Play with Class: Build a Banging Bard

Play with Class: Build a Banging Bard

Welcome to another installment of the Play with Class series where we give you concrete steps to run each class for the world’s greatest roleplaying game! This week we’re chatting about one of my favorite classes: the bard.

Oh, bards. Is there any other class that has such a colorful reputation? Bards have seen a complicated evolution through the editions, primarily because they tend to fill a jack-of-all-trades adventuring role. Playing a bard guarantees that you’ll have lots of fun flavor to play with at the table, but it can be challenging to feel like an effective combat force. For this reason, I usually steer new players away from choosing a bard. That said, if you have ever enjoyed an improv class, you are likely going to have a desperate amount of fun with this class regardless of your gaming experience level.

Role of the Bard

In a standard adventuring party, bards usually land in the support category. Being support means that most of your abilities empower your allies and debuff your enemies. Support classes require a more subtle hand to play since they don’t do well hacking away in the middle of a fray, and they don’t have a wealth of damage dealing spells to sling.

Your job as the bard is to get your help or harm concentration spells going as soon as possible and then keep doling out those bonuses to your teammates every round.

Reasons to Play a Bard

  • You will be the best smooth talker in the land. Seriously your ability to persuade/charm/inspire is unrivaled by any other class.
  • You get to do a little bit of everything! You cast spells, you can hold your own in a fight, and you’ve got mad skills. You certainly won’t ever feel like you’re in a rut.
  • You have opportunities to do everything creatively. Whether you want to cast spells as beat poetry or become a mime, it all works for a bard.

Combat Crash Course

So, how do you wield your boisterous bard in the throes of battle? Playing a bard is all about mastering your action economy. When you understand what abilities to use in what circumstances, you become a buff/debuff machine.

Always Be Inspiring

The cornerstone of the bard class is their ability to dole out bardic inspiration. Bardic inspiration is an incredible asset for your allies to use, so you must master it. So many people forget to use their bardic inspiration and consequently wind up doing lackluster in combat. Giving an ally a bardic inspiration is a bonus action, so unless you have something else specific to do as that bonus, you should give out that inspiration like candy. You’re also always going to have more than enough uses left, especially after recovering them on short rests after 5th level. Just remember to end every turn by giving a bardic inspiration, and you are already miles ahead of other bardic players.

Choose Your Spells Wisely

I’m not going to lie to you. Bards have it rough when it comes to spellcasting. The vast majority of great bard spells require concentration, which means you have to be ruthless about cultivating your spell list. You also need to keep your bonus actions mostly free to dole out bardic inspiration, narrowing your effective spell choices even further. All this means is that you have to be hyper-aware of your combat action economy. Typically you want to have a small selection of your powerhouse concentration spells, get them going early, and then run a light offense with your weapons. Bards don’t have great damage cantrips available from the get-go, so being capable with a ranged weapon, especially at early levels, is a must. When these basics are covered, you can grab some solid damage spells whenever you have the opportunity.

Things get a touch easier for bards when you start unlocking new spell options through magical secrets, but you have to set yourself up for spell success until 10th level. Also, keep in mind that the vast majority of bard spells require Wisdom saving throws, which are straight useless against most higher-level creatures (who are often immune to charm and frightened conditions). So whenever you see a new spell with a different kind of save, grab it! Diversify as much as you can, especially with your magical secret choices.

Level-Up Picks

The key to making a successful bard is to make strong choices and support those choices each level mechanically. Here are some level up tricks to keep in mind.

Know Your Theme

Bards can do so many different things that you end up being mediocre at everything if you don’t firmly choose one path. When you first make your bard and pick your subclass, you must have a firm idea of what kind of bard you want to be. If you want to be mostly a spellcaster, if you want to be in the heart of combat, if you want to go all in on being a roguish performer or an inspiring leader, pick your college and spells to reflect that choice. The key here is to decide right off the bat what you are primarily going to do when playing your character and then stick to your guns.

Dexterity Is Your Best Friend

Whether moving about the field to help your allies or maintaining concentration on your spells, it is in your best interest as a bard to not get hit. Because you have so many concentration spells going, you put your entire party in danger every time you have to make a roll to maintain a spell. Since heavy armor typically isn’t your bag, Dexterity is going to be your ultimate best friend. Keep your Charisma and your Dexterity scores high, and you will be golden.

Flavor Savor

If you want to check out some flavorful choices to emphasize your bardic style, here are a few things to check out:

  • If your bard has a green thumb and you want to focus on healing, check out the Greenleaf College subclass (Deep Magic).
  • Remember, your bard doesn’t have to use singing to cast their spells. Look at tool options available to you and talk to your GM about other possibilities. Storytelling, poetry, dance, flower arranging, painting, or any other artistic pursuit can work for your bardic flavor!

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3 thoughts on “Play with Class: Build a Banging Bard”

  1. Avatar

    The College of Whispers (Unearthed Arcana/upcoming Ravenloft sourcebook) allows bards to wield some wicked magic. Through his spirit session ability, my 7th level bard can, for example, cast a 9d6 fireball, or some other destructive spell from another class. (Of course, the official soon-to-be-released material might be different. We’ll see.)
    If your bard, like mine, has a mandolin of Canaith, you’ll want to load up on charm spells–charm person, suggestion, crown of madness, hypnotic pattern, etc… With the mandolin, all saves against such spells are at disadvantage.
    In sum, is almost exclusively a spell caster; the sword stays in the sheath.

  2. Avatar

    I’m the opposite of Patrick. My bard is now an 11th level College of Swords bard. While he has some real nice spells like silence, counterspell, animate objects and true seeing, at heart he is a swashbuckling swordsman.

    His spellcasting is much more directed toward making him deadlier in combat. There is nothing like casting far step. I stab you first then Teleport! Next I stab your pal, Teleport! Next…Great fun.

    Just goes to show how versatile bards can be.

  3. Avatar

    Playing in Midgard, mainly wasted West for last year or two. A lot of mixed adventures, many converted from DCC so very gonzo. Lore College Gearforged Bard (background Dhampir of Morgau, heisted his gearforged body to escape his noble household, the patron of which had found a way to feast on Soulgems).
    Running support heavily. Winding Key (2nd lvl) on myself as a cute robot haste, we’re ruling one spell one cantrip with that Kobold Press spell. got Frenzied Bolt for damage and a druid (3rd lvl magical secrets) spell Potency of the Pack for my thumpy allies.
    Really enjoying the Heroes Handbook spell selections. Recommend KPOGL to erratta the 4th level Bard spells from the book easily. Going to go Reposition for my 4th lvl spell at 7th, nice local teleport for the crew.
    We’re using warforged race stats as the healing on Gearforged is terrible and the repair metal spells are worse than standard healing, as specialist spells we think they should be more powerful. No complaints though. Love the Midgard world, and simple immersion through similarities to real world myth and folklore.

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