Class is back in session, and there’s no learner sharper than bards of the College of Lore. These clever factotums may not be masters of all skills, but they are dabblers that learn skills, spells, and tales from all walks of life. If you’re a bit indecisive and want to be a generalist that supports your party in parts of the game, you can’t go wrong with a bard of the College of Lore.
Story of the College of Lore
“A tomb of ancient evil lurks in the hills, you say? Tell me everything you know of this so-called Tomb of Horrors.” The bard looked across the barroom table towards a scarred knight in pitted armor, her half-elven fingers steepled and her eyes twinkling. The knight looked toward her and heaved a weighty sigh. He showed her the stump of his arm, and told her of the hideous, devil-faced bas relief he lost his arm to.
They spoke long into the night, the knight demonstrating bits of holy magic he had been granted as a member of the order of White Paladins of Hieroneous. She studied the holy words he spoke and the subtle gestures he made with rapt attention, taking notes throughout the evening.
Soon, dawn came. The bard bowed her head, thanked the paladin, and paid for their drinks before bidding him farewell. She exited the tavern and, with a snap of her fingers, replicated the spell the paladin had demonstrated for her. A gleaming, golden-maned warhorse appeared before her in a shower of celestial sparks, and she swung herself upon her newfound steed’s back.
“Thank you, good sir,” she said to herself, as she rode off towards the horizon. “There’s someone back in Greyhawk who’ll pay a pretty penny for what you’ve told me today. And the new spell don’t hurt, neither.”
You are a bard of the College of Lore. Your sharp wit cuts deeper than any blade, and your sharper ears never fail to catch the latest rumors. You may be an erudite collegian, who studies for nights on end in libraries filled with ancient tomes. Or you may be a court jester who learns the latest gossip and skewers haughty courtiers with acerbic repartee.
Whether your bard is an educated loremaster, a rakish gossip, or a swashbuckling, Indiana Jones-type explorer, your expert knowledge is bound to help you on your many adventures. Even though Charisma is your key ability score, consider turning to your other ability scores to inform your personality. A College of Lore bard with a high Intelligence might be more inclined towards academic studies, whereas a bard with high Wisdom might be more streetwise, with a penchant for guile. Likewise, a bard with low Intelligence and Wisdom might simply skate by on savvy, luck, and charm alone, learning tricks only as they suit the bard’s carefully crafted persona.
No matter what story you craft for your bard, there are some things you should know about the traits and features of College of Lore before you commit to playing it. Don’t forget that bards choose their college at 3rd level, so you have some time to get the hang of your character before choosing!
College of Lore Features
The College of Lore is the most iconic bard subclass, representing many different thematic interpretations of the bard, encompassing character types as disparate as the wizened village storyteller and the flamboyant traveling performer. The bard class is already one suited to being a jack-of-all-trades, and joining the College of Lore only broadens the pool of knowledge and talents from which you can choose.
The bard gains three subclass features at 3rd, 6th, and 14th level. You can read all of the College of Lore features for free in the D&D Basic Rules. In summary, your subclass features allow you to:
- Gain proficiency in skills of your choice.
- Distract your foes with your words, weakening the impact of their attacks.
- Gain spells from other classes’ spell lists.
- Use your Bardic Inspiration to enhance your own ability checks.
Benefits of the College of Lore
Joining the College of Lore transforms already versatile bard into a peerless factotum, allowing you to have a useful tool for almost any occasion. Gaining early access to other classes’ spell lists by means of Additional Magical Secrets (gained at 6th level, in addition to the Magical Secrets which all bards gain at 10th level), allows you to customize your bard to a nigh-limitless degree. If you need an edge in combat, learning wrathful smite from the paladin spell list might be the right choice. If you’ve been dabbling in dark magic, perhaps learning a hex from the warlock spell list is more appropriate.
Your Cutting Words feature also improves the versatility of your Bardic Inspiration class feature, allowing you to use Bardic Inspiration reactively as well as proactively. Do note that this feature has no effect on creatures that are immune to being charmed; you can use the D&D Beyond monster finder’s advanced filters to find all monsters that are immune to being charmed, if you want to avoid using your Cutting Words against creatures that can’t be affected by it.
Drawbacks of the College of Lore
First and foremost, the College of Lore’s greatest strength—its versatility—can also be its greatest weakness. If you’re a player who finds yourself paralyzed by decision, or if you’re easily annoyed by choosing which spells to learn each level, this isn’t the subclass for you. Likewise, if you want to be a selfish and self-sufficient warrior, the bard class is largely geared towards aiding the entire party, rather than delivering on huge moments yourself. The College of Lore alleviates this slightly, with its 14th level feature that allows you to spend Bardic Inspiration on your own ability checks, and by allowing you to use Additional Magical Secrets to gain more “selfish” spells, but it’s not enough to turn the bard into a totally self-sufficient warrior.
If you’re building a College of Lore bard from 1st level, you should choose a race that grants you a bonus to your Charisma score, like tiefling or half-elf. A well-rounded race like human, can help shore up your less-than-stellar physical offense and defense, but as a College of Lore bard, your spells are your first priority.
Because of this, Charisma should be your highest ability score, and Dexterity and Wisdom should be second and third-highest scores, depending on whether you want to be skilled with weapons (Dexterity), or with perceptiveness and social insightfulness (Wisdom).
As usual, your character’s background is up to you. You can play into the theme of being a bardic performer by selecting backgrounds like Entertainer or Charlatan, or into the theme of an academic by choosing a background like Sage or Cloistered Scholar (Sword Coast Adventurers Guide). Or, you could defy theme by having an unusual background like Soldier or Urchin as your background, and use the contrast to tell a surprising and interesting story.
Selecting EQUIPMENT when creating a character is a fine option. Equipment isn’t terribly important to you, since you rely heavily on casting spells. Choose the best armor you can wear, and a finesse weapon like a shortsword or a rapier. Of course, what type of musical instrument you choose is entirely up to your own preference.
When you choose your spells at 1st level, you'll be getting the hang of what role you want your bard to play in your party. Fortunately, the College of Lore grants you incredible flexibility, so you can take your time figuring out which spells are most useful to you. Unlike some other spellcasting classes, once a bard learns a spell, they know that spell forever. You can "trade out" one known spell for another spell on your spell list when you gain a level, but that's it. You want to have a little bit of everything, and you can pick two cantrips and four 1st-level spells as a 1st-level bard. From there on out, you learn one new bard spell every time you level up (more or less), and can also trade one known spell out, as mentioned above. And that's not even considering the four spells a College of Lore bard will ultimately gain from your two Magical Secrets features. That's a ton of spells, so don't fret too much over the decision.
Since you want a smattering of everything, choose any two cantrips you like (one of them should probably be vicious mockery, since it's so iconic), and four spells from the suggested list below. Try to choose one spell labeled SUPPORT, one labeled DEFENSE, one labeled SOCIAL, and one more of your preference. Note that this list only includes some spells from the Player's Handbook, so if you want to choose more unusual spells, or have other sources like Xanathar's Guide to Everything, you'll have to do a little self-directed research. This list is just here to get you started if this is your first time playing a College of Lore bard.
- Bane (DEFENSE)
- Charm Person (SOCIAL)
- Cure Wounds (SUPPORT)
- Detect Magic (SUPPORT)
- Disguise Self (SOCIAL)
- Dissonant Whispers (OFFENSE)
- Faerie Fire (SUPPORT)
- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (DEFENSE)
- Silent Image (SOCIAL)
- Thunderwave (OFFENSE)
At Higher Levels
You’ll be able to select the College of Lore as your subclass at 3rd level, and either improve your ability scores or gain a feat at 4th level. When faced with this choice, consider your experiences in the campaign so far; are you constantly being targeted by enemies and having your precious concentration spells broken by damage? If so, you should probably take the War Caster feat, which makes it harder for damage to break your concentration. If not, consider improving your Charisma score, and thus making your spells more potent.
Bard is an excellent class to go “all the way” with, and take levels in it all the way up to 20th level. At the very least, gaining levels in bard as quickly as possible, without slowing down by dabbling in other classes, is your top priority. Every bard level you gain gets you closer to stronger and stronger spells, and you’re already such a skilled jack-of-all-trades that you don’t need to multiclass.
If you want more advice for building a bard, check out Bard 101. Have you ever played a College of Lore bard? What advice would you give to players that want to play this subclass?
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their sweet kitties Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.