Dungeons & Dragons allows bards to do almost anything they want, but the magic users among them will want to focus on certain spell options.
Bards are the jack-of-all-trades of Dungeons & Dragons, but most bards flirt with the Arcane Arts enough to know what they’re doing. The number of spells exclusive to bards is minimal, but they can learn so many different types of spells that it can be a bit dizzying trying to decide what to choose.
When trying to choose spells for a bard, the important thing to keep in mind is the strengths of the class. Players should focus on these aspects of the build. These may differ depending on which subclass you choose, but there are still a few options that will help any bard regardless.
The four spells exclusive to the bards of the Player’s Manual are compulsion, vicious mockery, dissonant whispers, and healing words of power. Among them, duress is perhaps the worst option that is really not worth taking. There are too many failure points in the spell (it has limited range, requires sight and hearing, and targets get successive saving throws even if they fail on the first) and its effect is incomplete. just not that good. It’s hard to imagine scenarios where forcing creatures to move in one direction is really better than dealing damage to them, so that they can’t move at all or completely control them.
Dissonant Whispers turns out to be a much more effective spell that inflicts roughly the same effect with the bonus of having twice the range and dealing damage. This is perhaps one of the best options a bard can use to escape a fight, forcing her opponent to leave them alone immediately and possibly even suffer an attack of opportunity upon retreating.
To deal more standard damage, Vicious Mockery is the offensive minor spell that most bards should take. Dealing damage while imposing disadvantage is a useful combination at all levels, and every caster needs a minor attack spell if they hope to remain useful in range even after their spell slots have disappeared.
Power Word Heal is the last spell exclusive to bards, and at ninth level it’s likely that many bards won’t reach the level where they can even take it, let alone have a chance to use it. However, it is one of the more convenient supportive healing options available in the game. Like Power Word Kill, Power Word Heal does not require any dice rolls, saving throws, or ability checks. but simply instantly regenerates a target to their full hit points while healing them of several possible conditions.
Since Power Word Kill just doesn’t work on monsters with over 100 health, Power Word Heal has a much higher chance of success. After all, it’s much easier for a bard to tell when he or his ally is in desperate need of healing than it is to know exactly how much health his opponent has left.
Outside of their list of exclusive spells, Bards do well to play their common role as the “face” of a party and opt for those enchantment options that make them more likely to be successful in social interactions. Charm Person, Charm Monster, and Enthrall are all great options for avoiding a violent confrontation altogether, as a bard can use their high Charisma score to the advantage of the party. The difficulty with being the face of the party is that whenever other players step in, they threaten the success of a social interaction, so helping them with such spells increases the likelihood that they are a help rather than a barrier.
Bards are an extremely versatile class, but being jack-of-all-trades doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve mastered none. Sharpening a few skills to mastery can give a bard a much needed niche in her party. By choosing the best spells while avoiding the worst, they can be well on their way to becoming a true master.
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