DnD 5e College of Spirits Bard Handbook


College of Spirits is a typical, casting-focused bard that adds some unpredictable spell-adjacent options via Tales From Beyond and access to expanded spell options using Spirit Session. Challenges in the core rules make some of the subclass less powerful than intended, but when things work as intended it’s a fun subclass with some cool ideas, though the unpredictability of Tales From Beyond can be frustrating.

The whole subclass is built around Tales From Beyond, which allows the Bard to generate a randomly-selected magical effect from a list. This provides a fun but unpredictable mechanic which can be either wildly effective or barely impactful depending on the situation and the Tale drawn. This unpredictability helps to balance some of the more powerful options which amount to save-or-suck effects at the cost of a Bardic Inspiration die.

Managing Tales From Beyond and Spirit Session introduces some new bookkeeping to the Bard, which was already a complex class to begin with. I don’t recommend this for new players or players who already find spellcasters to be a challenge, but veteran players comfortable with managing their character’s resources won’t find College of Spirits any more complex than playing a wizard.

Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to like about College of Spirits, its unpredictability makes it difficult to use to great effect, and Spiritual Focus (which is intended to make your core spellcasting effective enough to carry you when Tales From Beyond isn’t helping) is almost non-functional due to the Bard’s limited spell list and 5e’s rules on when you actually use a spellcasting focus. This appears to be due to the feature assuming that the bonus would apply more broadly, but the RAW rules for how focuses are used limit the spell’s benefits to a vanishingly small number of bard spells.

Table of Contents


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.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we 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 the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.

College of Spirits Bard Features

  1. Guiding Whispers: Guidance is really good even with the limitation of Touch range. With this, you can help your allies from a safe distance, such as by shouting encouragement to a rogue while they disarm traps or sneak behind your enemies. Verbal components need to be spoken clearly and aloud, so “whispers” may be a misnomer, but we don’t have an official ruling on just how loud verbal components need to be (Jeremy Crawford says it’s up to the DM), so maybe whispering is fine.
  2. Spiritual Focus: At this level you get the ability to use some extra objects as spellcasting foci. This notably includes crystal balls and skulls, neither of which are options for wizards, so you can rub it in the faces of any diviners or necromancers you come across. Mechanically it has almost no effect, though you may accomplish some shenanigans by using the skulls of tiny creatures like mice so that you can hide your focus easily.
  3. Tales from Beyond: College of Spirits’ signature feature. This is really fun, but it’s unpredictable, and unpredictability in class features makes me nervous. You generally don’t want to use this in combat because you could spend your Bonus Action to draw something that’s not helpful. Instead, you’re more likely to use this after a Short Rest and hang onto your Tale until you can use it or it expires.

    Since this costs an inspiration die and expires when you take a Short or Long Rest, it’s costly at levels 3 and 4, but it gets much much more manageable at level 5 when you pick up Font of Inspiration. Even then, some of the effects may not be worth the inspiration die to get them.

    Because you roll a Bardic Inspiration die to get your tale, your options are limited by the size of your die. The higher-numbered options are generally better, so there’s new stuff to look forward to as you gain levels. Of course, this also means that you’re less likely to roll your favorites as your die size grows, but, fortunately, Mystical Connection will provide some help once you hit level 14.

    1. Clever Animal: Situational. You’re most likely to use this in social situations, but it might also be useful for Dispel Magic and Counterspell. If you can get this running before a social situation, the benefits are absolutely massive.
    2. Renowned Duelist: Decent single-target damage, but it’s not much better than just casting a cantrip, especially once you add the damage bonus from Spiritual Focus at level 6. Weirdly, this works at range but still calls for a melee spell attack. That usually doesn’t matter, but sometimes there are things which affect melee and ranged attacks differently, like Tale of the Avenger.
    3. Beloved Friends: Nearly always useful. The temporary hit points don’t have a specified expiration time, so they last until you rest. If you roll this, use it early when it’s easy to hit two targets and consider getting another Tale.
    4. Runaway: Reposition your entire party. Escape grapples, bindings, and dangerous positions. You do need to be able to see the destination, but that’s still enough to solve a lot of problems.
    5. Avenger: Throw this on your party’s Defender. It only works for melee attacks, unfortunately, but the damage from this can add up very quickly.
    6. Traveler: Trade the second target from Beloved Friends for a +1 AC bonus and some extra speed. Given the choice between the two and no other information I would likely take Beloved Friends, but in situations where enemies are making large numbers of attacks a +1 AC bonus can make a big difference.
    7. Beguiler: Rob a single target of the important parts of their turn. I’d be excited about this even if it didn’t deal damage.
    8. Phantom: Being invisible will give your target Advantage on their attack, which is always welcome, and may allow them to avoid things like Opportunity Attacks. Your best bet is to put this on a rogue, but even if your party doesn’t include a rogue, the extra damage and Advantage are welcome for any character who relies on attacks. Making the target of the attack Frightened without a save is great, too.
    9. Brute: Turn an ally into the center of a fireball. The AOE is big, the damage type is good, and your target can pick which creatures take damage. This can’t match the spell Fireball, but three Bardic Inspiration dice is still a decent pile of damage for the cost to get this. If you have melee allies acting soon after you in initiative, knocking foes Prone will also provide Advantage on their attacks.
    10. Dragon: The damage is slightly higher than Tale of the Brute, but the AOE is much smaller, doesn’t omit your allies, doesn’t provide a status condition, and does a much worse damage type.
    11. Angel: Lesser Restoration plus a bit of healing. Not always required, but always handy.
    12. Mind-Bender: Literally just Beguiler but better (unless the target is immune to being Stunned).
  4. Spirit Session: Similar in many ways to Magical Secrets, but considerably more complicated and with some additional limitations in exchange for the ability to change the spell daily. Because this only teaches you the spell temporarily, it’s great for odd, situational spells that you typically can’t justify learning permanently. However, the limitation to divination and necromancy spells does narrow your options considerably.

    If you want to simplify this, you can just do the ritual after a Long Rest to learn the same spell every day (Revivify and Summon Undead are good examples), but at that point just play College of Lore. This is great for things like Lesser Restoration or Raise Dead, but don’t forget that the spell level is capped at your Proficiency Bonus.

    You’re required to include some “willing creatures” in the Spirit Session, but there’s no restriction on what those creatures are, what else they’re doing, their positions, etc. so it’s entirely possible that having 5 tamed birds in a cage nearby (or a bag of rats) will suffice. I think you’re intended to use your party members, but if the requirement is just friendly humanoids you could easily find some commoners to hang out with you for an hour.

  5. Spiritual Focus: The actually impactful part of Spiritual Focus comes online at 6th level. Bards don’t have as many options for spells which restore hit points or deal direct damage as classes like the Cleric and the Wizard, which is a huge problem for College of Spirits. The d6 is added to one damage/healing roll of a spell, so AOE spells (Shatter) and some multi-target spells are great ways to capitalize on the extra effect, but again, the Bard’s options here are pitifully small. This works with cantrips in theory, but there are none that qualify.

    The problem is easy to overlook (I did it on my initial read): Spiritual Focus’s bonus only works for spells which are cast through the focus, which means that it only applies to spells with inexpensive material components that aren’t consumed by the spell. RAW you can’t choose to use a focus when it’s not needed, so for most spells Spiritual Focus simply doesn’t apply (see the Sage Advice on Spellcasting Rules). Spells like Shatter work, but spells like Cure Wounds and Healing Word don’t since they don’t have inexpensive material components and therefore can’t be cast through a focus.

    The rules around spellcasting foci are a mess, so discuss how your DM wants to handle this. RAI I think you’re intended to be able to use this bonus whenever you cast a spell with your focus in hand, but RAW the limitations make this difficult to use. With the RAW restrictions, there are no bard cantrips which qualify, the only healing spell on the Bard’s spell list that qualifies is Regenerate, and just five damage spells on the Bard’s spell list qualify, and the only one that synergizes well with the damage bonus is Shatter. You can fix this somewhat with Magical Secrets at high levels by picking up something like Fireball, but that’s too little, too late.

  6. Mystical Connection: By this level you’re rolling a d10 for inspiration, and you get d12 at level 15, so Tales From Beyond is totally unpredictable. Mystic Connection does a lot to address that, but keeps enough unpredictability to keep Tales From Beyond fun and surprising.

Spirit Session Spell Options

Spirit Session is a great way to get short-term access to spells which are only situationally useful, but it’s also a great way to get access to some powerful staples from other classes’ spell lists.

1st-Level Spells

  • Beast BondEEPC: For rangers with animal companions.
  • Cause FearXGtE: Great crowd control, and it scales well with spell level.
  • Comprehend LanguagesPHB: Helpful, but upgrade to Tongues as soon as possible.
  • Detect Evil and GoodPHN: Helpful if you’re worried about being surprised by extraplanar creatures, but you won’t need it consistently enough to take it ahead of time.
  • Detect MagicPHB: You really want this available as a ritual within the party if you can get it, but sometimes you don’t get a choice.
  • Detect Poison and DiseasePHB: Very rarely useful, and even when it is useful most players rarely think to use this.
  • False LifePHB: A welcome buff on any character, and the spell level scaling is decent.
  • Gift of AlacrityEGtW: If your DM allows Wildemount spells in your game (Chronurgy/Graviturgy aren’t available to most spellcasters by default), this is a decent buff. It’s especially useful for characters who depend on acting early in initiative like bugbears, assassins, and bugbear assassins.
  • Hunter’s MarkPHB: Only impactful for serious weapon users, and that’s not you.
  • IdentifyPHB: Only useful when you encounter new magic items. Handle the new items with care and wait until the next day so that you can learn this spell.
  • Inflict WoundsPHB: Among the highest damage you can get from 1st-level spells. Since you cast it as a bard spell, you get to add the bonus d6 damage from Spiritual Focus starting at 6th level, and the scaling is decent.
  • Ray of SicknessPHB: Bad spell.
  • Speak with AnimalsPHB: Only situationally useful. Hopefully you can wait a day to learn this.

2nd-Level Spells

  • AuguryPHB: I love Augury, but if it’s the best spell you can get from Spirit Session, either Spirit Session doesn’t matter right now or you’re making a horrible mistake.
  • Beast SensePHB: Where are you going to get a willing beast that you can justify using this on?
  • Blindness/DeafnessPHB: Decent save-or-suck, but Con saves tend to be high.
  • Borrowed KnowledgeSCoC: Normally a great way to cover skill gaps, but you already have Jack of all Trades so the benefits are significantly reduced. Add Enhance Ability, and you’re pretty good at any skill even if your ability score is poor and you’re not proficient.
  • Detect ThoughtsPHB: Great for interrogations. Take someone captive, keep them comfortable but harmless until you can have a Spirit Session, then ask them not to think about that thing you want to know about.
  • Find TrapsPHB: Borderline useless in the best of cases.
  • Fortune’s FavorEGtW: Dunamancy may not be available in your game, but if is this is a decent buff. Just watch out for the 100gp material component.
  • Gentle ReposePHB: Extremely situational, but when you need it you generally have enough time to use Spirit Session to get it.
  • Locate Animals or PlantsPHB: Very situational, but great to access via Spirit Session if you ever need it for some reason.
  • Locate ObjectPHB: Very situational, but great to access via Spirit Session if you ever need it for some reason.
  • Mind SpikeXGtE: Extremely situational and terrible damage.
  • Ray of Enfeeblement: Garbage.
  • See Invisibility: A staple counter to invisible enemies with a nice, long duration.
  • Wither and BloomSCoC: Learn Healing Word.

3rd-Level Spells

  • Animate DeadPHB: A great way to get some permanent minions, but you’ll need to re-cast Animate Dead every day to maintain control, which is a tragic way to spend Spirit Session. Use Magical Secrets for this one if you want it.
  • Bestow CursePHB: A great single-target debuff at any level, but it’s also on the Bard’s spell list. If you like this enough to cast it, learn it permanently.
  • ClairvoyancePHB: A great way to scout dangerous or inaccessible locations. It’s already on the Bard’s spell list, but it might not be useful enough in your game to know permanently.
  • Feign DeathPHB: Very situational.
  • Life TransferenceXGtE: Cast Healing Word.
  • RevivifyPHB: If you need this and don’t already have it, Spirit Session won’t help you. If your party doesn’t have someone who knows this permanently, it’s a good idea to bring this almost every day.
  • Speak with DeadPHB: Consistently useful, but corpses are generally happy to wait around for a day so that you can use Spirit Session to learn this.
  • Spirit ShroudTCoE: Your attacks are bad unless you’re getting Eldritch Blast somehow.
  • Summon UndeadTCoE: A go-to option on any day where danger is possible. Tasha’s-era summons are great and scale well with spell level, so this remains a potent option even as your maximum spell level outpaces your Proficiency Bonus. Not on the Bard’ spell list.
  • TonguesPHB: You are almost certainly your party’s Face, so the ability to cross language barriers is essential. This is great to know permanently, but if you can’t do that for some reason, Spirit Session is a great way to get it.
  • Vampiric TouchPHB: Damage and self-healing is nice, but this certainly isn’t essential. For the same spell slot cost you could cast Summon Undead to get a disposable pool of hit points that lasts an hour, does comparable or better damage, and doesn’t eat your Action every turn to use it.

4th-Level Spells

  • Arcane EyePHB: One of the best and safest magical scouting options, and it’s not on the Bard’s spell list.
  • BlightPHB: Garbage.
  • DivinationPHB: A great way to ask the DM for information, and it’s not on the Bard’s spell list.
  • Locate CreaturePHB: Only situationally useful, but a great candidate for Spirit Session when you do need it.
  • Shadow of MoilXGtE: You don’t attack in a way that can capitalize on being Heavily Obscured. The defensive benefits are nice, but at that point just cast Improved Invisibility.

5th-Level Spells

  • CommunePHB: A powerful divination option. Not on the Bard’s spell list.
  • Commune with NaturePHB: A very odd divination option that’s usually not very useful.
  • Contact Other PlanePHB: Very powerful, but you don’t have the Intelligence to make the save safe. Stick to Commune.
  • ContagionPHB: A decent debuff, but I’m not certain that it’s impactful enough to justify a resource as precious as Spirit Session.
  • Danse MacabreXGtE: Too difficult to use.
  • EnervationPHB: Garbage.
  • Legend LorePHB: Too situational to learn permanently, but a very powerful option when you can get it temporarily.
  • Negative Energy FloodXGtE: Poor damage, it hurts your friends, and it’s rare that you’ll be in situation where you conveniently have a bunch of low-hp enemies in the AOE to turn into zombies.
  • Raise DeadPHB: You will only rarely need this, but access to it is essential, which makes it perfect for Spirit Session.
  • Rary’s Telepathic Bond: Really great, but not always impactful so you can’t justify taking it daily.
  • ScryingPHB: Great for occasional spying, but watch out for the expensive focus cost.

6th-Level Spells

  • Circle of DeathPHB: Better area damage than the Bard can usually do unless you learned Fireball via Magical Secrets.
  • Create UndeadPHB: An upgrade from Animate Dead, but you still need to cast it daily to maintain control, which feels like a waste. Use Magical Secrets instead.
  • EyebitePHB: One spell turns you into a save-or-suck machine for a full minute.
  • Find the PathPHB: Garbage.
  • HarmPHB: Single-target damage on a Con save.
  • Magic JarPHB: Risky and complicated.
  • Soul CagePHB: Potentially very powerful against humanoid enemies, but you have other options to solve the same problems like Healing Word to heal, Speak with Dead to question dead creatures, and Enhance Ability for buffs to ability checks.
  • True SeeingPHB: Essential anywhere that you encounter illusions, but not always useful, so it may not be useful enough to know permanently.

College of Spirits Bard Ability Scores

The same as a typical bard.

College of Spirits Bard Races

The same as a typical bard.

College of Spirits Bard Feats

Mostly the same as a typical bard.

  • Ritual CasterPHB: Normally a great option for adding utility to casters which know spells permanently, but Spirit Session gives you access to several ritual spells from other spell lists, but the benefits are reduced.

College of Spirits Bard Weapons

The same as a typical bard.

College of Spirits Bard Armor

The same as a typical bard.


The same as a typical bard.

Example Build – Minor Scales are Creepy

The best options in Tales from Beyond apply unpleasant status conditions, so let’s lean into that. Fear, paralysis, and all sorts of other problems are abundant in the Bard’s spell list, and we’re going to grab some of the greats to cast in between using Tales from Beyond to be wacky and surprising.

We’ll assume that we can apply the bonus 1d6 from Spiritual Focus to all damage/healing because that appears to be the intent of the feature despite how clearly it runs against the rules as written. We’re mostly relying on save-or-suck spells anyway, but occasionally you need to viciously mock something and you want that d6.

Ability Scores

Pretty standard for a bard. We’ll put our +2 into Charisma and our +1 into Dexterity to get it up to 16.



Gem Dragonborn. The breath weapon is fine, but we won’t use it much. We’re here for access to Dragon Fear, but the damage resistance and gem dragon flight are nice, too.


Haunted One. Let’s lean into the spooky. We’ll learn Arcana, Religion, Abyssal, and Deep Speech.

Skills and Tools

We’ll take Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion from our class. We get Arcana and Religion from our background.


At 4 we’ll take Dragon Fear. That gets us a +1 Charisma increase and turns our breath weapon into a crowd control option that matches our spellcasting DC since it’s Charisma-based. It’s like Cause Fear in a lot of ways.

At level 8 we’ll take Telekinetic. It gets us +1 Charisma, and with less need to reserve our Bonus Action for Bardic Inspiration it’s easy to fit Telekinetic Shove into our tactics.

At 12 we’ll take Fey Touched. Misty Step works great alongside Tales from Beyond because Tales isn’t a spell. We also get +1 Charisma, and we’ll learn Heroism with the 1st-level spell choice to synergize with Tales from Beyond (Avenger).

We have free space at 16 and 19. Consider raising your Constitution or taking Resilient (Con).


Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1Bardic Inspiration 1d6
Minor Illusion
– Vicious Mockery
Spells Known
– Bane
– Healing Word
– Tasha’s Hideous Laughter
– Sleep
We immediately start with spells that are unpleasant to be affected by and also Healing Word. Bane is a great way to bait Legendary Resistances (Do I take -1d4 and be useless? Or do I waste a Legendary Resistance on a 1st-level spell?). Hideous Laughter is almost Hold Monster. Sleep wins encounters at very low levels, then we can retrain it.
2Jack of All Trades
Song of Rest (d6)
Spells Known
– Dissonant Whispers
Use Dissonant Whispers whenever an enemy is in melee with an ally who would enjoy making an Opportunity Attack.
3Bard College: College of Spirits
Guiding Whispers
Spiritual Focus
Tales from Beyond
– Intimidation
– Persuasion
Spells Known
– Shatter
Guiding Whispers gives us Guidance for free with extended range. Spiritual Focus adds some extra power to our damage and healing spells. It doesn’t suddenly make the bard a blaster, but it’s still pretty nice.

Tales from Beyond is an additional resource in addition to our spellcasting. Since it uses our Action to use the Tale, it competes with space in our action economy, but conveniently doesn’t interfere with Bonus Action spells.

Shatter is our only decent area damage for a long time.
4Feat: Dragon Fear (Charisma 17 -> 18)
– Mage Hand
Spells Known
– Phantasmal Force
We were never going to use our breath weapon for damage, but it sure makes for good crowd control. When you’re facing a large number of enemies, jump into the middle and scream.

Phantasmal Force can shut down single targets very easily, provided that your DM plays along.
5Bardic Inspiration (1d8)
Font of Inspiration
Spells Known
– Enemies Abound
Font of Inspiration is absolutely crucial both for normal purposes and for Tales from Beyond. Now we can start the day by drawing for Tales from Beyond until we get something that you like, then immediately take a Short Rest to recharge Bardic Inspiration.

Our inspiration die also improves to 1d8, opening up the Beguiler and Phantom options.

In encounters with multiple enemies, hit the biggest one with Enemies Abound. Almost nothing has good Intelligence Saves.

We also get Gem Flight at this level.
Spirit Session
Spells Known
– Hypnotic Pattern
Spirit Session is immediately awesome. Our Proficiency Bonus is +3 at this level, so we can choose from spells up to 3rd level. Summon Undead is our go-to spell on any day where we expect a fight.

The only problem is that it competes with our other Concentration spells, so you may need to rely on cantrips and spells like Shatter when you have a summoned undead. We can also think of it as a backup option for when our save-or-suck options are unlikely to work. Our options up to this point target mental saves almost exclusively, so, against enemies with good mental saves, it might make sense to summon an undead and just hit them.

Spiritual Focus also improves at this level, adding the extra 1d6 damage/healing on our bard spells. Use it with stuff like Healing Word and Shatter. It even makes the damage from Vicious Mockery decent.
7Spells Known
– Phantasmal Killer
For spells, we choose a spooky single-target damage option.
8Telekinetic (Cha 18 -> 19)
Spells Known
– Raulothim’s Psychic Lance
We’re delaying 20 Charisma for some hybrid feats. Telekinetic gives us a good use for our Bonus Action.

Psychic Lance is for incapacitating our target. Against big single foes with poor Intelligence saves, you can hit them with this every round and essentially negate an entire encounter, though the spell slot cost to do so is steep.
9Song of Rest (d8)
Spells Known
– Hold Monster
Our proficiency bonus increases to +4, giving us access to 4th-level spells via Spirit Session. If you’re not getting much use out of Summon Undead, Arcane Eye might be helpful utility, or you can keep Spirit Session in reserve until you decide that you need something.

Hold Monster is a staple save-or-suck spell. It does compete for space with Phantasmal Killer (single-target Wisdom save), but don’t let that stop you, especially since you can upcast Hold Person for more targets.
10Bardic Inspiration (1d10)
– Any 2
Magical Secrets
– Any 1
Spells Known
– Mind Sliver
– Synaptic Static
Our inspiration die improves to 1d10, opening up the Brute and Dragon options. We pick up two new Expertise options and an extra bard cantrip.

For spells, we choose Synaptic Static for area damage without Concentration, and Mind Sliver for the -1d4 to saves. Since they’re bard spells for us we also add the bonus damage from Spiritual Focus.

Mind Sliver’s ability to debuff saves cantrip is very useful for spells with ongoing effects like Phantasmal Killer, Hold Person, and Psychic Scream.
11Spells Known
– Eyebite
Even the name is terrifying. Cruise control for victory.
12Fey Touched (Heroism, Cha 19 -> 20)Max Charisma, Misty Step, and Heroism to buff whoever we throw Tales from Beyond (Avenger) onto.
13Song of Rest (d10)
Spells Known
– Forcecage
Put your enemies in a glass cage of emotion.
14Mystical Connection
Magical Secrets
Spells Known
– Contingency
– Plane Shift
Mystical Connection makes Tales From Beyond considerably more reliable, so our signature subclass feature gets a lot better just in time to get the best options on the table at our next level.

Use Contingency to put something helpful on yourself like Improved Invisibility when something bad happens. Use Plane Shift when anyone you dislike is unfortunate enough to be in melee with you.
15Bardic Inspiration (1d12)
Spells Known
– Dominate Monster
Our inspiration die improves to 1d12, opening up the Angel and Mind Bender options. Angel replaces the need for Lesser Restoration, provided that you’re lucky enough to roll it.
16ASI / Feat: AnySee the feats section of the example build, above.
17Song of Rest (d12)
Spells Known
– Psychic Scream
Area damage and stun on an Intelligence save with no maximum duration.
18Magical Secrets
– Mass Heal
Obvious staples. Not especially novel, but basically impossible to beat.
19ASI / Feat: AnySee the feats section of the example build, above.
20Superior InspirationNice, but not very flashy for such a high-level feature.