The College of Swords Bard in D&D 5e is a master at the art of wielding a blade.
Sword swallowing, knife juggling, and other dangerous feats make for an incredible show, but these Bards aren’t all theatrics! While their skill can certainly make for exciting entertainment, it also makes them quite formidable in combat.
So steel your nerves and put on your performing smile (and maybe some protective gear just in case).
This is the complete guide to the College of Swords Bard in D&D 5e!
What is the College of Swords Bard in D&D 5e?
The College of Swords Bard is the ultimate “showboat” in combat. Just as surely as they can dazzle crowds with their mastery of the blade, they can make mincemeat out of their enemies with a masterful technique.
Bards of the College of Swords are often also known as “Blades” by those who are familiar with them.
Let’s be real: you’ve got to have some impressive talent if that’s what people know you as!
In combat, you use your mastery of the blade to outmaneuver your foes. Expertly adding Blade Flourishes to your attacks, you can stand against even the hardiest enemies.
Out of combat, you are still a gifted entertainer who knows how to work a crowd. Your feats are dangerous, daring, and never fail to capture the attention of onlookers!
Role in the Party
The College of Swords Bard differs from other Bards in that you are focusing heavily on damage output. You still have some ways of offering extra support to your party, but you’ll be focusing mostly on hitting the enemy where it hurts.
Ultimately, you’re at your best on the party’s front line in melee combat.
Your Bardic Inspiration will primarily be used for your Blade Flourish abilities, but you might sometimes have cause to use it to buff an ally.
For your spells, you’ll want to primarily focus on options that improve your combat abilities and lock down opponents.
With that being said, let’s get into the abilities that make up the College of Swords Bard kit!
College of Swords Bard Features 5e
As we covered in the last section, you’re going to be almost exclusively a frontline combatant.
Because of this, the features that you gain from the College of Swords subclass are all geared towards helping you go on the offensive.
Bonus Proficiencies (Level 3)
When you join the College of Swords at level 3, your Bard gains proficiency with medium armor and scimitars.
Additionally, any simple or martial melee weapon that you’re proficient with can be used as a spellcasting focus when you’re casting a Bard spell.
Effectively, you have a choice to make now. Consider if you prefer building around Strength or Dexterity.
Note that all Medium armor caps your AC bonus from your Dexterity modifier at a maximum of +2. Once you’ve got a Dexterity score of 18 or 20, you’ll want to drop back down to light armor since your Dexterity will give you a better Armor Class than if you were wearing medium armor.
However, you’ll still be adding your Dexterity modifier as normal to your attacks with finesse weapons like scimitars or rapiers.
If you instead choose to spread your ability score points out and not invest as much in Dexterity, your ability to use these finesse weapons will suffer.
While the Swords Bard seems to thematically favor more of a Dexterity build, you do have plenty to work with if you would prefer a Strength build. With a build like that, you would lean more into wearing armor and wielding something like a longsword.
Just be aware when you’re building your character that you’ll be making that choice between a Strength or Dexterity-based build early on. As you have yet more choices to make for your character’s build in this subclass, this will help you narrow it down!
But it’s the last part of this first subclass feature that really shines.
Because you’re able to use weapons that you have proficiency with as a focus for your spellcasting, your ability to cast spells in combat isn’t negatively affected. You’re now perfectly capable of wielding two scimitars and casting your Bard spells at the same time!
Fighting Style (Level 3)
Your second level 3 feature as a College of Swords Bard has you choosing a Fighting Style.
This feature is common in most of the martial classes in D&D 5e and really further focuses on how your character fights.
If you plan on multiclassing, keep in mind that you can’t take a Fighting Style multiple times. So if you find yourself also taking levels in Fighter, for example, you can’t “double-dip” and receive the bonuses from a given Fighting Style twice.
But with that said, you have two options for your Fighting Style: Dueling and Two-Weapon Fighting.
The Dueling option is my preferred option for this class. (More on that in a bit!)
With this style, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls when you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and are holding no other weapons. In other words, if you’re not using a two-handed weapon and only have one weapon, you get this bonus.
Your other option is the Two-Weapon Fighting style.
With this, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack. Typically, you wouldn’t be able to do this. If you have a +4 Dexterity modifier and are dual-wielding scimitars, that extra +4 damage each round can go a long way!
So why did I say I prefer the Dueling Fighting Style over the Two-Weapon Fighting option? After all, it sounds like the Two-Weapon Fighting option lets you put out more damage, right?
Let me grab my soapbox and I’ll explain…
Related: How Dual Wielding Works in D&D 5e
Dueling vs Two-Weapon Fighting Style – My Two Cents
It’s not that the two-weapon fighting style is a bad or “trap” choice. My preference for the Dueling fighting style can be summed up in two words: action economy.
If you’re using two-weapon fighting, you are using your Bonus Action to make the attack with your off-hand.
The problem is that the Bonus Action is absolutely vital to all Bards and the College of Swords Bard is no exception!
Yes, the College of Swords Bard is very heavily focused on dealing damage to whatever enemies your party is fighting. But they still have several options for how to use their Bonus Action that you should be aware of.
While your Bardic Inspiration is mostly used for powering your Blade Flourish feature (which I’ll cover next), you might need to use it to buff an ally from time to time. That will require a Bonus Action.
Did one of your party members just get dropped by that particularly angry gnoll? You could pick them up with a casting of Healing Word, but that will take a Bonus Action.
Being on the front line, you might have taken Misty Step as one of your Bard’s Magical Secrets. It’s a great spell for getting out of trouble and repositioning, but it takes a Bonus Action to cast…
You get the point.
As a Bard, your Bonus Action is in high demand. Even as a great damage dealer, you still need to have a lot of fluidity in your action economy to seamlessly fill in any holes in your party. Dual-wielding complicates that…
Is it possible to balance? Yes.
Is it ideal? Depends…
Whether you choose to focus on Strength or Dexterity, the Dueling style will up your damage while keeping your Bonus Action open. For my two cents, it’s the more dependable option.
You Might Also Like: Magical Secrets for Bards Explained
Blade Flourish (Level 3)
The last of the College of Swords Bard’s level 3 features is their primary feature: Blade Flourish.
You’re a master of swordsmanship with uncontested skill and technique. This is where that really shows!
With this feature, taking the Attack action increases your walking speed by 10 feet until the end of your turn. If a weapon attack that you make as part of that action hits a creature, you can use one of your Blade Flourish options.
Before we get into each option, there are a couple of things to be aware of.
- Each of these Blade Flourish options will require you to expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration.
- You can only use one Blade Flourish option per turn.
Now let’s look at your Blade Flourish options!
More than likely, you’ll probably find yourself using this Blade Flourish the most.
You expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration to cause the weapon to deal extra damage to the target you hit. The damage equals the number you roll on the Bardic Inspiration die. You also add the number rolled to your AC until the start of your next turn.
All in all, this isn’t a bad ability. Dealing extra damage is nice of course, but the increase to your Armor Class is particularly useful.
As you level up and your Bardic Inspiration die increases, this has the potential to become even more potent. However, the exact buff is still random. You might roll a 6 and be basically untouchable until your next turn, but you also might roll a 1…
Be prepared either way!
You might sometimes find yourself outnumbered and getting surrounded. Enemies like goblins, zombies, or kobolds tend to favor dogpiling a single target. In those moments, things can get pretty tough!
Slashing Flourish lets you spread some damage around and possibly carve your way out of such a situation.
Expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration to cause the weapon to deal extra damage to the target you hit and to any other creature of your choice that you can see within 5 feet of you. The damage equals the number you roll on the Bardic Inspiration die.
Another good (though more situational) option!
Being able to apply the damage to all of the creatures around you can be incredibly useful. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t recommend using this if there’s only one other enemy within 5 feet of you. The cost outweighs the benefit in most cases at that point.
But if you find yourself surrounded and/or the enemies have a relatively small amount of hit points, this can be a great way to do some field “cleanup.”
If you’re surrounded and not reasonably sure that you can drop several of the enemies, you might be better off using your Defensive Flourish to boost your AC.
However, if each enemy is likely to go down from your weapon damage, you can quickly dispatch them all with a single Blade Flourish! It’s pretty common that enemies that will try to dogpile you are individually weaker, so don’t forget about this option!
I’d say the Mobile Flourish is the most situational of your Blade Flourish options as a College of Swords Bard.
Expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration to cause the weapon to deal extra damage to the target you hit. The damage equals the number rolled on the Bardic Inspiration die.
You can also push the target up to 5 feet away from you, plus a number of feet equal to the number you roll on that die. You can then immediately use your reaction to move up to your walking speed to an unoccupied space with 5 feet of the target.
Ultimately, this functions like the Shove action but doesn’t require any contest checks and you can still inflict damage while you do it.
There’s some value for being able to relocate where your fight with an enemy is happening. This could potentially see you pushing them off the side of a boat or into a trap.
Personally, I think there are very few situations where this Flourish is going to be worth the Bardic Inspiration cost. It’s good to have options, but you have access to spells like Suggestion and Dissonant Whispers that could just as easily be used to make enemies relocate themselves.
Unless there’s a prime opportunity to shove your opponent into something dangerous, you likely won’t be using this Flourish very much.
Extra Attack (Level 6)
Your level 6 feature as a College of Swords Bard does exactly what it says: you get an extra attack.
Specifically, when you take the Attack action on your turn, you can attack twice instead of only once.
Most martial classes get this feature as a great way to increase damage output. Until this point, it was likely a bit of a split decision between using your cantrips or melee attacks. Now that you get two attacks per turn, that decision is much easier for you.
To go back to my previous point about the College of Swords fighting styles, this is a key reason that I recommend the Dueling style. You can’t increase your bonus actions, but getting two swings with your one-handed weapon (plus the Dueling style damage bonus) helps you maximize your damage without compromising your Bonus Action.
Of course, if you still chose to go with Two-Weapon Fighting, you can now get three attacks at the cost of your Bonus Action.
Also Check Out: The Best Bard Spells By Level in D&D 5e!
Master’s Flourish (Level 14)
Finally, at level 14 we come to the College of Swords Bard’s capstone ability: Master’s Flourish.
This is a simple and sweet feature with some big implications.
Whenever you use a Blade Flourish option, you can roll a d6 and use it instead of expending a Bardic Inspiration die.
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of this article on my soapbox ranting about how important your Bardic Inspiration is. It’s so important to any Bard subclass, and the College of Swords Bard’s unique role makes it a little tougher to make blanket statements about when to use your Inspiration or save it.
Once you get this feature, you’re much more able to buff your allies without sacrificing your chance to use your Blade Flourish features. You should never be landing a single attack without using a Blade Flourish at this point of the game.
Your Mobile and Slashing Flourishes are still fine, but Defensive Flourish will greatly benefit from this new ability. Each turn, your AC will increase somewhere from +1 to +6. At least now, even if you roll poorly, it didn’t cost you a resource!
Your Bardic Inspiration can now be used to support your allies or in situations where you really need to roll higher on a Flourish. You’ll be able to manage that resource better now while benefiting from a smaller (and free!) bonus each turn!
So how can you connect your College of Swords Bard to the game world?
While Swords Bards or Blades are certainly gifted performers, it’s not uncommon for that to be simply one aspect of their identity.
Could your character be a member of a traveling circus? Thanks to a bit of a checkered past, was the circus the only place where they could make a living in relative safety?
What if your character is a performer by day but frequently spends their nights as an operative for the Thieves’ Guild?
Every Blade has a past that has allowed them to really hone their skills. Those pasts aren’t always “happy” though yours certainly could have been. Even amongst other performance troupes, there’s always a certain level of suspicion about these Bards.
After all, such daring technique and precision may be entertaining, but there’s no questioning the lethality of such feats should such a situation arise!
Ask yourself what it is about the call of adventure that appeals to your College of Swords Bard.
Where did they learn their techniques, what kind of connections might they have, and why is this adventure exactly the kind of opportunity they’ve been looking for?
Is the College of Swords Bard Good?
Taken strictly on its own merits, I’m admittedly a little “meh” about the College of Swords Bard.
This is a subclass that challenges the typical role of the Bard, and I think that’s honestly a good thing. My problem is that this is a subclass that tries to do a lot of different things only to be kind of “meh” at all of them.
Even just adding proficiency with shields would greatly change my opinion about this subclass option!
You’re going to spend levels 3 through 13 trying to manage your Bardic Inspiration. This means that your party will almost certainly be griping that you never buff them even though this reduces your ability to use your main feature.
This means that this subclass works better in the late game, in my opinion.
It also has some good synergy with multiclassing to take levels in something like Rogue (for Sneak Attack) or Fighter (for additional Fighting Styles.) I once played a character who was multiclassed between the College of Swords Bard and a Hexblade Warlock. That was actually a very fun experience.
If you are thinking about picking up some levels in Rogue, you’ll want to check out my ranking of every Rogue subclass first!
Thematically, this is a very vibrant class. Mechanically, I just don’t think this stands on its own as well as other Bard subclasses.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
You can also see how the College of Swords holds up against the other Bard subclasses in my full ranking article!
Conclusion – The College of Swords Bard in D&D 5e
Anyhow, that wraps up this guide to the College of Swords Bard in D&D 5e.
I can fully appreciate where the designers’ heads were at when designing this subclass. There’s a ton of flavor that you can work in in a way that’s reminiscent of the Rogue Swashbuckler.
Still have questions about the College of Swords Bard? Leave me a comment below, and I’m happy to help!
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Last but not least, you’ll want to check out my full guide to the Bard class! No Bard player should be without it!