Bardzilla I: The Melee Monster

Welcome to part one in the three-part series Bardzilla, in which I’ll discuss building a better bard in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.

There seem to be two prevailing opinions on the 3.5 bard: “incredibly versatile” and “jack of all trades, master of none.”

These both approach the same issue, but from different angles: the bard is capable of many things, so at low levels he’s impressive, but as things progress, his usefulness fades as more specialized characters advance their abilities beyond the bard’s broad yet shallow pool of talents.

However, this ignores one simple fact: just because bards can do everything doesn’t mean they should. For example, you can read Twilight, but should you? It’s just like the bard: if he tries to do everything (read Twilight) he’ll be sub-par in all facets of the game (dead to me, and without the glitter).

From left: Vampire, Fairy, Fairy.

 

My first character was a bard, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the class. Also, as one of the most flavorful base classes in the game, the bard deserves to be awesome. And I’m here to help you make it so.

The bard’s abilities can be broken down into three primary categories, in descending order of uniqueness: music, magic and combat. I’d also argue that those are in descending order of potency, but, as you’ll soon discover, it all comes down to your build.

Let’s go from the bottom up, and start with combat. Let’s say you love the idea of having your big bad bard wade into a sea of orcs with a longsword while singing about just how dead they are. Your wish is my command!

Now, in order to get full use of the bard’s combat prowess, you will want to look into some Inspire courage boosts, meaning the build tips in this section will overlap some with the later bit on optimizing your music.

To begin with, let’s talk race. A melee bard build is going to be feat-intensive, so you may want to consider going with a human. I recommend spicing things up a bit with a dragonborn (Races of the Dragon) or a silverbrow human (Dragon Magic), as these give you easy access to the dragonblood subtype necessary for Dragonfire Inspiration, an incredibly powerful feat out of Dragon Magic. Both silverbrow and dragonborn human grant a bonus feat at first level and other perks, making them particularly attractive choices.

From there, you’ll have to set your attributes. Different DMs go about generating attributes in different ways, but, no matter what, you’ll have some numbers higher than others. You should place your numbers, from highest to lowest, in:

Charisma. Charisma determines save DCs, spells per day, the level of spells you can cast, the bonus to your most important skill (perform) and, when we’re done, a bonus to your attack rolls.

Constitution. The bard’s hit die is a d6, so your hit points are going to need all the help they can get in a melee build. Also, Constitution provides a bonus to the concentrate skill, which you’ll need as a melee singer, and your fortitude save, an important stat for combatant characters.

Dexterity. A high Dexterity will make you harder to hit – important for a melee combatant with limited armor selection – and, if possible, make you eligible for Two-Weapon Fighting, opening up the optimum build for a melee bard.

Strength. You do not want this to be negative. If you can get a positive Strength modifier this low on the totem pole, excellent. As the primary modifier of your attack and damage rolls, a melee character is unlikely to succeed with a poor Strength score.

Intelligence. A low Intelligence score will put a kink in the bard’s usual role as party skillster. I hope you have a rogue or other skillful character around. The bard’s high class skill points allow for some leeway in your Intelligence score that will still allow you to pump points into perform skills, which, as you’ll see, are incredibly important even to a melee bard. If you decide against playing a race with a first-level bonus feat, you may want to consider ranks in concentration, as well – you’ll find out why in a bit.

Wisdom. Someone else can watch your back. The bard has a good base will save, so you won’t suffer too much from a low Wisdom score.

You can choose any (nonlawful, of course) alignment you want. If you somehow manage to get both Charisma and Intelligence above 14, you’ll want to be Good so you can have access to Words of Creation, an incredibly powerful feat from the Book of Exalted Deeds.

Next up, we can talk skill point distribution. You’ll want to max out perform (sing) or (oratory), as these performances can be done while keeping your hands free to deal death. You’ll also want to set aside six ranks for perform (dance) so you can qualify for Snowflake Wardance, the feat from Frostburn that really makes this build work. After that, dump as many ranks as you can into concentration if you don’t have a bonus feat. If you do have the bonus feat, or you’ve already maxed out concentration, go crazy, put ranks in whatever you want.

Essentials: Perform (dance) 6 ranks. Perform (sing, oratory, chanting – something hands-free) maximum.

Or you could always take perform (yelling "FREEDOM!").

 

What makes the melee bard possible – or any good build possible, really – is the feats. At first level, you will want to take Dragonfire Inspiration (Dragon Magic), which adds Xd6 damage to weapons wielded by those under the influence of your inspire courage ability, where X is the bonus your inspire courage grants. With this feat you can still choose to inspire courage normally, so if you really need the attack-roll bonus instead, go for it.

If you took my advice and played a human or human variant, use that bonus feat to take Melodic Casting (Complete Mage). It requires four ranks in Spellcraft, which is annoying but not too tough. In exchange, you get to keep casting while singing and perform checks replace concentration checks in many cases. With this feat, you can worry a little less about your Constitution score and you can dump fewer ranks in concentration. So, really, this is a simple trade of many future concentration ranks for four spellcraft ranks. Being able to concentrate – or perform-instead-of-concentrate, as the case may be – is important to a caster who often finds himself in the midst of a battle. You must be able to cast defensively effectively.

If you decide you really don’t mind putting ranks in concentration and, for some reason, think you won’t want to cast while singing, feel free to take Two-Weapon Fighting as your bonus feat, assuming you meet the pre-requisites and are OK with passing on a shield.

HE doesn't need a shield.

 

Two-Weapon Fighting seems like an odd choice, especially for a bard, but it makes sense once you hit third level and can take Snowflake Wardance (Frostburn). This feat allows you to burn a bardic music use – as a free action, no less – to add your Charisma bonus to attack rolls with a one-handed slashing melee weapon. If you have Two-Weapon Fighting, you can use two light slashing weapons – like sickles or daggers – to gain an extra attack with the penalties offset by your Charisma bonus.

From here on out, feat selection really opens up for you. Personally, I’d recommend looking into Sound of Silence (Complete Scoundrel), which you can use to deafen opponents, making things hard for casters with verbal components; Nymph’s Kiss (Book of Exalted Deeds), which grants a bonus on saves and Charisma-related checks, as well as bonus skill points, if you’re Good; and, if you’re Good and have an Intelligence score 15 or higher, you’d be a fool not to take Words of Creation, also from the Book of Exalted Deeds. It doubles your Inspire courage, among granting some other impressive bonuses to bardic music abilities.

In fact, a lot of the things that can be used to boost inspire courage are good choices for a melee bard, as the combat bonuses can really make a difference. We’ll talk more about that in a couple of weeks, though.

The melee bard will want to learn some helpful buff spells, too – perhaps justifying taking the Extend Spell feat.

Alter Self, Elation (Book of Exalted Deeds), Beastland Ferocity (Spell Compendium), Improvisation (Complete Adventurer), Inspirational Boost (Spell Compendium) and Harmony (Player’s Guide to Faerun, Magic of Faerun) are all good low-level options. The bard also has access to some great battlefield control spells like Grease, Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, Glitterdust, the Image tree of illusions, Suggestion, Haste, Slow and the Summon Monster tree. For lack of another party healer, or, if you find yourself needing it, you may want to learn a couple of the Cure spells if you have room. As a melee character, taking damage comes with the territory. Good thing you’re the only arcane caster with Cure spells on his class list.

Don’t forget you have Use Magic Device as a class skill, and it’s Charisma-based, so be sure to pick up some useful scrolls, wands or spellbook pages (beware of Stephenie Meyer’s Create Undead, though – the book carries a heavy curse, dealing 2d6 Intelligence damage to all who read it).

Next time, we’ll talk about bard magic.

And with that, I leave you until next week. Stay smart, stay safe and don’t play a Samurai (Oriental Adventures or Complete Warrior).

Unless you're Jim Belushi.

My first character was a bard, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the class. Also, as one of the most flavorful base classes in the game, the bard deserves to be awesome. And I’m here to help you make it so.

The bard’s abilities can be broken down into three primary categories, in descending order of uniqueness: music, magic and combat. I’d also argue that those are in descending order of potency, but, as you’ll soon discover, it all comes down to your build.

Let’s go from the bottom up, and start with combat. Let’s say you love the idea of having your big bad bard wade into a sea of orcs with a longsword while singing about just how dead they are. Your wish is my command!

Now, in order to get full use of the bard’s combat prowess, you will want to look into some inspire courage boosts, meaning the build tips in this section will overlap some with the later bit on optimizing your music.

To begin with, let’s talk race. A melee bard build is going to be feat-intensive, so you may want to consider going with a human. I recommend spicing things up a bit with a dragonborn (Races of the Dragon) or a silverbrow human (Dragon Magic), as these give you easy access to the dragonblood subtype necessary for Dragonfire Inspiration, an incredibly powerful feat out of Dragon Magic. Both silverbrow and dragonborn human grant a bonus feat at first level and other perks, making them particularly attractive choices.

From there, you’ll have to set your attributes. Different DMs go about generating attributes in different ways, but, no matter what, you’ll have some numbers higher than others. You should place your numbers, from highest to lowest, in:

Charisma. Charisma determines save DCs, spells per day, the level of spells you can cast, the bonus to your most important skill (perform) and, when we’re done, a bonus to your attack rolls.

Constitution. The bard’s hit die is a d6, so your hit points are going to need all the help they can get in a melee build. Also, Constitution provides a bonus to the concentrate skill, which you’ll need as a melee singer, and your fortitude save, an important stat for combatant characters.

Dexterity. A high Dexterity will make you harder to hit – important for a melee combatant with limited armor selection – and, if possible, make you eligible for Two-Weapon Fighting, opening up the optimum build for a melee bard.

Strength. You do not want this to be negative. If you can get a positive Strength modifier this low on the totem pole, excellent. As the primary modifier of your attack and damage rolls, a melee character is unlikely to succeed with a poor Strength score.

Intelligence. A low Intelligence score will put a kink in the bard’s usual role as party skillster. I hope you have a rogue or other skillful character around. The bard’s high class skill points allow for some leeway in your Intelligence score that will still allow you to pump points into perform skills, which, as you’ll see, are incredibly important even to a melee bard. If you decide against playing a race with a first-level bonus feat, you may want to consider ranks in concentration, as well – you’ll find out why in a bit.

Wisdom. Someone else can watch your back. The bard has a good base will save, so you won’t suffer too much from a low Wisdom score.

You can choose any (nonlawful, of course) alignment you want. If you somehow manage to get both Charisma and Intelligence above 14, you’ll want to be Good so you can have access to Words of Creation, an incredibly powerful feat from the Book of Exalted Deeds.

Next up, we can talk skill point distribution. You’ll want to max out perform (sing) or (oratory), as these performances can be done while keeping your hands free to deal death. You’ll also want to set aside six ranks for perform (dance) so you can qualify for Snowflake Wardance, the feat from Frostburn that really makes this build work. After that, dump as many ranks as you can into concentration if you don’t have a bonus feat. If you do have the bonus feat, or you’ve already maxed out concentration, go crazy, put ranks in whatever you want.

Essentials: Perform (dance) 6 ranks. Perform (sing, oratory, chanting – something hands-free) maximum.

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About Cards 'n' Dice

Cam is a senior journalism and English double major at St. Bonaventure University who was perfectly happy as a nerd strictly of the word variety until Connor persuaded him to try Magic: the Gathering. It was a slippery slope from there to D&D, Sunkist sodas and crack cocaine. My interests tend toward the technical aspects of these games, but we'll see where this blog goes. View all posts by Cards 'n' Dice

2 responses to “Bardzilla I: The Melee Monster

  • incontrol88

    This was inspired, buddy. Honestly I’ve never wanted to play a bard until I read this. Can’t wait to see the rest.

  • Sagacius

    Thats awesome mate . Ive been toying with bard myself and he produced many good results . But i have one complaint . If you take Dragonborn human you gain the stat bonuses and one of the three bonuses BUT you lose the bonus feat

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