Hello! I’m going to breaking away from my general advice to get a little specific and focus on character classes; specifically the classes available in Pathfinder from Paizo Publishing. Now I understand that I will never be able to cover everything that is available to each class, especially with new content and supplements being released at a pretty good clip, but I will do my best. The format will be a brief overview of the nuts and bolts of each class with a more in depth play-style and options piece the following week. Now, by request, on with the Bard!
The absolute rock bottom description of a bard is “Support Class”. I always balk a little when players dismiss them out of hand as they have a mess of abilities but nothing that really shines on the page. To me, the fact that nothing sticks out IS what jump out at me. They are good at just about anything but do require a bit of experience and insight to play properly.
Start with stats. After rolling or using the point buy system I focus on the big three for the Bard in the following order: Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence. It can be argued that Constitution and Wisdom should also be up there but they fall pretty short in comparison for squeezing the juice from what the Bard can do. Charisma is what the Bard bases their spell-casting on as well as a good portion of their skills. Dexterity can help with spells that require a ranged touch or for the times when you resort to distance fighting, not to mention not getting hit. And Intelligence gets you more skills and helps with all the knowledge checks that you will be making.
Allright, now for hard numbers. Their hit die is d8. Not bad. It’s the same as the Cleric and Rogue. Base Attack Bonus is on the mid track, again the same as the cleric and rogue. Main saves are Reflex and Will, as a class that blends spell-casting and rogue-ish qualities this is to be expected. Skills: 6 + Int bonus per level. Not bad, second to the Rogue and tied with the Ranger. Looking at this they seem pretty average. Proficient with simple weapons plus a few others, light armor and shields (but not tower shields) AND can cast while wearing light armor and using a shield with no arcane penalty. Pretty sweet.
Class Skill list, now here is where they get a little bonkers. Bards have the most class skills of any of the Core Classes. Doesn’t really seems like a big deal at first but then realize that with each class skill you get a +3 with even a single rank in the skill. So back to the skill points now. If bard is your favored class that nets another skill per level, now you’re up to seven with no bonus. Now toss in being a human (if you so please), that’s another one. Now up to eight skill points per level. Not too shabby. If you are fortunate enough to even have a minor bonus to intelligence it goes up higher.
But where to put those points?
I like to spread them out a bit, and really make that huge list of class skills work for me. I will normally spend a third of my skill points in performance skills, for obvious reasons. I like to use Sing, Dance, String, Percussion, and Oratory. This will cover most instances of needing to use the performance skill for bardic performance and other things. (Seriously, think about percussion and dance. Even if the DM has gone through the trouble of breaking your instruments you can still slap you knee for percussion, and if silenced, dance can usually still be seen. Don’t be afraid to get silly. Sometimes silly wins. Also, carry spoons. Percussion!)
After the requisite Performance choices I will go for the meaty bits of the list. Knowledge Skills. Bard are one of the only three base classes available that has all of the Knowledge Skills as class skills. By just having one rank in the knowledge skill, you get the class skill bonus and the bonus from Bardic Knowledge. Even if you don’t plan on playing the walking encyclopedia that is a Bard, consider at least a couple of knowledge skills so as to not let the ability go to waste.
After Knowledge skills, your skill choices should really represent how you want to play your bard. Consider a profession, or take stealth, bluff, and slight of hand to play the dashing spy. Diplomacy can also open quite a few doors and should not be overlooked. And another big suggestion for a skill choice is Linguistics. As a number of bardic performances and spells are language dependent. More languages means more types of NPCs you can affect.
I’m going to skip spells and feats in this article as I feel that they deserve their own entire article. The choices are vast and at the same time limited, so instead we move to Bardic Performance. At first level the Bard gains 4 plus their charisma modifier in rounds of Bardic Performance per day, with two additional rounds each level after that. To me, it’s kind of limited and I often take the feat Extra Performance to add 6 rounds per day.
The varied performances that a Bard can produce is why they are often relegated to supporting the rest of the party, and rightly so. Starting at first level you gain access to a bevy of performance options namely Inspire Courage, Countersong, Fascinate and Distraction.
Inspire Courage is best described as the bread and butter of the Bardic Performances. It provides a static +1 to saves versus charm and fear effects and +1 to hit and damage to all allies that can see/hear the performance. (Note – bagpipes are awesome for distance inspiration. So is flag spinning. It’s happened.) The bonus from Inspire Courage does increase as you go up in level, finally reaching +4 at level 17. At level 17 you may thumb your nose at a +4 bonus, but a bonus is a bonus. And sometimes that is all that matters.
Fascinate is a situation dependent ability that requires a bit of roleplay and finesse. I find it is best used when you need the rapt attention of an NPC of import at he time. Say a guard searching the wagon the party is sneaking into town in. Or the group of brigands while your party gets into position for a surprise attack. Or even the comely tavern wench that has been giving you eyes all night. Knowing when to use it is a fine art, but well worth it. It is not language dependent but it requires both audio and visual components.
Countersong and Distraction are two sides of the same ability. They allow you to use performance to grant your party a save using your performance result as opposed to their own saves. The only catch is that it that you have to know when to use them, and that they need to be in use prior to a harmful spell or effect hitting the party to really be of use. You can use them during a persistent attack to try and break your party out the spells effect such as a lasting illusion of phantasm but that depends on your own character not being affected by whatever you’re trying to break. Not my favorites but still worth a mention.
Inspire Confidence – Utility at its finest. You sing/play and an ally gets better at whatever they are doing if they are within 30 feet. Great for escape artist checks and just about anything else.
Suggestion – just what the name implies, you can use performance to plant a suggestion in someone you have fascinated. An old friend called it the pantie-dropper/kilt lifter power of bards. I primarily use it to sow discord in bar crowds to start a fight if I need to slip out or other insidious things. Get creative, sow some discord.
DIRGE…OF….DOOM!!! – Anything ‘of doom’ makes me act as such. But it a useful song to make all enemies that can see/hear the bard within 30 feet become shaken. Not a big thing when you first read the ability, but note, that it does not give your enemies a saving throw. It just happens.
Inspire Greatness – A slightly different version of inspire courage. Instead of a bonus to hit, damage, and saves against charm/fear; you or a number of your allies gain temp HitDice, a bonus to attack and a +1 to Fort saves. I tend not to use this one too much, I prefer the bonus to damage over the hit point, not to mention that Inspire Courage doesn’t require your party members to see AND hear you. You can choose either. For it being a 9th level power, it always seems like kind of a let down.
Soothing Performance – Spend four rounds of Bardic Performance to play a powerchord that casts mass cure serious wounds as well removing fatigued,sickened, and shaken? Sign me up! You get this at level twelve, meaning right from the get go you heal 15 hp minimum to living things withing 30 ft. Conversely you can HARM undead using the same power. Pretty neat.
Frightening Tune – A.k.a. The brown note. You can do a mass fear effect to make enemies within 30 ft. run away. Sure they get a save but if they fail they run as long as they can still hear your song. **cough-bagpipes-cough**
Inspire Heroics – the third and final inspirational combat buff. I really wish they gave this to the bard at a lower level. +4 to all saves and +4 to AC, but again they must be able to see and hear you. Not to mention you can only affect one person at level 15 and then another every three levels beyond that. It has the potential for so much awesome but it is kind of hamstrung by its late arrival to the bard’s repertoire.
Mass Suggestion – Oh the fun you can have with this one. You get this performance at level 18, and that is really a balancing factor. Think about it, you fascinate an entire crowd and then suggest that they overthrow the local government, or the creeping suspicion that their neighbors are demon worshipers. Yeah, it’s possible at by this point your performance skill should be high enough to sway the heavens, or convince the rural townsfolk that you are a shiny golden god. Go nuts, just don’t be boring.
Deadly Performance – 20th level. One song killer. Joy or sorrow make your choice. The target gets a single will save to avoid death, if they pass they are staggered for a bit but if they don’t suspect the bard either through trickery or the use of a feat you can try again in 24 hours. Oddly enough if you get lucky this can turn a bard into an excellent assassin and can set up for some downright dramatic scenes. The only downsides are that the target must see and hear you, and be within 30 ft. But if you can make it work, by all means go for it.
WHEW! With Bardic Performances out of the way we can look at the rest of the abilities that a bard gains access to.
Versatile Performance is where making varied choices about your performance skills comes in handy. Starting at 2nd level you can choose one of your perform skills to use its bonus in place of two other skills. For example selecting Strings will let you use your bonus for Performance(Strings) as your bonus for Bluff AND Diplomacy. You get to use this bonus even if the skill in question requires training or you have no ranks in the skill. Pretty sweet deal. It effectively lets you consolidate your skill choices a bit and not be penalized for it.
Lore Master – Making those knowledge work for you. This skill lets you take 10 on knowledge skills that you have a rank in. AND once per day take 20 on ANY knowledge check.
Finally, the Bard gains Jack of All Trades. At 10th level the bard become skilled enough to use ANY skill, even ones that require training. Doesn’t sound like much at first but suddenly you have access to everything any character can do. Need a smith? Bard can do it. Need pointers on how to fly? Bard can do it. Need someone to pick a lock because the thief lost their hands to a trap last round? Bard can do it. And it gets better. Later all skills are class skills. Meaning those non class skills with ranks suddenly get the class skill bonus. Finally you get the ability to take 10 on ANY skill check. ALL the time! Bards really can make anything look easy. Bastards. Fancy fancy bastards.
So there is the opening school for bards, next time I will go into the more theory-crafting portion of building a bard. Thank you for reading and keep rolling!