DnD 5e College of Tragedy Bard


Tal’Dorei: Campaign Setting Reborn includes the College of Tragedy subclass for the Bard. It’s a great theme with some interesting mechanical ideas, adding new Support options to a class that’s already famously good at supporting the party. The subclass is very powerful, and requires basically no help to make it work, making it easy to hand to any player and say “here, make everyone sad.”

College of Tragedy is almost entirely reactive, which is unusual and usually a bad thing. Characters which can only react to circumstances typically struggle to solve problems, instead providing ways to endure those problems a bit longer. College of Tragedy seems to be an exception to that rule. While the subclass’s features almost all trigger in response to something, they don’t conflict with resources or action economy which you could use proactively, leaving the Bard’s skills and spellcasting totally free to go on the offensive. Poetry of Misery makes regaining Bardic Inspiration trivial, so you can spend your Bonus Action essentially every turn to gant Bardic Inspiration.

With your reactions heavily spoken for, but your other options wide open, the rest of your build can be entirely focused on proactive solutions. Offensive spells, feats, skills, etc.

That said, there are some balance issues. Poetry in Misery is extremely abusable, allowing the Bard a functionally bottomless pool of Bardic Inspiration which they can then use to trivialize any non-combat situation and then walk into encounters with enough inspiration that their party is at a huge mathematical advantage. Sorrowful Fate similarly allows the party to trivialize a single powerful enemy per rest, making it difficult to challenge the party in combat. I’ve suggested fixes in the subclass features assessments which would make me comfortable using College of Tragedy at my table.

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 Tragedy Features

  1. Poetry in Misery: Extremely abusable. Find any random absurd reason to attempt an ability check and repeat it until you get back all of your expended uses of Bardic Inspiration. This is clearly intended to be used in combat or in high-stakes situations or at least with a DM that’s going to tell you when and when not to roll, but RAW it’s extremely abusable.

    This feature needs some guard rails to be safe at the table. If everyone in your party can collectively agree not to abuse it, it might be powerful but not problematic. If you still feel a need for guard rails, limit Poetry of Misery to working a number of times per day equal to your Proficiency Bonus.

  2. Sorrowful Fate: Most creatures are terrible at Charisma saves, so this can make many save-or-suck spells nearly unstoppable. This only affects one creature and you can only use it once per rest, but it’s still amazing and can easily define the outcome of entire encounters.

    The target does take a tiny bit of psychic damage and may need to say some cool last words, but that’s not mechanically impactful and it really doesn’t need to be.

    This is probably too powerful to allow without some adjustments. If this consumed the Bard’s Reaction and merely imposed Disadvantage on the save, I would still rate it blue, but it wouldn’t make me nervous about allowing the subclass.

  3. Tale of Hubris: Very cool, but inconsistent and unpredictable. The enemy might drop before this has any impact.
  4. Impending Misfortune: A bard is not going to do anything interesting with a single attack roll, so save this for saving throws. Once you use the +10 bonus, ask an ally to hit you with a saving throw cantrip so that you can burn off the -10 penalty.
  5. Nimbus of Pathos: Better than most paladn capstone features. This is an awesome buff. I love that you can’t end it early, so after combat your recipient might spend most of a minute standing around while tragic music plays which they can’t escape from.

College of Tragedy Ability Scores

No different from a typical bard.

College of Tragedy Races

No different from a typical bard.

College of Tragedy Feats

Little different from a typical bard, but you should likely avoid options which consume your Bonus Action since you’ll be able to use Bardic Inspiration so frequently.

College of Tragedy Weapons

No different from a typical bard.

College of Tragedy Armor

No different from a typical bard.


Any option which works well for a typical bard should work well for College of Tragedy, with a few caveats: Avoid things that use your Bonus Action or your Reaction because you need those free for Poetry in Misery and Tale of Hubris.

Example Build – Stand up Tragedian

There’s really not much optimization to be done here. The subclass is very powerful on its own, so all you need to do is pick spells and feats and you’re done. Since most of the hard work is done for us by the subclass, we’ll lean hard into the theme and pick spells that spread the misery. I’m not going to pick anything worthless, but check out the Bard Spell List Breakdown if you don’t want all of your spells to be tragedy-themed.

Ability Scores

We’ll arrange our ability scores to maximize the benefits of the Half-elf’s unique ability score increases. We’ll be left with 17 Charisma, which is great for hybrid feats.



Half-elf. There’s no real synergies with the subclass, so half-elf is a good go-to. You could also look at the half-drow variant half-elf or something like the Dhampir.


Grinner (Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount). Proficiency in Deception, Performance, an instrument, and a language. The theme of the background is that we go around spreading hope, and the contrast with the subclass feels fun.

Skills and Tools

We get Deception and Performance from our background plus a total of 5 skills of our choice from our race and class. We’ll grab Intimidation, Insight, Perception, Persuasion, and Stealth.

We also get a total of 4 instruments. We could be our own string quartet! Or we could alter the background and trade the extra instrument proficiency for proficiency with thieves’ tools.


At 4th level we’re ready for a hybrid feat to boost our Charisma to 18. We need to be careful about anything which would try to monopolize our reactions or bonus actions, so Telekinetic is out. If we eliminate the race-specific feats, that leaves us Fey Touched, Gift of the Gem Dragon, and Shadow Touched. Fey Touched is the obvious choice here, as boring as it seems to pick it on yet another build.

At 12th level, we’ll take Inspiring Leader. The tone feels absolutely wrong, but it’s an objectively great option for many bards.


Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
Bardic Inspiration (d6)
Cantrips Known:
– Minor Illusion
– Vicious Mockery
New Spell Known:
– Bane
– Dissonant Whispers
– Silent Image
– Unseen Servant
We are an extremely straightforward bard.
2Jack of All Trades
Song of Rest (d6)
New Spell Known:
Silvery Barbs
Well, we lasted exactly one level without picking Silvery Barbs again. Time to make everyone miserable by stealing success at the last possible moment.
– Persuasion
– Stealth
Bard College: College of Tragedy
Poetry in Mistery
Sorrowful Fate
New Spell Known:
– Blindness/Deafness
Poetry in Misery means that Bardic Inspiration is functionally bottomless if we have a few minutes outside of time for our party to stand around and attempt pointless ability checks or attack rolls.

Sorrowful Fate lets us make one save-or-suck spell a huge problem once per rest. Now our build becomes a game of finding the right spells. We want spells that only allow a single save (or at least only one within the 3-round span of a typicaly combat) and only target a single creature. Bards don’t get many suitable spells, unfortunately.

Blindness/Deafness is a great example. If it didn’t target Con saves, it would be amazing. We solve the single problem with the spell using Sorrowful Fate, so Blindness/Deafness trivializes one big enemy each time we rest.
4Feat: Fey Touched (Charisma 17 -> 18)
New Cantrip Known:
– Message
New Spell Known:
– Phantasmal Force
Select whatever you want for the 1st-level spell frin Fey Touched. Bless is a great choice, even if it’s off theme.

For cantrips we’ll learn Message so that we can whisper sad facts to people at a distance. We’ll also pick up Phantasmal Force so that they can see stuff that’s sad and makes you want to lay down and feel deep emotions.
5Bardic Inspiration (d8)
Font of Inspiration
New Spell Known:
– Enemies Abound
Font of Inspiration feels silly since we have Poetry in Misery.

We’ll take enemies abound so that we can remind enemies that everyone is alone in the world, and that they should respond to this revelation with violence.
6Tale of Hubris
Impending Misfortune
New Spell Known:
– Bestow Curse
Tale of Hubris and Impending Misfortune both work defensively with very little nuance.

Bestow Curse is great because it’s both really unpleasant and near permanent.
7New Spell Known:
– Phantasmal Killer
Kill people with their worst fear: being forced to remember something awkward from their childhood.
8Ability Score Increase (Cha 18 -> 20)
New Spell Known:
Polymorph yourself into something cool like a T-Rex and pretty much only a T-Rex. Polymorph enemies into an animal whose life would be much simpler, then end the spell right when they get comfortable.
9Song of Rest (d8)
New Spell Known:
– Synaptic Static
Make everyone in a room feel bad and suffer penalties to attack rolls for a full minute.
10Bardic Inspiration (d10)
– Insight
– Perception
Magical Secrets
– Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere
– Summon Aberration
New Cantrip Known
– Any
Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere is a single-target “time out” for one creature so that you can leave them alone with their thoughts. If your target could pass the Dexterity save, change it to Charisma.

Summon Aberration lets us summon something gross and unpleasant.
11New Spell Known
– Eyebite
Put people to sleep every turn.
12Feat: Inspiring LeaderGive everyone a depressing speech and some temporary hit points.
13Song of Rest (d10)
New Spell Known
– Etherealness
Use Etherealness to sneak into places and whisper sad things to them in their sleep.
14Magical Secrets
– Plane Shift
– Simulacrum
Nimbus of Pathos
Grab your boom box and play Duel of the Fates in a minor key, because it’s time for sad battle music. Throw Nimbus of Pathos on your party’s biggest weapon user and sit back to provide depressing color commentary.

In other fights, Plane Shift enemies to the Shadowfell. It’s the most depressing plane. Use Simulacrum to get yourself a backup singer. They’ll notably be able to recover Bardic Inspiration at the same rate and the same time, so not only do you have twice as much Bardic Inspiration available, you can also share it twice as fast.
15Bardic Inspiration (d12)
New Spell Known
– Feeblemind
Hit stuff with Feeblemind and use Sorrowful Fate if it happens to be good at Intelligence saves.
16Feat: Any
17Song of Rest (d12)
New Spell Known
– Psychic Scream
Psychic Scream has the power to permanently stun creatures, and it really feels like the capstone of this entire build. Think of something tragic and silently scream so hard that creature’s heads explode.
18Magical Secrets
True Polymorph
True Polymorph your friends into better things like pit fiends and ancient dragons. Consider remaining a sad bard since polymorphing would mean giving up your ability to make other people sad.

Wish is here because it’s basically mandatory. Use it to do things like wishing for Find Greater Steed or to clone yourself so that you’re tragic sensibilities will live on forever.
19Feat: Any
20Superior InspirationI don’t know how we would even get ourselves into a situation where we have no Bardic Inspiration uses.