Bards...ah Bards. The second Dungeons and Dragons class that I ever played (my first was a paladin). I've always enjoyed them because I just always thought they were the most bad ass of adventurers. Think about it. Look at what the rest of the party is entering the dungeon with: fighters with sword, armor and shield, clerics with the power of their gods, rogues with skill and cunning, wizards with a wealth of magical knowledge and spells to protect them from danger. What does a bard go in with? A song and a lute.
Hey, the bard wants his money pouch back. It's the one with BMF on it.
For the bard, you have to keep in mind that bard is really any sort of performance art. You can tell stories, play any sort of portable instrument, sing songs, recite poetry, dance...it's a long list of things really. And when you have that much diversity in what you can do...it leads to amazing role-playing opportunity for you as the player.
It's what I love about the bard...you could have an entire party of bards and have each one focus on a different aspect and still have a fairly well-rounded party. Except for real strong melee and heavy armor. But then again, you could use a dodge based character for that role too. I'm not saying it's super viable, I'm just saying it is possible. As far as difficulty, I'd say that the bard is about as easy as the barbarian or fighter. The only thing particularly difficult to keep track of is spells later on, though it is a spontaneous casting class, which is an easy way to try out a mage class so you can get a feel for spells and how they work.
Anything goes for the bard. I'll go into the specifics in the arch-type section, but pretty much any race can function as a bard. In fact, I'm going to say that you would be hard pressed to find any race that doesn't fit with a bard. I'd say the closest is a dwarf, but even then I would argue that you could make a Dwarven Bard whose perform involves telling tales of his clans exploits. Really, it's one of the main classes that really goes well with any race, so enjoy making whatever you want!
As far as multi-classing, you can go a lot of ways. Fitting in with the theme of versatility, you can pretty much cross-class with any other class as a bard. Fighter classes help boost up the attack power of the bard, while mage classes help boost the spell-casting abilities of the bard. I'd say the only real class that doesn't work with the bard would be the monk class. The stringent rules and training doesn't really work with the free-spirit of the bard.
The arch-type section for this article could be massive. I'll try to concentrate on a few of them, but there is a lot you can do with a bard as far as character ideas.
One that I enjoy is the country bard. He travels from tavern to tavern around the countryside, telling stories or singing songs to the farmers and townsfolk. A lot of times, especially in towns that are situated far away from larger cities, he can be a source of information or news from the big cities for the small towns. Also, it makes a good hook to join an adventuring party because you can be wandering around find the party in any random sort of place. I tend to play him as a older person, who may have spent their youth in courts or large cities but is content now to wander the countryside living the quiet life. This could be due to controversy from the court, or maybe they are trying to escape from some debt or accusation they don't deserve. These can all be used to help flesh out your backstory and give your DM ideas for story hooks concerning your character.
Another arch-type is the Diva. You are a well-known and maybe even slightly famous performer. However, you have recently fallen on dire straits, possibly running away from an overzealous fan or a jealous rival. Regardless, they are needing to get out of the public eye for a time. However, they might still be acting the diva while in the adventuring group. This can be fun, such as complaining about having to go into dungeons, caves or sewers because they are dirty or dank. Think like the original Dr. Smith from Lost in Space:
|Oh the indignity of it all!|
If you are interested in doing some melee combat, you can go with the Fighter Bard.
You don't focus on your performance as an art form so much as using it as a tool in combat to inspire your companions. You don't perform for money, you simply have learned to inspire your companions. You focus on combat skills and the spells you get you mostly utilize for fighting as well. With this type, I recommend going with a dexterous fighting style, using long spears or other reach weapons to help keep enemies away from you. You won't be the most powerful fighter, but it's about enjoying what you play not being the most powerful.
The one that I would I have to say that I've used the most though is the fan-boy. Essentially, he is a chronicler of heroics and wants to be involved in them in any way possible. Low-level parties attract them with the promise of helping to spread the name of the party and promoting a sense of fulfilling a destiny of greatness. Higher-level parties can attract them simply by virtue of being a high-level party that has made a name for itself already. Always praise someone in the party when they do something particularly well. Be supportive and always happy to help and be a member of the party. I like this one the most because it is just fun to be supportive and positive to your friends at the table.
There are others, but you get the idea. Really, you can do whatever you want with the bard, which is why I enjoy it so much. So go forth and fill your game with song and tales of heroics and valor. Next time, we will look at the class that every party needs and no one ever wants to actually play, the Cleric. Till then, great gaming!