Last weekend I got to play a bard character in our weekly game. This was a treat because I am usually the DM, but a player had an adventure idea he wanted to run. Anyway, overall I was disappointed in the bard's abilities in combat.
1. Moderate base attack became a problem against most enemies we encountered. My bard used a whip and serveral times tried to disarm or trip opponents, and never succeeded. I tried to give myself every advantage (bardic music, magic weapon, Invisibility, Improved feats) but completely failed to have even a modest showing in melee. I can partly attribute this to the particularly challenging monsters the DM used.
2. Bardic music group bonuses were a great help, and several times gave the group's paladin bonuses at critical points. Some of the abilities are still unclear as to what action it took for the effect, so I used a standard action unless it was clear otherwise.
3. Bardic music attacks were also useful and fun to roleplay. I managed to use Paralyzing Song on one enemy out of four in one encounter, and Frightening Tune on one enemy out of five in another.
4. Spells were slightly frustrating but on average useful. Most commonly I relied on Greater Invisibility, followed by Mass Suggestion (which never worked). Haste let me get into position for attacks with the whip and to get the right range for my bardic music effects and attacks. The frustrating part was feeling handicapped at doing damage, though looking back I had the options of buying wands and using my UMD skill, or summoning spells.
5. Skills were difficult to assign. Like another poster, I chose a human bard with a +3 modifier, and still felt I was leaving out needed ranks. Taking Perception and Perform to the max, I spread a great remainder of ranks between one or two high Knowledge skills and a few low ones to make use of the class Lore ability. Except for some low rolls during play, this worked well. Taking 20 on a knowledge check once in a while brought back that feeling that the Bard really did pick up some odd bits of lore. Acrobatics worked nicely, too.
Overall, I felt this play experience pointed out exactly the traits that make the Bard a support class. It did fill the skill monkey role adequately, but is a poor choice for melee, and especially poor as a caster (apart from buffing spells). It is also adequate at battlefield control, as long as those targets share a language with you. On a side note, the bardic Inspire Courage wasn't as beneficial to the paladin (already immune to fear and charm) but I can't think of a more suitable alternative.
|Purple Dragon Knight|
Great report Vendle!
I'm having almost the same experience as you with playtests I've done with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 10th level bards. I find that the class would really bite with a low INT score, so in all playtests, I've used a high INT bard (i.e. it always comes down to high INT and CHA, as far as I can tell... in my latest playtest - 5th level bard - I have come to fully accept his melee weakness and gave him a STR score of 8 to further improve INT and CHA; I use a 25 pt build, of course... anything lower make a bard completely useless).
Bard is a fun class to play, but I agree it is frustrating to play in melee, especially due to the fact that the only options for feats selection are melee feats! LOL! (i.e. I thought about metamagic feats, but as you concluded, realized their limited effectiveness both due to full round casting AND ridiculously low DCs that can be overcome by almost all NPCs/monsters...)
My latest, most optimized feats selection is: Dodge, Mobility, Agile Manoeuvre and Combat Expertise
Agile Manoeuvre is actually the saving grace of the bard as far as I can tell: with a DEX of 16, at 5th level with BAB 3, your CMB is 6, and it goes up to 8 with a whip when disarming, and 9 if you count the MW or +1 magical bonus... I'm not sure if you're supposed to, but what the heck... it's like an attack roll after all, with failures on 1 and auto succes on 20... right? ;) So with Agile Manoeuvre, you no longer need Weapon Finesse!!! (which is fine by me, 'cause it's only useful if you want to deal damage, and we all know how much damage a guy with a STR of 8 could do... therefore, the bard's time is better spent trying to disarm with his whip at +9 or trying to trip at +7... and it's nice that you can do that from the back seat of the party, from a safe distance of 15 feet... :) )
Ironically, Combat Expertise is now very useful to bards, especially if you cave in and resign yourself to build high INT bards... :P