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DnD 5e - The Bard Handbook

Disclaimer

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.

Introduction

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.

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

Abilities

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.

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

Races

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.

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.

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. Unfortunately, the subraces don't work well for the Bard.

GenasiEEPC: Nothing useful for the Bard.

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

GoliathEEPC: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

Half-Elf:

Half-Elf: +2 Charisma, and two free skills. Even ignoring the other racial abilities, this is already the best option.

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.

Human: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

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.

Skills

Background

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.

Feats

Weapons

Armor

Multiclassing