I wanted to play a necromancer, but I wasn't all that thrilled by my options. Wizards obviously make great necromancer, but I was drawn in another direction. A charismatic puppet master, that was my goal. I think you can make a decent Necro-Bard with the College of Lore, but I wanted something that's more specialized. So I drew some inspiration from online sources and created my own Bard College. I tried to analyze the colleges officially released by WotC in order to guide me and came up with this homebrew:

College of Midnight

(aka College of the Necrodancer)


Grim Secrets

When you join the College of Midnight at 3rd level, you learn the Toll the Dead cantrip, which counts as a bard cantrip for you, but not towards your cantrips known. You also gain proficiency in the Arcana skill.

Additionally, when your Spellcasting feature lets you learn or replace a bard cantrip or bard spell of 1st level or higher, you can instead learn or replace it with a necromancy spell of your choice, and it becomes a bard spell for you if it isn’t already. You must otherwise obey all the restrictions for selecting spells, and you cannot choose spells this way that return creatures to life.


Haunted Eyes

Also at 3rd level, you gain resistance to necrotic damage, and have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.


Dance of the Dead

Starting at 6th level, while an undead creature under your control has an Inspiration Die from you, it gains the following benefits:

  • The creature’s hit point maximum is increased by an amount equal to your bard level + your Charisma modifier.
  • The creature adds your proficiency bonus to its attack rolls, damage rolls, and saving throws.
  • You may heal them with your spells and class features, ignoring any rules that would usually prevent the healing of undead creatures. Likewise, they always count as “willing” for your spells and class features.

This Inspiration Die lasts indefinitely, compared to the usual expenditure period of 10 minutes, but you lose 1 use of your Bardic Inspiration feature for every Inspiration Die used on undead this way.

Additionally, you learn one of the following spells of your choice: Animate Dead, Speak with Dead, or Vampiric Touch. This spell doesn’t count against the number of spells you know, and you can’t replace it.


Rule the Still Heart

At 14th level, you become a master of commanding the dead with your music. As an action, choose one undead you can see within 60 feet of you that can hear you. That creature must make a Charisma saving throw against your bard spell save DC. If it fails, it becomes friendly to you and obeys your commands until you use this feature again.

Undead with an CR greater than half your bard level (rounded down) have advantage on the saving throw and can repeat it at the end of every turn.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

I'm playtesting this subclass right now. We started the campaign at 3rd level and we've reached level 6 so far. Toll the Dead is my go-to damaging cantrip and I have picked up Inflict Wounds and Ray of Enfeeblement from the get-go. Neither the necrotic resistance, nor the advantage on saves against fear has come up yet. At level 5 I started to animate some dead and before level 6, all my bardic inspiration was utilized to inspire my party. Now that I'm level 6, more and more bardic inspiration gets invested in buffing undead minions.

I have never played a bard before, so I'm not sure if any of these homebrew features make sense or are over-/underpowered. So I came here to ask:

Is this homebrew Bard College balanced, compared to officially published subclasses?

If not, how can I bring it in line with other Bard Colleges?

  • 3
    We have an excellent Meta question on How to Ask Homebrew Balance Questions. I think it'll help you put together better homebrew, better homebrew questions, and give you results that you can use at your table. It'll also vastly increase the odds of a successful Q&A for you here. You've done a good job with some initial playtest, but I think some initial analysis by yourself would help us to focus on which features you think are more likely in need of review. – NautArch Oct 22 at 14:15
  • @NautArch: Thanks for pointing out this out. Should I change my question and add further information about my own opinion on the individual features? – hohenheim Oct 23 at 6:46
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Mostly balanced except for Dance of the Dead

Overall this subclass doesn't appear to be too unbalanced. Playtesting it as you are probably gives you a better idea than any of us would have purely from reading the rules.

Grim Secrets

Part one of this feature seems fine. Though no other college gain a cantrip at this level I don't feel this is fundamentally different to any of the others.

Part two is harder to guess at as it grants an ongoing improvement rather than a static benefit. To fully know if this is OP I would have to compare all necromancy spells to all bard spells and see if this adds a significant amount of power. I feel as though it may be a little over powered compared to the existing subclasses. Potentially consider moving this to the sixth level to mirror Additional Magical Secrets of the Lore Bard.

Haunted Eyes

Advantage against fear is common enough from many sources so not a big deal. Necrotic resistance is good but situational so not game breaking.

Dance of the Dead

This feature seems to be both over powered and goes against the normal design principles. For reference the other subclasses gain at this level:

  • Additional Magical Secrets (Lore), two spells of your choice
  • Extra Attack (Valor/Swords), as it says
  • Mantle of Majesty (Glamour), Command as bonus action for 1 minute. Once per long rest
  • Fool's Insight (Satire), detect thought CHA mod per long rest
  • Mantle of Whispers (Whispers), situational disguise

This feature also uses Bardic Inspiration in a way that no other subclass uses them, more akin to the way superiority die are used than bardic inspiration.

This is the feature that needs the most work and I would consider scrapping entirely for something different.

Rule the still heart

This feature is fine, it could actually be considered weak since it only effects one creature per long rest and they get a saving (possibly with advantage).

Suggestions

This isn't too bad as a first attempt of the subclass. I would suggest re-doing dance of the dead. Potentially replacing it entirely. Allow me to propose some features for you, not sure if it suits 6th or 14th level better though.

Grave Humour

When an Undead Creature under your control, that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check or saving throw, you can expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration die and adding the number rolled to the Undead's result. You must decide before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails.

Puppet Master - credit to Doc in comments

When you use the Attack action on your turn, if a creature you control can see you, it can use its reaction to make a melee attack. Only one creature you control can do this per round.

  • 1
    Isn't grave humour almost exactly like normal bardic inspiration, just without the bonus action? This feels like a level 3 feature at most. – GreySage Oct 22 at 15:02
  • 1
    @GreySage It allows you to use it as a reaction to a situation, rather than pre-casting it and either being forced to use-or-lose due to time limits. It isn't the most powerful thing in the world, but not too bad. – Doc Oct 22 at 16:02
  • Another suggestion that could be made is: "Puppet Master: When you use the Attack action on your turn, if a creature you control can see you, it can use its reaction to make a melee attack. Only one creature you control can do this per round." – Doc Oct 22 at 16:05
  • @GreySage Doc is correct, regular inspiration must be used ahead of time. This allows you to apply it as a reaction, more similar to cutting words. It could be a level 3 feature to match cutting words however it won't be very useful as you won't be controlling many creatures – linksassin Oct 22 at 22:54

You’ve put your finger on what was going through my mind as I read it - you are switching your usage of bardic inspiration.

When you repurpose a feature to do something different, if you almost always use it for the new purpose that’s a sign that it’s overpowered. Basically, your level 6 feature is way too good and it will only get better as you level up. Compare it with the College of Lore (two extra spells known) or College of Valor (extra attack).

Your 3rd level abilities are also OP but are very situational so you may not be seeing that in your game.

The 14th level is also OP - a powerful ally for as long as you want compared to, say, being able to use bardic inspiration on one ability check (Lore).

This College is not just OP, it’s OTT OP.

  • 1
    Every Bard College gets a way to use their Bardic Inspiration for something else. The 14th level feature of the School of Necromancy is better than this 14th level feature. If the 3rd level feature is really that situational, can it really be overpowered? – hohenheim Oct 22 at 11:53
  • 3
    @hohenheim School of Necromancy is a subclass of wizard not bard. They won't be directly balanced. – linksassin Oct 22 at 12:50
  • I didn not claim that they are directly balanced. I just wanted to point out, that a similar feature is available at the same level. – hohenheim Oct 22 at 12:59
  • 1
    @hohenheim The problem is that the similar feature is available to a different class. The power level of a class is the sum of the core features and archetype features; you can't look at an archetype feature in isolation without also considering what else a character would have available at that point. You really need to look mainly at the other archetypes for the class in question; other classes will give you a general sense of power budget but not really anything more specific. – anaximander Oct 22 at 14:29
  • I'd say the 3rd Level ability is slightly OP (the second part scales a little too well, but that could be tweaked. For example, "At Xth, Yth, and Zth Levels..."), but the 14th isn't that powerful. It's only one creature of a very specific type (undead), that creature gets a save, and it can repeat the save (and gets advantage) if it's CR is high-enough. Compare that to Create Thrall, which merely requires that the target be an incapacitated Humanoid but gives no saving throw, has no "cooldown" of a Long Rest, and is also permanent. – SeraphsWrath Oct 22 at 14:42

First of all, yes, this subclass seems a tad overpowered compared to official bard subclasses. I've toyed around with the idea of a necromantic bard myself, but could never quite get it how I wanted it. What you have here is interesting, but let's go through it piece by piece to see where the issues are.

First, all of the bard subclasses get an additional way to use there Bardic Inspiration at level 3, not level 6. I see why you put the ability higher, it is quite a bit more powerful than similar style abilities after all, but sticking with the standard design can be quite effective, so I'll take that into account here.

Grim Secrets

The way the ability is structured seems pretty fine. Bards don't actually get many necromancy spells, so getting a free cantrip and the ability to replace bard spells with almost any other necromancy spells seems decent. Honestly, it seems similar to how the Favored Soul sorcerer spell replacement works. You'll likely be taking the best necromancy spells available, but you won't be replacing too many because you still want the best bard spells available. The only suggestion I would make for this ability is the allow the cantrip to be either Toll the Dead or Chill Touch, the only other damaging necromancy cantrip, to add a little variety.

Haunted Eyes

While the ability itself is fine, like I said above this is the level where you're supposed to gain some way to use your Bardic Inspiration, so lets reconfigure this a bit. I like the advantage on saving throws against fear, so we'll keep that. However, the resistance to necromancy I think could be replace by an ability where you can expend a use of your Bardic Inspiration to cast a necromancy spell you know at it's lowest level, without expending a spell slot. What this essentially means is that before level 5, you'll have potentially 4-5 extra free uses of necromancy spells per long rest, while level 5 and beyond it will be per short rest due to your Font of Inspiration ability.

I feel that this reworking is a lot more effective, as it makes you much more capable of casting necromantic spells, but doesn't mean that you will ONLY be using your Bardic Inspiration for that. This is probably more powerful than the original ability you designed, but bard subclasses seem to be a little front-loaded from what I've seen, so I think it's fine.

This method of free spellcasting, at a second glance, is WAY overpowered, essentially giving spellcasting similar to a warlock. If that was the intention, like a College of Pacts style bard, then it might be okay, but I'm afraid another workaround is needed.

As suggested in the comments, what could instead be done is spending a use of Bardic Inspiration per spell-level of a necromancy spell. So, say you know the spells False Life and Vampiric Touch. You could spend one use to cast False Life without a spell slot, or three uses to cast either False Life at 3rd level, or Vampiric Touch at 3rd level. With this, most characters would be able to cast, at max power, a 5th level necromancy spell for free, once per short rest (Danse Macabre comes to mind; both powerful, works with the later reworked Dance of the Dead ability, and very thematic). Or, if the character has used a Tome of Leadership and Influence to increase their Charisma score above 20, then maybe a 6th level spell. With this kind of use, perhaps adding in that you don't need material components unless they are used up by the spell, as your eerie song is driving force enough.

Dance of the Dead

This is the main ability, the main schtick of the subclass, and it's really a doozy. The idea is very similar to what the Wizard gets at this level, but vastly superior to it. Instead, just use the Wizard School of Necromancy ability Undead Thralls. You essentially learn Animate Dead for free, can make more undead with the spell, their HP can be increased by an amount equal to your Bard level, and they gain your proficiency to their damage rolls. This will reign in this ability quite a bit, but I would still add something to it.

Since Bards have access to healing spells, something wizards are sorely lacking in, this ability could also state that any undead you create can be healed by your healing spells and class features. While this vastly increases the effectiveness of the ability, I feel that this reworking helps to bring the ability back into line, without making the character feel too overwhelming.

Rule the Still Heart

This ability is actually, again, remarkably similar to the ability that wizards get at this level, except more restricted since you can only use it once per long rest. In addition, most of the undead monsters currently published sit at CR 10 or lower (48 our of 67, about 70%), so at max level you should be able to use this on most undead creatures without issue. While I wouldn't personally do this, if you really want resistance to necrotic damage, this would be the place to put it, as thematically your masterful dominion over undead can also imply a masterful dominion over your own weakness, giving you resistance to the necrotic/necromantic powers you frequently play with.

This reworking should address many of the issues present in your build. While I still think it's a little overpowered for a bard subclass, I feel that it's very much in-line with what you want to play, but in such a way that it won't deny other people the spotlight, which is very important.

  • @hohenheim, actually they get it at level 3. They get extra attack at 6th level – Jay Kay Oct 22 at 15:01
  • Your Haunted Eyes rework is a major power-up. At level 5, the freebie spellcasting from inspiration dice becomes equivalent to the entire spellcasting ability of the warlock. Maybe if you were spending inspiration dice for slot levels or something - ie, a 3rd level spell would cost 3 dice. – Ben Barden Oct 22 at 15:43
  • @Ben Barden, Hmm, that's a good point, I didn't consider that. Well, this was just a first run at a rework of the proposed subclass, so I was expecting something to be overdone. I'll leave that in, but put in a note stating that, and perhaps another workaround. – Jay Kay Oct 22 at 16:15

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