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DnD 3.5 - The Bard Handbook


I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which tend to be more consistent than 3.5 handbooks. Because so little of 3.5 is available on the SRD, I will attempt to tag items with a superscript indicating their book of origin. For help identifying sourcebook abbreviations, see my Sourcebook Abbreviations Guide.

It's important to note that I generally omit campaign-setting specific content. I am of the opinion that those options are intended to be limited to campaigns run in those settings, and as such they don't really apply to a generic campaign. Those options also tend to be wildly unbalanced and rarely recieve errata. I also omit the use of "Flaws" since they allow a massive increase in power with essentially no cost to the character.


The bard is among the most versatile classes in 3.5. With great skills, deceptively good spellcasting, and decent combat abilities, the Bard can fill nearly any role in a party without depending entirely on spells to do so like the Wizard does. They make an excellent addition to a large party which has every role covered due to their effects as a force-multiplyer, but they also make a fantastic member of a small party due to their wide-ranging skillset.

A classic criticism of bards it that they are a "jack of all trades and a master of none." Well, the full line is "Jack of all trades, master of none, but often times better than a master of one", and I can think of few things to which that truism applies better than to the Bard.

The bard's biggest roles are as a Face, Librarian, Support, and Utility Caster, though they can fill nearly any role with a handful of clever build choices.

Bard Class Features

Hit Points: For a class which can jump into melee d6 hit points is difficult.

Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB is enough to get by on.

Saves: Good Reflex and Will saves.

Proficiencies: You get all of the .

Skills: More skills than the rogue, but less skill ranks to spend on them. Basically anything that be done with skills can be done by the Bard.

Spells: Despite only being a 2/3 caster the Bard has one of the most interesting spell lists in the game. Bards are the only arcane casters with built-in access to healing spells, as well as a collection of spells unique to the Bard.

Bardic Knowledge: Even if you don't invest a single skill point in a Knowledge skill, you can still compete with any other Scholar in the party. 5 ranks in Knowledge (History) will give you an edge, too. If you do invest skill points in your actual skills, you essentially get to roll twice.

Bardic Music: The Bard's most iconic ability. Bardic Music does a lot, and it's extremely effective. At low levels you may need to be cautious about using your limited daily uses, but as you gain levels the potency and frequency of your music both increase dramatically.

Alternate Class Features

Substitution Levels

Unearthed Arcana

Content from Unearthed Arcana is generally considered optional variant rules. Many of these options are poorly balanced, so be sure to consult your DM before selecting any such options.


Unfortunately, due to their broad skill set bards also suffer from a little bit of MAD. They're not monks, but it can be a problem. Where you choose to put your best ability scores will define the function of your bard, but there are surprisingly few bad choices.

The existence of the Crystal Echoblade and Slippers of Battledancing are crucial to note here. Those two items allow the Bard to largely ignore Strength and greatly reduce the need for Dexterity when fighting in melee. If those two items are available to you and you plan to do any melee combat, consider their presence very carefully when determining your ability scores.

Str: If you plan to fight at range with a crossbow or with spells, you can dump Strength. Otherwise, you may want decent strength for a melee weapon or just a little bit for bonus damage on a composite bow.

Dex: Bards only get light armor (medium with Battle Caster), so you'll want some Dexterity to boost your AC. If you go for ranged weapons or weapon finesse, you'll want a bit more.

Con: With only 1d6 hit points and poor Will saves you'll really need Constitution.

Int: Bards get too many skills, and 6+ skill ranks just isn't enough without some Intelligence to back it up.

Wis: Bards have good Will saves and very few skills tied to Wisdom, so this is your only true dump stat.

Cha: The Bard's most important abilities are powered by Charisma, including spells and Inspire Courage. However, since the Bard is a little bit MAD and you're not a full cast, you don't need to start with and 18 at level 1. It helps, but it's not required.

32 Point Buy 28 Point Buy 22 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 18
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 16
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 12
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 16
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 11
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 13
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 15


Charisma bonuses are great, but not absolutely essential. Charisma penalties, however, are difficult to overcome.

Dwarf: The penalty to Charisma makes the dwarf difficult.

Elf: Nothing specifically helpful for the bard, but nothing that hurts you.

Gnome: Great for any non-melee bard.

Half-Elf: The worst race in the core rulebook. The substitution levels aren't enough to compensate for just how worthless half-elves are.

Half-Orc: Penalties to two crucial abilities.

Halfling: Nothing specifically helpful for the bard, but nothing that hurts you.

Human: A feat is always welcome, and the extra skill rank is really helpful since bards have so many skills to cover.



Bardic Music Feats

This list includes feats which specifically include the [Bardic Music] tag in the original feat text, or which use a daily usaged of Bardic Music. The distinction is a bit arbitrary, but I've made the same separation for metamagic feats so this seemed reasonable.



Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.

Magic Items




Wondrous Items

Permanent Spells

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes