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Bard Instruments 5e

Last Updated on January 10, 2023

Unlock the Bard’s mystical powers through music.

The King’s garrison watched, enchanted. Our Bard’s performance was so mesmerizing that they didn’t even notice us slip into the armory…”

How do Bard Instruments Work in 5e?

Instruments in 5e are used by Bards for ability checks and spellcasting focus. Bards can add their proficiency bonus to ability checks with instruments they are proficient in.

A Bard’s instrument is also like their magic wand and can be used instead of the Verbal, Somatic, and Material components that many spells require to focus magical energy. 

Bards get automatic proficiency with three instruments of their choice and can gain a fourth instrument proficiency with the Entertainer background.

Bard Instrument Ability Checks 5e

Instruments are considered tools in 5e. That means Bards can use instruments for ability checks requiring tools. Passing an ability check lets you get past environmental or narrative obstacles in the game. With proficiency in a tool, you add whatever your proficiency bonus is to ability check dice rolls involving that tool. 

Bard Instrument Ability Check Example

Let’s say Billy the Bard is level 5. Your proficiency bonus is tied to your level. At level 5, Billy gets a +3 proficiency bonus. Billy is proficient in his lute.

A stubborn child steals a mission-critical key out of Billy’s knapsack. 

The DM says to persuade the child to return the key, Billy needs to pass a DC 10 Persuasion check. Billy wants to play a scary song on his lute to Intimidate the child, which the DM agrees is sensible, though maybe a bit dark. 

Billy is proficient in his lute, so he can add a +3 to this Intimidation ability check.  Billy rolls a d20, and gets a 9. With his +3 in lute proficiency, it’s a 12! Billy sings a song about monsters eating children who steal. The child promptly returns the key.

Hooray Billy!


GameCows Tip: You aren’t limited to straightforward checks like Performance or Persuasion. Maybe your Perception proficiency lets you notice the bags under a guard’s eyes to make your lullaby more effective. Or maybe your Religion proficiency reminds you of a hymn that calms down a cult. As long as it makes sense and your DM agrees, all ability checks are fair game.


Ability Proficiency and Instrument Proficiency Overlap

As a Bard, you can also choose three skills to be proficient in. Most ability checks with instruments will be Charisma checks such as Performance or Persuasion.

If you choose a skill such as Performance or Persuasion for your proficiency, this will often overlap with your instrument proficiency. You can get more perks since you have proficiency in both the skill (Performance, Persuasion) and the tool (the instrument you are using to perform and persuade).

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything offers some guidelines for what perks DMs should give when tool proficiencies and skill proficiencies synergize:

Advantage. If the use of a tool and the use of a skill both apply to a check, and a character is proficient with the tool and the skill, consider allowing the character to make the check with advantage.

Added Benefit. In addition, consider giving characters who have both a relevant skill and a relevant tool proficiency an added benefit on a successful check. This benefit might be in the form of more detailed information or could simulate the effect of a different sort of successful check.

Ability Proficiency and Instrument Proficiency Overlap Example

Let’s say Billy the Bard has proficiency in both Persuasion and his lute. 

Billy is pumping a baron’s daughter for information about the baron’s whereabouts. He wants to Persuade the daughter with a song about rebellious love.

The DM gives Billy advantage on his roll (two dice, keep the highest) since he has proficiency in both the Persuasion ability and the lute. It’s a DC 10 Persuasion check.

Billy rolls two d20s for advantage. It’s a 5 and a 12. He keeps the 12, and passes! The baron’s daughter is putty in Billy’s hands and spills the baron’s location.

The DM also decides to give the added benefit that the baron’s daughter not only tells you the baron’s whereabouts but reveals where he might be keeping a valuable item.

Bard Instrument Spellcasting Focus 5e

Focusing spellcasting through an instrument circumvents the need for spellcasting materials, called components. Components such as twigs or sulfur are normally needed for spells and are kept in Component Pouches which cost 25 GP. 

Bards don’t need to use instruments for their spellcasting focus. As long as your DM agrees, you can use many items. These items are commonly used for something called Arcane Focus in 5e:

  • Carved wand
  • Rod
  • Staff
  • Orb
  • Crystal
  • Rare stone

If your Bard is particularly religious, they might focus through one of these Holy Symbols 5e:

  • Carved symbol
  • Blessed item
  • Religious artifact
  • Small box holding a sacred relic
  • Amulet

You can technically use just about anything for spellcasting focus, as long as your DM agrees. It normally makes thematic sense for a Bard to focus through an instrument, but maybe your Bard has a peculiar backstory that pushes them to focus through feathers, animal fur, or something else weird. They could even potentially focus through other DnD 5e Tools

The instrument itself is just a personal choice and doesn’t affect game mechanics. You can pick an instrument that fits the character, or whatever instrument you think is the coolest.

Cool Bard Instruments in 5e

Hurdy Gurdy 5e

The Hurdy Gurdy is a DnD fan favorite. A hand-turned wheel rubs against strings like a violin bow to create sound, while a keyboard tightens or loosens the strings to modify the pitch. Crank it up!

Lyre 5e

The lyre is a bard classic. Its small, U-shaped frame emits tender, delicate notes great for lyrical poetry. For bards with more violent tendencies, the Lyre’s size and shape is built for bludgeoning. Croon, then clobber!

Pan-Flute 5e

The Pan-Flute is a small mouth organ that can be weirdly cool, depending on your definition of cool. Mismatching the Pan-Flute with classes like Barbarian or Goliath is a laugh. We dare anyone to make fun of your Bard-barian passionately playing their Pan-Flute! 

Sackbut 5e

The Sackbut is a long, old-school trombone with a softer tone. A great choice if you get a kick out of sad trombone “fail sounds” when a party member fails an ability check.

Just don’t be surprised if they challenge you to PvP combat after a while. Plus it’s just fun to say… sackbut.

Whistlecane 5e

The Whistlecane is a rustic longhorn cut from a reed, which is great for Bards with simpler origins. You can become DnD’s version of a Pied Piper with this enchanting and unassuming instrument.

Zulkoon 5e 

The Zulkoon is like a bagpipe’s evil brother and is one of the weirdest and coolest DnD instruments. Its ominous-sounding drone can unnerve opponents or provide atmosphere as you spin a sinister tale.

What Instruments Can a Bard Play in 5e?

Bards can play any instrument! There’s a vast array of DnD Instruments in 5e to choose from. Your DM might even let you have a rare Instrument of the Bards, which can cast powerful spells.

Many groups allow flexibility with instruments for fun’s sake. You should avoid modern instruments that break immersion, but anything appropriately old-timey works just fine. 

Some fun ideas for Bard instruments in 5e:

  • Spoons
  • Triangle
  • Washboard
  • Kazoo
  • Whistling

We here at GameCows are big fans of the cowbell!

What Musical Instruments do Bards Use?

Bards usually use a lute or lyre, but drums or bagpipes are also common. You can use any instrument in 5e but need proficiency in that instrument to get a booster on ability checks.

You get three instrument proficiencies as a Bard, but only one actual instrument to start. You need to find the others. 

Do Bards Need Instruments in 5e?

Nope! Bards can pour their hearts and souls into any type of artistic endeavor. They can dance, paint, do theater—or just go acapella! Consult with your DM, but you should be able to make just about any artistic expression work.

Ideas for being a Bard without instruments in 5e:

Motivational speaking. Inspire troops, or persuade through the power of argument. 

Storytelling. Boost morale around the campfire or entertain a crowd on the street.

Street Magic. Generate income, entertain friends, or distract enemies.

Puppeteering. Entertain or enchant while your crew sneaks around.

Slam Poetry. Slam hearts with your words while you bodyslam enemies.

Painting. Whip up a portrait to charm nobles. Paint during long rests to refresh your Bardic Inspiration.

Music Box. Open the music box to mesmerize anyone within range and make them susceptible to your influence, or just use it to channel magic.

Interpretive dance. We’ll leave this one up to you.

What Can Bards do with Instruments?

Here are some ideas for other ability checks you can do with Bards:

Dexterity

  • Sleight of Hand. Steal valuable items while the focus is on your tunes.

Intelligence

  • Arcana.  Recall lore about magical items or symbols, and weave a tale.
  • History. Sing obscure national anthems, or recount details that fill in gaps in a mystery.
  • Religion. Your knowledge of hymnals and incantations might come in handy.

Wisdom

  • Animal Handling. Play just the right chords to lull animals to sleep.
  • Insight. Read the room, and relate it to stories you know.
  • Medicine. Heal through the power of music. 
  • Perception. Notice strange things in the environment, and highlight them through song.
  • Survival. Play just the right song to get your crew through a tough night.

Charisma

  • Deception. Tell a fake story to convince someone.
  • Intimidation. Frighten foes through intense jams. 
  • Performance. Entertain and impress royalty, or your local tavern.
  • Persuasion. Charm a romantic interest, or prove you’re trustworthy.

You can also use your Bard instrument skills to:

  • Dig up information
  • Reveal backstory
  • Unlock impromptu adventures
  • Defuse hostile situations
  • Distract guards

And much more. Your DM should reward your creativity. That’s what being a Bard is all about!

Magical Instruments 5e

Instruments of the Bards are magical instruments in 5e. These instruments are wondrous items that house the spells Fly, Invisibility, Levitate, and Protection from Evil & Good along with three other spells for each particular Instrument.

These magical instruments were given to graduates of ancient Bardic Colleges.

Fochlucan Bandore 5e

Originating from Silverymoon, Fochlucan bandores represent the first level of Bard skill. Before its decline, Bards graduating from Fochlucan college were awarded a magical Fochlucan bandore.

Additional spells: Entangle, Faerie Fire, Shillelagh, Speak with Animals

Mac-Fuirmidh Cittern 5e

Originating in the northern Moonshaes, Mac-Fuirmidh Citterns represent the second level of Bard skill. Before its decline, bards graduating from Mac-Fuirmidh college were awarded a magical Mac-Fuirmidh cittern.

Additional spells: Barkskin, Cure Wounds, Fog Cloud

Doss Lute 5e

Originating in Berdusk, these doss lutes represent the third level of Bard skill. Before its decline, Bards graduating from Doss college were awarded a magical Doss lute.

Additional spells: Animal Friendship, Protection from Energy (fire only), Protection from Poison

Canaith Mandolin 5e

Originating near Zazesspur in Tethyr, these mandolins represent the fourth level of skill. Before its decline, bards graduating from Canaith college were awarded a magical Canaith mandolin.

Additional Spells: Cure Wounds (3rd level), Dispel Magic, Protection from Energy (lightning only)

Cli Lyre 5e

Originating from Faerun, Cli lyres represent the fifth level of Bard skill. Before its decline, Bards graduating from the Cli college were awarded a magical Cli lyre.

Additional spells: Spells: Stone Shape, Wall of Fire, Wind Wall

Anstruth Harp 5e

Originating in Sundabar, Anstruth harps represent the sixth level of Bard skill. Before its decline, bards graduating from  Anstruth college were awarded a magical Anstruth harp.

Additional spells: Control Weather, Cure Wounds (5th level), Wall of Thorns

Ollamh Harp 5e

Originating in Waterdeep, Ollamh harps represent the seventh and final level of Bard skill. Before its decline, bards graduating from Ollamh college were awarded a magical Ollamh harp.

Additional spells: Confusion, Control Weather, Fire Storm

Instruments of the Bards 5e Price List

Anstruth harp   109,000 GP
Canaith mandolin   65,000 GP
Cli lyre13,000 GP
Doss lute2,600 GP
Fochlucan bandore1,350 GP
Mac-Fuirmidh Cittern1,000 GP
Ollamh harp 2,625,000 GP

We hope your next Bard performance is even more inspired now! Get inspired by these other articles on Time Stop Spell 5e, Undead Warlock 5e, and Disengage 5e.

Bard Instruments 5e DnD

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02/01/2023 04:00 am GMT