What is a Bard’s ‘Jack of All Trades’ in D&D 5e?This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Jack of All Trades (JOAT) is an ability that all bards get at second level, which improves some of their ability check rolls.
Specifically, the ability says:
“Starting at 2nd level, you can add half your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any ability check you make that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus.”
It’s not a bad ability.
But it’s not as powerful as some people like to think.
Since the bonus is rounded down, most bards will simply get a +1 bonus to all ability check rolls for skills they are not proficient in. At level 10, when the proficiency bonus increases to +4, JOAT will grant a +2 bonus to those skill checks.
At level 17, when proficiency bonus reaches +6, the JOAT bonus increases to +3
Bards do get a number of skill proficiencies, however. And they will not receive any bonus on rolls for ability checks for skills where they already have proficiency.
This further limits the usefulness of JOAT.
Similarly, JOAT does not provide bonuses for other kinds of rolls, such as attack rolls or saving throws.
If you were to stop reading now, you’d probably think, “Meh. You’re right, JOAT isn’t quite as cool as I thought.”
But there is one way that this ability is pretty awesome…
Initiative rolls are a type of ability check.
Since you cannot add proficiency to rolling initiative, a bard will always get the JOAT bonus to initiative.
Since there aren’t many ways to improve your initiative score, this is pretty great for bards, especially since (a) bards tend to have high dexterity and thus a good initiative bonus, and (b) bards can often benefit significantly from going early in the initiative order to cast powerful control spells, before enemies can act or other PCs get in the way.
So celebrate the fact that your initiative gets a bonus. And keep track of those times when you barely pass an untrained skill.
It won’t happen often, but you might be pretty happy when it does.