How To Build A College Of Tragedy Bard In DND

Do you like playing bard, but hate the idea of being the comic relief of your party? Have you ever felt like the bardic classes were not emo enough? In Dungeons & Dragons, The College of Tragedy from Tal’Dorei: Campaign Setting Reborn is the answer if you are looking for an excuse to put My Chemical Romance on a character’s playlist.



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The College of Tragedy seeks to find darkness in the light, honing sorrow into a reason to keep their party going. Bards who belong to that tradition may see sorrow as a necessary step in one’s adventuring journey. Whether your bard overcomes it or falls prey to it will be entirely up to you…

College Of Tragedy Bard Features Overview

Three people sitting around a table, with one holding a knife and the other two holding parchment in DND
Arguing Councilors via Zoltan Boros

At the third level, your bard can magically ruminate in defeat. Your character will learn to acquire a taste for the nuances of failure and soliloquize dramatically about it:

Poetry in Misery

When an ally around 30 feet of you (or yourself) rolls a 1, you can now use your reaction to recover one use of your Bardic Inspiration feature.

You also gain the ability to project suffering and anxiety into your enemies through your words:

Sorrowful Fate

  • When a member of your party makes a creature perform a saving throw, you can utilize your Bardic Inspiration to make the save a Charisma save instead, swapping out one type of saving throw for another.
  • Upon your foe’s failure, the target will take psychic damage equal to one Bardic Inspiration die and will be wracked with guilt for a single minute. During that minute, if you eliminate them, the creature will have to mutter last words of some impactful kind before dying.

Sorrowful Fate does not provide a status effect during the minute of regret. It does just serve as a fun, flavorful way to make your Dungeon Master improvise.

At sixth level, you gain another two abilities, one of which preys upon the hubris of your enemies!

Tale of Hubris

  • When an enemy levies a critical hit on you or a party member, you can use your reaction to use your Bardic Inspiration to target them. For a singular minute, any weapon attack against the target will achieve a critical hit upon a roll of 18 or higher. Once you score a critical hit, the feature is expended and stops.
  • As you level, the range of numbers increases to 17 or higher.
  • This is an interesting feature because it also activates on a reaction.
  • It’s a great way to fight fire with fire and works well with the flavor of the class. It’s a situational feature, but the payoff will work well for combat-oriented parties.


  • You gain a +10 bonus to a saving throw or attack roll, but your next one will result in a −10 penalty.
  • This functions a bit like the Sharpshooter feat, mechanically, and replenishes upon a long or short rest.

At 14th level, you can use an action to designate your ally with the arrogant attitude of a doomed hero. A ghostly choir kicks up and gloomy music swells around them as they fight.

Nimbus of Pathos

  • Your ally gains a +4 bonus to their armor class and has advantage on attacks and saving throws.
  • Enemies will take an extra 1d10 of radiant damage when hit with a spell or weapon.
  • Any weapon attack will score a critical hit when you roll an 18 or higher.
  • When this ends, however, your ally immediately drops to 0 hit points and starts dying, which is hilariously bleak for your ally.
  • This feature replenishes on a long rest.

Best College Of Tragedy Bard Species

D&D artwork of a bard and a beholder at a fancy party
The Bard and the Beholder By Zozanna Wuzyk

Half-elf is a commonly chosen species for bard, as the old ability score spread used to make it one of the most advantageous species to play. This still carries through, with the subspecies of half-drow making one of the better subspecies to choose due to their access to the spell Faerie Fire.

Not only does Fey Ancestry give you the ability to roll with advantage against charming effects, but you are also immune to magically induced sleep, which is great for the many features you use on your reaction, as you don’t risk making a bad save against control spells cast during regular turn order. This makes elf another good species for a College of Tragedy Bard.

Fairy may also be a good choice, with flight being one of the better additions to the bard. Winged tiefling will give you the same benefit, though note that Hellish Rebuke will take up a reaction, making fairy a more comfortable decision.

Genasi provides you useful cantrips and spells throughout leveling, with Air Genasi standing out as a better choice due to their access to Feather Fall, allowing you to take other spells in its stead.

Goblin may also intrigue you, as their trait Nimble Escape lets you escape or dash with a bonus action, getting your bard out of bad situations and leaving your reaction open for your features.

What Are The Best Ability Scores For College Of Tragedy Bards

Woman stands on boat singing while corpses crawl up the side
Art via Wizards of the Coast

Ability scores for bards stay relatively similar across the board.

For College of Tragedy, we recommend taking Charisma as your highest ability score. Not only will this be your spellcasting modifier, but it will also determine whether you’ll be the face of your party. With all the ability checks that require Charisma, you’ll be set in terms of rolling during roleplay.

Next should be Dexterity, increasing your armor class. This will also make you more efficient with finesse weapons, such as the scimitar or rapier, which can aid you should you decide to make a more martial-focused bard. Martial builds work very well with the College of Tragedy, so make sure you prioritize this ability score.

Finally, Constitution or Wisdom should be third. Wisdom will ensure you make those saves from enemy spellcasters, and Constitution will improve your hit point maximum.

Three ghosts stand
Art via Wizards of the Coast

Here are a couple of cantrips for your College of Tragedy Bard at first level.



Mage Hand

While not being particularly useful in combat, you can use the illusory hand to use or hold an object. Mage Hand can be used to open a door or a container as written and or be manipulated to hold torches, pour out potions, and disarm traps.


  • Prestidigitation manifests a minor magical wonder. This is a great spell for flavoring little distractions and is famously used to soil or clean things.
  • For a bard, it can be absolutely entertaining to use this cantrip to enhance performance checks or to lend advantage to yourself in social encounters. You can also use it to provide darkness to your party to improve stealth by snuffing candlelight. There are endless creative uses for this cantrip, and as such, it should not be overlooked.

Vicious Mockery

If your target succeeds on a Wisdom saving throw, they’ll take 1d4 psychic damage and have disadvantage on their next attack roll. This is quite good, especially because the damage increases as you level. Having the ability to induce disadvantage at will makes this cantrip a must for your College of Tragedy Bard when so much of your output has to do with buffing your friends.

Minor Illusion

One creative way to use Minor Illusion is to use the auditory portions of the illusion. It’s a good way to distract enemies by doing things such as creating a dragon roar in the woods, or the sound of voices, so they can investigate. You can also use it to create images of people for spells that require being ‘familiar’ with someone, like Sending.

If you’re looking for spells, these have got you covered.



Tasha’s Hideous Laughter

  • Not only does this spell require a save from your opponent, but it keeps your enemy prone, which will let your party members have an advantage while attacking them. It can also keep the enemy out of your hair temporarily and works particularly well against spellcasters or those with abilities that require concentration.
  • It does a healthy bit of damage at early levels, as well.
  • Because this is a concentration spell, it complements the features of the College of Tragedy Bard very well, as none of the said features require concentration.


  • This spell will cause creatures with a hit points maximum below the sum of 5d8 to magically fall asleep, provided they lack Fey Ancestry. At an early level, the ability to end an encounter through magical sleep is excellent, especially against multiple low-level foes.
  • Further, it provides a good bit of breathing room for your party in combat, which works with the Tragedy Bard’s inherent build.

Disguise Self

A spell that takes one action to change your appearance. This is a spell most bards may find useful, provided they aren’t changelings, and can be used for a fair bit of trickery.

Dissonant Whispers

  • Psychic damage is one of the best damage types to use, and this spell delivers it in the form of 3d6. It’s exclusive to the bard spell list, and forces movement onto the target, who uses its reaction. This invokes an opportunity attack for your allies if you cast it while your target is engaged with one of them.
  • On a save, they take half damage, which is still incredibly useful at early levels.

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