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Pathfinder 2e - The Bard Handbook

Last Updated: February 11th, 2020

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks.

  • 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.

Introduction

The Bard is a versatile spellcasting class that can thrive in a variety of roles. Their signature role is as a Support character, but they can also serve as a Healer, Librarian, Scout, and Utility caster depending on your build.

Successful bards needs to be very comfortable with managing their action economy, tracking status conditions, and supporting the party indirectly. Many of the Bard's most effective features are single Actions which produce short-duration status effects that you'll need to track constantly, and nearly none of the Bard's feats involve harming enemies (spellcasting being the largest exception). This is a class that will reward a player who is comfortable with Pathfinder 2e's mechanics and with constantly re-calculating numbers.

Bard Class Features

Key Ability: Charisma. This makes the bard a natural Face, and makes it easy to capitalize on things like innate spellcasting from your Ancestry.

Hit Points: 8+ hit points is typical for classes not built to be a front-line martial character. You'll be fine if you're built to fight at range, but if you want to get into melee be sure to invest in Constitution to pad your hit points.

Initial Proficiencies: The Bard's proficiencies are limited. You get few weapons and you're not very good at using them, and defensively you're very vulnerable. Expect to invest in Dexterity and Constitution just to stay alive.

  • Perception: Starts at Expert, and remains above average as you gain levels.
  • Saving Throws: The worst Fortitude saves in the game, and only middling Reflex saves. The Bard's proficency in Will saves is among the best available, which is great because you may not be able to afford to invest in Wisdom. You'll need to invest in Dexterity and Constitution to compensate for your other saves.
  • Skills: A total of 6+ skills is above average, but you're locked into Occultism and Performance, and most bards will take Deception, Diplomacy, and Intimidation to capitalize on their high Charisma, so you may find yourself with less flexibility than you'd like unless you invest in Intelligence for extra skills.
  • Attacks: Simple weapons and a handful of martial weapons. Your proficiency advances at the same rate as the Wizard, which should tell you how infrequently bards are expected to use weapons. Don't expect to use weapons extensively, but you might make a Strike every few turns when you have a spare Action, so a shortbow can be a useful option, especially at low levels where your comparably poor proficiency is less significant and you have fewer spells to throw around.
  • Defenses: Light armor, and your proficiency advances at the slowest rate. Your AC is going to be bad, which is a problem on top of your 8+ hit points.
  • Class DC: Bard don't get a class DC. That's not much of a problem unless you're trying to capitalize on Critical Specialization Effects, but even then many of them don't care about your Class DC, and you don't get access to them from the Bard until level 11.

Occult Spellcasting:

  • Heightened Spells: Heightening spells is an important mechanic in Pathfinder 2e. Many spells scale them. Since bards use a Spell Repertoire, you need to learn spells at multiple levels to highten them in most cases, though Signature Spells are an exception.
  • Cantrips: Fantastic every time, on any character, in any amount. Bards learn 5 cantrips at level 1 and never get more, but you can replace them by retraining or when you gain a level so you're not locked into whatever you pick at first level.

Spell Repertoire: Spell Repertoires are less versatile than spellcasting like the Cleric's or the Druid's. You know a fixed number of spells which grows as you gain levels, and while you don't need to prepare your spells ahead of time you also lose the flexibility of changing your spells every day. You also need to learn the same spells as multiple levels if you plan to heighten them, which is a difficult cost to pay. Fortunately, the Bard's Signature Spells feature (see below) allows you to heighten some of your spells without learning them multiple times.

Composition Spells: Composition Spells are an important part of the Bard's capabilities, and the Bard is one of few classes which start with a Focus Pool by default. You get the Counter Performance Focus Spell for free at 1st level, but characters multiclassing into the Bard would need to take the Counter Performance feat to get it.

Bards also have Focus Cantrips. These are a separate pool of cantrips from your regular cantrips, but they work roughly the same way. The Bard's Focus Cantrips include numerous excellet buff/debuff effects, including Inspire Courage which you get for free at first level.

Composition Spells all have the Composition trait. You can only have one Composition in effect at the same time, so despite the often low Action cost to cast a Composition Spell, casting more than one in the same turn is generally a bad idea.

For details on specific Composition Spells, see Focus Spells, below.

Muse: See "Subclasses - Muses", below.

Bard Feats: See Bard feats, below.

Skill Feats: Standard for everyone except the Rogue.

General Feats: Standard.

Lightning Reflexes: Better saves never hurts, but you never go beyond Expert. You might consider Canny Acumen at high level to raise your Reflex Saves to Master.

Signature Spells: A powerful and important feature, this allows you to heighten a small set of spells without learning them multiple times. As their name suggests, these spells will be your go-to options in most situations, and choosing good spells will be absoutely crucial.

Skill Increases: Standard for everyone except the Rogue.

Ability Boosts: Standard.

Ancestry Feats: Standard.

Expert Spellcaster: Better spell attacks and spell DCs. Standard for full spellcasters.

Great Fortitude: Better saving throws is always great.

Resolve: You are very good at Will saves.

Bard Weapon Expertise: You are still garbage with weapons. You do get access to Critical Specialization Effects, but scoring a critical hit with a weapon will be a rarity.

Vigilant Senses: The Bard's Perception progression is above average. More is always great.

Light Armor Expertise: More AC is always great, but you get this very late.

Weapon Specialization: This will rarely matter. If you're attacking with a weapon, it's because you have nothing better to do.

Master Spellcaster: Better spell attacks and spell DCs. Standard for full spellcasters.

Greater Resolve: Very powerful. Preventing Critical Failures on Will saves can protect from numerous very harmful effects.

Legendary Spellcaster: Better spell attacks and spell DCs. Standard for full spellcasters.

Magnum Opus: 10th-level spells are crazy. You can spend a class feat to get another, but it's unlikley that you'll ever cast more than 2 10th-level spells in a day.

Subclasses - Muses

Each Muse emphasizes a specific part of the Bard's capabilities, offering new feats to support that part of the class. While technically you're not obligated to take any of those feats (beyond the one which you recieve at 1st level), many of the Bard's best class feats are Muse-specific.

You can gain access to feats from other Muses with the Multifarious Muse feat, broadening your class feat options. However, adding more Muse types will have diminishing returns because you have a limited number of class feat slots. You simply can't do everything in one build, so you'll need to pick and choose.

Enigma CRB

The Enigma is the master of knowing stuff about stuff. You don't need much Intelligence of Wisdom to back up this knowledge, but you'll still lean heavily on Recall Knowledge. Amazingly, this knowledge comes at a surprisingly low Skill Increase/Feat cost, but it also doesn't give you much other than knowledge. You'll need to lean on general Bard Class Feats or combine this with another Muse to find a niche for yourself in the party.

  • Feat: Bardic LoreCRB: See below, under class feats.
  • Spell: True StrikeCRB: The best thing that I can say about True Strike is that it costs one Action so you can easily fit a Composition Cantrip, True Strike, and a single Strike into the same turn. Unfortunately, your Strikes are going to be fairly pointless beyond low levels, and at low levels you have very spell slots so it may be hard to justify spending one on True Strike.

Maestro CRB

The Maestro is essentially the generic bard. It doesn't emphasize any specific part of the Bard's capabilities, but it has a good mix of options that run across Compositions, regular spellcasting, and skills.

Unless you want to focus solely on a single Muse, starting with Maestro and then taking Multifarious Muse to add a second Muse type is a great option. The Maestro's feats can complement those of your second Muse, allowing you to build something better than a single Muse could produce on its own.

  • Feat: Lingering CompositionCRB: See below, under class feats.
  • Spell: SootheCRB: The Occult spell list doesn't get Heal, so Soothe is the next-best thing.

Polymath CRB

The Polymath emphasizes two thing: Skills and spellcasting. But it does so in a weird way. The Polymath's skill-related feats help the Bard succeed with skills in which the Bard hasn't spent resources, so if you want to play a high-skill character with poor Intelligence, the Polymath is great. The Polymath's spellcasting adds a spellbook and unusually easy options to adjust your Spell Repertoire, allowing you much more flexibility with your spells than most Spell Repertoire users can achieve.

  • Feat: Versatile PerformanceCRB: See below, under class feats.
  • Spell: Unseen ServantCRB: Useful outside of combat, but spells which require you to Sustain them are hard for the Bard because you're already stretching your Actions to use both Composition Cantrips and your regular spellcasting.

Warrior APG

The Warrior Muse emphases two things: using weapons and Inspire Courage. Sadly, the Bard is absolutely garbage at using weapons, so it's really just Inspire Courage. If you plan to take the Multifarious Muse feat and you want Warrior to be one of your Muse types, make Warrior your second. Martial Performance is an absolutely pointless feat.

Provided that you do take Warrior (either as your primary Muse or with Multifarious Muse), many of the Warrior Muse's class feats are very good, taking Inspire Courage from a decent combat buff to a truly impressive support feature. If you're not already planning to lean heavily into another Composition Cantrip, Warrior is an easy addition to many builds which emphasize other aspects of the Bard's capabilities.

  • Feat: Martial PerformanceAPG: See below, under class feats.
  • Spell: FearCRB: Learn Dirge of Doom. Frightened wears off at one point per round, so Fear is only more effective than Dirge of Doom if the target fails, and even then only briefly. It's simply not good

Ability Scores

Bards only really need Charisma, but with poor defenses you want to invest some boosts in Dexterity and Constitution to keep yourself alive. You may want more Intelligence for skills and Wisdom for Perception and Will saves. That leaves Strength as your only dump stat option, but beyond dumping Strength and maximizing Charisma, you have a lot of flexibility depending on your priorities for your character. Remember that wherever you put your boosts will be a trade. You can't be great at everything at the same time.

Str: Dump. All that you get is carrying capacity and weapon damage. You don't need either enough to invest boosts.

Dex: AC and Reflex saves, and if you plan to use weapons they'll almost certainly be either Finesse weapons or ranged weapons. You don't necessarily need a ton, but you shouldn't totally ignore Dexterity.

Con: 8+ hit points and poor Fortitude saves is a recipe for a dead character.

Int: More skills. You may be able to get by on Untrained Improvisation and Bardic Lore, which would allow you to dump Intelligence while still being reasonably effective at things that normally require it.

Wis: Will saves and Perception.

Cha: Your Key Ability Score.

Ancestries

Look for boosts that match the ability scores you want. Since there is so much room for the bard to tweak their ability scores to suit the build you want, your Ancestry's default boosts can be far more important than they are for other classes. An ancestry with Dex/Con/Free boosts is ideal, but almost anything can work depending on what you're trying to build.

Beyond your Ability Boosts, look for things which complement the Bard's features or fill in gaps. Additional defenses like damage resistance are great, as are high ancestry hit points. Innate spellcasting is extremely tempting because the Bard is Charisma-based, so if you can get innate Occult spells, they work just as well as your regular bard spells.

CatfolkAPG: The Ability Boosts line up perfectly, but the Catfolk's Ancestry Feats don't do anything that's specifically useful for the Bard.

DwarfCRB: A Charisma Flaw, and the Dwarf's Ancestry Feats generally support doing things that the Bard shouldn't do like trying to be a Defender.

ElfCRB: Though they are incredibly frail, the Elf makes an excellent bard. The boosts work great, and if you're fine staying behind your allies the low hp and Constitution Flaw are manageable. Ancestral Linguistics and the Otherworldly Magic feat chain are great choices for Ancestry Feats, though the Elf's Innate Spellcasting feats are all Arcane, so you'll want to stick to utility options unless you can advance your proficency with arcane spells somehow. With high Intelligence and access to Ancestral Longevity, the Elf is a great option for bards looking to emphasize skills in their build.

GnomeCRB: Perfect boosts and flaws for the Bard, and much more durable than the Elf. The Gnome offers numerous options for innate spellcasting, including potentially Occult spells, and you get access to a Familiar with the Animal Accomplice feat. The Gnome is a great option all around to lean into the Bard's core function as a spellcaster.

GoblinCRB: Perfect boosts, but the Goblin's Ancestry Feats don't offer as many appealing options as the Elf or the Gnome. Goblin Song is an obvious choice, but there aren't many other feat options that appeal to the Bard.

HalflingCRB: Good boosts/flaws, but no Ancestry Feats which directly complement the Bard. The Halfling Luck feat chain is always good, but it's no better for the Bard than for anyone else. Cultural Adaptability is a great option to get Goblin Song if you don't want to take Adopted Ancestry.

HumanCRB: An easy choice for a wide variety of builds. If you don't want much from your Ancestry, options like Versatile Heritage and Natural Ambition make it easy to get the most out of other parts of your build. If you're interested in an Aid build, Cooperative Nature combines well with Inspire Competence.

KoboldAPG: Boosts/flaws and ancestry hp which match the Elf and several interesting options from both the Heritage options and from the Kobold's Ancestry Feats. Spells are an option, and the Kobold Breath feat offers a great offensive option if you don't want to rely exclusively on spells. Options like Cringe and Grovel offer other interesting options with low Action costs that can let you expand your impact far beyond what you can do with spells.

OrcAPG: Bad ability boosts, and the Orc's Ancestry Feats are almost all about being in melee combat.

RatfolkAPG: Good boosts/flaws, but the Ratfolk's Ancestry Feats do absolutely nothing useful for the Bard.

TenguAPG: Workable boosts and now flaws, but Squawk is the only feat which looks appealing. Unless you really like the Tengu's Ancestry Feats independent of your class, there's little to be gained here.

Backgrounds

If you're having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

Skills and Skill Feats

You get Skill Increases at 3rd and 5th level to raise skills to Expert, increases at 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th level to raise skills to Master, and increases at 15th, 17th, and 19th level to raise skills to Legendary. That means that you can maximize at most three skills, and the rest of your skills might not advance beyond Trained.

You get Skill Feats at even-numbered levels, giving you a total of 10 Skill Feats (and maybe another from your Background) by 20th level. Generally you want to invest these feats in the same skills which you are choosing to maximize, though in some cases you may want to grab feats from skills which don't require that you be more than Trained.

  • Acrobatics (Dex): Situational.
  • Arcana (Int): A crucial knowledge skill.
    • Arcane SenseCRB: Detect Magic is too important to be without, but it's hard to commit up to three spaces in your Spell Repertoire. This neatly solve that problem.
  • Athletics (Str): Strength is your only dump stat.
  • Crafting (Int): Useful in any party, but unless you're determined to craft magic items there's little reason for the Bard to explore Crafting. You typically won't need to maintain a shield or craft alchemical items or anything like that.
  • Deception (Cha): A very helpful Face skill.
    • Lie to MeCRB: Reduces your reliance on Perception to detect lies, which makes it easier to succeed if you have poor Wisdom.
  • Diplomacy (Cha): The king of Face skills, any Charisma-based character should have it.
    • Bon Mot: Bon Mot is a great feat. One action to impose a minute-long -2 or -3 penalty to Will saves is very effective if you can follow it with other effects like spells or Dirge of Doom.
  • Intimidation (Cha): The Bard's least-useful Face skill. Coercion still works fine, but that may not be enough to make this worth investing in. Demoralize is an option, but Dirge of Doom provides the same function and does a much better job, so there's nearly no reason to use Demoralize. If you're short on skills but still want to be a Face, Intimidation is safe to give up.
  • Lore (Int): A possibility if you didn't dump Intelligence.
  • Medicine (Wis): Useful, but ideally you want to leave to someone with better Wisdom. Restoration and Soothe are on the Bard's spell list (Soothe restores hit points), but Medicine may still be tempting so that you have an inexpensive source of hit point restoration. If you just need a reliable source of healing outside of combat, I recommend Hymn of Healing instead.
  • Nature (Wis): A crucial knowledge skill, but Wisdom may be a problem. Hopefully you can leave this to someone else in the party.
  • Occultism (Int): You start at Trained for free, and it's used in several Bard Class Feats.
    • Disturbing KnowledgeAPG: Until you get to Legendary in Occultism, this isn't worth the Action cost. Even then, Dirge of Doom will be more reliable.
    • Root MagicAPG: Only works once per day against a limited .
  • Performance (Cha): You start at Trained for free, and the Performance skill is used for several of the Bard's Focus Spells. Increasing Performance is essentially a tax
    • AssuranceCRB: You're going to be rolling Performance a lot. Sometimes the DC will be too high for Assurance, but in a lot of cases it won't be so Assurance will protect from embarassing failure with basic Bard stuff.
    • Fascinating Performance: Do not use this in combat. There are too many points of failure, and the Fascinated condition won't prevent the target from hurting you. Your best bet is to try to distract creatures before combat breaks out.
    • Virtuosic Performance: Essential. An easy +1 or +2 on your most important skill is simply too powerful to ignore, especially at the low cost of a single Skill Feat.
  • Religion (Wis): A crucial knowledge skill, but Wisdom may be a problem. Hopefully you can leave this to someone else in the party.
  • Society (Int): Knowledge of humanoid societies is very helpful in many campaigns.
  • Stealth (Dex): Helpful if you're serving as your party's Scout, but not essential otherwise.
  • Survival (Wis): Too situational.
  • Thievery (Dex): Helpful if you're serving as your party's Scout, but not essential otherwise.

General Skill Feats

  • Automatic KnowledgeCRB: Good synergy with some Bard Class Feats.
  • Magical ShorthandCRB: Polymath bards who enjoy collecting spells may find this helpful.

Feats

Bard Feats

For the full list of Bard Class Feats, see the Bard Feats page on Archives of Nethys.

1st Level

  • Bardic LoreCRB: (enigma muse) Absolutely stellar. In addition to the typical knowledge skills (Arcana, Nature, Occultism, Religion), this also covers Pathfinders functionally infinite number of Lore sills. Your modifier will be better if you invest Skill Increases in the knowledge skills, but if you need to put your skills elsewhere you can easily cover knowledge skills with this.
  • Hymn of HealingAPG: See below, under "Focus Spells".
  • Lingering CompositionCRB: (maestro muse) See below, under Focus Spells. This also gives you an additional Focus Point, allowing the Bard to start with two Focus Points at level 1, which is extremely rare.
  • Martial PerformanceAPG: (Warrior Muse) You already get the small handful of martial weapons whcih suit the bard well, and the Bard's capabilities with weapons are fairly dismal so there's little reason to invest beyond your initial proficiencies.
  • Reach Spell: Great for spells with Touch range like Heal and some buff spells.
  • Versatile PerformanceCRB: (Polymath Muse) If you're your party's Face, you need the skills which Versatile Performance covers in order to perform the other actions covered by those skills. You may find this helpful if you don't have enough skills and need to put your Skill Increases into other skills, in which case you can rely Performance for common actions and you can default to your comparably low proficiency with other skills the rest of the time.
  • Well-VersedAPG: Situational by design.

2nd Level

  • Cantrip ExpansionCRB: Two more cantrips offers a lot of opportunity to explore the Bard's cantrips, but between regular cantrips and Focus Cantrips you may already have as many as you could possibly want.
  • Directed AudienceCRB: Situations where this will allow you to affect more targets will be rare, and you can usually handle those situations by moving.
  • Esoteric PolymathCRB: (Polymath Muse) The wording of this feat is brief and precise, but it may be difficult to grasp exactly how it works until you've got your head around your Spell Repertoire, your Signature Spells, and how the two features work together. The feat gives you a spellbook as its first function, and in addition after completing your daily preperations you pick one spell in your spellbook and gain one of two benefits.

    The spellbook itself works much like the Wizard's. As you gain levels and add more spells to your Spell Repertoire, they're added to the spellbook for free. In addition, you can use the Occultism skill to add additional spells to your spellbook. Just like the Wizard, you need to add the spell at each spell level that you want to be able to cast that spell. For example: If you wanted to add False Life to your spellbook, you could use the Occultism skill and the "Learn a Spell" activity. This spell is not added to your Spell Repertoire when you learn it this way.

    Once you have spells in your spellbook, during your daily preparations you can pick on spell in the spellbook and gain one of two benefits. If the spell is already in your Spell Repertoire, it becomes a Signature Spell for you for the day. This allows you to Heighten the spell without knowing the spell multiple times at different spell levels. For example: If you has False Life in your Spell Repertoire as a 1st-level spell, you could select it from your spellbook and it would become a Signature Spell. This would then allow you to Heighten it to any level of spell which you can cast.

    If you instead choose a spell which is in your spellbook but not in your Spell Repertoire, you add the spell to your Spell Repertoire for the day, effectively learning one extra spell. For example: If you added False Life to your spellbook as a 2nd-level spell and did not also have it in your Spell Repertoire, then selected that spell from your spellbook, you would be able to spend spell slots to cast False Life as a 2nd-leve spell.

  • Inspire CompetenceCRB: (maestro muse) See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Loremaster's EtudeCRB: (enigma muse) See below, under Focus Spells. Note that this adds a point to your Focus Pool, so it's entirely possible that you could hit the maximum of 3 by level 2.
  • Multifarious MuseCRB: Many of the Bard's 1st-level feats are restriced to a single muse, and many of those feats are very good. Even if you never take another feat from the additional type of muse, this is still a great feat.
  • Song of StrengthCRB: (Warrior Muse) See below, under Focus Spells.

4th Level

  • Combat ReadingAPG: This shares a lot of similarities with Recall Knowledge, but the effects are much more specific. In fact, as a GM I might just use Combat Reading's effects as a basis for how to handle to Recall Knowledge when used on creatures of a given type. Combat Reading notably works for individual creatures, so you could look at Greg the Troll and know that Greg has weakness to Mental Damage for some reason, but Recall Knowledge would only tell you that trolls have Weakness to Fire Damage. The fact that you use this against any creature using only Occultism makes Occultism a very useful skill.
  • Courageous AdvanceAPG: (Warrior Muse) If you're spending an Action to use Inspire Courage, hopefully your allies are spending their actions attacking rather than moving. But even if they need to spend an Action to Stride to get into po
  • Insire DefenseCRB: (maestro muse) See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Melodious SpellCRB: Situational, but very effective when you want it.
  • Ritual ResearcherAPG: (enigma muse) I haven't researche PF2's ritual system enough to offer useful advice here, but an easy +2 bonus seems really good for such a low-level feat.
  • Triple TimeCRB: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Versatile SignatureCRB: (Polymath Muse) Your Signature Spells should be spells that you've selected because they make sense as permanent Signature Spells. If you need another Signature Spell, you have your spellbook and you can select one of your non-Signature Spells to make it a Signature Spell for the day. That should be enough to limp along until you gain a level and can swap things around.

6th Level

  • Assured KnowledgeAPG: (enigma muse) This is effectively the same as taking Assurance with Arcana, Nature, Occultism, and Religion, all for the cost one Class Feat. You can only use this for the Recall Knowledge action, but that's the most common thing you'll do with those skills.
  • Defensive CoordinationAPG: (Warrior Muse) The total action cost is fairly high, and the big benefit of the feat is that an ally can Raise a Shield as a Reaction. If your ally is built around using a shield, they need to manage their own Actions to support that in order to not place a constant tax on your actions. If the best thing that you can do with your turns is to remind an ally to Raise a Shield, your build has serious problems. Yes, there will be turns where your ally needs to spend all of their Actions on other stuff and can't raise their shield, but are those situations frequent enough that you need this feat? If they are, maybe your ally should give up on using a shield.
  • Dirge of DoomCRB: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Educate AlliesAPG: Still situational by design, but sharing a +1 bonus with your whole party is good in situations where it applies.
  • HarmonizeCRB: (maestro muse) Combining Compositions can be very powerful. However, they typically have a duration of just 1 round, so it's hard to invest 3 Actions between Harmonize and the two Compositions. Your best bet is to use Lingering Composition to extend the durations, but each Composition still has an independent duration so you need to spend two Focus Points to make both of them last longer than their default 1-round duration.
  • Song of MarchingAPG: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Steady SpellcastingAPG: The Flat Check is too difficult to make this feat an easy choice. You have a success rate of just 30%. If you're in a situation where you might lose a spell, cast a cantrip so that losing it won't cost you anything.

8th Level

  • AccompanyAPG: If you're using this with any regularity, you're either incredibly generous or your spell selection is so bad that your allies spells are consistently better than yours. The ability to donate Focus Points and Spell Slots this way can help fuel spells which could be incredibly impactful. The Bard also has weirdly easy access to Focus Points, able to get a full 3-point pool as early as second level, so you're well-equipped to donate Focus Points to allies who might only have one or two by this level.
  • Call and ResponseAPG: Great concept, but the Action cost is simply too high. You're investing an additional Action on your turn for a total of two Actions to cast one Composition Cantrip, then another ally must spend an Action to trigger the benefit. That's a total cost of three Actions to get two rounds of a Composition Cantrip compared to spending two of your own Actions across two turns to get the same 2 rounds of your Composition Cantrip.
  • Courageous OpportunityAPG: (Warrior Muse) This would be excellent on a class that wasn't absolute garbage with weapons. Your attack bonus improves so slowly that that critical hits will be nearly non-existent, so in effect this is hardly better than Attack of Opportunity.
  • Eclectic SkillCRB: (Polymath Muse) A much better version of Untrained Improvisation. At this level, the bonus from each feat is the same, but Eclectic Skill allows you to use Actions which require you to be Trained, while Untrained Improvisation does not.
  • Inspire HeroicsCRB: (maestro muse) See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Know-It-AllCRB: (enigma muse) How much additional information or context? This feat is too vaguely-defined for me to rate it. Depending on your GM, this could be absolutely worthless.
  • SoulsightAPG: A good way to detect invisible or hidden creatures, but remember that it doesn't cover all creature types.

10th Level

  • Annotate CompositionAPG: You can commit one or two Focus Points (normally one, but you can add Inspire Heroics or Lingering Performance to the scroll) to pre-cast a Composition Cantrip and hand it to another creature to actually cast. If you use the scroll yourself, you're missing the point. The best use case is giving the scroll to a less-powerful creature in the party (a minion, and NPC, etc.). The secret Performance check is rolled using your Performance modifier, so basically any creature which can read is suitable. But having minions or whatever that can read is a guarantee, so more likely you or another party member will read the scroll. If that's the case, you've locked yourself out of one or two Focus Points for the privilege of not being able to choose what you want to spend those Focus Points on during your turn. Instead, you've guessed potentially hours ahead of time and you're left to hope for the best.
  • Courageous AssaultAPG: (Warrior Muse) Absolutely worth the Action cost if you don't need to cast a spell or something in any given round. Since the Strike is made as a Reaction outside of your ally's turn, they don't need to worry about a Multiple Attack Penalty. Use this on whoever in your party does the most damage with a single Strike. Big weapons, Sneak Attack, whatever.
  • House of Imaginary WallsCRB: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Ode to OuroborosAPG: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Quickened CastingCRB: Not nearly so exciting on the Witch as it is on other spellcasters, but still pretty good. Witches have lots of 1-Action Hex spells to choose from, so it's easy to fill three Actions with nothing but spellcasting. You can still use this to cast two regular spells, and the once per day limitation may not be a problem since you can fall back on Hexes the rest of the time.
  • Symphony of the Unfettered HeartAPG: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Unusual CompositionCRB: (Polymath Muse) Situational, but maybe abusable. Most buff Compositions like Inspire Courage have Verbal components, and changing that to Somatic means that you can use the Composition while invisible without giving away your position. Of course, this will conflict with other metamagic options like Lingering Composition.

12th Level

  • Eclectic PolymathCRB: This is essentially the same as permanently replacing spells in your Spell Repertoire when you gain a level, except that you can do it on a daily basis. If you're doing this often enough that you need this feat, maybe play a class that doesn't have a Spell Repertoire like the Witch or the Wizard.
  • Enigma's KnowledgeAPG: Recall Knowledge once per round for free using Assured Knowledge so you don't even have to roll. Essentially, once per round you look at your GM and say "Hey, if I use X skill, what do I know about this thing?".
  • Inspirational FocusCRB: Bards have a lot of options for using Focus Points, and you could get up to 3 points by level 2, so after going 10 levels with a mostly-empty Focus Pool this feels really good.
  • ReverberateAPG: Extremely situational, and the fact that you could actually cause more damage to yourself by critically failing is an unnecessary insult.
  • Shared AssaultAPG: This won't trigger reliably because you can't guarantee critical hits, but the times when it does work are going to feel really awesome. Unfortunately, RAW this doesn't work with Courageous Onslaught, and I can't tell if that's intentional.

14th Level

  • AllegroCRB: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • EarwornAPG: Use this between fights, and you can set up a Composition Cantrip to trigger as a Free Action, effectively spending 10 minutes outside of combat (when time is cheap) to save yourself one Action in combat (when time is expensive). Unfortunately, I don't think you can add on stuff like Inspire Heroics since feats which allow you to do so typically say explicitly that you can. If your DM is generous, you may be able to do this while Refocusing.
  • Soothing BalladCRB: See below, under Focus Spells. Note that this adds one point to your Focus Pool.
  • Triumphant InspirationAPG: (Warrior Muse) This would be really cool if bards weren't so bad at using weapons.
  • True HypercognitionCRB: (enigma muse) If you rely heavily on Recall Knowledge, such as to identify monsters in combat, this looks very useful. However, it explicitly doesn't work with things like the Ranger's Monster Hunter feat tree, so all that you get from this is the knowledge. Sometimes that's enough, but most encounters won't require you to identify five different types of monsters at the same time, and Enigma's Knowledge already massively mitigates the Action cost of Recall Knowledge without the need to give up triggering special abilities or Free Actions.
  • Vigorous InspirationAPG: By this level you should have 20 Charisma, so your whole party gets 8 temporary hit points. They last a minute, so you may be able to use this just before jumping into combat, but at this high level 8 temporary hit points may not be enough to spend the additional Action frequently during combat.

16th Level

  • Courageous OnslaughtAPG: Absolutely fantastic action economy.
  • Effortless ConcentrationCRB: An extra action every turn while you're maintaining a powerful ongoing spell offers a lot of options, especially for the Bard who has a lot of great 1-Action options, like Composition Cantrips.
  • Resounding FinaleAPG: (maestro muse) Too situational. Sonic damage is too rare.
  • Studious CapacityCRB: (enigma muse) Essentially a free spell slot of a level up to your second-highest spell level. When you first get access to this feat, that's already 7th-level spells, which is impressive.

18th Level

  • All in My HeadAPG: Hilarious, but also very effective. You could get shot for your full hit point maximum in one hit and spend a Reaction to just decide to be unconscious instead of dead. If you find that you're being knocked out from time to time, this can save your life. If you almost never hit 0 hit points, you can do without it.
  • Deep LoreCRB: (enigma muse) This is a massive improvement to your versatility as a spellcaster. A Spell Repertoire's biggest limitation is the small number of spells known compared to classes which prepare their spells like the Cleric or the Wizard. Adding 9 more spells known is huge. It's not clear if you get to learn an extra spell when you get access to 10th-level spells at level 19.
  • Discordant VoiceAPG: Not a ton of damage at this level, but Inspire Courage is still excellent and you're likely combining it with effects like Courageous Assault. In a party which relies heavily on Strikes, the damage will add up quickly.
  • Eternal CompositionCRB: (maestro muse) Composition Cantrips are a huge part of the Bard's action economy, and letting you use them without cutting into your other Actions is a massive advantage. This dramatically reduces the need for things like Lingering Composition, too, freeing your Focus Points for more interesting options.
  • Impossible PolymathCRB: This allows you to get access to any spell. Granted, you can only add one such spell to your Spell Repertoire on any given day, but this means that situational options from other spell lists are accessible when you need them.

20th Level

  • Fatal AriaCRB: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Perfect EncoreCRB: 10th level spells are very powerful
  • Pied PipingAPG: See below, under Focus Spells.
  • Symphony of the MuseCRB: The capstone for a support bard, you could combine as many as four Composition effects at a time, even with their 1-Round durations. Combine effects like Inspire Courage, Inspire Defense, and Dirge of Doom to give your party a significant mathematical advantage in combat.
  • Ultimate PolymathAPG: (Polymath Muse) This massively improves your versatility. I'm not totally certain, but it looks like this also applies to spells gained from Impossible Polymath.

General Feats

  • Adopted AncestryCRB: Goblin Song is a tempting prize for many bards. The easy penalty to Will saves makes enemies more vulnerable to other spells, and you can stack it with options like Dirge of Doom to make enemies extremely vulnerable.
  • Untrained ImprovisationCRB: An interesting option for a bard hoping to use skills heavily, but expect to retrain it when you can get Ecletic Skill at level 8.

Weapons

  • CrossbowCRB: If you have one Action and need to deal damage, use a Shortbow. If you have two Actions and need to deal damage, use a cantrip.
  • LongswordCRB: Strength-based attacks.
  • RapierCRB: Agile isn't especially important for the Bard because you typically won't make more than one Strike per turn, so the Rapier is a better choice for the Bard than the Shortsword. You're basically hoping that you'll get lucky critical hit to deal damage in any significant amount, though.
  • ShortbowCRB: Your best ranged weapon option.
  • ShortswordCRB: The only advantage over the rapier is Versatile, and if you're worried about damage type you should be casting spells.
  • WhipCRB: Reach means that you don't need to be adjacent to your target, and considering how frail the Bard is that's a huge advantage.

Armor

Wear the heaviest light armor you can manage without the check penalty. Of course, the check penalty for light armor is never worse than -1, so you may be fine with 8 Strength in a Chain Shirt or Studded Leather. You're never going to get more than a total of +5 between your armor's base bonus and your Dexterity, so there's very little variance between armor options, and you're unlikely to exceed a +5 Dexterity modifier so dropping light armor likely isn't going to be worth the effort.

Bard Focus Spells

Cantrips - Composition Cantrips

  • AllegroCRB: Yes, you're giving up one of your Actions to give an ally one Action. That's and even trade in terms of raw numbers, but on the right ally that additional Action may be considerably more impactful than if you were to spend that same Action on your own. The difficult is in knowing when those situations arise.
  • Dirge of DoomCRB: Simple and reliable. Frightened is a good debuff which applies to a lot of things, and the fact that you can apply it so easily is fantastic. This is great in any party, but it's especially useful in parties which capitalize on enemies being Frightened. If you take this, expect to alternate betwen this and Inspire Courage based on which side of an encounter has more Actions that are going to be spent on Strikes. If your party is doing more attacking than your enemies, use Inspire Courage. If your enemy is doing more attacking, Dirge of Doom will be more effective.

    There is some nuance here between whether it's better to use Inspire Defense or Dirge of Doom. Inspire Defense doesn't care about your enemies being immune to fear, and it doesn't care where your enemies are, which are big advantages. Dirge of Doom inhibits checks (which includes both attacks and saving throws), so not only does it inhibit your enemies' ability to attack you and your allies, it also makes them more vulnerable. However, some enemies will be immune to the Frightened condition, and the 30-foot radius may not be enough in some encounters. Both options are good, and knowing where each shines can help both while building your character and at the table.

  • House of Imaginary WallsCRB: Very powerful, but very limited. A 10-by-10 wall is enough cover to prevent Reactions, to block attacks and AOE's like breath weapons and spells, and apparently you can even climb it. You may be able to lay it flat and use it as a bridge, too. However, the 1-round duration means that you need to work quickly, and creatures need to see you create the wall for it to work. That shouldn't be a problem in combat, but you may need to make a bunch of noise to draw attention to yourself before creating your semi-imaginary wall so that everyone knows that there's a wall there. Also, creatures can disbelieve it just like any other illusion, so even if you get the setup perfect you're not totally guaranteed to succeed.
  • Inspire CompetenceCRB: This is a huge improvement to the Aid action, allowing you to easily use Aid with skills in which you're not proficient. If you intend to use Aid often, this is essential.
  • Inspire CourageCRB: Simple and effective, this is a great way to use an Action. Inspire Courage is more effective when your party is making numerous rolls, so large parties and parties that rely on pets and summons will benefit most. The effect isn't limited to weapon attacks, so spell attacks still benefit, and damage rolls of all kinds are affected, including AOE damage spells like Fireball.
  • Inspire DefenseCRB: If your party is outnumbered, using Inspire Defense may be more effective than Inspire Courage. The physical damage resistance will scale slowly, but even a few points can reduce a huge amount of damage over the course of an encounter, and if you're outnumbered the damage resistance will apply multiple times in quick succession.
  • Song of MarchingAPG: Rarely impactful. Buy a wagon and some horses and ride around in that, instead.
  • Song of StrengthAPG: Situational at best, and there are several other options which makes Song of Strength rarely useful. It may be both easier and more effective to use the Aid action in situations where this could be helpful. Aid provides a Circumstance bonus and Song of Strength provides a Status bonus, so they stack. But Aid doesn't require you to learn a cantrip, and can provide a +2 bonus if you roll well. In combat, allies relying on Athletics will probably rely on Assurance, which negates both bonuses anyway. Outside of combat, you can use Guidance to provide the same bonus. With all of those considerations in mind, cases where Song of Strength is useful are exceptionally rare.
  • Triple Time: Only situationally useful. Usually trading one Action for such a small boost to speed won't be impactful, and the resource cost to learn this is high. The best use case is probably while traveling.

1st-Level Spells

  • Counter PerformanceCRB: You get this for free. Situational, but your Performance bonus will improve more than your allies' saving throw bonuses, so in cases where this does apply the benefits should be reliably high.
  • Hymn of HealingAPG: A very small amount of healing, but also a few temporary hit points on top of the healing which can help keep your ally from immediately losing the hit points that you just restored. Since you need to Sustain the spell it's a high Action cost, making it difficult to justify in combat ubless you're in a really difficult situation. This is a good use for leftover Focus Points before you Refocus, but I would hesitate to use this in combat unless I was truly desperate. Tragically, the temporary hit points only last one round so there's little reason to set them up before jumping into combat.
  • Lingering CompositionCRB: Potentially a huge Action savings, extending one of your compositions from a 1-round duration to as much as a 3-round duration means that you save one or two Actions which could be spent doing things like casting spells. If you fail the check, you get to keep your Focus Point, which feels really nice. The DC is going to scale as you level, so be sure to put skill increases into Performance (not that I need to remind a bard to do that), and remember that as your party levels the DC to affect them will increase, too.

    Note that since you do need to roll a Performance check for the effects of Lingering Composition, you may need to roll separate checks both for Lingering Composition and for whatever other Composition spell you cast. Make sure that you're maximizing Performance.

  • Loremaster's EtudeCRB: This one is hard to assess. Its value improves if your party depends heavily on Recall Knowledge, but without mechanical benefits for Recall Knowledge you may not find this worth the investment. This looks really tempting for rangers looking to use the Monster Warden feat chain, and considering it's onyl a 2nd-level feat it's certainly a tempting option.

3rd-Level Spells

4th-Level Spells

  • Inspire HeroicsCRB: The improved bonuses are great, but Inspire Heroics has some problems which make it hard to use. First, you can't combine it with Lingering Composition. That means that you're spending a Focus Point to get a buff for one round. If you get a Critical Success and your party capitalizes on that, this may be very effective. But I would assume that you're going to get the +2 buff most of the time, and I'm not certain that raising your buff from +1 to +2 for one round is worth a class feat and a Focus Point.

5th-Level Spells

  • Ode To OuroborosAPG: Death happens. Preventing it, rather than paying to raise a dead ally, is definitely worth the Focus Point.
  • Symphony of the Unfettered HeartAPG: Technically situational, but these conditions come up all the time. Spending two Actions to remove conditions like Slowed and Stunned can easily recover more total actions for your party, and removing conditions like paralyzed can get allies back into a fight when they might otherwise be totally incapacitated.

7th-Level Spells

  • Soothing Ballad: A solid healing options which covers some common and problematic effects, and provides a decent amount of healing that you can use

10th-Level Spells

  • Fatal AriaCRB: 50 damage as an Action is pretty good, but enemies of level low enough to die instantly likely aren't worth the Focus Point in most situations.
  • Pied pipingAPG: AOE save-or-suck. If you're very lucky, some of the affected creatures will fall under your control and you can Command them (which takes an Action) to do stuff. Keep in mind that the initial radius is just 5 feet, so expect to spend more Actions to expand the aura for several turns.

Archetypes

  • Ranger: The Enigma synergizes well with the Ranger's Monster Hunter feat chain, and the Circumstance bonus provided by those feats matches the bonus provided by many Composition Cantrips so you can easily combine those feats with something like Dirge of Doom to put your party at a large mathematical advantage. However, doing so carries a heavy feat cost, so plan your build carefully,
  • Sorcerer: If you want to double down on Occult spellcasting, several Sorcerer bloodlines allow you to do so.
  • Witch: If you want to double down on Occult spellcasting, several Witch patrons allow you to do so.