It’s been a busy week, and entries have been late. I would’ve posted this last night, but a power outage prevented me.
Ah, bards. They’re a much more interesting class in 5th edition in that they’re a “full” caster, but they’re probably the worst designed according to the subclass system that exists in 5e. See, for all other classes, their class options gain features at least 4 times (if not more). Bards have only 3. Going by comparable classes, they really ought to gain something at 10th level (probably instead of Magical Secrets), and their subclass features aren’t all that strong, but oh well. One day I may have some variants that introduce something new at 10th level instead of the features they currently get, but that isn’t today.
Bards are both simple and difficult when it comes to creating class options: you don’t have to think of very many things to add due to the limited new features and like many class options they’re fairly structured, but it’s hard to think of new mechanics or archetypes that need representation given how “flavorful” the base class already is and how little the class options add to the theme. You get bonus proficiencies and a way to use your Inspiration dice at 3rd level, something that really establishes your theme at 6th level, and a capstone that further reinforces it at 14th. There isn’t much room to work.
Nevertheless, here’s a bardic option focused on being selfish and storing up secrets (as opposed to the College of Lore’s more cooperative approach to sharing knowledge).
Bardic College: College of Collection
Bards of this college are ancient rivals to their counterparts in the College of Lore. While members of the College of Lore share their knowledge freely, viewing truth as a goal. Members of the College of Collection have a different approach: knowledge is a treasure, and its collection empowers the college to exceed their peers. This college is unafraid to approach forbidden tomes and catalog the darkest secrets found within, hoarding them for their own benefit.
Bonus Proficiencies: When you join the College of Collection at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with martial weapons and any two Intelligence skills. [Some proficiencies here–in between Lore and Valor in terms of application.]
Combat Knowledge: Also at 3rd level, you can call upon your trove of lore to battle creatures more effectively. As a bonus action, you can spend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration to give yourself a Bardic Inspiration die. This die can be added to an attack roll or a weapon damage roll that you make before 10 minutes expires. You can decide to use this feature after you make your roll but before the DM announces its failure or success. You can have only one Bardic Inspiration die at a time. [Typically, you can’t use Inspiration dice on yourself, but this archetype will let you. It feels very selfish to me, making use of martial secrets to benefit yourself.]
Tome of Ancient Lore: At 6th level, you create a spellbook that serves as a compendium of arcane rituals. Choose two 1st- or 2nd-level spells that have the ritual tag from any class’s spell list. These spells are copied into your spellbook and don’t count against the number of spells you know. You can cast these chosen spells as rituals. You can’t cast them except as rituals unless you learn them by some other means. You can add other ritual spells to your spellbook as well. When you find such a spell, you can add it to your spellbook if the spell’s level is equal to or less than half your bard level and if you can spare the time to transcribe the spell. For each level of the spell, the transcription process takes 2 hours and costs 50 gp for the rare inks needed to inscribe it. If you lose your spellbook or if it is destroyed, you can create a new one from memory with an arcane ritual performed during a long rest. You must scribe it within 1 week of losing your Tome of Ancient Lore. Recreating the tome requires a new spellbook. [Another feature that gives you the flavor of a lore type, this time similar to the Pact of the Tome invocation or Ritual Caster feat.]
Secrets of Avoidance: At 14th level, you can use your knowledge of creatures to avoid their attacks more effectively. When you make a saving throw, you can expend one use of Bardic Inspiration. Roll a Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to your saving throw. You can choose to do so after you roll the die for the ability check, but before the DM tells you whether you succeed or fail. Additionally, if you already have a Bardic Inspiration die, you can use your reaction when an attack is made against you to roll the Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to your AC. You can make this roll after you see the attack roll, but before the DM tells you whether you succeed or fail. [Although the Tome of Ancient Lore feature can help your allies, this one further encourages you to be selfish, giving you two more defensive abilities.]
All in all, I would say this represents a reasonable philosophical approach, but in general I’m not a fan of how the class was designed.