I've been toying with the idea of a feat for a bard to allow for more sneaky play with things like mass suggestion. I think it could be fun and I was thinking of suggesting it to my DM for the bard I am currently playing down the road in the campaign.

Whenever you are making a performance, you can weave magic into your performance without being detected as the caster. The somatic and verbal components of a spell are woven seamlessly into your performance, masking the origin of the spell cast.

If a member of your audience would be expected to recognize magic being cast (DM discretion for what this means practically), you must pass a performance check against their perception to successfully hide the spell.

It's a bit like the subtle spell effect for sorcerers, but limited to contexts in which you are performing for an audience.

Is this feat balanced, or even useful?

up vote 11 down vote accepted

There is no need for this feat - bards can already do it!

This is actually addressed via a series of tweets by Jeremy Crawford.

Your voice, song, or oration is basically your verbal component. Strumming an instrument, playing a drum, dancing encompasses the somatic component for bards.

Based on this it would be logical to assume this could already happen in everyday interactions with a bard without the need for a feat.

For example, without more actual specifics on how bards cast spells, if you were observing a bard playing a lute and singing fancy to the barmaid, how could you tell the the difference from:

  1. Bard casting prestidigitation to make the air around him more aromatically romantic
  2. Capable peasant who knows how to play a lute and knows how to sing.

It would come to roleplay of the bard (up to you DM if you would allow a perception check). In all honesty, unless you were encountering another bard who knows the nuances of your trickery or some crazy fan who's watched you perform this trick before there's no reason to let the basic NPC have a perception check. They have no understanding of the magic to understand if anythings suspicious. The more experience an NPC has with a bard and bard charms the more cautious it might be but in the end there's not way to tell their performance apart from a generic performance based on RAW outside of any physical spell manifestations that may produce itself afterwards.

To that end I refer you to this Sage Advice column from September 2016:

Do you always know when you’re under the effect of a spell?

That being said, an NPC fooled by this already could be suspicious. In that event it would make sense to always give that NPC a perception check because they've been burned by it before. A naive maiden however you might rule doesn't get one at all. It really depends on the world you and the NPC's experiences.

As for is it balanced. That's hit or miss. You could argue since sorcerer has the ability to do so with silent metamagic the bard could. But this is controlled and managed by a resource and eventually that resource will run out. I'm hesitant to allow 'absolute' feats because

  1. They don't always make sense. (Why can't another bard pick apart my performance).
  2. They diminish roleplay. If I know this ALWAYS works then it can very easily be exploited.
  3. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me? A feat like this doesn't address this concept. There's no way I would not give a perception check if this was used against an NPC once already. They're already on alert at this moment for this type of behavior.
  • I guess I'll find out if my DM agrees with you. Hopefully without getting arrested. – KBriggs Dec 6 at 22:49
  • Yeah it really depends on world and DM some DM could rule that there's key nuances in the song or oration or flick of the wrist type behaviors that give it away some could even rule that these songs might have Arcane words but by raw there's no reason it couldn't work.. just by not necessarily on every npc. – Spoo Dec 8 at 0:19
  • If what Crawford said wasn't true you would have to have a free hand to cast a spell or take combat casting and in that case it doesn't make sense to let bards use two hand instruments as they would have to put it away every time in order to cast a spell with a free hand. Sword bard would be impossible without combat casting – Spoo Dec 8 at 0:22

As a first pass for balance, put it next to all the other things you could do instead - if you would always (or never) choose it, it's not balanced.

Unless I knew that my bard was going to be casting spells as part of a performance that I didn't want to have detected at least once per session, I would never take this feat. If it was, I would think, "What an odd campaign".

As a second pass, compare it to something similar that already exists in the game - if it is clearly better (or worse), it's not balanced.

As you say, its more limited than the sorcerer's Subtle Spell metamagic in that it only happens during a performance. On the other hand, it's not limited in how often it can be used. It takes up a rare character resource but so does Subtle Spell. It's not clearly one way or the other.

Overall, I would say it's underpowered. If it gave +1 to Charisma as well, it might be OK.

  • Yeah, as a half feat I might think about taking this (if I had an odd score anyway) - as a full feat it's just terrible. – Miniman Dec 6 at 22:38

There is precedent for this feat

Kudos to HideAndSeek for pointing out that Pathfinder had the Spellsong feat in the rules, which is basically this exact feat.

The feat merged the casting of the spell with a performance check that was contested by the audience's Perception or Sense Motive. In 5th Edition, the equivalent skills for the audience would be Perception or Insight.

Also, as you point out, the Sorcerer has a similar ability innately within its Metamagic Subtle Spell mechanic. The benefit of both these abilities is highly situational whereas the opportunity cost is the two foregone attribute points from an ASI. These points can provide a 5% increase in hitting with a spell or 5% lower success rate for enemies attempting to save against a debuff spell.

Considering the frequency of use and benefits of your feat versus choosing an ASI, I would argue that your homebrew feat does not bestow an outsized benefit and is therefore balanced.

Personally, I would consider the feat to be pretty weak since it would be useful in only very rare cases. Most of the time, you don't care if characters know who is trying to cast a spell on them or convince them of something. You'd either just cast Mass Suggestion or roll persuasion, in which case +1 to a stat would be very valuable.

  • If you have 50% hit chance and use an ASI, your new hit chance is 55%. This is a 10% increase, not 5%. – András Dec 6 at 21:57
  • You're measuring the increase relative to the initial chance. I'm talking it as an absolute difference (compared to a 100% chance). My point is that an ASI is a significant boost to choose a feat in lieu of so it's unimportant which way you compare it. – Rykara Dec 6 at 22:18
  • 1
    Pathfinder and 5e have entirely different balance points (Pathfinder characters are far more powerful, but also get more than twice as many feats), so the existence of a similar Pathfinder feat could not be more irrelevant. – KRyan Dec 6 at 22:33

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