The first trick a fighting bard should learn is that of Inspiring Courage while fighting. Starting a song is a standard action, but thereafter it lasts for so long as you keep singing -- and five rounds after you stop. Best of all, you can sing and fight just fine simultaneously.
Later on in your bardic career, you can sing and fight while Inspiring Greatness and Heroics.
Itís not worth it for a fighter to take just one or two levels of bard just for this trick -- especially since the fighter loses a +1 BAB as a first level bard. The fighter is better off using potions of Divine Favor to do essentially the same thing.
But the strategy does help the character who is primarily a bard, or who has a decent number of bard levels. Then you gain the added bonus of bardic buff spells, especially heroism, gained when the bard is level 4.
But even with buffs like Inspire Courage and Heroism, the bard will never be a tank. His hit points and light armor work against that. Which suggests another combat path -- missile weapons. The bard works well as an archer, and benefits from a level or two of fighter -- for the longbow proficiency and the added feats. Another interesting option is taking a couple levels of paladin (although the bard cannot progress as a bard after changing alignment to lawful good), for the Charisma synergies. Taking a couple paladin levels is a nice prelude to becoming an Arcane Archer. Thatís an option for a half-elf paladin/bard rather than an elf paladin/bard because the half-elfís favored class flexibility is essential. The Arcane Archerís required +6 BAB is best gained by taking four levels of bard and three of paladin, or even four of bard, two of paladin, and one of fighter (or go the pure eight levels of bard, so that your Inspire Courage rises to +2). Even a second-level paladin can go to town with wands of Divine Favor, Bless Weapon, Magic Weapon, etc.
Another, more subtle and more difficult to execute combat path is available to the bard -- the Tripper. With his whip proficiency, the bard who takes Combat Expertise and Improved Trip/Disarm can have fun knocking people down and taking away their weapons. That works best as a team strategy, in which the party tanks take attacks of opportunity on foes who provoke them by trying to stand up or pick up their weapons. Take ranks in Tumble if you try this, since you will need to maneuver around as you crack the whip.
But donít look to the bard to be a weapon master. The bardís forte is versatility, so keep your options open, for example, with plenty of Use Magic Device ranks.
Feedback [9 Dec 04]: I got a letter on bard armor in response to an earlier screed on bards (scroll down).
More Feedback! I exchanged letters with a reader named Don back in late January, but only now (mid-May) have I gotten around to posting them.
Don said: "So, in your discussion of the fighting bard -- with the suggestion that missile weapons were a good route, why not a bard/ranger (missile) combo? Both essentially are restricted to light armor to maximize their class abilities ..."
I wrote back at length ...
Yeah, the light armor synergy is a good one. The same reasoning
attracted me to the bard/druid once upon a time. But I'm not sure that
makes it worthwhile. Let's compare to the bard/fighter.
The question is, what is worth more to you, ranger levels or fighter
levels? Two levels of fighter gain you two feats of your choice. Two
levels of ranger gain you track and either rapid shot or two weapon
fighting. Ranger also gives you more skill points, a favored enemy, and
wild empathy. Fighter gives you tower shield proficiency and an extra
hit point per level, on average.
So what's it worth for you? If you already had ranger tendencies
anyway, then the ranger path is best. If you could not care less about
tracking, etc. etc., and really the only thing you want is the combat
style, then you might as well take the two fighter feats.
Oh, another ranger bonuses -- even at first level you can use wands of
Also, if you compare 4th level ranger to 4th level fighter, you are
gaining Endurance, an animal companion, and a first level spell as a
ranger; an extra hp per level and a feat as a fighter.
So, yup, if the ranger extras are valuable to you, then go for it.
I still think bard/paladin combo is super sweet, though, given the
Chr-based save bonuses, healing, and such. Half-elf
Bard8/Paladin2/ArcaneArcher10 worshipping a god of music, bows, and
romance? Woo hoo!
Don replied, "Also, I agree a paladin/bard is interesting -- but a lot of wasted shield/armor capability.
I might consider the bard/ranger combo -- but the straight bard is just sweet enough to stick with.† Half Elf or Human for sure, Elf might also be good."
Thanks for the comments, Don!