I've edited the text, putting any special house rules material in spoilers. Let me know if you spot anything off.
The following is copied from my homebrew campaign's private wiki where I keep all my houserules. Included in that is the system-wide change to the skill list, I use a version of the 4e skill list (plus Concentration, Engineering, and Psionics), and using gateway Skill Tricks to represent the subskills that still need distinction (such as Handle Animal being rolled into Intimidate, but using command tricks derived from the 4e Beastmaster Ranger's powers, or Use Magic Device rolled into Bluff, but requiring a Deceive Item skill trick to use magic items(note: not the same as the warlock's Deceive Item), automatically granted if the original class had UMD.) I'll try to note the distinctions and where the regular 3.5 skill list would be swapped, but I'm sure I'll miss a few. Use your intuition.
I'll also note, I'm interested to hear the Tier-rating, but I'm not worried about being compared to anything Tier 1, since those classes won't exist as-is in my game. The Cleric is replaced by my own Champion (basically the Marshall plus the PHB Bard's spell progression using the Cleric list, which still might get some re-writes), and the Druid is replaced by my Sentinel (the Shapeshift druid with the PHB bard's spell progression), plus a whole bunch of other changes I won't get into right now.
Bards under the new system act as a hybrid of the Warlock-style invoker and the Marshall-style aura user. Bards have Least, Lesser, and Greater invocations, with new Bardic invocations drawn from the 3.5 bard spell list. (Feel free to suggest any Bard-specific spells you think they're lacking.) The idea here is to develop the Bard away from spell-list territory held by the Beguiler. Bards have the Deceive Item skill trick, so they can use wands of any standard arcane spell they're lacking.
They also have Bardic Auras, drawn from the Marshall, Dragon Shaman, and any Bardic Music effects which would work well as auras. The consideration is that all invocations are useable at-will, and auras are always-on effects.
The Bard is a support-based class, using his auras and invocations to support and enhance his allies, and heal them after the battle is over. On the other hand, his support effects can also benefit himself, and while he doesn't have a great HD, he does possess two good saves and a medium BAB, giving him some ability to support his allies in combat. The Bard is the Rogue's best friend, giving a target and a credible threat to draw the attention of enemies, allowing the Rogue to sneak attack.
Hit Die: d6
Class Skills (6 + Int modifier per class level, × 4 at 1st level): Appraise, Balance, Bluff, Climb, Concentration, Craft, Decipher Script, Diplomacy, Disguise, Escape Artist, Gather Information, Hide, Jump, Knowledge (all skills, taken individually), Listen, Move Silently, Perform, Profession, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, Speak Language, Spellcraft, Swim, Tumble, and Use Magic Device.
Houserules skill list:
Class Skills (4 + Int modifier per class level, × 4 at 1st level): Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, Bluff, Concentration, Diplomacy, Dungeoneering, History, Insight, Nature, Perception, Religion, Stealth, Streetwise, Thievery
Class Skill Tricks: Deceive Item
Bardic Invocations Known|
1st|+0|+0|+2|+2|Bardic knowledge, Bardic music, least invocations, skilled linguist|
2nd|+1|+0|+3|+3|Bardic aura +1|
3rd|+2|+1|+3|+3|Touch of vitality|
5th|+3|+1|+4|+4|Bardic aura +2|
8th|+6/+1|+2|+6|+6|Bardic aura +3|
11th|+8/+3|+3|+7|+7|Bardic aura +4|
14th|+10/+5|+4|+9|+9|Bardic aura +5|
17th|+12/+7/+2|+5|+10|+10|Bardic aura +6|
20th|+15/+10/+5|+6|+12|+12|Bardic aura +7|
All of the following are class features of the bard.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: You are proficient with all simple weapons, plus the longsword, rapier, sap, short sword, shortbow, and whip, and with light armor and shields (except tower shields).
You can cast bardic invocations while wearing light armor without incurring the normal arcane spell failure chance. However, like any other arcane spellcaster, wearing medium or heavy armor or using a heavy shield incurs a chance of arcane spell failure. A multiclass bard still incurs the normal arcane spell failure chance for arcane spells and invocations received from other classes.
Bardic Knowledge: You can make a special Bardic Knowledge check with a bonus equal to your bard level + Intelligence modifier to see whether you know some relevant information about local notable people, legendary items, or noteworthy places.
You may not take 10 or take 20 on this check; this sort of knowledge is essentially random.
Invocations: You have a repertoire of songs, poems, and chants known as bardic invocations, which allow you to weave magical effects much like a mage or priest casts spells. You can use any invocation you know at will. See Bardic Invocations for a list of available invocations.
Your bardic invocations are spell-like abilities; using an invocation is therefore a standard action that provokes opportunity attacks. To avoid provoking such attacks, you can use an invocation defensively by making a successful Concentration check. An invocation can be disrupted, just as a spell can be ruined during casting. If you are hit by an attack while invoking, you are entitled to a Concentration check to successfully use the invocation, just as a spellcaster would be. Your invocations are subject to spell resistance unless an invocation's description specifically states otherwise. Your caster level with your invocations is equal to your bard class level. You can dismiss an invocation at any time, just as a mage can dismiss a spell.
If an invocation allows a saving throw, its DC is 10 + the equivalent spell level + your Charisma modifier. Since spell-like abilities are not spells, you cannot benefit from the Spell Focus feat. You can, however, benefit from the Ability Focus feat, as well as from feats that emulate metamagic effects for spell-like abilities.
The three grades of bardic invocations, in order of their relative power, are least, lesser, and greater. As a 1st-level bard, you begin with knowledge of one least invocation, gaining access to more invocations and higher grades as you attain levels. At any level when you learn a new invocation, you can also replace an invocation you already know with another invocation of the same or lower grade.
Unlike other spell-like abilities, bardic invocations are subject to arcane spell failure chance as described under Weapon and Armor Proficiency, above.
Finally, bards can qualify for some prestige classes usually intended for spellcasters. You cannot qualify for prestige classes with spellcasting level requirements, because you never actually learn to cast spells. However, prestige classes with caster level requirements are allowed—your caster level for your invocations fulfills this requirement. Your spell-like abilities do meet requirements for specific spell knowledge if they mimic the required spell. Any prestige class entry which lists '+1 level of spellcasting' or '+1 level of arcane spellcasting' adds the specified levels to your levels in Bard, gaining new grades of invocations and invocations known. (Any prestige class listed with 'Bardic Music' among its class abilities also adds to aura bonus and auras known.)
Bardic Music (Ex): Some invocations and auras require a check of your skill in songcraft, utilizing your Perform skill.
Optional house rule: When an ability requires a Perform check, roll a d20 and add your levels in Bard (plus any prestige classes which contribute to Bardic Music) plus your Charisma modifier.
Your bardic music can be aided by well-crafted instruments. A masterwork instrument adds +2 to your Perform check when played. Magical instruments also exist, and typically add not only a bonus to your Perform check, but add special modifiers to your auras and bardic invocation you cast, such as increased area, higher DC, or additional effects.
The Perform skill was among my chopped skills, so I followed the same format for Wild Empathy, which as I recall, was a skill in 3.0, Animal Empathy, only available to rangers and druids.
Honestly, what kind of Bard *wouldn't* put max ranks into Perform?
You can learn any non-secret languages more easily than other folk, by spending only one skill point rather than two.
More of my skill-list chop, takes the place of Speak Language as a skill listing. I'm a lot more active with skill tricks, so just saying languages are
skill tricks makes the whole thing a little more mechanically integrated.
Bardic Aura (Su): At 2nd level, you learn how to weave bardic magic to project an aura that grants you and nearby allies a special benefit, or instills a harmful effect into your enemies.
Projecting an aura is a swift action, and you can only project one bardic aura at a time. An aura remains in effect until you use a free action to dismiss it or you activate another aura in its place. You can have a bardic aura active continually; thus an aura can be in effect at the start of an encounter even before you take your first turn.
Unless otherwise noted, your bardic aura affects all allies within 30 feet (including yourself) with line of effect to you, and count as a Morale bonus. If an ally moves outside of the range of your aura's effect, they continue to benefit from it until the end of their turn. You must vocalize or otherwise be capable of making sound your allies can hear; a silence effect cancels your aura. Your aura is dismissed if you become unconscious or are slain, but it otherwise it remains in effect even if you are incapable of acting.
The bonus granted by your aura begins at +1 at 2nd level and increases by +1 every 4 levels, as shown on the chart above. As a 2nd-level bard, you know 2 auras chosen from the list below, and gain additional auras according to your level.
Aria of Accuracy: Bonus on melee attack rolls to yourself and all allies.
Chorus of Emphasis: Bonus on Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate checks to yourself and all allies.
Countersong: Make a Perform check. Your allies can choose to use your Perform check result in place of their rolled save versus a sonic or language-dependent effect. This lasts a number of rounds equal to your aura bonus, after which you must make a new Perform check as a standard action to renew the effect. You can also choose to make a new Perform check as a standard action at any time, if you don't like the rolled result. This resets the duration.
Dance of Defense: Bonus to AC to yourself and all allies.
Fascination: Make a Perform check. You can attract the attention of a number of creatures equal to your aura bonus within 60 feet. Each creature makes a Will save, using your Perform check as the DC. Those who make the save get a +20 to future saves against this effect by you for 24 hours.
Those who fail are dazed by your presence, unable to take actions. Additionally, they take a penalty equal to your aura bonus on all Spot and Listen checks, saves, and armor class. If their armor class, when reduced by this effect, is equal to or less than their flat-footed AC, they are considered flat-footed. Any potential threat (such as a hostile creature approaching) risks breaking the effect, forcing you to make a new Perform check, against which they then roll a Will save on their turn. Any obvious threat (drawing melee weapons, visible invoking or spellcasting, or aiming a ranged weapon) automatically breaks the effect on their turn.
All affected creatures continue to suffer the aura-bonus penalties for a number of rounds equal to your charisma bonus afterwards, but gain a +20 bonus to future saves against this effect by you for 24 hours. (In combat, this ability can be used as a mass stunning-like effect, making any who fail the save dazed until their next turn, taking the above penalty for rounds equal to your charisma bonus.
Melody of Energy: When you learn this aura, choose acid, cold, electric, or fire damage. You and your allies gain energy resistance equal to five times your aura bonus. You can learn this aura multiple times, choosing a new energy type each time.
Melody of Mobility: The base land speed of you and your allies within 60 feet is increased by 5 feet for every point of bonus.
Performance of Power: Bonus on damage rolls to yourself and all allies.
Refrain of Energy: Retribution When you learn this aura, choose acid, cold, electric, or fire damage. You and your allies gain an energy shield which deals 2 points of damage per point of aura bonus to anyone striking them with a non-reach melee weapon or natural attack. You can learn this aura multiple times, choosing a new energy type each time.
Song of the Steady Hand: Bonus on ranged attack rolls to yourself and all allies.
Symphony of the Senses: Bonus on Spot, Listen, and Initiative checks to yourself and all allies.
Verse of Endurance: You and your allies gain damage reduction equal to your bonus. (For example, a 6th level bard grants DR 2/— to her allies.)
Verse of Vigor: You and all allies gain fast healing equal to your aura bonus, but only while below half their full normal hit points.
Wardrums of the March: You and your allies gain your aura bonus to Endurance-related checks, and can Hustle, Swim, or Forced March for an extra hour before needing to make an Endurance-related check, and every two hours after that. This affects an area up to 90 feet around you.
Additional bardic auras may exist, in the form of feats or exotic lore which must be found or researched.
Touch of Vitality (Su): At 3rd level, you can heal the wounds of living creatures (your own or those of others) by touch. Each day you can heal a number of points of damage equal to twice your class level × your Charisma bonus, minimum ×1. For example, a 7th-level bard with a Charisma score of 14 (+2 bonus) can heal 28 points of damage. You can choose whether to divide your healing among multiple recipients, and you don't have to use it all at once. Using your touch of vitality is a standard action. It has no effect on constructs, undead or otherwise.
Beginning at 11th level, you can choose to spend some of the healing bestowed by your touch of vitality to remove other harmful conditions affecting your target.
For every 5 point of your healing ability you expend, you can cure 1 point of ability damage or remove the dazed, fatigued, or sickened condition from one individual.
For every 10 points of your healing ability you expend, you can remove the exhausted, nauseated, poisoned, or stunned condition from one individual.
For every 20 points of your healing ability you expend, you can remove a negative level or the blinded, deafened, or diseased condition from one individual.
You can remove one condition (or more than one condition) and heal damage with the same touch, so long as you expend the required number of points. For example, if you wanted to heal 12 points of damage and remove the blinded and exhausted conditions from a target, you would have to expend 42 points (12 hit points restored, plus 20 points for blinded plus 10 points for exhausted).
Playing a Bard
Bards excel at supporting their allies. Theoretically, the combination of a large number of invocations and a higher-than-standard aura bonus progression could be overpowered, but the fact that these two features are the sole function of the class, with no major direct-combat abilities (like wild shape/shapeshift, eldritch blast, or the dragon shaman or dragonfire adept's breath weapon) makes them just about right. (Feel free to prove me wrong. I can see a lot of potential with a high-level bard as a charmer, but it's still not broken.) A bard is a very strong encounter-controller. They add to combat abilities and alter the battlefield by directly controlling its combatants.
Bards have little ability score requirements. They don't need Charisma for their invoking, auras, or Bardic Music, but it is very beneficial, especially when playing a Healer role. Constitution is also very nice, backing up their low fort save and poor hitpoints, and Concentration, but a well-played bard need not ever enter melee, and the bonus from a decent Con to Concentration is still fairly quickly outpaced by ranks (plus Melodic Casting in Complete Mage can replace it entirely, though it can't get as high). Dexterity is again nice, but not required, especially if they choose feats which allow them to wear heavier armor, and CAdv's Insightful Reflexes. Strength is helpful if they want to fight in melee. Intelligence is useful for more skill points to cover bases, though Bardic Knowledge, while Int-based, doesn't require any score investment at all. Wisdom is probably the least useful stat to a Bard, though not entirely useless, for the basics like Listen, Spot, and Will saves.
Adapting Bardic Music
The change to the way Bardic Music works makes it difficult to use prestige classes or feats which allow you to expend a Bardic Music use for some effect.
When you need to 'expend' a usage of Bardic music, you sacrifice the effect of a currently-used aura effect (requiring one to be in place), and lose +1 of your aura bonus for the remainder of the encounter. If your aura bonus is reduced to +0, you lose access to your aura effects until you can take a short rest of 5 minutes or more. You must wait until your next turn to re-start any aura as a standard action.
Any feats in bold directly affect your invocations, items in italics affect auras.
Player's Handbook: Combat Casting, Combat Expertise, Dodge, Greater Spell Penetration, Leadership, Magical Aptitude, Mobility, Spell Penetration, Toughness, Weapon Finesse
Monster Manual: Ability Focus (can be applied to any one invocation, or to your Auras as a whole), Empower Spell-Like Ability, Quicken Spell-Like Ability
Complete Warrior: Dash, Defensive Strike, Hold The Line, Improved Combat Expertise, Improved Toughness
Complete Arcane: Arcane Mastery, Battle Caster (very nice for melee bards), Extra Invocation, Heighten Spell-Like Ability, Maximize Spell-Like Ability, Obtain Familiar, Practiced Spellcaster (good for multiclass bards), Wandstrike
Any of the SLA feats could add useful cantrip-level utility to a bard, though they're not very powerful. (Debating tweaking those to be 'one of the following per encounter' rather than each at 1/day.)
Complete Adventurer: Devoted Performer (paladin and bard levels stack for bardic music, aura bonus, and auras known), Disguise Spell (prereq becomes bard lvl 6, perform means mundane performance, but you can use auras and invocations without onlookers knowing), Extra Music (can expend bardic music twice before taking penalties to aura bonus), Jack of All Trades (allows access to trained-only skill usages), Lingering Song (your aura lasts 1 round after you stop or switch auras for allies), Obscure Lore, Open Minded, Subsonics (prereq bard lvl 7)
Versatile Performer is useless because Perform doesn't split by instrument, Chant of Fortitude could be adapted, though it'd be the same as Inspire Toughness for the War Chanter PrC, Ironskin Chant's concept is already an aura, and Lyric Spell is useless due to invocations.
Complete Mage: Captivating Melody (see Adapting Bardic Music), Magic Device Attunement, Melodic Casting (rewritten; prereq kn(arcana) 4 ranks, bardic music; You can substitute Perform checks for Concentration checks when casting bardic invocations), Somatic Weaponry
Complete Scoundrel: Deadly Defense, plus most luck feat or skill trick feats can be useful.
Unfortunately, the bardic-music feats from this book aren't compatible, though new auras could be devised from their concept. Wardrums of the March is similar to Chant of the Long Road, for instance.
Prerequisites: Bardic Aura +3 or higher
Benefit: As a Swift action, you can choose one of your allies within sight. As long as they can clearly hear your song (average range of 120 feet, check with your DM for special sound conditions) they can continue to benefit from your aura effect until the end of their next turn.
You can double your musical performance to provide more aid to your allies.
Prerequisites: Character level 12, Bardic Aura +2 or higher
Benefit: You can project one additional bardic aura you know, in addition to your normal ability. Subtract 1 from your aura bonus for all aura effects. You must use a separate Swift action to start projecting or change each one. Track each one separately, including range, bonus granted, and any special effects they may add.
Your song reaches from mind to mind.
Prerequisites: Bardic aura +1 or higher, telepathy
Benefit: You can project your bardic aura telepathically with anyone you are familiar with that you can reach with your telepathy ability on the same plane (or an adjacent one, such as the ethereal or shadow plane). This includes reaching outside of the standard range of your aura; they can hear your performance just as if they were standing 5 feet away. Your allies can only benefit from a single aura at a time, even if you have the ability to project more than one simultaneously. More than one set of music directly in one's thoughts becomes a jumbled mass of sound, causing the brain to shut out all such effects.
Prerequisites: Bardic Aura +2 or higher
Benefit: The reach of your auras is extended. Add 50% to the base range of each aura, so that 30-foot auras now reach 45 feet (9 squares), and 60-foot auras now reach 90 feet (18 squares).
Greater Powerful Song
Prerequisites: Bardic Aura +4 or higher, Powerful Song feat
Benefit: The reach of your auras is further extended. Double the base range of each aura, so that 30-foot auras now reach 60 feet (12 squares), and 60-foot auras now reach 120 feet (24 squares).
Bard Prestige Classes
Listing only changes to the PrC from the book, treat anything not mentioned as identical.
Skills becomes Acrobatics 2 ranks, Concentration 4 ranks. Spells becomes Arcane Caster 1st.
Skills (2 + Int mod): Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, Concentration Same as standard
Song of Celerity: Can apply to Least invocations at 4th level, and Lesser invocations at 8th level.
Skills becomes none. Special becomes Aura Bonus +1.
Skills (3 + Int mod): Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, Concentration, Diplomacy, Insight, Intimidate, Streetwise Same as standard
Inspire Toughness (Su): You gain an Inspire Toughness aura, granting yourself and each ally within 90 feet temporary hit points equal to your Aura bonus times half their level. These hit points can only be gained once per encounter, and are immediately lost if they leave the aura's range or you switch auras. At 6th level or higher, your allies gain the effect of the Diehard feat while affected by this aura.
War Chanter Music: Your levels in War Chanter stack with your levels in Bard for the purpose of Perform checks, as well as your Aura Bonus and Auras Known. It does not increase your invocations or caster level.
Inspire Recklessness (Su): At 3rd level, you gain an Inspire Recklessness aura, granting yourself and each ally within 60 feet the ability to subtract your aura bonus from AC, adding that number to melee attack and melee damage rolls as a morale bonus. Each ally can choose to ignore this bonus at the start of their turn, lasting one round until their turn comes up again.
Combine Songs (Su): At 5th level, you gain the ability to project any two auras you know at one time. Track each one separately, including range, bonus granted, and any special effects they may add. Expending a usage of Bardic Music acts separately on each aura, though the decrease in Aura Bonus is immediate.
Inspire Awe (Su): At 7th level, you gain an Inspire Awe aura, affecting any enemies within 60 feet. Foes get a Will save (make a Perform check for the DC) to resist the effect. Subtract your total character level from the enemy's HD, and compare against the table. (Use the table in Complete Warrior, page 88, as normal.) This effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to your Aura bonus. Enemies who make their save or finish the effect's duration gain a +10 bonus against future saves versus this effect by you for 24 hours, which stacks each time you retry.
Singing Shout (Su): You can expend one usage of Bardic Music (see Adapting Bardic Music, above) to give yourself and all allies a +4 enhancement bonus to Strength for a number of rounds equal to your Aura bonus.
Inspire Legion (Su): At 10th level, you gain an Inspire Legion aura, granting yourself and each ally within 60 feet a competence bonus on damage rolls. In addition, you can expend one usage of Bardic Music, sacrificing a second aura you are currently projecting to activate a bonus effect for all allies within range of this aura.
When the war chanter begins singing, determine the best base attack bonus among all the affected characters. All affected characters use this base attack bonus or the war chanter’s character level as their base attack bonus for the duration of the effect. The effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to twice your aura bonus, as long as the affected characters can hear the war chanter and stay within range.