Do you like singing and dancing around as your comrades let out wails of agony? Do you like avoiding all conflict through your melodic voice and wit? How about flinging fireballs because you play the lute well? Then the Bard is the class for you, my friend. The charismatic heart of any party in the world of Dungeon and Dragons, the Bard’s role is to keep everyone’s spirits up as you wage war on the monsters that inhabit the realm.
How to build a Bard
In Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition the Bard has four defining traits; magic, their bardic inspiration, expertise and jack of all trades. The magic isn’t exactly special to them, rocks could be a magic-based class in this universe, but it is important to their kit. Your magic comes from the beautiful sounds created by the instrument of your choice. This can be your voice or bagpipes. Whatever you choose to focus your magic through- your spellcasting ability is always your charisma score. When you are rolling up your character make sure that charisma is your highest stat.
Dexterity should be your second highest since you are only proficient in dexterity-based weapons at the start. Not only does it determine your spell attack bonus (how easy it is for your targeted spells to hit) but it determines how high your Spell Save DC is (how high an enemy has to roll to not be affected by your spells). There is now the choice of what spells you are going to want to cast. Bards are like most musicians in that they rarely come up with anything original and instead steal little bits from everyone else. My recommendations for spells is something such as Healing Word or Cure Wounds as Bards naturally fit into a healer/support role. Also, you have to get the spell Vicious Mockery. You literally hurt people with your sick burns.
The Bard’s spell list takes spells from the wide array of spellcasters with very few spells of their own. This is doubly true when you get to level 10 and unlock Magical Secrets. What this allows you to do is take any spell from any class and just have it at your disposal as long as you have the spell slots. This can lead to some broken moments such as getting the 5th level spell Holy Smite from Paladins (which is a spell Paladins can only get at higher levels). It is moments like this that really show originality is overrated.
Next, let us talk about your one original skill as a bard; bardic inspiration. In the story this your bard weaving magical laced words into the ears of your companions. At their lowest moment where they need to succeed they hear your words that say exactly what they need to hear at that moment. With renewed vigour, they push on and accomplish their goal. Everyone claps! In the game, all this amounts to is that as a bonus action you can give an extra die to roll for ability and attack checks. It starts out as a measly D6, however, as you level up the dice grows in strength. With this growth also comes with you having to constantly remind your fellow partner members not to forget about their bardic inspiration. Like, dammit Bianca, you would have hit that troll if you used the one thing I can do!
Did you know that the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” is actually longer? Apparently, it ends with the part “but oftentimes better than a master of one.” Luckily as a Bard, you can be both! Jack of all trades is an ability you get at level two. It allows you to put half of your proficiency bonus into all skills that you are not proficient in. What this means is that you will be not horrible at just about everything. In some cases, you will even be above average! Of course, your aggressive averageness will be overcome by the fact you are also THE BEST at around two to three things. Expertise allows you to double your proficiency bonus to skills that you are proficient with. This is pretty great because if you are smart you can have your best skill be around a +10 or +11! You basically have to roll lower than a 10 to fail any roll (unless you have a mean GM). This is even better if your best skill is something like persuasion. Because you just talk your way out of every bad situation. Which probably will end up justifying your GMs mean behaviour.
Being a bard
Now that you have the key components that make up your bard now is the time to bust out that guitar, anyway here’s Wonder Wall. When it comes to the gameplay side of things you are going to be most likely be talking, singing or slinging spells. Let us start with non-combat gameplay first. Since charisma is your highest stat I really recommend becoming proficient in charisma-based skills. Persuasion, intimidation and deception basically all do the same thing. It comes down to how exactly you want to roleplay your character. Of course, there is performance for that flavour win.
For non-charisma-based stats, I recommend skills such as sleight of hand, stealth or acrobatics since dexterity will most likely be your second highest stat. And again, acrobatics is just good flavour. With both expertise and the jack of all trades abilities, you will most likely be the person who has the highest stats in different skills. Jack of all trades allows you to have an approximate knowledge of everything. When it comes to skills that do not often come up (such as history) then you the burden rests on your shoulders. Expertise means you will be the best at those skills. You are a literal toolbox for your party. To get them out of any situation. Take pride in that and try not to fail those dice rolls.
Combat is another area where you are needed. Since you are a magic user you will most likely be using those groovy tunes to be dealing with your foes. Bards do not have access to a lot of high damage spells. Sure, you’ve got thunderwave, but most of your spells in battle will be for buffs and nerfs. This is a warning to all those players who want to be doing high DPS; this is not the class for you.
If you, however, prefer to make your enemies think you have summoned some horrible faceless bear and have them flee in sheer terror then you are in the right place. Most of your spells will be putting your enemies into some sort of harmful condition that makes them easier to deal with, like getting them prone so they are easier to hit or incapacitating them so they can’t do anything. It is incredibly rewarding to be pulling off spells that make the combat easier for everyone in your party. Finally, throw that bardic inspiration around like your life depends on it. I know I keep bringing it up but everyone forgets about bardic inspiration. Bards even forget to use it. Just slap it on your Fighter or Barbarian and watch as your words inspire them to kill those skeletons.
Roleplaying a bard
Finally, let us discuss roleplaying as the Bard. I think one of the best ways to get into character as a bard is to act out your bardic inspiration. Now, I am not telling you to bust out your keytar when you wanna give someone that extra D6, but as the most thespian class it really helps ground you into the character by acting out what they use to inspire. Also, don’t be afraid to stretch the limits of what a bard is. There is nothing wrong with being a dashing artist who woos the men and ladies with your gorgeous singing. There is a multitude of ways one can inspire.
For myself, one of my bards was basically a wrestling announcer who shouted various Stone Cold references at his enemies. You could even lean into the inherent narcissism that seems to follow bards. Make a real prick who thinks they are the hottest shit. You could even make an evil bard! I don’t really know how… but I am sure it would involve nightcore. Just know that as the Bard you are always meant to be larger than life. How you choose to embody that is up to you, my friend.
I have taught you everything I can about being the best bard you can be. It is time for you to pick up your instrument and go off into the world. May your merry tunes bring great joy to your allies and terrifying pain to your enemies. One last thing, you better not forget about that bardic inspiration.
Last Updated: July 17, 2018