Gaming My Way

13 Oct

Why Bards Aren’t as Bad as People Think

In D&D, the bard gets a bad rap. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of bards myself, but I’ve played one before, and I’ve seen others play them well. The real trick is to decide where your focus is in a few areas, and be prepared to make sacrifices to make your focus areas really good.

If you want to play a melee bard, make your physical stats high, at least strength and constitution. Spellcasting will suffer, but if you can get even a 12 into charisma, you can get that up to a respectable 16 by the time you get 6th level spells. You won’t be winning any spellcasting awards, but if you’re playing a warrior bard, you’ll be using those spells to buff yourself and others, for supplementing the clerics healing, or a combination of the two. Bardic music also provides good buffs, and it would be silly to ignore them… though the bookkeeping can be a little crazy at higher levels.

Alternatively, you could make a caster/social bard. In a social game, these bards will absolutely shine, as most of their spells are geared toward social situations already, and the high charisma doubles as their casting stat and the key stat in most of the skills they’ll want. Check out spells like glibness if you want an idea of how awesome bards can be in social settings.

If you want to be a combat caster, your options become much more limited. If you aren’t using only core rules, it might be time to pick up some supplements and look at the sublime chord prestige class. I’m writing this for a core bard though, so I won’t use those. The summon monster line of spells is useful in combat, though not as useful as the ones your full caster buddies will be throwing around. Tasha’s hideous laughter and grease are good 1st level options for knocking your opponents prone or possibly slowing them. Blindness/deafness and hold person make good 2nd level spells, and can be rounded out with some defensive spells like mirror image. Eagle’s Splendor is a great way to boost charisma, and therefore saving throw DCs for your spells. Dispel magic and fear are good 3rd level selections.

Hold monster makes a good choice at 4th level if you deal with lots of non-humanoids, and shadow conjuration will grant you access to a number of good low level conjurations whenever you want them. This can provide you with a couple of sorely missing attack spells, like Melf’s Acid Arrow, as long as the save DC is high enough that your opponents reliably fail. Dimension door and freedom of movement are good choices if you care about mobility in combat. And dominate person is like having a long lasting summon, as long as you pick a worthy foe and handle with great care.

At fifth level, shadow evocation will become your new best friend providing you all the blasting power you could ever hope for as a bard. Just make sure the save DC is high, since opponents can reduce the damage through both reflex and will saves on most shadow evocation effects. Mind fog will destroy an opponent’s will save and wisdom checks, and greater dispel magic is always great for stripping magical effects from your enemies.

Otto’s irresistible dance is the ultimate disabling spell, available at 6th level. It almost completely disables an opponent for a few rounds, and allows no saving throw. Animate objects can help you build a small temporary army, or create a giant creature of awesome who will aid you in battle. Greater shout is a good damaging spell, and adds in some hefty penalties to boot if they fail the save. And you can laugh maniacally if your opponent was wearing armor of the crystal variety.

For a combat caster, you’ll definitely want use magic device and a few of the more offensive wands, scrolls, or staffs to supplement your own spells. Of course, use magic device is a good choice for any bard with some money to throw around, as improving your magic repertoire is always helpful. Also, I’d recommend still focusing on some social aspects of the bard with leftover spells and skills even if you want to play a combat caster. The social stuff still comes in handy sometimes. Extra defensive spells wouldn’t hurt either though, so you might have to choose which is more important to you.

Also, even if you’re a caster, don’t forget bardic music still makes for good buffs, and you get to use it a lot at higher levels. And there are other uses, such as countering sound dependent spells, and distracting enemies who you aren’t yet engaged in combat with. At higher levels, bardic music can allow you to cast break enchantment and use the suggestion spell to name a couple.

Bardic knowledge is good for any bard, and makes a great substitute many times for all the knowledge skills a wizard gets. You’ll want to pick up one or two knowledges if you want an area of expertise, but bardic knowledge covers a lot.

Playing a social character is likely the easiest way to go, but might not work for all campaigns, as D&D does tend to be combat heavy. As a melee character, they can do a lot, and supplement their abilities well with magic and social skills. As a caster, they can be both social and combat ready, but it will take some preparation to be the equals of other classes as a combat caster.

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