DnD 5e - The Bard Handbook
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.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
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
- College of LorePHB: College of Lore
is for magic and support-oriented Bards who don't plan to wade into melee
combat. The abilities are fantastic, and really play to the Bard's function
as a Jack of All Trades, and to the Bards abilities as a Support.
- Bonus Proficiencies: 3 more skills of your choice brings your class total up to 6. You also get Expertise at this level, so level 3 represents a considerable jump in skill.
- Cutting Words: This excludes saving throws, so you can't force enemies to fail save-or-suck saves, but you can use it to protect allies from attacks which barely hit, or from things like the Shove action.
- Additional Magical Secrets: Even more spells from a different class! This is especially nice because you get it four levels earlier than other Bards.
- Peerless Skill: This has a lot of applications. Combined with Superior Inspiration you could take an inspiration die on every initiative check. You'll want to be careful about using this for skill checks, as that can eat up your uses per day very quickly, and won't be as useful as potentially saving the life of one of your allies.
- College of ValorPHB: The warrior
Bard will prefer the College of Valor. By improving the Bard's ability to
wade into melee safely, the Bard can fill nearly every role in a party. If
you're in a small party, this is an absolutely fantastic option. However, in
a party of 4 or more the Valor Bard's lack of focus will make it hard for
the Bard to truly shine.
- Bonus Proficiencies: Medium armor and a shield will significantly improve your AC. With 14 ore more Dexterity, a breastplate, and a shield, you're looking at a respectable 19 AC, enough to compete with most Fighters. You also get access to all martial weapons, but you're probably going to want to stick to a Rapier.
- Combat Inspiration: The ability to add the inspiration die to damage is very wasteful. You'll have much better results using it to prevent attacks. This isn't quite as good as the Coolege of Lore's Cutting Words ability, but it allows your allies to make the decision to use the die themselves, which is a nice mental load off of your shoulders.
- Extra Attack: Most of the time you'll still want to stick to spells, but with a decent Dexterity your weapon attacks may outpace your Cantrips in terms of reliable damage for a while.
- Battle Magic: An excellent use of your Bonus Action since Bards don't have a lot of ways to use them. If you pick up Magic Initiate, and take Booming Blade and/or Green-Flame Blade, you can still manage to make two weapon attacks in a single turn.
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|
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.
- DuergarSCAG: Decent for a Valor Bard, but even then no better than any other race.
- HillPHB: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.
- MountainPHB: Decent for a Valor Bard, but even then no better than any other race.
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.
- Drow: The bonus Charisma is nice, but Sunlight Sensitivity is difficult to handle in most games.
- High Elf: The Cantrip is tempting, but the bonus to Intelligence is totally wasted.
- Wood Elf: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.
GenasiEEPC: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- Air: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.
- Earth: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- Fire: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- Water: Nothing useful for the Bard.
Gnome: Bards don't do a lot with Intelligence.
- Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- Forest: Dexterity helps since so many Bards are built to use Finesse weapons, and the free cantrip is nice.
- Rock: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.
GoliathEEPC: 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.
- AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
- DrowSCAG: The free spells are nice, but Bards can already cast those spells, and the additional spellcasting can't compete with extra skill choices on a class which is so dependent on skills.
- High/Moon/SunSCAG: A Wizard cantrip can be a tempting damaging option since the Bard's best damage cantrip only deals d4's of damage. Lore bards should consider options like Ray of Frost for the slow effect and damage, and valor bards should consider melee options like Green Flame Blade for the improved melee damage output.
- Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
- WoodSCAG: The bard doesn't get a lot of benefit from these options. Mask of the Wild is tempting for a stealthy Bard, but not enough to justify sacrificing two skill choices.
- VanillaPHB: Two skill choices are crucial on such a highly-skilled character.
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.
- Lightfoot: A bit of Charisma is great, and Naturally Stealthy works well for a sneaky Bard.
- Stout: Nothing useful for the Bard.
Human: Versatile and fantastic at everything.
- Vanilla: Since Bards get access to every skill, decent scores in every ability can improve your function as a Jack of All Trades.
- Variant: Feats are always excellent. Magic Initiate will get you access to good cantrips like Green-Flame Blade for the Valor Bard, and Eldritch Blast for the Lore Bard. If you choose Bard for the feat, the bonus spell known will improve your versatility with your leveled spells, but if you lean toward better cantrips from other classes you'll need to stick to a utility option for the 1st-level spell. Bards are already fantastic at skills, and get a ton of them, but one more never hurts.
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.
- FeralSCAG: The Vanilla ability scores are better for the Bard.
- Devil's TongueSCAG: The bonus spells are from the Bard spell list, and you absolutely need to have Vicious Mockery, so this will save you some spells known.
- HellfireSCAG: Essentially the same as Vanilla, but a better option for Lore Bards because you don't need to be hit first to use the burning hands.
- VanillaPHB: Some interesting utility options, but they may not be as useful for a Bard as the spells offered by Devil's Tongue.
- WingedSCAG: Flight is always great, especially if you're not a Valor Bard.
- Acrobatics (Dex): Too situational.
- Animal Handling (Cha): Bards are not Druids.
- Athletics (Str): Tripping enemies is pretty great, but most Bards lean more toward Dexterity than Strength.
- Arcana (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Deception (Cha): Helpful for a Face.
- History (Int): The least important and most situational knowledge skill.
- Insight (Wis): Helpful for a Face.
- Intimidation (Cha): Important for any Face.
- Investigation (Int): Very important, but you really only need one person in the party to have it.
- Medicine (Wis): Medicine is best done magically.
- Nature (Cha): Good knowledge skill, but not as crucial as Arcana or Religion.
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
- Performance (Cha): So this is really weird. In 5e Bards don't actually need Performance, so you can completely skip it. 3.0 was my first RPG, and Bards are indelibly fused to the Perform skill in my mind, so I'm having a little bit of a mental freak-out as I write this.
- Persuasion (Cha): The king of Face skills.
- Religion (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Sleight of Hand (Dex): Too situational.
- Stealth (Dex): Essential if your party lacks a dedicated Scout.
- Survival (Wis): Too situational.
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.
- AcolytePHB: Decent skills for a Bard, and the bonus languages are nice until you can handle languages magically.
- CharlatanPHB: Good for a stealthy Bard, and plays to a similar skillset to the Actor feat.
- City WatchSCAG: Similar to Acolute, but worse skills.
- Clan CrafterSCAG: Decent skills, but artisan's tools are largely useless. Guild Artisan is a similar concept with better skills.
- Cloistered ScholarSCAG: Two knowledge skills. With no bonus Face skills the languages won't be super 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 completely useless.
- 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 Bards don't need any more instruments, Courtier is technically better, but Far Traveler has a great theme for the Bard.
- Folk HeroPHB: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- Guild ArtisanPHB: Great skills for a Face, but artisan's tools are largely useless.
- HermitPHB: Medicine and herbalism would be much more useful if you couldn't heal magically.
- InheritorSCAG: Great, except that Survival is largely useless.
- Knight of the OrderSCAG: Two great skills for the Bard, an insturment, 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, and only one bonus language.
- OutlanderPHB: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- SagePHB: Two great knowledge skills. With no bonus Face skills the languages won't be super helpful. Plays very well to the Lore Bard concept.
- SailorPHB: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- SoldierPHB: Passable skills for the Valor Bard, but not great.
- 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.
- Uthgardt Tribe MemberSCAG: Nothing useful for the Bard.
- Waterdavian NobleSCAG: Two Bard skills, a language, and a great theme for a Bard. Since Bards don't need any more instruments, Courtier is technically better.
- AlertPHB: Going first is nice for getting buffs set up, but you're not as dependant on it as a Rogue or a Controller.
- ActorPHB: In a highly social game, this opens up some interesting options and allows you to further capitalize on your excellent Charisma.
- ChargerPHB: If you're at a distance which requires this, you should fall back on your spells instead.
- Crossbow ExpertPHB: Valor Bards get Extra Attacks, but even then this doesn't get a lot of mileage.
- Defensive DuelistPHB: Valor Bards typically rely on Dexterity and Finesse weapons, and this can be a nice way to boost your AC. However, it quickly falls apart if you are outnumbered.
- Dual WielderPHB: Two-weapon fighting isn't really in the Bard's skillset. Valor Bards need a shield to boost their lousy AC, and Lore bards don't use weapons enough.
- Dungeon DelverPHB: If you are your party's skill monkey, and the game involves lots of dungeons, this can be very helpful.
- DurablePHB: Bards can heal magically, so hit dice are less crucial than they are for characters who can't.
- Elemental AdeptPHB: Bards don't have a big list of offensive spells like a Sorcerer or Wizard.
- GrapplerPHB: This feat is questionably good at the best of times, and you really need to be Strength-oriented to make it work.
- Great Weapon MasterPHB: Valor Bards really need to use a shield, and probably won't have the Strength 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 able to take this until 4th level so levels 1-3 are going to be very dangerous.
- Heavy Armor MasterPHB: You need Heavily Armored to take this, and if you're tanking enough that you feel like you need this than you should probably be playing a different class.
- Inspiring LeaderPHB: This provides a big pool of temporary hit points which can dramatically reduce 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 Bards may want Eldritch Blast, while Valor Bards may want Booming Blade and/or Green-Flame Blade. For the bonus spell known, be sure to stick to the Bard spell list to permanently expand your list of spells known by one.
- Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
- Medium Armor MasterPHB: Very few Valor Bards will care enough to require this. Disadvantage on Stealth is a big invonvenience, but it won't make or break you, and the extra +1 to AC isn't enough to make this a decent feat.
- MobilePHB: Valor Bards don't get any special advantages for moving around during combat, so this doesn't get you anything useful.
- Moderately ArmoredPHB: Valor Bards get medium armor already, and Lore Bards shouldn't need it.
- Mounted CombatPHB: It's hard to play a mounted character without a special mount ability of some kind.
- ObservantPHB: Very helpful, but Bards don't have enough Intelligence or Wisdom to be especiall
- Polearm MasterPHB: Valor Bards are typically Dexterity-based, and need a sheild to boost their AC, so they typically can't make effective use a polearm.
- ResilientPHB: If you were going to be good at a save, your class would have given it to you.
- Ritual CasterPHB: Bards can already do this on their own.
- Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
- SentinelPHB: Important if you are the party's only front-line character, but you really shouldn't be.
- 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 something cool like casting a spell and using Battle Magic.
- SkilledPHB: More skills is always good.
- SkulkerPHB: This only matters if you have Sneak Attack.
- Spell SniperPHB: Bards don't have enough offensive spells whcih require attack rolls to justify this.
- Tavern BrawlerPHB: Bards typically don't have the Strength to make grappling viable.
- ToughPHB: This goes quite a way to address the Bard's low hit dice, but remember that you can heal yourself if your hit points become a problem.
- War CasterPHB: Valor Bards will get a lot of use out of this. If you pick up Booming Blade from Magic Initiate, you can use it with your opportunity attacks to nearly gurantee the bonus damage when enemies attempt to move away from you.
- Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you need to function.
- Crossbow, Hand: Light Crossbow does more damage and has better range.
- Crossbow, Light: Bards don't get Extra Attack, so the light crossbow if your best ranged weapon option. Of course, Bards can cast spells which will deal considerably more damage.
- longsword: Rapier has the same damage, and is a Finesse weapon.
- Rapier: The Bard's best melee weapon option.
- shortsword: Rapier deals more damage, and Bards don't get anything from two-weapon fighting.
- Leather: Starting gear.
- Studded Leather: Lore Bards will live in Studded Leather.
- Half Plate: The Valor Bard's best armor. May double as a percussions instrument.
- Shield: Valor Bards will want as much AC as they can get, so a shield is an obvious choice. Unfortunately, it can cause issues when you're trying to cast spells and use Battle Magic at the same time.
- Fighter: Can't decide between Lore and Valor? Take a level of Fighter on a Lore Bard, and you get all of the Valor Bard's free proficiencies. Fighting Style is nice, too.
- Rogue: The ultimate skill build combination. One free skill (limited to the Rogue list, unfortunately), thieve's tools, and Expertise in in two skills. Bards don't actually need anything that the Rogue provides unless you're serving as your party's Rogue-replacement, but if you really need to cover a ton of skills, Rogue is a fantastic choice for a 1-level dip.
- Wizard: Gets you access to some Wizard cantrips, but long-term multiclassing for full casters doesn't work well because you get such limited access to powerful high-level spells. Wizard also imposes a dependence on Intelligence, making the Bard very MAD. Magic Initiate will get you everything you really need.