The bard is an unusual class. It is best to think of it as a separate class, although it is not possible to begin the game as a bard; rather, a character declares his intention to be a bard, and begins his career as a fighter; after advancing several levels as a fighter, he retires, becoming a character with two classes by taking up the thieving trade. Again several levels of advancement are required before the character again retires, and applies for acceptance into bardic training by the druids. He thereafter retains all fighter and thief abilities gained, and begins to accrue druid-like skills related to music as a bard.
Half-elves and Humans may be Bards; note that in the case of the half-elf, the character should begin as a fighter/thief rather than a fighter, retiring from both classes simultaneously to become a bard. (This is unclear in the book rules, but is the only conclusion which makes sense, since a half-elf fighter could not change classes to become a thief, and it is possible for the character to be killed before becoming a bard.)
In addition to qualifying for the fighter and thief classes, the bard has minimum ability scores of 15/12/15/15/10/15/3, and must be at least partially druidic neutral; the character may be lawful or chaotic neutral or neutral good or evil, or true neutral with a pragmatic or oblivious neutrality in one dimension, but in at least one dimension he must be dedicated to the balance of druidic neutrality.
The druids will not accept any candidate who has not honed his skills to at least level 5 fighter ability and level 5 thief ability. However, they will also reject candidates who have achieved name level—level 9 Lord for the fighter, level 10 Master Thief for the thief class—due to the notoriety and obligations (and followers) of characters who achieve these levels. Therefore, the character must retire not before level 5, but absolutely upon achieving level 8 as fighter, level 9 as thief.
The multi-classed half-elf fighter/thief must similarly retire at a time when both classes have reached the minimum of level 5, but neither has exceeded the maximum specified level. A character who fails to do this will not be accepted into bardic training. Note that a character can refuse to train for the new level, losing experience points that would have been gained, in order to fail to advance and remain eligible for the bardic class if he wishes the other class to be raised further.
The bard gains hit points as a fighter during his fighter advancement; true to the terms of the character with two classes, he gains no hit points as a thief until his thief level exceeds his fighter level. The multiclassed fighter/thief gains split hit dice as described under multiclassed characters. In either case, once bardic studies are begun, the character will begin accumulating d6 hp/level after level 1.
The bard will always fight at the best fighter ability he achieved with any weapon he learns. However, the weapons and armor permitted to him are limited by the necessities of the thief class and the druidic magic use. He may wear leather, studded leather, ring mail, elfin chain, or magical chain mail; he may not use a shield. Bard armor will affect thief abilities as they would affect a thief. Weapons include club, dagger, dart, garrote, javelin, knife, lasso, sap, scimitar, sling, spear, staff, bastard sword, broad sword, falchion sword, long sword, and short sword.