The Tal’dorei Campaign Setting Reborn has finally, finally, come! This campaign guide is not only available for fans of Critical Role, but any 5E player who is interested in adding new creatures, classes, and characters to your world! We love our character customization here, and that’s why we’re interested in the newest option for Bards right now! The College of Tragedy pulls on some of the real-life plays from Shakespeare and Sophocles, where the hero meets a fateful end. Embracing the futility of heroism might not sound like a standard Bard, but it seems like Tal’dorei makes it work! So, let’s look through the D&D 5E Tragedy Bard and see why you may wish to share your tragic tale for the masses!
Prey On Inevitability: Tragedy Bard 5E
The Tragedy Bard is actually really good, but dangerous. It is like a Berserker Barbarian. It has immense strength, but at the cost of downsides. A good Tragedy Bard player will have to balance the incredible strength of the Bard with its very large weaknesses. This may be a build for someone who wishes to make Bard a bit spicier, or someone who is on their 5th Bard and has mastered all of its mechanics.
Barbarians are your best friends for this build. We’ll go into that later.
Honestly, the worst part about this build is the flavor, which goes way too ham on the Shakespearean dialect for a class. It could force your character to move in a direction you don’t want. You and your DM can work to easily get that part out of the class, though, so there’s no real damage.
Poetry In Misery
At level 3, like several Colleges, the Tragedy Bard gets two abilities. The first is a reaction. When you, or an ally within 30 feet, rolls a natural 1 on any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check, you can regain 1 Bardic Inspiration.
This is fine. Good, even. Bards don’t get good reactions early on, since they are usually a ranged class. So, as a reaction when your party member just hams a d20 roll, you can regain one of the best bonus actions in the game.
This ability slows down quickly, though. At level 5, you regain Bardic Inspiration after every short rest. You’ll have full Inspiration a lot more often. This ability means you can spend much more time buffing party members, since you’ll have more Inspiration to work with.
And, since Bards don’t get Counterspell, the only Reaction that you care about is for Silvery Barbs. Admittedly, this is a really good reaction to lose to gaining 1 Bardic Inspiration. But, that’s what Reactions are for! If your party isn’t in danger, regain that resource. Otherwise, maybe save your reaction for when an enemy gets lucky.
Overall, fantastic early on. Then it gets a bit redundant. Reducing the number of times you ask your party for a Short Rest will certainly make your friends happy, though!
Also at level 3, you gain… not a reaction. Similar! Without spending any action, if you or an ally forces an enemy to make a saving throw, you can forcefully change it to a Charisma saving throw instead. It still uses your ally’s DCs. If the target fails the save, you do an amount of psychic damage equal to your Bardic Inspiration dice roll. Then, the target becomes possessed by a spirit of Hamlet and they utter a dying series of final words before dying. You can use this once per any type of rest.
Other than the stupidity of forcing a Giant Golem to talk about its existential dread, this is solid. Forcing Charisma saves is insane, as very few monsters actually have proficiency in Charisma saves. This is a great targeting effect. If you use this to turn a Constitution Save into Charisma for, say, a Barbarian, then your spell has a significantly greater chance to work.
Against casters, this effect will probably be less powerful. But, Wizards naturally have Intelligence and Wisdom Proficiency. You’re not completely screwed if you want to swap to Charisma saves. The more you know about the monster and target, the better!
The only big problem of this ability is that you only get to use it once per rest. This stings, but it makes sense. While the effect may look minor, you’re not only dealing additional psychic damage, but potentially lowering someone’s saving throw by -5 or even -10! For your important combos, this is great! It can shut people down hard. Just make sure you and your party are coordinated with it.
And be sure to cover your ears when the Cave Hydra waxes poetic in its last few moments.
Tale of Hubris
Level 6 time! You start with a reaction, uh oh! This reaction occurs when you or an ally gets crit by an enemy within 60 feet. Spend 1 Bardic Inspiration to mark them for Crits! By that, we mean until the target gets crit, weapons have a critical hit range of 18-20, meaning you crit on an 18! And it upgrades! At 14, a roll between 17-20 will crit them!
This does not have any limits either. You can mark someone with this effect and then watch all weapon users in your party wreak havoc on that opponent!
This is the first reason why the Tragedy Bard should pair with a Barbarian. Barbarians using Reckless Attack are fairly likely to get punched in the mouth. With this ability, you can make the Barbarian more likely to land a crit. And that crit will benefit from Brutal Critical, getting more damage dice! Another good combo is with a Rogue, since Rogues are great when they get to crit. If you have a Barbarian and a Rogue in your party, then you’re in heaven!
The bad part about this is that spells are not affected by the crit range, only weapon attacks. Spells do more damage than weapons when they crit, due to the modifier of the weapon being unaffected.
Still, this is overall very good, as long as someone in your party benefits from critical hits, and are fairly likely to critically hit.
You actually get two level 6 abilities. So you’d think this one was minor, right? Nope! Once per short or long rest, or if you get hit to 0 health, you can add +10 to an attack or saving throw. However, the next time you make an attack roll or saving throw, you take a -10 penalty. This penalty dissipates whenever you rest.
Wow! No reaction or anything, you just get to plop a +10 onto your attack. As a Bard, your attack rolls are relatively unimpressive. The only spell that you can add it to – without learning a spell from another class via Magical Secrets – is Mordenkainen’s Sword, which is good but not incredible. Bards aren’t awful with their attack rolls, but they’re not nearly as impressive as a Fighter or Rogue. Your bow might hit relatively hard, and if it does, then that +10 is worthwhile. Usually it won’t be.
So, this ability should be used defensively. +10 to your saving throw is a literal life-saver. If your party gets hit with a Mass Hold Person, getting a +10 to the save can be a massive survival increase for everyone else, since you can then deal with the spell or the threat using magic.
The issue is the -10 afterwards, which can and will target a save. If you can, try to make it to your turn alive, and then immediately dump the penalty on an attack roll. Like we were talking about earlier, Bards don’t tend to have the most influential attack rolls in the party. So, who cares if you miss? You just got a free +10 to a save! Miss your attack and use your Bonus Action to heal or spend a Bardic Inspiration. Then, it’s almost like you got that free save with no punishment!
If you use the +10 and the fight ends, then you can still attack a random object with your penalty to remove it.
Your goal with this ability is to make the penalty matter as little as possible, so try to use it to save your skin with a saving throw, rather than making an attack roll. It is really hard to negate the penalty if you boost your attack roll, since you’ll have to wait for your next turn.
This can save or kill you. You’ll have to learn its tricks fast.
Nimbus of Pathos
The “capstone” of the College is a very, very interesting ability. Once per day, you can apply a minute-long boon to your party member as an action. It gains some gigantic buffs:
- +4 to AC
- Advantage on Attack Rolls and Saving Throws
- +1d10 Radiant Damage whenever it deals damage with a weapon or spell.
However… There are two itsy-bitsy downsides.
- Weapon attacks against the buff recipient crit if they roll 18-20.
- After the minute is up, the buff recipient drops to 0 and begins dying.
Minor. This is still crazy good.
The buffs are absurd. +4 to AC is almost unheard of, outside of very strong temporary effects like Shield. +20% chance to dodge hits is great for survivability. Almost as good as being able to roll twice on Attack rolls and Saving throws! Whoever you give these buffs will become a monster.
Your Barbarian friend may or may not be the best person to give this to, as they can already get advantage on attack rolls. At least they’ll be really hard to put down, and that weapon of theirs will get additional weapon damage dice. Just in case their crits didn’t hurt enough! These guys will tear through spellcasters.
Now, we should talk about the downsides. These might seem scary, but one is actually a buff and the other is a very minor downside.
The critical hit rate actually doesn’t matter at all. Your target is going to drop to 0 at the end of the buff anyways; who cares if they eat a crit? Unless the crit mind controls them – which they have advantage to save against – all damage they take doesn’t actually matter unless it puts them to 0. And weapon crits really don’t hurt much more than normal crits. The +4 to AC will offset any additional damage they take from crits.
Now, the bad part of this ability is the ending condition, which sets your friend to 0 health. This is bad, but not as bad as it looks. 1 minute is 10 rounds in D&D 5E. Most fights will not last 10 rounds. This is enough time to realize a fight is going badly and teleport out of the fight. Or you have won and are looting bodies. So, in almost all cases, your friend will drop to 0 in a place where you are in full control of the situation. You can just heal them with Healing Word or your cleric can use the Heal spell. This does use a resource, but you’ll save a ton of resources with how much of a blender the buff recipient becomes beforehand!
In the worst case scenario, where your friend goes down in a big fight… You’re a bard. Cast Healing Word. Bam, as a bonus action, you’ve negated the worst part of this buff.
Seriously, use this before a hard fight. Your friend will shred people, and the downsides are really not bad at all. Negligible, even.
Best Race for Tragedy Bards
Tragedy Bards are some of the most supportive bards possible. Because of that, you need high Charisma to guarantee that you’ll have maximum Bardic Inspiration. Your other racial abilities should keep you alive, help your friends stay alive, or… Make use of the interesting critical hit mechanic that the College has.
The Protector Aasimar from Volo’s Guide to Monsters is one of your more supportive options. This guy gains your high Charisma, gives you Darkvision, and allows you to heal someone as an Action without spending a spell slot. The special ability of the Protector gives you flight for 1 minute, which boosts your damage dealt by your level. The flight keeps you safe and the damage helps you focus down a boss. Good all around!
These guys from the Mythic Odysseys of Theros are great bards. High speed, great statline, a natural attack, Magic Resistance, Performance and Persuasion for free… There’s nothing here that’s bad. The only reason we consider this less potent than the Protector is the lack of natural healing and the power of the Protector Aasimar’s Flight. If you’d prefer an option that’s more useful all-around, the Satyr is definitely the pick for you.
I’m only mostly kidding.
The Tragedy Bard is highly reliant on allies to make use of Tale of Hubris. However, if you are a Half-Orc, you can make use of that higher critical hit rate by using Savage Attacks. You’ll also be very hard to put down with Constitution and Relentless Endurance, and you get Intimidation for free. Relentless Endurance actually combos well with Nimbus of Pathos, since it specifies “when you are reduced to 0 hit points” and does not mention damage!
Your Barbarian should be a Half-Orc, but you can if you really want to. Especially if you plan on multiclassing.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Tragedy Bard
The Tragedy Bard is immensely powerful, but requires a careful hand. It is great support, but requires some close attention to what characters that your party is playing. You want a good mix of good crit characters (Barbarian, Rogue), spellcasters to make use of Sorrowful Fate (Wizard, Sorcerer), and a healer for emergencies. If you have all of these, this might be the best Bard college. Otherwise, it is a very, very spicy option that you should look into!
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