A Guide For Bards That Aren’t Level 80 Yet
While the main Balance guide is focused on level 80 gameplay, I thought it’d be nice to have something people can follow as they level.
Leveling content may not be tough enough to really need to optimize, but it’s still nice to not feel completely lost.
So, here are some general outlines for various level ranges, and tips for what skills are going to bring the biggest changes. In addition, I’ll include some fundamentals along the way for players entirely new to the game.
If anything is confusing, feel free to ping Sana Cetonis (Cetonis#8918) on The Balance discord server – it may mean something in the guide can be made more clear, so tip offs are welcome!
You’ll move through the Archer levels fairly quickly, but even by level 6 you have a couple important concepts introduced.
Venomous Bite is your first damage over time (DoT) skill. DoTs “tick” every three seconds, dealing the listed potency in damage.
So in the case of Venomous Bite, the initial hit deals 100 potency, and then the enemy takes 30 potency every 3 seconds from the poison, for 30 seconds. In total, that adds up to 400 potency! DoT skills are very good.
You don’t get to stack multiple instances of it on one enemy though, so once you put Venomous Bite on your target(s), it’s back to using Heavy Shot every 2.5 seconds, or Straight Shot when it procs.
(”Proc” is common lingo for the triggering of some skill or effect, you’ll see it a lot.)
Keep an eye on that Venomous Bite debuff - when you see it’s close to wearing off, make sure to re-apply it (unless the enemy is dying fairly soon).
Raging Strikes: giving yourself +10% damage for 20 seconds is simple enough, but it’s good to know how buffs like this interact with DoTs.
When you use a DoT skill, any buffs or debuffs that are active at the time are locked in, or “snapshotted”, onto the resulting DoT debuff.
So if Raging Strikes is active, and you use Venomous Bite (VB): The initial hit will deal 110 potency (instead of 100), and then each tick will deal 33 potency (instead of 30), for the whole 30 seconds - even after Raging Strikes has expired.
Conversely, if you were to apply VB to an enemy, and then use Raging Strikes: The damage over time will still do 30 per tick, because you didn’t have any buffs when the DoT was applied.
So if you’re starting off on an enemy, you want to put up Raging Strikes first if you have it, before putting up that VB.
Bloodletter is your first damage-dealing ability. Note that, unlike weaponskills, abilities are not subject to the shared ~2.5 second “global cooldown”.
That means you can use a weaponskill, then use Bloodletter, then use another weaponskill at the usual 2.5s after the previous one. Using abilities between weaponskills is commonly referred to as “weaving”.
Weaponskills are often referred to as “GCDs”, standing for global cooldown. Abilities that are “off” the GCD like Bloodletter, Raging Strikes, etc. are often called “oGCDs”.
The number one biggest factor in how effective you are in this game is how good you are about using a GCD skill right on time, every 2.5 seconds.
You can queue them up a bit in advance, so you don’t need to wait for them to come back and then press the button - just hit your next skill a couple times as it’s about to come up.
Quick Nock will deal 150 potency to everything it hits, so it’s much better than Heavy Shot / Straight Shot against multiple enemies. And if you’re up against four or more enemies, it’s even stronger than your Venomous Bite. (This is also to say – you definitely should put DoTs on all enemies if there are three or less, so long they’re going to be alive for most of the duration of the DoTs).
The conal area it hits is larger than the animation may make it look, so keep that in mind. You’ll be spamming this skill a lot.
While bosses will often be immune to your various grazes, they can be handy for quests out in the field. Head Graze is your most important one, capable of interrupting any skill cast that has a red shaking bar. Don’t worry about the fast ones - anything that’s a big deal to stop will have a longer cast.
With Foot Graze, one cute trick is to know that DoT ticks don’t break the bind. So you can drop a Venomous Bite on something, bind it, then fight something else for ten seconds before the bound guy can come after you (then you can Leg Graze and just kite it around).
Two big changes happen right at level 30.
First, you get Windbite (WB), a DoT totaling 460 potency, so now you have two damage over time debuffs to maintain. As long as you use one and then the other (Windbite first), it shouldn’t be hard to get in the habit of re-applying one after the other as they each get close to running out.
Secondly, you become a Bard and get your first song! Your eventually-three main songs have some common mechanics:
While one of your main songs is active, each of your DoT ticks has a 20% chance to proc “Repertoire”. These procs do something different depending on which song is up.
This makes it even more important to keep both your DoTs up, so that you get two 20% chances every three seconds.
Also, each song provides a small buff to nearby party members. The range of 30 yalms is quite large - bigger than your attack range - so you usually won’t need to worry about it save for 24-man raids or certain boss mechanics.
Mage’s Ballad: Repertoire procs in Mage’s Ballad (MB) reset the normally 15s cooldown on Bloodletter, giving you a chance to use it a couple extra times during that 30s window with a bit of luck.
But remember - DoTs tick every three seconds! That means if you get that proc and Bloodletter resets, you have three seconds to use it and get it back on cooldown. Or else, the next time your DoTs tick, if they proc again it will be wasted since Bloodletter is already up.
While you only have three seconds, you also have a whole three seconds, so you shouldn’t need to delay your next GCD skill to do this. Just use Bloodletter the next time you have the chance to do so without disrupting your GCD usage.
The party buff granted by Mage’s Ballad is a simple +1% damage. It feels small, but it does add up since it covers the whole party for a long duration.
Army’s Paeon: Army’s Paeon is more straightforward - procs in AP make your auto-attack and GCDs go a little faster for the duration of the song. Just make sure you’re staying on top of that shifting GCD rhythm, else the subtle gradual increases in speed will go to waste.
The party buff for Army’s Paeon is a +3% direct hit rate. On average this is weaker than the flat +1% damage of MB (Direct Hits do 25% bonus damage), but it’s still pretty nice.
In general, both songs are free damage you can get for 30s spans out of every 80s, so use them as much as you can. Mage’s Ballad is the stronger of the two, in both its procs and buff, so prioritize it when you have a choice.
Some other skills you get in this range:
The main use for Arm’s Length is to stop a knockback, which will become more common in the later levels. It has a bit of a delay, so make sure to use it a little early. The slow-when-hit is nice for solo questing, but of course in group content you ideally won’t be getting hit. :)
Warden’s Paean can cleanse (or prevent) any debuff that can be cleansed by Esuna - you’ll see a little white bar over a debuff if it can be cleansed.
But unlike Esuna, which is a GCD - meaning a healer has to use one less GCD attack spell or heal to use it - Warden’s is an ability you can use with no downside; you’re just limited to one per 45 seconds. So keep an eye out for chances to use it, and make life easier for your healer.
Barrage is simple enough. Every 80 seconds, you press Barrage, Straight Shot lights up, you press Straight Shot, and boom, 3x 200 potency attacks for a total of 600 potency.
Notice, though, that it has the same 80s cooldown as Raging Strikes, so you can and should always have Raging Strikes active before using Barrage, to get an extra 10% on your big hit.
Also, to avoid wasting the automatic Straight Shot proc, hold Barrage for a GCD if Straight Shot proc’d naturally on you - use that SS, then Barrage, then get your triple Straight Shot in.
Quick Nock is still going to be your go-to for large groups of mobs. But, if you’re going to have a song up, you can consider deploying some Windbites to fish for procs. This makes the most sense if it’s a group of 4-5 or so.
It’s tough to place an exact number value on Bloodletter or Army’s procs in an AoE (area of effect, shorthand for fighting a pack of enemies) situation because there are a lot of factors, but it’s not a bad dynamic to get used to. Because level 45 brings a notable change…
Rain of Death is a big deal. 130 potency in an area on the same cooldown as Bloodletter, so it will be better than Bloodletter against two or more enemies.
Sharing a cooldown with Bloodletter means that Rain of Death will also be reset by Mage’s Ballad procs, so MB becomes a potent song for AoE.
It can be a little more art than science, but if you’re going to have Mage’s Ballad up for a pack of mobs, you pretty much always want to apply some number of DoTs before moving into Quick Nock. How many DoTs is best is fuzzy and situational, but 6-7 is a fine baseline for now.
You also learn Battle Voice at level 50, which is a solid group buff. Until you get into endgame optimization, it’s fine to just press it whenever it’s available, so long as the group will have stuff to hit for the next 20 seconds.
Note that your levels 52, 54 and 56 skills require doing Heavensward job quests. You need to be on the 3.0+ main story quests to unlock them.
At level 52 you learn your third, most powerful main song. As you continue through these levels, your skill kit is going to start to closely resemble the final level 80 kit. So let’s take a moment to go over a couple big picture Bard rotation things here as well.
Wanderer’s Minuet: Repertoire procs in WM gives you stacks, of which you can store up to three. You expend these on a new flashy oGCD Pitch Perfect, which gets stronger (and stronger per stack) the more you have.
You only want to use Pitch Perfect at a full three stacks, unless WM is about to end, in which case you want to burn whatever you’ve got.
The party buff for WM is a +2% Critical Hit rate, which ends up providing similar value to MB’s +1% damage buff, give or take depending on the group’s gear.
With Minuet, you can now start to use the song cycle at the core of Bard gameplay.
For single target / boss situations, you want to use Minuet first, with Raging Strikes shortly after, and Barrage during Raging as usual.
Then go into Mage’s Ballad, and then Army’s Paeon is last. However, as it’s your weakest song, you only want to be in AP for roughly 20 seconds.
So that’s 30s of WM, 30s of MB, then 20s of AP. Then back to WM, again with Raging and Barrage inside of it, and repeat. Get used to this, and you’ll be well on your way.
One catch to be wary of is that the cooldown reduction of Army’s Paeon will apply to other song skills. So when you go from AP to WM, that WM will have some cooldown less than 80s, as low as 67s.
Don’t get fooled by this - wait until you’ve spent 20s in AP, and MB is within 30s of coming up, before you move into WM. If you go into Wanderer’s too early, you’ll be stuck songless for a bit after the WM.
Also, it’s better to move on to the next song a second or so early, than it is to wait for the song to fall off and then use the next one. You have enough songs now to always have one up 100% of the time, so that should be the goal.
By level 56, perhaps you’re getting a little tired of having to use WB and then VB back to back all the time. Enter Iron Jaws, which functions as though you’ve used both skills at once - provided that both DoTs are already up.
This is great, but be warned: up until now, it wasn’t a big deal if your DoTs fell off for a brief second before you applied WB and VB again. Now it is, because that will cause Iron Jaws to fail - making you use WB and VB again instead of stronger Heavy Shots, all while your DoTs aren’t running. That’s a lot of lost damage in total.
So while you’re getting used to it, don’t be afraid to play it safe and IJ with 4-6 seconds left on your DoTs. The goal is to eventually get comfortable enough to do it at 1-3s consistently.
Empyreal Arrow is a simple oGCD attack, but a powerful one - 230 potency every 15 seconds is a good rate. Try to stay on top of this one, as you do Bloodletter. It will get stronger later.
Sidewinder is another basic oGCD that rewards you for having both DoTs running on the target, which should always be true anyway.
One little quirk though - since it takes a second for your bites to animate and apply the debuff, try not to press SW right after using your second DoT on a new target. The DoT won’t be up in time for SW to count it. Instead give it a second, or a GCD, before pressing SW.
Troubadour is a handy defensive tool for the party. Very simply, if you know the party is about to take a lot of damage, use Troubadour to possibly save lives or at least make your healer’s life a little bit easier.
Also in this range, you can start to learn Bard’s “opener” (a go-to skill sequence to get fights off to an optimal start) as soon as you have WM, adding in IJ, EA and SW as you get them.
If all your skills are available, you’ll want to start a boss or trial with:
[(Raging Strikes) - Windbite (Bloodletter, Wanderer’s Minuet) - Venomous Bite (Empyreal Arrow, Battle Voice) - Heavy Shot]
Then just make sure to use Barrage, Sidewinder and Iron Jaws (to snapshot) before your Raging Strikes ends. (Ideally wait a few GCDs on the first two to allow party members to put up group buffs.)
This is one of the standard Bard openers, all the way through the rest of the game.
P.S. Don’t forget to use future Ragings a couple GCDs into WM, to raise the odds of getting buffed Pitch Perfects. We only use it early at the start of fights because we’re applying fresh DoTs.
By now, you’ve learned all the fundamentals of the Bard kit. The main additions from here on out turn up the dial on how often you’ll be getting various procs:
At level 64 you get the trait Bite Mastery, which upgrades your DoT skills to Caustic Bite and Stormbite. These have multiple benefits over Venomous Bite and Windbite.
- Initial damage of 150 and 100, up from 100 and 60 - 10 more potency per DoT tick - Odds of proc’ing Repertoire double(!) from 20% to 40%
While you won’t necessarily “see” the damage increase save for things dying faster, you’ll certainly notice that you’re getting more procs. Be ready for the pace to pick up!
At level 68, your Empyreal Arrows will now give you a guaranteed Repertoire proc. It will take some getting used to, but try to be careful not to waste it - make sure Bloodletter / Rain is on cooldown before using EA in Ballad, and use a 3-stack PP before pressing EA in Minuet.
With Enhanced Quick Nock, QN can now also reset Rain of Death. In Mage’s Ballad, that can mean more Rain than you can handle, but this mainly helps your non-Ballad AoE a fair bit.
Heavy Shot Mastery & Bite Mastery II: On top of upgrading your Heavy Shot to the shiny new Burst Shot, you now have a 35% chance to proc Straighter Shot (re: Refulgent Arrow) instead of 20%. So again, more procs, more on your toes.
Level 76 also adds that proc chance to your DoT skills and Iron Jaws, which will take some getting used to.
You don’t want to interrupt putting your DoTs up for it though - you still want to use Storm and Caustic back to back, then RA; not Storm - RA - Caustic.
Nature’s Minne is a handy support skill, increasing the healing received by the target by 20% for 15s. Toss it on your tank during spooky pulls and help your healer out. You can also buff your own Second Wind with it if you’re solo.
Refulgent Arrow is a welcome upgrade to Straight Shot, now dealing a flashy 340 potency. That’s 1,020 potency under Barrage! This also makes it a more costly mistake if you use a Barrage or a Heavy Shot with the Straighter Shot proc active, so be vigilant.
Shadowbite is an AoE version of Sidewinder, sharing a cooldown. Use it on dungeon packs, or any time you have multiple enemies it’ll hit. Its damage is based on the DoTs up on the primary target, so get both up on one enemy and fire it off on that.
Enhanced Army’s Paeon has a huge tooltip for a small effect - basically, it carries a portion of your AP speed bonus into your next song (typically WM). A lot of the tooltip complexity is just saying it’s fine if your AP runs out, and there’s a gap before said WM.
Congrats! You’ll learn Apex Arrow here; in short, just use it when the bar is full.
But you can get more fine details on Apex and other endgame Bard play in the full guide here: Basic Bard Guide