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In my former group (playing 3.5) I played as a Gnome Bard. While I really enjoyed playing this character, I found that while he was extremely useful (and entertaining) to play outside of combat, in combat the gameplay was fairly tedious and repetitive (stand at the back, buff our fighters, and occasionally use my heavy crossbow if our group needed some extra offensive support).

However, I am now moving into a new group playing 5e, and am considering playing a Bard again. Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with how the Bard class has changed since 3.5.

How has the Bard class changed from 3.5 to 5e?

I would appreciate an answer that not only discusses the differences between the Bard in both editions, but that also provides some greater information on the "typical" role of the Bard in 5e as well - is it still mainly a support class? Can it be played flexibly (both in and out of combat)?

I have read the Bard class in the 5e PHB, but am not familiar enough with 5e to fully understand the changes, and how they alter the class since 3.5.

I have read this 3.5 answer about the flexibility of the Bard, but seeing as how this question is about 5e, I am not sure if anything significant has changed.

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The 5e Bard is a more powerful character than the 3.5e Bard, but not nearly as good at buffing his allies.

To start with, the 5e Bard gets full spellcasting all the way up to 9th level spells, where the 3.5e Bard got 2/3 spellcasting, topping out at 6th level spells. This is, in some ways, the biggest change, and it has a huge impact on the Bard's power and flexibility. Their spell list doesn't have the raw power or versatility of the Wizard, but it's pretty solid. And, of course, they get to add stuff to it. More on that later.

The next thing they get depends on your choice of College. Valour Bards get Extra Attack, and a bunch of proficiencies, that put their fighting ability roughly on par with that of a Ranger. Lore Bards, on the other hand, get bonuses to skills that make them arguably the best skillmonkeys around. This honestly isn't a huge change; the 3.5e Bard was already a pretty reasonable fighter and a great skillmonkey.

What's really different is the Bard's specialty, inspiring allies. This has, in all honesty, gotten substantially weaker. Instead of continual effects that boost all nearby allies, the Bard now has the ability to give a single ally a one-off boost. It's slightly more flexible in that the ally can choose which roll to add it to, and the Colleges add even more uses, but it still amounts to far less of a boost. What's even worse is that, for the most part, the Bard can no longer affect themselves with their inspirations.

Spells can help alleviate this, but buffing spells have also gone under the hammer. For the most part, because of concentration, you can only have a single buff spell active at a time. And, just like your inspiration, most of the good buff spells have been changed to only affect a single target.

What these changes amount to is a character who no longer sits at the back buffing, not just because they have other options, but also because they can't. The dedicated buffer is no longer a valid playstyle. You can give an ally inspiration every turn, but that still leaves your actions free. You can use your first turn to cast a buff, but you won't be able to do that on later turns.

Luckily, there's some good news coming. The 5e Bard has a unique and extremely powerful feature that I haven't talked about yet. Magical Secrets allows a Bard to select a few key spells from any spell list. This ability is incredibly important, because those spells (especially the first 2 you get) can shape your character's playstyle. The most infamous example is Swift Quiver. This is a 5th-level Ranger spell, which means it's normally only accessible at level 17. However, a Bard can learn it at level 10. This allows a Valour Bard to make 4 attacks per round with a bow at level 10, long before a Fighter or a Ranger.

So, what's the takeaway? (Or, if you're that way inclined, tl;dr)

The 5e Bard is a versatile and powerful character who can excel at most things they set their hand to. With a bit of work, so was the 3.5e Bard, but relative to other classes, I think it's fair to say the Bard is more powerful in 5e than it was in 3.5e. On the other hand, the 3.5e Bard is much better at buffing his allies than the 5e Bard.

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A bard in 5e is, really, a great all-round, jack-of-all trades class. A 5e bard has more fighting capacity than the bard in 3.5e.

There are some fundamental differences between 3.5e and 5e. Things like:

  • Advantage/Disadvantage: Roll and extra d20 and take the higher/lower
  • Spells are more flexible: lower spells can be cast in higher slots, often for bonus effects. Take note of this when selecting spells.
  • Class specializations: classes in 5e make a choice early on in their leveling where they further specialize their class. These specializations control things like class features, spells, etc. and should be considered when you make a character. In the case of the bard, they are called "colleges"

You'll also find some familiar things, such as:

  • Attack Bonus, AC
  • Spell levels
  • "Bards" being inspired by travelling musicians (paired up with magic).

In 3.5, bards were (initially, anyways) all about skill checks, social situations, and buffing allies. Trying to fight as a 3.5 bard without building for it is difficult: it is not a route to be a spell-slinging warrior. Not so in 5th edition.

5e bards are great at doing many skills. They are a skill monkey class. However, they can also do decently well in combat. Depending on the specialization, you can either do super well with skill checks (college of lore), do better in combat (college of valor, or college of swords), or something much more role-play oriented (college of satire). They will be more skill-heavy and spell-heavy than a fighter going their eldritch knight specialization, and will often not do as much damage.

It should be noted that the college of swords and college of satire comes from "Unearthed Arcana: Classics Revisited," and are considered illegal in Adventure League.

A Guide

There is a detailed guide here by an EvilAnagram, talking about individual aspects of the bard, such as which spells to choose, and a relative ranking of each ability, ability score, and so on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You badly underestimate the 3.5e bard here; they could be, if they wanted to be, fantastic combatants. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 14 '17 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Not the bards I've seen: they certainly are not near as good as clericzilla builds out there. Of course, there is so much cheese (and so little patience on my part for it) in 3.5 that "near anything" is possible. I can, however, modify my post to acknowledge that you could make an amazing warrior out of them. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Jun 14 '17 at 16:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I mostly don’t think clericzilla is a fair comparison; the 3.5e bard, without anything I would consider “cheese,” could certainly out-fight, say, a typical fighter. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 14 '17 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ While an optimized bard would definitely be overshadowed by an optimized cleric, you can turn a bard into a notably effective combatant if you're willing to range far and wide for sources. Bardic Inspiration, boosted by items and Words of Creation (and possibly Dragonfire Inspiration) provides a solid base to work from, and you can make use of your high Charisma score with Snowflake Wardance, Slippers of Battledancing, and Gauntlets of Heartfelt Blows. \$\endgroup\$ – Elia Jun 16 '17 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ The thing with 3.5e bards, from what I've learned, is that they were so often seen as weak that they ended up getting a ton of support from various splats, none of which was really balanced around the other splats. It apparently gets kinda nuts if you know how to use it right. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin Time Oct 14 at 0:50
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3.5e and 5e are substantially different in many, many ways.

There are some surface similarlities: The 5e bard fulfills a similar role to the 3.5e bard (jack-of-all-trades with some emphasis on supporting the party). Both are arcane spellcasters, but whose magic is not quite up to the standards set by “primary” arcanists like sorcerer or wizard. Both have some martial skills, but again not quite like what your main frontline warriors have.

But, beyond those surface similarities, the two are pretty much completely different. Nothing in the answer you link applies directly to the 5e bard. In general, 5e is quite new, and has far fewer options available in general than 3.5e does. The 3.5e bard, more than most, benefited immensely from that smorgasbord of options. The 5e bard is similarly option-oriented, but not all of those options that were available in 3.5e are yet available in 5e (and presumably not all of them ever will be).

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