The Bard Handbook Oh! blame not the bard - Thomas Moore
After languishing as a second tier class in 3.5 the bard is back. And quite frankly it is possibly the most interesting and fun class to play yet. This handbook will continue to expand as we learn more, especially in March and April of '09.
Everything here is open for discussion. Valid and detailed critical input will help this guide be the best it can be.
Fomatting, layout and general outline shamelessly cribbed from sCRuLooSe's excellent Warlord Guide.
Every thing that heard him play, Even the billows of the sea, Hung their heads and then lay by. In sweet music is such art, Killing care and grief of heart Fall asleep, or hearing, die. William Shakespeare - Orpheus
Notes on the Rating System Sky Blue: The best of the best choices. Blue: Special forces but not elite. Black: If you consider average acceptable for combat, this might be for you. Purple: For corner cases only. These options require VERY specific circumstances to even consider. Red: This is a false option.
Current Progress 3/15/09 - Rated all powers for all 30 levels.
Both Bardic Virtues are fun, and both are very useful. I personally feel that Virtue of Cunning wins out, especially if you want to multiclass.
Virtue of Cunning: aka the cannybard (we will not use the term cunbard or the even worse cunnibard) or the Cunning Bard For your INT Bard. I really enjoy cunning. But it does require that you keep a watch on the battlefield. That extra slide has saves a party member almost every combat. I also use it to circle the bad guys, move a PC out of an AoE, set up powers that damage the baddies when they move (Pike Hedge), put baddies in a PC's aura, stick a fighter on baddies. (It helps that we also have a warlord with wolf-pack tactics.) It has so many uses.
Virtue of Valor: aka the valbard, or the Valorous Bard For your Con Bard. Temp hit points are the new damage reduction. This Virtue has a useful class feature, but it doesn't quite trigger often enough. When compared to War Song Strike this Feature looks even weaker. If you want to multiclass, only one other class uses CON as its primary (read To-Hit) stat, meaning you will likely want to take Combat Virtuoso. Another consideration is, you are likely to be granting the temp HP to the damage dealers and not the tanks. Which is NOT your best option tactically speaking. Still, a very good class feature, and worth considering.
Virtue of Prescience: aka the Prebard, the presbalouskibard, or the Prescient Bard For the WIS Bard. I wish this feature could be used more than once an encounter. As it is, there is an encounter power that lets you basically adopt this feature without speciallizing in it. (As opposed to other features where you can take a power that lets you use a limited version of the power.) The good news is that if you want to MC, WIS is a good stat to keep high. However, it provides a lot of the benefits that CHA does, making the Prebard less durable. Finally there are no WIS CHA races, making this build even more problematic. All told, I wish this had been a DEX build, especially since it is SUPPOSED to use ranged weapons.
Since Bards are so skilled at multiclassing, they have the potential to use all kinds of different implements and weapons. This can lead to problems as the bard may have to switch out items in mid combat, possibly costing them vital actions. Worse still - while most melee characters can choose a weapon type and stick with it no matter what exploit they use, a heavily multiclassed bard could have 3 to 4 times the number of implements to pay for. Given 4th Eds economic setup this is a huge drain on personal and party resources for minimal benefit. The reality is that you will likely have one nice implement, and several sub-par implements. When you further compound this with a tertiary stat, and your chance of hitting can drop 15 - 25%.
There are some solutions to MID (Multi-implement Dependency). Some of the implements can serve as proxies for other implements, and some of the implements span a number of classes. You can also hold multiple implements. This allows you to add multiple properties to a power.
Weapons & Songblades
Wand of Psychic Ravaging: Valorous, Cunning- A must have for Cunning bards. Good for Valorous bards, but they will probably be much better off just using their songblade.
Other (Multiclass) Implements
Star of Corellion: Valorous, Cunning- This beauty serves as an implement for all arcane implements. This is another must have for bards who multiclass, as it opens up any Arcane or Divine class (except the invoker - bummer) and it does not take up a slot. Not taking up a slot is HUGE. It means that you can get the benifit of multiple implements. Make the SoC your imlement with the most plusses. Then keep several wands with neat add on effects and pull those out depending on the power you are using.
Attributes for the Bard are a tricky thing. Because the bard has so many multiclassing options it takes some forethought on the character's entire career path to make them fully effective. If you go at it willy nilly you can very well end up with a difficult to play character. My recommendation is to start with an idea of what classes you might want to dabble in. Then you want to narrow the field down to one attribute outside your main two (CHA and CON or INT), lets call that your Multiclass Stat pick. With that in place, you should order your stats as follows:
If you multi-multiclass:
Valorous Bard: CHA/Multiclass Stat Pick(STR or DEX)/CON/INT/WIS/DEX or STR
Cunning Bard: CHA/Multiclass Stat Pick(WIS or STR or DEX)/CON.
Precient Bard: CHA/WIS/CON/INT or DEX/STR.
(Keep in mind that your Multiclass stat pick can very well be CHA, CON, WIS or INT, decreasing your reliance on MAD.)
If you multiclass into one or no classes:
Valorous Bard: CHA/Multiclass Stat Pick(STR or DEX)/CON/INT/WIS/DEX or STR
Cunning Bard: CHA/Multiclass Stat Pick(WIS or STR or DEX)/CON.
Precient Bard: CHA/WIS/CON/INT or DEX/STR.
As far as what that Multiclass stat pick should be, well we can look at it from the standpoint of what stat will give you access to the most classes. Fully 1/3 of the potential builds (by a conservative measure) use STR for attack, 1/4 uses WIS. You could do a lot worse than to pick one of those stats (or perhaps set both at 13). This makes the Precient Bard an excellent option for the multiclasser. We will want to temper that with some common sense however. As discussed under the multiclassing section, we are not likely to do well in the defender role, and we need to watch out for relying on two many implements. We can assume that more than two implements will be problematic. It is also the case that the you may not want to substitute powers, so having a high stat is not as crucial. You may just be multiclassing to get the benefit.
Picking the stat that gives you the most opportunities is one way of approaching this problem. The other is to look at what classes get the most synergy / power. Given the large (and ever increasing) number of classes and powers available, this can be difficult to spot right away. But I am sure to CO boards will tease out those optimal builds, and we can link to them from here.
A final way of picking that third stat is to make a pick based on a theme, or to fill in some holes in your party. One popular, and useful option is to pick all leader classes to get all the extra healing. While it may not be the most powerful option available, it certainly fits into the feel of a Bard as a character who always seems to have an ace up his sleeve.
So my picks for that third stat (if you decide to go there) are STR for the Valorous Bard, WIS or maybe STR for the Cunning Bard, and STR or DEX for the Precient Bard. Note that this means that the Precient bard has much more multiclassing options, even after you eliminate the defenders (remember you typically don't want to multiclass into a defender role). Thems the breaks, because you probably don't want to make your Cunning Bard a front line person, given thier con and ability to hit with a melee attack. Don't worry, the Cunning bard still has more choices than it can possibly get to in one character.
Remember that you can always retrain your multiclass stat pick, but you can not retrain your attributes, so spend a little more time on this section for your character.
Bladeling (MOP *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - The stats don't mesh (except for ranged weapon Prescient bards), and the racial power is best used by an Avenger - not a good mesh for the role you are trying to fill. Bugbear (MM *, p) : All Virtues - Neither the stats nor the skills fit (OK if you want ranged). The Racial Power is great, but it is even better if you pick a striker class. The oversized weapons are very good, but again it is best used by another class. Bullywug (MM2 *, p) : All Virtues - Practically unplayable no matter what the class. Changeling (Doppleganger) (EPG, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Significantly better with the release of EPG. They make good ranged bards, using either an implement or a ranged weapon depending on their stat choice. The racial powers are meh, but the feats make up for that. They are still better by far in a city oriented campaign than in a dungeon setting. Deva (PHB2, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - If only the stats meshed better, because the racial power is VERY nice for a bard who multiclasses a bunch. Dragonborn (PHB, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Not a bad choice here. The bonus to strength is a great choice if you want to multiclass, since STR covers the most MC feats by far. Drow (FRPG, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Something to consider if you want to play a ranged bard. A MC into a stealthy class and you can really be concealed for most of your attacks. The drow feat selection also goes a LONG way to helping out a ranged bard. Duergar (MM2 *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Not a good fit stat wise, and a racial power that will likely never hit after 5th level or so. Dwarf (PHB, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - As much as I love the idea of dwarven skalds drumming out a war chant optimally speaking they are a sub-optimal choice. If you want to pick a dwarf, think front line and either Prescient or Valorous. Eladrin (PHB, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - The mobility is good, and the INT bonus works for the cunning bard. Not a bad choice if you are multiclassing into Rogue or Ranger, or want to be a ranged bard. Elf (PHB, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - This is better for a ranged weapon bard or a Prescient bard, but still lacking in synergy. The racial power saves it from being Red Genasi (FRPG, p) : All Virtues - If you don't pick the Promise of Storm manifestation this is not a terrible choice for a bard. Githyanki (MM *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Sweet leaderly racial power, a bonus to initiative and OK stat synergy makes this a pretty good choice. Githzerai (MM *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Meh. A fair racial power with no stat synergy makes for a poor choice, unless you go ranged weapon prescient. Gnoll (DRA 364, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - The Pack Attack feature is good, but you are gonna want to stick to Valorous if you go gnoll. You might consider this for a front line bard as well. Gnome (PHB2, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Another sweet choice for ranged weapon bards. They are not quite as good as the Teifling since the skills that you need to pull off the gnome best are not on the Bard's list. Still the extra Cantrip is fun to play. (Personally speaking I don't care for the fluff here either, but that's just me.) Goblin (MM *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - The racial power is not too shabby if you want your bard to be on the front line. Still, the stats don't fit well, and the drow is better in most ways anyway. Goliath (PHB2, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Slightly better for front line Bards, and OK for Valorous, but in general a sub-optimal choice. Half-Elf (PHB, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - If you stay in the Heroic tier, this race has perhaps the weakest Racial power, after humans. The diplomacy bonus is nice, but it is only given to other party members when the Bard is typically the party face. Given all that, if you are going to play in the Paragon tier, then with picking one feat, suddenly this becomes an incredible option. For those of you who want to paragon class this is the only real racial option. For the Virtue of Valor, this is a very good choice because of the Con bonus. Halfling (PHB, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - The racial power is good for a cunning bard who should be out of combat, and that fits if you want to play a ranged bard. Half-Orc (PHB2, p) : All Virtues - You can get an extra 1d8 each encounter with Hunter's Quarry, and more Temp HP from a valorous build. Hobgoblin (MM *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Fluff wise - blech. But char-op wise, if you want a Virtue of Valor bard, this is likely your best option. And it is still pretty good for the others. The extra initiative allows you to dump Dex, and you can slough off ongoing effect easily. Human (PHB, p) : All Virtues - A bard that wants to multi-class is going to be very, very feat strapped, so that makes humans a viable choice for all virtues. Also, there are a number of strong at wills to choose from making the human a viable choice. Kalashtar (EPG, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Made for the Prescient bard, but the plus to wisdom is good for the Mcing bard. The strong racial powers are added gravy, and leader like to boot. Kenku (MM2 *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Good stats - perfect if you want to play a sneaky bard. Also good for ranged weapon bards. Kobold (MM *, p) : All Virtues - The mobility is better suited to a front line bard, but the stats are off. I am not sure shifty is worth the loss in hit potential and point cost. Minotaur (DRA 369, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - This race does not fit with the bard fluff or crunch wise. The best that can be said for it is it can help a Mcing bard with front line aspirations. Orc (MM *, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - It works somewhat for a Valorous Bard or a front line bard, especially the additional Healing Surge in an encounter. Shadar-kai (DRA 372, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - The racial power can help the cunning bard who is backed into a corner, and the stat boost is good for Cunning as well. All others have better picks. Shifter, Longtooth (PHB2, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - The plusses make it easier for you to multiclass. If you are going to the front lines, regeneration is NEVER a bad thing, and the increased damage is nice too. Shifter, Razorclaw (PHB2, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - Just not a good fit, although you can make do with a Prescient bard, especially if you go traditional ranged prescient. Tiefling (PHB, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - I actually hate the fluff surrounding the teifling. So much to my chagrin they make the best Virtue of Cunning race choice. The stats line up, and the racial power gives them pluses to hit, which are ALWAYS appreciated. Oh well. Warforged (EPG, p) : Cunning, Prescient, Valorous - A good choice for cunning because the implements can be mounted. Still doesn't alleviate the gp cost of MID, but it helps. Can be a front line, or ranged or implement bard, but the Con boost points towards Valorous.
* A Note on non-standard races
Get DM approval for races not from a Player's Handbook or a Player's guide. And proceed with caution as technically they are not there for players to use to make a character.
The Bard is a new kind of leader. She is most certainly going to be the party's face. Which is nice as not all the leaders have a chance to step into the spotlight. That being said, during combat, it is your job to keep the team functioning well. That typically means healing, sliding, and buffing. The bard also has control mixed in there as a secondary role. There is a lot of debate over what control means, but I think it is safe to say the two roles overlap a great deal.
As a player, to play a good leader you really have to know all about the other character's roles and abilities.
Do not however take over the game. Just because you can slide a character doesn't mean you should pick up their mini and move it. Remind them that they can shift if the want to, and if they don't want to, don't press them. Make suggestions to the other players. "Ohh, you could get flanking over here!" "He has to cross difficult terrain here, so he can't charge if you move up." Try asking in character for a little extra fun. Remember your character is a charmer, and uses sweetness and guile to get his way. Don't be a Warlord barking orders, that lacks subtlety. Make them think it was their idea.
Misdirected Mark (PHB2, p68) : Cunning, Valorous, Prescient - Oh, Blame not the Bard - Thomas Moore Yeah it was the Fighter - Anon. Bard
In general, this is a very situational power that will almost never compare favorably to Vicious Mockery or Cutting Word. It only has extra effects for fighters and Wardens, (and is only useful for fighter if she does not have the baddie marked AND the baddie is next to the fighter), otherwise it gives a -2, which Vicious Mockery already gives. It does target Reflex, which is good, but often not as good as will, and it does more damage than VM - but not CW.
Vicious Mockery (PHB2, p69) : Cunning, Valorous, Prescient - Your Mother Was a Hamster and Your Father Smelt of Elderberries - A rather strange gentleman
The best Bard at-will for cunning Bards. As this is a psychic power it gets better with the feat Dark Fury and with a wand of psychic ravaging.
War Song Strike (PHB2, p69) : Cunning, Valorous, Prescient - He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword - Battle Hymn of the Republic
It grants temp HP to allies which is quite valuable, but ironically it is better if you are a Cunning Bard. Still, one of the best ways to get a fighter to go after a baddie who is wailing on you is to say "Free temp HP if you hit this bozo."
Guiding Strike (PHB2, p68) : Cunning, Valorous, Prescient - Reel'd from the sabre-stroke / Shatter'd and sunder'd. - Charge of the Light Brigade; Lord Alfred Tennyson
There is much versatility in this one. If you know your party, then this one can be a huge boon. Figure out what your party hits hardest, and nuke that defense. Keep it up until they drop. Wash, rinse, repeat!
Jinx Shot (AP, p6) : Cunning, Valorous, Prescient - I'm hexed with regrets and bad luck / So keep your distance it's rubbing off. - Green Day
Heh - The fluff around this is great. Prone is an OK condition - but that’s OK - this is an at-will. The real drawback is this is the only Ranged weapon power so far.
Cutting Words (Minis) : Cunning, Valorous, Prescient - ya - Traditional Haiku kireji or "cutting word"
Shame it is a pull, but otherwise use this to stick baddies (esp back row baddies) onto a defender.