Bardic Knowledge
Wide World of Bards
By Erik Olsen

If diversity is the strength of the bard, then a column that examines just how diverse bards can be ought to be fairly interesting. That, at least, is the idea with which I started.

I said earlier in the Phenomenal Cosmic Power article that I thought that 7th level was among the best of the bard levels, so I set out to build three different bard characters at 7th level to see how different the faces of a bard can be. Obviously, whenever you make a character, there is a lot of give and take and numerous judgment calls to make. I've made these characters using just the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, and I stuck to fairly standard rules and items. Since I can't be there with everyone who might read this to flip through books and debate the finer points of character building, I've gone with a simplicity-first strategy so that even people who have never made a bard character before can follow along fairly easily. I don't claim that these are the best characters in the world; they're just the ones I made.

Bard-Archer

To me, the default direction you should go with a bard is as a combat support archer and a support caster that can fill either role in a pinch, but who is outclassed by the pure warriors or the pure casters in a side-by-side comparison. I used the standard point-buy system found in the Dungeon Master's Guide at 25 points for all the characters. For the most part, I focused on high Charisma and Dexterity.

Take a look at the stat block below, and then we'll check out the basic highlights.

Bard-Archer: Male elf Bard7; CR 7; Medium-size humanoid; HD 7d6; hp 24; Init +3; Spd 30 ft.; AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 16; Atk +5 melee (1d6/19-20, short sword), or +12 ranged (1d8+2/x3, +1 composite longbow with +1 shock arrows); SQ bardic knowledge +8, bardic music (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage, suggestion) 7/day, elf traits; AL CG; SV Fort +2, Ref +8, Will +4; Str 10, Dex 16, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 16.

Skills and Feats: Balance +5, Concentration +10, Gather Information +13, Hide +13, Jump +2, Listen +1, Perform +13, Search +3, Spot +1, Tumble +13; Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot.

Bardic Knowledge: The bard-archer may make a bardic knowledge check with a +8 bonus to see whether he knows some relevant information about local notable people, legendary items, or noteworthy places.

Bardic Music: The bard-archer can use his song or poetics to produce magical effects on those around him.

Countersong (Su): The bard can counter magical effects that depend on sound by making a Perform check for each round of countersong. Any creature within 30 feet of the bard who is affected by a sonic or language-dependent magical attack may use the bard's Perform check result in place of his or her saving throw if desired. Countersong lasts for 10 rounds.

Fascinate (Sp): The bard can cause a single creature within 90 feet that can see and hear him to become fascinated with him. The bard's Perform check result is the DC for the opponent's Will save. Any obvious threat breaks the effect. Fascination lasts 7 rounds.

Inspire Competence (Su): An ally within 30 feet who can see and hear the bard gets a +2 competence bonus on skill checks with a particular skill for as long as he or she can hear the music.

Inspire Courage (Su): Allies who can hear the bard receive a +2 morale bonus to saves against charm and fear effects and a +1 morale bonus to attack and weapon damage rolls The effect lasts for 5 rounds after the ally can no longer hear the bard.

Suggestion (Sp): The bard can make a suggestion (as the spell) to a creature he has already fascinated. A Will save with (DC 16) negates the effect.

Elf Traits: The bard-archer is immune to magic sleep spells and effects. He has a +2 racial bonus on saves against enchantment spells or effects and low-light vision (can see twice as far as a human in low-light conditions). The bard-archer is entitled to a Search check when within 5 feet of a secret or concealed door as though actively looking for it. He has Martial Weapon Proficiency (composite longbow, composite shortbow, longbow, longsword, and rapier) as bonus feats. The bard-archer also has a +2 racial bonus on Listen, Spot, and Search checks (already figured into the statistics given above).

Bard Spells Known (3/4/3/1; save DC 13 + spell level; 15% chance of spell failure): 0 -- daze, detect magic, flare, ghost sound, mage hand, prestidigitation; 1st -- charm person, expeditious retreat, mage armor, sleep; 2nd -- cat's grace, invisibility, see invisibility, sound burst; 3rd -- greater magic weapon, haste.

Possessions: +1 buckler, mithral shirt, +1 composite longbow, shock arrows (50), potion of haste (2), ring of swimming, wand of cure light wounds (50 charges), bracers of archery, Heward's handy haversack, bedroll, bell (2), block and tackle, bottle, bullseye lantern, caltrops (2 bags), chalk (3), crowbar, entertainer's outfit, firewood (2 days worth), flask, flint and steel (2), grappling hook, hammer, ink, inkpen, manacles, map case, masterwork musical instrument, musical instrument (2), oil (2 pints), piton, rations (3 days), scroll case, sewing needle, shovel, signal whistle, silk rope (150 feet), sledge, small steel mirror (2), spade, tent, torches (3), waterskin (filled), whetstone, 99 gp.

  • AC: 19.
  • Attack: +12 with +1 composite longbow (not counting Rapid Shot or Point Blank Shot) with a +2 enhancement bonus coming from greater magic weapon cast on the arrows. (As a reminder, if the bard uses greater magic weapon on the arrows, the +1 bonus from the arrows no longer applies since the bonuses don't stack.)
  • Damage: 1d8+2 + 1d6 (shock arrow) (with an additional +1 from the bracers of archery if within 30 feet).
  • Spell DC: 14 for 1st-level spells.
  • Spells:Cat's grace, expeditious retreat, greater magic weapon, haste, invisibility, mage armor, sound burst.
  • Skills: Nothing of real note, +13 on Hide, Gather Information, and Perform.Heward's handy haversack filled lots of things a bard adventurer might need and the item I consider obligatory: a wand ofcure light wounds.

All in all, I'd call this pretty much what I expected, and about average. Of course, I tend to play a lot of bards and rogues, so my expectations might be a bit different than those of someone used to seeing the damage dealt out by fighters and barbarians.

I'm pretty much always happy with an Armor Class near 20, especially on someone not intended to be on the front lines and who has the ability to either become invisible or beat a decent retreat with expeditious retreat or haste. He can take two shots at targets within 30 feet at +12 and deal an average of 10 points of damage per hit. How good these attack and damage stats are depends on what you're comparing them to, but it's safe to say that they're likely better than a wizard and worse than a barbarian. A 1st-level spell DC of 14 is not great, but very few of the bard's spells allow for a saving throw, so it doesn't come up all that often. Sound burst and sleep are the only offensive spells in this bard's arsenal, and if this bard cast sound burst on himself (or someone just like him), he'd save against the stunning effect about half the time. A more well-rounded bard might have his skill points distributed a bit more evenly, with some points in Climb and Swim or wherever seems appropriate to you.

I'm not including the bonuses from bardic music because my plan is to compare between bards, but if I was comparing with other classes, I would want to include the +1 on attack and damage rolls from inspire courage, and the fascinate and suggestion abilities in the tally, as well.

Bard-Spellslinger

The idea of a dedicated spellcasting bard has always seemed a bit shaky to me, but no one I know has ever actually tried it, so I was curious to give it a shot. My goal was to increase the bard's spell save DC as high as I could with Charisma-boosting items and anything else I could think of, and then find as many ways as possible on the bard spell list to be an active spellcasting member of a party. In retrospect, I'm not completely convinced this was the best of all possible strategies, but let's check it out and see how it stacks up to the archer.

Take a look at the statistics, or just check out the highlights:

  • AC: 13 (17 with mage armor and up to 24 when also using the wand ofshield)
  • Attack: +6 with a whip.
  • Damage: 1d2.
  • Spell DC: 16 for 1st-level spells.
  • Spells:Bestow curse, blindness/deafness, charm person, hold person, sleep, summon monster III.

Bard-Spellslinger: Female human Bard 7; CR 7; Medium-size humanoid; HD 7d6; hp 24; Init +1; Spd 30 ft.; AC 13, touch 13, flat-footed 12; Atk +6 ranged (1d2, whip), or +5 melee (1d4/19-20, dagger), or +3 ranged (1d6/x3, masterwork shortbow); SQ bardic knowledge +8, bardic music (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage, suggestion) 7/day; AL N; SV Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +4; Str 10, Dex 12, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 20.

Skills and Feats: Concentration +10, Decipher Script +11, Knowledge (arcana) +11, Perform +15, Spellcraft +11, Use Magic Device +15; Combat Casting, Spell Focus (Enchantment), Spell Focus (Transmutation), Spell Penetration.

Bardic Knowledge: The bard-spellslinger may make a bardic knowledge check with a +8 bonus to see whether she knows some relevant information about local notable people, legendary items, or noteworthy places.

Bardic Music: The bard-spellslinger can use her song or poetics to produce magical effects on those around her.

Countersong (Su): The bard-spellslinger can counter magical effects that depend on sound by making a Perform check for each round of countersong. Any creature within 30 feet of the bard who is affected by a sonic or language-dependent magical attack may use the bard's Perform check result in place of his or her saving throw if desired. Countersong lasts for 10 rounds.

Fascinate (Sp): The bard-spellslinger can cause a single creature within 90 feet that can see and hear her to become fascinated with her. The bard's Perform check result is the DC for the opponent's Will save. Any obvious threat breaks the effect. Fascination lasts 7 rounds.

Inspire Competence (Su): An ally within 30 feet who can see and hear the bard-spellslinger gets a +2 competence bonus on skill checks with a particular skill for as long as he or she can hear the music.

Inspire Courage (Su): Allies who can hear the bard-spellslinger receive a +2 morale bonus to saves against charm and fear effects and a +1 morale bonus to attack and weapon damage rolls The effect lasts for 5 rounds after the ally can no longer hear the bard.

Suggestion (Sp): The bard-spellslinger can make a suggestion (as the spell) to a creature he has already fascinated. A Will save with (DC 18) negates the effect.

Bard Spells Known (3/5/3/1; save DC 15 + spell level, or 17 + spell level for enchantment and transmutation spells): 0 -- detect magic, light, mage hand, open/close, prestidigitation, read magic; 1st -- charm person, mage armor, sleep, summon monster I; 2nd -- blindness/deafness, blur, hold person, invisibility; 3rd -- bestow curse, summon monster III.

Possessions: dagger (2), whip, masterwork shortbow, arrows (50), ring of protection +2,wand of cure light wounds (50 charges), wand of shield (50 charges), circlet of persuasion, cloak of Charisma (+2)*, belt pouch (3), backpack, candle, explorer's outfit, hooded lantern, inkpen, masterwork musical instrument, musical instrument (2), paper (3 sheets), parchment (1 sheet), scroll cases (3), small steel mirror, vial of ink, 514 gp.

*Already figured into stats above.

Clearly we're giving up a lot in the normal attack department, but that's not inherently a bad thing. We're also losing a little in AC when we're unprepared, so it's pretty important to stay away from the front lines, at least until you have mage armor and shield up. Since shield isn't on the bard spell list, she's going to need to activate it with her Use Magic Device skill. The DC for this is 20, but with a +17 to her roll (remember the circlet of persuasion?), this bard can count on being protected most of the time.

While the bard-spellslinger isn't any better in melee than a wizard, and there's always the option of not taking the whip as the bard weapon proficiency and actually being decent, I just thought it would be fun to abandon mundane combat all together. Taking the whip as your primary weapon is a good way to do that. Where we hope to make up this loss in attack power is with the spells.

Even with a Charisma of 20, our 1st-level spell DC is still only 16, but all of our offensive spells that allow saves fit nicely into two schools, which allows us to take the Spell Focus feat for Enchantment and Transmutation and gain a +2 to the DC for charm person, sleep, blindness/deafness, hold person, and bestow curse. On a per day basis, here's what we're looking at: charm person or sleep at DC 18 up to 5 times per day, blindness/deafness or hold person at DC 19 up to 4 times per day, and bestow curse at DC 20 up to once per day. All of these spells, should they work, could really ruin an enemy's day, and with a DC in the 18-20 range, they're likely to work quite a bit. I've included two of the summon monster spells because they can be cast from invisibility without breaking the effects of invisibility. The big weakness with this character is the inability to deal damage, but with a party of fellow adventurers around you and a few summoned creatures to help out, it's entirely possible that there's a niche for the bard-spellslinger.

While I'd want to play a character like this a few times before deciding for certain how playable it is, I can say without a doubt that it's very little like the bard-archer listed above, so from the perspective of showing off the bard's diversity, I'd have to call this character a success.

Roguish Bard

Unlike the dedicated spellcaster, this is a concept I'm fairly familiar with. The questions here are exactly how much rogue can you get from your bard, and is it worth the effort of finding this out? When trying to match up against the rogue, the first things you know you're going to give up are the rogue's sneak attack dice. The second thing that goes are the rogue's skill points. But is it possible to be within the theme of a thief without needing the rogue's class benefits? Let's take a look.

Roguish Bard: Male elf Bard 7; CR 7; Medium-size humanoid; HD 7d6-7; hp 18; Init +4; Spd 30 ft.; AC 20, touch 14, flat-footed 16; Atk +10 melee (1d6+1/18-20, +1 frost rapier), or +10 ranged (1d8/x3, masterwork longbow); SQ bardic knowledge +9, bardic music (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage) 7/day, elf traits; AL CG; SV Fort +1, Ref +9, Will +4; Str 10, Dex 18, Con 8, Int 14, Wis 8, Cha 16.

Skills and Feats: Balance +6, Climb +2, Concentration +2, Craft (trapmaking) +9, Disguise +4, Gather Information +8, Hide +24, Jump +2, Listen +3, Move Silently +24, Perform +9, Pick Pocket +6, Search +4, Spot +1, Swim +1, Tumble +14, Use Magic Device +4; Dodge, Expertise, Weapon Finesse (rapier).

Bardic Knowledge: The roguish bard may make a bardic knowledge check with a +9 bonus to see whether he knows some relevant information about local notable people, legendary items, or noteworthy places.

Bardic Music: The roguish bard can use his song or poetics to produce magical effects on those around him.

Countersong (Su): The roguish bard can counter magical effects that depend on sound by making a Perform check for each round of countersong. Any creature within 30 feet of the bard who is affected by a sonic or language-dependent magical attack may use the bard's Perform check result in place of his or her saving throw if desired. Countersong lasts for 10 rounds.

Fascinate (Sp): The roguish bard can cause a single creature within 90 feet that can see and hear him to become fascinated with him. The bard's Perform check result is the DC for the opponent's Will save. Any obvious threat breaks the effect. Fascination lasts 7 rounds.

Inspire Competence (Su): An ally within 30 feet who can see and hear the roguish bard gets a +2 competence bonus on skill checks with a particular skill for as long as he or she can hear the music.

Inspire Courage (Su): Allies who can hear the roguish bard receive a +2 morale bonus to saves against charm and fear effects and a +1 morale bonus to attack and weapon damage rolls The effect lasts for 5 rounds after the ally can no longer hear the bard.

Elf Traits: The roguish bard is immune to magic sleep spells and effects. He has a +2 racial bonus on saves against enchantment spells or effects and low-light vision (can see twice as far as a human in low-light conditions). The roguish bard is entitled to a Search check when within 5 feet of a secret or concealed door as though actively looking for it. He has Martial Weapon Proficiency (composite longbow, composite shortbow, longbow, longsword, and rapier) as bonus feats. The bard-archer also has a +2 racial bonus on Listen, Spot, and Search checks (already figured into the statistics given above).

Bard Spells Known (3/4/3/1; save DC 13 + spell level; 15% chance of spell failure): 0 -- daze, detect magic, ghost sound, mage hand, open/close, prestidigitation; 1st -- charm person, detect secret doors, identify, sleep; 2nd -- invisibility, locate object, shatter, silence; 3rd -- displacement, gaseous form.

Possessions: Mithral shirt, +1 buckler, +1 frost rapier, masterwork longbow, arrows (50), boots of elvenkind, cloak of elvenkind, gloves of Dexterity (+2)*,backpack, belt pouch, caltrops, chalk, musical instruments (2), silk rope (50 feet), 13 gp.

*Already figured into stats above.

As before, here are the character statistics and the highlights:

  • AC: 20 (w/ the option to sacrifice Attack for AC using Expertise).
  • Attack: +10 with a rapier, +10 with a longbow.
  • Damage: 1d6+1.
  • Spell DC: 14 for 1st-level spells.
  • Spells:Charm person, darkness, detect secret doors, displacement, gaseous form, identify, invisibility, locate object, shatter, sleep.
  • Skills: Hide and Move Silently at +24 each (the cloak and boots definitely help here!), Tumble with a +14, and a bunch of other stuff.

The AC here is good -- a solid 20 that doesn't include the potential bonus from using Expertise. In exchange, we're giving up several points of damage. With the cloak and boots of elvenkind we pick up the ability to sneak just about anywhere, just so long as there's enough cover and shadows for us to stay hidden in. Add invisibility and silence to that and sneakiness is all but assured.

When compared to a rogue, the bard with rogue tendencies you see here isn't likely to perform the same functions in an adventuring party. He has no sneak attack dice, no lockpicking ability, and no way to disarm those tricky traps. However, as an outright thief, I think the bard might actually be better at sneaking into people's places and stealing their stuff. How? Let me show you.

First let's look at the spells invisibility and silence. A +24 bonus on a Move Silently roll is fine and good, but even better is not having to make a roll at all. While under the effects of silence you can't cast further spells, so cast it upon a rock or something that you keep in your hand so that you can hurl it out a window or down a long hall should you need to be outside of the silence spell's area in a hurry. Next is the spell locate object. Now, cast your locate object to locate the nearest trap. You need to be fairly specific about the kind of trap, such as a tripwire or pit. The spell can give you advance warning of a trap nearby, which might allow you to avoid it. Finally, should you encounter a lock you find yourself unable to get through, why not shatter it instead? Keep in mind that you have to drop the rock to cast the spell, and the spell itself is not exactly the sneakiest one around, but sometimes you do what you have to do. Just be prepared for your foes to come and find you.

Does any of this mean the other classes aren't diverse? No, of course not, but it does show that there's a lot of range to the bard class, and it might help you see some uses for your bard character that you hadn't considered yet. More tweaking could take a bard character further in any of these directions, or it could send them off in some other direction entirely.

About the Author

Erik Olsen resides in the single longest, continually running, unofficial, free self-storage facility in the western hemisphere, housing items brought over by various friends and acquaintances and left there over the course of seven generations. Descendents of the original owners of these items are known to drop by once every decade or so to make sure Erik doesn't begin assuming the items belong to him.


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