Bard 5e: DnD 5th Edition Class Guide – RPGBOT (2024)

Bard 5e: DnD 5th Edition Class Guide – RPGBOT (1)

Introduction

The Bard is fantastically versatile. With access to every skill, expertise,full casting, and a decent set of proficiencies, the Bard can fill essentiallyevery role in the party. Subclasses like College of Lore are more of theclassic support Bard, with improved magical options and support abilities,while College of Swords and College of Valor can serve as front-line meleecharacters who can bring their spellcasting and support capabilities into theheat of battle.

Because bards can do so much within a single class, they can fill nearly any role within a party. Their open skill options, Expertise, and buff spells allow them to thrive as a Face and a Scout, while their offensive spellcasting makes them effective Controllers and Support casters. The Bard’s biggest deficiencies are damage output and durability, so it’s hard to build them as a Blaster, Defender, or Striker, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible.

Strangely, the Bard’s emphasis on the Performance skill from previouseditions has wholly vanished. There is nearly no mechanical reason to take theskill. That’s not to say that your DM can’t make it fun, of course. If nothingelse, if your game uses the Lifestyle rules or the Downtime rules, yourproficinecy in Performance allows you to live comfortably.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read our supporting articlesfor the Bard:

  • Bard Races Breakdown
  • Bard Spells Breakdown
  • Bard Subclasses Breakdown
  • Practical Guide to Magical Secrets
  • Playing Inspired Bards
  • Single-Class DnD Parties: The All Bard Party

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Disclaimer
  • Bard Class Features
    • Optional Class Features
  • Ability Scores
  • Bard Races
  • Bard Skills
  • Bard Backgrounds
  • Bard Feats
  • Bard Weapons
  • Bard Armor
  • Multiclassing
  • Bard Magic Items
    • Common Magic Items
    • Uncommon Magic Items
    • Rare Magic Items
    • Very Rare Magic Items
    • Legendary Magic Items
  • Example Bard Build – Half-Elf Bard (College of Lore)
    • Abilities
    • Race
    • Skills and Tools
    • Background
    • Levels

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options whichare extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful optionsthat only apply in rare circ*mstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essentialto the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.

This work includes material taken from the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD 5.1”) by Wizards of
the Coast LLC and available at https://dnd.wizards.com/resources/systems-reference-document. The
SRD 5.1 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License available at
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.

Bard Class Features

Optional Class Features are detailed below under Optional Class Features.

Hit Points: d8 is fantastic for a fullcasting class, but you’re not going to survive rushing into melee all the timeunless you go for Valor to boost your AC.

Saves: Dexterity is great for avoidingfireballs, but most spells which call for Reflex saves won’t outright disableyou, and Charisma saves are extremely rare.

Proficiencies: Light armor and a handful ofweapons won’t give you a ton of options, but it’s enough to get by, and Bardsrely mostly on their spells and special abilities. You do get three skills ofyour choice, which opens up a lot of really great options.

1: Spellcasting: The Bard is a full caster likea Cleric or Wizard, and casts spells based on their Charisma. Bards use a“spells known” mechanic similar to a Sorcerer, so your abilities are limitedto the spells you know. You can replace one spell known every level, so don’tworry if you choose a spell at low level and it doesn’t remain useful as yougain levels.

For help selecting spells, see our Bard Spells Breakdown.

1: Bardic Inspiration: It’s tempting to throwthis up before every fight, but since the duration is only 10 minutes and youonly get a handful of uses per day, it’s important to be conservative withthem. When you know that your party needs a bit of help, like on a difficultsave or on a crucial attack roll, give them an inspiration die. Since it canbe used after rolling the d20, the inspiration die can be a fantastic optionwhen you’re a point or two short of a save DC or your enemy’s AC. At fifthlevel the uses recharge on a Short Rest (see “Font of Inspiration”), so youcan afford to be much less stingy, but you still don’t want to burn throughthem too quickly.

Bardic Inspiration

You can inspire others through stirring words or music. To do so, you use a bonus action on your turn to choose one creature other than yourself within 60 feet of you who can hear you. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die, a d6.

Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes. The creature can wait until after it rolls the d20 before deciding to use the Bardic Inspiration die, but must decide before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails. Once the Bardic Inspiration die is rolled, it is lost. A creature can have only one Bardic Inspiration die at a time.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (a minimum of once). You regain any expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Your Bardic Inspiration die changes when you reach certain levels in this class. The die becomes a d8 at 5th level, a d10 at 10th level, and a d12 at 15th level.

2: Jack of All Trades: Jack of All Trades maybe one of the most easily-overlooked class features in the game. The obviousfunction is that it adds to all of your skill checks where you’re not alreadyproficient, but it also applies to a dizzying long list of other abilitychecks and I keep finding more examples. I couldn’t squish them allinto a paragraph of text, so here’s a bulleted list of all of documentedexamples I’ve found where Jack of All Trades applies:

  • Initiative
  • Counterspell
  • Dispel Magic
  • Listed examples of Constitution checks:
    • Hold your breath
    • March or labor for hours without rest
    • Go without sleep
    • Survive without food or water
    • Quaff an entire stein of ale in one go
  • Intelligence check to escape the Maze spell

Jack of All Trade

Starting at 2nd level, you can add half your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any ability check you make that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus.

3: Song of Rest: A little of healing is alwaysnice. The DM rules for balancing encounters suggest allowing no more than twoshort rests per day, so you’ll apply this three times per day at most: two forthe short rests and one for the long rest. Your allies need to regain hitpoints at the end of the rest, which means that they need to spend a hit dieor use some other ability which specifically heals at the end of a rest.

Song of Rest

Beginning at 2nd level, you can use soothing music or oration to help revitalize your wounded allies during a short rest. If you or any friendly creatures who can hear your performance regain hit points at the end of the short rest by spending one or more Hit Dice, each of those creatures regains an extra 1d6 hit points.

The extra hit points increase when you reach certain levels in this class: to 1d8 at 9th level, to 1d10 at 13th level, and to 1d12 at 17th level.

3: Bard College: Bard subclasses are briefly summarized below. See my Bard Subclasses Breakdown for help selecting your subclass.

  • College of Creation: Use the song of creation to sing objects to life or create them out ofthing air, and add powerful additional benefits to Bardic Inspiration.
  • College of Eloquence: The best bard that ever did bard, College of Eloquence reinforces andexpands upon the Bard’s core class features. While it doesn’t add anythingtruly new to the class, it does make the Bard’s core features considerablybetter.
  • College of Glamour: A combination of support and Charm effects, College of Glamour makes agreat support caster but doesn’t add any directly offensivecapabilities.
  • College of Lore: Double down on the Bard’s core features, adding more Expertise, more Magical Secrets, and new support options.
  • College of Spirits: Commune with the spirits of the dead to empower yourself and your allies and to defeat your enemies.
  • College of Swords: Focused on new martial capabilities, College of Swords allows you toperform Flourishes which work similarly to the Battlemaster Fighter’sManeuvers.
  • College of Valor: Add some martial capabilities to the Bard, including medium armor,shields, martial weapons, and Extra Attack.
  • College of Whispers: Adept at disguises and deception, College of Whispers is great in acampaign with a lot of intrigue, but not a lot of dungeon crawling.

3: Expertise: Expertise is always fantastic,and it’s especially good because Bards get any three skills of their choice atfirst level.

Expertise

At 3rd level, choose two of your skill proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.

At 10th level, choose two more of your skill proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.

5: Font of Inspiration: This allows you to useyour Bardic Inspiration ability up to three times as often in a single day,assuming two short rests.

Font of Inspiration

Beginning when you reach 5th level, you regain all of your expended uses of Bardic Inspiration when you finish a short or long rest.

6: Countercharm: Very situational, and eats youraction. Unless your enemy’s abilities are almost entirely composed of fearand/or charm effects, this isn’t terribly useful.

Countercharm

At 6th level, you gain the ability to use musical notes or words of power to disrupt mind-influencing effects. As an action, you can start a performance that lasts until the end of your next turn. During that time, you and any friendly creatures within 30 feet of you have advantage on saving throws against beingfrightenedorcharmed. A creature must be able to hear you to gain this benefit. The performance ends early if you areincapacitatedor silenced or if you voluntarily end it (no action required).

10, 14, 18: Magical Secrets: The Bard spell list isgreat, but excludes a lot of extremely potent options from other spellcastersspell lists. Keep in mind that these spells still use your normal number ofbard spells known, so you select these spells instead of bard spells,not in addition to your bard spells known. College of Lore’s Extra MagicalSecrets feature is an exception, as it does give you two additional spellsknown.

Magical Secrets

By 10th level, you have plundered magical knowledge from a wide spectrum of disciplines. Choose two spells from any classes, including this one. 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 and are included in the number in the Spells Known column of the Bard table.

You learn two additional spells from any classes at 14th level and again at 18th level.

20: Superior Inspiration: Good motivation to useyour last remaining use of Inspiration immediately before starting a fight.

Superior Inspiration

At 20th level, when you roll initiative and have no uses of Bardic Inspiration left, you regain one use.

Optional Class Features

Introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, Optional Class Features offer ways to add additional features or replace existing ones. These rules are optional, and you should not assume that your DM will allow these features without consulting them first.

Assessments and suggestions for specific Optional Class Features are presented here, but for more information on handling Optional Class Features in general, see my Practical Guide to Optional Class Features.

Additional Bard Spells (Addition):Everything added by this optional feature makes sense on the Bard’s spelllist. None of it changes the bard’s tactics or their party role in anysignificant way, but it does add some new options for players to explore.

I recommend allowing the expanded spell list on all bards. The additionsallow the bard to fill the niche between cleric-equivalents andwizard-equivalents slightly better, but don’t actually make the class any morepowerful. Remember: bards still have a fixed number of spells known, and thisdoesn’t change that. On top of that, if any of these spells were exceptionallypowerful for the bard, they would already be available via Magical Secrets.

Magical Inspiration (Addition): Unlessyou’re using this right before a rest which will restore your BardicInspiration, this is a terrible waste of a Bardic inspiration die. Also, thename of this feature is terrible. Nothing about the phrase “MagicalInspiration” reminds me that it’s related to healing.

I recommend allowing Magical Inspiration on all bards because it’s not nearlyas effective as most other uses of Bardic Inspiration.

Bardic Versatility (Addition): RetrainExpertise or a cantrip. Fantastic if you need it or if your party compositionchanges and you want to adjust your capabilities to reflect your altered rolein the party.

I recommend allowing Bardic Versatility on all bards. You can’t get anythingwhich you couldn’t already have, so it doesn’t make your character morepowerful. Hopefully it will make your character more satisfying to play.

Ability Scores

The Bard is heavily reliant on Charisma, but with a bit of Dexterity and Constitution the Bard can survive an occasional dip into melee combat. Most bards will start from roughly the same set of ability scores, but may differentiate themselves by increasing different abilities depending on your subclass and your role in the party. Most bards will still maximize Charisma first, but some may go for Dexterity for martial builds.

Str: Dump stat. Even in melee, the Bard canrely solely on Dexterity

Dex: In light armor and with no shields,the Bard needs Dexterity to boost their poor AC. It also helps when you mustoccasionally resort to using weapons.

Con: Everyone needs hit points, and thingswhich target Constitution saves tend to be nasty.

Int: Several interesting skills rely onIntelligence, but if you don’t take any of those then its worthless.

Wis: Good for important saves and ahandful of skills, including Perception.

Cha: The Bard runs on Charisma. Get as muchas you can, as early as you can. Even if you’re splitting your time betweenusing weapons and relying on your other bard abilities, too many of the Bard’sabilities are tied to your Charisma modifier to let it fall behind.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str88
Dex1514
Con1413
Int810
Wis1012
Cha1515

Bard Races

Charisma is crucial, but you don’t strictly need anything else. Additionalskills can be nice so you’re not strictly locked into Face skills, and innatespellcasting can expand your limited pool of spells known.

For a classic bard feel, the Half-Elf and the Tiefling are great choices. Fora powerful martial bard, the High Elf’s ability to learn Booming Blade isperhaps the Bard’s best option for weapon attacks. For a powerful supportbuild, the Fairy’s flight and innate spellcasting are hard to beat.

For help selecting a race, see ourBard Races Breakdown.

Bard Skills

Bards have no pre-defined skill list, and can select their class skillproficiencies from any skill in the game. This means that you’re free to focuson whatever group of skills best complement your party’s existing skillset.

  • Acrobatics (Dex): Too situational, butif you’re built for melee you need either this or Acrobatics to get out ofgrapples if you don’t have magical options for it like Misty Step.
  • Animal Handling (Wis): Bards are notDruids.
  • Athletics (Str): Tripping enemies ispretty great, but most Bards lean more toward Dexterity than Strength.
  • Arcana (Int): One of the most importantKnowledge skills.
  • Deception (Cha): Helpful for a Face.
  • History (Int): The least important andmost situational knowledge skill.
  • Insight (Wis): Helpful for a Face.
  • Intimidation (Cha): Important for anyFace.
  • Investigation (Int): Very important, butyou really only need one person in the party to have it.
  • Medicine (Wis): This skill is useless.Medicine is best done magically.
  • Nature (Int): Good knowledge skill, butnot as crucial as Arcana or Religion.
  • Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill inthe game.
  • Performance (Cha): This is really weird. In5e Bards don’t actually need Performance, so you can completely skip it. 3.0was my first RPG, and Bards are indelibly fused to the Perform skill in mymind, so I’m having a little bit of a mental freak-out as I write this. Ifyou do take it, you can use it during Downtime to support a Wealthylifestyle, allowing you to live in luxury while your adventuring buddies arecrowding into rooms at the local inn trying to get by on whatever loot theyfound.
  • Persuasion (Cha): The king of Faceskills.
  • Religion (Int): One of the most importantKnowledge skills.
  • Sleight of Hand (Dex): Too situational.
  • Stealth (Dex): Essential if your partylacks a dedicated Scout.
  • Survival (Wis): Too situational.

Bard Backgrounds

This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don’t cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.

Bards typically want skills which will help them as a Face, a Librarian, or aScout, and fortunately there are lots of options. Bonus languages are alwayshelpful for a Face, but remember that you will get access to ComprehendLanguages and Tongues. If your party lacks a rogue, it may also be helpful toget proficiency with Thieves’ Tools.

If you’re having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

  • AcolytePHB: Decent skills for a Bard, and the bonus languages are nice until you canhandle languages magically.
  • CharlatanPHB: Good for a stealthy Bard, and plays to a similar skillset to the Actorfeat.
  • Cloistered ScholarSCAG: Two knowledge skills. With no bonus Face skills the languages won’t besuper helpful. Plays very well to the Lore Bard concept.
  • CourtierSCAG: Two Face skills, and two languages with which to use them.
  • CriminalPHB: Fantastic if you are replacing a Rogue in your party.
  • EntertainerPHB: Conceptually perfect for the Bard, but in actuality it’s completelyuseless.
  • Faction AgentSCAG: Customizable to a degree, and plays well to the Bard’s strengths.
  • Far TravelerSCAG: Two Face skills, a language, and a great theme for a Bard. Since Bardsdon’t need any more instruments, Courtier is technically better, but FarTraveler has a great theme for the Bard.
  • Guild ArtisanPHB: Great skills for a Face, but artisan’s tools are largely useless.
  • InheritorSCAG: Great, except that Survival is largely useless.
  • Knight of the OrderSCAG: Two great skills for the Bard, an instrument, and a language. Since Bards don’t need any more instruments, Courtier is technically better.
  • Mercenary VeteranSCAG: Passable skills for the Valor Bard, but not great.
  • NoblePHB: Decent skills for a Bard, but gaming sets aren’t particularly useful, andonly one bonus language.
  • SagePHB: Two great knowledge skills. With no bonus Face skills the languages won’tbe super helpful. Plays very well to the Lore Bard concept.
  • Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: Fantastically customizable, and a great set of options for the Bard.
  • UrchinPHB: Fantastic if you are replacing a Rogue in your party.
  • Waterdavian NobleSCAG: Two Bard skills, a language, and a great theme for a Bard. Since Bardsdon’t need any more instruments, Courtier is technically better.

Bard Feats

Thissectiondoesnotaddresseverypublishedfeat,asdoingsowouldresultinanever-growinglistofoptionswhichdon’tcatertotheclass.Instead,thissectionwillcoverfeatswhichwethinkworkespeciallywellfortheclassorwhichmightbetemptingbutpoorchoices.

  • AlertPHB: Going first is nice for getting buffs set up, but you’re not as dependanton it as a Rogue or a Controller.
  • ActorPHB: In a highly social game, this opens up some interesting options andallows you to further capitalize on your excellent Charisma.
  • CartomancerBoMT: The card spell effectively lets you choose one spell from your spell list (not from your known spells) and quicken it ahead of time. You do still need to spend a spell slot, so that part isn’t any better than quickening a spell with Quickened Spell; the appeal is that you have access to one spell per day that you don’t already know.
  • ChargerPHB: If you’re at a distance which requires this, you should fall back on yourspells instead.
  • Crossbow ExpertPHB: Valor Bards get Extra Attacks, but even then this doesn’t get a lot ofmileage.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Valor Bards typically rely on Dexterity and Finesse weapons, and this canbe a nice way to boost your AC. However, it quickly falls apart if you areoutnumbered.
  • Dual WielderPHB: Two-weapon fighting isn’t really in the Bard’s skillset. Valor bards needa shield to boost their lousy AC, and the Bard has numerous options to usetheir Bonus Action which will frequently mean that you’re not using yourBonus Action to attack.
  • Dungeon DelverPHB: If you are your party’s skill monkey, and the game involves lots ofdungeons, this can be very helpful.
  • DurablePHB: Bards can heal magically, so hit dice are less crucial than they are forcharacters who can’t.
  • Eldritch AdeptTCoE: Options like Devil’s Sight and Fiendish Vigor are easy go-to options, butI’m not sure if they’re worth a feat.
  • Elemental AdeptPHB: Bards don’t have a big list of offensive spells like a Sorcerer orWizard, and the bard spells which do deal direct damage frequently dealpsychic or thunder damage, neither of which qualify for Elemental Adept.
  • Fey TouchedTCoE: Misty Step is a fantastic spell that’s not on the Bard’s spell list, sogetting it once per day and the ability to cast it again using your spellslots is a huge benefit. The additional 1st-level spell known is great, too.While bards already get access to most of the allowed spells, Fey Touchedstill gets you access to excellent spells like Bless, Hex, and Heroism.

    For more advice on Fey Touched, see mySpellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Fighting InitiateTCoE: For College of Valor and College of Swords, this may help to improve yourmartial capabilities. But over-investment in martial weapons can bedifficult for a class that’s still primarily a spellcaster.
  • Gift of the Chromatic DragonFToD: Chromatic Infusion should be shared with your allies. Reactive Resistanceis basically Absorb Elements, which is great since bards can’t learn itshort of Magical Secrets.
  • Gift of the Metallic DragonFToD: Protective Wings is a good substitute for Shield, which might tempt youto build a melee bard. As nice as Protective Wings is, it’s not enough tomake bards useful with a weapon.
  • GunnerTCoE: A pistol and a shield looks like a good combination for the Valor Bard,but this doesn’t require the Ammunition property so the best scenario is toupgrade from a bow to a musket. At that point, Fighting Style (Archery) islikely a better choice.
  • GrapplerPHB: Just a terrible feat in general. You don’t need it to grapplesuccessfully.
  • Great Weapon MasterPHB: Valor Bards really need to use a shield, and probably won’t have theStrength to make a two-handed weapon viable.
  • HealerPHB: Bards can heal magically.
  • Heavily ArmoredPHB: A strength-based Valor Bard can make use of this, but you won’t be ableto take this until 4th level so levels 1-3 are going to be verydangerous.
  • Heavy Armor MasterPHB: You need Heavily Armored to take this, and if you’re tanking enough thatyou feel like you need this than you should probably be playing a differentclass.
  • Inspiring LeaderPHB: This provides a big pool of temporary hit points which can dramaticallyreduce your party’s need for healing during combat.
  • Keen MindPHB: I would allow Intelligence checks to do any of these things.
  • LinguistPHB: Use magic.
  • LuckyPHB: Good on anyone.
  • Mage SlayerPHB: Too situational.
  • Magic InitiatePHB: Two cantrips from other classes opens up some great options. Lore Bardsmay want Eldritch Blast, while Valor Bards may want Booming Blade and/orGreen-Flame Blade. Shillelagh is tempting for valor bards, but you’llprobably want enough Dexterity that it’s not a significant advantage.Consider selecting Bard if you want to expand your list of spells known, butthe cantrips may be more useful than knowing one more 1st-level spell.

    For more advice on Magic Initiate, see mySpellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
  • Medium Armor MasterPHB: Very few Valor Bards will care enough to require this. Disadvantage onStealth is a big inconvenience, but it won’t make or break you, and theextra +1 to AC isn’t enough to make this a decent feat.
  • Metamagic AdeptTCoE: Excellent on any spellcaster. For advice on Metamagic Adept, see mySorcerer Metamagic Breakdown.
  • MobilePHB: Valor Bards don’t get any special advantages for moving around duringcombat, so this doesn’t get you anything useful.
  • Moderately ArmoredPHB: Valor Bards get medium armor already, and Lore Bards shouldn’t needit.
  • Mounted CombatPHB: It’s hard to play a mounted character without a special mount ability ofsome kind.
  • ObservantPHB: Very helpful, but Bards don’t have enough Intelligence or Wisdom to beespecially good with the skills.
  • Polearm MasterPHB: Martial Bards are typically Dexterity-based, and there are noDexterity-based polearms.
  • ResilientPHB: Proficiency in Constitution saves really helps with Concentration, not tomention how common Constitution saves are. If you care primarily aboutConcentration it’s easy to compare this to War Caster. Advantage works outto a little more than +3, so once your Proficiency Bonus hits +4 Resilientbecomes the more effective option of the two.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Bards can already cast ritual spells, but they’re strictly limited by thefact that they permanently learn spells. Low-level spells, even if they’rerituals, might need to be replaced to make space for higher-level spells.Ritual Caster ensures that those options, as well as options from otherclasses, are always on the table.
  • Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2extra damage per turn.
  • SentinelPHB: Important if you are the party’s only front-line character, but youreally shouldn’t be.
  • Shadow TouchedTCoE: This is a good feat, but there are frustratingly few spell options andmost of them are already available to the Bard. Inflict Wounds may be andeffective single-target damage option when you get dragged into melee, but Idon’t think it’s worth the feat.

    For more advice on Shadow Touched, see mySpellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • SharpshooterPHB: Bards don’t do a lot with ranged weapons. Use spells instead.
  • Shield MasterPHB: The primary usage is shoving creatures with your shield, which is fun,but only works if you use your Action to attack instead of doing somethingcool like casting a spell and using Battle Magic.
  • Skill ExpertTCoE: More skills and more expertise are always welcome, and with the +1ability increase it’s easy to fit this into most builds.
  • SkilledPHB: More skills is always good.
  • SkulkerPHB: This only matters if you have Sneak Attack.
  • Spell SniperPHB: Bards don’t have enough offensive spells which require attack rolls tojustify this. You can pick up Eldritch Blast to give yourself and offensivecantrip, but the benefits of Vicious Mockery are hard to give up forsomething as paltry as damage.

    For more advice on Spell Sniper, see mySpellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: Bards typically don’t have the Strength to make grappling viable.
  • TelekineticTCoE: It may be difficult to juggle your Bonus Action between this and awardingBardic Inspiration.
  • TelepathicTCoE: Unlike many sources of telepathy, including those offered by some races,this telepathy still uses languages, so the benefits are minimally appealingeven for a Face. You do get to increase your Charisma, which reduces thecost of the feat, but the benefits are still dubious.
  • ToughPHB: This goes quite a way to address the Bard’s low hit dice, but rememberthat you can heal yourself if your hit points become a problem.
  • War CasterPHB: Melee Bards can get a lot of use out of this. If you pick up BoomingBlade from Magic Initiate or Magical Secrets, you can use it with youropportunity attacks to nearly guarantee the bonus damage when enemiesattempt to move away from you. This also grants Advantage on Concentration,but if that’s all that you care about I recommend Resilient instead.
  • Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you need to function.

Bard Weapons

  • Crossbow, Hand: Light Crossbow does moredamage and has better range.
  • Crossbow, Light: Bards don’t get ExtraAttack, so the light crossbow is your best ranged weapon option. Of course,Bards can cast spells which will deal considerably more damage.
  • longsword: Rapier has the same damage, andis a Finesse weapon.
  • Rapier: The Bard’s best melee weaponoption.
  • shortsword: Rapier deals more damage, andBards don’t get anything from two-weapon fighting.

Bard Armor

  • Leather: Starting gear.
  • Studded Leather: Most Bards will live inStudded Leather.
  • Half Plate: The Valor Bard’s best armor.May double as a percussion instrument.
  • Shield: Valor Bards will want as much ACas they can get, so a shield is an obvious choice. Unfortunately, it cancause issues when you’re trying to cast spells and use Battle Magic at thesame time.

Multiclassing

This section briefly details some obvious and enticing multiclass options, but doesn’t fully explore the broad range of multiclassing combinations. For more on multiclassing, see our Practical Guide to Multiclassing.

  • Fighter: Can’t decide between Lore andValor? Take a level of Fighter on a Lore Bard, and you get all of the ValorBard’s free proficiencies. Fighting Style is nice, too.
  • Paladin: A tempting alternative to theFighter, depending on how many levels you intend to spend multiclassing. Ifyou’re only going one level, Fighter will get you better stuff. If you’regoing for two levels, you’ll get access to the Paladin’s 1st-level spells,including several smite spells, and Divine Smite. Divine Smite is a temptingoption for a full spellcaster like the Bard.
  • Rogue: The ultimate skill buildcombination. One free skill (limited to the Rogue list, unfortunately),thieves’ tools, and Expertise in two skills. Bards don’t actually needanything that the Rogue provides unless you’re serving as your party’sRogue-replacement, but if you really need to cover a ton of skills, Rogue isa fantastic choice for a 1-level dip.
  • Sorcerer: Much of the same appeal as theWizard, but since the Sorcerer is also Charisma-based you don’t need toinvest in Intelligence. You’ll still face issues with access to high-levelspells, but at least you won’t be MAD.
  • Warlock: A single level of Hexblade getsyou medium armor, shields, and you can use your Charisma with a weapon soyou don’t need any more than 14 Dexterity and you don’t need to spend amagical secret to learn Shillelagh.
  • Wizard: Gets you access to some Wizardcantrips, but long-term multiclassing for full casters doesn’t work wellbecause you get such limited access to powerful high-level spells. Wizardalso imposes a dependence on Intelligence, making the Bard very MAD. MagicInitiate and Magical Secrets will get you everything you really need.

Bard Magic Items

Common Magic Items

  • Instrument of IllusionsXGtE: Very cool, but mostly useless since the effect is obviouslyillusionary.
  • Masquerade TattooTCoE: Disguise Self once per day. Basically a cheaper Hat of Disguises. Youwon’t be able to change your disguise, but it’s still fantastically usefulfor a Common item.
  • Moon-Touched SwordXGtE: Helpful if you insist on using weapons, but if you can’t get a bettermagic weapon and you’re facing an enemy who resists non-magic weapon damage,consider casting spells.
  • Ruby of the War MageXGtE: This reduces the need to juggle weapons and material components whencasting spells. Unfortunately you still need a free hand to cast spellswhich have Somatic components but don’t require material components, so youstill need a free hand for Absorb Elements and Shield.

Uncommon Magic Items

  • Cloak of ProtectionDMG: Good on any character, but it requires Attunement and it’s not veryinteresting.
  • Eyes of the EagleDMG: Between this and possibly Expertise, it’s basically impossible foranything to sneak up on you without using magic. If you’re proficient withshields, a Sentinel Shield may be a better choice.
  • Hat of DisguiseDMG: Great for social situations, but usually you can get by with mundanedisguises or with a lower-rarity option like a Masquerade Tattoo.
  • Instrument of the BardsDMG: Three options are available at this rarity, with more at higher rarities,but . Each instrument allows you to cast seven or eight (four of them areshared across all of the instruments, including Fly and Invisibility) spellsonce per day each using your Charisma as normal for your bard spells. Manyof these spells are from outside of the Bard’s spell list, providing someexciting new options in addition to saving you a bunch of spell slots. Allof the instruments are good at this rarity, especially since the four spellsshared across each type of instrument are so useful. The last paragraph ofthe Instrument of the Bards entry is easy to overlook, but it’s exciting: Ifyou play the instrument while casting a spell which causes the target tobecome Charmed (Charm Person, Dominate Person, etc.) and which requireseither somatic or material components, the targets suffer Disadvantage ontheir save. The list of applicable spells is small, but it’s stillexciting.
  • Pearl of PowerDMG: Useful on any spellcaster.
  • Rhythm-Maker’s DrumTCoE: +1 to your attacks and spell DC’s. The ability to regain one use ofBardic Inspiration per day is nice, but once you get Font of Inspiration atlevel 5 it feels really minor. Instrument of the Bards is more interestingand will be more useful if you focus your spells on support and utility, butRhythm-Maker’s drum’s bonus to spell attacks and save DC’s is better ifyou’re focusing on offense.
  • Sentinel ShieldDMG: Advantage on Initiative rolls is really nice so you can get a buff or andare control effect running before everyone else starts moving. Bards get toadd half of their Proficiency Bonus thanks to Jack of All Trades, so betweenthat and a Sentinel Shield you’re going to go first very frequently.Unfortunately not all bards are proficient with shields.
  • Shield, +1DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. If you’reproficient, you definitely want one.
  • Slippers of Spider ClimbingDMG: The next-best thing to flight. Walking up a wall has all the benefits offlying out of reach, making this an excellent option for ranged builds.
  • Stone of Good LuckDMG: Excellent on literally any character, but if you just want better defensea Cloak of Protection may be more effective. Stone of Good Luck shines ifyou’re heavily reliant on skills and ability checks.
  • Wand of DetectionDMG: This saves you the trouble of learning Detect Magic, which is atragically disappointing way to spend one of your limited spells known.
  • Wand of the War MageDMG: Bard spells nearly never rely on spell attacks.
  • Weapon, +1DMG: Helpful for College of Swords and College of Valor.
  • Winged BootsDMG: Excellent on its own, but Winged Boots are more limited in use than abroom of flying, and they require Attunement.

Rare Magic Items

  • Amulet of HealthDMG: Setting your Constitution to 19 means that you don’t need to put AbilityScore Increases into it unless you’re really certain that you want 20Constitution. Less ASI’s into Constitution means more room for feats.Combining this with Resilient (Constitution) or War Caster can do a lot tomake Concentration easier.
  • Armor of ResistanceDMG: Excellent, but unpredictable in most games since you can’t perfectlypredict what sort of damage you’ll face. Fire and poison are safechoices.
  • Armor, +1DMG: +1 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Barrier Tattoo (Rare)TCoE: All the AC of medium armor without bothering to get proficiency. Ifyou’re not going to increase Dexterity to 20 to max out light armor, thiscan be a great AC boost. But depending on your Dexterity score, +2 studdedleather may be more effective.
  • Cloak of DisplacementDMG: Among the best defensive items in the game. Taking damage from any source(spells, etc.) suppresses the effect temporarily, so make a point to killanything that can damage you without an attack roll.
  • Elven ChainDMG: One less AC than Barrier Tattoo (Rare), but it doesn’t requireattunement, so in a game with abundant magic items Elven Chain may be abetter choice.
  • Instrument of the BardsDMG: Two options are available at this rarity, and while they are still good,they’re not as impressive as lower-rarity options because all varieties ofthe Instrument of the Bards share the same four common spells.
  • Reveler’s ConcertinaTCoE: +2 to your bard spell DC’s, but notably not to spell attacks (though Ican’t think of a single bard spell which makes spell attacks), and a6th-level save-or-suck spell once per day. Almost certainly better than theRhythm-Maker’s Drum, but not by so much that you’ll lament thedifference.
  • Rhythm-Maker’s DrumTCoE: +2 to your attacks and spell DC’s. See Rhythm-Maker’s Drum under UncommonMagic Items for more, but also consider the Reveler’s Concertina.
  • Ring of ProtectionDMG: Cloak of Protection is lower rarity and has the same effect.
  • Ring of ResistanceDMG: A fine item in a vacuum, but a Ring of Spell Storing full of AbsorbElements will be much more effective.
  • Ring of Spell StoringDMG: Fill it with Absorb Elements and Shield and recharge it wheneverpossible, and this is a spectacular defensive asset.
  • Shield, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. If you’reproficient, you definitely want one.
  • Weapon, +2DMG: Helpful for College of Swords and College of Valor.

Very Rare Magic Items

  • Animated ShieldDMG: Tempting for anyone not fighting with a one-handed weapon, but a Cloak ofProtection is two rarities lower, works persistently, and arguably providesa better numeric bonus.
  • Armor, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective.
  • Barrier Tattoo (Very Rare)TCoE: The fixed AC matches full plate, so you don’t need to worry aboutDexterity to boost your AC and you don’t even suffer Disadvantage onDexterity (Stealth) checks.
  • Bow of MelodiesBoMT/a>: If ever there was a weapon build for valor bards, this is it. Expertise in Performance is achievable, esepcially if your DM promises that you can get one of these, so this is a +2 bow that applies your Charisma modifier as an extra bonus to damage, which outwieghs the DPR loss from the additional +1, provided that you don’t have other damage bonuses. Use Magical Secrets to grab Swift Quiver, and you’re ready to go.
  • Instrument of the BardsDMG: Only one option at this level, and it offers some powerful druidspells.
  • Manual of Bodily HealthDMG: Permanent Constitution bonus and raises your cap by 2. Unless you’reusing a magic item that fixes your Constitution as a specific score, this isexcellent.
  • Rhythm-Maker’s DrumTCoE: +3 to your attacks and spell DC’s. See Rhythm-Maker’s Drum under UncommonMagic Items for more.
  • Shield, +3DMG: +3 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. If you’reproficient, you definitely want one.
  • Tome of Leadership and InfluenceDMG: Permanent Charisma bonus and raises your cap by 2.
  • Weapon, +3DMG: Helpful for College of Swords and College of Valor.

Legendary Magic Items

  • Cloak of InvisibilityDMG: Invisibility is extremely powerful in 5e. Note that this is just theinvisible condition, not the spell spell Invisibility, so you can stillattack or whatever while invisible.
  • Harp of Gilded PlentyGotG: A floor of 10 on all of your Charisma checks, including both skill checksand ability checks like the check to dispel magic or counter a spell.College of Eloquence will get less benefit than most bards.
  • Instrument of the BardsDMG: Only one option at this level, and the spells are fine but unimpressive.The highest-level spell is Control Weather, and you could get that on theAnstruth Harp which is one rarity lower.
  • Ioun Stone (Mastery)DMG: Proficiency Bonuses apply to a lot of things and a +1 bonus goes a longway. Attacks, saves, skills, etc. all benefit. Unfortunately, Jack of AllTrades gets rounded down as normal, so your new +7 Proficiency Bonus won’tmake Jack of All Trades any better.
  • Jester’s MaskBoMT/a>: A +3 spellcasting focus, some excellent defensive benefits, and you don’t need to hold it in your hard.
  • Ring of Spell TurningDMG: Given the choice, I would much rather have a Mantle of Spell Resistancesimply because the Ring of Spell Turning doesn’t provide any protectionagainst area effect spells. Otherwise, this is a really fun item, and if itprovided Advantage on saves against area of effect spells it would shootstraight up to blue.
  • Ring of Three WishesDMG: Use your 18th-level Magical Secrets to learn Wish, and give this tosomeone in your party who can’t cast spells so that they can use it to giveeveryone permanent damage resistance.

    For more help with Wish, see myPractical Guide to Wish.

  • Scarab of ProtectionDMG: An upgrade from the Mantle of Spell Resistance, the Scarab of Protectionadds a limited benefit against necromancy and undead creatures, and doesn’ttake up your cloak slot, leaving you free to take items like a Cloak ofProtection or Cloak of Invisibility instead.

Example Bard Build – Half-Elf Bard (College of Lore)

Amalae the Half-Elf College of Lore Bard

The half-elf’s nimble fingers race deftly across the strings of the lute,plucking out a simple yet pleasant tune that crescendos into a flurry ofchords. They move as they play, their lithe form striking a dynamic poseeven in their leather armor. Their high, lilting voice joins the chorus,emerging from the lute’s melody like a blooming flower, lifting andharmonizing. A strange glimmer surrounds the half-elf as they play, flowingoutward from the vibrating lute strings until it encompasses the entirety ofthe stage, and then the surrounding audience.

— Boxed text provided by dScryb(affiliate link)

Thisisa“StapleBuild”.Thisbuildissimple,andreliesonoptionsfromtheSRDandtheBasicRuleswhereverpossible.Ifyouneedafunctionalbuildwithnothingfancyorcomplicated,thisisagreatplacetostart.

While this build is conceptually simple, it’s complicated due to the Bard’shigh number of decision points. Between a long list of skill proficiencies,Expertise, and Magical Secrets, there’s a lot of room for customization. Thiscan make the Bard difficult for new players to approach, but players who canmanage the complexities will find that their character is uniquely tailored totheir tastes and a capable contributor to the party in any situation.

For a more optimized example, see ourCollege of Lore Bard Handbook.

Abilities

We will assume the 25-point buy close to the abilities suggested above, butadjusted to take advantage of the three ability score increases.

BaseIncreased
Str88
Dex1516
Con1314
Int88
Wis1212
Cha1517

Race

Half-Elf. Half-Elf is a safe, solid bet for any bard. We’ll put the twoflexible ability score increases into Dexterity and Constitution.

Skills and Tools

Between the Half-elf racial traits and the Bard skills, we get our choice ofany five skills. 5th edition has 18 skills, so we obviously can’t geteverything, but fortunately we’ll get two more from our background and threemore at 3rd level when we get College of Lore’s Bonus Proficiencies. That’s atotal of 10 skill proficiencies, which is a lot to decide. At 1st level youonly need to pick 5, but remember that you’ll get two from your Background,and intentionally selecting redundant proficiencies doesn’t help you becauseyou can already pick any skill.

I recommend tailoring your skills to your role in the party:

RoleFaceLibrarianScout
Skills
  • Deception
  • Insight
  • Intimidation
  • Perception
  • Performance
  • Nature
  • Perception
  • Performance
  • Persuasion
  • Religion
  • Acrobatics
  • Insight
  • Perception
  • Performance
  • Sleight of Hand

Bards also get proficiency in three musical instruments. Bard use instrumentsas a magic focus for spellcasting, so generally you want something portablelike a flute, a lute, or a hand-held harp, but which specific instrument youpick has little or no mechanical impact.

Background

If your party lacks a Scout (someone with proficiency in Stealth and Thieves’ Tools), select the Criminal background. This gets you Thieves’ Tools proficiency and some helpful skills.

If your party lacks a Scholar (a wizard, etc.), select the Sage background. Two knowledge skills goes a long way, and with your other open skill proficiencies you’ve got plenty of room to pick up other skills.

If your party lacks a Face, there is no one more capable of filling that rolethan you. Select the Noble background.

Levels

LevelFeat(s) and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1Spellcasting
Bardic Inspiration (d6)
Cantrips Known:
– Prestidigitation
– Vicious Mockery
Spells Known:
– Detect Magic
– Healing Word
– Heroism
– Sleep
Even at first level, you’re extremely effective. 7 skillproficiencies, a robust and well-rounded list of spells, and you’regood enough with weapons that you can fall back on a bow or a rapierif you absolutely need to.

With leather armor and 16 Dexterity your AC is just 14, and with 10hit points you’re very frail, so stay at range and rely on ViciousMockery. Vicious Mockery won’t do nearly as much damage as a weapon,but the debuff may prevent large amounts of damage to your party.

2Jack of All Trades
Song of Rest (d6)
New Spells Known:
– Dissonant Whispers
2nd level increases your utility. Jack of All Trades gives you abonus to all ability checks, including Initiative check and the restof the skills which you haven’t managed to pick up.

Song of Rest provides a small, but meaningful boost to your party’shealing resources. At low levels, 1d6 may be the difference betweenlife and death. Of course, allies need to spend hit dice to healthemselves in order to get the bonus die, but even at 2nd level youcan manage that twice in a day. You just need to convince yourallies that they need to save their second hit die for a second resteven if it means finishing your first short rest at less than fullhit points.

3Bard College (College of Lore)
Bonus Proficiencies
Cutting Words
Expertise
New Spells Known:
– Invisibility
This is a fun level. Pick three more skills, then pick two skillsin which to gain Expertise. I recommend Perception and two of therole-based skills I recommended above.

Cutting Words introduces a new usage for Bardic Inspiration. You’restill limited to three uses per day at this level, so you need to bereally conservative. I recommend keeping at least one use of BardicInspiration in reserve specifically for use with Cutting Words soyou can turn save yourself or an ally at the last possiblesecond.

3rd level also brings 2nd-level spells, which opens up a whole newpile of options. If you find that you’re not using one of your1st-level spells you can retrain it into a 2nd-level spell, butremember that you only have two 2nd-level spell slots so you may notget a lot of mileage out of two 2nd-level spells known.

4
Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 17 -> 19)
New Cantrips Known:
– Dancing Lights
New Spells Known:
– Enhance Ability
4th level is a little bit dry, but a Charisma increase does a lotfor the Bard. Your weapon attacks are going to start lagging becauseyou’re a point behind the attack vs. AC curve, but 55% chance ofhitting is still decent, and a weapon may be more useful thanVicious Mockery in some cases.
5Bardic Inspiration (d8)
Font of Inspiration
New Spells Known:
– Hypnotic Pattern
5th level is as good for the Bard as it is for anyone else. YourBardic Inspiration die improves, and with Font of Inspiration you’vegot much more freedom to spend inspiration dice.

Cantrip damage increases at 5th level, so Vicious Mockery now deals2d4 damage (avg. 5). Weapon attacks will deal slightly more damage,but I think the added utility of Vicious Mockery is still better.

6Countercharm
Additional Magical Secrets
– Fireball
– Haste
New Spells Known:
– Tongues
Countercharm is situational, but there are many effects which arebased on the Charmed condition that go well beyond charming acreature.

Additional Magical Secrets is a confusing name because you get itfour levels earlier than Magical Secrets. Choosing spells can bevery difficult because the options are so numerous. Choose spellswhich complement the makeup of your party. For example: if yourparty lacks a blaster, consider fireball. If you need a go-to rangeddamage option that’s more lethal than Vicious Mockery, considerEldritch Blast, Firebolt, or Toll the Dead. If your party has strongmartial characters, consider Haste. If your party lacks a betterhealer like a cleric or druid, consider Mass Healing Word.

7New Spells Known:
Polymorph
Nothing new at this level except 4th-level spells.
8
Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 19 -> 20, Dex 16 ->17)
New Spells Known:
– Greater Invisibility
We’re still one point behind the attack vs. AC curve with ourweapon attacks, but by this level you’ve got enough spells thatmaking a weapon attack should be an occasional exception.

With our Charisma maximized at 20, you now have 5 BardicInspiration dice to throw around, and you get them back on a shortrest.

9
Song of Rest (d8)
New Spells Known:
– Hold Monster
Increasing the die size of Song of Rest does basically nothing. Thedifference between 1d6 and 1d8 is an average of 1 hit point.
10Bardic Inspiration (d10)
Expertise (2 more)
Magical Secrets
– Telekinesis
– Wall of Force
New Cantrip Known:
– Any
Bardic Inspiration continues to improve, and now that you have 5 dice to use, every tiny improvement goes a long way.

Two more Expertise choices is great, and by this level you should have a good idea of what skills are being used frequently in your campaign.

At this level we get our first round of regular Magical Secrets. Remember that these spells count against your regular spells known, so you do only learn two new spells at this level, and most likely you want both to be from outside of the Bard’s spell list. If you do want to learn spells from the Bard’s spell list, consider retraining a lower-level spell.

11New Spells Known:
– Eyebite
11th level brings 6th-level spells, and it’s the last level atwhich you learn at least one new spell every level.
12Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 14 -> 16)At this point you’re free to do what you like with your AbilityScore Increases. More Dexterity means more AC, and more Constitutionmeans more hit points. If you’re ready to go beyond the SRD,consider a feat.
13Song of Rest (d10)
New Spells Known:
– Forcecage
More Song of Rest, and 7th-level spells.
14Peerless Skill
Magical Secrets
– Heal (Yes, this is a 6th-level spell)
– Reverse Gravity
Peerless skill allows you to benefit from your own BardicInspiration, though only on ability checks. That’s great for socialsituations, but I still wish we could use Bardic Inspiration for ourown saving throws.

More Magical Secrets at this level is great. With access to7th-level spells, you have a massive list of options, and sincespellcasters get so few spells known at high levels you shouldreally diversify your options. Remember that these still countagainst your usual number of spells known, so if you want to learnspells from the Bard spell list you should consider retraining aknown spell rather than spending one of your Magical Secrets.

15Bardic Inspiration (d12)
New Spells Known:
– Dominate Monster
Bardic Inspiration maxes out at d12, and you get 8th-levelspells.
16Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 16 -> 18)Another chance to boost your ability scores or get a feat.
17Song of Rest (d12)
New Spells Known:
True Polymorph
At this level the tiny amount of extra healing provided by Song ofRest will frequently feel pointless. But you also get 9th-levelspells at this level, which is pretty great.

Cantrips also get their final damage increase at this level.

18Magical Secrets
– Mass Heal (maybe. Power Word Kill is also good)
– Wish
The final round of Magical Secrets. You have access to every spell list in the game, and with access to 9th-level spells you can select literally any spell in the game. That makes the decision very difficult, but our Practical Guide to Magical Secrets should help.

When selecting your spells at this level, remember that you only ever get one 9th-level spell slot. It’s very easy to want to know a whole bunch of 9th-level spells, but the spell slot limitation makes that hard to justify. You probably want to know 3 9th-level spells at the absolute most, but if you only know 2 that is probably plenty (especially since one of them will be Wish).

19Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 18 -> 20)
20Superior Inspiration

One use of Bardic Inspiration may not seem like much, but when itcomes up you’ll be glad to have it. It also significantly reducesthe need to hang on to one die to get an ally out of a bad situationsince you’ll get one die at the beginning of every fight.

Bard 5e: DnD 5th Edition Class Guide – RPGBOT (2024)
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