Magical Secrets: A Practical Guide – DnD 5e – RPGBOT (2024)


In 5th edition, bards have finally been upgraded to full caster and boy arethey happy about it. No longer are bard players left feeling like they can’tenjoy the upper echelons of absurd spellcasting enjoyed by their friends. But,like every other Charisma caster, they have to lock in the spells they pickand, even though they have access to more and higher level spells now than inprevious editions, there are still places where they could absolutely use somehelp. WotC decided to give them something unique to do just that: magicalsecrets. Every so often they can purloin a spell off someone else’s list andmake it their own forever. So, how do we make best use of that?

I will break this document down into two and a half sections: one for mostbards, a quick note for lore bards (who get these far earlier than othersubclasses), and one for swords bards because their playstyle is differentenough to warrant its own discussion.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Most Bards
    • Level 10
    • Level 14
    • Level 18
  • College of Lore
  • College of Swords and College of Valor

Most Bards

Every bard will get to take two leveled spells or cantrips from any class (including bard) at each of levels 10, 14, & 18 for a total of 6 additional spells over the course of the character. To boil the entire premise of this entire article down to a single sentence I will pose a question: what do you need? Take that. If you’re in a party with many spellcasters you may have everything covered and may want to fill in your own solo capabilities or lean into your specialization.

If (more likely), you aren’t, look at the spell list of a caster not in your group and see what unique capacities you can pull from there to cover something. Magical secrets are usually best spent acquiring utility that is otherwise inaccessible to your party, and we particularly want to look at spell lists that are intended to provide power later than when we can get access to it: paladins and rangers.

Half casters have some great options that aren’t intended to be accessed bythese classes until levels 13 or 17 that you can take immediately at level 10.These also tend to be the most unique spells as they’re balanced for justthose classes and can therefore do some interesting things when taken at lowerlevels. Let’s get into some of the best options in my opinion for our firstsecrets. For this first section, I will cover every cantrip and spell up tospell level 5 since this is the first time most bards will be able to takethem.

Level 10

Interesting options from the Cleric list:

  • Sacred Flame: The best reliable Radiantdamage in the game
  • Bless: Stacks with, but is also a littleredundant to, Inspiration. If you find yourself running out of thatfrequently, consider this.
  • Sanctuary: Something about an ounce ofprevention worth being a pound of Cure Wounds. Especially useful if you haveanother healer/primary buff caster to put it on.
  • Aid: Cheap, low level Mass Healing Word.Although, by this point you already have Mass Healing Word so I would reallyonly go for this if you don’t know what to do with your 2nd level spellslots or if you find everyone dying a lot.
  • Augury: A fabulous low-level divination,but this isn’t going to fundamentally change how your character works.
  • Spiritual Weapon: Incredible added damageif you don’t already use your bonus action often.
  • Aura of Vitality: This is a 3rd levelspell that averages the same amount of healing as Heal. Really nothing elseneeds be said.
  • Revivify: Not nearly as restrictive as itwas in 3.5, making it probably the best res spell out there, especially asit has the lowest cost.
  • Banishment: One of the bestsave-or-sucks, but bards already have several good ones.
  • Death Ward: It’s an amazing safety net,but it does leave the target at just 1hp.
  • Stone Shape: This is one of those “onlylimited by your imagination” in how good it is spells, assuming you’re nearstone. If you aren’t near stone, it’s dead weight.
  • Commune: Bards don’t really get manydivinations, and borrowing a Cleric’s ability to ask a literal deity issomething can be very helpful if you like planning your approach tosomething instead of improvising.
  • Summon Celestial: None of theSummon/Conjure spells will get a blue rating from me because they’recompeting with Find Greater Steed. But if you don’t want to have a pegasusfor some reason and need another body, just pick the flavor and spell slotlevel you like best.

Interesting options from the Druid list:

  • Shape Water: For being a cantrip, it candomany things it really shouldn’t
  • Shillelagh: A great choice if you insist onusing a weapon, and since you’re casting it as a bard spell you can attackusing Charisma. But unless you have a cantrip like Booming Blade or Green-FlameBlade to boost the damage, there’s really no reason to use this instead ofanother offensive cantrip like.
  • Absorb Elements: One of the bestdefensive reactions in the game. Unless you’re a Swords bard you probablywon’t get the bonus damage which means you don’t have to feel bad aboutnever upcasting it. Only applies to you though.
  • Entangle: A great option for areacontrol, but bards already have several of those.
  • Goodberry: Superb low-level healing,especially if your DM doesn’tread the website
  • Darkvision: If you’re optimizing, youprobably already have an answer for this, including one or two partymembers. But it’s really good if you don’t have that.
  • Pass Without Trace: +10. Why WOTC.
  • Spike Growth: A great option for areacontrol, but bards already have several of those.
  • Dominate Beast: A really phenomenalspell… if you run into a lot of beasts. If you’re adventuring through anormal forest full of normal animals, consider it.
  • Wall of Fire: A great option for areacontrol, but bards already have several of those. This one does come withdamage, but it’s a commonly resisted type.
  • Maelstrom: A great option for areacontrol, but bards already have several of those.
  • Antilife Shell: Like Sanctuary butbetter, but also worse.
  • Conjure Elemental: None of theSummon/Conjure spells will get a blue rating from me because they’recompeting with Find Greater Steed. But if you don’t want to have a pegasusfor some reason and need another body, just pick the flavor and spell slotlevel you like best.
  • Control Water: If you don’t have a druidand you find yourself around a lot of water (like in a seafaring campaign),this will let you do some really neat water-bending stuff that can come invery handy.
  • Giant Insect: None of the Summon/Conjurespells will get a blue rating from me because they’re competing with FindGreater Steed. But if you don’t want to have a pegasus for some reason andneed another body, just pick the flavor and spell slot level you like best.This one is a little better because it’s more flexible in how many thingsyou summon, but I’d still call it green
  • Summon Draconic Spirit: None of theSummon/Conjure spells will get a blue rating from me because they’recompeting with Find Greater Steed. But if you don’t want to have a pegasusfor some reason and need another body, just pick the flavor and spell slotlevel you like best.

Interesting options from the Paladin list:

  • Crusader’s Mantle: If you have a lot ofbodies and want distributed radiant damage instead of doing it all yourselfwith Sacred Flame. Maybe you’re fighting a ton of zombies or something.
  • Find Greater Steed: Don’t let your memesbe dreams.
  • Circle of Power: If you expect to face alot of spellcasters, this shuts them all down better than only being able tocounterspell once a turn.

Interesting options from the Ranger list:

  • Unfortunately, all the interesting options here are already covered underthe druid list. One note though: if you’re playing an archery focused valorbard, Swift Quiver is one of the best spells in the game for you.

Interesting options from the Sor/Wiz list

  • Arcane Eye: One of the best scoutingspells in the game, but if you already have a scout this can beredundant.
  • Creation: This is one of those “onlylimited by your imagination (and ethics)” in how good it is spells. Sellingsomeone an enormous block of adamantine for huge profit and skipping townfeels like a very Bard thing to do.
  • Telepathic Bond: If you need telepathy,this is the gold standard. This will be much more impactful inintrigue-focused games compared to dungeon crawls, but it can be usefulthere too as a stealth aid.

Interesting options from the Warlock list:

  • Eldritch Blast: At next level, it goes pewpew pew.
  • Misty Step: Bonus action teleportation isprobably three of the most delicious words you can string together inD&D.
  • Spider Climb: Good, but competes withFly.
  • Counterspell: I’m rating Counterspellblue.Hmmm…
  • Fly: Good, but competes with riding apegasus.
  • Hunger of Hadar: The trifecta ofarea-of-effect damage, blindness, and tentacles.
  • Summon Undead: None of the Summon/Conjurespells will get a blue rating from me because they’re competing with FindGreater Steed. But if you don’t want to have a pegasus for some reason andneed another body, just pick the flavor and spell slot level you likebest.
  • Shadow of Moil: One of the best personalbuffs in the game. Take this if you do a lot of attacking or seem to getfocused on by monsters.
  • Summon Aberration: None of theSummon/Conjure spells will get a blue rating from me because they’recompeting with Find Greater Steed. But if you don’t want to have a pegasusfor some reason and need another body, just pick the flavor and spell slotlevel you like best.

There’s a lot to cover there, so let’s go over some things. Being abard, you’re probably replacing either a traditional arcane caster like asor/wiz/warlock or a traditional divine caster like a cleric/druid given thatyou can fill either role. I’m going to therefore recommend that you mostlylook at the list for whatever role you’re replacing and pick some utility thatis missing from the group. There are some exceptions that are just fantasticand need to be called out however.

You’ve probably spent most of your life using your cantrips to insult people for psychic damage. It’s a fabulous damage type, it applies a great debuff, and it’s thematically hilarious. With that said, sometimes you’re going to want something other than psychic damage, and this presents us with two great options: Eldritch Blast and Sacred Flame. If your party is lacking in radiant damage, Sacred Flame will go a long way towards making sure you can deal with the undead and evil outsiders effectively. Meanwhile, Eldritch Blast is so good that people will often wander into a level of warlock for little other benefit.

If you’re the primary healer in the group, Aura of Vitality isludicrous amounts of healing for a level 3 spell, with the caveatthat you should basically never use it in combat. With the optional rulesadding it to the cleric list, this becomes less mandatory to take on a bard,but it’s still incredibly strong as it was one of those spells balanced aroundnot being available until character level 9.

If you don’t have anything else to do with your bonus actions yet, SpiritualWeapon remains king among spells that should be concentration but aren’t.

Revivify is so good that you should take it even if someone else in the partyalready has it because, if they die, you can use it on them. I would honestlyonly not consider this a priority if your party already has two instances ofit.

I’m going to say that, especially if you’re light on bodies in your party,picking one of the Summon/Conjure [x] spells will help quite a bit. With thatsaid though, you may want to instead look into Find Greater Steed. A Paladinexclusive that normally wouldn’t see play until level 13, get yourself aCelestial/Fey/Fiendish pegasus.They’re fast on the ground, they’revery fast in the air, and they may well be smarter and wiserthan you are. They also speak three languages you probably don’t and cancommunicate with you telepathically so expect to suddenly have a greattranslator, and with their passive perception of 16 they’re more observantthan most characters.

Pass Without Trace is one of those things that feels like someone forgot theywere trying to create a bounded system. If you think you, your party, oranyone you’re friendly with might ever want to sneak somewhere, you shouldtake this spell.

Bards are one of only two things that get to add a bonus to the roll for Counterspell, which makes it incredibly frustrating that they don’t get it natively. Per this Crawford tweet (which isn’t really surprising, it’s completely RAW and just something people overlook), Jack of All Trades applies to the Charisma check you would make to counterspell something that you didn’t beat by slot level.

Misty Step and Fly are both some of the best movement options in the game andgetting access to them, even now, is still good. Especially if multiplemembers of your party haven’t figured out how to fly yet themselves. If you’rethe only one by this point though, I’d probably skip it and just take yourpegasus.

Level 14

Interesting options from the Cleric list:

  • Heal: Is someone missing a lot ofhitpoints and needs them back right now?There is rarely a better option. Plus it’ll fixsome common statuses (but not all of them).
  • Heroes’ Feast: A great buff for the wholeparty, and you cast it every day. But only once a day, which makes using asecret on it feel like a bit of a waste.
  • Word of Recall: Superbly good defensiveteleport, but it requires everyone to be adjacent to you and you need tohave a “sanctum” in a temple basically.
  • Plane Shift: At this level, someone needsto have it.

Interesting options from the Druid list:

  • Transport via Plants: If you findyourself often needing more distance or capacity than teleport, this cancover the gap.
  • Draconic Transformation: It’s a reallycool spell, but it’s going to take you out of your primary role.
  • Reverse Gravity: A great option for areacontrol, but bards already have several of those.

Interesting options from the Sor/Wiz list:

  • Contingency: You can do many good thingswith this, but the imposition in 5e of only going up to level 5 makes this alittle frustrating. I want to Heal someone when their Death Ward triggers,damnit.
  • Simulacrum: Why is this here you ask? Readthe entry for Wish below.

I wouldn’t say there’s anything really required here except Heal and PlaneShift. At least one person in the party needs one of each, but I wouldprobably end up going back for earlier options to fill out my capacities forthe role I was covering for.

Level 18

Interesting options from the Cleric list:

  • Holy Aura: The best party-wide defensivebuff in the game.
  • Mass Heal: Iseveryone missing a lot of hitpoints and need them backright now? There is no better option. Plus it’ll fix some commonstatuses (but not all of them).

Interesting options from the Druid list:

  • Shapechange: If your DM hasn’t given upyet, it would be theoretically possible to cast this on you and your pegasusfor one spell slot.

Interesting options from the Sor/Wiz list:

  • Clone: If you want to be immortal, thisis the best way to do it. But really, you’re taking Wish so you don’t needthis too.
  • Illusory Dragon: A rare spell that has noverbal component, meaning you can cast this and get all its amazing benefitseven while Silenced.
  • Maze: One of the best save-or-sucks(especially since it’s not really a save), but bards already have severalgood ones.
  • Wish: It’s Wish.

At this level, the options you select are always Wish & whatever else youfeel like, because Wish breaks the game. In fact, if you’ve also selectedSimulacrum earlier (or now), you can go read my Practical Guide to Wishwhich will give you a brilliant rundown on how to have a naked clone army ofyou, become resistant to all damage, and have infinite money.

College of Lore

As promised, a quick note for lore bards: you should really be taking Aura ofVitality at level 6. Even if there’s another healer, topping everyone during ashort rest for a single 3rd level spell slot is really, really good. I wouldpersonally almost always also take Revivify because it’s that powerful, but Ican understand that feeling like too much of a tax so feel free to takesomething else that seems like more fun. Fireball in particular is anotherspell-level-3 staple and bards do struggle with area-of-effect damage. PassWithout Trace, Fly, Counterspell, and Hunger of Hadar are all also greatoptions depending on what you need and what other casters are in yourparty.

College of Swords and College of Valor

Additional interesting options

  • Guardian of Nature: Advantage on attackrolls and Concentration for a minute and some other cool stuff too.
  • Fire Shield: Resistance to one of twoelements and bonus damage back.
  • Spirit Guardians: If your DM lets you putthis on your pegasus too, oh boy. It stacks.
  • Wrathful Smite/Banishing Smite: StillConcentration making them super hard to use for true gish builds.
  • Holy Weapon: An enormous pile of extradamage on every swing, balanced for high level paladins but still only usinga 5th level slot for you.
  • Armor of Agathys: The scaling makes thisone of the most impactful spells available to melee characters.
  • Vampiric Touch: 3d6 averages out to 10.5,meaning the healing averages to 5/turn. It’s not nothing, but you’re givingup extra attack as a sword bard and only getting the bonus action attack onthe turn you cast it as a valor bard
  • Investiture of Stone: The best spell togive yourself resistance to being punched and stabbed.

If you’re playing college of swords or valor, you’re not likely to be the primary healer in the party. This frees you up to be a little more selfish with your spells. One of the reasons I mention this is that, if you take Find Greater Steed (which you really should), you should pay special note to the line “While mounted on it, you can make any spell you cast that targets only you also target the mount.” This means that several of the buff spells listed above you can get double value out of, especially Armor of Agathys. Applying a ton of temp hp to your mount is a great way to increase its survivability, and getting free damage back on it is an amazing bonus. Woe betide any creature that tries to melee your pegasus out from under you. It’s also not concentration so you can run something else on both of you too.

Now, the wording “any spell that targets only you” is frustratingly vague.This Crawford tweetcalls out smite spells as being explicitly disallowed because they targetanother creature. Fair enough (although they also require a weapon so thepoint is rather moot). But the semantics around “target” leaves a lot open tointerpretation. Does Spirit Guardians target? Does it only target if youchoose people to be unaffected? Is Investiture of Stone disallowed becauseyour earthquakes could conceivably interact with other people? Does making theground around you difficult terrain mean that Guardian of Nature is no good?Is Armor of Agathys even technically disallowed because the retributive damage“targets” someone else? By his wording in the followup tweet, probably. Beforeyou go this route you should definitely talk to your DM about how pedanticthey’re going to be about this.

Back to our regularly scheduled content. Speaking of Guardian of Nature,Great Tree form is really good for a dex-based melee bard (which willbe nearly all melee bards). Be an elf and take Elven Accuracy for even moreabuse.

If you do decide to pick up one of the Smite spells, just be careful about all of them having the Concentration tag, meaning that casting any of them will immediately break other Concentration, even if you immediately hit with it.

A final note: I called out in the Ranger section above, but college of valor can feasibly use archery as a primary damage source. If you’ve decided to play a bow bard (board?), Swift Quiver gives you two extra bow attacks as a swift action which means you can hit 4 attacks per round like a fighter. Given that the spell is balanced around not seeing play until level 17, you’re able to deal way more damage than you’re intended to with attacks at this tier of play.

Magical Secrets: A Practical Guide – DnD 5e – RPGBOT (2024)
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