Saturday, April 11, 2009

Character Building: The Battle Bard

A modern depiction of a dwarfImage via Wikipedia
The release of the Players Handbook 2 has gotten me thinking about the bard again, and the bard's new niche of multiclassing better than anyone else pointed me in the direction of an old favorite character archetype: the battle bard. What is a battle bard? Well, quite simply, it is a bard who is good enough in melee combat to hold his own yet still draw on the versatility that the class offers outside of combat. This is just a collection of my ideas on how to build this type of character, and if this is popular I might turn this character exercise into a series of posts that covers a wide range of not-quite-so-cliche character builds. Ideas and feedback would be much appreciated.

Building the Battle Bard
The Flavor:
What would a battle bard look like? My favorite representation (which I might be borrowing from somewhere, but if so I can't remember the source) is that of a gruff dwarven warrior who we'll call Bofin Battlesinger. Bofin wades into battle singing epic ballads of his ancestors' brave deeds, knowing that his own will be added when the next generation bellows them out. The longer the battle goes on, the closer he gets to singing his father's tale, and woe betide any foes still standing when he recounts his father's death in that deep bass voice nearly cracking with long-suppressed sorrow.

As far as motivations, Bofin sees himself primarily as a protector. Not only is he a warrior and healer, his family's history, recorded in song, is his to safeguard. He feels a touch of guilt that he was not able to protect his father, but realizes that his own life will likely end similarly someday. He wishes to die honorably in battle, fighting for an honorably cause, and holding fast to his ideals to the last breath... but not until his son, heir to the wealth of knowledge and history he holds dear, is old enough to be taught the ballads.

Crunch:
I never played anything like this in 1st or 2nd edition and I'm so far removed from those systems that I wouldn't attempt to provide advice, but I have played it in 3.5 so we'll start there and then move on to some 4E ideas.
  • The simple, straightforward build approach would be to alternate back and forth between fighter and bard until you qualify for the war chanter prestige class (from Complete Warrior). War chanter was made for the fighter/bard combination and although it lacks in spellcasting, it maintains combat effectiveness and continues to improve your bardic music. By going this route, by 20th level you'll end up with Dwarf Bard 5 / Fighter 5 / War Chanter 10, which probably won't lag too far behind a straight fighter in power level.
  • A more optimized build might involve starting as a bard, then multiclassing into paladin and picking up the Devoted Performer feat from Complete Adventurer to mix the otherwise incompatible classes. The dwarf paragon class from Unearthed Arcana is pretty sweet too, and then finishing up with war chanter fits the theme perfectly. With this build (Bard 4 / Paladin 3 / Dwarf Paragon 3 / War Chanter 10), you hit 20th level with a +19 BAB, +14/+9/+9 for saves (plus the charisma bonus from divine grace), some minor spellcasting ability, great party pumping bardic music, and just slightly below average hp for a melee character (which the dwarf's constitution bonus should help out with). Man, it felt good to dig out the old 3.5 stuff again!
  • In 4E, I'd definitely start Bofin as a charisma-focused paladin and then use multiclass feats to pick up bard abilities. I like the idea of this guy being tough as nails, and anything less than a defender just wouldn't fit. The bard and paladin classes seem to compliment one another well, as both classes rely on charisma and the paladin slants a little toward the leader role already. When choosing bard powers, I'd try to stick to those that buff more than one ally at a time, which the paladin doesn't seem to do quite as well.
  • For the paragon path, Hospitaler seems to fit well in my mind. The flavor text at the beginning of the class ("I am... an inspiration to my allies and a fearful visage to my foes."), coupled with the fact that it gives the paladin more leader-like abilities, really makes the class feel like a good fit for Bofin. Although Voice of Thunder is tempting, it just doesn't quite fit the theme.
  • As for the epic destiny, I'm leaning toward the Chosen of Moradin from the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide. There isn't too much difference between it and the Demigod epic destiny, but the Forge of Creation power just looks amazing.
  • For 4E a year from now... I have to admit I've found myself falling head over heels for the new hybrid rules. The more I read about them, the more I like them, even if I haven't actually had the chance to use them yet. Assuming the rules don't change drastically, a Paladin/Bard hybrid might not be half bad. We'll see how things change between now and the release of the Players Handbook 3.
And there we have it... a sample battle bard. You can click on one of these links to check out pdf character sheets of Bofin at level one, at level eleven, and at level twenty one.  As I said before, I'd love to hear whether or not the community would like to see more posts like this in the future. All feedback is greatly appreciated!
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