This Bard guide is strung together from many musicians across the internet.
Taking the best notes and chords from those that came before, the Encore guide below hopes to get that foot tapping into your Bardic future.
We also link to a full list of other great character optimisation guides for D&D.
- Class Features
- Bard Colleges – Sub Classes
- College of Glamour
- College of Lore
- College of Swords
- College of Valor
- College of Whispers
Always Play the Encore: The Core of the Bard
If the Bard is anything, it is versatile. A strong list of spells, combat skills and of course a huge number of skills to call upon.
While this class can do many things, its strengths lies in creativity. You’ll need to be creative with your spell casting decisions.
Other classes may revel in their damage output, Bards can help make their allies heroic with buffs or cripple enemies with debuffs. This means that while you’ll likely be the center of attention in a social encounter, in combat you’ll likely be setting up your friends for epic moments of glory.
From this point forward, the common colour coding is being used:
Sky Blue = Top of the line choice. Bard optimisation starts here.
Blue = Very strong choice for Bards, but not amazing.
Black = Solid choice. There are better options, but this is more than serviceable
Purple = Not top tier. It may have niche use, but better options exist
Red = Mechanically weak. If you feel it fits your concept, go for it, but you will likely be less effective
This isn’t a definitive answer on what you must take, this is an optimisation guide. We’re looking at what is strong or effective for your Bardic performance.
If you have an incredible idea and want to make ‘thematic’ decisions you should totally go for it. If you have a fun idea for your character that isn’t based around ‘charop’ (Character Optimisation), then dive head first into a story driven character.
You know your game better than me, after all.
- Str: Unless you’re going for a STR based build, you can ignore this. There is likely someone else who will cover you for these skills. If you’re looking at the Valor subclass then this may deem more consideration.
- Dex: Do a backflip! After CHA this should be your next priority. Valor and Swords Bards may even make this a priority because: any weapon based attacks, your AC, ini see a great boost from this, not to mention some great skills like Stealth and Acrobatics.
- Con: Another top tier stat. Hit points are just too important to let slide. If you want to stay unarmoured, it is doubly important.
- Int: Likely to be your dump stat. Arcana is nice if you’re the magicky one though.
- Wis: Seeing the enemy before they see you is important but beyond Perception, Wisdom isn’t too important for you. Not a dump stat, but not a priority either.
- Cha: Your casting stat. Spells and abilities will key of Charisma, don’t let this one go to waste.
Best Bard Races:
Anything with +Cha/Dex/Con is good, and any other defensive bonuses.
Variant Humans (Inspiring Leader), and Half-Elves are top options. Dragonborn work nice for the melee type. And Triton or Aasimar are a solid choice if your DM is letting you go with less common options.
Player’s Handbook Races [PHB]
- Dwarf: [+2 Con] A CON boost is nice for survivability, the other racial traits could be situational.
- Mountain Dwarf [+2 Str] I won’t fault you for going a STR Valor Bard build. some Dwarf features are OK.
- Hill Dwarf [+1 Wis] You’re not focusing on your core ability scores so you’ll struggle early with some of your spell casting and attacks.
- Duergar [+1 Str] Similar to the Mountain Dwarf, the STR helps Valor Bards. Meanwhile: Lore, Blades, and Whispers should all be steering clear. [SCAG]
- Elf [+2 Dex] The Elf Bard shouldn’t be your first choice, not the worst with darkvision and sleep immunity, though Half-Elves can do most of this better for you. Here are the various Elf subraces:
- Wood Elf [+1 Wis] Elves getting DEX is helpful, though the Wood Elf Wisdom is somewhat wasted on you. The other features can be equalled or bettered elsewhere (Hint Half-Elf).
- Drow [+1 Cha] This covers a lot of bases and is likely your best Elf choice if you’re sold on that. Especially for the Whispers and Swords Bard. Boosted darkvision, Faerie Fire, Darkness etc.. Downside is sunlight sensitivity, though maybe you can wear a big fancy hat.
- High Elf [+1 Int] An extra cantrip seems nice but there are better ways to get one. The Int is wasted on you.
- Eladrin [+1 Int] Misty Step once per short rest puts this slightly better than the cantrip, not amazing though. [DMG]
- Halfling [+2 Dex] An increase in Dexterity like the Elf, but you also get the Lucky Racial feature.
- Stout Halfling [+1 Con] The boost to CON can be useful for a Valor or Sword Bard.
- Lightfoot Halflings[+1 Cha] DEX and CHA are perfect for your wheelhouse, combined with Lucky and you Bardic inspiration you’ll never be short (Pun intended) of dice to throw.
- Ghostwise Halflings [+1 Wis] Stick with the other two Halfling choices. [SCAG]
- Human [+1 to All scores], Rather boring for you. +1 to each stat doesn’t help someone who wants to specialise.
- Variant Human [+1 to Cha and Dex and a feat] If Human Variant is allowed, that’s a whole different story. That turns the Human into one of the best choices for a Bard, from one of the worst. Pick up Inspiring Leader, Actor or something else to kick off your Valor Bard.
- Dragonborn [+2 Str, +1 Cha] You’re strong and charismatic with some fun damage resistance choices along with a breath attack. Think about blowing fire through a set of bagpipe. Valor Bards should know the score by now, if you’re going for STR this is a solid choice.
- Gnome [+2 Int] Similar to the Halfling, because of the small size but without the benefits of Lucky or the Dex Bonus.
- Forest Gnome [+1 Dex] The DEX is nice-ish but the investment into INT is wasted on you.
- Rock Gnome [+ 1 Con] If you want to play a small tough bard, rethink the halfling.
- Deep Gnome [ +1 Dex] Ah the…svirfneblin…Not sure what kind of music they play in Blingdenstone… maybe they don’t have bards. [SCAG]
- Half-Elf: [+2 Cha, and +1 to ???] Here are some of those good elf features along with a plus to CHA and one other. Many Bards of all strings will want to consider this one
- Half-Orc: The Valor Bard in you may want to grab the Half-Orc, The idea of a Half-Orc Baritone is tempting though.
- Tiefling [+1 Int and +2 Cha] A beguiling devil’s tongue with a +2 to CHA is excellent, the INT part only helps your dump stat. Fire resist for free is nice though.
- Tiefling Variant [+1 Int and +2 Dex] An interesting option especially with winged. You’re giving up the Cha boost though. [SCAG]
Dungeon Master’s Guide Races:
- Aasimar: There are a bunch of Aasimar versions from the DMG to Volo’s, the VOLO one works better but this one isn’t too bad. [DMG]
- Eladrin: A fancy version of the Elf with a teleport ‘Misty Step’. [DMG]
Volo’s Guide to Monsters Races
- Aasimar [+1 Wis & +2 Cha] Obviously the CHA bonus here is excellent. The other stuff just adds icing on top. [VOLO]
- Firbolg: You’d be better suited as something else. Maybe a Valor Bard could look here.
- Goliath: A big strong Bard, again a Valor Bard makes sense here. Other Bards need not apply.
- Kenku: An interesting roleplay choice if you stick with the mimicry, but not much mechanically here for optimisation.
- Lizardfolk: Again a race that could really flip the script on the traditional ‘Charming’ Bard archetype, but not optimal sorry..
- Tabaxi: Great if you’re going for a Swords or whispers Bard and want the DEX boost and mobility.
- Triton: The Charismatic Bard of the ocean? Do you sing with Dolphins? A boost all your major stats, plus resistance and extra spells all combine for a great Valor Bard.
Volo’s Monstrous Races
- Bugbear: The long arms might mean you can play the Cello, but don’t bother being a Bard.
- Goblin: A small bard with a disengage can make the College of Swords very interesting with all it’s movement options.
- Hobgoblin: These red skinned goblins are better in a shield wall than an orchestra.
- Kobold: I’d love to see it played, but it will not be optimal in any way.
- Orc: Despite mentioning an ‘Orchestra’ before… stear clear of Orcs if you’re musically inclined.
- Yuan-Ti Pureblood: Lore wise an interesting choice for a charmer with no emotion. Bonuses to Charisma and always welcome resistances are good pick ups.
Elemental Evil Races
- Aarakocra: [+2 Dex] Fly above the battlefield and perform for the masses. No other real advantages.
- Genasi: [+2 Con] A con boost is nice, but you really want to lean into the CHA or DEX to make this work.
- Air Genasi: [+1 Dex] The small Dex boost along with levitate is nice. Would tie well into a woodwind or brass instrument too. Not much else there though.
- Earth Genasi: [+1 Str] Clearly you get Strength, maybe go for a Battle drum and Valor Bard here.
- Fire Genasi: [+1 Int] A tiefling can do most of this but better in a Bard’s case.
- Water Genasi: [+1 Wis] Look elsewhere.
- Changeling: CHA and DEX are already good stats for most Bards. The real power comes from the shape changing. Especially in a highly political campaign.
- Shifters: [+1 DEX] These shifters are more rough and ready physical races. A Valor or Swords Bards might find something of worth here.
- Beasthide Shifter: [+2 CON] The bonuses to AC, CON, and DEX make a decent Valor option.
- Longtooth Shifter: [+2 STR] A little STR and DEX can help a Valor Bard.
- Swiftstride: [+1DEX, +1 CHA] The CHA bonus is nice, being able to move 10ft as a reaction if enemies get close can be a great way to stay out of trouble.
- Wildhunt Shifter: [+2 WIS] WIS is your dump stat and you shouldn’t really need to track creatures by scent.
Minotaur: Needs more Cowbell? Charging into battle as a Valor Bard has a draw to it. Lore and Glamour Bards should avoid.
More to consider on Bard Races
Now that that’s said and done, here’s the thing about racial abilities: Later in the game, they won’t matter as much.
At 15th level, that +1 to your stat has less impact in overall performance.
At lower levels though, the difference is much more noticeable. 5e is flat out a harder game at low level than either 3.x or 4e were. It is less forgiving, and getting dropped is really, really easy.
Keep that in mind when looking at races. Some races might not have the “oomph” when it comes to doing to damage, but a lot of the survivability perks that they do have will come in really handy during those difficult low levels.
Bard Class Features
- Hit Dice: 1d8 per level isn’t the worst (Hello Wizards). You’re not the front line like a Fighter or Barbarian though.
- Armor Proficiency: Light armour keeps you mobile and stealthy which is perfect for a DEX build. Valor Bards get Medium Armour and Shields thrown in.
- Weapon Proficiency: Simple weapons, plus some martial swords and ranged weapons. You’ll likely stick with finese weapons or DEX based ranged.
- Saving Throws: DEX is a common enough save, expect to make it often enough. CHA doesn’t come up often, however it’s often used to banish… so it’s nice to be able to avoid that.
- Skills: You are the skill monkey… unless you have a Rogue, and then you deceive them into believing you’re the skill monkey. You’re also likely to be the party face so grab a CHA based skill you’ll enjoy (or all of them). Acrobatics or Stealth are useful and anything else that fits your theme.
- Tools: Musical instruments. So even if you don’t have Performance trained you could add your proficiency to a performance check with THAT instrument. Go on and make some early coin.
- Spellcasting: You’re no Wizard Harry! But you’ve got plenty of tricks up your sleeve. You’ve got a solid number of Spell Slots to keep up, and a handful of cantrips to keep you company. You can’t lean too hard into pure damage spells, your pool is shallow here. The focus of the Bard list has options in every school, and you should focus on trickery, buffs and debuffs. Ritual casting will add to your versatility as you won’t always need to burn a spell slot to get stuff done.
- Bardic Inspiration: Here’s a dice pool to get things done. Excellent on its own though you’ll be seeing additions based on the subclass you choose. The upper size increases every few levels. Gives you something to do with your bonus action, don’t let them go unused, especially after level 5.
- Jack of All Trades (2nd Level): Even when you’re untrained you’re kinda trained.
- Song of Rest (2nd Level): Giving party members a pep talk to buff up their rest. Means you’ll be saving them some hit dice in the long run.
- Expertise (3rd Level): You didn’t NEED to be better at some skills, but you are. Good job!
- Ability Score Improvement (4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, 19th Level): Everyone wants these and the more the merrier. Focus on maxing out your core Ability first if you can before grabbing a feat.
- Font of Inspiration (5th Level): Get inspiration dice back more often! What’s not to love, this makes you better at that thing the party likes you to do.
- Countercharm (6th Level): Start playing music so your allies are less likely to be frightened or charmed. It’s a good buff though it does require an action so you’ll need to go early in initiative if creatures are likely to drop a fear bomb early.
- Magical Secrets (10th, 14th, 18th Level): Dip into other classes spell lists for whatever you want. This is partly where the Bard gets their versatility from.
- Superior Inspiration (20th Level): You will always have at least one Bardic Inspiration going into battle.
Bardic Colleges: Bard Subclasses
College of Lore
Looking to be a buffing machine devoted to talking up your friends (and having them rise to the occasion)? Lore Bards get access to more skills and magic than the other Colleges and are therefore more suited to being creative with their options.
You’re not going to be the center of attention in combat but you’ll be dictating the tempo of the battlefield through Bardic inspiration and Cutting words.
- Bonus Proficiencies (3rd level): You’re in serious skill monkey territory now. With this and Jack of All Trades it’s unlikely you’re terrible in a skills challenge.
- Cutting Words (3rd level): You can prevent a lot of damage with these. Lower the attack roll of your enemy if it was close to missing. The only downside is that you’ll have to choose between buffing allies or debuffing enemies, try and find the right tool for each moment. Makes Bardic Inspiration much more versatile.
- Additional Magical Secrets (6th level): Here’s where you get to dip into other spell lists for two spells. There are so many options here that you may want to look at some other class guides on what the good spells are.
- Peerless Skill (14th level): After rolling an ability check you can add some Bardic inspiration juice. Extends beyond just basic skills such as: Initiative, Dispel Magic, Counterspell, and Telekinesis, too.
College of Valor
Songs of battle and heroism fuel the College of Valor. These skalds wade into the front lines of to sing songs while cutting through enemies.
The idea of a ‘gish’ or A magician, or character that is skilled in both physical combat and the use of magic applies to you in the Valor subclass.
- Bonus Proficiencies (3rd level): Straight away you get access to better armour, shield and martial weapons. Just what you need to stand in the thick of combat.
- Combat Inspiration (3rd level): Instead of just buffing attack rolls now you can boost damage and AC for yourself and allies.
- Extra Attack (6th level): Martial classes need to hit more, now you can too!
- Battle Magic (14th level): Feeling limited on what spells you can cast because you want to be hitting? Battle magic brings this in harmony a little more. Cast spells and get a hit as a bonus action.
College of Glamour: [XGE]
This is very much a support caster bard. Though your spell versatility isn’t as good as a Lore Bard, you still bring a lot to the table.
The Mantle of Majesty is really, really good, which makes this a decent option.
- Mantle of Inspiration (3rd level): A pretty good use of Bardic inspiration (temp HP for CHA number of allies and a reaction/move). Extra HP is always nice, though this could be redundant with things like Inspiring Leader. The move might be handy at the beginning of combat for melee characters to close quickly. Alternatively, this might be the “quick escape” ability should things go poorly, as the movement does not provoke opportunity attacks, so no disengage necessary.
- Enthralling performance (3rd level): This may depend on your DM a fair bit. Feeds into the idea of a charming fey-like quality to any performance you make though. Pretty circumstantial.
- Mantle of Majesty (6th level): This is really, really good. Command every round as a bonus action (for one minute) without spending a spell slot. A creature charmed by you automatically fails its saving throw (Enthralling performance looks a bit better now). This is once per long rest, and it’s going to be your big fight “go-to” ability. I mean, if you simply command “Grovel” every round, the fight is over. Note that you are “concentrating” to maintain this ability, so there is that limitation to consider.
- Unbreakable Majesty (14th level): A bonus action defense that targets would-be attacker’s CHA or they can’t attack you. Great way to stop enemies focusing you or potentially wasting their attacks. Lasts one minute (10 rounds) and doesn’t require concentration. If it does succeed against your Charisma saving throw it has disadvantage on your next spell. Not a bad trade.
College of Swords: [XGE]
The ‘Blades’, members of the College of Swords offers a Bard who can fight. You risk a lot having less defense than other fighting classes though.
- Bonus Proficiencies (3rd level): Medium armor and scimitar – no shield. Immediately, this gives me concerns about defense. Don’t get me wrong, happy to get medium armor, but with Half Plate, we’re looking at an AC of up to 17, no shield spell, no mirror images, and bard HP. If you are planning to live in melee, this is a concern.
- Fighting style (3rd level): No defensive options here. Dueling and Two Weapon Fighting. Without War caster, Dueling is the better option. With Warcaster, two weapon fighting is probably the better offensive option, though it uses up your bonus action (keep in mind you will not be using your bonus action for Bardic Inspiration much with a blade, so this may not be a big deal)
Update: The College of Swords Bard can use their weapon as a focus for spells. Talk to your DM. Or just take the Warcaster feat. It’s a pretty good choice regardless.
- Blade Flourish (3rd level): 10 feet extra move when you take the attack action. Extra move is always nice. When you hit a creature you have 3 options for use of your Bardic Inspiration:
Defensive flourish adds to AC for a round, which is very needed (but also limited).
Mobile flourish More damage and pushing an enemy away, while also getting to move as a reaction.
Slashing Flourish is just an offense boost that hits tightly packed enemies based on the number you roll.
- Note all of these add the dice total to damage, which is a nice offensive boost no matter which you choose. Those Bardic Inspiration dice will not last long though. You are likely starting with 3, ending with 5. Still, by level 5 that’s coming back every short rest, which is pretty similar to the Superiority Dice of a Battlemaster.
- Also, like a Battlemaster, Blade flourish does not specify the attacks must be melee attacks, so pull out your bow and use Blade Flourish with it as well. With Mobile Flourish, you will feel like a Warlock with repelling blast!
- Extra Attack (6th level): Like other fighter casters you get a single 6th level extra attack. This feature can bring some hurt in one round, and maybe the next round. More I think about it though, this is a full caster, so running out of Bardic Inspiration dice isn’t that big a deal. Fight with sword/switch to spells. Again, the primary concern is defense.
- Master’s flourish (14th level): So basically, you get infinite use of Blade Flourish with a D6, but at 14th level with a full caster, are you really in extended melee engagement? You should probably be doing more casting than swinging your sword by this level I would think.
- Final Thoughts: If the intention was to create a Bard that could do damage in melee, mission accomplished. Blade Flourish + Extra attack is enough offense that although you may not be the best offensive powerhouse in the group, you can contribute effectively. The problem is defense. I think a lot of College of Swords Bards are going to end up face down in the dirt.
College of Whispers: [XGE]
This is you Bard “Secret Spy” type, it does quite well for the intrigue aspect and being different from a general rogue.
There’s a bit of a Rogue type feel here as well, and I note that Psychic Blades has similar mechanics to Sneak Attack. However, unlike a Rogue, you are getting the Bard spellcasting.
- Psychic Blades (3rd level): 2d6 (increasing) psychic damage with a weapon attack (does not specify melee). This immediately makes you think of sneak attack. For a straight Bard, I’m thinking a ranged weapon becomes your option when there is no spell to cast (your cantrip replacement). This eventually reaches 8d6, so it continues to outpace cantrips as you level up, though you might find that since you are likely raising Cha not Dex, and you are only doing this once per round, this is a backup option only for when you don’t need to cast a spell.
- Words of Terror (3rd level): Not something you’ll be using in combat. But if you can get someone alone at the fancy party long enough to fill them with paranoia you’re lauging. This holds the same 1 minute of conversation limitation. Pretty circumstantial, but OK.
- Mantle of Whispers (6th level): This is like disguise self with the difference being the creature needs to die near you and you get access to some information it knew. In the right kind of campaign this is excellent for infiltrating.
- Shadow Lore (14th level): For a 14th level spell…well it’s charm monster basically. Paired with a number of languages and you’re golden for most monster types. No concentration, but once per long rest.
Final Thoughts: College of Whispers is very much not the Bard you are looking for in most dungeon-crawling campaigns. It’s far more suited to a campaign with intrigue and maybe some good old politics. In those kind of campaigns, this is a great choice.
Best Bard Spells
You can dish out damage, but the real power of a Bard comes from thinking outside the box. Use your imagination and roleplay skills to get extra out of your setlist.
Some of these may rely on how lenient your Game Master is. So have that discussion with them when you’re in the picking stage.
You can use either a component pouch or a musical instrument as a focus.
Remember to take advantage of retraining spells if you need to. Upgrade Silent Image to Major Image, Cure Wounds to Mass Cure Wounds. But don’t be too hasty to trade up control spells like Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, since it’s just as effective on a storm giant as it is on a kobold chief (magic resist and legendary saves aside).
As a lot of Bard spells are beguiling and charming, you’ll find yourself targeting Wisdom saves a fair bit. Try to maintain some diversity just in case you start coming up against enemies with solid Wisdom scores.
The spells below wont cover other classes you can get access to through Magical Secrets. We don’t have a gold rating here but take a moment to consider Counterspell. It’s not flashy, but your allies will be glad you took it when the evil lich is about to wipe out the entire room.
Alternately check out our other 5E Class Guides to take a gander at the other classes.
Navigator put together this awesome list of spells eligible for Magical Secrets.
- Blade Ward: With no way to cast this spell as a bonus action it is kind of a bad spell for bards to take as you have to give up your action to cast it.
- Dancing Lights: A Light spell for those who want a little more action. Requires concentration, isn’t as bright either if that’s a thing your DM tracks.
- Friends: Better for intimidation or goading someone into attacking you then actually doing anything friendly. Be careful about the very short time limit.
- Light: Useful spell, though others can often get it. Many races don’t need this as they can see fine in the dark. If torches seem too mundane for you consider this.
- Mage Hand: One could get creative with this spell. Good utility if you can think outside the box.
- Mending: Fix small non-magical things. Some great utility and story uses. You’ll know better than me if there these kind of things in your campaign.
- Message: Most of the time you can simply whisper, or use hand signals. Still could be pretty good for stealthy groups.
- Minor Illusion: A great spell that is limited only by your imagination. Has some interesting limitations but you’ll find fantastic ways to use this every session. Take it.
- Prestidigitation: Not my preference compared to Minor Illusion, however it’s some great flash and pomp. If that’s why you chose to be a Bard, get on it.
- Thunderclap: You have to be bloody close for this to work, and surrounded to be effective. Don’t be cheap and just use Thunderwave in that scenario. [XGtE]
- True Strike: A bit of a trap. Unless you need the advantage specifically for some kind of Sneak Attack this doesn’t work out better than just attacking twice.
- Vicious Mockery: The best bard cantrip in the game and probably one of the best cantrips full stop (Come at me Eldritch Blast). Why have you not taken this if you are a bard? There’s next to no damage, but the real kicker is the disadvantage you impose, specially at lower levels.
1st Level Spells
- Animal Friendship: Ideally you leave this to Druids and Rangers.
- Bane: More powerful than you think, less powerful than you hope. Inflicting disadvantage is arguably more powerful.
- Charm Person: A slightly better Friends spell but in early levels your 1st level spell slots are limited. Consider waiting for Suggestion.
- Comprehend Languages: You’ll know better than me if Languages will be important in your campaign. They don’t come up often enough for me to recommend a spell here.
- Cure Wounds: You have to be in touching range but a solid heal that can scale well throughout your career.
- Detect Magic: Can be super useful when looking for the magical mcguffin, it depends how much magic your DM throws at you.
- Disguise Self: You may have a disguise kit and be able to recreate some of this with excellent deception checks.
- Dissonant Whispers: Deal a little damage, and force your enemy to run away as their reaction. The real power of this comes when your allies surround the enemy and it triggers opportunity attacks.
(Note: Jeremy Crawford clarified this: https://twitter.com/jeremyecrawford/status/704469820901752838?lang=en )
“The movement in dissonant whispers can provoke opportunity attacks, since it uses your reaction (PH, 195).”
- Earth Tremor: An interesting way to stop enemies from chasing you. Not great damage or range but can be used creativley I’m sure.
- Faerie Fire: Everyone loves advantage, even better if you fight in the dark or against invisible foes. A great example of the Bard being a great support to help allies take the glory.
- Feather Fall: Great to have if you’re falling/jumping off high places a lot. May not come up often though.
- Healing Word: This will get you out of all kinds of scrapes. Healing as a bonus action to get a teammate up on their feet. All they need is 1hp to keep fighting.
- Heroism: Temp HP at the start of each turn is crazy strong early, after a few levels the real power is the immunity to being frightened as you start to encounter dragons and Lich Hounds.
- Identify: You can certainly use this as a ritual to save on spell slots. Only consider this if you don’t have a Wizard around to do it for you.
- Illusory Script: Hidden messages can be delivered in so many other ways.
- Longstrider: The boost in mobility is tiny, unless you really need 1 person to move slightly faster for an hour.
- Silent Image: All the illusions and image spells are only limited by your imagination (and the spell text). How you can make this work is up to you, but consider making a wall with arrow slits for your ranged allies to have full cover.
- Sleep: This seems broken during early levels when you can take out an entire group of Kobolds or Goblins. You’ll find a tipping point where it becomes almost useless as health pools for enemies increases.
- Speak with Animals: Similar to animal friendship.
- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter: The Bard gets a few spells like this that let you quarantine an enemy so you can focus on it’s allies. Prevents them running away too.
- Thunderwave: You have to be close to make this work and most enemies that get close have decent Constiution scores. An okay amount of damage and a push effect though, good for emergencies… and alerting the dungeon to your presence.
- Unseen Servant: Now you have a Roadie to carry your Band’s equipment.
2nd Level Spells
- Animal Messenger: You deal with people, let the tree huggers talk to animals.
- Blindness/Deafness: A blind enemy has all attacks against them have advantage. Finish them off quickly.
- Calm Emotions: When you need everyone to COOOOL OUT! Also works to supress a Fightening Presence from a Dragon or something. Once everyone is calm you can work your persuasion skills.
- Cloud of Daggers: Not great damage but leans into the idea of battlefield control. Make the enemy think twice about getting close.
- Crown of Madness: This requires you to be paying attention to the initiative order because it forces the madened creature to use its action BEFORE moving. If it stands all alone then it can act normally. Be aware of anything that will get to move away before the madened creature acts.
- Detect Thoughts: One way to interrogate a creature that doesn’t involve bodily torture. Can also be used to sense invisible or stealthed creatures that are within 30ft.
- Enhance Ability: Another quality Bard buff spell. Some of the ability check stuff could be done with Aid or DM fiat, but if they’re going in alone this is good.
- Enthrall: This is one way to get a groupie. Though it’s another way to isolate a target and prevent them from taking part in combat. Its uses are limited compared to other spells in the arsenal.
- Heat Metal: Excellent against characters wearing metal armour such as Paladins. No save required for the damage and either impose disadvantage or have them drop a weapon is also great.
- Hold Person: Here’s another quarantine spell. Keep a humanoid paralyzed until the party is ready to deal with them.
- Invisibility: A great tool in any Bard songbook. Though I had a player try to convince me that being invisible would also make them blind… Not really relevant but a fun annecdote.
- Knock: Rogues and Wizards should be getting you through locks, but you can do it in a pinch with Knock.
- Lesser Restoration: At some point, you’re going to want to clear some conditions, maybe not straight away but eventually.
- Locate Animals or Plants: Unless this is critical to your mission, pass.
- Locate Object: This spell is on so many spell lists you can ask someone else to take this one.
- Magic Mouth: Expect to see this in the wild, don’t expect to ever need to cast it yourself.
- Phantasmal Force: An incredible battlefield control spell. This time with the added level of versatility that con only come with illusions.
- Pyrotechnics: For when you want to give an excellent rock show… and debuff enemies or control a fight.
- See Invisibility: If you’re coming up against invisibility a lot this could come in handy. Often Faerie Fire will do a better job helping allies though.
- Shatter: A decent amount of AoE damage that can scale. The real power comes in breaking things with sound. If you’re fighting creatures made of stone, crystal or metal has disadvantage and you can make the case it breaks all kinds of glass.
- Silence: Many uses for silence: Sneaking around, stopping evil gongs in the temple, crippling enemy spellcasters.
- Skywrite: Unless your game hinges on you being able to write advertising for your business above a town, you can skip this.
- Suggestion: A sentence or two on a creature and they will do it (within certain limitations). Lasts 8 hours which should be plenty of time for the instructions to take place. I’ve seen it used to great effect in a jail break.
- Warding Wind: Your own little pet whirlwind for 10 minutes that can do a number of neat tricks, potentially even stop thunder damage (though not explicitly written) as it says you’re deaf while the whirlwind is on you.
- Zone of Truth: If you’re having trouble with Insight checks you might need the power of Truth to compell them.
3rd Level Spells
- Bestow Curse: Another great spell that lets your make stuff up (check with your DM). The existing curses all have their place, but it specifically lets you come up with an alternative.
- Catnap: For when you need some of that magical sleep. I assume this doesn’t work on Elves which is a little limiting. Speeding up a short rest can be useful, but you’ll know better than me if this is worthwhile in your campaign. [XGE]
- Clairvoyance: A lucklustre way of spying up to a mile away. There are easier ways to get a similar outcome.
- Dispel Magic: Just like Counterspell, this comes in handy more often than you think.
- Enemies Abound: Here’s a fun spell targeting Intelligence that can turn an enemy into a loose canon. Provided your DM doesn’t monkey with this, you’ll get great use of turning enemies against each other. [XGE]
- Fear: The frightened condition can be devastating. This spells has the potential to disrupt any plans the enemies may have had. Also includes the condition that they MUST use their action to flee, so you’re ptoentially setting up opportunity attacks for your allies. Be wary there are creatures who cannot be frightened.
- Feign Death: For when you need to sleeping beauty an ally. It is a ritual but you’ll find it situationally useful.
- Glyph of Warding: You need the time to set it up, so it’s more defensive than anything else. Good at protecting your home while you’re away.
- Hypnotic Pattern: An area of effect that can quarantine enemies in a large area.
- Leomund’s Tiny Hut: One way to make sure you get an uninterupted night’s sleep. Great for when the DM loves throwing random encounters at you, not so helpful in combat or against intelligent enemies who will wait until it expires.
- Major Image: Love every illusion spell and Major Image is no different. Incredible utility, includes sounds, smells and temperature.
- Nondetection: If you’re worried about being magically spied on then this may set you at ease. But it’s making a lot of assumptions that are situational.
- Plant Growth: The size of this is huge… 100ft radius. Use in large battlefields or to help escape from armies. Some use in helping with the yield of crops in a story based campaign.
- Sending: Slide into someone’s DMs whether they like you or not. May have a few uses.
- Speak with Dead: A great spell during a murder mystery, not much use outside of that though.
- Speak with Plants: If plants could say useful things they’d say those things to Druids.
- Stinking Cloud: Once the sniggering around the table stops you’ll find that it’s quite a powerful control tool. Denying an entire action if they fail a CON save in a 20ft radius will have great uses.
- Tongues: The glossolalia spell that lets people understand a creature. Good if your’re a long way from home, but situational.
4th Level Spells
- Charm Monster: Charm… now on monsters. Another tool in your belt for taking one enemy off the board and potentially into your pocket as an ally… for an hour. [XGE]
- Compulsion: More battlefield control for the Bard thinking tactically. Gets even better if you can trigger some Opportunity attacks or other Area of Effect spells.
- Confusion: Unpredictability makes this harder to rate higher. Offers Wisdom saving throws to shake off confusion a fair bit, can create a tasty amount of chaos when needed though.
- Dimension Door: Anything that lets you circumvent space is OK in my songbook. 500ft range teleport and you can bring a friend and/or rocks up to your carrying capacity.
- Freedom of Movement: There are a number of racial features and class features that mirror the purpose of this spell. For a 4th level spell this is situational.
- Greater Invisibility: I know you like being the center of attention. But this is excellent.
- Hallucinatory Terrain: Another big area illusion spell. It’s unclear to me at this stage when this will be used. Please let me know in the comments below.
- Locate Creature: Some strange limitations on this one. There’s often a better way to track someone if you’ve been within 30ft of them before.
- Polymorph: You’re going to love this one. Change yourself or an ally into a powerful creature. Start reading through the Monster Manual for creatures you’ve seen before, you’re going to want to know their CR levels.
5th Level Spells
- Animate Object: Get your Disney on with animated mops or silverware. With a little imagination you can go to town with lots of small objects or a couple of big ones. Potentially bring some statues to life or even the very gazeebo you’re standing in.
- Awaken: Not quite an alarm clock. This spell lets you bring sentience to a creature that normally wouldn’t have it. Good if there’s a huge shrubbery. A little situational but once you have it you’ll be looking for opportunities to use it.
- Dominate Person: Multiple saves and a 1 minute duration, and ethical considerations hold this back. With all that, a VERY powerful enchantment spell. They are under your complete and precise control.
- Dream: In a social campaign this can have incredible power. Situational outside of that as it takes place outside of combat. Even better if you can work out how to get a piece of them.
- Geas: An oath of sorts, Not a bird. You can force someone into service. Can break open the game in strange ways.
- Greater Restoration: Ideally the Cleric or Druid will have this. It doesn’t hurt to have a backup though.
- Hold Monster: An even more powerful way to quarantine any enemy until you’re ready to deal with them. Though they get another check at the end of each turn, one isn’t triggered on damage so pile in.
- Legend Lore: Usually the DM is itching to give you an exposition dump after a good history check. A 5th level spell is overkill.
- Mass Cure Wounds: Not dying is nice, however you may want other options for damage prevention instead.
- Mislead: A lot of roleplay options and misdirection. Some downsides keep this Black.
- Modify Memory: Situational but many parties wish they could make people forget. Or use it on youself after that night with an ogre.
- Planar Binding: Certainly a risk vs reward as planar beings tend to be powerful so you want them bound to you, but then again they don’t like being bound. Lore Bards should have Cutting Words ready to lower their Charisma Saving throw.
- Raise Dead: If you’re the party healer then they’re expecting you to have this ready to go.
- Scrying: Depends on the campaign. Great flavour though you could probably find a witch in a swamp to accomplish the same thing.
- Seeming: More illusion goodness that’s limited only by your imagination. You have a solid 8 hours to look like the queen and her retinue, ordering guards around etc.
- Skill Empowerment: Doubling the proficiency bonus for ability checks on one skill is a really lame. Use Bardic inpiration for a similar effect. [XGE]
- Synaptic Static: OK damage and targeting Intelligence. Helps make spellcasters drop their concentration easier, though they’re likely to have good Int saves. Also takes a d6 off their attack rolls and ability checks until they save. [XGE]
- Teleportation Circle: For when you need to skip a travel montage. Make sure you’re writing down the ‘sigil sequence’ of any teleportation cirlces you run into though.
6th Level Spells
- Eyebite: Three choices of debuff make this a versatile spell with the ability to target multiple targets for ten rounds.
- Find the Path: Like with many divination spells this one is situational based on your campaign. Most of the time a Ranger could make a survival check to get this information.
- Guards and Wards: At first this isn’t impressive, but if you’ve got some kind of Stronghold this starts looking a lot better. Especially because most DMs will make you defend it at least once.
- Mass Suggestion: The single Suggestion was already a solid choice, now you can command up to twelve creatures. Remember the course of action must sound reasonable… but what that is, is between you and your DM.
- Otto’s Irresistible Dance: Ever seen a Dragon dance? How about a Lich? You’ve now become Star Lord and are challenging people to dance battles left and right.
- Programmed Illusion: Like all illusion spells this one has more versatility the more imagination you can bring to it. Having it now with triggers means you may want some IF/THEN statements prepared.
- True Seeing: Truesight is great against illusions, invisibility and dealing with things on the Ethereal Plane, so this can be a great buff to give.
7th Level Spells
- Etherealness: Get in touch with your Ethereal side for 8 hours. A great way to scout through an enemy stronghold or walk out of a mundane prison.
- Forcecage: This is kind of like the Master Ball from Pokemon. Can’t be dispelled normally and to even leave the cage with magic they need to make a CHA saving throw.
- Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion: Every Bard needs a recording studio to work on their craft. Not much use beyond being fancy.
- Mirage Arcane: Similar to the Reality stone you can create a tactile illusion that lasts 10 days.
- Mordenkainen’s Sword: Like other weapon summons this attacks initially and then usues your bonus action for future attacks. The damage isn’t great but Force isn’t often resisted and it’s something to do with your bonus action.
- Project Image: Creating a Holo-Duke version of yourself could be a great ploy. Hard to make useful in combat but it has incredible range.
- Regenerate: Kickstart some healing and make sure they always have 1 hit point at the start of their turn. That’s all they need to stay concious, plus, no concentration.
- Resurrection: Costs 1,000 gold but you should be flush with cash by this point.
- Symbol: You’ll want to read through each of the different Glyphs, there quite powerful but very situational.
- Teleport: Need to get the band to the gig in a hurry? This spell lets you bring yourself and eight creatures of your choice to an place you’ve seen before.
8th Level Spells
- Dominate Monster: Take over any creature now, make it do things. Take full control if you must and have it do unspeakable things…
- Feeblemind: Another ethically questionable spell, this time blasting their intelligence and charisma to 1 for 30 days. Buys you a lot of time for your nefarious… I mean heroic work.
- Glibness: Good for boosting counterspell and even stronger in highly social campaign settings. You have so many other ways of boosting Charisma checks though so it’s not top tier.
- Mind Blank: Charmed is a great condition to be immune to, psychic damage is a little situational. If you’re up against powerful Mind Flayers this could come in handy.
- Power Word Stun: A no save Stun as long as they have less than 150 hit points left. Great for finishing off the Big Bad who would usually try and get away when their health is low.
9th Level Spells
- Foresight: Unlimited advantage for someone for 8 hours. You’ll have everyone trying to be your best friend for this one. The buff Bards dream spell.
- Mass Polymorph Transform 10 creatures of your choice. By this stage you should be familiar with the power of Polymorph. [XGE]
- Psychic Scream What’s with Xanathar offering up spells that target 10 creatures… Stunned is a powerful condition to spread out on 10 creatures at once. Plus heads exploding sounds fun. [XGE]
- Power Word Heal: You likely have better options on healing someone to full or removing conditions, still a solid choice though.
- Power Word Kill: If something is down to less than 100 hit points and you still have a 9th level spell slot you’re probably not in a ton of danger. No save though.
- True Polymorph: Lot’s of options, now you’re all of a sudden a dragon.
You get to pick three from the following. Your background will give you even more skill proficiency, which are not restricted to this list. Your race may also give you more chances to pick skill proficiencies, again not limited to this list.
In any case, barring the presence of a Rogue and characters with questionable feat choices, you are the skill monkey of the group. Also, don’t forget that Expertise can make picking even a skill attached to your “dump stats” worthwhile.
Don’t be afraid to use your skill choices to customize your character a bit. Even mechanically weaker skills can still offer a good benefit to the party as a whole.
- Acrobatics (DEX): You’ll be using this a lot. Resisting grapples and shoves. Balancing on things and maybe even running along rooftops. Some DMs will let you use this as a substitute for many Athletics checks, too. Pretty damn important for all Bards.
- Animal Handling (WIS): The only trick you want to teach an animal is, “Play dead”.
- Arcana (INT): Knowing what kind of magic item this is could be useful, especially if you don’t have a party wizard.
- Athletics (STR): You’re looking at this for climbing if you’re keen on doing some second story work. If you must choose, however, Acrobatics is a higher priority (and your DM may even let you use Acrobatics on some climbing-related checks, depending).
- Deception (CHA): A great skill for social interactions and all kinds of skill checks. You’ll be using this all the time to tell lies, pass yourself off in a disguise convincingly, hide your intentions, give false reassurances, fast-talk people, con merchants, gamble effectively … just so many possibilities.
- History (INT): Books are the keys to knowledge… but that’s why you have can speak to someone smarter than you to do the heavy reading.
- Insight (WIS): Work out if someone is trying to deceive you. You’ll want to know if people are falling for your tricks… and that they aren’t giving you a taste of your own medicine. If someone else in the party, with better WIS, has this skill then it’s not nearly as urgent for you.
- Intimidation (CHA): Be the rough and ready Bard coercing people into giving you the information you ask for. A lot of gruff types like Fighters and Paladins take this so you can go for persuasion and play Good-Bard, Bad-Cop
- Investigation (INT): Looking at crime scenes and acting like a detective. Used to look around rooms, search for clues and possible secrets, interpret forensic evidence. Perception may let you spot a trap but Investigation will give you more information about it. It may also be used to deduce how a trap can be dismantled, before you go poking around on it with your Thieves’ Tools.
- Medicine (WIS): You’re not expected to be great at this unless you’re the designated healer of the party. Leave this to Druids and Clerics if you can.
- Nature (INT): You’re less likely to commune with nature, you’re better suited to more civilized pursuits.
- Perception (WIS): When the DM calls for a Perception check, a low number is never good. Used to detect hidden enemies and traps, bust someone trying to use Sleight of Hand, among many other things. If there was ever a mandatory skill for everyone, it’s this.
- Performance (CHA): You’re the Bard, you damn well be able to perform the best. Make some money, provide a distraction.
- Persuasion (CHA): This is if you want to play ‘Good cop’ when the Barbarian plays ‘Bad Cop’. You’ll probably want to lean on Deception more for your social interactions but it depends on how you play, this one typically reflects more honest intentions. Someone in the party definitely needs this as the “party face.” Most likely it’ll be you.
- Religion (INT): Unless it’s part of your backstory there’s better stuff to focus on..
- Sleight of Hand (DEX): Yes this includes pickpocketing people but it can be so much more. Drop the magical equivilent of a hand grenade into the pocket of your enemy, slip some false evidence on someone, canceal a weapon on your person when entering the kings court, or maybe even lace a drink with some poison.
- Stealth (DEX): You’re not quite a Rogue, but you can still play in the shadows.
- Survival (WIS): Survival sounds like you’ll be going outdoors. This kind of work should be left to Rangers and Druids.
Pick whatever you like based on what skills you want or whatever other criteria you like.
Your background generally gives you 2 skills, maybe a language or two, maybe a tool or two, a special perk, and a small amount of goods/gold.
They can help flesh out your character a bit, offer some mechanical help, and help you better define where your Bard is coming from.
Keep in mind that if a background gives you a skill you already had from your class or race, you get to pick any other skill to replace it (including a non-class skill).
The Criminal and Urchin back grounds however let you gain proficiency in thieves tools so pick them up if your Bard is the Rogue replacement in the party.
Acolyte: [insight/religion] An atypical choice that may make for an interesting backstory. Religion as a skill isn’t the greatest, but Insight is decent. The extra languages can be useful, though it is not a traditional Bard specialty. The perk is fun and flavourful, though possibly campaign/DM specific.
Charlatan: [deception/sleight of hand] Deception, Sleight of Hand, Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit. Terrific skills, fitting tool proficiencies, plus you have an alter-ego, you can pretend to be any other background on this list. You could potentially even forge any documents or papers you need. A great example is a fake arrest warrants for your worst enemies, or steamy correspondance from someone you need humiliated.
Criminal: [deception/stealth] Stealth and Thieves Tools are very solid mechanical choices, especially if you’re the replacement Rogue in the party. Work with your DM to get your criminal contact that you can send messages and requests to from just about anywhere. The Spy variant is basically just a label to make this background’s pretty attributes legit.
Entertainer: [acrobatics/performance] Acrobatics, Performance, Disguise Kit, Musical Instrument (one). Skills line up nicely for you and it’s rather thematic for a Bard. The free lodging and modest or comfortable lifestyle is nice. The Gladiator variant is pretty meaningless for you, though.
Folk Hero: [animal handling/survival] Animal Handling, Survival, Artisan’s Tools (one), Vehicles (Land). Two bad skills, although at least having safe houses among commoners is nice?
Guild Artisan: [insight/persuasion] Insight, Persuasion, Artisan’s Tools (one), one language.Two solid skills, plus a feature that gets you free lodging and food and the chance at some real political clout or connections. The Merchant variant lets you replace Artisan’s Tools with Navigator’s Tools and start with a mule and cart, while still getting the sexy benefits of guild membership, probably better since you’re an adventurer on the move.
Hermit: [medicine/religion] Medicine, Religion, Herbalism Kit, one language. Yeah, um, moving on.
Noble: [history/persuasion] History, Persuasion, Gaming Set (one), one language. Persuasion good, History bad. At least you have some political clout and connections, though. The Knight variant replaces those connections with retainers, who are probably more trouble than they’re worth.
Outlander: [athletics/survival] Athletics, Survival, Musical Instrument (one), one language. Marginal skills at best, although the guaranteed success on foraging is good if you’re stuck in the wilderness somewhere.
Sage: [arcana/history] Arcana, History, two languages. There’s nothing for you here.
Sailor: [athletics/perception] Athletics, Perception, Navigator’s Tools, Vehicles (Water). One good skill and one OK one. Free passage on a ship is nice, but the Pirate variant‘s Bad Reputation and ability to get away with misdemeanors and petty crimes left and right is probably more fitting for many Bards … not to mention incredibly fun. Arr!
Soldier: [athletics/intimidation] Athletics, Intimidation. Two decent skills, land vehicle proficiency could potentially be useful, lackluster tool and equipment. Choose Officer or Scout and go bully the local town’s guard with your rank.
Urchin: Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Disguise Kit, Thieves’ Tools (free pick). Terrific skills and tool proficiencies. (Plus a pet mouse!) The faster intra-city travel feature is pretty weak, though, keeping this background a full step below the likes of Charlatan and Criminal/Spy.
City Watch: [Athletics/Insight] two languages. The city watch may be the last place you’d expect to find a Bard, but this ain’t bad at all. You can pretty much spot out any watch outpost and criminal den anywhere. And you could become a corrupt watchman and get in good with the criminal element. The Investigator variant is actually quite nice, replacing Athletics with the overall more useful Investigation.
Clan Crafter: [History/Insight] Artisan’s Tools (one), Dwarvish language. Ooh, you get to be friends with Dwarves. How about … no.
Cloistered Scholar: [History, another knowledge skill] two languages. Next.
Courtier: [Insight/Persuasion] two languages. Alright, now we’re talking. Two solid skills and an intimate knowledge of an area’s politics and government connections no matter where you go? Yeah, there’s just a few opportunities there.
Faction Agent: [Insight, one faction-specific skill] two languages. Being an agent of one of the Realms’ most powerful organizations kind of speaks for itself. Being either with the Harpers (Investigation) or, especially, their mortal foes the Zhentarim (Deception) gets you another good skill, too.
Far Traveler: [Insight/Perception] Musical Instrument (one), one language. One good skill and one necessary one, and the opportunity for more connections with some powerful people. Very good.
Inheritor: [Survival/Arcana] Gaming Set OR Musical Instrument, one language. Eh, one good skill and one marginal skill, and the feature amounts to little more than an intriguing story hook. You can do better.
Knight of the Order: [Persuasion/Arcana] (or other weak choices), Gaming Set OR Musical Instrument, one language. Interesting note: The knight order descriptions do not mention which skill they’re attached to, so pick Arcana. Attachment to a powerful knight order, and the free shelter and succor that comes with it, make this a solid pick, if not a little dissonant for Bards.
Mercenary Veteran: [Athletics/Persuasion] Gaming Set (one), Vehicles (Land). Decent skill set, and a guaranteed comfortable lifestyle as a mercenary. OK, I guess.
Urban Bounty Hunter: [Two of Deception, Insight, Persuasion, and Stealth] two of Gaming Set, Musical Instrument or Thieves’ Tools (pick this and get a free choice of tools, haha). All Bard-appropriate skills and tools, and plenty of opportunities for connections from the local gangs and thieves’ guilds to members of high society. Doesn’t get much better.
Uthgardt Tribe Member: [Athletics/Survival] Musical Instrument OR Artisan’s Tools (one). Meh skills, and something similar to the Outlander’s foraging, with hospitality from your tribe or powerful allies. Probably better than Outlander, but not by much.
Waterdhavian Noble: [History/Persuasion] Gaming Set (one) OR Musical Instrument (one), one language. One wasted, skill, and some renown in Waterdeep and the North that lets you live a comfortable lifestyle on credit. Eh.
You’re probably best off taking a +2 Cha over a feat if you already have an even number in that stat. If it’s an odd number a feat that provides +1 can help bump it up to even and give a perk.
- Alert: Going first means you can disable enemies before they act, or get some buffs on allies before they charge in.
- Athlete: You don’t run, you strut and that’s more likely to be performance.
- Actor: Mostly for the +1 CHA, but also a great synergy with being the performer. Opens up amazing options for Charisma based skill checks.
- Charger: Charging in may be useful for a Valor bard. Often you have other options though.
- Crossbow Expert: Great if the idea you have involves crossbows, adds some damage.
- Defensive Duelist: Great for any melee build, and archers will find it useful when combat gets tight, too.
- Dual Wielder: Most bards need a free hand to cast, though if you go with the College of Swords then it’s much more useful.
- Dungeon Delver: Great if your DM is a bit trap-happy.
- Durable: It’s okay. Nothing special, but it’s a good half-feat bonus.
- Elemental Adept: You can snag some blasting spells from other classes and make great use out of this, though maybe not as much use as some other casters could.
- Grappler: Not all that great for a caster, unless you’re going for a Valor Bard wrestler.
- Great Weapon Master: If you need a big ol weapon for your Valor Bard then this is excellent.
- Healer: As a support your party may look to you for this. Slightly better than inspiring leader, the money cost is tiny long term.
- Heavily Armored: There are better ways to get Heavy Armour if you really want it. Consider starting (or multiclassing) as a Life Cleric or Paladin for the armour proficiency.
- Heavy Armor Master: This starts strong but falls off as you level up. The STR +1 bump can be good for the right Valor Bard that’s using Heavy Armour.
- Inspiring Leader: A nice combo with Song of Rest. Helps the adventuring day last a little longer. You’ll get more out of this in the early levels
- Keen Mind: The INT isn’t useful but depending on the campaign this can be worth it. Maybe ask the Wizard to take this.
- Lightly Armored: Don’t worry about this one.
- Linguist: The other odd bump for Int, but still likely your dump stat.
- Lucky: A good all around bonus.
- Mage Slayer: Even valor bards tend to stay back. Better for grapple bards.
- Magic Initiate: Not bad for some more magic power, though you have plenty of ways to grab spells.
- Martial Adept: Very situational, maybe useful if you multiclass as a Battle Master.
- Medium Armor Master: If you happen to be at 16 Dex you get +2 AC.
- Mobile: Solid mobility boost if you’re the scout for the party.
- Moderately Armored: You already have the benefit if you’re a Valor Bard, but Lore Bards might want to conisder it for the +4 AC.
- Mounted Combatant: If you’re mounted a lot (Find Steed) this is not bad.
- Observant: Someone should have this, the insight is useful for a ‘Face’ and Passive Perception can keep you alive.
- Polearm Master: If a Polearm is your weapon of choice, you already know you want this.
- Resilient: For a single feat point, you gain a save proficiency. That’s awesome.
- Ritual Caster: You’re already a ritual caster, there are some Wizard spells that could be nice to have though.
- Savage Attacker: Even a Valor Bard struggles to make the best use of this.
- Sentinel: Not good for a Bard. You don’t want to be a target. Moves up to Blue if you’re a Valor Bard and have Polearm Master, though consider being a Fighter.
- Sharpshooter: Adds some damage for Valor Bards. Good for anyone with ranged options.
- Shield Master: A key feat for the grapple bard. Blue for other bards who want a bit more defense.
- Skilled: This is weaker for you because you already have ‘Jack of All Trades’
- Skulker: While you can be a great scout, you don’t have any way to get a damage bonus. Better with sharpshooter.
- Spell Sniper: Okay for a Lore Bard… but not really built for you.
- Tavern Brawler: An alternative for the shield master for grapple bards. If you have an odd Str/Con. Otherwise shield master is better.
- Tough: Not bad, but you’re probably better off taking the +2 Con if that’s a concern.
- War Caster: For Valor Bards so they can cast “S” spells with their hands full, or insult people who run away from dissonant whispers, and add to their concentration checks. Blue for Lore Bards who still like concentration.
- Weapon Master: You don’t need this, Valor has you covered.
Here, I want to make just a quick look at some options, along with the concept of a “dip” to grab some goodies from another class.
I’m going to leave some of the finer points of multiclassing up to the individual though, especially anything that takes away from the character being majority Bard.
While there is a colour grade in this section remember that other options may fall into your character concept side of things than true optimisation.
Barbarian : Being unable to cast makes this a bit poor for a caster. Though we discovered you can use finesse weapons while raging when we wrote our Barbarian Guide.
Cleric: Depending on the domain you could get some nice bonuses. Life Cleric is great if you’re the main healer. Being based on WIS hurts you depending on spell choice.
Druid: Similar problems to Cleric but more so. WIS isn’t where you should be looking.
Fighter: A Fighting Style, More Attacks, Second Wind, Action Surges. Valor Bards will like these things. Good potential for College of Blades too. We go into more detail in our Fighter Guide.
Monk: Nothing for you here.
Paladin: CHA being the spellcasting ability makes this an excellent match. Valor can consider a smite or too. Read more in our Paladin Guide.
Ranger: Maybe… but I think you’d be better off taking a level in Fighter and thematically calling it a Ranger.
Rogue: Sneak attack is solid, the extra skills are nice too. We have a 5E Rogue guide available if you want to learn more.
Sorcerer: If you want more magic at your fingertips, Sorcerer is an excellent option.
Warlock: You’ve been eyeing off Eldritch blast anyway, so why not make a light pact with something otherwordly.
Wizard: INT isn’t your strong suit. You can get some Wizard spells other ways.
Any chance the spells could be also color coded? It really helps for focusing on what is considered best or worst
Thank you for writing this guide I have found it very useful. You opened my Eyes to the benefit of Minor illusion. It allows you to provide yourself full cover you can see through. engaged by the Badass fighter cast a wall between you and escape.
A++ for a Beginner, Thanks for whipping this up
Just a note: spells and effects such as Dissonant whispers do Not trigger AoO [attack of opportunity] according to RAW. It is only when they move of their own volition that they trigger this.
“On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you. The creature doesn’t move into obviously dangerous ground, such as a fire or a pit.”
Dissonant whispers causes the target to use THEIR reaction to move. So the movement is of their own volition.
Jeremy Crawford clarified this: https://twitter.com/jeremyecrawford/status/704469820901752838?lang=en
“The movement in dissonant whispers can provoke opportunity attacks, since it uses your reaction (PH, 195).”
Spells that move the target like Thunderwave don’t trigger attacks of opportunity.
I think that the college of swords bard, with the bonus to the AC with flourish, can stand his ground. And you can take Dual Wielder and even Defensive Duelist. You will have a bigger AC than the Barbarian, and with a lot of movility. I also like Mobile, so you don’t provoke opportunity attacks.
This was a blast to read! Great guide, with a lot of humor and useful advice.
I also love that you take into consideration the character concept as a factor, not just the optimisation part that most guides consider above anything else.
Awesome guide! I took Hallucinatory Terrain against all recommendation. It is overall pretty underpowered, but has been pretty useful for 1) planning ambushes, 2) throwing off another party hunting you down and 3) defending garrisons. It basically shuts down an entire direction that someone can/wants to approach a location. We also used it recently in a dragon’s lair to “cave in” the entrance to a dragon’s lair once we got in so its cultists wouldn’t come in for backup. Of course all this assumes you have at least 10 minutes to plan since that’s the casting time, so it’s pretty situational.
Great guide. Bard is one of my favorite classes and this goes really in depth on how to make a fun and functional Bard build. Only comment is that I think Changeling race should be sky blue. +2 Charisma and +1 Dex are the best stat buffs besides playing a Half-Elf, and they get 2 skills, have a reaction defense ability, and have shapeshifting abilities that add amazing role play and story aspects to a character and a campaign. Thanks for the great guide, it definitely deserves an encore.
Changling must have changed in the last year, as it can now start with +3 charisma and the only race to do so. https://www.sageadvice.eu/2019/11/22/is-it-intentional-that-changelings-can-put-their-floating-1-in-charisma-giving-them-a-3-to-charisma-asi/
If you are a Glamour Bard, “Calm Emotions” is MANDATORY. you can use it, then immediately use the subclass feat “Enthralling Performance” to make your former enemies suddenly charmed by you and friendly for the next hour.
Not only does it make them charmed by you and friendly, It does not require concentration AND those “friends” will, according the Enthralling Performance, “Idolize you, speak glowingly of you, and hinder anyone who opposes you” although they won’t fight on your behalf (as they were not previously inclined to fight for you), they will do everything they can to stop the rest of their allies from fighting you.
your allies can even continue to fight as long as they don’t attack the charmed ones, since “This effect [only] ends on a target after 1 hour, if it takes any damage, if you attack it, or if it witnesses YOU attacking or damaging any of its allies.” Meaning you can still buff your party and debuff your enemies without breaking this charm effect.