Bards are one of the most unique spellcasting classes in 5th edition D&D. These are characters whose magic comes not from intense study or some ancient deity, but from the power of words and music.
They don’t just give astounding performances and inspiring messages though, bards can also cast spells right up there with the most talented wizards. Since these charismatic casters are so focused on influencing minds, it should be no surprise that most of their spells follow along with that theme.
Today we’re going to be jumping into what the best spells and cantrips to fill up the margins of your sheet notes and the pages of your poetry books. We’ll also be covering some magical secrets towards the end, so be sure to read all the way through.
Bard Spell Stats
Spell save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier
Spell attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier
Cantrips are spells with a spell level of 0. They can be cast an infinite amount of times, and can even be cast as a bonus action on a turn where you have already cast a spell of 1st-level or higher.
These are the backbone of a bards spell list, since you’ll be able to cast them over and over again at no cost. Bards know two cantrips at 1st level, and learn an additional one at 4th and 10th level. You can replace a cantrip whenever you receive an ASI in this class thanks to the Bardic Versatility feature.
Vicious Mockery (Enchantment)
You unleash a string of insults against a creature that can hear you. If the target fails a wisdom save against your spell save DC it takes 1d4 psychic damage and has disadvantage on the next attack roll it makes before the end of its next turn.
This is the classic bard spell; quite literally allowing you to hurt people with words. It might not deal the most damage, but creating disadvantage is awesome, especially on a creature that’s going to be dealing out some serious damage.
The damage does slowly increase along with your level, up to 4d4 at 17th level. So it’s definitely a cantrip that remains useful at higher levels.
Blade Ward (Abjuration)
You trace a sigil in the air that gives you resistance to piercing, slashing, and bludgeoning damage from weapon attacks until the end of your next turn.
This spell is highly useful for moving around with less concern about opportunity attack and just generally providing yourself protection. Since it has a casting time of one action, you can pull it out as a great bonus action spell when you’ve cast other spells.
Or you can just use it to give yourself that bonus defense while you plot your next move.
Minor Illusion (Illusion)
This spell allows you to create an illusory sound or image. The sound can be anything from a whisper to a scream and can reflect anything you choose.
An image must be no larger than a 5 foot cube and can’t create any other sensory effects such as light, smell, or sound. The image is also revealed to be an illusion if anyone attempts to touch it.
This is just such a nice cantrip to have around to distract or deceive your enemies.
Bards are full casters, and as such, can cast spells of levels 1 through 9. A spell uses up a spell slot of the appropriate level to be cast, and might also require verbal, material, or somatic (likely the playing of your instrument, but can be any physical movement).
The spells you choose will affect the role you take on in the party, which typically toes the line between offensive and support for bards. Your bard college, or subclass, will likely give you some guidance in choosing a playstyle.
Below, we’ll break the spells up into a few sections which reflect the tiers of play. Low level spells are 1st and 2nd, mid level spells are 3rd through 5th, high level spells are 6th through 8th, and 9th level spells receive their own category since they are the most powerful spells you’ll encounter.
Bardic Progression Table
This table shows you everything you need to cast your spells. It includes how many spells and cantrips you know at each level, how many spell slots you have, and what your proficiency bonus is. Out of convenience, it also includes a list of class features, but those aren’t very necessary for what we’re discussing.
Please keep in mind that while this is a list of the best spells, there is no way we can include every amazing spell. The selections here are essentially just a few iconic and powerful spells for each level to give you a basis on forming your own personal spell list.
Low Level Spells
Sleep (1st-Level Enchantment)
This spell lets you instantly put to sleep a number of creatures determined by a total of hit points. You roll 5d8 (+2d8 for each higher level spell slot when you upcast) and can put to sleep as many creatures as possible whose hit points total to the number you rolled.
No saving throws makes this incredibly useful to stop a fight, especially when it’s near the end and their aren’t many hit points to go around, or if you need to capture someone alive
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (1st-Level Enchantment)
This spell throws a creature into fits of laughter when they fail a wisdom saving throw, incapacitating them and knocking them prone.
Prone creatures create advantage on melee attacks made against them, and incapacitated means they can’t take any actions or reactions. It’s an excellent state to put an opponent in that provides a lot of benefits to you and your allies.
Enhance Ability (2nd-Level Transmutation)
You give a creature advantage on ability checks for one of the 6 abilities. Enhancing one of the physical abilities also comes with additional bonuses: 2d6 temporary hit points with constitution; double carrying capacity with strength; and no damage when falling from 20 feet or lower with dexterity.
Cloud of Daggers (2nd-Level Conjuration)
You create a 5ft cube of swirling daggers that deals 4d4 slashing damage to a creature when it enters or starts its turn inside the area. This is a concentration spell that can last for up to a minute; a.k.a. A typical full combat.
This has the potential to create a lot of damage over the course of a combat, especially if you choose a strategic location. The damage also increases by 2d4 for each level after 2nd when you upcast it, which maxes this out at 16d4 with a 9th-level spell slot. Yeah.
Mid Level Spells
Fear (3rd-Level Illusion)
This spell frightens every creature within a 30-foot cone that fails a wisdom save, forcing them to drop whatever they’re holding and use the Dash action on their turn to run away from you.
Whether a last-ditch effort to get opponents away from your allies, or a clever plan to corral them into a death trap, this spell is definitely going to come in handy.
Leomund’s Tiny Hut (3rd-Level Evocation)
This is a great utility spell that creates what is essentially a magical safehouse for your allies. Aside from up to 9 creatures you choose, no creatures or spells can pass through the barriers of the hut, which lasts for 8 hours, perfect for a long rest.
When traveling in sketchy areas, or deep dungeons, this is a must-have safety measure.
Raulothim’s Psychic Lance (4th-Level Enchantment)
This spell from Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons allows you to deal 7d6 psychic damage to a target you can see within range (120ft) or to a named target within range even if you can’t see them.
The target does have to make an intelligence save, taking the full damage and being incapacitated on a failed save, or taking half damage on a successful save.
There are very few spells that let you attack unseen targets, so this is a must have. Not to mention the crazy amount of damage this does and the ability to incapacitate them.
Synaptic Static (5th-Level Enchantment)
You choose a spot with 120ft of you that you can see and create an explosion of psychic energy that deals 8d6 damage psychic damage to each creature in a 20ft radius that fails an intelligence saving throw.
This deals half damage on a successful save. Also on a failed save, creatures subtract 1d6 from any attack rolls, ability checks, or constitution saves for 1 minute or until they make a successful intelligence save to end the effects.
This is a great two-in-one spell that deals a lot of damage to hopefully a lot of creatures and has the ability to greatly debuff them. This is one of those spells that you’ll constantly want to funnel your 5th-level spell slots into.
Teleportation Circle (5th-Level Conjuration)
This spell lets you create a teleportation circle which can be used to teleport to an existing permanent teleportation circle which you know and that is on the same plane of existence as you. When you learn this spell you also learn the appropriate sigils for two such circles determined by you and your GM.
Not every great spell is useful in combat. This spell is going to be your lifeline in a lot of situations where you need to travel great distances or get out of dodge fast. It does take a minute to cast, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s enough time to get away if you know trouble is knocking on your door.
High Level Spells
Forcecage (7th-Level Evocation)
You create a prison, which is either a cage or a box, around a target creature. The prison can not be escaped my nonmagical means, prevents ethereal travel, and also forces a trapped creature to succeed on a charisma saving throw in order to use teleportation or interplanar travel to leave the cage.
This is an amazing spell that only takes 1 action to cast and can completely halt the actions of a really nasty foe.
Mordenkainen’s Sword (7th-Level Evocation)
You create a sword shaped plane of force and make a melee spell attack with it, dealing 3d10 force damage on a hit. Until the spell ends (1 minute, concentration), you can use a bonus action on each of your turns to move the sword up to 20 feet and make another attack.
Not only is this more powerful than your average weapon, it’s also magical and deals force damage. The real kicker is that so long as you hold concentration it only requires a bonus action each turn to keep attacking with it, leaving your action on a turn completely free. It also lets you stay far away from your targets, a nice little bonus for a melee attack.
Resurrection (7th-Level Necromancy)
This may be a very niche spell, but it allows you to resurrect a creature that has been dead for no more than a century. A cen-tur-y. No biggie, you just get to go around raising the long dead with the power of music. I’m assuming you’re using either drums or some D&D equivalent of an electric guitar.
There are some setbacks, but there aren’t any “you might create a horrible zombie” clauses, this is pure, safe necromancy. As long as you’re willing to be a bit weary for a day, and the soul is willing to return to the body, this is an excellent spell to have in your repertoire. Who knows when it might come in handy.
Feeblemind (8th-Level Enchantment)
You deal 4d6 psychic damage to a target and that’s just the start. The target must succeed on an intelligence saving throw or have their intelligence and charisma scores drop to 1.
The target can’t cast spells, activate magic items, understand language, or communicate in any intelligible way. The target can, however, identify its friends, follow them, and even protect them.
While the target can repeat the save every 30 days, they’re not even very likely to do that, seeing as their intelligence score has dropped so low. The effects can be reversed with the spells greater restoration, wish, or heal.
Essentially this eliminates a target as a threat, especially one who relies on either of the specified abilities to pull off a lot of their abilities.
9th Level Spells
Psychic Scream (9th-Level Enchantment)
Up to ten targets you can see within 90ft of you must make an intelligence save. On a failed save a target takes 14d6 damage and is stunned, or half on a successful save with no stunning. Also, fun bonus, if you kill a creature with damage dealt this way, their head explodes. Because why not.
This is a brutal spell that can deal 840 damage with one blow, and on average is going to be dealing out about 420 points of psychic damage. That average is for ten targets, with half of them failing the save, taking the average die roll of a d6 as 4.
Power Word Kill (9th-Level Enchantment)
Like Paul Atreides (keep in mind this article is being written like a week after Dune 2021 came out) you can utter a word that compels a creature to die. If your target has 100 HP or fewer, they instantly die.
Need I explain what’s so great about this?
There are quite a few spells in the bard spell list that have sibling spells. These spells tend to have different versions at different levels, with the higher level spells giving you way more power to play around with.
These account for a lot of the amazing spells, so instead of accounting for each of them above, I’m listing the groupings here with a brief, inclusive summary.
Charm Person, Charm Monster, Hold Person, Hold Monster
These spells are two different, but similar groups. All require a creature to make a wisdom saving throw before feeling the effect. The lower level versions, person, allow you to target a humanoid, while the higher-level versions, monster, allow you to target any creature.
The charm spells let you charm a creature, which stops the target from dealing you any harm and forces it to view you as a friendly acquaintance. The target does make their save with advantage if you or your allies are fighting it, so it can often be a good idea to charm an individual before a fight breaks out.
That’ll also give you advantage on social ability checks you make involving them, a huge boost for a charismatic bard that is trying to be the face of the party.
The hold spells are much simpler, paralyzing a creature and basically taking them out of the game until your spell ends by you losing concentration, the spell timing out, or the creature succeeding on one of their escape saves.
There are a few versions of this spell including the standard, mass polymorph, and true polymorph. Each allows you to change the form of another creature, which has two main effects. Polymorph an ally and you can make them into a stronger, more durable form.
It’s essentially a buffed-up wild shape ability. On the other hand, polymorphing an enemy is the classic trick of turning someone you don’t like into a toad or newt. You hold the ability to render them completely useless and stop them in their tracks.
Stun, heal, and kill. Each of these are impressive, immediate effects that pull out all the stops. Kill is mentioned above because it’s just that amazing, but heal completely heals a target, and stun completely paralyzes a target.
They’re foolproof spells that do require you to have at least some understanding of the HP status of your targets.
So, now you know a slew of spells to really get you started as one of the most powerful bards the forgotten realms will come across. Enjoy, and as always, happy adventuring.