The bard is a class often mocked by those who don’t understand. “Just stand in the back and sing.” But those who play and love the bard, whatever the edition, adore the class’s versatility and fiercely defend its utility in any adventuring party. And the 4E bard might be the best version yet.
I got sidetracked from the Player’s Handbook 2 class reviews, but fear not. We’ll be finishing out the new classes this week (and just in time for Arcane Power). The bard is a leader with strong control and some healing abilities, all derived from the arcane power source. Many bard powers offer some of the strongest buffs and debuffs we’ve seen so far.
As an aside, is it just me or does the whole “power source” thing in 4E seem a bit underdeveloped? Thus far, it seems to function mostly as flavor, which is fine, but they’ve also gone out of their way to balance the various power sources among the classes. I keep waiting to see powers that reference the power sources, something like:
Disrupt the Weave. Level 5 Daily Spell. Close burst 2. Int vs. Will. 3d6 + Intelligence psychic damage. Targets with the arcane power source suffer -2 to attack rolls (save ends).
Anyway, back to the bard. There are two defining aspects of bards. One is that they are jacks (or jills) of all trades. As such, they have the widest selection of class skills of any class, and they get a +1 to all untrained skills. Not bad, especially if your DM favors skill challenges. The bard’s other role has always been buffing the party, boosting their attack rolls, skill checks, damage and even saving throws. Right out of the gate, the 4E bard is great at this.
Just using at-will powers, a bard can give an enemy a -2 to attack rolls or -2 to defenses. That’s almost enough to sell me on the bard by itself. Attack bonuses are precious, precious things in 4th edition, so dropping an enemy’s defense is solid gold. Of course, as the bard levels up, it only gets better. You can create entire zones that buff your teammates (and with some careful action juggling, you could have two or three going at once). You can make your friends invisible, give them major bonuses on skill checks, heal them, bring them back from the brink of death and even disguise them.
On the offensive side of things, bards don’t do a ton of damage. They are very effective at battlefield shaping, with a lot of powers that slide enemies and allies and give your buddies free basic attacks, often at a significant bonus. I particularly like the level 19 daily spell Increasing the Tempo, which gives one of your allies four basic attacks. I would almost go so far as to say that the bard is better at this role than the warlord, although warlords deal more damage.
Some classic D&D spells make their reappearance in the game in the bard’s powers list, although for some reason they’ve stripped away the old flavorful names. Tasha’s Hideous Laughter shows up as the level 9 daily Hideous Laughter, and Otto’s Irresistable Dance becomes simply Irresistable Dance. I say, “Boooooo!” to whoever made the decision to delete Tasha and Otto from D&D. I always loved the way those spell names implied a rich backstory of elder wizards who became famous for the magics they invented. You’ll also find Veil and a few other spells bouncing over from 3rd edition more or less unchanged.
One other bard power bears mentioning. There’s a class of debuffs known as satires – the bard mocks her enemies’ abilities by singing about them in a sarcastic manner, which apparently damages their morale. At level 5, you get Satire of Bravery. I guarantee that every time this power has been and ever will be used in a typical D&D group, it will be accompanied by at least a line or two from the Tale of Brave Sir Robin, if not a rousing chorus of the entire song.
Brave Sir Robin ran away,
Bravely ran away away.
When Danger reared its ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
(No! I didn’t!)