Bard DnD 5e Optimization Guide | Not Just Another Song and Dance

Bards have gone from being one of the hardest classes to qualify for in Dungeons and Dragons, to the laughing stock of the party, and finally in 4e they really began to show their true selves and now in 5e they are one of the best classes in the game. Much like the Barbarian guide I hope this will help build a Bard that will be an amazing addition to the party. I learned a fair amount from building that last guide and I think this one will be a little more user friendly. I am still going to use colors and symbols mixed with a lot of opinion and some snark. But, this time I am going to only highlight things that are optimal or fun or I just feel like pointing out instead of hitting everything. Lastly, I would like to point out I am not going to go through the entire spell list in this post either. I will be talking about spells in another post coming soon.

**Update 6/6/19 : I am going to go ahead and publish this post today. I will be adding more content and anchors as I have the time. Please come back and check for updated info soon! **

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Ability Scores
  • Races
  • Class Features
  • Bardic Colleges
  • Magical Secrets
  • Skills and Backgrounds
  • Feats
  • Other Sources

Introduction

This is my second full optimization guide. I used to be a regular poster on the 4e forums, but things have changed. Mainly, the fact those forums don’t exists anymore. Some of that has moved over to ENWorld and Reddit. I hope to create a living guide. So as you are reading this, if you have a different opinion please comment and let me know. And, that may help this guide grow and change.

Bard are great characters at the table, you can build them as the ultimate party helper and buffer, you can aim at debuting the enemy, with the use of magical secrets you can become an amazing blaster, and of course you are the master of skills. Classically the bard is a musician or storyteller, but, as seen in Eberron, you can also make a great spy or detective. One of the appeals of being a bard is the versatility.


Rating Scale

  • Gold (+++)Must have, you better have a good reason for picking something else.
  • Sky Blue (++)Great Choice
  • Blue (+)Good Choice
  • Black ( | ) = Decent choice
  • Purple (-) = Pick something else if you can, but won’t cripple you
  • Red (–)Only pick this if you have a story related reason to do so

Ability Scores

The interesting thing about being a bard is that you really only have on ability score that everything you do is keyed off of, so that leaves you the other scores to flesh out your character. Just remember, Charisma (Cha) is Queen for the Bard in your life.

  • Strength ( | ) – Strength can be good for certain skills like athletics, not one of the more common saves, but if you are looking at being a Melee Bard this might be a more valuable stat for you.
  • Constitution (+) – You are going to start out with some pretty bad AC, getting a little boost to HP is nice and your concentration spells are going to thank you having a little bit of this juice.
  • Dexterity (+) – Once again, you are squish. To be less squish, learn to dodge. Also, this is going to be one of your primary saves vs. damaging spells, meaning you want to make those saves to make those concentration checks later down the road a bit easier.
  • Wisdom ( | ) – Another solid save. But, unless you are going for a certain skills focused or investigator type build you may not invest a whole lot here.
  • Charisma (+++) – This is your major stat. I would recommend at each level you get a stat boost going with Charisma and worrying about feat s and other stats later.
  • Intelligence ( | ) – If I am not mistaken this stat has the least amount of saves, but it is worth keeping somewhat decent for skills.

Bardic Races

Almost any race and be a bard, but certain races really shine when it comes to the skills, stats boosts, or abilities they get.

Dragonborn (+) – Dragonborn come out of the gate as a decent bardic choice. They come with a nice boost to Charisma and you get a boost to Strength, so if you are going melee that could be helpful. Breath Weapon and Resistance isn’t too bad either.

Dwarf (+)– I think overall the Dwarf is a good choice. Some of the sub races are a little bit better than the others. But, overall

  • Hill Dwarf (+) – Like I mentioned before you are going to be squishy so having the extra HP will be great, not to mention that boost to wisdom will help a lot with a bunch of great skills.
  • House Kundarak (+) – If you are in Eberron these aren’t a bad choice. Get a little bonus to Dex and Int. You also get an intuition die to a couple of great skills and thievery checks.
  • Mountain Dwarf (+) – Kicking it off with Medium Armor training is nice. The bonus to strength, once again, is handy for melee focused bards.

Elf (+) – Elves, at a base level, are going to make great bards. Starting out with a nice boost to Dex, allowing you to dodge a few hits and save against a few fireballs. Not to mention Dark Vision, which is super handy, and proficiency in perception. Already off to a great start, now we get to look at sub-races.

  • Aereni Elf (+) – From Eberron the Arena are known for being very smart, so the bonus to int is great this will help with with knowledge skills. The bonus cantrip is nice as well.
  • Dark Elf (Drow)(++) – Aside from the Sunlight Sensitivity this is a great sub race for bard, bonus to dex and bonus to charisma. Oh yeah. And Darkvision and Drow Magic.
  • Eladrin (++) – Much like the Drow before it, this is another great stat lay out and you get a teleport action to get our of trouble. Pretty solid. Not to mention once you hit level 3 you can add some extra sparkle to your teleport.
  • High Elf (+) – Almost exactly the same as the Aereni Elves from Eberron. Good stat layout and bonus to int for all those pesky knowledge skills.
  • Mark of Shadow (++) – Charisma Bonus and Dex Bonus. Got the right stats, the natural talent gives you another instrument proficiency so not too great, but you do get what is essentially hide in plain sight. Not too shabby.

The other elves are good, but they just do not stand out nearly as much as the ones above.

Gnomes ( | ) – I feel like gnomes are getting screwed over a little in this edition. I feel like they should make better bards. We do have the Mark of Scrying Bards in the Eberron setting that are okay with a bonus to int and cha and with some extra spells, pushing these gnomes to a ( + ) rating, but there isn’t too much reason to play a different gnome.

Half-Elf (++) – I feel like if there was a race that we could just rename a class out would be changing half-elves to Bards. They start out with a big bonus to Charisma and TWO floating stat bumps. Not to mention Skill Versatility not to mention darkvision. A couple of the sub-races stand out too, but rolling with a vanilla Half-Elf Bard is a great choice.

  • Half Drow – This variation you give up some skills for a few spells, that can be a solid choice based on your build.
  • Half Aquatic Elf – In the right campaign this could be useful.

Halfling (+) – They start out with a nice dex bonus and the lucky trait. Both of those are going to save your butt through out a campaign.

  • Lightfoot Halfing (++) – Bonus to Cha and bonuses to hiding. This would make a great spy or a sneaky spell slinger. An over all great choice.
  • House Ghallanda (++)– Once again a Cha bonus but this time you get access to a couple extra cantrips. Great choice if Eberron races are open to you.

Half-Orc (-) – Now I am not saying half-orcs can’t be good bards, they can, they just have a bit more of an uphill battle. They are built for a fight though so College of Swords might not be a bad route.

Human(++) – Humans are great at nearly everything, bards not excluded. Either option Variant or Standard are solid choices depending if you want a wide stat spread to allow you to cover more skills or that bonus feat is calling your name.

Tiefling (+) – Base level Tieflings start out with a boost to Cha and Int. Making them solid Bards. Maybe one of the better choices (if half-elf didn’t exist) Resistance to fire damage is great as is the couple spells they get as they level up.

Aarokocra (+) – Bonuses to Dex and Wisdom are nice, but why this race really stands out is it’s flying speed. It is nice to also have talons and never to be unarmed, but really if you are playing one of these you are playing it for the flight.

Aasimar (++) – Another competitor for top bard. The Assimar start off with a bug bonus to Cha which is a stat you cannot neglect. You also get healing hands, which having another heal is always welcome and the necrotic and radiant resistance is handy as well. And, before we even leave the base before getting into sub races, you get darkvision too!

  • Fallen (+) – Going with the Fallen you are going to get a boost to Strength which will be handy if you are aiming for a melee build. Your racial ability is keyed off Charisma which is going to be your primary stat.
  • Protector (|) – The wisdom bonus is nice, but this version of the Aasimar doesn’t really stand out. It is a fine choice due to the base boosts
  • Scourge (|) – I would rank this just barely Protector. Not great, but you do have the base stat covered, so if you want the extra con, it isn’t a bad thing.
  • Variant (+) – I feel like the variant Aasimar makes for a solid bard. You get the bonus boost to Cha and another bonus to wisdom, which is okay. But you also get the ability to cast lesser restoration at level 3 as a bonus, which is pretty great.

Kenku (+) – While the Kenku doesn’t really have a great stat layout in that is doesn’t have a big boost to Charisma, but with bonus to dex and wisdom is of course nice, but if you are leaning into a spy style bard they have some racial abilities that are a bonus.

Tabaxi (+) – They have a decent bonus to Cha and a big bonus to Dex, meaning they will make good bards. Darkvision is always hand, but really the Cat’s Claws is what really makes this race stand out, a climb speed and a weapon.

Triton (+) – Tritons are an interesting choice. They get stats across 3 different abilities — Strength, Constitution, and Charisma. Having a well rounded batch of stat boosts means that you can pay attention to the stats that are going to help you with skills. Unless you are in a water related campaign you might want to look elsewhere.

Yuan-Ti Pureblood (++) – Big boost to Charisma is a great start, the bump to int is good for knowledge skills. You will also get darkvision, innate spell casting and most importantly Magic Resistance. Having magic resistance is going increase your survivability exponentially.

Changeling (++) – If you have access to Eberron a Changeling is going to be a great choice. You start with a big bonus to Charisma, and then you get a chance to choose a boost to Int or Dex depending on your build. You get plenty of bonus proficiencies and of course that ability to change your appearance. Great all around bard.

Kalashtar (++) – Start with a boost to Cha and Wis, but then you get a floating third boost, and you can, and should if you are a bard, apply to Charisma. You also get some bonus skills, resistances, the ability to have advantage on wisdom saves once a day, and of course mind link. Mind Link gives you the ability to speak telepathically with any creatures nearby, which is great.

Shifter (+) – There is really only one sub-race for the Shifter that stands out, but before we get to that, the base race comes with a boost to dex, darkvision, training in perception, and shifting. Shifting give you temps and some additional bonuses based on your sub-race.

  • Swiftstride (+) – With the swiftstride you get a bonus for Dex and Cha. Those two are solid stat bonus. You also get some great speed and movement bonuses.

Simic Hybrid (+) – Of the Ravnica races this is the one that stands out the most. The rest of them doesn’t really hold up. You start with a bonus to con which is handy for many reasons, but you also get a bonus to one other ability score of your choice, Cha. The Darkvision is great, but the unique thing about this race are the animal enhancements. All of the enhancements are good, so you won’t really regret picking on over the other, some might be more useful in certain kinds of campaigns than others.

Other Races – I did skip a fair amount of races. The nice thing about the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons is that if you aren’t worried about total optimization you can choose any race and do well.


Bard Class Features

Now we get to the juicy stuff. This is why you chose to be a bard, all the cool things you get to do and what makes the framework for your character.

Hit Points (|) – You start with a mid level of HP, but you aren’t looking to get hit a lot, and if you are you are going to want to balance this out with some boosts to con.

Proficiencies (|) – You start our with light armor as a base, but with certain schools you can pick up some more heavy duty armor if you are looking to get into combat. As far as weapons go, if you are going to rely on weapons instead of cantrips one of the best picks is going to be rapier, unless you are going str based, in that case the longsword will serve you well.

Your good save is going to be Dex, which is really going to help since most damaging spells are going to be targeting your dex, however the bad save is Cha… Which isn’t nearly as bad as Int. but not as good as STR. SO there is that. 

Spellcasting (++) – Bards have a solid spell selection. Most of their spells are great for assisting the party, where they are buffs, debuffs, or crowd control spells. Most of the high damaging spells you get are going to be through Magical Secrets. You also have the ability to cast rituals so long as they are spells you have chosen. This can save some spell slots in place of utility. 

Bardic Inspiration (++) – I feel like this is one of the most useful skills in the game. You will often hear me say that Lucky is one of the best feats, well this is one of the best abilities. Anytime you can alter a die it is an amazing boon. You can not only boost your allies with these skills, but you can also adjust your DMs rolls as well with College of Lore. 

Jack Of All Trades (++) – Bard is pretty front loaded, after level 2 things start to slow down a little bit, but Jack of All Trades is great. More so when you think about spells like counterspell and how the gets along with this lovely ability. 

Bard College – We will dig into this more below, but this is what really helps make your bard your bard. 

Expertise (+) – You can use this to lean into certain specialties for your bard giving them a bonus to certain skills. Solid feature. 

Ability Score Improvements (|) – I feel like, for the most part, if you are building a character that is interested in damaging, slowing, or messing with the enemy you are going to want to use this to get your charisma up to 20 asap. If you are focused on buffing you allies or some kind of battle field control in which you are getting in the way and not saves are needed you can use these for some sweet feats (Like Lucky)

Font Of Inspiration (+) – I feel like inspiration should have been a short rest feature anyway, but this officially makes it that way. Use all of your inspiration all the time. 

Magical Secrets (++) – I’m going to dive into this a bit later, but this is a great reason to play a bard. There are some great spells you can pull into this. Things such as counterspell, fireball, lightening bolt and so much more. 

Superior Inspiration (-) – There really isn’t a whole lot of reason to take a bard to 20, multi-class before you get here. 


Bard Colleges

College of Glamour (+) – This is a great bard if you are excited about battlefield control. You are going to be throw a lot of saves out there. For this build I would suggest maxing out Cha and looking to pick up the lucky feat. 

  • Mantle of Inspiration (++) – In a game where we lovingly call the first few levels rocket tag every little bit of temp HP is great to have. With a bonus action you can give temp HP and some movement to your allies. This is going to be great for battlefield control. Your allies get a little tougher and they can move into better positions. 
  • Enthralling Performance (-) – You can perform for a crowd and woo them into loving you. I suppose this would be good in the right campaign. But, to me it is kinda boring. 
  • Mantle of Majesty (+) – Once time a day you can make yourself amazing and glorious. And, using that amazing you can enthrall enemies (as a command spell) with a bonus action. This can be pretty juicy, unless you are in an undead heavy campaign. 
  • Unbreakable Majesty (+) – This is a nice little addition to your Mantle of Majesty in that it makes it harder for your enemies to hit you. 

College of Lore (++) – I am a big fan of spellcasters, and I feel like this role lends itself to being a full spellcaster. You get access to Magical secrets starting at 6th level but you also get a few other ways to make life hard on the enemy. 

  • Cutting Words (++)– The DMs that I tend to play with we have a relationship in which it is fun to mess with each other. And ,this ability is really my favorite tool in the Bard tool box. You can use your bardic inspiration to subtract form the DMs dice rolls. 
  • Additional Magical Secrets (+++) – Getting access to two spells from another class at level 6 is a big reason people choose this class. After you pick up counterspell (because why wouldn’t you?) you have a great deal of other amazing spells to choose form. 
  • Peerless Skill (|) – This allows you to use your bardic inspiration to boost skills checks. This is an okay skill, but not worth sticking in the class for. 

College of Swords (++) – Have you ever seen a sword swallower? Well, that is the example they give for College of Swords, you are a master of blades and entertaining with thing. You can also use these skills for more ‘interesting tasks’. I think this is one of the better Gish options available for the Bard and is worth taking a look at. 

  • Bonus Proficiencies (++) – You get proficiency in Scimitar and Medium armor. Also, if you are proficient in the weapon you are using you can use it as a focus for your spells. This is a nice way to get away from the troupe that a Bard needs to use an instrument or sing to inspire. 
  • Fighting Style (+) – You get the option of Dueling and Two-Weapon Fighting as fighting styles here. If you plan on using your inspiration for your Blade Flourish abilities then Two-Weapon fighting might be the better route, but if you need your bonus actions dueling is a solid choice. 
  • Blade Flourish (++) – You get three options on ways to spend you bardic inspiration. You have a defensive move, a move that allows you to damage multiple targets, and a mobile move for some battlefield control. In addition you also get to add your inspiration die to damage. 
  • Extra Attack (+) – This is a nice perk for such a melee focused bard. But, it doesn’t really stand out from other folks. 
  • Master’s Flourish (+) – Even if you have no inspiration you can use a flourish, with slightly less bonus damage. This is also a good jumping off point for the class if you are looking at some multi class options.

College of Valor (|) – College of Valor is for folks who have DM’s that won’t let them take College of Swords. I am kidding… Well… Kinda. I feel like swords is a stronger combatant while valor has a little bit of a defender in them. But, if you want to play a defender I think there are better options. 

  • Bonus Proficiencies (|) – Medium Armor, Martial Weapons, Shields. Which is all fine, except that you don’t get to use these are focus items. The big b0nus here is the shield.
  • Combat Inspiration (+) – This might be why you took that class. Tossing inspiration Dice at the DM to make your allies harder to his is nice. 
  • Extra Attack (+) – Swing that weapon more, get more damage. Never a bad thing. 
  • Battle Magic (+) – I think this is good. Not great. It kinda of tells you what the developers thought was the best way for you to use your inspiration. So you will cast a spell, then attack with you weapon as a bonus action, and then toss your inspiration dice at the DM to make you allies harder to hit.

College of Whispers (|) – This is one of those instances that I don’t like the College that much, but I also thing it has some pretty potent options. 

  • Psychic Blades (++) – You can use inspiration to get a very nice boost in damage. This is going to be where most if not all of your inspiration goes. Forget the the players and their problems, you are going to take out some fools. 
  • Words of Terror (-) – This is great for a RP heavy campaign, If you have the opportunity to spend time talking one on one with someone you can put the fear of you or anyone else into them. 
  • Mantel of Whispers (+) – In the right campaign this is juicy, you can get some sweet infiltration in and be amazing at gathering information. But, it just feels a little evil to me, like this should almost be a warlock power. 
  • Shadow Lore (+) – Another great manipulation feature, but only works if you share a language, but there should be plenty of opportunities to charm some enemies. 

Magical Secrets

I am going to be diving into spells soon, but I figured I could highlight a few solid choices for when you are choosing your Magical Secrets. 

Cantrips

  • Eldritch Blaste () – 
  • Green Flame Blade () – 
  • Booming Blade () –
  • Shillelagh () –

Level 1

  • Sheild () – 
  • Find Familiar

Level 2

  • Healing Spirit () – 
  • Spiritual Weapon () –
  • Shadow Blade () –

Level 3

  • Fireball () –
  • Lightening Bolt () –
  • Counter-spell (+++) –
  • Haste () –
  • Steel Wind Strike () –

Level 4

  • Banishment () –

Level 5

  • Swift Quiver () – 
  • Wall of Force () –
  • Telekinesis () –

Level 7

  • Reverse Gravity

Level 8

  • Maze

Level 9 

  • Wish () –
  • Foresight () –

Skills and Backgrounds

 


Feats

 


Other Sources

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