Friday, May 29, 2015

Creating the Ultimate Bard

How do you optimize a build? I think there’s a little more to it than min/maxing. When optimizing you need to think about what roles to fill and how to efficiently execute those roles. Let’s take a look at an arguably weak class in 5e. He’s a jack of all trade and master of none. Introducing my take on the Ultimate Bard, level by level.

At first level you get cantrips, a couple of spell slots, and four uses of Bardic Inspiration assuming a Charisma of 16. Simple so far, but depending on the race and background combo there’s a variety of options. Damage is another consideration. What is the go to damage die? Crossbow? Rapier? Vicious Mockery? Remember this is about more than min/maxing. We’re not looking for merely the greatest output of damage dice and maximizing armor class. This is about executing a role in the party that contributes to a synergized whole.

As a bard the primary roles to fill are buffing and/or debuffing, with a secondary role as the skill monkey. With that in mind, the damage dealt directly by the bard is least important. Increasing damage dealt by allies and reducing incoming damage from enemies is where he’s going to shine. Hence the Ultimate Bard as I see it is a member of the College of Lore. The College of Valor is a cool idea, yet barring a unique multiclass build its abilities are distractions from where a Bard’s true strength lie.

Cutting Words is simply amazing. Going up against a big bad with one shot kills? Tell him its mother was a hamster and its father smelt of elderberries. While deadly, those one shots are much less likely to connect. And just wait until you get Additional Magical Secrets for Hex. Disadvantage to saves plus a Cutting Words penalty to attacks means a big bad is having a real bad day. Don’t forget about Countercharm, either. Enemy debuffers will struggle getting charmed folks to play nice or tanks to turn tail and run when the party has advantage their saves.

Knowing we’re going with a College of Lore Bard will help with our race and background choices. Anything that gives a Charisma bump goes to the top of the list. This means Drow, Lightfoot Halflings, Humans, Dragonborn, with Half-Elves and Tieflings at the front of the line. There’s only a need though to look at the last two. While min-maxing is not the end-all-be-all, it has a place. While fire resistance and Infernal Legacy is nifty, there’s no contest with +1 to two ability scores of choice instead of intelligence and two shiny new skills to boot. Fey Ancestry is nothing to sneeze at either.

As a 1st level Half-Elf Bard, you’re getting proficiency in any 5 skills plus whatever the chosen background adds on. Let’s consider backgrounds. No matter what we’re getting two more skills which might be redundant at this point, so what’s important here is tool proficiencies and the feature. As tool kits go, Thieve’s Tools and Navigator’s Tools are by far the most difficult to replicate via spells or other features. Lost in a megadungeon? Find the Path is a 6th level spell. May whatever you pray to help you without a navigator. Is the rogue too busy in the fray dishing out sneak attacks to deal with those rolling balls of fire? A second party member to disable traps can be clutch, especially if the party has no rogue in the first place. The stand outs for background are Criminal, Sailor, and Urchin.

Evaluating these features really depends on knowing you’re Dungeon Master and how well he’ll utilize your Criminal Contact or City Secrets. If you’re a Pirate with a Bad Reputation, there’s always going to be use for that. Remember that a D&D hero is a murderhobo at heart, and sooner or later you’re bound to get in trouble with the law. Assuming you haven’t done anything too egregious, just whip out your bad reputation. This choice gets even easier when the party already has a rogue. Next time, we’ll stat this bad boy out.


  1. Unfortunately, according to Wizards ( saves are not considered an ability check, thus are not effected by Hex.

  2. Still waiting for this "bad boy" to get statted out...

  3. Use Bane (On the Bard's list) instead of Hex to debuff saves by 1d4 then V.M. each round and Cutting Words as reaction to make the big boss miss almost every time and the DM cry. Thats Debuffing!


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