Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Today we’re going to chat a bit about bards. Bards traditionally have been considered a bit of a weaker class (by those who just don’t understand how amazing their skillset can actually be) and we’re going to set out to debunk that.
Bards can be highly versatile and utilize cunning, charm, and luck to support their party and incapacitate foes. With the right Bardic build and party dynamics, they can finagle themselves and their friends out of tough spots both in Roleplaying and during battle.
As is quickly becoming tradition, we’ll be covering four main topics today:
Race - The race you pick for your Bard is more important than most other classes. They’re a highly specialized class, so this is important.
Bardic College - There are like… SO many options for bardic colleges. I’ll cover my two favorites and what makes them best regarding stat optimization.
Skills and Backgrounds - Making sure your Bard has an applicable background for great roleplaying is so very important. This is more for style points, but there are definitely some useful ones.
Feats - As per usual, Feats are a must-have. You’ll see this as a recurring theme throughout all my guides. Feats, Feats, Feats.
Bards use charisma both as a roleplaying safeguard as well as their spellcasting focus. That, in addition to their traditionally cunning and witty personas, makes Charisma and Dexterity your main needs when it comes to stats. Constitution is third so you can avoid being a punching bag that takes up all of the healer’s time. The rest depends on your personal preference.
As an aside, I’m going to be making a blanket statement to be used for the rest of these guides. Human Variant is great. It works for literally everything and you get a free Feat. If your DM says you can use it and want to break the game a bit, go for it. If you want to focus on Roleplaying, forego it in favor of something a bit more diverse.
Half Elf - Predictable first pick, I know. You get four free points, two go to Charisma, and two to allocate. Darkvision and Fey Ancestory are handy buffs. You get an extra language, and you get to choose two additional proficiencies. It’s a highly appealing pick and, as far as optimization, is the technical winner.
Aasimar - I picked Aasimar over Tieflings simply because they start with Celestial Legacy. Having some healing buffs at the start is super useful for yourself and the party. Statistically, they’re exactly the same and depending on the campaign and your roleplay style, either one is great. It’s a great pick for anyone who wants to get outside the box a little bit.
Dragonborn - I personally love the Dragonborn archetype. Something about their role in Faerun is captivating. I also know this is a weird addition to the list. Hear me out though. If you’re looking to have a bard that can pack a bit of a punch, this is a great route. We’ll talk about the colleges next, but they stack really well with College of Whispers builds.
I’ve made a really tough choice here and decided to only put two colleges in this guide. Most guides you’ll find on the internet, and most players for that matter, recommend the College of Lore. I, on the other hand, think it’s overplayed. The College of Whispers is more technically sound than the College of Lore, and here’s why.
1. College of Whispers - This is just such a cool subclass. Not only is it non-traditional as hell for a Bard to have a dark, seething undertone to them, but it’s a really strong class overall. The College of Lore is essentially the nice, party-focused iteration of this subclass, but it’s overplayed. You can use Psychic Blades early on which makes you a serious threat with a 2d6 addition. Words of Terror makes you a great enemy controller and is fun for roleplaying. It also pairs really nicely with Dissonant Whispers (we’ll talk about that in a moment).
This subclass also scales super well. Mantle of Whispers (Level 6) is creepy as hell, it essentially makes you a doppelganger, and just thinking about Shadow Lore (Level 14) makes me really uncomfortable.
The more I think about this subclass, the more I want to play a Neutral Evil Bard.
2. College of Valor - This is great if you want to get up close and personal with some of your enemies. You can wear medium armor, you get an extra attack, and you still get to support your team.
I think every party needs a Bard. Moreover, every DM should make their Bard actually sing sometimes. The skills and background you imbue your Bard with can really add the cherry on top of a wonderfully RP-heavy class. Spells are a huge deal with Bards, so let’s dig into some of the important tidbits.
Dissonant Whispers - At first level, this is a must. If you use it wisely, you’ll not only be able to sneak in 3d6 damage early on but more importantly, send your enemy walking through and/or away from the radius of your teammates for free Opportunity Attacks. Let the enemy get up close, let your friends get close, then make the enemy run away and get punished for it.
Mantle of Whispers - This will get incredibly important when I talk about Feats, but from PHB, "At 6th level, you gain the ability to adopt a humanoid's persona. When a humanoid dies within 30 feet of you, you can magically capture its shadow using your reaction. You retain this shadow until you use it or you finish a long rest. You can use the shadow as an action. When you do so, it vanishes, magically transforming into a disguise that appears on you. You now look like the dead person, but healthy and alive. This disguise lasts for 1 hour or until you end it as a bonus action." This is an amazing subclass skill and stacks super well with the Actor Feat.
Suggestion/Mass Suggestion - You’re effectively incapacitating enemies to do your bidding. Did you think Bards were weak? Maybe not so much when they’re commanding a Troll to kick your ass.
Leomund’s Tiny Hut - If you don’t get this spell why are you even playing D&D? (Kidding. But for real, this is one of the top 5 best spells in the game.)
Invisibility - You’re likely squishy. Invisibility gives you an opportunity to make your Tiny Hut and close the door before any enemies see you.
Raise Dead - D&D can be a scary place. Being able to raise the dead makes it a bit less scary for you. And horrifying for your enemies. Plus, if you take the College of Whispers, it makes you a Creepy Necromancer Bard.
Wish - This is some serious endgame stuff. Wish is like the Luck Feat. I’ll always recommend it if it’s applicable.
There are a LOT of spells. Tons of Cantrips too (always take Eldritch Blast). Some of my other guides will cover them for other classes, but I’d recommend all of the ones above as must-haves. Do a bit of additional research from sourcebooks, and pick the rest of your spells for fun!
War Caster - With Eldritch Blast in conjunction with some of the spells I listed above, War Caster is a must. It gives you advantage on Constitution Saves, which is great, but moreover, it lets you cast spells as opportunity attacks. Dissonant Whispers + Spells + Friends = Ouch.
Inspiring Leader - It’s great if you want to make your party less squishy right before a big boss battle. Definitely worth it at higher levels if you roll well for your stats.
Actor - I talked about this one a bit earlier, but combined with Mantle of whispers you ALWAYS get advantage when using this skill. That’s a no brainer, plus it makes roleplaying easier.
Lucky - Always recommend Lucky.
As an aside from all of the above, I recommend multiclassing your bard around the 7th or 8th levels, depending on the rest of your party. Go with Cleric if your party doesn’t have enough healing or Warlock if you’re already balanced. Putting 3 points into Warlock and getting a tome of the Old Gods would make for an incredible build if you went for the College of Whispers. That actually might be my next character.
Anywho, there it was. Literally everything you need to know about Bards. Ever. Don’t look up any more information because it’s all above.
But seriously, thanks for reading. I hope you were able to get a couple of fun tips for your next Bardic build! Look for more of these coming soon! If you haven’t figured it out, I’m going alphabetically… so Cleric is next!