The D&D Bard Skill Monkey
So, You Want to Be a Skill Monkey?
Bards are arguably the best class.
They have so much versatility that it’s just impossible to play anything else (at least for me). You can be any race, but a Half Elf gets you two skills and +2 Cha out the gate, and Variant Human gets you one skill, one language, one feat, and Expertise in one skill. I also have played plenty of Tiefling Bards.
The Bards in 5th edition have some splendid features that help them become an overqualified skill monkey, but if you truly want to be one, your first level must be in Rogue.
Yes! I know it’s blasphemy, but the basic fact is that Rogues get four skill proficiencies at first level while the Bard only gets three. Each of these classes allow a new skill proficiency once you multiclass, so it’s the difference between 4+1 or 3+1. So, if you want to be the best Bard skill monkey you can, take your first level in Rogue! You also get Expertise in two skills as well. I’d also recommend taking another level of Rogue eventually to get that Cunning Action, because it’s better than any other feat you might get by level 19 Bard.
Bards have the class feature Jack of all Trades, which basically means that you aren’t unskilled in anything, just less skilled. You get to add half your proficiency bonus (rounded down) to any ability check you are unskilled in. Please read that carefully. Any ABILITY check, not just skill checks.
That means that Jack of All Trades applies to:
- The spell Counterspell
- The spell Dispel Magic
- The spell Telekinesis
- Or casting a scroll spell that includes “an ability check using your spellcasting modifier.”
So that makes being a Skill Monkey Bard even more powerful.
Suggestions that include multiple skills, tools, or languages and their background features:
- Courtier: two skills, one artisan’s tools, and two languages (Arguably the best!)
- Court Functionary: you can gain access to records of any court or government.
- Urban Bounty Hunter: two skills and two tools
- Ear to the Ground: Instant information in whatever town you go to.
- Urchin: two skills and two tools
- City Secrets: Can move through cities twice as fast.
- Faction Agent: two skills and two languages
- Safe Haven: Access to hidden safe house, free room and board, and assistance in finding information.
- Sage: two skills and two languages
- Researcher: Always know where to find a piece of information.
Which Bard College?
I’m so glad you asked! There are six Bard Colleges (for now):
- College of Lore – The “Don’t worry, I got ___!” person of the party!
- College of Valor – Skalds devoted to heroism and melee fighting!
- College of Whispers – The guy your mom warned you about!
- College of Glamour – For the fabulous to be more fabulous!
- College of Swords – Stabby casters!
- College of Satire – Sarcastic jesters that hurt everyone’s feelings!
And the best and most useful for a skill monkey is the College of Lore! At 3rd level you get another three skill proficiencies. For just skill proficiencies you should be at 12 if you picked a Half-Elf and a useful background that gave you two skills as well. That’s 12/18 possible skills, not mentioning your tool proficiencies or feats (Don’t worry, I will!).
+4 1st Level Rogue
+1 2nd Level Bard
+2 Half Elf
+2 Courtier Background
+3 College of Lore
+3 Skilled Feat at 4th Level
+1 Prodigy Feat at 8th Level
16/18 total skills, with Expertise in seven of them because of two levels in Rogue, 10 levels in Bard, and Prodigy.
Languages: (5) with Half-Elf, Prodigy, and Courtier Background
Tools: (3) Thieves’ tools, one set of artisan tools, one tool from Prodigy
You also have Bardic Inspiration, Cutting Words, and Cunning Action which makes you incredibly versatile on the battlefield. Not to mention Additional Magical Secrets and Peerless Skill (which works the same as Jack of All Trades!). Such a skilled Bard we have now! You can also swap out the feats for something else if you don’t see the point in having 16/18 skills.
I recommend the Lucky Feat and maybe Actor, as well. Both are great and give you great skill versatility. But ultimately you have the say in what you want to do and how you want to maneuver your character. I personally take the Sharpshooter feat with every Bard I’ve ever run.
I hope you enjoyed my rendition of a Skill Monkey and I sincerely hope you come back for another build!