Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, a relatively beefy guide to a bunch of new 5E options, made sure Bard wouldn’t be left out. Within the tome came three separate colleges for the class, including the College of Glamour. This college was passed down to bards by the Fey, and thus relies on illusions and charm effects to be effective. You will learn to use your magic to delight and entertain… Or potentially, to enslave and corrupt. Along with the already impressive repertoire of bard abilities, you gain new ways to make friends – by force. You can be an effective demagogue or politician, ally of all or oppressor of the kingdom. Yet somehow, this College receives little credit. Let’s dive in and see what we can drum out of this.
They’ll Love You: College of Glamour
The Glamour Bard is a perplexing support build. The first two abilities tackle combat and social situations. Afterwards, you focus on charming, locking down enemies, and preventing damage on yourself. Combine these with the Bard’s spell list, and you’ll get an immensely effective way to help your allies and hinder your enemies. However, several of your abilities are either inefficient, limited, or just plain don’t work in combat.
Mantle of Inspiration
By itself, the Mantle of Inspiration is a valid reason to take this class. You gain this at level 3.
As a bonus action, you can expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration to grant yourself a wondrous appearance. When you do so, choose a number of creatures you can see and who can see you within 60 feet of you, up to a number equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of one). Each of them gains 5 [+3 at level 5, 10, and 15] temporary hit points. When a creature gains these temporary hit points, it can immediately use its reaction to move up to its speed, without provoking opportunity attacks.
This ability is downright fantastic. Usually, your Bardic Inspiration buffs a single ally for a variable bonus on a single check. That’s already pretty good, but this ability brings that to the next level!
Let’s say your party is of standard size. That’s 4, including yourself. This ability only affects your allies, unfortunately, but you’d still be dishing out 15 temp HP as a bonus action, a number of times per day equal to your Charisma modifier… Soon to be a number of times equal to your Charisma mod per short rest! That’s not a bad amount of health, and acts as an overshield; you can do this first action of the day and waste no healing!
Obviously, the fact that it’s temp HP is not always a good thing. If this ability healed, it’d be incredible for bringing people off the ground. But, that’s a job for Healing Word. This ability helps ensure your party members don’t go down in the first place. And, unlike Healing Word, this hits everyone! Without using a 3rd level spell slot on Mass.
And this doesn’t only apply a buffer. Being able to move your speed as a reaction is incredible. In most cases, your melee allies would spend their reaction to be in range of their newest punching bags. And your ranged allies can get away from knifey goblins without getting poked in the rear on the way out. It does eat a Reaction, so make sure your party knows that before moving willy-nilly; they might need that reaction to defend themselves!
The only bad part of this ability is the scaling; 5, 8, 11, 14. Giving three allies 14 health in the late game is… Fine. It’s okay. This is around the point where you might want to consider adding d12 to your ally’s roll more often, since 14 is probably not going to protect them too well. The repositioning aspect still works with flight speed, at least, so… That’s a plus!
The “wondrous appearance” aspect of this ability is exclusively flavor, but hey, maybe your GM will allow you to get advantage on Persuasion in some scenarios. Probably not worth an Inspiration charge for that.
The second level 3 ability is… Slightly underwhelming, compared to Mantle of Inspiration. This ability refreshes on any rest.
If you perform for at least 1 minute, you can attempt to inspire wonder in your audience by singing, reciting a poem, or dancing. At the end of the performance, choose a number of humanoids within 60 feet of you who watched and listened to all of it, up to a number equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of one). Each target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC or be charmed by you. While charmed in this way, the target idolizes you, it speaks glowingly of you to anyone who speaks to it, and it hinders anyone who opposes you, avoiding violence unless it was already inclined to fight on your behalf.
This lasts for 1 hour, if it takes damage, if you attack it, or if it witnesses you attacking or damaging allies. Oh, and if they save, they don’t know you tried to charm it. So that’s cool!
So, let’s talk about the really big problem here; the phrase “perform for at least 1 minute”. A 1 minute casting time is plenty of time for someone to just… leave. Walk away. And if someone walks by after you’ve started the performance? They don’t count for the charm, because they didn’t watch all of it. Hopefully, your GM will agree to let you continue to perform until they watched 1 minute of it, and then they become a valid target. Otherwise, this ability will just miss most of your audience.
Okay, so you performed for 1 full minute. The person didn’t leave, come in late, or try to smack you. Great work! And your reward is…?
A worse Charm Person. That targets a maximum of 5 people at level 20.
And they still get to save against it.
The only big upside that this ability has is that it doesn’t use a spell slot or an Inspiration. The Charmed target also tries to hinder your opposition, but they don’t try to fight them… So… They can only help so much in fights, or distraction attempts. Hopefully your GM will let them at least Trip if your opposition is being a jerk about it.
If your GM lets you use your Performance check to keep people around you for the minute, then this could work in social situations. Otherwise, Charm Person does what this ability wants to do… But much better.
Mantle of Majesty
At level 6, you can really take command of the situation.
As a bonus action, you cast Command, without expending a spell slot, and you take on an appearance of unearthly beauty for 1 minute or until your concentration ends (as if you were concentrating on a spell). During this time, you can cast Command as a bonus action on each of your turns, without expending a spell slot.
Any creature charmed by you automatically fails its saving throw against the Command you cast with this feature.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Hah, get it?
Spamming out Quickened Commands for a full minute is far from bad. While Command is only a first-level spell, you can use it to make waste actions or force advantageous combat situations. All of that combat versatility for a bonus action is nice.
In addition, your Command spells lose their saving throw if the target was already charmed. Charmed creatures can still be dangerous to your allies, so forcing them to drop to the ground – or cause them to leave – might be smart. Consider charming a dangerous enemy to keep yourself safe, and then next turn using Command to make them act exactly how you want.
Now, downsides. Since you aren’t using Spell Slots, Command is cast as a 1st level spell. That means that you only target 1 creature with it. That’s fine, but while fighting mobs of creatures, Commanding one of them will probably not affect the battle too much. In addition, since you’re casting a spell, you can’t use your Standard Action to cast spells, unless they’re cantrips. For the next minute, your only spell that you can cast is Cantrips… And Command. Not the worst scenario, but you’re limiting yourself a bit.
In Boss encounters, you may want to consider starting the fight with a Charm Person and then activating this ability. Your options for Charming are far from limited – Charm Person, Enthralling Performance, Modify Memory, for just a few examples – so you can really make the battlefield into your own performance.
Use this either in individual encounters or when there’s a single dangerous enemy on the field.
Level 14 is where this archetype really shines. Mostly because you look amazing! The roleplay benefit is that you have supernatural beauty that makes you both lovely and fierce. The mechanical benefit;
…as a bonus action, you can assume a magically majestic presence for 1 minute or until you are incapacitated. For the duration, whenever any creature tries to attack you for the first time on a turn, the attacker must make a Charisma saving throw against your spell save DC. On a failed save, it can’t attack you on this turn, and it must choose a new target for its attack or the attack is wasted. On a successful save, it can attack you on this turn, but it has disadvantage on any saving throw it makes against your spells on your next turn.
This refreshes on any rest; beauty sleep or otherwise.
As an off note, this archetype has 3 abilities on a bonus action. That’s awkward! At least this one doesn’t use your Concentration.
This ability has quite a few great aspects. Lasting 1 minute? That’s awesome. That’s 10 rounds where you gain this effect, it activates on a bonus action, and it costs no actions to keep active. Charisma saving throw? Fantastic. Since the most important saves are Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom, only a few creatures will have good Charisma. And they might not be proficient in Charisma saves, meaning your Spell DC will be overwhelmingly high.
The failed save is arguably worse than a successful one. On a failed save, they whiff the attack. That means your health stays high, but if they were using a ranged attack or spell, then they can just choose someone else. Against melee combatants, this is rather potent, since you can just stay away from your allies and force lost attacks. If you really want to abuse this ability, you’d want to find a way to prevent your party from being seen – Darkness, Illusion spells, or various Fogs would work. That way, if your opponent has low Charisma saves, you’ll just continuously waste their actions by being the only available target. That’s some value!
The successful save lets the target hit you, but gives them disadvantage on any saving throws. That would be worse, since you’re taking damage, but… You’re a bard. You have an entire spell pool full of spells to make someone’s life horrible… Or to take all of their actions away. In the worst-case scenario, you can pop your level 6 ability and get two chances to Command them. In the best case, you can Dominate Monster, or Forcecage, and make the encounter much easier.
Consider being tanky enough to take a hit. You may want to wade into the front of the encounter with this ability! It guarantees that your opponent isn’t happy, whether or not it rolls well on it’s Charisma save.
Best Race for Glamour Bards
The Glamour Bard is heavily invested in Charisma. Your major goal in battle is to force enemies to become Charmed, or Command them to do actions, so you need to boost your DCs. After that… Well, the only ability that enforces potential melee combat is Unbreakable Majesty. Consider boosting your Dexterity or Constitution, and probably going ranged.
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes introduced the Eladrin. This subrace of Elf is rather potent on Bards. You’ll be boosting your Dexterity so your AC will be solid. Perception is one of the most used skills in the game. Immunity to charms and sleep makes you slightly better in some combats, while Darkvision means you don’t need to hold a torch and draw arrows from the other side of a combat.
The Eladrin are specifically fantastic Glamour bards. The bonus Charisma is wonderful, and Fey Step is ridiculously good; If you’re allowed to choose your season, go Autumn for the extra Charm effect. It is also the most flavorful choice, since Eladrin are fey creatures, and the college of Glamour is based on Fey magic. It writes itself!
One race that’s perfect for any Bard – but particularly good for a trickster bard – is the Changeling. This Eberron: Rising from the Last War race is quite potent for one reason; it’s the only one that can get a +3 to Charisma. That means you can get a +4 to Charisma with Point Buy and Standard Array right off the bat. In addition, you get the incredible Shapechanger ability, allowing you to take the form of whatever you’d like, whenever you’d like. It’s usually just a party trick, but creative players can turn it into something amazing. The final boon for the Changeling is free proficiency in two skills; either face skills or Insight. That gives you a massive amount of extra choices between your three class proficiencies and background; perfect for something as skill-focused as a bard!
Conclusion – Our Take on the College of Glamour
The College of Glamour is in a pretty good place. Depending on how your GM handles Enthralling Performance, all of these abilities can be quite good. Your allies will learn to rely on your ability to command others, as long as you can find the time to weave in Charms. If you’re looking for an interesting combat control build for your bard, you’ll love Glamour.