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I am hoping to keep this question quite focused so I will set the scene:

  • I am starting my first D&D 5e campaign
  • We are starting at level 3
  • There is no rogue in the party so I am looking to absorb that role (No 'tank' either but hopefully that isn't an issue)
  • The others in the party are a Warlock of some kind, a Cleric of the Death Domain and a Duel-Wield Fighter
  • I put equal focus on being good in combat (Controller) and out of combat (Face / Skillmonkey)
  • I am set on being a Lore Bard, taking the Criminal background to get proficiency in Thieves Tools (Not married to the specific background however)

What I am looking to do with my build is multi-class (Single level dip) to try and add some extra effectiveness.

Cleric was recommended because I can get Heavy Armour Proficiency + other things but I like the Knowledge Domain for the skills and I think Heavy Armour would impact my casting anyway so happy with the Medium Armour proficiency instead.

If I do this when is best? Do I start as a Cleric, pick it before level 3 or wait until after level x?

I am looking for the (hidden?) downsides of taking it at any given level (Or taking it at all given the party make-up), and hopefully I think the main downsides of multi-classing in general are quite limited in this instance. I will lose a pretty poor capstone, get some spells a little later and not much else.

My thinking is to pick it for level 2 (Fits thematically as well - criminal bard, reformed / repented but needed the freedom again so went back to being a bard without the criminal part), but as this is my first character and our campaign is planned to level 20 I want to get it right, and having a Strength score of 9 already hurts the inner min/maxer in me.

Edit:

There have been a few questions for information which I deliberately kept out at the start so we can keep the focus. I wasn't looking for alternate builds as I thought that might be too broad but I do appreciate them so will give a bit more info.

Race: Half-Elf Str: 9 Dex: 14 + 1 (Racial) = 15 Cha: 15 + 2 (Racial) = 17 Other stats: 13, 12, 10

If I am picking Cleric I have to put 13 into Wis, which then gives 12 Con and 10 Int. Straight Bard would be 13 Con, 12 Int and 10 Wis.

The effectiveness I am looking for is actually anything. I have looked at Warlock for the combat, Cleric for either the skills or proficiency and Rogue because it fits my concept. I am not fixed on Cleric and my main concern is that Bard 19/Something 1 is better overall than Bard 20 with no huge traps that I am going to fall into at certain levels (Being a level behind for key features I can live with since Lore already gets Magical Secrets early).

I am also allowed to use any officially published classes / books etc as long as I can show the GM where things came from. But I only own the DMG and PHB (Not yet sure what the GM owns) and would prefer not to have to Google every time I use a class feature.

Edit 2:

Apologies to those who feel I have been misleading. I tried to keep the initial question succinct but probably took it off topic myself. I have accepted an answer which not only answers the initial question (IE: Multi-class early) but provided an alternate build which I am actually going to follow.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It would still be very helpful to state exactly what you want to achieve (either mechanically or thematically) and what your current stats are. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 29 '17 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, are you set on taking Cleric or would you consider another class? Can you list what your final ability scores are with racial pluses included? Are feats included or just ASIs? What is your race? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Nov 29 '17 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, you state that you're looking to add some 'extra effectiveness', but don't detail what that means. Does that mean you want to be a better face, skill monkey, or combat controller or all of the above? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Nov 29 '17 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion or answering the question; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 29 '17 at 22:30
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If you want to be effective in skills and combat, I think you could go straight bard. However, I think it could be extremely effective to take a 1-level dip in Warlock with the Hexblade Patron (in Xanathar's Guide to Everything), and do the rest of your levels in Bard. I would take the dip in your first or second level, but then I would take it straight to Bard 6 by 7th level for Magical Secrets before considering any other dips.

The 1st level of Hexblade will give you:

  • 2 Warlock Cantrips
    • I recommend Eldritch Blast + 1 other
    • If you can use multiple books, you should consider 1 of the cantrips in Sword Coast Adventurer Guide - I would go Booming Blade for flavor (note that Bards cannot get these by RAW, but they are on the Warlock spell list)
  • 2 1st level Warlock spells that you can use your Warlock slots for (these do not stack with Bard slots or spellcasting) or your Bard slots
    • I recommend Hex + 1 other
  • Hex Warrior
    • Proficiency with Medium Armor, Shields, and Martial Weapons
    • Pick a melee 1-handed melee weapon and use Charisma to attack!
    • Now you can max Charisma, shoot for a 14 in Dexterity with medium armor and a shield and pull off a 17 or 18 AC and put whatever other stats in Constitution for HP or Wisdom/Intelligence to improve skills.

This will make you effective in combat. You already get a lot of skills as a Lore Bard:

  • 3 skills at Bard 1
  • 2 skills from background
  • 3 skills at Bard 3
  • possibly 1 or 2 from Race
  • expertise in 2 at Bard 3
  • expertise in 2 more at Bard 10

This will help you be about as effective in combat as a Valor Bard while still getting the skills of a Lore Bard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ He's doing this mostly to have good skills, not to be a combat specialist. That's why he's specifically looking at being a Knowledge cleric. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Nov 29 '17 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Bards are already skill monkeys. Sure, he can also dip as a cleric too, but the more dips he makes, the less effective he will probably be at combat. He wanted to be good at both. Like someone else pointed out, he could easily go Half-Elf to grab even more skills while keeping Charisma very high. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Brown Nov 29 '17 at 17:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do like this answer. If you want to be good in combat and skills, well, Lore Bard has the skills covered and you need to use that dip on the combat side. Looks pretty viable to me, but the Warlock in the party may get upset that you stole some of his thunder! \$\endgroup\$ – Michael W. Nov 29 '17 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ One single-level dip isn't going to hamper his combat by very much. In exchange, he not only gets the two skills, but also some Cleric cantrips (Guidance!), and access to some useful spells. Since cleric is a spellcaster class, his total spell slots will not be reduced. I think he's got a good build here. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Nov 29 '17 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ This one upset me because when I looked at Warlock I decided that I couldn't justify it from an RP perspective but I never had Xanathar's Guide to Everything to this is even better than I thought so I will have to reconsider now. As I have clarified in my edit I figured getting more skills was the best way to increase effectiveness, but combat works just as well and gives me some decisions to make. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 30 '17 at 8:14
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The Dip

It greatly depends on what you want more: further bard progression or the abilities you get from your dip. As a Lore Bard, I'd recommend doing it after you get your first magical secrets at Level 6. You get a lot of the Bard goodies, the first set of additional skill expertise and the secret spells.

Downsides

For a lore bard, delaying your spell progression and access to magical secrets is a HUGE downside. Yes, the capstone is uninspiring; but delaying your core abilities (which include other skill proficiencies), is a real threat to your bard progression.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I have come to terms with getting magical secrets a bit later since Lore already gets it early (Certainly much easier than coming to terms with a stat below 10). \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 30 '17 at 8:27
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I would say do it early, so that the benefits are present for your whole adventuring career. If the classes in question have different hit dice, then I generally advise starting with whichever of those is higher, but cleric and bard are the same there. Since cleric only needs a 1 level dip, it doesn't ultimately matter much. You can start with whichever one you like thematically, or whichever one gives you better starting equipment for your purposes. Both classes get Saving Throw proficiency in Charisma; Bard gets Dexterity while Cleric gets Wisdom, so you could choose based on which of those Saving Throw proficiencies seems more useful. Skillwise, starting in bard just gives you more musical instruments.

Heavy armor does not harm your spellcasting if you are proficient in it. It hurts your ability to Stealth, and if you don't have enough strength it can hurt your movement. It's heavy and expensive. It's also socially awkward in many situations that a Bard is likely to find himself in. You're probably better off with medium armor, espcially if you have a decent Dexterity.

Side note: choosing half-elf for race also adds two skills. You can do that instead, or in addition to. 3 for bard, 2 for half-elf, 2 for background, 2 for knowledge cleric gets you 9 skills by 2nd level, and more bard levels will add more to that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This has given me a few things to think about. Saving throw proficiency is not something that I was paying attention to, and I like your points about heavy armor. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 30 '17 at 7:55
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For your first campaign, I would not multi-class at all. Frankly, though, I don't think you have enough information to plan a build.

You already have a Cleric in the party, so any spells you get will be duplicated. You already have a Warlock, too, and that's the class that best meshes with Bard. Furthermore, you're going to be sharing Cha skills with the Warlock. Burning a class level to get 2 skills you may not even need is not very a good idea, especially when Jack of All Trades means you're already half proficient in everything anyways.

I also don't agree with going for heavy armor proficiency if you're going to double as the Rogue. You're going to want Dexterity to make use of Thieves Tools, which are typically Dexterity checks. Furthermore, if you're the Rogue you need Stealth which is both Dex-based and suffers from disadvantage in heavy armor. Beyond that, heavy armor requires Str or it costs you 10 movement. Are you going to have 15+ Dex, 15+ Str, 15+ Cha, and still have something left for Wis (Perception, weak save, critical at high level) and Con (HP, weak save, tied to Concentration)? Heck, even Investigation makes Int better than Str for you for trap finding. Why bother with heavy armor if you're going to have decent Dex already? And what exactly is your standard attack routine going to be? Vicious Mockery is not going to be useful in a all situations, and you probably don't want to burn a Spell Secret for Eldritch Blast. What's your fallback? Usually it's some Dex based weapon, either a hand crossbow or rapier.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Picked up on your 'may not even need' comment. I am planning to check what skills the others are picking and try to fill the gaps but like the idea of not having to rely on others so am not ruling out skills that other people possess. I just have to try and not overshadow anyone in their main skill. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 30 '17 at 11:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I just think you're grossly overestimating the value of skill proficiency in 5e. If your DM follows the DC guidelines, you'll do fine. \$\endgroup\$ – Bacon Bits Dec 1 '17 at 0:40
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I don't follow - you say you want to be a thieving bard. That seems like a pretty obvious answer -- Bard + Rogue.

I likely wouldn't go Lore though. I'd be looking at Swords or Whispers.

Mine may eventually do Rogue as well and is a Whisper Bard. For the Expertise it was a tough decision but I gave it to Deception and Sleight of Hand instead of Deception and Persuasion. Even though I don't have Stealth I can use my Charisma and disguises to get right up next to people and pickpocket them. My character at level 4 has +8 deception, +6 sleight of hand, +6 persuasion, +6 performance (Dex is 14, Charisma is 18 by not taking feats)

On the Rogue side I'd go Thief to 4th level so I'd get Fast Hands, Cunning Action, Expertise, Second Story Work --- and still grabbing the Ability Score Improvement.

At high level that would give you 4 Thief / 16 Bard


I don't know why you'd want to Multiclass into Cleric. You're looking at being a talker with control spells and thief abilities. Not sure where heavy armor benefits you. If anything if you really want to go Lore, I'd consider Lore Bard + Sorcerer for Twinned Spells.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think Rogue gets me anything mechanically which is the problem. Thematically it fits though. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 30 '17 at 15:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I assumed you wanted Sneak Attack and some of the Rogue's combat options. If not then I would either go straight Bard or look at combining Bard with Sorceror. If Straight Bard I'd probably go Whispers or Sword for want you to want to do. Otherwise Lore + Sorceror to Twincast things like Vicious Mockery, Suggestion, Friends, Hold Person, etc. Of course at that point I'm not sure why you wouldn't just go Criminal Sorceror and forget the Bard entirely. Seems like making a slight Dextrous sorceror with Criminal Background would be the best solution for lock picking + combat control. \$\endgroup\$ – RyanFromGDSE Nov 30 '17 at 16:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am definitely aiming for skills (face + thieves tools) > spells (combat and non-combat) > else. I am set on Bard but nevertheless going full sorc wouldn't fill the first requirement. I have re-read the Rogue info and although Expertise would be nice I think backstab is wasted on a mostly magic character. If I went that route I would have to change track completely I think. This will end up redirected to chat I expect but I don't want to not reply as that seems a bit ignorant. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Nov 30 '17 at 16:31

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