Thoughts on Unearthed Arcana: Bardic Colleges

111416_0713_Thoughtsont1.pngThe second of the Unearthed Arcana series on expanding options available to characters is now out. Its topic? Bards!

The two colleges included in the Player’s Handbook are both excellent and providing interesting variations on the basic topic. For me, it’s hard to top them – both represent character types that I enjoy playing. So, how do the new colleges stand up?

College of Glamour

The College of Glamour has as its concept bards that are imbued with the power of the Fae. This is an excellent concept; one that ties in strongly to current fantasy literature and older tales.

The “Mantle of Inspiration” allows your friends to fight for longer by imbuing them with temporary hit points, which is a nice ability, although it’s paired with a strange ability: your allies can also move closer to you when you invoke the Mantle. Just closer to you? There must be some literary source there that I’m not aware of. (In the Dresden Files, the fae can grant the ability to ignore pain, thus you fight stronger but don’t realise when you’re about to die…)

“Enthralling Performance” is the latest take on a mass charm ability for the bard; we’ve seen similar in previous editions. This one is the best version of the power I’ve seen; its effect is excellently described. The rules for how and when it breaks are a bit wordy, but line up well with similar charm abilities in the 5E spells.

“Mantle of Majesty” runs into problems. It’s a bonus action to activate, and allows you a bonus action to command creatures; thus, you have to wait a round after activating it before you can command someone. Hmm. I’d prefer it if the initial activation also allowed a command effect, as I’m sure that’s how many players will assume it works. The ability also seems to imply that all your charm spells now can’t be saved against; I hope that’s an error, and it applies only to the commands you give.

“Unbreakable Majesty” also has significant rules problems. One of the interesting points about the sanctuary spell is that monsters and NPCs don’t actually make a saving throw against the spell unless they try to attack you! So, in a diplomatic situation where there are no attacks, “Unbreakable Majesty” actually does nothing!

I like the idea of these later powers, but the rules issues cause to many problems for them at this point. So, this college needs more work!

College of Whispers

The College of Whispers presents a version of the assassin-bard or master manipulator.

Its first ability, “Venomous Blades” allows you to deal extra poison damage by expending a use of bardic inspiration. This is a power that, while not quite as versatile as the “Combat Inspiration” power of the College of Valor, can deal significantly more damage, but without the additional armour and weapon proficiencies granted by the College of Valor, it’s likely closer to balanced than you might first think.

Also gained at third level is “Venomous Words”, a fantastically evocative power that will likely only see use in very role-playing orientated games or by non-player characters. For a standard, adventuring bard, you’re rarely going to use it. In the right campaign? It’s gold.

“Mantle of Whispers” is another tremendously evocative power, and again one that requires a certain sort of campaign to be run to be of use: one full of intrigue and role-playing.

“Shadow Lore” keeps up this evocative theme; it’s a dangerous effect, but one that, at fourteenth level, isn’t overpowered. Once again, not a combat power, but one for intrigue campaigns.

There are fewer rules problems with the College of Whispers than the College of Glamour, but it is a far more niche college. I approve of this: yes, you want meat-and-potatoes colleges that any adventuring bard could take, but the two colleges in the Player’s Handbook are already of this sort.

So, at present I give the College of Whispers a thumbs-up; not for every campaign, but fantastic and much-needed in some games.

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