Advise Me On: Quirky Bard MC Character

So, the time has finally come. I've been allowed a spot in a D&D 5e game run by some friends. Even though it usually isn't my cuppa,* there is a silly, pseudo-"optimized" build (i.e. pushing for something you usually don't optimize for) I've wanted to try for some time now: the "ALL THE SKILLS" Lore Bard/Knowledge Cleric 1/Rogue 1. Part of my reason for this is that I was able to come up with a good story explaining why a character would make these decisions (in a long-run behavior sort of way), one that was perfectly internally consistent and which was actually a story I'd be interested in telling/participating in.

Again, I want to reiterate: the fundamental idea (taking two MC levels, one Knowledge Cleric, one Rogue) is non-negotiable.

I appreciate that this is sub-optimal, and that if I really wanted to do something powerful, I'd probably do something else, like MC two levels of Warlock. Another part of why I'm doing this is that our group lacks a Rogue, but the DM has explicitly said it will be good to have someone who can deal with traps eventually--so in some senses, the most naturally "removable" part (the one Rogue level) needs to stay so I can take care of an area where the group is weak.

As for the character itself, I rolled some good stats (partially due to a generous rolling method, and rolling lots of single 1s that could be rerolled!): 16 16 15 15 13 12. I know this will be of enormous advantage for what I'm aiming for, both because it gives me generally high modifiers and because it pairs extremely well with the race I want to play: Half-elf! (Technically, I'm just playing one mechanically, the DM has given me the green light to have the mechanics of a half-elf but the appearance of a dragonborn, just a little more slender; this is handwaved as an effect of the Yawning Portal drawing together adventurers from far-off material planes that may not be the same as the local Prime.)

For now, my choices (plus the two flexible racial +1s) are as follows:
Str: 14 (13+1)
Dex: 16
Con: 15
Int: 12
Wis: 16 (15+1)
Cha: 18 (16+2)

My thinking here is that, with such good stats, I can afford to pick up some feats along the way (even though, with two MC levels, I lose my final ASF), and casters pretty much always want Resilient (Con). We also have a Paladin to help with saves. I chose to take higher Strength than Int so I can still pull some weight as a "grapple" Bard when relevant, but I could be persuaded to swap Str and Int if people think that would be more useful. I do find it ironic that the ultimate scholar/skillmaster's weakest trait is intelligence! But perhaps his skills represent work ethic more than raw talent.

From there, I'm less sure where to proceed. I have a lot of skill proficiencies to work with (2 racial, 2 BG, 3 class!), but beyond covering Perception and a couple of the other go-tos (one of Acrobatics or Athletics, for example), I'm not sure what the optimal picks are. I'm using a background that used to be available here on ENworld before the database died, Academy Graduate, which provides Insight and Arcana (my character's "degree" is in Esoteric Philosophy, aka the theory of magic). I'd also appreciate advice on spells besides the obvious Vicious Mockery, when it would be best to pick up the Cleric and Rogue levels (earlier preferred), and general strategies for how to most usefully leverage the tools I bring to bear.

In summary: for a Half-Elf Lore Bard with good-to-great stats, wanting (almost) ALL THE SKILLS, what skills are top priority, which spells will prove most useful, when should I "dip out" for Knowledge Cleric and for Rogue, and what feats should I eye once I have maxed Cha? Play strategy suggestions are most welcome.

*I'm a big 4e fan, and 5e mostly left me feeling snubbed/that my preferences were overtly, even hostilely, deprecated. Whether or not this is actually true is beside the point--that's how I felt, and pretty much how I continue to feel.
 
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mellored

Explorer
Your missing warlock 2. There is an indication that gives you 2 skills. Also, get eldrich blast + agonising blast, which gives you a solid scaling damage based on Cha. You won't be damage king, but you won't be a slacker either.

Then just cast bless, and blast away. Using cutting words to supplement. 20 cha and inspiring leader When you get the chance. When you get higher, consider hypnotic pattern or greater invisibility. Blind/deafness and suggestion are also good picks.

Grappling + cloud of daggers is also pretty nice. If you go a few more levels of warlock (after at least bard 5), repelling blast has a nice 4e feel, but your making a trade off for it.
 

st690

First Post
Long time lurker, but your character concept is almost identical to the character I’ve been playing for the past 1.5 years (we don’t get together often). Here are some of the decisions I’ve made and reasoning behind them:

Currently level 10: Half elf Lore Bard 6, Rogue 1, Knowledge Cleric 1, GOO Warlock 2
However, my stats are much, much lower than yours (Str 8, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 19 (after one ASI))
Rest of my party: Battlemaster, Frenzy Barbarian, Assassin Rogue, Abjurer, occasional support from cleric NPC

Rest of party isn’t that great at knowledge skill checks (and we seemed to be missing a lot of stuff), and not much utility casting/buffing, so I shifted to this character at level 5 (from a monk) to fill that gap. I also wanted to have more out of combat options, which are now available in spades.

I started as a Bard.
Lvl 5 – Bard 3, Cleric 1, Rogue 1
Lvls 6-8 – adding Bard levels to get to 6
Levels 9-10 warlock levels

My Skills/Expertise:
Expertise: Arcana, Deception, History, Investigation, Perception, Persuasion
Prof: Acrobatics, Insight, Intimidation, Performance, Religion, Sleight of hand, Stealth, thieves’ tools

The warlock addition wasn’t originally in the plan, but I really liked the idea of the at-will illusion invocations. I’ve gone with Mask of Many Faces and Misty Visions so far, with the book of ancient secrets next on the list to add more utility. I know that agonizing blast is optimal, but I never really envisioned being an eldritch blaster. Still, I can already see how powerful EB is even without agonizing blast, finding myself using it more that vicious mockery sometimes.
My next few levels will probably be in warlock to get up to 5th level, mainly for the ASI at 4 (which I’m going to take the actor feat to get my CHA to 20 and for impersonation uses), and then 3rd level spell slots at lvl 5.

After 5th level warlock, not sure what I’ll do.
Maybe go back to Bard to get to 8th for another ASI and higher-level spells. Maybe continue with Warlock. It all depends on how the next few levels go.

Other class progressions I’ve been mulling:
Going two more levels in rogue to get the mastermind archetype. Normal cunning action is great, but bonus actions to grant advantage to an ally at 30’ would be useful all of the time (especially since we have a rogue to bolster his sneak attack chances) and I don’t have repeatable bonus action options other than bardic inspiration and spiritual weapon. The additional languages and imitation ability would also fit my character concept.

Bard Spells:
Magical Secrets - I chose:
Counterspell – and I use it all the time. Don’t regret it at all
Spiritual weapon – it’s consistently mentioned in forums as a great magical secrets pick due to bonus action economy and no concentration. I’ve used it several times and it’s been a bit meh for me. I haven’t rolled very well any time, and damage is nothing to rave about. If I went mastermind rogue and had other consistently available uses for bonus actions, I wouldn’t go with spiritual weapon.
Aura of Vitality, even without dipping life cleric, would be worth a look. Revivify would have been a pick if we didn’t have a cleric with us. Fireball is another good option.

Cantrips:
Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Vicious Mockery – so many uses for all, although I haven’t been using mage hand as much as expected. Good for opening doors at a distance with an illusion of someone standing in front of it.

1st
Healing word – I picked this with a bard known spell slot due to having a low wisdom and so few prepared cleric spells. I think I’ve only used it once or twice, but it’s good to have either way.

2nd
Blindness/Deafness – non-concentration, upcastable debuff. Unfortunately, most monsters seem to have high CON saves. Still, it’s a nice option against spell casters, as most spells require that you can see the target.
Enhance Ability – A recent acquisition. I like the concept and flexibility, but my DM hasn’t put us in many situations where I’m making many CHA skill checks in a small period of time. I’m hoping to get more value out of this eventually.
Heat Metal – Very useful as many BBEGs have metal armor, or at least a metal weapon. even if they make their save, the disadvantage on attacks is the main draw.
Hold Person – if you have melee party members, this is fantastic. Upcastable makes it even better
Invisibility – Haven’t used it as much as I expected, due to not having many slots and our rogue has had his own methods for casting invisibility. Lots of uses, though
Shatter – my only direct AOE damage spell. I’ve used it a few times (sometimes to great effect), but our DM frequently rules that it makes so much noise and damages so many items in the same room that I’ve been using it less.
Suggestion – Versatile and I’ve used it a few times to good effect. Rules are vague and subject to DM interpretation, so your mileage may vary

3rd
Counterspell – just yes.
Hypnotic Pattern – another yes to this one. It’s so powerful due to no recurring saves to end effect. Our frenzy barbarian cannot be charmed, so I can safely cast it on top of him. Awesome spell that my DM now takes into consideration when arranging enemies on the battlefield.

Cleric Spells:
Cantrips:
Guidance – use it all the time. Yes
Mending – I like the concept, but haven’t ended up using it as much as expected
Thaumaturgy – helpful with storytelling, intimidation attempts, accompanying illusions, etc

1st
I get to prepare 3: bless, detect magic (usually cast as ritual, but using a slot if in a rush), sanctuary (plus command and identify through knowledge cleric domain)

Warlock Spells:
Cantrips:
EB, Prestidigitation – similar to thaumaturgy

1st level:
Disguise self and silent image at will – my warlock levels are relatively new, so still working out best strategies for these.
Charm Person – used a few times, but similar to suggestion, seems to be a lot of DM interpretation involved
Dissonant Whispers – Yes. Very useful in several situations, esp with several melee party members.
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter – A good use of 1st level slots later on as you can take one enemy out of the battle for at least a little bit, while the part focuses on others. I recently added it, and like what I see so far. Concentration isn’t great, but useful if you only have 1st level slots left. I’ve found some sites of lame jokes to use when casting it.

What has worked:
You’ll always be able to contribute to the party, and generally have several options in any situation. This is great, but the decision make process can take some time. Plan out strategies in advance.
Bardic inspiration die are used almost exclusively for cutting words. My DM lets me convert a crit to a non-crit with it, so it’s saved fellow party members many times. Once our party is casting higher level spells, I need to remember that it works on enemies’ counterspell attempts

My favorite spells:
Heat Metal, Hold Person – awesomeness.
Hypnotic Pattern – when you read that it can totally change the outcome of a battle, that’s not fluff
Dissonant Whispers – a solid use of 1st level slots
Bless. Of course, I prefer it if the cleric casts this, as I have so much contention for my concentration slot, but bless is always useful
Guidance is useful all the time

What hasn’t worked:
I’m almost too good at skill checks, outshining most other party members and perhaps stealing a bit of their thunder (Ex. I’m better arcana checks than the wizard). Not sure if it’s really an issue, since it’s kind of my character’s job, but I’m trying to remain cognizant of it. I want to make sure that they're having fun and enjoying their characters as well.

Reduced high level spells. It is what it is. I’ve focused on lower level spells that will continue to be useful in multiple situations.

Accept that fact that you won’t be doing the killing, but that your value is in helping others to do it.

Tips:
Find a luckstone/Stone of good luck – it’s absolutely amazing with this build, between normal skill checks, raw ability checks, saving throws, and counterspells

I’d say that if you’re going for a skillmonkey build, focus on knowledge skills (with higher Int over Str). Depending on the relationship with the DM, these skill really help to get more information and advance the plotline. Depending on party composition, doing so may provide more value than being able to grapple.

Feats:
I agree that you’re in a good position to focus on feats. Recommend getting your CHA to 20, as many of your spells do nothing (or much less) if the target saves
I’m never in the middle of combat, so resilient CON hasn’t been considered. If you’re going to be grappling, maybe so.
Check out inspiring leader. I’d take it if I had room. The temp HP will help the entire party, and will always be useful throughout your character’s career.
Actor is an option depending on how you want leverage your social skills.

If unearthed arcana content is an option:
Check out “Feats for Races” for the Everybody’s friend feat, and “Feats for Skills” for the Silver-Tongued and Diplomat feats
These can help if your CHA is every odd, and will effectively give you expertise in one or more CHA skills, freeing up expertise slots for your Bard and Rogue classes.

Hope that helps. Have fun!
 

st690

First Post
Forgot to address one of your questions:
When to dip:
Between knowledge cleric and rogue: I'd recommend dipping cleric first, and sooner rather than later. Medium armor and shield is huge, expertise and the cantrips and 1st level spells are all very useful.
The Rogue dip might be able to wait a bit, but perhaps not since you're filling that role in the party.

As for when to dip in general, I guess it depends on what your priorities are. If you want to focus on the skillmonkey aspect and be as skilled as possible as quickly as possible, then dip into cleric and rogue right away. If you want to be more effective in combat and spell casting, focus on getting to Bard 5 or 6 sooner rather than later. Maybe compromise by dipping a level of cleric at char level 2, then get to Bard 3, then add a level of rogue, then get to Bard 5/6.
 

[MENTION=6801209]mellored[/MENTION] While I appreciate that a 2 Warlock dip covers a lot of bases, I'm afraid the story that has emerged for the char hard conflicts with taking any levels of Warlock at all. (A friend was possessed by demonic forces and it is my char's ultimate goal to free said friend.) I'm sure I can make do without, but would welcome your input on what else to consider.
[MENTION=6806193]st690[/MENTION] You mentioned THP are good, would you say good enough to warrant taking Heroism at first level?
 

st690

First Post
Regarding the Heroism spell, I'd say probably not. Your concentration slot is simply too precious a commodity to use on it. There are too many spells out there that are much better in almost every situation. Inspiring leader is nice for the following reasons: no spell slots/concentration, it affects your entire party, you get more THP (your level + CHA mod), and it's usable every short rest.
Ex. Bless would almost always be better with a 1st level slot, as it affects 3 characters and improves chances to hit and make saving throws.
 

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