Let's Play...A Low Charisma Bard
We've looked at how to build paladins and rogues that have a weak primary stat, and today brings us to the bard. Bards live and breathe based on Charisma - some would say they embody Charisma in ways that no other class does - and we're going to look at why you'd build a low-Charisma bard, and how to make it an effective member of the party despite the handicap.
While paladins arguably use their martial prowess more than their Charisma and rogues are excellent skill monkeys without high Dexterity, a lot of what bards give the party stems from their magic, which is Charisma-based. So we will look at the concept of a low Charisma bard, build out the image in our mind, and then talk through the mechanics of how to make your bard effective when a die roll is requested by the DM.
I. Character Concept
When you think of a bard, you think of someone who performs for a living, right? But how many performers on, say, YouTube, have you heard where you think to yourself, "...that person had better consider learning Microsoft Excel because they are going to need a day job"? You know that person?
That is the low Charisma bard.
Some of these bards are unaware of their weak singing, playing, etc. And that is by far the most interesting (and comical) way to play this. But it could also be someone who is self-aware: I sing and play the guitar on a regular basis, and I don't think I'm that great, but my team needs me to do it, so I give what I have. A low Charisma bard could be this person too: someone who just tries, even though they aren't great at it.
The music found them and sought them out, so they present it, broken if they must.
And that is a cool way to play a bard, and I'd imagine unique to your table. So with this in mind, let's talk about what you can do to make your bard helpful to the group.
II. Character Build
So the short answer to the question is, "Play a bard subclass that does more martial fighting than spellcasting," so the College of Valor and College of Swords come to mind first for me. And typically if you multiclass just one level of Hexblade Warlock, you'd be doing great, but under our parameters here you probably don't want to do that because, you know, your Dexterity is probably your best stat over and against your Charisma.
It's also worth noting that some of your bardic abilities don't rely on your Charisma score at all: Bardic Inspiration and Song of Rest have their effects regardless of your Charisma, so those are unaffected.
So since Charisma can be your weakest stat, you're free to have oodles of hit points (high Constitution), a high Dexterity so you can fight with Finesse weapons, ranged weapons, etc. (not to mention a bump to your Armor Class), or a high Intelligence for ability checks (and keeping your brain from being turned to mush by enemy bards).
On the topic of ability checks, it's also worth noting that since you get a lot of proficiencies and access to expertise, you can cover a lot of bases even with a weak Charisma stat (as Charisma skills are quite plentiful). You can even take proficiency and expertise in things like Perform or Deception rolls or whatever you'd like to do well in the Charisma sector if you want to be decent at those, but for our fictional bard we will assume you don't do that.
For spell selection, I'm not going to lie: this part is tricky, as you're going to be hurting from that low Charisma. But here's my best shot at it.
Cantrips: good cantrips like Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, and Message can be taken without any issues; Vicious Mockery requires a saving throw, so that's a loss, but even in the case of Minor Illusion (which also requires a saving throw) the person has to spend an action to recognize what the illusion is, so you eat an action no matter what (maybe more if they fail the save) if you cast it, so it might still be worth taking as a cantrip. All that to say, lots of options.
1st level: So this is where it starts to hurt, as a lot of the classic Bard spells require a saving throw, and we are not good at saving throws at this point. But you're not out of options: spells like Unseen Servant, Detect Magic, Comprehend Languages, and Feather Fall don't suffer at all, and neither is Sleep (which is a bit surprising: you'd expect that one to have a save, but lo, it does not). So you have some good control and utility magic, even if you don't have good attack or healing spells.
2nd level: While some of the best spells do require a saving throw, we have several good options that aren't affected by our low Charisma at all. Between Invisibility, See Invisibility, Lesser Restoration, Heat Metal, and Enhance Ability, you can do a lot to help the party.
As a bonus, while it does require a saving throw, Zone of Truth requires a Charisma saving throw, which is generally weaker for most enemies. So lots of good options here.
3rd level: This is a huge power boost for spellcasters, and bards in particular get a lot of cool stuff at this level. Unfortunately a lot of them require someone to pass a save, and we won't be great at that.
But even with that said, you still get Tiny Hut, Glyph of Warding, Plant Growth, and Sending, not to mention spells that might be worth casting just in case someone fails a saving throw. So you still have a lot of options here despite the handicap.
4th level: A lot of these require a saving throw, and our proficiency bonus is not great at this level, so the save will probably succeed. Toward that end, I'd recommend two spells: Dimension Door (because who doesn't want free movement) and Greater Invisibility (because who doesn't want to be able to attack with advantage all the time and avoid getting hit).
5th level: This is a favorite for casters, and for good reason: there are a lot of good 5th level spells. You can't go wrong with most of these, though I'd pick Animate Objects, Greater Restoration, Raise Dead, Legend Lore, and Mass Cure Wounds, because even though we get a -1 to the healing we are giving out, the fact that we are rolling a 3d8 means that you are handing out anywhere from 2-23HP with a single cast to multiple targets, so the final total is actually quite good for a single action.
6th level: I'm not going to lie, this one is a tough one, as you don't get a lot of good options that don't have a saving throw attached, and by this point that -1 is really hurting us. You do get access to True Seeing and Guards and Wards, so these are the ones I'd take.
7th level: A lot of your 7th level spells are pretty good (as 7th level is just generally a really good level for spells, but it's worth noting that Resurrection, Regenerate, and Mirage Arcane (strangely enough) do not require saving throws, so these are the go-to options for us.
As good as Arcane Sword may be (basically a boosted option of Spiritual Weapon), the fact that it makes a spell attack means it's less optimal for us, especially by this level of the game when the AC we are up against is generally higher.
8th level: Of the five spells you have access to, three of them are good options here. Mind Blank allows you to protect someone from scrying or other means of mind reading and also grants immunity to psychic damage, but I'll be honest: this is a pretty situational spell, and I'd rather not prep a situational spell with a bard.
The second option is Glibness, which allows you to replace any Charisma roll you make with a 15, and magic spells always report that you are telling the truth. Now this is huge since we have a penalty to Charisma: the lowest we can get, before our proficiency is added, is a 14. That's really nice. But it's not the best option in my opinion.
The best option is Feeblemind, which is kind of odd since it requires a saving throw. Here's the deal though: you deal the 4d6 psychic damage (which is not commonly resisted) no matter what: there's no hit roll, there's no saving throw, you just choose someone you can see within 150ft and they take 4d6 (on average around 13-14) psychic damage. Then comes the saving throw which has a powerful effect, and it's true: they might pass it. But here's the deal: it's an Intelligence saving throw, which a lot of people in the universe are not good at passing. So if you have to require a save, this is how you do it, as your proficiency modifier is pretty high and their modifier is probably pretty low.
9th level: Now let's just say, for the purpose of argument, that you still have an 8 or lower in your Charisma stat by this point. This is a very bad bard, full stop, but hey, let's just say you're still at an 8 or lower. What do you take?
You take Foresight: it requires you to touch a willing creature, so there's no save against its effects, and the effects are awesome: you get advantage on Initiative rolls, can't be surprised, opponents get disadvantage on attacks against you - it's sweet. And it lasts for 8 hours with no concentration. So that's what you do with your 9th level slot: just cast this once per day.
I don't like playing bards, and there are a lot of reasons why, but I think the biggest reason is that they are so derivative: so many bards are similar to so many other bards. But this bard is unique, and it actually makes me want to try to make one for a one-shot campaign because this is just unique.
In our next post, we're going to the low Strength Barbarian - that's right: a boy who is not getting much good out of his Rage. Stay tuned for how to build a character that, admittedly, isn't as good at damage but can still deal quite a bit without multiclassing. So stay tuned!
Until next time,