DnD 5e Bard Subclass Breakdown – RPGBOT (2024)

Introduction

Bard subclasses are a significant factor in determining your bard’s role in the party. Your choice of subclass will emphasize different core aspects of class, allowing you to specialize in one thing while remaining a jack of all trades.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Disclaimer
  • Bard Subclasses – Bard Colleges
    • College of Creation (TCoE)
    • College of Eloquence (MOoT / TCoE)
    • College of Glamour (XGtE)
    • College of Lore (PHB)
    • College of Spirits (VRGtR)
    • College of Swords (XGtE)
    • College of Valor (PHB)
    • College of Whispers (XGtE)
  • 3rd-Party Publishers

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options whichare extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful optionsthat only apply in rare circ*mstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essentialto the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.

Bard Subclasses – Bard Colleges

College of Creation (TCoE)

College of Creation gives the Bard access to some powerful new tools. Mote of Potential expands on Bardic Inspiration by adding unique rider effects, and the other subclass features grant the ability to create and animate objects. As the Bard gains levels, you can create larger and more valuable items, allowing you to produce tools to solve a variety of problems.

Because half of the College of Creation’s class features are tied up in Performance of Creation, it’s crucial that you and your DM are on the same page about how it works. The effect is less specific than spells like Creation or Fabricate, which can make it both unpredictable and abusable. Your DM might reasonably limit you to published items (Adventurer’s league went that route), which dramatically handicaps the feature because the items published in the Player’s Handbook and other sources are tools and items catered to adventurers but typically omit common items which might be useful in real-world scenarios (though some variety of artisans tools suffice in many cases).

For example: 5e’s published rules don’t include stats for a plow, so if your DM limits you to the Player’s Handbook and you need to help a farmer plow their field, you’re out of luck.

College of Creation Bard Handbook

  1. Mote of Potential: Add some rider effectsto uses of Bardic Inspiration. All three work well in the right situations, but don’t let this ability dictate how you use Bardic Inspiration. It’s mostly a bonus on top of the primary function.
    • Ability Check: If you’re using BardicInspiration on an Ability Check it’s because you can’t afford to fail.Rolling a 1 on that die hurts, so rerolling and using the better resultis great insurance.
    • Attack Roll: The damage is fairlyminor, but if you have an ally attacking into a crowd the total damagecan add up quickly. Think of this like the Ranger’s Hail of Thorns spell(except that you get to pick targets so you can’t hurt allies) and useit wherever you would use Hail of Thorns.
    • Saving Throw: Using Bardic Inspirationon saving throws is one of the best ways to use it, and adding temporaryhit points on top of that benefit is excellent because the target iseither going to take damage from the effect (which the temporary hitpoints will mitigate) or something else nasty is going to happen to themand the temporary hit points will help protect them while theyrecover.
  2. Performance of Creation: This is a greatway to solve problems that require large, bulky, or expensive non-magic items that youmight not want to haul around with you all the time, as well as to getaccess to expensive single-use nonmagical items. You might create an anvilor a block of stone if you need something extremely heavy, a row boat tocross a stream, or a battering ram to break down a door. Limiting the item’ssize to medium is mildly annoying, but the size quickly increases to large at6th level so most items in the Player’s Handbook will be available within afew levels. The 20gp/level cost will cover most things in the player’shandbook with the exception of some heavy armor (which can be very pricey).Your DM may also let you go beyond the player’s handbook, allowing you tocreate things like walls to hide behind, bridges to span chasms, columns toprop up falling ceilings, or pieces of furniture to flip over in a fit ofrage. Check with your DM to see what they’ll allow.

    This notably doesn’t require materials like the Fabricate spell, doesn’trequire any tool proficiencies, and doesn’t specify how detailed orintricate the item can be. You may be able to create valuable items likepoisons, blocks of gold, or jewelry, and you may be able to createcomplex, moving items like crossbows, wagons, or siege engines (cheapones). You may even be able to produce items made of special materialslike adamantine weapons. Again, check with your DM to see what they’ll allow.

    You can use this once per day for free and can refresh it by spending a2nd-level slot, but remember that you can only have one item at a time.You may want to wait to use Performance of Creation until you need it inorder to avoid paying the spell slot cost to use it a second time, but ondays when you’re not adventuring definitely use it to create somethingsmall, portable, and useful like an expensive poison.

    The option to refresh Performance of Creation means that you can compareany given item you might create to the benefits of a second-level spell.For example: If you use this to create expensive disposable nom-magic itemslike poisons, explosives, and things like alchemist’s fire, compare theeffects of that item to casting a spell like Shatter.

  3. Animating Performance: Similar in manyways to summoning a creature for an hour. Your Dancing Item will have adecent number of hit points, and gets one attack that deals a reasonableamount of force damage. Since it’s an object, it’s not very smart but it’salso immune to poison, psychic damage, and some mental status effects likecharm. It’s a decent combat pet, and it’ll keep your Bonus Action busy everyturn that it attacks (though you can share that action with granting Bardic Inspiration), but the Dancing Item’s Irrepressible Dance aura still slows down or speeds up nearby creatures, so don’t worry if you have to miss a few pet attacks by casting a bonus action spell or something.

    The expectation is that you’ll cast this on something like a statue, butdon’t let that limit your choices. The item needs to be large or smaller,so you’re allowed to cast this on small things like a tankard or a necklace,as well as large things like a cart or even a carpet which might be largeenough to carry you and your allies with the dancing item’s 30-foot flyspeed. At 18 Strength a large dancing item has a carrying capacity of 540pounds, allowing it to comfortably accommodate 2 medium creatures and theirequipment. This becomes even easier if you and your party are mostly smallraces like halflings, and, since it’s immune to exhaustion, you can ride itas long as you’d like.

    You can use this once per day for free, but you can also refresh theeffect by spending a spell slot of 3rd-level or higher, essentially makingthis equivalent to a third-level spell. Considering that the spell Fly is3rd-level, has a duration of just 10 minutes, and requires Concentration;using your Dancing Item as a combination flying mount and combat pet is anextremely effective use of a spell slot.

    Animating performance received errata to specify that it doesn’t work on attendedobjects, so sadly you can no longer use this on enemy’s clothes or armorand cause them to be held aloft by their own pants. But you can simply take off your own pants, animate them, then put them back on to fly by the seat of your pants.

  4. Creative Crescendo: Not quite as good asusing Performance of Creation 5 times at once, but close. One item uses thetypical size rules and the rest must be small or tiny, but small is as bigas a 3-foot tall humanoid and that’s plenty to work with. Most weapons couldbe considered small, and many extremely valuable items like jewels andjewelry are tiny. You could use the big item to make a small catapult anduse the other items to make projectiles like urns full of alchemist’s fire.You can use all 5 items (because you have 20 Charisma by this level) to makeexpensive poisons, then hand them off to your party’s rogue. Getcreative. But you could also create 5Antimatter Rifles(provided that they’re available in your game) and hand out weapons to your party that do 6d8 necrotic damage. They comply with the size restriction and there’s no longer a price restriction either.

College of Eloquence (MOoT / TCoE)

This may be the bard-est bard that ever did bard. While most bard colleges add some fun new mechanics or options to the Bard, College of Eloquence emphasizes the Bard’s core features: namely Bardic Inspiration and the Bard’s uncontested mastery of Charisma-based skills.

Nothing in the subclass is complicated or hard to manage, and in fact the insurance provided by Silver Tongue and by Unfailing Inspiration make this an excellent option for new players and for players with habitually poor rolls, but any player looking to enjoy a mechanically simple but profoundly effective bard will find everything that they need here.

College of Eloquence Bard Handbook

  1. Silver Tongue: It is difficult to find anability which is so effective at making a key skill reliable. The Rogue’sReliable Talent feature provides the same benefit, but that’s an 11th-levelfeature. Combined with access to Expertise (which you also get at 3rdlevel) you’re nearly incapable of failing Charisma (Deception) and Charisma(Persuasion) checks. With a +3 Charisma modifier and Expertise in one of theaffected skills, your minimum roll at this level is already a 17, and willrapidly improve as you gain levels.
  2. Unsettling Words: Use this as a BonusAction, then hit the target with a save-or-suck effect.Advantage/Disadvantage are worth a little more than +3/-3, and the averagevalue of your d6 Bardic Inspiration die is 3.5, and increases as you gainlevels, so this is already mathematically better than imposing Disadvantage,and it only gets more effective as you gain levels.
  3. Unfailing Inspiration: Bardic Inspirationis one of the Bard’s core features, and while it’s very powerful it’s stilllimited by a small number of dice. This provides a powerful insurancepolicy, making it much easier to risk a die even if it’s unlikely to make aroll succeed. Between this and Font of Inspiration, you can afford to throwinspiration dice around like confetti.
  4. Universal Speech: A limited version ofTongues for one hour for free every day, and you can do it again by spendinga spell slot. You may still want to learn Comprehend Languages so that youcan understand other creatures, especially if your party has access toritual spellcasting.
  5. Infectious Inspiration: Consider thisalongside Unfailing Inspiration. If a creature adds a die and fails, theykeep the die. If they pass, you spend your Reaction to pass the die to adifferent creature, and the process starts over. You get to do this a numberof times equal to your Charisma modifier, so it’s effectively 5 additionaluses of Basic Inspiration per day, not counting the ones which fail butdon’t result in a lost die.

College of Glamour (XGtE)

College of Glamour is great for a bard looking to play a support role, and to lean into Charm effects. Unfortunately, it’s limited by the frustratingly small number of spells which actually make targets charmed (it’s basically just Charm X and Dominate X) and by the completely mundane ability of other creatures to decide to ignore you despite how glamorous and amazing your are.

While College of Glamour is certainly a fine subclass, it’s hard to find a place where it really shines. Mantle of Inspiration is their signature combat ability, but Tasha’s College of Everything added Aid to the Bard’s spell list, so bards already have a way to improve their parties hit points. Enthralling Performance is neat, but Charm Person mostly does the same thing. Mantle of Majesty is great for locking down a single target, but you need to make them Charmed which means that you need to cast a leveled spell anyway, so why not skip the complications and cast Tasha’s Hideous Laughter or Dominate Person? Unbreakable Majesty is excellent, but Sanctuary is a 1st-level spell and replicates half of the effect.

College of Glamour Bard Handbook

  1. Mantle of Inspiration: Reposition yourentire party and grant temporary hit points. You won’t need to usethis in every fight, but certainly don’t hesitate to use it if you think itwill be helpful.

    The temporary hit points don’t have a specified expiration, so theyexpire when you complete a long rest. If you use Mantle of Inspirationearly in the day, the temporary hit points may last all day long. Once youget Font of Inspriation at 5th level, be sure to use Mantle of Inspirationbefore you take a Short Rest to squeeze some benefit out of any remainingBardic Inspiration dice.

  2. Enthralling Performance: Similar toCharm Person with a 1-minute casting time, during which you need tosomehow hold that target(s)’s attention and during which you can’t beinterrupted. Charm Person is a 1st-level spell, it will have thesame save DC, and creatures don’t know that you’ve targeted them with thespell so you can cast Charm Person even while being observed, andso long as the creature can’t identify the spell and isn’t naturallyinclined to be hostile about you casting spells, you could try repeatedlyuntil the target fails its save.

    Where Enthralling Performance shines is when you need to charm a group.Enthralling Performance can affect up to 5 creatures once you hit 20Charisma, which would cost a 5th-level spell slot to replicate withCharm Person. The effect goes a bit beyond the basic effects ofCharmed, too, so you can easily turn your new fans toward variousnon-violent purposes like using them to force your way into a fancy party,to ward off local law enforcement, or to improve your reputation by havingthe crowd tell random strangers how great you are.

    However, sinceEnthralling Performance recharges on a Short or Long Rest, you generallycan’t exceed a 5-person crowd size (though magical options like Catnap totake a 10-minute short rest may make it possible).

    The biggest problem with Enthralling Performance is finding a suitable crowd whoalready likes you enough to listen to your for a full minute in a placewhere you can put them to a useful purpose without restorting to violence.This might be very easy dependening on the nature of your campaign, but inmost DnD campaigns you’ll spend long periods isolated from polite society(there are very few taverns in dungeons) or in locales with sparsepopulations of friendly humanoids.

    In campaigns which frequently involvelarge cities, this could be much more useful, but if you try to solveevery problem by inciting a mob of your fans, your DM might have theguards run you out of town. Look for opportunities to use this, but don’tabuse it.

  3. Mantle of Majesty: By charming a creatureand using Command to prevent the creature from using their turn(Drop and Grovel are great options), you can mostly paralyze a creature.Unfortunately, since you don’t use a spell slot for Mantle of Majesty,Command is cast at its minimum spell level and will only affect onecreature. This will work great to lock down strong single enemies, but in afight against a group you probably don’t want to use this.

    The auto-failure effect with Command is also weird since Mantleof Majesty doesn’t charm things, so you need to do that part on your ownwith a different effect, such as Charm Person.

    It’s also important to note that Mantle of Majesty still causes you tocast a leveled spell, so on turns where you’re casting Command asa Bonus Action you’re unable to cast any other spells except cantrips.Again: fine for big single foes, but dangerous in encounters with multipleenemies.

  4. Unbreakable Majesty: This is an amazingoption both defensively and offensively. Make sure to buff your AC or lookfor other defensive options so that you won’t get killed if a creaturepasses the save, but you should strongly consider drawing attacksspecifically to force this effect on enemies. Disadvantage on saving throwsagainst your spells in the following round means that a well-chosensave-or-suck spell can immediately take the creature out of the fight.

College of Lore (PHB)

College of Lore takes one look at the bard’s nominal ability to use weapons and decides rightly to disregard those capabilities in favor of more skills, more magical secrets, and the ability to trash talk enemies with Cutting Words. The abilities are fantastic and really play to the Bard’s function as a Jack of All Trades, and while it’s only two more spells, Additional Magical Secrets allows the Bard to fill in for basically any other spellcaster that you might have in the party so your party never needs to worry about you choosing to play a bard instead of a cleric or a wizard.

College of Lore Bard Handbook

  1. Bonus Proficiencies: 3 more skills of yourchoice brings your class’s total number of skill proficiencies up to 6 (notincluding those from your background and possibly from your race). You alsoget Expertise at this level, so level 3 represents a considerable jump inyour capabilities with skills.
  2. Cutting Words: This excludes savingthrows, so you can’t force enemies to fail save-or-suck saves, but you canuse it to protect allies from attacks which barely hit, or your could use itto hinder enemies’ ability checks, such as the opposed ability check toavoid being Grappled or Shoved by an ally.
  3. Additional Magical Secrets: Even morespells from a different class! This is especially nice because you get itfour levels earlier than other Bards. At this level you have access topowerful spells which come online at third level like Fireball and Revivify,allowing you to tailor your spell list to fill what capabilities your partymight need.
  4. Peerless Skill: This has a lot ofapplications. Combined with Superior Inspiration you could take aninspiration die on every initiative check (yes, those are ability checks,and yes you also get to add Jack of All Trades). You’ll want to be carefulabout using this for skill checks on days where you expect to do a lot offighting, as that can eat up your uses per day very quickly, and won’t be asuseful as potentially saving the life of one of your allies.

College of Spirits (VRGtR)

While there’s a lot to like about College of Spirits, its unpredictability makes it difficult to use to great effect, and Spiritual Focus (which is intended to make your core spellcasting effective enough to carry you when Tales From Beyond isn’t helping) is almost non-functional due to the Bard’s limited spell list and 5e’s rules on when you actually use a spellcasting focus. This appears to be due to the feature assuming that the bonus would apply more broadly, but the RAW rules for how focuses are used limit the spell’s benefits to a vanishingly small number of bard spells.

All it would take to raise College of Spirits to green is allowing them to use their Spiritual Focus on any bard spell, and therefore apply the bonus d6 to any damage/healing spell. I think that was the RAI, but WotC has a nasty habit of forgetting how painful the rules for spellcasting foci are.

College of Spirits Bard Handbook

  1. Guiding Whispers: Guidance is really goodeven with the limitation of Touch range. With this, you can help your alliesfrom a safe distance, such as by shouting encouragement to a rogue whilethey disarm traps or sneak behind your enemies. Verbal components need to bespoken clearly and aloud, so “whispers” may be a misnomer, but we don’t havean official ruling on just how loud verbal components need to be (JeremyCrawford saysit’s up to the DM), so maybe whispering is fine.
  2. Spiritual Focus: At this level you get theability to use some extra objects as spellcasting foci. This notablyincludes crystal balls and skulls, neither of which are options for wizards,so you can rub it in the faces of any diviners or necromancers you comeacross. Mechanically it has almost no effect, though you may accomplish someshenanigans by using the skulls of tiny creatures like mice so that you canhide your focus easily.
  3. Tales from Beyond: College of Spirits’signature feature. This is really fun, but it’s unpredictable, andunpredictability in class features makes me nervous. You generally don’twant to use this in combat because you could spend your Bonus Action to drawsomething that’s not helpful. Instead, you’re more likely to use this aftera Short Rest and hang onto your Tale until you can use it or it expires.

    Since this costs an inspiration die and expires when you take a Short orLong Rest, it’s costly at levels 3 and 4, but it gets much much moremanageable at level 5 when you pick up Font of Inspiration. Even then,some of the effects may not be worth the inspiration die to get them.

    Because you roll a Bardic Inspiration die to get your tale, your optionsare limited by the size of your die. The higher-numbered options aregenerally better, so there’s new stuff to look forward to as you gainlevels. Of course, this also means that you’re less likely to roll yourfavorites as your die size grows, but, fortunately, Mystical Connection willprovide some help once you hit level 14.

    1. Clever Animal: Situational. You’remost likely to use this in social situations, but it might also beuseful for Dispel Magic and Counterspell. If you can get this runningbefore a social situation, the benefits are absolutely massive.
    2. Renowned Duelist: Decentsingle-target damage, but it’s not much better than just casting acantrip, especially once you add the damage bonus from Spiritual Focusat level 6. Weirdly, this works at range but still calls for a meleespell attack. That usually doesn’t matter, but sometimes there arethings which affect melee and ranged attacks differently, like Tale ofthe Avenger.
    3. Beloved Friends: Nearly always useful.The temporary hit points don’t have a specified expiration time, so theylast until you rest. If you roll this, use it early when it’s easy to hittwo targets and consider getting another Tale.
    4. Runaway: Reposition your entire party.Escape grapples, bindings, and dangerous positions. You do need to beable to see the destination, but that’s still enough to solve a lot ofproblems.
    5. Avenger: Throw this on your party’sDefender. It only works for melee attacks, unfortunately, but the damagefrom this can add up very quickly.
    6. Traveler: Trade the second targetfrom Beloved Friends for a +1 AC bonus and some extra speed. Given thechoice between the two and no other information I would likely takeBeloved Friends, but in situations where enemies are making largenumbers of attacks a +1 AC bonus can make a big difference.
    7. Beguiler: Rob a single target of theimportant parts of their turn. I’d be excited about this even if it didn’t deal damage.
    8. Phantom: Being invisible willgive your target Advantage on their attack, which is always welcome, andmay allow them to avoid things like Opportunity Attacks. Your best betis to put this on a rogue, but even if your party doesn’t include arogue, the extra damage and Advantage are welcome for any character whor*lies on attacks. Making the target of the attack Frightened without asave is great, too.
    9. Brute: Turn an ally into the centerof a fireball. The AOE is big, the damage type is good, and your targetcan pick which creatures take damage. This can’t match the spellFireball, but three Bardic Inspiration dice is still a decent pile ofdamage for the cost to get this. If you have melee allies acting soonafter you in initiative, knocking foes Prone will also provide Advantageon their attacks.
    10. Dragon: The damage is slightlyhigher than Tale of the Brute, but the AOE is much smaller, doesn’t omityour allies, doesn’t provide a status condition, and does a much worsedamage type.
    11. Angel: Lesser Restoration plus a bitof healing. Not always required, but always handy.
    12. Mind-Bender: Literally just Beguilerbut better (unless the target is immune to being Stunned).
  4. Spirit Session: Similar in many ways toMagical Secrets, but considerably more complicated and with some additionallimitations in exchange for the ability to change the spell daily. Becausethis only teaches you the spell temporarily, it’s great for odd, situationalspells that you typically can’t justify learning permanently. However, thelimitation to divination and necromancy spells does narrow your optionsconsiderably.

    If you want to simplify this, you can just do the ritual after a Long Restto learn the same spell every day (Revivify and Summon Undead are goodexamples), but at that point just play College of Lore. This is great forthings like Lesser Restoration or Raise Dead, but don’t forget that thespell level is capped at your Proficiency Bonus.

    You’re required to include some “willing creatures” in the SpiritSession, but there’s no restriction on what those creatures are, what elsethey’re doing, their positions, etc. so it’s entirely possible that having5 tamed birds in a cage nearby (or a bag of rats) will suffice. I thinkyou’re intended to use your party members, but if the requirement is justfriendly humanoids you could easily find some commoners to hang out withyou for an hour.

  5. Spiritual Focus: The actually impactfulpart of Spiritual Focus comes online at 6th level. Bards don’t have as manyoptions for spells which restore hit points or deal direct damage as classeslike the Cleric and the Wizard, which is a huge problem for College ofSpirits. The d6 is added to one damage/healing roll of a spell, so AOEspells (Shatter) and some multi-target spells are great ways to capitalizeon the extra effect, but again, the Bard’s options here are pitifully small.This works with cantrips in theory, but there are none that qualify.

    The problem is easy to overlook (I did it on my initial read): SpiritualFocus’s bonus only works for spells which are cast through the focus,which means that it only applies to spells with inexpensive materialcomponents that aren’t consumed by the spell. RAW you can’t choose to usea focus when it’s not needed, so for most spells Spiritual Focus simplydoesn’t apply (see theSage Advice on Spellcasting Rules). Spells like Shatter work, but spells like Cure Wounds and Healing Worddon’t since they don’t have inexpensive material components and thereforecan’t be cast through a focus.

    The rules around spellcasting foci are a mess, so discuss how your DMwants to handle this. RAI I think you’re intended to be able to use thisbonus whenever you cast a spell with your focus in hand, but RAW thelimitations make this difficult to use. With the RAW restrictions, thereare no bard cantrips which qualify, the only healing spell on the Bard’sspell list that qualifies is Regenerate, and just five damage spells onthe Bard’s spell list qualify, and the only one that synergizes well withthe damage bonus is Shatter. You can fix this somewhat with MagicalSecrets at high levels by picking up something like Fireball, but that’stoo little, too late.

  6. Mystical Connection: By this level you’rerolling a d10 for inspiration, and you get d12 at level 15, so Tales FromBeyond is totally unpredictable. Mystic Connection does a lot to addressthat, but keeps enough unpredictability to keep Tales From Beyondfun and surprising.

College of Swords (XGtE)

The College of Swords Bard is the second attempt to bring martial capabilities to the Bard, leaning into light armor and finesse weapons and adding a splash of Battle Master to the mix. The result is an exciting mix, though there are certainly some challenges. Thematically similar to College of Valor, College of Swords places more emphasis on offense than College of Valor, offering access to Fighting Style and some interesting tactical options via Blade Flourish. However, the subclass’s resource management and the need to split focus between Dexterity and Charisma makes it very difficult to play without a Hexblade dip.

College of Swords Bard Handbook

  1. Bonus Proficiencies: Medium armor is niceuntil you get to 18 or 20 Dexterity, but you don’t get shields, so your ACwon’t be as good as a College of Valor Bard. Scimitars are useful if youplan to use two-weapon fighting, which looks viable thanks toFighting Style. This class feature also allows you to use weapons in whichyou are proficient as a spellcasting focus. This is useful whenyou need to cast spells in the middle of combat, but the rules for Somatic componentsin 5e are incredibly frustrating, so two-weapon fighting builds will still need to juggle weapons inorder to cast most spells.
  2. Fighting Style: An improvement to youroffensive abilities with weapons, but it largely locks you into using meleeor thrown weapons. Without a shield, fighting in melee is hard for a classwith d8 hit dice, and, unlike the Rogue you don’t have Uncanny Dodge tomitigate damage when your AC doesn’t hold up.
    • Dueling: Bards are spellcastersfirst, and having a free hand to perform Somatic Components means thatyou don’t need to constantly juggle one of your weapons to cast a spellwhich requires Somatic Components but not Material Components. Remember:you can use a hand holding a Focus to perform somatic componentsonly if the spell requires a material component without alisted price.
    • Two-Weapon Fighting: While thispresents a considerable boost to your weapon damage output, bardsalready have several abilities which consume their Bonus Action,including Bardic Inspiration and some spells, so in many turns you’llneed to give up your additional attack in order to do something moreimportant.
  3. Blade Flourish: Every flourish appliesthe Inspiration die roll as extra damage to the creature, but the damagefeels like it was thrown on to make this feel more appealing, and I don’tthink it worked. The effects just aren’t good enough to justify spending aBardic Inspiration die.

    It’s not totally clear how the extra damage here works on a critical hit.Normally you can tell if an effect like Divine Smite or Hex is multipliedbecause it adds “extra damage” equal to some number of dice. BladeFlourish adds the number rolled on your inspiration die, so it’stechnically a static numerical bonus like your ability modifier, eventhough you roll for the damage. I haven’t found an answer on this one fromJeremy Crawford, so the RAI is unclear. As a DM, I would allow the damageto be multiplied, but I don’t think that’s the intent, and I haven’t foundan official answer.

    • Defensive Flourish: You never rollmore than one die for your Bardic Inspiration, so it’s entirely possiblethat you’ll roll a 1. The 1-round duration means that you’re spendingone of your most powerful limited resources for an unpredictable,unreliable, and short-lived bonus to AC. The average value is prettygood, but gambling with your defenses like this is risky. If you’redesperate for AC, take the Dodge action. If you want lasting defenses,cast a spell.
    • Slashing Flourish: It’s nice thatthis applies damage toany number of qualifying creatures, but the damage isn’t very good, so you only want to use this whenyou’re going to hit numerous targets. Of course, casting Thunderclapwill have similar effects, and may deal considerably more damage withoutconsuming a limited resource.
    • Mobile Flourish: I would just assumethat you won’t get more than the base 5 feet of pushing since theaverage roll of your inspiration die won’t exceed 5 feet until level 10,and even then your odds are only slightly better than 50%. Generally ifan effect doesn’t move you a full 5 feet, it gets ignored because mostpeople use combat grids. The 5 feet is still enough to break grapples orget out of an enemy’s reach in most cases, but you could also Shove oruse a spell to solve the same problem.
  4. Extra Attack: A considerable improvementto your damage output with weapons. If you insist on using weapons insteadof spells, this is crucial.

    Unfortunately, you don’t have a big damage boost like most martialclasses do (Sneak Attack, Improved Divine Smite, etc.), so if you can geta weapon cantrip like Booming Blade it will be considerably more effectiveto use Booming Blade instead of making two attacks. Even with the damagebonus from Dueling, Booming Blade can still do more damage if thesecondary damage triggers (see my article onMelee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack.

  5. Master’s Flourish: Blade Flourish ismostly fine, but is hugely limited by your tiny pool of Bardic Inspirationdice. Allowing you to use it every round, even with a smaller die, makes ita reliable and meaningful part of your tactics in any turn where you’re notprimarily casting spells. This is especially nice with two-weapon fightingbecause you get three attacks with which to apply a flourish. Unfortunately,you’ve spent 13 levels limping along before Master’s Flourish came along andmade you useful.

College of Valor (PHB)

A martially-minded Bard may prefer College of Valor. By improving the Bard’s ability to wade into melee safely, the Bard can fill nearly every role in a party. If you’re in a small party, this is an exciting option. However, in a party of 4 or more the Valor Bard’s lack of focus will make it hard for the College of Valor Bard to truly shine.

When DnD 5e was just the core rules, College of Valor allowed the bard to toe the line between sorcerer-like spellcasting and fighter-like martial capabilities. However, newer, similar options like the Bladesigner Wizard, the Hexblade Warlock, and the Artificer have all left College of Valor far behind them in effectiveness. It remains a simple, approachable bard option that’s both effective and appealing for newer players, but it’s not going to impress you mechanically.

College of Valor Bard Handbook

  1. Bonus Proficiencies: Medium armor and ashield will significantly improve your AC. With 14 or more Dexterity, abreastplate, and a shield, you’re looking at a respectable 18 AC, enough tomatch a fighter in full plate (without a shield). Half-plate will get youmore AC, but you might prefer to avoid Disadvantage on Stealth checks. Ifyou eventually get to 18 Dexterity, consider switching back to light armor.You also get access to all martial weapons, but you’re probably going towant to stick to a Rapier, and all Bards get proficiency with rapiers.
  2. Combat Inspiration: The ability to addthe inspiration die to damage is wasteful (unless it gets used on a criticalhit, in which case it’s multiplied since it’s “extra damage” rather than anadditional source of damage). You’ll have much better results usinginspiration to prevent attacks. This isn’t quite as good as the College ofLore’s Cutting Words ability, but it allows your allies to make the decisionto use the die themselves, which is a nice mental load off of yourshoulders.
  3. Extra Attack: A considerable improvementto your damage output with weapons. If you insist on using weapons insteadof spells, this is crucial. Thanks to our access to full spellcasting as well as Magical Secrets, we can take full advantage of some unique buffs in place of a traditional martial’s damage boost (Sneak Attack, Improved Divine Smite, etc.). Spells like Shadow Blade, Elemental Weapon, and Holy Weapon pair incredibly well with Extra Attack.

    Unfortunately, because you don’t have a damage boost like most martial classes do,if you can obtain a weaponcantrip like Booming Blade it will be considerably more effective to useBooming Blade instead of making two attacks when using the aforementioned buff spells is inconvenient (such as your Concentration being already occupied). Booming Blade can still domore damage if the secondary damage triggers (see my article onMelee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack.

  4. Battle Magic: An excellent use of yourBonus Action, but your Bonus Action is also used for Bardic Inspiration, sothere will frequently be turns where you can’t use Battle Magic. If youlearn Booming Blade and/or Green-Flame Blade, you can still manage to maketwo weapon attacks in a single turn, similar to the Bladesigner or theEldritch Knight once they get War Magic.

College of Whispers (XGtE)

I wouldn’t consider College of Whispers for a normal adventuring campaign, but if your game is heavy on roleplaying and light on common things like dungeon crawling and heavy on things like political intrigue and social interaction, College of Whispers offers some useful options.

College of Whispers Bard Handbook

  1. Psychic Blades: This works withranged weapons, so you’re not forced to go swing a rapier, however, thedamage is pitiful compared to how useful a Bardic Inspiration die is. Youcan decide to use this after rolling a critical hit so that you can doublethe damage dice (similar to effects like Divine Smite or Hunter’s Mark), butCollege of Whispers never gets Extra Attack, so you’re gambling on a singleattack each turn with a 5% chance to crit when you should be casting spellsinstead. You could explore two-weapon fighting for another chance to hit andpotentially deliver Psychic Blades, but that’s a lot to commit for a chanceto deal a little bit of damage.

    The issue isn’t that Psychic Blades is bad. In a vacuum, it’s decentdamage of a good damage type. The issue is that it costs a preciousresource to do nothing but damage, and while damage is decent, you can dealdamage with your spells, but you don’t replicate Bardic Inspiration withspells. If you want direct single-target damage, you can find morereliable and more damaging options on your spell list without the need toinvest in making weapon attacks reliable.

  2. Words of Terror: It is hard to use this with any frequency. It’s very difficult tomeet the requirements of the feature without a ton of effort to bring it tobear against a suitable humanoid. Even if you manage to make it work,it’s rarely more impactful than spells like Cause Fear or Fear.
  3. Mantle of Whispers: Situational, but it’snotably better than options like Disguise Self due to your abilityto glean mundane information about the person you’re impersonating. I can’tthink of how many times a disguise has been foiled by something as simple asthe assumed identity’s associates attempting to make small-talk. You couldalso combine this with Words of Terror to infiltrate somewhere in disguiseand get someone talking long enough to make them Frightened before yourparty jumps out of a closet or something.
  4. Shadow Lore: Once per day you get asomewhat diminished version of Dominate Monster with an 8-hourduration. Charm bosses and force them to give you their treasure. Charm NPCsand force them to reveal plot secrets. Get creative. Unfortunately, you needto share a language with the target, so be sure to research your target ahead of time to check if you need to cast Tongues beforehand.

3rd-Party Publishers

RPGBOT has covered some 3rd-party content from our favorite creators. This content is published under the Open Gaming License, under Creative Commons, or through DMsGuild, and is not considered official content. As such, it is not available in Adventurer’s League organized play, and your group may not allow it in your game. If your group wants to explore 3rd-party content, we hope that these articles will help you make them work for you.

  • Tal’Dorei College of Tragedy Bard Handbook
DnD 5e Bard Subclass Breakdown – RPGBOT (2024)

References

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