Here 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.
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.
- Ability Scores & Race
- Class Features
- Subclasses: The Bard Colleges
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.