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. Subclasses like College of Lore are more of the classic supportive Bard, with improved magical options and support abilities, while College of Swords and College of Valor can serve as front-line melee characters 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 mechanical reason to take the skill.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Bard Subclasses Breakdown and my Bard Spells Breakdown.

Table of Contents

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 which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

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.

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 this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Bard Class Features

Optional Class Features are detailed below under Optional 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.

For help selecting spells, see my Bard Spell List Breakdown.

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: Jack of All Trades may be one of the most easily-overlooked class features in the game. The obvious function is that it adds to all of your skill checks where you’re not already proficient, but it also applies to a dizzying long list of other ability checks and I keep finding more examples. I couldn’t squish them all into a paragraph of text, so here’s a bulleted list of all of documented examples 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

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: 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 of thing air, and add powerful additional benefits to Bardic Inspiration.
  • College of Eloquence: The best bard that ever did bard, College of Eloquence reinforces and expands upon the Bard’s core class features. While it doesn’t add anything truly new to the class, it does make the Bard’s core features considerably better.
  • College of Glamour: A combination of support and Charm effects, College of Glamour makes a great support caster but doesn’t add any directly offensive capabilities.
  • College of Lore: Double down on the Bard’s core features, adding more Expertise, more Magical Secrets, and new support options.
  • College of Swords: Focused on new martial capabilities, College of Swords allows you to perform Flourishes which work similarly to the Battlemaster Fighter’s Maneuvers.
  • 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 a campaign with a lot of intrigue, but not a lot of dungeon crawling.

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. Keep in mind that these spells still use your normal number of bard spells known, so you select these spells instead of bard spells, not in addition to your bard spells known. College of Lore’s Extra Magical Secrets feature is an exception, as it does give you two additional spells known.

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

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 spell list. None of it changes the bard’s tactics or their party role in any significant way, but it does add some new options for players to explore.

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

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

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

Bardic Versatility (Addition): Retrain Expertise or a cantrip. Fantastic if you need it or if your party composition changes and you want to adjust your capabilities to reflect your altered role in the party.

I recommend allowing Bardic Versatility on all bards. You can’t get anything which you couldn’t already have, so it doesn’t make your character more powerful. 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 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 BuyStandard 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. Martial 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. Beyond ability score increases, look for addtional skills from your racial traits Dexterity and Charisma cover numerous crucial skills and tools, and having more skills will make you a better bard.

Note that setting-specific races like the Changeling and the Satyr are addressed in setting-specific sections, below.

AarakocraEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and flight in light armor. Flight puts you safely out of range of the majority of enemies. Excellent for literally any bard, including valor bards who will do just fine using a bow if they insist on using weapons.

Default Rules: Flight is great and the Dexterity bonus works for martial bards, but your spellcasting will suffer.

AasimarVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace offers a +1 increase), two damage resistances, Darkvision, and Healing Hands and Light Bearer.

  • Fallen: Only viable for martial bards comfortable in melee.
  • Protector: Temporary flight and a damage boost that works at range. Great for any kind of bard, though since bards typically don’t focus on dealing lots of damage you’ll likely find yourself combining this with cantrips or spells like Shatter.
  • Scourge: d8 hit points is too little to gamble on Scourge’s transformation.

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

  • Fallen: Excellent for an offense-focused valor bard.
  • Protector: Bards have little use for Wisdom.
  • Scourge: Tempting for a defensive valor bard, but you’ll want to pick up something like Sentinel to keep enemies inside the area of effect.

Aasimar (DMG Variant)DMG

Customized Origin: Rearrange the Wisdom increase, but otherwise my advice under the defaul rules applies.

Default Rules: +2 Charisma gives you that crucial Charisma increase, but stay away from martial subclasses without a physical ability score increase. The innate spellcasting saves you the trouble of learning Lesser Restoration or anything that would produce light, saving you a couple spells known for more fun options.

BugbearVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. Surprise Attack attack works with any attack including spell attacks, but unless you’re going for a martial subclass you won’t get much use out of it since so few bard spells involve spell attacks. Long-limbed looks neat, but if you need reach you can use a whip.

Default Rules: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

Custom LineageTCoE

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Custom Lineage.

Default Rules: +2 Cha, a feat, and either a skill or Darkvision. With the right feat you can start with 18 Charisma. Great for most builds, but you might prefer the Variant Human if you want to increase both Dexterity and Charisma at level one, which is helpful for martial subclasses.

DragonbornPHB

The Draconblood and Ravenite subraces are addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one damage resistance and a breath weapon. The breath weapon provides a helpful low-level AOE damage option which bards can’t match until they can cast Shatter. A good option for martial bards, but breath weapon will see little use for caster bards since they spend most of their time too far away to use it.

Default Rules: 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 are typically build around Strength-based weapons.

DwarfPHB

Customized Origin: +2 increase, Darkvision, and resistance to poison. Retrain the weapon proficiencies into tools. Each subrace offers a second ability score increase, but the Mountain Dwarf provides a +2 instead of the typical +1.

  • DuergarSCAG: Numerically great, but Sunlight Sensitivity is a pain if your campaign doesn’t take place underground.
  • HillPHB: Put the +1 in Constitution and Dwarven Toughness will give you even more hit points. Great for melee builds, and the extra hp will close the gap between the Bard’s d8 hit dice and the d10 hit dice of classes like the Fighter.
  • MountainPHB: A second +2 is tempting, but most bards don’t need it. Medium armor is similarly tempting, but most bards will do fine in light armor. The best use case here is if you want to make room for a feat while still raising two ability scores to 20.

Default Rules: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

  • DuergarSCAG: Decent for a Valor Bard, but even then no better than any other race.
  • HillPHB: Nothing useful except extra hit points.
  • MountainPHB: Decent for a Valor Bard, but even then no better than any other race which provides Strength and Constitution increases. I would go for Half-Orc first, personally.

ElfPHB

The Palid Elf subrace is addressed under Races of Wildemount, below.

Customized Origin: +2 Cha, Darkvision, one skill. Every subrace provides a second +1 which will probably go into Constitution.

  • DrowPHB: The innate spellcasting is nice and it’s Charisma-based so it works well for the Bard, but Sunlight Sensitivity can be really problematic.
  • EladrinMToF: Fey Step is easy teleportation with a rider effect which uses a Charisma-based DC. Perfect for the Bard. Winter is a great option for caster bards because the effect takes place before you teleport away. Other seasons may be more helpful for martial bards because it takes place after you arrive.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Works fine, but the regular Eladrin works really for the Bard so it’s a better choice than the Variant Eladrin.
  • High ElfPHB: A wizard cantrip offers better offensive options than the Bard can usually provide, but it’s Intelligence-based which can cause some problems. If you go for Booming Blade your Intelligence won’t matter. Retrain the weapons into tools.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: Only in an aquatic campaign.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Basically the same as the Eladrin, but only one option for the rider effect on your teleportation and you get resistance to necrotic damage. Maybe appealing for martial bards.
  • Wood ElfPHB: It works, but Mask of the Wild and a little bit of move speed do little to complement the Bard’s capabilities.

Default Rules: 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.

  • DrowPHB: The bonus Charisma is nice, but Sunlight Sensitivity is difficult to handle in most games so typically the Eladrin is a safer bet.
  • EladrinMToF: Dexterity and Charisma is a perfect mix for bards, and Fey Step is an extremely powerful ability.
  • Eladrin (Variant)DMG: Bad ability spread.
  • High ElfPHB: The Cantrip is tempting if you want Booming Blade, but the bonus to Intelligence is totally wasted. Go for High Half-Elf instead.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.

FirbolgVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases. Firbold Magic offers some utilities, including Detect Magic which is absolutely essential if no one else in your party can cast it. Hidden Step provoides a great escape mechanism if you get dragged into melee and don’t want to be there. Speech of Beast and Leaf may work better for the Bard than for nearly any other character, but it’s still only situationally useful.

Default Rules: Everything works except the ability increases.

GenasiEEPC

Customized Origin:

  • Air: Levitate is not good enough to dominate your racial traits.
  • Earth: Pass Without Trace is good, but it’s not good enough.
  • Fire: Darkvision, fire resistance, and some innate spellcasting. Keep in mind that the innate spellcasting is Constitution-based, so you may have trouble keeping it effective without hampering your bard spellcasting.
  • Water: Only in an aquatic campaign, and even then it’s not spectacular.

Default Rules: A Constitution increase works on anything, but the subraces don’t work for the Bard.

  • Air: Nothing useful for the Bard.
  • Earth: Nothing useful for the Bard.
  • Fire: Nothing useful for the Bard.
  • Water: Nothing useful for the Bard.

GithMToF

Customized Origin: The core traits amount to a +1 increase, speed, and languages. Both subraces provides a +2 increase, some proficiencies, and some innate spellcasting.

  • Githyanki: One additional language and one skill or tool. Medium armor and martial weapons from level one makes College of Valor considerably less appealing, especially if you can get a melee cantrip like Booming Blade to improve your attacks. Trade the weapon proficiencies for finesse weapons like the rapier or the whip, or go for a two-handed weapon if you’re feeling brave enough to build around Strength in medium armor. If you have extra weapon proficiencies trade them for tool proficiencies. The innate spellcasting offers some helpful options, too.

    This is a great way to make a better version of the valor bard by taking another college like College of Lore, thereby allowing you to be an effective martial threat without compromising on spellcasting, though you admittedly don’t get proficiency with shields and you don’t get Extra Attack so getting a weapon attack cantrip is crucial. If you just want medium armor, I could consider the Mountain Dwarf first.

  • Githzerai: The condition resistances are nice, and the innate spellcasting is good. Not super flashy and it won’t change your tactics, but it works.

Default Rules: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.

  • GithyankiMToF: Strength is nice, and the additional proficiencies will close the armor gap between Valor bards and other bards, but to make use of the Strength you’ll probably be going College of Valor anyway.
  • GithzeraiMToF: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.

GnomePHB

Customized Origin: Darkvision and Gnome Cunning are great on any character. The core traits provide a +2 increase, and each subrace provides an additional +1 increase.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Only in a subterranean campaign where Superior Darkvision and Stone Camouflage are consistently important.
  • ForestPHB: Minor Illusions is great, but it’s already on your spell list. Speak With Small Beasts is situational, but you may be able to make it useful with the Bard’s high Charisma.
  • RockPHB: Tinker is neat but not consistently useful, and if you just want proficiency with a tool you can find a race which can trade weapon proficiencies to get a bunch of tool proficiencies.

Default Rules: Bards don’t do a lot with Intelligence.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing useful for the Bard.
  • ForestPHB: Dexterity helps since so many Bards are built to use Finesse weapons, and the free cantrip is nice.
  • RockPHB: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.

GoblinVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and Darkvision. Fury of the Small works with spells, and Nimble Escape it will keep caster bards out of trouble.

Default Rules: 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.

GoliathEEPC

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, one skill, and damage resistance. Stone’s Endurance is great for front-line martial builds and will help compensate for your relatively small hit die, but I wouldn’t consider the Goliath for non-melee builds since Stones Endurance will be so much less impactful.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Half-ElfPHB

Customized Origin: Since the +2 increase was going to go into Charisma anyway, the Customizing Your Origin rules don’t improve the Half-Elf for the Bard, and all of my advice under the Default Rules applies with no changes.

Default Rules: +2 Charisma, and two other +1 increases. That’s great for martial subclasses which can often be MAD due to their unusually high need for Dexterity. 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.

  • Aquatic Half-ElfSCAG: Only if you’re in an aquatic campaign.
  • Drow Half-ElfSCAG: The innate spellcasting is decent and Charisma-based, but if you’re in a small party you’ll need those two skills more than the extra spells.
  • High Half-ElfSCAG: A wizard cantrip offers better offensive options than the Bard can usually provide, but it’s Intelligence-based which can cause some problems. If you go for Booming Blade your Intelligence won’t matter. Retrain the weapons into tools.
  • Standard Half-ElfPHB: Two additional skills. Among the Bard’s absolute best race options.
  • Wood Half-ElfSCAG: Maybe appealing for weapon proficiencies (or tools if you want to trade some or all of the weapon proficiencies), but I don’t think there’s anything else here worth having. 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.

Half-OrcPHB

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, darkvision, one skill. The half-orc’s distinguishing traits are Relentless Endurance and Savage Attacks. Relentless Endurance is great insurance since even martial bards are frail compared to fighters and similar classes, but Savage Attacks will be minimally impactful since the best weapon you’re likely to use a rapier with a d8 damage die.

Default Rules: Decent for a Strength-based Valor Bard, but you can do a lot better with other races. Intimidation for free is nice since the Bard is typically the party’s Face.

HalflingPHB

Customized Origin: +2 increase and another +1 from your subrace. Brave and Lucky are good on literally any character.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Silent Speech is excellent for a sublte bard. Maybe College of Whispers?
  • LightfootPHB: Naturally Stealthy is a great way to stay out of trouble in combat by hiding behind larger allies. Consider a dip into rogue for Cunning Action so that you can cast a spell, the hide as a Bonus Action.
  • StoutPHB: Sturdy and reliable, you’re basically a short(er) dwarf.

Default Rules: Dexterity is helpful since Bards have light armor and typically use 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 other support capabilities like Bardic Inspiration.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Nothing helpful for the Bard.
  • LightfootPHB: A bit of Charisma is great, and Naturally Stealthy works well for a sneaky Bard, but the Lightfoot Halfling just can’t compete with other racial options which provide Charisma increases and other traits like skill proficiencies which directly complement the Bard’s primary role in the party.
  • StoutPHB: A possibility if you want to play a durable melee bard, but Lightfoot is a better option because Charisma is so central to the Bard.

HobgoblinVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and you’ll trade the proficiencies for three tool proficiencies in almost every case. Saving Face is a great ability, but Bardic Inspiration solves the same problem so there’s little to gain here.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Human

Customized Origin:

  • Standard: With perfect ability scores on the table for every race, there is no reason to play the Standard Human.
  • Variant: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no change to the Variant Human.

Default Rules: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Standard: Since Bards get access to every skill, decent scores in every ability can improve your broad capabilities, especially in conjunction with Jack of All Trades.
  • Variant: Feats are always excellent. Magic Initiate is a great go-to option.

KenkuVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Expert Forery and Mimicry are the Kenku’s signature traits, and while they’re neat it can be difficult to make them impactful.

Default Rules: Excellent if you want more skills, but without a Charisma bonus you’ll likely be shoehorned into college of valor or college of swords. Unless you’re dead set on being a kenku, the Tabaxi is a better option.

KoboldVGtM

Customized Origin: A single +2 increase and Darkvision. The Kobold is a hard choice. Martial builds need the second increase for Dexterity, and caster builds won’t benefit from Pack Tactics since there are nearly no bard spells which require attack rolls.

Default Rules: Kobolds are fine and Pack Tactics is great, but the Kobold’s traits don’t offer anything specifically useful for the bard.

LizardfolkVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills. Cunning Artisan is mostly flavor and the bite and Hungry Jaws are Strength-based so they’re hard for most bards to use. The best piece is probably the natural armor, which will beat light armor’s AC by 1.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

LocathahLR

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, two skills. Natural armor will match light armor so it doesn’t matter. Leviathan Will is the Locathah’s defining trait, providing resistance to a number of status conditions.

Default Rules: Good, but lacking a Charisma increase is hard.

OrcVGtM

Note that errata has corrected the multiple versions of the Orc to all provide the same traits. The Intelligence decrease has been removed, and the Primal Intuition now allows selecting two skills from a list. The Orc of Exandria entry from Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount omits the Powerful Build trait, but it’s not clear if that was an intentional change.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two skills. Aggressive is the Orc’s defining trait, and even on martial bards it’s not great.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

TabaxiVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, two skills. Feline Agility is the Tabaxi’s signature trait, and it’s only situationally useful.

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

TieflingPHB

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules do very little to improve the Tiefling for the Bard. Moving the Intelligence increase elsewhere is an improvement, but otherwise the same advice applies regardless of whether or not you’re using the custom origin rules.

Default Rules: Not quite as good as the Half-Elf due to the lack of additional skills, 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.

  • AsmodeusPHB / MToF: Some interesting options, but they may not be as useful for a Bard as the spells offered by Devil’s Tongue.
  • BaalzebulMToF: A useful option if you plan to depend almost entirely on spellcasting and hope to avoid drawing fire.
  • DispaterMToF: The same ability spread as the Asmoedus Tiefling (the generic version), but the spells center more on trickiness and utility.
  • FiernaMToF: A good option for a Face. You can get these spells from the Bard spell list, but they’re still useful.
  • GlasyaMToF: The same ability spread as the Asmoedus Tiefling (the generic version), but the spells center more on illusions. You can get these spells from the Bard spell list, but they’re still useful.
  • LevistusMToF: Despite the lack of Strength or Dexterity, this is a tempting option for a Valor Bard.
  • MammonMToF: The leveled spells are useful utility options that aren’t on the Bard spell list.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Burning hands is nice at low levels but will stop mattering by mid levels. Flame Blade is great for a Valor Bard, but the ability score spread doesn’t fit well.
  • ZarielMToF: A fine option for Valor Bards, but you still need Dexterity to fill out your AC in medium armor. The smite spells are fun damage boosts while you’re swinging a weapon.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: The Vanilla ability scores are better for the Bard.

    According to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, the Feral Variant is compatible with other variants.

  • Variant: 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.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Essentially the same as Vanilla, but possibly a better option for caster bards because you don’t need to be hit first to use the burning hands.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Flight is always great, especially if you’re not trying to fight in melee.

TortleTP

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and one skill. The Tortle’s defining trait is Natural Armor, which will match the maximum for light/medium armor without investing in Dexterity or better armor proficiency. You could argue that it helps with stealth since natural armor doesn’t impose disadvantage on Stealth checks, but if you’re planning to be stealthy you’re building for high Dexterity and light armor which makes the Tortle’s natural armor minimally useful.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

TritonVGtM

Customized Origin: Three +1 increases, Darkvision, amphibious, damage resistance, some innate spellcasting, and you can talk to fish and stuff. Good on land, but great underwater.

Default Rules: Fantastic ability increases for a martial bard, plus some innate spellcasting and some other stuff.

VerdanAcInc

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and one skill. Limited Telepathy is similar to the Ghostwise Halfling’s telepathy, and Telepathic insight provides excellent defenses against some mental saving throws. Black-Blood healing looks appealing for martial builds, especially since the Bard’s hit die is only a d8 and rolling a 1 or 2 is more likely compared to rolling on a d10 or d12. Altogether, it’s an interesting package with a lot to offer.

Default Rules: Constitution and Charisma is a perfect combination for a Charisma-based spellcaster, and getting Persuasion for free is great. You’ll almost certainly be your party’s Face, and the Verdan’s Telepathic Insight can go a long way to address language barriers despite its limited capabilities.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGtM

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and Darkvision. Magic Resistance and Poison Immunity make the pureblood very durable to common threats. The innate spellcasting isn’t amazing, but it’s Charisma-based so you’ll be able to use it effectively when it’s useful.

Default Rules: The Intelligence bonus won’t see much use, but the rest of the pureblood’s racial traits make it extremely powerful.

Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren’t typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game. 

Races of Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above under the general Races section.

ChangelingERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases and two skills. Shapechange is the Changeling’s distinguishing trait, and I could see a bard making great use of it in the right game.

Default Rules: Charisma and a free increase work for any bard build, and you get two skills of your choice and one more language than most races. That’s a fantastic package for the Bard.

Where the Changeling shines is their Shapechanger ability, which is similar to Disguise Self at will. In a game that involves a lot of social interaction or intrigue, this could be a significant asset. But if you’re spending most of your time crawling around in dungeons it’s little more than a party trick. Also keep in mind that while it changes your body, it does not change your clothing like Disguise Self does, so you may need to combine this with a more mundane disguise in some circumstances.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: See above under the general Races section.

KalashtarERLW

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, and some mental resistances. Resistance to psychic damage is exciting but only rarely important since psychic damage is uncommon in most campaigns, but its fun to know that if two bards are dueling with Vicious Mockery you’ll be at a serious advantage. Mind Link neatly solves the problem of language barriers, which is a huge asset for a Face character. No more worrying about Comprehend Languages or Tongues. But those capabilities come at the cost of skills, darkvision, or other benefits provided by other races, and those other capabilities are more consistently useful than resistances to uncommon problems and a solution to language barriers which you could already overcome with spells. The Kalashtar is still a good option, but it’s not good enough to hit blue.

Default Rules: The Charisma increase is great, but nothing else here is especially exciting. It’s a neat theme with a couple fun things, and the emphasis on mental stuff fits the Bard well since bard’s damaging spells are often psychic damage, but it still feels like there isn’t enough here to make it a truly spectacular option.

ShifterERLW

Customized Origin: Each subrace will give you a +2 increase (put it into Cha), a +1 increase (put it into Con, generally), Darkvision, and one skill. You also get Shifting, which is the Shifter’s signature feature. It’s a decent combat buff on its own, and your subrace will offer additional effects. Temporary hit points are mostly useful for front-line martial characters, so the Shifter is mostly an option for bard subclasses built to use weapons.

  • Beasthide: The extra temporary hit points and the AC bonus are enough to close those gaps between martial bards and regulard martial classes like the Fighter, allowing you to be just as durable as they are for the duration of Shifting.
  • Longtooth: An extra attack as a Bonus Action is normally great for a melee build, but it’s Strength-based and martial bards are almost universally built around Dexterity.
  • Swiftstride: The best use case for this is for caster bards to get out of melee. But if that’s all that you want, the Goblin can do it more easily.
  • Wildhunt: Too situational.

Default Rules: Darkvision is always a good base, but only one subrace works for the Bard.

  • Beasthide: Bad ability spread.
  • Longtooth: Bad ability spread.
  • Swiftstride: Dexterity and Charisma increases are perfect for the bard, and an extra skill proficiency never hurts. The Swiftstride shifting feature allows you to easily circle around or move away from enemies, making it much easier for you to remain in advantageous positions in combat.
  • Wildhunt: Bad ability spread.

WarforgedERLW

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Warforged. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: Constitution and a free increase means that you can get the crucial Charisma increase, the extra AC is always great, and you get some helpful resistances. However, without additional skills or something along those lines the Warforged just isn’t as effective as other races at actively doing stuff. They’re great for withstanding trouble, but they’re not spectacular at causing it.

Dragonmarks

While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you’re not playing a spellcaster you’re giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can’t cast spells.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Warding: Decent skill bonuses, and mage armor as an innate spell will offer better AC than you can get from light armor, though only for an hour per day and you don’t get to learn mage armor. Most of the dragonmark spells are new to the Bard’s spell list, and while there are some gems like Armor of Agathys and Knock, most of them are situational utilities that you may have trouble using on a consistent basis.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread.
Dragonmarked ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Shadow: The skill bonuses are great for a sneaky bard, and the innate spellcasting offers some help with staple illusion options. The dragonmark spells are mostly on the Bard’s spell list already, but Darkness and Pass Without Trace are both excellent new additions. For a bard filling in for a rogue, this is a great option, but if your party already has a capable scout you should consider race options which add more to the Bard’s capabilities.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Shadow: A Charisma increase on top of the Elf’s Dexterity increase, plus bonuses to Charisma (Performance) and Dexterity (Stealth), plus a free cantrip which you likely would have wanted to learn. The dragonmark spells are mostly on the Bard’s spell list already, but Darkness and Pass Without Trace are both excellent new additions. For a bard filling in for a rogue, this is a great option, but if your party already has a capable scout you should consider race options which add more to the Bard’s capabilities.
Dragonmarked GnomeERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Scribing: Nearly all of the dragonmark spells are already on the Bard’s spell list, the skill bonuses aren’t great, and the best part of the innate spellcasting is Comprehend languages which will be obsolete once you get 3rd-level spells.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Scribing: The ability scores line up, but nearly everything in Mark of Scribing is devoted to sending messages at a distance or translation. That’s a useful trick, but you only need so many options to solve that problem, and most of the spells are on the Bard’s spell list already.
Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW

Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Detection: +2/+1 increases. The innate spellcasting offers helpful utility options, and nearly half of the dragonmark spells are new to the Bard’s spell list. Deductive Intuition is a great addition to a high-skilled character like the bard, and can help compensate for relatively low Intelligence and Wisdom scores.
  • Mark of Storm: Mark of Storm benefits very little from rearranging ability score increases, and improving the ability increases doesn’t solve the situational nature of the other traits. Most of the spells are new to the Bard’s spell list, but they’re so situational that it’s hard to justify learning any of them.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Detection: The flexible ability increase can go into Charisma, and if you focus heavily on investigating, gathering information, and being alert for danger, this can make an interesting bard. The new spells include a bunch of useful divination, which further improves your ability to detect and identify trouble.
  • Mark of Storm: The ability scores match what I recommend for the standard Half-elf (though you lose the second flexible increase), and you get quite a bit in exchange for losing Skill Versatility. A free cantrip (albeit a bad one), gust of wind once per day, damage resistance, and the only dragonmark spells that is already on the Bard’s spell list is Feather Fall, so you get several interesting new options, including two spells to summon creatures. The biggest problem is that all of the spells except the summoning spells are extremely situational, and you might go several levels without needing to use any of them.
Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision. The innate spellcasting isn’t impactful enough to alter your tactics, and nearly all of the Dragonmark spells are already on the Bard’s spell list.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: Bad ability spread.
Dragonmarked HalflingERLW

Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Healing: If you’re using the optional class feature to expand the Bard’s spell list, the dragonmark spells don’t offer enough new options to make this worthwhile. Even if you’re not using the optional class feature, there’s nothing here that you desperately need to have. The innate spellcasting is nice, but not enough that you can avoid learning Lesser Restoration if no one else in the party can cast it.
  • Mark of Hospitality: Since Mark of Hospitality already gives you a Charisma increase, the Customizing Your Origin rules don’t actually improve it. Move the Halfling’s Dexterity increase into Constitution if you want to, but otherwise Mark of Hospitality is just as fantastic as it is with the default rules.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Healing: Bad ability spread.
  • Mark of Hospitality: There is a lot to like here. Ever Hospitable gives you a d4 on Persuasion, which is among the Bard’s favorite skills. The innate spellcasting provides excellent utility options, some of which you can’t justify permanently learning. The dragonmark spell list includes several new options from the cleric and wizard spell lists, as well Goodberry from the Druid’s spell list. Most of the high-level options are situational utility spells, but as a whole Mark of Hospitality allows the Bard to make their party safe and comfortable in even the most dangerous environments, making it an excellent option for dungeon delves of winderness exploration. Unfortunately, easy access to the comforts of civilization will make Mark of Hospitality less appealing. Magical camping is less helpful when there’s an inn around the corner.
Dragonmarked HumanERLW

Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your normal racial traits.

Customized Origin:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: The dragonmark spells provide several new options from the Druid, Ranger, and Paladin spell lists, but nothing that you need and they over-emphasize beasts. Beasts stop being scary very quickly as you gain levels. Unless your DM will let you tame beasts beyond your class features you won’t get much use out of these traits beyond low levels. The innate spellcasting works on Monstrosities, but it’s Wisdom-based.
  • Mark of Making: Help with Arcana and with tool proficiencies, and early access to Magic Weapon with the innate spellcasting. The spells are mostly taken from the Wizard’s spell list, and everything except Identify is new to the Bard’s spell list. Most of the spells are buffs and utilities, and you won’t have room to learn all of them. This is great if you’re replacing a wizard in your party.
  • Mark of Passage: The primary appeal is access to low-level teleportation from Misty Step, which means that Mark of Passage competes for space with the Eladrin and the Shadar-Kai. If you want to teleport more than once per short rest, Mark of Passage allows it at the cost of spell slots, and you give up the rider effects.
  • Mark of Sentinel: The skill bonuses work great for the Bard, and Shield as an innate spell is helpful on literally any character. The innate spellcasting offers several excellent defensive options, many of which are new to the Bard’s spell list. This works for any bard, but it will be most useful on front-line martial bards like College of Valor which can make Compelled Duel worthwhile without dying immediately.

Default Rules:

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: If you put the flexible ability increase into Charisma, this could work, but too much of this is tied to beasts. If your DM will let you tame beasts and unintelligent monstrosities beyond what your class features provide this could be interesting, but that’s a big assumption to make about your DM.
  • Mark of Making: Intelligence isn’t especially helpful, but the flexible ability increase can go into Charisma, and there is still some good here. Casting Magic Weapon will offset your relatively low Dexterity if you choose to use a weapon, or you can use many of the dragonmark’s traits and new spells to buff allies who are using weapons.
  • Mark of Passage: Dexterity and a free ability increase are great, more speed never hurts, and the ability to cast Misty Step is great whether or not you like to fight in melee. All 6 of the spells up to 3rd level are not on the Bard’s spell list.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Bad ability spread.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR

Customized Origin: The Centaur’s natural weapons are all Strength-based, which is a hard prospect for the Bard, even if you’re going for a martial build. You might be able to make a Strength-based valor bard work, but it will be difficult.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

GoblinGGTR: See above under the general Races section.

LoxodonGGTR

Customized Origin: Loxodon Serenity covers some very common status conditions, and natural armor allows you to match light armor’s AC without investing in Dexterity. Trunk and Keen Smell are neat, but not especially impactful.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

MinotaurGGTR

Customized Origin: The Minotaur’s natural weapons and related traits are all Strength-based, which is a hard prospect for the Bard. You might be able to make a Strength-based valor bard work, but it will be difficult.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Simic HybridGGTR

Customized Origin: The Customizing Your Origin rules make no meaningful changes to the Simic Hybrid. You can move the Constitution increase around, but increasing Constitution is still the best way to use that increase.

Default Rules: 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

Customized Origin: Vedalken Dispassion and Tireless Precision are excellent additions, and since you can change the skill from Tireless Precision you can get the d4 bonus to any one skill, and add Expertise in a few levels. None of that will change the way the Bard works or solve any problems that the Bard faces, but they’re solid, reliable benefits that work on any bard.

Default Rules: Bad ability spread.

Races of Theros

CentaurMOoT: See above under the Races of Ravnica section.

HumanMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

LeoninMOoT

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision, and two skills. The Leonin’s claws won’t help you since they’re Strength-based. Daunting Roar is neat, especially for front-line builds, but the DC is Constitution-based so you may have trouble keeping the DC high enough to matter.

Default Rules: Decent for a Strength-based valor bard, and the additional skill is nice, but a hard choice without a Charisma increase.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the Ravnica Races section.

SatyrMOoT

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases, 2 skills, one instrument. Magic Resistance is great on any build since spells typically don’t care if you’re right up front or hiding in the back, and a different creature type protects you from spells like Hold Person. If you just want Magic Resistance the Yuan-Ti Pureblood is also worth consideration, though the Satyr is a better thematic fit for the Bard.

Default Rules: Dexterity and Charisma work any bard build, and the additional skills help to expand your already excellent skill proficiencies. Magic Resitance is great, too.

TritonMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

AasimarEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

BugbearEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

DragonbornPHB

Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn’s ability score increases and damage resistance.

Customized Origin:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision. Forceful Presence is great if you can’t get Enhance Ability (Charisma) running beforehand, but it only works once per Short or Long Rest.
  • RaveniteEGtW: +2/+1 increases, Darkvision. Vengeful Assault is great for front-line martial characters, but the Bard’s attacks aren’t dangerous enough to make that extra attack impactful.

Default Rules:

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.

Elf

Wildemount elves share the core traits of PHB elves, but Wildemount adds two new subraces. See above for more information on other elf subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: Decent skill bonuses and innate spellcasting, but Sleep is obsolete the moment that you get it. If you want a similar package, consider Mark of Shadow if it’s available in your game.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

Default Rules:

  • Pallid ElfEGtW: The innate spellcasting is nice at low levels, and Incisive Sense is really interesting, but lacking a Charisma increase really hurts.
  • Sea ElfEGtW / MToF: See above under the general Races section.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

HalflingPHB

Wildemount halflings share the core traits of PHB halflings, but Wildemount adds a new subrace. See above for information on other halfling subraces.

Customized Origin:

  • LotusdenEGtW: The innate spellcasting is neat, but it’s all Wisdom-based and beyond the cantrip it’s offensive options which allow saving throws so it will never be reliable for the Bard.

Default Rules:

  • LotusdenEGtW: Nothing specifically useful to the bard. The innate spellcasting is neat, but not nearly enough and it will stop mattering after low levels, especially since the saves are Wisdom-based.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoliathEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

KenkuEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcEGtW: See above, under “Races of Eberron”. Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

Skills

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

  • Acrobatics (Dex): Too situational, but if you’re built for melee you need either this or Acrobatics to get out of grapples if you don’t have magical options for it like Misty Step.
  • Animal Handling (Wis): 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): This skill is useless. Medicine is best done magically.
  • Nature (Int): Good knowledge skill, but not as crucial as Arcana or Religion.
  • Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
  • Performance (Cha): 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. If you do take it, you can use it during Downtime to support a Wealthy lifestyle, allowing you to live in luxury while your adventuring buddies are crowding into rooms at the local inn trying to get by on whatever loot they found.
  • 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.

Background

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 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. If your party lacks a rogue, it may also be helpful to get 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 can handle languages magically.
  • CharlatanPHB: Good for a stealthy Bard, and plays to a similar skillset to the Actor feat.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Bards don’t need any more instruments, Courtier is technically better.

Feats

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

  • 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 the Bard has numerous options to use their Bonus Action which will frequently mean that you’re not using your Bonus Action to attack.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch AdeptTCoE: Options like Devil’s Sight and Fiendish Vigor are easy go-to options, but I’m not sure if they’re worth a feat.
  • Elemental AdeptPHB: Bards don’t have a big list of offensive spells like a Sorcerer or Wizard, and the bard spells which do deal direct damage frequently deal psychic 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, so getting it once per day and the ability to cast it again using your spell slots 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 Touched still gets you access to excellent spells like Bless, Hex, and Heroism.

    For more advice on Fey Touched, see my Spellcasting Feats Breakdown.

  • Fighting InitiateTCoE: For College of Valor and College of Swords, this may help to improve your martial capabilities. But over-investment in martial weapons can be difficult for a class that’s still primarily a spellcaster.
  • 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 to upgrade from a bow to a musket. At that point, Fighting Style (Archery) is likely a better choice.
  • GrapplerPHB: Just a terrible feat in general. You don’t need it to grapple successfully.
  • 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. Shillelagh is tempting for valor bards, but you’ll probably want enough Dexterity that it’s not a significant advantage. Consider selecting Bard if you want to expand your list of spells known, but the cantrips may be more useful than knowing one more 1st-level spell.

    For more advice on Magic Initiate, see my Spellcasting 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 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.
  • Metamagic AdeptTCoE: Excellent on any spellcaster. For advice on Metamagic Adept, see my Sorcerer Metamagic Breakdown.
  • 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: Martial Bards are typically Dexterity-based, and there are no Dexterity-based polearms.
  • ResilientPHB: Proficiency in Constitution saves really helps with Concentration, not to mention how common Consitution saves are. If you care primarily about Concentration it’s easy to compare this to War Caster. Advantage works out to a little more than +3, so once your Proficiency Bonus hits +4 Resilient becomes the more effective option of the two.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Bards can already cast ritual spells, but they’re strictly limited by the fact that they permanently learn spells. Low-level spells, even if they’re rituals, might need to be replaced to make space for higher-level spells. Ritual Caster ensures that those options, as well as options from other classes, are always on the table.
  • 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.
  • Shadow TouchedTCoE: This is a good feat, but there are frustratingly few spell options and most of them are already available to the Bard. Inflict Wounds may be and effective single-target damage option when you get dragged into melee, but I don’t think it’s worth the feat.

    For more advice on Shadow Touched, see my Spellcasting 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 something cool like casting a spell and using Battle Magic.
  • Skill ExpertTCoE: More skills and more expertise are always welcome, and with the +1 ability 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 to justify this. You can pick up Eldritch Blast to give yourself and offensive cantrip, but the benefits of Vicious Mockery are hard to give up for something as paltry as damage.

    For more advice on Spell Sniper, see my Spellcasting 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 awarding Bardic Inspiration.
  • TelepathicTCoE: Unlike many sources of telepathy, including those offered by some races, this telepathy still uses languages, so the benefits are minimally appealing even for a Face. You do get to increase your Charisma, which reduces the cost of the feat, but the benefits are still dubious.
  • 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: Melee Bards can get a lot of use out of this. If you pick up Booming Blade from Magic Initiate or Magical Secrets, you can use it with your opportunity attacks to nearly gurantee the bonus damage when enemies attempt 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.

Weapons

  • 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.

Armor

  • Leather: Starting gear.
  • Studded Leather: Most Bards will live in Studded Leather.
  • Half Plate: The Valor Bard’s best armor. May double as a percussion 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.

Multiclassing

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

  • 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.
  • Paladin: A tempting alternative to the Fighter, depending on how many levels you intend to spend multiclassing. If you’re only going one level, Fighter will get you better stuff. If you’re going 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 tempting option for a full spellcaster like the Bard.
  • Rogue: The ultimate skill build combination. One free skill (limited to the Rogue list, unfortunately), thieves’ 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.
  • Sorcerer: Much of the same appeal as the Wizard, but since the Sorcerer is also Charisma-based you don’t need to invest in Intelligence. You’ll still face issues with access to high-level spells, but at least you won’t be MAD.
  • Warlock: A single level of Hexblade gets you medium armor, shields, and you can use your Charisma with a weapon so you don’t need any more than 14 Dexterity and you don’t need to spend a magical secret to learn Shillelagh.
  • 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 and Magical Secrets will get you everything you really need.

Magic Items

Common Magic Items

  • Instrument of IllusionsXGtE: Very cool, but mostly useless since the effect is obviously illusionary.
  • Masquerade TattooTCoE: Disguise Self once per day. Basically a cheaper Hat of Disguises. You won’t be able to change your disguise, but it’s still fantastically useful for a Common item.
  • Moon-Touched SwordXGtE: Helpful if you insist on using weapons, but if you can’t get a better magic 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 when casting spells. Unfortunately you still need a free hand to cast spells which have Somatic components but don’t require material components, so you still 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 very interesting.
  • Eyes of the EagleDMG: Between this and possibly Expertise, it’s basically impossible for anything to sneak up on you without using magic. If you’re proficienct with shields, a Sentinel Shield may be a better choice.
  • Hat of DisguiseDMG: Great for social situations, but usually you can get by with mundane disguises 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 are shared across all of the instruments, including Fly and Invisibility) spells once per day each using your Charisma as normal for your bard spells. Many of these spells are from outside of the Bard’s spell list, providing some exciting new options in addition to saving you a bunch of spell slots. All of the instruments are good at this rarity, especially since the four spells shared across each type of instrument are so useful. The last paragraph of the Instrument of the Bards entry is easy to overlook, but it’s exciting: If you play the instrument while casting a spell which causes the target to become Charmed (Charm Person, Dominate Person, etc.) and which requires either somatic or material components, the targets suffer Disadvantage on their save. The list of applicable spells is small, but it’s still exciting.
  • 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 of Bardic Inspiration per day is nice, but once you get Font of Inspiration at level 5 it feels really minor. Instrument of the Bards is more interesting and will be more useful if you focus your spells on support and utility, but Rhythm-Maker’s drum’s bonus to spell attacks and save DC’s is better if you’re focusing on offense.
  • Sentinel ShieldDMG: Advantage on Initiative rolls is really nice so you can get a buff or and are control effect running before everyone else starts moving. Bards get to add half of their Proficiency Bonus thanks to Jack of All Trades, so between that and a Sentinel Shield you’re going to go first very frequently. Unfortunately not all bards are proficient with shields.
  • Shield, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. If you’re proficient, you definitely want one.
  • Slippers of Spider ClimbingDMG: The next-best thing to flight. Walking up a wall has all the benefits of flying 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 defense a Cloak of Protection may be more effective. Stone of Good Luck shines if you’re heavily reliant on skills and ability checks.
  • Wand of DetectionDMG: This saves you the trouble of learning Detect Magic, which is a tragically 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 a broom 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 Ability Score Increases into it unless you’re really certain that you want 20 Constitution. Less ASI’s into Constitution means more room for feats. Combining this with Resilient (Constitution) or War Caster can do a lot to make Concentration easier.
  • Armor of ResistanceDMG: Excellent, but unpredictable in most games since you can’t perfectly predict what sort of damage you’ll face. Fire and poison are safe choices.
  • 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. If you’re not going to increase Dexterity to 20 to max out light armor, this can be a great AC boost. But depending on your Dexterity score, +2 studded leather 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 kill anything that can damage you without an attack roll.
  • Elven ChainDMG: One less AC than Barrier Tattoo (Rare), but it doesn’t require attunement, so in a game with abundant magic items Elven Chain may be a better 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 of the 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 I can’t think of a single bard spell which makes spell attacks), and a 6th-level save-or-suck spell once per day. Almost certainly better than the Rhythm-Maker’s Drum, but not by so much that you’ll lament the difference.
  • Rhythm-Maker’s DrumTCoE: +2 to your attacks and spell DC’s. See Rhythm-Maker’s Drum under Uncommon Magic 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 vaccuum, but a Ring of Spell Storing full of Absorb Elements will be much more effective.
  • Ring of Spell StoringDMG: Fill it with Absorb Elements and Shield and recharge it whenever possible, and this is a spectacular defensive asset.
  • Shield, +2DMG: +2 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. If you’re proficient, 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 of Protection is two rarities lower, works persistently, and arguably provides a 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 about Dexterity to boost your AC and you don’t even suffer Disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
  • Instrument of the BardsDMG: Only one option at this level, and it offers some powerful druid spells.
  • Manual of Bodily HealthDMG: Permanent Constitution bonus and raises your cap by 2. Unless you’re using a magic item that fixes your Constitution as a specific score, this is excellent.
  • Rhythm-Maker’s DrumTCoE: +3 to your attacks and spell DC’s. See Rhythm-Maker’s Drum under Uncommon Magic Items for more.
  • Shield, +2DMG: +3 AC, no attunement. Nothing fancy, but very effective. If you’re proficient, 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 the invisible condition, not the spell spell Invisibility, so you can still attack or whatever while invisible.
  • 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 the Anstruth Harp which is one rarity lower.
  • Ioun Stone (Mastery)DMG: Proficiency Bonuses apply to a lot of things and a +1 bonus goes a long way. Attacks, saves, skills, etc. all benefit. Unfortunately, Jack of All Trades gets rounded down as normal, so your new +7 Proficiency Bonus won’t mack Jack of All Trades any better.
  • Ring of Spell TurningDMG: Given the choice, I would much rather haqve a Mantle of Spell Resistance simply because the Ring of Spell Turning doesn’t provide any protection against area effect spells. Otherwise, this is a really fun item, and if it provided Advantage on saves against area of effect spells it would shoot straight up to blue.
  • Ring of Three WishesDMG: Use your 18th-level Magical Secrets to learn Wish, and give this to someone in your party who can’t cast spells so that they can use it to give everyone permanent damage resistance.

    For more help with Wish, see my Practical Guide to Wish.

  • Scarab of ProtectionDMG: An upgrade from the Mantle of Spell Resistance, the Scarab of Protection adds a limited benefit against necromancy and undead creatures, and doesn’t take up your cloak slot, leaving you free to take items like a Cloak of Protection or Cloak of Invisibility instead.

Example 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 of chords. They move as they play, their lithe form striking a dynamic pose even in their leather armor. Their high, lilting voice joins the chorus, emerging from the lute’s melody like a blooming flower, lifting and harmonizing. A strange glimmer surrounds the half-elf as they play, flowing outward from the vibrating lute strings until it encompasses the entirety of the stage, and then the surrounding audience.

— Boxed text provided by dScryb (affiliate link)

  1.  

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.

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

Abilities

We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.

 BaseIncreased
Str88
Dex1516
Con1314
Int1212
Wis88
Cha1517

Race

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

Skills and Tools

Between the Half-elf racial traits and the Bard skills, we get our choice of any five skills. 5th edition has 18 skills, so we obviously can’t get everything, but fortunately we’ll get two more from our background and three more at 3rd level when we get College of Lore’s Bonus Proficiencies. That’s a total of 10 skill proficiencies, which is a lot to decide. At 1st level you only need to pick 5, but remember that you’ll get two from your Background, and intentionally selecting redundant proficiencies doesn’t help you because you 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 instruments as a magic focus for spellcasting, so generally you want something portable like a flute, a lute, or a hand-held harp, but which specific instrument you pick 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 librarian (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 role than you. Select the Noble background.

Levels

LevelFeat(s) and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1
  • Spellcasting
  • 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 skill proficiencies, a robust and well-rounded list of spells, and you’re good enough with weapons that you can fall back on a bow or a rapier if you absolutely need to.

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

2
  • Jack of All Trades
  • Song of Rest (d6)
  • New Spells Known:
    • Dissonant Whispers

2nd level increases your utility. Jack of All Trades gives you a bonus to all ability checks, including Initiative check and the rest of the skills which you haven’t managed to pick up.

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

3
  • Bard 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 skills in which to gain Expertise. I recommend Perception and two of the role-based skills I recommended above.

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

3rd level also brings 2nd-level spells, which opens up a whole new pile of options. If you find that you’re not using one of your 1st-level spells you can retrain it into a 2nd-level spell, but remember that you only have two 2nd-level spell slots so you may not get 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 lot for the Bard. Your weapon attacks are going to start lagging because you’re a point behind the attack vs. AC curve, but 55% chance of hitting is still decent, and a weapon may be more useful than Vicious Mockery in some cases.

5
  • Bardic Inspiration (d8)
  • Font of Inspiration
  • New Spells Known:
    • Hypnotic Pattern

5th level is as good for the Bard as it is for anyone else. Your Bardic Inspiration die improves, and with Font of Inspiration you’ve got much more freedom to spend inspiration dice.

Cantrip damage increases at 5th level, so Vicious Mockery now deals 2d4 damage (avg. 5). Weapon attacks will deal slightly more damage, but I think the added utility of Vicious Mockery is still better.

6
  • Countercharm
  • Additional Magical Secrets
    • Fireball
    • Haste
  • New Spells Known:
    • Tongues

Countercharm is situational, but there are many effects which are based on the Charmed condition that go well beyond charming a creature.

Additional Magical Secrets is a confusing name because you get it four levels earlier than Magical Secrets. Choosing spells can be very difficult because the options are so numerous. Choose spells which complement the makeup of your party. For example: if your party lacks a blaster, consider fireball. If you need a go-to ranged damage option that’s more lethal than Vicious Mockery, consider Eldritch Blast, Firebolt, or Toll the Dead. If your party has strong martial characters, consider Haste. If your party lacks a better healer like a cleric or druid, consider Mass Healing Word.

7
  • New 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 our weapon attacks, but by this level you’ve got enough spells that making a weapon attack should be an occasional exception.

With our Charisma maximized at 20, you now have 5 Bardic Inspiration dice to throw around, and you get them back on a short rest.

9
  • Song of Rest (d8)
  • New Spells Known:
    • Hold Monster

Increasing the die size of Song of Rest does basically nothing. The difference between 1d6 and 1d8 is an average of 1 hit point.

10
  • Bardic Inspiration (d10)
  • Expertise (2 more)
  • Magical Secrets
    • Telekinesis
    • Wall of Force
  • New Cantrips 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 mostly 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.
11
  • New Spells Known:
    • Eyebite

11th level brings 6th-level spells, and it’s the last level at which you learn at least one new spell every level.

12
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 14 -> 16)

At this point you’re free to do what you like with your Ability Score Increases. More Dexterity means more AC, and more Constitution means more hit points. If you’re ready to go beyond the SRD, consider a feat.

13
  • Song of Rest (d10)
  • New Spells Known:
    • Forcecage

More Song of Rest, and 7th-level spells.

14
  • Peerless Skill
  • Magical Secrets
    • Heal (Yes, this is a 6th-level spell)
    • Reverse Gravity

Peerless skill allows you to benefit from your own Bardic Inspiration, though only on ability checks. That’s great for social situations, but I still wish we could use Bardic Inspiration for our own saving throws.

More Magical Secrets at this level is great. With access to 7th-level spells, you have a massive list of options, and since spellcasters get so few spells known at high levels you should really diversify your options. Remember that these still count against your usual number of spells known, so if you want to learn spells from the Bard spell list you should consider retraining a known spell rather than spending one of your Magical Secrets.

15
  • Bardic Inspiration (d12)
  • New Spells Known:
    • Dominate Monster

Bardic Inspiration maxes out at d12, and you get 8th-level spells.

16
  • Ability Score Improvement (Constitution 16 -> 18)

Another chance to boost your ability scores or get a feat.

17
  • Song of Rest (d12)
  • New Spells Known:
    • True Polymorph

At this level the tiny amount of extra healing provided by Song of Rest will frequently feel pointless. But you also get 9th-level spells at this level, which is pretty great.

Cantrips also get their final damage increase at this level.

18
  • Magical 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. I don’t have a great answer for you yet, but go looking at the Spells sections of all of my other class guides for anything that looks good.


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

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