Speak Your 5E D&D Truth as a College of Eloquence from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted master the art of oratory to discuss the College of Eloquence Bard College for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Storytelling potential from this Bard College from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything ranks high in my book like most 5E D&D subclass options beyond the Player’s Handbook. Over the lifespan of any edition of the game the character options tend to become increasingly niche. As my perspectives grow and change I’m refining how I view the relationship between storytelling potential and mechanics and I’m curious to discover where I land on the College of Eloquence so let’s get into it.
Storytelling through mechanics of 5E D&D
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything brings two new Bard Colleges into 5E D&D. College of Creation got the video and post treatment already. When it comes to College of Eloquence this Bard College is all about social interaction so it behooves Dungeon Masters to brush up on the guidance for these circumstances in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. That being said in all the games of 5E D&D I’ve played and ran those guidelines have never been employed so take it with a grain of salt.
In a lot of ways College of Eloquence bards circumvent the handful of rules and guidance for social interaction the same way rangers do with exploration material in the source books, which results in kind of a wash because the class features basically negate the mechanics of the things at which they’re designed to excel. For College of Eloquence bards this primarily comes into play right off the bat with their first feature. The Silver Tongue these bards possess renders the Conversation Reaction tables all but meaningless. This can put DMs in the awkward position of either presenting undue numbers of incredibly hostile creatures and NPCs or allowing these bards to walk all over them.
On the flip side assuming a group of 5E D&D players doesn’t incorporate social interaction rules leaves the intent behind College of Eloquence features to fall flat in lieu of leaning into the other half of the equation — increasing the effectiveness and versatility of Bardic Inspiration. In this scenario, which is probably the more common way this Bard College plays out in games, a College of Eloquence bard basically functions like a core bard class whose simply gets more mileage from Bardic Inspiration.
A big part of those changing perspectives about 5E D&D I mentioned deals with feeling like the game is transitioning into a niche game within the roleplaying game genre as a storytelling game. This is a notion I’ve been exploring throughout each of these dives into Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything subclass options.
“Storytelling games de-emphasize rules in favor of creating a believable story and immersive experience for all involved.”
College of Eloquence adds a new wrinkle to this point. Because combat is such a big part of the 5E D&D experience the storytelling aspect of this Bard College causes me to cringe a little bit. I’ve played in so many games with folks who approach every potential (read: intended) combat encounters as an opportunity to parley and make new friends and allies. This is great when the players and the whole party enjoy this approach but not so much when it’s a split decision. I suspect many players excited to play a College of Eloquence bard imagine their character’s honeyed words can get adventurers out of situations before they escalate into violence and based on the class featured combined with social interaction rules they’d be correct.
But after a while of this, or whenever their attempts to persuade or deceive creatures into seeing their point of view fail, combat is inevitable. Will these players sit the combat out because their character doesn’t participate in such violent behavior? Will they switch modes and exploit their class features to enhance the rest of the party’s aptitude for combat excellence? Perhaps they’ll fall back on the bard’s considerable magic and try to end a fight before anyone gets hurt. In any of these cases there’s a disconnect between the College of Eloquence bard and the other party members who might enjoy their 5E D&D in a more traditional way.
Then there’s the opposite approach to playing a College of Eloquence bard. For players who look at class features through the lens of how they can be used in combat this Bard College two of the five features they earn might as well be ribbon abilities since they hold no combat application. In this scenario College of Eloquence applies in name only. By combining the versatility their Bardic Inspiration gains with core bard features these characters can become extremely effective support and control characters.
We’ve still got a number of subclass options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything to go and there’s a few I’m more than excited to explore and play more akin to the Rune Knight and Fey Wanderer. You’ll have to keep an eye on the site to find out. In the meantime if you’re interested in the specific College of Eloquence features I’ve been musing about and you didn’t get your fill from the video above here’s the breakdown along with some commentary:
College of Eloquence features
- Silver Tongue. Borrowing from the rogue’s Reliable Talent this feature makes a College of Eloquence bard the undisputed master of social interactions that don’t involve Intimidation. Along with the core class Expertise feature a bard seeking unparalleled diplomatic skill can fall somewhere in the upper teens range for a lowest possible ability check using those particular skills. With a bit of investment even a hostile creature can do nothing to avoid this bard’s Silver Tongue. With a +10 bonus to those skills — not difficult to accomplish — even a hostile creature “does as asked as long as no risks or sacrifices are involved” without the need for a roll of the dice. And forget about friendly or even indifferent creatures who at the very least will always do as they’re asked when there’s no risks or sacrifices involved. With only a small increase in proficiency bonus or ability score modifier the most indifferent creatures would accept minor risks or sacrifices to do as asked (or significant risks if they’re friendly).
- Unsettling Words. I love features to empower Bardic Inspiration (or whatever a class’s main schtick happens to be). This one speaks to my favorite house rule of using inspiration to give the Dungeon Master disadvantage and functions along the same lines. This one seems like it would be more reliable as a reaction because of the potential for the affected creature to die or plans to change between using this and the start of the bard’s next turn. But that’s not what the rules say so my thinking is irrelevant here.
- Unfailing Inspiration. Whoa. This truly amazing feature makes these bards’ Bardic Inspiration so inspiring that if it fails to successfully inspire the creature it remains around until it does (or 10 minutes elapse). Clearly the Bardic Inspiration mechanic is key for these bards and their features allow players to exploit it to a terrific degree.
- Universal Speech. All those social interactions rendered passe for a College of Eloquence bard extend to literally any creature now since the magical speech uttered by these characters can be understood by anything. At worst it opens the door to talking their way out of oodles of trouble. At best even the most heinous adversaries can’t help but be influenced in combination with this bard’s other features. Of course some hostile creatures are so ill disposed that no check can sway them and any attempts to influence them fail automatically.
- Infectious Inspiration. This feature lets a College of Eloquence bard squeeze an extra dispensation of Bardic Inspiration into a situation. I spent several minutes reading this carefully along with Unsettling Words wondering if there was an overlap or synergy found there. Imagine if the wording were slightly different and this feature triggered when a creature’s roll was simply affected by a Bardic Inspiration roll. In this scenario the negatively impacted saving throw would satisfy the requirement for this reaction and provide an opportunity to squeeze out yet another Bardic Inspiration. Nevertheless a College of Eloquence bard can throw around Bardic Inspiration like it’s their job.
College of Eloquence bards require some buy in from the DM and other players to fully realize this Bard College’s place. Employing social interaction rules seems reasonable although the features neuter them quite a lot. This causes a conundrum as I see it. A 5E D&D campaign focusing heavily on social interaction can wind up with similar problems as an exploration heavy game does with a ranger involved. On the flip side taking a more improvised and DM ruling approach, which the more vocal part of the D&D community seems to do, kinda sorta diminishes their features and makes them simply more likely to achieve high dice results than other characters in those circumstances.
For a more environmental and elemental take on a Bard College having nothing to do with social interaction and everything to do with playing the music of disaster I think our own College of Cataclysm is pretty dope. Maybe you’re like me and it reminds you of one of the best episodes of The Real Ghostbusters (clip below). You can find the College of Cataclysm inside Dark Paths: The Chained One here and remember when you sign up for Nerdarchy the Newsletter one of the things you’ll receive is $9.99 in store credit for whatever you want. Learn more about it and snag a couple of free gifts right here.
*Featured image — A drow College of Eloquence bard as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]