PHB2 Class Review: Bard On the Run

Macca would totally play a bard.

Macca would totally play a bard.

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!)

20 Responses to PHB2 Class Review: Bard On the Run

  1. It’s weird they deleted Melf, Tasha, and Otto but kept Bigby, Evard and Mordenkainen. I’m sensing political intrigue, or maybe it was just the layoffs WotC experienced recently. I mean, how many epic magic users of legend do you really need on staff?

    I guess it is all moot though, since I tend to claim ownership of all my spells and prayers from here on out. There must be some sort of power bonus to Intimidate after casting Samel’s Thunderwave as opposed to just vanilla Thunderwave.

  2. I hear also that Bards can take MULTIPLE multiclass feat? Now THAT is scary.

    Tasha was what Iggwilv went by! Tasha is my HOMEGIRL because Iggwilv is my favorite.

    This is the real problem with the bard, though: funny freaking songs. I GET the legends, I get the history, but can you please create a class that doesn’t require Monty Python quotes?!

    Oh, also– more in the “weird effects unattached to plausible descriptions,” I’m sure– everyone is…invisible…because…your song…makes…flashes of blue light?! I’d like some classes with un-videogame effects, myself.

  3. In the bard’s defense, there’s only one funny song. And the rest have pretty cool flavor text, like, “You chant a verse of a saga about a mighty hero,” and everyone gets +2 damage or something.

    As far as the invisibility and stuff, bard’s are actually spell casters. While some of the effects are more natural, like just inspiring people with a good song, many of the more esoteric effects are really spells channeled through song. Which is no different than 3rd edition bards and their access to the arcane spell lists.

  4. I think his point was more about the disconnect from the spell’s flavor description and it’s actual effect. Blue lights do not mean invisibility, and older editions had spells that just made blue lights for the sake of blue lights and invisibility spells that granted invisibility. Giving a spell that causes one thing according to the game a description that
    looks like something else in the setting is bad in my book.

  5. What “flashes of blue lights” are you talking about? I think he’s referring to “Invisible Troupe,” the flavor text of which reads “As you whisper a word, you and your allies fade from view.” Not exactly amazing flavor text, but it isn’t any more strange than 90% of the abilities from the more fantastic power sources.

  6. Bards CAN take any number of Multiclass feats, which enhances their versatility immensely, and sounds a lot worse than it is.

    You could have basic multiclass feats from any number of classes (modeling a lot of breadth of knowledge), but you have to qualify for them, you’re burning feats to do it, and most importantly, you can still only get ONE Novice, Acolyte, and Adept Power feat. Still, having a number of them does open up lots of Encounter power slots, which can’t help but be yummy. Combine that with, for instance, the Warlock dual-pact feat and you can get some very bizarre combinations.

    I love the new Bard, and I’ve NEVER liked bards.

  7. I’m referring to the Flashes of blue light he refferred to. I haven’t read the PH2, but from what I have read there seems to be a greater disconnect between flavor and rules in fourth ed.

  8. I’m referring to the Flashes of blue light he referred to. I haven’t read the PH2, but from what I have read there seems to be a greater disconnect between flavor and rules in fourth ed.

    Now with improved spelling!

  9. Well, She’s a poet with initials instead of a first name, which means she’s probably very artistic, which means she’s communist, and therefore untrustworthy. SAVE ME NORSEMAN!

  10. Seriously, whenever some news anchor uses disconnect as a noun, I come *this close* to reaching right through the screen to strangle them with my bare hands.

    Just because it’s in a dictionary doesn’t mean it’s right. We can fix this, people! Stop using disconnect as a noun!

  11. I mostly meant, as a rule, that in 4e I absolutely MUST ignore the flavor-text & description of the various powers; too many glowing swords & spectral multi-coloured flames & whatnot. No subtlety at all!

  12. Overall, I like the new bard in PH2 – I played a bard in our last campaign, and she was known for charging into melee combat yelling/singing a norse saga about a$$kicking. The new 4E bard seems to fit into my imaging of a bard better than the previous editions – maybe bards can get a little respect now!

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