This thread is intended to serve as a compilation of ways to enter Fochlucan lyrist. Rather than explicit builds, I'm aiming to compile a set of tools (classes, feats, magic items, etc.) that can be combined in different ways to optimize Fochlucan lyrist. I have created tentative lists of appropriate classes and prestige classes below; I'm curious to know if there others that I've missed.
Fochlucan lyrist offers full divine and arcane spellcasting, d6 hit dice, +1 BAB/level, 6 + Int skills/level, and bardic music advancement. Spellcasting, as a rule, is the most powerful class feature any class offers, and maximizing it offers rewards above and beyond those for any other class feature. The only other class feature the Fochlucan lyrist gets is bardic music, which is good, but in general not worth the sacrifice of powerful spellcasting for. Thus, given this, the ideal entry to Fochlucan lyrist sacrifices as little spellcasting as possible. There are two ways to do: minimize the amount of casting lost at levels before Fochlucan lyrist, and/or rebuild casting off other classes with shorter, faster progressions.
The easiest requirement to meet is 1st-level arcane and divine spells: any character going for Fochlucan lyrist should be able to do this. Fochlucan lyrists cannot be lawful and must have a neutral component to their alignment, which can limit some introductory class options (monk). The skill requirements are stiffer, but any character going for Fochlucan lyrist should have all the required skills in-class and can usually arrange their class levels so as to gain the necessary ranks in the skills that only need 7 ranks; the hardest requirement is Perform (string instruments) 13, which may require more creativity. The tricky requirements are evasion, Speak Language (Druidic), and bardic knowledge.
In the subsequent sections, I will often introduce the "core" way to get a Fochlucan lyrist requirement, meaning the least expensive way to meet the requirement using core classes. I measure cost by first considering loss of caster levels, then considering factors like skills, BAB, hit dice, prestige class requirements, and prestige class abilities. Since the amount of time I'm willing to spend is limited, I will omit classes that I consider to be dominated by a core method of acquisition: for instance, while there are many non-casting prestige classes that grant evasion at second level, like the DMG's shadowdancer, rogue also grants evasion and has no prerequisites, so it's better than most of them for most purposes. This involves a judgment call: for instance, shadowdancer offers hide in plain sight, which some people may adjudge is worth three feats. If you feel I have unfairly excluded, you can try to persuade me that it has merit I don't see, or you can provide me with a write-up; either way, I'm not looking through all the possible prestige classes with evasion at second level.
Before I begin, some rules commentary. Some people argue that possessing the ability when taking the first level of the prestige class is sufficient, and that thereafter losing the ability does not cost any prestige class abilities. By the rules as written, there's enough ambiguity so that you can argue for this interpretation. I, however, believe that losing the requirement for a prestige class results in a loss of all prestige class features: this is noted explicitly in CW and CA, implied other places, and IMO is the only reasonable interpretation. The other interpretation is open to incredible abuses, using magic items or spells to take the first level of the prestige class and then discarding them; I think this undermines the intent of Fochlucan lyrist altogether. When I DM, I rule that taking a prestige class and then losing one of the requirements for that class results in the loss of all class features; in general, I doubt I would allow a player to take a prestige class using a non-permanent means of gaining a prerequisite if a permanent means exists.
The default is a class that gives you evasion in two levels. The basic choice is rogue, but there are prestige classes that can be better depending on what other feats you have and what environment you're playing in. The options covered below get you evasion with fewer sacrifice of character levels.
A. Ring of Evasion
Requirements: A 25,000 gp ring.
Advantages: Requires no class levels.
Disadvantages: Very dodgy, losing the ring might cost you all class abilities.
Rules notes: This cheaply circumvents one of the more annoying requirements for Fochlucan lyrist. If I were DMing, I wouldn't allow it, because I would have to decide between punishing the player if I ever wanted to destroy equipment, stripping them of their ring of evasion and thus all their Fochlucan lyrist class features, or letting them avoid the consequences of their cheapness.
Advantages: evasion at 2nd, full arcane or divine spellcasting, spelldance, 4 + Int skills with Perform, 2 good saves, d6 hit dice.
Disadvantages: requires four weak feats and some possibly awkward skills, 3.0 class, Faerun class.
Rules notes: The only rules objection to this method is that spelldancer is a 3.0 class.
Setting notes: While this class is in MoF, it has no characteristics that make it setting-specific.
Commentary: This class offers full spellcasting, either divine or arcane, evasion at 2nd level, and the spelldance ability at 1st level; spelldance is only useful outside of combat, but is very powerful when combined with Persistent Spell. The major tradeoff is the cost in feats: Dodge and Endurance are always wastes of time, and Mobility is not all that worthwhile for anyone, and while Combat Casting is useful, it's hardly a must-have feat. Also, you must be able to cast 3rd-level spells, which can push you up against the level 10 boundary, but most prospective Fochlucan lyrists can work around this. I should note that this is the only way to get legitimate evasion while also advancing spellcasting.
Advantages: evasion-like ability at 2nd, full divine or arcane spellcasting.
Disadvantages: useless feat prereq, Knowledge (religion) ranks can be difficult to acquire, 2 + Int skills with no prereq skills, does not offer real evasion, only one good save, d4 hit dice.
Rules notes: At 2nd level, a divine oracle gets "prescient sense," which is like evasion except it works in any armor. Whether this ability qualifies you for Fochlucan lyrist is up to your DM; by the RAW, it certainly does not.
Commentary: Divine oracle is easier to qualify for than spelldancer, but offers no useful abilities, and doesn't work within the standard rules.
Advantages: evasion at 3rd level, bardic knowledge at 1st level, grants full-casting except the first level, some minor useful abilities, Reflex and Will favored, 6 + Int skills, d6 hit die.
Disadvantages: loses a caster level, has no relevant prereq skills in-class, requires trapfinding.
Commentary: This class requires a strange variant race (illumian) that I don't like; however, the dungeon-focused trap-finding/disarming arcane caster doesn't seem like an unusual concept, so some DMs may allow the class to work with non-illumians. Unfortunately, the requirements work out to two levels of lost casting, because trapfinding requires a level in a non-casting class, so far as I know, which means that this class doesn't get you evasion any faster than going rogue, and rogues not only have more skill points, their class skills are much more useful when trying to qualify for Fochlucan lyrist. However, loredelver also offers bardic knowledge, which is a significant advantage, and the flexibility of choosing another class with trapfinding; though the latter isn't too much of an advantage at the moment, since the only classes I'm aware of that offer trapfinding besides rogue are ninja and scout (CV), both of which make meeting Fochlucan's skill requirements harder and offer no particular advantages beyond the rogue.
F. Combat Medic (HoB)
Requirements: any nonevil, Concentration 4, Heal 8, Combat Casting, Dodge, ability to cast cure light wounds.
Advantages: evasion at 4th, full bard or divine casting, grants Mobility and spontaneous heal, a few other minor abilities, d6 hit dice.
Disadvantages: 2 + Int skills off a weak list, 1/2 BAB, only one good save, slow progress to evasion.
Commentary: This is a legitimate 3.5 way to get evasion without losing casting, and the requirements aren't that onerous, either. Mobility is useful, but the best class ability is spontaneous heal, at 5th level. The major difficulty with the class is that with 2 + Int skills and almost none of the Fochlucan lyrist requirements in-class, it requires either Able Learner or a high Int.
G. Shadow Template (MoTP/3.5UpD/LoM)
Requirements: be from the Plane of Shadow.
Advantages: evasion, no class levels required, some useful abilities.
Disadvantages: +2 level adjustment.
Rules notes: This is a template that grants evasion as a racial ability: while it works identically to the rogue's evasion, some DMs may still not like it.
Commentary: Many DMs would not allow this template, either because it's effectively a very variant race or it's not appropriate to the campaign. Beyond that, since it doesn't get you evasion any faster than 2 levels of rogue, you're trading off the benefits of those rogue levels for some admittedly useful abilities; it's unclear to me if one is better than the other. If your DM uses LA buyoff from UA, this is probably a superior option.
H. Shape Soulmeld and Open Least Chakra (MoI)
Thanks to [url=http://boards1.wizards.com/member.php?u=369415DavidWL[/url] for this.
Requirements: Con 13, 6th level.
Advantages: evasion with no class levels and no LA or racial HD, also gives uncanny dodge.
Disadvantages: costs two feats, can be suppressed or unshaped.
Rules notes: Belongs to a variant system.
Commentary: This pair of feats offers an easy way to get evasion that doesn't disrupt casting progression. The major disadvantage is that soulmelds, when hit by dispel magic, get suppressed like magic items; depending on where your DM stands on whether losing prestige class prerequisites costs you access to your class features, this problem could range from annoying to crippling. Similarly, a 4th-level cleric and sorcerer/wizard spell, or presumably mage's disjunction, can unshape your soulmeld, and it takes eight hours to reshape.
I. Itinerant Warder of Yondalla (DR328)
Thanks to [url=http://boards1.wizards.com/member.php?u=427039callen[/url] for this.
Requirements: patron deity Yondalla, halfling, base Will save +5, Diplomacy 10, Tumble 4, Dodge, Mobility, able to cast divine spells.
Advantages: evasion in one level, 4 + Int skills from a decent list, decent saves, d6 hit dice, second level gives uncanny dodge and advances casting.
Disadvantages: halfling-only, requires two useless feats, costs a level of casting.
Rules notes: As a Dragon magazine class, some DMs may be reluctant to permit it.
Commentary: This an interesting option for halflings. The combination of bard/druid needed for Fochlucan lyrist qualifies easily, and it save you a caster level relative to rogue.
The default way is, of course, a level of bard, but this is the Character Optimization board . . . we can do better than that.
A. Harper Mage (MoF/MoFe+)
Requirements: nonevil alignment, Alertness, Extend Spell, Concentration 4, Knowledge (arcana) 8, Knowledge (local) 5, Knowledge (any other) 4, Scry 4 [no longer exists in 3.5], Sense Motive 2, Spellcraft 8, 3rd-level arcane spells, sponsorship by member of the Harpers and approval of High Harpers.
Advantages: harper knowledge at 1st, full arcane spellcasting, bonus Skill Foci at 1st and 2nd levels, 4 + Int skills with all prereq skills, synergies with many other prestige classes.
Disadvantages: requires one weak feat (Alertness) and some possibly difficult skills, 3rd-level spells may not leave many levels to exploit the class, d4 hit dice, does not offer real bardic knowledge, 3.0 class, Faerun class, organizational ties.
Rules notes: This is an un-updated 3.0 class that requires some changes to make it 3.5 compatible. Harper knowledge functions as and stacks with bardic knowledge, but they are not the same thing by the RAW.
Setting notes: This prestige class belongs to a specific organization in Faerun. Some DMs may object to having a member of the Harpers join the Fochlucan College, or vice versa.
Commentary: This class gets you harper knowledge without losing spellcasting levels, at almost no cost. What makes it even better is that you can use the bonus feats to meet the requirements for other classes.
Requirements: Three metamagic or item creation feats, Skill Focus (Knowledge (any)), Knowledge (any two) 10 each, seven divinations, one 3rd-level or higher.
Advantages: lore at 2nd level, full divine or arcane spellcasting, 4 + Int skills with several prereq skills, secrets, reasonable synergies with other classes.
Disadvantages: stiff feat requirements and needs a useless feat, high Knowledge requirements, d4 hit dice, only one good save.
Rules notes: The rules don't mention whether lore stacks with bardic knowledge. However, it functions identically.
Commentary: This class gets lore with no loss in casting, though the requirements can be painful. While it doesn't feed into other classes like harper mage, its requirements often overlap.
Advantages: Bardic knowledge at 1st level (?), 9th-level spells in 10 levels from more the better of the sorc/wiz and bard lists, cast in light armor, song of arcane power, 4 + Int skills with some necessary prereqs in-class.
Disadvantages: Rules questions about the bardic knowledge, loss of BAB, must trade off a level or levels of Fochlucan lyrist, 1/2 BAB, only Will favored.
Rules notes: Sublime chord indicates that its levels stack with bard levels for bardic knowledge. However, unlike, e.g., green whisperer (see section V-B), which includes an if-clause that requires the preexistence of bardic knowledge, sublime chord's wording is ambiguous as to whether a character with bardic music but without bardic knowledge acquires bardic knowledge on entrance to the class. This has become relevant now because virtuoso (CV) grants bardic music to characters without bard levels.
Commentary: The main reason to acquire sublime chord is to rebuild spellcasting (nothing else would be worthwhile sacrificing levels of Fochlucan lyrist for), but if your DM allows you to acquire bardic knowledge with the class as well, it gives you added flexibility in picking classes and meeting requirements before 11th level.
D. Harper Priest (MoF)
Requirements: nonevil alignment, Alertness, Iron Will, Diplomacy 4, Knowledge (arcana) 4, Knowledge (religion) 4, Spellcraft 8, 3rd-level divine spells, sponsorship by member of the Harpers and approval of High Harpers, patron deity must be compatible with Harper philosophy.
Advantages: harper knowledge at 1st, full divine spellcasting, blessing, 4 + Int skills with some prereq skills, d8 hit die.
Disadvantages: requires two weak feats (Alertness, Iron Will), 3rd-level spells may not leave many levels to exploit the class, does not offer real bardic knowledge, 3.0 class, Faerun class, organizational ties.
Rules notes: This is an un-updated 3.0 class. Harper knowledge functions as and stacks with bardic knowledge, but they are not the same thing by the RAW.
Setting notes: This prestige class belongs to a specific organization in Faerun. Some DMs may object to having a member of the Harpers join the Fochlucan College, or vice versa.
Commentary: This class gets you harper knowledge without losing spellcasting levels, with its major disadvantage being two otherwise weak feats. The blessings vary in utility, but with a high enough Wisdom you can get useful abilities like +10' movement, Skill Focus (any Knowledge), or a +1 sacred bonus on Charisma-based skill checks. Shifting the responsibility for getting bardic knowledge from the arcane caster to the divine caster can produce some oddness in builds.
E. Cloistered Cleric (UA)
Advantages: 6 + Int skills with some prereq skills, d6 hit dice, lore at first level, expanded spell list, Knowledge domain.
Disadvantages: poor BAB, lore is not bardic knowledge.
Rules notes: The cloistered cleric is a UA variant base class.
Commentary: As for the harper priest, if you get bardic knowledge with your divine casting class, it can induce some strangeness in the rest of your build. For the Fochlucan lyrist, the cloistered cleric gets many of the things you want, such as good casting progression, lore, and lots of skills, with only the disadvantage being 1/2 BAB.
F. Loredelver (RoD)
Requirements/Advantages/Disadvantages: see above
Commentary: The major reason to take this class is to get two of the difficult requirements for Fochlucan lyrist in one class. Also see above.
G. Rilkan Rogue Substitution (MoI)
Thanks to [url=http://boards1.wizards.com/member.php?u=369415DavidWL[/url] for this.
Requirements: race rilkan, 3rd level of rogue.
Advantages: also gives evasion, no rule problems.
Disadvantages: restricted race, costs a level beyond that required to get evasion.
Rules notes: requires a race related to a variant rules system.
Commentary: A rilkan can take bardic knowledge instead of trap sense at 3rd level. This allows one to qualify for Fochlucan lyrist using a better arcane casting class, like wizard, at the cost of a level. This offers the same advantages and disadvantages of using rogue to meet the evasion requirement, and adds the advantages and disadvantages of another arcane casting class and being a rilkan. Most any arcane casting class has better casting than a bard, making that a straight improvement, but rilkan racial traits aren't that strong except for specialized purposes.
H. Limited Use Forms of Bardic Knowledge
Prophet of Erathaol (BoED) and illithid savant (SS) get forms of bardic knowledge that they can use a set number of times per day. In the prophet's case, the knowledge comes from channeling a celestial; in the illithid's case, eating brains. As a DM, I wouldn't permit either of these to meet the prerequisites for Fochlucan lyrist. Beyond that, they have some other problems: illithids have many racial hit dice and a high LA, meaning that they make terrible casters at any reasonable ECL. The Prophet of Erathaol is an exalted class, which may make some DMs leery, has hefty requirements, and doesn't offer much. Altogether, both options are probably worse than more normal methods for getting bardic knowledge.
The default way to get Speak Language (Druidic) is to take a level of druid. Of course, that's not the only way . . .
A. Learn Speak Language (Druidic)
There are many ways of doing this. The best is to find a loremaster, ex-druid, or some other individual who has Druidic as a language but does not face the restriction on teaching it to non-druids. The other possibility is suborning a druid into violating their oaths, whether through bribery, mind-affecting magic, trickery, or some other such tactic.
Advantages: Little to no cost.
Disadvantages: Curious interaction with rules, subject to DM discretion, possibly problematic for some characters.
Rules notes: This is an unusual situation where a crunchy requirement can be avoided through roleplay. While the only explicit method to get Speak Language (Druidic) through the rules is a level of druid, if you can find someone who knows it and is willing to teach it, you can acquire it like any other language.
Commentary: This is the best way to get Speak Language (Druidic). Generous DMs may allow you to find an ex-druid or loremaster and study it from them without too much pain. With less generous DMs, you can resort to magical coercion or high Bluff/Diplomacy checks to get a druid to teach you. However, this may cause problems for characters of certain alignments: causing another character to betray an oath is not that lawful, and coercing someone into doing so is often not good (though if you can find an evil druid . . .).
Requirements/Advantages/Disadvantages: see above; instant mastery at 1st level or any bonus language at 4th level
Rules notes: This relies on a technical reading of the RAW: the loremaster's ability grants any bonus language, including, of course Druidic. Some DMs might exclude Druidic from your options because it is a "secret" language. Alternatively, you may be able to convince your DM to allow you to use the instant mastery ability to get ranks in Speak Language (Druidic).
Commentary: If you don't want to advance druid casting and your DM won't allow you to learn Speak Language (Druidic) through other means, this is more or less your only choice. If your DM also allows you to substitute the loremaster's lore for bardic knowledge, this class can give you two of the requirements in four levels. However, the requirements on loremaster itself can put you hard up for class levels: for instance, you don't have enough time to take both spelldancer or divine oracle and loremaster before 12th level, meaning that your entrance to Fochlucan lyrist will be delayed.
C. Gift of Languages (RoF)
Requirements: sun or moon elf race, character level 1st.
Advantages: Speak Language (Druidic) with no class levels.
Disadvantages: takes a feat, dubious rules, Faerun only.
Rules notes: This is an un-updated 3.0 regional feat from Faerun. A strict reading of the feat leaves it unclear whether the feat allows you to pick up only "normal" languages that aren't native to your region, or all languages, including "secret" languages like Druidic.
Commentary: If your DM allows it but doesn't allow to you learn Druidic from an alternate source, you're willing to burn the feat, and you don't want to take a level of druid, this is good; if not, not.
D. Bardic Tutelage (CoV)
Advantages: Speak Language (Druidic) with no class levels.
Disadvantages: Faerun only, restricts choice of regional feats.
Rules notes: Using this to get Druidic relies on a literal interpretation of the phrase "As region, plus any one (including dead languges)."
Setting notes: Restricted to characters generated in regions in Faerun with bardic colleges.
Commentary: If your DM allows this, but doesn't allow learning Druidic from a teacher, this is decent way to acquire Druidic provided you can cope with the restrictions. The only significant cost is the opportunity cost of having to pick from the not-so-good bonus feats allowed to this virtual "region."
For this section, I will only consider classes that improve on bard spellcasting; I will define "improve" as "grant access to spells higher than 6th level, or grant 6th-level spells off a better list than the bard's, or grant 6th-level spells faster than a bard gets them." The chief prestige class I'm aware of that might deserve consideration, but that I will omit, is suel arcanamach: when all is said and done, suel arcanamach is not a primary arcane casting class.
1. Nar demonbinder (UE)
Requirements: 4th-level arcane or divine spells, knowledge of a summon monster spell, Iron Will, Spell Focus (conjuration), Intimidate 5, Knowledge (the planes) 10, Sense Motive 2, Abyssal as a language.
Advantages: 8th-level spells in 7 class levels.
Disadvantages: nontrivial requirements, few abilities at low levels, weird and circumscribed spell list, Faerun class.
Rules notes: This is a 3.0 class, though it appeared late in 3.0.
Setting notes: Nar demonbinder is Faerun-specific, though it might not take much work to adapt it to other settings, since it's not as embedded as the Harpers.
Commentary: The Nar demonbinder's spell list is both tiny and bizarre. While the class does have some useful spells, the utility of some of its better spells is dependent on the characteristics of particular campaigns, and some spells are problematic for good characters. Demonbinders do get some useful abilities that help both their demonbinder casting and their divine casting, but only at high levels in the class: infernal certitude at 5th level and baleful energy at 7th level, for instance. In summary, I don't think this class's flavor works with Fochlucan lyrist, I think the requirements are too stiff for the benefits (Iron Will, in particular, is a wasted feat for most lyrists, the spell requirements are restrictive, and the skills difficult to obtain), and the arcane casting you get is not much good anyways.
2. Sublime Chord (CA)
Requirements/Advantages/Disadvantages/Rule notes: see above
Further rules note: A sublime chord determines their caster level in a bizarre way: they choose one arcane casting class and add their sublime chord level to get their sublime chord caster level. They then use their sublime chord caster level to determine their caster level for all their arcane casting classes. This becomes even more complicated when one adds the feat Practiced Spellcaster or the class ur-priest into the mix.
Commentary: Sublime chord is the best means of rebuilding arcane casting that exists in WotC and Dragon/Dungeon material, to my knowledge. For comparison, a 20th-level character with 10th-level sublime chord casting knows one fewer 9th-level spell than a 20th-level sorcerer, but one extra 6th- and 7th-level spell each; and sublime chords can choose spells from the bard spell list, at the bard's spell levels, as well. Sublime chords get noticeably fewer slots than a sorcerer or even a wizard, but this is their only real liability. Sublime chord's 2nd level ability, song of arcane power, while its only class feature worth taking, is quite good and helps a Fochlucan's divine spellcasting, as well. The only reason for most Fochlucans to avoid taking sublime chord is that it conflicts with Fochlucan levels.
Advantages: 9th-level spells in 10 levels, d8 hit dice, some useful class abilities, Fort and Will favored, 4 + Int skills from a list as useful as the druid's.
Disadvantages: awkward requirements, weak spellcasting, deforestation required for spellcasting, less useful spell list, conflicting flavor.
Rules notes: By the RAW, a blighter's caster level is their druid level plus their blighter level. A Fochlucan lyrist using blighter but skimping on actual druid levels therefore has a low blighter caster level. However, because blighter is dependent on effective druid casting, that a blighter's caster level should be the sum of their druid casting caster level and their blighter level.
Commentary: About the only reason to take blighter is that you can get 9th-level spells in 15 levels (5 level of druid casting + 10 levels of blighter casting) rather than 20 (though see the note on their caster level above; Practiced Spellcaster is usually an essential feat for a blighter). Unfortunately, the blighter's spell list contains few of the best druid spells, instead focusing on destructive spells. However, this is not much of an advantage, since the druid list already has many excellent destructive spells. Meanwhile, blighters get a tiny number of spell slots compared to a cleric or druid. Another problem with blighter spellcasting is that blighters have to use their deforestation to use their spells: consequently, if they have go into an area without plants, they lose the benefit of their spellcasting.
Undead wild shape helps some of these weaknesses for pure blighters, but because undead wild shape is not, by the RAW, wild shape, the feats and abilities that make the druid's version so good aren't available, and because of the blighter's spell list and the undead type, the powerful druid buffs don't work either; meanwhile, it's difficult for a Fochlucan to get enough access to it to make it useful even with its limitations (wild shape is much better once you can shift into large animals).
Finally, the Fochlucan College seems unlikely to accept blighters as Fochlucan lyrists, though this, of course, is a matter of DM discretion.
2. Ur-priest (CD)
Requirements: evil, Iron Will, Spell Focus (evil), base saves Fort +3 and Will +3, Bluff 6, Knowledge (arcana) 5, Knowledge (the planes) 5 ranks, Knowledge (religion) 8, Spellcraft 8.
Advantages: 9th-level spells in 10 levels from the cleric list, d8 hit dice, some useful class abilities.
Disadvantages: tough requirements, restrictive alignment, 2 + Int skills from a restrictive and useless list, few spell slots, loses all previous divine casting, only Will favored.
Rules notes: An ur-priest determines their caster level based on their ur-priest level plus their one-half their level in other spellcasting classes. Depending on your interpretation of what this means, with some of the more unusual Fochlucan variants, this can lead to oddities in the calculation of caster level.
Commentary: The ur-priest is, for the most part, better than the blighter. Even though they have the same number of slots, they cast off the cleric list, which is better than even the druid list and synergizes better with most arcane casters. They don't face a restriction on their spell-casting that can cause them to lose it when they're in a place without vegetation. Their class abilities are also better and not as reliant on ur-priest levels. The major disadvantages of the ur-priest are difficult requirements and that it's not as good as base cleric.
Advantages: Advances any divine and arcane spellcasting
Disadvantages: requirements can be difficult to meet soon enough to get abilities, no class features, 2 + Int skills from a weak list, d4 hit dice, 1/2 BAB.
Commentary: Mystic theurge is for filling levels until you can take Fochlucan lyrist. Unfortunately, the requirements for the Fochlucan lyrist often mean you don't have levels to fill.
B. Green Whisperer (DR 311)
Requirements: any neutral, Knowledge (nature) 8, Perform 8, Survival 5.
Advantages: easier requirements than mystic theurge, d6 hit dice, 3/4 BAB, Fort and Will favored, 4 + Int skills from a list with several prereqs, advances bardic music and knowledge.
Disadvantages: only advances druid and bard casting.
Rules notes: While the green whisperer's RAW are clear that the class only advances bardic music and knowledge if you get the ability from another class, it's less clear whether green whisperer will give you druid and/or bard casting if you don't have them already.
Commentary: This is an excellent class for Fochlucan lyrists because of its easy entry requirements and synergy with a Fochlucan lyrist's core competencies. If you can take it, you want to do so.
C. Arcane Hierophant (RotW)
Requirements: any nonlawful, BAB +4, Knowledge (arcana) 8, Knowledge (nature) 8, able to cast both 2nd-level arcane and 2nd-level divine spells, trackless step.
Advantages: Advances any arcane and divine spellcasting, combines familiar and animal companion, stacks with druid levels for wild shape, ignore arcane spell failure, 3/4 BAB, 4 + Int skills from a marginally useful list, d6 hit die.
Disadvantages: difficult requirements.
Rules notes: A debate persists on whether arcane hierophant levels grant characters without wild shape (characters entering the class before druid level 5) gain wild shape or not, because the paragraph on the class feature is not well phrased. The example NPC supports the case for such characters gaining wild shape, but doesn't qualify for the class as written. I think that the paragraph supports druids without wild shape gaining it after they take levels in arcane hierophant, but your DM may differ.
Commentary: Arcane hierophant is like mystic theurge with harder requirements and more abilities. It sounds good, but because of the limitations Fochlucan lyrist puts on your early class levels, I don't see this being useful: a typical entrance is bard 4/druid 3, which leaves you only one level in arcane hierophant if you have to spend two levels for evasion. Moreover, its class features aren't that outstanding: you don't get enough wild shape to be useful before you have to enter Fochlucan lyrist, bards do not get familiars, any familiar/animal companion you get would be too weak to be useful, and the ignore arcane spell failure ability is useless for bards.
HD 6+4d8+15d6 = 76.5 avg., +16 BAB, saves +10/+14/+19, 120 + 23 x Int skill points (assuming Int 4 or better).
19th level druid casting, 14th level bardic casting, knowledge, and music, cast in light metal armor (mithral breastplate), some minor druid and green whisperer abilities, spelldancing, evasion.
This build is predicated on the principle that druid casting is more valuable than bard casting and music; thus, it sacrifices bard levels for 9th level druid spells. It's possible to trade off up to two druid levels for more bard levels to increase bardic casting up to level 16 (but not more, or you can't qualify for spelldancer). The greatest liability of the build is that it gets no wild shape; other liabilities include Perform cross-classing during the druid levels and heavy feat requirements because of spelldancer. The greatest advantage of the build is that it is completely valid within the rules; other advantages include +16 BAB, excellent saves, decent hp, good skills, and some useful class features. In my opinion, this Fochlucan also has a good, consistent flavor.
Compared to a typical druid 20, this Fochlucan lyrist doesn't get the amazingly powerful combat combination of wild shape (with physical ability replacement), the animal type with powerful animal buffs like nature's favor and animal growth, and spellcasting in shifted form. That said, a Fochlucan does have other things they can do: they get the social aspect of the bard skills as well as the nature aspect of the druid skills, their bardic music is almost as good as a "real" bard's and thus can add a substantial boost to the party, they can take up combat archery instead of melee wild-shaping, and so forth. In general, a Fochlucan will be less powerful as a direct combatant, but has other options. Of course, one of the major disadvantages is that until you enter Fochlucan lyrist at 11th level, you will be essentially a druid with casting one level behind normal druid casting and no wild shape: this build is much more suited to play at high levels than play at low levels.
Divine oracle can be substituted for spelldancer if your DM won't allow the latter class and will allow the rules hedge that allows prescient sense to count for Fochlucan lyrist's requirements. It seems like sublime chord fits into this build, but as far as I can tell, there's no way to get enough bard casting before level 10, without unduly hurting druid casting (aka, losing 9th-level spells), to make it work.
Bard 1/Druid 4/Combat Medic 5/Fochlucan Lyrist 10
HD 6+4d8+15d6 = 76.5 avg., +15 BAB, saves +5/+17/+14, 110 + 23 x Int skill points (assuming Int 8 or better).
19th level druid casting, 11th level bardic casting, knowledge, and music, cast in light metal armor (mithral breastplate), some minor druid and combat medic abilities, bonus Mobility, spontaneous heal, evasion.
This is another legitimate variant that works without bending or breaking any rules. However, it is in most ways inferior to the spelldancer variant, getting fewer skill points, less bard casting, and failing to reach +16 BAB. It does have less stringent feat requirements. Combat medic's weakness in skills requires Able Learner and a decent Int to overcome to meet the requirements in time.
B. The Fochlucan the Way the Designers Intended It
Rogue 2/Bard 7/Druid 1/Fochlucan Lyrist 10
11th level druid casting, 17th level bardic casting, knowledge, and music, cast in light metal armor (mithral breastplate), evasion, trapfinding.
HD 6+1d8+18d6 = 73.5 avg., +16 BAB, saves +7/+15/+14, 146 + 23 x Int skill points (assuming Int 4 or better).
Many people prefer to use master thrower instead of rogue to get evasion: it's more or less a compromise between feats and skills on one hand, and BAB on the other. If you can get Speak Language (Druidic) some other way (bards don't get enough spells to qualify for loremaster), you can substitute another divine casting class for druid, the obvious choices being ur-priest and cleric.
On further contemplation, I think that while the Fochlucan lyrist is described as a "fusion" of the bard and druidic base classes, the design intends it as a weird variant bardic prestige class that grants half-druidic casting progression in addition to advancing bardic casting and music. (They could have implemented it as a 5th-level-spells-in-10-levels class like suel arcanamach, but that of course would be rather different.)
This build ends up as a bard with 6th-level druid spells and contains no objectionable rules at all; it loses mass suggestion, inspire courage +4, and some high level spell slots and spells known . It's probably stronger than a bard 20, because of the added diversity and endurance from druid spells.
HD 6+1d8+1d4+17d6 = 72.5 avg., +14 BAB, saves +7/+14/+17, 138 + 23 x Int skill points (assuming Int 8 or better).
10th-level sublime chord casting (caster level 19), 9th-level bardic casting (caster level 19), 10th-level ur-priest casting (by RAW, caster level 29?; as a DM, I would give this character caster level 19), 15th-level bardic music, 16th-level bardic knowledge, evasion, trapfinding, level 1 PrC ability.
The PrC can be any prestige class that advances both bard casting and has Fort favored; I've assumed it has a d4 hit die, 2 + Int skills, and only Will as another favored save, but you can do better. A popular choice for that class is mindbender (CA), which has the attributes I assumed; Dragon 311 has several other suitable prestige classes. Speak Language (Druidic) comes from suborning a druid at some point, which this character should have no ethical qualms about whatsoever.
One problem with all ur-sublime builds is the enormous number of skill ranks required. This build requires Bluff 6, Decipher Script 7 ranks, Diplomacy 7 ranks, Gather Information 7 ranks, Knowledge (arcana) 13, Knowledge (nature) 7 ranks, Knowledge (the planes) 5 ranks, Knowledge (religion) 8, Listen 13, Perform (string instruments) 13 ranks, Profession (astrologer) 6, Sleight of Hand 7 ranks, Speak Language (Druidic), Spellcraft 8, for a total of 108 skill points if you can avoid buying anything cross-class. The build gets 76 base skill points in its first eight levels, meaning that a character with a decent Int bonus can manage to get all the skills in time (you don't need to have all 108 required ranks immediately on 9th level, but you need to make them by 11th).
This build has several more problems. Both ur-priest and sublime chord have good 2nd-level abilities (rebuke undead and song of arcane power, respectively), the acquisition of evasion is rather inefficient, and the need for a Fort favored prestige class to qualify for ur-priest is a hack.
Some possible improvements: use monk to get +3 Fort and evasion (or any class with Fort favored and a 2-level progression to evasion), which requires an alignment switch (from lawful evil to neutral evil); use initiate of the draconic mysteries for the same purpose, which requires more feats but fewer class levels and no alignment change; use spelldancer or divine oracle to get evasion; or do some juggling with other caster classes. Some of these improvements are better than others. In particular, monk causes skill problems and doesn't speed up your caster progression, initiate of the draconic mysteries and spelldancer both take too many feats when added to the requirements for ur-priest to allow you to get the class levels you need when you need them, and other caster classes aren't much faster relative to bard and don't give enough skills. If you can somehow swing the feat costs (with, for instance, flaws from UA), initiate of the draconic mysteries or spelldancer is probably best; if not, the following builds and small variations are the only practical ways to do it.
This build substitutes prescient sense for evasion and is tight on skill points. The same PrC trick is used to get +3 Fort for ur-priest as in the previous build. The divine oracle levels are used to increase bard casting so as to meet the 3rd-level spells requirements for sublime chord.
This build uses the human paragon (UA) and fighter bonus feats to get six feats by 6th level, allowing it to make ur-priest's and spelldancer's requirements in time. It uses a virtuoso's bardic music to meet sublime chord's requirements and get bardic knowledge (which is dodgy, but hey). It requires an ungodly high Int to make all the skill requirements.
D. The Degenerate Build
These builds are an abuse of the intent of the rules, probably an abuse of the rules as written, and shouldn't be admitted in any campaign that doesn't involve substantial amount of powergaming. They're an illustration of what happens when magic items and spells can fulfill prestige class prerequisites while the loss of prerequisites does not cause the loss of prestige class abilities.
HD 6+2d8+7d4+10d6 = 67.5 avg., +14 BAB, saves +7/+10/+19, 102 + 23 x Int skill points (assuming Int 8 or better).
Spells as an 17th-level wizard and 17th-level cleric, music and bardic knowledge as an 11th level bard, domain powers and turn undead for Divine Metamagic. (Who needs class features? That's what spellcasting is for.)
Uses Precocious Apprentice from CA, as shown here, http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/iw/20041114a, to meet the 2nd-level spell requirement for mystic theurge with a 2nd-level spell from your bard class. (You could take it for wizard instead, but I'd rather have a 2nd-level bard spell and be able to take bard as my first level.)
When it's time to qualify for mystic theurge, you get a friendly cleric to cast imbue with spell ability on you so you can cast 2nd-level divine spells. Meanwhile, Precocious Apprentice gives you the ability to cast 2nd-level arcane spells. (Unfortunately, the designers had the foresight to give mystic theurge skill rank requirements, so you can't reach ultimate degeneracy.) You need to learn Druidic, such as by bribing/coercing/etc. a druid or finding someone else who speaks Druidic (loremaster, ex-druid, someone who has permanent tongues, etc.). When leveling to 11th, you need to borrow a ring of evasion for a couple of seconds. You also need a high Int, but this shouldn't be a problem.
This Faerunian variant substitutes harper knowledge for bardic knowledge, gaining an extra wizard caster level and losing some skill points. Skill points will be tight in this build, and you'll need a good Int to pull it off (which you should have anyway before attempting it). A typical sequence looks like this: cleric 1 (Concentration 4, Diplomacy 4, Knowledge (arcana) 4, Knowledge (history, religion, or the planes) 4, Spellcraft 4); wizard 3 (Knowledge (local) 5, Knowledge (nature) 7); cleric 2 (Diplomacy 7); mystic theurge (Decipher Script 7, Sense Motive 2, Spellcraft 8); harper mage to get Perform as a class skill and to dump as many points into Gather Information, Perform (string instruments), and Sleight of Hand as you can; and finishing out the requisite ranks in those three skills (and buying Speak Language (Druidic) using cross-class buys from either mystic theurge or wizard.
The extra skill points and lore ability help the build considerably, but you need to find a way to get Perform as a class skill with some appropriate feat.
E. The Martial Fochlucan
Ranger 9/Bard 2/Fochlucan Lyrist 9
HD 8+8d8+11d6 = 82.5 avg., +19 BAB, saves +9/+15/+12, 138 + 23 x Int skill points (assuming Int 3 or better).
Spells as an 18th-level ranger and a 12th level bard, Track, 2 combat style feats, Endurance, two favored enemies, weak animal companion, swift tracker, woodland stride, evasion.
This build presumes that you learn Speak Language (Druidic) through alternate means. Because of its low hp for a meleer, I wouldn't take the two-weapon combat style. Compared to most Fochlucans, this build does get a few more combat feats, better BAB, some useful wilderness abilities, slightly better hp, and good skills. In general, this build doesn't have many advantages, though, because most of Fochlucan's power comes from advancing casting, and ranger and bard are both weak casters.
Ranger 9/Bard 2/Druid 1/Fochlucan Lyrist 8
This build gets Druidic honestly, and using Fochlucan to advance druid means its casting is arguably better, and at least comparable, to the preceding build.
The Fochlucan lyrist as it was intended is, I believe, unplayable except in a high-level campaign where your character's competence isn't that important (to you and/or your party). The only two Fochlucan builds I would consider playing would be something like the honest Fochlucan, where the build's weaknesses are compensated with earlier access to bardic music and skills, or one of the degenerate builds, in a campaign where bending of the rules and powergaming is the order of the day (the degenerate builds are powerful, but certainly no worse than some of the stunts you can pull with appropriate combinations of other broken WotC material).
Nicely put together. I do disagree that they "unplayable". I think playing one of these guys with the right group could be a lot of fun, especially with a preferred build of Bard 7 / Druid 1 / Shadowdancer OR Master Thrower 2 / Sublime Chord 2 / FL 8.
For most of your early adventuring career you will be as effective as a bard normally is (which is very dependent on campaign and playing style etc), then you have a couple of levels where you aren't super, but as soon as you hit SC and dive into FL your effectiveness would increase level by level.
I know I would love to play one, when next a new campaign is started, but can definitely see how that would be personal preference and playing style.