Last Updated on October 20, 2023
In the ever-expansive world of Dungeons & Dragons, the College of Swords Bard offers a unique and versatile experience, showcasing their prowess in both combat and spellcasting. This guide will delve deep into the intricacies of the College of Swords Bard subclass, highlighting their role in the party, key features, strengths, weaknesses, optimal race options, skill choices, feats, backgrounds, and even potential multiclassing options.
Role in the Party
Bards, typically known for their spellcasting and charisma-based abilities, take on a more direct approach in the College of Swords. These “Blades” are equally adept at enhancing their party members as they are at diving headfirst into combat. Their flexibility enables them to adapt to various situations, whether it’s protecting allies, engaging in combat, or navigating complex social encounters.
Bards are known for their diverse array of abilities and the College of Swords is no exception. This subclass can hold its own in a wide range of scenarios, making it an epic choice for those who value versatility in their characters.
The College of Swords Bard offers a well-balanced blend of martial and magical prowess. Their ability to increase the party’s combat effectiveness and provide utility in and out of combat makes them a strong choice for many adventurers.
While they excel in versatility, the College of Swords Bards might not be the top choice for specialized roles. Players seeking to focus solely on combat or spellcasting may find other classes more suitable.
At low levels, before they fully unlock their abilities, College of Swords Bards can feel less impactful. Their full potential becomes evident as they gain more features and experience.
Note: This subclass is introduced in “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything,” so having a copy of this supplement is essential for players interested in the College of Swords Bard.
College of Swords Features
At level 3, when choosing this subclass, College of Swords Bards gain proficiency in Medium Armor and Scimitars. This addition to their existing proficiencies grants them access to various one-handed weapons and a limited selection of ranged options. While these proficiencies may seem somewhat underwhelming for a frontline character, other class features compensate for their relatively modest durability.
Moreover, the ability for a Bard to use a proficient weapon as a spellcasting focus is a minor yet invaluable feature. This enables Blades to dual wield while seamlessly casting spells.
Also at level 3, Bards can select one of two fighting styles: Dueling or Two-Weapon Fighting. The Dueling style provides a damage bonus to attacks with a single one-handed weapon, while Two-Weapon Fighting allows the second weapon to deal damage based on the wielder’s ability modifier.
Dueling is typically the preferred choice, as it offers a consistent damage boost. While the math suggests that both styles are roughly equivalent in terms of damage output, Dueling avoids the complexities of dual wielding and the need for multiple magic weapons to remain effective as the campaign progresses.
At level 3, the College of Swords Bard gains Blade Flourishes, the defining feature of the subclass. These flourishes, fueled by Bardic Inspiration, enhance their combat abilities. When taking the attack action, Blades gain a 10-foot increase in movement speed. Landing an attack allows the Bard to use one Blade Flourish, expending one use of Bardic Inspiration.
Blades can choose from three types of flourishes, each dealing extra damage equivalent to the Inspiration dice roll and offering a bonus effect:
- Slashing Flourish: This flourish can apply the bonus damage to an adjacent creature within 5 feet. However, it’s often considered less valuable due to the risk of positioning near multiple foes.
- Mobile Flourish: This flourish enables the Bard to push the target 5 feet plus the number on the Inspiration die, with the option to use a reaction to move to any space within 5 feet of the target. While situational, this flourish can prove invaluable in controlling the battlefield.
- Defensive Flourish: In addition to dealing extra damage, this flourish adds the Inspiration die roll to the Bard’s Armor Class until the start of their next turn. This ability can grant substantial defensive advantages, with the potential to stack with other buffs.
Starting at level 6, the College of Swords Bard gains the Extra Attack feature, allowing them to make two attacks when using the attack action. This is a significant damage boost and a standard feature for martial classes, albeit one level later in this case.
The final feature of this subclass, Master’s Flourish, allows Blades to use a d6 instead of expending Bardic Inspiration when using Blade Flourish. This practically ensures that Blade Flourish is available every turn, providing a consistent damage and AC boost. The other effects and larger dice can be saved for critical moments, making it an excellent capstone ability.
Bards, in general, are celebrated as one of the most versatile classes in D&D 5e, and the College of Swords Bard is no exception. Their unique class abilities enable them to adopt a swift, aggressive playstyle, participating in frontline combat alongside Barbarians and Monks. With a touch of panache and a range of abilities, they can effectively engage in combat while retaining the flexibility to cast spells.
Moreover, the Bard class, as a whole, shines outside of combat. Skill challenges and social encounters are the Bard’s domain, and their proficiency in these areas, combined with their innate versatility, makes them indispensable in a variety of non-combat scenarios.
While the College of Swords doesn’t offer specific bonuses for non-combat situations, the Bard’s base kit comes loaded with skills, Expertise, and abilities designed for short rests. This ensures that a Swords Bard is consistently useful, regardless of the challenge at hand.
The College of Swords has two primary weaknesses. First, it doesn’t specialize in any particular role, and the strengths it does possess take time to fully develop. The class reaches a significant power spike at level 6, where Extra Attack and the return of Bardic Inspiration on short rests provide more frequent access to Blade Flourish.
The second challenge Blades face is resource dependency. When spell slots are depleted and Bardic Inspiration is used up, they become relatively vulnerable, relying on unbuffed one-handed weapons, medium armor, and a d8 hit die. This vulnerability diminishes as they level up, but the early levels may not align with the swashbuckling image many players envision for their Swords Bard.
Best Race Options
Choosing the right race for your College of Swords Bard is essential to maximize their potential. Several races complement their abilities exceptionally well:
Metallic Dragonborn offer a balance of versatile stats and damage resistance, making them strong contenders for melee-focused Bard builds. Their breath weapons, scaling in charges, replace one of your attacks, and they have a single-use debuff ability that can prove invaluable when used strategically.
Tritons boast well-rounded stats, an array of water-themed abilities, darkvision, and spellcasting capabilities. These qualities make them an excellent choice for melee Bards, particularly in campaigns set near bodies of water.
The Lightfoot Halfling’s small size doesn’t hinder the Swords Bard’s melee prowess. With exceptional abilities like Lucky, Brave, and great stats, as well as the ability to hide, Lightfoot Halflings are a well-rounded choice for any Bard, especially those who favor a stealthy approach.
Choosing the Right Skills
Bards enjoy the unique privilege of excelling in a wide range of skills. A Bard can select any three skills from the extensive list of options in the game, in addition to skills gained from their background and race. At levels 3 and 10, Bards acquire the Expertise ability, doubling their proficiency bonus in two skills each time.
For a College of Swords Bard, it’s advisable to choose skills that suit their role as both a combatant and a social character. Here are some recommended skill choices:
- Persuasion: A Bard’s natural charm and charisma make them exceptional persuaders, and this skill is invaluable for social interactions.
- Perception: Vigilance and awareness are vital for any adventurer. Perception ensures you’re ready for traps, ambushes, and hidden details in your environment.
- Athletics: This skill can be useful for grappling, climbing, or performing acrobatic feats, allowing you to navigate challenges with finesse.
- Stealth: If your party includes other stealthy characters, having Stealth proficiency can be invaluable for coordinating covert operations.
- Knowledge Skills: Select one or two knowledge skills to round out your character’s versatility and problem-solving abilities.
Feats provide opportunities to customize your character and enhance their capabilities. Here are some feats that pair well with a College of Swords Bard:
Swords Bards often find themselves on the front lines, and this feat compensates for their relative lack of toughness. By providing temporary hit points to yourself and your entire party, you can significantly bolster your party’s durability. These temporary hit points can be refreshed after a short rest, aligning with the Bard’s preferred rest pattern.
If your party includes several frontline characters, Mobile is an ideal choice. The increased movement speed stacks well with Blade Flourishes, granting the Swords Bard a base speed of 50 feet when making an attack. This feat encourages a hit-and-run fighting style, allowing you to engage and disengage effectively.
Given the College of Swords Bard’s tendency to be in the thick of combat, maintaining concentration on key spells is vital. War Caster provides advantage on concentration checks and allows you to cast spells as opportunity attacks. If you can access a combat cantrip like Booming Blade, this feat becomes even more potent.
A character’s background can enhance their role-playing experience and offer valuable skills and tools. Here are some backgrounds that complement the College of Swords Bard:
The Criminal background grants proficiency in two skills well-suited for a Bard focused on subterfuge. It also provides tool proficiencies, including Thieves’ Tools, which can be invaluable for lockpicking and disarming traps.
Insight and Persuasion, key skills for social encounters, are offered by the Courtier background. Additionally, the background provides proficiency in two languages, turning your character into a versatile emissary and go-between, ideal for a Face in the party.
If your campaign includes nautical adventures, the Sailor background is perfect for a swashbuckling Bard. Proficiencies in Athletics and Perception are valuable for physical challenges, and knowledge of water vessels and navigator’s tools can be essential on the high seas.
Multiclassing allows you to blend the strengths of different classes, creating a unique character. Here are some multiclassing options that synergize well with the College of Swords Bard:
If you seek to enhance your combat versatility, consider multiclassing into Battlemaster Fighter. This subclass further augments your utility and damage abilities tied to your attacks. Three levels in Fighter provide a range of combat options through Combat Maneuvers and Blade Flourishes. The synergy of these two features ensures that you have a wide array of potential boosts and debuffs at your disposal. An additional fighting style and the Action Surge ability offer even more combat flexibility. Keep in mind that it’s recommended not to take more than three Fighter levels to avoid hindering your spell progression.
A dip into Hexblade Warlock can transform your Swords Bard into a potent single-stat reliant character. By using Charisma for your to-hit and damage rolls, you unify your combat abilities and spellcasting under one ability score. Hexblade Warlock provides a useful spell list, including the powerful Eldritch Blast cantrip, as well as utility benefits. One or two levels of Warlock can significantly enhance your character’s capabilities.
Although the stat requirements can be challenging to meet, a multiclass into Paladin offers substantial benefits to the College of Swords Bard. With two or three levels in Paladin, taken after reaching Bard level 6 to gain Extra Attack first, you gain proficiency in shields and a Fighting Style. The Defense style, in particular, provides a flat +3 bonus to your Armor Class, significantly improving your durability. Paladins also gain access to Smite, a powerful damage burst, and a limited amount of healing, making them valuable in party support roles. Finally, the third level in Paladin unlocks an Oath, with Oath of Conquest being a strong choice for its defensive spells and combat enhancements.
Would I Recommend Playing a College of Swords Bard?
The College of Swords Bard is the ultimate generalist, offering versatility that is its greatest strength. While it may not excel in combat as a dedicated martial class, possess the toughness of a Barbarian, the agility of a Rogue, or the spellcasting prowess of a Wizard, it thrives in a vast range of situations.
The draw of this subclass lies in its adaptability. No matter the encounter, whether battling through a dungeon, evading the City Watch, or charming a millennia-old Lich, the College of Swords Bard has a solution and executes it with style and panache. Their capacity to contribute to the party’s success in various roles makes them a valuable addition to any adventuring group. If you seek a character that can handle the unknown with grace and adaptability, the College of Swords Bard is an excellent choice for your D&D 5e campaign.
In the realm of Dungeons & Dragons, the College of Swords Bard combines martial expertise with magical finesse, offering a unique and versatile experience for players. This comprehensive guide explores every facet of the College of Swords Bard subclass, from their role in the party to their strengths, weaknesses, and ideal race, skill, and feat choices. Discover the optimal backgrounds for your character, and explore the exciting possibilities of multiclassing options. Whether you’re a seasoned player or new to D&D 5e, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and insights needed to make the most of your College of Swords Bard.
In conclusion, the College of Swords Bard is a formidable subclass that combines combat prowess with spellcasting abilities, making them invaluable in a wide range of situations. Their unique features, such as Blade Flourishes and Master’s Flourish, give them an edge on the battlefield, while their versatility outside of combat ensures they remain useful in social and skill-based encounters. Whether you’re a seasoned player or new to D&D, consider the College of Swords Bard for a character that can handle any challenge with style and panache.
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