How many uses of bardic music does the Heartfire Fanner get?

The heartfire fanner (Dragon #314) mentions

the heartfire fanner gains the bardic music ability as a 5th-level bard if he did not already have it

[...]

A heartfire fanner's class levels stack with any bard levels for all bardic music calculations, including the number of uses of bardic music available per day.

How many uses does the Bard 0/Heartfire Fanner 1 get? 1 or 6?

A 1st-level heartfire fanner that didn't already have the bardic music ability from a previous class can use it 5 times per day (like a 5th-level bard).

If the character already had the bardic music ability before entering the prestige class, then he can use it a number of times per day equal to the sum of its bard class levels and its heartfire fanner class levels. For example, a bard 7 / heartfire fanner 1, could use bardic music 8 times per day.

It isn't clear what happens when a 1st-level heartfire fanner that didn't posses bardic music before entering the prestige class levels up in heartfire fanner or bard. The most reasonable possibility / interpretation is that he simply gains 1 more use per day for each level after the 1st.

Dragon #314, page 23:

Bardic Music: At 1st level, the heartfire fanner gains the bardic music ability as a 5th-level bard if he did not already have it from a previous class. [...] A heartfire fanner's class levels stack with any bard levels for all bardic music calculations, including the number of uses of bardic music available per day.

• So my issue here is, it says you count as a 5th-level bard, and then says your bard and heartfire fanner levels stack—so 6th? Except why would you say 5th if it was really 6th? But there really isn’t any exception on it, and it’s not at all clear to me that the ability to count as 5th-level is supposed to overlap with the stacking at 1st—or if it is, that it necessarily doesn't thereafter. I think this is a plausible interpretation, but I don’t think claiming that this is the answer can be justified. Nov 24, 2020 at 14:55
• @KRyan Well, I see those two rules (to count as a 5th-level bard, and to stack your bard and heartfire fanner levels) as mutually exclusive, at least on the first level. If you didn't have bardic music prior to enter the prestige class you apply rule A and count as a 5th-level bard, else you apply rule B and stack your levels. But I guess it's fair to argue that that's just my interpretation. Nov 24, 2020 at 15:08
• What if he is bard1/fanner1/somethingX? Will he get less uses than just fanner1/somethingX+1? Nov 26, 2020 at 15:31
• @annoyingimp It may be absurd, but RAW, yes. You only gain the equivalence to a 5th-level bard if you didn't already have bardic music from a previous class, it's pretty clear in that respect. Nov 26, 2020 at 15:37
• They probably tried to say "... if he did not already have bardic music ability of a 5th-level bard from a previous class", not "... if he did not already have bardic music ability from a previous class" in the first sentence, didn't they? Nov 26, 2020 at 16:03

If forced to give an answer, my guess would be 6. It says you count as a 5th-level bard, and then says your bard levels (which should “count as” 5) stack with your heartfire fanner levels (i.e. 1) to determine various bardic music calculations, including the number of times you can use bardic music. Ignoring a ton of context, this appears to be RAW on the matter.

But I don’t think this is a great approach to understanding the heartfire fanner.

Heartfire fanner: 3e PrC hastily updated to 3.5e?

(With thanks to HeyICanChan for pointing out the possibility, and providing a source for the 3e bard.)

The heartfire fanner has a ton of problems with its wording, and it’s very confusing what things are actually supposed to do, particularly with respect to the bardic music abilities.

To see what I mean, let’s look at the whole ability:

Bardic Music: At 1st level, the heartfire fanner gains the bardic music ability as a 5th-level bard if he did not already have it from a previous class. All the bardic music effects (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage, inspire greatness, inspire heroics, song of freedom, suggestion and mass suggestion) become available to him immediately, subject to their usual Performance skill and level requirements (see Bard). A heartfire fanner's class levels stack with any bard levels for all bardic music calculations, including the number of uses of bardic music available per day. The heartfire fanner with bard levels does not gain the normal bardic music abilities as he advances in heartfire fanner levels.

(Dragon vol. 314 pg. 23)

Specifically, for example, we have these two:

All the bardic music effects (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage, inspire greatness, inspire heroics, song of freedom, suggestion and mass suggestion) become available to him immediately, subject to their usual Performance skill and level requirements (see Bard).

The heartfire fanner with bard levels does not gain the normal bardic music abilities as he advances in heartfire fanner levels.

Those two things are literally direct contradictions of one another. If the parenthetical list in the first sentence only listed those abilities available to a 5th-level bard, we could understand it as giving those abilities—and only those abilities—to a non-bard. But it doesn’t, it explicitly lists abilities that a 5th-level bard cannot have. How does a non-bard heartfire fanner get access to those if they are “subject to their usual [...] level requirements” that they literally cannot meet if heartfire fanner levels themselves don’t help?

How do we reconcile this? We can just ignore it—we can just be like “OK, you get the abilities of a 5th-level bard, and no more, even though it wastes ink explicitly listing abilities you’ll never get.” But that seems ridiculous to me—page space is extremely valuable to any publication. It’s not wasted unnecessarily.

One thing that starts to make sense to me is that maybe the heartfire fanner was originally written as a prestige class based on the original 3e bard. The heartfire fanner is definitely a 3.5e prestige class; it uses 3.5e skills, and Dragon vol. 314 is based in 3.5e—but it’s very early in 3.5e. One of the major features of the issue is a preview of the 3.5e revision for psionics, for example. But Dragon content is often written by freelance contractors, and often sit in a backlog for quite a while. It’s plausible that it was originally for 3e, and got revised for 3.5e.

And the 3e bard didn’t have level requirements on individual bardic music effects, just requirements for Perform ranks. So it made sense that if you counted as a 5th-level bard, you would potentially get access to all of the bardic music abilities, once you got enough Perform ranks.

So if this is, in fact, what happened, it’s very plausible that heartfire fanner was revised quickly for 3.5e. It’s part of a five-page feature credited to a single author, who quite likely had since moved on and then was asked to return to revise it sometime later, after 3.5e was released. And 3.5e may well have been new to the author, as well. So maybe Clifford Horowitz put in “and level” into the bit about Perform requirements, and stuck on the line about not getting the other bardic music abilities as was the new normal for the 3.5e bard, but didn’t really fully reconsider the entire ability from scratch in the new world.

And from that understanding, I am comfortable ignoring the bardic music abilities that are listed but are unavailable to a 5th-level bard. So with that in mind,

If it’s a hastily-edited 3e PrC, what are our uses/day?

Dragon has a lot of PrCs, especially in 3e and the early days of 3.5e, where you get the abilities of some base class you don’t or probably don’t have levels in, and get to skip several levels of the other base class in getting them. The Harmonium peacekeeper from Dragon vol. 315 and ranger-knight of Furyondy from Dragon vol. 317, for example, have you jump 4 or 5 paladin levels to get straight to the special mount. Heartfire fanner is probably best understood as following this mold. And several of those other classes have better, clearer wording. Most importantly, they have explicit examples of how this works.

In those cases, we have explicit wording that the 1st level of the class counts as an Xth-level Y (cf. 5th-level bard for heartfire fanner), and that the level stacking applies after that (so you don’t “double count” 1st level). That seems reasonable to me.

There are definitely distinctions, though, between heartfire fanner and those other classes. For example, heartfire fanner restricts its benefits of gaining 5 levels’ worth of bard to non-bards, while ranger-knight and peacekeeper explicitly allow paladins to also gain the bonus paladin levels that those prestige classes give out. And it doesn’t have explicit wording that says that the 5th-level bard status “is” the level stacking you get for 1st level, so as I said at the outset, the RAW approach would be that you get both right at 1st level, so you count as 6th-level despite it saying 5th-level.

But those things are probably not good approaches to running this class. They cause weird and wonky results, especially for partial bards, or even worse non-bards who take bard levels after their heartfire fanner levels, and they force us to basically ignore what it says about you being 5th level because really you’re 6th level. It just requires ignoring a whole lot of extra context that says this isn’t how things should go. And considering the general wonkiness of that ability in general, relying strictly on its exact wording doesn’t seem like a wise choice.

Conclusion and suggestion

Make heartfire fanner work like ranger-knight et al., and have its “counts as 5th-level bard” be where you start at 1st. Stacking continues thereafter, not immediately that level. And really, in my opinion, you should allow bards to benefit just as well: especially for multiclassed “partial” bards, that’s going to be important to avoid them getting screwed by the strict rules. It also avoids the headache of trying to figure out what happens if a non-bard heartfire fanner then takes levels in bard later.

If you’re concerned about the boost from these prestige classes, I think they should all be treated equally in that regard. My recommendation—assuming you have a problem here, though really personally I haven’t had a problem here—is to treat the benefits from each of these classes akin to Practiced Spellcaster: you get the extra levels, but those bonus levels cannot allow you to exceed your overall character level. Then a single-classed bard gets no benefit from the +5 levels, but a 2nd-level bard/3rd-level whatever at least gets the +3 level to put them in the same place that a non-bard would have been.

• Most of those points are easy to resolve. Immediately means 'on first level'. The features you get are a similarly simple parallel to "advance spellcasting but don't gain features'; you gain the 5-level bard's options on bardic music but a different set of features after that (note the 'as you gain levels'; that was then, this is now). And yes, it is a bardic prestige class directed at non-bards. Nov 24, 2020 at 2:29
• @ThanosMaravel No, they are not easy to resolve. The list of abilities you gain are “All bardic music effects,” and they explicitly do list all of them—not just those available as a 5th-level bard. Why are those listed if not to suggest there is some way a heartfire fanner would get access to them? And being directed at non-bards doesn’t justify shafting multiclassed, “partial” bards, since those would seem to be very much still in the target demo. Nov 24, 2020 at 2:34
• and yet, apparently, they aren't in the target demo. I do stand corrected on what you get, but this is still easy to resolve. You just need to emphasize a different part of the sentence: "does not gain the normal bardic music abilities as he advances in heartfire fanner levels." As in, he gets them in a different manner, as described above. But all of that is besides the point, because it's off topic to the question. Your entire answer's relevant part is "I have no idea if you have 1, 5, or 6 uses of bardic music each day.". Which makes the answer's bulk not terribly conductive. Nov 24, 2020 at 2:41
• @ThanosMaravel The bulk is to emphasize that the entire ability is worded terribly, and is an unresolvable mess. The point of the answer isn’t so much that I don’t know how to answer it, as much as it is that no one knows how to answer, and cannot know how to answer it. That “different part of the sentence” does absolutely nothing useful for us here, because the only “different manner” available here is the ability that lets you count as a 5th-level bard—which could never access most of those abilities. Nov 24, 2020 at 2:51
• @ThanosMaravel Per HeyICanChan’s suggestion about 3e possibilities, I’ve updated this answer with a whole lot more context, which may be more useful in evaluating this situation. Nov 24, 2020 at 17:20