Call me crazy, but I have always liked the idea of playing a bard in D&D. I have played several over the years. Unfortunately, the implementation has always been flawed.
In First Edition AD&D, the bard was actually the worlds first prestige class. Before you could be a bard you had to spend time as a Thief, a Druid, and a Ranger. I am actually a bit surprised that you didn't have to spend time as a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker as well. Not only did it take a long time to become a bard, but you had to survive First Editions horrible dual class rules not once, but twice.
In Second Edition AD&D the bard was made a base class. So, at least you no longer had to wait until the majority of your party had reached venerable age to take the class. On the down side, you basically acted as a second-rate thief and a third-rate spell-caster. Still, the majority of bards I have played to date were second edition bards.
Third Edition D&D gave the bard an array of buffing abilities to complement their second-rate rogue and a third-rate spell-caster status. Unfortunately the majority of these buffs sucked. Oh well, at least they get a lot of skill points.
I am hoping that Fourth Edition will finally be the Bard's time to shine. If it is, it will probably be due to the concept of roles. For those of you who are not aware, D&D Fourth Edition
stole borrowed refined the concept of roles from MMORPGs.
The basic player roles are Defenders (i.e., meat shields), Leaders (i.e., buffers/healers), Strikers (i.e., massive single target damage), and Controllers (i.e., battlefield control/damaging large numbers of targets). Of the classic four, Fighters are Defenders, Clerics are Leaders, Rogues are Strikers, and Wizards are Controllers.
So why have these roles? Well everyone knows in previous editions having a party without a fighter, cleric, rogue, or wizard was often a bad idea. Player's would often feel constrained to wait until other players had chosen members of those classes before picking one like a monk or a bard.
In Fourth Edition, the designers had a goal that as long as you had the roles covered that you would have an effective party. So what does this mean for our good friend the bard? Well bards are leaders (i.e., buffers). And they are supposed to be much better buffers now, on par with their fellow leaders Clerics.
This can only be a good thing. The problem with the bard's ability to buff in Third Edition was that it was completely dwarfed by the spell-casters. With the new edition, the ability of bards to buff should be much more potent. This should make playing a bard a much more viable option. To put it another way, when you say you are playing a bard in Fourth Edition the rest of the group should no longer groan.