(UPDATE: A new version of this subclass was posted and is much better balanced)
In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Bards are one of the best rounded classes and rightfully so. Whether going into the class as a purist or dipping for a multiclass, they can add a lot of flair and robustness to a party. As such, any addition to the core subclasses available are welcome. In this instance, I will be examining College of the Opera by Hannah Rose and Kelli Butler.
At 3rd level, Bards get their college; a specialty kind of dictating the emphasis of their craft, whether it be music, storytelling, history, or some other sort of source of power. In the case of the College of the Opera, it places a HUGE emphasis on voice. This begins with a major difference to the Bard: voice as spellcasting focus. While this means hands can be free to do other things, it also means that all spells using that focus have the verbal component. This is a good balance to enabling such a mechanic. Furthermore proficiency in a diverse set of languages is added. I really like this as my own home campaign uses dialects (the starting kingdom has a high, low, and trade/oceanic language and Elven is divided into three languages as well).
5e has thunder damage that also encompasses sonic damage. One of the most popular thunder damage spells is shatter. A student of the College of the Opera gains this spell, but can also cast it as a 15 foot cone. I really like this change to it, gives the Bard a kind of Black Canary feel. However, on top of this creatures that fail their save against shatter from this type of Bard are also stunned. Stunned is a DEVASTATING condition effectively enabling auto hits. I have a hard time accepting this for an area of effect 2nd level spell. I could see doing something like the medusa petrify where if the creature fails its save by 5 or more, it then becomes stunned. To me this would outshine characters with hold person. There is an easy fix here and I see what the authors are going for, but it feels very over powered and easily abused.
The next ability is Aria gained at 6th level, with the Bard selecting one initially then more at higher levels. The Aria Cantabile enhances Song of Rest by giving temporary hit points (similar to the Inspiring Leader feat). Aria di Bravura enables a use of Bardic Inspiration to impose disadvantage on a creature that misses you. Finally, Aria Parlante enables Bardic Inspiration to be expended for social interaction to give yourself advantage. All these are great options and can play to three different roles. My only complaint is that Aria di Bravura should require the use of a reaction, or I could see it being too unrestrained.
At 14th there is the Supporting Cast ability, this is kind of a fun way to encourage usage of Bardic Inspiration. Effectively when the Bard sees an ally that is granted a Bardic Inspiration die use that die, the Bard gains that die to use before the end of their next turn. I do like this, but once again I believe it should use a reaction.
The final ability, Capture Soul, enables some pretty keen tricks. It is a Performance check versus their Charisma save. If you succeed, you get control of their soul where you have advantage on Charisma interaction checks along with determining if they can be resurrected or not. It is a pretty epic ability, but I can imagine a few situations where this may have weird interactions. How does it work with a lich? What if the creatures soul is bound to a devil? Lot of things I want to get a better idea about.
The presentation of this supplement is on par. I really like when photos are used and this pieces has two. The $2 price tag is on the high side for a single subclass. If it included two or three NPCs stat blocks using this class or based on it (especially with the mention of operatic villains in the descriptions, this would be a MUST BUY.
This, much like the College of Discord in Xanathar’s Lost Notes, fills in a Bard of a specific style of music. Two of the players in my group are sopranos (one has sung opera in the past) and I could imagine them having a blast playing this class. That said, I would certainly have to impose a few restrictions on it as written as it creeps a little bit too far over the power line for my taste. Beyond that, for a first effort I think Hannah Rose and Kelli Butler have done a bang up job with College of the Opera and I look forward to more from them.
Let me know what you think of this supplement on Twitter@OnlyPlayWizards
(EDIT: Was under impression that stunned made all hits criticals, like paralyzed, but my mistake. Still really powerful condition to impose en masse)