Level Up (A5E) Are Bard Hymns Overpowered?

Ondath

Hero
This is a discussion I wanted to spin off from the thread about the Percussion and String specialties, mostly following @steels12's comment there:

Bards, in general, are exceedingly powerful both in combat and outside of combat. One of the big problems as well, something Lichmaster very briefly kind of alluded to but didn't mention directly, is that bard get a bunch of cool abilities, but as they level up they don't really get MORE, they kind of just get access to them all at once. So you're going from a class that has a handful of really powerful abilities and you can only choose one, to a class that can just have the entire handful all at once with no meaningful choice involved.

Let's take a look at my party's bard, for example. So bear in mind, he went Minstrel and by level 8 had a +5 CHA and a +2 WIS and a really good CON as well, so he was rolling with 7 bardic inspirations. More than average, but I don't think ANY bard should have less than a +4 in CHA by level 8 so that's not crazy to me. He chose the focus that allowed him to affect a number of creatures with his hymns = to his CHA, he went with the Vocal specialty, so he had advantage on every concentration check, and once he hit level 11 he changed his Hymn Focus (because we asked him) to "Hymns no longer require concentration" and took the Vocal master, so his spells could never fail concentration checks

So at almost any point in the campaign he could:
  • Give the entire party +5 to all saving throws
  • Give every creature disadvantage on hitting ANY member of the party
  • Give the entire party 1d8 or later 1d10 temporary hit points per turn
  • Never possibly fail any concentration checks for both Hymns and Spells
  • Cast both a concentration spell AND a hymn at the same time

And all of this wasn't even mentioning the other insane things he COULD have done, like being able to multi-cast polymorph and just have multiple giant monkeys on the field. Now, naturally, the counter-argument to this is "But it all costs 1 bardic per turn", but honestly? That's not even a high cost. Even if he only had 5 bardic as would be normal if he didn't have the Minstrel subclass, that's 5 entire rounds he can do this. Not to mention he can, as a reaction, switch any of the hymns at the end of a creature's turn. Bards barely use their reactions, so this is almost always an option. I understand I'm glossing over minor costs that contribute to chipping away, but in terms of game-feel, it genuinely just seemed to my entire party (the bard himself included) that he could just keep this up for an entire combat without it ever even eating into a single of his other incredibly powerful resources like spell slots. Further, by level 5 he gets all his inspiration back on a short rest, so he can basically go nova twice per dungeon. The 60-foot range on Hymns is also insane because Hymns only specify a creature needs to perceive your performance, so you can totally do it behind full-cover as long as your party isn't deaf. Idk how big you all make your maps, but a 60-foot RADIUS is basically the entire map unless you've decided to suicidally move a million miles away from your party. It also didn't feel good that I, as the DM, was pressured to build encounters specifically to counter him. I don't WANT to have to throw in a "Dispel Magic" user in every combat encounter, I don't WANT to have my big baddies supernaturally just "know" who to target.

All of this is to say, the bard feels tremendously passively powerful, which isn't a good type of power, at least to me and my party. It doesn't feel like they have meaningful cho, ices, they have incredibly powerful choices that always work, affect basically everyone, and are nothing more than a "set it and forget it" mentality. They get almost all of their tricks at a relatively low level, and all levelling up does is mean they don't have to choose, they just get more of their tricks all at once, and that doesn't help with their level scaling. There are also some cool ideas in there that are just never capitalized on, like having bards specialize in a "School" of magic, but that's only used for like three of their ten arts, and one of them is very useless

So I didn't see a viable way of "tweaking" this, and by the end of looking over all of this, I realized there just wasn't any salvaging this class as it is. I ended up re-writing pretty much the entire battle hymns, hymn focus / specializations, and both art specializations and art masteries, as well as a few supporting rules baked into the Bard class to help smooth everything over. Like I said, we haven't playtested any of it yet (my party is in a long downtime at the moment), but it looks very promising

Sorry for the effort-post lmao
So after I read his comment, I checked the Bard abilities on my Adventurer's Guide, and I have to admit that the Bard seems to get a series of powers that seem okay at first glance, but when they're brought together they become really powerful.

I really like hymns as an idea. They give some powerful stuff, but that's balanced by their limitations: They require concentration, they use up a Bardic Inspiration, they only target one person at a time, and they have a range of 60 feet. But from an early level, all of these restrictions get progressively removed:
  • Battle Hymn Focus: From 4th level onwards, they either no longer require concentration (which means they can be used alongside powerful buff spells), or they can affect 4/5 additional people (assuming you have a Bard with a +4/+5 CHA). This makes some hymn options insanely powerful (Bastions of Justice essentially becomes a stronger Aura of Resistance, Overbearing Rhythm means the enemies can't attack anyone without getting disadvantage).
  • Font of Inspiration: The earlier buffs could be acceptable if the Hymns remained a rare resource to use. But Bardic Inspiration recharging on Short Rests means the Bard will get (assuming they take 2 Short Rests each day) 12 uses of Bardic Inspiration/Hymns at Level 5, and this will cap out to 15 uses at Level 8. Assuming that an average combat takes 3 rounds and the Bard uses their Bardic Inspiration/Hymn every round in every combat, that still means they can use the Hymns to their maximum extent for five combats. That's every single combat a party is supposed to face at Tier 2, leaves out only one combat at Tier 3 and 37% of all combats at Tier 4. So, as steels12 put it, the Bard can nova with their Hymns all day, every day.
  • Battle Hymn Specialisation: The last way of balancing the Hymns was its (sort of) limited range, since 30 feet meant people who were attacking from a distance (i.e., distant enough to require more than 1 Round of movement in combat to reach while still using your action) could not benefit from them. But increasing the Hymn range to 60 feet means that practically everyone in combat can always benefit from Hymns.
So all of this is making me wonder: Was this foreseen during the playtest? Is this the Bard's expected power level, or did these features create a powerful synergy that the designers weren't expecting? I'll start a Level Up campaign soon and a player was looking forward to play a Bard, but (having suffered once from overly-tuned classes thanks to the Blood Hunter) now I'm hesitant to let them play the Bard RAW. I'd love to have the input of either people who have run A5E games and have experience dealing with the Bard, or of the designers to see what they think!
 

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Ondath

Hero
curious, can those abilities be used on turn 1 along with a normal spell on turn 1?
Yes, but depends on the spell and the hymn focus you took, at least as I read the rules:

Activating a hymn requires no action, just spending a use of Bardic Inspiration at the start of your turn. From 4th level onwards, you can also use your reaction to start a Hymn at the end of another creature's turn. So theoretically you could activate a Hymn on Round 1 before your turn even comes up.

And when the focus you chose matters is this: If you chose the option that makes the hymns no longer require any concentration, you can also cast a concentration spell. So theoretically, you could do the following on Turn 1 as a Level 5 Bard: Start your turn by giving a +CHA to all saves for an ally, use a bonus action to give Bardic Inspiration to that same ally, then buff them with Haste. And then you regain the two uses you spent by taking a Short Rest.

If you instead took the "hymns affect +CHA number of people" focus, you can't cast a concentration spell. So at Level 5, in one round you can: (1) Give 4 allies a +4 bonus to all saves. (2) Give one ally a d8 Bardic Inspiration die. (3) Cast a non-concentration spell.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Yes, but depends on the spell and the hymn focus you took, at least as I read the rules:

Activating a hymn requires no action, just spending a use of Bardic Inspiration at the start of your turn. From 4th level onwards, you can also use your reaction to start a Hymn at the end of another creature's turn. So theoretically you could activate a Hymn on Round 1 before your turn even comes up.

And when the focus you chose matters is this: If you chose the option that makes the hymns no longer require any concentration, you can also cast a concentration spell. So theoretically, you could do the following on Turn 1 as a Level 5 Bard: Start your turn by giving a +CHA to all saves for an ally, use a bonus action to give Bardic Inspiration to that same ally, then buff them with Haste. And then you regain the two uses you spent by taking a Short Rest.

If you instead took the "hymns affect +CHA number of people" focus, you can't cast a concentration spell. So at Level 5, in one round you can: (1) Give 4 allies a +4 bonus to all saves. (2) Give one ally a d8 Bardic Inspiration die. (3) Cast a non-concentration spell.
I see. Can you get the ability to affect multiple people and have it not require concentration? If so roughly what level can you do that at?
 

Ondath

Hero
I see. Can you get the ability to affect multiple people and have it not require concentration? If so roughly what level can you do that at?
AFAICT, you can't have both at the same time. That said, you can change your focus any time you gain a level, so you could start with the focus that removes concentration, then switch to the one that increases the number of targets at a later level.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
AFAICT, you can't have both at the same time. That said, you can change your focus any time you gain a level, so you could start with the focus that removes concentration, then switch to the one that increases the number of targets at a later level.
Thanks! Then I’m personally not concerned. The effects mostly feel comparable to 3rd to 5th level spells when they can effect essentially the whole party.

Affecting a single pc is more in the realm of power of a 1st or 2nd level spell. I’m not concerned with those specific effects targeting 1 pc and then using a 3+ level concentration spell, even on the same turn. Even with a bardic inspiration dice given out.

All in all my biggest concern would be the party as a whole doubling down on ac and then giving all enemies disadvantage to hit them. But that’s a rather specific situation and means no other bard concentration spell at that time. I guess this could be made a little better by taking fireball as magical secrets.

Another high level concern would be how much adventuring day longevity this gives a bard compared to other casters. At level 5 he could use hypnotic pattern in 2 encounters and then use the hymn in 2-3 (short rests +1) encounters for 3-4 (cha mod) rounds each.

But in the grand scheme, these things should both happen rarely so I don’t think I would worry until they started coming up regularly.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I should add that it’s also my impression that advanced 5e buffed most classes a little - but maybe I’m wrong?

If so the bard being a bit stronger than a normal 5e bard should be expected.
 

steels12

Explorer
Every day I get closer and closer to just posting my bard re-tune before having playtested it extensively lol

Thanks! Then I’m personally not concerned. The effects mostly feel comparable to 3rd to 5th level spells when they can effect essentially the whole party.

Affecting a single pc is more in the realm of power of a 1st or 2nd level spell. I’m not concerned with those specific effects targeting 1 pc and then using a 3+ level concentration spell, even on the same turn. Even with a bardic inspiration dice given out.

All in all my biggest concern would be the party as a whole doubling down on ac and then giving all enemies disadvantage to hit them. But that’s a rather specific situation and means no other bard concentration spell at that time. I guess this could be made a little better by taking fireball as magical secrets.

Another high level concern would be how much adventuring day longevity this gives a bard compared to other casters. At level 5 he could use hypnotic pattern in 2 encounters and then use the hymn in 2-3 (short rests +1) encounters for 3-4 (cha mod) rounds each.

But in the grand scheme, these things should both happen rarely so I don’t think I would worry until they started coming up regularly.

I do generally feel like this "conceptual" idea is what most people will land on, but it ignored the sheer omnipresence, power creep, and lack of actual meaningful choice that is introduced on a holistic interpretation of the class.

Saying it's "like" something else doesn't really address an issue either. Spellcasting, in general, relies on things like line-of-sight or at least line-of-effect. Hymns ignore this entirely by being essentially omnipresent. They are able to be benefited from simply by being perceived. In fact, nowhere in the rules does it say YOU as the caster of the hymn, have to be directly aware of a target. This is a HUGE boon with the 60 foot radius size they have, essentially allowing them to cover every map that isn't untenably enormous. Bards are capable of changing their hymns at the end of ANY creature's turn as a reaction, essentially allowing them to constantly have the perfect counter for anything that comes their way. As non-frontliners Bards rarely use their reactions anyway so this is always valuable.

Unlike spellcasting, Hymns have a universal cost of 1 bardic inspiration. To even compare these effects to a 5th level spell should be obviously ridiculous. We would never say "It should be expected that sorcerers get a bit stronger" if suddenly they can cast Warrior's Instinct on an entire party for a first level spell slot simply because they reached level 11. I totally agree with you that each ability individually doesn't feel TOO bad, especially if you look at it in the context of "Well Bards get powerful spells like Dominate Monster and can even take from other classes", so it really is the granular buildup that causes problems.

Let me paint a picture:
As a level 11 bard, I can choose to make it so that my entire party has a +5 to all saving throws, essentially nerfing all the threat of an adult dragon's most powerful attack unanimously. I can keep this up essentially all combat. I have advantage on all concentration saving throws, so no worries on failing those as long as I don't have terrible CON. Further, WHILE all of this is going, I can blast a massive area with Cone of Cold and do crippling damage. All of this is done on turn 1 and I still have my bonus action AND reaction.

OR, how about:
As a level 9 bard, I can, at the start of my turn, heal a dying party member for 1d10 health, get them back on their feet, and then turn them AND an ally into Giant Apes with one single polymorph spell. At the end of their turn I can use a reaction to buff one of those apes to rolling +1 damage dice, all while I wait for my next turn to come around where I can now cast spells, sustain concentration, and move my hymns around.

Lastly, and I DO genuinely think this is important, the bard feels like it's been stripped of its identity a bit. This is something that my party's bard has echoed a lot, which is that at no point in the "level track" does it feel like his bard really emphasizes the "jack of all trades" that is so archetypal of bards as a whole, but rather it just feels like they're given all of their choices at a very low level, and levelling up is just a process of taking limiters off. This makes them more powerful, yes, but it also means choices are being taken AWAY from them. Instead of focusing on playing that tactician role, it's just "naughty word it, flip on every switch at once, and do it for 5 rounds without a pause". It really pigeon-holed the type of playstyle that my party's bard could pursue, partially because I had to start planning encounters AROUND how omnipresent these abilities were, but also because it felt like the bard, by virtue of merely existing, was seen as a passive buff to the entire party, and thus it became expected of them to perform that role.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Like I mentioned in the beginning, I ended up writing an entire re-tune to the core class, revamping all the battle hymns and arts entirely. Still haven't playtested yet, but I might end up making a post about it in the future if it works well with my party. I do totally recognize that individually everything reads a "okay", but it is these granular interactions where the friction can consistently grind things to a halt, and that's really the issue. No one cares if a PC CAN pull off really broken and cool things if they play their cards right, but this isn't that. This is just the game handing you a whole deck, telling you that you can only play one ace at a time, and then as you level up being able to play more aces every single turn all at once
 

Pedantic

Legend
On the one hand, I see the power concerns and stale play patterns. But on the other hand, hymns are my favorite bard change in A5E, precisely because I really hated that the bard's only connection to mystical performance/music was a slightly curated spell list in base 5e. "Team wide buff/debuff" is pretty solidified as the representation of bardic performance, and at its best, this mechanic is a much more flexible and proactive version of that, instead of just "Inspire Courage: Your team gets +2 to attack rolls."

With that goal in mind, the expansion from "you can inspire one person" to "you can inspire your whole team" is a reasonable progression, even if the numbers end up overtuned.
 

steels12

Explorer
On the one hand, I see the power concerns and stale play patterns. But on the other hand, hymns are my favorite bard change in A5E, precisely because I really hated that the bard's only connection to mystical performance/music was a slightly curated spell list in base 5e. "Team wide buff/debuff" is pretty solidified as the representation of bardic performance, and at its best, this mechanic is a much more flexible and proactive version of that, instead of just "Inspire Courage: Your team gets +2 to attack rolls."

With that goal in mind, the expansion from "you can inspire one person" to "you can inspire your whole team" is a reasonable progression, even if the numbers end up overtuned.

Totally agree, which is why I would never ask to get rid of hymns, just make them a bit less omnipresent. The big problem I have is that they're just passively ALWAYS good and it's never really a choice, it's just "Do I want to make this combat easy? Y/N?" and it's a simple on-and-off switch. None of the built-in dissuasions are present, because they can't be dispelled since they're not magic spells and concentration is incredibly easy to hold

Also the framing of "progression" is just untrue here. Perhaps there'd be an argument if the ability read as something like "at 4th level you can affect 2 people, at 9th 3 people, etc," but it's actually just "At level 4 you can affect your CHA modifier of extra people", which to anyone playing a bard is a BARE minimum of 3 extra people, more likely 4 or even 5 extra people depending on how the DM allows stat allocation and ASIs
 

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