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What are the most powerful Bardic optimized buffing builds, that focus on buffing and strengthening allies, in a practical game?

I'm actually working on building a class, and to learn from and for inspiration I've been researching existing complete (i.e., the full 1st to 20th level) optimized builds that focus on buffing allies. I have found many forum posts asking for advice on what feats, traits, spells, or so on to take, but they only contain advice, and none of them have included a completed 20-level build. I haven't been able to locate any completed builds that revolve around buffing allies.

To narrow things down, right now I'm focusing on hunting down Bardic builds along these lines.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Were you looking for a step-by-step guide to level 20 or advice on higher-end buffing builds? \$\endgroup\$ – Guest Dec 27 '14 at 1:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Guest I have found advice. I am looking for a source of completed builds that I can look at. A step by step guide would be very helpful but is not required. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Dec 28 '14 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ A lot of this is going to vary wildly depending on the group you're trying to buff, which I suspect is at least partially responsible for the lack of completed builds posted to the net, as they'd all be optimized for that specific group of allies, and would likely be somewhat suboptimal with any other group. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Najmon Dec 29 '14 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have ran a couple adventures with buff bards through adventure paths (1-16) and I haven't noticed any difference in the amount or strength of buffs. They all have built differently and they are all just as strong and effective. In general you can focus on buffing, but you will still have room to specialize in other areas. \$\endgroup\$ – DanceSC Dec 31 '14 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is very open and hard to answer with just a single build. Are you accepting multi-classing answers? Also what point buy are you using? \$\endgroup\$ – DanceSC Dec 31 '14 at 0:48
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This is the best guide to the buffer bard that I've seen.

It covers everything from stat & race choices to feats, archetypes, spells, masterpieces, magic items, and strategy

The example build is an Emberkin Aasimar, a worshiper of Serenrae, and a bard (sans archetypes), who uses a banner of the ancient kings (in conjuction with the flagbearer feat) to boost their already impressive buffing potential.

As a highlight of what the build's aiming for:

At level 9 you are going to buff your pals for +9 to attack (+4 inspire courage, +2 master performer and greater, +2 flagbearer and banner, +1 haste), +8 damage (+4 inspire courage, +2 master performer and greater, +2 flagbearer and banner), +30 ft movement speed, +1 attack at their max base attack bonus; this is only the BASIC buffs that came from banner, inspire courage and haste.

You can make your comrades reroll saving throws, you can save them from grapples, from fall damage and you can remove the following conditions: cowering, dazzled, fatigued, exhausted, nauseated, paralyzed, shaken, sickened, stunned; all without wasting actions.

Note, I disagree with some of the author's choices -- for instance, I think that (with many DMs, against many intelligent foes) those flags are very easy to sunder and so are a riskier strategy than I care for -- but when I first encountered this guide I didn't have a sense of what was possible with this sort of build. The guide gave me that, expanded my understanding of the options available, and pointed me toward some largely reasonable choices...some of which I'd stick with and others I've moved on from over time, based on my own play style and the style of DMs I play with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That really is a rather poor guide. There is some very good advice in it, but also a ton of really bad advice mixed in. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be anything better available at the moment, so +1 for the best that could be done in answering this. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Najmon Jan 3 '15 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ < shrug > There's certainly plenty in it that I disagree with, but I feel like it does what a guide should well enough: take you from zero to (1) knowing more possibilities than you did and (2) understanding enough to make some reasonable choices amongst those. That said, I think "excellent" is a stretch. I'll change that. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Fry Jan 19 '15 at 19:45
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I am currently playing as fifth in a fairly optimized and balanced party. I used the above guide for building a support character. My original intention was to build a character capable of trapping, with high UMD and the ability to buff/debuff. However, the advice in that guide led me to develop a toon for whom the buffing is so dramatically effective that trapping and UMD have actually become of secondary importance. Plus, when not in combat, this character really shines, as well, with plenty of social skills and bardic knowledge bonuses.

I am playing a CG Mousetouched Aasimar, and for the first 12 levels I went 2 Rogue/10 Bard. The suggestions for maximizing Inspire Courage were so good that I effectively reached a theoretical maximum for the Inspire Courage buffs (at least using Pathfinder rules/items without digging into 3.P stuff) at +8/+8+1d6 sonic, using Aasimar racial bonuses to bard levels, Flagbearer, Performer/Master Performer, Banner of the Ancient Kings, and Discordant Voice feats/gear. Inspire Courage bonuses seem to cap out at Bard Level 17. Oh, and using the suggestions in that guide, and a coupe of items, I currently have +17 to initiative, so I always act early in the round!

Grease, Create Pit and Web wands, and Silent Image have been fun and suitably chaotic. Plus, I can do some spot healing with scrolls/wands as needed. However, it's the Inspire Courage that has really shined. The impact has been so dramatic, that the DM has had to scale CR levels up to provide a challenge for us. :D

To continue scaling buffs and supporting the real damage dealers in the party, I have decided to take Honor Guard Cavalier for levels 13-15. With Order of the Dragon bonuses, I can share a teamwork feat (e.g., Outflank or Precise Strike) and provide flanking bonuses augmented by Tactical Acumen for hard-to-hit opponents. I will use Summon Monster 3 to summon level 2 small elementals to provide the flanking, as needed (with Haste and Inspire Courage bonuses, they might even hit occasionally). I will use my attacks to Aid Another (AC 10 is a realistic option for melee attacks, as opposed to the often 40+AC we're fighting at these levels), and with Combat Reflexes and the auto-granted Bodyguard feat, I can provide several additional Aid Another every round to provide bonuses to allies' AC as attacks of opportunity. I will also be able to provide some small additional buffs with one Challenge/day.

The remaining five levels I plan to use to provide more survivability for myself, as I tend to draw some aggro b/c of all the benefits I'm providing. Currently I rely on evasion, Bestow Grace scrolls, Shield wands, Blur/Displacement, Mirror Image, and/or Blink. AC is currently about 30 fully buffed, which means I'm pretty easy to hit and saves are kind of mediocre, even when Bestow Grace is adding CHR to all saves. I am taking the Leadership/Monstrous Companion feat at level 13 with Cavalier to obtain a cool mount (e.g., Lammasu at level 14), so I will take some levels of Dragoon Fighter to buff my mounted effectiveness and some levels of Paladin of Freedom for Divine Grace, Lay on Hands (10/day), and Smite Evil 1/day for CHR to AC.

It's been a great support character and a ton of fun to play--really versatile and full of situationally-useful tactics. This utility build is really only limited by your own creativity and the tendency of your GM to try to preserve level appropriate game balance because of the dramatic effects of your awesomeness!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there anyway I could get a copy of your character sheet to look over? \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Sep 10 '15 at 13:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Chuckling at a "Mousetouched" Aasimar. ;0) \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Fry Oct 12 '15 at 1:53

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