Pathfinder - Bard Archetypes Breakdown
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The Bard is fantastically versatile. With a long skill list and 6+ skill points, he Bard can cover nearly every skill. His selection of spells isn't as broad as the Wizard or the Cleric, but the Bard gets access to many fantastic support and area control spells, as well as a few Cure spells at low levels. With the right build and archetype, the Bard can fill any role in the party. The vanilla Bard is excels at Support and is a perfect Librarian, and can sometimes work as a Striker, Healer, or Controller depending on his spell selection.
The animal speaker trades the Bard's knowledge abilities and some Bardic Performance abilities for the ability to make friends with animals, and some animal summoning abilities. With the Bard's maximum spell level, his summon options will fall badly behind, and the ability to befriend animals can be replaced almost entirely by the Hold Animal and Calm Animal spells.
Animal Friend: Animals are already a small subset of potentialy enemies. Dividing this further does not make things any easier. I would choose dinosaurs if your DM let you. Dinosaurs tend to be the scariest animals, and there are more dinosaurs than any other type of animal.
Nature's Speaker: Cats and Birds are excellent choices. Cats includes Lion, Tigers, and Dire versions of both, which are fairly high CR. Birds includes horrifying things like Rocs.
Bardic Performance: You get to keep the big important songs like Inspire Courage, but your new options aren't spectacular.
- Soothing Performance: This considerably reduces the need for Animal Friend. With a Bard's Charisma, the Animal Speaker is probably the first character to actually be good at Wild Empathy.
- Attract Rats: Swarms are really annoying at any level. Their damage is automatic, and they are great at forcing concentration checks. Call up rats whenever you need to control an area, handle some casters, or wittle down enemies with tough AC but no DR.
Summon Nature's Ally: Summon spells are decent, but Summon Natures Ally doesn't give you many good options. Because you also don't get the highest level version of the spells, your summons will generally be too weak to accomplish anything in combat.
Replaced Features: Fascinate, Inspire Competence, Lore Master, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Geisha, Songhealer
The Arcane Duelist trades in many of Bardic Performance's compulsion effects and Bardic Knowledge for better combat options. Arcane Duelist leaves the Bard's skill list untouched, so you can still serve as a Librarian with sufficient intelligence and skill ranks, but it becomes a much less prevalent part of the class. With less offensive combat spells than the Wizard, the Arcane Duelist is still a Support class, but with better damage output than a typical Bard, and much less emphasis on skills.
Arcane Strike: Arcane Strike is a decent feat for a Bard, but not nearly as impactful as Bardic Knowledge. Many people really like Arcane Strike, and for good reason. The ability to bypass DR/magic with any random stick you pick up can be very nice, and it allows you to switch weapons without sacrificing the feat's damage bonus. However, the bonus is fairly small, so don't go expecting this to throw the battle in your favor.
Bardic Performance: You still get inspire courage, which is good because you will need it to keep up with the Fighter and the Magus.
Rallying Cry (Su): Situational, but miles better than Countersong, and more effective than the Paladin's Aura of Courage.
Bladethirst (Su): Similar to the Magus's ability to enhance weapons, but any weapon within 30 feet. At 13th level when you can start a performance as a swift action, you can use it to buff all of your allies' weapons. Combine with Lingering Song for maximum effectiveness.
Mass Bladethirst (Su): By using Lingering Song and activating your song as a swift action every 3 rounds, you can easily maintain your full Bladethirst enhancement on 3 targets without issue. This is largely redundant.
Bonus Feats: You get several excellent feats. Disruptive and Spellbreaker make you excellent at fighting enemy spellcasters, and Penetrating Strike allows you to bypass DR, which becomes very common at high levels. Step Up can really improve the effectiveness of Spellbreaker, and you need Weapon Focus to get any use out of Penetrating Strike.
Arcane Bond (Ex): One extra spell slot per day is nice, plus you can enhance your weapon without an item creation feat, and you don't need to drop your weapon to cast spells.
Arcane Armor (Ex): And suddenly you're a tank. As a bard you likely spent most of your career depending on dexterity to boost your AC, so the heaviest armor you will probably ever wear is going to be Celestial Armor.
Replaced Features: Countersong, Jack-of-All-Trades, Lore Master, Mass Suggestion, Suggestion, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: None
Apparently Indiana Jones was a Bard. The Archaeologist gets some Rogue abilities in place of Bardic Performance, and gets a really cool luck bonus ability. However, the archetype lacks Trapfinding, which makes this archetype unable to replace a Rogue, and doesn't have any combat options beyond the luck bonus. The concept is really fun, and the abilities are good, but without dipping a few levels into Rogue the Archaeologist won't be as helpful as you would hope.
If you take this archetype without the Fate's Favored trait, you are making a very poor life choice.
Bardic Performance: You don't get it.
Archaeologist's Luck (Ex): Luck bonuses are incredibly rare, and activating it as a swift action gives you all sorts of options. This is trated as Bardic Performance for the purposes of feats, so you can take Lingering Performance to effectively triple the number of rounds per day that you can use your luck bonus. The only downside is that you can't share it.
Clever Explorer (Ex): A bonus this big to Perception is fantastic, and at level 6 the Archaeologist can disable magical traps as though they had Trapfinding. The ability to disable devices and open locks quickly is situational, but generally isn't available until high levels. Taking 10 on Disable Device while distracted is even better for those rare situations where you need to quickly disable traps.
Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Uncanny Dodge isn't very good, but it doesn't hurt to have.
Trap Sense (Ex): Trap Sense isn't very good, but it doesn't hurt to have, especially since you don't get Trapfinding.
Rogue Talents: Some Rogue talents are very good, but many of them depend on Sneak Attack, which you don't get.
Evasion (Ex): Fantastic on any character.
Advanced Talent: See "Rogue Talents" above.
Replaced Features: Bardic Performance, Versatile Performance, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Flame Dancer, Geisha
The Archivist doubles down on the Bard's already fantastic knowledge abilities. Naturalist brings an interesting replacement for Inspire Courage, and the Archivist gives up Versatile Performance for a more conventional approach to skills. With enough intelligence to fuel the Archivist's need for skill ranks, this can be a very solid linear improvement to the vanilla Bard.
Bardic Performance: You lose Inspire Courage, Suggestion, and mass Suggestion. Instead, Naturalist provides Insight bonuses in combat, and Lamentable Belaborment lets you Daze or Confuse targets.
Naturalist (Ex): With Bardic Knowledge and a few ranks in Knowledge skills, you're going to be able to easily identify everything you meet. Insight bonuses are much less common than morale bonuses like Inspire Courage, so you can stack Naturalist with effects like Bless. The bonuses scale as quickly as Inspire Courage, but the saving throw bonus applies to more things, and you get an AC bonus instead of the tiny damage bonus. In my oppinion, this is strictly better than Inspire Courage, which is already pretty fantastic.
Lamentable Belaborment (Ex): Dazed is a much better condition than Fascinated. The target can't take actions, and drawing weapons or taking other hostile actions won't break the effect. Until you actually deal damage, the target is unable to act. Confused is a risky option: The target has a 25% change to hurt themself, which means a 25% chance to break the effect. They also have a 25% chance to act normally, which means you wasted your time.
Pedantic Lecture (Su): Play entire rooms to sleep, then have your party walk around and kill or restrain them.
Lore Master (Ex): With the exception of your checks to identify monsters, you likely won't make more than a few knowledge checks in a day, so make sure that you get as much out of them as possible.
Magic Lore (Ex): The ability to disarm magical traps removes your need for a Rogue, assuming you can spare skill ranks for Disable Device. Without Versatile Performance your skill ranks become much more precious, but this is certainly a worthwile investment.
Jack of All Trades (Ex): The best of the Bard's already fantastic skill-related abilities, and you get it five levels early.
Probable Path (Ex): The possibilities are huge. Confirm critical threats or ensure decent rolls on saves. Get really crazy.
Replaced Features: Jack-of-All-Trades, Lore Master, Mass Suggestion, Inspire Courage, Suggestion, Versatile Performance, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Geisha
The only really important thing that the Celebrity gives up is Inspire Courage, but you also don't get much back. This could be a very fun archetype for an RP-heavy campaign, but it's not going to be noticable in a fight.
Famous: Giving up Inspire Courage always hurts, but this is a really fun ability. The bonus builds as you scale, and becomes more widespread. The typical wandering adventurer lifestyle might make this difficult to use, but in campaigns where you tend to work in a small local area, this will work very well.
Bardic Performance: The abilities make sense for a celebrity, but they're situational and difficult to bring into play.
- Gather Crowd (Ex): It's hard to say how best to use this. This could be very powerful in RP situations, but it's going to depend heavily on how creative you are, and how open-minded your GM is.
- Shining Star (Su): Fascinate your enemies, even while your allies walk up behind them with drawn weapons.
Replaced Features: Dirge of Doom, Inspire Courage, Lore Master
Compatible Archetypes: Geisha, Savage Skald, Sea Singer, Songhealer, Sound Striker
The Court Bard sacrifices a lot of their generaly utility for some interesting social abilities. These abilities are very situational, and even when they come into play they're not fantastic. Unless you are in a hihgly social campaign, this archetype won't do you any favors.
Bardic Performance: Most of your abilities center around controlling crowds in social situations.
- Satire (Su): Instead of buffing your allies, you can debuff your enemies. No save. Not as good as Inspire Courage.
- Mockery (Su): Only useful in rare social situations.
- Glorious Epic (Su): Fantastic if you have a Rogue, but otherwise nearly worthless.
- Scandal (Su): Talk your way into crowds of enemies, then set them loose on each other.
Heraldic Expertise (Ex): These skills will come up most frequently for a Bard in court, and the reroll is nice.
Wide Audience (Su): The range limitation can put the Bard in dangerous positions often. Expanding the range can go a long way to keep you alive.
Replaced Features: Bardic Knowledge, Dirge of Doom, Frightening Tune, Inspire Competence, Inspire Courage, Jack-of-All-Trades
Compatible Archetypes: None.
The Daredevil's abilities are cool and flashy, but not terribly effective. The Daredevil's signature ability, Derring-do flies in the face of normal tactics mandated by Pathfinder's combat rules. Unless your party is specifically built to take advantage of Derring-Do, the Daredevil will add very little to your party.
Agile (Ex): These are interesting skills. but with the Exception of Bluff your bonus will bring you past the typical skill DC by very low levels, then will stop mattering.
Bardic Performance: You give up inspire courage for Derring-do.
- Derring-do (Su): Unless your party is highly mobile, you will have a very hard time taking advantage of this power. It's an unfortunate reality of Pathfinder that the best tactical option is typically to stand in one and beat the snot out of your opponents, and most characters reflect this reality.
Canny Foe (Ex): This will help you keep up with other characters who have full BAB, but it hardly makes you a combat maneuver specalist.
Dauntless (Ex): Mind-affecting effects make up almost all Will saves, which makes this bonus very good. On top of the Bar'ds
Scoundrel's Fortune (Ex): Rerolls are fantastic, and the ability to reroll any skill check gives you a lot of options.
Replaced Features: Inspire Courage, Lore Master, Versatile Performance, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Flame Dancer, Savage Skald, Sound Striker
Similar to the Celebrity, but less of a distraction and more of a leader. Everything that the Demagogue can do could probably be replaced with a Diplomacy check if your DM is open minded.
Famous: Bluff isn't as useful as Diplomacy, but this is still very cool.
- Gather Crowd (Ex): See the Celebrity archetype.
- Incite Violence (Ex): I really wish that there was a good way use this in combat. Imagine turning all of your enemies against their leader. Unfortuantely, Fascinate doesn't work in combat, so you can't start this ability. Even so, you could get a lot done by whipping a bunch of commoners into a fury and pointing them at your problems.
- Righteous Cause (Ex): Very promising for RP, but clearly not a combat option. Of course, You could probably accomplish this with a series of Diplomacy checks.
Replaced Features: Inspire Courage (+1), Lore Master, Mass Suggestion, Suggestion
Compatible Archetypes: Geisha, Songhealer, Voice of The Wild
The Dervish Dancer is a really weird archetype. It removes all of the Bard's abilities as a Support and Librarian, and piles on a bunch of really cool Striker abilities. The Dervish Dancer still gets the Bard's skill list and skill ranks, but without Versatile Performance of Bardic Knowledge, the Dervish Dancer will have a lot more trouble covering the party's skill needs. The Bard spell list also remains in place unchanged, so any Support capacity must come completely from spells. The archetype tries really hard to allow you to move around in combat while attacking, but until you pick up Dance of Fury at 12th level, your best bet is still to stand in place and make a full attack.
Perhaps the strangest part of the Dervish Dancer is that it has no actual reliance on the Perform skill. Perform (Dance) is mentioned throughout the archetype, but is not used for anything but Versatile Dance.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: The Scimitar is basically a heavier scimitar that doesn't allow weapon finesse, and the kukri is a scimitar with less damage. The rapier is a very solid weapon for a Bard because Bards typically need high dexterity to compensate for their lack of armor.
Battle Dance: You selfish jerk. You picked a Bard, the iconic Support class, and you can only use your combat support effects on yourself. Because you can't abuse Lingering Song, you need to be careful about how frequently you use your buffs, or you will quickly run out of rounds.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the dervish faces is that their best dances compete for attention at the same time. Inspire Courage is your go-to until you get Rain of Blows (which matches the attack bonus progression with an untyped bonus and grants an extra attack which will provide considerably more damage than Inspire Courage's damage bonus), but when you get Dance of Fury at 12th level you'll need to decide which is more appealing from round to round. You can use Haste to get the extra attack from Rain of Blows, but you'll give up your Inspire Courage/Rain of Blows attack bonus for the ability to move, likely making it very difficult for you to hit.
- Rain of Blows (Su): An extra attack is fantastic, and the attack bonus, coupled with Inspire Courage, will offset your medium BAB. However, you become very dependant on Full Attacks, so be sure to position yourself in a way that you can get all of your attacks in. Note that this ability doesn't specify melee weapons, so you could in theory use a bow or throw things. This gets more useful at higher levels once you have Dance of Fury at 12th level because you can move and make a full attack at the same time.
- Razor's Kiss (Su): If you depend on critical hits this much, just get a Keen weapon. The assumption is that you will use this with your scimitar or kukri, but I would much rather buy a keen weapon and use Inspire Courage so that I could actually hit something.
- Leaf on the Wind (Su): You may not want to use this in combat unless you are very badly wounded; any round in which you don't attack is a round in which your enemies get to do more than you. The dodge/reflex bonuses are pretty great, so you can use this in place of Full Defense. The real draw here is the healing effect. At 14th level you have 28+ rounds of performance, and you heal 14 points each round that you use the ability. That's potentially 392 points of healing, assuming you don't use your other performances. This can let you fight and soak up damage all day long. Use this before you rest every night to spend any leftover performance rounds and ensure that you wake up with full hit points.
- Dance of Fury (Su): This largely solves the issue of Full Attacks. Be sure to take Mobility or put ranks into Acrobatics/Perform (Dance), or you're going to take a lot of damage from attacks of opportunity. Combine this with Dance of a Hundred Cuts/Dance of a Thousand Cuts. By the time you get this the bonus is +4, which is a huge buff.
Fleet (Su): Bonuses to move speed are always nice, and this can help you get into melee range on a round in which you activated a battle dance. However, because you depend on Full Attacks to use Rain of Blows, you won't get as much use out of this as you would hope. However, the addition of Dance of Fury at level 12 allows you to move as part of a Full Attack, at which point this because a fantastic improvement to your mobility.
Versatile Dance (Ex): Despite the intent of the archetype, you don't technically need Perform (Dance) because you don't have any abilities which use a Perform skill, and without Versatile Performance, you don't get any benefit for any perform skills. Because the Dervish Dancer is a Striker archetype, your Charisma may be lower than your Dexterity, at which point you may be better served completely ignoring this ability.
Battle Fury (Su): If Spring Attack and Whirlwind Attack got together and spawned an ability, it would be Battle Fury. The usefulness of this ability depends heavily on your speed and the number of enemies available, so make sure to pick up movement enhancements like Longstrider and Boots of Striding and Springing. Also keep in mind that Two-Weapon Fighting builds won't benefit from this ability.
Replaced Features: Dirge of Doom, Frightening Performance, Mass Suggestion, Proficiencies, Suggestion
Compatible Archetypes: None.
The Detective gives up a lot of the Bard's skills and combat buffs to really focus on investigation. While the investigation abilities would work really well for detective work, the archetype doesn't get you anything useful for other situations.
Bardic Performance: You give up all of your combat buff options for some lackluster options related to being a detective.
Careful Teamwork (Su): The initiative bonus is helpful, and the 1 hour duration is pretty good. The other bonuses are situational, but don't hurt to have. You get to find and disable traps with the Detective's Arcane Insight ability, so the Dosable Device bonus can be very helpful.
True Confession (Su): Very situational, and not very good. Breaking enchantment effects can be nice, but there are much easier ways to do it.
Show Yourselves (Ex): Good for revealing invisible creatures, but the 30 foot radius makes it difficult to use when enemies are hiding.
Eye for Detail (Ex): Perception is the most rolled skill in the game, and Sense Motive is crucial to the Detective's True Confession performance.
Arcane Insight (Ex): The ability to find traps removes the need for a Rogue, and your bonus from Careful Teamwork can make you very skilled at Disable Device. The other bonuses are very situational.
Arcane Investigation: Instead of versatile performance the Detective gets a bunch of really good divination spells added to the Bard spell list, and gets some free spells known off of the list of new spells.
Replaced Features: Bardic Knowledge, Inspire Courage, Inspire Heroics, Inspire Greatness, Versatile Performance, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Flame Dancer, Savage Skald, Sound Striker
The Dirge Bard trades in some of the Bard's skill capacity and a couple of their less important knowledge powers in exchange for some cool Necromancy abilities. This archetype could make for a cool enemy, or for a good Support character in an evil party that likes to use undead.
Bardic Performance: You don't lose any default performance types, but the one you get is pretty bad.
- Dance of the Dead (Su): This sounds really cool, but fails to live up to expectations. Because you have a limited number of performance rounds, the longest you will ever be able to animate the dead is just over four minutes. You can't abuse Lingering Song because the corpses can only be animated once. Also, you have to supply your own bodies. Imagine needing to haul a wagon of bodies around to animate, then having to spend several rounds getting them out of the wagon before you can fight things.
Haunted Eyes (Ex): Energy drain and death effects are very scary, and a +4 bonus is huge.
Secrets of the Grave (Ex): This provides some very interesting options, but don't expect to be a lord of the undead on par with a Wizard or Cleric.
Haunting Refrain (Su): Fear effects are generally gentle, but there are a few fear effects which can completely end a fight, and many of them are either on the Bard spell list, or they are a Necromancy spell that you can add to your spell list with Secrets of the Grave.
Replaced Features: Jack-of-all-trades, Lore Master, Versatile Performance, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Flame Dancer, Geisha, Sound Striker
An entire archetype dedicated to protecting your allies from fire and the "One Fire" condition. The only redeeming quality of this archetype is that it adds some blast spells to the Bard's spell list, bit because the Bard gets spells levels late his DC will always be poor.
Bardic Performance: Garbage.
- Fire Dance (Su): Protect your allies from some of the least frequent and least impactful status effects in the game.
- Song of the Fiery Gaze (Su): Very situational.
- Fire Break (Su): Just cast Resist Energy.
Fan the Flames (Su): Some decent Blaster spells, but because Bards get spell levels late your DCs will lag behind.
Replaced Features: Countersong, Dirge of Doom, Inspire Competence, Suggestion
Compatible Archetypes: Archaeologist, Daredevil, Detective, Dirge Bard, Geisha, Songhealer
The Geisha is a fantastic concept. You sacrifice most of the Bard's offensive capacity by removing the Bard's armor and most weapons, but Tea Ceremony hugely expands the utility of Bardic Performance. The Geisha gives up Striker and Defender potential and focuses almost solely on Support.
When combining with other archetypes, remember that Tea Ceremony can only work with a limited number of performance effects, and many archetypes sacrifice one or more of those effects.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Giving up the small set of martial weapons that the Bard gets hurts, and losing armor is even worse. Take a look at my Monk Handbook's weapons section for help selecting a Monk weapon.
Tea Ceremony (Su): While it can't be used during combat, the 10 minute duration on these effects is hard to ignore. Though the text of Tea Ceremony does not specify, it should be assumed that you can only affect the number of allies specified in the performance's description, so you can't use Tea Ceremony to affect 20 people with Inspire Heroics. Keep in mind that is in addition to the normal functions of Bardic Performance. Before a planned fight, have a tea party to get Inspire Courage, then spend your time in combat activating other songs and casting spells. Need to find a secret door? Tea party to inspire competence with Perception. Need to make some friends? Tea party to inspire competence with Diplomacy. The uses are practically endless.
Geisha Knowledge: Your choice of Perform skill may depend on what other archetypes you select, if any. The bonus to craft checks will likely never matter, but the bonus to Diplomacy is pretty fantastic. Losing Bardic Knowledge always hurts, but you can still compensate with a decent intelligence score and ranks in all of the important knowledge skills.
Scribe Scroll: Bards generally aren't item crafters, and as spontaneous casters they generally have enough spell slots to meet their needs. However, with no armor and a very poor list of available weapons, you're going to need as much magic as you can get your hands on.
Replaced Features: Proficiencies, Bardic Knowledge
Compatible Archetypes: Animal Speaker, Archaeologist, Archivist, Celebrity, Demagogue, Dirge Bard, Flame Dancer, Savage Skald, Songhealer, Sound Striker
The Magician trades in many of the Bard's signature abilities for some extra abilities pertaining to spellcasting. The abilities are weird grab bag, and many of them are very difficult to use. The best part of the archetype is adding some non-bard spells to your spells known, but at that point it makes more sense to play a Wizard or Sorcerer. As a whole, the archetype is ineffectual, situational, and not very interesting.
Bardic Performance: Giving up Inspire Courage always hurts, and the best option you get in return is Spell Suppresion, which is only useful when you're facing enemy spellcasters.
- Dweomercraft (Su): Most of these checks are fairly rare. Caster Level checks will be nice at high levels when Spell Resistance is common, but the other bonuses are unlikely to be important.
- Spell Suppression (Su): This is miles better than Countersong, and since your normal go-to option was given up for Dweomercraft, you can afford to start and maintain this in every fight featuring enemy spellcasters.
Metamagic Mastery (Ex): At this point you can start a new performance as a swift action, so ending your Metamagic Master performance to make use of the ability means almost nothing.
Magical Talent (Ex): The bonus to UMD is pretty fantastic, and the Spellcraft bonus will help with Spell Suppresion.
Improved Counterspell: Counterspelling is a horrible mechanic, and you should never waste your time counterspelling.
Extended Performance (Su): Just take Lingering Song.
Expanded Repertoire (Ex): Pick some good options from the Wizard spell list. Because your save DCs will be slightly behind Wizards, you make want to stray away from Save-or-Suck spells, but there are tons of great buffs which Bards don't normally get.
Arcane Bond (Ex): The Weapon and Familiar options are the most logical for a Bard, and you can't take either. I would recommend a ring instead.
Wand Mastery (Ex): Apparently you were supposed to waste your Arcane Bond on a wand. To make the best use of this, get a wand of a spell which has an effect that doesn't depend on caster level. Dominate Person seems like a logical choice. Wands still aren't fantastic, but this helps quuite a bit. Combined with your UMD bonus, you can really depend on wands to expand your spell options.
Replaced Features: Bardic Knowledge, Countersong, Dirge of Doom, Frightening Tune, Inspire Courage, Jack-of-All-Trades, Lore Master, Versatile Performance, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Sound Striker
Right off the bat, I'm going to point out that Stealspell is bad. It eats up your performance rounds, and doesn't really get you anything interesting. Fortunately, that isn't the only power the Sandman gets. The Sandman gets some really fantastic save-or-suck sleep effects, and some cool protections against spells. The Sandman also gets a small amount of sneak attack, and some cool stealth powers.
Bardic Performance: Slumbersong and Mass Slumber Song are possibly the most effective sleep effects in the game. And sleep is the cousin of death.
- Stealspell (Su): This is really difficult to use. You need to know what spells the target knows or has prepared, which you can only really gurantee with your allies. Enemies generally won't spam the same spell every round, so you can't use this to harm them in any meaningful way. You can use Stealspell to borrow spells from your allies to help them cast spells quickly, but it's at the expense of your Bardic Music rounds. Because you don't have Inspire Courage or Inspire Heroics, you don't have anything to sink a ton of rounds into, so you can afford to hold onto your ally's spell for a while.
- Slumber Song (Sp): Save or suck, and the DC will exceed your spells.
- Dramatic Subtext (Su): The wording is somewhat ambiguous, but if you use some form of Perform that doesn't require an instrument, you may be able to cast spells while restrained or grappled. Check with your GM. At the very least, you can use this to cast spells in social situations which can give you a huge advantage.
- Greater Stealspell (Su): Waiting until level 15 to make Stealspell a useful offensive option is disappointing. Stealing spell resistance is actually a pretty good trick at high levels when most big enemies will have spell resistance.
- Mass Slumber Song (Sp): AOE Save or Suck.
- Spell Catching (Su): This is incredibly powerful, even if the cost in Bardic Music rounds is very high. Imagine reversing a Finger of Death or something similarly nasty.
Master of Deception (Ex): Bluff, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth are some of the Rogue's most iconic skills. Coupled with the ability to disable traps, and you are basically a Rogue with a magical guitar.
Sneakspell (Ex): This places much more importance on Stealth, and makes Invisibility very powerful for you. Combined with Slumber Song, you can sneak into rooms and end encounters in the surprise round with a very impressive save DC.
Trap Sense (Ex): Trap sense has never been good.
Sneak Attack (Ex): With such slow scaling, this doesn't magically turn you into a DPS Striker. However, Sneak Attack on a bard is a lot of fun.
Replaced Features: Bardic Knowledge, Deadly Performance, Inspire Competence, Inspire Courage, Inspire Greatness, Inspire Heroics, Lore Master, Mass Suggestion, Suggestion, Versatile Performance
Compatible Archetypes: None.
The Savage Skald is a Support Bard designed to support Barbarians. Unless you have a Barbarian in the party, I would never consider this. Even then, it's not very good. This might be fun for the Cohort of a Barbarian with Leadership, but even then just to provide free Rage rounds using Incite Rage. Instead, try the Skald class.
Bardic Performance: You give up your non-combat songs for the ability to cause Rage, as the spell. Rage is a 2nd-level Bard spell, and even then it's not very good.
Inspiring Blow (Su): Effects which trigger on critical hits are awful unless your character is built specifically for critical hits, and without full BAB, you can't really do that. On top of this issue, the bonus is garbage.
Incite Rage (Su): Useful to throw on a Fighter or a Barbarian, but still not great.
Song of the Fallen (Sp): Very costly. Activating this will consume nearly half of your music rounds for the day, leaving you very little time to make use your new Barbarian friends.
Berserkergang (Ex): DR is/- nice.
Battle Song (Su): Still not great.
Replaced Features: Fascinate, Jack-of-All-Trades, Mass Suggestion, Soothing Performance, Suggestion
Compatible Archetypes: Celebrity, Daredevil, Detective, Geisha, Songhealer, Street Performer
I would only take this archetype in a very simulationist seafaring campaign. The abilities mostly pertain to travel, and the most interesting ability is Familiar.
Bardic Performance: At least you get to keep Inspire Courage.
Sea Shanty (Su): Have you ever been seasick? Even in a seafaring campaign, sea sickness should be infrequent.
Still Water (Su): Stormy waters are a classic story device in stories involving sea travel. Any sailor would love to have this ability handy, but it's unlikely to be important in any other campaign.
Whistle the Wind (Su): Fantastic for sailors, but almost entirely useless for adventurers. Gust of Wind is very situational, and it's available as a spell.
Call the Storm (Su): An excellent grab bag of abilities.
World Traveler (Ex): The list of knowledge skills is decent, but Linguistics really won't get you anything interesting. The rerolls are also nice.
Familiar: Familiars are absolutely fantastic. They use their master's skill bonuses, so you could send the monkey to open locks or disable traps. Flying familiars make excellent scouts, especially for observing distant ships.
Sea Legs (Ex): Situational.
Replaced Features: Bardic Knowledge, Countersong, Inspire Competense, Mass Suggestion, Suggestion, Versatile Performance, Well-Versed
Compatible Archetypes: Celebrity
The Songhealer give sup Versatile performance and a couple of high level performance abilities for some really fantastic healing abilities. As long as no one in the party outright dies, this could allow the Bard to completely fill the party's need for a Healer. Combined with the Bard's already fantastic Support abilities, this is a great option for a character that doesn't plan to spend all of their time dealing damage.
Enhance Healing (Su): This will really improve that wand of Cure Light Wounds. And let's be honest: If you don't have one, you're either very low level, very poor, or very dead.
Bardic Performance: Both options are fantastic.
- Healing Performance (Su): Trading 5 rounds of music for Heal is a pretty good trade. No one needs to prepare heal, and you save a ton of charges from your wand.
- Funereal Ballad (Su): I'm not entirely certain, but it appears that this doesn't require a material component. 20th level abilities rarely see use, and hopefully a party of level 20 won't need this too much, but when you do, this is pretty fantastic.
Replaced Features: Deadly Performance, Frightening Tune, Versatile Performance
Compatible Archetypes: Animal Speaker, Celebrity, Demagogue, Flame Dancer, Geisha, Prankster (Gnome), Savage Skald, Sound Striker, Street Performer
The Soundstriker is a blaster archetype for Bards. The performance types which you give up aren't super important, but the Soundstriker's abilities can really be a lot of fun and do a lot of damage. However, the Soundstriker can't keep pace with most other Blasters, so this shouldn't be considered the character's primary function.
Bardic Performance: The Soundstriker gives up Inspire Competence and Suggestion, but gets some very unique performances which can deal damage using Bardic Performance.
Wordstrike (Su): Amusing, but the damage is very small. Of course, sonic damage is rarely resisted, and this doesn't require an attack or require a saving throw. It also doesn't specfy "unattended object", so you might be able to use this to mess up enemies' weapons.
Weird Words (Su): With a decent Charisma score, this can be an effective group damage spell. You can also improve the cool-factor by using onomotopoetic sound effects (think Adam West's Batman: Pow! Bam! Wap!). This won't keep up with things like fireball in terms of damage, but you don't have to worry about hitting your allies, and damage type is versatile.
Replaced Features: Inspire Competence, Suggestion
Compatible Archetypes: Celebrity, Daredevil, Detective, Dirge Bard, Geisha, Magician, Songhealer, Street Performer
The abilities of the street performer primarily center around bluffing and distraction. You will be very dependent on your Charisma to boost your performance save DCs, and because none of your abilities do any damage, your allies will need to capitalize on invisibility to deal damage on their own.
Bardic Performance: Instead of boosting your allies with Inspire Courage, you generally support them by making them effectively invisible. This can be very powerful, but make sure that your allies are capable of capitalizing on this benefit.
Disappearing Act (Su): A bit like Invisiblity, this can be very valuable for protecting weak characters and concealing rogues. Allowing a saving throw makes this more difficult to use, and the 30 foot range is hard.
Harmless Performer (Su): The sanctuary effect is amusing, but causing enemies to lose spells is absolutely fantastic. You will need to alternate between Disappearing Act and Harmless Performer to avoid becoming a big noisy target.
Madcap Prank (Su): Though unpredictable, many of the effects caused by Madcap Prank are very problematic. I wouldn't rely on this a lot, but it might save your life in a pinch.
Slip through the Crowd (Su): Turn it on, conceal the whole party, and get to stabbing.
Gladhanding: Earning gold by performing is hardly a way to get by compared to collecting +1 swords. Using Bluff in place of Diplomacy is amusing, and with the Streetwise bonus, your Bluff skill will be fantastic.
Streetwise: An interesting grab bag of skills.
Quick Change (Ex): Disguise is very situational, but the bonuses to Bluff and the ability to take 20 once per day can be very useful.
Replaced Features: Bardic Knowledge, Countersong, Inspire Competence, Inspire Courage, Inspire Greatness, Inspire Heroics, Lore Master
Compatible Archetypes: Savage Skald, Songhealer
Voice of The Wild sacrifices a lot of the Bard's normal capabilities with skills in favor of expanded spell options and the ability to enhance allies with animal aspects which provide a variety of useful bonuses.
Wild Knowledge (Ex): Bardic knowledge, but it only applies to one skill.
Nature Magic: Losing Versatile Performance really limits the Bard's utility with skills, but Nature Magic opens up a ton of options. Druids and Rangers have some fantastic and unique spells available to them.
Bardic Performance: Song of the Wild is surprisingly good and very versatile.
- Song of the Wild (Su): Despite giving up three performance types to get it, Song of the Wild is surprisingly good. The Animal Aspect abilities available scale well, and provide a variety of useful buffs which can help your party in a variety of situations.
Replaced Features: Bardic Knowledge, Countersong, Dirge of Doom, Inspire Competence, Inspire Heroics, Jack-of-All-Trades, Versatile Performance
Compatible Archetypes: Demagogue