When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons 5e, choosing the right subclass for your bard can significantly impact your role within the party. The College of Whispers, found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, offers a unique and intriguing path for bards, specializing in subterfuge and deception. However, it’s a subclass often misunderstood and shunned by other bards, who see it as a college of deceptive scoundrels. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into the features and abilities of the Whispers Bard, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and how to make the most of this distinctive subclass.
Role in a Party
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s understand the role a Whispers Bard plays in a party. All bards excel at social skills, and the College of Whispers takes this one step further, embracing a more subterfuge and deception-oriented style. As a Whispers Bard, you’ll find yourself uniquely suited for navigating social situations, casting spells, and employing a range of skills. However, it’s essential to note that while this subclass has its unique flavor, its features might sometimes be underwhelming when compared to other bard subclasses.
College of Whispers Features
The College of Whispers offers a range of unique features that set it apart from other bard subclasses. Let’s break down these features one by one:
At 3rd level, you gain the ability to make your weapon attacks psychically toxic to a creature’s mind. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration to deal additional psychic damage, starting at 2d6 and increasing as you level up. While this damage is decent, it does come at the cost of using your Bardic Inspiration.
This feature, though interesting, has limitations, as it draws from the same resource as your Bardic Inspiration, potentially limiting your unique class abilities.
Words of Terror
At 3rd level, you learn to infuse innocent-seeming words with an insidious magic that can inspire terror. By engaging in a conversation with a humanoid for at least a minute, you can attempt to seed paranoia and fear into their mind. If they fail a Wisdom saving throw, they become frightened of you or another creature of your choice. However, the frightened condition has several caveats, such as ending if they are attacked or damaged.
This feature is situational and primarily serves to debuff ability checks and subtly alter the target’s behavior. It might find more use in roleplay scenarios than in combat.
Mantle of Whispers
At 6th level, you gain the ability to adopt a humanoid’s persona. When a humanoid dies within 30 feet of you, you can capture its shadow, allowing you to transform into a disguise that makes you look like the deceased person. While in this disguise, you can access general information from the humanoid’s life and pass yourself off as them.
This feature is unique and fun, allowing you to excel at short-term impersonation. However, it does have some redundancy with spells like Disguise Self, which other spellcasting classes can access early in their careers.
At 14th level, you gain the ability to weave dark magic into your words and tap into a creature’s deepest fears. By whispering a phrase, you can charm a creature for eight hours or until you or your allies attack or damage it, with the target interpreting the whispers as a revelation of its most mortifying secret.
While intriguing, this ability is somewhat disappointing compared to lower-level spells like Charm Person. Still, it reflects your high-level spellcasting capabilities.
As a College of Whispers Bard, you possess a unique set of strengths:
- Impersonation: You excel at impersonating individuals, particularly those killed by you or your allies, making you ideal for espionage and deception.
- Weapon Proficiency: Though not the strongest aspect of this subclass, you can become somewhat proficient with weapons when using Bardic Inspiration.
- Bardic Abilities: You retain the core bardic abilities, excelling in spells, skills, and social interactions.
Despite its unique flavor, the College of Whispers has notable weaknesses:
- Situational Abilities: Many of your features rely on very specific scenarios, limiting their practicality.
- Resource Dependence: Psychic Blades draws from the same resource as your Bardic Inspiration, potentially leaving you with fewer options in combat.
- Defense: This subclass lacks strong defensive options, making you vulnerable in battle.
Best Race Options
Choosing the right race can significantly enhance your College of Whispers Bard. Here are some optimal race choices:
- Earth Genasi (Monsters of the Multiverse version): This option enhances your subterfuge capabilities and offers the “Pass Without Trace” spell, which can help you navigate situations where your features come into play. The bonus action “Blade Ward” can bolster your defense.
- Custom Lineage or Variant Human: These options are versatile and can be great for most builds, especially if your Dungeon Master allows them. Feats can benefit any build, and they allow you to boost your Charisma score early in the game.
- Kenku: If your campaign frequently involves the features of a Whispers Bard, you’ll likely encounter situations where Kenku’s abilities, such as mimicking voices and producing forgeries, are equally useful.
Choosing the Right Skills
Skill selection is vital for a College of Whispers Bard. While you have the advantage of “Jack of All Trades,” some skills are particularly useful:
- Acrobatics: If you lack teleportation abilities, Acrobatics can help you escape grapples and excel in various out-of-combat situations.
- Perception: This skill is crucial, as it’s one of the most frequently used in the game. Failing a Perception check can have severe consequences, from missing out on loot to being ambushed.
- Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion: Your choice should align with your roleplay preferences. Deception and Intimidation match the flavor of the Whispers Bard, but Persuasion is more commonly used and broadly applicable.
- Stealth and Sleight of Hand: These skills are valuable if you want to engage in shady activities, but be mindful of potential overlap with the “Pass Without Trace” spell.
- Insight: While your Wisdom might not be your strong suit, having proficiency in Insight can be valuable for navigating social interactions with suspicious individuals.
Selecting the right feats can enhance your College of Whispers Bard:
- Eldritch Initiate: This feat allows you to pick a warlock invocation, providing additional versatility and capabilities. Consider it, especially at higher levels when you have more valuable feats and ASIs to spare.
- War Caster: This feat is excellent for maintaining concentration on spells, and it’s crucial if you plan to use a weapon and shield while casting spells. Consider “Resilient (Constitution)” if you have an odd Constitution score.
- Shadow Touched and Fey Touched: These half feats are great for raising an odd Charisma score. Choose “Fey Touched” if you want teleportation or “Shadow Touched” for invisibility.
Your background can complement your Whispers Bard abilities:
- Strixhaven Backgrounds: If allowed in your campaign, these backgrounds are highly advantageous. They expand your spell list and provide a free feat that grants extra cantrips and a 1/day spell.
- Criminal: This background aligns with the subterfuge capabilities of a Whispers Bard, offering insights into the criminal underworld.
- Entertainer: A classic choice for any bard, this background works well if you want to play a less criminally-oriented Whispers Bard or emphasize your performance skills.
Considering multiclassing can further enhance your character:
- Hexblade Warlock: A one-level dip in Hexblade Warlock grants armor proficiency and the ability to use Charisma for attack rolls. This can significantly improve your chances to deliver Psychic Blades damage. Additional levels offer more versatility, including short rest spell slots and invocations for social and espionage situations.
- Paladin: If you want to emphasize melee combat, multiclassing with Paladin can boost your offense, provide armor proficiency, and grant powerful smite abilities. Consider starting with 6-7 levels of Paladin to maintain weapon effectiveness throughout your character’s development.
- Aberrant Mind Sorcerer: A one-level dip in this subclass grants access to the Shield spell and telepathy, which complements the sneaky and deceptive aspects of the College of Whispers.
How to Roleplay a College of Whispers Bard
To truly embody the essence of a College of Whispers Bard, it’s essential to delve into the roleplay aspect of your character. Here are some tips to help you immerse yourself in the deceptive and subterfuge-oriented persona of this subclass:
- Embrace Secrecy: Your character should have an air of mystery about them. Actively engage with your party members, but always keep a hidden agenda or secret knowledge that you subtly hint at. Your fellow adventurers should never quite be sure if they know the real you.
- Manipulative Conversations: Leverage your “Words of Terror” ability in roleplay situations. Engage in conversations with NPCs, planting seeds of paranoia and fear, subtly guiding their actions to your advantage. Use this feature to manipulate social dynamics to your benefit.
- Subtle Disguises: Take full advantage of your “Mantle of Whispers.” When the opportunity arises, assume the persona of recently deceased individuals, and use their knowledge to infiltrate and gather information. The key is subtlety – act like a casual acquaintance to avoid arousing suspicion.
- Dark Secrets: Lean into the idea that your character knows dark and terrifying secrets about others. Use your “Shadow Lore” ability to your advantage in social situations. Convince others that you have knowledge of their deepest fears, even if you truly don’t.
- Consistency in Deception: Maintain a consistent persona when impersonating others. Ensure that you have a cover story and stick to it to avoid suspicion.
Creating a Backstory
Your character’s backstory is an integral part of bringing your College of Whispers Bard to life. Consider these elements when crafting your character’s history:
- Shrouded Past: Develop a backstory that is shrouded in mystery. Your character might have been involved in clandestine organizations, studied forbidden knowledge, or undergone a transformation that led them down the path of deception.
- The Secret College: Explore the reasons behind your character’s choice to join the College of Whispers. Were they attracted to the power of secrets and manipulation? Did they have a hidden agenda or a thirst for forbidden knowledge?
- Hidden Motives: What drives your character’s actions? Do they seek to uncover powerful secrets, manipulate others for personal gain, or uncover hidden truths about the world? Your character’s motives can play a significant role in their development.
- Connections and Rivals: Consider the relationships your character has with other members of the party and potential rivals. How do they interact with fellow adventurers who might be suspicious of their secretive nature? Do they have a nemesis from their past who is equally skilled in deception?
Playing a College of Whispers Bard can be a rewarding and captivating experience in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. With a unique blend of social manipulation, deception, and subterfuge, this subclass offers a distinctive roleplaying opportunity. By embracing secrecy, manipulating conversations, maintaining consistent disguises, and crafting a compelling backstory, you can fully immerse yourself in the world of intrigue and hidden agendas.
Remember, it’s essential to communicate with your Dungeon Master and fellow players to ensure that your character’s secretive nature doesn’t disrupt the cohesion of the party. With careful roleplay and creative storytelling, your College of Whispers Bard can become a memorable and enigmatic character in your D&D adventures.
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