How to build a Bard in D&D

You really don’t need a Bard class in D&D, but some folks really like the flavor it adds to their game and setting.

Even without a class, it’s actually easy to build a playable bard in Basic.

Start with a Magic User class. Thieves don’t really get spells or magic items (high level play doesn’t count; you’re not going to play through over half a dozen levels of not being able to cast spells if you’re wanting to play a magic class).

But bards are rogues! What about the stealing stuff?

Play as a Magic User who steals stuff. Stealing is an RP choice, not a mechanic.

If you have a decent to high Dex character with moderate intelligence, go Magic User instead of Thief.


  • Magic Users can’t use bows, but they CAN use daggers. So, what you do is get a LOT of daggers. Throw some knives, take that Dex bonus on your attacks! If you’re using Holmes or a variant that uses weapon speed, you’ll even get an extra attack, meaning you’re able to dish out some damage as a ranged support character.
  • If you’re using Holmes’ magic system, treat your spellbook like a song-book. Your scrolls are your fake book – it’s not the full spell/song, but because you know it, you can use it to brush up.
  • If you’re using B/X’s magic system, spell imbuement is a flat cost. Costs the same to make a scroll as it does a single charge magic item. So, what you can do is imbue your instrument with charges. Just simply pour all of your ill-gotten wealth (you ARE stealing, aren’t you?!) into putting Sleep, Magic Missile, Whatever into your instrument.


You’re not going to get backstabs, and your hit dice and To Hit numbers are going to be crap, because you’re a Magic User, but this is about playing a Bard in a system where there’s no Bard class. (Perfect if you’re playing with a DM who hates Bards – you can be all “Aha! I fooled you! You said there was no Bard class, but I’m playing a Bard anyway!”)

If you want more flexibility in your weapons and armor, you can play as an Elf doing the above. Just enjoy never leveling up ever.


5 responses to “How to build a Bard in D&D

  1. “Start with a Magic User class. Thieves don’t really get spells or magic items (high level play doesn’t count; you’re not going to play through over half a dozen levels of not being able to cast spells if you’re wanting to play a magic class).”

    I’d just throw in here (to clarify my Twitter comment), that though I was being facetious on this, I think there’s an argument for a “thief bard.” Sure, in D&D bards are a magical class for some reason, and this convo originated in that context. But just thinking of a bard as a minstrel or skald of sorts, a thief with a penchant for music (or some other performance art) and the ability to muck around with magical items might do nicely.

    • Oh, absolutely. Bard is definitely more of a flavor than it is an actual class. Really, any class could be run that way in a way that would work to the player’s liking. This is more for people who want to get as close to recreating the D&D BardTM as they can within the confines of an OSR system that excludes the class.

  2. From my personal study of Celtic history, specifically the La Tene period and the Hallstatt period I’d actually describe the bard as a priestly class.
    Druid and bard were pretty interchangeable during the height of the Gaul tribal dominance of Europe.
    It was illegal to kill one, as they were wise ones. Blessed by the gods specifically Oghma. (Ahem) Which made them dangerous to tribal chieftains. If a bard put a ‘satire’ on you, it was a shame you could not avoid. Think of them like a culture police and you’ve got the right ideal. I would say it’s a fighting class with priestly overtones. The thieving bard is a much, MUCH later convention of the Middle Ages. As they began to be seen as wondering vagrants bilking coin for song or show.

    • I think Howard drew on that influence with his Rinaldo the minstrel. Although not holy (so maybe different from your point), Conan was extremely reluctant to kill him.

      • “A great poet is greater than any king. [Ridondo] hates me; yet I would have his friendship. His songs are mightier than my scepter, for time and again he has near torn the heart from my breast when he chose to sing for me. I will die and be forgotten; his songs will live forever.” – By This Axe, I Rule

        One of my favorite bits is that in another later Kull story, one of the minor characters is humming one of Ridondo’s songs.

        ::Ridondo & Rinaldo were the same character, the latter was just a reskinned version from when he rewrote By This Axe, I Rule into a Conan story.::

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