The DnD 5e Bard Guide (2021)

Published on October 4, 2021, Last modified on December 4th, 2021

In this post, we will be examining the Bard’s Class Features and how you can optimize your Bard through choosing your Race, Ability Score, Spells, Feats, etc.

What is this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the DnD 5e Bard. For a quick overview on the Bard Class, see our breakdown of the 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.

Before You Start

Standard Races

Dwarf: The Bard 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? Not very useful.

Dragonborn: The CHA bonus is alright, usually you would be looking for +2 here. The +2 to STR is great for College of Valor Bards but would be wasted on most other Colleges.

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.

  • Drow Elf: A +1 to CHA is just what you’re looking for. Just don’t go out in sunlight!
  • High Elf: High Elves get an INT boost and a free Wizard cantrip of your choice. The INT bonus will be wasted but an extra cantrip is always welcome.
  • Wood Elf: WIS, walking speed boost, and ability to hide in foliage isn’t going to help our Bard out that much.

Gnome: You don’t need a bonus to INT as a Bard.

  • Forest: Dex for a Valor or Swords build + a free cantrip makes this option viable, but not optimal.
  • Rock: Nothing here is beneficial as 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: STR and CON bonuses, let’s move on. Although a Half-Orc Bard would be hilarious from a RP aspect, but we will leave that up to you.

Halfling: The DEX bonus is great for a Valor or Swords build and the Lucky trait is always good.

  • Lightfoot: +1 to CHA, in addition to the bonus to DEX and Lucky from the Halfling traits is a solid choice for melee Bards.
  • Stout: A bonus to CON is never wasted but there isn’t a lot going on here otherwise. 

Human: Humans are always decent.

  • Vanilla: 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 Valor or Swords, which makes this choice a bit less appealing if you do not plan on going for that option.

TieflingTieflings get a +2 boost to CHA, a free cantrip, and free spells at higher levels making them an awesome choice for a Bard.

Non-Standard Races

Aarakocra: Free concentration-less flight is great for a spellcaster like the Bard. The ASI spread isn’t great though.
Aasimar: +2 to CHA means the Bard can take their pick of subclasses and it will almost always turn out good.
Changelings: Bards are the perfect choice for Changelings. The CHA is perfect for spellcasting, and naturally, Bards are the big talkers of the group so they will love the free CHA skill proficiencies.
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.
Shifters: 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 Hybrids: 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. Bards also love skill proficiencies, so the two free skills that Tabaxi get is very tempting.
Tritons: 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 Valor Bard.
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 Purebloods: 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.

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 hitpoints. 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 hitpoints 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.

Backgrounds

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.

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 Rogueish 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

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 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 as soon as it is available which is almost necessary if you don’t have a damage caster in your party. See the section on Magical Secrets Spells.
  • 14h 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 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.
  • 14h 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 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.

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

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 Bards

Many feats aren’t suited to the Bard Class, but we will go over the ones that you may consider.

  • Alert: Being up higher in the initiative order can be very valuable for any class.
  • Eldritch Adept: Choose the Mask of Many Faces Invocation and cast Disguise Self at will.
  • Fey Touched: Great half-feat to boost CHA, pickup Misty Step, and a 1st-level spell. Hex or Hunter’s Mark are great choices in most circumstances.
  • 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.
  • Magic Initiate: Bards don’t get a lot of damage spells so taking something like Eldritch Blast would be great here.
  • Metamagic Adept: There are some pretty awesome choices in the Sorcerers’ metamagic options. Only getting 2 sorcery points is the main limiting factor here. Can be quite potent for a Bard/Sorcerer multiclass.
  • 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.
  • Resilient (CON): Proficiency with CON saving throws and +1 CON isn’t anything to turn your nose up, especially if you’re a melee-focused Bard.
  • Spell Sniper: Bards don’t mess with ranged attack rolls a whole lot. Skip this.
  • 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.

Spells

Bards have access to a lot of spells. Therefore, we think it would be the most beneficial to only talk about our favorite spells at each level, and which ones to avoid. Just remember that this doesn’t mean the ones we don’t mention are necessarily bad or don’t have a purpose.

Bard Spells

Cantrips

  • Booming Blade: A staple spell for a Valor or Swords Bard.
  • Green Flame Blade: A staple spell for a Valor or Swords Bard.
  • Mage Hand: Can be a very useful cantrip if used right.
  • Minor Illusion: Easily the most versatile cantrip in the game. Great choice for any Bard.
  • Prestidigitation: A bit less useful than Minor Illusion but still solid.
  • Thunderclap: Useful for when you get surrounded.
  • Vicious Mockery: This is THE Bard cantrip. It deals Psychic damage and provides a strong debuff on a failed save.

1st Level Spells

  • Cure Wounds: Always nice to have extra healing in your party.
  • Detect Magic: If no one has this, you need it.
  • Disguise Self: This is a great utility spell that can be useful into later levels.
  • Dissonant Whispers: One of the best 1st level spells in the game. If you can cause an opportunity attack with this it becomes extremely powerful.
  • Faerie Fire: Great option to deal with invisibility.
  • Feather Fall: You’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
  • Healing Words: Great option even if you have a dedicated healer as it can be useful for resetting death saving throws from a distance.
  • Hideous Laughter: Decent spell to give your party members an attack with advantage.
  • Heroism: Great buff effect, scales nicely as well.
  • Sleep: Sleep is a spell that sometimes feels overpowered at the beginning of a campaign. With a good roll you can basically end an encounter in one turn. It gets much worse at higher levels but can still be useful for dealing non-lethal damage.

2nd Level Spells

  • Blindness/Deafness: Very effective debuff that doesn’t require concentration. The only downside is that it targets CON.
  • Cloud of Daggers: If you can find a funnel point or can have your melee fighters push creatures into the cloud it can do mega damage. Scales with levels.
  • Crown of Madness: This spell has a lot of crippling limitations because of its powerful effect at such a small level. Skip this until you can Dominate Monsters.
  • Enhance Ability: Extremely versatile and can be a good buff going into combat or a tough situation.
  • Heat Metal: Really good, no save and bonus action damage if they are wearing armor (or have a knife embedded in them).
  • Hold Person: This can be encounter-breaking against humanoids. Scales well with levels.
  • Invisibility: Bread and butter sneaking utility.
  • Lesser Restoration: Most of these conditions are solved by a save, so you run the risk of wasting your turn. Also, it is cast on touch which could run the risk of getting yourself into a tricky situation if your melee fighter needs it.
  • SuggestionExtremely versatile and powerful effect.

3rd Level Spells

  • Bestow Curse: If you can get within touch range, the effect that causes the enemy to make a WIS save or waste their turn is extremely powerful.
  • Dispel Magic: If you don’t have a dedicated arcane caster in your party this is very important.
  • Fear: Amazing crowd control spell. Particularly good because they don’t get to retry the save until they break line of sight.
  • Hypnotic Pattern: Another great crowd control spell, take this or Fear based on your flavor.
  • Intellect Fortress: Only useful in very specific circumstances. Say, for example, when wandering into a den of Mind Flayers.
  • Major Image: Your craftiness determines the power level of this spell but in the right situations it’s extremely powerful.
  • Stinking Cloud: Another great control option, not quite as good as some of the other options though.
  • Vampiric Touch: Gives you a 3d6 melee weapon with life drain as long as you can concentrate but those concentration checks are going to be your downfall. You essentially need a Melee Bard and War Caster to make this worth it.

4th Level Spells

  • 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 better.
  • Dimension DoorTeleport, with a friend, over a much longer distance than Misty Step. Unfortunately, it’s a full action to cast.
  • Greater Invisibility: Give this to your Fighter or Rogue for advantage on all attacks. Mega damage.
  • Polymorph: Not quite as good as Banishment, but is very useful for taking a single combatant out of the fight temporarily.

5th Level Spells

  • Animate Objects: Extremely strong damage spell.
  • Dominate Person: This can change the tide of a battle very easily. Great spell but limited to humanoids.
  • Dream: Low key one of the best spells in the Bard’s arsenal. This can really mess with the BBEG of the campaign.
  • Geas: Not for use in combat but can be used to bend an entire kingdom to your will.
  • 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.
  • Mass Cure Wounds: Range, multiple targets, and decent healing power.
  • Mislead: Pretty decent scouting spell or opportunity to plan an ambush.
  • Planar Binding: The 1 hour casting time makes this a fairly hard spell to pull off.
  • Scrying: Useful but niche.
  • Seeming: Solid infiltration spell, no concentration is nice.
  • 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.

6th Level Spells

  • Eyebite: There are much better crowd control options for lower spell slots.
  • Mass Suggestion: This is a ridiculous spell that could easily swing encounters in your favor.
  • 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.

7th Level Spells

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mordenkainen’s Sword: Terrible amount of damage for a 7th level spell.
  • Magnificent Mansion: Love the flavor but a 7th level spell slot is a stretch for this limited effect.
  • Project Image: Similar to Mislead but two spell slots higher. Only advantage is the range.
  • 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, it’s a take 10/10.
  • Teleport: The best way to travel.

8th Level Spells

  • Dominate Monster: Extremely good option to help swing the tides of battle in your favor.
  • 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.
  • Power Word StunYou 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 Spells

  • Foresight: The buff that does everything you could ask for. Lasts for 8 hours (no concentration!), the target can’t be surprised, has advantage on rolls, and other creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls against the target.
  • Imprisonment: There are other ways to permanently dispose of those big baddies.
  • 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 9th 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.
  • Psychic Scream: Great damage, targets an uncommon save (INT), and stuns on a failed save.
  • True Polymorph: If you manage to concentrate successfully for an hour, the effect can be permanent. The added flexibility of turning a creature into an object, or vice-versa, is really powerful.

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.


Hope you liked the guide! If you have any questions or feel like we missed something for the 5e Bard, go ahead and post a comment below. If you like our content subscribe to Arcane Eye!

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.

20 thoughts on “The DnD 5e Bard Guide (2021)

  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.

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