When I first read about the Fochlucan Lyrist I thought it was about the most powerful prestige class I had seen. I mean really, it has a ton of stuff going for it. But then I looked into it some more and thought that it was actually one of the worst because of the requirements to get into it. Now? I’m not so sure what to think about it. For starters, what is this class? It appears to be some sort of nature bard that is skilled in the social arts. A lot of times I like to look at a class and try to find an example of it from history, literature, film, or whatever. The best comparable I could come up with for the Fochlucan Lyrist is Tom Bombadil. Diplomat, warrior, and all around nature expert. Seems like a pretty good fit, so that is kind of what I have in mind when picturing this class. Bombadil was quite the enigma, so how does this play out as a D&D character. Let’s take a look.
The vitals for the class are the best in all of D&D, I’m pretty certain of this. Two good saves (Will and Reflex), full Base Attack, 6+ skill points a level, and a d6 Hit Die. The Hit Die is really the only non awesome part of that. But it gets better. It also has full advancement of both arcane and divine magic, and advances Bardic Music and Bardic Knowledge. Wow, that is a ton of features for one class. It excels in every aspect of character development and, as a ten level prestige class, there is plenty to go around. The only ability it gets (aside from the above) is Unbound at 1st level, which allows them to look past the druids non metal armor taboo, letting them where light metal armor with no spell failure. So what’s the downside?
The requirements for the Lyrist are very demanding, but they are actually a good set of skills to have. There are just a lot of them. Unlike some other classes that essentially have some requirements that are a throwaway to just get into the class, all of the prerequisites for the Lyrist are worthwhile, just very spread out and require multiple sources. To enter into the esteemed Fochlucan College a character must be able to cast 1st level arcane and divine spells, have bardic knowledge, evasion, a neutral alignment (but not LN), seven ranks of Decipher Script (that may be the only clunker), Diplomacy, Gather Information, Knowledge (Nature), and Sleight of Hand, 13 ranks of Perform (Stringed), and speak Druidic. That is a ton of stuff and, while individually all good, they don’t happen to synergize all that well as far as source is concerned. So what are we looking at here? At least one level of bard and druid, plus two levels of rogue for evasion (though I suppose you could also take nine levels of ranger, though that seems weird). However, since the Perform needs 13 ranks a character can’t get into the class until their 11th level, so that leaves six levels to play around with. This character is sort of rooted in a well rounded concept, so I think that spreading it around may be the best option. My favorite would be Rogue 3/Bard 4/Druid 3 before entering. In the end that would wind up with a +17 Base Attack, 5th level Bard spells, 7th level Druid spells, and a ton of skill points. That’s a nice character who probably has a trick for all situations, though it lacks a real niche that lets it dominate situations.
The other big issue with the Lyrist is what to do with your attributes? Charisma and Wisdom probably get the two highest for the spell casting and the skill bonuses, though I see why someone would want to emphasize Dexterity as well. This character seems like they should be brilliant because of all their abilities, so Intelligence seems like it should be high as well. But from a mechanical standpoint it is not nearly as important because of all the skill points it has to play with. As with all characters Con would be great to have, especially due to the poor hit die. Strength would probably wind up on the bottom, though some buff spells are readily available to the Lyrist. If your DM lets you trade out the Druid’s companion it’s probably a good option, since it’s not going to get real powerful. If you’re stuck with it Natural Bond is probably a good feat. Anything that can capitalize on a high Wis or Cha is also a good choice.
Ultimately I think that this class is really fun because it has so many options, there are very few things that it can’t do. However, in a high powered game it will be probably be outclassed by the full casters and the hardcore melee builds. The smaller the party the more useful this class is though, since it can fill so many roles. The Lyrist makes a good healer, scout, party face, support combatant, and buffer of allies. In a heavy role play game it will frequently find itself as a focal point. It also seems to not be a great choice for a game that begins at low levels because of how spread out the abilities are and how long it takes to qualify for the class. Not sure how fun it is to have all of your skills be spread out and casting 2nd level spells when your allies are casting 5th. As an NPC or a villain it also has real issues, so much of it’s strengths are related to depth and having a ton of options, things that don’t necessarily add up to a great challenge for the PC’s. I like this class for a couple of reasons and feel that it brings a bunch to the table. I also think that the requirements for entry do a good job of balancing the power of the class; it can’t get to 9th level casting, suffers in Base Attack a bit, and has hit points on the low end.