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Cutting Words 5e D&D Explained + Examples!

Cutting Words can help take monsters down in less time, save allies from untimely ends, and cause foes to miss entirely. Read on for our rules breakdowns, player tips, and info on how and when to use Cutting Words in 5e D&D. Your Bard will be insulting those bad guys in no time!

a bard with a stern look on their face as though they have just said some cutting words there is a monster behind them
Image: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Chase Stone

What is Cutting Words?

Cutting Words is a class feature that Bards of the College of Lore get at 3rd level. It can lower a foe’s ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls by deducting the result of a Bardic Inspiration dice roll from the opponent’s roll.

Here’s the feature described in the Players Handbook.

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Cutting Words

…at 3rd level, you learn how to use your wit to distract confuse, and otherwise sap the confidence and competence of others. When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll, you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration die and subtracting the number rolled from the creature’s roll. You can choose to use this feature after the creature makes its roll, but before the DM determines whether [it] succeeds or fails, or before the creature deals its damage.

Page 55, Dugeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th edition.

How Does Cutting Words Work?

Cutting Words is, essentially, a feature that detracts from the rolls of your opponents and makes them less effective. Weakened by wit, if you will!

You can react with a powerful put-down whenever an opponent:

  • Rolls for damage
  • Makes any type of ability check (like a saving throw)
  • Attacks (at any time, not just on their turn)

When you react with Cutting Words, you roll your Bardic Inspiration dice and subtract your number from the opponent’s roll. Very cheeky, and incredibly effective when used wisely.

Don’t like the roll that Lich just made to whack your Paladin who is soaking all the damage? With a snide comment about her skin care regimen you may cause her to miss entirely!

Realize that your squishy Wizard friend is lower HP than you thought? Boom! Reduce the damage that wild Gnoll is about to dole out by delivering a soul-crushing dis on their mother’s penchant for squeaky toys.

And the more experience you gain, the more effective your insults. The dice you use for your Bardic Inspiration roll increases as you level up as a Bard like so:

Bard LevelBardic Inspiration Dice
bardic inspiration dice table dnd 5e

A good roll on a d6 is nothing to scoff at when it comes to reducing damage at early levels. And, as the highest roll on your dice increases, you can seriously flub up attack rolls and saves for the more challenging foes.

When can Cutting Words be used?

You can use Cutting Words any time a foe rolls for damage, rolls for any kind of ability check, or rolls for an attack.

That means you can use it on virtually anyone’s turn in combat: an ally’s turn, a monster’s turn, or even your own.

It’s specifically used in reaction to an opponent’s roll. You can wait to see the number rolled before using, but you must declare Cutting Words before you know whether their roll succeeds or fails.

[Cutting Words is] specifically used in reaction to an opponent’s roll. You can wait to see the number rolled before using, but you must declare Cutting Words before you know whether their roll succeeds or fails.

Can I use Cutting Words on my turn?

Cutting Words can be used on your turn. However, opponents rarely get to roll on your turn, and since Cutting Words is always in reaction to a roll this situation is rare.

The main use for Cutting Words on your turn would be if you move through a monster’s threatened area, or leave their reach and provoke an attack of opportunity. If you’re fighting in close quarters and need to make a fast exit, Cutting Words could really save your behind from any opportunistic jabs.

If you’re new to the idea of attacks of opportunity, think about it like this: while that Ogre may not be very smart, she’s not going to miss a chance for a freebie smash if you just waltz by within reach!

Is Cutting Words a reaction?

Cutting Words is a reaction. You only get one reaction per round of combat, but you can activate Cutting Words as many times in a fight as you have Bardic Inspiration uses. More on that in a moment!

Is Cutting Words a bonus action?

Since Cutting Words is a reaction that means you can use the ability and still take a bonus action on your turn (if allowed to do so).

Can Cutting Words be used on a saving throw?

Saving throws are an ability check, which means something like a monster’s Dex save vs your Wizard pal’s nasty Grease spell is fair game.

Let’s see you try to stay on your feet when a smirking elf with a lute just called your mother a Gelatinous Cube!

Can Cutting Words be used on an initiative roll?

You can use Cutting Words as a reaction to an enemy rolling initiative. That’s because initiative is a Dexterity check – one kind of ability check. For more about initiative rolling and getting bonuses to your initiative, see our article all about initiative in 5e D&D.

Though this specific situation is not in the Player’s Handbook, Jeremy Crawford (a rules designer for D&D 5e) says on Twitter that using Cutting Words this way expends your reaction for the first round of combat.

How many times can I use Cutting Words?

You can use Cutting Words a number of times equal to your Bard’s Charisma modifier (1 use minimum). And all your expended Bardic Inspiration is regenerated after a long rest.

The higher your Charisma ability score the higher the modifier, and the more Bardic Inspiration uses you get.

So, looking for strategies and items to increase your Charisma and get even more Inspiration? Check out some of our other articles like Spellcasting Ability 5e D&D- Find, Calculate Modifier & Increase!

Does Cutting Words cancel a critical hit?

The Players Handbook seems to say no, you cannot cancel a critical hit with Cutting Words.

If the d20 roll for an attack is a 20, the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC.

Page 194, Dungeon & Dragons Players Handbook 5th edition.

And that hard “no” is backed up by the head rules developer of D&D 5e on Twitter. Consider that this tweet was a correction to an earlier one where he said Cutting Words could cancel a crit though… and you’re left with some debate!

The Sage Advice Compendium on the Dungeons & Dragons website, a compilation of clarification on muddy rules, doesn’t have anything to say about Cutting Words. However, their wording on sources of official rulings gives even more fuel to the critical hit canceling camp:

Official rulings on how to interpret rules are made here in the Sage Advice Compendium by the game’s lead rules designer, Jeremy Crawford (@JeremyECrawford on Twitter). The public statements of the D&D team, or anyone else at Wizards of the Coast, are not official rulings; they are advice. Jeremy Crawford’s tweets are often a preview of rulings that will appear here.

A Dungeon Master adjudicates the game and determines whether to use an official ruling in play. The DM always has the final say on rules questions

Page 1, Dungeons & Dragons Sage Advice Compendium 5th edition 04/06/2020.

Some DMs don’t consider the way Cutting Words subtracts from the roll itself as a “modifier” – and therefore it is a legitimate way to negate a crit. Others may just want you to do something totally rad and hear your best insults.

In the end, whether or not Cutting Words can negate a crit is completely up to your DM. So, have a quick chat with them before trying to pull it out in a pivotal boss fight!

Does Cutting Words reduce damage?

You can use Cutting Words to reduce damage. That means even if you miss your chance to reduce a baddie’s attack roll (we all need ale refills sometimes), you still help out your glass canon Sorcerer by mitigating some damage.

Just remember, you only get one use of this ability per round of combat… choose wisely!

Is Cutting Words magical?

Cutting Words is not magical or a spell. Flavor wise it is a supernatural ability, but it does not count as magic in terms of gameplay.

For example, if someone has a type of magical immunity that won’t help them against a Bard’s ego crushing put-downs.

And don’t confuse it with the cantrip Vicious Mockery. No casting necessary for Cutting Words, just good old fashioned jive talk.

How good is Cutting Words?

Cutting Words is an excellent class feature with tons of versatility. It can make a monster more vulnerable to the spells of you and your allies, reduce damage, and – perhaps most powerful of all – can cause a monster to miss entirely.

Even at lower levels, it’s still pretty powerful. Think about it, at level 1 an HP of 14 is quite high. So, a d6 of damage reduction could potentially save an ally’s life!

Cutting Words certainly makes a strong case for choosing a College of Lore Bard over a College of Valor graduate. It really proves that the snark is mightier than the sword!

How does Cutting Words interact with advantage?

Cutting Words works on the end result out of the two rolls that a creature makes with either advantage or disadvantage, not just whichever was rolled first.

If a creature has advantage, Cutting Words subtracts from the better roll. If the creature has disadvantage, Cutting Words would subtract from the worse roll.

Cutting Words Insult Ideas

Now that you know how it works, you’re ready to sling snark with the best of ’em! And for those times that you’re feeling less than witty, we’ve got plenty of suggestions! Master the art of the insult – or I’ll be a fawning milk-livered flap-dragon’s Uncle!

  • Your mother is so fat that she’d choke a tarrasque!
  • Wow, that halitosis is practically a breath weapon all by itself. Did something get lost in there?
  • Rapier? I don’t think I’ll need it for a weakling like you!
  • You must worship Beshaba, because that outfit is truly unfortunate.
  • That blade couldn’t cut wet paper. It’s as rusty as your moves.
  • (aimed at a dwarf) Are those… beardplugs?!
  • I’d draw my short sword… but I wouldn’t want to make you jealous.

For even more nasty names, swift snubs, and malicious mockery check out our article 100+ Cutting Words Insults & Vicious Mockery Insults for Bards! and for the lighter side of Bardic life, see our 100+ D&D Jokes Only Real Fans Will Get!

Conclusion: Cutting Words 5e

Bards have a reputation in D&D as the party flirt, the sweet talker, or the buff-giver. But with Cutting Words in 5e, we up our game with a combat control power too!

En garde, ya beslubbering fen-sucked louts!

If you feel bad after dishing out insults, how about a little shopping for D&D gift for yourself, your DM, or your fellow adventurers to lift your mood?

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