Playtest (A5E) Level Up Playtest Document #12: Bard

Welcome to the 12th Level Up playtest document. This playtest contains a candidate for the first 10 levels of the game’s bard class.


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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


It says on the chart that at level 1 the Bard knows 3 Cantrips and 4 spells, but he only has 2 1st level spell slots to cast with. In the written description, under "Spells Known at 1st level and higher", it says that a 1st level Bard only knows 2 spells of 1st level, not 4. So which is it?


It says on the chart that at level 1 the Bard knows 3 Cantrips and 4 spells, but he only has 2 1st level spell slots to cast with. In the written description, under "Spells Known at 1st level and higher", it says that a 1st level Bard only knows 2 spells of 1st level, not 4. So which is it?


woooooooooow....I too was really impressed & feel like my words don't do it justice

oooo. Something's going on with the spell slots compared to the other casters we've seen (sorc/wiz). Mathematically I'm not sure what happens or if its a new way of showing difference between full & fractional casters since the differences don't kick in to level 9/10 (or I'm overlooking something earlier?). This could make for an interesting way to split full casters from the more martially leaning casters that were once fractional casters before 5e. I'm not sure if this is just new normal for all casters after feedback from the wizard mistake or deliberate shift of bard away from spellslot casting to more notable bard abilities?

The art specialty focus items are pretty neat & feel viscerally different in interesting ways that will make rojer halfgrip with his violin feel notably different from link & his ocarina if both were bards. This will definately make origin/lineage options that give an instrument attractive to bards

The equipment packs have differing bardy feels to them in interesting ways

The Battle Hymns are really cool with kid in a candy store feel from reading over them as something that will to an awesome job of making a bard feel like it can do cool things other than "yea I got that spell too." I can think of a few books & video games that have a similar sort of cool ongoing thing that exists alongside more spell type abilities & actual spells making these really exciting. I could see magic items & such that even add extra uses or reduce the cost of specific hymns like one of the later specializations allows at level 8 too. :D Song of clarity letting someone expend a hit die to heal themselves being one of those free options is really interesting in both respects.

Bardic Legend gives kind of a cool excuse for a gm to send npcs towards the bard & party with relevant quests if they rather overtly invest some effort& the long rest/hit die recovery shift combined with song of clarity makes for really interesting synergy. Combined they give a bard a bunch of great excuses to act more like a bard than frank castle cleaning his weapons alone in room b12 till it's time to go kill things.

The Battle Hymn focus options are all going to give a bard very different feelings within the party & lend themselves towards different hymns rather than just "well clearly x is always the best choice to make" type thing. Being able to change either of the two after getting a new level is a good balance of not so locked in that there is extreme pressure on making the right choice but stable enough that a bard doesn't just change them out every session (the L8 specialization likewise being something you can change at new levels gets the same good mix checkmark imo).

Given the much larger role that bardic inspiration plays for this bard, Font of Inspiration at 5th feels both timely to coincide with other big bumps like fighter/berserker second attack & such.

With the larger role played by using different instruments Key Change letting the bard do a quick bonus action instrument swap will probably open a lot of flexibility to changing situations once we see he spell lists & spells themselves.

The Maestro ability letting bards always get the benefit of an art/instrument/focus item on top of whatever one they are using feels like it comes late enough at 7 to feel like an informed decision should be possible & given all the decisions with hymns this will have a very interesting set of subjective combos that helps ensure bob the "I always play bard" feels like he;s always playing something at least a little different I bet.

The Hymn specialization is filled with cool options but one of them feels like it sheds light on the spell slot mystery in addition to the new spells we haven't seen yet. Choosing 4 spells of any level with only vocal components in o5e is a tall order given nearly everything having vsm so it sounds like verbal somatic & material components with spells will be more nuanced. Those four verbal only spells being limited to 4th level & lower makes me feel like the level 9/10 spell slot shift is deliberate as one of the neat things that split full & partial casters apart as casters .

I really like how the knacks focus around skills/expertise/social engineering flavored stuff & being an indispensable "I'm so glad bob always plays a bard" part of the party. The fact that one of them could result in being able to get a twofer from spells like raise dead tickles my inner cackling child & makes me feel like the o5e ritual spells being kind of an unfinished project that ended at step1 will progress onto step 2 & up in a5e. :D

@Samurai I mention a lot of things about spells that the bard abilities seem to suggest, I think the chart is probably accurate & the pg6 text is outdated

Stacie GmrGrl

This could be the second Bard class I don't ban from my game. Third if I count the Troubadour from Earthdawn.

Bards have always been my least favorite class in fantasy so this one is pretty damn cool.

Great class.

All that's left is to rename a certain particular unarmed fighting class to something that actually makes sense and Level Up would be nearly perfect.


I might be making unwarranted assumptions here, but I'm guessing (a) sub-classes will still work more-or-less as in O5e, and so will armor. Also, I am guessing the Warchanter or one of the other colleges will be the "fighty bard" similar to the college of Valor in O5e. If that is the case, I think College should be a first-level choice, perhaps replacing either Battle Hymn or Art Specialization. I remember seeing Mearls saying somewhere that he wishes they had done otherwise with the O5e bard, because switching from light to medium armor means Dexterity suddenly goes from highly important to somewhat important. In other words, either you go with a moderate Dex and have bad AC at low levels, or you go with a high Dex which is suddenly "wasted" once you get medium armor.

There are also several places where one ability either includes multiple options (e.g. Battle Hymn Focus) or multiple stages (e.g. Bardic Legend). I would wish to see these options and stages named, because it's a lot easier to refer to "Harmonize" than "that Battle Hymn Specialization ability that lets me keep two hymns going at once."


Thoughts time! I've always liked bards quite a bit (and no, not as an excuse to be randy!) even though I'm not musical, so let's see...

Art Specialty: Yay for going beyond mere instruments! Is it bad that my first thought was "mime-bard"? Although shouldn't that be wind instruments and not air instruments? I don't know from music terms. I'm not entirely sold on the special abilities you get for your instrument of choice, though. I kinda feel like your choice of art should be more RP than mechanical.

Battle Hymn: It took me a minute, but I think I like these. The names, at least, gave me a real The Slaughter vibe (Magnus Archives). I feel like there should be some effects to cause fear or confusion (please tell me you have a standard Confused condition!).

However, I think that they should always require concentration. And I'm not fond of the 8th-level ability to have two songs up at once.

Jack of All Trades plus Varied Experience seems a bit too much to me. Maybe Varied Experience needs to be higher in level.

Bardic Legend: Can you write this song about a specific individual, or does it have to be about "you and your allies" as a group?

How's about an ability that lets you create a mocking song? Or one that would make people angry at an individual? If not as Bardic Legends, then how about as new Battle Hymns?

Bewitching Companion: Esteem mechanic, huh? Tell me more, please.

Brutish Confrontation: I choose Medicine! That gives a bonus to ambush people! I don't think this knack makes a lot of sense. Ditto Resonance; an expertise die plus enhanced duration on any ritual spell? Basically, for these knacks and the others like them, I think you should limit what skills can be taken for each one. Brutish Confrontation means you have to choose from Stealth, Survival, Nature, etc., not just any skill.

Sly Confident: This needs a time limit, or else you're going to end up with people who succeed and then get to use the bonus a week later.

Song of Rest: So this is a knack now, hmm?

I think you need a "music hath charms" knack that lets them have a bonus when dealing with beasts and low-Int monstrosities.


Really good job with this! A few comments (mostly along the lines of "things are not really clear - I can assume what you mean, but really should be more crisp"):

Battle Hymn (inspiration): Is this activated by using a bardic inspiration that you previously gave yourself (instead of rolling the inspiration die) or does this get activated when using your bonus action to grant yourself a new inspiration or does this just expend one potential use of bardic inspiration (bardic inspiration and battle hymn share a common pool of uses)? Becomes even less clear when it can be used as a reaction without expending a use and then later when multiple uses are expended (both seem to apply the "common pool" interpretation).

Battle Hymn (other): This states, “at the start of your turn” – why can’t you move or take an action prior to initiating the battle hymn? For the hymns where you choose one creature, can you change the creature you chose at the start? For those that don’t say “choose”, can you make the choice when the roll occurs? This comes into play even more with Battle Hymn Specialization (second bullet). “Ode of Blood” is pretty awesome.

Bardic Legend: At 10th level, it seems that only the antagonists of the legend should have their reputations ruined, not everyone that’s not an ally – if the tale has you getting milk from a farmer on the way to slay a dragon, does the farmer’s reputation get destroyed? Can it really be any number of antagonists? Is the restriction on a long rest supposed to mean you can’t use it in two cities without a long rest or that you can’t create a second in the same city without a long rest (if the latter, do you have to re-enter the same city again and do the effects stack or does the second tale replace the first)?

Key Change: I would have assumed that you could have done this anyway. This is like saying, “at 5th level, a fighter can drop his sword and wield a bow in combat once between short rests. Maybe it's just a house rule that I allow an item to be dropped (not sheathed) for free if drawing another.

Battle Hymn Specialization: The second bullet is really powerful (much more than the others) - basically can give an ally regeneration for no cost. Presumably in the last bullet you only consume one use of bardic inspiration to play a battle hymn and give an inspiration die.

Art Specialty and Exploration Knacks: Both really good (and love the non-instrument specialties).


I decided to make a sample character, and in doing so I came across a few issues. GKEnialb already brought up a couple of them; I'll go into others when doing the survey. But here's my sample character (note: ex. means expertise die). (Now with added Archetype abilities!)

Female Tiefling Bard 6, College of Whispers

Str 10 (+0), Dex 14 (+2), Con 8 (-1), Int 14 (+2), Wis 14 (+2), Cha 16 (+3)
Hit Dice: 6d8.
• Hit Points: 32 hp.
• Speed: 30 ft.

• Skills: Acrobatics +5, Deception +4, History +5 (ex.), Investigation +4 (ex.), Perception +5, Persuasion +6 (ex.), Sleight of Hand +5. In addition, I can add +1 to any skill check if I’m not proficient in the skill (Class).

• Tool Proficiencies: gaming set (mancala; Origin), flute, dulcimer (ex.). I came up with an expanded equipment list ages ago for my table, and mancala was one of the potential gaming sets (along with pacheesi and go--I'm too lazy to come up with fantasy names for them).

• Weapons and Armor Proficiencies: Light armor. Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords

• Save Proficiencies: Dex +4, Cha +6

• Darkvision 60 ft.
• Resistance to fire damage.

Art Specialty:
Stringed Instruments: Whenever I cast a bard spell from the movement or teleportation school, I can target an additional creature within 15 feet of me. I can switch the speciality by using a bonus action; once I have done so, I can’t do so again until I complete a short or long rest. (Class)

Bardic Inspiration Dice: Three d8s. I regain all uses when I finish a short rest.

Bardic Legend: If I enter a town and spend a day recounting my epic tale, my reputation, and that of my allies, grows, and if we rest in that town, we regain all spent hit dice over the course of a long rest. (Class)

Battle Hymns: I can expend a Bardic Inspiration die to perform a battle hymb. Harmony of Pain: up to three creature within 60 feet gain 3 temp hp. Doomsayer: up to three hostile creatures within 30 feet takes -1d6 on attack rolls. My battle hymns don’t require concentration (can only maintain one hymn at a time); I can use my reaction to activate a hymn without using a BI. (Class)

Connections: A charlatan who is an ex-lover (Origin). My treacherous brother, who killed many of our family and caused the rest to flee our ancestral home (Background).

Cursed: can communicate telepathically within 30 ft.; recipients can’t respond. (Heritage)

Discretely Armed: I have advantage on checks made to Persuade others to let me remain armed. I can use passive Stealth to hide certain things under my clothes: armor in which I’m proficient, one-handed weapons, and items that require only one hand to use. (Origin)

Fashion Sense: If I can observe a creature within 60 feet for 1 minute and make either an Insight or History check vs. its Deception, I can learn: if it has a lower Cha than mine, its culture or national origin, and its social standing relative to mine. (Origin)

High Society: I know most of the noble families for hundreds of miles. In civilized areas, I can find a noble host who will house me for a time. (Background)

Knacks: Sly Confidant: expertise die with Persuasion; also when I succeed on an opposed Int, Wis, or Cha check, I gain advantage on next check of same time against same creature. Townie: expertise die with History; also I get 33% discount on basic goods and spellcasting components, as long as I have a positive reputation in a town or city. (Class)

Mantle of Whispers (1/rest): When a humanoid dies within 30 feet of me, I can use my reaction to capture its shadow, which lasts until I use it or complete a long rest. I can use my action to disguise myself as the humanoid for 1 hour, and during this time, I know the general information that it knows, but not any dark secrets. A creature can see through this disguise by succeeding on a Wisdom (Insight) check versus my Charisma (Deception), but I have +5 to my check. (Archetype)

Psychic Blades (1/turn): When I hit a creature, I can expend one use of Bardic Inspiration to inflict an extra 3d6 psychic damage. (Archetype)

Words of Teror (1/rest): If I speak to a humanoid alone for at least 1 minute, I can make it make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened of me or another creature of my choice, for 1 hour. If the target succeeds, it doesn’t realize I tried to frighten it. (Archetype)

Spell save DC 14, Spell attack modifier +6.

Cantrips: prestidigitation (origin; Cha), mage hand, mending, minor illusion

Spells Known: bane, bestow curse, disguise self, fear, gift of gab, locate object, phantasmal force, sleep, suggestion

Edit: I forgot archetype! There's so much stuff in LU I didn't even remember that I was missing stuff!
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Have all the other classes been this feature packed as well? Because when you throw the subclasses on this is just a lot (unless the goal here is to test the features and spread them over 20 levels later).
Anyhow - question about the hymns. Does the one that gives temp hp allow you to choose a different creature each round its active and thus spread the hp around like candy or is it the same target each round?

Professional musician chiming in here with a nitpick: in the Art Specialty feature, it should be "wind" instruments, rather than "air". Your musician players and DMs will thank you!

Some other suggestions:
  • You might consider adding that you can play string instruments by bowing them. (In fact, it seems that plucking and twanging are synonyms or very close to being so, so you could replace either of those terms with bowing.)
  • You might consider adding whistling to the options of voice arts.

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