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I'm building a bard for DND 3.5. I am trying to plan my feats out into the future. We expect to play this campaign to level 20 over the course of 5-6 years.

Roleplaying wise, my character is the caster / face of the party. We are playing a low-power campaign (i.e. no tier 1 or tier 2 classes). I've typically played him as a bit of a coward, who only uses his sword when absolutely necessary. He prefers to stay in the back lines, do buffing/debuffing/crowd-control, and not get near any bloodshed.

My DM initially started as core-book only, but has opened up splat books on a case-by-case basis.

He may allow something from dragon magazines if it is reasonable, but I haven't been able to research that at all.

  • Stats:
    • Str: 12
    • Dex: 14
    • Con: 14
    • Int: 14
    • Wis: 8
    • Cha: 16
  • Race: Human
  • Primary Skills:
    • Concentration
    • Diplomacy
    • Speak Languages
    • Perform
    • Use Magic Device
    • Knowledges
  • Weapons
    • Bow, Composite
    • Whip (For tripping, or knocking people out)
    • Sword (when close combat is forced on him)
  • Alternative Class Features: Bardic Knack (PHB2)
  • Other Party Members
    • Paladin
    • Rogue
    • Swashbuckler
    • Barbarian
    • Warlock

I'm trying to decide on which feats to take. Here is a list of the candidates I've pulled together so far, along with my notes and biases for each:

Seem Very Strong

  • Obtain Familiar/Improved Familiar - Seems very strong with a bard's skill monkey stuff. However, the warlock has a raven, so I have a small bias against us both having familiars. It's not a huge bias, and I suspect I'm going to go this route, because I'm not in love with the other options. If I go the familiar route, it will cost two feats because I will get a pseudodragon. I understand that this may not be the most optimized approach, but it's set in stone for irrational personal reasons: either no familiar or psuedodragon.
  • Song of the Heart - +1 to everything seems pretty strong.
  • Haunting Melody - I can't tell if this is strong or not. It hits lots of people and lasts 3 rounds, and I can stack it. Those things are all nice. The minor debuffs aren't super exciting though.
  • Lingering Song - I feel like this and melodic casting overlap. In addition, there are some items which will help lengthen durations of bardic music, so I'm wondering if I can skip these two altogether.
  • Melodic Casting - I feel like this and Lingering Song overlap. In addition, there are some items which will help lengthen durations of bardic music, so I'm wondering if I can skip these two altogether.
  • Versatile Spellcaster - I like this, but I don't imagine I'll use it until higher levels.
  • Lyric Spell - I like this, but I don't imagine I'll use it until higher levels.
  • Ironskin Chant - This is cool (I love using immediate / swift actions) but I'm not sure how exciting DR5 on two people is.
  • Doom Speak - Intimidate (8) means I can't get this until level 15. I don't like the one round duration, especially because I'm the only spellcaster in the party (so there's no one to capitalize on the lowered saves).
  • Metamagic Song - The bard has limited feats, but if I decide to invest a few in metamagic feats (like sculpt or extend) this might be good)

Seem Solid, but worse

  • Warning Shout - Seems cool and effective, but very limited application. I wish this was a skill trick instead of a feat.
  • Combat Panache - Intimidate (8) means I'll have to get this at level 15 or 18, and this doesn't seem good at very high levels, where I'll be casting most rounds.
  • Dragonsong - +2 DC is nice, but this is limited to only some spells, and not the spells I'm focused on.
  • Snowflake Wardance - my character is not melee focused (for roleplaying and team reasons) and I don't love using a feat for +2 to attack unless the build is really focused on melee.
  • Sound of Silence - 3 rounds isn't that long, and deafened on one target isn't that powerful. I feel like this won't prove to be a great use of a standard action or a bardic music.

Worth Noting, but seem worse than other option

  • Point Blank Shot - Only good if I was stuck with core books.
  • Precise Shot - Only good if I was stuck with core books.
  • Battledancer - Not a meleee character and +2 to attack is not the sort of thing I like to get with a feat (I prefer widening my bardic music / spellcasting options).
  • Disguise Spell - Very limited application

Super awesome, but banned by DM

  • Leadership
  • Knowledge Devotion

I have two questions:

  1. Am I missing any very interesting feats for the bard from the list above?
  2. Given what I've written about the character, party, and campaign, which 8 feats would you recommend taking, and in what order?
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have no idea why your group would consider DrMag if you think BoED or BoVD are crazy OP… oh wait, Vow of Poverty, right? *sigh* \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 May 21 '15 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TuggyNE: We would only consider DragonMagazine if the options in there are not overpowered. I've never used them in a campaign, and I suspect we won't use them, but I wanted to give other members as much space as possible to be helpful. Also, knowledge devotion in BoED is absurdly overpowered when compared to any other Attk/Dmg boosting feat. \$\endgroup\$ – JoshuaD May 21 '15 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ 1. Book of Exalted Deeds and Book of Vile Darkness are pretty atrocious, and actually do contain an overpowered option for the bard (Words of Creation in BoED), but for the most part they’re atrocious because they are under powered (or just stupid; there’s a lot of stupid in those books). 2. Knowledge Devotion is in Complete Champion, not Book of Exalted Deeds. 3. Knowledge Devotion is much better than Weapon Focus/Specialization, that is true, but the problem here is that Weapon Focus et al. are notoriously weak feats; Knowledge Devotion is well balanced. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 21 '15 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaD DrMag stuff tends to be pretty wildly variable: some of it is pretty absurdly good (yes, well beyond BoED) and some of it is amazingly terrible or just very poorly written. Blanket endorsing the whole thing is not wise, but blanket rejecting it may not be entirely necessary either: there are some useful things in there. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 May 21 '15 at 19:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaD Already working on it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 21 '15 at 19:52
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Your ability scores don’t really match your character description. You have little-to-no use for that Strength, that I can tell, and it sounds like your Charisma really ought to get an 18, since you’re staying on the back lines and focusing on song and spell.

Also, please consider my general recommendations for the bard class, as I’m going to avoid repeating myself.

And immediately breaking my claim that I’d not repeat myself: you don’t list Dragonfire Inspiration. You should; it is one of the absolute best feats for a buffer-bard, and is a very good reason to make your human character specifically a silverbrow human. Both Dragonfire Inspiration and silverbrow human are found in Dragon Magic.

Feats You List

Obtain Familiar/Improved Familiar

Decent, but you have to pay attention to your familiar, i.e. remember it’s there, maintain its stat-sheet, and so on. And then there’s the risk of it blowing up in your face and costing you a bunch of XP. Can be quite good, but I’d generally pass.

Song of the Heart

Very good, remember that you can get it as a bonus feat at Bard 3 instead of Inspire Competence. This is generally seen as a good trade, though Inspire Competence is OK enough that it can be worth it to take Song of the Heart as a feat so you get both.

Haunting Melody

By the time you can take it (6th), you’re starting to be really worried about the “mind-affecting, fear effect” aspect of the feat. The effect is decent, but not amazing at the levels it’s available, and it will become dead weight at high levels.

Lingering Song

In my experience, combat rarely lasts long enough for this to matter. The feat does nothing until, at the earliest, round 7, and most fights don’t last that long. I would pass.

Melodic Casting

The ability to cast while performing is eh for much the same reasons as Lingering Song. It’s better than Lingering Song, but ultimately it’s not much more likely to come up.

But that isn’t why you take the feat: you take the feat to replace Concentration with Perform. That is amazing for any bard, an ASAP pick up for almost all of them.

Versatile Spellcaster

It’s definitely not bad, but ultimately bards aren’t the best option for it. You just have fewer spells per day. Definitely don’t bother until high levels.

Lyric Spell

Meh? Ultimately, you almost-certainly will end up with way more daily uses of bardic music than you know what to do with, and this is a good way to burn through those – but you’ll burn through them fast. I like it better than Versatile Spellcaster, though, and would not take both.

Ironskin Chant

By 9th level, 5 damage is just... not a lot. If someone is surrounded by a bunch of low-damage, many-attacks enemies, then it can be golden, but a feat is a lot to spend on that possibility. Better for people to just, ya know, avoid getting surrounded. If it were immediate, you could argue it’s awesome for sudden ambushes, but as a swift you need to see the situation coming.

On the other hand, you do have a lot of uses of bardic music available after a while, and swift actions can be cheap. There are better options but it’s not bad.

Doomspeak

If this is worthwhile for a 6th-level character (and I’m not sure it is), it’s definitely not worth your 15th-level feat. You could spend another feat to get Intimidate in-class, but that’s way too much work for this. Pass.

Metamagic Song

Metamagic cost-reducers are one of the tried-and-true ways to true power in 3.5. This has far more sensible restrictions than Divine Metamagic, so I won’t call it out as definitively overpowered, but it is really strong.

The other issue is that the bard doesn’t really have the clear-and-obvious choices for metamagic that other classes do, and doesn’t get any as bonus feats. You have very limited feats to use for this.

Warning Shout

Reflex saves are the least-important of the three, but this is a pretty sizeable bonus, as an immediate action, and the cost to use it is not unreasonable. I’d definitely consider it.

Combat Panache

I love the name of this feat. And every time I read it, it disappoints me. Don’t bother.

Dragonsong

You really want to try to avoid mind-affecting effects if you can; too many things are immune. This bonus is small and niche. Pass.

Snowflake Wardance

This is a great feat, but if you’re not melee-focused, then it serves no purpose. Your ability scores are not exactly ideal, either, though the fact that you will be getting the largest cloak of charisma you can, and at high levels probably using wish or tomes for Charisma, mean the difference is going to wind up much higher than +2.

Sound of Silence

Deafening is not that bad a condition; the cost to inflict it here is just too high.

Point Blank Shot

Pure tax, plain and simple, and a bad one. The only reason to ever take this is just so you can take the actually-good things that require it, and you don’t need those that I can tell.

Precise Shot

If you are looking to use a lot of rays (not really a bard thing but you could), consider the rod of magical precision that allows you to buy Precise Shot for cheap. It’s in Complete Mage.

Aside from that, you only break out a bow when the battle is won and you’re taking potshots to pick people off. Don’t burn feats on that.

Battle Dancer

Tiny bonus is tiny. This is not worth a feat.

Disguise Spell

Here I disagree; Disguise Spell is awesome. And on a cowardly character? Perfect. Strongly recommend this.

Extra Music

You are going to have approximately 20 uses of bardic music in a day; for most purposes, Extra Song is pointless because you were never going to use all 20 in the first place. At low levels, it’s much better, though.

If you do go in for a lot of alternate uses of bardic music, particularly Lyric Spell and/or Metamagic Song, it becomes much more valid, but I still probably wouldn’t bother.

Extend Spell

Solid enough metamagic, reasonably priced. Good feat.

Sculpt Spell

Note that Sculpt Spell is not the same as the archmage’s Mastery of Shaping, nor does it make a spell (S) sculptable – it just switches area spells into other standard shapes (a cylinder, cone, ball, line, or series of cubes). This makes it rather difficult to use since you won’t be able to just pick and choose your targets, you still have to make it fit inside this shape. At +1 spell level, I’d much rather just cast a higher-level spell. Even with Metamagic Song, you couldn’t apply it to your best spells.

Other Feats

Chain Spell

This is an awesome feat for a buffer, allowing you to hit multiple people with usually-single-target buffs.

Charming the Arrow

If you are actually going to go in for that archery stuff, and can somehow finagle the Fey requirement, Charming the Arrow would be obviously-awesome for you.

Deceptive Spell

Fantastic opportunity for shenanigans, even more than Disguise Spell, but it costs a spell level.

Dragonfire Inspiration

Mentioned, mentioning it again. The feat is fantastic.

Enlarge Spell

is an awful feat you will most likely never use. That said, it is required for the excellent war weaver prestige class from Heroes of Battle – worth considering.

Invisible Spell

Possibly even more capable of shenanigans than is Disguise Spell.

Rapid Metamagic

This eliminates the casting-time increase of metamagic feats for spontaneous casting. If you are going to be using a lot of metamagic, you need this feat ASAP.

Unfortunately, taking it is another metamagic feat you aren’t taking. If you take this and Metamagic Song to enable metamagic, but only have one or two situational metamagic feats (like Extend and Sculpt), those two feats enabling metamagic are kind of wasted.

Reach Spell

Turn a touch-attack spell into a ranged spell, which can be very useful in conjunction with Chain Spell.

Song of the White Raven

You are not melee-focused, which makes this Tome of Battle feat seem odd at first, but there are more than sufficient opportunities to make this worthwhile. A single level of crusader gets you some excellent party-buffing options, like leading the charge and white raven tactics.1 Martial spirit and crusader’s strike or revitalizing strike also allow you to potentially heal allies if you ever do get in melee (or at least, use that whip), which seems appropriate.

But most of all, it allows you to take Song of the White Raven, which allows you to start your Inspire Courage as a swift action. That is a huge deal, and totally worth a level and a feat.

  1. Tome of Battle is, by far, the best-designed, best-balanced book in 3.5, but even the best books have problems. For Tome of Battle, the most notorious problems are iron heart surge and white raven tactics, but both are fine when used reasonably. For white raven tactics, simply disallow using it on yourself (as was likely originally intended), and it becomes strong, but not broken. For iron heart surge, should it come up, I like to just replace the entire text of the feat with BY CROM!! and then it seems to play fine.

Spellbreaker Song

Not a feat, but rather an alternate class feature replacing Countersong (which is absolutely useless), this allows you to disrupt other spellcasters. A good deal.

Talfirian Song

I don’t actually recommend this feat, but it should be mentioned. Combined with Metamagic Song, Talfirian Song allows bardzilla, very similar to a cleric’s use of Divine Metamagic. Even though it takes three feats instead of one, and is limited by the bard’s spell list, this is still overpowered for many games, particularly one described as low-power.

Recommendation

Assuming silverbrow human,

  • 1st level
    • Invisible Spell
    • Dragonfire Inspiration (Human bonus feat)
  • 3rd level
    • Reach Spell
    • Song of the Heart (Music of Creation bonus feat)
  • 6th level
    • Metamagic Song
  • 9th level
    • Rapid Metamagic
  • 12th level
    • Chain Spell
  • 15th level
    • Disguise Spell
  • 18th level
    • Extend Spell
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After doing a pretty exhaustive search (and writing an entire handbook with the info I gathered), here is what I recommend for a buff / control / face bard:

  • Bard 6
  • Lyric Thuamaturge 4
  • Sublime Chord 10

Feats:

  • Flaw: Take your pick, probably either -1 to AC or -4 to Spot & Listen
  • Bonus: Melodic Casting - Strong on its own, and gives access to Lyric Thaumaturge class.
  • Human: Extra Music - For additional bardic musics and lyric spell.
  • Level 1: Hidden Talent (Demoralize) - Gain a psion spell twice a day that shakes opponents, great for fear escalation.
  • Level 3: Chaos Music - Since we are going into Thaumaturge for levels 7-10, this feat gives us a +1 boost to inspire courage and access to Inspire Greatness. That's a lot for a single feat.
  • Level 6: Lyric Spell - This gives us more dynamic spell casting and lets us get some additional use out of our bardic music slots.
  • Level 9: Haunting Melody - Continue the fear escalation idea.

A very viable alternative is to go half-elf instead of human for the amazing alternate class features (Calm Emotions and Command) and drop either Hidden Talent or Extra Music.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hidden Talent is a rather-obscure, variant feat in Expanded Psionics Handbook. Mentioning that seems worthwhile; most players cannot presume to take it. And fear escalation can be a dubious strategy in the first place, since immunity is so common. Finally, on a character that has 15 levels worth of bardic music uses, Extra Music seems redundant. Suppose it’s worth something while leveling though. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 20 '16 at 19:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like having fear escalation as another vector of attack. It doesn't work all the time, but if you have a party working together on that plan, you can do a lot of work quickly. I like Extra Music for Lyric Spell mostly. I also like it if you're going into the half-elf alternate class features, granting you additional uses of those two great abilities. The bard's feats aren't as important to him as they are for other classes. You have a lot of freedom to choose what vectors you want to add to the class. For a control / face / caster bard, this collection seems like the best fit. \$\endgroup\$ – JoshuaD Sep 20 '16 at 19:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ If taking Extra Music as a level 1 feat anyway and it's not a prerequisite for anything else and the DM approves, a solid alternative is the regional feat Artist (Player's Guide to Faerûn 33). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 20 '16 at 19:41

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