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Recently we helped a friend in our group to convert his AD&D human bard to 3.5. That AD&D-bard had a good share of fighter levels so our friend wanted to get a character able to fight.

We figured that sewing in some levels of Abjurant Champion would enhance his BAB and hp, but we did not see a way of getting him Shield without losing BAB as he wanted to get Inspire Heroics. That makes for 15 levels of bard and BAB +11. He is keen to get the fourth attack, so he has to get full BAB for the next five levels.

Shield is crucial to Abjurant Champions as they get +1 AC-bonus per class level on abjurations that give an armor or shield bonus. Shield is the most common spell this applies to.

I am aware of the discussion about Extra Spell, but our DM follows the FAQ here and allows Extra Spell only for spells on the spell list.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why Shield specifically? Is it just the only AC-boosting abjuration you know of, or does he have a good AC bonus from armour already and is looking for a shield bonus specifically? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Feb 26 '16 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman The character's armor bonus is ok, (magical mithral shirt I think) though a good spell might be better. Shield is just the most obvious and easiest way to improve armor via abjurations. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Feb 26 '16 at 15:00
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Getting shield itself

Magic Items

Items are, in general, a good source of magic that you don’t naturally get from your class. However, because shield is not on the bard spell list (and, somewhat surprisingly, no alternate class features for bard grants it), Use Magic Device may be necessary (but see the drake-helm option, below, for a case when it’s not).

Most likely, the item will require a DC 20 check: either you need to make up for your lack of the spell on your list (Emulate a class feature), or activate a wand or staff (Activate a spell-trigger item), which are coincidentally both DC 20. Between bards having that skill in class and bards using Charisma so heavily, even a 1st-level bard should succeed nearly half the time on that check. If he gets a +2 circumstance bonus from a masterwork tool for 50 gp, and a +5 competence bonus from a magic item for 2500 gp, he could get to the +19 bonus necessary always succeed on the check by around 5th level.

Spell-trigger Items

These are the most basic approach, and the only one available in core. You have basically three options:

  • Wand—potentially cheapest, but you want high caster level with shield, and that gets very expensive in a wand. Has the advantage of fitting in a wand chamber, an option in Dungeonscape allowing you to put one wand in a weapon or shield, so you can use shield without having to get out a big, cumbersome staff.

    Costs caster_level × 750 gp.

  • Staff—uses your own stats, so you don’t need to worry about the item’s caster level, but it does have a minimum caster level of 8th. It also uses the same formula as wands, so if your wand of shield has caster level 8th or higher, a staff of shield is strictly superior for less money. Also ambiguous about whether or not single-spell staves are allowed. The good news is that spells after the first cost half as much; the bad news is, there probably aren’t many spells you really want to stick on the same staff.

    Costs 6000 gp for the minimal caster level 8th version as long as you aren’t forced to include more spells.

  • Runestaff—from Magic Item Compendium, in addition to using your own stats like a staff, it also uses your own spell slots instead of charges. It is also dramatically cheaper than the other options, since it costs (spell_level)2 × 400 gp rather than spell_level × caster_level × 750 gp. A runestaff of shield costs just 400 gp. Like staves, runestaves “should have two to five arcane spells,” which may mean that you need to put a second one on there. But if you put another 1st-level spell in for 200 gp (like staves, runestaves charge half for spells after the first), that’s still a lot cheaper than the staff of shield.

    Also have the drawback of limiting its use to 3/day for each spell. Many DMs just waive this since it’s already using your spell slots, but if yours doesn’t, see if the second spell can just be another 3/day uses of shield. 6/day will cover most adventuring days with fairly significant margin for error (also may cover all the 1st-level spell slots you have).

    Costs 400 gp, 600 gp if you need to stick a second 1st-level spell in.

Each of these is going to require a UMD check every time you want to cast shield.

Knowstones

Knowstones from Dragon vol. 333 give you a spell known just for carrying them, and a knowstone of shield costs 1100 gp. The problem is that it only works for spells on your spell list: you would have to use Use Magic Device to get around that. This is a DC 20 check (Emulate a class feature), but it’s unclear when you make the check: do you make it to attune to the knowstone (which takes 24 hours), or every time you want to cast its spell?

Regardless of the answer, though, this is a better approach than any spell-trigger items. Yes, the runestaff of shield is cheaper, but you have to use the thing with both hands, while a knowstone of shield can sit in your pocket.

Costs 1100 gp.

Drake-Helm

From Explorer’s Handbook (a supplement aimed at the Eberron Campaign Setting), this helm has “sockets” for attuned Siberys dragonshards. These Siberys dragonshards basically work like rings of spell-storing, allowing you to cast a spell into one. But instead of allowing you to cast it out of the shard, when the shard is inserted into a drake-helm, the wearer of that helm can cast that spell with his own slots.

So as long as you can get someone to cast shield for you once, to put it in the shard, or you can just buy a shard that comes with shield already in it, you’re good to go.

Costs 1000 gp for 1-socket drake-helm and 6000 gp for a 1st-level attuned Siberys dragonshard. 7000 gp total. Does not require Use Magic Device checks.

Conclusion

In order, your best bet for getting shield are:

  • Drake-helm
  • Knowstone
  • Runestaff
  • Staff

Alternative spells

Sanctified Spells

Sanctified spells can be prepared by any Good spellcaster. Yes, prepared: this requires the Arcane Spell Preparation feat from Complete Arcane for a bard to use. It’s worth it here.

Luminous armor and greater luminous armor are 2nd-level and 4th-level, respectively, versions of mage armor, granting +6 and +8 AC instead of +4. One key difference: they are abjurations. That makes these some of the best spells in the game for an abjurant champion.

By the way, bardic fighting

Bards can make excellent warrior-types. I strongly recommend you consider some things:

  • Snowflake Wardance from Frostburn to allow you to add Charisma to attack rolls (with light or one-handed slashing weapons, and you cannot use a shield, so keep those restrictions in mind). You can also get the gauntlets of heartfelt blows from Magic Item Compendium to get fire damage equal to your Charisma bonus, and then at very-high levels, the slippers of battledancing from Dungeon Master’s Guide II allow you to swap Strength for Charisma on both attack and damage. All told, eventually that’s 2×Cha to both attack and damage, which is quite nice.
  • Dragonfire Inspiration from Dragon Magic can dramatically amp up your damage, as it gives 1d6 energy damage for each +1 in your Inspire Courage.
  • Martial Study from Tome of Battle can get you one of the excellent maneuvers from that book. What you’re looking for is a White Raven maneuver, which focus on being a commander: tactical strike is a single-attack standard action for +2d6 damage, and adjacent allies get to reposition themselves 5 feet, which is rather nice, for example. The reason you want a White Raven maneuver specifically is because it qualifies you for Song of the White Raven, a feat from the same book that allows you to start Inspire Courage as a swift action.

For more on getting more out of the bard class, consider this answer. Bard is a class with a lot of very good options spread out across a lot of books, so it’s helpful to know what’s out there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Because of the way they're written, arguably anyone with a sufficiently high Use Magic Device skill modifier can use knowstones to cast spells by activating them using spell slots they don't have, much like Lidda activates the magic chalice using turn undead attempts she doesn't have. Such a reading makes knowstones and the skill Use Magic Device dominate the campaign, however. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 26 '16 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Ah, hm. I... wouldn’t allow that, but more on the basis of a lack of spell slots than an inability to UMD the knowstone. I assume, though, that there’s an explicit example somewhere of Lidda activating a magic item using faked turn undead uses? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 26 '16 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ "For example, Lidda finds a magic chalice that turns regular water into holy water when a cleric or an experienced paladin channels positive energy into it as if turning undead. She attempts to activate the item by emulating the cleric’s undead turning ability. Her effective cleric level is her check result minus 20. Since a cleric can turn undead at 1st level, she needs a Use Magic Device check result of 21 or higher to succeed" (PH 86). And, yes, that's crazy. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 26 '16 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Ah, but OK, in the case of knowstones, I don’t think that works: the effect of knowstones is to grant knowledge of a spell. It does not grant any ability to cast that spell, just gives it to you as a spell known that you can cast normally. For someone with no spells, “normally” they can’t cast spells at all. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 26 '16 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Overcoming normally is exactly what the skill Use Magic Device is for! :-) That is, "A knowstone provides its bearer with knowledge of the inscribed spell, which he can then use his spell slots to cast normally" (Dragon #333 93), and that's all one sentence. To cast a spell while in possession of an appropriate knowstone, you use a class feature you don't have powered by the skill Use Magic Device. (Please don't try to define normally; we both know the game doesn't know.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 26 '16 at 18:06
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As bards have Use Magic Device (Cha) as class skill, at such a high level getting a wand of shield should be the cheapest and easiest way to gain access to that spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That sounds perfect. But do the Abjurant Champions AC-bonusses to abjurations apply to a shield cast from a wand? Wouldn't that be a shield like cast by the creator of the wand? \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Feb 26 '16 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Giorin "Wands use the spell trigger activation method, so casting a spell from a wand is usually a standard action that doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity" (DMG 245) (emphasis mine), but I, too, can see the DM ruling otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 26 '16 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Especially because wands do not use the caster level of the user but the one of the creator. Would it be a standard action for an Abjurant Champion to acivate the wand? At 2nd level abjurations are swift for the Abjurant Champion. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Feb 26 '16 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Giorin Again, best to ask the DM. The spell-trigger activation method in the DMG takes a standard action (*DMG * 213). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 26 '16 at 14:59
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Lyric Thaumaturge, From Complete Mage, has Bard BAB and grants known-spells from the Wizard list.

You provided enough context that I understand this isn't sufficient for your purposes, because you also want Inspire Heroics. With that additional stipulation, I'd like to point out:

The Prestige Bard eventually offers all the same class features of the base class, but inherits some other class's arcane spellcasting.

The instructions for using prestige adaptions of base classes notes that "In general, any character who enters one of these prestige classes should gain access to spells unique to that class's spell list, at the same levels indicated for the standard class." So, your spell list would be a merger of all the Bard gimmicks plus the entire catalog from another class.

My advice would be starting off with the Battle Sorcerer variant and a single level of some other full-BAB class. You would need to attain Perform as a class skill through some additional means; you can do this with the Apprentice feat from chapter 6 of the Dungeon Master's Guide II, The Draconic Heritage feat as printed in Races of the Dragon, or, on the off chance that you used the Paladin as your complementary fighting class, with the "Harmonious Knight" substitution level from the Champions of Valor Web Enhancement. You would then compare strongly with an ordinary bard; in particular, you would start to outstrip his acquisition of spells after level 10, as long as you took Abjurant Champion as soon as you qualified. This would meet your specification for 16 BAB and Inspire Heroics at level 20, but would also provide two additional spell levels over what a Bard can do, and let you pick them off the best list in the game.

My caveat:

If one intended to play this character at any stage other than the very end, then building for level 20 would be lunacy. The overwhelming majority of campaigns end five levels earlier than that, and a significant fraction of those dissolve because people flake out after only a couple of sessions. Many handbooks and a lot of advice written for this game is predicated on suffering a dozen levels of sup-optimal development followed by a payout that never actually happens; It's collective madness, and I'm loathe to endorse any practical character-building strategies which are founded on it.

Inspire Heroics doesn't make the list of things you want to spend time doing at the level you're supposed to get it, and at level 20, the ability to slip in a single extra attack is actually pretty trivial. If one is ever in a position to give those features up in return for playing an optimal character right from the outset and getting to cherry-pick a bunch of relevant and auto-quickened spells during the period of character development that people actually run games for? They should take that deal every time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for the hint - and this is far from being lunacy. We are talking about very old characters (and players, to be honest) - our entire party is level 19. But as this player lives in New Zealand and sometimes gets out of touch with us and the rules our DM has agreed to a rebuilt. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Mar 15 '16 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very good, I'm glad to hear it. I apologize for the implication; keeping in mind the essential StackExchange pursuit of building a backlog of answers for later readers, I admit my caveat is included more for the passive, lurking audience than for your case in particular. I've changed the language to reflect this. \$\endgroup\$ – Eikre Mar 15 '16 at 17:39

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