Cutting Words 5e: How to Cut Your Opponents Down to Size

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There are many ways to gain an advantage over your opponent in Dungeons and Dragons. You can try to hit them where it hurts, use spells and abilities to weaken them, or simply outlast them. One of the ways that a College of Lore bard can help tip the scales in his favor is with the Cutting Words ability. Cutting Words in 5e allows you to reduce your opponent’s ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls with a Bardic Inspiration die roll.

In this article, we cover:

  • What is Cutting Words in 5e?
  • How does Cutting Words work?
  • When can you use Cutting Words?
  • Cutting Words ideas
  • Frequently asked questions about Cutting Words in 5e

What is Cutting Words in 5e?

Cutting Words is a reaction ability bards learn at 3rd level upon joining the College of Lore. You use witty remarks to throw people off, making them lose focus on whatever they were trying to do.

Imagine a bandit is about to thrust his spear through your critically wounded cleric. You yell out to the bandit, “I’ve seen children wield a spear better than that!” The fragile ego of the bandit is caught off guard and misses the cleric.

How does Cutting Words work?

Use Cutting Words when you see a creature within 60 feet make an attack roll, ability check, or damage roll. Expend one use of Bardic Inspiration and roll a Bardic Inspiration die. Subtract the number you roll from the number rolled by the target creature.

Because Cutting Words relies on your Bardic Inspiration dice, the amount you reduce a creature’s roll increases as you get stronger.

  • 1st Level—d6
  • 5th Level—d8
  • 10th Level—d10
  • 15th Level—d12

Cutting Words will not work on creatures that can’t hear you and creatures immune to charm.

Art by DavidValdez

When can you use Cutting Words?

Use Cutting Words after the creature makes its roll but before the DM lets you know if the roll succeeds or if the creature deals damage. You must use it before you learn the outcome of the roll. That is the risk in expending a use of Bardic Inspiration.

Cutting Words Ideas

Having trouble remembering your lessons from the College of Lore? Not sure what to say when your DM asks you for your sharp words?

Ability Roll

  • Your village just sent me a message. They want their idiot back.
  • WAIT! Your boots are untied!
  • You’re as charming/funny/handsome as the scum under my boot.

Attack Roll

  • I’ve seen children swing an axe better than that.
  • Does your breath always smell like that?
  • LOOK! There’s a zombie behind you!
  • Are you going to hit me or just keep swinging at me?
  • You couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn!

Damage Roll

  • You hit like a girl!
  • Ouch, you left a bruise!
Scanlan, master of Cutting Words in 5e, enters battle on Bigby's hand
Art by NickRoblesArt

Cutting Words 5e FAQ

When can a bard use Cutting Words?

You can use Cutting Words after ability checks, saving throws, attack rolls, or damage rolls, but before the DM/player reveals the number that the other creature rolled.

If an orc attacks you, the DM rolls the attack. You must commit to using Cutting Words before the DM tells you what the number rolled is.

Can you stack Cutting Words?

No, you cannot stack Cutting Words. A creature won’t be more distracted by two bards insulting him than one bard. The creature probably wouldn’t even make out what the both of you say if you both try to insult the creature at the same time. This is one of the fundamentals the College of Lore teaches its bards.

How many times can you use Cutting Words?

You can use Cutting Words a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier. And if you’re Charisma modifier is less than 1, then you’re a terrible bard and you still get a minimum of 1 Bardic Inspiration.

Can I use Cutting words on my turn?

Yes, but it’s rare because Cutting Words in 5e is a reaction ability. So to use it, you would have to take an action that would trigger another creature’s reaction so that you could then react with Cutting Words.

One of the most common examples, as taught by the College of Lore, would be to trigger an attack of opportunity by running away from or past a hostile creature. When the creature attacks you, you expend a Bardic Inspiration to use Cutting Words against the creature’s attack to increase the creature’s chance of missing. Or you can wait to see if the creature hits you and use Cutting Words to reduce the damage of the attack before you find out how much damage the creature deals.

Is Cutting Words a reaction?

Yes, Cutting Words in 5e is a reaction ability. You expend one Bardic Inspiration die to respond with your razor sharp wit to a creature making an attack roll, an ability check, saving throw, or a damage roll in an effort to make the creature fail or reduce the damage of an attack.

Is Cutting Words a bonus action?

Cutting Words in 5e is a reaction ability that uses a Bardic Inspiration die. It must be used in response to a creature making an attack roll, an ability check, saving throw, or a damage roll.

Can you use Cutting Words on a saving throw?

Yes, you can use Cutting Words in 5e on a creature when the creature makes a saving throw. But you must use speak your Cutting Words before you know the number rolled or the DM determines if the ability check succeeds.

Can you use Cutting Words on your initiative roll?

Yes, because rolling for initiative is technically a Dexterity ability check. However, this does use your reaction for the first round of combat, so it might be in your party’s best interest to use Cutting Words when someone is in danger.

Does Cutting Words cancel a critical hit?

No. Cutting Words in 5e cannot cancel a critical hit. The Player’s Handbook states on page 194, “If the d20 roll for an attack is a 20, the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC.”

Does Cutting Words reduce damage?

Yes. The description specifies you can use it on any creature that “makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll” to reduce the result. Roll a Bardic Inspiration die and subtract the number from the damage roll.

Is Cutting Words magical?

Cutting Words in 5e is not magical. You’re just super witty and know how to say the right thing to get under a creature’s skin.

Conclusion—Is Cuttings Words in 5e good?

Yes, Cutting Words is a great ability because you can use it to lower a foe’s chances to succeed on ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls. Plus you can use it as many times as your Charisma modifier allows.

Cutting Words in 5e is an ability that allows a bard from the College of Lore to use their wit to try and make an opponent fail. It’s a reaction ability that can be used against attack rolls, ability checks, and damage rolls. The ability can also reduce the damage of an attack. It’s not magical, so it doesn’t have any restrictions on who or what can be affected by it.

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