You can find Part 1 here.
So, in the last article we covered the hard portions of the Bard, aka the abilities and options that you have relatively little choice over. This week we take a look at feats and spell choice.
I want to start with feats, as I feel that a good idea of what feats you want will help shape your spell choices as the two can often be used in conjunction. Bards receive only the standard allotment of feats; that is they get them at the standard rate listed in the Pathfinder Core Book with no bonus feats at all, other than a racial bonus feat if applicable. Making it pretty important to make the right choices for the Bard you want to be.
First up are the feats that I look at almost every time I consider playing a Bard. Extra Performance, Spellsong, Lingering Song, and Harmonic Spell. I mentioned Extra Performance in the previous article so we will be skipping that one. Spellsong allows you to hide a bard spell in a perform check, masking your intentions from those looking, but it also allows you to cast spells without breaking your performance mid battle. Damn useful.
Lingering Song lets your bardic performances effects last two rounds beyond your performance’s end. Used judiciously it can allow you to extend the number of rounds that you have available in a day. For example, a first level bard with 6 available rounds of bardic performance can stretch them to 18 effectively by performing for only one round and then dropping the song. This will cause Lingering song to kick in for two rounds, unless another song is performed during that time.
Harmonic Spell is similar to Spellsong in that you can cast spells while maintaining a bardic performance. However, it does not mask that you are casting a spell. Instead it gives you the benefit of maintaining the performance during the round that you cast the spell (1st level or higher) without using a round of your daily allotted bardic performance, again extending the amount that you can use in a day. Secondly, the feat allows you to change the type of bardic performance you are using as a swift action when you cast. For example, you are using Countersong but think a better choice this round would be Inspire Courage. Normally at a low level you would need to use a standard action to change performances, but with Harmonic Spell you can cast cure Light Wounds to get the fighter back into action AND switch to inspire courage without skipping a beat.
After the necessities I gravitate toward the feats that offer a greater flexibility in survival options. This is primarily due to needing to be within 30 feet of my allies while using performances. Dodge comes to mind right off the bat, a +1 to AC is really nothing to sneeze at. It’s a small bonus but AC is AC. Shield Focus, as you can sing and still use a shield. Combat Expertise is good when making ranged or melee attacks. I tend to keep my Bard away from the fighting if possible, or just make it next to impossible to be targeted/hit through spell effects and such. Just something to think about.
Next are the utilitarian feats. Skill focus is great, it really adds to the performance checks that you wish to focus on. And it pairs well with Versatile Performance, mentioned in the first part of this series. You can take it multiple times, I like to take it twice if I can. Once for performance, and the other for something like spellcraft or escape artist. Pushing the selected skills beyond stupid levels of bonuses.
I haven’t really mentioned combat feats other than survival for the reason that I dislike combat as a Bard. But if you do choose to be combat focused, my advice is this. You have to focus on what kind of combat you want to engage in. most Bards have a higher Dex so ranged combat options such as Point Blank and Precise shot should not be overlooked. If you feel gutsy and want to be in the tick of it, Weapon Finesse and Combat Expertise are your best friends. Maybe even go down the path of the “One Hit for All the Glory” path, using Vital Strike when it becomes available.
Finally we reach Spell Choice. Bards, due to the staggering amount of abilities they already have, get a somewhat truncated spell list and max spell level. Also, as they are spontaneous casters, they have a severely limited amount of spells known but a higher than normal amount of spells per day. For those who are looking at playing a Bard as their first foray into a spell casting class it can be a bit difficult to choose the right spells for what they want to do. Everyone has their own tastes, much like drink choices, so here are mine.
Summon Instrument – Self explanatory. You summon an instrument to your hand. But the fun part is that they don’t disappear when they leave your hand. Case in point, I once used cowbells to set off traps laid by spiders, letting us know where the spiders were at. Or if you took the Catch Off Guard feat, you are almost never without a weapon. Summon cymbals and toss them with Throw Anything to be a musical Captain America. Dirty.
Light – So many uses. Cast it on a rock and toss it down a hallway to light things up. Or a coin or something that you can easily put in your pocket for an easily concealable light source. Or an arrow to mark you targets on the dark. If you can’t think of at least five different uses for this spell, you’re doing something wrong.
Ghost Sound – One of the few 0-Level spells that scales with your level. I use it to sow chaos, or as a harmonizer when performing. Get creative. Fun times will abound. My favorite use was making “Mommy/Daddy time” moaning sounds to distract an innkeeper.
Prestidigitation – Long name, useful spell. It’s the all purpose minor trick that does little other than flavor your character.
Dancing Lights – Light+. In reality I use it for effects. Like having the lights pop in tune with your song, or when you want to mark target priority for your fighter wizard and such. Just talk it out with your party before hand what the colors/shapes mean. It sometimes comes down to choosing between this OR Light. If you don’t want to have two Light type spells, choose what you think will work best with the way your character operates.
Detect Magic – Yep, you can see magic.
Mage Hand – Who can’t find a use for telekinesis, even if it is only five pounds?
Chord of Shards – Can be using during a bardic performance and deals a cone of piercing damage. Pretty solid.
Charm Person – Yup. Bards have it and it can make their job loads easier. Especially if you hide the spell in a performance.
Ear Piercing Scream – One of the few scaling damage spells for the bard at an early level. Only effects one target but it can daze and damage.
Disguise Self – Oh you tricky person you. Deception is fun.
Fumbletongue – Low level anti-caster spell. Situational but neat.
Forced Quiet – Second to Silence for usefulness. Make your fighter clank less when sneaking or stop the guards from raising an alarm. Both equally decent choices.
Hideous Laughter – The bane of fighters. Makes a target unable to act but not helpless, it does scale duration with level. Useful in a bunch of different situations. Like maybe hiding the spell in a song and causing an adviser to fall down laughing for no apparent reason….
Swallow Your Fear – Single target buff at first but for the whole party later. Gives bonuses to STR and CON as well as some other things. Great if you want to use a different performance than Inspire Courage but still want a party bonus.
Alter Self – Like Disguise Self but better. Think of it as a limited wild shape.
Bladed Dash – Great for finishing something off, or some off the cuff combat antics.
Cacophonous Call – The brown note. Inflicts the nauseous condition on a single target.
Charitable Impulse – Useful both in and out of combat, a “Gimme all your stuff!” spell.
Dust of Twilight – Kinda situational but good, I like to use it to gain a tactical advantage prior to a fight. Especially when my character or allies have dark vision and such.
Hold Person – Paralyze but only works on people. Still, can be an instant win button if used right.
Sonic Scream – Damaging spell that can be used three times in a single casting. And you can act like Banshee from the X-Men. Woot.
Now at this point I’m going to stop as this would become little more than a long list of stuff I think is fun to play around with. With spell selection what I would impress upon you as a player is to choose the spells that would suit the way you play your Bard the most. If you are a combat based Bard, choose combat spells, sneaky Bards should look to the ones that disguise yourself and others or affect the reactions of NPCs. And lastly, under no circumstances should you rush to choose a spell. Take the time between sessions to really look at the options available. A hasty choice can lead to regret.
If you would like any direct advice on playing a Bard or would like some ideas, feel free to contact me through G+ or Twitter.
Thank you for reading and happy rolling!