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DnD 5e - The Bard Handbook

Last Updated: January 4th, 2019


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

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

Temporary Note: I am currently waiting to include content from the Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron. According to Dragontalk (the official D&D podcast), it's in a semi-finished state and is still subject to change, which could mean that character options in the book will see major changes before final publication. Once the book is complete, physical copies will be released and I will update to address the new content.


The Bard is fantastically versatile. With access to every skill, expertise, full casting, and a decent set of proficiencies, the Bard can fill essentially every role in the party. The Lore Bard is more of the classic supportive Bard, with improved magical options and support abilities, while the Valor Bard is a decent front-line melee character who can bring their spellcasting and support capabilities into the heat of battle.

Strangely, the Bard's emphasis on the Performance skill from previous editions has wholly vanished. There is literally no reason to take the skill.

Bard Class Features

Hit Points: d8 is fantastic for a full casting class, but you're not going to survive rushing into melee all the time unless you go for Valor to boost your AC.

Saves: Dexterity is great for avoiding fireballs, but most spells which call for Reflex saves won't outright disable you, and Charisma saves are extremely rare.

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

Spellcasting: The Bard is a full caster like a Cleric or Wizard, and casts spells based on their Charisma. Bards use a "spells known" mechanic similar to a Sorcerer, so your abilities are limited to the spells you know. You can replace one spell known every level, so don't worry if you choose a spell at low level and it doesn't remain useful as you gain levels.

Bardic Inspiration: It's tempting to throw this up before every fight, but since the duration is only 10 minutes and you only get a handful of uses per day, it's important to be conservative with them. When you know that your party needs a bit of help, like on a difficult save or on a crucial attack roll, give them an inspiration die. Since it can be used after rolling the d20, the inspiration die can be a fantastic option when you're a point or two short of a save DC or your enemy's AC. At fifth level the uses recharge on a Short Rest (see "Font of Inspiration"), so you can afford to be much less stingy, but you still don't want to burn through them too quickly.

Jack of All Trades: Ability checks include Initiative (which is a Dexterity check), all skill checks, and all checks involving the use of tools, vehicles, instruments, gaming sets, etc.

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

Bard College: See "Subclasses - Bard Colleges", below.

Expertise: Expertise is always fantastic, and it's especially good because Bards get any three skills of their choice at first level.

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

Countercharm: Very situational, and eats your action. Unless your enemy's abilities are almost entirely composed of fear and/or charm effects, this isn't terribly useful.

Magical Secrets: The Bard spell list is great, but excludes a lot of extremely potent options from other spellcasters spell lists.

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

Subclasses - Bard Colleges


Te bard is heavily reliant on Charisma, but with a bit of Dexterity and Constitution the Bard can survive an occasional dip into melee combat.

Str: Dump stat. Even in melee, the Bard can rely 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 must occasionally resort to using weapons.

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

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

Wis: Good for important saves and a handful of skills.

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

Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 15
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 15


Charisma is crucial. Other abilities are nice, and can inform your build choices, but generally you just want to max Charisma. College of Valor Bards can be built very similarly to a Fighter, so races which work as a Fighter will work reasonably well as a Valor Bard, but won't excel with the Bard's spellcasting and special abilities.

AarakocraEEPC: Flight is great, but nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

AasimarVGTM: Bonus charisma is excellent, and any of the subraces work well for a valor bard.

BugbearVGTM: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

Dwarf: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

Dragonborn: Great for a Valor Bard if you want to be Strength-based, but I would probably pick up heavy armor proficiency unless you can manage 14 Dexterity without detracting from other ability scores. The Dragon Hide racial feat is tempting for bards seeking to dive into melee, but you'll be better off in real armor since Dragonborn typically build around Strength-based weapons.

Elf: Dexterity helps since so many Bards are built to use Finesse weapons, and Perception is always nice to have despite the Bard's lack of emphasis on Wisdom. Most of the subraces don't work well for the Bard, but Eladrin are a fantastic option.

FirbolgVGTM: Everything works except the ability increases.

GenasiEEPC: Nothing useful for the Bard.

Gith: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.

Gnome: Bards don't do a lot with Intelligence.

GoblinVGTM: Excellent for a Dexterity-based valor bard who is filling in as the party's rogue. Nimble Escape duplicates most of Cunning Action, which gives you one less reason to take a class dip.

GoliathVGTM/EEPC: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

Half-Elf: +2 Charisma, and two free skills. Even ignoring the other racial abilities, this is already the best option. The Prodigy racial feat offers even more proficiencies and Expertise in another skill, which is wonderful if you're handling the majority of your party's skill checks.

Half-Orc: Decent for a Valor Bard. Intimidation for free is nice since the Bard is typically the party's Face.

Halfling: Dexterity is helpful since Bards have light armor and tend toward Finesse weapons, and Lucky is always good to have. The Bountiful Luck racial feat is a fantastic way to support your allies and fits well with the Bard's role in the party.

HobgoblinVGTM: Nothing specifically useful forthe Bard.

Human: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

KenkuVGTM: Excellent if you want more skills, but without a Charisma bonus you'll likely be shoehorned into balor bard.

KoboldVGTM: Kobolds are fine, but their traits don't offer anything specifically useful for the bard.

LizardfolkVGTM: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

OrcVGTM: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

TabaxiVGTM: Good ability increases, two free skills, and some other fun traits. Perfect for a bard of any kind.

Tiefling: Not quite as good as the Half-Elf, but the bonus Charisma is still great, and the Tiefling's other racial abilities are a lot of fun. The Infernal Constitution racial feat is really tempting for a melee bard, as it gives you three damage resistances and makes you able to withstand a great deal of damage. With so many Tiefling subraces to choose from, you have a ton of room to really customize your character.

TortleTP: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

TritonVGTM: Fantastic ability increases for a valor bard, plus some innate spellcasting and some other stuff.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: The intentillegnce bonus won't see much use, but the rest of the pureblood's racial traits make it extremely powerful.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

GoblinGGTR: See above.

LoxodonGGTR: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

MinotaurGGTR: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

Simic HybridGGTR: The flexible ability increase will almost certainly go into Charisma, but that means that you won't have an increase to put elsewhere, so you'll likely want to stick to College of Lore. Simic Hybrid is in no way a bad choice, but there are numerous choices which are better.

VedalkenGGTR: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.



Bards typically want skills which will help them as a Face, a Librarian, or a Scout, and fortunately there are lots of options. Bonus languages are always helpful for a Face, but remember that you will get access to Comprehend Languages and Tongues.