Bard, the class with no specialization. If you’re DMing a new game and someone says they’re going to play a bard, they could want to do anything with that character. The DnD bard spells are incredibly varied and many players will pigeon hole themselves with their spell choices. If you learn the bard spell list, you have a much better chance to help them build a character they’ll have more fun with. This article will hopefully help give you some ideas of how the different bard types can play out with their spells. Remember, the key to fun and challenging encounters relies on your understanding of the game’s mechanics.
The Bard Spell List
Bards are real middle of the road spell casters. If you look at The Bard Spell List you’ll see that their magic abilities are all over the place. Need a healer? Bard will do it. Want control magic? Bard will do it. Lack DPS casting? Bard will do it. It’s great that the bard can do all of these things, but the cost to the bard is that they will never be as strong as their specialized counterparts. Sure they have access to magic of all types, but they’ll get it slower and be overall less effective if they are the group’s sole caster at higher levels.
Bard Magic Archetypes
Bards are kind of all over the place when it comes to what they do. This makes sense because most of their class features are all about making their abilities and skills better. Despite this, many players try to specialize with their bards and end up filling a specific role in the party. This can work for some groups, but you need to make sure you cater to it in your game. Nothing feels worse for a bard player than having a list of specific use spells that never come up in the campaign. I’m sure we’ve all seen a bard kitted for charm and persuasion in a combat heavy game. Most of their spells get nullified by combat and the rare chances they are useful at all the other players likely initiate combat anyway.
Bards may try to fill one of several roles when they specialize. They typically are as follows:
- Healer – Takes mostly healing spells due to lack of other healing options in the group
- Controller- Wants to role play the heck out of the bard and chooses spells like friends, charm person, and sleep
- DPS Caster – Takes only offensive spells. Thunderwave, Thunderclap, Heat Metal, Shatter, etc.
- Support – Tries to take spells to make their allies better. Bane, Faerie Fire, Heroism, etc.
- Balance – The rarest of all bard types and arguably the best. Chooses spells that will allow them to be flexible.
While none of these roles are wrong, it is important that if a player tries to squeeze themselves into a role that you, as the DM, take that into account. Support casters need their allies to be effective to work. DPS casters need combat situations that fit their spells. Controller players need role play scenarios and NPCs to use them on. While it’s not difficult to find situations to make any of these spells shine, it is easy to overlook your bard’s needs and leave them in situations that make them feel powerless.
Choosing Bard Spells
When a player wants to play bard, it is a good idea to recommend they try to build around balance. Bards can be some of the strongest characters in the game, but to maximize their potential they need to be useful in many different areas. In addition to keeping your bard players from hamstringing themselves, you also get the added benefit of not having to worry too much about what you throw at them if they build towards balance. Below is a sample balanced spell list for you players to level through. Variations on this are easily achieved based on what you player wants to do, but we tried to choose the best most versatile spells for a bard for each level.
Balanced Bard Spell Build
Cantrips: Vicious Mockery, Friends
1st Level Spells: Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, Faerie Fire, Dissonant Whispers or Bane, Cure Wounds or Healing Word
The spell choice here has the best balance of combat, healing, and versatility. For your cantrips, Vicious Mockery has damage and gives a debuff, while Friends allows you role play opportunities without burning a spell slot. In the 1st level slot you get Tasha’s Hideous Laughter for crowd control. Faerie fire gives advantage to your team and reveals hidden or invisible enemies. Dissonant Whispers or Bane both provide your team with combat advantages. Choose Dissonant Whispers if you have a fighter or monk heavy party, Bane if you have more spell casters. Healing spells are always a good choice as a bard, but you shouldn’t take more than 1 to start. Cure Wounds is a bigger heal but uses an action and is touch based, Healing Word is a smaller heal, but can be cast as a bonus action at range, so it depends on how aggressive your bard is going to be.
Additional 1st level spell: Choose either Detect Magic, Identify, Thunderwave, or Earth Tremor.
Depending on the campaign, Detect Magic or Identify can be good for dungeon exploration. But if another caster is handling that, going more combat focused with either Thunderwave or Earth Tremor is advisable.
2nd level spells: Phantasmal Force
Phantasmal Force is a balance of damage over time, illusion, and control. If you succeed on the spell the enemy will be confronted with something they believe is real and act accordingly. Not only is this spell great for combat, it also adds some really good chances for role playing.
Additional 2nd level spell: Choose either Heat Metal, Silence, or Suggestion.
Heat Metal is your combat choice for sure; guaranteed damage over time or disarming an enemy is just just plain good. Silence is for a group that runs into a lot of enemy spell casters. Suggestion is the best for role playing and is a great spell.
3rd level spells: Bestow Curse or Fear
Both Bestow Curse and Fear are game changers for combat. Bestow Curse goes debuff heavy, while Fear is the choice for crowd control in a combat.
Additional 3rd level spell: Bestow Curse or Fear (which ever you didn’t pick) or Dispel Magic
Both Bestow Curse and Fear are great so having both is a good idea. If one of those is enough for you, Dispel Magic is the next best choice. Not only does Dispel Magic really help your group in a lot of situations it also benefits from Jack of All Trades and Peerless Skill.
4th level spells: Polymorph
What is there to say about Polymorph? It’s a great spell and perhaps one of the most fun. It gets you though a lot of role play and combat situations and can be used on friend or foe for various results. Truly a versatile spell.
Additional 4th level spell: Greater Invisibility
Need to be sneaky and make combat a nightmare for your enemies? Greater Invisibility. The spell’s only downside is its short duration outside of combat.
5th level spells: Raise Dead or Animate Object
If your party does not have a dedicated healer at this point, take Raise Dead. Things get real at this point in the game and someone should have this spell. If you have a healer, Animate Object is one of the most damaging spells you can take. It creates up to 10 animated creatures that get a +8 to hit and can deal 1d4 +4 damage per turn for a minute or until destroyed. On the first turn you cast this you could deal an average of 60 damage easily.
Additional 5th level spell: Hold Monster
When you start fighting higher level creatures, Hold Monster is a literal life saver. You can stop a creature in its tracks and run if it’s too big of a threat, or you can hold it still while your team wails on it. Either way this is a critically valuable spell.
At higher levels your bard is pretty much set to choose just about anything and be okay. For most characters the first three levels are the real critical ones. After that, the player should get a good feel for what spells can be most useful. We recommend making sure your player has an understanding of which bard spells can offer the party the most benefit. Giving them hints or suggestions on how to remain balanced can really push your players to group towards success. But remember that spell choice is ultimately up to the player, no matter how much you may disagree with their choices.
DnD Bard Spells to Avoid
If your player is brand new to the game, they may end up choosing situationally bad spells. We’re not suggesting you stop them from doing this outright, but please give them the chance to retrain those spells at some point if they do choose them. The worst Bard Spells, in our opinion, are listed below:
- Blade Ward: It only lasts one round. In most cases you would be better of taking the dodge action. This spell really only becomes good if your players make it level 14 and you have a valor bard that can cast this while still getting to attack as a bonus action.
- True Strike: Give up your action to roll twice next turn. Why would you want to do this rather than attack this turn, and then attack next turn? It has some situational uses where a target is two move distances away, but rarely will it be any better than attacking normally. Even at higher levels you’re still better off just attacking more instead of casting this.
- Longstrider: Situationally useful, but does not offer enough advantage to warrant taking up a known spell.
- Crown of Madness: This is a good spell for bad guys to cast on your players, but as a player it does not really work super great. The target has to attack before it moves so it is likely to be ineffective against creatures with any level of intelligence.
- Legend Lore: This spell sounds cool until your player remembers that they are a bard. They should be good at all the skills including history checks.
That’s about it for bad DnD bard spells. They all have their place, but for the bards limited known spells, each of these can be better substituted with one of the spells that we recommended earlier in this article.