So, you’re thinking of playing a Bard in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Maybe you like the idea of the traveling musician or you watched a certain show with a certain wise-cracking character who carried a lute (I’ll let you decide which one, there’s a lot). But, you don’t know where to start.
This beginner’s guide on how to play a Bard in D&D 5e shines a spotlight on creating one of the more flamboyant classes.
Now, I will say; this isn’t an optimization guide nor is it really a step-by-step guide on playing a Bard. This article is meant to help new players (or those new to the Bard) get a better understanding of what it means to play a Bard in 5e as well as some of the basic concepts behind the class. If you’d like a more detailed guide to the individual elements of the Bard class, leave a comment below and let me know.
That said, let’s take a quick look at the basics of what it means to play a Bard.
Basics of Playing a Bard in D&D 5e
Playing a Bard in 5e means playing one of the more roleplay-focused classes in the game. Performers by nature, Bards often thrive in social encounters.
The most important thing to remember when understanding how to play a Bard in 5e is they’re performers.
There’s a reason the flamboyant, boisterous Bard is a trope in popular media. They thrive under the spotlight, they live for the attention of an audience…usually. It honestly depends on the sort of Bard you want to play, part of which is picking the best background for your Bard to fit your play style.
This is to say; Bards are one of the best social encounter-focused classes in D&D.
A good chunk of the Bards class features and spells (since they’re spellcasters) focus on interacting with other creatures and non-player characters (NPCs). They’re usually high Charisma stat and proficiency in Charisma-based skills also emphasize their social prowess. So, they’re naturally adept at becoming the front-person for the party.
Playing a Bard also means finding a balance between stepping into the spotlight and supporting the other player characters during their shining moments. After all, a Bard’s only as good as the stories they tell, often about other heroes.
Since they have such a strong focus on social interactions, Bards place a heavy emphasis on their Charisma score.
Ability Score Priorities for Bards
The primary Ability Score for Bards in 5e is Charisma. Many of the Bards features, including their Spellcasting, use Charisma in their calculations.
If you want to play a Bard in D&D 5e, you’ll want your character to have a high Charisma stat. Most of the Bard’s features use Charisma including their spells. So, having at least a halfway decent Charisma score means your character stays capable.
The Player’s Handbook recommends prioritizing Dexterity as the Bard’s secondary Ability Score.
Let’s be clear; Dexterity is a good pick for pretty much any class. This stays true for the Bard as much as any other class. So, you can’t go wrong making that your second highest stat when playing a 5e Bard.
That said, Constitution or Wisdom would also make good secondary stats for a Bard.
Bards who want to focus more on spellcasting benefit from Constitution as it helps them maintain concentration on spells that require it better. Also, your character gets more hit points so they can take more hits before going down.
Wisdom is a great skill for Bards who act as the Face for the party. Social interactions often require getting a read on how NPCs react. So, having a high Wisdom stat with proficiency in the Insight skill is great for Bards who fill this role.
So, if you want to play a Bard in 5e, prioritize your Charisma first. Your secondary Ability Score varies depends on how you want to play your character. That said, you can’t go wrong with Dexterity, Constitution, or Wisdom.
Bardic Colleges (Subclasses)
The Bard’s subclasses in D&D 5e are called "Colleges". Your character trains in some form of performance that channels their magic.
As with any of the classes in D&D 5e, the Bard has a variety of subclasses, called Colleges, available to choose from. The Bards gains access to their College starting at 3rd-level. So, you have a few levels to decide on which one you want to play as.
Now, like every other class, each of the Bard’s subclasses alter how the base class plays to a small degree. Usually, each of the Bard Colleges specialize in a different form of performance but not always.
That said, the Bard’s subclasses all still use Charisma for a bulk of their features. So, they all encourage more social interactions.
Here are the available Bard Colleges available to play as.
- College of Lore (Player’s Handbook)
- Lore Bards put a stronger focus on the magical abilities of a character. These Bards collect knowledge and weave the truths they discover into their performances.
- College of Valor (Player’s Handbook)
- Bards who follow the College of Valor tell tales of valiant heroes and seek to preserve the stories of battles and daring adventures. Valor Bards are a bit more martially-focused than others, often jumping into the fray with weapon in-hand.
- College of Glamour (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
- Glamour Bards trained under some sort of fey entity, absorbing the beguiling nature of the realm of fairies. Due to their experience with the fey, they gain abilities to manipulate the minds of beasts and mortals with their words.
- College of Swords (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
- Sword Bards are arguably the most martial of the Colleges. Their performances focus more on feats of daring using a variety of weaponry like sword swallowing or knife throwing. These Bards also learn how to weave their weapon wielding with their spells to add to their capabilities.
- College of Whispers (Xanather’s Guide to Everything)
- Whisper Bards lead lives in the shadows. They still perform the typical duties of other Bards like performing in taverns and inns, but they use a Bard’s reputation to gain information from patrons to use for their own personal gain.
- College of Creation (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything)
- Creation Bards sing, tell tales, and dance with the belief that all of reality follows an unseen work of art. These Bards believe that everything exists through a Song of Creation and they use this as inspiration for their performances.
- College of Eloquence (Mythic Odysseys of Theros / Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything)
- Eloquence Bards forego the typical performances like singing and dancing for the art of debate and oratory. This College emphasizes the use of logic and wordplay as an artform all its own.
- College of Spirits (Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft)
- Spirit Bards seek tales from beyond life. They call upon spirits to tell their tales which grant power to these Bards. These Bards utilize some sort of occult tool to call upon the spirits of the deceased to fuel their performances.
Bard Spells & Spellcasting
Bards in 5e fall under the categorization of Full Caster. This means they rely primarily on spellcasting on their adventures to help their allies and harm or hinder their foes.
As a spellcasting class, Bards usually rely (with the exception of some of the more martial Colleges) on magic during their adventures.
The Spell List for Bards includes a good number of support spells meant to help their allies or hinder their enemies. That said, it also includes many damage spells. So, you have options on how your want to play your Bard character.
Charisma is the Bard’s Spellcasting Ability. So, if you plan on playing a more magically-inclined Bard, make sure you have a decent Charisma score.
Aside from that, Bards follow many of the same rules for spellcasting as any other class. The only exception is their use of musical instruments.
Bards in 5e may use a musical instrument as a Spellcasting Focus. This means a Bard character may cast a spell that requires non-monetary components without them so long as they have an instrument in-hand.
Most spellcasting classes require a specific spellcasting focus is they want to ignore the bulk of Material components. But, Bards lack the ability to use typical foci in favor of letting them use a musical instrument. Because of this, Bards have more use for instruments beyond roleplaying opportunities.
This builds on the theme of Bards as entertainers as they cast spells through the use of music.
As with other spellcasters, the use of a musical instrument as a Spellcasting Focus only lets you ignore Material components for a spell so long as those components don’t include a monetary value. If a spell component has a gold piece value, you still need that specific component to cast that spell.
The Basic Rules list out 10 instruments Bards may use as their Spellcasting Focus.
- Pan Flute
Finding Your Bard’s Backstory
Since the Bard is often a pretty roleplay-heavy class, developing a meaningful and fleshed-out backstory is one of the best parts of playing this class.
Something about playing a Bard encourages developing a good backstory. This only makes sense considering how the class itself encourages roleplaying. Having a fun backstory builds the possibilities of roleplaying during play.
The most basic Bard backstory involves them traveling town-to-town, performing in taverns, and getting…involved with the locals.
Despite how basic a backstory like this is, it still opens up a number of questions about a Bard character.
Who taught them how to perform? Why do they travel? Which towns have they visited? Did they enter and leave on good terms? Do they have any relationships (good or bad) in these places?
All of these questions (and many more) give way to potential roleplaying situations Bards may need to work through.
It’s an easy place to start when developing your Bard’s backstory. But, I always encourage players, once they’re more comfortable, to branch out and come up with their own unique backstories.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with playing the classics. A traveling Bard is a well-trodden path for a reason; it works for playing an adventurous character.
Your Bard’s Talent & Performance Focus
Identify what you want your Bard character to focus on and where their talents lie. This usually means through performance, but consider the other Charisma-based skills and how your character channels their talent during your game.
I’m not talking about a tangible focus since we already addressed that. No, this is more about what your Bard character focuses on and where their talents lie.
Bards don’t need to be musicians.
They’re performers, sure, but there are many different forms of entertaining. So, when playing a Bard, decide where your Bard focused their talents.
Honestly, any performing style works for Bards. Since they’re aren’t exclusively musicians, any sort of public entertainment works as the focus of their talents.
Some example Bard performance focuses include:
- Instrumental performances
- Song (with or without accompaniment)
- Fortune telling
- Knife throwing
While you don’t need to have a musical-exclusive Bard, remember that their Spellcasting Focus relies on an instrument of some kind. So, they should have some sort of musical training, but they don’t need to rely on that for their performances.
What you decide on when playing a Bard helps inform you of the role your character will play in the party.
The Bard’s Role in the Party
Playing a Bard in 5e means playing a versatile character, capable of filling a number of D&D party roles. Bards most commonly play as the Face role in the party due to their high Charisma stat and pension for roleplay. But, they also serve well in the Support or Control roles.
The Face role means acting as the front-person for the party during social encounters with NPCs.
Either through deception, persuasion, or otherwise, Bards fill this role incredibly well. Due to their prioritization on their Charisma stat, Bards often have fantastic bonuses for the Charisma-based Skills.
Furthermore, the Bard’s Spell List includes many options for interacting with NPCs, humanoid or otherwise. So, playing a Bard will probably mean taking point on any interactions with NPCs.
While Bards fill the Face role extremely well, they also play well as Support or Control characters.
Part of the appeal of playing a Bard in D&D 5e is how well it supports other characters. Many of the Bard’s features and spells buff or help other creatures in some way. So, they fill the Support role, a role focused on buffing and improving the abilities of the party, pretty well.
Another role Bards fit well in is Control. Being a Charisma-based class, Bards have a number of spells and features at their disposal that affect the minds of creatures. Due to this, Bards have the ability to control a battle by forcing creatures to move or stay still.
This all said, Bards fit well in many roles within an adventuring party except maybe the Tank. But, they usually excel as the Face, Support, or Control of the group.
Summary on How to Play a Bard in 5e
That about covers the basics on how to play a Bard in D&D 5e.
The Bard is one of the more socially-focused classes in D&D due mostly to their focus on the Charisma stat. These characters are performers by trade, so they have some musical training and use that in their spellcasting. That said, they aren’t exclusively musicians and may instead focus on their other entertaining talents. Being a social-based class, Bards often fill the Face role of the party, but they work well as Support or Control characters too.
Playing a Bard can be…tricky. Finding the right balance between taking the spotlight and letting someone else take the stage is an exercise in presence-of-mind. That said, support your party mates and they’ll support you.
Have any tips for players new to the Bard class? Or, what’s your favorite memory from your Bard’s adventures? Leave a comment below!
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