How to Charm Your Dragon – A DnD 5e Bard Guide

Published on April 24, 2020

, Last modified on May 10th, 2020

“You want stories? I have stories, and I will give them to you. I will makes them come alive before your eyes.” – Thom Merrilin, The Wheel of Time

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. You can see the Bard Class Features here.

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.

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.

Before You Start

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: Increasing your STR by 2 and CHA by 1 isn’t anything to turn your scaled nose up at, but the 2 STR will likely be wasted even if you are playing a Valor or Swords Bard who primarily relies on DEX.

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.

Half-Elf: A +2 to CHA and 2 skills of your choice makes the Half-Elf one of your best options.

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-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.

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 hitdice. 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/Armour 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.
  • 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.

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.

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 Glamour

This College focuses on charming other creatures by magical means.

  • 3rd Level
    • Mantle of Inspiration: This is a great team buff that can help your party get out of some tricky situations. Very useful in exchange for a single bonus action and Bardic Inspiration.
    • Enthralling Performance: This is an amazing option for role-play, though you might have to get creative with its use in some circumstances. The biggest upside is that the creature does not know that you tried to charm it.
  • 6th Level
    • Mantle of Majesty: Casting Command without expending a spell slot as a bonus action for a full round? This is absolutely encounter breaking stuff. It is also amazing for role-play if you can do your Enthralling Performance first.
  • 14th level
    • Unbreakable Majesty: At 14 your CHA should be 20, making your Spell Save DC 18. CR 1-14 monsters have an average CHA of 12 meaning that there is a 90% chance you won’t get attacked by these creatures. While this is a wide sample range, CR 14 monsters alone have an average CHA of 16 which only drops that down to a 75% chance of not getting hit. Keep in mind that this does not apply to AoE attacks which are quite common at 14th Level.
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 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.
      • 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

ASI: When Bard’s reach 4th level, they can take an ASI or feat. They make this choice again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level. This is fairly typical outside of Fighters, Barbarians, and Rogues.

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.

Feats

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.
  • Inspired Leader: Your high CHA modifier will certainly make this viable if you are able to get the time before a fight.
  • Lucky: Lucky is a feat that is useful to any character.
  • Magic Initiate: Bards don’t get a lot of damage spells so taking something like Eldritch Blast would be great here.
  • 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

  • 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.
  • Mage Hand: Can be a very useful cantrip if used right.
  • 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: Good option if you aren’t fighting a humanoid and can’t cast Hold Person.
  • 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: Very strong debuff with multiple choices to best benefit your situation.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • 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.

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: Not good.
  • Programmed Illusion: Another situation where this spell is limited by your creativity but similar effects can be achieved with Major Illusion.

7th Level Spells

  • 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.
  • Magnificient 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Very strong effect at 3rd level. Make sure nobody loses any body parts.
  • 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.
  • Wall of Force: This is your absolute best pick at this level. Legit crowd control, situational utility, and awesome combos with your party Wizard.
  • 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: Versatile spell that does a ton of damage and can remove a enemy permanently.

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 an badass scary creature.

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!

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