Learn all about bards and how to use them in our guide to this versatile class
Perhaps you’ve been reading/watching/playing the Witcher and you fancy playing a character in D&D a bit like Dandelion. Maybe you’ve seen the memes about horny bards and think playing one of those might be a bit of fun. Or maybe you’ve just heard that bards are the most flexible and innovative class in D&D and want to give them a go (we won’t argue with that assumption).
Well look no further as our guide will tell you everything you need to know about bards from how they work, to the best subclasses to use and how to optimise your character so they pack a punch (or sing the sweetest melodies).
What is a bard?
Bards are the musicians and storytellers of the D&D universe. They tell tales of legendary heroes (and evil villains), inspire those around them to feats of incredible valour and entertain with their varied skillset. But bards are more than just performers. Each bard has been trained by a college that also determines their subclass and the types of abilities they have access to.
Bards are also full spellcasters that can eventually (if you survive long enough), acquire level 9 spells! They may not be as proficient casters as wizards, but they still wield considerable spellcasting power. They can be stealthy like rogues, magical like sorcerors, handle themselves in combat and are the absolute kings of charisma! In reality, bards are more than just entertainers, they’re highly educated in a range of skillsets and are considered a bit a jack of all trades within the D&D universe.
How does a bard work?
Bards are primarily a utility class. Their spells don’t quite pack the punch of sorcerors, their damage isn’t as hefty as a fighter, their healing is weaker than a cleric and they aren’t quite as stealthy as a rogue, but they can provide support in all these areas. This means that bards operate in whatever function they’re needed, adapting to the needs of the party. This means players using a bard must be very adaptable.
While bards are hugely flexible characters, they do have some class unique features that are worth understanding and taking advantage of. Their main ability is their bardic inspiration which they can use to inspire allies to supplement their rolls. Bards also excel outside of combat. With their high Charisma, they make a great spokesperson for the party. They also have an ability called Jack of all Trades that allows them to add half their proficiency bonus to any ability checks that don’t already include their proficiency bonus. This means bards are very capable at pretty much any ability check.
While bards are able to do a decent job of most functions in a party, fitting certain functions may need you to style your bard for those functions. For example, if you want a bard that can mix it in melee combat, you’ll want to make sure you take the college of swords or college of valour subclasses. College of lore bards make better spellcasters and the college of eloquence are exceptional when it comes to anything based around talking so make great spies and negotiators. We’ll go over all the subclasses later in this guide so you know how to flavour and build your bard.
Bard class features
|Party Role||Utility, Support Caster, Support Fighter, Support Healer|
|Main Ability||Charisma, Dexterity|
|Saving Throws||Dexterity, Charisma|
|Hit Dice||1d8 + Consitution modifier per level|
|HP at 1st Level||8 + Constitution Modifier|
|Spell Casting Ability||Charisma|
|Armour Proficiency||Light armour|
|Weapon Proficiency||Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers and shortswords|
Bards receive 1d8 hit die which is better than some of the squishier, pure spellcasters (like wizards and sorcerors) and puts them on the same footing as rogues and clerics. It’s important as bards may be required to get into the thick of danger at times. On top of this, they’re proficient in Dexterity and Charisma meaning they’re good at dodging area of effect spells so they’re likely to land half damage rather than take the full brunt of such damage. Charisma is less helpful as few saving throws are reliant on Charisma but does make sense for the class.
Bards are only proficient in light armour so it is important to maximise on Dexterity (once you’ve maxxed out your Charisma). Strength is much less important for a bard as they can rely on Dexterity for their weapon attacks and can easily be dumped. Intelligence and wisdom can also easily be dumped as you’ll make very little use of these abilities, though wisdom is often used for saving throws so you may want to at least have a reasonable amount of wisdom. Constitution is important for any class so you’ll want to make sure this is at least decent.
Bards aren’t proficient in a huge array of weapons, but they do get a few d8 damage dealing weapons like rapiers and longswords which is handy. Rapiers are particularly useful if you go the college of swords route as you can use your weapon as a spellcasting focus and duel-wield a pair of rapiers and still cast spells. They’re also great at playing musical instruments (as you’d expect).
|Level||Proficiency Bonus||Features||Cantrips Known||Spells Known||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th||6th||7th||8th||9th|
|1st||+2||Spellcasting, Bardic Inspiration (d6||2||4||2||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|2nd||+2||Jack of all Trades Song of Rest (d6)||2||5||4||–||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|3rd||+2||Bard College, Expertise||2||6||4||2||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|4th||+2||Ability Score Improvement||3||7||4||3||–||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|5th||+3||Bardic Inspiration (d8), Font of Inspiration||3||8||4||3||2||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|6th||+3||Counter Charm, Bard College Feature||3||9||4||3||3||–||–||–||–||–||–|
|8th||+3||Ability Score Improvement||3||11||4||3||3||2||–||–||–||–||–|
|9th||+4||Song of Rest (d8)||3||12||4||3||3||3||1||–||–||–||–|
|10th||+4||Bardic Inspiration (d10), Expertise, Magical Secrets||4||14||4||3||3||3||2||–||–||–||–|
|12th||+4||Ability Score Improvement||4||15||4||3||3||3||2||1||–||–||–|
|13th||+5||Song of Rest (d10)||4||16||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||–||–|
|14th||+5||Magical Secrets, Bard College Feature||4||18||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||–||–|
|15th||+5||Bardic Inspiration (d12)||4||19||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||1||–|
|16th||+5||Ability Score Improvement||4||19||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||1||–|
|17th||+6||Song of Rest (d12)||4||20||4||3||3||3||2||1||1||1||1|
|19th||+6||Ability Score Improvement||4||22||4||3||3||3||3||2||1||1||1|
Bards are full spellcasters and get access to a solid range of spells that reach all the way up to level 9. Bardic spells though are less focused on dealing straight up damage than other spellcasters like clerics and wizards. Instead, they’re more focused on controlling the battlefield, applying buffs and out of combat effects. Some of this does mean that a lot of spells require concentration which does limit the number of spells that can be used together so the economy of spell usage is important.
Best bard spells
Below we’ve included the bard spells we consider the best at each level. One ability bards gain at level 10 (and again at level 14 and 18) is called magical secrets where bards can pick a couple of spells from any other class list. This is a huge boon and means bards technically have access to the widest range of spells of any class (even if they can only choose a handful of these). Below, we’ve also picked some of the best options for magical secret spells at each of these levels, we’ve also included level 6 options too as the college of lore bard gains an extra magical secrets ability at 6th level:
|Spell Level||Best bard spells|
|Cantrip||Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, Vicious Mockery|
|1st Level||Detect Magic, Dissonant Whispers, Healing Word, Heroism, Silent Image, Silvery Barbs, Thunderwave|
|2nd Level||Blindness/Deafness, Enhance Ability, Heat Metal, Hold Person, Invisibility, Suggestion|
|3rd Level||Bestow Curse, Dispel Magic, Fear, Hypnotic Pattern, Major Image|
|4th Level||Charm Monster, Greater Invisibility, Polymorph|
|5th Level||Animate Objects, Awaken, Dominate Person, Dream, Greater Resoration, Hold Monster, Mass Cure Wounds, Synaptic Static|
|6th Level||Mass Suggestion, Otto’s Irresistible Dance|
|7th Level||Forcecage, Mirage Arcane, Resurrection, Teleport|
|8th Level||Dominate Monster, Feeblemind, Mind Blank|
|9th Level||Foresight, Mass Polymorph, Psychic Scream, True Polymorph|
|Magical Secrets (bard level available at)||Counterspell (6th), Revivify (6th), Spirit Guardians (6th), Fireball (6th), Bigby’s Hand (10th), Wall of Force (10th), Destructive Wave (10th), Simulacrum (14th), Chain Lightning (14th), Reverse Gravity (14th), Wish (18th), Mass Heal (18th), Meteor Swarm (18th)|
When choosing bardic spells, it’s important for you to know what role you play in the party. As an extremely versatile class, it makes sense to fill whatever gaps exist in the party. If you lack a healer, take healing word, if you don’t have a rogue, something like invisibility, if you need to do some crowd control, then hypnotic pattern.
One especially important ability is the magical secrets feature which allows you to learn spells from other spellcasting disciplines. It may feel overwhelming trying to choose just 2 spells from all those spell lists, and it is. Our advice would be, consider the great options we’ve suggested above, but simply choose spells that your party needs.
As you gain levels, you’ll gain access to a bunch of different abilities. Some of these will be more useful than others. Below we’ve outlined the standard bard abilities and how they can be used:
- Bardic inspiration (lv1): Bardic Inspiration is the classic bard ability. It involves the bard performing a song or speaking words of encouragement that allows them to give a nearby ally a Bardic Inspiration die (which starts at d6 but grows through the levels to d12 at level 15). The character can use this die to add to a single ability check, attack roll or saving throw in the next 10 minutes, and this can be done after the d20 has been rolled. It’s a really useful ability to stop a character from messing up a roll and can be used as a bonus action. Bards can use this ability the same number of times as their Charisma modifier (which should be high if you’re playing a bard). This is an extremely useful ability and you should expect to use it often, especially as it only requires you using a bonus action.
- Jack of all trades (lv2): This allows you to add half your proficiency bonus to any ability check that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus. It means bards are very good at making saves and can often compete with other classes proficient in those areas.
- Song of Rest (lv2): Allows you to give allies a bit of a healing boost when they take a short rest.
- Expertise (lv3): Allows you to double your proficiency bonus score to 2 different skills making you exceptionally good at certain skills. It’s nice to put your bard at the forefront of some situation or another and almost certainly know they’ll pass their check.
- Font of Inspiration (lv5): Allows the bard to regain all their Bardic Inspiration when they finish a short or long rest.
- Countercharm (lv6): Allows you to buff yourself and your allies against fear and charm effectives but it only lasts a turn meaning you have to spend your action, not usually knowing if these effects are going to come into play. This is probably the least useful bardic ability.
- Magical Secrets (lv10, 14 and 18): On the other hand, magical secrets is great as you can choose 2 spells from any class you like to add to your repertoire. Meteor Swarm or wish anyone!?
- Superior Inspiration (lv20): If you have no more Bardic Inspiration left when you start a combat, you get one more use of it. Useful, but not mind blowing for a level 20 ability.
Bard subclasses in D&D 5e
So we’ve looked at the standard bard abilities, spells and elements of the class, but at level 3, you’ll get the chance to specialise and pick a subclass. The problem is, there’re 8 of these spread across 4 different books, so which one is best for your character? We’ve attempted to rank them below though there are several good options and ultimately, you should pick a subclass that works best for your character and their role in the group. Before we get to that though, here’s a summary of all the subclasses grouped by the book that details them:
|Bard Subclass||Role||Subclass Abilities||Source Book||Description|
|College of Lore||Spellcasting||Cutting Words, Bonus Proficiencies, Additional Magic Secrets, Peerless Skill||Player’s Handbook||Bards that know more and are wittier than any others, these bards are more akin to wizards, but with the cutting wittiness that comes with being a bard.|
|College of Valor||Combat||Bonus Proficiencies, Combat Inspiration, Extra Attack, Battle Magic||Player’s Handbook||Combat specialists that are akin to the heroes of the tales they tell. These are legendary bards that embody heroism.|
|College of Glamour||Support||Mantle of Inspiration, Enthralling Performance, Mantle of Majesty, Unbreakable Majesty||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything||Mysterious and fey influenced bards that are great at supporting the party and mesmerising those around them.|
|College of Swords||Combat||Bonus Proficiencies, Fighting Style, Blade Flourish, Extra Attack, Master’s Flourish||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything||Also known as blades, these bards specialise in melee combat, they’re swashbucklers and swordsmen, utilising skills similar to a battlemaster’s in combat.|
|College of Whispers||Charisma||Psychic Blades, Words of Terror, Mantle of Whispers, Shadow Lore||Xanathar’s Guide to Everything||A bard that utilises secrets to their advantage. They are taught to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, extorting those they want to manipulate with ill-gotten knowledge.|
|College of Creation||Support||Mode of Potential, Performance of Creation, Animating Performance, Creative Crescendo||Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything||Lovers of nature and creativity, they literally turn the world around them into the art forms they love. These bards provide lots of buffs to their allies.|
|College of Eloquence||Charisma||Silver Tongue, Unsettling Words, Unfailing Inspiration, Universal Speech, Infectious Inspiration||Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything||Masters of communication, they have turned words into an art form, and then mastered it. They make excellent spies and deceivers.|
|College of Spirits||Investigation||Guiding Whispers, Spiritual Focus, Tales from Beyond, Spirit Session, Mystical Connection||Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft||These bards seek out legends of inherent power to bring about these forces once again for their own uses. The spirits though that these bards summon often are not fully under their control.|
Best bard subclasses
We’ve determined which subclasses are best based primarily on their capabilities within the game rather than how well they embody certain character types. This will be based on their capabilities in combat, their quality of spells, the quality of their abilities and their abilities outside of combat (such as in role playing situations).
8th: College of Whispers
|3||Psychic Blades, Words of Terror|
|6||Mantle of Whispers|
The College of Whispers trains bards that trade in secrets, using their natural, charismatic personas and their positions as bards to gain access to groups and conversations where they can learn the secrets of others. These secrets are what these bards use to gain advantage over others, extorting and threatening them.
The College of Whispers is based on the premise of a bard as a spy This has exciting role-play potential but in our opinion, is only a useful class in certain limited campaign types (especially those with lots of political intrigue). The College of Whispers isn’t particularly useful on dungeon crawls and only has a single, combat-focused ability. As a general rule, we find it hard to recommend the College of Whispers as a subclass, though it may suit some characters in some games.
College of whispers abilities
Psychic Blades – At 3rd level, they get their single combat focused ability, Psychic Blades. This allows you to use your bardic inspiration to add 2d6 (or whichever die you use for bardic inspiration) to cause some extra damage. It’s useful if you find yourself in combat, though typically, this is where this subclass is weakest so may be limited in use.
Words of Terror – Words of terror allows you to instill fear in another if you spend at least a minute speaking with them, but this has very limited use as abilities go.
Mantle of Whispers – Mantle of Whispers is interesting from a role playing perspective as it allows you to appear exactly like someone that’s died.
Shadow Lore – Shadow Lore gives you the chance to charm an enemy by revealing a secret you know about them that you could then use to manipulate others. It’s the College of Whisper’s strongest ability, but doesn’t come until level 14.
7th: College of Spirits
|3||Guiding Whispers, Spiritual Focus, Tales from Beyond|
Bards from the College of Spirits connect themselves with the spirits of those that have passed before. They draw upon their power and use them to further their own purposes. The premise of the subclass is exciting, telling of ghostly tales and hunting down mythical items lost to legend; in reality though, most of the abilities are a little underwhelming and the one good feature for the subclass is random in its effects which can take some of the strategy away (even if it does force you to think on your feet).
College of Whispers abilities
Guiding Whispers – At level 3, you’ll gain access to Guiding Whispers which means you get an extra cantrip in the form of Guidance plus a bit of extra range to the spell.
Spiritual Focus – Spiritual Focus does little except give you different options for a spellcasting focus. At least at 6th level, you can do a little extra damage or healing when casting a spell.
Tales from the Beyond – Tales from the Beyond is the meaty ability here and basically allows you to prepare a single effect from a table to apply to another character. These tend to be more powerful effects than those your Bardic Inspiration normally grants, but what effect you get access to is random.
Spirit Session – Spirit Session allows you to temporarily gain access to a single divination or necromancy spell to add to your repertoire but requires an hour long ritual to do so, which seems like a bit of effort but at least you gain access to an extra spell.
Mystical Connection – Finally, Mystical Connection makes Tales from Beyond more powerful by letting you roll for the effect twice and choosing the effect you want.
6th: College of Glamour
|3||Mantle of Inspiration, Enthralling Performance|
|6||Mantle of Majesty|
The College of Glamour is for those bards trained in the mysticism of the Feywilds. They are looked upon with a mixture of awe and fear as they beguile their opponents. The College of Glamour is a decent subclass option for the bard and allows you to control combat in interesting ways with a couple of outstanding abilities.
College of Glamour abilities
Enthralling Performance – Probably the weakest of the College of Glamour abilities is Enthralling Performance. It allows you to perform for at least a minute and then charm those watching the performance. The main challenge here is getting an opportunity to use this ability as the 1 minute period requires an attentive audience.
Mantle of Inspiration – Mantle of Inspiration, on the other hand, is fantastic allowing you to grant temporary hit points on allies and letting them use their reaction to move at their movement speed without invoking attacks of opportunity can be a life saver, especially when surprised by an enemy.
Mantle of Majesty – Mantle of Majesty basically means casting the command spell for a free spell slot with a bonus action, but at 1st level. It’s OK but the action economy is taken up a fair bit here, especially as it limits any other spell use with that action to a cantrip.
Unbreakable Majesty – Unbreakable Majesty is another excellent ability that allows you to spend 1 minute assuming a magically majestic presence that means enemies must make a save before they attack you (or potentially waste their attack). Even if it can attack you, the enemy has disadvantage on spell saves against your spells for a turn, which is great for save or suck spells!
5th: College of Swords
|3||Bonus Proficiencies, Fighting Style, Blade Flourish|
Bards of the College of Swords are known as Blades and are swashbuckling masters of swords adding elements of danger and finesse to their entertaining repertoire. With their expertise in swordsmanship, Blades also make competent fighters and are able to run headlong into the thick of combat with some abilities that give them a bit more of the hardiness of front-line fighters. While Blades are not quite as hardy as some similar subclasses like the armourer, they do have some interesting skills that make them a decent option.
College of Swords abilities
Bonus proficiencies – First off, they receive bonus proficiencies in medium armour and scimitars making them less reliant on Dexterity for their AC (though you may want to up it as much as you can for better attacks with finesse weapons, at least this way you can choose between Strength and Dexterity). You can also use your weapon as a spellcasting focus meaning combat spellcasting is more of an option.
Fighting Style – You can also choose a fighting style that either allows you to hit better with your offhand when dual-wielding or do more damage when wielding a single weapon.
Blade Flourish – Blade Flourish gives you some Battle Master style attacks called flourishes that either let you hit more targets, add to your AC for a turn or push the enemy plus dealing a bit of extra damage. As a not too heavily armoured character, the defensive flourish is generally the best to use most of the time, but the others do have their place.
Extra Attack – At 6th level, you’ll receive an extra attack (essential as a front-line warrior).
Master’s Flourish – At 14th level, you can avoid using some of your Bardic Inspiration to allow you to use a flourish with a d6 instead (meaning always flourishing).
4th: College of Valor
|3||Bonus Proficiencies, Combat Inspiration|
The College of Valor is all about improving a bard’s combat abilities, and while a standard bard is capable in combat, they can feel a little wasted in combat when they’re better at buffing and support casting. The college of valor changes this to an extent. It’s similar to subclasses like the hexblade warlock, the bladesinger wizard and the battle smith artificer, but isn’t quite as effective as these other subclasses in this area. This isn’t to say it isn’t a decent option, but can feel a little underwhelming next to more combat heavy classes.
Bonus Proficiencies – Bonus proficiencies mean you can use medium armour and shields from 3rd level making you less reliant on Dexterity for a decent AC. Very useful at the early levels when you’ve probably pumped a lot of ability points into Charisma.
Combat Inspiration – You also get combat inspiration which lets you add your bardic inspiration die to damage rolls and AC. It does tend to be more effective at preventing hits with the AC bonus.
Extra Attack – You get an extra attack at 6th level which is always useful, but without something like sneak attack to boost your damage output, it doesn’t feel like the boost it could be.
Battle Magic – Battle magic lets you cast a spell and then make a weapon attack with your bonus action. This simply means you’re more effective in battle and able to mix spellcasting with damage output. It does mean though that uses of bardic inspiration will compete with your heightened combat capabilities (as is ever the challenge with bards, deciding which of your many abilities to use will be the most effective).
3rd: College of Creation
|3||Mode of Potential, Performance of Creation|
The College of Creation teach that the creation of the cosmos occurred through the Song of Creation, indicating that creation is a form of art and one that bards can tap into to take part in the art of creation themselves. The College of Creation abilities are in some ways, quite loosely defined. For better or for worse, this means that much of what you can accomplish with this class can depend on how your DM wishes to interpret these abilities and what they’re prepared to allow. This does make the College of Creation very difficult to rank (probably why it doesn’t quite hit the top 2 spots of our list). There are some great utility abilities in here that could be useful in a wide range of situations.
College of Creation abilities
Mote of Potential – Mote of Potential basically makes all uses of Bardic Inspiration better. Depending on what the die is used for, depends on the effect. You either get the higher of 2 rolls on an ability check, extra damage to nearby enemies on an attack roll or temporary hit points when used for a saving throw.
Performance of Creation – Performance of Creation allows you to temporarily create a non-magical object with some limitations. Depending on your creativity (and the flexibility of your DM), this could be an incredibly useful ability.
Animating Performance – Animating Performance allows you to animate an object to have it fight or act for you (and importantly, can command it with your bonus action AND still use your Bardic Inspiration).
Creative Crescendo – Finally, Creative Crescendo allows you to use Performance of Creation multiple times and removes the restrictions on gold value from the items created.
2nd: College of Lore
|3||Cutting Words, Bonus Proficiencies|
|6||Additional Magic Secrets|
College of Lore bards are the most studious of bards. They hone in on the spellcasting elements of being a bard and make sure you’re up there with the best of them (bards generally being a tad poorer in the spellcasting arena than other dedicated spellcasters, though this is more than made up for by their various other skills). In our opinion, the College of Lore is one of the stronger bardic subclasses as it allows the bard to excel in spellcasting helping them to match up to other full-casters.
Bonus Proficiencies – They start out at level 3 getting some bonus proficiencies which really beef up the number of skills they’re proficient in by 3. Definitely useful and making this bard even more averse to failing skill checks.
Cutting Words – Cutting words allows you to remove an amount you roll on your bardic inspiration die to reduce an enemy’s roll for things like attacks or skill checks against an ally. It means you can potentially save yourself or an ally from negative effects that only just hit.
Additional Magical Secrets – Additional magical secrets mean that lore bards get 2 extra spells from any spell list earlier than any other bard, and at this point, you have access to powerful spells like fireball and revivify.
Peerless Skill – Finally, peerless skill lets you add your bardic inspiration die to an ability check you make (in most other cases, Bardic Inspiration is used to benefit others). Adding all the lore bard’s abilities together makes for an incredibly reliable character.
1st: College of Eloquence
|3||Silver Tongue, Unsettling Words|
|6||Unfailing Inspiration, Universal Speech|
Bards of the College of Eloquence are master orators and debaters. They blend logic with the theatrical to win over detractors and captivate audiences. They are charismatic intellectuals with a bardic flare. College of Eloquence bards lean heavily into the aspects that make bards ‘bardish’ going hard on the charismatic influences of the class. On top of this, they are one of the more simple bardic subclasses as well as one of the most effective making them an excellent choice, especially for newer players.
College of Eloquence abilities
Silver Tongue – Silver Tongue is an outstanding ability that means any deception or persuasion checks rolled below a 9 become a 10. Alongside all the Charisma and expertise in skills bards already have, these bards are pretty much guaranteed pulling off almost all deception and persuasion checks.
Unsettling Words – Unsettling words allows you to use your bardic inspiration die to subtract from an enemy’s next saving throw meaning it can be combined with save-or-suck effects to devastating impact.
Unfailing Inspiration – Unfailing Inspiration makes your bardic inspiration less likely to be wasted by allowing an ally to keep the inspiration die if they use it and fail their roll anyway.
Universal Speech – Perhaps the comparatively weaker (but still useful) ability for this college is Universal Speech which enables your speech to be intelligible to other creatures.
Infectious Inspiration – Finally, Infectious Inspiration allows you to pass your bardic inspiration die with a reaction to another ally when a roll is successful using your Bardic Inspiration die. It basically means up to 5 additional uses of Bardic Inspiration. Not bad!
Optimising a bard
Now you know what bards are and how they work, it’s time to think about how you build a nicely optimised bard. While we’ll give you some ideas of different ways of optimising your bard, you do not need to follow this advice. You might instead want to go for something that flavours nicely for your character or simply want to experiment a bit. There are many ways to create a well optimised bard but we’ll go through some of the more typical ways to create a highly effective bard character.
Best bard ability scores
Bards use charisma as their spellcasting ability so this is the most important ability score for you. You’ll also use it a lot for your charisma based skills like persuasion and deception, especially as you’ll likely be the de facto face of the party. Dexterity will be your next most important ability as you don’t get access to heavy armour and you’ll need it when using your weapons.
Constitution is always an important ability score and comes next with wisdom, intelligence and strength being the least important (though wisdom is great for saving throws against spells).
We’d typically prioritise your ability scores roughly in this order:
Best bard races
Typically, you’ll want to make sure you take a race that adds to your charisma ability score with dexterity as a secondary option or possibly constitution. With the customised origins rules outlined in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you can technically take any race and choose how the ability scores are distributed. Also, many more recently released races, particularly those released in Monsters of the Multiverse, have these rules already baked into them.
With this in mind, we’ll take into consideration the rules as they’re presented in their most recent release for each race and consider features that complement a bard well. These are the best races to use for a bard:
- Astral Elf – Teleport as a bonus action is great for bards who often need to avoid danger. Proficiency in perception is useful and sacred flame ensures you always have a damage dealing cantrip.
- Changeling – Having a bard that can shapechange is a phenomenal asset and a bard changeling is a very powerful combo. You have all the charisma and skill proficiencies to really take advantage of your shapeshifting ability. Add to that 2 skill proficiencies and you have a very powerful out of combat bard, if a very challenging character to play.
- Deep Gnome (Svirfneblin) – A deep gnome’s skills are very complementary of a bard’s. Disguise self and nondetection are great spells for bards, magic resistance is always a very useful resistance to have (perhaps the most useful) and advantage on stealth checks is helpful for any dexterity based class.
- Fairy – Flight is useful for any class that wants to stay away from enemies and you don’t need to worry about the restrictions on medium and heavy armour as you’ll only wear light armour (unless you’re a valor bard). Faerie fire and enlarge/reduce are great buff spells to have in your repertoire too.
- Githzerai – Advantage against the charmed and frightened conditions is great for a class that often dumps wisdom. You also get some decent innate spells with shield being the standout of the bunch but mage hand and detect thoughts are often useful too.
- Half-Elf – +2 charisma is always useful for a bard and +1 in 2 other abilities is great too (1 each in dexterity and constitution is normally the best way to go). 2 extra skill proficiencies and advantage against charmed are nice for a bard too.
- Harengon – Add proficiency to your initiative making you one of the first to act in combat, proficiency in perception and the ability to hop out of danger without invoking an opportunity attack are all great abilities for a bard.
- Kenku – Can mimic the voices of others, which is great for a charisma based class, have 2 extra skill proficiencies plus multiple opportunities to give yourself advantage on skill checks you have proficiency in making you nearly unstoppable for a few skill checks everyday.
- Owlin – Flight is great for a bard as it can keep you out of trouble, plus you get an extra skill to be proficient in.
- Tiefling – +2 to your charisma and, if you take the bloodline of Dis or Glasya, you’ll get +1 to your dexterity too. These bloodlines will also give you disguise self (a great spell for a bard). If you’re the bloodline of Glasya, then you’ll also get minor illusion and invisibility which are both excellent options. The bloodline of Dis will give you thaumaturgy and detect thoughts which aren’t as good but still decent. On top of this, charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells which works nicely for a bard.
- Verdan – Advantage on wisdom and charisma saving throws is excellent, proficiency in persuasion works well for a bard and telepathy and rerolling 1s and 2s when rolling hit dice is quite useful too.
Best bard backgrounds
There are quite a few good options for backgrounds for a bard so use a background that will complement what you want to do well. We’ve listed below the backgrounds we think work well with a bard:
- Acolyte – Decent skill proficiencies in insights and religion, 2 languages and perks at temples (like free healing).
- Charlatan – Deception and sleight of hand are great skill proficiencies for bards and disguise and forgery kit proficiencies are useful too. The ability to forge documents is a little niche but could be useful in some circumstances.
- Courtier – Proficiency in insight and persuasion are great and 2 languages is useful too.
- Criminal – A great one if you’re filling in the role of a rogue. Deception and stealth are great skill proficiencies. Thieves tools is always a useful proficiency too.
- Faction Agent – Insight and the choice of another skill make a great choice of proficiencies. You also get 2 languages and affiliation with a powerful organisation.
- Far Traveler – Insight, perception and a language are great for a bard. Unfortunately, proficiency in an instrument isn’t useful as you already have that.
- Guild Artisan – Insight, persuasion and a language are great for a bard. Unfortunately, artisan’s tools are rarely useful.
- Urban Bounty Hunter – 2 skill proficiencies from a choice of 4 great options plus thieves tools and a gaming set proficiency.
- Urchin – Sleight of hand and stealth are great skill proficiencies and thieves tools and disguise kit are great kit proficiencies, plus you can move across cities really quickly.
Best bard feats
When taking an ability score increase or using a variant Human, you can gain access to feats, taking one instead of the ability score increase. Some DMs will also give you a feat when you create your character for added flavour. Just check with your DM that they allow feats.
Feats can add powerful options to a character, but it’s important you pick feats that will complement a bard’s skillset nicely. We’ve pulled out some of the best options below:
- Actor – A great way to further enhance your charisma skills with +1 to your charisma, advantage on deception and performance checks, and the ability to mimic speech. Complements a bard’s abilities well.
- Defensive Duelist – Add proficiency bonus to your AC as a reaction once a turn. Great for Valor and sword bards, but wil only protect you once a turn so stay out of the thick of combat.
- Fey Touched – Increase your charisma by +1 and get misty step and another 1st level spell with a free use every long rest. Misty step is a great spell for bards to get out of danger (and isn’t on the bard spell list) and increases your repertoire of non-bard spells.
- Inspiring Leader – Grant a bunch of temporary hit points to everyone (probably) in your party. Very handy when preparing for battle and is better for high charisma characters.
- Lucky – Making 3 rerolls a day is powerful for any class!
- Magic Initiate – Get 2 cantrips and a 1st level spell from any spell list. Great for getting top cantrips from other classes like eldritch blast or booming blade.
- Metamagic Adept – Enhance your spells with the metamagic ability from the sorceror class.
- Resilient – Gain proficiency in saving throws for a chosen ability. Constitution is a great option as it will help with concentration checks (though war caster offers similar benefits).
- Skill Expert – Better at even more skills is great.
- Skilled – 3 more skills to be proficient in is also great.
- War Caster – Use spells for attacks of opportunity and get advantage on concentration checks. You also get a cantrip from any spell list. Great for melee bards.
Best bard skills
Bards are the skill kings and gain access to proficiency in more skills than anyone else. You’ll likely be called on a lot for anything charisma based and potentially a lot of dexterity based activities too so these skills will be important for you. Bards are also great at filling in the skill gaps in a party so work with your party to see what skills you’ll need to fill.
Below we’ve ordered the most important skills for a bard roughly by their importance but depending on your party, you may want to focus on different skills ahead of others:
- Persuasion – the most important charisma skill and one you’ll want to invest in as a bard.
- Deception – Often important, especially for parties that like to talk their way into or out of a sticky situation.
- Intimidation – Another important face skill, especially for moments of interrogation or even negotiation.
- Stealth – Even with a rogue in the party, it’s not uncommon for other party members to need to do a bit of stealth.
- Perception – While not an area bards are typically strong in as they can easily dump wisdom, perception is one of the most used an important skills so worth investing in.
- Acrobatics – Most characters will want this or athletics to avoid grapples and for other physical checks. Bards are better at dexterity so acrobatics makes more sense.
- Performance – The least important charisma skill and one you weirdly can skip as a bard. It does crop up from time to time, especially during moments of downtime.
You might make an argument for other skills depending on your party. For example, if you don’t have a rogue, a bard is probably your next best option for sleight of hand. If you lack a wizard, you might consider some of the intelligence based skills like investigation or arcana.
Best bard weapons
Bards are not martial specialists but do have some combat training meaning they’re not limited to just simple weapons like a lot of full Spellcasters. They also have proficiency with hand crossbows, rapiers, longswords and shortswords.
As your primary combat ability should be dexterity, you’ll want to focus on using finesse and ranged weapons. This means despite the d8 damage, a longsword is rarely a good option for a bard. Fortunately, rapiers also offer d8 damage and are finesse weapons so represent your best option for melee combat. Shortswords make a reasonable alternative but at d6 damage, are usually a lesser option.
For ranged weapons, a light crossbow is your best option. It has d8 damage and while it has the reload property, this doesn’t affect most bards as you can only make 1 attack a turn anyway so offers no disadvantage.
Best bard armour
Most bards are only proficient in light armour making studded leather your best option. Valor bards do get proficiency in medium armour and shields. If your dexterity isn’t really high, you’ll likely want to invest in half plate and a shield if you’re playing a Valor bard so you can really max out your AC for when you get into the thick of combat.
Best bard multiclass options
Multiclassing can be a powerful way of getting extra abilities from another class and when used right, can really optimise a character. Getting it wrong though, can leave you with abilities that don’t complement each other well.
The main thing to think about is your ability scores. Typically, as a bard, you’ll have high charisma and dexterity so you’ll want to learn into classes that utilise these ability scores (though it is possible to be competent in other ability scores too and this may change which multiclass options are best for you). We’ll focus on a typical bard build though, like the type we’ve described so far.
With that in mind, some classes just don’t work well for a bard. For example, Spellcasters using wisdom or intelligence tend not to work so well like wizards, artificers, clerics and druids as you’ll likely dump intelligence, even if they do grant access to some better spells. Barbarians also offer a poor choice as rage is difficult to recommend on a class that will be casting spells (and rage is the main reason to multiclass in barbarian).
However, there are some great classes for bards to multiclass into which include:
- Fighter – Possibly a better option than Valor or swords bard freeing your multiclass for something like lore or eloquence while giving you the proficiencies of a Valor bard plus a fighting style as well.
- Paladin – Charisma based spellcasting, access to loads of armour and weapons and smite at 2nd level make the paladin a really good martial option to dip into.
- Rogue – You only need 1 level of rogue to see some real benefit as you get expertise (so a bunch of extra skill proficiencies) and sneak attack so an extra d6 damage to an attack once per turn which is handy if you expect to be doing a fair bit of melee attacks as bards don’t always scale melee damage well.
- Sorceror – Another charisma based caster means you can get more powerful spells and cast with the same high ability score you already have. The big appeal of a sorceror is their meta magic at level 3 so you may have to invest a few levels to see the true benefits of this class.
- Warlock – Subclasses at 1st level mean you can go as a hexblade for medium armour and shields and can use charisma for your weapon attacks meaning you don’t have to go heavy on dexterity. Plus you get eldritch blast and all your spells remain charisma based. One of the best bard multiclass options.