Last Updated: March 27, 2022
The Bard is among the most versatile classes in the game, capable of filling nearly any role in the party, but the Bard’s definitive abilities are focused on support and utility. Inspire Courage is among the most iconic and effective support effects in Pathfinder, but it is only of the Bard’s numerous excellent abilities.
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RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options whichare extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- Orange: OK options, or useful optionsthat only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- Green: Good options. Useful often.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essentialto the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
Bard Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points is difficult,especially in light armor and without the Rogue’s absurd Dexterity.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB is enough forthe Bard to hold their own in combat.
Saves: Good Reflex and Will saves.
Proficiencies: Light armor and shields,and a small selection of martial weapons including the Longsword andRapier.This gives the Bard enough options to get the job done, but the Bard’s ACwill generally be poor. For some reason the Bard gets proficiency with theWhip.
Skills: 6+ skill ranks, and a skill listas long as your arm. The Bard gets all Knowledge skills as class skills,andBardic Knowledge adds a heft bonus to Knowledge checks, making the Bard oneof the easiest Librarians in the game with only a few skill ranks.
Spells: Despite being only a 2/3 caster,the Bard’s spells are fantastic. The Bard’s spell are arcane, but includeCure spells, and have a lot of excellent options which are only availabletothe Bard.
Bardic Knowledge (Ex):
Bardic Performance: Fantastic andversatile, Bardic Performance is the Bard’s primary option in combat. Thereare numerous feats which can enhance Bardic Performance, and any Bard whodoesn’t take Lingering Performance is doing themselves a huge disservice.Asyou grow in level you can perform as smaller actions, allowing you toquickly cycle songs and rely on Lingering Performance to keep their effectsrunning without expending performance rounds. The biggest limitation onBardic performance is that a bard cannot have more than one bardicperformance in effect at one time.
- Countersong (Su): Very situational.
- Distraction (Su): More useful thanCountersong, but still very situational.
- Fascinate (Su): A surprisingly usefulway to distract enemies or defuse combat. This has saved my life a fewtimes when my party was in bad shaped and got ambushed by enemies.
- Inspire Courage (Su): The Bard’s breadand butter. Inspire Courage will make up the majority of your BardicPerformance uses, and will consume the majority of your performanceroundsper day. It’s important to note that Inspire Courage’s bonuses to attackand damage are competence bonuses rather than morale bonuses, which meansthat they will stack with many spells like Bless,
- Inspire Competence (Su): Use this forevery skill check (except Stealth obviously). The scaling bonus willalways be useful, and can significantly improve your party’sreliability.
- Suggestion (Sp): With an hours perlevelduration, Suggestion can be a great way to circumvent combat. UseFascinate to calm enemies, then use Suggestion to politely Suggest thatthey go hang out somewhere out of the way for a few hours.
- Dirge of Doom (Su): Though it doesn’tstack with other fear effects, this is a great way to debuff enemiesbefore you allies drop save or suck effects. Note that Dirge of Doomdoesn’t allow a saving throw.
- Inspire Greatness (Su): This ability isfantastic. 2d10 temporary hit points are great, especially because thetarget(s) get to add their constitution modifier. There is no extra costto start a new performance, so you can end then immediately restart thisperformance whenever the temporary hit points are consumed. By this levelyou can start a performance as move action, and it gets even easier whenyou hit level 13 and can start a performance as a Swift action. Note thatthe attack bonus is a competence bonus, so it won’t stack with InspireCourage’s bonus to attacks.
- Soothing Performance (Su): The MassCure spells generally aren’t great, but this only costs 4 BardicPerformance round for the equivalent of a 7th-level spell. At this levelyou have plenty of performance rounds to throw around, so you should beable to spare a few to patch up the party between fights.
- Frightening Tune (Sp): For one round ofperformance you can make every enemy in a fight run away. Even if thisonly affects a few of the enemies in a fight, you can do this as a Swiftaction and disable huge portions of encounters.
- Inspire Heroics (Su): +4 to AC andsaves is pretty great, but you will only be able to affect two creaturesat most.
- Mass Suggestion (Sp): A bit morepowerful and versatile than Frightening Tune, but you can’t use it aseasily in combat.
- Deadly Performance (Su): Save or die asa full round action that costs only one performance round. You way wanttostart the round with Fascinate as a swift action to keep the target inplace.
Cantrips: Cantrips are always amazing.
Versatile Performance (Ex): VersatilePerformance allows the Bard to pick up additional skills while using theirPerform modifier in place of their potentially lower modifier to theoriginal skill. When selecting your Versatile Performance skills, be suretoavoid duplicates. The Bard gets their second Versatile Performance at level6, but there is very little need for more than two, so no one would faultyou for only taking two performance skills.
- Act (Bluff, Disguise): Disguise isvery situational, and you can completely replace it with DisguiseSelf.
- Comedy (Bluff, Intimidate): Covers twoessential social skills. Combines well with Oratory.
- Dance (Acrobatics, Fly): Acrobatics isvery situational unless you plan to do a lot of Tumbling, and it’s nearlyimpossible to justify more than one rank in Fly.
- Keyboard Instruments (Diplomacy,Intimidate): Covers two essential social skills. Combines well withSing.
- Oratory (Diplomacy, Sense Motive):Covers two essential social skills, and Sense Motive is based on theBard’s relatively low Wisdom. Combines well with Comedy.
- Percussion (Handle Animal,Intimidate): Animals aren’t really important to the Bard.
- Sing (Bluff, Sense Motive): Covers twoessential social skills, and Sense Motive is based on the Bard’srelatively low Wisdom. Combines well with Keyboard Instruments.
- String (Bluff, Diplomacy): Covers twoessential social skills, but doesn’t have a secondary choice which coversthe other social skills.
- Wind (Diplomacy, Handle Animal):Animals aren’t really important to the Bard.
Well-Versed (Ex): Very situational.
Lore Master (Ex): Makes the Bardperfectlyreliable as a Librarian. With one rank in every Knowledge skill and BardicKnowledge you can expect to consistently pass most Knowledge checks.
Jack-of-All-Trades (Ex): Be good atliterally every skill.
Charisma is the Bard’s most important ability for both .
Str: Good for melee or bow damage, butthe Bard needs Dexterity to fix their poor AC, and they can’t be good atevery ability.
Dex: With light armor Dexterity isessential. Take Weapon Finesse if you plan to be in melee.
Con: Fortitude is the Bard’s only badsave and with only d8 hit points the Bard really needs Constitution.
Int: More skill ranks are great for theBard’s huge skill list.
Wis: Only needed for Will saves, andtheBard gets good Will saves.
Cha: Essential for the Bard’sspellcasting, social skills, and Perform.
25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
Bonuses to Charisma are fantastic, and a favored class bonus which offers additional performance rounds can go a long way to improve the Bard’s support abilities.
Dwarf: The Charisma penalty hurts, and theDwarf doesn’t really offer anything useful for the Bard.
Elf: Despite lacking a bonus toCharisma,the Elf’s bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence can be very helpful for theBard.
Gnome: The bonuses to Constitution andCharisma are both great for the Bard, and the Gnome’s bonus to illusionspells is nice for the Bard’s spell list. The Gnome favored class bonusgrants some much-needed performance rounds.
Half-Elf: A flexible ability bonus isalways helpful, and Skill Focus is great with Versatile Performance. TheHalf-Elf favored class bonus grants some much-needed performance rounds,andyou can take the Human favored class bonus to learn additional spells..
Half-Orc: A very different feel from theHalf-Elf but many of the same benefits. The Half-Orc favored class bonusgrants some much-needed performance rounds, and you can take the Humanfavored class bonus to learn additional spells.
Halfling: The Halfling’s Dexterity andCharisma bonuses are great for the Bard, and the Halfling’s other abilitieshelp the Bard serve as a Scout. Unfortunately the Halfling favored classbonus is pretty terrible.
Human: A bonus feat and a flexibleabilitybonus are both great for the Bard, and the Human’s bonus skill ranks helpfill out the Bard’s skill list. The Human favored class bonus allows you toexpand the Bard’s very limited number of spells known. This extraversatility can make the Bard a very potent spellcaster.
- Acrobatics (Dex): Only useful if youplan to tumble.
- Appraise (Int): Too situational.
- Bluff (Cha): Essential for the party’sFace, but it’s easier to cover this with Versatile Performance.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for theparty’s Face, but it’s easier to cover this with VersatilePerformance.
- Disguise (Cha): Too situational, and theBard can cast Disguise Self.
- Escape Artist (Dex): Too situational.
- Intimidate (Cha): Essential for theparty’s Face, but it’s easier to cover this with VersatilePerformance.
- Knowledge (all) (Int): Bardic Knowledgeadds a nice bonus, but it can’t compete with actual skill ranks. Even onerank in each Knowledge skill will make the Bard a formidableLibrarian.
- Linguistics (Int): The Bard can castTongues.
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skillin the game.
- Perform (Cha): Pick two from theVersatile Performance list which cover all four social skills. Comedy andOratory or Keyboard and Sing.
- Sense Motive (Wis): Essential for theparty’s Face, but it’s easier to cover this with Versatile Performance,and Versatile performance won’t make you use the Bard’s relatively lowWisdom.
- Sleight of Hand (Dex): Toosituational.
- Spellcraft (Int): Good for identifyingspells and magic items.
- Stealth (Dex): Essential if you plantobe a Scout.
- Use Magic Device (Cha): The bardalready has formidable magical abilities, but UMD can allow you to use alot of interesting items, including scrolls and wands of spells not ontheBard spell list.
- Arcane Strike: A good way to spendyourswift action to get a small attack bonus and a scaling damage boost, butit’s not good enough that you need to make an effort to fit it into yourbuild.
- Discordant Voice: This applies wheneveryou use Bardic Performance to create a Supernatural or Spell-Like effect.That is literally every Bardic Performance ability. 1d6 damage isn’t aton, but almost nothing resists sonic damage.
- Dodge: The Bard’s AC is generally poor,and a +1 dodge bonus helps a bit.
- Murderer’s Circle: Only useful ifyouuse the performance combat rules.
- Extra Performance: You will get abetter return by selecting a race which offers extra performance roundsasa favored class ability.
- Harmonic Sage: Lingering Performance isbetter.
- Intimidating Performance: Completelyredundant with Versatile Performance.
- Leaf Singer: Situational, and not veryuseful.
- Lingering Performance: With a bit ofplanning this can effectively triple your performance rounds per day.Unfortunately this does not allow you to run multiple songs at once: “Abard cannot have more than one bardic performance in effect at onetime.”
- Master Combat Performer: Only useful ifyou use the performance combat rules.
- Mocking Dance: Only useful if you usetheperformance combat rules.
- Spellsong: The ability to concentrateon a spell as a move action offers some interesting options, but very fewBard spells require concentration.
- Stone Singer: Situational, and not veryuseful.
- War Singer: Situational, and not veryuseful.
- Dazzling Display: Only useful if you usethe performance combat rules.
- Dramatic Display: Only useful if youuse the performance combat rules.
- Hero’s Display: Only useful if youuse the performance combat rules.
- Masterful Display: Only useful ifyouuse the performance combat rules.
- Performing Combatant: Only useful ifyou use the performance combat rules.
- Savage Display: Only useful if youuse the performance combat rules.
- Light Crossbow: A good ranged optionfor Bards with poor Strength, but you’ll need an extra feat to competewith the Shortbow.
- Longsword: The easiest option, butrequires more Strength than the Bard usually has to be truly effective.You can use Slashing Grace with the longsword to make it a bit moreeffective.
- Rapier: Weapon Finesse makes the rapierviable at level 1, though your damage will be poor. Even if you’reStrength-based it’s probably your best bet for the critical threatrange.
- Shortbow: Likely your best option if youplan to fight at range.
- Whip: The whip is a very interestingoption, but it’s completely useless without Whip Mastery, and you willprobably want to pick up Weapon Finesse and Slashing Grace to get somedecent damage.
- Studded Leather: Starting Armor
- Heavy Shield: More AC than a buckler,but you may need to go without a weapon while you cast spells, and youmayneed to drop it to use a musical instrument.
- Chain Shirt: A mithral shirt will lastyour whole career.
- Buckler: A cheap and easy bonus to AC,and it won’t prevent your hand for instruments of weapons.
This section won’t address every spell on your spell list, but it will point out some especially notable options. For a complete list of spells, see the SRD Spell Index.
- Compel Hostility: With a handful ofexceptions, bards aren’t tanks, so this isn’t a fantastic option.However,you can use it each round and force a new Will save, which might be ahelpful way to take some attention off of a party member who’s runninglowon hit points. Even at higher levels when your save DC is lagging, youmight still be able to succeed a few times against large bulky creatureslike giants which tend to have poor Will saves.
- Cure Light Wounds: A great way to spendyour spell slots at the end of the day, and a great way to complementwhatever other healing resources are available to your party.
- Ear-piercing Scream: Most of the Bard’sspells target Will saves, so a save-or-suck that targets Fortitude savescan be a huge asset against enemy spellcasters. The damage isn’t great,but you’re here for the Stun effect, not for the damage.
- Grease: Stunningly good area control atany level. A DC 10 Acrobatics check doesn’t sound like much, but very fewmonsters have ranks in Acrobatics, so a straight Dexterity check has ahigh chance of failure even for high-CR monsters.
- Sleep: At 1st and 2nd level, Sleep isyour go-to save-or-suck spell. You’ll be able to keep up with fullcastersat this level, too, which is really helpful since you’ll likely be tooweak to be a major threat with a weapon.
- Timely Inspiration: The bonus isn’thuge, even at high levels, but it’s enough that at high levels you canturn a narrow miss into a hit at the cost of a 1st-level spell. Iwouldn’trush to grab this at low levels, but at higher levels you might retrainanother 1st-level spell (like Sleep) to get this instead.
- Blistering Invective: Turn Intimidateinto an AOE debuff, and possibly set enemies on fire.
- Cure Moderate Wounds: Use Cure Light inemergencies, and use Path of Glory to recover hit points during downtime.
- Gallant Inspiration: TimelyInspirationwith a 2d4 bonus instead of the fixed, scaling bonus. Until you hit 15thlevel this will always provide a bonus at least as high, and at anaverageof +5 this could make a big difference. However, it feels deeplyfrustrating to add 2d4, roll poorly, and still fail after burning a spellslot.
- Glitterdust: Great at any level, thisisone of the most effective ways to counter invisible creatures.
- Heroism: Somewhat redundant withInspire Courage, but at 10 minutes/level duration this may still beuseful. If your party doesn’t have a lot of martial characters, use thisto buff whoever wants it and use Bardic Music to do something other thanInspire Courage. This provides a Morale bonus, so Courageous weapons canimprove the bonus.
- Invisibility: Too useful to forgo.
- Mirror Image: One of the best and mostreliable ways to use magic in place of a decent AC.
- Path of Glory: A great way to heal theparty, but don’t both using it in combat. Even if you have more than fourparty members, remember that you can all squeeze into the four squarescreated at the beginning of the spell so that everyone gets as muchhealing as possible. This is dramatically more efficient than CureModerate Wounds.
- Silence: Cast it on the fighterstompingaround in full plate, and you’ve suddenly got a sneaky party.
- Sound Burst: AOE stun, but it’s rarethat you’ll face clustered enemies with poor Fortitude saves soEar-piercing Scream fills the same function.
- Tongues: You’re almost certainly theFace in your party, and this can almost entirely replace the Linguisticsskill.
- Dispel Magic: Every party needs someonewho can cast Dispel Magic, and since it’s not DC-dependent the Bard isjust as good as everyone else.
- Gaseous Form: A great way to safelysneak in or out of somewhere and to look around without drawingattention.
- Good Hope: +2 morale bonus tobasicallyevery d20 roll and to damage rolls. Inspire Courage will usually do thejob fine, but you can combine the two (with the some minor overlap) formore bonuses.
- Haste: One of the best buffs in thegamefor martial characters.
- Invisibility Sphere: Combined withsilence, you can make your entire party basically undetectable.
- Jester’s Jaunt: Teleporting an ally ashort distance is a great way to get them out of a grapple or a badlocation, but this spell isn’t listed Harmless, so RAW your allies stillneed to make a Will save even if you’re using it to help them. This spellis written to be used offensively rather than to directly affect allies,but your GM might be generous enough to allow your allies to voluntarilyfail the save.
- Mad Monkeys: Comical and amusing, butsituational.
- Phantom Steed: A solid option forlong-distance travel if teleportation isn’t available, and once yourmountcan fly it becomes a useful asset in combat, too.
- Purging Finale: Removing many of theseconditions typically requires much higher-level spells. Once you canactivate Bardic Music as a swift action, you can start them immediatelyend a song to help allies recover from problematic status conditions. Youcould even use this to help mounts march indefinitely. I’m not entirelycertain, but removing status conditions like cowering and exchaustedshould also remove lesser version of those conditions like shaken andfatigured. Check with your GM.
- Remove Curse: Situational. Save thisfor clerics and NPC spellcasters.
- Reviving Finale: 2d6 hit points is notenough for a 3rd-level spell slot. Cast Path of Glory or somethinginstead.
- See Invisibility: Fantastic, butGlitterdust is usually sufficient.
- Tiny Hut: Primarily intended as a safeplace to rest, but the Tiny Hut can also serve as a fox hole for rangedallies like archer rogues and spellcasters who function best at range anddon’t want to be easy to attack.
- Break Enchantment: An essential way toremove debuffs and permanent status conditions.
- Dance of a Hundred Cuts: A fantasticbuff for melee bards, but if you skip attacking in a given turn you needto remember to move or the spell ends.
- Dimension Door: No somatic componentsmeans that you can easily use this to get out of a grapple.
- Echolocation: Blindsense is great, and10 minutes/level duration will last a long time.
- Freedom of Movement: Situational, butessential if you’re facing lots of enemies that like to grapple.
- Heroic Finale: Give up your ownstandard action to give one to someone else. The action economy isn’tgreat, but sometimes you need an ally to do something you can’t do onyourown.
- Invisibility, Greater: A great way tohelp rogues and other squishy allies who don’t want to be attacked.
- Path of Glory, Greater: 5 hit pointsper ally per round is pretty good, and even at rounds/level duration youcan easily get your whole party to full hit points with one spell.
- Phantom Steed, Communal: Just castPhantom Steed more times.
- Primal Scream: Situational.
- Secure Shelter: A more pleasant place torest than a Tiny Hut, but it lacks the ability to serve as a fox holeduring combat.
- Shadow Conjuration: Fantastic andversatile.
- Shadow Step: Dimension Door has a longerrange and doesn’t require somatic components.
- Virtuoso Performance: This is toocostly to use frequently, but it could work in major fights whereplanningto rest afterward.
- Bard’s Escape: This is less of anescape, and more of a rapid repositioning. It’s not a bad spell, but it’spoorly described and it’s very situational.
- Cloak of Dreams: Save-or-suck on everyenemy within 5 feet of you every round for rounds/level. If you’re inmelee against multiple foes this is an absolutely devastating spell.
- Dispel Magic, Greater: Just asessentialas Dispel Magic, and the maximum bonus is higher.
- Frozen Note: Hit Dice are a hardmetricto predict because they don’t map to CR on a one-to-one basis. Creatureshave an average number of hit dice 1-2 higher than their CR at any givenCR, so unless you’re facing a large number of considerably weak creaturesyou should expect enemies to still get a save. Still, I can’t think ofmany ways that a bard can easily lock down an entire encounter with asingle spell/
- Shadow Evocation: Fantastic andversatile.
- Shadow Walk: Neat, but Teleportationisfaster and other spellcasters can cast Teleport by this level.
- Shadowbard: Much better than VirtuosoPerformance. This lets you stack two songs (or three if you use bothspells) without eating any of your Bardic Music rounds.
- Stunning Finale: Stunning an enemy isgreat, but by this level your save DCs are lagging far enough behind fullcasters that you may have trouble getting enemies to fail their savingthrows.
- Brilliant Inspiration: 5e-styleAdvantage on every attack roll, ability check, and skill check (no savingthrows, sadly). You actually want to avoid natural 20’s, which is weird,but until that happens this can give your ally a dramatic boost ineffectiveness.
- Dance of a Thousand Cuts: Combines theeffects of two of the best buffs a melee bard could possibly hope for.
- Getaway: This is what Bard’s Escapeshould do. You need to pre-cast this, but you can easily do it before yougo on an adventure or at the entrance of a dungeon to make sure you havesomewhere safe to go when your party needs to bail.
- Heroes’ Feast: A solid all-day buff,and starting the day with some temporary hit points can do a lot to keepyou alive.
- Magnifying Chime: A decent AOE damagespell, but it takes time to ramp up. Your best bet is to cast the spell,have an ally throw the affected object into a room, close the door, thenstart the scaling damage and hope that whatever is on the other side ofthe door dies before the door vibrated apart.
- Overwhelming Presence: Frozen Note isbetter and the DC will only be 1 lower, though Overwhelming Presence’srange is much larger.
- Sonic Form: Novel, and the sonicdamage touch attack is passable, but the defensive benefits won’t mattermuch at this level because so many enemies will have magic attacks.
- Allying (+1): Even if you’re builtforweapon combat, you’re still going to spend a lot of turns in combatcasting spells or using other special abilities. In these cases, passyourweapon’s enhancement bonus off to a friend. I wouldn’t pick this upunlessyou’re planning to get at least a +2 enhancement bonus because the effectwon’t be great enough to justify the cost.
- Courageous (+1): Bards have a lot ofgreat options to get morale bonuses, so a +1 Courageous weapon can do alot for a bard.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless youhave heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most+5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need fromyour armor is AC. For more, check out myPractical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Clawhand Shield (8,158 gp): This is aweird item. It’s a bit more expensive than your typical +2 shield, so itmay not be worth the cost compared to a mithral buckler. However, itallows you to perform somatic components with the hand holding theshield,which means that you can hold a weapon in your other hand without issue,and because it has no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure anyonecan use it without issue. The ability to automatically damage enemieswhile in a grapple is a helpful deterrent for small or physical weakcharacters, but ion’t go looking for excuses to use it.
It’s difficult to recommend specific staffs without knowing your individual character, so instead I want to make a general endorsement of the concept of magic staffs in Pathfinder. If you are a 3.5 native, go read Pathfinder’s rules for staffs because they have improved dramatically.
Staffs are a reliable, rechargeable source of extra spellcasting that can give spellcasters easy and reliable access to spells from their spell list which they might not want to learn, or which they might like to use so frequently that they can’t prepare the spell enough times in a given day. On days when you’re not adventuring (traveling, resting, etc.) you can easily recharge any staff even if you can only cast one of the spells which the staff contains.
- Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial toforego.
- Circlet of Persuasion: +3 bonus to allCharisma-based skills at 4,500gp is amazing. For a conventional Facecharacter it’s a fantastic item, but because bards use VersatilePerformance for most of their skills you can easily apply this bonus toall of your skill checks.
- Headband of Alluring Charisma:Essential.