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I decided to try to homebrew a 5e bard subclass. I was looking for a good mix of combat and charisma based roleplay abilities. I’m still in the early stages of the campaign, but I anticipate a pretty decent balance between combat and intrigue type scenarios. There is a clear campaign objective around some BBEG, and combat with his minions will feature heavily. At the same time, there is lots of political unrest related to the presence of BBEG, and this political unrest is related to my character and his backstory. In particular, the political ideologies described in the college description below are to play a major role in the narrative; my character attended this university and was exiled from the Vale, the elvish capital in our world.

For these reasons, I wanted to go for sort of a “best of both worlds” approach with respect to combat and political intrigue style roleplaying, but I’m looking for something roughly similar to other bardic colleges in terms of how powerful the subclass is.

College description:

The University in the Vale has one of the finest Arts programs in Animosia. By day, their students are trained in all manner of skills befitting the bardic profession. But not all is as its seems.

Forged in the dimly lit seedy basements of residence halls and fraternity houses, political extremists train warriors of both weapon and word. These students are versed both in the art of speech craft and the art of bloodshed. Liberty is their cause, and they see both words and warfare as a means to this end. Their rhetorical tact is usually their preferred means of achieving their ideals, but deeply rooted in their ideology is the reality that often, blood is the price of freedom.

Flavoring. Not a part of balance.

Bonus proficiencies:

When you take this College at 3rd level, you gain expertise in Deception and Persuasion, and proficiency with the Forgery Kit.

The only balance issues I anticipate here is the Bard taking four expertise at level 3 and two more at level 10. Edit: After reading Leuku's homebrew class guide, I think these should read something like "add double your proficiency bonus" rather than saying "expertise". From a narrative standpoint, Deception and Persuasion are the two skills most crucial to students of this college, and Forgery is just those two things, but written down.

Charming Gesture

Starting at 3rd level, you have gained an acute awareness of your body language. As an action you may expend one use of Bardic Inspiration and select one creature that can see you within 30 feet. For the next 10 minutes, you have advantage on Charisma based skill checks against the creature.

I think this one is balanced out by the next feature also being tied to Bardic Inspiration.

Bleeding Strike

Starting at 3rd level, you have learned to imbue your strikes with lingering necrotic effects. If a weapon attack you make during your turn hits a creature, you may expend one use of your bardic inspiration to gain the following effect: At the start of its turn, the target must make a Constitution Saving throw with a DC equal to your spell save DC. On a failed save, the target takes 1d6 Necrotic damage. This effect continues until the target succeeds the saving throw, and the save DC decreases by 2 each subsequent turn.

The Necrotic damage increases when you reach certain levels in this class, increasing to 2d6 at 6th level, 3d6 at 10th level, and 4d6 at 14th level.

This one seems more powerful than the College of Swords ability, but almost certainly less powerful than the College of Whispers ability. I think having both level 3 abilities tied to bardic inspiration helps to balance things out.

Edit: After working out the math behind this one, at 3rd level, against a creature with +0 to CON saves and a spell save DC of 14, the extra damage averages out to 3.36, which is only slightly higher than the College of Swords expected damage. So this one doesn't become noticeably more powerful than the College of Swords until the damage gets scaled up at levels 6, 10, and 14. What potentially breaks the balance of this ability is the progressively increasing spells save DC: At 14th level, a CHA 20 character would have a spell save DC of 18, together with the 4d6 damage, gives this an average extra damage of 27, which is a bit more than the College of Whispers ability which maxes out at 8d6 for an average of 24 damage. I reworked some of my math, I was misrepesenting the spell save DC of CHA 20 14th level Bard. This seems to be right one track with the College of Whispers, eventually maxing out at 31.9 with spell save DC of 19 (creature CON save modifier +0).

Extra Attack

Starting at 6th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

Already two existing Colleges that give this at 6th level, can't be that broken, right?

Undeniably Compelling Rhetoric

Starting at 14th level, you have mastered the art of rhetoric. Once per day, you may cast the spell Glibness without expending an 8th level spell slot.

I'm not sure about this one. It gives Glibness, an 8th level spell one level early - the earliest the Bard can take Glibness is 15th level. So it frees up that 8th level spell slot for an upcast, a second casting of glibness, or taking a different 8th level spell entirely. Also, I'm not sure how much more powerful Glibness is made when used in tandem with Charming Gesture above.

Thanks for taking the time to read it over.

Edit: Here is a graph with table of Bleeding Strike vs. College of Whispers Psychic Blades average extra damage. These numbers are calculated with a targets CON save of +0, so higher bonuses for the target creature will reduce the effectiveness (23.4 max average damage at +2 CON, 17.3 at +4). So I conclude that on average, this ability is going to be slightly weaker than CoW Psychic Blades. This also assumes my characters plan for ASIs, YMMV depending on when you take ASIs toward charisma. In particular, my Bard takes a feat at 4th and a +2 DEX ASI at 8th, taking +2 CHA from 18 to 20 at 12th level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Typically the more information we have on these sorts of questions the better: in particular what are your goals for this homebrew, how did you decide upon these features in particular? Perhaps they simply stemmed naturally from the flavor of the class, or something else entirely? This post on how to ask a good homebrew-review question is likely worth a read as well. That all said, welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and feel free to visit the help center for further guidance; if you can't find anything we're always here to help. \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Apr 8 at 1:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, thank you. I’ll edit in some of this information. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 8 at 1:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some questions about clarity of the abilities: Do you get free proficiency in Persuasion and Deception with your Bonus proficiencies ability, or only expertise if you already are proficient? Does Bleeding Strike stack with itself (particularly relevant since you can attack more than once in a turn). Ignoring balance, that would be annoying just from a logistics perspective, as the victim would have a bunch of saves to make each turn, with several different DCs. \$\endgroup\$ – Blckknght Apr 8 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Blckknght Re: Bonus Proficiency, I intend to give expertise in those two skills, regardless of already having proficiency or not. Perhaps this matters a bit more for PCs that don’t already have proficiency. My PC I intended to use this with already has proficiency in both and would be gaining expertise through this ability. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 8 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: Bleeding Strike, I definitely do not intend the ability to be stacked on a single creature, but would be okay with reapplying it after it is expired at the cost of additional BI dice. What do you think is the best phrasing for writing that into the ability? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 8 at 20:04
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Somewhat too powerful, but more importantly has problematic design

Let's run down the abilities, shall we? We'll use Whispers (XGE p.16) and Swords (XGE p.15) as a comparison, since they seem both mechanically and thematically similar.

Bonus Expertise

Your post already addresses one of the problems here: this gives the Bard a large number of Expertise. It also is unnecessary- if you glance through the other bard subclasses, none award additional Expertise. The expectation is that a player will expend their existing Expertise on the skills that fit their character- which, in this case, would likely be Deception and Persuasion as you suggest- rather than requiring additional Expertise to fit the theme.

Additionally, a feat that gives Expertise and a tool proficiency is competitive with the College of Lore Bonus Proficiencies (PHB p.54), which awards three bonus skill proficiencies. This was considered sufficiently valuable that the Lore was not awarded an extra (non-Inspiration) feat.

Proficiency in the forgery kit by itself is fine. Removing the expertise would likely bring this feat back in line without disrupting the theme.

Charming Gesture

I don't immediately see obvious issues here- although lack of save is certainly unusual. However, having two abilities that use Bardic Inspiration at level 3 does deviate from established Colleges, and this seems like the ability that would be better moved to a short rest ability.

(Consider also that this ability seems like a non-combat ability, which means it will not significantly be competing with other uses of Bardic Inspiration, which means this ability will often translate into "unchecked advantage on Charisma checks").

You might also consider that this overlaps with Charm Person- though the effects are mechanically different, they are similar enough that this ability would not feel unique.

Bleeding Strike

I appreciate the math being worked out, though I am uncertain as to how you arrived at DC 20 for the spell save DC of a level 14 Bard with 20 Charisma. (DC = 8 + CHA + prof = 8 + 5 + 4 = 17, unless there is something vital I have been missing for a long time).

However, the core issue with this ability is not the damage-per-round (which can be tweaked as needed, that's just math)- it's with the mechanics of the DC. A variable save DC is the type of design that 5e attempts to avoid, because the complexity it adds to combat is not worth the mathematical precision.

Essentially, it adds complexity without value- having a decreasing save DC doesn't actually make the game more interesting for either party, it just complicates the note-keeping for the player and the DM. If I haven't made it clear- This is one of my largest concerns about the subclass.

My suggestion would be to remove the DC entirely, but to let the opponent stop the bleeding by using their action. You're then guaranteed to deal the bleed damage once, so it never feels like your Bardic Inspiration was wasted, but the opponent isn't taking damage indefinitely. That said, if this is implemented, the damage should be lowered significantly - possibly remove the scaling entirely - because wasting an enemy action is fairly strong. (Disclaimer: Have not done the math.)

Also, there should probably be a caveat that prevents this ability from being stacked, because this could easily get problematic, especially considering at level 6 we get

Extra Attack

This adds another snag- comparing the Bleeding Strike ability to the Whispers Psychic Blades ability doesn't work, because the College of Whispers uses its ability to make up for a lack of extra attack. This may be fine, but it also exacerbates any issues that may be caused by Bleeding Strike.

Additionally, from a thematic viewpoint... this 6th level ability could be better used on something that adheres to the theme of the class more closely. Extra attack is mechanically powerful but all it really says is "good at smacking things", which doesn't tell an interesting story.

Undeniably Compelling Rhetoric

This is... effectively going to give the Bard a free pass on all social encounters, because they will have no reason to not cast Glibness. Normally a Bard at least needs to weigh whether the 8th level spell slot might not better be used on something else- this turns it into a non-choice.

Consider that a bard with 20 Charisma and Glibness hits a minimum of a 20 on a Charisma check with no proficiency, a 24 on a proficient check and a 28 on an Expertise check. Then consider that the bard will do this consistently. This has the unfortunate effect of also discouraging other players from attempting Charisma checks- if they know Bard can do this at little cost, they are incentivized to shove Bard to the front. It also starts to break bounded accuracy, because the DM can no longer set a constant check DC that is challenging for you without being nearly impossible for others. (This can, of course, be worked around- but it's still extra work for the DM). This is probably my other major concern about this subclass.

And, yet it's somehow also underwhelming, because you're not really getting an interesting ability, it's just letting you use one you already have more often. (Imagine if a Wizard got a free cast of Meteor Storm every long rest. It would result to a lot more combats being solved via Meteor Storm, without adding significant creative space.)

Oh, and a very nit-picky correction: class abilities should use the language of "short rests" and "long rests", not days, in order to be consistent with other class abilities.

Consider whether a new College is required

The first question for any homebrew is "could this idea be satisfied by an existing subclass", as published material tends to be relatively balanced and any proposed homebrew necessarily adds to your DM's workload. Your stated goal is to create a college that is both competent in "combat and political intrigue".

Consider whether a Swords bard would not already satisfy what you are after. The design of this class suggests by "combat" you mean offensive combat as opposed to support, which is what most of the Swords College revolves around, and the base Bard is already well-built to excel in social situations through use of spells.

Similarly, the Whispers College gains several social abilities that would be useful and thematic in a political intrigue campaign, while also enhancing its weaker melee capabilities with Psychic Blades, which is already quite powerful.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am most worried about those spells, I think. Charming Gesture and Undeniably Compelling Rhetoric. While their effect is appropirate for the level of the Bard, they have the effect of a spell without the constraint. The spellslot of course is there, but I think the bigger thing is "list of known spells". That number is a important resource to manage, charisma related Spells are realy good for a Bard -especially this direction- and their limitations do not seem very limiting. | CG not having a save fits however, given that it is Enhance Ability limited down. \$\endgroup\$ – Christopher Apr 9 at 10:24
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I only got what is on DNDbeyond - wich is 2/3 stuff in playtesting - so take that with a mine of salt. And double check if the things I noticed hold through for all published stuff.

Charming Gesture Edit: Wrote something totally wrong. Asuming the Universal Speech College abiltiy is balanced, it would actually be weak then it. As it only gives the advantage, not the Tongues effect.

It does seem to compare better to Enhance Ability/Eagle's Splendor variant. So about a Level 2 spell: https://www.dndbeyond.com/spells/enhance-ability

But given the high importance of Charisma for a Bard, the Bards limited selection of "Known Spells" and having no official 3rd level college power to really compare it too, I still can not say if it would be balanced.

I can not compare Bleeding Strike to anything. However, I do not see how balances out Charming Gestures power unles you asume it is to weak? They do not overlap, giving comparable options for combat and non-combat scenarios. Making someone good in two areas is not a good idea. He alraedy dominates in social, could he not leave the combat to others?

Undeniably Compelling Rhetoric

Glibness is a realy powerfull spell - expected given that it is level 8. Charisma checks can no long roll worse then 15 unless you want too. There is even a argument that it can negate a natural 20. Normally they do not mater for skill checks, but it could should somehow mater in specific charisma check scenario.

It overlaps heavily with Charming Gesture. But I can not tell if is more of a continuation or a case of redundant powers.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Charming Gesture is essentially a nerf to Universal Speech form the UA Eloquence Bard. The effect is the same, except for Charming Gesture you can only choose one creature that can see you (no stealth allowed), Universal Speech lets you choose a number of creatures within 60 feet. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 8 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I included mathematical comparison of Bleeding Strike to Whispers' Psychic Blades: it's comparable. I argue that Bleeding Strike and Charming Gesture balance each other because their uses are drawn from the same resource pool, Bardic Inspiration. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 8 at 19:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ And the Bard gets 8th level spells at level 15, so its only getting Glibness one level early. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Apr 8 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Minor correction- Glibness does not negate natural 20s, as the spell says "you can replace the number you roll with a 15". Also, and I infer from your wording that you recognize this already, but to be explicit: ability checks don't benefit from critical success anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcosa Apr 8 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chris Not really an issue, was just a technical correction- unless I misinterpreted your original post (on negating natural 20s), in which case I'll delete my comment. Although your comment still leaves me a bit confused as to why someone would intentionally avoid getting a higher value on a check. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcosa Apr 9 at 16:02

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