D&D: Bard 5E class guide – the best colleges, races, spells, and more

Pick up your lute, equip your rapier, and read our D&D Bard 5E class guide, as we explore Bard Colleges, spells, builds, and more

D&D artwork showing a halfling bard playing a lute in a tavern

Playful, suave, and often seductive, Bards are a wildly enjoyable class to play in D&D. Not only can they charm their way out of any situation, they can also sling spells across the battlefield, and support their allies by giving them helpful buffs (sometimes even healing, too). Your party members need you to cheer them on with your natural bardic inspiration, and they’ll need your charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent when it comes to easing tensions in those high-stakes social encounters.

The Bard is a great class to play if you’re interested in some heavy-duty roleplay, but want to remain versatile. Because of their ability to create a performance – whether it be singing, acting, juggling, or acrobatics – they often become the party’s primary morale booster. With their additions to Charisma, they prove exceptionally useful in social encounters, while (usually) letting others have the glory in battle, sticking to the sidelines in order to buff their companions, and confuse their rivals.

This guide will lead you through D&D’s certified charmer class. We’ll go through everything from character creation, to levelling up, to picking a Bard College, and spell recommendations. At the end, there are some ready-made builds so you can get started and set out on tour – ahem… adventure. We meant adventure.

If you’re looking for something a little bit speedier to read, you can find Bard (and all the other class options) in our overall D&D 5E classes guide. But if you want the full picture before venturing into your campaign, keep on reading!

Card art for Magic The Gathering's Yisan The Wanderer Bard

Bard stats 5E

Hit Dice 1d8 per Level
HP at Lvl Up 1d8 (or 5) + Constitution Modifier
Primary Ability Scores Charisma and Dexterity or Constitution
Armour Proficiency Light Armour
Weapon Proficiency Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords,
rapiers, shortswords
Tool Proficiency  Three musical instruments of your choice
Skill Proficiency Three skills of your choice
Saving Throws  Charisma, Dexterity

While bards are natural spellcasters, all their magic comes from their charm and performance skills, so you’re going to want to prioritize Charisma (Cha) over everything else. Dexterity (Dex) and Constitution (Con) are going to be your next highest stats.

Decide if you want to be better at ducking away from things to avoid getting hit (Dex), or better at taking the hits when they do come (Con). You can choose to lean towards one or the other, depending on preference, but you’re going to need to keep pushing both stats to stay alive as a Bard, so keep an eye on them!

Now that you have your top three stats, you can pick if you want to be higher in Wisdom (Wis) or Intelligence (Int). The difference here is that Wis usually refers to anything “street smarts” related, while Int relates to book-learning and knowledge-based skills.

You’ll almost always put Strength (Str) as your lowest, or ‘dump’ stat, because bards are basically never the muscle of the group. Leave the Barbarians and Fighters to lift all the heavy things – as a Bard, you ain’t about that life.

D&D artwork showing a character conducting a magic spell with lights in the sky

BARD spellcasting IN D&D 5E

When casting a spell that refers to your spellcasting ability, you’ll be using your Charisma score. When casting a spell that requires the target to make a save against your spell, you’re going to use your charisma modifier.

Spell save DC 8 + Proficiency bonus + Charisma modifier
Spell attack modifier Proficiency bonus + Charisma modifier

The Bard is a full caster, using Charisma as the source of their spellcasting. Bards are able to learn new spells at every level, and use those spells a certain number of times per long rest.

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If you choose a spell that you don’t end up liking, don’t worry! You can replace one of your known spells every level, so you’re only stuck with a bad spell until your next level up.

Cantrips

The bard is also able to use Cantrips, two of which you can choose right away. You gain more as you continue to level up. Cantrips are different from spells, as there is no limit to the number of times you can cast them in a day.

Spell Slots

The bardic spell table will show you the total number of spells you know at each level, and how many new ones you’ll pick each time you level up.

It also shows you how many spell slots your bard gets at each character level. To cast a spell, you must expend a spell slot that is that spell’s level (or higher), so – unlike cantrips – there’s a hard limit on the number of spells you can cast each day.

You can also use something called ritual casting. If the spell allows for ritual casting, you can take longer to cast the spell, without expending any of your spell slots.

Photo of many different types and colours of dice

Bard class abilities

Bardic Inspiration

Bardic Inspiration is a pool of special bonus dice that grows with your level. As a bonus action, you can use it to give one of your allies an extra d6 to add to their ability check, attack roll, or saving throw.

The effect only lasts for ten minutes, and expires once they’ve used the bonus on a roll. You can also only give it to one specific creature at a time.

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You can use Bardic Inspiration a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (to a minimum of one), and you regain all expended uses after a long rest.

At 5th level, your d6 turns into a d8, at 10th level it becomes a d10, and at 15th level it becomes a d12.

Jack of All Trades

When you reach level two, you can add half your proficiency bonus (rounded down) to any ability check you make that you’re not proficient in.

Song of Rest

Also from level two onwards, you gain access to the Song of Rest class ability. During a short rest, you can give a performance to your allies that grants them an extra 1d6 hit points each.

Similarly to Bardic Inspiration, the dice types go up incrementally as you level up – meaning at 9th level it becomes a d8; at 13th level it becomes a d10; and at 12th level, you’ll be giving your buds a mighty d12 extra hit points.

D&D artwork showing various heroes in front of a stained glass window

Best Races For Bards 5E

Because Bards rely so heavily on their Charisma, it’s going to be in your best interest to pick a race that gives you additions to that stat.

Depending on your playstyle, you may instead want to pick a race that will shore up your low Strength, or else add more to your Dexterity or Constitution, for better survivability – but nine times out of ten, any choice that buffs Cha is going to be your best bet.

D&D artwork showing a half elf bard carrying a lute

Half-Elf

Half-Elf is arguably the perfect Bard race, because, right away, you get a +2 to your Charisma, and each subclass grants an additional +1 you can add wherever you choose (but should probably go to your Dex or Con). You also get an additional skill, and Darkvision – adding even more versatility to your dynamic Bard.

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Not only that, but you also get resistance to being charmed. There are many subraces to choose from, but, for choice, we’d recommend choosing either the High Half-Elf or the Standard Half-Elf for your bard build.

D&D artwork showing a halfling bard character dancing, singing and playing a lute in a tavern

Halfling

Halflings are another great option for Bard. They can add a +2 to Dexterity, and then a +1 to Charisma or Constitution, depending on the subrace. That +1 Charisma is the obvious way to go as a Bard, and for that you’ll want the Lightfoot subrace.

Halflings also get feats called Brave and Lucky, which add beautifully to the support of your friends and allies. Your small size also gives you naturally better stealth, and the ability to move through the space of creatures larger than you (that’s most creatures).

D&D artwork showing a female Tiefling

Tiefling

The Tiefling race provides a much-appreciated +2 boost to Charisma, and also gives you a +1 to intelligence – which is not exactly a priority, but is nice to have nonetheless. Tieflings also get Darkvision, resistance to fire damage, and the Thaumaturgy cantrip, independent of your bardic spells, which, at the very least, means “yay, more magic!”

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There’s almost no wrong option when it comes to choosing a subrace. We highly recommend Dispater, Variant: winged (you can fly), or Variant: Devil’s tongue (you get extra spells) – but feel free to shop around, and see what fits best for you!

A D&D artwork showing a Triton carrying a trident

Triton

With Triton, you get three separate +1s! One in Charisma, one in Constitution, and one in Strength. So, while that means you can only put +1 in Charisma, it also gives you the freedom to play around and beef up your other stats. You also get Darkvision, extra spells, and, oh yeah, did I mention you can talk to fish? Well, you can.

Additionally, you are amphibious, and get damage resistances. This is a wildly fun race to play, especially if your campaign takes place on or near the sea.

Artwork from a D&D 5E sourcebook showing bards from three different Colleges

Bard Colleges: Subclasses 5E

Starting at third level, your Bard is able to join a college. Bard Colleges are an association of Bards who value different paths in life, magic, and performance.

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Each subclass, or College, grants different abilities and skill proficiencies, and can lead your Bard down innumerable paths. With so many options to choose from, it can be a little daunting, but let’s be real, if you’re looking at playing a bard, you aren’t exactly looking for the straightest path.

College of Creation

Found in: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Level Subclass ability
3 Mode of Potential, Performance of Creation
6 Animating Performance
14 Creative Crescendo

As Bards tend to be natural lovers of creativity, this is a brilliant subclass for someone just starting out with the Bard class. Believing that the act of creating art is the purest form of magic, most Bards who follow this path connect deeply with their art, and their world’s creation myths.

Being able to tap into the magic of creation lends to some incredible spellwork, including convincing inanimate objects to dance and move on their own. The College of Creation also helps you help your party, by giving your Bardic Inspiration a boost. Overall, this is a great pick if you are looking to play a Bard who values nature, history, and aiding their allies in battle.

College of Eloquence

Found in: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Level Subclass ability
3 Silver Tongue, Unsettling Words
6 Unfailing Inspiration, Universal Speech
14 Infectious Inspiration

College of Eloquence is the perfect subclass for those who love to talk their way out of any situation they find themselves in. Masters of communication and storytelling, these Bards value the art of speaking above all else, and get quite good at it.

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This subclass gives you the delicious ability to never roll lower than a ten when making a deception or persuasion check. In addition, you are able to talk circles around your opponent to confuse them, or speak clearly to any creature you choose, even if you do not speak the same language. The perfect subclass for those whose favoured method of helping their party out in combat is to avoid it altogether.

D&D artwork showing College of Lore Bards translating a text

College of Lore

Found in: Player’s Handbook

Level Subclass ability
3 Cutting Words, Bonus Proficiencies
6 Additional Magic Secrets
14 Peerless Skill

College of Lore is perfect for Bards who want to know a little bit of everything. These Bards think of knowledge as an art form, and often gather in libraries and actual schools to swap information, and teach each other new skills. If you fancy playing a Bard who aspires to be more than just a pretty face, this might be the subclass for you.

Because of their appreciation of knowledge, these bards have cutting wit (literally) that can confuse and even hurt their enemies. Since the College of Lore Bard so highly values knowledge, they are even granted access to two additional spells from any spell list they choose. Better still, these spells don’t count towards the total number of spells the bard can know at that level.

Artwork from the D&D player's handbook showing a hero in armour with a sword

College of Valor

Found in: Player’s Handbook

Level Subclass ability
3 Bonus Proficiencies, Combat Inspiration
6 Extra Attack
14 Battle Magic

This subclass is perfect for Bards who are interested as much in combat as they are with typical bardic musings. These Bards venerate the heroes of old, and use those ancient stories to inspire a new generation of heroes. Bards who choose this path are very reminiscent of the classic Bards of the fantasy genre, musical folk ‘historians’ who exist to sing the praises of those who have done Great Deeds.

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With this subclass, you gain access to a lot of combat magic. You can give your party extra inspiration in battle, give yourself an extra attack, and even make melee attacks as a bonus action, giving yourself, and your party, an edge in battle.

College of Glamour

Found in: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Level Subclass ability
3 Mantle of Inspiration, Enthralling Performance
6 Mantle of Majesty
14 Unbreakable Majesty

If you’re fascinated by fairy tales, this is the perfect Bard subclass for you. Because the Glamour Bards draw their inspiration from fey, and the Feywild, they have an air of whimsy and mystery, and a touch of apprehension to them. These Bards value both the silly and terrifying aspects of fey, making them a delightfully flexible class to play.

By taking this subclass, you gain access to a host of features which can inspire either your party, or entire crowds of onlookers. The fey have taught you how to command crowds and cloak yourself in mystery, aiding your party in many unique ways. This is the ultimate subclass for someone looking to play a mischief-making character, closer to morally grey than outright heroic.

D&D artwork showing a character with a sword and burning torch fighting off wolves

College of Swords

Found in: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Level Subclass ability
3 Bonus Proficiencies, Fighting style, Blade Flourish
6 Extra Attack
14 Master’s Flourish

The perfect College for those who want to be both the face and the fist of the party. Because this College values strength and fighting, it’s one of the most versatile Bard subclasses. If you have ever entertained the idea of being a stunt performer, College of Swords might suit you perfectly.

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This subclass grants you access to tons of skills and features that are best suited to the field of battle. Between giving you access to an extra attack, and granting you a specific fighting style (something usually only reserved for melee classes like Paladin or Fighter), this is a wonderfully adaptable option. Because of the focus on both magical and physical combat, it adds a weight of versatility to an already multifaceted class.

College of Whispers

Found in: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Level Subclass ability
3 Psychic Blades, Words of Terror
6 Mantle of Whispers
14 Shadow Lore

If you have ever looked at D&D’s Bard class and thought “this is good, but it needs to be spookier,” then this is the subclass for you. The College of Whispers Bard uses secrets to their advantage, and, using people’s natural trust towards the friendly, charismatic Bard to masterfully gather information, which can be used to their advantage. Most other Bard Colleges look unfavorably on the College of Whispers, however, as they have a habit of unfairly manipulating innocents.

Since this class deals heavily in secrets, its list of abilities gives you an edge (literally) on finding out and keeping those secrets. Not only are you given extra combat capabilities, but you can essentially capture a humanoid’s soul for a short while if they die near you (I told you it was spooky). This subclass is the perfect fit for a Bard who sits well within the morally grey camp, but still wants to keep their friends safe and well protected.

D&D artwork showing a dwarf character with a grimoire, and a giant

Bard Spells 5E

Bards have one of the most unique spell lists out there. While a lot of their magic focuses on charming others, there are also many illusion spells, healing spells, and spells to inflict damage. This variety speaks to the class’s versatility, handing you spells that can be used in combat and in social encounters alike.

This allows you to tailor your spell list to your subclass and racial traits. If you’re interested in College of Swords, or College of Valor, you might choose mostly combat-oriented magic. If you’re more of a peaceable type, you can pick out spells for finding out information, or charm and inspiring others. More than most other classes, Bards have options.

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While most Bard spells are pretty effective, we’ll shine a light on some that are exceptionally useful, and others that are usually best to avoid.

When choosing spells, it’s important to make note of their specific component requirements, and if they take concentration – as both these things can dictate whether you’re able to cast those spells at certain times.

A D&D artwork showing a gnome wizard casting a spell

THE Best Bard Spells FOR BEGINNERS

Cantrips

Minor Illusion: This spell is able to create a small sound, smell, or spectre that lasts for a short time. This is great because it can be whatever you make of it – whether a cunning distraction, or an aid to your performance.

Vicious Mockery: While the spell itself does only a small amount of damage, it can be so fun to use, and is an undeniably iconic Bard spell.

1st level

Healing Word: Because Bards have low health and armour class, most Bards stay away from action to minimize getting hurt. Healing Word allows you to heal an injured companion from far away, meaning you can help without directly entering the fray.

Dissonant Whispers: This is the perfect spell for dishing out small amounts of supplementary damage, and/or simply distracting an opponent, to give the edge to your allies. This spell can be very effective for getting attention, and doesn’t require any spell components/focus.

2nd level

Enhance Ability: The spell does exactly what it sounds like it does, temporarily boosting an ability score for a given character. It can help your party become stronger, smarter, or whatever it is they might need to do! It’s versatile and you can use it often.

Suggestion: Suggestion allows you to suggest a task to any creature that understands you. Providing the creature fails their Wisdom saving throw, that creature has to carry out your suggestion to the best of their ability. Great for convincing an enemy to go home and take a nap during combat, or getting a guard to let your imprisoned friend loose, this spell has theoretically infinite fun-filled uses.

3rd level

Bestow Curse: By simply touching a creature briefly, you can give it disadvantage on certain checks and saves, or make it unable to take a turn. While it doesn’t do any damage, it’s the perfect spell for aiding your companions in combat, by magically giving them the upper hand in a fight.

Enemies Abound: Another great combat spell that helps both your Bard, and your party, this one causes an enemy to lose the ability to distinguish friend from foe. Since most monster enemies have a low Int score, they’re extra-susceptible to this spell, allowing you to stop oncoming enemies in their tracks, and watch them turn on each other.

4th level

Polymorph: While this is a more complicated spell to deploy effectively, it’s one that’s endlessly versatile. Becoming someone else for a while has its advantages, that’s for sure.

Dimension Door: Being able to teleport? Yes, please! This gives you a way to teleport yourself and one other person away from the fight, or behind a locked door. Incredibly useful, and – crucially – can also be used for shenanigans.

5th level

Greater Restoration: If you are the party healer, you need this spell. Actually, even if your party has a healer, you need this spell. It provides so much safety and security to your companions, and can often be what saves a party member from dying. Great to have in your arsenal.

Hold Monster: Working on any creature except undead, this is a superb combat spell that completely paralyzes the target, rendering them useless in a fight.

D&D artwork showing a magic user casting Legend Lore

THE WorST Bard Spells FOR BEGINNERS

Cantrips

True Strike: This spell becomes obsolete almost immediately. We highly recommend choosing a spell that aids you in more than one round of combat.

1st level

Illusory Script: While it may sound cool, it’s a very situational spell that can easily be skipped in favour of alternatives you’ll use regularly.

2nd level

Crown of Madness: This spell is a cool concept, but should be overlooked in favor of other options, simply because you have to use your action every turn to maintain its effects, stopping you from doing anything else to help the party.

3rd level

Feign Death: Again, super cool concept! However, when you have access to so few spells at any one time, this one probably won’t be used enough to justify taking it from the start.

4th level

Locate Creature: Cool if you’re looking for a creature you know is close by, but given that it has a range of only 1,000 feet, if a creature is on the run, this spell swiftly becomes effectively useless.

5th level

Legend Lore: This one sounds technically uber-powerful – allowing you to magically summon up a basic knowledge on literally any topic – but it likely won’t come in useful often enough to justify it taking up precious space in your spell arsenal.

D&D cover artwork from the sourcebook Xanathar's Guide to Everything

Bard Builds 5E

Now that you’ve got a sense for the Bard, and all the different ways you can play one, here are some premade Bards that you can use, or draw inspiration from when creating your own character.

Aasimar College of Lore Bard

Aasimar add that touch of uniqueness that Bards always should have. Because the Aasimar have natural Charisma and complementary racial traits, they are perfect for the College of Lore. This is a great character build if you want to be both the face of your party, and one of the stronger magic users.

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Like most Bard builds, your College of Lore Bard heavily favors Charisma – so that’s your top priority ability score, followed by Dexterity, then Constitution, Wisdom, and leaving Strength or Intelligence last. Then the fun begins!

  • Being Aasimar gives you a +2 to your Charisma, and makes you naturally resistant to both necrotic and radiant damage (perfect for squishy Bards). It also gives you access to Healing Hands, allowing you to heal HP up to your character’s level.
  • Choose your cantrips and spells, favouring ones that can do a small amount of damage, or create illusions. We find that, with Lore Bards, it’s best to have a pretty even mix of combat magic and spells that can be used to trick people, or find out information.
  • At level three, pick up College of Lore. You will gain proficiency in an additional three skills which only adds to the beauty and versatility of the bard. You also gain access to cutting words giving you an additional edge (ha ha).
  • From there, continue to pick up spells that sound fun and useful. College of Lore Bards are all about being whatever their party needs in any given situation. So, when picking spells, choose ones that fit areas the party doesn’t quite have covered yet.
  • At level six, you gain additional magical secrets, giving you access to all spell lists. I highly recommend picking up high damage spells, because they’re something Bards rarely have access to. Do try to avoid choosing the same spells as other members of your party, though.
  • At higher levels, the Bard’s flexibility really comes out to play. You can be a backup healer, a smooth talker, a stealthy thief, and even a second string fighter, all at once. Keep having fun, and don’t worry if you choose a spell that turns out to not be useful – remember, you can switch one out every level up!

D&D artwork showing a halfling character playing a lute with a pack on their back

Halfling College of Swords Bard

Halflings are one of the most common races for bards in D&D, and with good reason – right off the bat you get a +2 to Dexterity, which is going to be needed for a more combat-based Bard. Depending on which subrace you choose, you can add 1 to either Charisma or Constitution. For this build, we’ll choose the Lightfoot subrace to get the +1 Charisma.

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We’ll start by having our ability scores in roughly the same order as normal: Charisma, followed by Dexterity, then Constitution. This time, though, put Strength before Wisdom, leaving Intelligence for last. You’re a fightin’ Bard now!

  • Pick the Lightfoot Halfling subrace, giving yourself a +2 to Dexterity and +1 to Charisma. You also gain the racial trait Lucky which allows you to reroll a single natural one, once per long rest. A handy backup for an attack-based Bard. You also gain advantage on any save against being frightened.
  • When it comes to choosing spells, start off by picking up a mix of healing and defensive spells – because later on you’ll be choosing more combat based magic.
  • At level three, pick College of Swords which gives you access to a fighting style. As for which, Dueling works well because it frees up one of your hands for spellcasting. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you.
  • From here on out, choose spells that have a shorter range, as you will often be engaged directly in combat. We also recommend picking up defensive spells as the priority over damage-dealing spells.
  • At sixth level you are granted an extra attack. Perfect for combat, and works best if you have spells like Dimension Door, or features that allow disengage, so that you can enter the fray, and get out again freely, without suffering opportunity attacks.
  • Past sixth level, your Bard takes on more of a fighter role than a traditional Bard role, so when picking features and spells, it’s important to choose the ones that will most help you in combat. While this limits your choices a little, you can still have tons of fun. You are always welcome to pick up situational spells just for the heck of it, too. Go wild!

Triton College of Glamour bard

By picking up College of Glamour, your Bard will favour illusions, and trickery over open combat or hostility, so we will need to keep our Ability Scores topped off with Charisma, followed by Dexterity, and then Constitution.

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In this case we’d recommend making Strength your lowest score, just so you have a bit more Intelligence to work with.

  • Choose Triton, and get the three +1’s. These go in Charisma, Constitution, and Strength. You also get resistance to cold damage, a swimming speed, and can breathe underwater, which is super cool.
  • For spells, we suggest favouring defensive and support choices, as most College of Glamour features supplement their effects. Keep in mind that, as a Triton, you also have the ability to cast Fog Cloud once per long rest, independent of your bard spell list. So like that’s very cool (and quite useful in various situations).
  • At level three, choose College of Glamour. You are gifted with extra abilities to aid your allies in combat. We recommend picking up spells that aid in social situations, for example those with Charm effects. Also from third level, you’ll be able to cast Gust of Wind once per long rest as part of your Triton abilities.
  • By the time you reach fifth level, your Triton racial abilities allow you to cast Wall of Water once per long rest. Though this is the last spell available to you through the Triton race, it neatly rounds out the bard spell list.
  • When you reach sixth level you gain access to the College of Glamour feature that allows you to use Command, a powerful support spell, both for social encounters and in combat.
  • At higher levels, the Glamour Bard is all about bending people to their will to better serve their parties and themselves. You can either lean into this aspect, or focus on taking spells and feats that are in other areas of spellwork, to be as multifaceted as possible. It’s the freedom to go kind of all over the place with your spells that makes the Glamour Bard fun.

That’s it from us, for now – the rest of the song is yours to write!

Bardic disclaimer: Yes, we do know that first image is actually Yisan, The Wanderer Bard from Magic: The Gathering. If Wizards of the Coast is allowed to mix D&D and Magic, then so are we.

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