College of Echoes
While the other bardic colleges focus on music and its accompanying psychological effects, bard of this college see what music really is- vibrations in the air, the same as words and heat, and learn to manipulate those vibrations themselves. The wide variety of useful abilities they have makes them be considered extremely reliable by many, though their perceived reductionism of music and tendency to use their powers for pranks makes others think they lack dignity.
At level 3, as an action, you can touch a creature or object and inscribe a word of your choice. If you try to inscribe a word on a hostile creature, you must successfully make a melee spell attack against them. The word you inscribe glows dimly and says itself every few seconds in a voice and volume of your choosing. Whenever a hostile creature makes an attack roll, it suffers a penalty to its attack rolls equal to the number of words inscribed on it, as the noise distracts it. This has no effect on deafened creatures. A creature can use an action to scrape off all words inscribed on it. You learn 2 additional languages of your choice. You can erase any inscribed word by touching it as an object interaction.
This is a very specific but also very widely useful feature imo in the hands of a creative player. I don’t think the enemy inscription penalty is overpowered at all, because the squishy bard would have to spend several turns making meelee spell attacks, which might not even hit, for a relatively minor penalty, that can be gotten rid off all at once in an action, and they could take their chances with the help action or vicious mockery for a similar effect.
At level 10, you can inscribe certain words to manifest magical effects. These effects occur even if a target is deaf. You can:
Woosh- As an action, you inscribe the word woosh onto a creature. Unless the creature is willing, you must make a melee spell attack first. On a hit, that creature must make a strength saving throw, moving 30 feet away from you on a failure or 15 feet on a success. The inscription then vanishes.
Sizzle- As an action, you inscribe the word sizzle onto an object or creature. If you inscribe it on an object, it heats up, and if it is made of a flammable material such as paper or wood, it will burn, other wise, it becomes hot enough to do 1d4 fire damage to any creature that touches it (so a weapon with sizzle inside would do an additional 1d4 fire damage on each hit). If you inscribe it on a creature, you must first succeed on a melee spell attack against them if they are not willing. At creature with sizzle inscribed on them takes 1d4 fire damage at the end of each of their turns. You cannot have more than 1 inscription of sizzle at the same time.
Boing- As an action, you can inscribe a creature or object with the word boing. The next time they take fall damage, they take no damage and immediately jump a distance upwards equal to the distance they fell. The inscription then vanishes.
Snap- As an action, you inscribe the word snap onto an object or creature. If you inscribe it on a creature, you must first succeed on a melee spell attack against them if they are not willing. A creature with snap inscribed on it takes 1d4 bludgeoning damage and must make a dexterity saving throw or fall prone. An object or structure with snap inscribed on it takes 8d4 bludgeoning damage. The inscription then vanishes.
While this feature does not consume resources, the relatively low amounts of damage mean it is not overpowered, especially at 10th level when the bard’s vicious mockery does 2d4 damage, compared to 1d4. Woosh does push back a creature a whole 30 feet, but both a meelee attack and a saving throw are involved, and if either fail the bard risks being attacked again. This is more useful for supporting allies, eg. inscribing sizzle on the fighter’s sword, or using snap to collapse part of the building the parties’ fighting in.
The Weight of Your Words
At 14th level, as an action, you can choose a creature within 120 feet of you. The air pressure above that creature greatly increases, making them feel far heavier. The creature’s speed is halved and they must make a strength saving throw at the beginning of each of their turns, and whenever they use the dash or disengage actions, or fall prone. These effects last for 10 minutes, or until you are dead or unconscious. Once you use this ability, you cannot do so again until you finish a short or long rest.