D&D 5e: Whispers Bard Guide
Role in a Party
All bards gain benefits to their social skills, and the flavor text for the College of Whispers paints it as a more subterfuge and deception-oriented type of bard. This college is shunned and hated by other bards who view it as a college of deceptive scoundrels who exploit others; the features somewhat back up this fantasy, even if they are disappointing in some ways.
The features for College of Whispers are notably less powerful than other subclasses for the bard: they do not have the defensive potential of Valor, the spellcasting versatility of Lore, the persuasion and saving throw debuffing potential of Eloquence, and so on. Still, the Whispers Bard’s features can be fun and useful in the right campaign, and bards in general do well when played right. You can expect to be good with spells, skills, and social situations, just like all bards, but your unique features can be disappointing.
College of Whispers Features
When you join the College of Whispers at 3rd level, you gain the ability to make your weapon attacks magically toxic to a creature’s mind.
When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one use of your Bardic Inspiration to deal an additional 2d6 psychic damage to that target. You can do so only once per round on your turn.
The psychic damage increases when you reach certain levels in this class, increasing to 3d6 at 5th level, 5d6 at 10th level, and 8d6 at 15th level.
This is the sole damage option granted by the subclass, and the damage would be pretty good if it didn’t cost bardic inspiration. You can deal an extra 7 average damage on an attack at level 3, but if you do, the wizard might fail their saving throw and die because of your decision. If short rests are frequent and your resources aren’t too taxed, you can at least get more use out of this starting at level 5, but that’s unfortunately when most weapon users are making two attacks and you aren’t. Weapon usage just isn’t going to be a huge part of your character unless you multiclass.
Words of Terror
At 3rd level, you learn to infuse innocent-seeming words with an insidious magic that can inspire terror.
If you speak to a humanoid alone for at least 1 minute, you can attempt to seed paranoia and fear into its mind. At the end of the conversation, the target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC or be frightened of you or another creature of your choice. The target is frightened in this way for 1 hour, until it is attacked or damaged, or until it witnesses its allies being attacked or damaged.
If the target succeeds on its saving throw, the target has no hint that you tried to frighten it.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short rest or long rest.
There are numerous caveats to using this feature, and the result is just delivering the frightened condition. Although you could go ahead of the party and talk to an evil wizard to use this feature and give them disadvantage on their initiative roll when the rest of the party walks in, you could also die if you try this, because you walked into a room alone with an evil wizard. This could be a little useful in a roleplay scenario to debuff ability checks and slightly alter the target’s behavior, but that’s mostly it.
Mantle of Whispers
At 6th level, you gain the ability to adopt a humanoid’s persona. When a humanoid dies within 30 feet of you, you can magically capture its shadow using your reaction. You retain this shadow until you use it or you finish a long rest.
You can use the shadow as an action. When you do so, it vanishes, magically transforming into a disguise that appears on you. You now look like the dead person, but healthy and alive. This disguise lasts for 1 hour or until you end it as a bonus action.
While you’re in the disguise, you gain access to all information that the humanoid would freely share with a casual acquaintance. Such information includes general details on its background and personal life, but doesn’t include secrets. The information is enough that you can pass yourself off as the person by drawing on its memories.
Another creature can see through this disguise by succeeding on a Wisdom (Insight) check contested by your Charisma (Deception) check. You gain a +5 bonus to your check.
Once you capture a shadow with this feature, you can’t capture another one with it until you finish a short or long rest.
This feature is circumstantial, but it’s very fun when it comes up. Kill a guard, or be near them when they die, and then become the guard and impersonate them using a single action. The other guards will suspect nothing as long as they were far away when the violent murder happened. You will be uniquely good at short-term impersonation, and the +5 is overkill if you put your expertise into deception. Still, Disguise Self is a thing, and sorcerers, wizards, and bards all have access starting at level 1, so there is a lot of redundancy with what you can already do.
At 14th level, you gain the ability to weave dark magic into your words and tap into a creature’s deepest fears.
As an action, you magically whisper a phrase that only one creature of your choice within 30 feet of you can hear. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC. It automatically succeeds if it doesn’t share a language with you or if it can’t hear you. On a successful saving throw, your whisper sounds like unintelligible mumbling and has no effect.
If the target fails its saving throw, it is charmed by you for the next 8 hours or until you or your allies attack or damage it. It interprets the whispers as a description of its most mortifying secret.
While you gain no knowledge of this secret, the target is convinced you know it. While charmed in this way, the creature obeys your commands for fear that you will reveal its secret. It won’t risk its life for you or fight for you, unless it was already inclined to do so. It grants you favors and gifts it would offer to a close friend.
When the effect ends, the creature has no understanding of why it held you in such fear.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Charm Person is a first level spell, and this capstone is only a mild improvement compared to that spell. This is a disappointing feature, but at least you’re a high level spellcaster.
You are uniquely good at impersonating people killed by you or your allies, and if you are willing to expend uses of bardic inspiration, you can temporarily become somewhat okay at using a weapon, especially from levels 1-4. Most importantly, you’re still a bard, and you’re good at spells, skills, and social interactions like all bards.
This subclass doesn’t have a lot of actual substance, and it takes very specific situations for many of the features to be useful. Psychic Blades draws from the same resource as your bardic inspiration, so using it too often deprives you of one of your unique class abilities. Your defense is also weak.
Best Race Options
Earth Genasi – The Monsters of the Multiverse version enhances the subterfuge capabilities of your Whispers bard. Gaining Pass Without Trace will let you sneak around, helping you get into situations where your situational features can be used. You can even use spell slots to cast the spell, letting you use it multiple times compared to the old version, and the bonus action blade ward boosts a bard’s underwhelming defense.
Custom Lineage OR Variant Human – Great for most builds if your dungeon master allows them. Feats can help any build, and boosting an odd charisma score with a half feat at level 1 lets you have 18 charisma with point buy and Custom Lineage.
Kenku – Can mimic voices and produce forgeries more easily than normal characters, and they have bonus skill proficiencies: the Monsters of the Multiverse version can generate free advantage on a few ability checks per day. If you are going to play in a campaign where the features of a Whispers Bard will come up frequently, it’s likely the kind of campaign where the features of a Kenku will also come up frequently.
Choosing the Right Skills
All level 2 and higher bards have Jack of All Trades, so missing out on a skill proficiency is less painful than for other characters. Still, several skills are either iconic or useful enough to recommend above the others. The bard class gives one more skill proficiency than most classes, and you can put Expertise into two skills at level 3 and another two at level 10.
Acrobatics – If you can’t teleport, this skill is likely going to be the best way for you to escape a grapple. Your armor class and hit points are probably mediocre, so you probably want to escape the horrible creature that’s grappling you. Acrobatics is also used in a lot of out of combat situations, like balancing on ledges or doing stunts. This is a less important skill if you have any form of teleportation, since teleporting usually ends grapples and often lets you bypass obstacles.
Perception is the most used skill in the game at most tables and the consequences for failing a perception check range from missing out on loot to being ambushed by a Tarrasque hiding in the bushes. Get perception proficiency. If you find that social skills don’t come up very often in your campaign, this is a good place to put your Expertise feature.
Deception and Intimidation are especially useful if you want to play into the flavor text of the Whispers Bard, but Persuasion is more commonly used and proficiency in it is more likely to be useful. You will want Expertise in at least one of these if you like being stellar at social skills. Performance is thematic for a bard but less broadly useful.
Stealth and Sleight of Hand proficiency can help you if you want to do shady stuff as a Whispers Bard. Expertise in Stealth is overkill if it’s ever combined with Pass Without Trace.
You likely won’t have the wisdom to be amazing at Insight, but it’s a good proficiency to have if you’re doing a lot of social interaction with shady individuals.
Eldritch Initiate – This feat lets you pick any warlock invocation, as long as it doesn’t have a prerequisite. If you don’t want to take warlock levels (or more warlock levels if you already have them) but think something like the infinite use illusions of Misty Visions would be helpful, this is a great feat to pick. It may not be more important than raising your charisma, so you likely want to take this at higher levels once you have more valuable feats and ASIs. Remember, invocations with prerequisites like Agonizing Blast or Gift of the Depths can only be taken if you have warlock levels and meet the prerequisites.
War Caster – You are a full caster, so this excellent if you want to maintain your concentration, and it’s mandatory if you want to use a weapon and shield and still cast spells. Resilient (Constitution) may be a better option if you have an odd constitution score. These are great feats to take as soon as possible, even before increasing your charisma.
Shadow Touched and Fey Touched are good half feat options if you have an odd charisma score and want to raise it. Pick Fey Touched if you want to teleport, and Shadow Touched if you want to become invisible. These are both great Custom Lineage feat choices.
Strixhaven backgrounds – If these are allowed at your table, they are likely the best possible choice. Your spell list expands no matter what you pick, and you also get a free feat that gives you extra cantrips and a 1/day spell that you can also cast with spell slots, which could be the Shield spell. This subclass gives you no defensive options to boost your mediocre bard defense, so Shield is lovely to have.
Criminal – This background is useful for a Whispers Bard: if you want to use your magic to do crimes, being familiar with the criminal underworld helps. You may be able to frequently use your Criminal Contact feature in campaigns where a Whispers Bard’s features are useful.
Entertainer – An obvious background for any bard, and if you wanted to use your Expertise feature on performance, you can use the By Popular Demand feature to get opportunities to use that skill more often. This may be ideal if you wanted to play a less criminally oriented Whispers Bard, or if you wanted to play a popular entertainer who has shady dealings.
Hexblade Warlock– Any one level dip that grants you armor proficiency is great, but the almighty Hexblade is an especially good option. You can use Charisma on attacks, meaning that if you need to deliver Psychic Blades damage, you can more reliably deliver it due to your higher chance to hit, and there’s medium armor proficiency, shield proficiency, the Shield spell, and Hexblade’s Curse, and short rest spell slots, and Eldritch Blast, then if you take more levels you can get invocations and pact options that will help you in social situations or with espionage like Misty Visions and Pact of the Chain. The Undead and Genie patrons are also decent options. If you want to take more levels in warlock, you can eventually get an extra attack and/or a smite option that works on ranged weapon attacks.
Paladin – If you want to lean into melee weapon usage, Paladin boosts your offense and gives armor proficiencies, and it gives you Extra Attack and a helpful saving throw boosting aura if you take enough levels. Psychic Blades can be used alongside Divine Smite, letting you do massive damage with a single attack, especially on a critical hit, and your bard levels mean you can use higher level smites than most paladins. Just keep your paladin oath in mind if you were interested in using the shadier features of the Whispers Bard. This works better if you take 6-7 levels of paladin first and then start taking bard levels so that you can use weapons effectively throughout your whole career.
Aberrant Mind Sorcerer – A one level dip in this subclass gives you the Shield spell which boosts your defense, but it also gives you telepathy. Telepathy is perfect if you wanted to be creepy or do sneaky stuff, which are the things a College of Whispers bard likely wants to do.
Would I recommend playing a College of Whispers Bard?
I wouldn’t recommend this bard for most characters. It doesn’t give you a whole lot, psychic blades has some problems, and a lot of what this subclass does can be replicated by spells. However, there are admittedly certain campaigns where a Whispers Bard can excel, and multiclassing can remedy your weak defense. Lastly, you’re still a bard, and as I’ve mentioned before, you’re good at spells, skills, and social situations; this will make you at least decently effective even if you take College of Whispers and don’t get a chance to use its features.