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Bard Paladin Multiclass Guide for D&D 5e

Bard Paladin Multiclass - Holy Tunes

Table of Contents:

Bard Paladin Multiclass A 5e Dungeons & Dragons Guide for Holy Tunes

The bard is an artisan of magic, knowledgeable and witty musicians and warriors capable of lethal arts. Paladins are champions of holy power, heralds of their faith and smiters of the unrighteous through divine favor and martial prowess. Put them together and we get a divine chorus leader who inspires their supporting singers while triumphantly smiting the wicked. Grab your songbook and put on some heavy armor as we go through everything you need to know. 

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Why Play a Bard/Paladin Multiclass?

Bards and paladins use Charisma as their spellcasting ability, both classes care about buffing up their allies and depending what direction you want to take the build both classes care about dishing out damage. Bards are normally stuck with light or at best medium armor with strict combat limitations, by starting with paladin levels we can take heavy armor and shields from the start, and we have full access to martial weapons. We can also feed our bard spell slots into those sweet divine smites. What we can end up with is a powerful party leader, able to tank hits, heal themselves and others, do devastating damage with each melee attack, and all while seriously buffing any of our nearby allies. And since you’re Charisma based, you can still even serve as the face of the party. The combination works with either bard or paladin as a primary class or secondary class and feels stronger than purely taking levels in either original class. DND Paladin levels make up for the deficiencies in melee combat for bards, especially since you can add smites to your melee weapon strikes, and the bard levels grant spell slots and far more options in combat for paladins.


What are the Downsides?

So, if this build can do everything, why doesn’t everybody do it? Well, the mighty paladin is already a partial caster with slower than normal spell progression, which means any multi-classing is going to slow us down considerably with our paladin spellcasting. With most of our builds you'll be waiting all the way until tier three before you can cast 4th level spells or 5th level spells. But if we plan on mostly smiting with those spell slots anyway, it’s less of an issue. From the bard’s side their key feature bardic performance only scales with bard levels, not character levels, that means our bardic inspirations are going to use a much lower die than a full bard of the same level. 

And as with all multiclassed characters, you're forgoing later single-class character features like the 20th level capstones and 9th level spells for each class by mixing them together even if it's only a level dip. Level 20th features are rarely reached anyway though, so it likely won't cost you in the long run.


What Level Does a Bard/Paladin “Kick In”?

This isn’t a situation where we’re going to be aiming for one specific combination, rather the build works off the bat and builds up with more features as you progress. You can treat either as your primary class or secondary class with good results either way. We have some later features we want to use but the multi-class “kicks in” at as early as 2nd level with just one level in each class.


Do I Take Bard or Paladin First?

This multiclass build is loose on leveling order, but it’s very important that your first level should be paladin. We only gain heavy armor proficiency if our first level is in paladin not just by taking a single level, otherwise we’ll have to spend a feat to get it. We gain an extra skill proficiency anyway when we multiclass into bard, so we don’t lose out on much of anything and gain a ton of value taking paladin first instead of going bard to paladin, even if you want bard as a primary class.


What Class Features Do We Care About?

While every original class feature has some utility, there are a few key features we’re “going for” when putting together a Bard/Paladin.

Significant Bard Features

  • Bardic Inspiration. The core unique feature of the bard is ability dependent on high Charisma (for number of uses). Normally you use this for a player buff, but depending on what route we go there may be even more options for us.
  • Spellcasting. Mixing spellcasting classes is a bit weird mechanically and we’ll get that in a bit but for now know that access to the bard spell list gives us extra magical abilities and spell slots we can use for buffing or smiting. Normally the damage from spells for bards is a bit paltry but funneling them into smites turns them dangerous.
  • Expertise. This lets us add double our proficiency bonus on a couple chosen skills. This is always generically useful but depending on how we want to work the build it can be incredibly useful.
  • Font of Inspiration. We gain this at 5th level and it’s essentially an upgrade to our bardic inspirations. With font of inspiration, we regain our bardic inspirations on a short rest instead of on a long rest. This lets us use them a lot more freely and, in most campaigns, you’ll be able to do an inspiration essentially every round without fear of running out.
  • Bardic College. We have two major directions to take, and they both take a lot from specific bard colleges. We’ll get into them more in a second but for now know that we value these college selections.
  • Magical Secrets. The first instance of this is gained at 10th level then again at 14th level and 18th level. Magical secrets lets you gain spells from any spell list which may or may not be decent incentive to push up your bard levels. Note you can also get this early if you take the college of lore.

Significant Paladin Features

  • Hit Points: Paladins have 1d10 hit dice, making it one of the beefiest classes second only to taking a barbarian class level. Every paladin level you take will gain you an average of 2 hit points more than your bard levels and that extra durability adds up.
  • Heavy Armor: The bard can be worked into a more combat oriented class but typically they’re pretty flimsy. Assuming you take your first level as a paladin you’ll have way better defensive abilities with access to heavy armor and shields right from the start. You'll have to do some adventuring to get that expensive plate armor but it's worth it to get that sweet base 19 armor class. 
  • Weapon Proficiencies: Bards have access to finesse weapons but their access to heavy weapons is pretty limited. By mixing in paladin levels, we gain access to the full martial complement of weapons.
  • Lay on Hands: Paladins get a pool of healing equal to 5 times their paladin level. While multiclassing will shrink this pool comparatively, it’s always helpful to have healing on hand especially if we want to fill a support role.
  • Divine Smite: Gained at 2nd level, THIS is one of the best offensive options in the game that sets the paladin apart from other martial classes. Divine Smite lets you sacrifice your spell slots for pure consistent damage when you hit things with weapon attacks in melee, and it doesn’t matter what class those spell slots came from. This means you can use bard spell slots as raw smite damage on melee attacks. Each 1st level spell slot turns into 2d8 damage, with an extra 1d8 damage for each spell slot level above 1st, up to a maximum of 5d8 smite damage. Or 6d8 smite damage rolls if the target is undead or a fiend.
  • Fighting Style: Also gained at 2nd level, your fighting style goes a long way towards buffing up your martial ability and weapon attacks. Keep in mind that you’ll need to keep a hand free for casting bard spells (until you take war caster). If we end up going for the more combat oriented build, you’re best off going for additional damage options like dueling or a simple bonus to AC in defense. For the support-centered builds you’ll likely want interception instead.
  • Extra Attack: Gained at 5th level, very simply it lets you make an additional attack using the same attack action. We can’t do multiple divine smites in the same turn but more attacks is always a good thing. Note that you can also get your extra attack through the college of swords. You can't get extra extra attacks though so make sure not to try stacking those features.
  • Aura of Protection: Gained at 6th level, this is one of the strongest defensive buffs in the game and is instrumental for our build if we’re going for the support build. You and every friendly creature within 10 feet of you gain a bonus to all saving throws equal to your Charisma modifier. By sticking together, you can wildly improve your party survival rate. This alone is a decent argument for a paladin 6 level dip.
  • Sacred Oath: Sacred oaths determine what your channel divinity features are and grant you your first sacred oath feature at 3rd level and the oath’s aura ability doesn’t kick in until 7th. Depending on what build you go for, these archetype features may or may not be worth it as a defensive boost, but we’ll dig into that more later.

Bard/Paladin Ability Scores

While you can build a Dexterity based bard/paladin, I really recommend sticking with Strength as your main physical ability since we can take advantage of heavy armor and don’t need to rely on Dexterity for AC. For most bard/paladins you’ll be doing basically the same spread of ability scores that you’d want for a paladin with a bit of emphasis on Charisma. You want your Strength and Charisma as high as possible (minimum 16) with Constitution as your 3rd-highest ability score. There's a feat we'll talk about in a moment you may need to prioritize, but beyond that all your ability score improvements should be spent on Strength or Charisma. Remember that your charisma modifier sets your paladin spell save dc/bard spell save dc . Your base spell save DC is 8- your profiencieny bonus + your charisma modifier.

Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom can all be dump stats for you.


Bard/Paladin Feats

While you could technically do any of the normal martial/style feats with reasonable results, in my mind there’s one feat that should be on your radar as a bard/paladin and that’s War Caster. I recommend picking this up at 4th level with one of your early ability score increases, especially if you're going with the support plan.

War Caster

War caster has several nifty benefits, each of which culminates to make martial/spellcasting function properly. All together you get the following extra features:

  • Advantage on Concentration checks made to maintain your spells.
  • You can perform somatic components of spells while your hands are full.
  • You get to cast spells as opportunity attacks.

Now paladins can cast all their spells through their holy symbol that only needs to be displayed and doesn’t require a free hand. Bard spells though need to be cast through a musical instrument which does normally require a free hand. War caster not only lets us cast all our spells with our hands full, it also lets us lash out with cantrips as attacks of opportunity.

NOTE that you can also get around this issue by simply taking the college of swords bard archetype. At 3rd level as a sword bard, you gain the ability to cast your bard spells through your weapon, neatly solving the problem right there.


Multiclass Spellcasting

When you multiclass two different spellcasting classes, things can get weird as you determine your spell slots by combining your class levels.

Your spells known stay completely separate, so if you have 3 levels in paladin and 5 levels of bard, you’ll know the same number of paladin spells as a 3rd level paladin, and the same number of bard spells as a 5th level bard.

Where it gets funky is the spell slots. Rather than keeping spell slot progression of your two base classes, you instead combine them both into “multiclass spellcasting”. Multiclass spellcasters use their own special table (really just a generic version of what most full spellcasters already have) and they calculate your “level” on that table using the levels of your base classes. The “full casters” count as a full level, while the “half casters” count has half levels.

For our bard/paladins, this means that we count every bard level as a full level on the multiclass spellcaster table, but our paladin levels only count as halves. For example if your bard/paladin has 2 levels of paladin and 3 levels of bard, they’d count as a 4th level spellcaster on the table. Note also that this means there’s no difference between a “paladin spell slot” or a “bard spell slot”, you know the spells that you know and can apply the spell slots to spells from either class. It also means that the “correct” number of paladin levels is always going to be even, as odd paladin levels lose out on spell slots.

Level

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

8th

9th

1st

2

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

2nd

3

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

3rd

4

2

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

4th

4

3

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

5th

4

3

2

-

-

-

-

-

-

6th

4

3

3

-

-

-

-

-

-

7th

4

3

3

1

-

-

-

-

-

8th

4

3

3

2

-

-

-

-

-

9th

4

3

3

3

1

-

-

-

-

10th

4

3

3

3

2

-

-

-

-

11th

4

3

3

3

2

1

-

-

-

12th

4

3

3

3

2

1

-

-

-

13th

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

-

-

14th

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

-

-

15th

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

-

16th

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

-

17th

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

1

18th

4

3

3

3

3

1

1

1

1

19th

4

3

3

3

3

2

1

1

1

20th

4

3

3

3

3

2

2

1

1


Putting the Build Together

Both of these classes mesh fairly well and there aren’t many wrong ways to put it together so long as you keep a hand free for your musical instrument (or take warcaster or college of swords) and make sure to go for even paladin levels so you don’t lose out on spell slots. There are a couple even more synergistic builds we can go for. One that focuses on DPS and tanking, and one that focuses on support.


Smite Artisan

For this build we’re going to essentially play like a typical martial character paladin but we’re going to use our bard levels for buffs and extra spell slots to spend into our smites. We're going to try and grow that basic attack damage with as much potential damage as possible. Ultimately this will come together quite a bit like the more traditional sorcadin builds for maximizing combat potential which you can find here.

We want to start by taking 2 levels of paladin to gain access to divine smite and all our armor and weapon proficiencies. For our fighting style we want to go with defense, because we want both defense and dueling, and defense isn’t an option from our bard features. Next, we want to take 5 levels of bard which will pick up a ton of spell slots along with a font of inspiration boosted bardic inspiration. We specifically want to take the college of swords as our bard archetype here and take dueling for our bonus fighting style. Once we hit 5 bard levels, the rest of our levels go into paladin, giving us a final build split of 5 bard/15 paladin. For our paladin archetype, it’s a bit more flexible with several options but I find the oath of vengeance fits best here for a pure DPS strategy.

As for equipment, we want a one-handed weapon like a longsword, and we can ditch the medium armor for a shield and heavy armor. And thanks to the college of swords, we can still cast all our bard and paladin spells through our sword without having to worry about keeping a hand free.

Now let’s put all this together for an example at 8th level (5 bard/3 paladin) assuming at least a +3 in Strength and Charisma. To start with we should be rocking 21 AC due to plate armor, a shield, and the protection fighting style. Next, when we pick out our target, we can use our vow of enmity as a bonus action to gain advantage on all our attacks against a specific target. Now with our attack we can not only use a 3rd level smite by using a bard spell, but we can also make it a defensive flourish using a bardic inspiration die.

All together this melee attack has advantage and will deal our weapon damage with a +2 bonus due to the dueling fighting style (1d8 + 5), the 3rd level smite (4d8) and the damage from the flourish (1d8). We can also get some extra attack damage from spells on following turns using hunter’s mark.  Hunter's mark lets us gain additional damage as a bonus action (an archetype spell for oath of vengeance for another d6) so long as we keep hitting the same target. All together our attack at level 8 is made with advantage for 36 damage (1d6 + 6d8 + 5) every turn. AND because of defensive flourish, we also get to add that bardic inspiration die as a massive boost to our AC until our next turn, meaning every turn our AC will effectively be somewhere between 22 and 29!

Thanks to font of inspiration getting our bardic inspirations back on a short rest, we can afford to use them for basically every attack, and while this damage output will decline as you run through your spell slots you still have far more of them to work with than a pure paladin and the build really elevates the playstyle with ridiculous amounts of damage. Even a smite using just 1st-level slots (which you'll have plenty of) is a serious threat.


Glamor Knight

It's a rough battlefield and somebody has to keep those squishy casters safe! For this build we’re going to try and keep our allies buffed and healthy with as much support as we can possibly do as the ultimate support class. Of the two multiclass paladin bard builds this one goes for more of a bard route than a paladin route but one that can still tank hits and dish out damage while providing all their buffs.

We want to start by taking 2 levels of paladin to gain access to divine smite and all our armor and weapon proficiencies. For our fighting style we want the newer interception style that lets us use our reaction to reduce hits on our allies by 1d10 + proficiency bonus. We want this over the similar protection because protection requires you wield a shield as opposed to interception that requires a shield or martial weapon. Next, we want to take 5 levels of bard and we want to select the college of glamor. The college of glamor gets us the ability mantle of inspiration which lets us grant our whole party temporary hit points at the cost of a bardic inspiration die. Next we take 5 more paladin levels taking the redemption paladin subclass. That gets us to 7 total paladin levels for aura of protection and oath of redemption with its 7th level feature aura of the guardian. After that we can spend the rest of our levels on bard for more spell slots, giving us a final character level split of 13 bard/7 paladin.

As for equipment, we want a one-handed weapon like a longsword, our bardic instrument in another hand, and because of or paladin proficiencies we can take heavy armor instead of medium armor. This’ll change however once you hit an ability score increase (ASI) and take the war caster feat. War caster will among other things let us cast spells through our sword which lets us use that free hand for a shield instead.

Now let’s put all this together for an example at 12th level (5 bard/7 paladin) assuming at least a +3 in Strength and Charisma. Assuming we have a shield now we should have a solid 20 AC with plate armor and a shield. In combat we now become the full party protector. Using our bardic performances, we can make sure our entire party has 5 temporary hit points essentially all the time. Whenever those hit points get knocked off, we can quickly reup them. Next, between aura of protection and aura of the guardian we provide huge buffs just for being near us. Aura of protection grants a bonus to ALL saving throws to us and any ally within 10 feet equal to our Charisma modifier. Aura of the guardian lets us straight up take a hit for an ally, taking all the damage if we choose to. Between aura of the guardian and interception we can prevent small hits and take big hits, keeping our party safe in bloody battlefield situations. 

Beyond the buffs we spend all our bard spells either for smiting or healing ourselves after we take hard hits. You essentially get to tank for the whole party, all while still dishing out the damage!

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is my paladin spell save DC?

Your base spell save DC is 8- your profiencieny bonus + your charisma modifier.

 

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