I’m a big fan of the Bard in D&D 5e. Recently, while playing around with different builds, I discovered a pretty silly hack to make them a very powerful (arguably overpowered) choice for ranged combat by level 10. If you already know about Bards, feel free to scroll past my general overview to see how it works.
However, for those who don’t have the new PHB yet, here’s a short list of some of the nice perks the Bard gets to give you a little background:
- Full caster class: Bards get the same number of spells as Clerics and Wizards. This is nice because it gives them a core competency to build off of, something they lacked in 3.5 and previous editions, where the bard was okay at everything but not particularly good at anything.
- Inspiration: In place of bard songs that all do wacky things and have always felt a little awkward to actually use, bards have inspiration dice. They can pass these to allies, who can use them to add the die as a bonus to attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws. Sub classes allow them to be used in other ways, such as reducing an enemies attack roll, adding to AC, or adding to a damage roll.
- Jack of all Trades: Super fun ability that gives bards half their proficiency bonus to skills they aren’t proficient in. It’s a great thematic ability, and it encourages Bard players to try things outside their character’s normal areas of expertise.
- Song of Rest: Grants extra healing when the Bard or allies regain hit points during a short rest.
- Good Melee/Ranged Subclass: Bards get to choose from two options for subclasses. The College of Lore emphasizes the “jack of all trades” aspect of the bard, granting extra skills and extra cross class spells, along with some other very solid perks. However, I am more attracted to the College of Valor, which legitimately makes the Bard a solid melee or ranged combatant, granting proficiency with martial weapons, medium armor, and shields, along with a bonus attack at level 6 and a nice perk at 14 to allow casting a spell and making an attack as a bonus action. So this means by level 6, the Bard is basically on par (or close enough) with all the other melee/ranged classes, such as the Barbarian, Fighter, Ranger, Paladin, and Rogue.
- Magical Secrets: The bard spell list is pretty focused. It has a lot of stuff you might expect from a bard: charms and enchantments, some utility spells, and good options for travel, along with a healthy mix of “fun” spells you’ll certainly enjoy playing around with. It also sports healing spells, which are always going to be useful. However, at 10th level and again at 14 and 18, you get to choose two spells from ANY class to round out your list a bit. The only requirement is that the spell level is one you can cast. This is very cool. For example, you could pick up fireball (which can be cast at higher spell levels for more damage) to add a nice AOE spell to your list, since Bards don’t normally have any.
The “Hack” Explained
What I realized when reading over the Magical Secrets description of the Bard class is that they can pick a spell from ANY class as long as they can cast spells of that spell level. This means that when they first get the ability at 10th level, a Bard can pick ANY 5th level spell.
Normally this would be pretty straightforward and balanced. After all, Clerics and Wizards get 5th level spells at 9th level anyway, so who cares if the Bard picks a couple off their list at 10th level?
However, Rangers and Paladins get 5th level spells at 17th level, and they will only ever be able to cast two of them a day. Most of these spells are spells that Clerics, Druids, and Wizards already have at 5th level, but a few of them are unique, and it turns out that those are pretty powerful.
The Paladin’s Banishing Smite is pretty tempting. You can cast it as a bonus action, and it makes the next attack you make do 5d10 damage and BANISH a creature back to its native plane if it is reduced to 50HP or fewer.
My favorite choice, though, is Swift Quiver from the Ranger spell list. Cast as a bonus action, it gives your quiver an endless supply of ammunition and allows you to make two extra ranged attacks per turn as a bonus action for one minute. What that means is that when you cast that spell as a Bard with College of Valor, you’ll get to make 4 ranged attacks per round with a bow or other weapon for basically an entire combat.
Considering that a Ranger or Fighter can only make two attacks a round with a bow or other ranged weapon (unless they dual wield), this arguably makes the Bard one of the best ranged attack builds. Of course, the Fighter can make 3 attacks by level 11, but the bard still maintains an edge until level 17 when the Ranger gets Swift Quiver themselves.
There certainly are limitations to having to use a spell to get half your attacks. You can’t use it every fight, for example, which is huge, and even then it is using up a spell slot you could have used on something else. Also, the spell requires concentration, which means a few good hits from the enemy can mean losing its benefit. Finally, it uses up your free action, which means you can’t give out inspiration during battle (though with careful planning, you could still pass it out to folks before battle starts since they can spend it within 10 minutes). Overall, however, I think it’s a very powerful option and allows the Bard to deal out some serious damage during battle. Furthermore, as the Bard levels they can use it more and more often, even substituting higher level spell slots if they feel like it.
I actually think doing this is pretty cheap and probably not what the designers had in mind. Furthermore, it robs the Ranger of some of its uniqueness at higher level. While I don’t think it breaks the game, I’m not sure I would allow it as a DM.
What do YOU think, dear readers? Should the bard be able to use Magical Secrets to cherry pick off the Paladin and Ranger spell lists? Or should the Bard not be allowed to take a spell if the only class that gets it can’t even cast it yet?