Hopefully this will catch me up with the playtest packets!
So, on to the bard. I’ve played bard’s before, and after a quick look at the changes, I’d say they still hold my attention with the new options.
Things that stay the same up to level 10:
Bardic Inspiration and Spellcasting at level 1, Jack of All Trades at level 2, Bardic College at levels 3 and 6 (and a new one at 9th… That’s not going to be backwards compatible…), ASI at levels 4 and 8, and Font of Inspiration at level 5.
Things that are gone:
One musical instrument proficiency at creation is gone, Song of Rest is gone (and folded in to Exploration Knacks), Expertise is gone (but replaced with Varied Expertise, see below), and Countercharm and Magical Secrets are just plain gone.
What new stuff are we getting instead?
At character creation we can swap a tool proficiency for one of our remaining two musical instrument proficiencies, there’s an extra cantrip, and there’s also an Ambassador and and Agitator equipment set to choose from, then at level 1 we get an Art Specialty and Battle Hymn, at level 2 we start to pick up Exploration Knacks and at 2, 6 and 10 we get Varied Expertise, Battle Hymn Focus at level 4 and Bardic Legend at levels 4, 7 and 10, level 5 brings Key Change, Maestro at level 7, Battle Hymn Specialization at level 8, and lastly level 10 brings us Battle Hymn Mastery.
So, swapping tool proficiencies is fine as of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, so seeing it included here doesn’t mean much.
Art Specialty gives different features to different kinds of instrument (or however the bard is spellcasting). Wind instruments can hide spellcasting with Deception or Performance checks three times per long rest, percussion instruments double spell ranges ‘from the sound school’ (I presume that means verbal components?), stringed instruments allow bards to target additional creatures within 15 feet when casting ‘from the movement or teleportation school’ (oh gods, have they changed the schools of magic?!), visual ‘instruments’ let a bard centre the point of origin on an ally who can see them, though they have to be able to see all targets of a spell, and bards using their voice for a spell focus have advantage on Concentration checks.
Battle Hymns alter the bard’s performance and behave like a concentration spell, cost a Bardic Inspiration but are free to activate, and can be used as many times as needed. They can be switched out at a level up, and a new Hymn is learned every three levels (levels 1, 4, 7, 10 etc.).
They do a bunch of things (there’s a whole table of information), but examples include giving temporary hit points or use of hit dice, the bard’s Charisma modifier as a bonus on saves, or a bonus die of damage on weapon attacks, or ignoring being incapacitated for three rounds, or what I’m going to call Bardic Inspiration with Advantage where they can roll twice and pick the higher result.
Most of the Exploration Knacks let a bard pick a skill to gain an expertise die and another feature. Song of Rest remains the same, but things like Brutish Confrontation give advantage on preparing an ambush and Townie lowers the price of general goods and spellcasting components in a friendly town or city by 1/3.
I quite like the flavour of the Marching Song allowing foregoing of stealth in favour of travelling an extra mile per hour.
Varied Expertise, the replacement for Expertise, gives an expertise die on one skill or tool.
Bardic Legend is about the bard telling the tales of their own adventures and spinning that into useful moments within settlements. At level 4 it allows quest givers to approach the party and rests to replenish more hit dice, at level 7 it gives advantage on certain social skills used on commoners that have heard the legend, and at level 10 it gives inspiration and boosts the adventuring party but ruins the reputation of everyone else named.
Battle Hymn Focus improves the Battle Hymn with some new options: either remove the Concentration requirement, start the Hymn as a reaction in another creature’s turn, or affect additional creatures based on Charisma modifier. Whichever option is picked, it can be swapped at a level up.
Key Change allows switching of Art Specialty as a bonus action, once per rest. Interesting, tactically.
Maestro builds on from Key Change – now a bard has one Art Specialty active at all times, no matter which one they might be using.
Battle Hymn Specialisation allows the bard to pick an additional Battle Hymn Focus feature or a new thing – spending 2 Bardic Inspirations to activate two Battle Hymns at once (but losing concentration loses them both), having either of the three lowest level Battle Hymns active at all times, even when using another Hymn, picking up three verbal spells from any class list and using 2 Bardic Inspiration to cast one (no action required, start of turn only, instead of a Battle Hymn), or expensing Bardic Inspiration to start a Battle Hymn still gives the Bardic Inspiration die to a creature within 60 feet.
Now, I’d love to tell you what Battle Hymn Mastery does, or how they’ve added a new Bardic College ability at level 9, but it looks like those are missing from this document, or else outright mistakes.
So I suppose there will be another playtest packet dropped for the bard that actually fixes these problems, or at least explains what to do at levels 9 and 10!