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So it occurs to me that I don't really know how to play a bard. All of the other character concepts "click" with me: what they're designed for, effective ways to play them, etc. Every time I make a bard I pretty much just stare at them and go "huh..." I have this suspicion that there's a particular way to play them that I haven't discovered.

It probably doesn't help that I don't the idea of bards to begin with. All that prancing and singing. *shudders*

So the special ability of singing music is interesting, but not especially compelling. It looks like they get 6 songs, and none of them really make me go "Wow, I definitely need a bard, then." Maybe if you're especially savvy you know how to utilize them to good effect. I don't know. As it is, it seems more like an alternate version of spellcasting with only 6 spells. (And yes there are differences, I'm not saying it IS spellcasting).

Something bugs me about being out of the loop on this one.
The Bard is the "jack of all trades" class. He has medium combat abilities, roughly equivalent to a rogue minus sneak attacks, in combat. He has the ability to cast spells as a lesser sorcerer, but can do so while wearing light armor and also has the opportunity to learn some spells normally reserved for divine spellcasters. He has a well-balanced skill list and a good number of skill points per level. Forget about the singing and dancing; that's a distraction from his main abilities. The real strength of the bard is that he's got a little bit of everything.
I've been looking a lot at the Bard class as well lately, mostly because in my present ToEE party I have two of them. I rolled one myself, and I kept on Zaxis once I met him travelling to Nulb. I've already screwed up their builds, which is why I'm looking for how to do it better.

First of all, let's get something straight: a properly geared Bard is not a squishy. Outfitted with Elven Armor + Wooden Elvish Shield and taking advantage of a high Dex, the Bard will often have as high if not the highest AC of anyone else in the party. There is no reason not to consider the Bard a magic-wielding front-line special ops expert. Where does a low-level Bard get Elven Armor in ToEE you might ask? Hire Furnoc to go filch some in Emridy Meadows.

I think to further understand the Bard as a class, you have to think about what can they do that a Sorcerer-Rogue dual-class can't? Answer: Healing and Songs, no spell failure in light armor. Think about it, that's huge! A self-healing melee tank specialized in Crowd-Control and buffs/debuffs! As far as I can tell, any Elven Chain or Mithral Shirt counts as light armor in ToEE, as I have never seen a Bard spell fail with them on. A Bard can also wield the Wooden Elven Shield without it affecting their spells, which is a nice +2 AC. Most of the magic swords found in ToEE are longswords or magic rapiers, so you are good to go there. A Bard10 will have a higher BaB than a Rogue5 / Sorcerer5, with just as many spells and a higher DC to boot.

Imo the Bard's Fascinate song is one of the most OP abilities in the game for neutralizing a tough enemy while you finish off their friends. With maxed-out Perform skill, Cloak of Charisma, Circlet of Persuasion and a Mandolin of Charming, the only time I have seen it fail was against Zuggtmoy or Iuz in the final boss battles! (Even so, the message window listed a "success" but I suspect the game is hard-coded to make the final bosses immune to Fascinate). The other songs are like having a permanent +1 buff on your party or a +2 buff on a single character. The music never stops for as long as the Bard doesn't cast a spell. They can sing, explore and fight at the same time. My entire party probably would have been eaten by Harpies and Ghouls if it weren't for Countersong ( was totally caught flatfooted and all my party was charmed by the Harpies except for the Bard). Enemy clerics in ToEE seem to be the ones who use sound-based attacks most often. The other songs are kind of like the clerical buffs... nothing great, but they stack nicely with other buffs.

Since a Bard gets plenty of Skill points per level, they will often be able to max out their Appraise, Bluff, Concentrate, Tumble, Perform, Sleight of Hand, Spellcraft and Use Magic Item skills, as well as maintain respectable scores in all the interactive skills used for NPC dialogues. Tumble and Concentrate are a HUGE advantage for effectively casting spells while engaged in melee. Picking pockets of NPCs that otherwise can't or won't join your party can be quite profitable. High Use Magic Item skill means a Bard can double as a Clerical or Druidic spell caster by using scrolls if needed.

A Bard can read scrolls... ANY level arcane spell* (make sure to build up your Use Magic Item and Spellcraft skills first). Adding one level of Cleric will allow reading of ALL divine scrolls too (with Use Magic Item skill)! So that right there trumps what ever spell limitations you thought they had. A backpack full of scrolls can compensate quite a lot for their reduced spell slots and limited magic schools. With the Scribe Scroll feat, or 1 level of dual Wizard class, they can write them too. Note that in ToEE a single level of Wizard class allows a Bard to copy ANY level arcane spell to their spellbook (with enough Spellcraft skill and stacked Scholar Kits), AND then to be able to scribe those spells as scrolls, which certainly opens up a lot of possibilities. Imo the Raven (+3 Appraisal), Snake (+3 Bluff), Lizard (+3 Will) or Weasel (+3 Reflex) make the best familiars for a Bard/Mage. Through reading scrolls and with his high AC and tumble skills, Bards can become an effective delivery chassis for the Touch-Attack combat spells normally reserved only for Wizards: True Strike, Shocking Grasp, Chill Touch, Ghouls Touch, Vampiric Touch, Bestow Curse.

A Bard's own spells are primarily focused in the Enchantment school (charm, sleep, daze, confuse, dominate, mind fog, heroism) but also has some good choices in Illusion (invisibility, blur, displacement), Necromancy (fear, blindness), Transmutation (blink, haste, slow, dex + int buffs) and Conjuration (monster summoning, grease, glitterdust, dimension door - note that Grease and Glitterdust ignore magic resistance). Bards can dispel magic. They also get some nice clerical choices such as healing spells, cure poison, freedom of movement and silence. They have 2 decent Evocation spells (shout, soundburst), and have their very own magical buffs that no-one else has (inspiration songs + good hope spell+ Hero's Feast). For some reason in my game Zaxis at lvl 9 now has learned Bestow Curse, but I can't figure out how, as that spell shouldn't be available to him (EDIT: Bestow Curse and Remove Disease are both lvl 3 Bard spells, but are not listed as such in the ToEE spell lists).

But a Bard doesn't get enough spell slots to pick very many spells, so you are going to have to specialize (or read lots of scrolls). Like Sorcerers, they don't need to memorize spells, so this helps. To keep your low-level offensive spells effective against enemy DC saves, you need Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus and the Heighten Spell feats. Heighten Spell stacks with itself (ie. you can cast a lvl 4 Charm Person spell). This will also give you a greater selection of spells to cast for each available spell slot. As you level up a few ideas:

Buffer/Healer - This type of Bard could have a mediocre charisma, since his spells won't need to overcome an enemy DC roll. But lower Cha also means less spells. Scribe Scroll feat should work nicely with this, as the Bard can scribe a steady supply of Heal and Buff scrolls for the party. Other feats can be more oriented towards melee or ranged weapon improvements. Touch-attack and Ray spells require a successful to-Hit just like a weapon, so melee/missile feats work well with these types of spells. If you have an evil or neutral Cleric, the Bard can take over as party healer. Zaxis comes like this when you first meet him.
Mind Master - This type of Bard wants a very high Charisma, since that attribute makes his spells harder to resist. One obvious choice is to concentrate feats on the Enchantment school: Spell Focus Enchant, Greater Spell Focus Enchant, Heighten Spell. Eventually you might want Spell Penetration and Greater Spell Penetration, although these only come into play against magic-resistant creatures. I would like to know if these feats also makes the Fascinate song more effective. Using high Charisma, Eagles Splendor and Heighten Spell, you will easily Charm, Confuse and cause Hideous Laughter throughout the Temple. There are tons of humanoids throughout ToEE, which should make this build quite effective, even against high-level bosses.
Meat Shield - Yes, a true meatshield: a magically buffed defensive frontliner who can just stand there and laugh as the demon tries to stomp him. A Gnome should work nicely in this role (can wear elvish armor?). Don't bother making a gimped fighter. Make a character that specializes in trip attacks or Feints so as to leverage AoO or your Rogue's sneak attack (the Bard should have a HUGE Bluff and Tumble skill after gaining a few levels). With high Concentration skill, he'll be able to self-buff while fighting using Blur, Mirror Image, Greater Invisibility, Displacement, Gaseous Form, Cats Grace then stunning the enemy with Soundburst. You can also read a Goul's Touch scroll and get your own protective cloud of miasma. With Combat Expertise they will be even harder to hit once you get some levels. Also Combat Reflexes might be good for a Bard with high Dex and a Long Spear, or make a decent character to wield Scather. As mentioned earlier, reading Touch Attack scrolls scribed by high-level Wizards can be quite effective for this build as well.
The Face - A fairly obvious choice for Party Leader. Build up high skill in Appraisal, Negotiate, Diplomacy, Sense Motive, etc. It's either going to be a Bard or Rogue that pulls in the best prices at the bazaar (n.b. prices max-out at Appraise 19 skill-level modified by high Int + Int buffs + a Raven familiar, NOT Charisma like in other D&D-based games).

Crafting: At 2nd, 4th, 7th and 10th level a Bard gets to learn 2 higher level spells, but strangely doesn't get a spell slot to cast them. Crafting Wands or Scribing Scrolls is a way around this. I'm currently looking into whether a Bard's meta-magic feats in ToEE transfer to a Wand or Scroll (it seems they do not). Spells that don't allow a DC save are the best way to go for wands (ie most ranged touch attacks or freindly buffs). Care for a Wand of Healing anyone?

Dual-Classing: As far as dual-classing goes, I am not sure. A Bardbarian maybe? Add a single level of Rogue for the Sneak Attack bonus? One level of fighter for the 2 free combat feats and weapon proficiencies (Fragrach/Scather)? One level of Cleric for divine scroll reading? My tendency is currently to play them pure or with a single level of Wizard (primarily to abuse the Copy Spell and Scroll Scribing feats). So Human or Gnome is probably the way to go.

( * I'm not sure if this comes automatically with the Bard class or only once you have a high Use Magic Item skill)
Post edited February 09, 2015 by Dreamteam67
Dreamteam67: I think to justify the Bard as a class, you have to think about what can they do that a Sorceror-Rogue dual-class can't? ... A Bard10 will have a higher to-Hit than a Rogue5 / Sorcerer5.
Rogue/Sorcerer is a terrible class combo, and a 50/50 split is pretty much the worst configuration possible. Your BAB is being pulled down harshly by the Sorcerer levels, and your spellcasting ability is being pulled down harshly by the Rogue levels, leaving you incompetent in both respects.

This is where the Bard rocks out. He has full caster level progression. Even if his spell slots progress more slowly, it's still about 2/3rds the speed of a Sorcerer and those spells are cast at his full character level. A Sorcerer can only give up one or two levels before falling behind a bard for spellcasting. In combat the bard lacks the rogue's sneak attack, but his BAB is uses the medium progression and with the right self-buffs he's easily an equal of the rogue in combat. It's a differently role than the rogue, but it's every way its equal.

As far as duel-classing goes, I am not sure. A Bardbarian maybe? Add a single level of Rogue for the Sneak Attack bonus? My tendency is currently to play them pure or with a single level of Wizard (primarily to get the Scribe Scroll feat). So Human or Gnome is probably the way to go.
Rogue/Bard is a pretty lackluster combo. Whatever you gain from sneak attack is lost twice over from reduced spellcasting abilities, and otherwise the overlap between these classes is so strong that you gain very little you wouldn't have otherwise had from being bard.

Due to the bard having spell progression, a level of bard is more valuable than a feat. If you want sccribe scroll, take the feat and stay pure bard for better spellcasting progression.

Fighter or Barbarian would work much better. You'd take exactly one level for weapon proficiencies and whatever other benefits the class offers, and then stick with bard for the remainder of your career. This is a very minor delay in your spell progression for a fairly substantial benefit. Bards (and spellcasters in general) just aren't well suited for multi-classing, so keep it to a minimum.
Do you know at what point the Bards spell progression stops for lvl 6 spells? The ToEE manual only lists progression to lvl 4. Imo, the 6th level Bard spells look pretty meh. So if you are using the Co8 mod with lvl cap of 20, it might make sense around level 15 or so to permanently multi-class into something else.
Post edited April 05, 2014 by Dreamteam67
Dreamteam67: Do you know at what point the Bards spell progression stops for lvl 6 spells? The ToEE manual only lists progression to lvl 4. Imo, the 6th level Bard spells look pretty meh. So if you are using the Co8 mod with lvl cap of 20, it might make sense around level 15 or so to permanently multi-class into something else.
I'm presuming spells known and spells per day just use the 3.5 tables. In terms of what spells are available, it depends on what the Co8 guys included.
Dreamteam67: Imo, the 6th level Bard spells look pretty meh.
I don't know...I don't know if the spell is included by Co8 (though don't see why it wouldn't be), but mass charm monster looks like it could be an instant combat-decider. Suddenly the villain's army is fighting FOR you...
I was thinking maybe 5 levels of Fighter might be good for the feats. You only lose a few spell slots at that point. But the cost would be 8 fewer new spells known.

You are probably right, though. Since the Co8 cap is lvl 20, you might as well just stick with Bard class all the way.
Post edited April 06, 2014 by Dreamteam67
Dreamteam67: I was thinking maybe 5 levels of Fighter might be good for the feats.
Four levels of a full base attack class - and exactly four levels - makes a lot of sense in Neverwinter Nights 1, where it will permanently grant you an extra attack in the epic levels. In a campaign like Hordes of the Underdark, the delay on your bard progression can be a worthy sacrifice. In a game like ToEE where your career will likely end long before the 20th level and certainly isn't going epic, there's largely no point.
Thanks for the responses. I think I have a much better idea of what to expect out of a bard after reading these posts. It's good to know that their whole play style is not wrapped up in their music ability, that it's just part of them. As a selling point by itself, it didn't thrill me.
Casting arcane in light armor is a pretty good trick. I like that they can learn some healing.
It sounds to me like Scribe Scroll is definitely worth taking.

I'll have to play around with a bard for a bit and see if it's finally clicking.
NP, I just found this out: note that a single level of Wizard class allows a Bard to copy ANY level arcane spell to their spellbook (with enough Spellcraft skill), AND then to be able to scribe those spells as scrolls.

This certainly opens up a lot of possibilities. Have fun with it!!
Dreamteam67: This certainly opens up a lot of possibilities.
It does!!
This is how I have tended to play the Bard: I roll that toon first. Must have 18 Cha, and relatively high Dex (say at least 16 but preferably 17 or 18). Str not as important but say at least 12 or 13. The other stats are IMO not as critical and if you are not somehow cheating to have an Ubertoon, best to leave the skills and feats that relate to high Wis / Int etc. to other toons in the party. Relatively high Int is of course valuable for the number of skill points.

Alignment I suppose can be anything but I tend to play Neutral Good parties and go with Fharlanghn for Bard diety. Feats for a level 1 Bard: I've used a lot of different permutations including: Negotiator and Investigator; Dodge and Mobility; the two Feat ranged attack buffing combo (Precise shot and the other one); and Spell school focus (Enchantment).

That last one came at the recommendation of some of the ToEE afficionados over at the [ url= http: // www. co8. org/forum /showthread.php?t=11447]Circle of Eight mod forums[/url] (link is actually to a thread in which I inquire with those guys about making a strong natural rolled five character party, and then explore the prospect of an "All Fighters" party along about 5 or 10 posts into the thread). I haven't actually tested the latter but it seems logical that buffing Tasha's, Flare, etc. would be good.

The other's work well too, but honestly some of them are a waste of Feat slots. If your Bard has 18 Cha, there are some NPC dialoque options that will still remain closed without Negotiator or other social interaction Feats, but not many. Within a couple levels, if you keep maxing out your Diplomacy and Gather Info skills you should be good even without the Feats. Combat reflexes would seem to be good given the Bard might tend to have high Dex, but that is only really useful by being on the front line and I have not historically used my Bard this way.

Feats you might consider that I have never used: Scribe Scroll (this would seem to be a waste of a feat slot to me); Power Attack-Cleave, etc. . . . Bard is a high Cha type toon, I suppose he/she could also be a Juggearnaut but seems to me best left to high AC aggro-soaking toons that can wade into the middle of the fray and lop off lots of heads.

To me, the most useful Feats in the whole game are Dodge and Mobility, followed by Improved Initiative. I know some guys swear by Improved Initiative, but unless you've got a bunch of really low init toons I've never noticed it to make that much difference. Yes, it is nice to go first, but in my experience it is only life-or-death sometimes, whereas the benefits of Dodge + Mobility seem to be consistent in almost every engagement and for nearly any toon. Basically, it seems to me that, the ToEE engine takes strong account of positioning and facing. If Roger the Fighter is face to face with Goblin 1 and has just struck him (or even just attacked him) he is apparently "threatening" the Goblin. If Edward the Player Character (class matters not in the example) is basically standing right next to Roger (thus in front of and slightly to one side of the Goblin) and he just attacks the Goblin head on, he won't get any particular benefit from being the 2nd toon to attack the Goblin. Pretty much same attacking from all angles around the front 180 (maybe even 270) degrees of the Goblins facing.

Point of note here: Edward is also "in" the Goblins area of opportunity or whatever it might be called, meaning that any action Edward takes (well, except for the "Five-Foot Step" and maybe a few others), the Goblin will have some automatic possiblity to respond to it. For example, Edward decides to cast a spell = Goblin gets an Attack of Opportunity (AoO I believe it is in the lingo). Edward decides to move (not five foot step but just move) = Goblin gets AoO. Edward reads a scroll = Goblin AoO (I think potion swigging on oneself might be exempted, not sure, but administering a potion to another toon is not).

These dynamics are what make the ToEE engine so priceless: it very nicely encapsulates the tradeoffs of melee combat and forces the player to think through a combat engagement like a slow motion boxing match or ballet.

Now all that said, and getting back to the issue of facing and flanking: attacks on the very backside of the Goblin (maybe even from the three back tiles = "rear 90 degree arc" or something, not sure) will DEFINITELY get a buff to hit and seemingly to damage compared to attacks on the Goblins front and front/flanks. What this means is that, there is a real benefit to Edward using some of his movement allowance to get back around the backside of the Goblin to strike him from behind, as he is much more likely to hit and (seemingly) more likely to do more damage than if he attacked from in front. This is where the Dodge + Mobility combo are so useful. Nearly every engagement I've seen so far in this game quickly evolves into a toe-to-toe boxing match. Toons that cannot either stand there and soak it up, or stand there and avoid getting hit AND somehow mete out damage back at the enemy at a faster rate than they take it, are a waste of a party slot. This means that low AC low hp toons (such as a Bard) need to be able to get AWAY from the enemy and/or get behind the enemy to hit them where it hurts.

As far as skills: I always max out: Tumble, Use Magical Device, Perform (critical for gaining the higher level Bardic Music actions I understand), Diplomacy. I tend to neglect Appraise, Listen, Search, Spot, and the skills that other party members are more suited to max out. Basically I use the Bard as the party leader, or at least the party spokesman and in combat as a "behind the lines" buffer, enchanter, as-need-be dive into melee for a quick flanking attack, or as opportune stand behind the fighters and lob bolts, arrows, rocks, insults, spells, magic missiles, or whatever. I begin most engagements with the Bard performing the "Inspire Courage" bardic music action.

That is how I have typically used the Bard and it seems pretty effective. For a very different approach that I'm still exploring checkout that link to the Co8 thread above.

Phew! That was way more than I realized I had to say about Bards!
Just wanted to comment that imo Negotiator, Investigator and Dodge are wasted feats for a Bard, simply because the Bard gets enough skill points on each level up to increase skills that do the same thing. Much better to use those precious feats to pick things the Bard cannot otherwise do. If you don't have a Rogue in the party, high Appraise skill (maxed at 19, any more is wasted) is very helpful for buying/selling loot. I agree with the other skills you mentioned, though imo if you want combat feats, Point-Blank Shot and Precise Shot (with high Dex they both also help for certain spells) as well as Combat Finesse (with high Dex and a magic rapier) should be priority.

Also, a properly outfitted Bard is not a low AC character as I mentioned in my post above. With high Dex and elven armor and a shield, they will match the AC of any fighter class. My understanding of ToEE is that reading a scroll or using a wand in combat does not trigger an AoO, unlike trying to cast a spell. With high Tumble and Concentration skills, plus the ability to read any scroll or use any wand (high Use Magic Item skill), this makes a Bard a great front-line spellcaster. Care to try Vampiric Touch anyone?
Post edited February 09, 2015 by Dreamteam67
Dreamteam67: Care to try Vampiric Touch anyone?
That might sound like a good idea, except for the fact that Vampiric Touch is broken; it does less damage than it should and gives the caster a grand total of 0 temporary hit points.

The TemplePlus mod, according to its developer, has fixed the spell so that it works properly (though I would still suggest saving before picking the spell and make sure it works sensibly before keeping it, just in case). Of course, it's possible that mod has changed other details.