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