Introduction

Charisma is crucial and defining for the Bard, so Charisma increases are your top priority. Like other full casters like the Sorcerer and the Wizard, you can invest remaining resources in Dexterity and Constitution to pad your limited durability.

Beyond ability score increases, look for additional skills from your racial traits. Dexterity and Charisma cover numerous crucial skills and tools, and having more skills will make you a better bard. Of course, you won’t suffer for lack of skill proficiencies thanks to Jack of All Trades.

Innate Spellcasting can be very helpful for the Bard, especially post-Tasha’s races which allow you to re-cast the innate spells. Since bards learn spells permanently, your limited number of spells known can be a serious hindrance. Access to more spells that you can re-cast can significantly improve your capabilities.

Martial bards (swords and valor) can be built very similarly to a Fighter, so races which work as a Fighter will work reasonably well as a martial bard, but won’t excel with the Bard’s spellcasting and special abilities. If you plan to go this route, races which improve your durability are good choices.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read our CLASS Handbook.

Table of Contents

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Bard Races

Keep in mind that not all races will be available in every game. Consult your DM about which races are welcome in your game, as not all settings are appropriate to every setting or even to specific campaigns within a setting which might otherwise welcome any and all races.

AarakocraEEPC

UpdatedMMoM: Flight is great, but the Aarakocra just isn’t as good as the Fairy or the Owlin.

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. Despite these advantages, the Fairy, the Owlin, and the Winged Tiefling are all better choices.

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

AasimarVGtM

UpdatedMMoM: Healing Hands reduces the need for you to learn healing spells, but I would still learn Healing Word because it’s such a good spell. Celestial Revelation offers some helpful utility options, but the damage boost is often difficult because so many of the Bard’s best options don’t deal damage. Necrotic Shroud can be helpful for melee bards, especially if combat is getting too intense for you, but any bard can make good use of Radiant Spirit’s temporary flight.

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 default 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.

Air GenasiMMoM

Bards can learn Feather Fall, but when you learn your spells permanently it’s hard to spend one of your limited slots on something as unglamorous as Feather Fall. The Air Genasi’s other spells are all new to the Bard. Darkvision and lightning resistance don’t hurt, either.

Bugbear

UpdatedMMoM: Bards don’t have good options to apply the Bugbear’s Surprise Attack.

Classic (Customized Origin)VGtM: +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.

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: Nothing specifically useful for the Bard.

Centaur

UpdatedMMoM: Too dependent on Strength-based melee combat.

Classic (Customized Origin)GGTR: 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.

Classic (Default Rules)GGTR: Bad ability spread.

Changeling

UpdatedMMoM: Absolutely spectacular in an intrigue game, but in a game where you’re crawling dungeons the Changeling doesn’t offer anything except skill proficiencies.

Classic (Customized Origin)ERLW: +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.

Classic (Default Rules)ERLW: 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.

Deep GnomeMMoM

An excellent choice for a stealthy rogue, the Deep Gnome’s innate spells are a great complement to the Bard’s skills and existing spellcasting.

DragonbornPHB

Chromatic: Despite how difficult line AOEs are, the 30-foot long breath weapon is safer for classes like the Bard to use without rushing into melee to hit multiple targets. Chromatic Warding is nice for a class with just d8 hit points, but remember that your resistance (and therefore Chromatic Warding) will be more useful if you pick a damage type which makes your breath weapon more commonly resisted.

Gem: The breath weapon is nice and provides a good direct damage option, but the 15-foot cone is dangerous for a class as frail as the Bard. Gem Flight is neat, but the Bard has magical options to handle flying enemies.

Metallic: The breath weapon is nice and provides a good direct damage option, but the 15-foot cone is dangerous for a class as frail as the Bard. The damage resistances are still nice, and of course your can handle rushing into near-melee occasionally to deliver a breath weapon.

Customized Origin:

  • ClassicPHB: With the introduction of the Fizban’s variants, there is no reason to play the classic Dragonborn, either with or without the custom origin rules. The new variants are strictly better in absolutely every way.
  • 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:

  • ClassicPHB: With the introduction of the Fizban’s variants, there is no reason to play the classic Dragonborn, either with or without the custom origin rules. The new variants are strictly better in absolutely every way.
  • DraconbloodEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.

DuergarMMoM

Bards can’t cast Enlarge/Reduce, but since the Duergar can only cast it on themselves and the Bard gains no meaningful benefit, there’s really no reason to do so. Invisibility is also on the Bard’s spell list, and you almost certainly want the ability to cast it on other people.

DwarfPHB

For the updated version of the Duergar, see their separate race entry on this page.

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.

Earth GenasiMMoM

A decent choice if you insist on playing a bard in melee, but otherwise Blade Ward likely won’t see a lot of use.

EladrinMMoM

Bards don’t have Misty Step on their spell list, so access to teleportation is fantastic. It’s also not a spell, so you can cast a leveled spell in the same turn, which is huge for your action economy. Trance can get you a better weapon option if you need a weapon, but more likely you’ll use it to get proficiency in something like Thieves’ Tools.

ElfPHB

For the updated versions of the Eladrin, the Sea Elf, and the Shadar-Kai, see their separate race entries on this page.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), Darkvision, one skill (which you should leave as Perception).

  • 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.
  • 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: 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.
  • Pallid ElfEGtW: The innate spellcasting is nice at low levels, and Incisive Sense is really interesting, but lacking a Charisma increase really hurts.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Nothing particularly useful for the Bard.

FairyWBtW / MMoM

Flight in light armor is excellent for the Bard. The fairy’s innate spellcasting offers some good buffs, too, and since you can re-cast the spells using spell slots you effectively know them permanently, nicely complementing the Bard’s limited number of spells known.

Firbolg

UpdatedMMoM: The Firbolg’s innate spellcasting complements the Bard’s spellcasting nicely, and the ability to cast Disguise Self means that you don’t need to spend a spell known to learn it. The Bard’s high Charisma and access to Expertise work very well with Speech of Beast and Leaf, allowing you to easily solve many problems by talking to stuff without needing to take druid levels or something.

Classic (Customized Origin)VGtM: +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 provides 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.

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: Everything works except the ability increases.

Fire GenasiMMoM

Bards have essentially no spell attacks, and while Vicious Mockery is a spectacular offensive option, Produce Flame does twice as much damage and sometimes that’s all you need. Burning Hands provides helpful short-range AOE damage, and while there are some trade-offs between the two, Burning Hands may suffice in place of Shatter. Darkvision makes it easier to sneak around in the dark, and fire resistance is constently helpful. The Fire Genasi doesn’t support any specific play style or build, but it’s a good basis for almost any bard.

GenasiEEPC

For the updated versions of the Air Genasi, the Earth Genasi, the Fire Genasi, and the the Water Genasi, see their separate race entries on this page.

Customized Origin: +2/+1 increases (each subrace provides an additional +1), but the vast majority of the Genasi’s traits come from the subraces.

  • 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

For the updated versions of the Githyanki, the Githzerai, see their separate race entries on this page.

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.

GithyankiMMoM

Bards don’t get Misty Step, and since they learn spells permanently, the innate spellcasting provides a permanent expansion to your spellcasting options. Astral Knowledge offers an extra skill, which is great since bards do so much with skills.

GithzeraiMMoM

Bards generally have poor Wisdom saves, so they’re susceptible to common sources of charm/fear effects, and they also can’t learn Shield, so the Githzerai’s traits provide some great options. Shield may be enough to tempt you play a swords/valor bard in melee, but remember that even with a way to pad your AC your attacks are still terrible compared to your cantrips.

GnomePHB

For the updated version of the Deep Gnome, see their separate race entry on this page.

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:

  • 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.

Goblin

UpdatedMMoM: Fury of the Small works with spells, and Nimble Escape will keep caster bards out of trouble.

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

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: 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.

Goliath

UpdatedMMoM: 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 Stone’s Endurance will be so much less impactful.

Classic (Customized Origin)EEPC: +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 Stone’s Endurance will be so much less impactful.

Classic (Default Rules)EEPC: 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 subtle 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

HarengonWBtW / MMoM

An extra skill, Hare Trigger helps you go early and get crowd control spells in place, and Rabbit Hop lets you escape melee safely without eating your action. I don’t think Hare Trigger stacks with Jack of All Trades, unfortunately.

Hobgoblin

UpdatedMMoM: Fey Gift feels like a natural extension of the Bard’s existing support options. While you already have Bardic Inspiration, it has a limited number of uses per rest, so you can use Fey Gift as an additional pool of support. However, needing to get within 5 feet of an enemy to Help attack them is a bad place for most bards to be.

Classic (Customized Origin)VGtM: +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.

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: 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:

  • 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.

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.

KenkuVGtM

UpdatedMMoM: Two skill proficiencies, the Advantage mechanic from Kenku Recall, and Mimicry all work very well for the Bard, allowing you to more easily cover multiple skill-based roles in the party. Combining with Expertise with Advantage from Kenku Recall makes it easy to be nearly unstoppable with skill checks without resorting to Enhance Ability constantly.

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

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: 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.

Kobold

UpdatedMMoM: Faerie Fire is an easier source of Advantage than Draconic Cry, but that doesn’t actually make it a terrible option. Take Kobold Legacy (Draconic Sorcery) and you can turn a lore bard into a decent melee threat with Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade, bringing you into close quarters where you’re in range for Draconic Cry.

Classic (Customized Origin)VGtM: 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.

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

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.

Lizardfolk

UpdatedMMoM: The skills aren’t great for the Bard, so you’re mostly here for natural armor and some temporary hit points from Hungry Jaws.

Classic (Customized Origin)VGtM: +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.

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: 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.

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.

Minotaur

UpdatedMMoM: 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.

Classic (Customized Origin)GGTR: 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.

Classic (Default Rules)GGTR: Bad ability spread.

Orc

UpdatedMMoM: Adrenaline Rush provides both a helpful source of temporary hit points and a way to put extra distance between you and your enemies. Relentless Endurance might save your life from time to time. Neither will make bards good in melee, but extra durability is always nice.

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

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: Bad ability spread.

OwlinSCoC

Flight, Darkvision, and an extra skill. Excellent for any bard, especially if you want to be a Scout in addition to being your party’s Face, but the Fairy has a slight edge.

Satyr

UpdatedMMoM: Charisma-based spellcasting synergizes well with the Satyr’s proficiencies, and Magic Resistance is always nice.

Classic (Customized Origin)MOoT: +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 is also worth consideration, though the Satyr is a better thematic fit for the Bard.

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

Sea ElfMMoM

Bards can’t cast Water Breathing, so in an aquatic campaign, you really need to be an aquatic race like the Sea Elf. Darkvision and Perception are excellent complements to the Bard’s existing capabilities, and Friend of the Sea gives you an extra way to put your Charisma to use. Even so, the Sea Elf only really shines in an aquatic campaign.

Shadar-KaiMMoM

Bards don’t have Misty Step on their spell list, so access to teleportation is fantastic. It’s also not a spell, so you can cast a leveled spell in the same turn, which is huge for your action economy. Trance can get you a better weapon option if you need a weapon, but more likely you’ll use it to get proficiency in something like Thieves’ Tools.

Shifter

UpdatedMMoM: Beasthide’s durability and Swiftstride’s ability to get out of melee are both helpful defensive options for the Bard, but they’re primarily useful in melee which is a place that bards shouldn’t be willingly, and the only good skill options is Intimidation.

Customized OriginERLW: 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 RulesERLW: 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.

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.

Tabaxi

UpdatedMMoM: Darkvision and two skills. Feline Agility is the Tabaxi’s signature trait, and it’s only situationally useful for the Bard.

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

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: 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 / MMoM

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.

Triton

UpdatedMMoM: Darkvision, amphibious, damage resistance, some innate spellcasting, and you can talk to fish and stuff. Fine on land, but great underwater.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Water GenasiMMoM

The Bard can’t learn any of the Water Genasi’s spells without resorting to Magical Secrets, so everything that the Water Genasi brings in new. A water genasi bard would be great in an aquatic campaign, but otherwise it’s not amazing.

Yuan-Ti

UpdatedMMoM: Bards generally aren’t very durable, so the additional defenses of poison resistance (immunity with the old version) and Magic Resistance are very welcome. The innate spellcasting typically isn’t helpful.

Classic (Customized Origin)VGtM: +2/+1 increases and Darkvision. Magic Resistance and Poison Immunity make the Yuan-Ti 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.

Classic (Default Rules)VGtM: The Intelligence bonus won’t see much use, but the rest of the Yuan-Ti’s racial traits make it extremely powerful.

Dragonmarks

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 wilderness 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 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.

Lineages

Published in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and beyond, no Lineage exists prior to the introduction of the Customizing Your Origin rules, and as such each lineage has flexible ability score increases. Every Lineage has the choice of +2/+1 increases or three +1 increases except for the Custom Lineage which only receives a single +2 increase.

Lineages are applied on top of a base race. While the Custom Lineage isn’t affected by your base race, the three lineages published in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft (Dhampir, Hexblade, and Reborn) borrow from your base race thanks to the Ancestral Legacy trait. Despite selecting a base race, you do not count as a member of your race for the purposes of any other effect, such as qualifying for feats or using magic items.

Custom LineageTCoE

+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.

DhampirVGTR

Darkvision and Spider Climb are both great, and Ancestral Legacy can get you either flight or some skills, but Vampiric Bite won’t be much help beyond occasionally boosting your ability checks.

HexbloodVGTR

Darkvision and some interesting utility options that a bard could use to great effect. Hex isn’t always useful in combat, but remember that it can impose Disadvantage on ability checks with one ability score, so you can impose Disadvantage on Wisdom checks to make it easy to sneak past a creature or on Strength checks to give your allies the upper hand in a grapple. Ancestral Legacy also gives you access to either two extra skills or a movement speed (flight, most likely), so the Hexblood is at least as useful as the Fairy or the Owlin.

RebornVGTR

The resistances aren’t especially useful for a class that’s typically a back-line spellcaster, but Ancestral Legacy still offers access to flight or bonus skills, and Knowledge from a Past Life is a helpful boost to your skills.