It's time to bring a little creative flair to the Dungeons & Dragons party—and that means exploring the best way to build a bard. The bard is a classic jack-of-all-trades; their strength is in their versatility (and, of course, their ability to talk the party out of sticky social situations). With tons of combat skills and spell options, a bard can round out any party in a number of ways.
Of course, players looking to make a bard in D&D 5e should keep in mind that a bard's best party contribution, regardless of their build, is support. In dialogue, a bard's natural charm means they're probably the face of the group. In combat, they're best suited to buffing up allies and hobbling enemies with spells, so that another member of the group can go in for the kill.
So let's start with the best races for playing a bard; unsurprisingly, they're all races with some sort of bonus to charisma. At the top of the list are half-elves, variant humans, tieflings, and aasimar. Half-elves have both +2 bonus to charisma and +1 to two other attributes of your choice, making it an excellent and adaptable class for a bard—plus, with darkvision, extra skills, and advantage against being charmed, they're a natural fit. Variant humans are, as the name would suggest, extremely versatile (that's the human's entire schtick compared to other races, after all), so they'll fit into pretty much any role they're given.
Tieflings and aasimar are, in a way, two sides of the same coin, and they both have that handy +2 to charisma players should be looking for. The only potential drawback to a tiefling is that their second bonus is a +1 to intelligence, which isn't high on the list of a bard's priorities. But, depending on the type of bard being built, it's not necessarily a bad thing, either!
Some less-common but still good choices in 5th edition would be a lightfoot halfling, a drow elf, or a triton. Both drow and lightfoot halflings get bonuses to charisma and dexterity, which are the bard's two most-needed attributes. And for those eyeing the College of Valor subclass, a triton is the perfect fit.
Assigning Ability Scores
It's already been said that a bard needs to ooze charm to be effective, so it shouldn't be surprising that a bard's highest stat should most definitely be charisma. Give the highest roll to charisma, and if the bard starts the game with their charisma score below a 20 (which is common, so don't worry) then the player should focus on getting them there through gaining levels. After that, the second-highest stat roll should go to dexterity; it boosts attack, initiative, and AC, and since bards don't usually wear heavy armor, they'll need that naturally high AC in a fight.
Following those two, the next-highest stat should undoubtedly be constitution. It's nearly as important as dexterity, given that constitution dictates the number of hit points a character has; that's a perk that any class would find valuable. Then, go for wisdom—it's not a priority in the least, but given the number of spells that call for a wisdom save, not to mention the skills this stat boosts, it shouldn't be a dump stat either.
Speaking of the dump stat, let's talk about the two remaining ability scores to be assigned: strength and intelligence. Here, players will have a choice as to which is the second-lowest stat and which is, ultimately, the dump stat. Generally, intelligence is considered the best stat for bards and other Charisma-based casters to dump, but it doesn't necessarily have to be; players who want their bards (who are primarily spellcasters) to have a halfway decent Arcana skill should consider making strength the dump stat instead. Only players who want a more strength-based build absolutely need to put intelligence last—besides that, it's really the player's choice.
Applying to (Bard) College
Bardic subclasses are divided into different colleges for them to be a part of, and those colleges are Lore, Valor, Glamour, Swords, and Whispers. Players should feel free to explore any of these colleges, but when considering the best bardic build in D&D, there are a couple of colleges that come out ahead of the rest.
As discussed in a previous story, the College of Lore makes for a singularly powerful bard. They can steal spells from other classes, gain tons of skill proficiencies—enough that it'll become pretty hard to make a bad skill check—and get one of the bard's most useful (and fun) class abilities: Cutting Words, which lets the bard insult enemies into failing on their attacks. The College of Lore is for bards who want to take the most basic and unique element of a bard's play-style, weaving songs and stories, and truly excel at it. Some people say the bard is a master of none, but a Lore bard might just be the best spell-caster in D&D 5th edition.
However, players who are looking for something else could also select the College of Glamour; bards who are all about appearances and battlefield control. Some players may find the idea of being support in battles (as opposed to a striker or tank) disappointing, but there's nothing disappointing about being able to re-shape a battlefield within a couple of turns. Glamour bards have a couple of unique abilities that deserve a shout-out: Mantle of Majesty lets the bard cast Command on a bonus action, and Unbreakable Majesty both makes enemies unable to hit the bard and gives them disadvantage against the bard's saving throws. Basically, that boss enemy who keeps shrugging attacks, making its saves, and carving up the party? The College of Glamour bard will make short work of it.
Starter Spells and Skills
When putting the finishing touches on a new bard, they're going to need a few spells, to begin with. The cantrips that are an absolute must for any bard are Minor Illusion and Vicious Mockery. Minor Illusion can be put to use in so many ways it's impossible to list them all; suffice to say, it's a handy little spell that won't take up a slot while allowing the bard to produce almost any illusory effect. And Vicious Mockery should really be a no-brainer—few spellcasters get access to it, and yet it's probably one of the best cantrips in the entire game. While the damage it does isn't significant, the disadvantage it gives to enemies is critical at low levels, and the spell's casting properties give it some fun roleplaying flavor.
As for skills, players will want to make sure that their bard is proficient in Deception, Persuasion, Performance, and Perception at the very least. The first three are all Charisma-based skills, so they're a natural choice for bards. And as far as Perception goes, it's never fun to be the player who ends up scratching their head and shrugging every time the DM asks for a Perception check! Those will happen often, so if any skill in D&D is universally mandatory, it's this one.
Finally, it's good to have a few feats in mind for the character to take as they level up. For instance, the Actor feat is a good one for players who want a feat rather than the ability score increase, but still need to bump their bard's charisma up a point. War Caster is great for both Valor and Lore bards who need a bonus to their concentration and some expanded attack of opportunity options. Inspiring Leader would make an excellent combination with the bard's Song of Rest ability, helping the rest of the party go the extra mile when needed.
Then, all the bard needs is a background that compliments their skill set—Charlatan, Courtier, Entertainer and Faction Agent are all great choices, to name a few—and the character should be ready to go. Stick to this guide; the party will gain a bard with no equal, useful in any situation. After all, that's a bard's greatest power.