DnD Instruments: From Bardic Performances to Deadly Weapons

In DnD 5th edition, musical instruments play an important role beyond just providing entertainment. Bards, in particular, rely heavily on their musical abilities to cast spells and inspire their companions in battle.

From traditional instruments like the lute and harp to unique creations like the doss lute and thunder horn, there is a wide variety of instruments to choose from.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the types of instruments available, how to choose and care for them, their non-musical uses, and even how to create custom instruments for your character. Join us on a musical journey through the world of D&D.

Types of Instruments in DnD

there are three types of instruments commonly found in D&D:

  • Wind Instruments.
  • Percussion Instruments
  • String Instruments

Wind Instruments

Flute: A simple, tube-shaped wind instrument that produces a clear, high-pitched tone. Commonly used in soothing or haunting melodies.

Horn: A brass wind instrument with a flared bell and a narrow mouthpiece. Often used for signaling or as a battle cry.

Pan flute: A collection of hollow tubes of varying lengths that produce different pitches when blown into. Often used in soothing or ethereal melodies.

Recorder: A simple, fingered wind instrument that produces a clear, high-pitched tone. Often used for simple, pastoral melodies.

Bagpipes: A wind instrument consisting of a bag and several pipes that produce a drone and a melody. Often used for martial or celebratory music.

Percussion Instruments

Drums: A percussion instrument that produces a rhythmic beat in DnD. Often used for martial or tribal music.

Tambourine: A circular percussion instrument with metal disks or jingles that produces a bright, jingling sound. Often used for festive or celebratory music.

Maracas: A pair of small, handheld percussion instruments filled with seeds or beads that produce a shaking sound. Often used for rhythmic music.

Triangle: A small, metallic percussion instrument that produces a high-pitched tone when struck with a metal beater. Often used for accenting melodies.

String Instruments

Lute: A plucked string instrument with a pear-shaped body and a fretted neck. Often used for accompanying songs or ballads.

Harp: A plucked string instrument with a large, angled frame and multiple strings. Often used for ethereal or celestial music.


Lyre: A plucked string instrument with a small, handheld frame and few strings. Often used for accompanying songs or hymns.

Mandolin: A plucked string instrument with a rounded body and four to eight pairs of strings. Often used for lively or rhythmic music.

Violin: A bowed string instrument with a four-stringed body. Often used for classical or elegant music.

These are just some examples of the many instruments that can be found in the world of DnD. Each instrument has its own unique sound and purpose and can add a different dimension to the game.

Musical Performances in DnD

Musical performances can also simply add a layer of immersion and enjoyment to the game. Players can enjoy listening to their bard’s music, or even incorporate their own musical talents into their characters’ performances.

Ultimately, the use of music in D&D is limited only by the player’s imagination and the DM’s creativity.

Combat Encounters

  • Bards can use their musical talents to inspire their allies and demoralize their enemies. Bardic spells and abilities can boost allies’ strength and accuracy, or weaken their enemies’ defenses.
  • The sound of a bard’s music can boost morale and courage, providing temporary hit points or bonuses to saving throws for allies.

Social Encounters

  • Bards can use their music to enhance their social skills, convincing NPCs to provide valuable information or assistance.
  • The right music can set the tone for a social encounter, creating a festive, mournful, or ominous mood as needed.

Exploration Encounters

  •  Bards can use their music to mask the sound of a group’s approach, reducing the chances of being ambushed by enemies.
  • The sound of distant music can alert players to potential encounters or events, helping them to prepare for or avoid danger.

Non-Musical Uses of Instruments in DnD

Instruments can also be used for creative problem-solving, as players and DMs can come up with unique solutions to challenges using the items they have on hand. Ultimately, the versatility of instruments in DnD is limited only by the creativity and resourcefulness of the players and DM.

Improvised Weapons

  • Drum: A player can use a sturdy drum as an improvised blunt weapon by either swinging or throwing it at enemies.
  • Horn:  They can use a metal or wooden horn as an improvised club or spear, or to knock enemies prone.
  • Lute/Harp:  The sharp edges of a lute or harp can serve as improvised daggers.

Roleplaying Tools

  • Lute/Harp: During conversations, a bard can use their instrument to distract or entertain NPCs, providing a boost to diplomacy or intimidation checks.
  • Bagpipes: The loud and brash sound of bagpipes can intimidate or scare off potential enemies or animals.
  • Recorder/Pan flute: A small wind instrument that can be used to communicate with animals or other creatures that have keen hearing.

Tools and Crafting Materials

  • String instruments: The strings of a broken instrument can be used as makeshift rope or wire.
  • Horn: A hollowed-out horn can be used as a drinking vessel or even as a primitive megaphone.

Choosing an Instrument

The choice of instrument should be based on a combination of practical considerations (such as class and race) and personal preferences. Players should choose an instrument that adds to the game’s immersion and enjoyment, allowing them to fully embody their character’s persona.

Practical Considerations

Bards are the most obvious choice for a musical character and are proficient with a variety of musical instruments in DnD. The specific instrument chosen may depend on the character’s background or personality.

Other classes may also choose to have proficiency with an instrument, depending on their background or personal interests. For example, a druid may be proficient with a pan flute or similar instrument, while a rogue may have experience with a lute or other stringed instrument.

Certain races may have cultural ties to specific instruments. For example, dwarves may favor heavy drums or horns, while elves may prefer delicate string instruments in DnD 5e.

Personal Preferences

Players should choose an instrument that suits their character’s personality and style. A boisterous character may choose a loud horn, while a reserved character may choose a subtle harp or flute.

If a player has experience playing a musical instrument in real life, they may choose to incorporate that into their character’s background or skill set.

Certain instruments may offer unique roleplaying opportunities. For example, a bagpipe-playing character may be able to intimidate enemies or impress allies with their loud and bold playing.

Purchasing an Instrument in DnD

In Dungeons & Dragons, purchasing an instrument for your character can be an enjoyable experience, but it’s important to consider a few factors before making a decision.

The first step is to determine your character’s budget, as instruments can vary in price depending on their rarity, craftsmanship, and materials.

Purchasing an Instrument in DnD

It’s also crucial to research the game world and speak with your Dungeon Master about any restrictions or limitations on certain instruments. When selecting an instrument, take into account your character’s personality, background, and musical style.

Wealthier bards may prefer ornate instruments, while more practical and portable options may suit those from less privileged backgrounds. Once you have found the right instrument, haggling with the seller and inquiring about additional accessories and maintenance tools can be beneficial.

By making an informed decision, you can enhance your character’s musical abilities and add depth to their personality.

Caring for Your Instrument

Proper care and maintenance of musical instruments are crucial for optimal performance and longevity in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

This involves keeping the instrument clean, storing it properly in a protective case or stand, regular tuning, and replacing strings or making reed adjustments if necessary.

Environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity, should also be considered. By taking these steps, players can prevent costly repairs or replacements and ensure a reliable and enjoyable addition to their D&D game.

How are Musical Instruments Useful in DnD?

Musical instruments can be a useful tool in a variety of situations in D&D, from combat to social interactions to exploration. Players who invest in an instrument and take the time to learn how to use it effectively can gain a significant advantage in many different scenarios


In D&D, bards are one of the classes that can use musical instruments as a focus for their spells. By playing their instrument, they can cast spells that can heal allies, damage enemies, or even manipulate the battlefield.

In addition, some musical instruments can be used as weapons themselves, such as the war drum or the thunder horn.

Social Interactions

Music can be a powerful tool in social interactions within the game. Bards can use their musical talents to charm or persuade NPCs, gather information, or even distract enemies.

A well-timed performance can turn the tide of a conversation or negotiation and can be a fun way for players to role-play their characters.


In D&D, musical instruments can also be useful during exploration. For example, a bard playing the flute or a horn can create a distraction or lure enemies away from the party’s path.

Additionally, players can use some magical instruments to navigate through the game world or reveal hidden passages and secrets.

Creating a Custom Musical Instrument in DnD 5e

Creating a custom musical instrument for 5e can be a fun way to add depth and personality to a character. By considering the instrument type, qualities, and stats, as well as roleplaying its creation, players can create a unique and memorable addition to their character’s arsenal.

Choose the Instrument Type

Stringed Instrument: This could include a lute, guitar, or violin.

Wind Instrument: This could include a flute, oboe, or trumpet.

Percussion Instrument: This could include drums, cymbals, or a marimba.

Determine the Instrument’s Qualities

  • Decide on the sound the instrument produces. Does it produce a bright, crisp sound, or a deeper, more resonant one?
  • Consider adding magical qualities to the instrument, such as the ability to cast a certain spell or grant a specific bonus to allies.

Create the Instrument’s Stats

If the instrument can be used as a weapon, determine the damage it deals (such as 1d6 bludgeoning damage for a drum). Determine any bonuses the instrument provides, such as a bonus to performance checks or a bonus to spells cast while wielding the instrument.

Decide on the rarity of the instrument, which can affect its availability and cost.

Roleplay the Instrument’s Creation

Consider the backstory of the instrument, such as who created it and why. Roleplay the process of creating the instrument, including gathering materials and crafting it.

Use the creation of the instrument as a storytelling device, potentially tying it into the character’s overall narrative arc.

Critical Role Bards Who Play Instruments in DnD

1. Scanlan Shorthalt

Instrument: Doss lute (homebrew instrument)

Played by: Sam Riegel

Notable Performances: Scanlan’s rendition of “I’m a Rich Man’s Son” and “Brave Sir Robin”

Scanlan Shorthalt, a gnome bard from Critical Role’s first campaign, is known for his musical talents and comedic personality. He plays a homebrew instrument called the doss lute and often uses his performances to entertain allies and manipulate foes.

His memorable performances include “I’m a Rich Man’s Son” and “Brave Sir Robin,” and he once used his lute to charm a mind flayer in “The Siege of Emon.”

2. Pike Trickfoot

Instrument: Sacred symbol of Sarenrae

Played by: Ashley Johnson

Notable Performances: Pike’s use of her symbol as an instrument during her resurrection ritual in the episode “The Return of the Return of the Jedi”

Pike Trickfoot is a halfling cleric from Critical Role known for her loyalty to her friends and connection to the goddess Sarenrae. She channels divine magic through her sacred symbol instead of a traditional instrument.

While her musical abilities are not prominent, her use of the symbol in a resurrection ritual is a powerful example of the connection between music and magic in D&D.

3. Taryon Darrington

Instrument: Darrington family lute

Played by: Sam Riegel

Notable Performances: Taryon’s improvised song about his father in the episode “Bats out of Hell”

Taryon Darrington is a human bard from Critical Role’s second campaign, known for his arrogance and musical skills. He plays the Darrington family lute, a valuable heirloom.

While his performances often showcase his talent and charm, his improvised song about his father in “Bats out of Hell” adds depth to his character and highlights the emotional and storytelling aspects of music in D&D.

4. Scanlan’s Daughter

Instrument: Ukulele (homebrew instrument)

Played by: Mica Burton

Notable Performances: Scanlan’s daughter’s rendition of “The Old Wagon” in the episode “Perspective”

Scanlan’s daughter is a tiefling bard who appears in a special one-shot episode of Critical Role. She is the daughter of Scanlan Shorthalt and inherits her father’s musical talents. Her instrument of choice is a ukulele, a homebrew instrument created for


In Dungeons & Dragons, musical instruments play an important role in the game, particularly for bards who use them to cast spells, inspire their allies, and perform for crowds.

Choosing the right instrument for your character involves considering their personality, background, and musical style, as well as the practicality and availability of different instruments in the game world.

Proper care and maintenance of instruments is also important to ensure their longevity and optimal performance, including regular tuning and cleaning, proper storage, and consideration of environmental conditions.

Critical Role, a popular D&D web series, features bards who use a variety of instruments in their performances, including lutes, drums, flutes, and even sacred symbols.

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