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In the group I am DMing there is a bard (level 1), who wants to use the countersong supernatural ability. As far as I understand, it is a defense against audible attacks by an enemy. And the countersong can help the bard's allies.

But I am interested in what specific attacks can be defended against? Any wizard spells that have an audible verbal component? A shouting barbarian trying to intimidate the group during battle? Or just things like "ghost sound" which produce a sound effect where you can do a will save (for disbelief)?

And when can the bard start the performance? As soon as the enemy does the attack? Or just when it's the bard's initiative turn? How would that help his allies (so they can use his performance check instead of their saving roll)?

As you see, I'm quite confused about this supernatural ability, and the docs didn't help me much either.

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The bardic performance countersong gets a lot of flack because most folks think it's useful exclusively versus harpies and sirens the like when, in fact,

Countersong Is Actually Pretty Versatile

I've quoted it below so as to make referencing easier.

[A] bard learns to counter magic effects that depend on sound (but not spells that have verbal components.) Each round of the countersong he makes a Perform (keyboard, percussion, wind, string, or sing) skill check.

So the bard takes a standard action to make a Perform (keyboard, percussion, wind, string, or sing) skill check to start the countersong. Then...

Any creature within 30 feet of the bard (including the bard himself) that is affected by a sonic or language-dependent magical attack may use the bard's Perform check result in place of its saving throw if, after the saving throw is rolled, the Perform check result proves to be higher.

Okay, so that's dumb. Whatever. That's never going to happen. The bard is not going to set up a "countersong shield" in case something sonic or language-dependent happens. He can, of course, but those situations are incredibly rare.

If a creature within range of the countersong is already under the effect of a non-instantaneous sonic or language-dependent magical attack, it gains another saving throw against the effect each round it hears the countersong, but it must use the bard's Perform skill check result for the save. Countersong does not work on effects that don't allow saves. Countersong relies on audible components.

This, however, is incredibly useful. Sonic and language-dependent effects are all over the game, and many of the latter are ongoing and send creatures against their compatriots. Being able to give the fighter another saving throw against the spell suggestion, for example, can be life-saver.

"But How Does the Bard Use It?"

The DM may just tell the characters something like, "When the monster says, 'Defend me from harm,' Regdar turns upon the party," and that's a pretty strong indicator that the effect's language-dependent, but if the DM doesn't make it clear the effect's sonic or language-dependent, the bard may have to identify the effect using conventional means (e.g. Knowledge skill checks, Spellcraft skill checks, previous in-character experience with the monster). The bard (and his party!) will really, really want to identify sonic and language-dependent effects without taking actions--if identification takes a standard action and the bard needs to countersong, he can't until his next turn, and that's too long to wait. The bard should try to become an expert on creatures and effects are vulnerable to his countersong performance so he can start the performance right away.

Once the effect is known to be vulnerable to the countersong performance, the bard takes a standard action to start the countersong. On the affected creature's turn, it gets another saving throw, using the bard's Perform skill check result as the saving throw's result. If the result's high enough the creature's saving throw is successful, and it's as if he succeeded on the saving throw initially.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd say that in some cases the Spellcraft check shouldn't be necessary - If the bard observes an enemy cast something, and then tell the party's fighter to attack the other PCs, and the fighter does - it's a good bet it's a language dependent mind control effect. Similarly, a Sonic energy attack should be just as obvious to an onlooker as the Fire energy aspect of a Fireball - sure, the bard may guess wrongly from time to time, but most cases I can think of should be pretty clear, and he can always just try and see if it works (he doesn't have to recognize the effect to counter it)... \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Sep 10 '14 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @G0BLiN You're right, of course, that the effect will sometimes be obvious, but the problem is not that the countersong will be ineffective and the bardic music rounds wasted, but instead that starting the countersong takes a standard action that the bard could've used to do something useful. That is why I recommended the Spellcraft skill (or another way of determining the effect--that's just the most common). It's never good to waste actions when one needn't. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 10 '14 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with you, that's much more efficient. I'm gently suggesting to make it more clear that the spellcraft check isn't an inherent part of countersong (the bard just need to use a standard action for that). The preceding spellcraft check is simply a recommended and more effective way to go. It can be confusing, since for the similarly named counterspell you normally must identify the effect before countering... \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Sep 11 '14 at 8:54

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