Can I Get An Encore: Do You Want More – D&D 5E Bard Optimisation Guide
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.
Stats and Races
Spells (In progress)
Skills and Backgrounds (In progress)
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. Bards can buff their allies and decimate their enemies strength.
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
Remember that this is an optimisation guide. We’re looking at what is strong or effective for your Bardic performance.
That said, if you have a fun idea for your character that isn’t based around ‘charop’, don’t be afraid to put fun ahead of numbers.
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. Valor Bards are more likely to go with strength over other Bard types.
- Dex: Do a back flip! After CHA this should be your next priority. Valor and Swords Bards may even make this a priority Any weapon based attacks, initiative and AC 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:You main stat. You could potentially play a low Cha valor bard, but you’re probably better off as an eldritch knight or cleric for that concept. This also increases your inspiration dice, so it’s hard to pass up. 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 mountain dwarfs are good if your party is squishy.
Player’s Handbook Races
- 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’ll be struggling early without a boost to your spell casting or attacks.
- Duergar [+1 Str] Similar to the Mountain Dwarf, okay for Valor. Lore, Blades, 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] While the basic Elf package is OK, the Wood-specific features aren’t terribly helpful. It’s a slight improvement on the High Elf.
- Drow [+1 Cha] This covers a lot of bases, especially for the Whispers and Swords Bard. Boosted darkvision, Faerie Fire, etc.. Downside is sunlight sensitivity, though maybe you can wear a big fancy hat.
- High Elf [+1 Int] Like all Elves, High Elves get Trance, proficiency with Perception checks, and a DEX boost. You won’t need the INT or the cantrip, though, and the weapon training is wasted.
- Eladrin [+1 Int] High Elf with a teleport spell. Not terrible but leave that to sword mages. [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 get a boost to CHA, some thematic damage resistance, and a breath attack. Think about blowing fire through a set of bagpipes or a flute. If you’re going for that elusive STR Build, this is the race to pick. If you don’t, it’s still solid.
- 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] It’s a +2 to CHA which 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: Charisma and resistance are great, but the spells are kind of crappy. [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 is icing on the cake, Be that power healer your party needs. [VOLO]
- Firbolg: [+2 Wis, & +1Str] You’d be better suited as something else. Maybe a Valor Bard could look here.
- Goliath: [+2 Str, & +1 Con] 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. Just watch out you don’t fall.
- 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 boosts give you a lot to work with. Shape changing gives you amazing potential as a Lore or Whispers Bard.
- Shifters: These shifters are more rough and ready physical races. A Valor or Swords Bards might find something of worth here.
- Beasthide Shifter: The bonuses to AC, CON, and DEX make a decent Valor option.
- Cliffwalk Shifter: Your DEX is good, and you get the shifter temp HP, but other shifter options are simply better.
- Longstride: Another pure Dex option, with a mobility option. No need to poach Longstrider.
- Longtooth Shifter: A little STR and DEX can help a Valor Bard.
- Razorclaw Shifter: Pure DEX with a bonus attack. Not terrible.
- Wildhunt Shifter: WIS is a dump stat.
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 going to be the front line like a Fighter or Barbarian though.
- Armour Proficiency: Light armour keeps you mobile and stealthy which is perfect for all DEX builds. Valor Bards get Medium and Shields. Sword Bards get the Medium armour without the shields.
- Weapon Proficiency: Simple weapons, plus some martial swords and ranged weapons. You’ll likely stick with finesse weapons or DEX based ranged.
- Saving Throws: DEX is a common enough save, expect to make it often enough. CHA is less common, but it’s common enough to be useful.
- 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.
- Spell casting: 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 as many cantrips as a Druid. 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. Plus, Ritual Casting.
- 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. Increases the size of the die every five levels. All this, and you don’t even need a spell slot.
- 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): Obviously good for obvious reasons.
- 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): It’s a decent buff at the cost of an action. Paladins get similar features that don’t cost actions, but this is a solid ability, too.
- Magical Secrets (10th, 14th, 18th Level): Learn any two spells you want. This feature is the primary reason why people claim that Bards are the best caster class.
- Superior Inspiration (20th Level): You will always have some Bardic Inspiration. You probably weren’t running out very often to begin with, but there you have it.
Bardic Colleges: Bard Subclasses
College of Lore [PHB]
This is the Bard of knowledge, stories and song. Lore Bards get into the nitty gritty of history and tend to have a ton of skills to be useful. This is a very versatile Bard for any party when it comes to the magic you learn.
- Bonus Proficiencies (3rd level): You’re cheering every time there’s a skill challenge or some persuasion to do.
- 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. Now you’ve negated an entire attack worth of damage. Damage prevented is better than damage healed.
- Additional Magical Secrets (6th level): Get access to even more spells. Yes please.
- Peerless Skill (14th level): Wanted more skill checks? Of course you do because you’re excellent at them.
College of Valor [PHB]
The College of Valor sounds the horn and marches into battle. They’re in the thick of it singing war chants and swinging a sword. Valor Bards are melee combatant with some decent buffs.
- Bonus Proficiencies (3rd level): Instead of skills you’re gaining proficiency with medium armour, shields and martial weapons. Just what you need.
- Combat Inspiration (3rd level): A helpful buff to your allies (Or yourself) for some extra damage or AC.
- Extra Attack (6th level): More attacks means more power.
- Battle Magic (14th level): This lets you keep swinging that weapon even when you cast a spell.
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 defence 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 defence than other fighting classes though.
- Bonus Proficiencies (3rd level): Medium armour and scimitar – no shield. Immediately, this gives me concerns about defence Don’t get me wrong, happy to get medium armour, 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. Duelling and Two Weapon Fighting. Without war-caster, Duelling is really the only option. With war-caster, 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 War-caster 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 has some interesting tactical implications
Slashing Flourish is just an offense boost.
- 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): Standard Gishy 6th level extra attack. This character 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 defence
- 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.
Overall: The Sword Bard can dish out a decent amount of damage. The Blade flourish keeps you mobile, though you’d better hope you’ve still got some beefy allies to protect you. There’s not much in terms of defence here.
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 spell casting
- 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 laughing. 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.
Overall: College of Whispers is the kind of Bard you want in a high political intrigue campaign. Ask your DM ahead of time what kind of story they’re telling, if it’s all dungeons and combat you may want to look elsewhere.
As you can tell, the Bard provides excellent options that diverge considerably, but provide excellent power and utility.
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 set-list.
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).
The spells below wont cover other classes you can get access to through Magical Secrets. Just make sure one of your choices is Counterspell, and remember that Telekinesis benefits from Jack of All Trades and Peerless Skill.
Alternately check out our other 5E Class Guides to take a gander at the other classes.
- 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. It may be remotely useful to help maintain a great concentration spell you care about. That said, a Valor Bard can get use out of this after hitting level 14, when they can cast and then attack as a bonus action.
- 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. If everyone has darkvision it’s not really needed. If you frequently find yourself in need of light, take this cantrip.
- 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.
- True Strike: Giving up an action for advantage once next turn is a bit rough. Maybe there’s a situation where you can’t attack this turn anyway like some kind of Alpha Strike first turn? Or if you have a killer spell ready next turn and don’t want to miss it… too situational..
- Vicious Mockery: The best bard cantrip in the game and probably one of the best cantrips full stop. Why have you not taken this if you are a bard? It deals very little damage, but the disadvantage is an excellent debuff. Plus, any spell that encourages you to come up with insults is a win.
1st Level Spells
- Animal Friendship: Leave this to the Druids and Ancient Paladins. You make friends with real people.
- Bane: More powerful than you think, less powerful than you hope. Inflicting disadvantage is arguably more powerful.
- Charm Person: Better and longer lasting than friends. Though they still know afterwards that you cast magic on them… so be far away.
- Comprehend Languages: The ultimate tourist with a language guide, but there are better ways to get languages and they don’t come up often enough to matter.
- Cure Wounds: A touch heal that scales really well with higher spell levels. If you’re the party healer get this.
- Detect Magic: This can be useful, but you’re not a Wizard, you have limited options and Detect Magic shouldn’t be the first that comes to mind.
- Disguise Self: Take a disguise kit and a high deception skill and you’ll probably never miss this spell.
- Dissonant Whispers: A Bard exclusive spell that you should definatley consider. Deal okay damage, and force your enemy to run away of their own volition. More powerful the more party members you have that can take opportunity attacks as the enemy runs.
- Earth Tremor: This could help you escape a bad situation, though it turns everything around you within 10ft to difficult terrain, so you’ll still have to pass through it to leave.
- Faerie Fire: Reliable advantage is excellent. Use this and your party will love you.
- Feather Fall: If you have this then you’ll love it when it comes in handy. It doesn’t come up often though.
- Healing Word: Heal as a bonus action and at range! Tiny amounts of healing, but all they need is 1 HP to stand back up.
- Heroism: The temporary HP looks good in early levels, this falls off though and can be swapped out as you level up.
- Identify: This feels nice and could be thematic for a Lore Bard, you can be the Deckard Cain of the group… but you have limited choices compared to a Wizard spellbook.
- Illusory Script: There may be reasons to leave notes secretly that can’t be done any other way, but we’re getting into situational territory.
- Longstrider: The mobility isn’t worth the cost.
- Silent Image: An upgrade on Minor Illusion. Good for all the reasons the cantrip is.
- Sleep: Early levels this is a game changer. It falls off pretty quickly when you move away from Goblins and Kobolds though.
- Speak with Animals: Depends on the campaign, leave this to the Druids, Similar to Animal Friendship.
- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter: Keep an enemy occupied or make sure at least one person likes your comedy routine. Extremely abusable in social situations.
- Thunderwave: Strike a chord and deal damage with sound. Push your enemies away into things or off cliffs. Those are two things any musician can appreciate.
- Unseen Servant: An invisible Roadie to carry things? Can be quite handy.
2nd Level Spells
- Animal Messenger: Same with speaking to animals, maybe just write a letter.
- Blindness/Deafness: Better than straight darkness on someone as you can still see them.
- Calm Emotions: An AoE charisma save spell that pacifies the targets. Also useful in out of combat situations and it can be used to suppress frightened or charmed effects as well.
- Cloud of Daggers: Okay damage but you should really be looking at control instead of damage.
- Crown of Madness: Forcing enemies to attack other enemies is great. Some limitations if they aren’t close to others.
- Detect Thoughts: Know what someone’s thinking, better than a simple Insight check would allow. Great for interrogation or intrigue, somewhat OK for finding invisible creatures.
- Enhance Ability: Buffing allies is the name of the game. Advantage on ability checks but not attacks or spells.
- Enthrall: Let’s you keep someone super focused on you while the party sneaks past. I’m sure you could make a distraction without a spell though.
- Heat Metal: This is great against armoured enemies as they can’t drop the item. The damage is solid each turn for your concentration and it gives them disadvantage.
- Hold Person: Yell, "HOLD IT!" and point like Pheonix Wright, Ace Attorney and watch as they stand there dumbly. Great way to stop a big bruiser coming to pummel you.
- Invisibility: Good, though you may find better use putting this on allies to get them into position.
- Knock: If you have no other way to charm a lock, like with Thieves’ Tools then you can sing to it I suppose.
- Lesser Restoration: A requirement at some point in most campaigns.
- Locate Animals or Plants: Again with the animals and plants, you’re not a farmer or a botanist, you deal with people.
- Locate Object: You’re better off asking around for the object, this would be better off in a Wizard’s spellbook.
- Magic Mouth: Despite being able to make lewd jokes about having a Magic Mouth… this isn’t super useful, very situational.
- Phantasmal Force: This spell is incredible when paired with a great imagination. The damage is nice, though the ability to make enemies think the floor is gone is amazing.
- Pyrotechnics: Provides solid debuffs that are definitely worth utilizing.
- See Invisibility: Somewhat situational, and Detect Thoughts and Faerie Fire can replicate its effects.
- Shatter: Scaling AOE attack that deals decent damage. Bards don’t actually have many of those.
- Silence: If you want to cripple another caster or sneak through a dangerous are, use this.
- Skywrite: Completely situational.
- Suggestion: The only limit is your imagination… in addition to the other limits specified in the PHB. It’s an extremely powerful charm.
- Warding Wind: Like with Unseen Servant, the sheer variety of situations in which this would be useful move it beyond situational abilities.
- Zone of Truth: Useful, but not necessary.
3rd Level Spells
- Bestow Curse:When I read the text for this spell, I feel like a trick is being played on me. You can choose from all those awesome debuffs or convince your DM of another one? Great!
- Clairvoyance: That’s a solid spying tool. Not necessarily one you’re ever going to use, but still solid.
- Dispel Magic: I think everyone finds themselves needing this occasionally. Benefits from Peerless Skill and Jack of All Trades
- Fear: It has the potential to completely change an encounter. Forcing your enemies to flee while giving your buddies op attacks is fun, but the conditions for saving from it make it downright abusable, and its an AOE to boot!
- Feign Death: Situational. Sometimes you’ll get some use out of this, but you usually will not.
- Glyph of Warding: If you have an hour to use it, you will frequently find it worthwhile. However, you will rarely have an hour to spare when exploring a dungeon.
- Hypnotic Pattern: Take away the actions of quite a lot of enemies. Very nice.
- Leomund’s Tiny Hut: Protect yourself from the elements, your enemies, and random encounters at night. A decent utility, though not particularly useful in combat.
- Major Image: Illusions have infinite uses, and this is a very big illusion.
- Nondetection: Completely situational. If the BBEG is a mage who has been scrying you, go for it.
- Plant Growth: The utility uses are entirely situational, but it also aids you in escaping pursuers and allows you to hold groups of enemies fairly still for AOE effects.
- Sending: You know what’s totally situational? This spell.
- Speak with Dead: And this spell.
- Speak with Plants: Also, this spell.
- Stinking Cloud: AOE that denies actions on a CON save? Not bad.
- Tongues: Playing Holy Spirit is very situational in its usefulness.
4th Level Spells
- Compulsion: Solid battlefield control that denies movement and can set up some nasty AOEs.
- Confusion: It interferes with enemy actions as an AOE, but it offers saves every turn and has a smaller radius. Plus the effects are unpredictable.
- Dimension Door: 500′ teleport with very few restrictions. Also potentially weaponizeable.
- Freedom of Movement: Provides decent bonuses, but maybe not worth the slot.
- Greater Invisibility: I know you like being the centre of attention. But this is excellent.
- Hallucinatory Terrain: Good for occasionally tricking people.
- Locate Creature: Does what it does well, but you won’t necessarily need it.
- Polymorph: Huge amounts of fun. Better start looking at beast lists and CR levels.
5th Level Spells
- Animate Object: Great potential especially with an imagination. Animate some silverware and tell them to assassinate a king for 65 damage per turn. Or animate a cottage and ask the taxman if you really owe for property. This is one of those spells that’s more useful than it sounds.
- Awaken: A spell for those among us who, despite all evidence to the contrary, genuinely believe their pets have something interesting to say. It’s situational, but infinitely applicable.
- Dominate Person: This is arguably the most powerful enchantment up to this level, but it only lasts a minute, and the target can save multiple times.
- Dream: Situational, but its usefulness is wide-ranging. From simple communication, to intentionally harming or even assassinating a target, you can do quite a lot with this ability.
- Geas: An oath of sorts, Not a bird. You can force someone into service. Can break open the game in strange ways.
- Greater Restoration: You will need this at some point. Take it if no one else will.
- Hold Monster: Excellent ability that can stop your death in its tracks.
- Legend Lore: You could solve similar problems with a history check.
- 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 yourself after that night with an ogre.
- Planar Binding: Potentially powerful, but celestial, fey, and fiends all tend to have excellent Charisma saves, which limits its use. Certain fiends are better targets for this than others, but those tend to be the weaker fiends.
- Raise Dead: Someone needs to take this. It can be you!
- Scrying: Depends on he campaign. Great flavour though you could probably find a witch in a swamp to accomplish the same thing.
- Seeming: A decent way to stealth your way through hostile territory. Also good for turning guards against one of your enemies.
- Teleportation Circle: A decent way to skip travel time for the whole party.
6th Level Spells
- Eyebite: Solid debuffs on multiple targets for ten rounds for a single slot. Not bad. Still, a lot of these effects can be replicated by lower level spells.
- Find the Path: Extremely situational.
- Guards and Wards: If you have a home base of your own, you will want this spell. Most players will not want this spell.
- Mass Suggestion: Suggestion is a quality spell. This is that en mass. You’re Charming crowds now.
- Otto’s Irresistible Dance: Start a dance battle, yell, “Stop! Hammer Time” Plus the effect is excellent.
- Programmed Illusion: A fancy illusion so again it’s mostly limited by your imagination to make useful.
- True Seeing: See through normal and magical darkness, invisible stuff, into the ethereal plane. All solid.
7th Level Spells
- Etherealness: Excellent scouting spell, plus an automatic "I’m Outtie."
- Forcecage: This spell has no saving throw and gets brutal when combined with zone effects such as Insect Plague
- Mirage Arcane: A tactile illusion limited only by your imagination and the "no creatures" clause.
- Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion: A fancy hidey-hole. Not quite useless, and very fun.
- Mordenkainen’s Sword: Summon with an action, and deal bonus action damage for the remainder of its duration. The damage is poor for the level, but it’s on your bonus action
- Project Image: If you need another you hanging around, this works out.
- Regenerate: Excellent healing over a long duration with no concentration.
- Resurrection: In case no one had Raise Dead when the Wizard died.
- Symbol: Upgrades Glyph, but has a massive cost. You won’t be using it often if you take it, and there’s a lot of competition for these slots.
- Teleport: This is simply a great teleportation spell.
8th Level Spells
- Dominate Monster: Now you’re not just dominating people but monsters too.
- Feeblemind: This has some dark rammifications… very powerful.
- Glibness: You’d think this would be solid, but you’ll struggle to find many uses for it.
- Mind Blank: Great buff if you need it.
- Power Word Stun: Stunning is incredibly powerful in 5E. This guarantees you’ll prevent at least a single round of actions.
9th Level Spells
- Foresight: A god-like buff to give to someone for 8 hours.
- Power Word Heal: There are a great number of ways to heal, whereas your 9th level spell options are limited.
- Power Word Kill: Eh… you should know by now if you’re a lover or a fighter.
- True Polymorph: Change yourself (or someone else) into something with a CR equal to your (or it’s) level.
Skills & Backgrounds:
Pick whatever you like based on what skills you want or whatever other criteria you like. If you want more Skill options you can double up with a ‘Face’ 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.
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 Paladinfor the armor proficiency.
- Heavy Armor Master: This is the only reason to get Heavily Armoured, but only for Valor Bards, and the benefits aren’t worth sacrificing two Ability increases.
- Inspiring Leader: A nice combo with Song of Rest. Helps the adventuring day last a little longer. Starts off powerful and scales okay.
- 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: You don’t need this.
- 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 it. +4 AC for a Lore Bard.
- 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.
- Monk: Nothing for you here.
- Paladin: CHA being the spellcasting ability makes this an excellent match. Valor can consider a smite or too.
- 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.
- 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.