An Introduction to the Bard Class for Players New to Dungeons and Dragons 5e
Are you more of a lover than a fighter? Do you want to play character that can shred foes and strengthen allies with the power of rock and look damn classy while they’re doing it? This primer is going to introduce you to the music idol and jack-of-all-trades of Dungeons and Dragons 5e: The Bard.
Side note: This guide assumes you have the Player’s Handbook for more detailed information, and is more intended to give you an idea of what this class can do. If you also need help with the process of creating your first character, click here first for my character rolling guide for new players.
But enough of this preamble, let’s get to the main event!
Overview: Lute Hero
The bard is one of the most essential classes to the Dungeons and Dragons setting; they are the ones that tell the stories of all these heroes and monsters to the general populace. Having a bard travel with the group is sort of like having your own personal propaganda specialist, spreading the good word of your party’s deeds wherever you go through story and song.
Bards have become something of a running joke in the Dungeons and Dragons community for being sex-crazed vagabonds that don’t do much of anything useful when a fight breaks out, but they are definitely no laughing matter in fifth edition. The bard is now better than ever, with the ability to fill multiple roles in the party extremely effectively.
As a primary spell-caster, bards gain access to an extensive list of spells mostly focused on either supporting allies or hampering foes. Their Bardic Inspiration feature allows them to encourage allies to feats of greater heroism, giving them a die they can add to an attack or ability check after they roll (but before you know the result). This means your friend can hold on to that gifted inspiration die until it is most likely to push them from a failure into a success on a check (there is a 10 minute time limit, but that is unlikely to come up during combat encounters – which tend to last 1 minute of in-game time at the most).
Role in the Party
As I’ve been reiterating, bards are above all versatile. They can fill a variety of roles as needed in the group, depending on what a party is missing. They are at their most effective, however, as a support character (a character who uses their abilities to bolster and heal allies) and this is likely to be your primary role in the party. Their Bardic Inspiration feature plays heavily into support, as does their spell selection.
On top of that primary role, though, you can choose to have your bard focus on a many different secondary roles. Whether you want to be on the back line of the fight urging your allies forward or you want to be at the front fighting alongside the martial characters of the party, you can make a bard that will be effective in those positions.
The bard is also the most obvious and classic choice for the party face (the character that represents the party in social situations) with their high charisma, charm spells, and the ability to take expertise in social skills at level three (which doubles your proficiency bonus for two skills you choose). There is not another character in the game that can be as effective a smooth-talker as a bard, and they can navigate just about any social encounter thrown their way with aplomb. Even when a bard is bad at something, they are kind of okay at it with the Jack of all Trades feature, which means bards can also do a lot of work for a party outside of combat in scouting or stealth missions or, really, any kind of skilled task you might require.
Your versatility does come at the cost of not being quite as good at anything as more specialized classes, but your ability to adapt to any situation will make you invaluable to the party.
Looking Ahead: High Level Bards
At higher levels, bards get even better at inspiring their allies to great deeds. Aside from gaining access to powerful 9th level spells such as Wish (which literally allows you to bend reality to your will), they also gain improvements to their Bardic Inspiration feature that increase the value of the dice you give out (from a d6 at level one all the way to a d12 at level twenty) while also allowing you to do so more often.
Your subclass options for the bard in the Player’s Handbook focus on either improving your spell-casting abilities with the College of Lore or making you a true daring skald fighting on the front lines with the College of Valor. I’ll be diving into more detail on these subclass options and what they offer in a later guide.
Bards offer you the most options of any class, letting you specialize yourself into whatever role your party might need. Outside of combat, as well, bards shine through as the party’s public relations representative – whether sweet-talking nobles or rallying the rowdy crowd of a tavern with a song. Oh, and you can insult people to death with the Vicious Mockery cantrip. Maybe I should have led with that.