Are you afraid of the ghosts in the attic? No? Well, this college is right for you! Introduced in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, the College of Spirits brings the absolute insane magic of Medium-hood to your character. By channeling the spirits through you, you’ll be able to buff your allies in ways never seen before. However, being host to the world of the undead can take a massive toll on your body. Is this Bard able to overcome spiritual possession to be a great aid to the party? Find out in our College of Spirits Bard 5E guide!
Trust Your Ancestors: College of Spirits Bard
The Spirits Bard is an interesting damage-focused build. One of the two new Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Subclasses, You begin with Guidance, which is a support spell, and then focus on making your spells more damaging, adding new spells to your spell pool, and turning your Bardic Inspiration into either damage or durability. Rather than add utility, like most Bard Colleges do, this one is all about magic and random uses for Bardic Inspiration… Which might be a problem.
At 3rd level, you get a 60 ft range Guidance for free.
On average, guidance adds +2 to a single d20 roll that your party member throws out. You can only guarantee it adding +1 to the party member. However, that means you are at least giving a +5% chance of success to a specific party member. That’s honestly really useful. As a support spell, this is a legitimately powerful cantrip.
The best use for Guidance is out-of-combat, such as when the rogue is picking a lock, or a Barbarian tries to sweet-talk a Chieftain. With a range of 60 ft, you can help your party out without seeming super obvious, or putting yourself in danger. This might be far enough that it’ll be hard to tell if your target is receiving magical aid. That’s great, and it stacks fairly well with Bardic Inspiration (though, Bardic Inspiration does cost you a resource, while Guidance doesn’t). You’ll be able to improve your party massively!
That’s not to say it doesn’t have some combat potential. That’s… admittedly limited; say, for instance, your Wizard plans on casting Disintegrate and spending a lot of resources on it. Then, you can add a d4 to the chance that it hits, greatly improving the likelihood that Disintegrate lands. That’s great, though spending your entire turn doing that isn’t spectacular.
Overall, don’t forget you have this. This is a much easier-to-use version of Guidance, which is already a uniquely powerful cantrip.
At 3rd level, you’re able to use materials that a Medium is able to use to channel spirits as spellcasting focuses. These include things like a skull or crystal ball.
At 6th level, this improves; whenever you harm or heal someone using the Spiritual Focus, you add d6 to the damage or healing.
Obviously, expanding your spellcasting focus options is rather meaningless. You were probably not overly concerned with what you’re casting through. It’s great flavor to hold up a skull as you channel magic. But, it doesn’t really matter if you have a skull or a lute in your hand.
So we’re mostly relying on the upgrade to help us out. And it’s great! Adding a d6 to a spell means you’re adding around 3.5 (let’s round down to 3) to a spell effect. That’s influential, more so than you might think. Every point of damage matters, and you can occasionally roll a 6 and deal a stupid amount of extra damage with your spell! Combine this with Area of Effect damage, like Shatter, and you’ve got yourself a damage conduit that could make a Wizard impressed.
The Bard Spell list doesn’t support this ability all too well, unfortunately. Without great Area of Effect spells (like Fireball) or great Area of Effect Healing (like Healing Word), the Bard is stuck with spells that mostly do utility effects. Still, doing 3 extra damage with your Sound Burst or healing 3 more life with Mass Cure Wounds will be handy. Every point of damage towards 0 can kill a boss, and every point of healing could prevent a death saving throw.
And, since Cantrips are Spells, this is a fantastic way to buff Vicious Mockery! Now, that spell deals another d6 of damage, totaling 2d4+d6 when you get this ability. That’s a pretty big deal! It was a great utility cantrip that now actually stings quite a bit.
Perfectly fine, good way to increase the damage of your mixed utility/damage spells. It won’t replace a good ol’ fashioned Fireball, but it’ll make Shatter at least look scary!
Tales from Beyond
Hoo boy… At level 3, you gain the College’s Bardic Inspiration Buff, and… This is a doozy! You expend a Bardic Inspiration, and roll the Dice. Based on what you rolled on your dice, you have a buff that you hold in your head until you tell the tale, or finish any rest. You spend an Action to hand out the buff. Getting a new tale destroys the effects of the previous tale, and you can only memorize one tale at a time.
Randomized buffs! That’s always great. Because of how Bardic Inspiration works, you roll a d6 until level 5, then a d8 until 10, d10 until 15, d12 from then on. So, that means you can only have access to half of the tales until level 5, and then you have the potential to get 2 other tales every 5 levels. That’s really interesting!
So, let’s talk about the tales themselves. There are 12 total.
- 6 Direct Damage
- 1 Out-of-Combat Utility
- 1 Mobility
- 4 Defense
These are overcategorizing things quite a bit; a few of the Direct Damage options also have some utility, such as stunning or incapacitating a target.
This is a very, very aggressive variant of Bardic Inspiration, favoring dealing damage directly over anything else. A lot of the effects deal damage based on the Bardic Inspiration dice you roll, which means they are somewhat pitiful early on, but grow to become strong.
This ability is highly combat-oriented, but rolling a 1 spells disaster; a 1 literally acts as Bardic Inspiration, but only for a Mental check. Which means you used an ability that is based on combat… For a limited version of Bardic Inspiration, only useful out of combat. That’s… Not great. Though it seems like it might be able to stack with normal Bardic Inspiration. That could be handy!
However, your other options are pretty great for combat. Some standouts include 4 (a on-reaction Teleport that can move multiple people), 7 (an Incapacitation on a Wisdom Save), 9 (a 30 ft AoE saving throw that knocks people prone), and 11 (a small heal that can cure some deadly statuses). All of these abilities have some great utility, but those 4 in particular are relatively useful.
Comparatively, 1 (the out-of-combat, limited Bardic Inspiration) and 2 (a melee-ranged attack) are weaker. That might be as expected, since you rolled low.
While some of these abilities can absolutely turn a battle in your favor, it must be compared to Bardic Inspiration in general. Being able to almost guarantee a hit with an attack roll is fantastic. If your team is built around heavy-hitters (like Paladin or Rogue), then randomly generating a damaging effect might not be your top priority. Alternatively, saving the Bardic Inspiration for a Saving Throw can easily be the difference between life and death. The bard has spells that can incapacitate enemies or buff allies; why should they be spending a bonus action and a Standard action to randomly decide if their Bardic Inspiration does it?
Compared to other colleges, this archetype restricts Bardic Inspiration quite a bit. Most other colleges simply add additional effects that your Bardic Inspiration can be applied to. That can be a more efficient use of your Inspiration, since you know exactly what you are using your Inspiration on. This college instead gives you a 50% chance to create a damaging effect, and then miniscule chances to buff defenses, give a reaction-teleport, or be really good at talking!
That being said, if your party doesn’t need or forgets about their Bardic Inspiration, then this school makes it very selfish. That can be a good thing! Once you start getting your Inspiration back on Short Rests, cycling through this ability can get you the effects you’re really wanting. And sometimes you’ll just have an exceedingly powerful tool up your sleeve, like an on-reaction Multi-Person Misty Step. That’s absurd!
Extremely fun, and you can have combat-altering effects land in front of you. However, this should not be the primary reason you choose this school. It’s way too random, and limits your Bardic Inspiration!
At level 6, you can spend an hour (which can be done during a rest) with any others who wish to join you (up to your Proficiency Bonus). Once you complete this ritual, you learn a spell from any class. This spell has a maximum level equal to the number of people in the ritual circle, and it has to be a Divination or Necromancy spell. You can’t do this ritual again until your next long rest, but you keep the spell until your next long rest.
Wow! That’s a really cool ability! A few problems, however.
Let’s talk about the limiters. You must bring a number of people equal to your Proficiency bonus into the ritual. At level 6, this is 3. It builds up to 6 at level 17. However… The standard size of an Adventuring Party is 4. That means you’ll need to bring 2 more people if you want this to be as strong as possible. Level 4 spells are still great (Level 3 spells are absurd). However, it’s still funny that you can’t make this as strong as possible unless you kidnap 2 Goblins and convince them that it’d be fun to do.
In addition, it must be a Divination or Necromancy spell. That’s a pretty harsh limiter (I was hoping for a Spirit Fireball). However, the Bard is exempt from a decent number of Divination spells, and a ton of Necromancy spells!
Some standouts that you can get from this ritual include Animate Dead (3rd level), Circle of Death (6th Level), Divination (4th Level), Harm (6th level), Revivify (3rd Level), and Soul Cage (6th level).
Those are just suggestions; there’s actually some great situational spells in here that you have the option to bring out at a moment’s notice! Work with your party’s Cleric or Warlock and see what spells you might need for a specific situation. Then, you basically get to go window shopping! See if you need a Skeleton friend, Communing with the dead or with Nature, or even get some extra debuffs with the Ray spells!
This is a pretty cool ability, pretty heavily limited by the Proficiency modifier, number of people in a party, and by spell school. You can make it really interesting, however, and that’s a worthwhile class ability to me!
At level 14, my dream happens; you get to roll twice on the Tales from Beyond chart, and pick which of the two results you want to remember. If you roll the same dice twice, you get to choose any effect.
Since you get this ability at level 14, you have a 10% chance to be able to access 11 and 12. That’s pretty funny, actually! But it’ll rarely happen, and you don’t get to do it for long.
This is a very good buff, because it means you’ll never have to choose 1 (unless you want to choose 1). You’ll always be able to avoid a tale that you don’t care about, because you’ll always have at least 2 options. That vastly improves the utility of Tales from Beyond, though it’s still very random. And it still takes an Action to bestow the buff, which makes it take much more time to use effectively than standard Bardic Inspiration.
On the other hand, at this point in the campaign, you have so much Bardic Inspiration to throw around. Losing 1 for the chance of doing something awesome, like landing a stun, might not seem that bad anymore. At the worst, it’s like you’ve prepared an extra Spell Slot for a relatively meager spell. That’s not awful, and it might be worth one of your many, many Bardic Inspirations that refresh every short rest.
Especially now that you have some choice for the dang thing!
Best Races for Spirits Bards
The Spirits Bard benefits a ton from Charisma, since you have no reason to wield any weapon. Spiritual Focus is really that good! However, getting to level 6 is actually somewhat in question, and you might want enough durability to get close enough for some of your Tales from Beyond effects.
There are few classes that a Half-Elf does not excel at. However, the Spirits Bard spent a lot of time adding spell-like effects to their spell list. That means they have a bit of trouble defending themselves, and lack a bit of that “out-of-combat utility” that other Colleges do. The Half-Elf’s +1 to two stats means they can get more AC and more Health. You’ll benefit a lot from Skill Versatility as well, allowing you to save your spell slots and Bardic Inspiration for your party, rather than buffing your own skill checks. Overall, this is a boring but very safe choice.
The Yuan-Ti Pureblood, introduced in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, is my pick for the most flavorful version of the Spirits Bard. Not only does it make sense that a Pureblood would use occult methods to stay in contact with their ancestors. It also makes sense that they’d be so dang good at it! While +2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence isn’t quite perfect, the Pureblood is fantastic because of Magic Resistance. You’re the least likely one to become Petrified in the case of a magical effect doing it. That means (at level 14), you can cycle through your Bardic Inspirations until you get your Angelic Healing. That’s really handy! You also have Poison Spray and Suggestion as racial spells, which can be nice.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Spirits Bard
This Bard is a really fun and interesting class, but suffers a lot from it’s Bardic Inspiration change. However, it’s Guidance, more effective damaging/healing spells, and ability to pull from other spell lists often bring it into its own niche. In addition, you can have very clutch moments with your Tales from Beyond ability, and once you reach level 14, it finally becomes a useful addition to your toolkit. Try this out the next time you have a Medium-based character background. It’ll certainly be one heck of a ride!