D&D 5e Guide – How to Play a Bard
It takes more to be a Bard than just rolling to seduce every monster, NPC, or magic item you come across. Did you know they can cast spells too?
5E bards are the archetypal jack-of-all-trades. At least, they’re supposed to be. But, in 5th Edition, if played properly, a Bard can be a jack-of-all-trades, and master of quite a few.
Players just have to understand what a Bard is. Once upon a time, in 3rd Edition, Bards were a bit like rogues. They had some spellcasting abilities and a unique buff they could provide to everyone in the party. They weren’t the first choice of a party member, but if you had one, your whole party was a lot better.
But in 5th Edition, Bards are first and foremost spellcasters. They’re no longer the partial-casters of yore. Bards have full spellcasting capabilities and a spell list that includes some of the most powerful spells in the game.
It all comes down to knowing what you can do with your spell and how to leverage your other strengths. Bards are versatile – they’re good with skills, and they can be a good second-string fighter.
But their spells and inspiration are their greatest tools. And figuring out how to use your skills, melee ability, and subclass features can help you be the best 5E bard for your party.
What do you want your Bard to do best? What is your primary role in your party? Are you there to heal? To deal damage? To influence people on and off the battlefield?
Bards can do a little of everything. For most, it’s just a question of what do they do best. That question determines a lot of things. And it can be a hard one to answer. Even their spell list suits them to a number of roles.
So what are Bards best at? Naturally, they can be incredibly flexible casters. With access to the best healing spells and some of the best control and enchantment spells, you can do anything!
Want to make yourself a one-man melee magic user? Bards can do that. Want to provide all the support your cleric wishes they could if they weren’t too busy casting cure wounds? It’s time for the bard to shine.
The other thing bards do really well? Interacting with the world. 5E bards are high Charisma characters, which suits them to be the face of the party. They have expertise in skills, which can make them masters of persuasion, deception, and talking to people.
Or they can be incredibly skilled at stealth and perception. Bards are great scouts, and even better at sneaking into places than Rogues. These skills can make a bard the ultimate spymaster. A lot of what you can do, as with any spellcasting class, though, comes down to what spells you pick.
Some of the Best Bard Spells For Your Buck
A quick look through the spell list will net you plenty of options. Players who go bard can deal damage with spells like Dissonant Whispers or Heat Metal, or they can take targets out of the fight temporarily with things like Phantasmal Force or Hold Person. Bards can also get in and out of places with Invisibility, Major Image, or Nondetection.
As a Bard, your first instinct should be to see what you can do with the spells you have on your list. And with the expanded spell selection options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you can swap out spells as you need them with a Long Rest.
Sure, you can only wield them only one at a time, but that’s still more flexibility for the already most-flexible class. Even when you’re making a melee attack, you probably want to be casting a spell like Booming Blade or Green Flame Blade.
And since you’ll have a high Charisma, you can always take a level or two of Hexblade to make your melee even better. In fact, most Bards that want to wade into combat should consider taking at least one level of Hexblade Warlock (if not two.)
Here’s a quick look at some of the better spells you can take though:
- 1st Level
- Healing Word
- Silvery Barbs – A must-have for ANY Bard
- 2nd Level
- 3rd Level
- Leomund’s Tiny Hut
- Hypnotic Pattern
- Enemies Abound
- 4th Level
- Dimension Door
- Greater Invisibility
- 5th Level
- Hold Monster
- Rary’s Telepathic Bond
- Animate Objects
- 6th Level
- Mass Suggestion
- Otto’s Irresistable Dance
- 7th Level
- Mirage Arcane
- 8th Level
- Dominate Monster
- 9th Level
- Psychic Scream
- True Polymorph
But that’s beside the point. Since the base Bard can do pretty much anything, it all comes down to what Subclass you want to pick.
5E Bard Subclass Stories
Alright. Subclasses, you want ’em, we got ’em. Some of them are definitively better than others, but you can still have fun with any of these archetypes. Just keep in mind what you’re trying to do, and you’ll find something to suit you.
Bards from the College of Creation are all about creating objects, either by animating them or summoning them from thin air. You’ll be able to have a powerful ally to fight on your behalf, freeing you up to cast spells.
Just be mindful, as you’ll need your bonus action to command them. They can also play around with Bardic Inspiration to buff allies in unexpected ways.
Pick this subclass if you want to have combat pets/allies under your control, and you like using Inspiration.
The College of Eloquence is for 5E bards who want to be the ultimate bard. If you want to talk to anything and everything, the College of Eloquence is for you. You’ll make most Deception and Persuasion checks reliable by the time you hit 3rd level, and you’ll always have inspiration when you need it.
Pick this class if you want to be in the spotlight when it comes time to talk to people.
College of Glamour is all about making your party the best it can be. With its abilities, you’ll be giving your friends temporary hit points and helping them move around the battlefield.
More than that, the College of Glamour is about making an impression. With improved charms, the ability to Command someone, and unassailable Majesty, you can keep yourself from being hit. You can also ensure that your enemies are only fighting if you want them to be.
Pick this subclass if you want to be the foundation of your party.
College of Lore is a great choice for bards who always want to have the right tool for the job. This is probably the best subclass all around, and the best subclass for beginners as well.
You gain Cutting Words to negatively affect an enemy’s attack. You also get Magical Secrets to gain access to non-Bard spells, including Cantrips. This allows you to pick up something like Green Flame Blade, Booming Blade, or Eldritch Blast if you want a powerhouse combat cantrip.
Not only will you have expertise by this point, but you’ll also have a total of 6 extra skill proficiencies, too. You really can do pretty much anything with this class.
Pick this subclass if you’re not sure what to do, or if you want to be the best spellcasting bard out there.
The College of Swords is a great fit for 5E bards who want to flit about in the fight. If you looked at the College of Valor and thought “I’ll just work on me, thanks”, this one’s for you.
With your abilities, you’ll be attacking and doing extra damage, sliding enemies around on the battlefield, making yourself harder to hit, or damaging groups of enemies. And once you’ve suckered them into fighting you, you’ve got your spellcasting to make them regret it.
Pick this subclass if you see yourself as a stylish fighter in the center of every fight.
Contrariwise, the College of Valor is more about helping your friends be the best they can be. This is definitely the subclass of the “lead from the front” kind of general.
You pick up heavier armor and can use your Inspiration to make your friends hit harder or be harder to hit. With an Extra Attack and Battle Magic, you’re a passable Gish, but you’re one that thrives on Teamwork.
Pick this college if you want to fight with your friends on the frontline.
Finally, the College of Whispers is for Bards who want to be brooding or outright villainous. This is definitely in the ‘making friends and influencing people’ kind of category.
You get some weird abilities with this one. You’re part Fighter: when you attack someone, you can spend your Inspiration to do some substantial extra damage, control the fight by causing terror, and become someone after you kill them (at least for an hour.)
Later, you gain the ability to mega-charm your foes, with a power that lasts 8 hours. So, if you want to be the terror that flaps in the night, maybe this one is for you.
Pick this college if you want to infiltrate/be an assassin type. Or if you want to mix swordmaging with mind control.