When it comes to fleshing out your bard in 5E, an important part of the flavor and benefits you get will depend on the subclass you select. The class itself is power and gives way for plenty of customization, but the college you choose can add important depth. These bard colleges are not created equally, though. To help you in your character building, we have ranked the colleges from best to worst below!
Our Criteria for Ranking Bard Colleges
At Nerds and Scoundrels, we look at five different factors when we weigh subclasses. Each of these factors is important, and we weigh them together equally. Keep in mind that we only compare these subclasses to each other as opposed to archetypes from other classes. It is possible that the options at the top of this list might be middling compared to other classes.
- Design. We look for subclasses that offer mechanics that are useful and frequently used by players. This includes giving special attention to low-level abilities, as most characters will not reach the maximum level. Subclasses with features that are not effective or likely to be rarely used will not be highly ranked in our list.
- Clarity. A subclass should be written in clear and straightforward language to make things easy for players and DMs alike. Using complex or confusing language may cause issues and conflicts, which is why we prefer clarity. Ensuring that the subclass is easy to understand will improve the overall experience for all involved.
- Fun. We look for subclasses that offer interesting gameplay options that allow you to contribute effectively to the team without sacrificing fun and interesting gameplay. The goal is to help you get the most out of your character without sacrificing the fun of playing the game.
- Theme. It is generally preferred for subclasses to have a clear and cohesive theme that ties all of its features together. When evaluating subclasses, we give more consideration to those with strong themes rather than those that lack any sense of unity or concept. All other factors being equal, subclasses with interesting and well-defined themes are considered more favorably.
- Versatility. We prioritize subclasses that provide versatility and the ability to create diverse character builds. While it is important for a subclass to excel in a specific skill or task, the ability to adapt to various roles and perform them effectively is even more valuable. That is why versatility is a crucial consideration in our evaluation of subclasses.
What is the Best Bard Subclass for 5E?
Just want to see our pick for the best bard subclass? Here we go!
The Best Bard Colleges Ranked
Unlike other classes, your choice of bard subclass does not come with a special set of spells like you would see with cleric domains. This means we are primarily ranking these colleges on the 4-5 subclass benefits each college gets. More than that, we also take into account the flavor and roleplaying potential for how a certain college might fit into a campaign.
8. College of Whispers
The College of Whispers is pretty cool, in theory. The concept is that on the outside, you’re just a normal bard. You might even pretend to be a member of another college. In reality, you are a collector of information. You use your access to nobility and the wealthy to steal their secrets for your own benefit.
The problem with this college is two-fold. The first is that it isn’t a great fit in a wide array of campaigns. The story of a two-faced bard is great, but it can detract from what the rest of the party might be going for. This ties into the second issue. A whisper bard is best in out of combat situations, but they are largely useless if the campaign isn’t centered around their type of abilities.
These bards are also not great in combat. Their abilities are either very situational or require a long casting time that does not suit combat at all. With the right party and GM this subclass could be pretty interesting, but it has earned its spot at the bottom of our rankings.
7. College of Swords
The step down from fifth place on our list to sixth place is steep. The idea behind the College of Swords isn’t bad – knife jugglers and sword dancers that are actually viable in combat. The biggest problem with subclass is that the feature it centers on – Blade Flourish – is pretty terrible. Blade Flourish allows you to spend your inspiration die on a number of flourishes that can increase your damage, AC, or even carry damage over to another creature. Unfortunately, the extra damage you get is pretty anemic compared to other classes at the same level. It’s a poor way to spend valuable inspiration die, and it really chokes of the usefulness of the class.
That said, It’s not all bad. Your bonus proficiency allows you to use your simple or martial weapon as a spellcasting focus. This frees you up to cast and fight at the same time. You also gain access to two fighting styles which are both good fits. On the balance, though, this isn’t a great option.
6. College of Spirits
The College of Spirits is a ghost-themed subclass first released with Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. This subclass has incredible flavor but lacks the mechanics to back it up. There are plenty of things to like about this subclass, of course. At level three, you get Guiding Whispers which allows you to cast guidance from range.
The real issue with this bard college is Tales from Beyond. The centerpiece of this subclass, Tales from Beyond has you roll your bardic inspiration die, which gives you a number of potential powers. Some of these are great and others are weak, but the fact that they are randomly determined means there is no guarantee the centerpiece of your subclass will be useful when you need it most. That’s a pretty big downside to me.
5. College of Creation
When it comes to a theme, the College of Creation is a winner. Mechanically, it isn’t the best. The theme of this subclass is ancient songs passed down through the generations that carry cosmic magic. There are some interesting options here like animating a nomagical item to become a sort of dancing familiar. You can also create a “mote,” which is tiny object that orbits you when you give out a bardic inspiration die. The mote lasts until the die is used, and gives an additional buff to the use depending on the type of role they use it on.
Central to the subclass is Performance of Creation which allows you to create nonmagical item of your choice. Obviously, this is enormously powerful in the mind of a creative player. But there is a catch depending on your DM: some games (including the Adventurer’s League) only allow you to create objects identified in the PHB. This is a bummer, as extremely common items are not listed there. Want to create a bowl? Sorry, no go. With a little flexibility from your DM and a lot of creativity from you, this subclass can be pretty great.
4. College of Glamour
Depending on your idea for your character, you could easily slide the College of Glamour into the second spot on our list. This subclass is centered around Charm mechanics and illusion spells, and makes for a fun option in a range of campaigns.
This is a strong option for a support bard, although well below lore bards. While charm effects are fun, they can be situational. However, the Mantle of Inspiration ability that gives your party temporary HP and allows them to move their full speed as a reaction is fantastic. If you like charm mechanics there’s plenty of good stuff for you in there, too.
One area where this college holds up better than the lore bard is if you have no interest in out of combat skill checks and proficiencies. This is a common role for a bard and something the College of Lore is unparalleled at. If you don’t care about the skills, though, it might be worth it to go this route and have some charms in your back pocket.
3. College of Valor
Where the College of Lore is everything a traditional bard strives to be, the College of Valor is something entirely different. While it succeeds in giving you a viable combat option for your bard, the end result is a notable step down compared to the lore bard.
If your goal is to wade into combat or even have a strength build with your bard, the College of Valor is for you. It’s not a bad option, as you get most of the great support spells of a bard with a decent amount of damage output and AC. Your proficiencies with a shield and martial weapons are especially nice.
The major hangup is that bard are ultimately the best at support casting. If that’s your goal, the College of Lore does it better. If you’re here to hack stuff up with your sword, another class is going to be optimal. However, this subclass still largely delivers if you don’t mind be slightly less optimal or if you want most of the powers of the bard without being useless in melee combat. Where this college really signs is a mixture of ranged weapon fighting and support casting, however.
2. College of Eloquence
Originally added through Mythic Odysseys of Theros, the College of Eloquence is an excellent option for a party face. Much like the College of Lore, this subclass really highlights the strength of the class overall. Eloquence bards are virtually unmatched as party faces. With silver Tongue, the chances of persuasion or deception checks are extremely low. This is a powerful tool in general, much less at level 3.
This bard also has interesting uses for bardic inspiration die. They can use the die for subtract from a target’s next saving throw, and it allows those who receive inspiration die from you to keep the die if the roll fails. At higher levels you can magically communicate with most creatures, and even spread out bardic inspiration to other allies without expending another die upon a successful use. There really isn’t anything that doesn’t work here.
1. College of Lore
Standing firmly at the top of this list is the College of Lore. Like what the Bard class has to offer? How about a lot more of it? The College of Lore accentuates what makes bards great,d own to just doubling down on some of the same class traits. This includes additional proficiencies and more spells from Magical Secrets. If you are looking for a party face character that can carry the load on your group’s skill challenges, this is perfect. You are not limited to that, though. Bard spells are amazing, but expanded Magical Secrets means you can pick and choose your favorite spells as you see fit. This is a great subclass.
Concluding our Best Bard Colleges List
And there you have it – our complete rankings for the best bard colleges in D&D 5E. No matter the type of character you hope to build, there are three basic tiers to these subclasses. The Lore Bard and College of Eloquence stands head and shoulder above the rest, with the College of Valor and the College of Glamour clumped together a step below. At the bottom are whisper bards and swords bards. Both have interesting aspects, but there are much better options available. Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think!