauge. This can definitely help with social skills and abilities, but it might creep some guys out (potentially creating negative modifiers) so it’s not perfect.
- Mind Thrust (XPH 120) – Mind-affecting. Deal 1d10 (or overload for 2d10) damage, will negates. Meh.
- Precognition (XPH 124) – Get a +2 floating insight bonus for 10 min / level, which can be used on any attack, damage, saving, or skill roll.
- Primal Fear (CP 95) – Swift cast, shake (-2 to attacks, saves, skills, and ability checks) one opponent (or overload for two) for 1 round. This is kinda cool as a mild debuff before a big targetting spell. The will save is pretty low though, so it’s not to hard to resist.
- Sensory Gloom (CP 98) – Fort save or bad guy gets (your choice) partial blindness, deafness, can’t smell, or DC 5 balance checks to keep from falling prone. Pick on cast. This is sweet.
- Stomp (XPH 133) – 20′ cone that makes everyone reflex or fall down. Not bad.
- Synchronicity (CP 103) – Ready an action to be used when you want, without having to name a trigger. Pretty cool.
- Telempathic Projection (XPH 136) – Mind affecting, will negates. Adjusts subjects attiude one step in the positive direction, and grants a +4 bonus on all the social skills. Holy moly this is absurdly good for a diplomancer. Save it for after you dipomacy them to get them to fanatic.
- Thicken Skin (XPH 137) – Get +1 enhancment to AC for 10mins. Meh
- Vigor (XPH 140) – Gain 5 temporary hit points (or overload for 10) but it only lasts 1 min / level and costs a standard action to activate. Doesn’t scale well and kind of hard to use well. Pass.
Shape Soulmeld Feat
(MoI 40) – A soulmeld is basically a persisent enchantment that you refresh each morning, that doesn’t use an item slot. Definitely cool. They typicaly give static benfeits or at-will abilities. This feat gives you one soul meld from any class. Here are the best options, rated:
- Acrobat Boots (MoI 54) – +2 to tumbled and related checks, +8 total. Not bad economy.
- Airstep Sandals (MoI 55) – Fly 10′ (good maneuverability) as a move action each round.
- Arcane Focus (MoI 57) – Increase damage from spells by 1. Not generally good, but kinda cool if you’re building a blaster.
- Basilisk Mask (MoI 59) – Gain low-light vision.
- Blink Shirt (MoI 60) – Teleport 10′ and then be stunned for a round. No limits on use per day. Pretty sweet.
- Disenchanter Mask (MoI 63) – Detect magic at will, 10′ range.
- Illusion Veil (MoI 71) – +1 DC on all illusion spells and spell-like abilities.
- Lamia Belt (MoI 74) – +4 to bluff and hide. If you’re in these skills, this is a lot of benefit.
- Pegasus Cloak (MoI 81) – Featherfall at all times, +2 to jump. Pretty cool.
- Silvertongue Mask (MoI 85) – Gain +2 to diplomacy and bluff. A fancy upgrade for the core Negotiator feat.
Bind Vestige FeatToM (72) More coming soon.
Complete Champion has a bunch of “devotion” feats in it. Most of them are pretty good and some are absurd. That book is a little unbalanced, so check with your DM before assuming you can take these.
- Air Devotion (CC 54) – Once per day get a bonus to your AC (grows with level) as a swift action that last 1 minute. Not bad.
- Animal Devotion (CC 55) – Get one of four bonuses for one minute. +2 Strength (grows with level) +5 base speed (grows with levels) gain overland flight, or gain a bite attack that deals con damage. A lot of good stuff in here.
- Chaos Devotion (CC 56) – Random based, but get bonuses to either AC (average of 4) or attack rolls (average of 3) for a minute. Swift activate
- Death Devotion (CC 57) – Bestow negative levels with your weapon. Swift activate, lasts for one minute. Wow.
- Destruction Devotion (CC 57) – Swift activate, lasts one minute. Reduce target’s AC each successful hit.
- Earth Devotion (CC 58) – Once per day, activate to ignore difficult terain for 1 minute and get a boost to some physical checks. Also can use it at higher levels to create better caltrops out of the stone floor. Not great.
- Evil Devotion (CC 58) – Give your party DR 1+ (Evil) and make allies’ weapons evil aligned. It grows with levels, but still not great.
- Fire Devotion (CC 58) – Provide light, deal extra damage, and baddies you hit continue to burn. Swift to activate, lasts 1 minute. Not bad, not amazing.
- Good Devotion (CC 58) – Give your party DR 1+ (Good) and make allies’ weapons good aligned. It grows with levels, but still not great.
- Healing Devotion (CC 59) – Immediate activate, lasts 1 minute, gain fast healing 1 (grows with character level). Fast healing heals X HP per round. You can also grant it to an ally. This isn’t enough healing to justify the feat, IMO.
- Knowledge Devotion – Amazing for a combat bard. Get big boosts to attack and damage by using knowledges.
- Law Devotion (CC 61) – Get +3 bonus to AC or attack (grows with level). Swift active, lasts 1 minute. Compare to weapon focus.
- Luck Devotion (CC 61) – Get a small boost to damage. Swift active, lasts 1 minute. This is a really small boost, pass.
- Magic Devotion (CC 61) – Launch a ranged touch attack magic bolt that does LVL/2 D6 damage. Not a big fan.
- Plant Devotion (CC 61) – Gain natural AC of 2 and 25% fortification (avoid criticals and sneak attacks). The % increase with level. Immediate activate, lasts 1 minute. Not bad, but not great.
- Protection Devotion (CC 61) – Give self and nearby allies a +2 bonus to AC, grows with level. Lasts 1 minute, immediate activate. So-so.
- Strength Devotion (CC 62) – Bypass hardness with melee attacks, gain a natural weapon slam attack, and all melee attacks are adamantine. Lasts 1 minute, swift activate. I feel like this and sunder must be great together?
- Sun Devotion (CC 62) – Weapon glows like a torch and deals an extra CL damage to undead. Lasts 1 minute, swift activate. In a heavy undead campagin, this seems really good? Otherwise it’s too conditional.
- Travel Devotion (CC 62) – As a swift action, move your move distance. Good for getting into position for a full attack, or to make a facsimile of spring attack.
- Trickery Devotion (CC 63) – Create a simulacrum of yourself that gets better as you level up. This is really strong. Standard activate, 1/day.
- War Devotion (CC 63) – Gives a better version of fight defensively for one round. The short duration makes this terrible.
- Water Devotion (CC 64) – Summon a water elemental 1 / day. Size depends on your level.
There are two feats from “Tomb of Battle: Book of Nine Swords” that open up that magic / combat system to all classes. Since the magic system is pretty large, here’s a section dedicated to the two feats, reviewing each option available to you if you don’t have any pre-reqs met some other way. If you’ve dipped into those classes or met pre-reqs, you’ll have to check out the relevant handbooks; that’s outside the scope of this one.
Martial Stance (ToB p31)
Gain access to a single stance from Tome of Battle. Since this requires that you know one maneuver, I’ll review those stances that have 0 or 1 requirement.
- Flame’s Blessing (ToB 53) – Level 1 – Gain fire resistance based on Tumble Ranks. Very narrow.
- Holocaust Cloak (ToB 54) – Level 9 – Adjacent opponents that attack you take 5 fire damage.
- Iron Guard’s Glare (ToB 59) – Opponents you threaten take -4 on attack against allies (but not you). Meh.
- Martial Spirit (ToB 60) – Heal yourself and a nearby ally 2 points each every time you land an attack. Interesting, but it doesn’t scale at all.
- Thicket of Blades (ToB 61) – Level 9 – Any movement near you triggers an attack of opportunity, including 5′ steps, witdraws, and tumbles. Combine with combat reflexes, this is sweet action economy.
- Pearl of Black Doubt (ToB 64) – Level 9 – Gain a short AC bonus every time an opponent misses you with a melee attack.
- Stance of Clarity (ToB 66) – Level 1 – +2 AC vs one opponent, -2 AC to all others.
- Absolute Steel (ToB 66) – Level 9 – +10′ move, and if you move 10′ in your turn, gain +2 dodge AC. Movement speed is nice, AC is nice. This has a lot of benefit for one feat. The only problem is you’ll need an iron heart maneuver to get this, and the best option isn’t great there.
- Punishing Stance (ToB 69) – Level 1 – +1d6 damage, -2 AC.
- Giant Killing Style (ToB 72) – Level 9 – +2 to attack and +4 to damage against larger creatures. A gnome combat bard might want to lok at this! Requires one setting sun maneuver.
- Step of the Wind (ToB 74) – Level 1 – Ignore penalties in difficult terrain. Ok, but very narrow.
- Assassin’s Stance (ToB 75) – Level 9 – Gain +2d6 sneak attack, even if you don’t already sneak attack.
- Child of Shadow (ToB 76) – Level 1 – Gain concealment as long as you move 10′.
- Dance of the Spider (ToB 76) – Level 5 – Spider Climb all the time. Wow.
- Island of Blades (ToB 78) – Level 1 – Be flanking any time you and an ally threaten an opponent.
- Crushing Weight of the Mountain (ToB 82) – Level 9 – Gain 2d6 + 1.5 STR constricting damage during grapples.
- Roots of the Mountain (ToB 84) – Level 9 – DR 2/-, +10 to resist most combat maneuvers, and opponents have trouble tumbling near you. If you move, the stance ends. Pretty cool.
- Stonefoot Stance (ToB 85) – Level 1 – +2 to strength checks, +2 AC bonus against larger creature.
- Blood in the Water (ToB 86) – Level 1 – +1 to attack and damage every critical you land. Hard to get this up high.
- Hunter’s Sense (ToB 88) – Level 1 – Gain scent ability.
- Leaping Dragon Stance (ToB 88) – Level 9 – Gain a 10′ enhancement to jump, and all jumps are running jumps.
- Wolverine Stance (ToB 90) – Level 9 – +4 to attack when grappling with a one-handed weapon. +4 damage if grappling with a larger creature. Meh.
White Raven (Builds into Song of the White Raven)
- Bolstering Voice (ToB 90) – Allies (which includes yourself) get +2 to Will. This one’s easy to overlook (and previous versions of this handbook did overlook it) but that’s a lot of will bonus for one feat. In a party of 5, that’s +10 to will. Imagine one feat giving a +10 bonus to a single save? Imagine that being the most important save? Well here you go. And it builds into Song of the White Raven. Wow.
- Leading the Charge (ToB 92) – Charging allies get initiator level bonus to damage (your bard levels count as half an initiator level)
- Swarm Tactics (ToB 93) – Allies get a +5 bonus on attacks against any opponent we are mutually adjacent to.
- Tactics of the Wolf (ToB 93) – When I flank a foe, me and my allies get +half initaitor level to damage (i.e. 1/4 bard level)
Martial Study (ToB p31)
Gain access to a single maneuver from Tome of Battle, and also gain a single skill as a class skill for all of your classes.
Here are the relevant rules:
- As a non-initiator, you can use each maneuver once per encounter, and you can ready every maneuver you get from Martial Study (ToB 38).
- Your initiator level (assuming you don’t have any other initiator classes) is 1/2 your character class. (ToB 32)
To select a maneuver with this feat, you have be a high enough initiator level (ToB 39). If you don’t have any initiator classes, this translates to 4 levels of bard per manuever level:
- Bard Levels 1-4: Access to 1st level maneuvers
- Bard levels 5-8: Access to 2nd level maneuvers
- Bard levels 9-12: Access to 3rd level maneuvers
- Bard levels 13-16: Access to 4th level maneuvers
- Bard Levels 17-20: Access to 5th level manuevers
- Bard Levels 21-24: Access to 6th level manuevers
- Bard Levels 25-28: Access to 7th level manuevers
- Bard Levels 29-32: Access to 8th level manuevers
- Bard Levels 33-36: Access to 9th level manuevers
Here are the options available if you take this feat without any other initiator classes (i.e. you meet no pre-requisites). The level indicated next to them is the minum character level you’ll need to pick up that maneuver via feat (again, assuming you don’t have any initiator levels from the classes from this book):
Desert Wind – Tumble
- Blistering Flourish (ToB 52) – Level 1 – Not a good use of a feat; at the very least, Additional Spell is better.
- Burning Blade (ToB 52) – Level 1 – Gain 1d6 + 1 / initiator level extra fire damage until end of turn.
- Death Mark (ToB 52) – Level 9 – When you hit, deal 6d6 fire damage in a burst area (reflex half). Seems OK for melee bards.
- Distracting Ember (ToB 52) – Level 1 – Gives you flanking until end of turn. Bard/Rogue hybrid might want to look at this?.
- Inferno Blade (ToB 54) – Level 25 – Gain 3d6 + 1 / initiator level extra fire damage until end of turn.
- Wind Strike (ToB 56) – Level 1 – +10 movement until end of turn. I think there’s a feat in Minatures that gives +5 to move. That’s probably better.
Devoted Spirit – Intimidate
- Crusader’s Strike (ToB 58) – Level 1 – Conditional small heal on a nearby ally in conjunction w/ an attack. Bad.
- Foehammer (ToB 59) – Level 5 – Overcome DR and deal an extra 2d6 damage with one attack.
- Shield Block (ToB 60) – Level 5 – Immediate action: give an adjacent ally your Shield Bonus + 4 to AC. Yuck.
- Vanguard Strike (ToB 60) – Level 1 – Give allies +4 to attack against a target you successfully hit for 1 round.
Diamond Mind – Concentration
- Action Before Thought (ToB 62) – Level 5 – Use concentration in place of reflex. Not bad, but bards have good reflex, and reflex saves tend to be the least important
- Diamond Defense (ToB 62) – Level 29 – Gain LVL / 2 (ToB 31-32) bonus to your saves once per combat, and pretty often out of combat.
- Insightful Strike (ToB 63) – Level 9 – Roll a concentration check instead of damage. Meh.
- Mind Over Body (ToB 64) – Level 9 – Use concentration in place of fortitude. Very good for us, since Fort is our bad save.
- Moment of Perfect Mind (ToB 64) – Level 1 – Use concentration in place of Will. Not as good, but still OK.
- Rapid Counter (ToB 65) – Level 17 – If you get an attack of opportunity, activate to get another free attack. Not bad. Maybe for a bard focused on trip.
- Sapphire Nihgtmare Blade (ToB 65) – Level 1 – Roll concentration vs AC. If you hit, target is flat-footed and you deal an extra 1d6 damage. This is pretty cool for any sneak-attack-bards out there, ohterwise a pass.
Iron Heart – Balance
- Disarming Strike (ToB 67) – Level 5 – Get a free disarm if you attack and suceed. A little narrow.
- Steel Wind (ToB 69) – Level 1 – Get one free attack, basically. Not amazing.
- Steely Strike (ToB 69) – Level 1 – Get +4 to an attack, give all other opponents +4 to attack vs you. Meh.
- Wall of Blades (ToB 70) – Level 5 – Counter any attack with an attack of your own, including ranged touch attack spells.
Setting Sun – Sense Motive
- Clever Positioning (ToB 70) – Level 5 – On a successful hit, target must switch positions with you (reflex save). Cool but narrow.
- Counter Charge (ToB 71) – Level 1 – Counter a charge attack, if you succeed, move a bit for free and don’t get attacked. Meh.
- Mighty Throw (ToB 73) – Level 1 – Might be cool for a tripping bard. If you succeed, you can throw the bad guy 10′.
Shadow Hand – Hide
- Clinging Shadow Strike (ToB 76) – Level 1 – Extra damage and small debuff for 1 round. Meh.
- Cloak of Deception (ToB 76) – Level 5 – Greater Invisiblity for 1 round, swift activate. Not bad.
- Death in the Dark (ToB 76) – Level 25 – Only target flat-footed opponents. Potentially Dump out a lot of damage.
- Hand of Death (ToB 77) – Level 13 – Only target flat-footed opponents. Potentially paralyze for 1d3 rounds.
- Shadow Blade Technique (ToB 78) – Level 1 – Really cool, but not so strong, buff. Pass.
- Shadow Blink (ToB 78) – Level 25 – Swift activate, teleport 50′. Hot damn.
- Shadow Garotte (ToB 78) – Level 9 – A ranged touch attack with a small debuff, pass.
- Shadow Jaunt (ToB 79) – Level 5 – Standard action, teleport 50′. Not as good as shadow blink, but still amazing.
- Shadow Noose (ToB 79) – Level 21 – A ranged touch attack vs the living with a small debuff. Pass.
- Shadow Stride (ToB 80) – Level 17 – Move action, teleport 50′. Not as good as shadow blink, still strong.
- Stalker in the Night (ToB 80) – Level 21 – Good for any sneak attack bards out there. Move, attack, move and stay hidden.
Stone Dragon – Balance
- Bonecrusher (ToB 81) – Level 9 – Extra 4d6 damage and better crit confirmation. S’ok.
- Boulder Roll (ToB 81) – Level 13 – Improve overrun attack.
- Charging Minotaur (ToB 81) – Level 1 – Combine a charge and bullrush. Kinda cool, don’t think it’s too strong.
- Crushing Vice (ToB 82) – Level 21 – Extra damage and reduce targets movement to 0. Too bad it’s ridic level.
- Iron Bones (ToB 83) – Level 21 – This sucks. Gain DR 10/adamantine for 1 round.
- Mountain Tombstone Strike (ToB 84) – Level 33 – Deal an additional 2d6 con damage. At level 33, who cares?
- Overwhelming Mountain Strike (ToB 84) – Level 13 – An extra 2d6 damage, and sorta turn off their move action. Meh.
- Stone Bones (ToB 84) – Level 1 – Gain Damage Reduction 5/adamantine for 1 round in conjunction with an attack. This can be good at low and mid levels, but scales really badly.
- Stone Vise (ToB 85) – Level 5 – Extra 1d6 damage and reduce move speed to 0, fort saves. It’s an OK debuff.
Tiger Claw – Jump
- Claw at the Moon (ToB 86) – Level 5 – Jump check to get an extra 2d6 damage and +4 to confirm crits.
- Rapid Wolf Strike (ToB 88) – Level 5 – +4 to attack, +2d6 damage for one attack. -4 to AC. Not bad.
- Wolf Fang Strike (ToB 90) – Level 1 – Improve two-weapon fighting a little bit for one attack. Yuck.
White Raven – Diplomacy (Builds into Song of the White Raven)
- Douse the Flame (ToB 91) – Level 1 – Prevent a creature I successfully strike from performing Attacks of Opportunity. Can only make a single melee attack as part of this maneuver. This thing sucks, but it’s your best choice if you’re building a pure bard into song of the white raven.
- Leading the Attack (ToB 91 ) – Level 1 – Give allies +4 morale bonus (doesn’t stack with inspire courage) on attack rolls against a creature I successfully strike. Can only make a single melee attack as part of this maneuver.
Spells are one of the bard’s strongest class features. However, a bard doesn’t get to know nearly as many as a sorcerer, so it’s important to make sure the spells you choose have a wide range of cases where they can be used. Breadth of applicability is key.
There are a lot of spells that are on the Bard’s list which are strong, but aren’t worth spending a precious “Spell Known” slot on, because use of the spell doesn’t come up enough. Scrolls and wands are a great option for these spells.
The bard’s spells are mostly buff and battlefield control, which is great. You can load up on the best versions of these, plus a little utility, and you’ll be in great shape. However, I do like trying to pick up at least one blaster spell. If you use the Lyric Thaumaturge or Sublime Chord prestige classes to get into wizard spells, you’ll have plenty of options (look at Wings of Flurry). If you are going straight bard casting, then the options are a little more limited. My favorite straight blaster spell is probably Cacophonic Burst, although it’s level 5.
Level 0 Spells
- Candlelight (GhostWeb 5)- Like “Light”, but it illuminates less space and lasts longer. I’d just buy a candle or a torch.
- Daze – OK at low levels, very bad after level 3 or 4. You can consider taking it early and swapping it out.
- Detect Crossroads (MoF 88)- I really have no idea what a crossroad is. If you’re in a Faerun campaign I’m going to assume you’re familiar and you’ll be able to evaluate the value of this yourself. Sorry!
- Detect Magic – Very strong. Has a lot of uses. Definitely a must-have.
- Dancing Lights – A lot like ghost sounds. The better your imagination, the better this spell gets. It is a little eclipsed by Silent Image, but that’s OK. I still recommend getting it.
- Easy Math (SaS 90) – I can imagine some uses for this (counting troops, counting steps, estimating gold piles, etc.) but it’s pretty narrow, too.
- Fine-Tuning (SaS 90) – Make any instrument you touch a masterwork instrument and get the unique benefits of that instrument on your bardic musics. This + Summon Instrument take a lot of time to execute (and burns through your limited cantrip slots) but gives you a pretty nice toolbox.
- Flare (PHB) – A very minor debuff with some utility. I don’t see using this ever beyond level 1.
- Fleeting Fame (DrM 326, pg 73) – Really good for a bard. +2 to the next bluff, diplomacy, or intimdiation, lasts 1 rd / level.
- Ghost Sounds – Very solid, but requires some creativity to get maximum value. Spells like this make playing a caster fun. Use your imagination.
- Ghostharp (SpC 104) – Replay songs played in the vicinity for the last day. A really cool effect flavor wise, but I have no idea how to use it in a way that matters.
- Know Direction – Buy a compass.
- Light – Buy a torch (or sunrod for style).
- Lullaby – Almost identical in results to fascinate. Not worth doubling this limited effect, in my opinion.
- Mage Hand – This is my 6th spell slot. I like it, but it’s a little limited.
- Mending – Not bad, but not many applications in-game. It’s a shame, because in real-life, this would be a great spell to have, but in D&D world, it just doesn’t do too much. There are some roleplaying opportunities here, but it takes work to get to them.
- Message – Thanks to the “Marquis of De La Pongo” for this one! Here’s what he has to say about it: “I have a storyteller bard and by using oratory as a main perform I can channel my songs and poetics through the message if needed. As long as they can hear you means, as long they are within 100+10/level feet. Plus, being no save no spell resistance you can whisper improper things to your enemies and drive them nuts among other things. It’s fluffy and it’s fun!”
- Minor Disguise – You can do so much more with a spell, even a cantrip, than this. Pass.
- Open / Close – I have a hard time imagining good uses for this spell.
- Percussion – A very limited ghost sound, with the benefit of lasting longer. Cool for a DM for flavor, not good for a PC.
- Prestidigitation – This is a mini-wish. There are so many things you can do with this. It is the cantrip I cast the most, by far. (see Tome & Blood page 80 for some ideas)
- Read Magic – In order to activate a scroll, you need to have deciphered it. You can do this with a DC 20 + Spell_Level Spellcraft check, but that sounds hard. Read Magic makes it a bit easier.
- Resistance – The 1 minute duration on this makes it unusable. Maybe as part of a persist spell strategy?
- Seeker’s Chant (DrM 326, pg 74) – Get +2 to search (but -2 to move silent). Not bad, I’d pass though. Leave searching to the rogue.
- Silvered Weapon – (Web) Lasts 1 round / level, turns a touched weapon or projectile into “silvered” for combat purposes. This is actually pretty cool. It’s narrow, but when it’s good it’s really good.
- Songbird (MoF 120) – Get a +1 to any charisma based check against anyone who saw a performance. Not bad, but a little limited for a spell slot, for me.
- Summon Instrument – This can be good for bards who use instruments, or as an improvised bashing weapon. The short duration makes it a little sad, though. If this summoned a masterwork instrument, it’d be pretty cool, but the text doesn’t say that. (See my section below on masterwork instruments).
- Stick (UD 61)- A cool effect, but it’s really narrow.
Level 1 Spells
- Ambient Song (SaS 89) – Make bardic music sound like ambient noise, to avoid detection. Not great, but maybe a cool persist target.
- Cause Fear (PHB) – So this is pretty good for low levels, especially if you have other fear esclation techniques in your package. It’s going to escalate one guy either two levels or one level. The big downside is that it’s a 6 HD cap, so it stops working at higher levels. Not bad for an early level spell that you swap out at level 8.
- Charm Person (PHB) – I love the flavor of this ability, but the limitation to humanoid is a little sad. If you like this, I recommend you take Charm Monster instead, which can target any creature type. Of course, you could take this and swap it out at level 8 for Charm Monster.
- Cheat (SC) – Roll twice in a game of chance that’s not magical. Really cool flavor wise, but insane to put one of your spells known into this.
- Combined Talent – Give an ally a boost to a skill, matching the level of another ally. When do you need this? Yuck.
- Cure Light Wounds (PHB) – Just get a wand of cure light wounds. It’s great that this is on the bard’s spell list (because we can activate the wand easily) but there’s no reason to take it as a spell known.
- Disguise Self (PHB) – Limited application which can be achieved with a skill. Pass. If you really need this one day, get a scroll.
- Disquiettude (MoF, SpC) – Single target save-or-suck for enemy fighter types. Very limited in application, unfortunately. If you go with the Magic of Faerun version, at least it’s not mind-affecting. If you go with the spell compendium version, then it’s even more narrow.
- Distort Speech (CAdv) – Target gets a fort save (which is good vs. spellcasters) and the spellcaster gets a 50% chance of spell failure. Not bad, but most of the time I think you’ll have better things to do with a standard action, and you’re not always up against spell casters.
- Expeditious Retreat (PHB) – Worse than the swift one, and very hard to justify as one of our few spells known. This is a good persist spell target, if you’re going that route, but I’d recommend getting the swift variation instead.
- Expeditious Retreat, Swift – This being a swift cast is really nice. I’d prefer swift invisibility, though. It accomplishes a lot of the same goals, and has a lot more upsides. This is a good persist spell target, if you’re going that route.
- Feather Fall (PHB) – This spell is really nice to have in your back pocket, but not as one of the few spells you get. I recommend getting this on a ring or item if you like the effect.
- Friendly Face – Grants +5 to diplomacy or gather information. If you like this, take improvisation instead. A lot more dynamic and is stronger after level 10.
- Grease – Very powerful effect that targets reflex saves and balance. Not many bard spells target reflex, and I think it’s nice to have at least 1 or 2 in your list that target each of the saves, so you can choose the right spell for the right enemy.
- Harmony (PGtF) – Standard action cast that gives the next inspire courage +2. I recommend inspirational boost instead.
- Hideous Laughter – A pretty strong effect for a level 1 spell, but it comes with a lot of limitations (close range, can’t affect creatures with low intelligence, most enemies get a +4 on their save). It also only targets 1 creature, where a save completely negates the effect. Not bad, but not in love.
- Identify (PHB) – A really useful spell, but not a very good choice for the bard. We have limited spell slots. Let the wizard handle this, or get an Artificer’s Monocole.
- Improvisation – (Note: Complete Adventurer has this a 5th level spell, but spell compendium has it as 1st level) – This spell is cool. The two big downsides are that it only lasts 1 round / level, and that you can only use one-quarter of the luck pool per activation. At level 6, that means this gives a +3 to a skill, an attack, or whatever. For combat, it’s underwhelming because it takes a standard action to turn on. For out-of-combat situations, it’d good if you have a few skill checks in a row that you need to pass, and you have a round to spend preparing. That being said, this ability scales really well. Consider swapping into this at higher levels.If you can turn it on just before entering combat, it can be a powerhouse, and it can be a general boost in a lot of situations, making it dynamic.
- Inspirational Boost – Gain an additional +1 to Inspire Courage. Very strong damage output for a level 1 spell, assuming you have a party that uses attacks. This gets better the more allies you have that use combat. Despite its strength, I usually pass on this spell. I’d like to have something a bit more dynamic. That’s a roleplaying choice, though.
- Instant Diversion (RotD) – A swift cast mirror image that only lasts 1 round, and you get one image per four levels of your caster level. It’s OK, but the low duration makes it a little weak. A good candidate for extend spell.
- Instant of Power (FOW 114) – This is a really solid spell. Immediate cast, give an ally +4 to an attack, save, or damage roll. I like this.
- Invisibility, Swift – Being able to cast this as a swift action is great. It can get you out of combat, buy you some time, or set you up for a strong attack. In addition, it’s a level 1 spell, not level 2 like normal invisibility. The big downside is the one-round duration and that you can only target yourself with it. Despite those limitations, it’s still a very strong spell. It’s a great target for extend spell & metamagic song.
- Ironthunder Horn – An OK spell that targets reflex (which is a rare thing for Bards) but it overlaps with grease pretty hard. I recommend grease instead of this.
- Phantom Threat – Makes one creature think it’s flanked if it fails a will save. It just looks a lot worse than summon monster I to me.
- Silent Image – This spell can do so much. You need to use your imagination, but the options are endless. The best part is that spells like this never get old. You can always find new and clever uses, and your party will never get tired of the cool tricks you come up with.
- Sleep – Save or be-taken-prisoner, potentially against multiple foes. This is really strong at levels 2 through 3, and OK at levels 4-5, but after that, it’s pretty weak. You can take it if you like it. but make sure you swap it out at level 8.
- Stay the Hand – Immediate cast. Stop someone from targetting or attacking you (but they can re-target with small minuses). The big down side is that only affects humanoids. I love the effect, but the limitation is big.
- Summon Monster I (PHB) – Not bad for finding and disabling traps. Otherwise not much to do with this; the combat abilities are pretty weak. I’d pass.
- Unseen Servant (PHB) – Not bad in general, but a very bad use of a bard’s limited spells known. Pass.
Level 2 Spells
- Animate Instrument – Animate an instrument, so it continues your performance for you. This lets you stack bardic music effects continuously (like inspire courage and inspire greatness). Not a bad effect, but I don’t love spending a spell-known or a spell-slot for it. This would be great as something you enchant directly onto an instrument.
- Alter Self – One of the best spells in the game. The options are limitless, and there are threads and threads devoted to this spell. Your DM should ban it. If he doesn’t, it’s extremely powerful. The pathfinder one is more reasonable, but not nearly as powerful.
- Battle Hymn (SC 25) – Allow all allies to reroll will saves, after knowing result, before knowing whether it passed or failed. Not great, but a good persist target.
- Bladeweave (SC 31) – Swift cast, lasts 1 rd / level, and dazes creatures hit by your melee attack. Very cool for a melee bard.
- Blindness / Deafness – This isn’t great in combat. Blind and deaf are only minor debuffs and you have better options at this level. That being said, the effects are permanent, so that’s gotta have some significant roleplay potential.
- Blur – Attacks miss you 20% of the time. Maybe worth considering for a melee bard, although I’d probably pick up blink (as a 3rd level spell) instead.
- Calm Emotions – A cool spell, but the low duration makes it hard to make a big impact with this.
- Cloud of Bewilderment – A cloud effect that makes its inhabitants sickened (can’t take standard actions). It targets fort, which is great. A good bit worse than glitterdust, though, and similar in effect and application.
- Cure Moderate Wounds – I really like to avoid healing on a bard. If you’re going to get a heal spell, the 3rd level one is probably the best choice.
- Darkness (PHB 216) – A good spell, but it has limited application. Might be cool with a melee bard with blindfighting.
- Delusions of Grandeur – A save-or-be-bad spell. There are good save-or-die spells at level 1. Not worth taking this at level 2.
- Detect Thoughts – This spell is very strong. DM dependent, and can piss some DM’s off, but it’s got a lot of power.
- Dimension Leap – Teleport 10′ per 2 caster levels. I love this. Gets you out of a lot of trouble and solve a lot of problems.
- Disquietude (MoF p90) – Only good vs. melee enemies and there are lots of ways around it. It’s a conditional save-or-be-bad spell. If you’re going that route, at least save-or-die.
- Elation (BoED p98) – Allies in an 80′ radius spread get +2 Str, +2 Dex, +5 speed. Even though the bonuses are morale bonuses, they stack with Inspire Courage because they don’t directly affect attack / damage. Not a bad buff for level 2, but I think there are better options. This is a good persist spell target, if you’re going that route.
- Enthrall – A slightly better fascinate. Bad use of a spell slot.
- Entice Gift (BoVD p93)-Target must pass a will save or give you what he’s holding. This has so many fun applications.
- Fly, Swift – Fly for one round? Very strong.
- Grace – Swift casting, get 60′ illumination on your body, +2 to dex, +10 to move, and your touch and melee attacks are good (for overcoming DR). Not great.
- Glitterdust – Arguably the best 2nd level spell in the game. I’d recommend to any DM that they use the pathfinder version instead (bad guys get a save every round) and even that is solid.
- Harmonize (RoS 162) – Activate bardic musics as a move action instead of standard. Not really worth it because of low duration, but a great target for persist.
- Hold Person – So much worse than the other control effects at this level. Only has one target, is mind-affecting, target gets to save each round… yuck.
- Insidious Insight (RoE p187) – +10 bonus to the social skills against one target, lasts 24 hours, but he gets a will save. Worth considering if you’re a face bard.The will save is sad, and I think suggestion ends up being a stronger choice.
- Invisibility – Very strong. I recommend taking either this or swift invisibility (or both). If you take this, swap it out when greater invisibility becomes available.
- Know Vulnerabilities – I prefer the skill trick for this effect. We can’t afford to do something with spells when skills can get the job done.
- Mesmerizing Glare – Fascinate 1 creature / level, must be within 30′ of each other. This isn’t great by itself, but it lets you fascinate many more creatures than your class ability, and you can then use the class ability fascinate on all of the creatures you fascinated with this spell. No good for combat, but this could make it into a build.
- Mirror Image – Not a terrible spell, but weak. The standard casting time really sets this one back.
- Miser’s Envy – Ok I have to be honest. This is not 5 stars. I just wanted you to look at it because it’s awesome. If you make this work your campaign, it’ll make for epic stories. It’s probably 2 or 3 stars. It makes a single creature crave a single object, going as far as to attack and kill for it.
- Pyrotechnics – This spell is really cool and dynamic, but a little limited. If your DM bans Glitterdust, this may be worth taking.
- Scare (PHB) – I like that this can target multiple creatures, but the 6HD limitation really makes this sad. I would pass, even for fear escalators.
- Silence (PHB) – Can be good vs other casters or bards, and also helps the rogue sneak around. Not a bad spell by any means, but nothing to write home about either.
- Sonic Weapon – Standard action to make a weapon deal an extra 1d6 damage. Not at all good, but maybe it’s an alright persist target, if you’re going that route.
- Sonorous Hum – Maintain concentration on the next spell you cast that requires concentration without consuming your standard action. I don’t think this is worth getting as a spell; the bard doesn’t have enough spells per day or enough spells that require concentration.
- Suggestion – This is very strong, has a lot of roleplaying opportunities, and fits right in the character mold of a typical bard. The only downside is that it overlaps with your class feature.
- Summon Monster II – This isn’t a very strong level for Summon Monster. III and V are the best for combat, and 1 is the best for sacrificial lambs. Pass on this.
- Swift Ready – As a swift action, get a set of gear equipped to you. Lasts 24 hours until used. I feel like there have to be ways to abuse this spell. Maintain different sets of equipment for different situations… I don’t know. This has the feel of something you can break.
- Tongues – Speak all languages. This is a really valuable ability, since many of your spells and abilities are language based, but a spell slot is a high cost. I prefer to get this through skills, but if your DM rules that Speak Langauge is capped like other skills then this may be something to look into. A wand or eternal wand might be a better option than known spell.
- Whirling Blade – Attack creatures in a line with your standard weapon. A little hard to get use out of, but can be OK. I’d probably pass, but weapon-focused bards might like this. Pretty cool in conjunction with bladeweave.
Level 3 Spells
- Adoration of the Frightful – This is a solid spell for any bard going into fear effects. First, you get a +1 bonus to diplomacy (just for knowing this spell). That’s awesome. Then, any creature you have shaken, frightened, or panicked, you turn into a friendly for the duration of the spell (1 minute / level) unless you or an ally get hostile with them. This is very cool.
- Alter Fortune – I would love this spell if not for the XP cost. It’s just not worth having on our limited list of spells with that big downside.
- Blink – Really good for a gish/melee bard. Makes you harder to hit, reduces the damage you take from area spells, makes your hits more likely, and you can step through solid objects. You also can attack ethreal creatures, which might come up.
- Charm Monster – I am biased towards this spell. A will save completely negates this effect. On the other hand, if you succeed, you get a best buddy for days. I think of Raistlin charming that gully dwarf, and can’t help myself. It’s not mechanically the strongest, but I really enjoy this one.
- Clairaudience / Clairvoyance – Takes a long time to cast is the big downside. I think this is a perfect spell for a scroll. You won’t need it every day, but when you do, it’s clutch.
- Cone of Euphoria – Standard action to cast. When you do, get a handful of special attacks that daze for 1d6 rounds (will negates) in a 20′ cone. I’m not a fan.
- Confusion – Pros: It hits in a 15′ burst. Cons: The targets get a will save. If they fail, there’s still a ~35% chance they’ll do something you don’t like. The odds of failure are too high for me to endorse.
- Cure Serious Wounds – I just don’t like taking healing spells as a bard. If you must, this one is probably better than the other options.
- Curse of the Putrid Husk – A sleep-like spell that targets a single opponent (will).Not a bad spell, but not the best. Good characters may want to ask their DM to allow this to be re-fluffed as a good spell. (The creature collapses under the weight of realization of its sins?)
- Deep Slumber/Greater Sleep – These are both a better version of sleep, but you get access to them at level 7. This spell loses its strength around level 9 or 10, and you won’t be able to swap it out until level 13 (or 11 if you go into sublime chord). Not a great option, IMO. I like deep slumber a little better than greater sleep. Deep slumber affects 10HD worth of creature, greater sleep affects 4d6 HD. The average is the same, but I’d rather not have variance in this effect; it makes it difficult to plan. If you want a sleep effects, Curse of the Putrid Husk is probably your best bet.
- Dirge of Discord – Not bad. 20′ radius debuff that hits a wide spectrum of abilities. Not great, but not bad.
- Dispel Magic – A good, general purpose effect. Can solve a lot of problems.
- Displacement – Give yourself or an ally a buff that makes attacks miss 50%. Not bad. A bit expensive as a level 3 spell. Blink is far superior when targetting yourself, but this lets you also target an ally.
- Emotion (3.0 spell)- This spell got broken up into a handful of other spells in 3.5. It’s still in 3.5 as a “Tarot” spell, though. If your DM lets you use it, it’s pretty good. Having something with this many modes really helps us with our low number of spells known.
- Fear – Will save or be panicked.. If the save succeeds, the bad guy is still shaken for a round. A nice spell for fear bards.
- Gaseous Form – A pretty cool spell that can frustrate DMs and get you out of trouble, but I think it has limited application. I’d like to have this on a scroll rather than in my spell list.
- G’elsewhere Chant – Teleport subject randomly. I like that it can hit bad guys. I don’t like that it’s random. Gives the DM too much power to screw you over. “A prison cell is perfectly safe!”
- Glibness – Nearly campaign smashing. Convince anyone of anything. A cool spell, but it can completely over-shadow all social skills. I recommend using this sparingly if you get it, so your DM and other players don’t kill you.
- Halt – Immediate cast, stop a bad guy from moving. I really like this spell.
- Haste (PHB p239) – Make your whole party better in combat. A really good effect for buffer bards.
- Haunting Tune – Shaken isn’t enough of a debuff for this to be worth taking, unless it’s part of some escalating fear build.
- Hesitate – This is preetty good. It’s an immediate cast, and it stops the opponent from doing anything but move actions for 1 round / level (will negates). It gets a save every round, which is sad, but the immediate cast is very attractive.
- Insignia of Healing – 1d8 + LVL healing to everyone carrying a special insignia that costs gold to create. I don’t like healing spells, and this one isn’t very strong at all; mass low-amounts of healing is rarely as effective as targeted high-amounts.
- Invisibility Sphere – I’m not in love with this spell. It basically lets your party sneak by some guards, assuming they can keep quiet and there’s enough room to walk.
- Leomund’s Tiny Hut – This is a cool idea for archer bards. It is a concealment–on-order spell that you can see out of and shoot from. Pretty cool.
- Listening Coin – Turn two coins into a one-way walkie-talkie that lasts 1 hour / level. A pretty good Clairvoyance substitution spell.
- Phantom Steed – This is a strong spell that eventually lets you fly all over the world on your own personal airship. My big problem with it is that it’s primarily about mobility and that your teammates don’t get one. Definitely strong (but make sure you have featherfall handy!)
- Ray of Diziness – The same effect as slow, but the roll is a touch attack instead of will save, and it only targets one opponent (but it does have a big higher range). It’s OK, but I like slow better because slow can hit many creatures at once. If your DM likes to send one big bad guy at your party all the time (as opposed to a few reasonably strong enemies) then this might prove more useful for you.
- Scrying – This is a really strong spell. Lets you get a lot of information ahead of time. It may be better to get this on a scroll and use it sparingly, so as not to piss off your DM and other players.
- Sculpt Sound – This is very solid. It’s a save-or-be-nearly-useless vs multiple casters. It also has some ancillary roleplaying applications. Worth considering.
- Slow – The inverse of haste. Make the bad guys really slow. The fact that it gets a will save makes it a bit worse than haste, but still very strong.
- Summon Monster III – Probably the best Summon Monster out there. The Bison or the Fiend are the two best options.
- Unluck – Save-or-suck.Target has to take the worst of two rolls every time they roll. The effect is very strong, but it targets will (something we do a lot) only targets one bad guy, and doesn’t automatically win. I pass on this, but it is a strong spell. Note: this is 4th level in CA, but 3rd in SpC.
- Vision of Fear – Doesn’t do anything except give your DM a hook to continue the story. Pass.
- Warcry – A lot like fear, except it targets fortitude. A failed save cowers for 1d4 rounds, but the spell has no effect if the creature saves. The effect is a little weaker, but I like that it targets fort.
- Winding Alleys – A maze-like spell, that has some limitations. If you are spending most of your campaign in a city, this could be strong. Otherwise, I don’t like the conditions on it.
- Wounding Whispers – Anyone who hits you takes 1d6 + CL damage. Not bad, but I don’t like getting hit.
Level 4 Spells
- Blinding Beauty – A 4th level glitterdust-like-spell that targets fort. Any creature that looks at you and fails the save is permanently blind. If you’re going to take this, make sure you sit down with the rest of your party and setup some safe words, otherwise they’ll be mighty mad at you.
- Celerity – Acting now is so much better than acting later. This spell is very, very strong.
- Charm Person, Mass – Only charms lvl * 2 HD humanoids. I’ll pass.
- Dimension Door – Local teleport for the entire party. Very strong. Can be annoying for DMs not prepared for this.
- Dominate Person – This feels like the sort of spell you’d like to have on a scroll, if you can figure out how to read the scroll without alarming your target. You can control a king with this for extended periods of time. It’s not bad as a daily spell, since it lets you take full control of a bad guy for an extended period of time. The big downside is it only targets humanoids.
- Freedom of Movement – This spell can get you out of a lot of sticky situations. The more aggressive your DM, the better this gets.
- Fugue – This is a powerful area debuff, but it requires concentration to maintain. If you have swift concentration, this may be worth looking into.
- Harmonize, Greater – Here’s a way to concentrate as a move action. The idea is to cast this then activate insprie courage as a move action, and it’s action-efficient. Not a bad spell, not my favorite.
- Hold Monster – Another save or die that targets will. You have better options at lower levels if you want this kind of effect.
- Insidious Suggestion – For spontaneous casters, this isn’t much better than regular suggestion. It’s a shame, because we’d love that +2 bonus to social skills while it was prepared, but it’s not worth being 2 levels higher for that.
- Invisibility, Greater – This spell is amazing. You can attack while invisible! For a melee bard it’s incredible. For a buffer bard it’s great. I love this one.
- Legend Lore – This just gives your DM a hook to dump in story arc information. Let him do that without burning up your abilities. It’s not a bad spell, just bad as a Known Spell.
- Listening Coin – Man, I just love this spell for flavor. It’s not good though. Maybe as a one-time scroll for a particular problem.
- Melf’s Slumber Arrows – Make arrows that either cause sleep or fatigue. Not bad for an archer bard.
- Mirror Image, Greater – This is much better than the original! Cast as an immediate action, make yourself very hard to hit, and the images regenerate. Not bad.
- Modify Memory – This spell has a lot of really powerful out-of-combat possibilities. I like it a lot. It’s one you have to use your imagination for.
- Rainbow Pattern – Nullify up to 24HD worth of creatures. Very strong.
- Resistance, Greater – +3 to all saves that lasts 24 hours. The big problem with this spell is that it doesn’t stack with the ubiquitous cloak of resistance.
- Resonating Bolt – LVL d4 damage in a line, reflex for half. Not my favorite blaster spell, and I really only recommend taking one for this class.
- Resounding Thunder – Create an area that does damage and can deafen. Definitely pretty cool, but not amazing..
- Ruin Delver’s Fortune – I love this spell. Get bonuses to the save you need (or extra HPs) immediately. It’s purely defensive, but it’s very good at the job.
- Shadow Conjuration – The biggest limit on a bard’s spellcasting is Spells Known. This blows that metric wide open, giving you access to a bunch of spells from the best school of magic.
- Spell Theft (SPC 191) – Steal the enchantments that are on another creature. Kind of a cool debuff / buff in one spell. It’s action efficient.
- Sirine’s Grace (SPC 191) – An OK pump spell, nothing special. A really good target for persist.
- Summon Monster IV – At most, I think a bard wants two summoning spells, and probably just one, that gets upgraded over time. Given that, you can probably skip IV, and use III and V instead.
- Thunder Field – Create an area that does 1d8 damage and knocks people prone. Not bad, but the damage is lackluster.
- Voice of the Dragon – Pros: +10 to social skills, and culminates in a suggestion spell. Cons: Why do you need social skills if you’re about to cast suggestion? Only lasts 10 min / level.
Level 5 Spells
- Blink, Improved / Greater – Go back and forth between ethereal and solid at will. Physical attacks have a 100% miss chance, and you can walk through some solid objects. This is strong.
- Body Harmonic – Deal 1d10 points of damage to a single ability score each round, lasting up to 1 round per level (requires concentration) will negates. You can only target a single ability score once every five rounds. This can be good against creatures you know have a very low single stat. For example, this can drop a T-Rex if you target intelligence. That being said, for a level 5 spell, it’s not a great effect.
- Bolts of Bedevilment (SC 37) – For LVL rounds, gain the ability to shoot a ray that dazes for 1d3 on failed save. I don’t like that the bad guy gets two chances to avoid this (AC and will save) and that the effect only lasts 1d3 rounds. This is cool, but not good.
- Boreal Wind (Frost) – Meh. Not much damage, not much movement, fort completely negates. Pass.
- Cacophonic Burst – This is my favorite blaster spell in the bard’s list. I’m not a big fan of blaster spells, but I like having at least one at my disposal. Battlefield control is nice, but sometimes what you need is DPS. This is a sonic version of fireball (max 15d6 damage). It gets the job done. I wish it was lower level, though.
- Channeled Sound Burst – This is my second favorite blaster spell for bards, and it may be better in some builds than Cacophonic Burst. I like that you have the option at what speed to cast this, and I like that it only saves for half. The main problems I have are that 1. the damage is limited to 10 dice, and 2. I don’t like a cone as much as a ranged burst.
- Cure Light Wounds, Mass – Yuck. A mild heal on every party member usually isn’t what you need.
- Dancing Blade – Meh. I’d take summon monster V over this, for sure.
- Dimension Jumper – I love teleportation spells. This one casts as a swift action, and replaces your move with a telport (30′). Pretty cool. You have to be able to see your destination, so that’s a little limiting.
- Dispel Magic, Greater – This is an improved version of dispel magic. It’s also very strong.
- Friend to Foe – All creatures (max one / CL) you want to target in a 15′ radius get a will save or attack each other. Two big downsides: A will save, and after one successful attack, the spell ends for that attacker. If you can hit enough bad guys, you can get a lot of value out of one standard action. (Think of how many standard actions you can potentially steal from the opposing team if you can target 3-5 bad guys).I think Song of Discord is a better version of this spell.
- Glimpse of Eternity (MoE p96) – Target takes 1d6 dmg per caster level (max 15d6) and is confused (the one where it does random stuff) for 1 round / 3 levels. Will halves damage and negates confusion.
- Incite Riot – Another “make the enemies fight each other” spell. Its OK, but I still like song of discord best for this effect.
- Mind Fog – Will save or get -10 on will saves, 2′ radius burst. Not a bad debuff, especially if you have a party that can really take advantage of it.
- Mislead – Not in love with this spell.Swift invisibility and silent image can accomplish almost exactly the same thing at a much lower cost.
- Otto’s Resistable Dance – The imagery is funny, and it’s nice that it hits one living creature per level, but the effect (-2 to AC, -2 to Will, -2 to Concentration, -2 to spellcraft) is such a weak debuff that I can’t see this being worth casting.
- Scry Location – If you like scry spells, this is a solid one.
- Seeming – Affect whole party with disguise self. Meh. I really can’t think of a good use for this, even as a scroll (just buy a wand of disguise instead).
- Shadow Evocation – Just like Shadow Conjuration, this really opens up the bard’s spells known.
- Shadow Walk – The closest thing a bard gets to a teleport spell. If you take an unwilling subject, you can bring him into the shadow plane and then dump him there, which is pretty cool.
- Song of Discord – Pros: 20′ radius spread, opponents fight each other sometimes. Cons: they first get a will save, then there’s only a 50% chance it works. It hits your teammates as well as your enemies. Not great, but not the worst.
- Suggestion, Mass – Suggestion on a number of creatures equal to your caster level. Sweet!
- Summon Monster V – A fine spell. If you like summoning, the 5th level of this spell has some cool options.
- Unfettered Heroism (RoE p 190) – Immediate cast,get a bonus action point each turn, lasts 1 round per level (d20srd link). The spell requires that you have at least one action point available, so if your campaign doesn’t use action points, you might be out of luck here. Otherwise this is really strong (Lets you cast lower level spells over and over and over and over again, for example.)
- Wail of Doom – 30′ cone that does a small amount of damage and either panicks or shakens. Not bad.
Level 6 Spells
- Animate Objects – This has cool visuals, but the creatures you get are too weak by the time you get this spell. The fact that each object has its own characteristics based on what it is is pretty cool (a rug can blind, a rope can grapple, etc.) but still pretty limited.
- Animal Features, Mass (Fox’s Cunning, Eagle’s Splendor, etc.) – This is a reasonably strong buff spell in the right party context. Go with Strength probably.
- Bestow Curse, Greater – This is very powerful. Reducing an ability to score to 1 and then damaging that ability score via some other method is a two-hit combo. The fact that you can tailor the curse to the situation is also nice. That being said, it requires a touch attack, is negated by a will save, and is subject to spell resistance.
- Charm Monster, Mass – The max HD affected is twice your caster level, which is a real limitation. Mass Charm really means “Charm 2-5 monsters”.
- Dirge – All enemies in a 50′ burst around the bard take 2 points of strength and dex damage every round. Lasts 1 round / level. Fort negates, but the bad guy had to roll each round. Activate once, get the effect once each turn. I like this.
- Empyreal Ecstacy (BoED 98) – Target is immune to mind-affecting techniques, takes half damage from melee and ranged attacks, gets -4 on all skill checks, and has to pass a DC15 concentration check to cast. Also counters some effects like Symbol of Pain (PHB). This is an interesting spell that can be used as a buff or debuff. The half damage is my favorite part.
- Eyebite – Good against weak opponents, bad against strong opponents. I hate that. The spell language isn’t clear, but I’m pretty sure it consume your standard action each turn. If that’s the case, it’s terrible. If you get to activate each additional round without consuming additional standard actions, then it’s not so bad.
- Familial Gaes – Geas, plus some small benefits that will probably never come up. However, since it’s the same level at Geas, it seems strictly better to me.
- Fanfare (SaS) – 100′ cone that can’t be fully saved. If they save, they are stunned for 1d4 rounds and deafened for double! If they fail the save, they also take damage. This is a really solid spell. It also targets Fort, which is nice for the Bard. This is a good way to deal with enemy spellcasters.
- Gaes / Quest – No saving throw! The target must fulfill a mission of your choice (or spend 1 day / level fulfilling an open-ended mission). This is open ended, highly subject to DM rule, and can reward creative play. A really cool spell, but also dangerous to your campaign. Use at your own risk!
- Glimpse of the Prophecy (MoE p96) – Get a +1 to AC and to saves while in effect, and it lasts 1 hour per level. Then you can discharge it as an immediate action to get +10 to a save. A solid defensive spell.
- Greater Scrying – Solid spell.
- Heaven’s Trumpet (BoED 101) – This spell is solid, but requires that you have the archon sub-type, which is a huge limitation.Enemies must pass a fort save or be paralyzed for 1d4 rounds. A huge area: 120′. This one is a solid spell, and I like that it targets fort.
- Hindsight – Lets you look into the past of the place you’re standing. Really cool flavor, but a little hard to get a ton of use out of. If you can make it to your arch-enemies evil lair, you can learn all of his dirty secrets, of course. This is another spell which just gives the DM a hook to tell his story. I don’t mind doing that, but not at the cost of one of our precious spell slots.
- Otto’s Irresistible Dance – The title of this spell is misleading; it requires a touch attack to come into effect. On a successful touch, the target is disabled for 2-5 rounds without any save. They also provoke attacks of opportunity and get an AC & Reflex penalty. Definitely solid, especially for melee bards. Amazing on a melee bard, solid everywhere else.
- Nixie’s Grace – What’s interesting about this spell is the +8 to charisma. That effectively gives you about 6 more bonus spells-per-day of lower levels that you can use temporarily (more if you’re in the sublime chord prestige class). In addition, you get swim speed, underwater breathing, low light vision, damage reduction 5 / cold iron, +6 to Dex, and +2 to Wisdom. An interesting spell.
- Permanent Image – I can’t think of a great use for this spell for PCs. As a DM I use it a lot. As a player, it’s rare that you’ll need this.
- Project Image – This is really strong image spell. It grants sight, hearing, doesn’t get destroyed by damage, and distracts your enemies. Very strong.
- Protege – Grant a party member the powers of a bard of approximately half your strength. I can’t think of why you would do this. Crappy duration, too.
- Ray of Light (SC 167) – OK so this is cool. No save, ray attack. On a successful ranged touch attack the target is blinded for 1d4 rounds. I like that there is no will save, although blinding can have limited benefit. It is subject to spell resistance, though, so that’s sad.
- Resistance, Superior – +6 to all saves for 24 hours. Cast this before going to sleep, wake up with a nice shield and full spell slots. This is a great target for chain spell (if you’ve gone into sublime chord) at higher levels. The big problem with this spell is that it doesn’t stack with the ubiquitous cloak of resistance. If you have a good alternate use for that body slot, this might be worth looking into.
- Shout, Greater – Hits on multiple fronts: 10d6 damage (half with fort save); stunned for 1 round (negated with fort save); deafened for 4d6 rounds (half duration with fort save). The best part of deafened is casters gets a 20% spell failure.
- Summon Monster VI – One of the weaker summon monster spells. Probably pass on this one.
- Veil – Disguise on the whole party. At this high level, I have a hard time seeing a use for it that won’t get seen through.
Key Rules and Advice
Bardic Music Rules
- Activation is typically a standard action.
- Some Musics require concentration to maintain (fascinate, inspire competence, and song of freedom). Others do not (countersong, inspire courage, suggestion, inspire greatness, inspire heroics, and mass suggestion).
- A bard cannot cast spells, and cannot activate magical items by spell completion, spell triggers, or command words while maintaining a bardic music (but there are ways around this, see the melodic casting feat).
- If a Bardic Music does not require concentration, you can swing your sword, run, or otherwise use your standard action while maintaining the song (very useful for Inspire Courage, for example).
Pick a version of Perform that doesn’t require any hands and doesn’t require an instrument that can be taken away from you by bad guys. Things like voice, oratory, poetics, or whistling. It’s really that simple. Nothing stops you from whipping out a guitar and playing it for flavor if you want it.
Fear escalation is a viable option for a bard, and it is a strong ability. The one problem with fear escalation is that a lot of things are immune to fear. You can get past this by dipping into dread witch for 4 levels, but that makes a very particular bard.
There are four degrees of fear:
- Shaken: –2 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks.
- Frightened: The penalties of shaken, but it also tries to flee if at all possible.
- Panicked: Like frightened, except it drops everything it holds and runs in a random path away. Also, if it’s cornered, it cowers rather than fighting back.
- Cowering: Frozen in fear and can take no actions. A cowering character takes a –2 penalty to Armor Class and loses its Dexterity bonus (if any).
You can escalate through the first three fear states. For example, if a creature is currently shaken and you target it with a spell that makes a creature shaken, that creature becomes frightened (one level of escalation).
Similarly, if you successfully target a creature that is shaken with a frighten effect, then the creature becomes panicked (two levels of escalation).
However, you cannot escalate from panicked to cowering in this way. Instead, to get a panicked creature to cower, you have to corner the creature (block off all of its routes of escape). If you do that, it will become cowered, ready to be put out of its misery or taken prisoner.
The bard has a lot of strong options to esclate through fear. I’ll put some example builds in the builds section.
Casting in Secret
A lot of the bard’s spells are social based. Sometimes, you’ll have started a social interaction and realize you want to cast a spell, but the suspicious guards probably won’t stand there patiently as you move your hands around in a strange way to cast glibness. Instead, they’ll probably recognize that you’re casting a spell and arrest you before you can go any further.
In order to address there, the game creators gave us a few options for casting in secret:
Sleight of Hand Skill (RoS 133)
- Can use multiple times in an encounter.
- Sleight of hand check vs opposed spot check.
- Success makes verbal and somatic go unnoticed.
- Does not solve material and focus components.
- Some lack of clarity in the rules regarding AOOs and counterpselling.
Conceal Spellcasting Skill Trick (CS 85)
- Can only be used once in an encounter.
- Also a sleight of hand check vs opposed spot check.
- Success means they cannot tell that you’re casting regardless of components.
- Observer also cannot attempt an attack of opportunity.
- Observer cannot attempt to counter the spell.
Subsonics Feat (CA 112)
- Can disguise your bardic musics, including those that harm opponents.
- Cannot disguise spells.
Silent Spell Feat (PHB 100)
- This feat doesn’t work for Bards, so this is a dead end.
Echew Materials Feat (PHB 94)
- Constant benefit, as long as the materials cost under 1gp.
- No metamagic cost.
- Only removes material components, nothing else.
- Can be used repeatedly.
- Costs a whole feat.
Disguise Spell Feat (CA 108)
- Perform check vs. Spot check; onlookers must match or succeed to see that you’re casting.
- It’s obvious you’re performing, but not that you’re casting.
- Does not disguise spells that clearly emenate from you.
- Can’t be ID’d with spellcraft even if they realize you’re casting.
- Still provokes AOO.
This really is a great spell. No, it’s not going to solve your campaign singlehandedly, but it’s super fun and has a million applications.
Before we go into the various uses, you should note that one casting lasts an hour, and you can do any number of individual presitigations (of any type) any number of times during that hour. That is great.
To get started, the PHB gives these uses:
- Slowly lift 1 pound of material
- Color, clean, or soil items in a 1-foot cube each round
- Chill, warm, or flavor 1 pound of non-living material
- Create small, crude and artifical looking, objects.
- Produce small tinklings of ethereal music
- Brighten faded flowers
- Create glowing balls that float over your hand
- Generate puffs of wind to flicker candles
- Spice up aromas and flavors of bland foods
- Make little whilwinds to sweep dust under rugs
Song and Silence (page 80) talks about a few additional uses:
- Change matter, as long as it stays in the same “kingdom” of animal, vegetable, or mineral
- Dry and Dampen items
- polish something
- sketch a figure on any surface (or in the air)
- stitch seams
- tie a knot
The most important part though, is these aren’t enumerated uses. They are examples of a general principle, and you’re free to make up additional ones as long as they follow the limitations:
- Cannot deal damage or affect the concentration of spellcasters.
- Cannot create weapons, tools, or spell components.
- Cannot duplicate any other spell or spell effects.
- Any changes to an object (aside from moving, cleaning, or soiling) only last 1 hour.
- Range is 10 feet
The applications are literally endless. This little unassuming spell is one of the most fun spells in the game. Here are some examples of uses from games I’ve played:
- Keep my bard looking fresh while the rest of the party is covered in dungeon filth.
- “Soil” a guard’s pants to make him abandon post and run to the outhouse.
- Make a poison taste like a refreshing glass of juice.
- “Clean” poisonous fungus from a magical sword found in a cave, without touching it.
- Improve the flavor of camp food.
- Quickly gather caltrops that were dropped.
- Make a bronze coin look like a platinum coin.
- Make the secret document that you’re trying to smuggle out of a castle look like a ribbon around your wrist.
- Make an expensive gem look like a plain stone, and vice versa.
Speak Languages Rank Limit
Speak langauges is worded uniquely. Unlike every other skill, putting points into Speak Languages doesn’t give you ranks. Instead, you get to choose a new language that you speak.
This makes it very unclear whether it is subject to the normal LEVEL + 3 rank limit, or whether you can learn as many languages as you’d like.
As a DM I allow players to purchase as many languages as they’d like. Speak langauges is never used as skill check (you never roll a D20 and add your number of languages to it) so this seems like the best interpretation.
Many of the bard’s abilities are langauge based, so I tend to like this skill and putting a lot of points into it.
You can read a little discussion about this here.
Using Silent Image
Using Alter Self
You can pump diplomacy to ridiculous heights. If you want to make a absurdly broken diplomancer, look at the half-elf alt-class features for soothing voice (to enable diplomacy in combat) pump up the number of languages you speak, and search this document for all instances of “diplomacy” and select those options. Next, get glibness and pump bluff. If you do that (and use the core diplomacy rules) you’ll be absurd in any situation that words could possibly solve.
I don’t recommend doing this, because it will piss of your DM and co-players, but it definitely exists as an idea.
Tempering DiplomacyIf you want to temper diplomacy a bit and make it sane, you can try the following things:
- Get Rid of Synergies – +6 is big boost. Getting rid of this can help make it a bit more sane.
- Use Pathfinder’s Adjustments – They make some small debuffs. Still very strong, but a bit more limited.
- Use This Old Rule: The Diplomacy Skill – A homebrew solution to dipolomacy. The most limiting, and yet it still remains very strong
Maintaining Inspire Courage
There’s no mechanical limitation on the length of inspire courage. Rather than activating it during the first round of combat, you can activate it when you enter a cave, and maintain it throughout the adventure, especially if you have melodic casting feat.
Your party will lose any stealth, so the rogue might look at you sideways, but aside from that, there are very few things you need to do while adventuring that you can’t do while singing or talking.
Is Dragonfire Inspiration Good? (How good?)
Another way to ask this question is: “When is 2.5 damage worth more than 5% to hit?” and the answer is “most of the time”.
As a rough estimate, on average, Dragonfire Inspiration tends to be worth about 0.5 to 1.5 damage, per attack, per level of inspire courage. Another way to think of this is being worth approximately the same as a +1 to inspire courage.
The math behind this question is complex and depends on five factors:
- The AC of the Bad Guy – The higher the AC of the bad guy, the worse dragonfire inspiration becomes.
- Your attack bonus – The higher your attack bonus, the better dragonfire inspiration becomes.
- Your average damage – The higher your average damage, the worse dragonfire inspration becomes.
- Your Inspire Courage Modifier – This tends to just be a multiplier, but it seems to be some sort of bell curve in certain situations (see below)
- The Damage Reduction of the Bad Guy – The more damage reduction the bad guy has, the better dragonfire inspiration becomes.
While dragonfire inspiration does tend to net more damage, here are some exceptions and things to think about:
- Sometimes dragonfire inspiration nets less damage than inspire courage.
- Dragonfire inspiration is stronger vs. opponents with lower AC and weaker vs opponents with higher AC.
- If your damage is already very high compared to your attack bonus, dragonfire inspiration is worse. (This means dragonfire inspiration and power attack have some anti-synergy).
- Oftentimes, just connecting is more important than getting one extra hit point of damage. Rarely does the bad guy hang on by one HP after getting hit. Usually, he just needs one successful strike to put him down. This works as an argument in favor of inspire courage.
- Similarly, I think damage output vs the guy with the higher AC is going to be more important than damage output vs. the guys with the lower AC, but this is obviously not always true.
- Usually, the benefit scales linearly with inspire courage bonus, but there are cases where that’s not accurate. For example, if a character has an attack of +5 and average damage of 10, you see dragonfire inspiration be the better choice if the inspire courage bonus is 1 to 4, but at 5 the advantage starts to decline, and at 7, inspire courage becomes stronger again.
Bottom line is this. If you understand the math, you can decide to use this when it makes sense, and use inspire courage otherwise. If you can do that, you’ll get a pretty solid boost to damage on average. I’ve created an excel spreadsheet which will help you simulate certain situations, so you can get a feel for the numbers.
Does Dragonfire Inspiration stack with Inspire Courage?
If I was DM, I would rule no. My reading of the rules suggest that you cannot stack these two effects, but some people disagree. This isn’t 100% clear because the section I depend on for my ruling is specifically talking about spells, and inspire courage is not a spell. Here is that section:
(Rule Compendium 137) – “The same spell can sometimes produce varying effects if applied to the same recipient more than once. Usually the last spell in the series trumps the others. one of the previous spells are actually removed or dispelled, but their effects become irrelevant while the final spell in the series lasts”.
The fact that it’s the same ability providing the effect makes me believe that it does not stack.
In addtion, the way Dragonfire Inspiration is worded suggests this interpration. They easily could have said “You gain a new bardic music ability that….” instead, they say “When you use your bardic music to inspire courage…” We can’t stack two Inspire Courages, so I don’t think it makes sense that we can stack a dragonfire-inspired courage and a regular inspire courage.
Talk to your DM and find out what she thinks. If it doesn’t stack, this feat is still strong. If this does stack, this feat is bonkers good, effectively giving you an additional, better copy of your best bardic music.
The bard is a hybrid mage / fighter, with a focus on group buffs. That’s how it’s designed, and you have to do a lot of work to get away from that. All of the builds below are that, but they emphasize either the fighter or the mage aspect more, as indicated.
So the nice thing about these builds is that you can be a gish levels 1-10, and then pivot to being more of a sorcerer levels 11-20. At level 20, you’re weaker than a sorcerer. But at levels 1-8, you’re doing a lot more. In my opinion, this translates to a lot more fun with only a small cost at the end of the game. I like these builds a lot.
- Bard 6 / Lyric Thaumaturge 4 / Sublime Chord 10 – This is my favorite build. The 4 dip in Thaumaturge gives you some wizard spells at lower levels, which is a really nice addition to your pool. Sixth level is a good place to cut off the bard progression, and Sublime 10 is great.
- Bard 10 / Sublime Chord 10 – This is really direct and really good. Get another +1 to inspire courage, get inspire greatness, and pickup 8 more skill points. If you’re really hungry for feats and resent the feat tax for Lyric Thaumaturge, this is worth looking at. If you take the Lore Song or Bardic Knack alternate class feature, this build progresses it for levels 7-10, where thaumaturge does not, which is also a consideration.
- Bard 6 / Lyric Thaumaturge 4 / Sublime Chord 6 / Fatespinner 4 – I want to like this build, because I really like the fatespinner class, but you give up a lot to get into it: low skill points, bad hit die, 5-9 wasted skill points, and a bunch of skills missing from your skill list (Diplomacy, UMD, perform, etc.) This isn’t bad, but it’s not the best.
- Bard 9 / Virtuoso 1 / Sublime Chord 2 / Virtuoso 8 – This is a popular build, but I don’t like it. We lose 1 level of spellcasting, and I don’t like the virtuoso class abilities as much as I like sublime chord’s. Progressing inspire courage is nice, and the 6 skill points are nice (although there is no UMD) but on the whole I like this build least of all. (As a DM I wouldn’t allow the 3.0 Virtuoso, but if your DM allows it you should definitely look at it. I think it’d be one of the strongest options.)
- Savage Bard 5 / Ur-Priest 2 / Mystic Theurge 3 / Sublime Chord 1 / Mystic Theurge 5 / Sublime Chord 4 – Nine levels of sublime chord casting and nine levels of divine casting. Wow. Definitely worth looking at if you like that sort of thing.
- Savage Bard 5 / Ur-Priest 2 / Mystic Theurge 3 / Sublime Chord 1 / Mystic Theurge 5 / Abjurant Champion 4 – A variation on the above build, using the power abjurant champion class.
- Bard 7 / Apostle of Peace 2 / Mystic Theurge 1 / Sublime Chord 1 / Mystic Theurge 9 – This is yet another way to get 9 levels of bard casting and 9 levels of divine casting. You have to go into the vow feats to build this way, but they’re pretty cool for a bard if you don’t mind that they really warp your campaign.
The best feats in this build are Melodic Casting, Chaos Music, Nymph’s Kiss, Extra Spell, Lyric Spell, Extra Music, and the familiar feats.
This build tends to be skill-point intensive, because you have a lot of pre-reqs, so pick your skills carefully.
- Bard / Sublime Chord / Dread Witch / Nightmare Spinner
- Battle Knight Bard of Sublime Chord (Bard 4 / Paladin 2 / Eldritch Knight 9 / Sublime Chord 1 / Abjurant Champion 4) – Ninth level caster with a +18 BAB. Access to bard abilities is very limited, this is more of a bard-flavored fighter/mage than an actual bard, but it’s pretty cool anyway. You can read more about this at the dandwiki
- … More coming soon
To build an archer bard, just take the archery feats (and knowledge devotion, if you can). Bards don’t need their feats for anything, so you’re free to dedicate them to new vectors. Archery is as fine as any other. If you multi-class into something that gives a higher BAB that helps, of course.
Core Only Builds
In core only, if you want to build a bard, Bard 20 is the best choice, and it’s not close. The class is really well designed, progresses well, and there are no core dips or prestige classes I can really recommend. (I mean, Bard 1 / Wizard 19 is technicaly “better”… but you know what I mean.)
That being said, if you’re really looking to multi-class, you can look at a single level dip of cleric.
Other than that, I don’t think any core dips make sense mechanically. Flavor-wise, there are plenty of options, of course, but mechanically just go Bard 20 and smile.
There are a lot of viable items in this game. I won’t be able to do a complete list, but I will try to cover the high points of bard-specific items, and items that are especially good for bards.
Pro-tip: the most powerful item you’ll probably be able to find in the game is the one your DM invents for you. A little gentle encouragement can go a long way here. In my experience, DMs love inventing magical items, and their sense of ownership tends to cause them to make it a powerful one.
General Use Items
- 50 – Masterwork Tools – Get a sweet set of clothes for +2 to Diplomacy. Or some bouncy shoes for Tumble. Or a cheat-sheet of commonly used magical words for UMD. As long as you can dream up something plausible, this is a great way to pump all your skills by 2 points at virtually no cost.
- 150 – Elixir of Love (DMG) – This is a cool little potion to carry with you for almost no cost. Charm person if you can get them to drink it.
- 750 – Wand of Cure Light Wounds (DMG) – Never leave home without one.
- 750 – Wand of Lesser Vigor (SpC) – Get fast healing. This cures more damage than a wand of CLW, but Lesser Vigor’s not on our spell list, so we have to pass a Use Magic Device check. Wand of CLW will probably prove to be more reliable, albeit less powerful.
- 2000 – Heward’s Handy Haversack (DMG) – As you’ll see below, I recommend carrying a veritable symphony of instruments. Where are you going to put all of these instruments for easy access? A handy haversack! Fix carry weight and draw any item as a move action. Yes please.
- 4000 – Cloak of Charisma (+2) (DMG) – Any item that pumps charisma is going to be a really good item for a bard. More spells, higher DCs, and better social skills. Yes please!
- 4200 – Mithril Breast Plate – +5 to AC, only -1 to ACP. Either this or a mithril chain shirt is probably your base armor. Depends on whether you like ACP or AC better.
- 1100 – Mithril Chain Shirt – +4 to AC, no ACP. Either this or a mithril breast plate is probably your base armor. Depends on whether you like ACP or AC better.
- 1015 – Mithril Buckler – +1 to AC with no penalties and uses a unique slot. Great.
All masterwork instruments give a +2 bonus to perform. In addition, the following instruments give the additional benefits as outlined below. You should carry almost all of these on you, once you have the carry capacity (or a heward’s handy haversack). The cost is so low.
- 100 – Masterwork Drum (Cadv 124) – +1 to Inspire Courage Damage, -1 to Inspire Courage Charm and Fear. This is worth carrying.
- 100 – Masterwork Fiddle (Cadv 124) – +1 to IC charm & fear (scales with level) and cast spells while performing, as long as those spells have only vocal components.
- 100 – Masterwork Flute (Cadv 124) – +2 to countersong. I mean, I guess you can carry this if you have countersong, but get rid of countersong.
- 100 – Masterwork Harp (Cadv 124) – Target one additional creature with fascinate or inspire greatness. Definitely worth carrying this item. Also allows you to cast verbal-only spells while performing.
- 100 – Masterwork Horn (Cadv 124) – Raise IC damage and fear by 1, but effect stops 1 round after the ally stops hearing the performance. Drum is better.
100 – Masterwork Lute
(Cadv 124)– Lets you cast while performing, as long as the spell only requires vocal components. Also get +1 level when determining the effect of your bardic musics. This is useful at most levels (6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20) for various reasons:
- Inspire Courage: Increase bonus by 1 at levels 7, 13, and 19;
- Fascinate: gain an extra target at levels 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 (also helps mass suggestion);
- Inspire Greatness: An additional target at levels 11, 14, 17; and
- Inspire Heroics: an extra target at levels 17 and 20.
- 100 – Masterwork Lyre (Cadv 124) – An additional target for fascinate or inspire heroics. Also lets you cast while playing, as long as the spell only has vocal components.
- 100 – Masterwork Mandolin (Cadv 124) – Can cast while performing as long as spell only uses vocal components. Inspire Courage gets +1 to attack, but -1 damage and charm and fear. Bleh.
- 100 – Masterwork Pan Pipes (Cadv 124) – +1 to fascinate and +1 to suggestion DC. Not bad, worth carrying.
- 100 – Bagpipes (SaS 43) – Give all listeners -1 against fear effects.
- 100 – Banjolele (SaS 43) -Increase bonus of IC fear by 1.
- 100 – Bones (SaS 43) -Listeners get -2 against fear effects. Not great, but if you have a use, the cost is very low. It costs a standard action to activate, so not usually going to be good in combat, unless the DM rules that it stacks with other bardic music effects, which I think is a reasonable reading of the rules.
100 – Fiddle
(SaS 44), Lap Harp (SaS 46), Lute (SaS 46)– Lets a bard maintain two bardic music effects at one time (inspire courage and inspire greatness, I’m looking at you).
- 100 – Handbell (SAS 45) – +1 bonus to countersong attempts. If you’re countersonging ever, get the Whistle-Pipe instead, it gives +5.
100 – Harmonica
(SaS 45), Shawm (SaS 49)– Now this is a good item. +4 to bluff, diplomacy, gather information, and disguise checks vs. people who heard you perform for 1d6 hours after the performance AND it shifts the listener’s attitude one level closer to you. This is effectively like a +20 to diplomacy. If I am a DM, I’m seriously considering not allowing this item to exist. If your DM allows it, my god it’s good. Alternatively, get someone to helpful through normal diplomacy, and then turn them fanatic with this harmonica with no chance of failure. Are you kidding me?
- 100 – Horn, Natural (SaS 46) – Increase inspire courage bonus by 1, but reduce charm effects by 2. Yes please.
- 100 – Lyre – (SaS 47) – +2 to countersong, fascinate, or suggestion against fey. Meh.
- 100 – Pan-Pipes (SaS 48) – +1 to perform when listeners are animal or fey. Yuck, just get masterwork.
- 100 – Recorder Flute (SaS 48)- Listener gets -1 against charm and compulsion, including fascinate and suggestion. Worth carrying for sure.
- 100 – Whistle Pipe (SAS 49) – +5 bonus to countersong attempts. If you’re countersonging ever, this helps for a low cost.
- 100 – Zither (SaS 49) – Inspire courage’s resist charm and fear increases, but damage decreases. Yuck.
All magical instruments are masterwork. I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that any magical Lyre instrument also gets the benefits listed above in mundane instruments, but you’ll have to convince your DM.
- 1000 – Drums of Marching (HoB 131) – Those nearby get a +4 to con checks during forced marches.
- 1000 – Horn of Volume (MH) – Your allies can hear you from twice as far away. I’ve never met a DM who strictly enforced distances on bardic music, and only double isn’t that exciting.
1350 – Instrument of the Bards – Fochluchan Bandore
(MIC 161, CArc 148)– +2 to perform, +1 to fascinate, countersong, and suggestion, light 1/day, flare, mending, message 1/day. Requires 2 ranks in stringed instruments for some of the abilities. Not a bad way to get a wide range of shallow benefits for a low price. The MIC price is lower than the CArc.
2100 – Instrument of the Bards – Mac-Fuirmidh Cithern
(CArc 149, MIC 163)– +2 to perform, +2 to countersong, fascinate, and suggestion. If you have 4 ranks in string instruments, cast CLW, Mage Armor, and Sleep 1/day. I don’t love the skill requirement, but the effects aren’t bad. Sleep is kind of wasted, and CLW is probably going to be on a wand. Not a bad item, but not amazing. The MIC has the price lower than CArc.
- 3000 – Bagpipes of the Damned (LM 78) – DC 15 Perform (wind instrument) – All Undead get a +4 resistance to being turned for 10 rounds. Maybe if you’re a necromancer or have a necromancer in your party? Even then, not great. The cost is pretty minor, though.
- 3000 – Lyre of the Restless Soul (LM) – Makes all undead get -4 to turning with a DC 15 perform check. Not going to be worth doing, usually, and not worth the gold.
- 3100 – Pipes of Frenzied Revelry – (MIC 168)- +5 to perform by themselves. If you activate the “relic power”, you get to send everyone around you into an amorous confusion. Not great because it has to hit your allies as well. But the price is really great.
- 3100 – Chime of Harmonic Agony (MIC 154) – This is a fine item for early-mid levels, giving the bard some damage output. 3d6 + CHA mod is pretty good damage for one standard action, and there’s no save!
- 3600 – Horn of Rallying (HoB 132)- +10 to rally troops (a feature from HoB). Yuck.
- 4000 – Biwa of Kakita (OA 137) – +4 to perform lute. Nothing exciting, especially because it inhibits the use of other magical instruments. Most magical instruments already give +2 to perform, which would stack with the mithral bells +2, so I’d rather have those.
- 4100 – Instrument of the Bards – Doss Lute (CArc 149) – +2 to perform, +3 to countersong, fascinate, and suggestion. Delay Posion, hold person, and mirror image 1/day. Gives negative levels to anyone who doesn’t have 6 ranks in perform. I don’t love any of these spells, but the cost isn’t bad.
- 4100 – Methild’s Harp (MoF 162) – +2 to performance,unlocks stuff. If you don’t have a rogue, this is a cool item to solve the locked-door problem. Can even get through some magical locks.
- 5000 – Horn of Resiliance (MIC 209) -Grant DR 5 / – for all allies in a 30′ radius. 30′ is a little low for distance. Also grant 50 temporary hit points when inspiring greatness. Not amazing, not bad. It’s also a masterwork horn, which should be subject to the rules outlined above.
- 5400 – Rhingalade’s Harp (MoF 165) – +2 to performance, turn on blink and mirror image at the same time. Getting two spells for the cost of one action is nice, and it doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity. This is worth considering as an item. It’s a shame it only gets 1 use per day.
- 6800 – Esheen’s Harp (MoF 157) – +2 to perform, +5 to listen against creatures carrying metal or glass, shatter 1/day. Very expensive for weak abilities.
- 7000 – Night Caller (LM 79) – Animate zombies once per week. Max 2 zombies. Pretty cool and price effective, especially for a necromancer-bard.
- 7185 – Trumpet of Doom (BoED 116) – Nearby evil creatures become shaken for one minute, DC 14 save. Shaken isn’t a great ability, but not bad. This would be OK at low levels for non-melee bards, when you don’t have a ton of spells. Not great at higher levels due to the low save.
- 7500 – Biwa of Calm (OA 137) – Calm emotions on a 30′ radius, DC 15. Not a bad price to get a free spell.
- 8100 – Instrument of the Bards – Canaith Mandolin (MIC 153) – +2 to perform, +4 to countersong, fascinate, and suggestion. Cure Serious Wounds, Dispel Magic, or Summon Monster III. Requires 8 ranks in perform (string) for the better effects. This is a solid item if you have the skill ranks. I don’t know if it’s worth putting skill ranks in strings just for this item, though. (CArc 149 has it for a much higher price. At the MIC price, it’s pretty good).
- 8500 – Valarde’s Harp (MoF 166) – +2 to perform.
- 10000 – Yeth Horn (Planar 84) – 60′ spread, DC15 perform check to activate. All creatures except evil outsiders have to pass a DC16 will or be panicked for 2d6 rounds. The will save is a little low for the price, but the effect is almost-phenomenal. Would be a solid item for a level 7-12 character. The big downside here is that affects everyone except evil outsiders. A huge downside that can’t really be overcome. This is better for a DM than a player, most of the time.
- 12000 – Janthra’s Harp (MoF 161) – +2 to perform, invisibility sphere for 1 hour / day. Effectively unlimited uses. Very strong.
- 12100 – Dove’s Harp (MIC 156) – +2 to perform, all allies get fast healing 3 for 1 minute (they heal 3 HP per round). My reading is that it piggy-backs another bardic music (like inspire courage). If so, this is solid.That’s a lot of damage healing for no additional actions.
- 13000 – Lyre of Building (DMG) – Protect a structure from destruction, or get the equivalent of 100 humans worth of work in 3 days. There are a lot of creative uses for this item.
- 15000 – Ruehar’s Flute (PGtF 124) – Some small magical effects, plus comes with some spells like a spellbook. Not great for a bard; we don’t have any use for spellbooks.
- 16000 – Azlaer’s Harp (MoF 154) – Calm emotions and suppress charm, plus a light effect. Way too expensive for its limited application.
- 18000 – Horn of the Rider – lesser (HoB 132) -Summons a rider 3 times / day that deal damage and threaten to trample opponents. They only last one attack. It’s effectively a blasting spell 3/day. Not bad, not great. Price is high.
- 18100 – Instrument of the Bards – Cli Lyre (MIC 154) – +2 to perform, +5 to countersong, fascinate, and suggestion. Break Enchantment, dimension door, and shout each 1/day. Requires 10 ranks in strings. This is good. (CArc has a higher price).
- 22000 – Instrument of the Winds (PGtF) – +2 to perform, DC 15 wind instrument check. If it succeeds, summon an air elemental. Definitely a strong effect for the price.
- 22300 – Nithanalor’s Harp (MoF 164) – +2 to perform, 1/day stone skin. A wand of stoneskin costs 50% more. Not bad.
- 25000 – Handharp (MoF 159) – A handful of cool abilities, focused on the undead. Not worth getting unless the undead stuff is helpful for you, but I like that it’s diverse. A wand of dimension door would be 21,000 and would burn out eventually. This never dies and gives other effects too. A solid item, albeit not good for every bard.
32100 – Instrument of the Bards – Anstruth Harp
(MIC 150, CArc 149)– +2 to perform, +6 to countersong, fascinate, and suggestion. Control Water, Mass CLW, and Mind fog. I really don’t like this version. CArc has it listed for 60000, Magic Item Compendium has it at 32100. At the MIC price it’s not terrible, but not great.
- 33750 – Slippers of Battledancing (DMGII 272) – Great for Gish builds. +10 to land speed, +5 to tumble, +2 to initiative checks, and cha bonus (instead of str or dex) to attack rolls and damage rolls.
- 35380 – Horn of Triumph (SaS 56) -+2 Morale bonus to saving throws, attacks, damage, strength, constitution, ability checks, and skill checks. -1 to AC. It’s a real shame this is a morale bonus, which keeps it from stacking with inspire courage. Creatures also must remain with 15′ of activation, which is a severe limitation. Works twice / day. The limitations set this far back.
- 36750 – Drums of Thunder – A limited number of charges, has a handful of good spells on it. Because it’s charged based (and you only get 10-20 activations) I’m not in love with this item. That’s a lot of gold for an item that decays.
- 45100 – Dove’s Harp (MoF 156) -+2 to performance checks, cure insanity, calm emotions, CLW, and light. Not great and very expensive.
- 60000 – Horn of the Rider – greater (HoB 132) – Summons three riders, 3 times per day, that deal damage and threaten to trample opponents. They only last one attack. It’s effectively a blasting spell 3/day. Not bad, not great. Price is high.
- 75000 – Horn of Dragons (Drac 121) – Can only be used once a month, but lets you summon a ******* dragon who will help you to the best of his ability. This is super cool. Probably not worth getting, but my god it’s cool.
- 50100 – Instrument of the Bards – Ollamh Harp(CArc 149, MIC 166)– +2 to perform, +7 to countersong, fascinate, and suggestion. Control Weather, Eyebite, and repulsion 1/day. I don’t love these spells. MIC has it for less than CArc.
- 84000 – Hwyrr – the Clarion Harp – (BoED 117) – An intelligent item. Automatically inhibits attacks of opportunity in bad guys, grants some other spells per day. I think this is overpriced.
- 84375 – Gong of Dispelling (OA 141) – A giant gong which must be hung, has 50 charges, and dispels evil and magic in a 30′ radius. Way too expensive and unwieldy.
- 115440 – Trumpet of Healing (BoED 116) – Heal 1/day (solves almost all problems, including up to 150 HP) and has a handful of other spells which can be cast 3/day. The cost is a bit steep for a trumped-up healing wand.
- 4310 – Crystal Echoblade (MIC 49) – A +1 longsword that deals extra sonic damage equal to half your bard level. Very, very good, and priced low. You’ll have to see if your DM will allow bard-specific prestige classes to stack here, which I think is reasonable.
- 12330 – Bow of Songs (MIC 48) – +1 shortbow that also lets you expend a bardic music to get extra attack and damage. I like this for mid-level archer bards.
- 25-525 Whip-Dagger (AaEG 10) – A whip that deals 1d6 damage (not subdual!) and doesn’t require any additional proficiency. In addition, you can get a “mighty” version, which lets you apply your strength bonus to the damage.
- 2000 – Sudden Stunning (DMGII 261) – This is perfect for a bard, and I love that this has a flat cost. Targets reflex, pretty good save DC, multiple activations per day, and stuns for 1d4 + 1 round. You can activate is CHA_MOD times per day, which is wonderful for us.
- +1 Bonus – Harmonizing (MIC 34) – +2 to perform (sing). Sustains your bardic musics for you until you do something that stops it. Pretty good, not essential.
- +1 Bonus – Holy Surge (MIC 36) – Get a big bonus damage to evil creatures, CHA times per day. Not great, but maybe worth considering for a melee bard.
- +1 Bonus – Stunning (MIC 44) – I don’t like this. The pre-requisite is pretty weak (screaming weapon) and the effect only triggers on crits. I recommend stunning surge instead.
- +1 Bonus – Stunning Surge (MIC 44) – This is pretty solid. Swift activation, 1 + CHA times per day, fort save or be stunned for 1 round. Stunned is one of the good status effects (drops everything, minuses to AC, no actions).
- +1 Bonus – Warning (MIC 46) – +5 to initiative. Going first is important for a buffer / battlefield controller.
- 1100 – Mithril Chain (DMG 220) – Light Chain Shirt.
- 3450 – Mithralmist Shirt ( MIC 20) – +1 Mithril Shirt, 7/day get concealment against attacks for one minute.
- 4150 – Elven Chain (DMG) -Light Chainmail, -2 ACP.
- 13100 – Kyton Armor (MIC 19) – Get an extra 1d6 damage attack per turn, as a swift action. Not great for the price.
- 22400 – Celestial Armor (DMG) -+3 chainmail that grants fly 1 / day.
- 25400 – Breastplate of Command (DMG) – Gives +2 to all charisma checks and +2 to leadership. It’s alright, but is medium armor, which makes our spell fail 25%. Pass.
- 1200 – Commander (MIC 9) – +2 on diplomacy, allies get +1 to will saves, -5 to hide. This is a cheap way to pump diplomacy.
- 2700 – Glammered (DMG 219) – Armor can change to look like normal clothing. Not bad for disguise people.
- (+3) – Halfweight (UD 70) – Treats the armor as “light in every way” (except AC bonus). You’ll have to check with your DM on exactly what that means regarding things like dex bonuses, but at a minimum, it’s a great way to get into full plate as a bard.
- 5000 – Quickness (MIC 13) – Increase movement by 5′. Good for melee bards.
- 6000 – Speed (MIC 14) – Haste yourself for 1 round, three times per day.
- 400 – Charm of Countersong (MIC 85) – Lets you activate countersong as an immediate action. Countersong should just work this way. Given that it doesn’t, this turns countersong from an absolutely terrible ability to something that’s at least usable. I wish it didn’t consume a neck slot, but it costs next to nothing.
- 900 – Acrobat Boots (MIC 67) – +2 to Tumble, swift activate: more movement this round. Not bad.
- 1200 – Badge of Valor (MIC 207) – 3 activations per day. Grant bonuses to saves or +1 to the next inspire courage, activate as swift action. This is a great item for a really low cost. The only reason not to have this is because you need the neck slot for something better at really high levels. (It’s actually worth considering getting the entire regalia of the hero set; the cost is low and the benefits are solid).
- 1400 – Anklet of Translocation (MIC 71) – twice a day teleport 10′ as a swift action. I love this.
- 1500 – Artificers Monocle (MIC) – Use detect magic to cast identify. Very helpful for a bard.
- 1600 – Headband of the Lorebinder (MIC 110) -+4 bonus to bardic knowledge checks, and read magic 3 / day. Not bad, and a good price, but you’ve got better things to do with the headslot.
- 3700 – Mithral Bells (MIC 111) – A bracelet of 11 mithril bells. As long as there are at least 2, you get +2 to perform checks. In addition, you can throw a bell up to 40′, and it explodes as a Sound Burst effect. Not bad, a little pricey. It’s good at low levels, but doesn’t make a ton of sense at low levels. I wonder if you can get a discount one with just two bells left. +2 to perform for 1000 gold doesn’t sound bad.
- 4000 / 16,000 / 36,000 – Cloak / Headband of Charisma (DMG) – +2, +4, or +6 to Charisma. This is an essential item. Bonuses to everything that matters, particularly spell DC’s.
- 4400 – Sacred Scabbard (MIC 182) – Three times a day, bless your weapon as a swift while its drawn, lasts 10 rounds. Price is good, casting time is good, effect is good.
- 6000 – Amulet of Wordtwisting (MIC 71) – +2 insight bonus to all the social skills. Not bad. If you’re an orc, you get +4 instead, and you also can activate 1/day to cast tongues. Great for an Orc Bard, OK for other bards.
- 12000 – Mantle of Second Chances (MIC 115) -Reroll as an immediate action, before knowing the result, once per day. Good effect, but too expensive.
- 15000 – Desperation Chain (MIC 93) – Goes around the waist. Allows you to cast a spell as an immediate action and without verbal and somatic components when you’re about to die or being disabled by an opponent (pinned, etc.) This is very strong.
- 16000 – Vest of Legends (DMG2) – +5 to diplomacy and perform; bard level counts as 5 levels higher for inspire courage, fascinate, inspire greatness, and inspire heroics. Very good.
- 27000 – Mantle of the Silver Dragon (Drac 121) – +2 to Charisma, fly 1/day. Not bad, but very expensive for the effect.