The bard is more than a mere signer. There are plenty of minstrels and songbirds that populate the world, but bards are something more. These adventurers have managed to harness the magic music carries. The bard is one of the most interesting classes in the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It offers a lot of interesting combat and support options, and they make for a great face of the party. To get the full story on this great class, see our comprehensive Bard 5E guide below.
Bard 5E Guide
When it comes to playing a bard, versatility is the name of the game. You get access to every skill, an array of excellent spells, full casting, and a boatload of other benefits. With the right subclass you can even take on the role of frontline fighter.
Outside of certain builds, a bard will focus on spellcasting. They use charisma to cast and share the “known spells” mechanic that sorcerers use. They are also a full caster like a cleric.
The basic class features are the same for all bards. However, the subclasses and spellcasting choices are where this class really becomes versatile.
Hit Dice: 1d8 per bard level
HP at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier
HP at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per bard level after 1st
Armor: Light armor
Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords
Tools: Three musical instruments of your choice
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Charisma
Skills: Choose any three
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a rapier, (b) a longsword, or (c) any simple weapon
- (a) a diplomat’s pack or (b) an entertainer’s pack
- any musical instrument
- Leather armor and a dagger
Bardic Inspiration (Level 1, 5, 10, 15)
Bardic inspiration is one of the cornerstones of the class. It comes in handy at any level and in many situations. It allows you to use music or words to ensure your party member. This bonus action gives one creature a Bardic Inspiration die. At Level 1, this die is 1d6. Within the following 10 minutes, the creature can add that die to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw. The creature can even wait until after the roll but before the outcome is announced to use the die. A bard can inspire as many times as their charisma modifier. They are regained after a long rest.
The die goes up as you level. At Level 5 it becomes a d8. At level 10 it is a d10. Finally, Level 15 gives a d12 inspiration die.
Jack of All Trades (Level 2)
Jack of All Trades allows you to add half of your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any ability check that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus. helps in a wide range of situations, including initiate rolls.
Song of Rest (Levels 2, 9, 13, 17)
The Song of Rest is another feature that increases as you level. At level 2, you can heal your allies during a short rest. Any friendly creature that can hear your performance can roll a die to regain hit points. At level 2, you grant 1d6 HP. This increases to 1d8 at level 8, 1d10 at level 13, and 1d12 at level 17.
Any bit of healing is nice, even when it is limited to a short rest. This is well balanced as long as the DM doesn’t let the party abuse short rests.
Bard College (Level 3)
The bard college is a bard’s subclass. This choice is important, as the subclasses vary dramatically. We will do an in-depth review of the colleges below.
Expertise (Levels 3, 10)
With expertise, you can choose two of your skill proficiencies. Any ability check results in your proficiency bonus doubling when using either skill. This is fantastic, especially since you have free reign to choose skills as a bard. You gain expertise in two more skills at level 10.
Font of Inspiration (Level 5)
Until level 5, you only regain your uses of Bardic Inspiration after a long rest. After Font of Inspiration, it now refreshes following a short or long rest.
Countercharm (Level 6)
Countercharm allows you to use words or song to disrupt certain mind-influencing effects. When you take an action to begin performing, you and all friendly creatures within 30 feet get advantage on saving throws against attempts to frighten or charm you. The friendly creature has to be able to hear you for this to be effective.
Fairly situational, countercharm is not usually worth the cost of an action outside of fights against creatures who make heavy use of fear or charming.
Magical Secrets (Levels 10, 14, 18)
Magical Secrets grants you access to any two spells of a level you can cast. They can be from any class, and they count as bard spells for your purposes. They count toward your number of known spells. You gain two more spells at level 14, and again at level 18. Bards already have a fantastic selection of spells, but there are plenty of good spells elsewhere.
Superior Inspiration (Level 20)
When you hit level 20, you gain an additional bardic inspiration die any time you roll initiative and have spent all of them. This is a nice little bonus that benefits running out of inspiration dice immediately before a fight.
See our Breakdown of the Best Bard Spells in 5E!
When it comes to bards, spellcasting is at the forefront. In fact, they are one of the most prolific casters given their full casting ability and no requirement that they prepare spells each day. As long as a bard knows a spell they can cast it if they have the necessary spell slot available. Each time you gain a level, you can replace a spell you know with another from the bard spell list.
Like all casters, the bard also has a single ability they use for spellcasting. In this case, it is charisma. Not only do you use charisma for your spell attack rolls, it is also the base of any spell save DC when a bard spell requires one.
Bards have the ability to cast spells as rituals, so long as it is a spell that you know. Remember, only spells with the ritual tag can be cast in this way. To learn more, see our ritual spellcasting guide.
Bards can also use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus for bard spells. This has a minor impact, but does allow you to avoid the necessity fo carrying around the minor spell components needed for casting.
For such a great class, subclass options for bard are a little sad. It’s not as bad as the monks have it, but few of these options truly stand out and some of them are pretty bad in general. Unlike some other casting classes, these subclasses do not include unique spell lists.
College of Glamour
The College of Glamour is a support-focused subclass that makes use of Charm effects. If your goal is to be a pure support caster, this is a great option. The subclass does nothing to improve your offensive output, however.
- Mantle of Inspiration (Level 3). You can make a bonus action on a number of allies equal your charisma modifier to grant 5 temporary HP and allow them to move their full speed as a bonus action immediately. This is awesome.
- Enthralling Performance (Level 3). This allows you to charm a humanoid that you perform for. After performing at least one minute, humanoids within 60 feet that can hear you must make a wisdom saving throw or become charmed. They will speak glowingly of you, but will only fight for you if they were already inclined to do so. In other words, you need one full minute of concentration to essentially cast level 1 Charm Person. meh.
- Mantle of Majesty (Level 6). You can cast Command as a bonus action without spending a spell slot. During the next minute, you can cast Command as a bonus action for each of your turns. Any creature you charm automatically fails the saving throw. Good way to lock down a single target.
- Unbreakable Majesty (Level 14). For one minute or until incapacitated, any creature attacking you for the first time in a turn must make a Charisma saving throw or be forced to attack someone else.
College of Lore
The College of Lore is arguably the best subclass, and that is despite doing little more than enhancing the Bard’s natural strengths. Straight out of the Player’s Handbook, this college adds a lot to the traditional bard build.
- Bonus Proficiencies (Level 3). Joining this college nets you three proficiencies of your choice. This means at level three you get six proficiencies and three expertise. Not bad at all.
- Cutting Words (Level 3). Cutting words lets you distract an enemy within 60 feet. Any time a creature makes an attack roll, ability check, or damage roll, you can spend one bardic inspiration and subtract that die from the creature’s roll.
- Additional Magical Secrets (Level 6). Magical Secrets is especially powerful, and now you get two extra spells at Level 6. Most bards have to wait until Level 10 for extra spells!
- Peerless Skill (Level 14). Peerless Skill lets you roll an inspiration die and add that number to any ability check roll. You can use this after you make the ability check roll but before the DM tells you if you succeeded.
College of Swords
Not your traditional artist, members of this college entertain by juggling blades or swallowing swords. Unfortunately, the cool flavor that comes with this subclass is about all that it is good for. The idea is that you expend your inspiration die for skilled weapons attacks, but the whole thing falls flat.
- Bonus Proficiencies (Level 3). You gain proficiencies with the scimitar and medium armor. You can also use a simple or melee weapon you are proficient with as a spellcasting focus.
- Fighting Style (Level 3). You can select the fighting style of either Dueling or Two-Weapon fighting. Dueling is a nice boost to damage while keeping a hand free to cast spells. WIth two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.
- Blade Flourish (Level 3). This is the central theme of the college, and it’s kind of a waste. You can use one of three blade flourishes per turn after a weapon attack hit. Each costs a bardic inspiration die, which is a steep cost given that they are weak effects. Defensive Flourish adds damage and a bonus to your AC next turn in the amount of the inspiration die roll. Slashing Flourish does additional damage to the target and one other creature. Mobile flourish deals extra damage and pushes the target away from you.
- Extra Attack (Level 6). You can make two attacks when you take the attack action each turn.
- Master’s Flourish (Level 14). This undoes the frustrating aspects of Blade Flourish by replacing the need for an inspiration die with a d6 roll instead. It’s a nice boost to a weak subclass, but 14 levels is a long wait for this college to become worth it.
College of Valor
College of Valor is similar to the College of Swords in that it is weapon-focused. The two differ, however, as Valor bards get heavier armor and an additional attack. While a better option than the College of Swords, this one still has some holes.
- Bonus Proficiencies (Level 3). You gain proficiency in medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. With this, you can dramatically improve your AC as a bard.
- Combat Inspiration (Level 3). This allows those you inspire to add their inspiration die to a weapon attack damage roll. Alternatively, the creature can add the inspiration die to its AC when they are attacked. This is a nice buff that you can hand out and then let someone else worry about.
- Extra Attack (Level 6). You get a second attack per attack action each turn. How useful this is depends on your dexterity versus your spellcasting ability. If your sword attack does more damage than your best offensive cantrips, you might use this a lot.
- Battle Magic (Level 14). When you cast a bard spell, you can make a weapon attack as a bonus action. This is a nice use of your bonus action, and can be paired with spells like Booming Blade for extra damage.
College of Whispers
The “wolves among sheep” compared to other bards, the College of Whispers is a type of bard that seems like any other on the surface. Behind the facade is a rumor-starved, power-hungry tactician that uses the information the glean performing for the powerful for their own purposes. The flavor of this college is amazing, but in many campaigns it will be an odd fit.
- Psychic Blades (Level 3). This benefit lets you do additional psychic damage with a successful weapon attack. By spending an inspiration die, you can choose to deal an additional 2d6 psychic damage after an attack. This can be with a ranged weapon if you tend to stay out of the fray. The damage increases to 3d5 at level 5, 5d6 at level 10, and 8d6 at level 15.
- Words of Terror (Level 3). If you speak to a humanoid for more than one minute, the target must make a wisdom saving throw or be frightened of you or another creature of your choice. This is pretty poor given the long casting time.
- Mantle of Whispers (Level 6). Mantle of Whispers allows you to adopt the persona of a humanoid that died within 30 feet of you. This disguise is convincing and lasts up to an hour. While using this feature, you gain access to any information the dead person would have shared with a casual acquaintance. I.E. enough to pass yourself off, but you don’t know their secrets. Another creature sees through your shadow with a successful insight contest against your deception, but you get a +5 bonus. This is cool but situational.
- Shadow Lore (Level 14). This lets you whisper to one creature and, if they fail a wisdom save against your spell save DC, are charmed for 8 hours. Sort of a watered-down Dominated Monster.
Fleshing Out Your Bard
Bard characters are often pigeonholed into this concept of a singer or musician singing on top of a tavern table for spare coins. If that is your idea for your character, then don’t let me stop you. The reality of this class is that bards can be so much more. Performance goes beyond just singing, as some of the subclasses point out. You can make a wide array of artforms work for your character without getting stuck in cliche territory.
Selecting your Focus
There is nothing wrong with having a bard that plays an instrument and sings. But if you want to try something else, below is a list of less-common options available to you:
- Circus Performer
- Court Jester
- Sword juggler
Develop a Backstory
As a natural storyteller and often the face of your adventuring group, it helps to have a backstory. Not just “I used to sing for money and now I’m here.” Where did you learn your skills? Were you formally trained or self-taught? Do you have any ties to other famous artists? All of this can enhance your ability to tell a story during the campaign.
It also helps to define your type of performances. Are you known for sad ballads or tavern music? Do you paint dark, foreboding images? Let your style help shape your character.
Bard 5E Optimization Tips
Despite all of the ways to tweak your bard, they are generally going to follow one of two paths. The first is a spellcaster, whether it is primarily support or more offensive-minded. The second is as a finesse-based melee character. In either case, your ability priorities are going to be about the same.
As a bard, you aren’t going to get very far without high charisma. Your magic runs on charisma, and it powers your ability to be the face of the party if you choose to go that route.
- Strength. Dump stat. Melee or not, you won’t be using strength outside of saving throws or avoiding grappling for the most part.
- Dexterity. This is your second most important stat since you’re probably wearing light armor. In addition to your AC, boosting dexterity is crucial if you plan on wielding a weapon.
- Constitution. Your third priority. You need HP just like everyone else.
- Intelligence. This varies. While you don’t need it for casting, it is useful for saving throws and any intelligence skills you select. Generally a low priority though.
- Wisdom. See intelligence.
- Charisma. Bards rely on charisma. Max this out as fast as possible, regardless of whether you are exclusively a caster or if you tend to use a weapon. Most of your powers are centered around your charisma score.
Best Races for Bard in 5E
Like with all of our class handbooks, we have to point out first that there are no right or wrong races for playing a Bard. The reality is that you can make any race work if you really want to. Sure, some are more optimal than others, especially at lower levels. But a high-level bard from a “bad class” will be much more powerful than an optimal race at lower levels.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with squeezing the most out of your character. Given the importance of charisma to a bard, it wise to focus on races that have charisma bonuses or other features that slot nicely with a bard build.
- Aasimar. The Aasimar gets a nice bonus to charisma, making this a good choice. This is especially strong for a valor bard using Fallen Aasimar’s Necrotic Shroud.
- Elf. Dexterity and perception are nice, but the Eladrin Elves bonus to Charisma and the addition of Fey Step is fantastic.
- Half-Elf. the half-elf is a fantastic option given the +2 to charisma and two free skills.
- Halfling. The dexterity bonus is nice, and Lightfoot halflings also get charisma. Bountiful luck is also awesome.
- Human. Let’s face it, humans can do it all.
- Tabaxi. +2 dexterity and +1 charisma is great. With perception and stealth proficiency, this stacks nicely with all the skills a bard gets.
- Dragonborn. Not a bad option, especially for a valor bard.
- Tiefling. Lots of fun subrace options, a charisma boost, and some nice racial abilities make a pretty decent bard option. On balance, still not as strong as a half-elf though.
Best Available Backgrounds
There are a ton of backgrounds to choose from in 5E. For bards, there are even more options than most classes have to choose from. While skill proficiencies are important, collecting a wide range of skills is a big part of what bards do. Additional languages are also a big plus. Below are some of our favorite picks for Bard 5E backgrounds.
Before we start, you might be surprised to see Entertainer not on this list. While it fits stylistically, it offers virtually nothing a bard needs that it doesn’t already have.
- Charlatan. Deception and sleight of hand are a nice combination, but this doesn’t give you additional languages.
- Criminal. This is a nice option if you are the closest thing your party has to a rogue.
- Courtier. Perfect for the face of a party, insight and persuasion are very helpful. The same is true for two extra languages.
- Faction Agent. Insight proficiency plus your choice of a second option is great, as is two more languages.
Feats are always a fun option, especially for a customizable class like the bard. That being said, there aren’t a lot of must-have feats for this class, especially if you are giving up ability boosts instead. If you find yourself searching for a feat, the follow examples are good options.
- Inspiring Leader. This fits thematically, and it also offers a nice pool of temporary HP for your party.
- Lucky. This is just a great feat in general, and it works for anyone. Its a nice fit for a support-themed bard in particular.
- Magic Initiate. If you are primarily a caster, this is the best feat available to you. Getting access to more spells from other classes can really round out your character.
- War Caster. Situational, but if you are planning on a mix of swordplay and combat this will come in handy. This is especially true if you are a Valor bard intending to rel on Booming Blade or something similar.
Multiclassing as a Bard
Multiclassing as a bard is a nice option for a few reasons. While many classes like the Cleric have incredible high-level abilities, the same can not be said for the bard. With little to lose by giving up these high-level benefits, why not multiclass? Another valid reason for multiclassing is the bard’s role as the jack of all trades. What could be more helpful than dipping into another class for extra abilities or spells?
Good Multiclassing Options for Bard
This suggestion might surprise you, but taking a level of fighter as a Lore Bard is honestly better than choosing the college of swords or valor. You get a fighting style and all the proficiencies of a valor bard without giving up the strengths of the College of Lore. Anything beyond level 1 fighter might not be worth it, or it might signal you should be playing something other than a bard to begin with.
The Paladin is a good option for a bard multiclass, but only if you are committed. One level of paladin does little for you and is objectively worse than a single dip into fighter. But at level two a lot more interesting stuff opens up. You get access to paladin spells, which include a few smite options. At level 2, Divine Smite is also a great option for any melee-based bard. Although you get access to Paladin oaths at level 3, it is unlikely to be worth that big of a dip.
Skills! This combination gives you all the skills, essentially. This is a great single level dip, especially if your party doesn’t have a rogue. If it does, this level may be better spent elsewhere.
Warlock is a charisma caster which is nice, but taking a dip into warlock to grab hexblade is fantastic for a bard. With hexblade you gain access to some armor, allowing you to work with a lower dexterity without giving up your AC. There are good spell options too, although magical secret is a better way to obtain them.
- Artificer. Not a good fit for a bard.
- Barbarian. You can’t cast while raging, not this makes sense outside of that either.
- Cleric. Getting access to better armor is cool, but your casting abilities clash.
- Druid. Different casting abilities make this not worth a dip.
- Monk. The ability stat spread is way too much to make this work.
- Ranger. See Monk. Trying to make this work means you are spread too thin, ability-wise.
- Sorcerer. This is a borderline fine option since Sorcerer’s are charisma casters, but you can’t get access to their best spells.
- Wizard. As an intelligence-based caster, a dip with bard makes little sense.
Wrapping up our Bard 5E Guide
That concludes our Bard 5E Guide here at Nerds and Scoundrels! There are a lot of reasons to love the bard, regardless of your playstyle. With a little tweaking you can be anything from a utility-healer to a damage dealing swordsman. This is easily the most customizable class, and it really excels with a little bit of multiclassing. You can serve as the face of your party and fill the hole a rogue would normally due if you party lacks one.
Do you have any thoughts on this class that we left out? With a song in your heart and a spring in your step, swing by our comment section below and tell us what you thing. We are always happy to hear from our readers!