[RPG] What class and archetype to start out with, to be(come) a mastermind manipulator


I want to play a character that is a master at manipulating people to do his bidding, staying out of combat for the most part. I want my character to be a bit sinister, kind of like Loki from Norse mythology.

At first I thought an Arcane Trickster Rogue with a high intelligence and charisma, taking expertise in deception and persuasion, but the more I thought about it — all rogues seem to be pretty heavily reliant on sneak attack. They are a secondary spell caster and I would prefer using spells over weapons.

So I then thought perhaps a Bard would work, but bards seem to be too well… nice, to be Loki-like. They have healing and other helpful abilities built into their kits, which would be fine, but I want more of and malicious and nihilistic type of character.

How can I make a 1st level character most focused on manipulating others?

I do not have access to the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide, however I am open to its content.

Best Answer

A bard is not constrained by alignment.

A Bard can be as sneaky and evil as you want them to be. The limit is only found in what you try to pull off. You might want to re-examine your assumptions about the Bard class.

A Lore Bard

At level 3, choosing Lore Bard complements a spell-heavy / information-heavy approach to your Svengali/Rasputin influence peddler and manipulator. Spells and social skills combine to provide you with choices in how to influence a given situation.

  1. Dragon slaying? Not so much, unless you can fool one.
  2. Getting the vizier to help you and your party, when your goal is to trigger a coup d'etat? Right up your alley.

How do I influence or control others?

Some good early spell choices include but are not limited to:

  1. Cantrip: Vicious Mockery, Minor Illusion
  2. 1st level spells: Charm Person, Dissonant Whispers, and Disguise Self
  3. 2d level spells: Crown of Madness, Detect Thoughts, Suggestion, Enhance Ability, and Enthrall

    The above menu of spells is thematic, based on getting others to do what you want them to do, or, to at least confuse and befuddle them. The spells are not aimed at causing maximum damage, which you leave to the rest of the party. Your role is to confuse and befuddle your enemies, or avoid fighting at all due to your ability to baffle them with BS.

The Lore Bard feature Cutting Words gives you greater chances for success. It lets you use your reaction to expend a Bardic Inspiration point and influence another creature's die roll. (At 14th level, Peerless Skill helps you succeed at a given ability check). Since you are in a pass / fail mode with most social skills, and spells, that influence what people see and believe, every bonus you can give yourself is one you that you should apply.

Skills (the tyranny of choice)

You get three skills as a Bard to begin with. No matter what your background is I would recommend Persuasion, Deception, and Performance to be locked in. If you begin as a half elf, you will get more two more skills to start with. Choose proficiency in Sleight of Hand, Perception, and Insight as soon as you can manage, though Investigation might be the better choice in an urban campaign.

When Expertise arrives at 3rd level, you double your proficiency score for two skills. I'd go with Persuasion and Deception as the default. Depending on your campaign, and how often you are using your music to sway and move groups of people, Performance might be a better choice. Getting the audience/crowd on your side can make or break a tense situation.

Evil intentions? While Deception and Persuasion are your core skills, using Investigation, Insight, Arcana, History and Sleight of Hand all aim toward getting information.

  • Information provides you with an edge. Exploit that edge mercilessly.

    For an exhaustive look at the Bard as both con artist and party face, there is a well presented guide here at a well known D&D forum that is far more in depth than this answer.

Ability Scores:

Charisma, Dexterity, and Constitution are each important, but consider where you want your mental skills to round out.

  • Wisdom, to boost Perception and Insight attempts, or

  • Intelligence to boost Investigation, History and/or Arcana checks.

    Repeated for emphasis: a key currency for your character is information, that you use and abuse for your own ends. (Muahahahahahaha!)

    The Bard needs high Charisma regardless of any other choices. It's the class spell casting ability, as well as where bonuses for social interaction are centered, and is critical to making the most of your spell DC's. Mind control and mind influence is in a lot of cases pass/fail, so you want to give yourself the edge when you cast a spell to influence others.


TO leverage a Bard's natural talents, a background as Charlatan (skills from this are Deception and Sleight of Hand) or Entertainer (Acrobatics and Performance skills). These background choices free you up to select others from the class skill list.

  • Entertainer provides a disguise tool kit proficiency that helps you fool people into thinking that it is someone else, not you, that they are dealing with -- complementing various efforts at Deception.
  • Acrobatics is something you'll probably need to survive in the dangerous world of adventuring, and sometimes entertain. (Hey, look over here the bard is doing back flips ... while the Rogue picks pockets).

  • Back by popular demand is a feature of the Entertainer background that will ensure that you always have room and board, and sets up situations that can lead to making contacts. You don't have to be of good alignment (just appear that way when necessary) to exploit these advantages, just talented. Information, and personal contacts: what devious mastermind doesn't make the most of both of those?

Looking Ahead

As you progress in levels, once you boost your Charisma, you may wish to consider the feat Actor (PHB, p. 165). It gives you advantage on Deception and Performance checks when you are trying to pass yourself off as someone else. That's equivalent to a +5 bonus, roughly, and makes infiltration far more likely to succeed.

An evil, devious, manipulative Bard? That role leaps off of the pages of the PHB.


This advice is campaign dependent

  • This approach requires a lot of role playing and interaction with NPC's and monsters. If your DM is running a combat heavy campaign, it will be a bit tougher than in a more balanced campaign.
  • Charm and Suggestion spells (particularly the lower level spells) are of short duration; charm person has side effects that turn the target against you. Use with care.

Experiential Note: our first 5e group featured a half-elf Lore Bard whose alignment was not good (and it got worse due to a cursed item). He was pretty effective, though he occasionally got us all into a lot of trouble. (That's fun too, getting out of trouble). Contra to the guide I linked to, which advocates using Intimidation, he didn't go for intimidation at all (leaving that sort of thing up to our Dwarf Paladin) but went for a softer sell: persuasion/deception. It worked pretty well.

Another Bard approach: College of Whispers

Now that Xanathar's Guide To Everything has come out, the Bard's College of Whispers bard school might fit your needs as well as a Lore Bard. While the general Bard class will do you just fine for levels 1 and 2, some of your requirements for being malicious fit the College of Whispers like a glove ... once you choose that college at third level.

  1. Psychic blades provide psychic damage;

  2. Words of Terror puts fear into people.

  3. Mantle of Whispers (at 6) lets you kill someone and then put on their appearance for an hour (what better way to get away with murder?)

  4. Shadow Lore (at 14) is "blackmail in a magic bag" that you can use to influence someone.