I made this build with the intention of creating the best archer I could within the bard class. Being an archer is this build's number 1 priority, with the other aspects of the bard class being secondary. I am not saying this is the best or right way to play a bard, but I would ask that any feedback that is telling me to build a different type of bard or a different archer class be left out. This is the type of build I want to make, and I'm looking for advice on refining this build, not make a different build. Now, on to the build!
Over the past week I've been working on a ranged bard build that exploits the classes' ability to steal spells. This build can be broken down into discreet phases of power, as such that's how I'll be explaining it.
For this build we'll use the point buy system, with the following stats:
Str - 8
dex - 15
con - 15
int - 8
wis - 10
cha - 14
We'll use the human variant, taking the crossbow expert feat, +1 to dex and con, and proficiency in perception. This brings our stats to:
Str - 8
dex - 16
con - 16
int - 8
wis - 10
cha - 14
Now we take urchin, as sleight of hand and stealth play to the character's high dex.
When it comes to class, contrary to the title of this thread, we start with fighter, specializing in acrobatics and intimidation.
I took the following:
Chain-mail (upgrade to plate for pure combat, or studded leather for stealth)
Light crossbow (ask your gm if they'll let you use a hand crossbow instead, if they won't, just buy one)
Archery, the +2 bonus to all our ranged attack rolls will be hugely helpful at all levels of play.
Nice to have if you need a little extra healing.
This build is based around consistent ranged damage. At level 1 we're making use of the crossbow expert feat to attack twice with our hand crossbow. We don't have any spells yet so if needed you could also operate as a tank using your heavy armor and shield.
Now it's time to actually become a bard, starting with this level we will be investing fully into the bard, specializing in deception and whatever musical instrument sounds coolest.
1st level spells:
During these levels our base strategy remains the same, we try to take as many attacks as possible using our hand crossbow.
Add spell identify
We'll be taking the college of swords as our specialization. It gives us our extra attack and flourishes work with ranged weapons and don't require an action to use. Neither of the fighting styles are very important the build, so take whichever you feel you'll get more use out of.
We'll put our expertise in acrobatics and stealth
Add spell invisibility
Increase dex by 2
Add cantrip mending
Add spell detect magic
Inspiration die increases to d8
Font of inspiration - nice to more easily get back our inspiration die
Add spell Leomund's tiny hut
Counter charm - nice to have, although this build won't be using it much
Extra attack - awesome! this means we can make 3 attacks per round instead of 2
Add spell glyph of warding
Add spell polymorph
Here we pick up the feat sharpshooter, it is somewhat useful now and will become even more so in future levels
Add spell greater invisibility
Song of rest - another nice bonus, although not the focus of this build
Add spell animate objects
This is where things really get interesting. Using the bard's magical secret feature we can take 2 spells we are capable of casting from any spell list. For us these spells are Find Greater Steed and 1 of 3 major damage enhancing concentration spells.
Add expertise to sleight of hand and deception
Add cantrip mage hand
Find greater steed
This spell allows us to summon a griffon as a permanent mount. Not only do we gain permanent flying while mounted, but we also have a powerful monster capable of doing decent damage in its own right.
Damage enhancement spell choices
There are 3 main spells to choose from here, each with it's own strengths and weaknesses, as such I'll be comparing their damage output both with and without your mount's attacks, shown in the follow format: DPR (average damage per round) without mount/DPR with mount
Swift quiver - (78/97.5DPR) although flavor wise this spell fits the best with our build, it's numbers are probably the weakest of the 3 options overall, still, if you want to fire the most bolts, this is the spell for you.
Holy weapon - this option pulls down slightly higher DPR than swift quiver (79.5/99DPR), works better when not using sharpshooter, and lasts 1 hour instead of 1 minute. The only drawback being that it doesn't scale as well magic weapons, once you reach a +2 weapon or above swift quiver will slightly out damage holy weapon
Haste - This option is the most defensive of the 3 picks, providing increased AC and advantage on dex saves. It also benefits from our ability to buff ourselves and our mount at the same time. Just looking at our bard's damage, this spell outputs the lowest number, but with your mount's damage it is the highest of the 3 (70/100.5DPR)
If you took swift quiver you'll need to switch from a hand crossbow to a light one, otherwise stick with your hand version. From there we can either stay out of reach using our griffon's flying movement, or wade into melee to add it's damage to our output. One particular strategy would be to have our griffon spend one of its attacks knocking an opponent down, from there we can fire with advantage on all 4 attacks using our crossbow expert to avoid the normal disadvantage posed from firing in melee.
With the core of our build in place, it's time to cement our bonuses and acquire some "nice to haves". With the next 4 levels of bard we'll gain an ASI to get our dex to 20, more magical secret spell steals, and the ability to use our flourish every round.
Add spell true seeing
This level we increase our dexterity by 2, bringing it up to 20
Song of rest upgraded to d10
Add spell regenerate
We can now use our flourishes rolling a d6 without expending an inspiration die
We can now take another 2 spells to our list from any class. Since we already have our core build done this is almost entirely personal preference. Since we want to be using my crossbow to deal damage, I'll be choosing spells to help me more consistently accomplish that goal.
Add spell Tenser's Transformation
Add spell Simulacrum - This spell allows you to create a copy of our bard that also has full access to our spell list. It doesn't require concentration so this doubles the damage we are capable of doing.
At this point we can reliably hit with all our attacks while using sharpshooter to add damage to each one. Along side this we have our full bard spell list to augment ourselves and our party. This makes us a source of consistent damage and a flexible aid to the entire group.
At this point the build is pretty much done, as such I've put less thought into the best options to take at these levels. However, here is what I would take.
Bardic inspiration die goes up to a d12, nice incremental improvement.
Add spell glibness- level 8 spells are the ones I'm most unsure of, I personally wasn't excited by any of them, so consider this a very light recommendation.
Add feat war caster - this makes it much easier for us to maintain our concentration when we get hit.
Song of rest increases to d12, nice to have
Add spell foresight
Another round of spell stealing, this time we can take any 2 spells from the entire spell list. In this guide I'm recommending 2 additional level 9 spells, but with so many spell options to choose from there's a high likelihood a lower level spell would work better for at least one of these picks.
Add spell mass heal
Add spell shapechange
Add feat mounted combatant - this keeps our mount safer, maintaining our mobility and maximum damage output.
And that's it! Following this guide we'll have an on par archer/caster until level 11, after that our damage will spike due to our mount, haste, and animate objects. At level 15 our damage spikes again, as the addition of simulacrum doubles what we were already doing.
What is this character for, a home game or adventure league? If your DM is willing to let you take archery as your bard fighting style i don't see the need for fighter.
The build as is - i would switch Con and Cha as you are planning an archer not a melee or a tank. The loss of 20 hp and +1 to con saving throw isn't that bad and your DC for spells go up and the number of Bardic inspiration goes up. You mention switching from hand Xbows which is not as helpful as Xbow expert bonus attack only works with hand Xbows.
Your spells are nice but don't forget that you can switch spells as you level up. Also I personally feel like Greater Invisibly is not great for your build there are better concentration combat spells, your not a rogue trying to get sneak attacks. The duration is what kills it for me 1 min or 10 combat rounds, is not worth the 4th level slot so you can attack and remain invisible. I would take freedom of movement or dimension door.
If you want to be an archer bard and do it like this I would advise that:
Your magical secret damage dealer should be Hex, its +1d6 of damage per hit and you have given yourself three attacks per round.
The mount is great if the adventures you take are frequently vs grounded opponents in the open who never have magical artillery. If that is not the case then do not fly on a relatively 'dismissable' bard bomb delivery system with you as the payload. Instead consider the rangers Conjure volley for a 40' radius 8d8 arrow storm attack - you wanted best archer and that is easily the most impossible feat of archery ever.
Think about taking level 2 and 3 of fighter after level 10 in bard for action surge and possible champion crit increase or battlemaster options that are applicable to archers.
Please dont use this build in a party with a Ranger who uses missile weapons past 11th. It will make flaws apparent.