Back when we discussed party metabalance we addressed the concept of the “fifth wheel”. This character is the “nice to have” role in the party that sometimes can cover so well as to let a core role go entirely unfilled. Among those “fifth wheel roles” we looked at were debuffers, pet masters and the earliest of them, the buffer or support character. We’ll be looking at some of the more unusual offerings for this role over the next few days. And to get started we’ll be setting a baseline with possibly the most iconic and recognized fifth wheel buffer… the bard.
Buff-et Basics: The Bard
As we look at support class characters we will be comparing them to the Core Rulebook bard’s abilties to benchmark:
- Song of Steel: Medium BAB with a decent but narrow selection of weapons. Light armor rounds out what is probably a “if I must” level of combat participation. Under the effects of their own buffs, they become more capable.
- Song of Magic: 1st-6th medium spell progression. This is deceptive because while these spells are slower and limited in scope, they are FREQUENTLY at skewed levels or have highly specialized significance to the bard.
- Song of Lore: Skill bonus buffs, generous point alottments, and the ability to make Knowledge Checks untrained make the bard a significant skill user. This is a key place where they can fill for gaps in party metablance.
- Song of Support: The big difference and defining feature of the support role bard, bardic performance is a multi-use pool of buffs (and a few debuffs) that can make all the difference for a party. It is worth noting that it gets one of the most variable initial class feature expressions in the entire game. Four uses that aren’t menu options at 1st level. Buffs include Inspire Courage, Inspire Competence, and Inspire Greatness all before 10th level.
- Inspire Courage (Su): A 1st level bard can use his performance to inspire courage in his allies (including himself), bolstering them against fear and improving their combat abilities. To be affected, an ally must be able to perceive the bard’s performance. An affected ally receives a +1 morale bonus on saving throws against charm and fear effects and a +1 competence bonus on attack and weapon damage rolls. At 5th level, and every six bard levels thereafter, this bonus increases by +1, to a maximum of +4 at 17th level. Inspire courage is a mind-affecting ability. inspire courage can use audible or visual components. The bard must choose which component to use when starting his performance.
- Inspire Competence (Su): A bard of 3rd level or higher can use his performance to help an ally succeed at a task. The ally must be within 30 feet and able to see and hear the bard. The ally gets a +2 competence bonus on skill checks with a particular skill as long as she continues to hear the bard’s performance. This bonus increases by +1 for every four levels the bard has attained beyond 3rd (+3 at 7th, +4 at 11th, +5 at 15th, and +6 at 19th).
- Inspire Greatness (Su): A bard of 9th level or higher can use his performance to inspire greatness in himself or a single willing ally within 30 feet, granting extra fighting capability. For every three levels a bard attains beyond 9th, he can target one additional ally while using this performance (up to a maximum of four at 18th level). To inspire greatness, all of the targets must be able to see and hear the bard. A creature inspired with greatness gains 2 bonus Hit Dice (d10s), the commensurate number of temporary hit points (apply the target’s Constitution modifier, if any, to these bonus Hit Dice), a +2 competence bonus on attack rolls, and a +1 competence bonus on Fortitude saves. The bonus Hit Dice count as regular Hit Dice for determining the effect of spells that areHit Dice dependent. Inspire greatness is a mind-affecting ability and it relies on audible and visual components.
These core abilities will form the baseline of our comparisons for our “Visit to the Buff-et,” as we compare some of the more exotic and obscure buffers in the game to our bardic baseline.