The DnD 5e Bard Guide (2022)

Published on October 4, 2021, Last modified on May 23rd, 2022

In this post, we will be examining the bard’s class features and how you can optimize your bard through choosing your race, background, ability scores, subclass, feats, and spells.

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What is this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the DnD 5e bard. For a quick overview of other 5e classes, check out our Guide to DnD 5e Classes.

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your bard. This color coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.

  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange is an OK option
  • Green is a good option
  • Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
  • Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
So if you’re ready, roll a Nat 20 Persuasion check to seduce the campaigns BBEG, a zombie Beholder.

Did you know?

D&D Beyond can help create your characters by making choices using a step-by-step approach. Full customization and control of your character, none of the flipping through hundreds of pages to reference obscure rules.

D&D 5e Bard Overview

Level Prof. Bonus Features Cantrips Known Spells Known Spell Slots per Spell Level
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 3
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 Countercharm, Bard College feature 3 9 4 3 3
7th +3 3 10 4 3 3 1
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
11th +4 4 15 4 3 3 3 2 1
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
18th +6 Magical Secrets 4 22 4 3 3 3 3 1 1 1 1
19th +6 Ability Score Improvement 4 22 4 3 3 3 3 2 1 1 1
20th +6 Superior Inspiration 4 22 4 3 3 3 3 2 2 1 1

Playstyle

Most people who have seen a bard played correctly will agree that bards are one of the most powerful 5e classes, but they are also one of the most difficult to play. The bard’s spell list demands that you think outside the box, and their high CHA modifier pushes you to interact with people constantly. The bard class wants you to be gregarious, and it was designed this way on purpose. If you want to be silly, clever, and powerful, the bard might be the class for you.

Strengths

The 5e bard is a bit of a jack of all trades. Depending on how you want to play your bard, you can flaunt the combat prowess of a fighter, the dexterous skill set of a rogue, or the magical power of a wizard.

Bards also get a feature called Bardic Inspiration which allows them to give any party member an extra die to roll on an attack or skill check. This ability by itself is amazing on its own, but when accompanied by the bards’ powerful spellcasting, comfortably provides them the title of the best support class in 5e.

Weaknesses

This is an interesting discussion as it is quite a common opinion that bard’s are a very powerful 5e class. A weakness for bards, which would be a strength for some people, is the amount of roleplaying that is necessary for the character.

When DMs are asked about players that don’t like to roleplay or take the lead in NPC conversations, most will reply with, “that’s okay, no one needs to play an extroverted character”. While this is true for most classes, a bard’s strengths are really only maximized when that player is interacting with other party members and NPCs.

If you do not feel comfortable being the face of your party, choosing a bard may be a tough go.

Best Races for Bard

Standard Races

Dragonborn:
  • Standard: STR and CHA could work for a College of Valor bard.
Dwarf: Bards won’t be tanking any time soon, even if they are going Valor or Swords College.
  • Hill: A bonus to WIS can occasionally help with Wisdom saves, but otherwise there are no redeeming qualities here.
  • Mountain: STR on a Bard could be useful for Valor builds
Elf: Elves get a DEX bonus which can somewhat help the AC of a Bard, and can give melee Bards a boost with attacking. Proficiency in Perception and having Darkvision is useful.
  • Aereni High: +2 DEX isn't bad as it can help with AC and stealth. The INT will likely be wasted but the free cantrip is decent.
  • Eladrin: Great ASI array and the misty step's effect will be potent due to your stacked CHA modifier.
  • Mark of Shadow: Awesome ASIs, stealth and performance bonuses are always welcome, and a free cantrip and casting of invisibility makes this an excellent pick for most bards. The spell list has some overlap, but there are quite a few options that make it worthwhile. Namely pass without trace.
Gnome: INT is useless for a bard.
Half-Elf: The +2 CHA, ASI, and skill versatility make this is one of the better races for the Bard class.
Half-Orc: No CHA for a bard. The STR and CON will be helpful for a College of Valor bard, but typically those bards are more interested in DEX.
Halfling: +1 to CHA and +2 to DEX is an attractive array for Bards. The rest of the racial abilities, whether you choose MoH or Lightfoot are icing on the cake.
Human:
  • Standard: A middle of the road pick because they increase all their ability scores by 1.
  • Variant: Getting bonus CHA plus a proficiency and a feat at first level is typically pretty good. Feats aren’t great for bards that aren’t going to run with the College of Valor or Swords, which makes this choice a bit less appealing if you do not plan on going for that option and picking up the War Caster feat.
Tiefling: Bards love CHA so tieflings are a great choice.
  • Bloodline of Asmodeus: +2 CHA, good spells, and useful racial traits.
  • Bloodline of Baalzebul: +2 CHA like other subraces, but with less effective spells.
  • Bloodline of Dispater: DEX and CHA is a great combination for bards. Good spells for a sneaky character.
  • Bloodline of Fierna: WIS is useless, but CHA combined with the social spells here will make for a persuasive character.
  • Bloodline of Glasya: +2 CHA, good spells, and useful racial traits.
  • Bloodline of Levistus: CHA, CON, and defensive spells will make a hardy bard.
  • Bloodline of Mammon: +2 CHA like other subraces, but with less effective spells.
  • Bloodline of Mephistopheles: +2 CHA, good spells, and useful racial traits.
  • Bloodline of Zariel: Great option for a melee bard running College of Valor or Swords due to the STR bonus and offensive spells.
  • Variant – Devil’s Tongue: Free vicious mockery means you can learn more spells.
  • Variant – Hellfire: Replacing hellish rebuke with burning hands is personal preference, so this subrace is just as good as the Asmodeus.
  • Variant – Winged: Having flight is amazing, and you get to keep the +2 CHA.

Non-Standard Races

Aarakocra: Free concentration-less flight is great for a spellcaster like the bard. The ASI spread isn’t great though.
  • Updated: 1st level, concentrationless flight, an extra spell, and a beneficial ASI array make this an extremely attractive option for bards.
Aasimar: +2 to CHA means the bard can take their pick of subclasses and it will almost always turn out good.
Bugbear: Nothing here for a bard.
  • Updated: Two artificer subclasses gain Extra Attacks, namely the College of Swords and the College of Valor, which works well with the new Surprise Attack buff. Going early in combat shouldn't be too tough if you pick up some DEX and use your Jack of All Trades to boost up your initiative rolls.
Centaur: Nothing here for a bard.
  • Updated: Nothing here for a bard.
Changeling: Bards are the perfect choice for changelings. The CHA is perfect for spellcasting, and bards are naturally the big talkers of the group so they will love the free CHA skill proficiencies.
  • Updated: With the slight improvements to the changeling, bards are still a fantastic choice here.
Fairy: Most bard builds will love the free, concentrationless flight and the access to a couple more spells.
Firbolg: No CHA and no DEX would be a hard choice for a bard.
  • Updated: With the free choice of ASI, the firbolg becomes an excellent bard. Getting disguise self, detect magic and saves you from learning them, and Hidden Step saves you from learning invisibility, opening up many more options for choosing spells.
Genasi: Bards need CHA to be effective.
Gith: Bards need CHA to be effective.
Goblin: Bards need CHA to be effective.
  • Updated: Melee as well as spell-based bards will benefit from the boosted damage by way of Fury of the Small as many of their best spells are focused on support and crowd control rather than raw damage. Nimble Escape will come in handy as bards aren't known for their ability to tank damage.
Goliath: Bards really want that CHA boost for their spells, and melee bards are better off going for a DEX build.
  • Updated: Goliaths do increase the bard's durability, though they should not be trying to tank damage in the first place. Melee bards could find some utility here.
Harengon: Bard's will love being able to go first in initiative to drop a hypnotic pattern or other AoE debuff before the enemy gets a chance to react. They will also be able to make great use of the Rabbit Hop ability in order to avoid getting into melee combat with tankier enemies.
Hobgoblin: Bards need CHA to be effective.
  • Updated: The hobgoblin creates an even more support focused bard with Fey Gift, combining nicely with Bardic Inspiration. With your large number of proficiencies, Fortune from the Many makes it even less likely that you will fail an ability check or saving throw.
Kalashtar: Because the kalashtar’s racial traits are so good, having only +1 to CHA is acceptable.
Kenku: Bards really want that CHA boost for their spells, although the DEX would help for a melee bard build. Mimicry relies on CHA, so the fact that bards focus on CHA would make it that much more effective.
Kobold: Bards need CHA to be effective, although College of Valor and College of Swords Bards do get Extra Attacks to benefit Pack Tactics.
  • Updated: Bards in the College of Valor or Swords that like to be in the thick of things can benefit from Draconic Cry, otherwise steer clear. Draconic Sorcery is nice to get something like booming blade or green-flame blade.
Leonin: Nothing here for a bard.
Lineage:
  • Hexblood: While the extra spells from Hex Magic and utility offered by Eerie Token are great, bards can't make great use of the hexblood's biggest asset, hex. Bard's are typically more concerned with keeping a powerful buff or debuff up, rather than the small damage boost hex would provide.
Lizardfolk: None of the lizardfolk’s ability score increases interest bards.
Loxodon: Natural Armor lets bards get away with a low DEX score so they can focus on their CHA. CON further helps survivability.
Minotaur: This just won’t work, even when trying a STR-based bard. The lack of DEX or CHA will hurt right from the start.
Orc: A melee STR-based bard is attainable, though you’d be much better served going for DEX. Without CHA an orc also hurts the bard’s spellcasting prowess.
Satyr: Perfect ASI array, synergistic skill proficiencies, magic resistance, and extra movement. This race is one of the best available for bards.
Shifter:
  • Swiftstride Shifter: A swiftstride shifter can make a good melee-focused College of Swords bard. The College of Swords gives even more mobility on top of the swiftstride shifter’s traits, and access to the Dueling Fighting Style will bring up damage output closer to the martial classes.
Simic Hybrid: Bards will want to choose CHA as their +1 ability score. Melee bards could enjoy Grappling Appendages but Carapace is usually a smarter pickup.
Tabaxi: While there are many races that give a +2 CHA bonus, most bards can get away with the +1 CHA, especially if they can make use of the tabaxi’s DEX bonus with a melee build (in which case a tabaxi will be a fantastic choice). Bards also love skill proficiencies, so the two free skills that tabaxi get is very tempting.
Tortle: Even a melee bard won’t be too happy playing a tortle, although the free AC lets them go all-in on STR.
Triton: CON and CHA are both favorable ASIs for bards. Typically you’d want a +2 to CHA for a bard, but the triton has enough racial benefits to make this a decent pick, especially if you are going for a College of Valor bard.
Vedalken: None of the vedalken’s ability score increases interest bards.
Warforged: If you want to play as a warforged bard, you will get the most bang for your buck in one of the melee-oriented bard colleges. As a ranged spellcaster, the boosted CON and increasing CHA is serviceable.
Yuan-ti Pureblood: INT is the biggest dump stat for bards, though the +2 CHA is just what they need. Combined with some more spells at their disposal and of course Magic Resistance, a pureblood is a good choice for a bard.

Best Backgrounds for Bards

Acolyte: Insight and Wisdom aren’t great for bards.

Charlatan: Proficiency with the Disguise and Forgery kits is nice. Deception and Sleight of Hand are great skills, Deception more so.

Criminal: Not a lot of useful tool proficiencies, but Stealth and Deception are great.

Entertainer: Useful tool proficiencies in Disguise kit and musical instrument. Acrobatics and Performance certainly leave a lot to be desired from skill proficiencies.

Folk Hero: Not very useful tool proficiencies or skills.

Guild Artisan: Artisan’s tools aren’t very exciting but Insight and Persuasion are very useful here.

Noble: Gaming set isn’t useful. History and Persuasion is alright.

Sage: No tools and Arcana and History. No thanks.

Sailor: Navigator’s tools and water vehicles is nice. Athletics and Perception are both great skills.

Solider: Gaming set and land vehicles aren’t doing us any favors. Athletics and Intimidation are alright.

Spy: Gaming set and thieves’ tools are solid. Deception and Stealth are great.

Urchin: Disguise kit and thieves’ tools are awesome. Sleight of Hand and Stealth are decent, especially if you are replacing a Rogue in your party.

Ability Scores

Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.

Bards need CHA and nothing else is critically important, which gives us the ability to dip into DEX and CON to increase AC and hit points. If you are going for a Valor or Swords build, your DEX will be more important than your CON.

STR: Just no.

DEX: High DEX helps survivability by boosting your AC and giving you a stronger chance to succeed against DEX Saves, which are very common. If you are going for a melee bard this is crucial.

CON: More hit points and better CON saves make the bard less squishy.

INT: Dump this stat for sure.

WIS: Can help with WIS saves and Perception.

CHA: This is the most important stat for the bard because it is your spellcasting modifier and increases your ability to succeed on social skill checks. Pump this as high as you can.

Bard Class Progression

1st Level

Hit Points: Bards have a decent d8 hit dice. Better than the sorcerer and wizard, on par with the druid and cleric.

Saves: Proficiency with DEX and CHA are pretty great. DEX is the most important save in the game. CHA saves will likely come up at higher levels.

Weapon/Armor Proficiencies: Light armor, simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, and shortswords is a great list to choose from, especially for a full caster class.

Skills: Bards are an amazing skill monkey class. They get proficiency with any 3 skills and can get expertise in the chosen skills easily at higher levels.

  • Acrobatics (DEX): Unfortunately, Acrobatics doesn’t seem to come up as often as the bard would like. It is useful for avoiding grapples.
  • Athletics (STR): Athletics checks are quite common while doing dangerous adventuring stuff. Getting proficiency with this could help offset a dumped STR score.
  • Arcana (INT): Arcana is one of the more important INT-based skills, but INT skills are usually lower priority.
  • Deception (CHA): The bard is usually the go-to pick to be the party face. Getting proficiency and expertise in CHA skills will be important for your social interactions.
  • Insight (WIS): Insight is great for social interactions since it can give you a ton of information on the person you are trying to convince or manipulate.
  • Intimidation (CHA): Probably the least important CHA skill for bards as they can either Deceive or Persuade their ways out of situations.
  • Investigation (INT): Investigation isn’t bad, but prioritizing other skills is better for the bard.
  • Nature (INT): Nature is another important INT skill.
  • Perception (WIS): We’ve said it before, Perception is the best skill in D&D. Getting proficiency and expertise in this can help make up for your low WIS score.
  • Performance (CHA): Bards are built around their performances, this may not be crucial for high stake situations but can help earn money and warm people up to you.
  • Persuasion (CHA): Persuasion is probably the best of the social interaction skills.
  • Religion: Depends on your campaign, but this is usually much less likely to come up than Arcana or Nature.
  • Sleight of Hand (DEX): Sleight of Hand can be called for in a number of bard performances. It can also be very helpful if you lean into a more roguish bard.
  • Stealth (DEX): With their versatile spell list and a high DEX, the bard class can sneak as good as any Rogue.

Spellcasting: Bards are a full caster class and use their CHA modifier for casting, similar to Warlocks and Sorcerers. Also, they use the Spells Known method of learning spells just like Sorcerers. They are on the lower end of the spectrum for the number of known cantrips but can make up for that with Ritual Casting. The bard’s spell list is lacking in straight damage and focuses on buffing, debuffing, and utility. The lack of damage spells is heavily mitigated at 10th Level because of the Magical Secrets class feature. Bards can use any musical instrument as their spellcasting focus.

Bardic Inspiration: Bardic Inspiration is one of the best methods of buffing party members in the entire game. As a bonus action, you can provide your ally with an extra dice roll to add to their ability check, attack roll, OR saving throw. It also scales as you level up becoming a d8 at 5th level, a d10 at 10th level, and a d12 at 15th level.

2nd Level

Jack of All Trades: This is a great tool for rounding out any ability check you will have to make. This also applies to your proficiency bonus to initiative rolls which is a huge plus.

Song of Rest: Certainly going to be helpful on those crazy adventuring days where you are fighting more than 3 or 4 times before taking a long rest. If your DM throws the recommended 5-6 medium to hard encounters per day at you this will prove to be even more potent.

Magical Inspiration: Making the bardic inspiration dice apply to healing and damage spells greatly increases its utility. Typically, casters won’t be given bardic inspiration because they aren’t making attack rolls but this optional feature will give casters their fair share of the bard’s inspiration.

3rd Level

Expertise: Doubling your proficiency bonus for two Skills is great. You can do this again at 10th Level.

At 3rd level bards get to choose their College. All of these options have their merits, but will require different ability score distributions and feats to be at their best.

College of Creation

The College of Creation focuses on creating items and animating them with the Song of Creation.

  • 3rd level
    • Mote of Potential: All three of these options are awesome bonuses to your Bardic Inspiration and come at no additional cost:
      • Ability Check: Rolling Bardic Inspiration die spent on ability scores with advantage. Typically this option will be used outside of combat.
      • Attack Roll: Not only can your Bardic Inspiration turn a miss into a hit, but it can apply thunder damage to any creature within 5ft. Your martial party members will love this one.
      • Saving Throw: Free temp hit points after making a save. Yes, please.
    • Performance of Creation: This is one of the most open-ended class features ever published. You can create any non-magical item that is less than 20 times your Bard level gp and is Small or Medium. Other than that, the only limitations of this feature are your imagination. Even at 1st-level, you can create things like a halberd, brewers supplies, smiths tools, or a sled. By the 2nd-level, you can create vials of acid and gunpowder, as long as the DM approves.
  • 6th level
    • Animating Performance: This feature follows the formula of the other TCoE summon spells by using your proficiency bonus and Bard level to scale the creature as you level up. It’s got pretty good survivability because of the decent AC and hit points, has a fly speed, darkvision, battlefield control, and an attack the deal force damage. You need to use your bonus action to command the dancing item, but the caveat that you can use the same bonus action as your Bardic Inspiration prevents any conflict it could have with your primary class feature. Seeing as there isn’t a range on this effect, you can create a keg of gunpowder with your Performance of Creation feature, animate it, and float it into a baddy’s lair and tell it to run into a fire for 7d6 fire damage.
  • 14th level
    • Creative Crescendo: This takes Performance of Creation and dials it to 11. You can create up to 5 items, depending on CHA, and are no longer limited by gp value. By the time you get to this level you can create one Huge item, though the rest still have to be Small or Tiny. There are an uncountable amount of possibilities here but the baseline is 1 powder keg and 4 gunpowder horns for a whopping 19d6 fire damage.

College of Eloquence

The College of Eloquence provides massive buffs to the Bard’s Bardic Inspiration. Bards are already amazing support casters but this takes them to the next level.

  • 3rd level
    • Silver Tongue: Turn every Persuasion or Deception check into a minimum of 15 (assuming you get to 17 CHA during character creation). The Rogue gets a similar bonus at 11th-level, which helps put this into perspective.
    • Unsettling Words: Use this as a bonus action before you cast a spell you really want to land. Subtracting an average of 4 (until your Bardic Inspiration die increases) from the creature’s save can go a long way to making sure the save fails. Unfortunately, this feature can’t be held until you see the result of their roll so you may waste a Bardic Inspiration on a nat 1 saving throw.
  • 6th level
    • Unfailing Inspiration: Unlimited uses of Bardic Inspiration for 10 minutes? This feature has insane value.
    • Universal Speech: Allowing a creature that doesn’t speak your language to understand you may come in handy once in a blue moon. If this wasn’t a full action, it could be used as combo piece with command but two full actions to command a creature is likely not a good use of action economy.
  • 14th level
    • Infectious Inspiration: This makes your Unfailing Inspiration even more of an amazing option. FREE uses of Bardic Inspiration as a REACTION anytime a creature with Bardic Inspiration succeeds AND they get to keep it for 10 minutes. This is insane value.

College of Glamour

Harness the powers of the Feywild to take magnificent forms and enthrall crowds.

  • 3rd level
    • Mantle of Inspiration: Make yourself look so hot that it inspires your party, giving them temp hp. The temp hp scales with your level and, when combined with the reaction where they can move without provoking opportunity attacks, it can be useful for rearranging the battlefield to better suit your party.
    • Enthralling Performance: A free “Mass Charm Person” that takes one minute to cast. Can be useful for out-of-combat situations where you need a bunch of fangirls and guys to hype you up. The best part about this is that the target doesn’t know you tried to charm it if they pass the save, which won’t endanger you of provoking animosity when in delicate or political situations.
  • 6th level
    • Mantle of Majesty: The 1-minute duration and additional action economy this feature provides makes it useful inside and outside combat. Inside combat, you can use it to lock down a creature for up to 10 rounds. Of course, they get an attempt to save each round but the effects of Command are more variable than a typical condition. Outside of combat, this can easily be combined with Enthralling Performance to make thralls of your charmed crowd. The biggest limitation of this spell comes from the little-known rule that you can’t cast two leveled spells in a turn. If you want to use the Command bonus action, you will only be able to cast Cantrips using your action.
  • 14th level
    • Unbreakable Majesty: A similar effect to the Hallow spell, but allows you to attack and cast spells as normal. Even when creatures manage to attack you, you’re able to make them pay by hitting them with a nasty spell due to their disadvantage on saving throws.

College of Guidance

Use the power of spirits to help guide your actions and gain extra abilities.

  • 3rd level
    • Guiding Whispers: Guidance is one great Cantrip and extending the range to 60ft makes it even better.
    • Spiritual Focus: The 3rd-level feature doesn’t have any mechanical effect.
    • Tales from Beyond: Due to the randomness of this feature, it’s hard to judge. Because there are buffs, healing, and attacks that can happen randomly, you can’t depend on what you receive. It would really hurt to expend a use of your Bardic Inspiration only not to have a use for the effect.
  • 6th level
    • Spirit Session: This feature allows Bards to temporarily learn a necromancy or divination spell. Obviously, the most flavorful use of this spell is to learn a resurrection spell like Revivify at lower levels (make sure it’s stocked before someone dies) or True Resurrection at higher levels. Otherwise, you can grab some spells to help improve your party’s action economy (Summon Undead, Danse Macabre, etc.) or some pure damage spells (Negative Energy Flood, Finger of Death, etc). Hopefully, your party members don’t mind that you pull them into a seance every night.
    • Spiritual Focus: The extra d6 is nice for any spell it applies to but only spells containing non-monetary materials can be channeled through your creepy new focus. This heavily limits the spells that this applies to. As this is likely an oversight in the design of this feature, I suggest speaking to your DM to see if you can apply this feature to all your spells.
  • 14th level
    • Mystical Connection: Again, randomness in a core class feature isn’t a good thing. Unfortunately, this really hurts the College of Spirit’s effectiveness. That said, getting advantage on your rolls on the table helps.

College of Lore

Bards are already one of the most versatile classes in D&D 5e. The College of Lore is focused on making you the Swiss Army Knife of your party.

  • 3rd level
    • Bonus Proficiencies: Getting 3 additional proficiencies is plain nasty. At this point you are proficient in 6 skills, have Expertise in 2 and can add half your proficiency bonus to the rest. Gross.
    • Cutting Words: This is an amazing ability that can prevent huge chunks of damage at lower levels and help you dodge those nasty hits at higher levels. Note that this excludes saving throws.
  • 6th level
    • Additional Magical Secrets: This will allow you to take fireball only one level late which is almost necessary if you don’t have a damage caster in your party. See the section on Magical Secrets Spells.
  • 14th level
    • Peerless Skill: Being able to use your Bardic Inspiration on yourself, without taking up a bonus action or reaction is stupid good.

College of Swords

This is for those swashbuckling bards that want to get into the fray.

  • 3rd level
    • Bonus Proficiencies: Medium armor and scimitars are pretty good proficiencies to pick up seeing as you will likely be in combat quite a bit, it is a shame that shields are not included in this. Using your weapon as a focus for Bard spells is nice, but it doesn’t prevent you from needing War Caster to make a Two Weapon Fighting build viable.
    • Fighting Style: These styles add a lot to the Bards viability in combat.
      • Dueling: Great way to allow you to match martial classes with two-handed weapons while keeping a hand free for somatic components.
      • Two-Weapon Fighting: You will likely need War Caster to make this viable, unless you want to mess around with dropping/sheathing weapons when casting. Also, the damage compared to Dueling is negligible and eats your bonus action.
    • Blade Flourish: Unfortunately, this is the Swords subclass feature and it’s not terribly impressive until you can pick up Master’s Flourish at 14th level. When your Bardic Inspirations can be the difference between your Paladin hitting or missing, the pitiful damage offered by these flourishes doesn’t really matter.
      • Defensive Flourish: The good news is that this is a semi-decent way of dealing some extra damage and boosting your AC for a turn. The bad news is that this is the best the Blade Flourishes get.
      • Slashing Flourish: On average this will deal an extra 6 damage until 5th level , 8 until 10th level, 10 until 15th level, and 12 until level 20. This is quite a bit lower than the expected damage output from other martial classes getting a hit. In the situation that you are able to target more than 1 creature with the additional damage, then this is certainly a worthwhile use of a Bardic Inspiration die.
      • Mobile Flourish: This can be a viable option if the creature is on a cliff or by some other hazard, otherwise it is as disappointing as Slashing Flourish.
  • 6th level
    • Extra Attack: Getting an extra attack a level late, and no way to make up for this lack of attacks hurts the viability of this class even more.
  • 14th level
    • Master’s Flourish: Being able to add a d6 of damage once per turn, on top of the other effects is finally an upside for this College, unfortunately that is as good as it gets.

College of Valor

Very similar to the College of Swords in the sense that you will be getting into melee combat a lot more than other Colleges. Valor focuses less on being a swashbuckler and more on being a badass war mage.

  • 3rd level
    • Bonus Proficiencies: Getting proficiencies with shields allows this College to already become more viable in combat than Swords. Make sure you pick up the War Caster feat.
    • Combat Inspiration: This takes your Bardic Inspiration to the next level by increasing its versatility in combat. Party members you give this to will likely want to hang on to it for attack rolls over damage rolls, but avoiding nasty hits can be a solid use.
  • 6th level
    • Extra Attack: Valor still suffers from the fact they don’t get their extra attack until 6th level but somewhat make up for it with Battle Magic.
  • 14th level
    • Battle Magic: This has solid upsides and some small downsides. It allows you access to a full spell + melee attack bonus action 4 levels earlier than Eldritch Knight’s War Magic AND bards will be able to cast 7th level spells by this point. The downside is that Bardic Inspiration takes a bonus action so it can sometimes get in the way of getting your bonus attack in. To provide context, by this point, you will likely have 5 Bardic Inspirations to give out per Short Rest.

College of Whispers

  • 3rd level
    • Psychic Blades: Interesting feature that somewhat mimics a Rogue’s sneak attack damage and scales with levels. The damage is quite a bit more than what would be dealt by martial classes hitting so it is a viable use for Bardic Inspiration. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be melee damage so your hand crossbows just became a lot more powerful. This is a great option to make up for the fact that Bards don’t have access to strong damage cantrips.
    • Words of Terror: This is an interesting mechanic, but I can’t necessarily see the upside especially when it takes 1 minute alone with the creature to create the effect.
  • 6th level
    • Mantle of Whispers: This is an extremely powerful option to gain access to a secure place. If you can get in and out within an hour, this is one of the most powerful infiltration features in 5e.
  • 14th level
    • Shadow Lore: Depending on the creature, this is insanely good and can be quite encounter breaking. If you are fighting a Legendary Creature make sure to wear down their Legendary Resistances first.

4th Level

Bardic Versatility: This optional rule provides the ability for bard to trade out a skill proficiency or cantrip whenever they get an ASI. While most DMs will let their players trade out options that aren’t working for them, this optional rule helps set a precedent for this practice.

5th Level

Font of Inspiration: Get your Bardic Inspirations back on a short rest. You know the saying, “mo’ Bardic Inspiration, less problems”.

6th Level

Countercharm: This is a very situational feature but will come up big at least once or twice in a campaign.

10th Level

Magical Secrets: Bards have a great list of spells but it does have a fair few gaps in it, especially if you are the party’s main caster. For the best spells to pick for your Magical Secrets, see the section Magical Secrets Spells.

You can do this again at 14th and 18th level.

20th Level

Superior Inspiration: Starting every encounter with a Bardic Inspiration is nice, but not a super exciting capstone feature.

Best Feats for Bard

  • Alert: Being up higher in the initiative order can be very valuable for a bard as it allows them to drop a big spell before the enemy has a chance to react.
  • Chef: A great supplement, who doesn't like a dinner and a show? This isn't as potent as your healing spells, but it pairs really well with Song of Rest for a lot of healing.
  • Crossbow Expert: Very few bard builds fit the bill of this feat. Bards aren't one to use crossbows, and even if they do they don't get extra attacks. Additionally, very few of their spells make ranged attacks, so it doesn't matter if their target is within 5 feet. Lastly, their bonus action will likely be taken up with handing out Bardic Inspiration, which conflicts with the attack granted by this feat. Valor and Swords bards are more often than not going to be melee fighters, who are also disinterested with this feat's effects.
  • Crusher: Most bards won’t be in melee range, so this is a skip. Both of the melee subclasses can potentially use this feat, but I think they would be better off with more flexible utility feats like Lucky or Mobile.
  • Defensive Duelist: Not a bad choice, especially for melee bards. College of Valor and Swords will allow you to benefit from this feat.
  • Eldritch Adept: Choose the Mask of Many Faces Invocation and cast disguise self at will to go with your great CHA modifier.
  • Elemental Adept: Most of your spells cover various damage types, so this is a skip. None of the subclasses work well with this feat either.
  • Elven Accuracy: Bards typically are a mix of spellcasting and ranged attacks so that they can benefit from this feat some of the time. That said, this feat is far from a must-have.
  • Fey Touched: Great half-feat to boost CHA, pickup misty step, and a 1st-level spell. Seeing as the bard already gets access to most of the powerful spells in the Divination and Enchantment schools, bless would be a great pickup for bards looking for a bit more party-buffing capabilities. Hunter's mark and hex won't offer bards a whole lot of value as they are more often than not casting debuff/buff spells rather than damage spells. If you're playing a Valor or Swords bard, hunter's mark is a great choice.
  • Fighting Initiate: Most bards won't be able to this feat. College of Swords already get one fighting style, which will be all that subclass will ever need. College of Valor bards, on the other hand, don't get any fighting styles so they could certainly benefit from the AC buff of Defense or the damage boost of Dueling
  • Great Weapon Master: Bards cannot use Heavy weapons unless they are in the College of Valor subclass. Even then they will need a hand free to cast spells with their instrument, meaning this feat doesn’t work that well for them.
  • Gunner: Gunner isn’t a bad choice for flavor reasons, as bards typically do ranged damage anyway. This is an excellent alternative if you want to rely less on spells for damage.
  • Inspiring Leader: Your high CHA modifier will certainly make this viable if you are able to get the time before a fight.
  • Lucky: Bards are usually relied on to be a skill monkey, this feat helps ensure you don’t mess up when you need to succeed for your party.
  • Mage Slayer: I’d find it hard to think of a bard who would value this feat. Most bards are not in the front lines; they don’t typically want to spend their turns in melee range unless they need to. College of Valor and College of Swords can use this feat but need to make sure they can survive the frontlines.
  • Magic Initiate: Magic Initiate a solid pick, no matter what you choose. There are a ton of great wizard spells to add to a bard’s setlist, and double-dipping into bard again offers more utility by allowing you to have more cantrips. Bards don’t get a lot of damage spells so taking something like eldritch blast would also be a great choice here.
  • Metamagic Adept: Bards will love the ability to cast their spells subtly to avoid counterspells and weave big AoE effects, like hypnotics pattern, around friendlies. Only getting two sorcery points is a bummer, but bards can still make those points work for them to produce insane value.
  • Mobile: This is a stellar feat if you want to go for a skirmisher with the College of Valor or College of Swords. However, spellcasting or supportive Bards should pass on this, as they don’t want to be in melee for long at all.
  • Moderately Armored: Being able to pick up medium armor and a shield can pump your AC by +4 and up to +5 if you take disadvantage on stealth checks. Only take this if you don’t get these proficiencies through your subclass.
  • Mounted Combatant: Most bards don’t want to be up close for too long, except perhaps a College of Swords or College of Valor bard.
  • Observant: Bards already have a ton of skill bonuses, so this feat can either make them a monster or just more varied overall. However, keep in mind that you don’t need either stat.
  • Piercer: DEX-based bards who want to stay at a range with crossbows should pick this feat up. The same goes for College of Swords or College of Valor since you can use rapiers for melee weapons.
  • Poisoner: Some bards who want to lean into a rogue archetype might like this. However, they will only benefit from poisoning weapons and ammo, as they don’t know any poison spells innately. The biggest factor that gets in the way of melee bard's use of Poisoner is Bardic Inspiration, which also takes a bonus action and can be more impactful than effect of this feat.
  • Polearm Master: Most bards won’t find Polearm Master very useful, as they typically don’t want to be on the frontlines. The College of Valor bard can undoubtedly use the features provided to up their damage potential. College of Swords bards will want to stick with a spear or quarterstaff to make the most of their Dueling Fighting Style.
  • Resilient: Proficiency with CON saving throws (which includes concentration checks) and +1 CON isn’t anything to turn your nose up at, especially if you’re a melee-focused bard.
  • Sentinel: Most won’t typically want to be in melee range that much, so this feat doesn’t benefit them. College of Valor bards might find better use of this, but it’s still not perfect. Those who are in the College of Swords subclass will find better use out of this, as they’re a little better off with weapon attacks.
  • Shadow Touched: Most bards can get away with this, as they’re much more apt to use a free invisibility spell or other illusion magic. I don’t see a lot of situations where a bard wouldn’t want to pick this feat over others, especially when they have an odd CHA score.
  • Sharpshooter: Bards get a little use out of it with various ranged weapons. Sharpshooter offers a good damage option outside of spellcasting.
  • Shield Master: Bards can’t use shields outside of the College of Valor subclass, and they generally want a hand free for instruments to cast spells. Even when using the College of Valor subclass, they are more likely to stack into DEX than STR.
  • Skill Expert: Bards are one of the classes that are often relied on to succeed on skill checks outside of combat. With the class feature Jack of all Trades and bards already receiving expertise at 3rd and 10th level, this feat is a solid pick. You can’t pick the same skill twice, but you can heavily specialize in a few that you want to guarantee results.
  • Skulker: This feat makes sense since most bards will be far away from the front line. It allows them to hide and support the team, playing as a pseudo-rogue. This feat works incredibly well for College of Whispers bards, as it will enable them to torment their foes from afar.
  • Slasher: Bards won’t care much for this feat unless they prefer to be in melee range. College of Valor bards might be more interested if they want slashing weapons.
  • Spell Sniper: Bards don’t mess with ranged attack rolls a whole lot. Skip this.
  • Telekinetic: Bards can get some decent mileage out of Telekinetic but tend to already have mage hand anyway. It gives them a little more breathing room and crowd control in a tight spot. Keep in mind that the Shove requires a bonus action, which bards already have a use for in their Bardic Inspiration.
  • War Caster: Advantage on CON saves and casting spells as opportunity attacks are both beneficial components of this feat. You really need this if you are a College of Sword bard or a College of Valor bard.

Best Spells for Bard

Cantrip

  • Blade Ward: The only time this is worth it is if you know for a fact you're going to be taking bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing from a weapon in the next turn which isn't a common occurrence. Otherwise, if you find yourself in a tricky situation and need to mitigate damage for a turn, take the Dodge action.
  • Dancing Lights: Solid range and utility when you need to light a dark area. Has very similar effects to the light cantrip, so take your pick of whichever you prefer.
  • Friends: Give yourself advantage on CHA checks, but after a minute the target will become hostile. This certainly has its uses, like interrogation or doing a very quick deal with a shopkeeper. Otherwise, the cons outweigh the pros.
  • Light: Useful, but there are plenty of ways around having to pick up this spell. As long as your not underwater, simple torch could save you a slot for another cantrip.
  • Mage Hand: Good utility. You can activate traps, grab small objects when you can't reach them, etc.
  • Mending: Being able to repair mundane object is situationally useful at the best of times, a waste of a cantrip at the worst.
  • Message: Often pointless due to unavoidable metagaming, but for roleplaying purposes it’s great.
  • Minor Illusion: If used creatively, this cantrip can be the most flexible tool in a spellcaster arsenal.
  • Prestidigitation: Extremely versatile, even if the effects are small this cantrip can do a lot.
  • Thunderclap: Good AoE damage but targets a common save and can’t be used while stealthing.
  • True Strike: Wasting a whole turn just to gain advantage on a single creature the next turn is not what you want to be doing.
  • Vicious Mockery: This is THE bard cantrip. It deals psychic damage and provides a strong debuff on a failed save.

1st level

  • Animal Friendship: This will likely get you out of at least one low-level beast encounter.
  • Bane: A simple and effective low-level debuff. If you have access to it, bless is strictly better because it doesn't require a CHA saving throw.
  • Charm Person: One of the better options for dealing with NPCs outside of combat. Good for quick interactions, but the biggest caveat to this spell is the target knows it was charmed by you once the effect ends.
  • Comprehend Languages: Been able to read and understand any language will have its uses at some point. Is it worth it to keep the spell stocked for your whole campaign? Probably not. Is it worth it to stock when you're heading into ancient ruins? Probably.
  • Cure Wounds: Healing is important so pick it up if you think you’ll need it.
  • Detect Magic: Every party should roll with at least one character who has access to detect magic.
  • Disguise Self: Great 1st level infiltration spell.
  • Dissonant Whispers: One of the best 1st-level spells in the game. Verbal only components, good range, psychic damage, and can cause an enemy to move away from an ally. Not only does this provide support on the battlefield, but it can also cause an opportunity attack which makes the spell even more powerful.
  • Faerie Fire: Giving your allies advantage is really good, especially if you have a rogue or paladin in the party. Invisible creatures can also be a nuisance, so having a way to deal with them as extra value is sweet.
  • Feather Fall: It's a situational effect but you’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
  • Healing Word: Great option even if you have a dedicated healer as it can be useful for resetting death saving throws from a distance and only requires a bonus action.
  • Heroism: Great buff effect, scales nicely as well.
  • Identify: You can spend a short rest in physical contact with a magical item to identify it. In addition, most cursed items are not revealed to be cursed when this spell is cast. The main purpose this spell serves is to identify something quickly, which is rather situational.
  • Illusory Script: Much more of a DM, story-based spell than a player-focused one. Pick it up if you need to write a secret message that you can't relay telepathically using message or sending.
  • Longstrider: An extra 10 feet of movement is noticeable, especially since this spell lasts for an hour so you can use the buff before you find yourself in a battle or travel long distances in a short time.
  • Silent Image: This spell offers great utility for a 1st-level spell. Being able to move the image anywhere in 120ft and make it appear like it's moving makes it quite a bit more effective than minor illusion and will certainly help when you need to bamboozle an enemy (or watch some fantasy TV).
  • Silvery Barbs: Probably one of the more broken spells in 5th Edition. Silvery barbs allows you to automatically grant disadvantage to any creature when they succeed on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. This may seem innocent enough, but when used in higher-level play and when noted that there is no saving throw to resist the effect, it can make short work of a legendary monster's Legendary Resistances when saving against powerful spell effects. Essentially, silvery barbs acts like a second casting of a high-level spell, for the low price of a 1st-level spell slot and a reaction. Yes, using your reaction means you won't be able to counterspell. But in most circumstances, especially when fighting a non-caster legendary monster, it can begin to trivialize encounters. The secondary effect, wherein you grant another creature advantage on the next attack roll, ability check, or saving throw is simply icing on top of the extremely powerful cake.
  • Sleep: Sleep is a very good 1st level spell slot. It can easily end encounters at lower levels. By the time you reach 5th-level  it will be pretty useless unless you want a semi-consistent way of none lethal damage.
  • Tasha’s Hideous Laughter: Poor man’s hold person. Still a great spell but the fact that they get to make saves after each time they take damage drastically reduces its effectiveness. If you can, save this for non-humanoids and use hold person on humanoids.
  • Thunderwave: A fantastic, low-level way to knock opponents back if you find yourself in a sticky situation. Damage isn’t bad either but it targets CON saves.
  • Unseen Servant: Not really much more effective than a mage hand at the end of the day.

2nd level

  • Animal Messenger: This has a lot of caveats. If you have someone in your party with sending you will never need this.
  • Blindness/Deafness: Very effective debuff that doesn’t require concentration. The only downside is that it targets CON.
  • Borrowed Knowledge: If your party is lacking a critically important skill, getting time limited proficiency can come in handy.
  • Calm Emotions: The fact that this spell has two different use cases makes it decent, even if those events may not come up too often. Enemies often have effects that charm or frighten in an area of effect, so being able to suppress those effects also in an area of your choosing could save your whole party. When used on enemies, you can make them non-hostile for a whole minute, giving you enough time to escape. The main issue with this spell is the concentration and the relatively small radius.
  • Cloud of Daggers: If you can get this into a chokepoint you can do amazing damage.
  • Crown of Madness: This spell has a lot of crippling limitations because of its powerful effect at such a low level.
  • Detect Thoughts: Useful spell for interrogations, or to determine if there are any hidden creatures near your location.
  • Enhance Ability: Decent buff before you go into combat. Also has a fair amount of utility for just about any out-of-combat situation.
  • Enthrall: This is not a good spell.
  • Heat Metal: A go-to damage spell for enemies wearing metal armor (or have knives stuck in them). No save, great damage, and can cause the creature to attack with disadvantage or lose their weapon.
  • Hold Person: This can be encounter-breaking against humanoids. Scales well with levels.
  • Invisibility: Great infiltration spell.
  • Knock: Great spell if you don’t have a rogue around and works better than Thieves’ Tools anyway since it works automatically. If you need to be stealthy, keep in mind that this spell is audible from 300 feet away.
  • Lesser Restoration: Diseases and conditions do come up from time to time, so you’ll be happy to have this when they do.
  • Locate Animals or Plants: Extremely situational spell. So much so that it will likely not see use in an entire campaign.
  • Locate Object: 1,000 feet isn't a particularly wide radius but this spell will be extremely useful when it's needed. Great for city campaigns where everything is packed in tighter together.
  • Magic Mouth: Useful if you want to Mission Impossible-style deliver a message when someone opens an envelope or something. Otherwise, message and sending make this obsolete.
  • Phantasmal Force: There are extreme situations where this could be useful, but it is simply not a good spell.
  • Pyrotechnics: Limited because it needs a nonmagical flame to be able to work. Can be comboed with bonfire.
  • See Invisibility: If you know you're going to be coming across invisible creatures, this spell is worth it to stock. Otherwise, faerie fire is a better option as it allows party members to see the invisible creatures as well.
  • Shatter: Decent AoE that can be super effective against specific creatures. Also good for destroying inanimate objects.
  • Silence: Silence is a niche spell with a high ceiling. It can be used in stealth scenarios but it’s most powerful usage is if you can target a caster who won’t be able to cast spells requiring a verbal component. Of course, it’s only a 20ft radius so you will either need to be fighting in close quarters or will need to find a way to prevent the caster from moving.
  • Suggestion: Never underestimate the power of suggesting a course of action to an NPC. Yes, Mr. Scary Guard, why don’t you give us the keys to your king’s treasure vault?
  • Warding Wind: Pretty much the only time this is useful is when you’re caught in a combat situation where you are surrounded by ranged enemies or if you need to keep out a deadly gas.
  • Zone of Truth: Great for when you need to gain the trust of some NPCs, or when you don’t quite trust them yourself.

3rd level

  • Bestow Curse: If you can get within touch range, this can be an extremely powerful debuff for a single, tough enemy. The effect that causes the enemy to make a WIS save or waste their turn is extremely powerful and is made more powerful because they only get one chance to save, at the initial casting of the spell.
  • Clairvoyance: Not many situations will call for this spell but it can be useful for scouting.
  • Dispel Magic: Always make sure at least one of your party members has this.
  • Enemies Abound: Enemies abound only works in fights with more than one enemy, if your allies are willing to ignore that enemy, and if the enemy isn’t immune to being frightened. Really only useful for causing a stir from a hidden position.
  • Fear: Amazing crowd control spell. Particularly good because they don’t get to retry the save until they break line of sight.
  • Feign Death: Extremely niche. Could be useful if you are attempting to recreate Romeo and Juliet.
  • Glyph of Warding: Costly components and a long casting time are the major hurdles in the way of making glyph of warding a stellar spell. As it stands, its probably the best way to set a trap if you know where the enemy will be coming through and have at least an hour to prepare.
  • Hypnotic Pattern: Good range, good AoE, and its effect are potent. Incapacitating multiple enemies is a fantastic tactic to passively flee from the situation or do massive damage with automatic crits. The effect can be ended by a friendly creature taking an action to wake the affected creature from its stupor, but that will eat up a lot of action economy. Either way you slice it, hypnotic pattern is one of the best crowd control spells at this level.
  • Intellect Fortress: Only useful in very specific circumstances. Say, for example, when wandering into a den of Mind Flayers.
  • Leomund ’s Tiny Hut: This spell is both better than it looks at first glance and worse than it looks on a second glance. Being able to long rest uninterrupted or use it as cover anywhere you want is really useful. However, if you abuse it your DM will make you pay, like setting up an ambush just outside the dome. Even still, this spell is a fan favorite
  • Major Image: Much like silent imagemajor image is really only limited by your imagination. A 20ft cube is quite the space to play around in and fit just about any creature (within reason).
  • Nondetection: Your campaign will really cater to this spell for it to have any kind of application. This is much more of a DM-focused spell, players often won’t find a use for this once in an entire campaign.
  • Plant Growth: Slows down pesky enemies moving around a lot or trying to escape, but not particularly good at either. Also cool for story beats to restore nature that has been devastated by war.
  • Sending: Solid communication spell for at least one party member to have.
  • Speak with Dead: Get some interesting lore, help solve a mystery, or get advice on how to proceed through a dungeon.
  • Speak with Plants: The flavor is spot on with this spell, it just doesn’t have that many uses.
  • Stinking Cloud: Used in the right circumstances, like locking enemies in a room then casting this into the locked room or when an enemy has to funnel through a "choke" point (heh). Outside of these specific situations, it's quite mediocre.
  • Tongues: Most of the time, it will be tough to justify a 3rd-level spell for the effect this produces. Of course, understanding a creature and allowing it to understand you could have the potential to stop a terrible situation unfolding. This is a spell that would be worthwhile to prepare for specific situations, but is too niche to consider stocking all the time.

4th level

  • Charm Monster: Charm person, just for any creature. Great for avoiding fights with potentially hostile monsters.
  • Compulsion: On a failed save you can move a creature slightly, but they can still take an action. Not great.
  • Confusion: Bestow curse is a better targeted debuff and is a full spell slot lower.
  • Dimension Door: Teleport, with a friend, over a much longer distance than misty step. Unfortunately, it’s two spell slots higher than misty step and a full action to cast. Still, this spell can save your bacon is a tight circumstance.
  • Freedom of Movement: It’s nice to give extra movement options to allies, but there are better buff spells and this one is pretty situational.
  • Greater Invisibility: Being able to attack or cast spells while invisible is a huge upgrade from regular invisibility. Give it to a melee party member and watch them get advantage on every attack and disadvantage on attacks against them, bonus points if it’s a paladin or rogue for extra crit + Divine Smite / Sneak Attack potential.
  • Hallucinatory Terrain: This is more of a DM-spell than a player-focused on. Particularly creative players will be able to find a use, but most of the time this is unnecessary.
  • Locate Creature: More thorough than locate animals or plants, and can be used to find people. It’s still pretty situational.
  • Polymorph: The best save or suck spell at this level. The hour duration makes transforming a hostile creature and running away a viable option or will give you more time to finish of its friends before it transforms back. This also allows you to shape-shift a friendly party member into a beast for combat or exploration purposes. The sheer utility this spell offers makes it an incredibly effective spell to keep in your arsenal.

5th level

  • Animate Objects: Turn your trash into treasure. Send an army of pebbles at your opponents for 1d4 + 4 damage with +8 attacks.
  • Awaken: Love the flavor of this spell. It’s great for your traveling animal buddies, or, if you have enough time and money, you can create an army of trees that would make Treebeard proud. It is not useful in combat but this is one of those spells that can create really powerful effects if you have some downtime.
  • Dominate Person: Amazing spell when fighting humanoids. Taking over the mind of an enemy can completely swing the direction of the encounter. While spells like hold person can take an enemy of the fight, dominate person can make that enemy into an ally essentially creating a two for one. If you are fighting against humanoids a lot in the late game, this is a simply outstanding spell.
  • Dream: While it may not look like much, dream is an insanely powerful spell. First of all, it can target a creature no matter how far away they are, as long as you know the creature and the creature has to sleep. Second, you're able to stay in that creature's dream for up to 8 hours, which can allow a ton of time to communicate with the creature for long periods without being attacked. Last, and most importantly, you can negate the effects of a long rest AND do damage. This might not be an issue for a high level enemy with legendary resistances, but can definitely cause issues for less powerful foes. This spell is definitely a slow burn type of spell but can have massive ramifications in the long run.
  • Geas: Not for use in combat but has extremely potent effects if you can cast it. The max damage this can do is 5d10 a day, so it's best used on a particularly influential commoner.
  • Greater Restoration: Great spell to have that can get you or party members out of very tricky situations.
  • Hold Monster: Spell that can take a creature out of the fight. Allows for a save after each turn which makes it worse than banishment for consistently keeping a monster out of the fight, but the monster can be attacked with advantage which will make quick work of it after it fails a save or two.
  • Legend Lore: Gain some knowledge on things of legendary importance. While cool, it doesn’t do much most of the time.
  • Mass Cure Wounds: Range, multiple targets, and decent healing power. One of the best bang-for-your-buck spells if you have multiple party members down.
  • Mislead: Pretty decent scouting spell or opportunity to plan an ambush. Pretty high spell slot for the meager effect though.
  • Modify Memory: A relatively powerful spell for infiltration and social encounters. There are a lot of caveats imposed on this spell, mainly to ensure it doesn't become too broken. If you'll be heading into an enemy fortress or to a rival's political meeting, this is a good spell to stock.
  • Planar Binding: The 1 hour casting time makes this a fairly hard spell to pull off. If you manage to pull it off, this can be an extremely powerful spell when combined with summon greater demon or something of the like.
  • Raise Dead: A more powerful resurrection spell than revivify because it has a 10 day time span and can cure Poisons and Diseases. Unfortunately, if you resurrectee is missing their head or other body parts, you'll have to wait until you get resurrection.
  • Scrying: Useful but niche.
  • Seeming: Neat out of combat spell.
  • Skill Empowerment: This spell is very flexible since you can give any creature Expertise in any skill. It is quite expensive at 5th level and it works best when the creature needs to use the same skill multiple times.
  • Synaptic Static: Fireball damage and a debuff rolled into one. Be careful using it on beasts as they are likely to have an INT 2 or less.
  • Teleportation Circle: Great teleport spell that requires some prep before it can become really effective. That said, it's nice to not have the ability to fail during your teleport like is possible with teleport. Awesome utility spell to have in your back pocket.

6th level

  • Eyebite: Clunky spell with powerful effects. Essentially, as long as you maintain concentration, you can use your action to imbue a powerful debuff. Unfortunately, casting something like fear or hypnotic pattern will likely allow you to impose conditions on more enemies, for less action economy, for a lower spell slot.
  • Find the Path: Lousy effect, especially for a spell at 6th-level.
  • Guards and Wards: This spell's literal only use is to create your very own haunted house. Yeah, it'd be fun to use if your stronghold was being invaded and you had at least 10 minutes to prepare. Otherwise, this is certainly more of a DM-focused spell.
  • Mass Suggestion: Amazing charm effect. No saving throws, target up to twelve creatures, and a duration of 24 hours.
  • Otto’s Irresistible Dance: At the surface, Otto’s irresistible dance may look unappealing because Tasha’s hideous laughter can be seen as a substitution at a 1st-level spell slot. Well, the biggest thing that makes Otto’s worthy of a 6th-level slot is that there is no save, the effect just happens. This allows a whole round of attacks with advantage against a single powerful enemy, while the enemy has to spend its entire action (maybe even using a Legendary Resistance) saving from the spell. In many scenarios, Tasha’s will be what you want to use, but if you are facing off against a dragon, you’ll want Otto’s.
  • Programmed Illusion: Another situation where this spell is limited by your creativity but similar effects can be achieved with major illusion for a lower spell slot.
  • True Seeing: Gain the abilities of truesight, spotting secret doors, and seeing into the ethereal plane, all without concentration. This will be effective at some point but a 6th level spell is steep.

7th level

  • Dream of the Blue Veil: This spell has more campaign-derailing, shenanigan potential than just about any other spell short of wish. Do your DM a favor and let them know your plans before casting this spell. Because this is more of a plot-based spell, it will not receive a rating.
  • Etherealness: This spell allows you to fly or move through solid objects, while not being affected or able to affect creatures not on the Ethereal Plane. You can only target yourself but there is no concentration. Pretty middle of the road all around.
  • Forcecage: No save and no way to get out once you get put in. This spell is a great way to contain a scary melee creature.
  • Mirage Arcane: The sheer scope of this spell is insane and is truly only limited by the imagination of the caster.
  • Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion: Love the flavor but a 7th level spell slot is a stretch for this limited effect.
  • Mordenkainen’s Sword: Terrible amount of damage for a 7th level spell.
  • Project Image: Can be used to distract enemies or as a pretty bad scouting tool. You or your party members should have better ways to do this by now.
  • Regenerate: Not much more healing than mass cure wounds, but it does have the advantage of growing limbs.
  • Resurrection: Death is temporary when you’ve got resurrection. Because there is no time limit like revivify, this can be stocked when required.
  • Symbol: Can be useful if you're setting a trap or protecting an area from enemies. Can be used in a pinch because of the 1 minute casting time. Unfortunately, it's quite expensive due to the 1,000 gp worth of powdered diamond or opal. This spell is certainly more DM-focused than player-focused.
  • Teleport: Instantly transport yourself and up to eight willing creatures. Of course, there is a chance of a mishap, but a full party teleport is nothing to scoff at.

8th level

  • Dominate Monster: Extremely good option to help swing the tides of battle in your favor. If you manage to dominate one of your enemies, you're 2-for-1ing the opponent by adding an ally to your side while subtracting an enemy from your enemy's side.
  • Feeblemind: Encounter ending debuff if you hit a spellcaster with it. Usually, spellcasters at this level will have a very strong INT save or Legendary Resistance.
  • Glibness: A seemingly small effect for such a high-level spell, although it can be useful in niche circumstances.
  • Mind Blank: A full 24 hours of immunity to psychic damage, reading thoughts, divination spells, and being charmed. Mind Blank is surprisingly effective during high-level encounters as a defensive spell.
  • Power Word Stun: You can auto-stun a creature that has less than 150hp, but they get to make a save at the end of each of their turns.

9th level

  • Foresight: Insane buff and it’s not concentration.
  • Mass Polymorph: Take up to 10 creatures out of the fight or turn your entire party into T-rexes.
  • Power Word Heal: “Overkill” for most situations but can really help turn the tide in the massive battles you’ll be having at 18th-20th-level.
  • Power Word Kill: Very mechanically interesting spell. Essentially, you can auto-kill a creature if they have less than 100hp. Now, as a player, we do not know how much HP a monster has, but an Investigation or Insight check might allow some clues as to whether or not they’re close. Still, Meteor Swarm can do, on average, 140 damage (70 on a save), and can hit multiple creatures so this might not be that worth it.
  • Psychic Scream: Great damage, targets an uncommon save (INT), stuns on a failed save, and explodes your targets head if they die from the damage.
  • True Polymorph: This can be a crazy buff, or an extremely effective way to permanently get rid of a creature. For the buff portion, you can turn a creature into another creature whose challenge rating is equal to or less than the target's. If the creature you're transforming is a player character, the CR matches the character's level. Seeing as challenge rating is meant to match a party of four to five players of that level, you can get a huge power boost by turning into a creature that has a CR equal to your level. For example, a 20th-level character can be turned into an ancient dragon, which would typically take a party of 20th-level adventurers to defeat. On the other hand, if you target an enemy and manage to concentrate successfully for an hour, the effect can be permanent. Therefore you could turn the big bad into a rock or something. Forever.

Magical Secrets Spells

You can choose any spell available to any class with this feature so we will be listing your top picks.

6th Level (Lore Bard Only)

  • Counterspell: Counterspell is one of the best spells in the game. This is a #1 take.
  • Revivify: Every party needs a party member with revivify. The nature of D&D is such that PC deaths happen fairly easily, so your friends will be looking to you to save them from that fate.
  • Spirit Guardians: Super good damage spell. Less effective at range and Lore Bards aren’t particularly melee prone.
  • Fireball: This one spell will fill your damage needs for the rest of the campaign.
  • Haste: Great buff at 3rd level. Keep an eye on the concentration because dropping this spell early has ramifications.

10th Level

  • Banishment: Get rid of creatures from another plane, or take out a big threat for most of combat. They have to perform a saving throw, but CHA is often not a high stat for those enemies.
  • Bigby’s Hand: Bigby’s hand truly does it all. It can do repeat damage, help you escape, and hold down a baddy, all while increasing your action economy because it only uses a bonus action to command. Bard’s usually want to keep their bonus action open for Bardic Inspiration, but the utility that Bigby’s hand provides is well worth it.
  • Find Greater Steed: Who doesn’t want to be flying around on a pegasus? Flight speed, solid INT, and decent damage.
  • Wall of Force: You’re just making a wall. So what? You can split up opposing forces, hide behind an impenetrable wall, or make a dome over your party. It is immune to dispel magic but can be disintegrated.
  • Cone of Cold: Great range and damage. If you missed out on fireball this is an awesome pick.
  • Destructive Wave: Another great damage option and can lead to awesome attacks with advantage opportunities.

14th Level

  • Plane Shift: A versatile spell that can get you to places you need to go or take creatures out of the fight permanently.
  • Simulacrum: This is THE shenanigan spell. If your DM allows these kind of things, this is a power pick for sure.
  • Chain Lightning: Excellent damage spell that’s a bit more precise than fireball or other AoE damage spells.
  • Reverse Gravity: Good combination of crowd control and direct damage in a single spell.
  • Disintegrate: Live out your power fantasy as Thanos. The damage can be great, but a successful save negates ALL damage. Still, people love this spell so it needed to be addressed.

18th Level

  • Wish: It’s the most powerful spell in the game.
  • Mass Heal: More versatile than power word heal. Can really bring your party back in the fight in those high-level battles.
  • Meteor Swarm: Biggest damage spell in the game.
  • True Polymorph: Take a BBEG out of the fight permanently or transform yourself into a badass scary creature.

Best Multiclass Options for Bards

Multiclassing is always an opportunity cost, you have to determine if taking a level of another class is worth what you will lose from the original class. Many factors come into this decision, with the main factor being how long your campaign will run and, ultimately, what level you will be playing until. With bards and other full casters, you want to avoid taking more than 3 multiclass levels, or else you won’t be able to get access to 9th-level spells.

Another thing to take into consideration is the additional class’ primary ability scores. Bards are CHA-based casters and you want to be able to use their high CHA to synergize with the additional class.

Cleric: Clerics are awesome multiclass options because they get their domain at the 1st-level. The most common cause for this multiclass is to make a healing-focused bard, so picking up the Life Domain is the best choice. This one level dip provides tons of great healing spells, heavy armor proficiency, and a bonus to healing spells.

Paladin: A two-level dip into paladin allows your bard to get access to armor/shield/weapon proficiencies, Lay on Hands, and smites. If you’re going for a Valor or Swords bard, you already gain the proficiencies but the smites are definitely worth it.

SorcererThe sorcerer is the only other typical full caster using CHA as a spellcasting modifier. The sorcerer gets their Origin at 1st-level and each Origin has its own benefits. Out of all the available options, the two best options are Divine Soul and Clockwork Soul. Divine Soul can provide a great spell in bless and also has a solid feature for helping in succeeding on a saving throw. Clockwork Soul gets you protection from good and evil and the Restore Balance ability which can negate any advantage or disadvantage. The Restore Balance feature is particularly nice because it scales with your proficiency bonus, rather than your sorcerer level. If you want to commit three levels to the sorcerer multiclass you get access to Metamagic which is extremely strong on bards.

Warlock: Warlocks get access to a ton of stuff at 1st-level. First off is the amazing damage cantrip eldritch blast, next up is the ability to restore warlock spell slots on a short rest, and finally is the Pact feature. The Celestial Pact has some healing features, but by far the best choice would be the Hexblade for access to Hexblade’s Curse, proficiency in medium armor/shields, a great expanded spell list, and the ability to melee attack using your CHA modifier.

Sources Used in This Guide

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. Outside of writing for Arcane Eye, Mike spends most of his time playing games, hiking with his girlfriend, and tending the veritable jungle of houseplants that have invaded his house. He is the author of Escape from Mt. Balefor and The Heroes of Karatheon. Mike specializes in character creation guides for players, homebrewed mechanics and tips for DMs, and one-shots with unique settings and scenarios. Follow Mike on Twitter.

23 thoughts on “Bard

  1. I don’t know if you’re including spells from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything on this list, or spells with a level lower than the maximum available on each stage of Magical Secrets, but a spell I feel warrants a mention under the 10th level Magical Secrets is Find Greater Steed. It may not seem as good for a bard since they’re limited to spells known, so they can’t prepare this on a downtime day and only use it when they need to resummon their mount, but even then I’d say it’s worth considering; at the very least, riding a pegasus all the time means the bard has a permanent 60 feet of movement on the ground, which is handy even in a dungeon if the ceiling’s high enough to ride one, and if there’s open air the bard can fly with 90 feet of movement, no concentration or additional spells required. This gets even better when you take other Magical Secrets spells into account. Fly above the battlefield raining Fireballs upon your enemies! Move around the battlefield with Spirit Guardians up to damage several foes without even using your action! And don’t forget, any spell you cast that targets only you can be shared with your mount, which opens up a whole bunch of possibilities considering bards have access to every spell in the game. Also, it’s just really cool having access to a high level paladin exclusive spell like this alongside spells like the previously mentioned Fireball and very high level spells like True Polymorph, which are almost never on the same spell list together.

    1. Thanks for writing in Jonathan! I’ve made the note about Slashing Flourish being more effective if it can hit more than one creature with the additional Flourish damage 🙂

  2. Hi! I’m new to your blog, and I think it’s pretty good. But I have some ideas;
    1. I think you should add in a section that has good multiclass ideas, for people like me who don’t like bland lv 20 builds.
    2. I think prestidigitation should be light blue, because you can use it for many other things, like making a key to open a lock, soiling someones eyes to blind them, making counterfeit coins if you’re a couple short, and making sparks rapidly spray from my hands to make me look like a very powerful mage has given me advantage on an intimidation check to scare a commoner into giving us information.

    1. Hey Jason, thank you so much for the feedback! In terms of multiclassing, we are discussing a way to integrate that topic but it is a little tricky. Naturally there are so many possible combinations and one of our main focuses is to keep the guides user friendly while providing as much information as possible. Multiclassing is definitely something we would like to address soon though!

      Prestidigitation and Minor Illusion are actually quite difficult to rank for us. Their usefulness really depends on your creativity and how much your DM lets you get away with 😉 That being said, I think in our circles we have a slight bias towards Minor Illusion over Prestidigitation as we have used it successfully more often. You’re not wrong, Prestidigitation can be very powerful!

  3. ‘Otto’s Irresistible Dance: Not good.’ – not good? You can’t be serious. The spell takes effect, no save. Grants a severe debuff (cannot leave the spot, d.adv. on Dex saves, and adv. on attack rolls vs the target) and forces the creature to take an action just to make a saving throw against it. Worst case scenario, the boss just wasted an action AND legendary resistance just to deal with this. Only downside is that targets immune to charm cannot be affected and the range is a bit crap.

    1. Thanks for writing in Dprime! You’re right, I definitely overlooked the effectiveness this spell can have against big, scary creatures. I’ve adjusted the spell’s rating as such 🙂

    1. Honestly, I would take Misty Step. Levitate is a very good way to negate a melee foe and to get out of certain situations but Misty Step is so much more versatile and is a bonus action.

  4. As someone who doesn’t have much experience I was struggling with assessing the spells available to me. Thank you for this guide, it really helped me enjoy the game more!

  5. I’m confused by the idea that feats aren’t that great for non-martial Bards. At a minimum, every character should consider Resilient, and Inspiring Leader is great for anyone who qualifies for it, unless you have another way to give lots of people in your party temp HP. Heck, just taking Moderately Armored is huge (just make sure to remind people they may need War Caster if they carry a Shield and a Spellcasting Focus.

    Also, the Shield spell is one of the best Magic Secret options available. It gets overlooked a lot for some reason.

    1. Thanks for writing in Wade! The opinion that Bards don’t have a lot of use for feats was antiquated and supposed to be removed after our most recent update. Thanks for pointing it out!

  6. Hey! Great guide! I’d just like to point out that for the College of Creation’s Creative Crescendo, the maximum size you can create is Huge, not Medium. As stated in the Performance of Creation feature, the size of the item you can create with it increases from Medium by one size category when you reach 6th level (Large) and 14th level (Huge). You are, however, still limited in being able to create only one item of the maximum size (Huge as you unlock Creative Crescendo at level 14); in which case, the rest must be Small or Tiny.

  7. From experience, taking hexblade and picking up booming blade and shield are essential if you want to be able to hurt anything up close, as well as having a great weapon and illusionists bracers. Lots of damage. Elven accuracy, lucky, resilient, war care, actor, are the best feats imo for a lore bard who wants to melee from time to time. Enjoyed your she up.

    The most useful spells I’ve found are hypnotic pattern and fair for. Destructive wave and holy weapon are great as well.

  8. I really think sharpshooter is being undervalued here. It works great for a college of whispers bard because that extra ranged damage stacks with psychic blades and your weapon damage. Plus it allows you to ignore cover.

    1. We’ll be sure to mention this in our College of Whispers guide! Overall, Sharpshooter isn’t worth it for bards, however.

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