And now we move to part two in the three-part series Bardzilla, in which I’ll discuss building a better bard in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.
On the docket for this week is exploring the bard as a caster. As I discussed last week, the bard has a lot of options available to him, but he’d do best with some focus. You can decide to just take the coolest spells you come across, and that may work in large parties, but to be most effective, you will want your selections to have a theme or focus.
While schools and subschools can provide decent guidelines for caster themes, there are more general ways to look at your choices: boomstick, buffer, illusionist, face and battlefield control are the five that come to mind for me. Illusionist and face experience some serious overlap; your illusions can be used to aid social situations, be they Diplomacy, Intimidate or Bluff.
First things first, attribute scores. Highest to lowest: Charisma (save DCs, anyone?), Dexterity (ranged touch spells are important for you boomstick types), Constitution (you aren’t much use dead), Intelligence (Use Magic Device can come in handy quite a bit, as can Spellcraft and Concentration), Wisdom (your good Will save means you don’t have to worry too much about this stat), Strength (why bother?).
In my recent wanderings in the Giant in the Playground Games forums, I stumbled on a thread designed to make the biggest, baddest buffer bard possible. As our founder, incontrol88, may recall — perhaps with a grimace — my cleric in his game recently discovered the fun that is Divine Metamagic (Complete Divine), a feat that allows clerics to apply metamagic feats at the cost of turning attempts instead of increased spell level. Such a feat allows clerics to use metamagic’d versions of spells much earlier and oftener than normal.
And now bards can, too. The most popular — and powerful — choice is to use Persistent Spell, which can extend some buffs to last 24 hours. The feat on its own carries a +6 spell level adjustment, making it all but unusable for bards. But, with some strict rule interpretation, lots of books and more than a little cheese, we don’t have to worry about that.
Now, the Persist Buff Bard is an even more feat-intensive build than the melee monster from last week. In fact, you absolutely must play a human for it to work, and it still doesn’t take off until ninth level. At first level, you take Heighten Spell and Talfirian Song (Races of Faerun). Talfirian Song, which has Heighten Spell as a prerequisite, allows you to heighten illusion spells using bardic music uses like Divine Metamagic uses turning attempts. This is important, because it increases the “highest level spell you can cast” to the highest level illusion spell you can cast plus the number of bardic music uses you have — with a cap at Level 9 spells, of course.
Side note: This technically makes you qualify for prestige classes that require minimum-level spells (like Shadowcraft Mage) much earlier. How effective you’d be in those prestiges is another question entirely…
This has an important synergy with Metamagic Song (Races of Stone), which ALSO burns bardic music uses to apply metamagic feats, Divine Metamagic-style, but with a cap at “the highest level of spell you can cast.” Talfirian Song raises that cap, making Persistent Spell a viable option.
However, you’re not going to want to take Metamagic Song just yet. First off, you don’t qualify for it at level three, and, second off, you don’t have too much worth using it on — I guess you could heighten some non-illusions, if that’s your thing. But the way to go is to take Extend Spell at level three and Persistent Spell (Complete Arcane) at level six. Then, finally, at level nine, you take Metamagic Song, and the fun begins. Now you can use Persistent Spell on any spell Level 3 or lower — because a persisted Level 3 spell is like a Level 9 spell, and your cap is Level 9 — at the cost of six bardic music uses.
Some of my personal persistable favorites are Expeditious Retreat, Elation (Book of Exalted Deeds), Sonic Weapon (Complete Adventurer), Alter Self and Heroism.
If you add in the feat Easy Metamagic (Dragon Magazine #325), you can persist spells up to Level 4, instead of the normal Level 3 cap. If you have a Level 5 spell you really want to persist, you could either take a one-level dip in specialist wizard in that spell’s school or take the feat Spell Focus (that school). Either one will give you the prerequisites to take Metamagic School Focus (Complete Mage). The dip loses you a level of bardic music uses and advancing your bardic casting, but the feat costs you a whole feat. I suppose if you really want to be able to use Revenance (Complete Divine) to keep someone alive for a full day — or just abuse Greater Heroism and Improved Blink (Complete Arcane) — go for it.
If you decide to stop at Easy Metamagic and up your cap to Level 4, I’d recommend your bard learn War Cry (Complete Adventurer), Sirine’s Grace, Fugue of Tvash-Prull (Dragon Magazine #328) (especially if you put a lot into your Perform checks) and Spectral Weapon (Complete Adventurer).
You may want to consider taking the feat Extra Music (Complete Adventurer) — maybe even a couple of times — to fuel your metamagic. You could also feasibly pick up other metamagic feats to get more out of Metamagic Song, if that’s more your thing.
If you take levels in Lyric Thaumaturge (Complete Mage), which I recommend for any casting-oriented bard anyway, Sorcerer and Wizard spells open up to your filthy persist tricks. If you threw caution to the wind and took Metamagic School Focus (necromancy) — admittedly a VERY strange choice for a bard — a persisted Kiss of the Vampire (Magic of Faerun) will do wonders for you in combat. Those of you who didn’t go quite so crazy may want to consider using your Spell Secret class ability to learn — and later persist — Shield, Arcane Sight or, for an incredible melee self-buff, Critical Strike (Complete Adventurer). If for some reason you’re the scouting type, Eyes of the Avoral (Book of Exalted Deeds) isn’t a bad choice, but not one I’d make.
Well, that’s all for now. Until next week, stay smart, stay safe and don’t play a Truenamer (Tome of Magic).