Tobold's Blog
Saturday, May 25, 2019
Playing a bard in 5E D&D

Last year I got a bit overloaded between work and being the DM of my D&D games. So I arranged myself with players from my two large campaigns that someone else would take over, at least temporarily, as a DM, and I would switch to the less work-intensive job of a player. That worked out fine, and in one of the campaigns I am already back to being the DM. But I think that in the other campaign I made a bad choice of character class when choosing a bard.

Now I don't want to give you the impression that the bard is a bad class. I actually played a "college of swords" bard in a different campaign that was lots of fun. But this bard is "college of lore", and in this particular campaign he really doesn't work out all that well. In every fight I can do something really powerful once: Turn an enemy into a sheep, turn a friend into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, give advantage to all my friends, disable several enemies at once, heal 20d6 over 10 turns, and lots of similar things that don't usually involve damage. If I fail, I can try something else next turn. But if I succeed, I am basically done for the rest of the fight: I need to keep up concentration on that spell, otherwise it expires. Which means not casting another concentration spell, and trying not to get hit. So I end up casting my basic cantrip, vicious mockery, but that also is more of a support spell and doesn't deal much damage. The overall effect is that if a combat takes more than a couple of turns, I usually end up being quite bored at the end.

I think the problem is less with the bard, than with the concentration mechanic in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. I understand why it is in the game, to prevent spellcasters of having active several powerful spell effects at once. The famous invisible flying wizard of previous editions is no more, and that is good. But in terms of players getting to do something fun at every turn of combat, concentration really gets in the way badly. It works okay-ish for hybrid classes that can cast spells and fight, e.g. the paladin. But even then you basically need the war caster feat to not permanently lose concentration. My paladin is using his spell slots for divine smites rather than for casting concentration spells. The overall effect is that players drift towards spells without concentration, which also tend to be more damage-dealing spells. That makes the game flashier, and a lot of people enjoy that. But somehow I feel that this edition is losing a part of the charm of previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons because of it.


I'm slightly curious as to why you think players should get something interesting to do every turn. The ethos of D&D combat, surely, is the overall effectiveness of the party. I understand why you feel bored with the role but I'm certain there will be players who absolutely love the idea that their character is enabling the party to succeed by dint of their intense concentration. This seems like a class designed for them.

It doesn't sound as though the problem is with the game design (as it would be if parties were obligated to have a Lore Bard if they expected to succeed) but, as you say near the start of the post, with your own decision made at character creation.
D&D is not a computer game or MMORPG. The "overall effectiveness of the party" is pretty much irrelevant, as the DM will typically adjust the challenge level of the encounters to the party. "Farming" or "grinding" mobs is a typical video game concept that has no place in a tabletop role-playing game. The ethos of D&D is that by interactive storytelling interesting things happen, not "kill 10 wolves".
Something I don't understand here...

Why are the spells so powerful in the first place? Why can you even turn a friendly into a T-Rex? Why were Wizards ever able to fly? At all? Invisible... Ok. But not during combat. But fly? That just defeats the environment.

I haven't played since 2E, so I am quite out of the loop regarding combat mechanics in 5E, but how is threat/aggro gaining/retention handled in 5E? Based on your past posts of the Bard's and other casters abilities, it would seem that the aggro mechanic has been weakened considerably if such powerful spells aren't drawing the attention/focus of the mobs in these encounters.
The aggro handling mechanic is D&D is called "the DM". In other words, there isn't one. There is one paladin spell called "compelled duel" which gives one enemy a penalty if he attacks somebody else than the paladin, but that is pretty much it. Fighters can't hold aggro unless the fight is in a doorway or something similar.

Basically most groups are using an informal rule that monsters don't think too much and preferably attack the closest enemy. If as DM you played the monsters too intelligently, the healer would be dead all the time.
@Tobold I agree totally. I recently took a break from D&D 5E because I was just generally not "feeling it" as much as the older editions....and the notion you present strikes a serious chord here. Admittedly there's Pathfinder to go to if I want a more involved and robust D&D-like experience, but I feel like this is something 5E could address in its own idea my players suggested was a feat which spellcasters could take which lets them run two concentration effects at once, for example. Problem is, the current design assumes one concentration effect at a time so I am not sure how adding a "concentration slot" would affect overall balance, and the never-ending issue of "caster superiority" which remains, as always, a feature or a bug depending on gaming preferences.
As an aside, reading comments from non-D&Ders on this subject is very amusing.
In my experience, bards are more interesting outside of combat so if you are basically just dungeon crawling that could explain your boredom. Though, frankly, I find all of 5e combat boring with all the waiting around and the focus on resource management.

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