5E Building a Bard Using Some Crazy Starting Stats

Esker

Explorer
I had a bard that I was really enjoying playing in a campaign that unfortunately fizzled out, so I'm putting a new bard together for a campaign that's just getting started. The old bard was a pretty standard half-elf valor bard. I'm thinking the new one will be a changeling that met my other bard and is now going around with his face and persona.

The twist is that we used a very generous rolling method for starting stats (4d6, reroll 1s infinitely often, then drop the lowest), and I got some crazy numbers, so I'm thinking about some unconventional play styles that wouldn't be viable with point buy.

Here's my array (pre-racial): 18(!), 15, 15, 14, 13, 12. As a changeling, I would start with 20 CHA, 16 DEX, and 15 CON.

Starting at level 3. The rest of the party is a swashbuckler rogue, open hand monk, and transmutation wizard, so no real front line, but lots of hit and run capability. I want to be mainly a support caster, but I'm thinking that booming blade would be a nice form of at-will support to make myself useful while concentrating (making it hurt for enemies to chase down the monk and rogue), but if I'm attacking from 5' I don't have a way to get away without taking AoOs.

One option is to just be a half-high-elf valor bard, emphasize STR instead of DEX so I'm not locked into finesse weapons, take booming blade as a racial cantrip, and use my level 4 feat for Mobile (hop in, booming blade, hop out). But I'm thinking about this character as a consummate con man, which changeling supports beautifully (my old bard had a hat of disguise and planned to get Actor, which changeling basically gets for free). So instead I'm thinking Hexblade 1 / Lore Bard X.

I'd take booming blade and either toll the dead or eldritch blast as warlock cantrips. Initially I'd use a hand crossbow as my hex weapon, but then switch to a melee weapon at level 5 once I can get Mobile, which is also when Booming Blade scales. Advantages are Hex Warrior, Shield Spell, and since I don't need to be valor for armor, getting earlier Magical Secrets (thinking Pass Without Trace and either Aura of Vitality or Spirit Guardians). The main disadvantage obviously is delaying spell progression, and having a lot of competition for my reaction, plus I will need War Caster if I want to be able to use a weapon, a shield, and have the Shield spell available.

What do folks think? Is this build trying to do too many things even with the crazy stats? I could just stick to being a back line valor bard, either with a crossbow or a shield and open hand, maybe taking magic initiate (warlock) at some point for some damage cantrips, and support the melee-ers defensively with combat inspiration. Or I could stick with the Hexblade level but forget about booming blade, and take crossbow expert at level 5.

Decisions, decisions...
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
That sounds cool, I like Booming Blade when players get creative with it. I know you said Hand Crossbow, but the picture that jumped into my head was a not-huge Bard with a massive greatsword. Very, hmm, anime, maybe? Yeah, small guy, big huge sword. Anyway..

You do have a lot of pieces to your build - do you anticipate playing until, say, 10th level? If your build doesn't really come online until 5th you want to have some levels to enjoy yourself.
 

Esker

Explorer
You do have a lot of pieces to your build - do you anticipate playing until, say, 10th level? If your build doesn't really come online until 5th you want to have some levels to enjoy yourself.
There's no set end level but it will be a slow-moving game so even a one level delay will certainly be felt. That said, the hexblade dip offers a number of benefits right at level 3 as well, though of course with attendant costs. Here are some level 3 comparisons.

At will combat options:

Hexblade 1 / Bard 2:
* Hand crossbow, +7 to hit with 1d6+5 damage from 30', 15 AC plus Shield spell
* Eldritch blast and shield, +7 to hit at 1d10 damage from 120', 17 AC plus Shield spell
* Sword and board, for +7 to hit and 1d8+5 damage with 17 AC
* Wield a longsword two-handed for +7 to hit and 1d10+5 damage, with 15 base AC plus the option to cast Shield
* Wield a shield and whip, for +7 to hit and 1d4+5 damage, with 17 AC and the ability to keep some distance against most enemies

(though can only use CHA with one weapon within a given day)

Valor Bard 3:
* Heavy crossbow, for +5 to hit with 1d10+3 damage from 100'
* Rapier and shield, for +5 to hit and 1d8+3 damage with 17 AC
* Greatsword, for +4 to hit and 1d12+2 damage, with 15 AC and no Shield spell
* Shield and whip, +5 to hit and 1d4+3 damage, with 17 AC and the ability to keep some distance against most enemies

Spells and spell slots:

Hexblade 1 / Bard 2 has 3 1st level slots and 1 pact magic slot; roughly 6 first level casts per day. Total of 6 1st level spells known, including 2 warlock spells (Shield for sure, probably Armor of Agathys).
Bard 3 has 4 1st level slots and 2 2nd level slots; 6 total casts per day, but access to two 2nd level spells, probably cloud of daggers (combos nicely with open hand monk, and potentially my own shoves / thunderwaves), and a CC spell like Suggestion.

Other utility:

Bard 3 has an extra +2 to two skills from expertise (probably athletics for grapples/shoves and either persuasion or deception for face-ing) and can hand out combat inspiration 5x/day to help the rest of the party's AC.

So, at bottom, as you'd expect, the hexblade dip wins out for the most part on durability and direct damage (apart from the valor bard's cloud of daggers combos), whereas the pure bard wins out on support** and out-of-combat utility.

**Although increased durability makes for more reliable support, so it's not a pure win here for the pure bard.
 

Esker

Explorer
I guess another option for the changeling valor bard would be to take spell sniper at level 4 to get booming blade and to be able to use it with a whip. It's less reliable as a hit-and-run tactic than Mobile, since the "run" part doesn't work against enemies with reach, and we're limited to a d4 base, but it would work decently well. But booming blade isn't really that great until level 5 anyway, so missing out on the ability to use it at 4 isn't that major a loss. We get cutting words instead of combat inspiration; hard to judge that one. We have other reactions for self-defense, so maybe we'd rather have combat inspiration to protect the party.

At level 5 it definitely hurts to have taken that dip, since 3rd level spells and font of inspiration are both such a big deal. So that somehow manages to be both the point where the key tactic for the multiclass build comes online and a low point of the build.

Level 6 is almost a dead level for the valor bard, since we can't use extra attack with booming blade (though we do get to pick another 3rd level spell) so here we're pretty glad for the dip. Level 7 is also a high point for the multiclass build, since we can get magical secrets. As good as polymorph is, I'd rather get to pick those two spells known from any class.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
I wasn't advocating against the dip, just wondering about the longer range plan. I love Bardlock builds anyway, so I'm on board no matter what you do. Hexblade/Valour fits really well, for both combat and spell casting. I'm guessing you want to start bard for the skills and then dip Warlock? Given the rest of your party I can see you wanting to dabble you toes in the tankier end of what Warlocks are capable of too, which is always fun.
 

Esker

Explorer
Starting at 3 I think the only difference between starting Hexblade and starting Bard is DEX vs WIS save proficiency, and a couple of musical instrument proficiencies (assuming there are at least two skills on the warlock list you want, at least), since you get a skill when you multiclass into bard. So it really just comes down to saving throws (and whether you think level order should have something to do with backstory, I guess).

As for bard subclass, if booming blade is a centerpiece, it seems like there's little reason to go Valor if getting armor and shields from Hexblade, since extra attack doesn't work with BB. I do like combat inspiration as a support focused character, though cutting words helps tankiness more (the shield spell is better but uses a more limited resource, so CW helps dodge attacks while conserving spell slots).
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
I don't really like the interaction of booming blade and extra attack. I also think if you are going warlock, take a second level for a second level 1 slot and invocations.

Eldritch blast is nothing special without agonizing blast invocation. If you are a changeling, you might find the mask of many faces invocation or the armoe of shadows invocation to be exta useful. You don't want to look like wearing armor or not when changing personas. Or sometimes you might, so at will disguise self helps greatly.
Instead of valour, you might find lore bard more useful. The valour bard main features are weapon and armor proficiencies and extra attack. You have no use for that.
Lore instead allows you to use bardic inspiration as reaction, which frees up you bonus action for your hex and curse. Proficiencies in more skills is always useful. Especially when you try to trick people. Deception. Performance. Persuasion. Sleight of hand. All useful skills for that but all not highest priority usually.

So my take would be:

Hexblade 1.
Bard 1.
Hexblade 2.
Bard 2 and 3.

I'd start with hexblade so you could start with your final equippment and wis proficiency. I think going charlatan as background will complement your changeling nature best.
 

Esker

Explorer
I don't really like the interaction of booming blade and extra attack.
I agree, that's why I was planning to go Lore if taking the Hexblade dip; Valor if staying single classed for shields. I'm not completely sold that cutting words is better than combat inspiration --- Hexblade's curse is just one BA per short rest, and I'm not planning to use Hex, since I want my concentration free for control spells -- but certainly extra magical secrets is preferable to extra attack. And should the campaign somehow make it to 15 (very unlikely), I wouldn't be able to use booming blade with war magic anyway since it won't be a bard spell, so I may as well have peerless skill.

Eldritch blast is nothing special without agonizing blast invocation.
True, but if using booming blade most of the time, EB is just a convenient backup hands-free ranged option that can be used with a shield. I'm hesitant to delay bard progression by another level for a damage boost when this isn't a damage-focused character... although...

If you are a changeling, you might find the mask of many faces invocation or the armor of shadows invocation to be extra useful. You don't want to look like wearing armor or not when changing personas. Or sometimes you might, so at will disguise self helps greatly.
This is a good point. Being a changeling isn't quite hat of disguise + actor feat because of the clothes thing. I will have "expertise" in disguise kit as a racial ability, but that takes time to use. Hmm. Waiting until level 7 for 3rd level spells and font of inspiration seems really painful though.

I think going charlatan as background will complement your changeling nature best.
Yup, already settled on that background.
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
I agree, that's why I was planning to go Lore if taking the Hexblade dip; Valor if staying single classed for shields. I'm not completely sold that cutting words is better than combat inspiration --- Hexblade's curse is just one BA per short rest, and I'm not planning to use Hex, since I want my concentration free for control spells -- but certainly extra magical secrets is preferable to extra attack. And should the campaign somehow make it to 15 (very unlikely), I wouldn't be able to use booming blade with war magic anyway since it won't be a bard spell, so I may as well have peerless skill.



True, but if using booming blade most of the time, EB is just a convenient backup hands-free ranged option that can be used with a shield. I'm hesitant to delay bard progression by another level for a damage boost when this isn't a damage-focused character... although...



This is a good point. Being a changeling isn't quite hat of disguise + actor feat because of the clothes thing. I will have "expertise" in disguise kit as a racial ability, but that takes time to use. Hmm. Waiting until level 7 for 3rd level spells and font of inspiration seems really painful though.



Yup, already settled on that background.
Combat inspiration Offers just a bit of damage or AC.
Cutting words can reduce the enemy's attack roll or damage. But yes, both are useful.

Good thing about warlock 2 is, that you can take the second level whenever you feel the need to. And actually, that is the best way to go. So start warlock 1/bard2 and look what happens.
 

Esker

Explorer
Combat inspiration Offers just a bit of damage or AC.
Cutting words can reduce the enemy's attack roll or damage. But yes, both are useful.
I expect the most common uses of each are equivalent in effect, namely turning hits into misses, though I had honestly forgotten that you could use cutting words on damage rolls. This could be a very nice thing to be able to do if the attack roll is too high to be able to turn it into a miss and the ally would likely go down from the full attack, but otherwise it'd be better to save it to turn a hit into a miss. Similarly, using combat inspiration to boost damage could be very useful if you have a good idea that the straight damage roll isn't to be likely enough for a kill but the boosted roll would down the enemy, or if you otherwise think it will cause an enemy to go down before its next turn. But both of those are relatively
situational.

It seems like the main differences between the two types of inspiration, besides the fact that you can use cutting words to protect yourself, are the action economy and when use decisions are made.

Combat inspiration uses your bonus action and your ally's reaction to make attacks miss; cutting words uses your reaction. In a party with a melee front line that makes a lot of opportunity attacks or otherwise is reaction-heavy already (if you have a sentinel / PAM / riposte fighter, for example), cutting words looks better, since your reaction is less valuable than those of your meat shields. For a changeling bard in a hit-and-run party, on the other hand, l have multiple self-defense reactions already (unsettling visage and the shield spell), whereas the rogue and monk won't have that many (really just uncanny dodge (after 5th) and deflect missiles, both of which are only used after already being hit). So on the action economy front, using my bonus action maybe looks a little bit better.

Decision flexibility is also a mixed bag: cutting words dice are less likely to go to waste, which is a big point in their favor, but combat inspiration dice can also be regular bardic inspiration dice, allowing for flexibility between using them offensively (turning your misses into hits) and defensively. I probably lean a bit in favor of cutting words here, since with a limited resource, it feels worse to waste it than to end up using it perhaps suboptimally.

In any case, all of this is outweighed by the fact that I'd have a mostly dead level at 6th as a valor bard.

Good thing about warlock 2 is, that you can take the second level whenever you feel the need to. And actually, that is the best way to go. So start warlock 1/bard2 and look what happens.
Yeah, I think this is what I'll do.
 

Esker

Explorer
Okay, I started Hexblade 1 / Bard 2, and coming up on level 4, so need to commit to a bard subclass. I'm still considering Lore, but it turns out the DM in this campaign is house ruling that you can perform somatic components with a focus in hand, even if the spell doesn't have an M component, and so now find myself leaning toward getting more gishy and going College of Swords. That would let me stack the physical shield, defensive flourish, and the shield spell, which assuming breastplate (don't want stealth disadvantage with this party) and using all of that can get my AC up to 27-28 on average, which is crazy.

It doesn't lend itself to as well to building around Booming Blade, and is well behind Booming Blade + Mobile in damage if I can induce the movement (especially taking into account the lore bard's access to spiritual weapon). But if I don't need to rely on Mobile I could take a different fun feat. I'm thinking Shield Master, which works well with expertise in athletics, and gives me lots of ways to move people around, potentially into nasty spell effects, plus of course the two meleers getting the benefits of prone (could even grapple + shove prone). PAM spear and shield has its appeal too, with Hex Warrior and dueling style; pair with war caster at 9 for booming blade AoOs. And of course, in a totally different direction, inspiring leader would be really good. Or medium armor master and just get insanely high AC.

Too many fun/good options.
 

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