The bard suffered a small amount in the early days of the Player’s Handbook. They had the College feature, and only two options to choose from. Thank goodness they were both great! The College of Lore is reminiscent of bards of older editions. By going to this college, you know a little bit about everything. They bring the gift of knowledge to all who listen, and are in pursuit of beauty above anything, even monarchs or deities. You’re probably going to be honest, since you value truth so much. You might meet with classmates in actual colleges, for pete’s sake! Let’s see what the learned bard might be able to contribute to your adventuring party.
Know All Things: Lore Bard 5E
The Lore bard focuses on increasing the Bard’s utility. Initially, your focus is on upping your versatility through skills and more uses for your Bardic Inspiration. As time goes on, you also expand your spell repertoire and gain even more situations to use Bardic Inspiration. How inspiring!
Your role doesn’t change with this archetype. You are still likely to be a ranged support class, with plenty of potential to wade into melee with finesse weapons.
Ah, Bonus Proficiencies. You love to see this phrase in any subclass. What does the college of Lore teach their students to boost their knowledge?
When you join the College of Lore at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with three skills of your choice.
That’s… Actually kind of disappointing, weirdly enough. Still great!
This is a strict buff, so I’ll go over the only “whatever” part; you have Jack of All Trades. You already add half your proficiency bonus to everything. At level 3, this says “add +1 to three skills of your choice.” This increases to a +3 at level 20, which is far from nothing, but it’s also not exactly incredible.
Pessimism aside, adding to your proficient skills is fantastic for bards. As one of the few classes with access to Expertise, you gain 3 additional options to double proficiency bonus in. That means that while most other classes are trying to add 6 to their checks, you’ll be tossing around a mighty 12. If you choose to take Expertise on the skills that you give to College of Lore, then my “only downside” argument becomes obsolete; a +1 at level 3 may not be great, but a +3 is fantastic, and a +9 by level 17 is insane.
3 more skills also mean you double your classes’ skill list. Normally, with Expertise, you’d just boost all the options you got from class and background (or you’ll have 1 skill not-Expertised, if you had a Racial skill). That’s so many more options to choose from!
And it doesn’t only need to help in social situations (Though it helps a lot in social situations). If your campaign is wandering into Undead territory, then maybe you could become proficient in – and boost – Religion. Going underground? Consider boosting Arcana or History. Knowledge (and Perception) checks are essential for survival in any unknown area, so you could be the reason your party avoids wandering into a trap.
Consider both your party’s makeup, the direction that your campaign is heading, and your own character’s preferences here. Any bonus to a skill makes you more likely to hit DCs, so choose the DCs that you want to land.
Almost all Colleges have different ways to spend Inspiration. The Lore bard takes this in a different direction – giving it to your enemies.
When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll, you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration die and subtracting the number rolled from the creature’s roll. You can choose to use this feature after the creature makes its roll, but before the DM determines whether the attack roll or ability check succeeds or fails, or before the creature deals its damage. The creature is immune if it can’t hear you or if it’s immune to being charmed.
This is… Fine. It’s actually pretty great.
The most important thing to know about this ability is that you know your party member’s defenses much better than you know random monsters. After playing with them for 2 levels you probably have a good guess about what you can do to save your friends. And now, you have a way to prevent damage from happening without needing to rely on Disadvantage.
So… Why is this ability just “fine?”
Well, assuming that you are in a combat-focused campaign, the most important penalty you can throw on is attack rolls. Being able to use your reaction to grant penalties to attack rolls is pretty great, but you have a slight problem; you subtract a dice. That means you could take off 6… or 1. That’s a wide range, and you don’t want to spend both your reaction and a resource to do nothing.
So, when is this best? If an enemy just barely lands on the AC of your ally, then it’s a good idea to use this ability; 1 off of that attack roll makes them miss, so your reaction did exactly what you wanted. If your GM doesn’t allow you to see the result of the attack roll, then this ability becomes significantly more tedious to use. In that case, remember that a d6 averages to 3.5, d8 4.5, d10 5.5, and d12 6.5. As your dice gets larger, you go from a 20% average chance to cause them to miss, to 35%. If you think using a reaction to give your ally a 20-35% chance to take no damage is worth it, use your reaction.
Now, you can’t use this on enemy saving throws… But this can still be used for good anti-mage tech. Against Area of Effect spells, your inspiration dice lowers the damage done to all allies. That’s fantastic damage mitigation! Reducing damage by 3 on a melee attack is a little low… But if you roll a 3 on a Fireball, you could reduce damage by 12 if it hits the entire party. And highroll an AoE at level 15? Suddenly, you reduce damage done to the party by 48 as a reaction. It might not be as good as negating an attack roll, but it can be quite strong.
The reason why this might not be great is if you lowroll. Sure, you could reduce damage to the party by 48… Or by 4. Unless you’re desperate, you might want to save this for attack rolls.
The ability check reduction can be nice. Stopping Shove or Trip maneuvers could prevent a party member from falling off a cliff. Or, in social encounters, your cutting words could stop a Persuasion check, saving the King from signing a contract for his own death.
Or maybe just stop the party’s rogue from sweet talking the princess. Who knows?
Additional Magical Secrets
The level 3 abilities puts the Lore school solidly into the support category. Level 6 changes things, just a bit.
At 6th level, you learn two spells of your choice from any class. A spell you choose must be of a level you can cast, as shown on the Bard table, or a cantrip. The chosen spells count as bard spells for you but don’t count against the number of bard spells you know.
“Additional Magical Secrets” is kinda weird when you get it 4 levels earlier than other bards. It’s also a hilarious name.
Neither of those change the fact that this feature is incredible.
This ability lets you learn 2 spells from outside the Bard’s spell list – or inside, if you really want more. Unfortunately, unlike Magical Secrets, this neither scales, nor is at a very high level. However, Level 3 spells are at the level where casting magic gets juicy.
If you’re looking for damage, grabbing Fireball might not be bad – Lightning Bolt in dungeon-heavy scenarios. Area of Effect is rare on the bard spell list, especially with as big of a range as Fireball. Pumping out numbers makes you much, much better in swarm encounters.
If you want some more support, Haste is a Fighter’s best friend. You can use it on yourself for some extra damage, but it’d probably be better on a Barbarian or friendly martial. Counterspell is a fantastic spell and gives you a really good reason to use your Reaction on something other than Cutting Words. Protection from Energy is one of the best defensive spells in the game, and is great for anti-caster, and even anti-dragon.
Information spells aren’t quite incredible at this level. But, if you really want some information spells, you can pick up Augury or Locate Object.
If you want your melee career to go better, you could consider cantrips like Green-Flame Blade for more consistent, Charisma-based damage.
There are so many options to increase your utility, combat potential, or even make you more viable in social scenarios. You’re the final say on it, but make your choice wisely… You can’t relearn the spells once you choose them! Decide what your party needs most by this point and lean towards it.
The final ability of the college, at level 14, allows you to successfully use most of your class abilities with no allies on the field. So… Kudos.
Starting at 14th level, when you make an ability check, you can expend one use of Bardic Inspiration. Roll a Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to your ability check. You can choose to do so after you roll the die for the ability check, but before the DM tells you whether you succeed or fail.
At this point, you roll a d10 on Inspiration, soon to be d12. That means you can expect about a 6-7 to be added to your roll.
Which means your total roll on an Expertise skill could be a +19. Without ability scores. Or magic items.
Allowing yourself to have Bardic Inspiration is absolutely crazy. Not just because of the modifier, but because you’re the most likely party member to roll skill checks. Roll a 2 on Persuasion? Buff it up. Roll a 3 on a Perception check? Buff it up, You can recover from almost any failure if your Inspiration check rolls high enough. And since it doesn’t take a bonus action, you could still Inspire someone else nearby.
However, this isn’t normal bardic inspiration. This is only for skill ranks. You should only use these if you think that these ability checks are more important than increasing attack rolls or decreasing damage. Usually, this means that your ability check would either save your life or make an encounter significantly easier. In those cases, using this to catch up to a DC would actually be essential.
So, what situations would you want to use this? Most DCs are going to max out at around your current Spell Save DC. So, if a +1 or so would catch you up with your Spell save DC, then you’re in a pretty good spot. Obviously, if you’re trying something strange – like flirting with dragons – you’ll have to trust your gut.
And if your GM doesn’t give it to you on a 30 or more… Then it might not be something they want you to do.
This is a great ability, but you should save it for really dangerous and important ability checks. It’s pretty restrictive compared to traditional bardic inspiration.
Best Race for Lore Bards
The college of lore is fairly standard for bards. You want to boost Charisma to have maximum charges of your Bardic Inspirations, as well as the best DCs possible for your spells. Dexterity is crucial for your ranged attacks or finesse weapons to be effective, and Constitution helps you not die in one hit. Interestingly, if your goal is to become your party’s keeper of knowledge, you really don’t need much Intelligence; Expertise will do plenty. However…
The Tiefling race might be a great option! While you don’t need Intelligence, having +0 or +1 Intelligence isn’t bad. It boosts your Knowledge skill checks to a point where they are workable. The +2 Charisma is much more interesting for you. Darkvision is great to avoid torch handling, Hellish Resistance avoids the most common elemental damage, and Infernal Legacy gives you quite a few spells.
If your GM lets you use Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, then you could consider taking a bloodline. Glasya gives you Dexterity instead of Intelligence, and you get some trickery spells. Levistus gives Constitution instead of Intelligence, and you get some aggressive spells. Any of these options make for a pretty high-tier Bard in the end.
Unlike the Tiefling, this Volo’s Guide to Monsters race can’t substitute their +1 Intelligence for a more useful stat. Thankfully, like the Tiefling, they get Darkvision and some inherent spellcasting. The spells that they get are somewhat simplistic, but strong in specific situations. You get great cantrips, at least! Magic Resistance is quite literally incredible, and Poison Immunity prevents early-game encounters from being serious threats. You could do much worse than these strange reptilian people. Maybe have your instrument of choice be a flute and snake-charm yourself.
Conclusion – Our The College of Lore
The Lore bard is insanely strong. By itself, you could theoretically avoid ever needing a Rogue, since you gain so many skills. You become a master of supporting and versatility, with some of the best buffs and debuffs you could find. And if that wasn’t enough, you could get extra support with your spells… But you’ll always get some extra utility from Additional Magical Secrets. This is a fantastic bard to choose if your party is already well-made, but could use someone to fill in some holes.