Hi Everyone! It’s your friendly Dungeon Master, Slick Dungeon here. Today I want to talk more about how to role play with kids. In my last posts I talked about whether you should play D&D with kids, why playing D&D was healthy for kids, I showed you who does what at the table, gave you a tour of the dice and told you to read through the simple rules, went through the Introduction of the simple rules with you, walked you through the first section of the simple rules and talked about choosing a race and role playing a dwarf, role playing an elf, role playing a halfling, role playing a human, role playing a dragon born, role playing a gnome, role playing a half-elf, role playing a half-orc, role playing a Tiefling. and talked about Class. I also showed you how to play as a Barbarian Today we are going to talk about playing as a Bard.
That’s right, get your lutes out, do a few warm up vocal exercises, and get ready for people to toss coins and rotten tomatoes at you because we are talking about Bards. Bards are often the butt of a joke in movies, books, and video games but in Dungeons & Dragons bards are multitalented jacks of all trades who not only support the party they play along with but who can literally kill monsters with the power of their words.
Playing a bard can be a ton of fun and while they do often fall into stereotypes, they don’t have to. There are a few unique challenges for kids who may want to play a Bard and I will get into those later in the post. If a kid is interested in a character who has musical talent, loves to act, or just simply enjoys telling a wonderful tale while her compatriots sit by the fire, a Bard is the way to go.
Bards are often considered a support class in Dungeons & Dragons, meaning their primary role is to help the party gain some benefits and advantages when making skill checks or in combat. However, Bards can be fierce on their own. This all depends on what type of spells they use and what College they gain skills from.
One thing to remember in Dungeons & Dragons is that there is a vibration to the magic in the world. Bards, whether they sing, play an instrument, or simply tell a good story are tapping into these vibrations with their words and can channel this energy into usable magic.
I’ve seen a lot of Bards based on actual celebrities and that can be really fun. As adults, a lot of players use Bards to be, let’s just say overly flirtatious. Those may not be great examples for kids to play. When a kid plays a Bard I think it’s usually best for them to think of what would inspire them to go out into the world to spread music, stories, or other entertainment into the world. This usually gives a good touch point to play a Bard.
Unfortunately, in a lot of media Bards do get a bad rap and it’s kind of hard to point to a great example of a good Bard. But if you think about someone like Orpheus from Greek myth that would be a great starting point. His words and music were enough to influence the gods. Theoretically a Bard can become that impressive. Also, if your group does like to be silly and one of your players loves to be the center of that silliness, well, you can’t go wrong with a Bard in that situation.
Alright, without further ado, let’s get into what it means to play a Bard.
Creating a Bard
When you first play Dungeons & Dragons with kids and the basic rules tell you what to use for a quick build I would say it’s probably best to start there. It’s the least amount of poring over and trying to figure out stats you can do and since this part was written by the game designers you tend to get a fairly balanced class out of it. The one place you might change is in the suggested backgrounds. I feel like the backgrounds are more a role playing choice than a mechanic (although they have that too) and thus should be left up to the kid playing. Also, for those who don’t know, when I talk about “mechanics” I just mean how the rules operate, usually with some number crunching involved.
What do the basic rules suggest we do with our bard?
For this class the rules recommend putting your highest ability score in Charisma, followed by Dexterity. These are great choices because a Bard has to have high Charisma in order to cast spells and they usually want the spotlight anyway. Dexterity is good for two reasons. First, if your party is using a Bard to give buffs to other players you want that to happen early in the round and Dexterity is what helps determine who goes first. Secondly, the weapons Bards will be proficient in are mostly Dexterity based weapons so again you want this number to be high.
The basic rules next recommend the Entertainer background. In a later series of posts I will go more into each background but I will say that Entertainer can be a great choice for a Bard but it is not the only choice. A Bard could come from a noble establishment and have the Noble background. Perhaps they became titled simply because of how well they entertained some Lord or other. Another good background might be Sage and the Bard could be spreading the knowledge they gain through tales they tell of the cosmos. Criminal is another good background for Bards. What easier way to hide one’s habit of pickpocketing than to be the one person in the room who is supposed to have coins in their pockets? All these backgrounds and more are possibilities so just choose something interesting for the kid to play. Make sure she relates to it well enough for it to be fun.
The basic rules also recommend taking the following spells. Dancing Lights and Vicious Mockery as cantrips and the following spells at first level – Charm Person, Detect Magic, Healing Word, and Thunderwave.
This is the first class I have gone into that relies on magic. I’ll get around to a more in depth post about how magic works in the future but for now the spells above are all solid choices for a Bard and I would go with those if you have not played D&D before. Since we do mention them here I will give a quick description of what each of these spells does but we’ll leave the mechanics for later.
But before I get into that let’s talk about what a cantrip is and what a leveled spell is. For a lot of magical casters in Dungeons & Dragons they use what are called spell slots and leveled spells.
The exception to this is what are called cantrips. Basically, a character can cast a cantrip whenever they want. They don’t run out of this magic and they can do it over and over with no penalty just for casting it. (Although if you cast the spell bonfire in a dark room and suddenly a swarm of goblins sees you, well, that’s your fault)
Every other type of spell is leveled and typically uses a spell slot. The spell slot is the number of spells you can cast per day. As characters level up, they earn more of these slots. The spells themselves have a level as well. So for example, you can have two 2nd level spell slots but know three 1st level spells. In this case you can cast a 1st level spell at 2nd level, increasing it’s power.
I know that’s still a little confusing and we will get more into it down the line but for now the best way to know about a spell is to just learn what it does. So let’s take a look at these recommended spells.
Dancing Lights – This spell allows you to create four separate lights that look like torches, orbs or lanterns. You can also combine these lights to make a vaguely humanoid shape. This spell is great when you need to see but it’s also an amazing distraction when needed.
Vicious Mockery – This is one of my favorite spells in the entire game. This spell allows a Bard to insult a creature, whether they can understand the words or not, and causes that creature to take psychic damage and have disadvantage on its next attack roll. It’s a case of words can actually hurt you. For a good number of players this spell is the whole reason they play a Bard in the first place.
It can be great fun to use this spell and I have seen a lot of players come up with actual insults that do some damage to creatures. As adults there’s no real issue with doing that and it’s super fun seeing how clever the Bard can be with an insult.
With this spell there is a bit of caution I have to give when playing with younger kids. It’s a lot of fun to have a kid get to make silly insults at a monster they are fighting and have that monster take some damage. But sometimes kids who are playing together might use this spell on a player character. Some kids have no problem with this and feel like they are in on the joke. But other kids can’t separate themselves being insulted from their character being insulted. So when I play this with kids, I allow them to come up with insults (silly not mean ones) directed towards any monster they fight. But if they want to cast the spell at another player character, I tell them they should just say they cast the spell but not go into insults. This doesn’t have to be your rule but I do advise caution on how you handle this particular spell with kids.
1st level spells:
Charm Person: This one is a lot like what it sounds like. This spell, if it succeeds, makes the target (who must be a humanoid) charmed by the spellcaster. This doesn’t mean they will do anything at all that the Bard says but the target will be more friendly towards the spellcaster. Once the spell ends, the same target knows it was charmed so if the spell goes away, there well could be trouble. This spell also ends if the target is attacked by the party. It’s best to try Charm Person before the Barbarian goes into rage mode and accidentally knocks the target out of the spell.
Detect Magic: This is another spell that does what it sounds like. It can identify if magic is in the area. There are definite limitations to it as it can’t tell you more than that magic is present and what school of magic it might be. This is great for doing things like identifying that traps are present but it’s still up to the players to figure out how to disarm it.
Healing Word: This is one of the most important spells if your Bard is there to support the party. It allows creatures to regain hit points which can be essential in a combat. If you play a Bard I definitely recommend taking this spell and using it often.
Thunderwave: Other than Vicious Mockery the spells listed above are all either to distract an enemy or help heal. Of course a Bard needs at least one attack spell and Thunderwave is a great choice. It is again a lot like it sounds. It sends a wave of thunderous force in the direction the caster sends it and does thunder damage. It of course comes with a thunderous sound and can push unsecured objects 10 feet back. There’s nothing like seeing a friendly, happy Bard suddenly ring out with thunder and knock enemies to the floor.
A final note about magic here. These are not the only spells you can choose but they are a great starting list for this class. Before you or any kids you play with make final decisions be sure to take a look at the rules and make sure these are the spells they want. I also have sometimes had a kid playing who wanted to change spells mid-game. I usually allow this between sessions but not during a session. If a spell doesn’t work the way a kid expects it can be frustrating to be stuck with it. They can at higher levels change these when they level up anyway. Just make sure the replacement spell is of a similar level to the original spell.
Hit dice: Bards get to use a d8 when figuring out their hit points and hit dice. This is pretty typical for spell casting classes and if rolled well can be a considerable amount of health. For your hit dice you get 1d8 per bard level.
Hit points: At first level it’s 1d8 + your constitution modifier. For every level after that you get 1d8 (or 5 if you are using averages) + your Constitution modifier per bard level after 1st.
Just a quick note here because I know this was confusing to me when I learned to play. What is the difference between hit dice and hit points? Hit dice you get to roll when you take a short rest. These will be however many d8s you roll per level. You get to add the number you roll to your hit points if you have taken any damage. Your hit points are how many points of health you have. The easiest analogy is probably a health bar in a video game. If that number gets down to zero or below, you are likely in trouble. When you roll your hit dice you get to refill that bar. And just like in a video game, you can’t exceed the maximum of your health even if you roll higher than that number.
Proficiencies: These are basically things you are good at. A bard has several proficiencies to begin with.
Armor: Light Armor. Bards are not known to be warriors capable of wearing heavy armor and wielding heavy weapons. Rather they are quick and light on their feet so the only armor they are proficient in to begin with is light armor.
Weapons: Bards are good with Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, and shortswords. These are all light, easy to use weapons perfect for a Bard to carry.
Tools: Bards get to have three musical instruments of their choice. This makes a lot of sense because these instruments can literally channel magic.
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Charisma. Saving throws are when you might befall an attack or damage of some kind. If the check for that attack or damage calls for dexterity or charisma you are going to be glad you are a bard.
Skills: Choose any three. Bards are basically good at almost anything they put their minds to so getting to choose any three is a nice, wide selection. You’ll probably want to tailor the choices to what the campaign will be most dealing with so try to choose skills that will work well in multiple situations.
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a rapier, (b) a longsword, or (c) any simple weapon
- (a) a diplomat’s pack or (b) an entertainer’s pack
- (a) a lute or (b) any other musical instrument
- Leather armor and a dagger
A lot of the items here are useful for a Bard but the musical instrument is often the most useful.
Spellcasting: The basic rules say this about the Bard’s spellcasting ability. “You have learned to untangle and reshape the fabric of reality in harmony with your wishes and music. Your spells are part of your vast repertoire, magic that you can tune to different situations.” In other words the music of a Bard is literally magical and can reshape reality. Pretty cool right?
Cantrips: We talked about these a little bit above but at the start a Bard gets to take two cantrips from the Bard spell list. There are several to choose from so take a look at the rules to decide what is best for the character.
Spell Slots: We’ll go further in depth on spell slots in a future post. Just know there is a table in the basic rules that tells you how many spells and of what level a Bard can have. This changes as they progress through the levels of the game and earn more spells as they go on.
Spells Known of 1st Level and Higher: To start out with a Bard gets four 1st level spells from the Bard spell list. This again increases according to the table in the simple rules.
Spellcasting Ability: Charisma is your spellcasting ability for your bard spells. This is why you want to put your highest ability score into Charisma. It increases the magic potential of the character and makes attack, defense, and healing spells all work better.
We’ll get more into this when we take a deep dive into spellcasting but for now just know more Charisma is good for Bards.
Spell Save DC: In this case DC stands for Difficulty Class. Basically it means how hard it is to do something. A spell save DC is how you defend against magic used against you. For a Bard the way they get that number is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. Again, the higher your Charisma, the better. In this case a Bard might cast a spell that forces a creature to make a spell save. In that case the bard uses the formula listed above to know how hard it is for that creature to make that saving throw.
Spell Attack Modifier: This formula is a bit easier to understand. There are several spells that are “attack” spells. It’s very similar to how a Barbarian or fighter might know if their weapon does damage to a creature. The only difference is that in this case it is a magical attack. To know this number a Bard uses this formula 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. Again you can see that Charisma is vital for a Bard. The better the Charisma, the stronger the spell attack.
Ritual Casting: You can cast any bard spell you know as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag. This one takes a little bit of explanation. There are certain spells that have what is called a “ritual tag”. This means that rather than using a spell slot, if you have the time and components to do it, you can cast the spell as a ritual. The reason to do this is that it does not cost you a spell slot. The drawback is that it takes time. So, if a Bard wants to Detect Magic in a huge empty room and can take ten minutes to do it, they can take the time to detect magic. Of course, if a pack of goblins come in and interrupt that ritual, the spell is not going to work and the Bard is going to be distracted.
Spell Casting Focus: You can use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus for your bard spells. We’ll get more into spell casting focuses in a post about spellcasting. Just know that this is why you want to have several instruments as a Bard. You can basically channel magic through it and if you use a spell casting focus, you don’t have to use the material components in spells. This is fantastic and a great benefit to being a Bard.
Bardic Inspiration: Bards are great at inspiring others around them to do better. To fully understand how good this is we need to take a look at what the rules say. From the rules:
“You can inspire others through stirring words or music. To do so, you use a bonus action on your turn to choose one creature other than yourself within 60 feet of you who can hear you. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die, a d6.
Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes. The creature can wait until after it rolls the d20 before deciding to use the Bardic Inspiration die, but must decide before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails. Once the Bardic Inspiration die is rolled, it is lost. A creature can have only one Bardic Inspiration die at a time.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (a minimum of once). You regain any expended uses when you finish a long rest.”
Basically, a Bard gets to allow another player to do better on a roll they make. This is hugely beneficial and makes Bards one of the most essential party members. This also increases as Bards gain levels.
Jack of All Trades: There is a little bit of math to this one but the point is that Bards are good at almost anything they try to do. The feature says, “Starting at 2nd level, you can add half your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any ability check you make that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus.” This sounds a bit wonky but it means Bards are much more likely to succeed on ability checks of any type than any other class.
Song of Rest: This one is pretty straightforward. It helps the party gain more health when you rest.
Beginning at 2nd level, you can use soothing music or oration to help revitalize your wounded allies during a short rest. If you or any friendly creatures who can hear your performance regain hit points at the end of the short rest by spending one or more Hit Dice, each of those creatures regains an extra 1d6 hit points.
Again, this increases with the Bard’s level.
Bard College: We’ll talk a little bit more about this further in the post. But at 3rd level a Bard gets to choose a College that will add to their features. In the basic rules they list two colleges you can choose from, the College of Lore or the College of Valor. Oddly, in the Basic Rules it says they have a description of both but at least in the version on D&D Beyond, they actually don’t list the College of Valor. Don’t worry though, I have you covered and we’ll go into it below.
Expertise: Bards only get better at what they do so this feature is awesome.
At 3rd level, choose two of your skill proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.
You also get to choose another two at 10th level.
Ability Score Improvement:
When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.
Meh. You get to increase some numbers on your stats here which is cool and all but not that nifty as far as role playing goes. We’ll go way more in depth on Ability Scores in a later post.
Font of Inspiration: This one is super helpful to buff the party when needed.
Beginning when you reach 5th level, you regain all of your expended uses of Bardic Inspiration when you finish a short or long rest.
This is really useful and simply put helps the party to attack better and stay alive longer.
Counter Charm: This is another feature that buffs the party as a whole and can come in very handy.
At 6th level, you gain the ability to use musical notes or words of power to disrupt mind-influencing effects. As an action, you can start a performance that lasts until the end of your next turn. During that time, you and any friendly creatures within 30 feet of you have advantage on saving throws against being frightened or charmed. A creature must be able to hear you to gain this benefit. The performance ends early if you are incapacitated or silenced or if you voluntarily end it (no action required).
Magical Secrets: This basically allows you to get more spells. The really neat thing about Bards though is that they can choose spells that are from any spellcasting class. They can take wizard, druid, sorcerer etc. spells if they want to. No other class really gets this so take advantage of it if you are a Bard.
By 10th level, you have plundered magical knowledge from a wide spectrum of disciplines. Choose two spells from any classes, including this one. A spell you choose must be of a level you can cast, as shown on the Bard table, or a cantrip.
The chosen spells count as bard spells for you and are included in the number in the Spells Known column of the Bard table.
You get to do this again at 14th and 18th level.
Superior Inspiration: This is way better than it sounds but you have to be at the highest level of the game to gain it.
At 20th level, when you roll initiative and have no uses of Bardic Inspiration left, you regain one use.
This can literally be the difference between a party living and getting completely wiped out.
Bard Colleges: Bards form loose associations, which they call colleges, to facilitate their gatherings and preserve their traditions. This is where they gain a bunch of great features as a class. You’ll want to consider carefully before deciding what College to use though.
College of Lore: Bards who ascribe to the College of Lore know something about everything. They are astute observers and pick up knowledge with ease. These are the people who are willing to tell the truth no matter the risk and no matter what noble it might offend.
Bonus Proficiencies: Again going with the theme of Bards being good at whatever they want to learn when you join the College of Lore at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with three skills of your choice. This sounds simple but it’s really effective at making the Bard a character who can be reliable in almost any situation.
Cutting Words: This is basically a de-buff against any opponents you may be facing. The text from the simple rules sounds complicated but that is the basics of what it means. Here’s the simple rules actual text:
“Also at 3rd level, you learn how to use your wit to distract, confuse, and otherwise sap the confidence and competence of others. When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll, you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration die and subtracting the number rolled from the creature’s roll. You can choose to use this feature after the creature makes its roll, but before the DM determines whether the attack roll or ability check succeeds or fails, or before the creature deals its damage. The creature is immune if it can’t hear you or if it’s immune to being charmed.”
Rather than making your party good at something, this allows the Bard to make someone else bad at something.
Additional Magical Secrets: This one is really simple. You get two more spells. You can never have enough spells as a Bard. There are some restrictions as it must be a spell you can actually cast at your level or be a cantrip. But it can be from any class which gives the Bard access to tons of spell possibilities. The exact text from simple rules is below.
“At 6th level, you learn two spells of your choice from any class. A spell you choose must be of a level you can cast, as shown on the Bard table, or a cantrip. The chosen spells count as bard spells for you but don’t count against the number of bard spells you know.”
Peerless Skill: Again, Bards really are good at everything as long as they put their mind to it. No ability shows that quite like peerless skill. Here’s what it says:
“Starting at 14th level, when you make an ability check, you can expend one use of Bardic Inspiration. Roll a Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to your ability check. You can choose to do so after you roll the die for the ability check, but before the DM tells you whether you succeed or fail.”
The long and short of it is that Bardic Inspiration die is a way to make something you are trying to do a lot more likely to happen.
College of Valor: Bards in the College of Valor might be closer to the type of Bards you see in books and movies. They go around telling the tales of what has happened in the past. They also seek out significant events of the day so they can be there to record the tale and spread the word of what happened. They are a bit more likely to engage in close combat so the bonuses reflect that.
Bonus Proficiencies: In the player handbook it says, “When you join the College of Valor at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons.”
This is significant because it expands what weapons and armor a Bard can use by a large margin. These Bards can be dangerous and deadly even as they entertain.
Combat Inspiration: For this bonus the Player’s Handbook says, “Also at 3rd level, you learn to inspire others in battle. A creature that has a Bardic Inspiration die from you can roll that die and add the number rolled to a weapon damage roll it just made. Alternatively, when an attack roll is made against the creature, it can use its reaction to roll the Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to its AC against that attack, after seeing the roll but before knowing whether it hits or misses.”
This benefits anyone in the same party as the Bard and overall makes the whole group more dangerous and deadly. They also can use it for defense which allows the party to live longer.
Extra Attack: This is exactly what it sounds like. You get to attack twice when you normally get to attack once. You get this at 6th level. Here’s what the Player’s Handbook says, “Starting at 6th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.”
Battle Magic: Imagine not only being able to cast a spell but to do that and then follow it up with a vicious weapon attack. Well, that’s exactly what Bards in the College of Valor get to do.
From the Player’s Handbook, “At 14th level, you have mastered the art of weaving spellcasting and weapon use into a single harmonious act. When you use your action to cast a bard spell, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.”
This makes these Bards extremely effective in combat in a variety of ways. They are not only good spellcasters, these Bards are good fighters.
Slick Dungeon’s Tips on Playing Bards: There are tons of roleplaying opportunities for kids to play Bards. They can be a lot of fun and tend to be good at what they do. However, there are many ways to play a Bard and they can be funny, full of song, reflective and into history or poetry. One thing most Bards tend to have in common is that they enjoy the spotlight. Some kids may not be comfortable playing in this way. Alternatively it can be great for a kid to use their character to show an aspect of themselves they may not show normally. Like any class make sure any kid you are playing with really wants to play the class. This type of character can often end up on the sidelines helping others during combat. This is great for kids who don’t necessarily want to get up close and personal with the creature attacking them. However, if a kid is really into being the center of attention during combat, a Bard may not be the best choice.
Still, all Bards, like all kids are individuals and there is no wrong way to roleplay them. This class is great fun to play but it also comes with some complexity as it is a spellcasting class. Not only that, Bards have special rules to their spellcasting so they can seem pretty complex. It helps if the Dungeon Master really knows how spells and Bards work the first time a kid plays this class. If you are new to the game I wouldn’t tell a kid you are DM’ing for not to play a Bard if they want to. I would just say, make sure you have really read and understood how they work and let the kid know you are going to learn a bit about it together.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Thanks so much for reading to the end if you are still here with me. Next time we are going to talk about the class that can literally channel divinity as we dive into Clerics.
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