DnD 5e College of Lore Bard Handbook

Stories sown along the way.

Tales of loss and fire and faith.

Footfalls – FFXIV


Bards have always been the generalists of Dungeons and Dragons. Some skills, some spells, they’ve had a little of everything. But what if a Bard could have a little more “everything”? What if a Bard could specialize into being a generalist? Well, that is the College of Lore. Bards get three skill proficiencies. The College of Lore Bard gets three more skill proficiencies. The Bard gets Magical Secrets. The College of Lore goes and gets an extra helping four levels early.

But with all those choices, all those options, it would be so easy to make all the wrong choices. So easy to spread a character too thin, a jack of all trades and master of none kind of problem. Conversely, it would be so easy to choose to put all our eggs into one basket and be a one trick pony. That right there is the fine balancing act the College of Lore must perform. We can’t do everything all the time all at once, but we don’t have to hyperfocus on being really good at one thing.

So then, you might ask, how should we build from there? There’s no easy one size fits all answer. Not for most Bards, and doubly so for the College of Lore. We must instead first look at our companions and determine their strengths and weaknesses so that we may fill in where they lack.

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 Lore Features

  1. Bonus Proficiencies: 3 more skills of your choice brings your class’s total number of skill proficiencies up to 6 (not including those from your background and possibly from your race). You also get Expertise at this level, so level 3 represents a considerable jump in your capabilities with skills.
  2. Cutting Words: This excludes saving throws, so you can’t force enemies to fail save-or-suck saves, but you can use it to protect allies from attacks which barely hit, or your could use it to hinder enemies’ ability checks, such as the opposed ability check to avoid being Grappled or Shoved by an ally.
  3. Additional Magical Secrets: Even more spells from a different class! This is especially nice because you get it four levels earlier than other Bards. At this level you have access to powerful spells which come online at third level like Fireball and Revivify, allowing you to tailor your spell list to fill what capabilities your party might need.
  4. Peerless Skill: This has a lot of applications. Combined with Superior Inspiration you could take an inspiration die on every initiative check (yes, those are ability checks, and yes you also get to add Jack of All Trades). You’ll want to be careful about using this for skill checks on days where you expect to do a lot of fighting, as that can eat up your uses per day very quickly, and won’t be as useful as potentially saving the life of one of your allies.

College of Lore Ability Scores

Being a hyper generalist that can build in almost any direction, we could see a lot of variance here in the ability scores.

Str: While it’s unlikely that we would need to be the muscle in a party, it’s not impossible. It would just be served better by a different College.

Dex: No matter what, we’ll need this for our AC. It’s also one of our good saves.

Con: More hit points, less Dying.

Int: We might be some kind of Scholar with all of those skill proficiencies.

Wis: Or possibly a Scout of some kind.

Cha: The only thing certain about a Bard is a dependence on Charisma for spell DCs and Inspiration Dice.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str8 (12)10
Int8 (12)8
Wis12 (8)12

College of Lore Races

Don’t forget to check the Bard Races Breakdown.We’ll already get six skill proficiencies from being a Lore Bard, so we don’t need to get more from any particular racial choice. But that doesn’t mean we can’t if that’s what the party needs. Alternatively, many races come with potential weapon proficiencies that could be used as-is or traded in for tools. Beyond those general options, many races have some incredibly specific, but still nice options.

Bonus Feat Races

  • Custom LineageTCoE: The one thing we don’t get more of from the College of Lore is feats. Custom Lineage can get us either an extra skill or Darkvision alongside that bonus feat and a +2 to an ability score.
  • Variant HumanPHB: If we don’t want Darkvision, V Humans get an extra skill and a pair of +1s instead of the +2.

Cantrip Races

  • High (Half-)ElfPHB: This can give us a Wizard cantrip, but it will be tied to Intelligence. This doesn’t matter for most utility cantrips or Booming Blade.
  • KoboldMMoM: Here we can get a Sorcerer cantrip with the option of making it Charisma-based. Useful if we need something reliable like Fire Bolt.
  • Earth GenasiMMoM: Bonus Action Blade Ward is actually kind of nice. Also getting Pass Without Trace does save a Magical Secret.

College of Lore Feats

As always, if anything isn’t mentioned below, check the Bard Handbook.

  • SkilledPHB: If we choose a race with two skill proficiencies, together with Lore Bard and our Background we’ll already have ten skills. We could keep pushing it to thirteen if we really wanted to, but that’s a little overkill. Bards get Jack of All Trades for a reason.
  • Skill ExpertTCoE: We already have six skills from being a Lore Bard, and two more from our Background, as well as four Expertises. So why not have another skill and expertise? Why not be the most skill-monkey we can be?

College of Lore Weapons

Nothing is really stopping us from picking up a weapon, but cantrips scale so well that unless we’re using the weapon to cast Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade, we’ll find it lacking.

College of Lore Armor

As mentioned in the Bard Handbook, Studded Leather will end up as the armor of choice unless we multiclass into something to get medium or heavy armor.

Example College of Lore Builds – The Choose Your Own Adventure Subclass

If the College of Lore is the ultimate generalist blank slate, where the build choices are about filling in for what your party lacks, what can I possibly put forth as an example build? I guess we’ll just have to make multiple builds. Slowly. Over time. We’ll start with one.

Build One – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Let’s say your party is a little lacking in the arcana department, but when you majored at the College of Lore, you took a minor in Alchemical Engineering which has served you well thus far.


Alright, so we’re standing in for a wizard-equivalent in your classic cleric/fighter/rogue/wizard party, which would normally provide a mixture of control, blasting, and support. This is the least reaching that a College of Lore Bard should have to do to squeeze into another role. We’ll need strong Charisma with good Dexterity and Constitution. We might need to perform the Scholarly role of a Wizard though, so don’t write off Intelligence completely.

BaseIncreasedLevel 20


We’re going with Half-Elf. Darkvision is a handy feature, and the Half-Elf +2/+1/+1 is a remarkable asset for many builds. Skill Versatility gives us two additional skills to work with. We choose Nature and Religion. We get an extra language, and Undercommon is generally the second option we try if common fails.


While a Strixhaven background would fit the whole College theme we’re going for, we don’t use setting-specific backgrounds in the example builds. So we’ll take Sage for Arcana and History. Pick a pair of languages that feel good for your campaign. Maybe a racial language common among your party.

Skills and Tools

Our race and background have allowed us to get all the Scholarly skills, Arcana, History, Nature, and Religion. At first level, the Bard can pick any three skills, so since we’re already a little invested into Intelligence, we’ll take the final option there, Investigation, as well as Insight and Persuasion to perform the Face role that we already have the Charisma for.

But unlike most, our skills don’t end there. At third level, when we take the College of Lore, we get three more skills. As such, we’ll take the rest of the Face’s set, Deception and Intimidation, as well as Perception. Also at third level, all Bards get Expertise in two skills. Now we could use this to boost our already impressive Face skills, but instead we’ll take the Expertise at this level for Insight and Perception to reinforce some of our weaker, but important, skills.

At fourth level, we take Skill Expert, adding Stealth proficiency, and then also taking Expertise in Persuasion. Then finally at tenth level, when we again get to choose two Expertises, we choose to improve Deception and Intimidation.

Our final list of skills is Proficiency in Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, Religion, and Stealth, and Expertise in Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Persuasion. And thanks to Jack of all Trades, every other skill gains half of our Proficiency bonus.


At fourth level, we take Skill Expert, adding +1 to Charisma (17=>18)  from the hybrid bonus as well as gaining Proficiency in Stealth and Expertise in Persuasion.

At eight level, we take an ASI for +2 Charisma. (18=>20)

At twelfth level, we take an ASI for +2 Dexterity. (16=>18)

At sixteenth level, we take an ASI for +2 Dexterity. (18=>20)

At nineteenth level, we take an ASI for +2 Constitution. (14=>16)


LevelsFeats and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1Bardic Inspiration – d6


-Vicious Mockery
-1st-level Spells
-Dissonant Whispers
-Healing Word
-Silvery Barbs
We can take some leather armor from our starting gear. We’ll be using cantrips mostly, but we can still swing a rapier or use a bow for a bit. Until we hit level 5 and things like Extra Attack come online, we’re just as good with a weapon as almost anyone else.

We take care of covering all the knowledge skills while still managing to also fit in the negotiation skills.

For cantrips, we take Vicious Mockery for damage and debuffing saving throws, and we take Prestidigitation because it’s very useful for a variety of effects.

For leveled spells we pick up an array of debuffs and support spells to fill our role of Arcanist Support, as well as Healing Word.
2Jack of All Trades

Song of Rest – d6

-1st-level Spells
Jack of All Trades is a great feature. We get half proficiency on every ability check that doesn’t already include proficiency, like the Dexterity check for Initiative.

Song of Rest is nice, a bit of extra healing during short rests.

For spells, we’ll pick up Bane. It’s a strong debuff for saves that targets Charisma, a traditionally weak save. If Disadvantage is mathematically about -3 to any roll, and Bane is -1d4, which averages -2.5, then Bane is Disadvantage to all Attacks and Saves, but also stacks with further Disadvantage. Another way to look at Bane is giving your whole party an extra 2.5 AC on average vs those targets. Also, we’re not Concentrating on anything else yet. However, it does allow a save, only targets 3 enemies unless you upcast it, and enemies have a bad habit of dying quickly after you cast this so the effects are often short-lived. It’s not a go-to spell in every situation, but it’s appealing in fights that are going to last a while where you’re facing roughly 3 enemies.
3College of Lore
-Bonus Skills
-Cutting Words


-2nd-level Spells
-Enhance Ability
-Removed Spell: Sleep
We take on the College of Lore at this level, getting three more skills right away, Deception, Intimidation, and Perception.

We also get Cutting Words here, a way to use our Bardic Inspiration as a reaction ability to lower an attack roll, ability check, or the damage of an attack. Now, between this and Silvery Barbs, we have multiple reaction abilities to use. Use Silvery Barbs on important enemy saves or to cancel a natural 20, and use Cutting Words to cancel near hits that beat AC by 1 or 2 points.

Additionally we gain Expertise in two skills now, which we place on Insight and Perception to shore up weaknesses in our skills.

For a 2nd-level spell, we’ll take Enhance Ability and we’ll replace Sleep with Shatter. Since we’re replacing the party’s wizard-equivalent, Shatter is a fine area damage spell to have on hand.
4Feat: Skill Expert
-Persuasion Expertise
+1 Charisma

-Mage Hand
-2nd-level Spells
For this ASI we’ll be taking the Skill Expert Feat, getting Stealth Proficiency and Persuasion Expertise, as well as bringing Charisma up to an 18.

For a spell this level, Invisibility. We’re not trading out any of our 1st-level spells this time as all of them are pretty good, but we could switch Dissonant Whispers for Hold Person if we’re fighting mostly Humanoids.
5Bardic Inspiration – d8

Font of Inspiration

-3rd-level Spells
-Dispel Magic
Bardic Inspiration gets stronger and it now also returns on a short rest.

For a 3rd-level spell, we’re going to take Dispel Magic. It’s something you either don’t need or horribly regret not having in the party, and we’re the wizard-equivalent for the team.

Magical Secrets
-2nd-level Spell
-3rd-level Spell

-3rd-level Spells
-Enemies Abound
Countercharm is a weird ability that doesn’t come up enough.
Early Magical Secrets, the College of Lore’s secret advanced independent study program. We’re taking the Web and Counterspell spells.

Web is a very strong AoE control spell that causes the restrained condition and costs actions to escape, which is much stronger than many other shutdown spells.

Counterspell is Counterspell. Spend a reaction to tell a spellcaster to sit down. And yes you can in fact Counterspell your own spell inches from the target’s face as part of an Intimidation check.

We’ll also take Enemies Abound as a regular Bard spell. This is a good way to turn the big guy in a fight against the rest of the enemy team, especially good because it’s targeting Intelligence.
-4th-level Spells
-Greater Invisibility
-Phantasmal Killer
-Removed Spell
At this level we get 4th-level spells, and there are a lot of good options.

We’re taking Greater Invisibility and Phantasmal Killer, two fantastic spells, and removing Bane. Bane isn’t a bad spell, but we’re hitting Concentration overload and need to prune some of this.
8ASI: Charisma +2 (18=>20)

-4th-level Spells
-Psychic Lance
We cap our Charisma to cap our Spell DCs.

Psychic Lance is a pretty nice spell. The damage is a little lower than most spells of this level, but it targets Intelligence and on a failed save robs the target of a turn.
9Song of Rest – d8

-5th-level Spells
-Synaptic Static
More short rest healing is helpful.

Synaptic Static is the Intelligence-targeting Psychic-damage Fireball, with a crippling debuff. And it wont burn the Web.
10Bardic Inspiration – d10


Magical Secrets
-Destructive Wave
-Find Greater Steed
Inspiration goes up again. Handing out d10’s is nice.

For Expertise, we get the rest of our Face skills boosted. We should be winning any of these kinds of contests, especially if you add Enhance Ability (Charisma).

We pick up Mending because it’s a nice utility and nothing else piques our interest here.

With Magical Secrets we’re taking Find Greater Steed because it’s just so strong to have a flying horse.

Destructive Wave is an interesting spell. Normally it’s only for Paladins to get as a 5th-level spell and it’s balanced for 17th level. But we’re getting it 7 levels early. It’s an AoE that allows us to choose targets in the range, so we don’t have to worry about hitting our allies. It does target Constitution saves, which is a problem, so go for other AOE spells like Synaptic Static when you don’t need to worry about friendly fire.

While those spells are great, if we have an ally that does a lot of attacks every round, such as a Crossbow Expert Fighter, Holy Weapon is also a great option to add 2d8 Radiant to all their weapon attacks.
-6th-level Spells
-Mass Suggestion
Mass Suggestion and you can just tell everyone to abandon the dungeon.

Easy game, easy life.
12ASI: Dexterity +2 (16=>18)

-6th-level Spells
-Irresistible Dance
Irresistible Dance is funny because the target doesn’t get to attempt the save for the first time until they take an Action on their next turn, which is backwards to a lot of spells.
13Song of Rest – d10

-7th-level Spell
Song of Rest for more healing from Short Rests.

There aren’t a lot of 7th-level spells I like on the Bard list, but there is Forcecage: Put the big slow monster in a box for an hour and keep walking through the dungeon.
14Magical Secrets Spellcasting
-6th-level Spell
We get some more magical secrets.

Heal is the best healing spell to get some healing done in a single turn until you get 9th-level spells.

Forbiddance has a funny little exploit that works great with ritual casting.

If you come upon a dungeon which you know is full of forbiddable creatures (technically you don’t need to know, but knowing ahead of time is the abuse case), you can sit down, spend 20 minutes to cast this as a ritual, and turn 40,000 square feet of dungeon into a 30-foot high area of ongoing damage for 24 hours with no save.
15Bardic Inspiration – d12

-8th-level Spells
Glibness + Counterspell = Winning

Also good for winning at negotiations.
16ASI: Dexterity +2 (18=>20)More AC, more Dexterity saves.
17Song of Rest – d12

-9th-level Spells
Foresight is such a great buff. Put it on someone who can really take advantage of the all-day Advantage.
18Magical Secrets
-8th-level Spells
-Holy Aura
-9th-level Spells
Our final Magical Secrets.

You know the drill, if Wish then Wish.

Holy Aura is the strongest party defense buff. Avoid all the damages.
19ASI: Constitution +2 (14=>16)More HP, more Constitution saves
20Superior InspirationGet a Bardic Inspiration die back if we don’t have one when fights start. It’s ok.