It’s hard not to love them! They’re incredibly versatile characters with a wide variety of skills and seemingly endless charm.
Every party is better for having a Bard join them on their adventure. How many crazy D&D stories begin with “it all started when our Bard decided to…”?
However, in keeping with the tradition of my other class guides, it’s now time to rank each of the Bard subclasses in D&D 5e.
Which of the Bardic Colleges will take the number 1 spot?
Read on to find out!
Number 8 – The College of Swords
Starting at the bottom of our ranking, we begin with the College of Swords Bard.
These Bards are masters of swordplay. Their incredible technique serves to both dazzle crowds and out-finesse opponents. What results is a thematically wonderful subclass option for your Bard.
So why is the College of Swords at the bottom of this ranking?
This subclass greatly challenges the role of the typical Bard. That’s not inherently awful, but it is something that a party should be aware of when you’re making characters.
While Bards generally serve a clear supporting role within their party, those of the College of Swords are a bit more selfish. Their Bardic Inspiration is used to add Blade Flourishes to their attacks.
These abilities are key to the College of Swords Bard’s performance in combat. Giving your Bardic Inspiration to an ally effectively takes away a use of one of your core subclass features. It’s a difficult choice to make!
These Bards may thrive on the frontlines of combat, but the College of Valor Bard just seems to do it better and in a way that lets them still support their allies.
If you’re looking to play a College of Swords Bard, you’ll want to make sure that your party knows you’ll almost exclusively be using Bardic Inspiration for your own abilities ahead of time!
You’ll also want to check out my Full Guide to the College of Swords Bard!
Number 7 – The College of Whispers
Sneaking into the number 7 spot in the ranking is the College of Whispers Bard.
Most Bards are usually depicted as cheery entertainers who are able to win the admiration of all who see them perform. If it suits their needs, the College of Whispers Bard is perfectly happy to play this part.
These Bards are schemers, spies, and manipulators who most commonly pretend to be members of other Colleges.
They have the ability to cause sow chaos and confusion anywhere they go. They can speak in veiled threats, add powerful Psychic damage to their attacks, and create disguises using the captured shadows of fallen enemies.
Naturally, these Bards do well in roleplay-heavy adventures. However, if you have a DM who is fine with letting you causing chaos amongst the enemy ranks, you can be incredibly useful in combat as well. The enemy’s backline won’t know what hit them until it’s too late!
Unfortunately, the College of Whispers is another “selfish” Bard subclass.
Your Psychic Blades ability requires your Bardic Inspiration to use which means you’re choosing between dealing some awesome Psychic damage or buffing your allies.
The College of Whispers Bard beats out the College of Swords in this ranking because they can still make for incredible scouts and have high potential to disrupt just about anything your enemies have planned.
But like the College of Swords Bard, you’ll want to make it clear to your party that this subclass is more about dealing damage and sabotaging things than buffing allies. It’s not bad, but you’re more similar to a Rogue than the typical Bard!
You can read the Full Guide to the College of Whispers in D&D 5e here!
Number 6 – The College of Spirits
Things are getting spooky with the number 6 spot in this ranking. Look into the crystal ball and behold the College of Spirits Bard!
As of the time I’m writing this article, this is the newest addition to the Bard subclass options.
Personally, I really (and I mean really) wanted to rank this higher. Even beyond the excellence of the College of Spirits’ theme, it’s just a great reimagining of what Bards can contribute to the party.
Everything about the College of Spirits Bard is interesting to me, but there can be no mercy in this ranking!
This subclass gives your Bard some great ways to support your party while still being a more aggressive playstyle. You get some great buffs to your Bard spells and can use your Bardic Inspiration to summon Spirits that grant all kinds of effects to your allies.
However, the spirits that you summon are random. You will eventually be able to somewhat control what you’re summoning, but it’s still all probability.
I personally enjoy the random nature of this Bard subclass, but I realize that I’m almost certainly in the minority here. When you’re braving the dangers of your adventure, it’s generally safer to know what you’re getting with your abilities!
Check out the Complete Guide to the College of Spirits Bard in D&D 5e here if you dare!
Number 5 – The College of Creation
When I first read the College of Creation Bard in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, I was admittedly unimpressed.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong!
This is a subclass that is tailor-made for players who like to solve problems by thinking outside of the box. The power of the College of Creation Bard is less about the specific class features’ mechanics and more about the blank space that you’re able to work with.
Bardic Inspirations take on new abilities depending on how your allies use them. You can seamlessly conjure items (including spell components!) from nothing.
You can even animate the items that you conjure to aid you!
The sheer amount of raw potential that this Bard subclass has in the hands of a creative player is almost terrifying.
However, that does also put a little bit of a limit on this class for this ranking…
You need to be a creative problem-solver yourself and have a DM who’s onboard for letting you really go crazy to get the full value from the College of Creation Bard.
Read all about it in the Complete Guide to the College of Creation Bard!
Number 4 – The College of Valor
At this point in the ranking, we’ve had several subclass options that really explore the Bard’s role in the party in different ways.
For those who enjoy being right there where the action is, the College of Valor comes in at the number four spot.
These Bards are hardy and perfectly capable of standing on the party’s front lines. You’re still an incredible support character for your party, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dish out some serious pain!
Mix in some clever choices with the Magical Secrets feature from the core Bard class and you can really carve a vital role for yourself in any party!
Bards of the College of Valor gain extra proficiencies with weapons, shields, and armor to help them play more aggressively. Meanwhile, their Bardic Inspiration gives allies more usage options to increase their damage or momentarily buff their Armor Class.
Should you choose to play as a Valor Bard, you are keen to tell stories of great heroes and their deeds. As it just so happens, you might find you and your allies becoming the subject of a few such stories yourselves!
You can read more about that in our Complete Guide to the College of Valor Bard in D&D 5e!
Number 3 – The College of Glamour
Bards of the College of Glamour are masters of enchantment, controlling the battlefield, and all things Fey.
But this Bard subclass didn’t need to cast any charms to make it to the number three position in this ranking!
As a College of Glamour Bard, you bask in the admiration of those around you. Using your Bardic Inspiration, you take on a magnificent appearance while granting temporary hit points and extra movement to your allies.
People are drawn to you and are quick to tell others how amazing you are. As you level up, your ability to charm others can completely turn the tides of any encounter.
Once you hit your capstone ability for this subclass, enemies will have no choice but to think twice before attacking you. Even if they still go through with the attack, you’ll have no problem changing their mind soon after!
Adding in Fey magic with an already charismatic class like the Bard makes for an infinitely fun and eccentric character.
Not only will you be a support powerhouse for your party, but you’ll look amazing doing it!
Get all of the details on the College of Glamour Bard in our Complete Guide!
Number 2 – The College of Eloquence
Two Bard subclasses, both alike in dignity, in fair 5e, where we lay our scene…
The College of Eloquence is simply incredible. It switched back and forth in this ranking for the number one spot, but ultimately I had to place it at number two.
This subclass was originally published for the Theros campaign setting and made my jaw drop. On one hand, it is just such an excellent subclass. On the other hand, I knew that any game I DM for a party with a Bard could completely change at any given moment.
Right out of the gate, you’ll virtually never fail an attempt to persuade or deceive someone again. Furthermore, your Bardic Inspiration can also be used to reduce enemies’ saving throws.
Oh, and speaking of Bardic Inspiration… If your ally uses your Bardic Inspiration die and still fails their roll, they get to keep the die for free to use again.
By the time you hit the capstone ability for the College of Eloquence Bard, you can get so much extra value out of every use of Bardic Inspiration that it’s completely insane.
There’s not a weak point for this Bard subclass beyond how clearly specialized it is. However, it does this specialization so well that it’s hard to hold that against it.
If you’re looking to play a Bard with a heavy focus on inspiring your allies while being the undisputed face of the party, this is certainly for you!
Just be sure to check out our Complete Guide to the College of Eloquence Bard in D&D 5e first!
Number 1 – The College of Lore
It was a close one, but the College of Lore Bard takes the number one spot!
This is the definitive Bard subclass.
Lore Bards are the ultimate jacks of all trades. There’s virtually nothing that these Bards can’t do reasonably well!
They’re a Swiss Army Knife when it comes to skills. As collectors of knowledge and stories, they usually know something about almost everything. Mix that with their knack for winning peoples’ admiration with their performances and general Charisma and you have something that’s simply iconic.
In combat, you can always count on the College of Lore Bard to have a trick up their sleeves.
They gain access to several new spells thanks to getting additional Magical Secrets features. In combat, they can use their Bardic Inspiration with their Cutting Words abilities to distract enemies and lower their attack rolls.
Whether the party finds themselves needing some extra utility/skills, a charming spokesperson or someone that can foil the best-laid plans of any enemy, the College of Lore Bard can easily fill that gap.
It might be a little cliché to put this Bard subclass at the top of the ranking, but it has absolutely earned the spot!
Check it out in the full guide to the College of Lore Bard in D&D 5e!
Conclusion – The Bard Subclasses Ranked
The Bard subclasses of D&D 5e do a lot to highlight just how unique Bards can truly be. In some ways, some of these subclasses almost didn’t even feel like it was an “apples to apples” comparison!
Every one of these has the potential to be the best character you’ve ever played. (Especially if you also check out my complete guide to the Bard class in D&D 5e!)
After all, this subclass ranking is ultimately made of my own opinions. However, I did try to be as objective as possible when trying to determine which Bard subclasses are likely to have the greatest level of impact on your games!
Whichever Bard College you plan to join upon hitting level 3, be sure to also check out my guide to using Bardic Inspiration. It’s your Bard’s most important ability and you want to make sure you are using it properly!
So, what about you?
Do you agree with this ranking? Would you rank the Bard subclasses differently? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
Want to stay in touch? You can sign up for my newsletter below and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
If you found this article helpful and want to support the site, you can buy me a coffee here! (It’s not expected, but very appreciated!)
You can find the College of Lore and College of Valor subclasses in the 5e Player’s Handbook.
The Colleges of Glamour, Swords, and Whispers are in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
Find the College of Eloquence and College of Creation in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
The College of Spirits Bard can be found in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.
Subscribe To Tabletop Joab's Newsletter!
Subscribers get updates on all of the latest news, posts, and offerings from Tabletop Joab!