I've recently gotten into a group for D&D 5e, and I'm looking for some advice on my character build. I'm not new to Tabletop RPGs in general, but I don't know the tricks of the trade for 5e.

What I'm trying to do

I'm working on a roleplay build. The character I'm playing is an old gnome, around 400 years old, who is the sort of unofficial mentor to the younger adventurers. An important thing about this character is that I want him to be knowledgeable about History, Arcana, Religion, and Insight, so Intelligence is very important to me unlike most Bards.

I favor a play style of getting past obstacles in the most creative way possible, and I prefer the 'in-between' parts of tabletop roleplay over the fighting.

My bard wears leather and has a rapier.

Ability Scores

STR: 8
DEX: 9
CON: 10
INT: 16
WIS: 14
CHA: 16*


  • Dancing Lights
  • Vicious Mockery

1st level spells

  • Healing Word
  • Dissonant Whispers
  • Heroism
  • Tasha’s Hideous Laughter

My Question

I've read in bard guides like this one that say Dex is the second most important stat for a bard, and Int is a dump stat.

  • What potential problems are there with dumping DEX in a bard build?
  • What are some ways I can work around it?
  • Are there ways I can use INT to my advantage as a bard?

*Note: the DM allows us to buy a 16 for 11 points, which is how I got my CHA up to +3. The high INT is thanks to my race bonus.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As a q&a site, discussion type questions aren't something we do well. You might have better luck on a forum or once you get enough rep you can drop into our Role-playing Games Chat. That being said I think you could make a good question out of "What potential problems are there with dumping dex in bard build?" and outline the research you have done and why you have chosen to go against it. Be sure to ask it as a new question though because it would invalidate the answers already given here. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Oct 31, 2019 at 5:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is my recent edit acceptable? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2019 at 6:35

8 Answers 8


Dumping Con is not a good idea... (+ suggested "build")

I'll address your whole concept in this answer, but Bottom Line Up Front is that your PC is a spell caster. The linkage between concentration and Constitution impacts play, and, low Dexterity reduces Armor Class so you'll get hit a lot more often, triggering Concentration / Constitution saves. You need some HP to absorb some of that and you need some workarounds (addressed later).

Dumping Dexterity is needlessly penal to your PC

Choosing a dexterity score with negative stat modifiers (9 (-1)) means that your Initiative roll will more often place you later in the initiative order during combat — this can reduce the effectiveness (1) of your buffing your allies with Bardic Inspiration and (2) of getting your buff / debuff spells up and running. Your PC intends to "stay out of the way" to mitigate low armor class, but there are some other ways to avoid hits and enemies may target you anyway with ranged attacks, or by swarming the party. (More at the end / workarounds).

A slightly better approach / build based on how Constitution impacts you as a spell caster in this edition of the game.

  1. Dropping the INT to 14 still achieve your skill / concept aims along with your 14 WIS.
  2. A key bard feature is that you can use Bardic Inspiration for an ally's crucial skill check (and yourself at level 14 if your game gets that far).
  3. The fact that, being a gnome, you have advantage on all INT, CHA, and WIS saves will pay off in later levels as more INT and CHA saves crop up — it helps all game long for WIS saves (which are fairly common).

Some "tricks and tips" for this edition

  1. The three most common saving throws are Dexterity, Wisdom, Constitution. Since you are proficient in Dexterity saving throws as a Bard, you won't feel it quite as hard as classes that are not proficient in the Dex Save. You are +2 on your rolls out of the gate with a Dexterity of 10 and it increases at levels 5, 9, 13, etc.

  2. Choose the College of Lore (skills aplenty!). Your STR and DEX do not fit College of Valor.

Proposed stat line up — STR: 8 DEX: 10 CON: 12 INT: 14 WIS: 14 CHA: 16

Per your concept, focus on the "skill master" and "support" features of the bard class. The mechanics of Proficiency and Expertise overwhelm the +1's for Ability Score increases as you go up in level — that is where you get the serious skill boosting.

  • Tip/trick: remember to get "help" from other PCs (Chapter 7, Working Together) on as many skill checks as you can in order to get advantage on the die rolls. (Roll 2d20, pick the best roll). And you help them also, where you can.

    Working Together
    Sometimes two or more characters team up to attempt a task. The character who’s leading the effort—or the one with the highest ability modifier—can make an ability check with advantage, reflecting the help provided by the other characters. (PHB Chapter 7; Basic Rules, p. 62)

That will vary somewhat with the situation, of course.

Proficiency / Expertise choices beat ASI boosts to INT

You don't need to boost INT to be effective in your chosen Skills. My suggested array to meet your concept objectives. STR: 8 DEX: 10 CON: 12 (+1) INT: 14 (+2) WIS: 14(+2) CHA*: 16 (+3)

An important thing about this character is that I want him to be knowledgable about history, arcana, religion and insight, so Intelligence is very important to me unlike most Bards.

You chose three INT based skills (History, Arcana, Religion), and one WIS based skill (Insight). I am guessing you chose a Sage, Hermit or Acolyte Background. You get 3 skills as a Bard plus 2 from your Background for a total of 5.

  • I suggest Persuasion or Deception as the fifth one; your proficiency in three musical instruments should suffice for Barding It until level 3, so there is no need to pick Performance to start out based on your character's mentor theme.

Being proficient in these four desired skills boosts your chances for successful skill rolls as you level up.

Since this question tag is optimization, apply your ASIs (+2) to Charisma at level 4 and level 8 to ensure that

  1. your spells are their most effective (best spell save DC and bet "to hit" with cantrips/attack spells) and ...
  2. you increase the number of Bardic Inspiration dice uses that you get per rest. <== That's a major feature for helping your party; it fits with your "wise old helpful gnome" concept.

The difference in having a Proficiency bonus + INT bonus (2 +2 (14 INT)) and (2 +3 (16 INT)) is not significant. For a DC of 15 you'll make the roll (target number of 10 or 11) either 55% of the time or 50% of the time. For a DC of 12 70% or 65% of the time. At third level, you come into the killer bonus: Expertise. It doubles your proficiency bonus.

Which two skills do you want to really rock with?

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. At 10th level, you can choose a other two skill proficiencies to gain this benefit. PHB, p. 54)

Illustration: (using Expertise in History and Religion)

Expertise with a 14 Int in History, Religion: +2 + 4 at level 1 = + 6
(if "just proficient) it's +4 (Insight, Arcana)
Expertise with a 14 Int in History, Religion: +2 + 6 at level 5 = +8
(If just proficiency) it's +5 (Insight, Arcana)
Expertise with a 14 Int in History/Religion: +2 +8 at level 9 = +10
(If just proficient it's +6) (Insight, Arcana)
{You get to add Expertise to two more skills at level 10}
Expertise with 14 WIS/INT for Insight/Arcana: +2 +8 at level 10 = +10

There's your skill emphasis: now for two important stats. (Con to 12 / Dex to 10)

Con: Support caster? Keep your concentration up

You will start with 9 HP with a 12 CON, and get 6 per level up. You need these HP. Enemies hit with some frequency, and some hit kinda hard.

Your Tasha's Hideous Laughter is a great spell to debuff an enemy — if you keep your concentration up. So too is Slow once you get to level 5. (If using Tasha's optional rules; otherwise, get Slow at level 6 with one of your magical secrets).

If a spell must be maintained with concentration, that fact appears in its Duration entry ... The following factors can break concentration:

  • Casting another spell that requires concentration.
  • Taking damage. Whenever you take damage while you are concentrating on a spell, you must make a Constitution saving throw to maintain your concentration. The DC equals 10 or half the damage you take, whichever number is higher. If you take damage from multiple sources, such as an arrow and a dragon’s breath, you make a separate saving throw for each source of damage.
  • Being incapacitated or killed. You lose concentration on a spell if you are incapacitated or if you die. (Basic Rules, pages 83-84)

Getting hit while concentrating on a spell forces a Constitution saving throw. The +1 to that die roll won't hurt your chances to make that save and not lose concentration. Having a few more HP can be the difference between being knocked out, or to still be standing with your buff / debuff working for your party. If you are a back liner / support caster, your bread and butter includes a variety of concentration spells. They are only good if you keep them running.

Don't penalize your Dexterity saving throw

Dexterity saving throws are one of the most common in the game. Having a penalty for that ability-based saving throw will increase the number of times you'll be unable to support your party. There is no need to boost Dexterity if you don't want to — your character concept can work if you are wary and careful. It's still a poor idea to penalize your Dex saving throw.

And now for the "workarounds"

With the lack of armor due to low dexterity, you need to be crafty to avoid being hit; if you can avoid being noticed that's even batter.

How to reduce chances to be hit

Partial cover gives you +2 AC; three quarters cover gives you +5 AC. Find people or things to hide behind when combat comes. Full cover prevents a lot of attacks.

As soon as you can, get studded leather armor. It's only +1 to AC but you need it.

Use Cutting Words (Bard, Lore, level 3 ability) to turn a hit on you into a miss. I) to subtract 1d6, or 1d8, (whatever your Bardic Inspiration die is) from an attack roll that would hit you.

Use the Minor Illusion cantrip.

In some situations, you can create cover by placing an illusion in front of your small-sized gnome with the Minor illusion cantrip. If the illusion is between you and whomever is shooting at you, full cover (you are shorter than 5' tall, the the illusion can be 5' on a side) can keep you from being seen. For a lot of ranged attacks that means "no attack" happens. AoE attacks / spells / effects will still get to you.

  • Tip/Trick: Make sure to include the Minor Illusion cantrip on your cantrip list either now, or when you get your next cantrip at the level. (I like Dancing Lights, so don't let me dissuade you from that initial choice)

If you are a Forest Gnome, you have the minor illusion cantrip as a racial feature. If you are a Rock Gnome, you won't. In my experience, that cantrip is very useful both in and out of combat.

Mirror Image: may be needed sooner than later.

Mirror Image is a second level spell. Spell choices are one of those tricky things for a bard. If you find that you get hit a lot you may need to invest in Mirror Image. It stays active without concentration, and it absorbs a few hits before the illusory gnomes dissipate under the attacks.

Invisibility — requires concentration

Sometimes, turning invisible is what you need to do, but since it requires concentration you then cannot at the same time buff your allies or debuff your enemies. Even with those shortcomings this is an effective, albeit situational, work around. Darkness has similar limitations: you can't be seen by most things, but it hampers your allies and requires concentration.

Other workarounds to deal with Con or Dex issues — feats

If your table uses feats from the PHB, there are some that can help you at level 4 or 8 if you will accept that (1) you get fewer Bardic Inspirations per rest, and (2) your spell save DC's won't be as high. I'll not take build advice beyond level 10 since most campaigns don't get that far. If yours does, and you wonder at your choices then, post a question at that time. (I will suggest that at level 12 you make sure that Charisma is maxed (20) if it has not been already).

  1. War Caster: You get advantage on Constitution Saving Throws to maintain concentration on a spell (roll 2d20 take the best roll) and you can use a spell to make an Opportunity Attack when that occasion arises.
  2. Resilient (Constitution): +1 Constitution, and proficiency in Constitution Saving Throws. (+2 at level 4, +3 at level 5, etc ...)
  3. Alert: you are never surprised, and you get +5 to Initiative. Other creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls against you as a result of being unseen by you.
    • A note on this feat, which I used on a sorcerer. This turned out to be surprisingly good in play. It won't increase your armor class but it prevents some attacks from having advantage on you. The boost to initiative helps you to go first more often to buff, debuff, inspire, flee, whatever. The other PCs got the benefit of my buff spells sooner, more often. We were, as a group, pleasantly surprised with the resulting benefit for the team — well, except for me, who was never surprised. ;-)
  4. Tough: more HP
  5. Mobile: When you make a melee attack against a creature, you don’t provoke opportunity attacks from that creature for the rest of the turn, whether you hit or not. (Also, fastest gnome in the west) You swing, you miss, you move away. No OA against you. (Most of the other feats are better)
  6. Lucky: advantage on a save (or attack roll, or a skill check) three times per day. This feat is one of the best in the game, and will address a couple of your core weak areas: Constitution Saves, and Dexterity Saves.
  7. Moderately Armored. This lets you wear medium armor, and use a shield: chain shirts, breast plates, half plate. This may mitigate some of the armor class problems from low dexterity. How that meshes with your low strength (the feat adds 1 to STR or DEX) will need to be squared with whatever encumbrance rules your table is using. If your character scheme eventually arrives at "OK, I'll wear armor and a shield" then a breastplate and shield kit boosts AC to 16.

Are there ways I can use INT to my advantage as a bard?

As you can see from T.J.L's answer, and mine, proficiency and expertise will help you with a lot of the skill checks as you go up in level, so you could adjust your build to STR: 8 DEX: 10 CON: 14 INT: 12 WIS: 14 CHA: 16. That's what I would do, but your theme will work as is.

How you can get more out of your INT as a bard is to keep taking more INT based skills.
You will start with Religion, History, Arcana, Insight and one more. You get three more at level 3. Add Investigation and Nature to your skill base at level three and you have all 5 of the INT proficiencies.

Bonus Proficiencies
When you join the College of Lore at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with three skills of your choice. (SRD, p. 13)

Your proficiency boosts and your INT modifier will make you more likely to pass these skill checks and it fits your theme.

That leaves another one for Performance, Perception, Survival or whatever suits your fancy.

Another way to use your INT score to your advantage is to, at some point, multiclass into Wizard to get four utility spells and a spell book.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Why not dump Wis? Dex and Con are both more important \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Nov 1, 2019 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András Because the Asker does not wish to dump Wis due to the character concept / role playing focus. The asker has read opotimization guides that point to dex being higher, but based on a desired role wants to know the impact of not boosting Dex. Because CON is an important stat for every class ... I felt I had to mention that. Plus, New To 5e Player. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2019 at 20:31

A character does not need Intelligence to be good at Intelligence-linked skills.

Building a character at level one is the start of a career, not the end. Consider Tiers of Play in the Basic Rules:

In the first tier (levels 1–4), characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. They are learning the features that define them as members of particular classes, including the major choices that flavor their class features as they advance (such as a wizard’s Arcane Tradition or a fighter’s Martial Archetype). The threats they face are relatively minor, usually posing a danger to local farmsteads or villages.

I think you're approaching this from the wrong angle (stats) and not taking full advantage of class features. Sure, you should have some Intelligence, but Expertise can be a lot more beneficial than hamstringing your other stats.

If you pare down that Intelligence a bit, shoring up your multiple dump stats, you can still get good bonuses via Expertise:

  • T1, Int 16, Proficient = +5
  • T1, Int 12, Proficient, Expertise = +5

Yes, sure... you could have a +7 with the Int, Proficiency, and Expertise... but with that Dex and Con, you won't live long enough to make use of it. Other answers have covered this in great detail, so I won't go into it again.

Furthermore, ASIs are precious. To keep your skills ahead of the curve, you'd need to use them on Intelligence. If you rely on Expertise, every couple of levels your skills will go up naturally.

For your desired character type, consider adding Knowledge Cleric.

If you start bard (and you should, for the skill picks), you'll start missing a few skill proficiencies you want, but you'll pick them up at second character level (first cleric level) via Blessings of Knowledge: proficiency in two of Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion and automatic Expertise-equivalent in both.

If you grab a second level, you get Channel Divinity: Knowledge of the Ages. Once per short rest, you can become proficient in any skill or tool for ten minutes.

Furthermore, blending in some Cleric allows you to use your precious Bard known spell selections for other spells. You don't need Cure Wounds or Healing Word as a Bard spell if you have it as a cleric spell (yes, the static bonus will be from a lower stat, but the die roll is the same).

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a more concise approach to skills than my answer, and covers some of the same ground. Nicely done on the knowledge cleric MC suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2019 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought you couldn't get expertise at level 1 \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2019 at 2:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Disinterestedwarfare A rogue does, a bard gets it at level 3. Building a char for level 1 is a starting point, not an end point. The game assumes that tire 1 play (levels 1-4) are PC's growing into their profession as adventurers. In the first tier (levels 1–4), characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. They are learning the features that define them as members of particular classes, including the major choices that flavor their class features as they advance Basic Rules p. 12 \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2019 at 11:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast That's a good quote, that gets at the point I was trying to make. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Nov 1, 2019 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Heh... I've been around, just haven't been doing much D&D with COVID killing the convention scene, so it's almost entirely voting instead of actual posting. Somebody upvoted this recently and I noticed a typo why I was rereading it. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Jul 7, 2022 at 12:13

Dexterity is something of a super-stat in 5e and it creates a lot of issues if you don't have a good stat. Namely: Going first, as a mostly enchantment-based caster, is really strong. You can't incapacitate a monster and kill their turn if you don't get to act before they do. This is especially true if you're casting area burst spells and don't want to hit your fellow party members after they've engaged the enemy.

Your AC and Dexterity save are going to be really bad. Having say a 12 Dex is +2 for both of them. You sound as if you ought to be a Lore Bard. This means your AC is going to be light armor with a -1 for Dexterity. You're going to get hit a lot.

Also, Bards get 4 helpings of Expertise eventually. Expertise will overwhelm a lot of the issues of being apparently bad at skills.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Going first is also important for Bards since they generally have an interest in buffing their allies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Oct 31, 2019 at 13:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ 12 Dex is only +1. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2019 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ 9 Dex is -1, so having a 12 Dex = +2 above that. \$\endgroup\$
    – MwaO
    Nov 1, 2019 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MwaO Could have been how that worked, but no. You get +1 for every 2 ASI points above 10. If your Dex is 20, you get +5 to Dex attacks & saves. Mercifully, if your Dex is 8, you're still at -1; you don't get -2 until Dex = 7 & 6. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2022 at 21:26

You might want to talk to your DM

In terms of combat, a character with those stats will be clearly underpowered in combat. Not useless, mind you (you start with a 16 in Charisma, so your save DCs will be weaker than most of the rest of your party, but they'll be manageable), but certainly underpowered.

Your starting AC would be 10, meaning that most monsters will be hitting you on a 7+ at minimum. An excellent starting AC is about 18+. An OK starting AC is 16-17. It is normal for even the squishies (Wizards, Sorcerers, Rogues, etc.) to have a starting AC of between 15-16. Also, your secondary defenses are terrible. You can't hide to avoid getting hit. You don't have Minor Image or any other spell mechanic that you can use to give yourself cover. If your DM is playing intelligent monsters intelligently (and he should be), they should be bee-lining to kill you immediately.

You roll initiative at -1, meaning that you will probably be going last at the start of every combat (meaning the monsters will be able to target you before you target them). This is OK if you're a Fighter with 20 AC and 14 HP. It's problematic if you're an 8 HP bard with a 10 AC. Bards are controllers - they usually want to lock down the enemy before they can act. Bards receive few good defensive spells ever, meaning that you'll be stuck with that AC for the entire game. The DM is going to have to work hard not to kill you.

You're a full-caster, so things should be targeting you ASAP due to your high impact and squishiness. You also have no positive Con mod, meaning that you gain a +0 to Concentration checks (even on a base DC10 check, you fail 45% of the time), and you only have 8 HP and gain HD hp/level. In a mid-op game, almost everyone will be sitting on at least a +2 Constitution modifier. You will always be extremely squishy by comparison.

You will want to get a sense of your party's level of optimization. If anyone in your party is optimizing at all, you will be far weaker than the other PCs (who can start with an 18 in their primary stat and have decent combat stats and skills relevant to the Party). Also, take stock of what your party is. Do you have a Wizard? Are you stepping on anyone's toes by ramping up Knowledge skills?

That said, if you're not playing a combat-focused game you might be fine. Talk to your DM. If you're running a combat-heavy game, I would jig things around a bit. Namely, I would drop his Int to 12 (a 14 starting Int is perfectly respectable) and his Wisdom to 8, which buys you 14 stat points to play with. Bump your Con and Dex to 14. This gives you a 14 Intelligence total (far better than average for a Bard) and an 'average' Wisdom (which won't impact on your knowledge checks).

Mechanically, Intelligence only impacts on Arcana, Religion, and History checks. You are spending a total of 12 of your points on your stat buy on a stat which doesn't add anything to your ability to fight or survive. As a bard, you can gain expertise in these skills, which is fairly useful.

All this is not a problem if you're playing a university professor, but is more of a problem if you're playing an adventurer. Why would a frail and otherwise brilliant old man enter into the jaws of certain death when he has no relevant skills to deal with the danger?

Even if you do this, you will still be way sub-optimal (you could be competing with things like an 18 Str/14 Dex/18 Con Mountain Dwarf barbarian in a high-combat module for all we know) but it hits your goals and is better balanced.

On Dexterity

Dexterity is often touted as a "super-stat". In a sense it is - Dexterity skills tend to be quite useful (especially Stealth), and initiative is important. That said, characters who rely on Dexterity will tend to have a lower AC than characters who don't (their AC will usually be 11 or 12 + Dex, which is almost always worse than 14 or 15 + 2, which is what Medium Armor users get). Also, classes which use Dex don't usually get shields, which add a lot of survivability. Initiative is less important the sturdier both you and the enemies are (because winning initiative is less likely to deny the enemy actions), and Strength characters are usually sturdier than Dexterity-based ones.

Each additional point of AC adds more survivability than the last. Getting hit 5% of the time as opposed to 10% halves the damage you take, before factoring in criticals).

Also, the more impactful that your character is on combat, the more incentive for the monsters to target you. A bard using crowd control is very impactful and should be targeted immediately by intelligent enemies.


I think there is a different way of looking at this:

What do you get from DEX, and can you live without it?

So, what DO you get from DEX?

Armour class

In light armour your AC will be 10 until you get magic armour. How much this affects you is something that only you can really know. I personally am very good at not even getting attacked (One bard retired at level 4 undamaged, one made it to level 9 but died from a disease and I don't recall being targeted by anything challenging my AC), but this doesn't apply to every play-style or DM.

To hit bonus from ranged weapons

Will you use these? With the low damage on Vicious Mockery many bards resort to crossbows.

To hit bonus from finesse melee weapons

Will you use these? I think particularly if you have low AC you absolutely DO NOT WANT TO BE IN MELEE!

Skills: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth

Will you use these? In combat stealth is a play-stlye choice, and acrobatics is usually the result of being grappled, which means you were in melee, which with low AC would be a mistake

Saving throw increase

Bards get proficiency with DEX saving throws, so as you increase in level the lack of a DEX bonus will be less noticeable, however DEX saves are very common, and not always avoidable.

My recommendation

Look at the way you play.

If you get attacked in melee then dumping DEX (especially with a low CON as well) is going to get you killed because even very low level enemies will have a 60-80% chance of hitting you.

If you get hit with AoE spells then can you avoid standing so close to the group? You are less likely to be hit with a fireball if you stay more than 20ft away from everyone else for example.

If you can play in a way that you avoid being attacked then you can play around a lack of DEX, if you can't play tactically and stay safe using your own wits, then a lack of DEX will be fatal in many situations.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If the enemy has ranged attacks, (and most do), it does not matter if you are in melee or not \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Nov 1, 2019 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why I talked about avoiding taking damage a lot. At range you should be using cover, corners, spells and colleagues to make sure you don't get attacked by anything \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 1, 2019 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see having an attack roll made against my armour as a failure on my behalf, unless I am a tank character, or roleplaying an idiot with a death wish. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 1, 2019 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see not attacking the squishiest character as a failure on my behalf when I am the DM, and the Bard's AC is most likely the worst even considering cover \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Nov 1, 2019 at 21:29

With no CON bonus you are going to be a bit behind the curve in terms of HP. However, a bard is not a front line fighter anyway. Your character should be hanging back and providing support or ranged damage. Make sure you grab invisibility and greater invisibility for defensive purposes and your character should be OK. It really depends on whether the DM decides to focus attacks on your character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Con is needed for concentration checks. A lot of the Bards best spells are concentration so dumping it isn't really a great idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Oct 31, 2019 at 5:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin True, but given the bards low AC and HP, I generally consider that if they are taking damage then trying to maintain concentration is the least of their problems. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2019 at 5:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree, a bard with 1HP and concentration on a spell is much better off than the bard with 10HP and a spent spell slot. Combat is so short that the best defense is usually offense and maintain concentration is a big part of that for bards. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Oct 31, 2019 at 5:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that this is good advice. Sure, he can survive at L3 (assuming he doesn't die before then) if he casts Invisibility and runs away, but that means he's not contributing to the encounter and the party is one short. He isn't even good at that though, because he is abysmal at Stealth checks (meaning, monsters are fairly likely to catch him regardless). He can't afford to use spells exclusively for defence in a dungeon crawl, as his spells are his main tool for contributing to the encounter. \$\endgroup\$
    – James
    Oct 31, 2019 at 14:35

Combat survival will be an issue, so be smart about your cover

I'm going to just focus this answer on the questions that you posed within your title and the body of the question itself and leave commentary on the rest of the build to others:

  • What potential problems are there with dumping DEX in a bard build?
  • What are some ways I can work around it?

For a Bard, a low Dex will factor most prominently impact your AC, Dexterity saves, and initiative check.

For AC, you can reasonably be expected to avoid the front-line as much as possible. Melee attacks will decimate you otherwise. AC will then only matter in situations involving ranged weapon and spell attack rolls, which you can somewhat mitigate by judicious use of cover to give you bonuses to your AC (be mindful that creatures between you and the attacker count for 1/2 cover, see page 196 of the PHB). Furthermore, if you elect to go with the College of Valor when you reach 3rd level, you can pick up proficiency with medium armor and shields, both of which can be used to substantially increase your AC. There are means for you to get access to heavy armor as well, but I don't recommend them as your strength is not sufficient to wear heavy armor without penalty.

Low Dexterity saves means your vulnerable to AoE spells and effects. There isn't much to be done to permanently improve the save other than relying on the fact that Bards are proficient in Dexterity saves, so whenever your proficiency bonus increases so will your Dex save bonus. You can circumstantially benefit from cover here as well; it won't help against effects like Fireball, but it does help with dragon's breath.

Low initiative is probably the biggest vulnerability for your character. The combo of low AC and a low initiative check really ups the odds of you being taken out before you get started. Fortunately, the Bard class has a few features built in to help fix it. At 2nd level, you'll gain the Jack of All Trades feature, which lets you add 1/2 your proficiency bonus to checks your not already proficient in and this does include your initiative check. Another option, albeit a bit of a long game, is that if you elect the College of Lore, at 14th level you gain Peerless Skill which permits you to use your Bardic Inspiration on your own ability checks, which would include Initiative.

Finally, I do note that you are sitting on a 9 for Dex, so with a single ability score increase, you can bring that up to 10 and improve your modifier by 1. You can do this with your ability score increase gained at level 4 (feats are also an option, but none of the ones that increase Dexterity provide another benefit that is helpful for you except Athlete which doesn't fit your theme).

  • Are there ways I can use INT to my advantage as a bard?

By RAW, unfortunately, not really beyond having high odds at success on knowledge checks. However, per pages 177-178 of the PHB, you could try and use your Intelligence for things beyond knowledge checks. Practically using it, though, will be dependent on your own ingenuity and your DM.


I don't know if there's a way for me to reply to multiple comments at once, so I guess I'm going to answer my own question.

To everyone, thank you all for answering my question and clarifying the value of the stats. Like I said in the topic, I'm new to DND, so I wasn't aware of how little use Intelligence had to all but a few classes that use it for casting.

The changes I've made:

  • I changed my sub race from Rock Gnome to Scribe Gnome (the free CHA means it cost me two less points to get to 16 CHA)

  • I changed my base stats to: STR: 8 DEX: 12 CON: 10 INT: 15 WIS: 14 CHA: 16, as a hybrid of suggestions from multiple people. I realize this is still not optimized, but I am still prioritizing roleplay over rolls.

  • I am going to put my second level into Wizard in order to take advantage of my currently useless INT and widely expand my toolbelt. (To the person who suggested putting this into cleric, I would, but the party already has a cleric.)

I guess this is me saying the topic is resolved and thank you for the advice.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hope this works. It will be fine to come back in a few months, after you have gained a few levels, and edit in how this worked out for you. Also, self answering is fine. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2019 at 16:41
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Assuming you meant "Mark of Scribing Gnome", make sure you DM is okay with using Eberron content. The dragonmarked racial variants tend to be more powerful than the traditional/basic racial subtypes. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Oct 31, 2019 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to ask your DM if you could make the character a bladesinger wizard at some point. Two levels gives you a couple more ways to use your intelligence stat, and they even involve music. It is restricted to elves in some settings however. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2019 at 23:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Adding a level of Wizard actually hurts your survivability, as opposed to Cleric, what does it matter if the party already has a Cleric? \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Nov 1, 2019 at 20:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since Expertise alleviates most need of Wis for skill rolls, I'm not sure why Wis isn't skimped a bit, to get Attribute points for Cha, Con, Dex, & apparently Int? The right Background can get a skill proficiency to then build Expertise onto... (I just noticed how old this is; I hope you had fun!) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2022 at 21:31

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