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Old Screeds

Liontaur Bards [25 March 05] A look at the roles bards play.

In a previous liontaur screed, I offered rules for playing a first level, one hit die liontaur. Then I talked about how to play such a liontaur as a druid. This time, let's talk bards.

The bard truly can play several roles in a party: arcane spellcaster, healer, party "face," outdoor scout, indoor scout, melee warrior, ranged warrior. But bards in general fill some of those roles better than they do others; bardic liontaurs do better with some than with others as well.

Arcane Spellcaster: As I detailed in an earlier screed, bards make better spellcasters than even wizards do at levels 10 and under. Max out your charisma, pick up Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus (Enchantment), and you are all set. This is a good option if you can only afford one high ability score, and it matches well with the Party "Face" role, since your charisma boosts the skills you need to pull that off.

But as a liontaur, there is no compelling reason to take this role. None of a liontaur's features add anything special to the arcanist role. If you want to be a bard caster, gnome might do as well (a gnome's favored class is bard, and gnomes gain +1 AC and attacks due to size, vs. a liontaur's -1 on both).

Healer: No bard can compare to a cleric as a healer, especially a cleric with the healing domain. But, to do Dr. Johnson a misservice, "an arcane spellcaster's healing is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." If you choose this challenging option, then max out your charisma so as to be able to cast as many Cures as possible. A high wisdom will help your (cross-class) Heal skill. A good Use Magic Device will let you use divine healing items. Stock up on bardic Cure scrolls and wands, or if you find those scarce, take the item creation feats you need to make your own.

But once again, the liontaur does not lend itself to this role in any particular way.

Party Face: Given the bard's great need for a high charisma (required in order to cast spells when "0" spells of a new spell level are gained), and given the great number of skills open to a bard, it's natural to focus your bard on charisma-based skills, from Perform (of course) to Diplomacy, Bluff, Gather Information, Use Magic Device, and so on. This makes the bard the first choice as party spokesperson.

In general, a liontaur is no better or worse in this role than anyone else. On the other hand, from a role-play perspective, these social-interaction experts perfectly fit the image of the wemic bard as an oral historian, bearer of news among prides and clans, negotiator, ambassador, teacher, and advisor. If the campaign sends the characters among liontaur NPCs, the social standing of bards in wemic society make this a great choice.

Or played as an ambassador to non-liontaur nations, this is also a great opportunity. One could imagine a campaign in which a party of elvish explorers are slaughtered by a gnoll army near a liontaur nation. Liontaurs find a few apprentice elves and half-elves after the massacre. The liontaur king, busy fighting the gnolls himself, can only spare a few raw recruits to lead the elf survivors home. The campaign begins with the king addressing the elf survivors and liontaur recruits (all first level), and charging one liontaur to be an ambassador to the leaders of the elves, asking for help against the gnolls.

One reason to consider a high-diplomacy bard: if the two-legged world in which you roam considers liontaurs to be monsters or worse, you might find it very handy to be able to talk the shopkeeper into selling things to you, or to sing for your life when facing the pitchforks and torches of an frightened mob!

Indoor Scout: The bard has the skills needed to play a roguish role in dungeon-like settings. Searching for secret doors, disarming traps, and opening locks are all options. Being stealthy is essential when you tell your loud friends to wait a sec while you check out what's ahead. You might take one or three levels of rogue to gain the latter's Trapfinding ability.

But I can't think of a role more poorly suited for a liontaur bard! From a role-play perspective, liontaurs are not urban dwellers: they don't know about locks or traps, they might not even be able to read! From a rules perspective, a liontaur's size makes it hard to hide and to fit in tight spaces. The rules I proposed give a -1 penalty on Decipher Script, Disable Device, and Open Lock checks.

Outdoor Scout: The bard is not a natural outdoorsman, but combined with a few levels of ranger, this option becomes very viable. It especially works well with the missile warrior role, given the ranger's better weapons and archery potential. It needs several decent ability scores: dexterity for sneaking and shooting, charisma for bard spells, wisdom for Listen, Spot, Survival, and tracking. If you do want to try the healer role, at least multiclassing with ranger gives you better access to the Heal skill, as well as to curative ranger wands of spells like delay poison, neutralize poison, and remove disease.

The liontaur shines in this role, both because liontaurs are hunters who live under the skies, and because the ranger is the liontaur's favored class. Take Spot, Search, and Survival as a ranger; Listen, Gather Info, and Perform as a bard; Move Silent, Hide, Climb, and Jump as both. You might take only two to four levels as a ranger throughout your entire career, so consider starting as a ranger at first level to get four ranks in each of your ranger skills.

Missile Warrior: The bard does not make a good hand-to-hand fighter, given low hit points and light armor. But an excellent bard strategy is to sing and inspire courage while attacking. So it makes sense to sing as you shoot. But bards do not have a great choice of missile weapons, so consider taking a level or two of fighter or ranger to gain longbow proficiency. Elves are proficient with longbows as a racial ability, and the arcane archer prestige class is a natural for a elf bard who uses missiles.

If you really wanted to be an archer/healer bard, you might consider taking a level of cleric with Healing and War domains. The healing bonus (+1 caster level on healing spells) works with your bard cures, and the war domain can give you Martial Weapon Proficiency and Weapon Focus in longbow. Although a cleric/ranger might be a better choice for that.

For a liontaur archer bard, taking a couple levels of ranger is a no-brainer, because ranger is the liontaur's favored class. At second level, choose the Rapid Shot option and you are good to go. This works really well with the outdoor scout role. And since you are large in size, those longbow arrows deal 2d6 damage per hit -- sweet!

Melee Warrior: Don't do it! Don't design your bard to seek out melee! Sure, bards get in fights from time to time. They can usually take a hit or two if they have to. But let the meat shields go toe-to-toe. That's their job! Your low hit points and light armor will be the death of you!

What, I haven't convinced you? Fine. Then at least be smart about it. Combat Reflexes is a must for the bard fighter. Consider the Combat Expertise feat, along with Trip and Disarm. Or consider the Dodge to Mobility to Spring Attack feat chain. Really max out your Tumble skill. Also push your Jump and Climb. Your goal in all this is to be nimble and quick, and to hit your foes while denying them attacks. Use a reach weapon to attack from a distance, then fall back. When the enemy advances, use that reach weapon to hit them as they approach. Combat Reflexes lets you keep hitting as enemies step up. Then Tumble back and ready your attack -- when the enemy steps up again, your readied attack goes first, along with more attacks of opportunity. Use those attacks to trip your opponent, then tumble back. Spring Attack lets you tumble up, attack, and tumble back. Remember that standing up from prone or picking up a dropped weapon both provoke attacks of opportunity, which you can use to trip or disarm again! Remember that bards can use whips, which make good trip/disarm tools. You need good stats, especially strength and dexterity, to pull this strategy off. The higher your constitution, the better. And get that 13 intelligence required for Combat Expertise. You are going to need a LOT of feats to get this going -- I count six or seven so far -- so make this a bard/fighter multiclass, with equal progression, since you'll need the BAB, hit points, and especially the bonus feats. Use your spells to buff yourself -- Cat's Grace and Heroism are especially potent; a Cure can be a life-saver.

The liontaur makes a good melee bard, since as a large creature, liontaurs threaten more squares, even with just a five-foot reach. The liontaur can use a reach weapon for distant opponents and lash out with paws against adjacent ones. The base move 40 adds mobility -- try to get your DM to allow some kind of adapted boots or horseshoes of speed to help that. Make sure your bard level is within one level of your fighter level to avoid an experience point penalty. Keep mobile and dance your foes to death.

Liontaurs can make effective bards, so leap in singing!

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