Say you wanted to try a different option for your character. Say that you could not start off with this option -- you would have to first start as a regular character and then add it later. Say that the regular classes you took first would determine whether this option was open to you. Say that this option was limited by race. Say that it is not part of the base rules, and your DM might not allow it. By this point, most D&D players might think I am talking about a third edition prestige class. But the olde tymers out there might realize that I'm describing the first edition bard!
Yes, way back in first edition, you could start as a fighter, then add thief, and finally become a bard. This idea was seen as radical, so Gary Gygax put it in the back of the "Players Handbook" of the day, as an appendix. (And yes, it was "Players Handbook" with no apostrophe, unlike the third edition "Player's Handbook.") It was truly the very first prestige class. But aside from that original bard, there were no other "prestige classes" in first edition.
So if that was the first prestige class, it should be possible to make the idea work in translation to 3E D&D! Here is my version of a third edition version of the first edition bard.
The Olde Tyme Bard
Before the blood of dragons ran in sorcerers' veins, when barbarians were unknown in the land, the only bards that walked far and wide were those who kept to the ancient natural traditions. These olde tyme bards learned magic from druids -- they revered the sun, moon, and oak as gods, and their equal in playing musical instruments has never been found.
Following a regimen that has come down through ages past, olde tyme bards train as fighters and rogues before becoming druids. A mannish tradition, only humans and half-elves are accepted in this bardic order. They respect and honor druids, but the intense training regimen leaves little or no time for a druid to become an olde tyme bard.
These bards hold closely to the traditions of the past, including an organization into ranks they call "colleges." At first and second level, bards are considered "probationers," belonging to no college. Thereafter, with each new level, they join a new college: Fochlucan, MacFuirmidh, Doss, Canaith, Cli, Anstruth, and Ollamh at ninth level. At tenth level, the olde tyme bard again belongs to no college, but is considered a Magna Alumnus (if male) or Magna Alumna (if female). As NPCs, bards of a higher college tend to condescend to those of a lower, and those of a lower treat those of a higher with great respect. An Alumnus or Alumna tends to treat all with friendship and a willingness to help and advise.
Hit die: d6
- Feat: Weapon Specialization in an allowed bard weapon (see below)
- Skills: Perform (String Instruments) 8 ranks, Sleight of Hand 8 ranks, Open Lock 8 ranks, Search 8 ranks, Disable Device 8 ranks, Move Silently 8 ranks, Hide 8 ranks, Listen 8 ranks, Climb 8 ranks, Decipher Script 4 ranks.
- Alignment: Any with a neutral component: N, NG, LN, CN, NE
- Race: Human or Half-Elf
- Special: Sneak attack+3d6
Table: The Olde Tyme Bard
.7....+3......+5.....+5.....+5.....Lesser Olde Tyme Wildshape
.8....+4......+6.....+6.....+6.....Resist Nature's Lure
.9....+4......+6.....+6.....+6.....Resist Fire and Electricity
10....+5......+7.....+7.....+7.....Greater Olde Tyme Wildshape
Table: Olde Tyme Bard Spells Per Day
Class Skills: Concentration (Con), Craft (Int), Knowledge (Arcana) (Int), Knowledge (History) (Int), Knowledge (Local) (Int), Knowledge (Nature) (Int), Perform (Cha), Profession (Wis), Speak Language, Spellcraft (Int), Survival (Wis).
Skill Points per level: 2 + Int modifier
Weapon & Armor Proficiencies: Following ancient traditions, olde tyme bards wear only leather armor, mithril chain shirts, or mithril chainmail. They will use only these weapons: club, dagger, dart, javelin, sling, scimitar, spear, staff, longsword, short sword, and bastard sword. They are proficient with all these weapons and armors. They may not use shields.
Spells: An olde tyme bard has the ability to cast a small number of divine spells. To cast a bard spell, a bard must have a Wisdom score of at least 10 + the spellís level, so a bard with a Wisdom of 10 or lower cannot cast these spells. Bard bonus spells are based on Wisdom, and saving throws against these spells have a DC of 10 + spell level + the bardís Wisdom modifier. When the bard gets 0 spells per day of a given spell level he gains only the bonus spells he would be entitled to based on his Wisdom score for that spell level. The bardís spell list appears below. A bard has access to any spell on the list and can freely choose which to prepare, just as a druid. A bard prepares and casts spells just as a druid does (though a bard cannot spontaneously cast any spells). The olde tyme bard casts spells in and can speak Druidic.
Bardic Music: An olde tyme bard has the same bardic music ability as a modern bard, starting with Countersong, Fascinate, and Inspire Courage +1 at level 1; Inspire Competence at level 3; Suggestion at level 6; Inspire Courage +2 at level 8; and Inspire Greatness at level 9. The very rare character with modern bard levels stack all bard levels for this ability.
Bardic Knowledge: An olde tyme bard has the same bardic knowledge ability as a modern bard, including the same special bardic knowledge check with a bonus equal to Int plus bard level. The very rare character with modern bard levels stack all bard levels for this ability.
Nature Sense: A bard gains a +2 bonus on Knowledge (Nature) and Survival checks.
Woodland Stride: A bard may move through any sort of undergrowth (such as natural thorns, briars, overgrown areas, and similar terrain) at her normal speed and without taking damage or suffering any other impairment. However, thorns, briars, and overgrown areas that have been magically manipulated to impede motion still affect her.
Trackless Step: A bard leaves no trail in natural surroundings and cannot be tracked. She may choose to leave a trail if so desired.
Instrument Mastery: The bard gains a bonus on all Perform (String Instrument), Perform (Keyboard Instrument), Perform (Percussion Instrument) and Perform (Wind Instrument) checks equal to his bard level. When using a magical instrument, the olde tyme bard uses his own Charisma and relevant feats to set the save DCs for magical effects that duplicate spells. Also, all magical effects created by bards with magical instruments are Empowered and Enlarged, as the metamagic feats, but with no extra cost or restriction to activate.
Lesser Olde Tyme Wildshape: The olde tyme bard can wildshape as a druid three times per day; once each into the form of a mammal, bird, and reptile. The size range allowed is from Tiny to Large. Otherwise use the standard third edition wildshape rules, but with no healing upon changing shape.
Resist Natureís Lure: A bard gains a +4 bonus on saving throws against the spell-like abilities of fey.
Resist Fire and Electricity: A bard gains a +2 bonus on saving throws against fire and electrical attacks.
Greater Olde Tyme Wildshape: As the lesser ability, but when the bard returns to his normal form, 10 percent to 60 percent of total hit point damage he has suffered is healed.
1st Level: Charm Animal, Detect Magic, Detect Animals or Plants, Detect Snares and Pits, Entangle, Faerie Fire, Hide from Animals, Pass without Trace, Purify Food and Drink, Read Magic, Shillelagh, Speak with Animals.
2nd Level: Barkskin, Charm Person, Create Water, Cure Light Wounds, Fire Trap, Fog Cloud, Heat Metal, Meld into Stone, Produce Flame, Spike Growth, Warp Wood, Wood Shape.
3rd Level: Call Lightning, Hold Animal, Neutralize Poison, Plant Growth, Poison, Protection from Energy, Remove Disease, Snare, Stone Shape, Summon Swarm, Tree Shape, Water Breathing.
4th Level: Command Plants, Cure Serious Wounds, Dispel Magic, Flame Strike, Hallucinatory Terrain, Remove Curse, Repel Vermin, Scrying, Speak with Plants, Spike Stones, Summon Natureís Ally V, Tree Stride.
5th Level: Animal Growth, Antiplant Shell, Commune with Nature, Control Winds, Cure Critical Wounds, Insect Plague, Spellstaff, Summon Natureís Ally VII, Transmute Mud to Rock, Transmute Rock to Mud, Transport via Plants, Wall of Fire.