Nov 152023
  November 15, 2023

As I am now being inundated by awards speculation, I find it time to say something about one of the biggest films of the year. Oppenheimer is a good film. It’s a very good film. The acting is excellent across the board. I could go on praising it, and I would, except it has been greatly over-praised by too many, and there is non-stop talk of it taking Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards, which it does not deserve.

It’s good.

It’s not great, and it is nowhere near a masterpiece. I am bothered by these claims of masterpiece. It is competent filmmaking and excels in some areas. John Grisham is a good writer, but he isn’t Shakespeare. The Pelican Brief isn’t Macbeth. I think most reasonably literate people would agree. So I find it depressing that people reasonably literate in film can’t tell the difference between this and greatness.

I could start with the real flaws of the film. The music, for instance, is far too noticeable, far too on the nose, far too distracting, to be so uninteresting. You want to draw that much attention, then do what John Williams or Erich Wolfgang Korngold did. If you can’t do that, then be subtle. There’s also the editing – not terrible – but too many shots were held for a moment too long, and too many scenes lasted longer than needed. And of course, there’s the sound mix, but then it is Christopher Nolan, and honestly, for Nolan, the sound mix wasn’t that bad. I’m kinda proud of our boy for realizing this time that people should understand spoken words.

But the issue isn’t what’s wrong, because this isn’t a bad film. It’s a good film. The issue is what isn’t good enough for this to be a masterpiece. To be clear, there is no reason it should be one. Masterpieces are hard to come by. If people would quit drooling all over themselves, I’d be content to call it good and that’s a nice thing for a film to be. But, since that’s not the case, then it is time to bring up the obvious issue: Masterpieces are made by masters. Nolan isn’t one. He’s a skilled professional. He’s meticulous and knows how to make a film. But that’s it. He’s no Hitchcock, no Murnau, no Hawks, no Gance, no Huston, no Powel, no Curtiz, no Lean, no Kubrick, no Wilder, no Coppola, no Scott. Not even a Tarantino.

Going through his works I find Nolan’s shots are consistently fine. They do the job. They do what’s needed for the plot. They do nothing interesting, nothing of great artistic merit or brilliance. They are sufficient.

His mise-en-scène, that is the look of the frame, is competent. If a lab should look well used, then it does. If there should be papers strewn about, then there are. Anything extraordinary? No.

His use of color and lighting? Good enough. He doesn’t tell the story through those, or define characters, the way Powel or Huston or Lean did time after time. Instead, things look more or less natural and everything is visible, which is…fine.

Then he has his Nolan-isms. He still thinks it is clever just to tell a story out of order. And it occasionally is, particularly if you don’t keep doing it. He is well known for his…narrowness of focus… in that his world is nearly devoid of women. And he doesn’t have humans speaking to each other in his films, rather, at each other. Everyone just makes speeches all the time. That’s not necessarily a problem, though after two hours, I do long for something approaching a conversation instead of dueling lectures.

So that’s Nolan, and Oppenheimer is a very Nolan film. In it he does what he always does. I’d say he does it better, but still very Nolan. If anything is unusual, it is how simple and straightforward the story is. No one should be confused by anything here. I prefer a more complex tale, but I do appreciate that he kept relatively close to the facts. Grading on a curve of truthfulness of biopics, this is a real winner. His spoon feeding with the (very) occasional hallucinatory image was treating the audience like juveniles, but he didn’t do it often.

Which means this is one of Nolan’s better films. Perhaps his best, though I’m only saying perhaps. It is a competent piece of filmmaking. A fine work of edutainment. I’d even recommend it to people who aren’t in a hurry. But best film of the year? There is real artistry out there, works of imagination and depth, works that should be acclaimed, works that are masterpieces.

Oppenheimer is good.

Mar 112023
  March 11, 2023

[I’m not covering the shorts or documentaries, and I never do sound as I don’t trust my viewing environments. I’ve seen everything I’m voting on except Avatar: The Way of Water (so I’m going to treat it as Avatar I) and Andrea Riseborough in Leslie, but then that’s been the story of this award season; nobody has]



ELVIS (Mandy Walker)

[I wouldn’t have called ELVIS the best of the year (why isn’t Babylon here?), but it is best of the nominees. BARDO: FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS has some wonderful moments, but many others where I’d call the cinematography good, but nothing special. TÁR comes in third, doing all that is needed for the story, but nothing more. I think EMPIRE OF LIGHT is only here to note Roger Deakins’ lifetime work. And ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT was very good, but for what they were doing, it needed to be better still].




[OK, completely unfair, but as the original would win in this category by a mile, I’m confident in giving it to this sequel.]



BABYLON (Mary Zophres)

[Huh. A category with a whole lot of deserving nominees. That’s weird this year. BABYLON was not a great movie, but it was a beautiful one, and part of that was the never ending string of amazing costumes. Still, this is a close call with BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, and I wouldn’t be upset if that won. Both ELVIS and EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE have costumes that advance the plot, and the plot kinda is the costumes for MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS, though I did find that the weakest nominee.]



BABYLON (Florencia Martin; Anthony Carlino)

[Again, BABYLON is a great looking one. ELVIS’s design is good, but BABYLON just tops it.]



BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (Camille Friend and Joel Harlow)

[Some good choices here, with both THE WHALE and THE BATMAN as standouts in makeup. And the work in ELVIS and ALL QUIET is good too, but the variety of ingenious work in WAKANDA FOREVER takes the award.]




[This one is easy. Editing this, with worlds changing many times in a scene, must have been insane. The editing in THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, ELVIS, and TÁR varied between fair and poor, leaving only MAVERICK as competition, and while it’s editing is good (anything being good in that film is a rarity), it is a distant second.]



BABYLON (Justin Hurwitz)

[This was a lightweight year for scores. BABYLON’s does the most to define the picture. The others, with one exception, were OK, though none had that magic I look for in a great score. The exception is ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, where the score was poorly conceived and is distracting.]



NAATU NAATU (from RRR; M.M. Keeravaani/Chandrabose)

[It’s a shame that just the song is nominated. It’s the dance that is overwhelming, but the song is good, and is part of an amazing scene. And all of the other nominees are terrible, songs I never want to hear again.]




[The stop-motion animation here must be rewarded. This is absolute masterwork in animation. Most of the rest is good enough (the songs are a weak spot) not to detract from that animation. THE SEA BEAST is a strong second, with excellent animation, and even better script and voice work. PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH is also worthy, making this one of the better categories. The final two aren’t in the running, TURNING RED is generally poorer and condescending, while MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON is as if the goal was to make the MOST Indie film ever, with every indie film trope turned up to 11.]



LIVING (Kazuo Ishiguro)

[Not a great category, but LIVING hits the right notes when needed. GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY has a reasonable number of clever lines, so slips into second. For the rest: TOP GUN: MAVERICK’s script is absolute trash and its nomination is absurd; WOMEN TALKING has the screenplay of a stageplay, and not a good one, with far too many repetitions; ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is a particularly poor adaptation of the novel.]




[A better category than adapted screenplay. The winner takes it due to wit and twists. Of the rest, TRIANGLE OF SADNESS’s screenplay has some issues, but the others show a skilled hand.]



KE HUY QUAN (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

[This is considered a lock, and I agree it should be. BRENDAN GLEESON is good enough in The Banshees of Inisherin while I found BARRY KEOGHAN annoying in the same film. JUDD HIRSCH wouldn’t make my top 2 for supporting actor in The Fabelmans. BRIAN HENRY (Causeway) is my 2nd place choice, but he doesn’t have a chance.]



JAMIE LEE CURTIS (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

[A category with no embarrassing choices. None are better than CURTIS, so I’ll let my desire for her to get an Oscar decide it. HONG CHAU (The Whale) would be an equally good choice. KERRY CONDON (The Banshees of Inisherin) gives the best performance of that film, and ANGELA BASSETT (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) is always good and she only lags behind because she seems less her character and more just ANGELA BASSETT. STEPHANIE HSU (Everything Everywhere All at Once) would be my last choice.]




[This is a three-way for me, between BUTLER, BRENDAN FRASER (The Whale), and BILL NIGHY (Living). FRASER is just turned up a notch higher than I’d like, and BUTLER has more to do than NIGHY, but all three are reasonable choices. COLIN FARRELL’s role is a bit too easy, and PAUL MESCAL’s performance seems to be more about the editing. All that said, I hope FRASER wins.]



MICHELLE YEOH (Everything Everywhere All at Once)

[This is a two way race, YEOH or CATE BLANCHETT (Tár), and both are excellent, but Yeoh does more. ANA DE ARMAS (Blonde) and MICHELLE WILLIAMS (The Fabelmans) are both quite good, but they’re footnotes.]



EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

[This is rough, choosing between The Daniels and Steven Spielberg for THE FABELMANS, but when it’s hard to choose, I’ve got to go with the better result. The directing for THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN and TÁR is fine, and that of TRIANGLE OF SADNESS is a little less than fine.]




[Nothing else is close. Nothing else would be in my top 10 for the year. THE FABELMANS is the most skillfully made film of the year, so it’s not an embarrassment as a nomination. ELVIS, TÁR, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT,

WOMEN TALKING, and TRIANGLE OF SADNESS are need reedits, and the last two need radical rewrites. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is OK, and TOP GUN: MAVERICK is garbage (and it is a complete embarrassment to our country that this thing is in the same list as ALL QUIET – makes Americans look like war-mongering assholes). And it is just so stupid.]

Overall, not a great year or a great group of nominees, but the right winners could make this a feel good year.

Mar 102023
  March 10, 2023

Why must artists create autobiographies? They put themselves into all their work. Why must they be so literal about it? I knew everything I ever wanted to know about Steven Spielberg from Jurassic Park and Close Encounters and Raiders. I don’t need to see him, or any artist, masturbating. [Note: I’d also appreciate it if novelists would quite writing about novelists and filmmakers would quite making films about filmmaking.]

So, is THE FABELMANS well directed? Yes. Of course it is. I knew that before I watched it. Yes, there are moments of emotional impact. Yes, it looks great. The acting is excellent. The colors are rich and help tell the story, and yes, yes, all of that and more I knew before I watched it. He’s Goddamned Steven Spielberg. And if I was Goddamned Steven Spielberg, I’d really try and make something that wasn’t two and a half hours of yelling “Hey everyone, look at me. ME! ME! ME!” Firstly, because everyone would already be looking at me.

I suppose you don’t get to be this great a filmmaker without being arrogant. (Erase “I suppose” – there’s no supposing here.) That arrogance is on display in his many better films. And that’s OK. It’s more than OK. I just want it turned down enough that a great director can focus on stories that needed to be told, or it would be nice if they were told, or anything other than “Now you will all see where my greatness came from.”

Sigh. Yeah, this thing should not have been made. It is a waste of talent. Yet it is still one of the best nominees this year. As far as applied skill, it might be the best. TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, WOMEN TALKING, TÁR, and particularly TOP GUN: MAVERICK look like they were made by hacks or first year film school students by comparison. TÁR is more interesting, but it doesn’t display the mastery of the art form. But I think being interesting matters, and THE FABELMANS is not interesting.

I just wish I had his talent.

Mar 102023
  March 10, 2023

Or is it? I generally ignore the source material and closeness of adaptation, but in this case it’s hard. I thought the first German adaptation of a German book in a setting of vital importance to Germany would be closer to the novel then a 1930s American version. But this is hardly All Quiet On the Western Front. I’d call it inspired by the novel, but I might as well say inspired by World War I.

The changes start with almost all characterization. In the book, Paul was a person, with plans and desires. Here is a blank slate, an everyman. This film also is missing what I consider to be the two most important sections of the book – the boys’ indoctrination and Paul’s return to his hometown. Those were the heart of the story. Changed too is Paul’s death (OK, all the deaths are changed), now being used to make a statement about the evils yet to come instead of one of the pointlessness of it all. And then there is the addition, a subplot of the signing of the armistice, which feels out of place and harmed the tone and pacing. Well, the director was concerned about looking ahead to a time the book knew nothing about.

Alright, so as an adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front, I didn’t think much of it. How is it as a movie? It’s not bad. It is successful in painting the bleakness of war, and all of the battle scenes are powerful. But without characters, it’s hard to feel anything except depression. And since it’s not saying anything new or unexpected, two and a half hours are unnecessary. Add in the subplot and the music that draws attention to itself, instead of to the story (the nomination for score is ridiculous) and we end up with a film that makes its point, but which I’ll never go back to. And yeah, Paul’s death here isn’t just different, it’s horrible.

No, this one shouldn’t win Best Picture.

Also, why is the default on Netflix the English dub. At least they had the original, but I’d have made that the default and had people switch away from it if they so desired.

Mar 082023
  March 8, 2023

Currently the film with the third best odds to win Best Picture, Tár is an interesting film, constructed to be unsatisfying for everyone. It’s precisely (at times delicately) made, with superb performances, particularly by Blanchett, but I can’t say I enjoyed it and have a hard time figuring why anyone would.

And the one line descriptions, of “justice comes to an abusive lesbian director” are completely off the mark.

Lydia Tár is a prickly character, who might be—probably is—very cruel and manipulative. Or maybe not. Those around her might be victims, or might not be, and certainly are not acting out of the best of motives more often than not. What happens to Tár is partly her fault, but partly isn’t, and nothing that happens to anyone is fair. Plot-wise, enough happens for about 30 minutes. This film is about character in service of theme. It does fine with character (though it intentionally obscures a great deal), but theme is where things get rocky. I felt like I was in the middle of the worst kind of Twitter argument, with people using the film to support diametrically opposed ideas: It’s been called the ultimate anti-woke movie and a powerful #metoo statement and yes, it’s easy to take it to be either, but harder to take it as both. With such lack of clarity, and so little satisfaction, I’d have liked to have spent less than two and a half hours with these people.

I suppose I’ll rank it as one of the better nominees, but also as one of the least enjoyable.

Mar 052023
  March 5, 2023

And today it is another of the Academy Awards Best Picture nominees. 2022 was the year of the “Eat the Rich” combined with “modern culture is empty” satires, and strangely also of surrounding them with water. The other two films that spring immediately to mind are Glass Onion and The Menu. None of them have any concept of subtlety, which isn’t necessarily a problem. Not necessarily… Triangle of Sadness stands out as the one that has no concept of editing.

There’s enough here to make a good movie, but only if you started post-production from scratch. The first hour should be no longer than 20 minutes and the first two sections need a completely different construction. Since I don’t like anyone, and everything being said is not only clear, but hammered over and over, Triangle of Sadness becomes tedious rapidly.

Sure, this is a better film than Maverick, but I got more enjoyment from watching, and making fun of, that silly film.

Mar 042023
  March 4, 2023

Have some Oscar nominations to catch up on, and tonight’s was Elvis, or as it should be titled, “Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis,” as he Baz Luhrmann’s all over it. The thing is, that’s why I like it. The more Luhrmann it is, the better, and it’s very Luhrmann. I couldn’t care less about the real Elvis Presley. He’s not on my list of the top 1000 subjects of bio pics I want to see, should I ever make such a list, which is fine as Luhrmann isn’t all that interested in the real Presley either. And that lack of accuracy (including not focusing on important elements of the man’s life) isn’t a problem since, unlike the lying Bohemian Rhapsody which had little connection to Freddie Mercury but was presented as the truth, Elvis is presented as the ravings and twisted statements of Col Parker, who is clearly an unreliable narrator.

So, we’ve got a skillfully directed (depending on what we count as the job of the director), beautifully filmed, and wonderfully acted picture. Austin Butler deservers his Best Lead Actor nomination just as Mandy Walker’s cinematography nom is reasonable. And I wouldn’t have been upset if Luhrmann got a directing nom (he did not). But it shouldn’t have landed a Best Pictures nomination. OK, in a world where Maverick got one, sure, as it is vastly superior to that, but setting a more reasonable bar, it’s just not great. Good, but not great. Script and editing are the weak spots, and they’re pretty weak. There’s whole sections that should have been rewritten, and hundreds of minor nips and tucks would have helped, along with some major slices, and probably a few additions.

Well, “good” isn’t a bad place for a movie to land.

Dec 022020
  December 2, 2020

Just released, a collection of my 109 reviews of 1930s horror films.

A collection of my 109 reviews of 1930s horror films.

Here you’ll find a complete guide to the horror films of the 1930s. There are 109 surviving horror movies from the decade and this book examines each one. It discusses the good and bad, and places them within the three legs of Hollywood horror: Classic Horror, Poverty Row, and Old Dark House films, before switching to Britain for Quota Quickies and then investigating what Germany, Mexico, China, and the rest of the world had to offer.

The Birth of Monsters covers the social changes, people, and important events that influenced the creation of horror cinema. It discusses how Universal and Carl Laemmle Jr. led the way, and the rest of the Big 5 and Little 3 studios followed grudgingly. And then Joseph Breen brought it all tumbling down. It’s filled with details and stories that make the movies even more enjoyable and places them in the context of the times. Which film was a scam? Which promoted quack science? Which picture got around the Production Code, and what was the first movie made from the work of a Black playwright?

But this isn’t a history book. The Birth of Monsters is about the films themselves: the themes, plots, and characters. Which films are masterpieces that changed popular culture and which are best forgotten? It is a book of reviews, 109 of them. If you want to know which Golden Age, horror films to seek out, The Birth of Monsters will point the way.

Come join Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Hjalmar Poelzig, Ewin Drood, Richard III, Ygor, Svengali, King Kong, Fu Manchu, Dr. Jekyll, Count Zaroff, The Bat, Dr. Moreau, Alraune, The Golem, Murder Legendre and his zombies, Death, Sherlock Holmes, and Sweeney Todd, as well as Boris Karloff, Dwight Frye, Fay Wray, Tod Browning, Vincent Price, James Whale, Myrna Loy, Humprey Bogart, Ginger Rogers, Cantinflas, Basil Rathbone, Charles Laughton, Claude Rains, Max Steiner, Gloria Stuart, and Bela Lugosi.

Aug 282020
  August 28, 2020

I ranked the Bond title sequences, and this is an addendum to that. I grant myself some knowledge of film so that ranking has some minimal meaning. This is just how much I like the songs. I claim nothing more than that.

I’m ranking only the main title themes from both the EON and non-EON films (with my comments repeated from the title sequence ranking). Honorable mentions to The Look of Love from Casino Royale (1967) which isn’t a theme song but is really good, James Bond is Back from From Russia With Love which is more of a snippet than a song, and 007 Theme originally from From Russia With Love and then in many Bond films but it’s never an individual film’s main theme; if it were I’d rank it quite high.

If you want to hear the songs, bounce back to my title sequence ranking as I’ve embedded all the songs there, except for the newest (no title sequence yet as the film hasn’t been released due to Covid), which I’ll embed here.

Starting with my least favorite:

#27 Another Way to Die

Quantum of Solace (2008)
Performed by Jack White & Alicia Keys; Composed by Jack White
This song exists only to make Die Another Day sound less terrible. Black and Keyes’s voices tear at each other, making fingernails on a blackboard pleasant by comparison. They just yell at each other. Black was never going to fit but Keyes could have pulled off a Bond theme, but she doesn’t sing here; she yelps. The song is one half alternative and one have commercial rock, and all overproduced. It is unpleasant to listen to. The worst song in Bond history, which is saying something.

#26 Writing’s on the Wall

Spectre (2015)
Performed by Sam Smith; Composed by Sam Smith & Jimmy Napes
I hate this song so much. No one will remember it in a year. It’s slow and depressing, which is the opposite of “Yay action film!” An unpleasant falsetto (because nothing says Bond like falsetto) plunges into a slow, string-filled disaster. Is it sexy? No. Dangerous? No. Exciting or action-oriented? No. Moody, whiny, and barely moving? Yes. This song says: The next two hours will be not just slow, but depressing. Enjoy.

#25 Never Say Never Again

Never Say Never Again (1983)
Performed by Lani Hall; Composed by Michel Legrand
Horrible TV ‘80s pop. If anything condemned this film, it was the music, which was bad throughout, but the theme was a special level of bad.

#24 Die Another Day

Die Another Day (2002)
Performed by Madonna; Composed by Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzaï
I looked it up in the Universal Dictionary of Songs and yes, this is technically a song. Autotuning replaces singing. Who thinks Bond and techno goes together? This is a poor dance song I probably wouldn’t object to (more than others) if I was at a rave, but would never listen to and would put real effort into turning off if I heard it anywhere else. On the positive side, it is not low-power and dull, which is the biggest sin for an action movie theme. Perhaps without the robo-voice it might climb a few notches.

#23 All Time High

Octopussy (1983)
Performed by Rita Coolidge; Composed by John Barry & Tim Rice & Stephen Short
Since adult contemporary ballads never fit Bond, and are rarely good, why did they keep using them? This song sucks the life out of the film, your speakers, and anything it is near. It will fit nicely as the second to the last dance song at your uncle’s third wedding reception or for a made-for-TV, ’80s, romantic dramady.

#22 A View to a Kill

A View to a Kill (1985)
Performed by Duran Duran; Composed by John Barry & Duran Duran
Bad boppsy ‘80s pop, I suppose this explains why they’d stuck with terrible adult contemporary songs for so long. When they tried to get with it it got ugly. This is the worst excesses of cheese. Duran Duran has no connection with Bond. At least it has energy, but the energy of a twelve-year-old girl’s sleepover. I will grant that “a view to a kill” is not a phrase that slides nicely into a song lyric.

#21 Moonraker

Moonraker (1979)
Performed by Shirley Bassey; Composed by John Barry & Hal David
Another adult contemporary, which in this case means Muzak. The wonderful Bassey can’t save it. Still, it would have been worse with anyone else singing it, and she gives it the slightest tinge of Bond.

#20 Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill (1989)
Performed by Gladys Knight; Composed by Narada Michael Walden & Jeffrey Cohen & Walter Afanasieff
It’s old school Bond, just less memorable. It starts out bold, and sounds like Bond, and for a moment it seems like this will be a great one. But then it fades, sounding less jazz house, and more glitz and strings. In this instance, less clarity would help. “I Got a licence to kill, And you know I’m going straight for your heart” is not a line I want to remember, but it is drilled in to me.

#19 You Know My Name

Casino Royale (2006)
Performed by Chris Cornell; Composed by David Arnold & Chris Cornell
Please don’t make me listen to this thing again. It isn’t a song written by an artist, but one constructed by a machine. Insert generic ‘00s rock backing. It is overproduce to death. No one hums this song to themselves. That said, it again gets points for not be a soft ballad. It doesn’t drag down the movie, so, that’s something. Another singer may have been able to breath some life into it. Cornell badly dates the song and the film. 2006 isn’t all that long ago, but it sure sounds it.

#18 From Russia With Love

From Russia with Love (1963)
Performed by John Barry (title sequence)/Matt Monro (vocal version); Composed by Lionel Bart
Elevator music. This is perfect for your grandmother’s (or more likely, great grandmother’s) weekly canasta party. It is likely to fade from your mind as soon as it is done playing, which puts it above others. At least they used the drab instrumental version instead of the sickening vocal one by Matt Monro that infects the picture later. Still, there’s some painful organ work on this one. I am grading it based on its theme, not on the James Bond theme that brackets it and makes it come off much better. If I was counting Monro’s version, this would drop to 24th.

#17 The Man With the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Performed by Lulu; Composed by John Barry & Don Black
After the new of Live and Let Die, we go old school again. The Las Vegas vibe is updated a bit with some pointlessly grinding guitars. Lulu does her best Bassey imitation, and squeaks by. While the song is really, really Bond, the problem is that it isn’t very good. It is obviously modeled after earlier songs and it can’t keep up. It’s pretty much Thunderball 2.0.

#16 No Time to Die

No Time to Die (2020)
Performed by Billie Eilish; Composed by Billie Eilish & Finneas O’Connell
This one has grown on me, but my god people, cut it out. I know the Craig-era Bond films have been downers, but come on, these are still action pictures. This is yet another depressing song in a line of depressing songs and wow is it slow and bleak. It actually picks up some power (bleak power) at the 3-min mark, and that shows the problem with the song: it’s frustrating. It ends before it should. It starts with a power level of 1 and then builds to 5 at that 3-min mark, and it should then go on to maybe a 9, but it just pulls out instead. The song works surprisingly well as background music during the film.

#15 The World is Not Enough

The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Performed by Garbage; Composed by David Arnold & Don Black
I’ve forgotten it by the end of the sequence. Which means it isn’t so bad as to mess up anything, but not good enough to actually acknowledge it as music. The fact that being a blank puts it above a third of the themes is damning for Bond themes in general.

#14 You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice (1967)
Performed by Nancy Sinatra; Composed by John Barry & Leslie Bricusse
What happened? After brass and sass overload of Goldfinger and Thunderball the Bondness is sapped away with this slow, soft song. It isn’t terrible, just middling and silly.

#13 Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Performed by Sheryl Crow; Composed by Sheryl Crow & Mitchell Froom
Surprisingly good, considering Crow is a singer songwriter, not a nightclub performer. But her song works, even if only in the films titles. It could use 50% less screeching. It needed a non-indie rock singer with more range. Speaking of which, over the final credits runs the rejected theme, K. D. Lang’s Surrender. It is a better song, but it harkens too far back; it would have been a great song for Connery.

#12 Thunderball

Thunderball (1965)
Performed by Tom Jones; Composed by John Barry & Don Black
It’s a really dumb take on the previous song, Goldfinger. They saw how well that worked, and tried to do something like it, and as is often the case, couldn’t. It’s a bit too fluffy between its deeply stupid lyrics: He strikes like thunderball Really? And what kind of a strike is that? And yes, I know it is a military term for an atomic explosion. That doesn’t help. But it feels so very Bond and no one can fault Jones for giving it his all. The song is like the movie itself—dumb and showy without being exciting. I’d move it up a slot if it wasn’t so damn memorable. I really don’t want it to be.

#11 The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights (1987)
Performed by A-ha; Composed by John Barry & Pål Waaktaar
Following the Duran Duran money-maker, the producers wanted to go with another trendy pop band, so they called in A-ha, masters of one hit (not like Duran Duran will be remembered for more than one) Well, it is better than Duran Duran’s attempt. Faint praise indeed. It’s ‘80s europop, which is not a music genre in any way related to Bond. If I have to have a Bond song in the wrong genre, I’m glad it is bouncy, and this is bouncy.

#10 Skyfall

Skyfall (2012)
Performed by Adele; Composed by Adele & Paul Epworth
The best of the Craig era, where the competition has been light. It tends to be overrated because it so outshines the Bond songs around it, and because Adele is a significantly better singer than the franchise had drafted for many years. But the melody just isn’t that strong and the lyrics should not be examined. But ignoring its too-great praise, it is a good song. It sounds like Bond, connecting back to the Rat Pack era Connery Bond themes, but updated. Perhaps it is more melancholy than a theme for an action film should be, but then it’s a melancholy movie.

#9 Goldeneye

GoldenEye (1995)
Performed by Tina Turner; Composed by Bono & The Edge
This is a weird one. On its own, I never want to hear it. I’d never pull out the album and have a listen. But as a theme, in those amazing titles (perhaps the best sequence of any film ever made), it works so perfectly. The lyrics cover everything about Bond’s world while not making a coherent whole: Sexy, smoky, dangerous, and nonsensical. This is Bond the way Goldfinger was, except that’s a song I can enjoy listening to on its own. Only Bassey managed to slip in more emotion than Turner does here.

#8 For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Performed by Sheena Easton; Composed by Bill Conti & Mick Leeson
Middling adult contemporary pop, it is at least a step up from Moonraker. It still isn’t a song for an action film. It gets points for it being exclusively about a girl stripping.

#7 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Performed by The John Barry Orchestra; Composed by John Barry & Hal David
It’s as if they forgot to write a theme and just laid some random background music over the titles. This is background music for a scene in the film, not an opening. It’s pretty good background music, and does work behind action and fast cars during the film, but as a theme it is a huge nothing. Empty air.

#6 Nobody Does It Better

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Performed by Carly Simon; Composed by Marvin Hamlisch & Carole Bayer Sager
The first song titled other than the film. It is also the best in the long line of adult contemporary songs that were to follow.

#5 Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die (1973)
Performed by Paul McCartney & Wings; Composed by Paul & Linda McCartney
Excellent. One of the few post-Connery songs worth listening to on its own. The producers wanted someone else to sing, but McCartney said him or no song.

#4 Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Performed by Shirley Bassey; Composed by John Barry & Don Black
At some point they had to think, just have Shirley Bassey do all the songs. It’s a good thought. Again, she hits it perfectly. This is a deeply Bondian song. Loud and brassy, it is about betrayal and disillusionment, as well as hand jobs, because it is important to caress, touch, stroke, and undress your diamond. Co-producer Harry Saltzman thought the song too obscene.

#3 Goldfinger

Goldfinger (1964)
Composed by Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley & John Barry; Performed by Shirley Bassey
Wonderful. It screams out, dark, dangerous jazz club. It says sex and death and excitement and doom and explosions and cruelty and it is all good. No doubt the power comes from Bassey, who takes it to mythic levels. But even without her, it is a memorable tune. It is hummable.

#2 James Bond Theme

Dr. No (1962)
Performed by John Barry & Orchestra; Monty Norman; Composed by Monty Norman
James Bond Theme + a bit of calypso: Fantastic. Gets right to the heart of Bond, and is ‘60s action cool. It’s fun to hear and it gets your blood pumping. This is the iconic theme for an iconic character and you can’t get it out of your head. It’s all good.

#1 Casino Royal

Casino Royale (1967)
Performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass; Composed by Burt Bacharach
This is the heart of ‘60s cool. It’s jazz with trumpets and it says Bond. It’s also energetic. Yeah, it’s of a time, but so is Bond and I love it. It’s repeated during the end credits with lyrics sung for humor, which may or may not work for you, depending on your mood. Of note, the film also supplied The Look of Love which also is a winner, mainly due to Dusty Springfield’s dirty sex now vocals. Actually, the entire score is excellent. Something had to be.

Jul 232020
  July 23, 2020

Once again, a musical list that no one asked for, but it was on my mind, so here it is.

Gabriel has been one of my favorite artists from before I had any idea on who he was. He was the mind behind the progressive band Genesis, and when he left it, so did most of the value. His solo career has been a strange combination of British prog-rock, New York art rock, world music, retro, political activism, and spiritualism.

I’ve seen him twice in concert, and the first was the finest show I’ve ever seen, with nothing close. That concert was recorded and is one of the sources for his live album, Plays Live (1983).

He’s always been an album artist. As such, choosing best songs of his is very odd. I don’t listen to individual songs, but to entire albums. And the quality of individual songs rarely equate to the quality of the albums they are on. Ranking his “normal” studio albums from best to least, I’d place them SecurityMelt {Peter Gabriel 3}Car {Peter Gabriel 1}SoScratches {Peter Gabriel 2}UsUp. But Security does very poorly on my list below, while So does markedly better than the others.

A few honorable mentions: Slowburn (Car), On the Air (Scratches), Family Snapshot (Melt), And Through the Wire (Melt), Games Without Frontiers (Melt), San Jacinto (Security), I Have the Touch (Security), Lay Your Hands on Me (Security), Wallflower (Security), Don’t Give Up (So), Blood of Eden (So).

 #10 That Voice Again (So)


#9 Come Talk to Me (Us)


#8 Secret World (Us)


#7 Modern Love (Car)


#6 The Rhythm of the Heat (Security)


#5 Here Comes the Flood (Car)


#4 Red Rain (So)


#3 Biko (Melt)


#2 Solsbury Hill (Car)


#1 In Your Eyes (So)



Jun 252020
  June 25, 2020

TieflingBardHere you’ll find an overview of the Bard Class, suggestions for DMs, and guidance in building a bard, and it won’t cost you your soul. Really.

Trust me.

Later parts will include feat selection, spell selection, dipping, and a ranking and review of the subclasses.

This is The Devil’s Typist, bringing you The Prince of Darkness’s thoughts on D&D 5e bards. The Devil loves bards. Not surprising as he is one. Sex, Drugs, and rock-n-roll. Charismatic speeches and enchanting smiles. Manipulating minds and entertaining the masses. That’s The Devil and that’s the bard.

No class has as much style as the bard. The bard can take down an empire and stand upon the corpses of its enemies, and look good doing it. The bard receives the cheers of the massed throngs and deserves it. You want to be a dirty, grubby little killer? Look elsewhere. Bards will blind you with the reflection from their teeth.

The bard in 5e is generally taken as one of the more effective classes, along with the cleric, fighter, paladin, and wizard, and The Devil places The Bard on top as the very best. More than pure power, the bard is the best based on fabulousness!

But beyond the legendary groove, bard’s are his favorite because, while the class isn’t good at everything, it’s good at more things than any other, and for most of those, the bard is one of the best. That’s a big deal in 5e. A fun, effective, active character doesn’t need to be good at everything but does need to fit its jobs well (and more jobs are better than less). 5e is the second most strategic version of the game (after 4e) and that strategic angle pushes players not only to make interesting characters but ones who are successful at what they do. If you are less effective, you’ll find there is less for you to do, and that’s less fun. Additionally, because the bard is designed to help other characters do cool things, an effective bard makes it more fun for everyone. Any bard build should be good at the jobs that character was made to do, and the ones the party needs.

So what are those jobs? The bard is:

  • A buffer, and the very best (ahead of the cleric).
  • A charismatic, social “face” of the party and the best (ahead of the rogue).
  • A controller, and one of the two best (behind the wizard).
  • A healer, and the third best (behind the cleric and druid), though for most builds the bard is a secondary healer.
  • A utility caster — though he’s not strong here, he’s still the 3rd best, after Wizards and Tomelocks.

And while usually not, if the bard choses he can take on the roles of

  • scholar, and can be the best, (ahead of the artificer), though it will cost’m in other jobs.
  • backup burglar for when the rogue or artificer fails.

That’s most of what a party needs. No other class comes close to that kind of versatility. Most are lucky to be good at two things. The only areas missing are tanking/defending and striking/damaging, and for those it is lacking, which isn’t a problem. That’s why a bard adventures in a party. Pick up a barbarian, paladin, or fighter and those are covered.

Because of the flexibility of the bard, you can be anything and do anything, but due to learned spells, attribute requirements, and the default lower defenses, building a bard for one of the off jobs will cost you. You can make a martial warrior, but you’ll never be as good as a barbarian or fighter can be, and to do so, you’d have to give up being a top-flight controller and even a passable healer.

In The Devil’s words: You want to smash your enemies, crushing them in melee? Be a barbarian. You want to shoot them down? Be a ranger. You want to be an agile fencing-master? Be a rogue. If you want to be less than you can be, go ahead, but you don’t need my help.

Always keep in mind, the bard is a spellcaster, and that’s where you’ll find its power.


Ability Scores & Race

If you’re going to make a bard, you start with ability scores and race, and deciding what to choose is simple. Charisma is everything, so make choices that elevate it. You can live with the others in any particular order as long as charisma is high, though as they do make some difference, the Devil will put them in order of importance.

CHA: Bards are charisma-based casters and many of their features and skills are also based on that attribute. And your style comes from here. A bard can survive and prosper with low numbers in all five other stats if charisma is high. Get it to 20 as quickly as possible.

DEX: Dexterity is probably your second, but don’t worry too much if it isn’t. It determines your Initiative (probably where it is most important as you need to buff and set up controls before your enemy moves), your AC, your DEX saves (one of the most common), and some skills. If you ever use a weapon, it will use DEX, but that should be rare.

WIS: I’ll list this next, but swapping with CON is reasonable if you want more hit points, or swapping it with DEX as will be explained later in “Capstone and Dip.” You need it for Perception and for WIS saves—as the controller you can’t afford to fall into the enemy controller’s traps.

CON: Purely for defense, it gives you hit points and the frequent CON saves. It doesn’t need to be high, but don’t dump your hit points away.

INT: Beats out STR mainly due to failing INT saves being devastating while failing STR saves are unfortunate.

STR: You don’t need it, and if you don’t have it, it will keep you from making poor decisions later. Athletics gives you nothing you can’t do better with acrobatics.

As for your race, The Devil likes Teiflings.

A lot.

He sees little reason to play anything else. Well, they do make fine bards, but I pushed for him to evaluate a few others, and after a third drink, he agreed, as long as it’s understood that Teiflings Rule!

Any race can be a bard and you can have fun with any of them. But that’s not useful information, so The Devil will steer you toward the ones that stand out. Again, it’s simple: if a race gives you extra CHA, it’s better. Any other stat is of less importance or no importance. Then you also want something that will fit in with being a bard—a free cantrip or spell or a special ability, though spells that uses a dump or near-dump stat are less useful

Weak choices:
Aarakocra, Bugbear, Centaur, Dwarf (all), Elf (High, Wood, Sea, Shadar-kai), Firbolg, Gnome (all), Genasi (all), Gith, Goblin, Goliath, Halfling (Ghostwise, Lotusden, Stout), Half-Orc, Hobgoblin, Kenku, Kobold, Leonin, Loxodon, Lizard Folk, Minotaur, Orc, Shifter (all), Simic Hybrid, Tortle, Vedalken, Warforged.

Dragonborn: +1 CHA, breath weapon and a minor resistance.
Halfling-Lightfoot: +1 CHA, +2 DEX, Luck & Bravery.
Human: +1 all.
Kalashtar: +1 CHA, +2 WIS, mental defenses.
Tabaxi: +1 CHA, +2 DEX, Darkvision and mobility.
Triton: +1 CHA, spells, Darkvision. The clear choice for a water-based campaign.

Aasimar: +2 CHA, Darkvision, minor resistance, healing, extra damage options.
Changeling: +2 CHA, +1 any. Shape-shifting, skills.
Elf-Drow: +1 CHA, +2 DEX, spells, Darkvision, charm defense.
Elf-Eladrin (MToF version):  +1 CHA, +2 DEX, teleport, Darkvision, charm defense.
Half-Elf: +2 CHA, +1 two others, Darkvision, charmed defense, skills.
Tiefling: +2 CHA, Darkvision, minor resistance, spells.
Variant Human: +1 CHA, feat.
Verdan: +2 CHA, Limited Telepathy, healing, advantage on CHA & WIS saves.

Satyr: +2 CHA, +1 DEX. Magic Resistance. Bard-like skills, and a physical attack and movement. The attack and movement aren’t interesting, but the rest is perfect for a bard and magic resistance is one of the top characteristics you can get. They have to be related to devils.
Tiefling-Dispater: Adds +1 DEX and the spells are swapped for the more useful Thaumaturgy, Disguise Self, Detect Thoughts.
Tiefling-Fierna: The spells become Friends, Charm Person, Suggestion.
Tiefling-Glasya: Adds +1 DEX and the spells become Minor illusion, Disguise Self, Invisibility.
Yuan-Ti Pureblood: +2 CHA, Magic Resistance, poison immunity, spells, darkvison. If you’re building for effectiveness it’s hard to argue against taking a Yuan-Ti for every class. For a bard it’s fantastic. Magic Resistance will save you over and over, and the spells include Suggestion—one of your best spells for free.


Optional Rule (TCoE): Custom Origin & Custom Lineage

If you are using the optional Customizing Your Origin rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, then there are no weak choices. Yes, even a goliath will make a good bard. With those rules, you are allowed to move the racial attribute bonus to whatever you wish, so for any race, move the +2 to CHA and any other pluses go to DEX, WIS, or CON. You can also swap skills if a race gives any skills, to get the ones you need. And you can change weapon proficiencies into tool proficiencies, so elves are suddenly going to be good with a lot of instruments. So, do any races still stand out? Yes, though less so. Spells, darkvision, resistances, and other defenses are the things to look for. Satyrs, Tieflings, and Yuan-Ti Purebloods are still in the top tier. But now joining them are:

Mountain Dwarf: Darkvision, Resistance to poison, tools, an additional point of ability increase, and proficiency in medium armor (decreasing the need for a multi-class dip or taking College of Valor).
Forest Gnome: Darkvision, Advantage on INT, WIS, CHA saves against magic. Cantrip
Githyanki: A skill, some weapons you can trade for tools, useful spells, and medium armor.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, also introduced Custom Lineage, where you can ignore the old races altogether and make your own (or say you are a gnome, but you just happen to be a tall, powerful one). While the Custom Linage will not give you as optimized a bard as you can get with The Devil’s spectacular choices, you can get close enough. You will be able to choose if your bard is small or medium (both are good–medium is better if you plan to use Dimension Door a lot, while small gives you some additional steed choices). Take whatever languages fit the campaign. For the choices that matter:

  • Take the +2 to CHA
  • Choose darkvision over a skill
  • Take a feat from those recommended below. If you are using the standard array, then choose a half feat with a +1 in CHA (Fey Touched is the best option), allowing an 18 CHA at level 1.




Before taking any feats, get that charisma up to 20 (unless it’s 19 or 17, then you could take a ½ feat that gives you a +1 CHA). Then look to feats as your other stats are probably fine as they are. But there’s no harm in a higher WIS or DEX or CON.

Figuring what feats you should take for a bard is relatively easy. If a feat is about hitting things, don’t take it. If it is about keeping you alive and making you the best spell caster, it’s worth a look. You’ll only be able to take a few feats so The Devil’s rankings are rather severe. The blue ones are the only ones to consider under normal circumstances. Take one of the green ones only if there is something specific about your campaign or play style that calls for it, and then think about it twice. Ignore the red. Feats from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are marked with [TCoE]. In order from best to worst:

  • Resilient: +1 WIS or CON and Save proficiency. Yes. This does more for your defense than any other feat. Build your character to fit this. WIS is the default choice, but take CON if you get hit often (to help your concentration saves).
  • Fey Touched: +1 CHA (or WIS or INT) and Misty Step + another spell. Take this if you have an odd CHA. Good enough to take with WIS (later) if your CHA is 20. [TCoE]
  • Lucky: Both useful and fitting, though strangely it does less for you than most other classes since you’ll make few attack rolls, have few made against you, and don’t need help with most ability checks. But 3 rerolls a day for failed saves is well worth it. Also usable on Initiative.
  • Ritual Caster: If you are the wizard substitute in your party, this could be very useful (take Wizard). Frees up a lot of your known spell slots, makes you more versatile, and gives you a familiar.
  • War Caster: Resilient is better, but if you went WIS with that, this can solve problems.
  • Shadow Touched: +1 CHA (or WIS or INT) and Invisibility + another spell. Fills the same role as Fey Touched, but weaker as most likely, both spells were already available to you.  [TCoE]
  • Inspiring Leader: Can give out a lot of temp hit points. Since those don’t stack, this is lower for glamour bards.
  • Alert: You need to buff your allies, debuff your enemies, and control the field before anyone else moves.
  • Magic Initiate: Normally not, but it has possibilities. If you really want an attack cantrip, go Warlock for Eldritch Blast and don’t waste a Magical Secret. Or if you are frustrated with too few spells known, take this as Bard (a bard spell taken with this feat counts as a known spell so then you can also cast it normally).
  • Telepathic: Another half feat for the mental abilities. Being able to communicate telepathically and gaining Detect Thoughts are both good, but it is hard to think of a situation where it wouldn’t have been better to take Fey Touched or Shadow Touched for the half feat. [TCoE]
  • Eldritch Adept: You get 1 warlock eldritch invocation, but only ones with no prerequisite. That’s not many. Casting Silent Image or Disguise Self as cantrips or seeing through magical darkness might fill a need. [TCoE]
  • Actor: +1 CHA and impersonation. Flavorful. Only if you have an odd CHA and have some reason not to choose one of the other half feats above.
  • Skill Expert: +1 to any ability plus a skill and expertise. Maybe if you have an odd DEX score…  [TCoE]
  • Moderately Armored: Better to take a level of cleric, but if you also have an uneven DEX, this can help. The real problem is this comes too late, though could work with a variant human. Not for valor bards.
  • Metamagic Adept: 2 sorcery points aren’t enough after level 3 or 4. [TCoE]
  • Tough: Some hit points are nice, but a +2 to CON would be more beneficial.
  • Observant: +1 WIS and boost to passive perception.
  • Chef: +1 WIS or CON and some mild buffs. You have other ways of giving out temp HP and there are better half feats.  [TCoE]
  • Telekinetic: Yet another half feat for CHA, WIS, & INT, plus a souped-up Mage Hand. It’s not bad, but the other half feats are better.  [TCoE]
  • Skilled: You already know the skills you care about and as you have ‘Jack of All Trades’ this is half-training.
  • Mounted Combatant: If Magical Secrets gave you Find Greater Steed, this will be mildly useful.
  • Medium Armor Master: If you took the dip (explained later) and have a 16 DEX, then this is… OKish.
  • Mobile: More movement won’t hurt you, or help you that much.
  • Skulker: Why play rogue when you are a bard?
  • Linguist: You have spells for this and they’re better.
  • Heavily Armored: A cleric domain dip gets you this with bells on.
  • Healer: You have spells for this and better things to do with your actions.
  • Artificer Initiate  Requires INT. If you want spells you can get them better with Magic Initiate. [TCoE]
  • Spell Sniper: A worse way to get an attack cantrip than Magic Initiate.
  • Dungeon Delver: So-so buffs for WIS and INT. Leave it to other party members.
  • Sharpshooter: Not so much bad as a waste.
  • Elemental Adept: This is for blasters. You are not a blaster.
  • Heavy Armor Master: Not horrible at 1st level. By 4th level it’s getting horrible.
  • Durable: This is not the ½ feat for CON you are looking for.
  • Shield Master: Just hold your shield in front of you like a normal adult.
  • Athlete: Don’t get knocked down and fly if you want to go up. Done.
  • Tavern Brawler: You perform at bars, not brawl in them.
  • Poisoner: You have better things to do with your bonus action and have better ways to debuff enemies. [TCoE]
  • Mage Slayer: You’re the mage.
  • Keen Mind: A terrible feat for everyone.
  • Weapon Master: You don’t need weapons, and this is no way to get them anyway.
  • Lightly Armored: You have light armor.
  • Defensive Duelist: No.
  • Crossbow Expert: If you insist on using a crossbow… This still isn’t any good.
  • Fighting Initiate: Gives you a fighting style, which you don’t need. Confused swords bards already get one. No other bard should care. [TCoE]
  • Martial Adept: You don’t do this, and even if you did, one die is not enough.
  • Gunner: If you shouldn’t be using a crossbow, then you shouldn’t be using a gun. [TCoE]
  • Dual Wielder: This will look pretty funny with a lute in your hand.
  • Slasher: You don’t slash. [TCoE]
  • Piercer: Or Pierce. [TCoE]
  • Great Weapon Master: Find something else great to master.
  • Polearm Master: What the hell are you doing with a polearm?
  • Sentinel: Or just be a barbarian and be done with it.
  • Grappler: Why would you do this? You are not the riff-raff.
  • Savage Attacker: This isn’t’ good for anyone, and this isn’t how you’re savage.
  • Charger: What? No…
  • Crusher: I don’t know where to begin on why this is wrong for you. [TCoE]

Racial Feats (grouped by race):

  • Dragon Fear (Dragonborn): +1 CHA and fear effect. Not bad. Only if your CHA is 19.
  • Dragon Hide (Dragonborn): +1 CHA and natural armor. A lesser choice.
  • Dwarven Fortitude (Dwarf): You shouldn’t need this.
  • Fey Teleportation (Elf-High): +1 CHA and Misty Step. Replaces Fey Touched if your get lots of short rests.
  • Drow High Magic (Elf-Drow): Detect magic as a cantrip, Levitate & Dispel Magic. Very helpful.
  • Wood Elf Magic (Elf-Wood): Cantrip, Longstrider, Pass Without Trace. Doesn’t solve any problem.
  • Elven Accuracy (Elf/Half-Elf): +1 CHA and super advantage. You don’t make attack rolls.
  • Bountiful Luck (Halfling): Absolutely. Saving your allies from “1”s is fantastic.
  • Second Chance (Halfling): +1 CHA (or DEX or CON) and Reroll an enemy attack.
  • Orcish Fury (Half-Orc): Bards control their fury.
  • Prodigy (Human/ Half-Orc/Half-Elf): Skills and expertise. Beats Skilled but less than Skill Expert.
  • Fade Away (Gnome): A little defense. OK.
  • Flames of Phlegethos (Tiefling): +1 CHA and fire play. There are better half feats.
  • Infernal Constitution (Tiefling): +1 CON and some resistances. There are better feats for CON
  • Squat Nimbleness (small races): Decent movement stuff but nothing that helpful.



Class Features

The Devil’s going to look at the basic class features before going to the subclasses (colleges). The first big takeaway is that the base class is one of the best, and therefore, the subclasses matter much less than for most other classes. That means even if you choose a terrible college (and there is a terrible college), you can still end up with a solid character—not something that happens with druids, rangers, and rogues.

The Basics

Hit Dice: D8 is standard for behind-the-line classes; only a wizard gets less. It supplies too few hits to get near melee (fighters get D10, barbarian D12), but good enough for anyone standing 15 feet behind the party tank.

Armor: Light. Less than you’d like but you can work with it as long as you are staying far away from your enemies.

Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords. Those are fine since you won’t use them often. Rapiers look nice on the hip, so probably pick one up. When you do use a weapon, it’ll be a ranged one, and one that only takes up one hand (as a caster/musician you’ve got things to do with your hands), so a hand crossbow is your best bet.

Tools: 3 musical instruments. You can have such fun here. Work with your DM to bring in any instrument that you love. The Devil suggests against pianos. One of them should be playable with one hand, such as a hand drum or panpipe. As your instruments are magical focuses, you’ll want them even if you choose a less musical college. If you end up mainly making recitations, there’s nothing wrong with a drumbeat to keep you steady.

Saving Throws: DEX, CHR. Dexterity saves are very common though the result of failing isn’t as extreme as with WIS. Charisma is the best of the three rarer saves. Still, if you can get either WIS or CON trained later, jump at it.


Skills and Backgrounds

You will be a master of skills. The class gives you any three, and you’ll gain two to four more from your background and race. At level 2 you gain Jack of All Trades, which gives you half proficiency with all your non-proficient skills. Congratulations, you now know a little bit of everything. Additionally, at both 3rd level and 10th level you gain Expertise (double proficiency) with two skills. Congratulations, you now know a whole lot about multiple things. So what skills do you need? The Devil will rank them, best to least:

Persuasion (CHR) – Your key skill. Make everyone do what you wish.
Performance (CHR) – Chances are it’s your day job.
Deception (CHR) – When you’re not using pretty words you’re using lying one.
Perception (WIS) – Often considered the most important skill in the game. It isn’t in my game (that’s Arcana), and it won’t be for a bard (that’s Persuasion), but it is often used and valuable. And with expertise, you’ll be good at it. However, that value goes down the more characters that have it, so if there’s a Wisdom-based character in the party, drop this 3 or 4 places.
Stealth (DEX) – You draw all attention to yourself, but sometimes it’s good to hide.
Acrobatics (DEX) – Your physical skill.
Insight (WIS) – Very useful before you use persuasion/deception.
Intimidation (CHR) – Overlaps with Persuasion. One of these gets expertise.
Arcana (INT) – Someone needs it, but you’re not that bright.
Investigation (INT) – Would be nice if you were sharper.
Sleight of Hand (DEX) – Juggling, picking pockets. Take it if you’ve got a specific plan for it. Otherwise, no.
Animal Handling (WIS) – Jack of all Trades will do.
Survival (WIS) – Someone else can keep you alive in the woods.
History (INT) – Books are hard. You INT is too low. Look here only if you’re making an unusual build
Religion (INT) – Holy books are hard.
Nature (INT) – Biology books are hard. Leave it to rangers and druids.
Athletics (STR) – You Don’t need it and wouldn’t be any good with it.
Medicine (WIS) – You’ll have spells.

The top 4 are all good choices for Expertise. Stealth and Acrobatics are also good candidates, depending on your campaign.

You should choose a background that feels fun and fills out your character’s personality. Generally, Entertainer or Charlatan are thematic for a bard. Keep in mind that your background supplies you with several skills, and your race does as well, so it would be handy if your background filled in a missing desired skill.

Optional Feature (TCoE): Bardic Versatility  

A bard can change expertise from one skill to another at levels when the bard gets ability score improvements. This is an underwhelming feature from Tasha’s. There’s no harm to allowing it in the game. It’s only real use will be for new players who made mistakes early on, but that’s a pretty good reason to use this feature.



This is what makes a bard so good. Unlike in previous editions, bards are full casters, gaining 9th level spells. Most everything that can be done can be done better with a spell. And Bards have the best Spell List in the game. Firstly, the list is a nice combination of the wizard’s list and the cleric’s list, with a few original spells to set bards apart. The wizard list is notoriously lacking in healing and is weak in buffs. The bard list takes the wizard control spells and fills in the missing healing and buffs from the cleric. And then it gets better. One of the key features of the bard class is Magical Secrets. At levels 10, 14, and 18, the bard may choose two spells from any list to add to its own. If one of the best spells in the game is not already on the bard list, it can be taken from the wizard list or cleric or druid or warlock or even the ranger and paladin list. This makes the bard list the undisputed best.

Though not everything is as good as it should be. The bard, like the sorcerer, is a “Spontaneous Spellcaster” (or known spellcaster)  instead of a prepared caster like the wizard, cleric, and druid. But unlike the sorcerer, this doesn’t fit with either the structural design of the class (i.e. what it is meant to do) nor with the flavor of the class—that is, bards develop their magic like a song, they do not know it instinctively. This means that although the bard is meant to be versatile and has many useful spells available, it doesn’t have space on its known list to fit them. It can’t take the situational spells but must focus on the spells that it needs.

The bard also has Ritual Casting, allowing it to cast a few marked spells by spending an additional ten minutes, and thus, not using a spell slot. But the bard casts rituals like the cleric, not the wizard, meaning it can only cast a spell as a ritual if it’s a known spell. So again, it does not gain versatility here, although The Devil is not troubled by that.

The strange end result of this is that the game is made so that every adventuring party must have a wizard to fulfill all roles, which is not true for any other class. If you lack a barbarian as a tank, a paladin, or fighter, or moon-druid can step in. But no one can replace the wizard as a utility caster—the bard is the one who could have, but it can’t take enough spells to do so.

Since The Devil sees this as a problem both for the design of the class, the design of the game, and the design of the lore behind it, he naturally wishes to solve this problem. But he doesn’t need to, as WotC saw the problem and fixed it themselves by introducing Spell Versatility for the bard class. This allows the bard to swap out a single known spell for another on the bard list after a long rest. This doesn’t allow the complete rejiggering that the prepared classes can do, but is just enough to pull in those seldom used spells. It’s a rather elegant solution. However, it’s published in Unearthed Arcana, making it optional play material, so your DM has to choose to use it. Of course, all DMs should, but DMs can be funny sorts, and not all have. If you, as a DM, were unaware of Spell Versatility until now, The Devil is pleased to have been of service. Note, Spell Versatility from Unearthed Arcana is not the same as Bardic Versatility from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (which allows for changing expertise and a cantrip at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels). Adding Bardic Versatility into your game is fine, but trivial. Spell Versatility for Bards is needed.


Bardic Inspiration

This is the other key feature of the bard class: Using your overwhelming awesomeness, you inspire your allies to do better. You can give them an inspiration die that they can roll and add to an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw in the next 10 minutes. The die starts as a D6, goes to D8 at 5th level, D10 at 10th, and D12 at 15th. This is a nice boost for them and you can do it as often as your charisma modifier allows, which should be 5 as that charisma is going to be 20 as soon as it possibly can. These dice will also fuel some features in your bardic college.

At first level, you may need to be a little stingy, but at 5th level, the bard gains Font of Inspiration which allows the dice to renew on a short rest, so hand them out like candy. Don’t hold on to them or you’ll waste them.

The one problem with Inspiration is players tend to forget about them. So if you’re around a physical table, hand out actual dice.

Optional Feature (TCoE): Magical Inspiration

Your allies can add your inspiration to either the damage of a spell or the hit points cured by a spell. This is fine. Your inspirations can be used in better ways (as an addition to a saving throw should be the first choice), so adding this to the class doesn’t change things very much. It seems more like a filler than anything needed. Every class got something in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Some, like the ranger, really needed the new features, but the bard class was strong enough, so they just tossed it this. DMs should allow it (why not? There’s no harm in it) and bards should encourage those with their inspiration dice only to use them in this way in an emergency or when they clearly won’t be needed for something better.


Song of Rest

(2nd Lvl) Your soothing performance can add a few hit points when your allies self-heal during a short rest. This is a pretty minor ability that solidifies you as a second rate healer (which is better than most classes). But every ability doesn’t need to be great and this one is thematic. The healing die rolled increases as your Inspiration die, but not at the same level, for no good reason.



(6th Lvl) This is another not particularly great feature which is, again, thematic, so The Devil likes it. You can grant advantage on saving throws against charm and fear. Mechanically it doesn’t work well as you have to be already playing the charm, with an action, and it only lasts till the end of your next turn, so chances are it won’t be up whenever it would have been needed. Still, it isn’t a bad ability and it’s fitting, and if all your features were as good as Magical Secrets, you’d be a god.


The Capstone & Dip

Capstone: At 20th level a bard has reached the pinnacle of its career and is ready to receive its reward, that breathtaking feature that it will use for but one brief level in the final battle. And what is that feature? Superior Inspiration: If the bard rolls initiative and has no bardic inspiration dice left, it gains one.

<Sad tuba sound>

Well, that’s anticlimactic. This final feature pales in comparison to taking a short rest. If it gave 5 dice like a short rest would, it would still be terrible. This is abysmal. Not that the bard class is the only one to fall down here. Several others are nearly as bad (the poor Monk can’t catch a break). But then we have the Barbarian, who has a fantastic capstone, gaining 4 points in both Con and Str, with the new maximums at 24. Fighters and druids also have it good.

The Devil’s preference would be for clever DMs to repair the weak capstone with a bit of homebrew (and to be fair, look after the monk and ranger—they need the love too). The Internet has many suggestions. The Devil’s favorite is adding a lesser wish spell/feature (give it a name like Music of Creation or Song of Reality) that would allow the Bard to cast any 5th level or below spell once per short rest (or long rest if you are feeling stingy, though if you are going to weaken it, The Devil suggests giving it a 1 minute casting time since it’s a song). Another less fun, but mechanically viable suggestion is that the bard regains one Inspiration die every round if it has none. Or you (the DM) could just use the barbarian as a model, but halving it as the barbarian’s capstone is so good: +4 to CHA with a new max of 24. That would keep characters in the class all the way.

The Dip: But, assuming the DM hasn’t fixed the capstone, the incentive to stick to single-classing is low, so is multiclassing the way to go? In short, yes. However, this is a review and guide for the bard class, not for a combo class that happens to include some bard in it, so he’s only looking at a replacement for that one weak level, a 1 level dip into another class early in the bard’s career. Additionally, he wants to take as little away from the bard class as possible, so the loss should be only in spell knowledge progression and the capstone—nothing else. In order to keep the spell slot progression, the dip needs to be into a full caster class: Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, or Wizard. Additionally, it needs to supply enough to make up for progressing one level behind. (And no, you don’t take the dip at your last level—anything you gain from dipping will be much more useful at lower levels).

The obvious choice is sorcerer since it is also a charisma caster, but it’s not The Devil’s favorite. The sorcerer class features offer little until higher levels, and it is, like the bard, a known spell class, so it only offers 2 additional spells. Dragonic Bloodline does make a bard less squishy, adding hit points and boosting AC—not as much as armor proficiency could, but it would help. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t enough to justify slowing the bard level progression.

While a level of wizard would help make the bard the utility caster it should be (so it can sub in for a wizard—Spell Versatility please), the cost is a bit too high (INT is a dump stat) and taking the ritual feat is nearly as useful at low levels, and more useful at high ones.

The Devil also discounts the druid since the cleric is similar, but offers more. Which leads to that best option: A one level dip into cleric. Cleric offers Guidance (and bards want Guidance since skills are its thing) plus 2 other cantrips (filling in some that couldn’t fit before like Light or Mending), and grants access to the entire 1st level spell list, because cleric is a prepared casting class. You can swap in Healing Word, Cure Wounds, and Detect Magic when you need them, saving your known bard slots. All of which is nice, but not enough to justify the dip. The tipping point is proficiency with medium armor and shields. You’ve just substantially improved your survivability. You’ll find that this eliminates any reason for choosing the College of Valor. Plus, clerics choose their domain at 1st level, which grant more spells, features and proficiencies. Choose a domain that grants heavy armor if you don’t mind the movement penalty and you may actually survive being surrounded. If you’re the Cleric-Substitute™, you might as well actually be a cleric; a one level dip into Life Cleric includes Disciple of Life making all your healing spells more effective. If you want to become the ultimate skill-monkey, choose the Knowledge domain and gain proficiency and then expertise in two more skills. Even though The Devil is a chaotic soul, he likes the Order Domain as giving your party members an attack fits the bard’s role.

That’s the basics, and with those characteristics, the bard can be powerful and a joy to play. And that’s before the subclasses.


Subclasses: The Bard Colleges

There are seven official Bard subclasses: Lore, Glamour, Eloquence, Creation, Valor, Swords, and Whispers, and The Devil groups them into three categories: The effective bards (the first 4), the martial experiments (the next 2), and the all-social oddball. Another way to say that is the first three are the helpful ones, giving the bard useful options and doubling down on all their best abilities, then two that could be a trap, offering less of what you want as a controller but not enough to make you a fighter, and Whispers is a bit weird, good for a certain kind of social campaign, but poor in most other ways.


College of Lore

This is the college that gave bard’s their superb reputation. While the Valor College drew little love, Lore was embraced by all, as well it should be, and the Devil considers this the standard bard against which others are measured.

Bonus Proficiencies (lvl 3): 3 skills. Nothing wrong with more skills, not that the bard needs any. Your basic bard already averaged 6 skills, four of those with Expertise, and all the rest semi-skilled, so this gives you less than you’d think. But if you do want to know everything, this is the way to do it.

Cutting Words (lvl 3): You can use your inspiration against your enemy’s attack roll, ability check, or damage roll. OK, this is excellent for two reasons: firstly it gives you versatility, and secondly, as you are using your inspirations now, you won’t forget them. Debuffing a big-bad’s Initiative roll can sway a battle (remember Initiative is an ability check). Mostly it will be their attack rolls you’ll nerf.

Additional Magical Secrets (lvl 6): This is what you came for—two more spells from any list, and this time, they don’t count against your spells known, which is a big deal for a Bard. Do just 2 more Magical Secrets matter when you’re already getting 6? Yes, they do. There is a point of diminishing returns, but as you’ll see when you get to The Devil’s suggestions for Magical Secrets, there are more “must-haves” than 6. Counterspell is the big get, with two or three other options that will be good for the rest of your career.

Peerless Skill (lvl 14): You can use your own inspiration dice, but only for ability checks. This is good, but not incredible and a bit of disappointment after the last two college features. It’s rare that you’ll need this for skill checks, so its main use will be raising your initiative. You can also use it with the Counterspell you picked up at lvl 6 and the occasional times you cast Dispel Magic.

Overall, a very solid college making a very solid bard.


College of Glamour

No one is fiercer or more fabulous. Lore bards like to control. Glamour bards like it more. The battlefield belongs to them, as does everyone’s heart and soul. Again, do you see why The Devil loves this college?

Mantle of Inspiration (lvl 3): Give your allies some temp hit point and then let them take an extra movement action. This is the perfect way to start a battle, then to rearrange one, and to escape if things look dark. It’s versatility. It may not make much difference for multiple combats in a row, but then you’ll find yourself in a battle where it changes everything.

Enthralling Performance (lvl 3): This IS the College of Glamour, and this will define your bard. You perform for 1 minute and you charm up to 5 of the listeners for the next hour with no one ever knowing you did it. Most guides give this a weak rating as it’s of no help in battle and as it takes a minute, it seems situational. But they’re failing to see that you make that situation happen constantly. You should never not do this. Go to town, charm people. Stop by the pub, charm people. Go shopping, charm people. Camp in the woods, charm your own party. Get captured by kobolds, charm them. Visit the dwarven royal court, charm them. This is how you become a wealthy performer. This is how you gain important information. This is how you eventually rule the world.

Mantle of Majesty (lvl 6): You can cast Command as a bonus action every round for a minute. That’s extremely helpful. Its only downside is that it uses your concentration which will decrease its usefulness at high levels, but expect this to be your go-to option for your big fight each day for quite a few levels.

Unbreakable Majesty (lvl 14): Firstly, you become permanently gorgeous. Tell me you don’t want that. Then, once per short rest, anyone attacking you must make a charisma save or they must choose a new target or waste their attack. If they actually manage to hit you, they are disadvantaged against your next spell. Well, isn’t that lovely. A great defense mixed with a great offense. It slips a little because this is a game and your DM knows what you’ve put up, so your DM is more likely not to have anyone ever try and attack you so not as many enemies will be losing their attack or being debuffed as they should. A DM may try not to act like that, but it’s tricky to ignore what you know.

Sure, The Devil won’t argue that glamour bards are more effective than lore bards, though he will argue that it is close, however, he states unequivocally that glamour bards are better (and I’m not going to argue with him) based on…, well…, glamour.


College of Eloquence

This is the new Mythic Odyssey’s version, which is essentially the same as the Unearthed Arcana version, with some sifting around of what comes in at which level and some mechanical alterations. Overall, that was good and this may be better. The College of Eloquence is arguably the best bard subclass. It is unquestionably a very good one. It empowers the bard in two important ways: massively increasing its ability to inspire others and by weakening the defenses of enemies to the bard’s spells.

Silver Tongue (lvl 3): Your persuasion and deceptions skill check rolls can never be lower than 10—it’s a slimmed-down version of the Rogue’s Reliable Talent. That’s a fine benefit if you play in a campaign where you use those a lot.

Unsettling Words (lvl 3): You can now apply your bardic inspiration to an enemy’s next save. Well, this is lovely. This is THE feature. Forget other uses of your inspiration die as they’re all going here. If you can get your enemies to fail their saves against you, you can destroy them. Really, as powerful a bard feature as you could wish for. This is an absolute win.

Unfailing Inspiration (lvl 6): If an ally fails when using your inspiration die, it gets to keep the die. That’s nice. Less waste. This would be an excellent ability if you weren’t using all your inspiration on Unsettling Words, but it’s good.

Universal Speech (lvl 6): You can magically communicate with a number of creatures who don’t speak your language once per long rest. This saves you from taking the Tongues spell. It’s good, and probably as often as you’ll need it, though you can spend a spell slot to get it back early.

Infectious Inspiration (lvl 14): If an ally succeeds in a roll using your bardic inspiration, you use your reaction to gift the die to another ally. Well, combined with Unfailing Inspiration, your dice are going to be getting a lot more use (unless you use them all up with Unsettling Words). This is really nice, if perhaps one too many features focused on your inspiration dice.

The Devil is still a glamour bard fan first and always, but this College is amazing.


College of Creation

This is for bards who want to influence reality itself with the Song of Creation. Well, kinda. The college is less focused than it should be. It’s a little buffing, a little pet, and a little utility. It works, but The Devil would have liked if WoTC had worked with the theme a bit more, and smoothed out the mechanics. The Tasha’s version is a step up from the UA version, which was underpowered.

Mote of Potential (lvl 3): 3 additions to the effects of your bardic inspirations. When someone uses your bardic inspiration for an ability check, they roll twice and take the best, if they use it for an attack, it adds the die’s worth of damage in a 5 ft AOE, and if they use it for a saving throw, they gain some temporary hit points. Mechanically these are all nice, though not spectacular, and the style is off. First, the description has a little mote—a note or a star—floating around the character; I know kids like this game, but do features need to come off looking like a cartoon? These three features also lack consistency. The extra roll for the ability check fits with being inspired, and I suppose that the temp hits points kinda goes with being inspired, but how does the tiny grenade fit as “inspiration”? And what does any of this have to do with creation?

Performance of Creation (lvl 3): You can make a medium or smaller sized item of a limited value that exists for a few hours. The size and value rise with level. Well, this is better theme-wise. And it CAN be very useful. The feature points you to the equipment chapter of the Player’s Handbook for examples of what you can make, but doesn’t limit you to just those (if you DM interprets it as a limitation, this loses some luster). Need a weapon? Make one. Need a ladder? Make one. Need a wall for cover? Make one. Useful, but not that useful. Most of the time a bit of shopping will cover this. Doesn’t your rogue carry a thieves’ kit? (check with your DM on if a “kit” is a single item). Don’t you already have weapons? At higher levels suddenly being able to make a wagon to carry your loot may come in handy, but put this down as situational but for many situations.

[Note: Whatever you make is clearly a magical creation (it sparkles and plays music), so no throwing off pursuers by making a barrel to hide in, nor can you sell what you make. And previous rulings imply you won’t be able to use what you make as a spell component. Additionally, you cannot make a heavy object to drop on someone—your creation has to be on a surface. Also, like the Wizard Illusion subclass, this will let you make a cell to trap your enemies, but unless your DM is very kindly, it won’t hold them until higher levels (you’re limited by the gold cost of what you can make, so at low levels a plaster box is possible—iron bars are not.]

Animating Performance (lvl 6): You create a pet. Pet’s are useful. Rangers and druids have them, so why not bards? Of course, via magical secrets you could learn any number of summoning spells and get a better pet; Find Greater Steed is a standard choice for magical secrets and gives you a much better pet, but this is a few levels earlier. This is less a creation bard spell and more a Mickey Mouse as an enchanter spell, but mechanically it’s good.

Creative Crescendo (lvl 14): Now you can make a few extra small or tiny items and value is no longer a concern. So you can now trap your enemies in an iron cell (if you are within 10 feet of them); of course, now you have spells that do that better. Also, you can make a boat (assuming your DM counts that as a single item). This makes your Performance of Creation feature really good, though it is anticlimactic to get an improved version of an early feature as the college capstone. The Devil would have liked something more.

The Devil thinks this college is a lot of fun and could be a riot in the right game. Its features tend to be less than a bard could do with spells (but spells are a limited resource so alternatives are welcome), and it has a nice style that should have been better.



College of Valor

This is the first of the melee bard subclasses and everyone hated it for the obvious reason that if you build a melee bard with it, it’s not much good at melee, and nothing in the college alters that. Eventually, it becomes clear that swinging a sword is a waste when you can cast Hypnotic Pattern and win the battle in one move. But the College of Valor isn’t that bad. The problem was people listened to the ribbon. You can make a good bard with the College of Valor, just don’t make it a martial warrior. The college offers you some useful defense. Use that and then act like any other behind-the-lines bard.

So what does it give you?

Bonus Proficiences (lvl 3): Medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. Ignore the weapons, but bask in the loveliness of armor and shields and the higher AC they present (and all the more magical armors you can now use).

Combat Inspiration (lvl 3): Allies can use your inspiration die to increase their damage or AC. It’s nice to have options. Using Inspiration for damage is not the best way to go, but essentially allowing you to hand out 5 supped-up Shield spells every short rest is quite good. At this point, College of Valor is sweet.

Extra Attack (lvl 6): You can attack twice, a level after every melee class. This is a total waste. Just ignore it. You can afford one useless feature. People thinking this would work and then failing in combat is why everyone hated the subclass.

Battle Magic (lvl 14): You can make a weapon attack as a bonus action when you cast a spell. It’s OK. As a valor bard, you might actually have free bonus actions. Just don’t use it for a melee attack. It says weapon, so shoot your hand crossbow. The extra damage you can do is piddling next to the mayhem your spells are spreading, but it’s free, so take it.

So, the point of this college is the armor and shield, with a new way to use inspiration. If you’ve taken The Devil’s advice and plan for a 1 level dip into cleric, this college is supplying even less.


College of Swords

This subclass is a bit more successful in doing what it set out to do than Valor, which, paradoxically, makes it worse. You can do a bit more melee damage (just melee though—not ranged) so you might for a while be confused into thinking you’re good in melee. Your weak defenses will remedy that mistake quickly. This subclass is bad, and a swords bard will only be successful if it ignores it. There’s no reason to ever take it. OK, no reason The Devil is covering in this review because he’s looking at bards, and avoiding options that take away significant bard abilities, even if the tradeoff might be good. Of course, this is referring to multicasting. In brief, if you want to play a melee bard, this is the college to take, but you need to multiclass into warlock (hexblade). One level helps, but three or four is better. What you end up with is not a bard, but it will be able to swing a sword.

Bonus Proficiencies (lvl 3): Medium armor and the scimitar. No shields. And you can use your weapon as a spellcasting focus, which would be practical if your other hand was holding a shield. This isn’t bad on its own but is less than it needed to be.

Fighting Style (lvl 3): A paired down version of the fighter’s style, without bows. This is useless unless you are running into combat, where  you’ll be beaten to a pulp while doing minor damage, so it’s useless (unless you multiclass)

Blade Flourish (lvl 3): Your speed increases when you attack and you can spend your Inspiration die on yourself to increase your damage and either raise your AC, do tiny damage to a second target, or to push someone, though you can only do these 5 times. They’re all OK additions, but it’s just a little extra damage or a little extra defense, which isn’t enough (unless you multiclass).

Extra Attack (lvl 6): Worthless (unless you multiclass and don’t get Extra Attack from there).

Master’s Flourish (lvl 14): You can use D6 instead of your inspiration die, so you won’t run out so quickly, which would be handy if you multiclass, but otherwise, useless.

So this should be clear. As a bard, this college stinks. But as a Bardlock, or Hexbard or Warbardhexlock, it can be workable. A bard is still a better character, but you can have fun with a melee mutt.


College of Whispers

The Devil has made it clear that the best bard colleges build are ones that lean into the things the bard already excels at, but he meant control or combat leadership. For the College of Whispers, it’s social interaction, but only the scary side, so all deception and fear. Three of the four features are social, and the fourth increases melee combat damage.

Psychic Blades (lvl 3): The bard can add substantial additional dice of psychic damage to its weapon attacks. Well, unlike valor or swords bards, this is a big boost in damage output (though only for as long as its got inspiration dice to spend), but there’s nothing to make the bard better at hitting opponents nor anything to increase its defenses enough to make melee attacks a viable strategy. Its still no good in melee combat. The use for this seems to be in darting out of a shadow, attempting to assassinate someone, and then retreating. Well, situationally that could work. In the wrong situation, which will be most situations, that bard is going to have its head handed to it. This is the wrong feature for what seems to be a spy.

Word of Terror (lvl 3): This is the glamour bard’s Enthralling Performance feature, except there’s only one target and instead of charmed it is frightened. That has a lot fewer uses than charming someone. The image here is Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings, so if your bard wants to hang around the castle destabilizing the government, this will be handy. Otherwise…less.

Mantle of Whispers (lvl 6): You can wear a dead person’s shadow. OK…  This is a combination Disguise Self and Speak to the Dead, both spells that are useful on occasion, and both ones that The Devil has said (in part 3 of this guide) are not good enough to take. And this doesn’t work as well as those as you’ve got to be around when the person you’re impersonating dies. Why not take the Disguise Self spell instead? This is…awkward.

Shadow Lore (lvl 14) An 8 hour charm person where the victim is afraid you will embarrass them. Well, that’s not great.

Summing up those features, the only saving grace is that the base bard is pretty good so this can only mess it up so much, but there’s close to nothing gained here. It supplies damage you won’t be able to deliver and social features that can be done better and easier in other ways. Lore, glamour, eloquence, and even valor bards would crush this guy under their heels. However, The Devil still rates this higher than the College of Swords because it does have flavor and it could be fun. In the right kind of game, one with almost no combat but tons of court intrigue, a College of Whispers bard could be a riot.

Or you could just build a lore bard who takes a couple extra fear and necromantic spells and dress it in black and it’ll do this all better. With swords they were trying to build something, and failed. With Whispers, they seem to never have gotten out of the vague “feels” stage.


Continue on to Bard Spell Overview and Ranking

Jun 222020
  June 22, 2020
Bard satyrIntro

This is the Devil’s Typist, here to give you more of The Devil’s thoughts on D&D 5e bards. As always, the Prince of Darkness stopped by, plopped down on my couch with a whiskey on the rocks, and rambled about life, love, sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, and I’ve done my best to record and focus his thoughts. I mean, he talks a little bit about D&D, then jumps over to those happy days at the Moulin Rouge then he’s onto a story about how he used to promote apples, so I’ve whittled this down to just his thoughts on bard spells to the best of my ability.


Spells Ranked for Bards

This is a review and ranking of bard spells (the spells for each level are listed from best to worst) rather than a build guide, but you can use it for that purpose. And this is specifically for bards, not for other classes that have access to these spells. Wizards can swap all their spells each day and can cast ritual ones that aren’t prepared, which makes almost no spells bad choices for a wizard. But bards don’t do that. They get the spells they know, and can only swap one at level changes and they don’t know that many. That means a lot of spells are bad choices as they are rarely used, or weaker than other options, and you’re stuck with them. And if they are rarely used or weaker, the bard will fail often, and in 5e (unlike 3e and before), failing is never a lot of fun. If your character dies, you want it to be because the enemy was good, not because you were ineffective. The bard is forced to focus on just a few of the best spells. It also means the bard won’t be able to do a lot of fun, out-of-combat trivial things that seem to fit its character.


Spell Versatility

WotC recognized their mistake and rectified it in an Unearthed Arcana article, but your DM has to choose to include that—it doesn’t count as the official standard rules. That article is the “Class Features Variants” and The Devil highly recommends DMs adopt “Spell Versatility” for bards. It allows bards to swap out one spell after a long rest. This is still far from what a wizard can do, but it does allow a bard to use some of the situational spells which otherwise will never see use. It’s not overpowered for the bard, but supplies options, mainly for social situations, thus, making it more fun. (Note: This is not the Bardic Versatility in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which only allows for swapping out a cantrip on the levels that include attribute increases.)

Spell Versatility seems required if your campaign is set in the official D&D universe. In that lore, wizards are not naturally magic users but must study while it is instinctive for sorcerers. A wizard’s magic-casting is like working on mathematical formulas, while a sorcerer’s is like twitching muscles. You can focus your attention on different formulas each day, but you can’t swap out a muscle, thus wizards prepare spells while sorcerers get known spells. Bards are closer to wizards in spellcasting. They aren’t instinctive casters, but rather explore the workings of magic, but instead of as mathematicians, they are doing it as artists. A spell for them is like experimental jazz. So their spells are like a setlist. Now swapping out a whole setlist would make for a shaky performance, but changing one song on the setlist for the day’s performance is not unusual.

However, The Devil will rank and spells using the standard method, which means a lot of decent spells will get a negative recommendation. Some spells are best left to the wizard, who can more easily juggle them. If you use Spell Versatility, any rankings that say “leave it to the wizard” might be worthwhile swapping in on rare occasions (and the sheer number of those shows why you want Spell Versatility).


Substitute-Cleric™ & Style

Also in ranking these spells, The Devil considered the job of the bard. Bards are best as controllers and buffer/debuffers. However, if required, they can stand in as healers if the party has no cleric or druid. The bard will never be as good at this as a cleric can be, so if there’s a cleric in the party, the bard should focus elsewhere. I’ve marked the spells (in yellow) that The Devil designated as Substitute-Cleric™ spells. A bard should take those spells if that’s the bard’s job, even over spells ranked higher, but skip them otherwise—they will weaken the bard for the jobs a bard is made for.

Additionally, The Devil is greatly concerned with style, so spells are ranked not only on their effectiveness, but on their sparkle, their elegance, their savoir-faire. Also, on how much fun they are to play.


Expanded Bard Spell List

The UA document that introduced Spell Versatility also included an expanded spell list for bards, spells that are thematically fitting and should have already been on the bard list. The newest sourcebook, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything republished that list, making it more-or-less the default list for bards…  Well, kinda. It added a few additional spells that were published for the first time in Tasha’s, but then it left some off. Except for two, the spells that didn’t make the Tasha’s list weren’t eliminated because they shouldn’t be there, but instead were removed purely for meta reasons. That is, the expanded spell list in Tasha’s only includes spells from The Player’s Handbook and new ones from Tasha’s. It doesn’t include any of the spells from the UA List that were originally published in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything; so it works for people playing in Player’s Handbook + 1 games. Of course, most games aren’t like that and use Xanathar’s.

So The Devil suggests that any DM using the Tasha’s Expanded List (which is most) add back in the rest of the UA List.

As The Devil assumes most games will be using the Tasha’s Expanded List , the spells on it have been ranked with the spells previously on the bard’s list (though they have been marked with TCoE). These remaining spells from the UA List are included for each level after the other spells.



One last thing. When The Devil invented D&D (don’t argue), he never meant anyone to take components seriously. I, the Typist, have played D&D since 1977, and I have never played in a game that used material components or paid much attention to verbal or semantic ones. They turn the game into accounting, and accounting is rarely a lot of fun. On a quick poll of DMs, a majority either don’t use material ones or use them only in a few cases for high-level spells. As such, The Devil’s rankings will ignore component costs. This doesn’t change the rankings significantly for those of you that play in one of the unusual games that use them. If the Devil later does a wizards spell ranking, it will matter there.

Spells are ranked from best to worst with the legend:
Blue – Take it if possible
Green – Situational/weaker. Probably no room for it
Red – Garbage spell.
Yellow – Substitute-Cleric™ spell

So, let’s start with:



Bards start with only two cantrips and max out at four. This is odd as more than any other class, a bard should be making great use of out-of-combat cantrips. The Devil has no idea what WotC was thinking. Adopting Spell Versatility helps a bit as cantrips are spells so a bard could swap in Dancing Lights for a performance in a city, but drop it when the bard hits the trail. A DM raising the number of cantrips, or just making Vicious Mockery and Prestidigitation class features is another way to go. Some DM’s let casters know all their cantrips, which would be a reasonable move with Bards (though not for Wizards with their 30). But for this review, the Devil assumes the standard rules, which means four is all you get.

Vicious Mockery — The Devil had a bit more to say than normal with this spell. At first level, this is everything you want. It’s effective, causing little damage but inflicting disadvantage on the target’s next attack. What’s more, it’s fun to play because every time you use this spell, you get to insult your enemies, so start thinking up those insults. If none come to mind, Google Shakespearean insults. The problem with Vicious Mockery is it doesn’t level well. It has the worst leveling of cantrips in the game. Why? Because they screwed up, leveling only the damage, which was never the point of the spell, instead of the condition. At 5th level this does 2D4, but still only applies disadvantage to one attack, while your targets have leveled such that they now have two attacks. At high levels, applying disadvantage against a single attack is far less powerful than the 4D12 damage Toll of the Dead would be doing. The Devil recommends DMs fix this flaw so as to keep Vicious Mockery in the game. Leveling the D4 is fine (or don’t as you please as is it insignificant), but the spell needs to level with “applies disadvantage to the next two attack rolls it makes before the end of its next turn” at 5th, next three attacks at 11th, and next four at 17th  (note: it is always just till the “end of its next turn” so this is not giving the cantrip new abilities or overpowering it). As is, yes, a bard should take it as it’s iconic, though eventually, it will stop seeing use, which should never happen.

Minor Illusion — You can create a limited visual or auditory illusion. The is reasonably useful in combat and more so out. You can have lots of fun here, provided your DM plays nice with illusions, which they should, since creativity and fun are the name of the game. The simplest uses are making a wall to hide behind or a sound to distract a person. Since you won’t have the space for lots of illusions, that makes this even more of a must.

Mage Hand — It’s short-range telekinesis. If you’re a dungeon delver you can use this to open doors and set off traps. Perhaps you can pick a pocket. If you’re performing it can hold one instrument as you play another. There’s a little overlap with Unseen Servant, so plan accordingly, although The Devil suggests both.

Prestidigitation — One of the three ribbon spells (the others being Thaumaturgy and Druidcraft) that make you feel like a magic user. Each allows you to do a number of small things that feel magical: puffs of wind, light candles, warm your tea or cool your ale, clean your clothing (Bards should not look dirty and bloodstains can be a pain), or make a trinket. People have suggested using the last to fake a coin when shopping, but the Devil says that as a bard, you’re better than that. Out-of-combat you’ll find there’s always something to do with this.

Mending — Let’s you repair one rip or tear. How useful this is will depend on your DM, but for a bard, it will always feel useful. You may be running into combat with a lute—it’s going to have some repair needs. If you DM keeps track of rents in armor, Mending because vital. Plus there are clever uses for it. One that The Devil heard was to have some shackles made with no hinge, then have your barbarian cute them open with his axe. When you catch that escape-artist thief, put the shackles on him and cast Mending—now there’s no lock to pick.

Light — This is very practical. Even if everyone in the party has darkvision, light is needed as you can’t see colors with darkvision. Without it, you’re messing around with torches (and carrying them—who has free hands when dungeon delving?). But others get this, so leave it to the wizard or cleric.

Dancing Lights © — This is a flamboyant spell with floating globes, so it fits bards. But it also is a concentration spell, so they can’t actually use it for light if combat is possible.

Friends — Not nearly as good as you’d think at making friends. Since afterward the target knows it was enchanted and is upset, the actual use of this spell is to piss someone off. Disguise yourself as a member of a local gang you dislike, then cast this on a political leader, and run away. Hilarity and bloodshed ensue.

Message — Send a quick telepathic message to one target. It has its uses, but you have other ways to do that; make a simple illusion of a sheet of paper (with the words you want to say written on it) appear in front of your target. Yes, if you could fit it in, this would be fine, but you can’t.

Thunderclap  — The Devil scoffs and those that say this is good. If you are surrounded in combat you can use this to create a thunderous sound and do minor damage to the mob if they all fail a CON save. Areas spells are nice, but chances are this hasn’t gotten you out of being surrounded. And what are you doing getting surrounded in combat? That’s terrible for a valor bard and as for a lore bard, if this comes up often enough that a cantrip is needed to deal with it, something has gone horribly wrong.

Blade Ward — This sounds good at first. Trace a sigil and gain resistance to some weapon damage. If you’re facing any of the many creatures that do fire or poison (etc.) damage, this does nothing. And as this took your action, you’ve done nothing to help the situation, so they’re all still there next turn to hit you again. But the real killer is you could instead have taken the dodge action, which was more likely to stop you from taking any damage instead of taking half damage, and can work against fire and poison and all sort of things. Dodging is better, and didn’t require one of your few known cantrips.

True Strike © — Of course Blade Ward is genius next to True Strike, the worst cantrip in the game. You use your action AND concentration to give you advantage on a single attack against a target next turn, provided you don’t lose your concentration (in which case this does nothing). Here’s an option: just attack both rounds. Two attacks are better than casting this.


1st Level

There’s a lot of first level spells you’ll want, and you can’t take them all. The cuts here are going to be cruel. Note: If your DM allows UA spells, the Devil is fond of Unearthy Chorus, naturally.

Sleep — This is the best spell in the game at first level. Take 5D8 hit points worth of enemies completely out of the battle. Eliminate a horde or one big-bad (big for level 1). Easily kill them or avoid fights all together. And it is so thematic, lulling your opponents to sleep. It scales horribly, which is OK as otherwise, this is all you’d do. For practicality, trade it out by 4th level, though it would still be fun to have just to screw with peasants.

Dissonant Whispers — A spell meant for Bards. It does damage and makes a creature run from you (which could mean opportunity attacks). A useful low-level spell you can use while concentrating on something else—this will be part of your repertoire for a long time.

Command — You can make an enemy run, grovel, and otherwise waste its turn. It’s useful in combat, a great choice when you are using your concentration on something else, and has a place outside of fights as well. And it scales well. Drop it 4 or 5 places for a glamour bard. TCoE

Unseen Servant — The Devil understands that you’ll find it odd he ranked this so high, but the game isn’t all about combat. Unseen Servant has style, style you need as a bard. Who plays the drums while you recite? Your unseen servant. Who invisibly helps with your juggling performance? Your unseen servant. Who swipes the papers from the guard’s desk or brings you the keys to the cell? Your unseen servant. Who holds your lute while you do the hurdy-gurdy solo? Your unseen servant? Who cleans your costumes? Who sews up those sword holes? Who pours your ale? Plus, it can open trapped doors and chests, and scout ahead. And it has hit points, so it can stand in front of you, unseen by the aiming caster and take the Disintegrate blast instead of you. And it’s a ritual, so no spell slot cost. You may not be able to fit this in at 1st level, but come back for it.

Healing Word — Even if you aren’t the Substitute-Cleric™ you’ll probably want this one when you can fit it in. If nothing else you can use it to get your downed cleric back. It keeps your allies up and fighting for only the cost of a bonus action.

Faerie Fire © — This grants advantage to your party and deals with invisible creatures for a 1st level slot. That’s a bargain. Concentration is the reason you’ll eventually trade this away.

• Tasha’s Hideous Laughter © — The first of your single-target-quarantine spells. You’ll always want one of those, but as they are concentration, you’ll swap them out for improved versions. This one does less than some higher-level ones, but it does its job and it’s cheap to cast, so you may want to keep this around instead of trading up for quite some time.

Silent Image © — Only limited by your imagination and your DM. My favorite is an illusionary fog, which you and allies can see out of, but enemies can’t see into, making it superior to Fog Cloud and Darkness spells. The Devil likes an illusion of a firestorm. I told him it would be very suspicious if people were apparently hiding in a firestorm, but he didn’t see why. Beware DMs who don’t play nice with illusions. If your DM thinks tossing a stone into an illusion of fog somehow reveals it isn’t fog, give up on this, and every illusion spell.

Comprehend Languages — A ritual spell that’s very fitting for you, but is also situational and you’re not likely to have a spot for. Leave it to the wizard. As a low-level ritual spell, it is a reasonable choice for your first two levels when you only have 2 or 3 spell slots.

Bane © — This is a good debuff on your enemies, but they get a save and this requires concentration and you’ve too many better options and not enough concentration to go around. I’d say leave it to the cleric, except the cleric is casting Bless instead.

Cure Wounds — Take Healing Word, and leave out-of-battle healing for the cleric unless you’re subbing.

Detect Magic © — You want this in the party, but hopefully someone else has it. That it is a ritual is relevant at level 1 and 2 when you don’t have enough spell slots to cast your spells, but it doesn’t help you the way it helps a wizard as after a few levels the slot cost matters less than the known spell cost. Leave it to the wizard, or cleric, or artificer, or druid at that point.

Disguise Self — This is a great spell for infiltration, social, and performance purposes, but you won’t have space for it. (Think maybe it’s time to talk to your DM about Spell Versatility?)

Feather Fall — When you need this, you really need this. But you won’t need it often and you’ve no space for this situational of a spell. When you get a flying steed (via your Magical Secrets), then try and jam this on the list, though even then you’ll have a problem finding a place for it.

Heroism © — Gives some temp hit points, which is nice at first level, and immunity to fear, which is always nice. But it’s concentration and you’ll have other ways to deal with fear. You can’t afford this.

Thunderwave — This does 2D8 damage and pushes away creatures near you if they fail a CON saving throw (not the saving throw you want). The Devil’s question, which he’s asked before, is: What the hell are you doing with creatures mobbing you?  You are not a barbarian. You are not a tank. Instead of taking this, don’t get mobbed. Only valor and swords bards should ever look this way, but even for them, if they need this, they’re doing something wrong and will die soon.

Animal Friendship — An animal friend for a day has all kinds of uses, but you don’t have all kinds of known spells. Leave it to the druids and rangers.

Speak with Animals — Same as Animal Friendship. it’s a nice thing to be able to do, but way too situational for you. Leave it to the druids and rangers.

Charm Person — This one annoys The Devil as it promises more than it delivers. It’s unreliable in combat, and even if it works, it doesn’t stop the target from fire-balling the rest of your party. Like Friends, the target knows you enchanted it when the spell ends, making this questionable even in the social situations it should be good for. Unless you’ve got a DM who is very kindly about enchantments (far more than The Devil), you’re better off just using your persuasion skill.

Identify — And one more ritual spell you should leave to the wizard, but if there’s no wizard, still skip it. In 5e there’s easy ways to identify magic.

Distort Value — Double or half the value of an object. If you’re going full conman, this is your spell.  Not something to take, but it’s too funny to rate red.

Illusory Script — Let’s you pass notes to your friends. Why isn’t this a cantrip? Well, because no one would take it as a cantrip. Adopt Spell Versatility and make this a cantrip, and then maybe it would be worth taking, for a day.

Earth Tremor — Like Thunderwave, but worse in every way. This one is for when you let enemies surround you, after wandering off from your allies (since you don’t want to cast this if they are close). It does less damage, and has a weaker effect than Thunderwave.

Longstrider — You can give one creature a speed increase of 10. Yeah. That’s it. I mentioned it and The Devil simply blew a raspberry.

• Color Spray — It’s not a bad spell, but it fills the same roll as Sleep, except this only blinds, making it substantially inferior, and you don’t have room for both. TCoE

UA Expanded List

Cause Fear — Inflicts the frightened condition on one target, which won’t stop it from shooting your friends. Just use your Intimidate skill. This is a terrible spell, but it was left off the Tasha’s list only because it was from Xanathar’s. If it is going to be on any list, it should be on the bard’s.


2nd level

Level 2 isn’t nearly as strong as level one, but the top spell is one of the best.

Suggestion © — You’ve come into your own, and so quickly. This is a must-have and a favorite of The Devil, naturally, as this is manipulation. Suggest your enemies leave to join a cult. Suggest to the bouncer that he’ll get into movies if he lets you in. Suggest to the guy attacking you that violence is meaningless and he should sit down, close his eyes, and give peace a chance. The target gets one save and then is hooked for up to 8 hours. Some DMs might get a bit huffy over if your suggestion sounds “reasonable,” but as the example is to tell a knight to go off and give her warhorse to a random beggar, anything short of “shove a dagger in your eye” is reasonable. Just say it with style. This is your chance for storytelling. Make it good. Note, the spell doesn’t say the target automatically knows you magically affected them, so be clever with your words.

Mirror Image — This is the defense you are looking for. No concentration and fits you thematically. Will be useful for many levels. TCoE

Blindness/Deafness — You need some non-concentration combat spells you can use while holding up Faerie Fire or Tasha’s or Suggestion. This will do nicely. Blind fighters miss a lot and blind casters may not even be able to use their spells. It isn’t amazing since it’s single target, but it serves its purpose and it scales well, adding targets when higher spell slots are used, so you’ll keep this one around for a long time.

Lesser Restoration — Somebody needs to be able to do this. If you’re not the Substitute-Cleric™, it’s not you.

Calm Emotions © — Thematically it fits—music has charms to soothe… And it’s versatile. It can help you avoid combat and ease all kinds of tense situations. In combat, it’s a way to free your entire party from charm and fear.

Heat Metal © — It doesn’t have a lot of style, but this can be nasty. You heat up an enemy’s armor and it takes damage turn after turn until it can take it all off—which will probably be after it’s dead. No save. You should know if you are running into armored enemies. If so, take this. If not, or rarely, then skip it.

Phantasmal Force © — In theory, The Devil loves this. Digging into an opponent’s fears, not only applying damage but playing with him, making him act as you wish, is just delicious. But this one really is DM dependent, even more than all the other illusion spells. If your DM plays nice, then this is great. If your DM is really open to illusion shenanigans (which The Devil encourages), then move this up a spot. If your DM doesn’t play nice, narrowing the effect to just damage, which isn’t the point, skip it.

Invisibility © — This is a nice spell for defense and sneaking about, though less than you might imagine since enemies can still attack you. But, if you can get this on your known list, do so, though sadly, it may be hard to find a place for it.

Shatter — A passable area of effect blast spell. You’re not a blaster. If you want to blow things up, be a wizard or a sorcerer. But, if you feel you must have a blast spell, take this, and then don’t waste your valuable Magical Secrets on Fireball. This will kill minions well enough until you get Synaptic Static.

Aid — Increase your ally’s hit points by 5 for 8 hours, which is good for a few levels. Very fitting for a bard, but unless you’re the Substitute-Cleric™, you won’t have space. TCoE

Hold Person © — This can completely take an enemy out of the battle, and as it paralyzes, they are likely to be dead soon. However, it does nothing if they save, and they get a save every round, and it’s concentration. It’s a step up from Tasha’s but affects a more limited group (only humanoids) so, you might want to hold on to Tasha’s.

Detect Thoughts — It’s good out-of-combat, although half the time you can get by with an insight check. If you had room, it would be nice, but you don’t.

Enhance Ability © — Give a creature (probably you) advantage on a check with one attribute (since it’s you, probably charisma) for an hour. There are social uses for this and it’s thematic, but you can’t fit it in. Leave it to the cleric. Note: This is better than the 8th level spell Glibness, so if you feel drawn to take that, grab this instead.

See Invisibility – You want some way in the party to deal with invisible enemies, and this will do it, but its uses are limited, and Faerie Fire will be more helpful to the party. If you could swap out spells, sure. But for most games, leave it to the wizard.

Silence © — Good for sneaking, as long as you only need to sneak 40 feet, and good for shutting down spell casters if your DM pays attention to verbal components, and the caster can’t move 20 feet. So, situational. Still, The Devil is amused by a violent melee combat in a china shop where the guards right outside don’t notice anything. Leave it to the wizard.

Enlarge/Reduce © — The combat buff/debuff is worse than you think, but there are lots of fun out-of-combat things you can do with this spell, all of which are situational, so leave it to the wizard. TCoE

Animal Messenger – Remember the animal spells from level 1? Leave this to the druids and rangers. You don’t have room for a spell using animals to deliver your mail. Likewise…

Locate Animals or Plants – You want to find an animal, check with a druid. Which brings us to…

Locate Object © — Leave this to anybody else. Wizards, clerics, druids can all have this spell. Its range makes it weak even for prepared casters.

Warding Wind © — The Devil is not thrilled by spells that deafen the caster and friends. It provides minor protection against ranged weapons and it disperses poisoned gas and fog. The effects are too situational and not strong enough to consider.

Knock – Opens locks. Get a thief in the party. Leave it to the wizard.

Magic Mouth – lets you deliver messages or warnings. Far too circumstantial. This one’s even iffy for a wizard.

Gift of Gab – You can delete from the memories of those around you the last 6 seconds of whatever stupid thing you said, replacing it with anything else. This is a joke spell, and a good one. As a cantrip, it would be worth taking just for the joy of it. Perhaps if it was a 1st level spell, and you were high enough level that you could spare the slots. But the joke isn’t worth it unless your campaign is really easy.

Pyrotechnics — Flame pots for your stage show! Otherwise, it’s minor crowd control that requires a fire to be sitting in the right spot. Too weak and too situational.

Zone of Truth  —  The Father of Lies has little interest in this, nor should a bard who is a master of deception. Instead, use your charisma to get the information you want. Detect Thoughts is superior, and you don’t even have room for that.

Cloud of Daggers © —  It’s main use is to block a hallway. It doesn’t do enough damage, and uses your concentration, so not even the wizard should bother.

Crown of Madness © — The concept is good, but the mechanics make this a spell to avoid. First, the target can save. If it doesn’t, it attacks whoever you want who’s in melee range (so not using this on casters or archers), but then it gets to move as it wants, so if it is at all clever, it will move away from its friends, and this spell is useless. It also uses not only your concentration, but your action each round, and the target gets another save each turn.

Skywrite © — It writes a message in the sky. Since it’s a ritual, I suppose it isn’t completely inane for WotC to create this spell, but no one needs this spell, particularly you.

Enthrall – This spell is trash as it doesn’t do what the name suggests. It doesn’t even apply the charmed condition. It’s useless in combat, and out of combat it just gives someone disadvantage to perceive other people. Just try stealth. Or Invisibility. Or anything other than this.

UA Expanded List

Mind Spike © — Do some damage to a target and know its location for an hour. If it wasn’t concentration, it would be OK, but as is, so nope.


3rd Level

At this level your crowd control takes a huge leap.

Hypnotic Pattern © — This will be your go-to concentration battle spell for the next 5 levels. It’s everything you want both in its effect and in its style. You create a pattern that hypnotizes a crowd of targets and then they just stand there and trip-out as your party kills them one by one or you just walk away. The Devil suggests playing sitar music to cast it.

Dispel Magic © — The Devil has found that this spell is rarely used, but if the party doesn’t have it when it is needed, they are in a lot of trouble. Dispelling higher level magic requires an ability check, and bards are better at ability checks than anyone else. So, while it would be nice to hand this off to the cleric or druid or wizard, it’s the bard’s responsibility.

Leomund’s Tiny Hut — Your party needs one of the safe rest spells and this is your first. You have several on your list. The wizard has more, and there are magic items that can supply a safe resting spot as well. This one is a ritual, so you really want to leave it to the wizard, but if there’s no wizard, you may have to take this. You’ll find a more fitting one at a higher level.

Major Image © — The best illusion so far, great for in- and out-of-combat usage and loads of fun, with the fantastic add-on that if you up-cast it to 6th level, it becomes permanent. Like all illusion spells, how well this works is down to the temperament of your DM. If you cast this on a wagon, or a boat, or a skyship, does the illusion move along with it? If your DM says no, then this is just going to create disappointment. If you have a DM who loves creativity, then grab this and go to town.

• Slow © — Another crowd control spell, this one applying a large number of so-so speed-related debuffs, but there are so many that they add up to something worthwhile. And you can choose your targets, which gives this a purpose in your list; it’s far weaker than Hypnotic Pattern, and probably Fear, but those you can’t cast if your allies are mingled with your enemies. But can you fit it on your list with your other options? Probably not (Again, wouldn’t Spell Versatility be nice?) TCoE

• Inspirational Speech — There aren’t many non-concentration buff spells, and advantage on WIS saves for a group is a good effect. A few temp hit points never hurt either. And the longer than normal casting time (1 min) is fitting. But the mechanics are a bit odd. The secondary buff only kicks in if someone is hit, but if they lose the 5 temp points, the spell ends for them; how many times is a character going to be hit for 3 damage? If you can time casting this properly, it is a nice buff to your backline party members. If you’ve got Spell Versatility, try it out just for the fun of making insulting inspirational speeches.

Fear © — Another solid crowd control spell and again, one that’s got style. The main downside it this makes enemies run away, and The Devil prefers them to stick around so they can be killed. It definitely has its place, but you can only afford so many mass concentration spells, and this level already supplied a better one, so unfortunately, leave it to the wizard.

Tongues — As a bard, you absolutely should have this ability. You should be able to understand and converse with everything, and this lets you. Except, like Comprehend Languages before it, you won’t have a free slot for it. (So, are you begging for Spell Versatility yet?) Leave it to the wizard.

• Mass Healing Word — How much do you want to lean into healing? As it doesn’t raise the number of hit points you are restoring, but only the number of targets, how worthwhile this is depends on how many of your party members keep ending up close to death. If it’s six, take this, assuming you are the Substitute-Cleric™. If it is one or two, the 1st level spell will do. TCoE

• Fast Friends © — It’s Suggestion with a drop of Charm Person. You charm one target who then carries out whatever small tasks you ask of it for the next hour, as long as you ask nicely. It has that downside of the victim knowing it was charmed. It’s amusing, and offers quite a bit of out-of-combat possibilities, but it’s a level up from Suggestion and is not better. Enchanter Wizards will find great uses for this.

Speak with Dead — Why isn’t this a ritual? It lets you question the dead, which is bound to come in handy eventually. But “eventually” means it isn’t for you. Leave it to the cleric.

Clairvoyance © — Your first spying spell. Its uses are limited as your “sensor” doesn’t move, so you just see/hear one spot. It’s OK. You’ll have better spy options later and you will never have room for more than one known. Leave it to the wizard.

Intellect Fortress © — Gaining resistance to psychic damage is VERY situational (if you’re in a mind flayer campaign, then sure, but otherwise it’s the last damage type you should be worried about) but getting advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves is great… Except it’s concentration. Whenever you want advantage on those sorts of saves, you’re also going to be wanting your concentration for something else. TCoE

Enemies Abound © — Targets INT saves, so that’s a big plus, and if the creature fails, it goes insane, attacking randomly. Well, if it’s a melee creature in the middle of a huge number of other enemies, then this is great. But if those enemies move, or it happens to have a throwing weapon, or a spell, it might randomly attack you or your allies. That makes this spell a lot of fun, but not reliable, so not good. If you had room for a wacky, problematic spell, then this would fit beautifully. But you don’t.

Sending — A long-range telepathic telegraph message. It has its uses. Leave it to the wizard.

Stinking Cloud © — A crowd control spell that targets CON saves and does poison damage, neither of which are good, and it lacks panache. You’ve got better control spells. Leave it to the wizard.

Speak with Plants — If you didn’t have room for speaking with animals, you sure don’t for plants, who have much less to say. The main benefit of the spell—plants performing tasks for you—is listed as at DM’s discretion so…uncertain. Leave it to the druid.

Bestow Curse © — The Devil is confused why so many guides think this is a good spell. It’s a single target concentration spell. Well, those need to be doing something special, but this one only supplies one of several midlevel debuffs. And it’s a touch spell. Why are you touching enemies? Even a swords bard should keep them at sword’s distance. If you up-cast it you can do it without concentration, but you’ll have much better uses for your 5th level slots. Out-of-combat this might be fun to use to screw around with some local politicians you don’t like, but you don’t have space for that. Leave it to the wizard, if he wants it.

Plant Growth — Has a nice double usage – in combat or while being chased you can greatly slow your enemy, perhaps setting up an ambush, and if you have a home base you can make your lands flourish or save local farmers. That’s all good, but not great. Leave it to the druid.

Glyph of Warding — You know how you are constantly worrying about thieves in your castle opening your books? No. Yeah. There are some weird combo things that can be done at higher levels, mostly by a wizard, which just doubles down on: leave this to the wizard.

Nondetection — Protects against divination magic, which, might pop up…maybe…  Leave it to the wizard.

Feign Death — Let’s one willing creature play dead for an hour… What the hell? For a 3rd level slot? You can cast it as a ritual, so if you want to do the whole party, the first should be waking up shortly after you finish this. And an hour—not long enough to fake a death since the target will start breathing in the middle of the funeral. Whatever problem they thought this would fix, it doesn’t.

Catnap — 10 minutes to give 3 allies a short rest? Well, that’s idiotic. It’s already using a third level slot, but it wants 10 minutes. If it was an action, sure. But how often do you have 10 safe minutes when you can’t get 1 safe hour? This level has Leomund’s Tiny Hut, which can give everyone in your party a safe short rest or a safe long rest. Hell, if you want to feed it 10 minutes, it gives you back the spell slot as it’s a ritual. Maybe there’s some situation where Catnap is good…but no, it is never worth learning, or even writing in your book if you are a wizard.

UA Expanded List

• Tiny Servant — The Devil loves Tiny Servant. Its in-combat uses are limited, and even it’s out-of-combat ones are situational. But its ribbon uses are nearly endless. Have your whiskey glass walk over to you, your plates put on a show, and your musical instruments leaping about you. Tiny Servant is a great bard spell…  And you just can’t fit it on the list. (Spell Versatility please!) Note, this is another that was left off purely because it comes from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. As the bard list includes Animate Object, and the creation bard includes a power very much list Tiny Servant, it’s ridiculous that they left this off.


4th Level

The Bard list is really short at this level—half the options of both 3rd and 5th. However, there’s some must-take spells here, so you’ll be fine.

Dimension Door – The Devil doesn’t rate this as better in general than his second-place choice for this level, but rates it higher for a bard, because you are going to need an escape and you’ll want to move quickly into odd places, so you’ll need a teleportation spell, and this is the viable one the class offers. The ability to take someone along is nice. If you have another teleportation spell, perhaps from the Fey Touched or Fey Teleportation feats, skip this.

Greater Invisibility © – Invisibility for one, and usable in combat. This would be great on yourself, but it’s even better for your melee attacker for whom this will grant advantage on all attacks. Too bad you won’t have the concentration to have this up more often.

Polymorph © – A great spell. Change your ally into a T-Rex that gives it a bunch of new hit dice and makes it a better attacker, or turn an enemy into a bug. Nice options in- and out-of-combat. In a vacuum, it’s better than the two spells above it. It scales poorly so you’ll trade this out in a few levels, but when you first get 4th level spells, this is fabulous.

Charm Monster – Remember how we didn’t take Charm Person? Don’t take this one either. Enchanter wizards can eat this up. Not you.

Hallucinatory Terrain – You can change the natural terrain in 150 ft cube to appear like a different natural terrain (including sound and smell). This one is out of combat only, and easy to tell it’s an illusion if someone enters it. Could be situationally useful, but beware DMs who don’t play nice with illusion spells. Leave it to the wizard.

Freedom of Movement – Allows one willing creature to move around better in difficult circumstances and it can’t be paralyzed. Situational and not all that thrilling even then.

Locate Creature © – Lets you find a creature you know if it’s within 1000 feet of you. Really? 1000 feet. So, good for finding your lost kid at the mall. It’s not totally useless (party member fell through a trap door, your group gets separated in a maze, your enemy is hiding somewhere in the building) but leave it to the wizard.

Compulsion © – This is a Bard only spell, so The Devil really wanted to love it, but can’t. It’s a mass control spell that lets you march your enemies around. It doesn’t necessarily stop your enemies from attacking, and the range isn’t great, so it is weaker than multiple mass control spells at 3rd level and you can’t afford another one that requires concentration.

Confusion © – It’s the same situation as with Compulsion, except this spell is so much worse. It’s a mass control spell that has a far weaker effect than Hypnotic Pattern or Fear, grants your enemies more saves, and covers a smaller area. Sure, confusing people sounds like something a bard would do, but that small bit of style doesn’t make up for the mechanical weakness.

Phantasmal Killer © – Single target spell that inflicts the frightened condition on a failed save and does 4D10 after additional failed saves. It’s an illusion but lacks all the illusion shenanigans possibilities that Phantasmal Force has (which also means DMs who don’t play nice won’t nerf it, but it’s nerfed on its own). It has too many saves for too little effect. It’s very fitting for a bard, but it’s also a terrible spell. TCoE


5th Level

A level of goodies. Bard’s damage output greatly increases.

Synaptic Static – Here’s your blast. It’s a Fireball, except doing psychic damage (that’s better), against an INT save (also better), and then applies a D6 debuff to their attack rolls, ability checks, and to maintain concentration for the next minute without your concentration. It’s a basket of goodies that fit your style. You wanted an area attack spell—here it is. (Now wouldn’t you feel stupid if you used a Magical Secret for Fireball?)

Raise Dead – Someone needs to have it. Hopefully it won’t be you.

Animate Objects ©  – This is good damage, versatile, and lots of fun. Block a doorway by animating the door. Have all the torches walk beside you. And of course, the best is to animate 10 tiny objects and have them attack. You’re a bard, so don’t go grabbing pebbles or coins. Make something. I like 10 juggling clubs. The Devil is fond of 10 naked mini-statues or 10 holy symbols from a god who annoys him. How about 10 violin bows or ten metal drums. And in your off time, think of the great show you can put on with the clubs juggling themselves or the drums playing themselves. Or how about puppets!

Hold Monster © – Paralyzes a creature, which means all hits against it are crits. This is fantastic, except if they save it does nothing and they get to try to save every round. You should only take a limited number of these concentration single target removal spells. This one’s a little pricy and there are far better ones to come. But if your DM doesn’t like Otto’s Dance (see next level), you may want to take this as your temporary replacement.

Greater Restoration – Someone needs to have it. Hopefully it won’t be you.

Mislead © – This spell will slightly soothe the pain of not having Find Familiar. Good for spying, good for tricks, and useful to escape a combat, though not much use in combat. But considering its ranking, you probably can’t fit it in.

Modify Memory – This one’s tricky. There are multiple out-of-combat uses for this, the most important being to make others forget you had charmed them. This fits you perfectly. You need this, more than spells The Devil has ranked higher, yet you probably won’t have a spot for it.

Awaken – You “awaken” a beast or plant and it becomes your companion for 30 days. This can be good, depending on your DM (your DM chooses its stats). Style-wise The Devil prefers several spells below, but this is more useful, being great for action economy (again, depending on your DM). But there’s no space, so leave it to the druid.

Mass Cure Wounds – Yes, this spell is OK, but even for the Substitute-Cleric™ this might be too much. If your party keeps getting beaten up that badly and can’t heal enough by spending their hit die, it’s time to suggest one of them picks up a level in cleric or druid to take up some of the strain. Also, buy some potions.

Dream – Communication mixed with harassment and an attack. As most games play out, this is almost certainly too situational. However, the implications of this spell should not be overlooked. Most people in the world are going to be 1st level-ish, meaning the 3D6 damage this does will kill them. So a caster with this spell can assassinate most of the population of the world without getting out of bed.

Scrying © – Handy to have if you want to spy on someone. Situational. Leave it to the wizard.

Seeming – Make your whole party look like someone else for 8 hours. Situational, though in those situations, it’s great. Leave it to the wizard.

Rary’s Telepathic Bond – An in-game explanation for all the chatting players do anyway. How good this is depends on your DM. If your DM lets you all talk around the table, this won’t change anything. If your DM is very strict and won’t let you communicate when your characters probably shouldn’t be, then this becomes more important. As it is a ritual, it is a viable option since it isn’t taking up your needed slots, but it also makes it much, much better for a wizard. Leave it to the wizard. TCoE

Dominate Person © – It has a nice effect, but it’s too unreliable in combat, both to succeed initially (the target gets advantage on the save), and then due to all the many saves it will get. Which means unless you are diddling about with low level creatures, this is only reliable if you want to control the local village elder or other big-wigs in social situations. Well, you’re a bard—you can do that in easier ways.

Skill Empowerment © – Grants expertise to one willing creature for one of its proficient skills for an hour. Sure. The Devil would take this, particularly if it was a 1st level spell. Maybe if it was a 2nd level. You already have expertise in 4 skills (the ones you think are most important). This is situationally useful. Leave it to the wizard.

Planar Binding – You bind a fiend, etc. and force it to do your will for 24 hours while it tries to screw you over. This is pretty much a license for your DM to gut you like a trout. And the Devil considers the whole concept disrespectful. Since the description states that you really ought to use another spell with this one, a spell not on your list, leave this one for a self-destructive Wizard.

Teleportation Circle – Either useful or near useless depending on the campaign and how many permanent circles are set up. In either case, leave it to the wizard.

Geas – This should be great, forcing people to carry out your actions, but the mechanics suck. It doesn’t actually make them do anything. It just punishes them if they disobey with 5D10 damage (and it doesn’t say they know they’ll be punished), so if they’re low level they die, and if higher, they just heal up as they search for a wizard with remove curse. A ridiculously designed spell. DM’s: The Devil suggests DM’s change it so that the target must make a save to even try to veer from their task, and take the damage when they succeed, as well as needing to make multiple saves if they attempt to have the spell removed.

Legend Lore – Gives you some vague information that is better gotten through a skill check and any good DM will already have given you. No one needs this.

UA Expanded List

Contact Other Plane – You phone up a god and ask questions, and if you fail a save you go insane. The Devil is well aware how much a god dislikes calls. These sort of spells just annoy DMs and disappoint players. If the DM wants you to know something, the DM will find a better way. This spell is from The Player’s Handbook, and they still didn’t include it on the Tasha’s expanded list, and The Devil is OK with that.


6th Level

Things are complicated at this level, so a few spells will have longer than usual explanations. Depending on your DM, this is either one of your best levels or so-so.

Mass Suggestion – Remember how Suggestion was both a great spell and stylish for a Bard? Well, this is that, without concentration, for 12 people, for 24 hours. You are now a master of manipulation. One of your best spells. Use it often.

Otto’s Irresistible Dance © – OK, notice the weird coloration. That’s because this spell is either very good or complete garbage, depending on how your DM interprets it. And nope, there’s no in-between. The Devil is fond of it being a good spell as this is an iconic one for the bard, and it’s so theme-appropriate. What it does is force a target to dance, layering on some minor conditions, but to get out of it, the creature must use its action to attempt to save. Thus, the purpose of this spell is to burn up a target’s action economy. That makes this worth having.

The problem is in the wording: “As an action, a dancing creature makes a WIS saving throw to regain control of itself.” Now the Devil reads that (as does English) as meaning that the creature uses its action to make a save. The spell says it does it, so it does it. It doesn’t say it can do it or might do it or is allowed to do it, but simply that it does do it. However, a gamish reading, one that a significant number of DMs accept, inserts the words “may choose to” into that description. In that case, the creature doesn’t lose it’s action unless it chooses to, and in many cases, it won’t. If it’s an enemy caster, it isn’t even bothered by the spell, and most other targets would be only mildly inconvenienced by it. Why would anyone use a 6th level spell to mildly inconvenience an enemy when you could use a 5th level one to completely screw it over? Hell, a second level Suggestion is better. You cast this spell to use up your enemy’s action. If a DM takes the interpretation that it doesn’t do that, this spell is weak.
And just to make it more complicated, the spell doesn’t say what it does to flying creatures, and I’ve seen three interpretations. The Devil prefers having the target float to the ground, as having it dance in the air is just goofy and now the players are picturing a Looney Tunes cartoon instead of an amusing epic battle, while the version that has the creature plummet is a bit too strong and apparently not Rules as Intended.

Heroes’ Feast – It’s a multi-buff feast, and who’s a better host than a bard. This is as thematic as it gets (this should always have been a bard spell, not a cleric or druid one). Your whole party is cured of diseases and poisons, becomes immune to poison and fright, gains advantage on WIS saves, and gains 2D10 hit points for 24 hours. Absolutely. If you’re the Cleric-Replacement™, you take this. If you aren’t, you take this and drop your other healing-type spells. TCoE

Programmed Illusion – Hey, you get a popup backup singer! You create a semi-permanent recording of a visual and auditory illusion that plays whenever certain conditions apply. Unfortunately, this is another spell that can get nerfed by DMs that don’t play nice with illusions. The question is what you are casting the illusion on, in relation to what. If you cast it on your wagon, then does it move with the wagon or not. The Devil says it should move, because otherwise this is underpowered for 6th level, plus, in a shipboard campaign it becomes truly stupid. If the DM likes creativity, this is great for style and even has some battlefield uses (popup cover, distraction). If your DM doesn’t play nice, then this loses much of its luster.

Eyebite © – The real plus of Eyebite is its versatility for spell-casters with limited known spells, like you. You can use it to apply sleep, frightened, or disadvantage on one target per round. The style is more warlock than bard (and one of the few cases where The Devil would remove it from the list due to style) and you have other ways to do all of these so it’s a hard sell for you to take at this level. But, if your DM has knocked out Otto and illusions, this becomes a reasonable choice. It works notoriously well with the Find Greater Steed spell that you can acquire from Magical Secrets, though check with your DM to see if that combo is allowed.

True Seeing – The Devil feels a Bard ought to have this naturally. You want this ability, but the level is too high. If you have a kindly DM who moves this to 4th level, then snatch it up. At 6th, even though it fits you, leave it to the wizard.

Guards and Wards – Useful if you are hanging around your house. You aren’t hanging around a house. Leave it to the wizard.

Find the Path ©  – Does what it says. Cast this, or get a map. Leave it to the wizard.

UA Expanded List

Mental Prison – You lock up a creature where it can’t move due to the scary illusion you’ve created while your party beats it up. This is solid, except it’s an illusion spell and you know what that means. DM’s who don’t play nice will just have the creature test the illusion, take some damage, and get out, in which case, forget this. If your DM plays nice, meaning the more reasonable approach of your prisoner not wanting to step into the revolving death blades, this spell is ranked above Programmed Illusion. Another case of a spell that clearly should be on the bard list be was left off of Tasha’s due to being from Xanathar’s.

Scatter – You can rearrange the battlefield to your liking: pull all your people out of melee and set them 120 feet away to escape, regroup them, set your party behind the enemy lines and beat up their caster, zap your enemies onto the little island in the middle of the lava flow. It’s versatile. If your DM has nerfed Otto’s and the Illusions, this is your next pick.

Tenser’s Transformation © – You are one of the best casters in the game. Giving up that ability always makes you weaker. You’re giving up being a first-class caster to be a third rate fighter, and then putting yourself into a situation where you will eventually fail your concentration check, which will leave you as a squishy caster unable to cast in your non-proficient armor. Congratulations, you’re dead. And that’s after you used half the spell’s duration putting on that armor (no, you can’t put it on first because then you couldn’t cast the spell). It gives you an extra attack. Valor and swords bards have that already. Is this for lore bards? This spell is a joke.


7th Level

This is a good level, which is helpful since 8th is weak, which means you might want to grab an extra 7th level spell.

Forcecage – Well, this is nice. You can trap one or more creatures in a cage (and then poke them to death through the bars) or a box (while you rest, and prepare your gang attack) for an hour. This is why most of your 8th level choices look feeble.

Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion – Some spells are for effectiveness and some are for style. This one’s all style. A dilapidated inn was fine for performing when you were 1st level. Now, you need a theater. Use it for long rests, a pause right in the middle of the big bad’s castle, or just move in. You need one safe-place spell. Why not take the decadent one? Yes, for wizards this would be ranked lower and it ought to be 6th level in any case, but you are a bard, that makes you deserving of the best. OK, as far as actual game effect, this will do little more for you than Leomund’s Tiny Hut, which is a 3rd level ritual. If you are trying to make an effective character, that’s a much better choice. The Devil’s suggestion to DMs is to make this a ritual. Dropping it to 6th level would also be a good idea, but making it a ritual is more important.

Mirage Arcane – A fantastic spell for controlling a battlefield or sending your opponents off somewhere else. You set up a square mile of terrain with an illusion that covers all five senses and even if someone knows it’s an illusion, that can’t pass through that illusionary wall because they’ll feel it. Now there’s some weird wording that can be a problem: “The spell doesn’t disguise, conceal…” Now, if your DM takes this reasonably, meaning it doesn’t blot out buildings or make you invisible, we’re good. If a DM interprets it to mean that you can’t make an illusionary wall in front of you, then this spell is a mess. It’s also nonsense since the spell description says you can make a “pond seem like a grassy meadow” which is concealing it. But, apparently there are some grumpy DM’s who refuse to play nice with illusions and who actually think that your wall can’t block anything, making this spell unusable, but in that case, I’m guessing all illusions are unusable.

Project Image ©  – If this was a level lower, The Devil would love it. It really should be 6th (a hint to wise DMs). It’s a combination scrying, messaging, distraction, and deception spell. For out of combat, that’s quite a few things. If you can fit it in, great, but I’m betting you can’t. It’s a small step up from the 5th level Mislead.

Regenerate – Probably wanted for a Substitute-Cleric™. Skip otherwise.

Teleport – Useful for a full party escape, bypassing traps or lava flows or just getting home before anyone noticed you sneaked out. Leave it to the wizard.

• Etherealness – Good for escaping from a losing battle (not so good for the allies you left behind unless you up-cast) or getting through a wall. It’s got style, and it’d be nice to have. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of 7th level spells that would be nice to have.

Prismatic Spray – Well, it’s flamboyant. The Devil likes that. It’s effects are random. He likes that a lot less, as well as having to stand in front of the tank to cast it. Five-eighths of the time (you roll a D8) it does some OK damage and that’s it. Damage isn’t your job. Two-eighths of the time it does some odd effects that could be worthwhile. For effectiveness, The Devil ranks this below Etherealness, but for wacky hijacks, it’s up with Mirage Arcane. TCoE

• Symbol – It allows you to trap your belongings. The effects are good, and if you want to waste your Magical Secrets, there’s some combos to make this better, but it’s too situational. Leave it to the wizard.

Dream of the Blue Veil – This doesn’t even seem like it should be a player spell. It allows you to travel to another plane of existence in a slow, poetic fashion. This is the kind of thing a DM should set up without the need of a spell. Well, it exists, so leave it to the wizard. TCoE

• Mordenkainen’s Sword © – A bad version of the cleric’s 2nd level Spiritual Weapon (i.e. it takes an action to cast and uses your concentration), it does some mediocre damage with your bonus actions. You’re a bard; you’ve plenty of things to do with your bonus actions and far better things to do with your concentration.

Resurrection – Nope. Raise Dead will do fine. This is only needed if you’re bringing back some long-dead ancient hero or mage, in which case it’s the whole campaign so hire a cleric.

UA Expanded List

Power Word Pain – Why the hell wasn’t this spell already on the bard’s list? All the other Power Word spells are, which shows the Expanded List needs to be the list you use. And it was left off again only because it comes from Xanathar’s. That said, this spell isn’t good. You guess a creature’s hit points. If you’re right, you toss on it some reasonable debuffs, at least until it makes a CON save (the save most often made by your enemies). If wrong, you do nothing.


8th Level

There are only five 8th level spells, and none of them are impressive (until we get to the Expanded List). If your DM is not using the Expanded List (what kind of monster wouldn’t use it?), it’s up to Magical Secrets to get you a spell.

Feeblemind – It does some minor damage but if the target fails an INT save, its INT and CHR are dropped to 1 and it can’t cast spells. Sounds good, and it can be. But the target can still fight, which means this does little against Super Troll. It’s only really good against casters, and they often have good INT saves, which means this is only dependable against CHR casters. For a single target removal spell, you had better at 7th level.

Antipathy/Sympathy – For 10 days, make a type of creature rush toward your tank and run away from you, or just make all the monsters run toward your favorite rock. If you know what you’ll be facing, there are some marvelous traps you can set with this. Clearly situational. For a wizard, who can cast this, then strip it from its prepared spell list, this can be very functional, but far less so for a bard. I say leave it to the wizard, but it’s still the second-best spell at this level. TCoE

Dominate Monster © – This is Dominate Person, but 3 levels higher and targeting any creature, and all the same problems apply. Leave it to the Wizard.

Power Word: Stun – All the Power Word spells are subpar. They are single target and most require you to guess your target’s hit points; this time you’re guessing if it has 150 hits left, and any boss at this point will start with more than that. You guess wrong, you do nothing. A wizard has room for guessing games. You don’t. If monsters wear their hit points on a sign around your neck, or your DM gives you an insight check to know, this looks better.

Glibness – The Devil likes the feel of this spell, giving you high rolls for Charisma checks. But your charisma checks should be golden at this point without needing an 8th level spell, and we’re looking at out-of-combat (so social situations) where there are a number of low-level spells that will do the job.

Mind Blank – lets you hide a target from divination spells. Situational for an extremely rare situation. For a wizard, it’s fine, but not you.

UA Expanded List

Maze – Yes please. The Devil includes this under Magical Secrets for DM’s who are foolishly not using the Expanded List. It’s a single-target-quarantine spell that sticks a target in a maze with no save and to get out he needs to make a difficult INT check. This is the best 8th level spell and one you will want. If you can take it from the bard list, that’s the cherry on top.
[Since there are no other really good spells at this level, it does seem like a spell that ought to be added. But The Devil admits that if that’s the reasoning, then a DM ought to add Imaginary Dragon as that’s the spell that theme-wise fits best with a bard.]


9th Level

There are a few good things here, but you’re going to want at least one 9th level spell from Magical Secrets and you only ever have one 9th level spell slot, so you can’t choose much.

True Polymorph © – You want to be a dragon? This is how you become a dragon, permanently or just for an hour. Yeah, that’s good. This is your top 9th level pic, except for your Magic Secrets, which will top this.

Foresight – Not for yourself, but cast it on your party’s Paladin and he’s nearly invincible. This is more thematic for you than True Polymorph.

Psychic Scream – 10 targets are a good number, 14D6 is acceptable damage, stun is a great condition to impose, and INT saves are more often failed, plus the fluff description has their heads literally exploding, so this is all good. The question is, is it good enough? This is 9th level, and your magical secrets are likely to give you a 9th level spell, so as good as this is, you probably can’t fit it in.

Prismatic Wall – It’s an extremely powerful way to trap your enemies. Mechanically, The Devil puts this above Psychic Scream, but it doesn’t fit as well with the class, and it doesn’t matter as you can’t afford either of them since you can’t take four 9th level spells (well, you can, but you shouldn’t). TCoE

Power Word: Kill – It kills anyone with less than 100 hit points, otherwise does nothing. Nothing. Really? That’s it? The wizard with Meteor Swarm is laughing at you. It’s the best of the Power Word spells as it combos nicely with Polymorph, but it is underpowered and requires guessing.

Power Word: Heal – This is…fine. If you are the party’s Cleric-Substitute™, then…still skip this and use Magical Secrets to get Mass Heal. If you aren’t, you’ve got better things to do.

Mass PolymorphPolymorph is a pretty decent spell at it’s level, but you’ve long since outgrown it. This spell offers nothing more than casting polymorph multiple times. Turning your whole party into T-Rexs is not a winning strategy at this point in your campaign, and there are much better ways to deal with enemies.



Magical Secrets

Magical Secrets let a bard become the best of the best by pillaging other classes’ spell lists and adapting to a campaign. Mostly that means swiping from the wizard, but clerics and paladins have a few gems. While it is often suggested that a bard use this to fill in what they’re lacking, that’s not a good philosophy. That’s what party members are for, and grabbing one or two spells would only be a bandaide. Let your allies fill in the gaps; avoid spells that increase melee damage, or blast because you’re not going to be great in those areas. Use Magical Secrets to perfect what you are already excellent at. So Fireball is a weak choice.

And in case that didn’t already make it clear, Swift Quiver is not a good choice; actually, it’s a horrible choice. You will never be as good an archer as a fighter or a ranger. They will get more attacks than you, be more accurate, and have multiple ways to increase the damage of each strike. If you focus all your resources to run after them, you will have weakened your control ability, while still being far behind them as an archer, sacrificing all for this one trick. Then you finally get to cast Swift Quiver, and for one combat, you are nearly as good, though not as good, as they are without sacrificing anything. Of course, they’ll keep getting better and when the ranger eventually gets Swift Quiver she’ll put you to shame. You’re better than a fighter at nearly everything, but not archery, nor melee. Why not leave those to the fighter?

Another point: bards can swap a Magical Secret at level change, but only for a spell on the bards’ list, so try to choose Magical Secrets that will be good all the way to 20th level. So again, no Fireball.

The Devil has selected his top choices, and placed them in ranked order for each of the Magical Secrets levels.


Level 6 (Lore Bard only)

Counterspell – The Devil hates recommending this as D&D is not M:TG and wishes this mechanic hadn’t entered the game. But it has, so you need this for control. It helps that bards are better at counter-spelling than any other general class. [Wizard]

Fortune’s Favor – Grants a reroll for an attack, ability check, or saving throw, or for an enemy’s attack, all with a second level spell. [Wizard]

Find Familiar – You know you want it. A spy, a combat helper, an audience for your practice sessions. It can replace those high-level spy spells you are having problems fitting on your list. It scales badly, but what price do you put on friendship? [Wizard]

Revivify – Only if you are the Substitute-Cleric™, but if you are, this is a key spell, bringing an ally back to life quickly with no negative consequences. [Cleric/Paladin]

Aura of Vitality © – Not a necessity for the Substitute-Cleric™, but rather what you take when you’ve given up on being anything else but a Substitute-Cleric™. It allows you to heal up to 20D6 in a minute using bonus actions, so you can do this in combat while you use your actions for other things. You’ll never be a great bard if you go this way, but you might be what your party needs. [Paladin]

Spirit Guardians © – You are not a melee fighter. Say it with me. But if you reject reality, this will make you seem a bit more like one. Does 3D8 and slows enemies within 15 feet of you. For delusional valor and swords bards only. [Cleric]


Level 10

The top Level 6 choices are viable here.

Wall of Force – THE pick, You can use it to divide and conquer, sequester big-bads, or set up a near-unbreachable defense. The best bang for your buck in wall spells in the game. There’s some “similar” purpose spells that would be great choices if this spell didn’t exist (like Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere), but Wall of Force is the best. [Wizard]

Banishment – The best one-creature-quarantine spell at its level, with the added benefit of permanently getting rid of creatures from other planes. The only reason this isn’t an auto pic (besides someone else in the party having it) is that you have access to better higher level one-creature-quarantine spells. The Devil does not recommend taking both Wall of Force and this. [Cleric/Wizard]

Temporal Shunt – A counterspell for both spells and attacks. Two levels higher hurts, but the greater range is nice. If you want control, this gives you control. It may slow the game a bit as the DM has to announce when enemies are making rolls or starting spells so you can choose to stop them. Move it up a spot if you don’t have Counterspell. [Wizard]

Magic Jar – One of the great shenanigans spells of the game. Assassinate any humanoid if it fails a single CHR score. Take over a kingdom. Become the big-bad’s right-hand man. If all you do is dungeon delve, you may not find much use for this, but in a bigger world, you may end up building your career around this. [Wizard]

Find Greater Steed – Ride a griffin or pegasus! Warning, the rules in 5e for mounted combat are messy and while the end decision by WotC is that you decide if this steed is controlled or independent, they contradicted themselves several times earlier. The rules for what spells effect both rider and steed are also messy (players: stop trying to twin damage dealing spells with this), so this is a great spell, but be prepared for a lot of annoying game mechanic discussions. Also, a good time to look at Feather Fall. DMs should make this a ritual spell. [Paladin]

• Telekinesis / Bigby’s Hand – Both of these spells are useful for holding an enemy in place, and have significant out-of-combat options. Take only one, and The Devil leans toward Telekinesis [Wizard]

Destructive Wave – Does 10D6 to enemies you choose in a 30ft radius and knocks them prone. Only for valor and swords bards who insist they are melee warriors against all good judgment. If you are making bad decisions, this will help mitigate those a bit. [Paladin]

Conjurer Woodland Beings – This is powerful if your DM plays nice with conjuring. You summon 1 to 8 fey creatures, often ones that have spells and effects (DM’s choice). Great for action economy and great for damage, though it can slow the game a bit. [Druid/Ranger]


Level 14

Lower level Secrets are still an option. Counterspell, Wall of Force, and Temporal Shunt come in after Simulacrum.

Simulacrum – Make a duplicate of yourself and double your effectiveness. Or sing duets. This is the second-best spell in the game at high levels (after Wish). The only reason you wouldn’t take it is because you plan to cast it with Wish later. [Wizard]

Contingency – Set it up so that if your hit points drop to zero, a heal spell is cast on you, or if you’re in trouble Dimension Door fires up. Since the spells are pre-cast on an off day, they don’t cost you spell slots when you need them. [Wizard]

Reverse Gravity – Somewhere between a good and fantastic area control spell, depending on how your DM interprets it. If your DM takes the liberal view, move this up two ranks. [Druid/Sorcerer/Wizard]

Create Homunculus – Completely loyal servant who shares its senses over any distance without you losing your own, so drop any spying spells, and enjoy the free darkvision. But the selling point is it can attune to magic items, and has hands. With a ring of spell storing, you now can have two concentration spells going. Give it a Wand of Magic Missiles (there’s no argument about if it can use it—hands…). Every trick you wanted to pull with your familiar but your DM frowned at… Well, no frowning now. Plus, you’re now starting up a band. [Wizard]


Level 18

One slot is an auto-pick. For the other, lower level choices are still good. Temporal Shunt is The Devil’s #2 pick if you don’t already have it. Best to take lower levels spells you’ll want to cast often as Wish will handle most of the occasionally cast spells.

Wish – The best spell in the game. You can use it to cast all 8th level and below spells, plus do many other unspecified things. Take it. [Wizard]

Maze – The ultimate one-target-quarantine spell. Your victim is tossed into a maze and can only escape with an INT check. Remember, Wish can cast this, so take it if you think you’ll use it twice in a day. If your DM is using the Expanded List, you’ve already got this. [Wizard]

Animal Shapes – Welcome to your bear army. This one depends on the campaign. Do you have a lot of peasants or soldiers willing to follow you into combat? If so, then you are going to rule the world. For 24 hours you can turn every willing creature you can see into a beast, and then change to a new beast every turn so they start with all fresh hit points (healing them 50 or 60 hits a turn). If you don’t have a few hundred friends, then this isn’t for you. [Druid]

Mass Heal – Face it, if you are taking this, you are regretting your life choices for not going to seminary school. But if you are just a second rate cleric, be as good of one as you can be. [Cleric]

Holy Aura – A collection of desirable buffs for the entire party. [Cleric]