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!
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.
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.
2. 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.
3. 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 skillchecks 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.
4. College of Swords
The step down from third place on our list to fourth 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.
5. 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.
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 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!