Reflections on Playing a Bard

The following are some tidbits of wisdom that I've gleaned from playing a Bard in the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Understanding the Bard's Role

The Player's Handbook (PHB) describes the Bard as being a "Jack of All Trades". Other sources that I've seen describe him as being "second best at everything". My experience bears this out.

Things a Bard Doesn't Do Well

Where a Bard Excells

The Bard does not serve in any primary role very well but is an excellent support character. My experience with a Bard is much like that of a Cleric: help back up and beef up the other characters in the party. Unlike a Cleric, the Bard doesn't have to just heal all the time, his best role is buffing up the other members of the party with both singing and spells.

As of Level 9 (which is where the campaign ended), here was my "Round by Round Tactics" for buffing up the group:

Wide-Area Effects: These are songs / spells I could do at any time as long as I was reasonably close to the group.

  1. Inspire Courage (always the first thing I did)
  2. Haste (had to be pretty close for this one)
  3. Haunting Melody (Ebberon feat, gives bad guys penalties) (Note: This feat was on my "maybe" list, I took Lyric Spell instead; still included in this list for completeness.)
  4. Inspire Greatness (repeatedly for all the front-liners)

Opportunistic Touch Spells: These are touch-range spells that I tried to save until I could spend a full-round action to touch more than one person (and therefore include myself in the touching).

  1. Displacement (we usually needed defense more than offense at this point)
  2. Invisibility (if touching the Rogue or Cleric)
  3. Sonic Weapon (if touching the front-liners or archers)

The alert reader will note that in the above buffing lists the Bard does not engage in combat or cast any offesive spells. This is not an oversight. I repeat: the Bard is a support character, not a fighter or combat-mage. I don't care that he's proficient with the Rapier, his criticals are still worse than a Fighter's minimum damage roll. I don't care that he's proficient with the Whip, you're not going to trip or disarm anybody. I don't care that he can cast Tasha's Hideous Laughter or Blindness/Deafness, only a baby Kobold with rabies is going to fail their save. Just put that "wade into the fray" attitude out of your head, capiche?

Where Do I Spend Everything?

One interesting thing about playing a Bard is that you touch just about every aspect of the rules (skills, feats, spells, equipment/items) because he is, by definition, a "Jack of All Trades". The question of what to invest in can be answered with the following priority scale:

The above is good advice for any PC, not just a Bard (with the exception of the 'Music' point).


Human is probably the best race for a Bard. The extra 1st level feat is always welcome and the extra starting / per-level skill points augments the many skill points a Bard already gets. The base land speed of 30 feet helps a Bard move to provide the Rogue with flanking bonuses and tumble greater distances.

Making the Most of Your Music

The Bard's only really strong suit is the one unique class trait he possesses: Bardic Music. Here's some advice on how to soup-up your singing.

Music Enhancing Feats

Extra Music: (Complete Adventurer) This gives you 4 more music uses per day (like Extra Turning). This is especially useful at lower levels but less useful at higher levels (at least until you get Lyric Spell, more on that later).

Lingering Song: (Complete Adventurer) This increases the duration of several Bardic music effects, notably Inspire Courage.

Song of the Heart (SotH): (Ebberon) This gives you a +1 to nearly everything about any Bardic music effect, save DC, or bonus. No Bard should be without it. (You can qualify for this at level 3 at the earliest.)

Words of Creation (WoC): (Book of Exhalted Deeds) This feat will double the bonuses of many of your Bardic music effects, and double the duration of your Conjuration(Creation) spells. The tradeoff is that you take nonlethal damage when you invoke it. Staying close to the Cleric, turning yourself invisible, and healing yourself are all ways to minimize this drawback. (You can qualify for this at level 6 at the earliest.)

Music Enhancing Spells

Message: The PHB specifically gives the example that chanting to make a Rogue move more silently is self-defeating. Later on, Wizards & co. came out with the Subsonics feat (Song & Silence, re-printed in Complete Adventurer) which allows only your allies to hear your songs. Meanwhile, canny Bards have been able to do this the whole time simply by using the Message cantrip. You can also cast it so only a specific enemy can hear your songs (should you want to Fascinate or Suggest something to them). You can learn it at 1st level, it's a 0-level spell, it lasts for 10 minutes per round, it can travel hundreds of feet through twisty passageways and under doors, and it has no saving throw. A must-have cantrip for all Bards.

Invisibility: A Bard is a great buffer for other members of the team, but somewhat vulnerable with his low hit points. Singing while invisible will not cause you to become visible (because it is not an attack), and it makes it much harder for the bad guys to hit you. Combine this with Message and the bad guys won't hear you either. As a 2nd level spell, you can get it at Bard level 4 at the earliest.

Inspirational Boost: (Complete Adventurer) A level on spell, this becomes avilable at 2nd level. It boosts Inspire Courage bonuses by +1. It is a swift action to cast, meaning you can cast it on the same round that you start singing Inspire Courage. At low levels this makes big difference and at high levels it is yet another +1 that leads to bigger bonuses.

Inspire Courage

Arguably the best Bardic music effect, this is where I optomized my Bard. Here's the progresson for boosting I.C. bonuses, level by level:

Level Atk & Dmg bonus Notes & Explanations
1 +2 A Masterwork Horn will boost Atk & Dmg bonuses to +2 (we used the Song & Silence Horn stats) at the expense of no Will save vs. fear bonus (almost always worth it). Lingering song will make it last for 10 rounds after you stop singing instead of 5. Casting message will allow you to do it quietly, but you will not be able to use the horn (see below).
2 +3 The Inspirational Boost spell increases I.C. bonuses by 1. Casting time is a Swift action, meaning you can do it at the same time you start singing.
3 +4 SotH boosts bonuses by 1
6 +5 WoC doubles base I.C. bonuses (which are still only +1). Using WoC inflicts 3d4 points of nonlethal damage.
8 +7 The Bard's Inspire Courage base bonus increases to +2; base I.C. bonus is now doubled by WoC to +4. Using WoC still inflicts only 3d4 points of nonlethal damage.
15 +9 Inspire Courage base bonus increases to +3. WoC doubles it to +6. (Still 3d4 nonlethal dmg.)
20 +11 Inspire Courage base bonus increases to +4. WoC doubles it to +8. (Still 3d4 nonlethal dmg.)

Not using the horn decreases all the bonuses listed above by 1 but gives a Will Save vs. Fear bons equal to the (reduced) Atk & Dmg bonus.

Other Music Effects

Countersong: Flute gives +2 to Countersong. Already has an area-effect, which is nice. Can do this while invisible.

Inspire Competence: SotH boosts bonus from +2 to +3. WoC (combined with SotH) will bost bonuses to +5 but you take 6d4 points of nonlethal damage. Extra Music will let you boost more skills, more often. (I found this mostly useful on the Rogue when he would search for traps, disable traps, pick a lock, or listen at doors.)

Fascinate: SotH boosts the save DC by 1. Eagle's Splendor will bost the save DC by another 2. WoC gives you +4 sacred bonus to Perform check but inflicts 3d4 nonlethal damage. The Message cantrip allows you to quietly fascinate someone at a distance, but target must see you. Playing a Harp or Lyre lets you fascinate an extra creature, but you can't use Message.

Suggestion: SotH boosts save DC by 1. Eagle's Splendor will bost the save DC by another 2. WoC boosts the DC by an additional 2 and gives you a +4 sacred bonus to Perform check but inflicts 9d4 points of nonlethal damage. Message lets you do it quietly at a distance, but target must see you. Sinking points into Speak Language will break language barriers.

Haunting Melody: (An Eberon feat available at 6th level at the earliest, makes opponent shaken for 9+ rounds.) SotH boosts save DC by 1. Eagle's Splendor boosts save DC by another 2. Message lets you do it quietly. Can be done invisibly. Extra Music lets you do it more often.

Inspire Greatness: SotH boosts bonuses as follows: 3d10 + 3 x Con mod temp HPs, +3 to attack, +2 to Fort. saves. WoC (combined with SotH) will bost bonuses to: 5d10 + 5 x Con mod temp HPs, +5 to attack, and +3 to Fort save. Using Woc will incur 12d4 nonlethal damage. Lingering song makes it last for 10 rounds instead of 5. Message lets you do it quietly at a distance, ally need not see you. Can be done while invisible. Extra Music will let you buff up more members of the party. Playing a Harp lets you Inspire an extra ally, but you can't use Message.

Song of Freedom: WoC boosts caster level by 2 but inflicts 15d4 nonlethal damage. Message lets you do it quietly, from a distance. Can be done while invisible.

Inspire Heroics: SotH boosts bonuses as follows: +5 to saves, +5 to AC. WoC (combined with SotH) will bost bonuses to: +9 to saves, +9 to AC but will incur 18d4 nonlethal damage. Lingering song makes it last for 10 rounds instead of 5. Message lets you do it quietly at a distance, ally need not see you. Can be done while invisible. Extra Music will let you buff up more members of the party. Playing a Lyre lets you Inspire an extra ally, but you can't use Message.

Mass Suggestion: As Suggestion, above, but using WoC will inflict 21d4 nonlethal damage.

Making the Most of Your Skills

Perhaps the second-strongest suit a Bard has is the sheer number of skill points he can earn. I would suggest playing a Human with an Int of (at least) 14 to further increase the number of total skill points.

A breakdown of specific areas follows.

Bardic Knowledge: This is basically "Knowledge(misc)". I used it primarily to see if I could recall songs or tales that could tell us about any weaknesses of the monsters we fought (as per most Knowledge skills). Synergy bonus from Knowledge(history). Obscure Lore feat (Complete Adventurer) gives additional +4.

Speak Language: Bard is the only class with Speak Language as a class skill. This means you can spend 1 point to pick up a new one. It's worth it to devote 1 point per level. Spending points here is good insurance to make sure that your Fascinate / Suggestions will work. It also (hopefully) obviates the need for the Comprehend Languages spell.

Skills to Max Out: Concentration (for casting defensively), Escape Artist (for getting out of grapples / grabs), Perform (for Bardic Music checks / DCs), Tumble (to get away from the baddies), Use Magic Device (daddy don't like spell mishaps).

Skills to Keep High: You might not need to max these out, but they're handy enough that you should put a few skill points into them: Diplomacy (a little safer than using Bluff in some situations), Listen (although the Rogue always Listened better than me), Spellcraft.

Must-Have Synergy Bonuses: Bluff (no need to spend more than 5 points here as the Glibness spell gives you an insane +30 bonus to Bluff), Decipher Script, Jump, Knowledge(history), Spellcraft, Tumble (but we're maxing it out already, non?), Use Magic Device (also maxing this out).

Possibly Nice Synergy Bonuses: These are not essential (you can probably better spend your skill points elsewhere), but if you're looking to buff up a particular skill, these can help: Knowledge(arcana), Knowledge(dungeoneering), Knowledge(nature), Knowledge(nobility & royalty), Knowledge(the planes), Sense Motive.

Making the Most of Your Spells


  1. Duration: go for long (FrEx: get Sonic Weapon (1 min/lev), not Sonic Burst (instantaneous))
  2. Multi-purpose: go for utility (Exs: Prestidigitation, Grease, Alter Self, Shadow Conjuration, Shadow Evocation)
  3. Buffers: this is a Bard's raison de'tre (Exs: Inspirational Boost, Displacement, Haste)
  4. Applicability: pick spells that you can bring into play easily and often (Exs: Message, Cure Light Wounds, Invisibility, Haste)
  5. Spells based on caster level: Monsters will easily save if the spell grants a save, cuz yours are low. Your caster level, on the other hand, is equal to your Bard level (Ex: Dispel Magic)


  1. Attack spells: Your save DCs are crap (Tasha's Hideous Laughter, Blindness/Deafness or any other "save negates" spell is a waste)
  2. Spells with a HD cap: You will outgrow these in a level or two, long before you have a chance to replace them with better ones. And did I mention already that your save DCs are crap? (Exs: Daze, Cause Fear, Sleep, Animal Trance, Scare, Deep Slumber)
  3. Duplicates Bardic Music Effects: Absolutely worthless. I think Wizards put those in just to test if we were paying attention. (Utter crap: Heroism, Hypnotism, Remove Fear, Hypnotic Pattern, Suggestion, Good Hope, Break Enchantment)
  4. Good things come to those who wait: Some spells have a far superior version at the next spell level. Wait for it, you'll be glad you did. (Exs: no to Blur, yes to Displacement; no to Disgues Self, yes to Alter Self)
  5. Specialized / limited use: Pay for special-purpose spells when you need them or just buy scrolls. (Exs: Identify, Obscure Object, Undetectable Alignment, Locate Object, Sepia Snake Sigil)

Imitating Other Class Abilities

A Bard can actually mimic the class abilities of numerous other classes with a careful feat / spell selection and a little sprinkle of pixie dust. These will never be as simple, straightforward, or effective as the "native" abilities of other classes, but it's fun to see what the bard can get away with.

Rage: A 2nd level Bard spell (3rd lev for Sor/Wiz) that he can cast on 1 or more people. Added bonus: no fatigue at the end.

Damage Reduction: At 9th level a Bard qualifies for the Ironskin Chant feat (Complete Adventurer) which gives DR/5 as a Swift action for 1 round.

Turn / Rebuke Undead: At 9th level a Bard qualifies for the Requium feat (Song & Silence) which allows his music to affect undead. Use fascinate + (Mass) Suggestion to convince the ghoulies & ghosties that they should be somewhere else.

Turn / Rebuke Plants (some Clerics): As previous, but use Green Ear feat (Song & Silence) instead of Requium.

Wild Empathy: At 3rd leve a Bard qualifies for the Soothe The Beast feat (Eberon) which effectively gives him Wild Empathy, but he uses a Perform check to change a critter's attitude. SotH gives +2 to the Perform check.

Animal Companion / Familiar: At 3rd level a Bard could get a familiar with the Obtain Familiar feat (Complete Arcane).

Wild Shape / A Thousand Faces (Druid): Alter Self (to a lesser extent in the case of Wild Shape).

Evasion: A Ring of Evasion will do the trick, a Bard has great Reflex saves and usually a high Dex to boot. (Okay, so anyone can do this, not just a Bard. Details...)

Slow Fall (Monk): Featherfall.

Wholeness of Body (Monk) / Lay on Hands (Paladin): Cure* spells.

Abundant Step (Monk): Dimension Door.

Tounge of the Sun and Moon (Monk): Speak Language as a class skill.

Empty Body (Monk): Ethereal Jaunt spell.

Divine Grace (Paladin): Inspire Heroics.

Aura of Courage (Paladin): Inspire Courage (better range, better bonuses, on average).

Special Mount (Paladin): Phantom Steed (can be cast via Shadow Conjuration, too).

Camoflauge / Hide in Plain Sight (Ranger): Invisibility.

My Bard's Character Sheet

Note: We used a 26 pt point buy for attributes at generation and the "Fixed Hit Points" variant for gaining HPs per level.

Rodwynn: Male Human Bard 9
Align: CG
Deity: Corelain Larethain (Flavor)

STR: 10
DEX: 14
CON: 14
INT: 15 (raised w/ Tome of Clear Thought)
WIS:  8
CHA: 16 (raised at levs 4 & 8)

HP: 52
AC: 18 (24 when alter self-ed into Troglodyte)
    Touch: 12
    Flat: 16
Speed: 30

Fort: 5 (base=3, abil mod=2)
Refx: 8 (base=6, abil mod=2)
Will: 5 (base=6, abil mod=-1)

BaB: 6/1, Grap: 6

Skills: total/ranks
Bluff: 9/6 (39 w/ Glibness cast; I could "take 1" and get 40)
Concentration: 14/12 (always maxed)
Decipher Script: 7/5 (synergy bonus to UMD for scrolls)
Diplomacy: 9/5
Escape Artist: 14/12 (always maxed)
Jump: 7/5
Knowledge History: 7/5 (+2 syn bonus to bardic knowledge checks)
Listen: 3/4
Perform(Sing): 15/12 (always maxed)
Perform(Wind Instrument[Horn]): 4/1
Spellcraft: 11(13 w/ scrolls)/9
Tumble: 16/12 (always maxed)
Use Magic Device: 15(19 w/ scrolls)/12 (always maxed)

Special Skills
Bardic Knowledge: 13
Speak Language: 9 (spent 1 point per level)
    Languages Spoken: Common, Elven, Draconic, Orcish, Gnoll, Abyssal, Aquan,
	Giant, Infernal, Ignan, Undercommon

Notable Weapons/Armor/Equipment
 - +1 Short Sword of Thundering Keen Edges: Atk bns=+7/+2, dmg=1d6+1,
   crit=17-20x2 (+1d8 on crit)

 - Whip (never used)

 - Mwk Shortbow: Atk bns=+9/+4, dmg=1d6, crit=x3, rng=60

 - Longspear: Atk bns=+6/+1, dmg=1d6, crit=x2 (useful for attacking a beastie
   the fighter was attacking, while staying out of range, or for giving
   flanking bonuses)

 - Mithral Breastplate: AC bns=+5, max dex=+5, check pnlty=0, spell
   failure=0%(*), speed=30 (* Mithral armors are treated as one category lower
   so normally medium -> becomes light. Since Bard's can wear light armor
   with no arcane spell failure chance, 0% spell failre.)

 - Mithral Buckler: AC bns=+1, chk pnlty=0, spell failure=0

 - Masterwork Horn (Inspire Courage bonuses)

 - Quiver of Ehlonna (held all weapons)

 - Wand of Cure Moderate Wounds

L1: Extra Bardic Music
L1(B/H): Lingering Song
L3: Song of the Heart
L6: Words of Creation
L9: Lyric Spell

Special Abilities:
Bardic Music (uses per day=13)
Bardic Knowledge
Fascinate (up to 3 targets)
Inspire Courage (from +2 to +7, details above)
Inspire Competence (from +3 to +5 w/ WoC)
Suggestion (DC18, 20 w/ WoC)
Inspire Greatness (details above)

Spells Known: 6/4/4/3
Spells Per Day: 3/4/4/3

Lev 0: Mending, Message, Prestidigitation, Mage Hand, Read Magic, Detect Magic
Lev 1: Cure Light Wounds, Grease, Silent Image, Inspirational Boost
Lev 2: Alter Self, Glitterdust, Invisibility, Sonic Weapon
Lev 3: Displacement, Haste, Glibness


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