At first glance, the standard bard seems to be underpowered; he has the ability to do a little bit of everything, but is a master of none. However, it does pack a unique "music as magic" feeling, and since it's one of the most flavorful classes (along with the druid probably) in the player's handbook, it has been a crowd favorite.
The bard's abilities can be summarized as follows: high social skills, a limited ability of arcane magic (but with several unique spells) and the unique ability of bardic music. They are able to assist in combat with melee or ranged weapons, but they basically bring an array of useful buffs to the group. As such, outside combat are able to dominate the environment with their wide range of skills and are extremely fun to roleplay with. However, inside combat they rarely shine, as most buffers prefer to stay in the background, but they are an important wheel to the group.
So, if you are a player that enjoys having a good time, serving the group as a whole and you are not particular fond of rolling for big damage, think about the bard. The bard also is one of the best characters an experienced player can use when in a team of newbies, as you will be able to make sure the party survives and does its job, without stealing the spotlight.
Because you'll need to spread out your attribute points, don't spend too much on charisma. A score of 16 is both easy to attain and gives you a few additional points to place in your intelligence and constitution scores. Dump wisdom completely, unless you have an important reason not to. Choose between strength and dexterity for your combat stat, but don't over-do it, a score of 14 or so is quite alright. So, to sum it up, you can go (32 pb): 14/10/14/14/10/16 or 14/10/14/15/8/16 (useful if you want to get words of creation early).
Strength: Bards are able to go melee with their buffs, but this is not a first priority. Moreover, quite a few of the best bard races are small sized.
Dexterity: Some of your skills are keyed off this attribute. Also helps your initiative rolls and possibly your attack modifier. As above, this isn't a first priority, but try to keep it at decent levels, which means no negative modifiers.
Constitution: Helps constitution saves and hit points. All characters benefit from a big score in this attribute and bards are not an exception.
Intelligence: Bards are skill-monkeys at heart and getting bonus points helps them fulfill that role.
Wisdom: You can dump this attribute. You have strong will save and only a few of your skills are tied to this ability.
Charisma: This is your first priority. Charisma determines your spellcasting ability and several key bard skills: use magic device, bluff, diplomacy, perform. You need a minimum charisma of 16 to be able to cast your most powerful spells.
When picking a race, it's important to remember that your bardic music is a mind-affecting effect. Which means that if you're undead (or whoever teammate of yours is) will not be affected by it. The same is true for the plant and construct creature types. There are two special feats called requiem and grean ear that enable you to affect undead and plant creatures respectively, but you gain them pretty late and cost you a feat slot, which is not a good thing.
Human: The human race receives a bonus feat, a significant bonus to the feat starved bard and a bonus skill point per level. Also helps multiclassing with his favored class.
Gnomes: This is a great race for bards. Small size is a benefit, since it helps your attack and sneak abilities. The constitution bonus is always welcome and strength penalty doesn't hurt you significantly. The +1 bonus to illusion spells DC and bonus spells per day are great, too.
Half-Elf: Yup, that's right! Bards must be one of the rare few classes that can fit half-elf in, but only if the great alternative class levels from races of destiny are available to you. Other non-conventional half-elves may be more worth it, such as half-drow, forestlord half-elf or even deepwyrm half-drow.
Dragonborn Lesser Aasimar: Lesser aasimars are humanoids, which means they can become dragonborn. Dragonborn is a great template-like race and provides you with either a breath weapon, flight or improved sensory abilities. Your attribute modifiers will be -2 dexterity, +2 constitution, +2 wisdom and +2 charisma, without any level adjustment. Note that due to creature type, an aasimar without level adjustment isn't that good without the dragonborn template.
Whatever you do, please, please, please, don't be an elf. They have attribute bonuses that don't matter (dexterity), packed with a constitution hit. The only race worth considering is the faerunian star elf, but even these guys are trumped by the spellscales because of the latters' blood quickening ability. Both races provide a bonus to charisma and a penalty to constitution, but you're better off with a human or a dragonborn lesser aasimar.
The following are recomended *only* if LA buyoff is allowed
Jaebrin MM V: Nice ability adjustments, immunity to enchantments and various other smaller benefits along with a will debuffing bite that is charisma based.
Aasimar: Great because of its outsider type in combination of alter self and similar spells. Now you can really dump wisdom completely. Various smaller benefits. It's worth noting that this is better that its non LA cousin, because you just lose 3000 XP at 3rd level to buy it off and keep the outsider type. Eventually you will get back the lost XP.
Chaos Gnome RoS: Nice ability modifiers, immunities and spell-like abilities. The luck reroll ability comes handy if you use skills a lot and the spell power is handy.
Draconic Creature template RotD: Great bonuses and the dragonblood subtype that opens up several feats and prestige classes. If LA buyoff this is a great addition to several base races. Grab this if you are a dragonborn lesser aasimar, you'll have huge ability modifiers for just +1 LA: +2 strength, -2 dexterity, +4 constitution, +2 wisdom, +4 charisma.
Weapon Proficiency: Bards are proficient in all simple weapons. While they are not proficient with martial weapons, they get free weapon proficiencies in longsword, rapier, sap, sword sword, shortbow and whip.
Armor Proficiency: Light armor and all shields except tower shields. You ignore arcane spell failure from light armor.
Bardic Knowledge: Make a special knowledge check with a bonus equal to your bard level + intelligence modifier. It's a great ability if you want to know various interesting stuff, but it mostly affects the role playing aspects of your character. If you want to optimize this, make sure to get at least five ranks in knowledge (history), as that will give you a +2 bonus to the check.
Bardic Music: Bards have the unique ability of producing magical poetic effects. A bard is able to use his bardic music once per bard level per day. This is actually a collection of songs which are unlocked if the minimum bard level and minimum perform ranks are met. This is why maxing out perform is essential for any bard. Remember that most songs are mind-affecting and lots of features can make you immune to this effects, like races, items and spells (for example mind blank).
Bardic music songs
Countersong (Su): This provides you and allies within 30ft a protective buffer. It would be better if it provided protection against a wider range of spells, but as is, providing defense only against spells with the sonic descriptor, it's not good, because you are better off actively buffing your party instead of passively waiting your opponents to cast [sonic] spells. This ability protects against [language-dependent] spells, too, but most of them are mind-affecting enchantments, like Geas/Quest, Suggestion, Command or Command Greater. If an ally is influenced by a spell of this type, you can easily activate your countersong to enable him to roll again (once per round he hears the countersong!).
Fascinate (Sp): Meh, it doesn't work if the subjects are threatened, but it has some usability as you need to fascinate a target to use your suggestion ability. Still, remember that you can select suggestion as a spell, which will open up additional bardic music options, if you lose Fascinate (using alternative class features to replace fascinate, suggestion and suggestion, mass). Note that if you want to use Suggestion, Mass later on, you can still trade Fascinate and dip the Virtuoso prestige class, which grants Fascinate at the first level, has extremely easy requirements and stacks with Bard for the purposes of determining your inspire courage ability.
Inspire Courage (Su): This mind-affecting ability is one of the best songs bards get. The bonuses are twofold, as this improves both your saves versus fear and attack and weapon damage rolls. The bonuses are morale, so it will stack with most other bonuses. Here's a thread with ways to optimize inspire courage to a terrifying degree. Note that this is a mind-affecting ability, so it won't work on some characters, like undead and classes that offer immunity to those effects. Inspire Courage works very well with Power Attack and two handed weapons, so make sure to advice your teammates accordingly.
Inspire Competence (Su): This improves a skill of a specific ally. The problem is that the bonus is competence and really small. Also characters who want to optimize a certain skill check use custom magic items that grant competence bonus. Note that the awesome eberron feat Song of the Heart, which increases the bonuses you get from several of your songs, requires you to have inspire competence. Thus, if you're planning on getting it, you should really keep this.
Suggestion (Su): Suggestion is a great spell and it only requires you to fascinate a target to use this ability.
Inspire Greatness (Su): I like this ability, not because of the bonuses on saves and attack rolls. Don't get me wrong, both areas always are glad to receive a boost, but the bonuses are competence. What really shines for this ability is the 2 bonus hit dice people affected receive. That is an average of 11 bonus hit points and the difference between life and death in certain situations (like spells that only check your hit dice , like dictum, holy word, etc). If you have the feats to spare, a great way of boosting your caster level during your buffing routine is getting practiced spellcaster [Bard] and inspiring greatness yourself. That will give you +X caster level, where X is the number of extra hit dice you will receive with Inspire Greatness, as improved by features like Song of the Heart and Words of Wisdom (maximum 4, assuming you have only taken practiced spellcaster [Bard] only once).
Song of Freedom (Sp): Handy for the occasional curse or enchantment, but not anything special. You can produce many break enchantment spells of course, but only a few (if any) times will be really needed per day. You can't use this ability on yourself and the fact that most bards will generally have multiclassed to something else by this level, makes it less appealing.
Inspire Heroics (Su): Nice ability, as morale bonuses to saves are not often and dodge bonuses always stack. However, at 15th level, there are far better options for in-combat buffing than just granting a single ally a +4 bonus to saving throws and armor class.
Mass Suggestion (Sp): Great if you want to control crowds, but remember that you can't fascinate creatures that are threatened.
Bardic Sage UA: Gain bonus divination spells (total 7, one for each level you are capable of casting). To determine if you can cast a spell, you must have an intelligence of 10 + spell level, although spell DCs and other abilities (such as bonus spells) are still related to charisma. Finally get some bonus spells on your spell list and a flat +2 bonus on bardic knowledge checks. The downside is that you have poor reflex saves and you must have at least one neutral component in your alignment and cannot be chaotic or lawful. Moreover some of your songs only last 3 rounds after you stop singing. This class variant is useful to bards that are going to be multiclassing early. Reflex saves are not that important generally and you can get over the bardic music duration problem, just by selecting one feat, lingering song CV.
Divine Bard UA: Unfortunately this variant is bad, because it increases MAD. If you have the points to spend though, this comes handy because divine spells have no spellcasting failure and the expanded spell list has some nice spells. Use this if you want to enter a skillful/bard prestige class that has divine spellcasting requirement. Note that divine bards can't cast spells with an alignment component that doesn't match his. Thus the best alignments are chaotic good/evil.
Savage Bard UA: This is a nice variant class. Fortitude saves are far better than reflex ones. You are illiterate, but it's only 2 skill points to get around that. The main problem is that your spell lists are customized. Loss of summon monster spells, the main source of expanding your spell list (through spell-like abilities your summons get). Prestigitation is also a good spell, but losing it won't hurt you. You do gain the summon nature's ally spells, insect plague, creeping doom and the very good reincarnate. You also lose two class skills (decipher script and speak language), but both are not in any way essential to a bard. Survival on the other hand has much more applications in a game (not to mention that you become an instant tracker by acquiring a familiar with track and scent). My vote goes to savage bard.
Fey Bard UA: If divine bard is bad, this sucks. It can only be used in builds to fill requirements. Don't even consider it for a normal bard build.
Alternative Class Features
Spellbreaker Song CM: You lose countersong, but this is already bad. This is no better, but spells with verbal components are much more common than the ones countersong protects you from. The sad thing is that you need concentration to maintain it and it only lasts 3 rounds.
Healing Hymn CC: Don't do it! It's a trap! Losing fascinate also denies you access to suggestion and mass suggestion. I used to believe so, but after playtesting it turns out to be awesome. You can use alternative features to swap suggestion and mass suggestion, because they won't be useable after you pick this. But there's nothing like healing 20 hit points with a cure minor wounds spell. Note:
Hymn of Fortification CC: I prefer this ability much more than inspire competence. The majority of enemies is evil and if you team up with a summoner, this is an easy way to get protection from evil.
Bardic Knack PHB II: You lose bardic knowledge and gain this wonderful ability. Check with your DM if you can stack levels that grant bardic knowledge (or a similar ability) for this. Twenty levels of bardic knack plus the feat jack of all trades would be like having all skills maxed out as cross class skills minus 1 rank (cross class skill maximum is 11.5 and you get 10.5 with the mentioned abilities). This gives you space to maybe have a lower intelligence score and focus on important skills while dumping stuff like hide, move silently, spot, listen. Note that RAW, you need to have 1 actual rank in a skill that doesn't allow untrained checks to use it (so you have to spend two ranks for a cross-class skill, not just one to enable trained checks with it). Bardic Knack works great with the Knowledge Devotion feat.
Inspire Awe: Unfortunately inspire courage is one of the best songs out there. This is good at later levels, but it remains [fear] and [mind-affecting] so be warned that many creatures will be immune to it.
Loresong DS: I still prefer bardic knack if you want to trade your bardic knowledge, but this is pretty solid and eventually you'll gain quite a few uses. A +4 bonus on a attack, check or save significantly boosts you defensively and it even protects from disarming/tripping/etc. Note that the bonus is insight though.
Mimicking Song DS: Anything to replace countersong is going to be probably useful. This song grants an unnamed bonus to move silently checks of you and your allies that improves as you level, up to a maximum of +10 at 20th level. I can't figure out how singing provides you with a move silently bonus, but note that this is absolutely cool and useful if you want to play elan.
Undead Bardic Knowledge ECR: This is nice in a undead campaign, it's probably a nice trade.
Inspire Turning ECR: Clerics can easily optimize their turning check. This is even worse than inspire competence.
Repel Domination ECR: Loss of suggestion hurts, but you can offset somewhat the loss with your spells. This is nice in an undead themed campaign, as it seems that's always active. Also because it makes undead creatures shaken until the end of the encounter, multiple saves against a creature's effects may render it frightened or even panicked (the ability doesn't note that this effect doesn't stack).
Drow Bard DotU: Gain poison use, lose bardic knowledge and 1 bardic music use/day. Yeah. Bardic Knack is a lot more useful as an alternative class feature and you can gain poison use by spending a feat on Master of Poisons.
Eberron Bard ECS: Trade new bardic music for specific feats. The best feat you can get with this feature is Song of the Heart, which will increase most effects of your songs by one point (including inspire courage and greatness), at 6th level, because it requires inspire competence, even though you are otherwise eligible for the feat at level three. Haunting melody as written is like an add-on effect whenever you're using your bardic music or perform skill, at the expense of one additional bardic music per day, which is very good if your party is employing stacking fear effects. Music of Growth seems like a good option, but it actually is not, as it's only useful in conjuction with a Druid summoner, who probably will grab augment summoning early in his career. Music of Making is only useful as a free extend on Glitterdust, Unseen Crafter and Phantom Steed from your list; a teammate wizard will probably benefit a lot more from it. Soothe the Beast is not recommended, a wild empathy-like ability that eats your bardic music attempts is not that appealing.
Planar Bard PlH
3rd level: Planar Inspiration is a nice and quick buff if you are plane hopping a lot and protects multiple allies. I prefer this ability than inspire competence as it lasts 24 hours.
6th level: Meh, this is too specific to be useful. If you think that you will be doing this job a lot, take it. I find suggestion a lot better though. Note that if you later gain mass suggestion and have selected this power, you gain suggestion instead.
12h level: Too random to be exploitable, but effects like the timeless trait are perfect for activities like crafting. You can just keep rolling until you get the desirable effect.
Half-Elf Bard RoD
1st level: Lose worthless countersong to get the ability to use bardic music to produce a calm emotions effect. This has combat uses, as it cancels inspire courage and barbarian rage and suppresses morale bonuses. The DC is your diplomacy check, which is easily optimized to really high amounts.
6th level: Suggestions don't take up additional bardic music performances, but this can be used in combat (against a single target only probably, as if your allies are ready for battle you won't be able to fascinate enemies). I think i'll go with suggestion.
8th level: Secrets of the Diplomat gives you command, zone of truth and sending as spells known, replacing a 4th level spell known for you. All are useful spells, so why not, it's a fair trade.
Gnome Bard RoS
1st level: Gnome cantrips is fair trade, you'd probably get those anyway. Counter fear is surprisingly good, as skill checks are easily optimized. If you are found fighting creatures that usually use fear effects, this is a good song. It replaces countersong, which is a bad idea anyway.
3rd level: Inspire competence isn't a very good song and this isn't either. Better swap your inspire competence for an alternative class feature.
6th level: Phantasmal song is an area fear effect with a scalling bonus. Great for a party that uses fear stacking effects, or even on its own to debuff multiple targets and help your casters/trippers.
11th level: Ok you must be joking. Get color spray, touch of idiocy and phantasmal killer as spells known in exchange for a 4th level spell known and the ability to swap spells at that level? At 14th level you'll want to swap color spray for something more useful.
Spellscale Bard RotD
1st level: This isn't a dragon specific bardic knowledge. You just gain a bonus to your bardic knowledge checks with effects related to dragons, as long as you keep a knowledge (arcana) number of ranks equal to or greater than your bard class level. If you are a spellscale, take it.
3rd level: Absolutely better than inspire competence. This is great when used on an arcane spellcaster that produces long lasting buffs.
6th level: Gain a +2 DC to your suggestion ability and give up a 2nd level spell known. I don't like limiting my spell selection, but if you think that you need the boost, it won't hurt you much.
Martial Study (Devoted Spirit) ToB: This is the best way for a bard to gain intimidate as a class skill. Your options for a maneuver are crusader strike and vanguard strike. The first heals an amount of hit points based on your initiator level and the second strikes a target and your opponents receive a +4 bonus on their attack rolls for the round.
Arcane Strike CW: You lack both high level spells and high spells per day to make this work. It's a bad choice obviously. Leave it to gishes and duskblades.
Snowflake Wardance Frost: This ability transforms bards into melee monsters. However you do need to fight with one handed slashing weapons, carry no shield and wear armor no heavier than light. It gives you your charisma modifier to attack rolls and lasts for a number of rounds equal to your perform ranks.
Goad CV: Cause an opponent you threaten to attack only you, with a charisma based DC. You can get this feat through heroics.
Leadership PHB: Any character with a high charisma score benefits from this feat. It has endless possibilities and is one of the most exploitable mechanics in the whole game.
Extra Music: You gain so many bardic music per day, this won't be necessary. You may want to consider it at early levels if retraining is allowed and get rid of it later.
Jack of All Trades CV: Extremely useful combined with the alternate class feature bardic knack. If you get 20 levels of bardic knowledge and trade them to the alternate feature, you essentially can make all skill checks as if they were maxed out cross class skills for you (or at least very close, minus 1 rank).
Obscure Lore CV: Meh, bardic knowledge has limited use in optimized play.
Obtain Familiar CA: With the high amount of skills bards receive, their familiars will rock in various roles (scout, tracker, etc). Be sure to select one that speaks, probably raven.
Melodic Casting CM: This is phenomenal! A must for bards. Its benefits are twofold: First you make perform checks (yay!) instead of concentration when casting spells or using spell-like abilities, which means that it actively reduces MAD. Second, and most importantly, you can cast spells and activate magical items that require spell completion or command word while using bardic music. Unfortunately you can't use wands with this ability (they use the spell trigger activation method).
Nymph's Kiss BoED: Bonus skill point per level, bonus to saving throws against spells and a bonus to charisma related checks? Yes please! The only problem is that it need you to be good and bars access to vile feats.
Vow of Nonviolence/Peace BoED: You can play a bard that doesn't actually need to cause harm to opponents quite effectively. This will boost your DCs dramatically. Note that it will cause you roleplaying problems and it's assumed that you're an experienced player to use it.
Words of Creation BoED: This feat is widely used to optimize your inspire courage amount. The attribute requirements are somewhat steep, but it focuses on your important ones, so it doesn't increase MAD. It requires you to be of good alignment, with the relevant benefits and drawbacks.
Dragonsong Drc: Bonus to perform checks and to the DC of abilities that are based on song or poetics.
Draconic Aura DM: Cool and pretty versatile ability, that can boost some of the weak areas of your party. Insight, presence, senses and vigor are great options.
Imperious Command DotU: Bards can be easily optimized to demoralize. Imperious command is an impressive feat to debuff or disable characters and help your allies. You need however to have intimidate as a class skill for this feat to work.
Daunting Presence LM: Charisma effect that makes opponents shaken. Debuffs and can be used to stack fear effects. You can gain this feat through the infamous spell heroics, as it is a fighter feat.
Master Manipulator PHB II: Get cool social skill functions with this feat. You can use your charm to distract and confuse targets while your party is doing dirty stuff.
Wanderer's Diplomacy PHB II: As above.
Extend Spell PHB: Great metamagic feat that doubles the duration of your buffs at a low price.
Disguise Spell CV: It's a nice option, but with the introduction of conceal spellcasting in complete scoundrel, this gets trumped. Conceal spellcasting even stops AoOs, but it is defined by your sleight of hand check.
Extraordinary Concentration CV: Quite a few bard spells require concentration. This is a great option for spellcasters general.
Arcane Preparation CA: If you have invested in metamagic feats to use with spells in combat, this is going to help. It also makes you able to enter prestige classes that require casters that prepare spells.
Extra Spell CA: With the limited bard spell selection, this is a solid option if you need a certain spell. You can even retrain it later and select the spell normally.
Captivating Melody CM: This is a nice option to boost the power of your spells. You are going to have a lot illusion and/or enchantment spells anyway and the DC is easy to hit (maximum 21 with normal bard spells). Note that in case of classes with different spellcasting ability (for example sublime chord), you need different bardic music attempts.
Rapid Metamagic CM: This is handy for spontaneous casters that use metamagic feats.
Coercive Spell DotU: It's not actually suggested to take this, but wands with swift action spells that deal damage are ideal for debuff on-the-fly. With the rule's compendium new ruling, that wands take the same amount of time with the spell contained inside to activate, the above is doable if you use online stuff, specifically Kaupaer's Quickblast.
Enchanting Song RoS: Captivating melody is strictly better, since this requires a worthless spell focus.
Misleading Song RoS: Ditto.
Metamagic Song RoS: If it didn't have a spell level cap, this would be a lot more useful, but as is, it's average.
Versatile Spellcaster RotD: This is a nice option on many levels. You make the most of it when spending two 1st level slots for one 2nd level one.
Green Ear CV: You can affect plants with your mind-affecting bardic music-like abilities, but they receive a huge save against them. I only find this useful for allies with the plant subtype, so that they receive the bonuses of your songs. For example, a druid/bard pair with greenbound summoning, this feat and optimized inspire courage can produce really impressive summons.
Lingering Song CV: This is a really good feat for buffer bards, you do have the bardic music per day to spend after all. The correct use of this is to activate a song, stop singing (but the song keeps affecting your allies for a full minute) and then activate a different song. A battle hardly lasts more than 1 minute, so you've got most of it covered.
Subsonics CV: Check with your DM. If this makes you able to use bardic music when you are silenced, it's good if you get silenced a lot, or if your party is using a lot of stealth.
Versatile Performer CV: Actually perform is a broad category of skills, just like knowledges. Hopefully this isn't needed, but if you can't use your selected perform category (for example, you have selected perform [singing] and you have a problem with your voice or your instrument's strings are broken), this helps to equalize all skills.
Chant of Fortitude CV: Meh, one bardic music for 1 round of the diehard feat and a feat slot is pretty weak.
Ironskin Chant CV: Again, i love damage reduction, but it's just for one round and for a single ally.
Lyric Spell CV: You have some bardic music attempts to expend and this feat is really versatile.
Chant of the Long Road CS: You can spend your feats or bardic music attempts per day on far better abilities.
Chord of distraction CS: This is a hard one. The effect is ok if used in a sneaky party along with a character with heavy sneak attack, but there are far better options to get one flat-footed. Moreover, three bardic music attempts for this effect isn't worth the trade for me.
Epic of the Lost King CS: This is nice if fatigue or exhaustion effects are used against your party, as those are heavy debuffs, but in my opinion it's pretty situational. There are also other ways of removing those effects.
Sound of Silence CS: This is actually good! It's nice for debuffing effectively spellcasters, other buffs or even other characters. The deafen conditions bestow the following penalties: -4 to initiative, automatically fail listen checks and 20% spell failure when casting spells with verbal components. You can use it to tweak the initiative sequence, getting your high initiative allies act two times in a row, use it on opponents to help your sneaky allies or on spellcasters (20% spell failure is close to 1/5 spells).
Warning Shout CS: Grant a single ally some bonus to reflex saves and evasion for one round for two bardic music per day? Not worth it.
Dragonfire Inspiration DM: Wow, you can boost the damage of your allies impressively with this ability. If you spend another feat to draconic heritage to a dragon with an obscure energy type (like force or sonic), your extra damage will be even more difficult to resist.
Ice Harmonics Frost: Unless you are going to adventure in snowy areas or you are able to produce ice easily, this is pretty much worthless.
Haunting Melody HoH: Nice effect that activates by spending a bardic music performance. You can render opponents shaken with a DC that scales depending on your bard level and the duration is based on your perform ranks. Great for fear stacking party tactics. Remember that you can swap a song you get at later levels for this feat, with the eberron bard alternative feature.
Requiem LM: As with green ear, but this has more offensive applications. You can even bestow fear effects to undead with this. Because undead player characters are more common, you'll gonna need this if you want to be influenced by your own songs.
Music of the Outer Planes LoM: This is ok if you are in an aberration-heavy campaign, but not so useful otherwise.
Arcane Accompaniment PHB II: Lingering song is strictly better.
Inspire Spellpower RoS: It's not that useful, +1 caster level is average.
Music of Growth ECS: Unfortunately this isn't that useful, inspire courage will probably trump the +4 strength and +4 constitution enhancement bonuses, as summoners will probably have augment summoning anyway. This is one of the feats you can swap your songs for, per the eberron campaign setting.
Music of Making ECS: Free extend to conjuration (creation) spells and +4 bonus on craft skills. Not that useful. This is one of the feats you can swap your songs for, per the eberron campaign setting.
Doomspeak CoR: This ability is phenomenal. You spend a bardic music for the day and curse an enemy. If the target fails a charisma based (note, it says +character level and not half that! might be an error) DC then he is cursed with a -10 penalty on attack rolls, saves, ability checks and skill checks for 1 whole round. The ability isn't evil, so it's usable by anyone. The best part is that the effect isn't mind-affecting like most other bard abilities, it's just necromantic and supernatural. On the other hand you need 8 ranks in the intimidate skill, which is cross-class for bards.
Appraise: Don't bother with this skill. You may want however to spend some ranks in it for the magical appraisal skill trick.
Balance: Spend 5 ranks in balance, so that you won't be flat-footed when balancing.
Bluff: This skill has many social uses, but make sure to spend 5 ranks for the great synergy bonuses. It's a candidate for maxing.
Climb: Romeo surely had ranks in this skill. It's up to you .
Concentration: This is an essential skill to any spellcaster. You can skip it only if you select melodic casting.
Craft: What does a charismatic musician has to do with crafting? Skip it. There is craft (poison-making) and craft (alchemy) which are pretty awesome, especially early in the game. You can check a guide about poison-making here, courtesy of Akalsaris.
Decipher Script: Only put ranks in here if you want to fulfill a requirement.
Diplomacy: You can easily have an optimized check in this skill, due to the synergy bonuses. Not only it's useful in many social situations, but you can use it to haggle according to complete adventurer, which gives you a 10% reduction on the asking price.
Disguise: This is nice to have, but you can get a really huge modifier with spells. Don't bother with a big investment of skill points here.
Escape Artist: If your size is small, you may want to spent some ranks here to help your grapple checks.
Gather Information: You may want to spend some skill points here. Typically bards are people who can learn stuff by snooping around.
Hide: Straightforward. Spies generally make use of this frequently.
Knowledges: Personally i max out one specific knowledge (arcana, religion or nature probably - depending on the character's flavor) and spend at least one rank in the rest knowledges, especially those that have to do with identifying creature types. Collector of Stories is a nice skill trick to use with a wide array of knowledges. You can get 5 ranks into knowledge (nobility) for the synergy bonus to diplomacy and knowledge (history) for the +2 bonus to bardic knowledge.
Listen: It's a given if you are going to be a scout. Weirdly enough, bards haven't got spot as a class skill.
Move Silently: This is usually paired with hide.
Perform: This is the most important skill to the bard. I'd actually max out perform in more than one instrument, like singing/string instruments. There's also perform (weapon drill), which gets a bonus according to your BAB.
Profession: Oh come on .
Sense Motive: Spend at least 5 ranks for the synergy bonus to diplomacy.
Sleight of Hand: If you are using the conceal spellcasting skill trick, you'll may want to spend a few ranks here. Otherwise, it's not that useful, unless of course you like picking up stuff.
Speak Language: Not worth spending a lot of ranks here. Pick up a few weird languages to communicate with your allies with more secrecy. Make sure to pick up most popular languages, as many bard abilities and spells are language dependant.
Spellcraft: This shouldn't bother you, but it is usually listed as a requirement for prestige classes and feats. A few ranks will do the trick.
Swim: I think romeo could swim, too .
Tumble: Spend a few ranks here, as it makes you able to maneuver in the battlefield safely, without provoking AoOs.
Use Magic Device: Absolutely max this out. It's one of the most versatile skills you'll have. It has great possibilities.
Collector of Stories: Since it is best to spend a rank in each monster-identifying knowledge and this easily boosts all of them, it's a nice skill trick to have.
Conceal Spellcasting: Great if you're dealing with counterspellers, if you need to get an offensive spell without others noticing. Maybe it works while you are in stealth.
False Theurgy: I like this better than conceal spellcasting, at least if you don't want people to understand what spell you are casting. There is no roll involved.
Listen to this: Nice to have if you are scouting/spying.
Summon Monster III
Shadow Conjuration: Can imitate Greater Mage Armor, Haboob, Baleful Transposition, Benign Transposition, Contagious Fog, Corpse Candle, Regroup, Stinking Cloud, Summon Monster I-III.
Summon Monster IV
Ruin Delver's Fortune
Dispel Magic, Greater
Summon Monster V
Otto’s Irresistible Dance
Summon Monster VI
A bard is proficient with all simple weapons, plus the longsword, rapier, sap, short sword, shortbow, and whip. There are several weapons that stand out and a bard can function both melee and ranged.
Melee: You have access to the longspear, which is a reach weapon. Reach is essential because it makes you able to stay out of harm's way. An additional reason to use reach weapons is if you're using a demoralize setup. You also have proficiency with the whip, which is an exotic weapon. You can use it to attack within 15ft, but you don't threaten those squares, making it useless for demoralize and attacks of opportunity. It's a good idea to purchase one however, especially if you're using one to disarm people.
Ranged: There are some ranged weapons for the bard. You can use the light and heavy crossbow, the sling and the shortbow. Heavy crossbow requires a full-round action to load, which is extremely bad. The light crossbow and the sling are good, but they both require a move action to load. They'll be pretty good for the first few levels, until your BAB makes you able to attack twice in a round. The sling is better if you have a positive strength modifier, bad has less range. After you gain additional attacks, you can use the shortbow, which you can reload instantly.
Magic Weapon Enhancements
Changeling MIC: If you're using the longspear, you can't attack adjacent opponents, because it's a reach weapon.This is a cheap enhancement which enables you to cycle your spear between shortspear, longspear and regular spear forms. To use it you just have to spend a swift action, so you can attack instantly. Remember that you can also transform your weapon into a spear, which can be thrown and even a shortspear, which you can use with just one hand.
Dispelling, Greater MIC: Great ability to enhance a secondary weapon, like a whip, with. The caster level of the enhancement is 15, which will make your targeted greater dispels hard to resist. Moreover you just have to successfully strike an opponent, not damage them. The activation is a free action.
Harmonizing MIC: The harmonizing enhancement can pick up a performance for you, but it ends once you start a different performance yourself. It's a good alternative for the melodic casting feat, if you can't get it, but it won't do the trick at high levels.
Warning MIC: Get this enchantment on a backup weapon, like a gauntlet. This way you're receiving a fat bonus to your initiative. You can purchase a single +1 Warning Bullet dirt cheap, but it's debatable whether this trick works or not.
Sizing MIC: Get this on your weapon and you can change its size from diminutive to colossal in a heartbeat. Applications include making your weapon small enough to fit in your pocket, enlarging shaft weapons to build instant bridges or ladders or throwing gargantuan lead bullets to people inside anti-magic fields made small enough.
Sudden Stunning DMG II: This only has a 2.000 gp cost and a scaling DC based on your hit dice and charisma modifier. Perfect for your whip, use it to stun people from a distance.
Crystal Echoblade MIC: The crystal echoblade is a +1 longsword from Magic Item Compendium that has the added benefit of dealing extra damage equal to half of your bard level when you're using it, if you're performing a bardic music song while wielding the weapon. It's very cheap and you can enhance it further.
You ignore spell failure with light armor. You'll be wearing a random suit of light armor, probably a chain shirt, until you're able to afford a mithral breastplate, which is standard issue.
Magic Armor Enhancements
Death Ward MIC: Ignore a death effect 1/day.
Fearsome DotU: +5 enchantment bonus to intimidate and enables you to demoralize as a move action. If you're investing in intimidate you need this armor to make the most out of it.
Charm of Countersong MIC: Once per day activate countersong as an immediate action. It's only 400gp and it's very handy if you're stuck with countersong.
Anstruth Harp MIC: Effectively you can command the harp to generate Control Water, Mass Cure Light Wounds or Mind For, each once per day. The activation is swift, so it's like a quickened version of the spell. It's probably not worth it, as it's a bit expensive.
Canaith Mandolin MIC: As with the harp above, but a lot cheaper and with a better selection of spells (Cure Serious Wounds, Dispel Magic, Summon Monster III). Unfortunately the caster level is a little low (8th).
Chime of Harmonic Agony MIC: It's a pretty affordable item that enables you to spend bardic music attempts and transform them into sonic damage. The damage is low (you get 3d6 plus charisma modifier plus the bonus of an item that grants an enhancement bonus to your constitution), but the worst is that it functions only three times per day.
Cli Lyre MIC: It's a bit expensive and the spells it provides are not that good. Dimension Door is the only exception and it's more useful as a spell known. Moreover, contrary to the previous two instruments, this requires a standard action activation.
Doss Lute MIC: Doss Lute is affordable and enables you to use mirror image and hold person once per day. You can also use delay poison, but that's situationally useful. The activation is a standard action.
Dove's Harp MIC: Whenever you activate your bardic music, all allies within 60ft gain fast healing 3 for one full minute. This is about 30 hit points every time you use your bardic music ('about', because multiple uses do not stack).
Fochlucan Bandore MIC: Use flare, light, mending or message, each once per day. It's affordable, but eternal wands are a lot better than this, if you rule out the +2 circumstance bonus to your perform skill.
Mac-Fuirmidh Cithern MIC: As above, but with cure light wounds, mage armor and sleep. Most of these spells will be trivial at high levels, except maybe Mage Armor, which will last for three hours. Still, an eternal wand would be better.
Ollamh Harp MIC: The spells are quite good, but this harp costs way too much. All of the spells are 7th and 6th level and a normal bard does not access them, but still, it requires a huge investment. The caster level is 17th and remember that repulsion has a costly material component that you won't have to expend.