Bard-ic Knowledge

2007 August 12
by Stupid Ranger

The first character I ever played was an elven bard named Lillian. And since those happy days so long ago, the bard remains one of my favorite classes. It takes a little bit of planning and a little bit of finesse to play a bard, and for those of you who haven’t yet taken the plunge, I want to share some tips that have helped me create some of my most memorable characters.

Race: A bard can come from any walk of life. Personally, I prefer to play as an elf or a human. Elves are a very natural choice; their longevity provides them with many years to acquire new stories, and they are well-known for their love of the arts. Their inherent weapon proficiencies provide a better range of options when selecting your weapon, and their inherent graces gives you a bonus to Dexterity, although you lose a bit in Constitution. I like humans for bards because of the additional feat and skill points at first level, and while you don’t get the bonus to Dex, you don’t lose any Con either.

Stat placement: With Charisma dictating your spells and your performance checks, you should place your best stat there. I recommend placing the next highest stat in Dexterity; the benefit it two-fold. First, you will increase your armor class, making it easier for you to survive. Second, you set yourself up to play with a ranged weapon and stay out of direct combat most of the time. If you want to use a melee weapon, you can take the Weapon Finesse feat (see page 102 of the Player’s Handbook for the list of qualifying weapons) and apply your Dex bonus instead of your Str bonus; that way, you don’t have to put another high stat in Str.

Skills: Do not neglect your Perform skill; it enables you to use the different Bardic Music abilities (see below). Other Charisma-based skills can be useful, depending on your role in the party; consider taking ranks in Gather Information and Diplomacy if you want to be part of the fact-gathering missions. Listen is a very important class skill, and if you’ve got the extra skill points, you should consider taking cross-class ranks in Spot; both can be very useful for your continued well-being.

Bardic Music: The magical effects of Bardic Music can be very powerful, and taking advantage of these can provide great benefits to you and your party. You gain more Bardic Musics as you advance in your bardic lifestyle; each one requires you to be a specific level with a minimum number of ranks in Perform. I believe that one of the most useful is Inspire Courage: the ability to instill confidence in you and your allies, granting a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls and a +1 bonus against fear and charm effects. A +1 bonus may make the difference between hitting and missing, between making your save or being feared or charmed. If you still think that +1 isn’t much of a bonus, consider that over the life of a battle, +1 to everyone’s damage can add up to 15 to 20 points easily. Of course, there are more powerful bardic music options available as you become a better bard, but Inspire Courage is available to you at first level, and your bonuses increase as you gain more bard levels. You can review the complete Bardic Music list on page 29 of the PHB.

Spells: Admittedly, the bard spell list isn’t as… colorful as that of the wizards and sorcerers, but there are still some great spells available. You can take any combination of spells to help yourself, help your party or hurt the bad guys; the choice is entirely up to you. And the nice part is, starting at fifth level, if you decide there’s a spell you never use, you can unlearn it in exchange for a different spell of the same level; for the specifics of doing this, check out page 28 of the PHB.

Bardic Knowledge: As a bard, you have heard wild stories, crazy legends and nonsensical myths; these have provided you with a vast repository of knowledge that may come in handy when you need a little extra information. You can make a Bardic Knowledge check (d20 + bard level + Int modifier) to determine if you know something about that recluse who lives in the forest or the proper method of leaving an offering at the crossroads. It’s not as well-known as Knowledge (Arcana), but it can be equally as useful without having to spend skill points.

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