The Player's Handbook has two bard archetypes, the College of Lore and College of Valor. Wizards of the Coast has written two more archetypes in their Unearthed Arcana called the College of Swords and the College of Satire. All of these colleges are great at showing how bard archetypes work and how to create your own. A number of people have therefore done this and uploaded their own bard archetypes to DMsguild. Since I'm currently playing a bard and thinking about creating my own bard archetype that fits my character more than any other archetypes I've found so far, I downloaded 7 bard archetypes I could find. I then reviewed all of them so that I have an idea of how to create my own archetypes.
The reviews I've written on DMsguild focus on 5 different aspects: visual design, grammar, concept, rules, and balance. I've taken the two archetypes from the Player's Handbook as a reference. They have a beautiful visual design with artwork, the sentence construction and word use is flawless, the concepts are innovative since they are the first of their kind, and the rules are both new, fresh, and balanced especially since they have been playtested.
The archetypes I found on DMsguild include the College of Cooking, College of Hymns, College of Mourning, College of Diplomacy, College of Animalism, College of Dilittante, and the College of Bladesinger. If you want to read my reviews, you can check them out on DMsguild.
The visual designs of the various archetypes varied a great deal. Some were simplistic with nothing more than black words on white paper, while others were beautiful with custom fonts, background colours, and artwork. My favourite was the College of Bladesinger, which had fantastic artwork, something I would never be able to duplicate.
Most of the archetypes were properly written except for the College of Cooking, which had many mistakes. Someone else had already reviewed the college and noted that there were spelling and grammar mistakes, but I still added the same point in my own review.
There were bad concepts, good concepts, and unoriginal concepts. The College of Dilittante and Animalism were extremely strange concepts which I scored very low. The College of Bladesinger didn't score very high either since the Bladesinger isn't a new concept, besides it probably doesn't fit very well with the bard class. The highest scoring concepts were the College of Hymns and the College of Mourning, which were bards focused on life and undeath, concepts which were very interesting.
Most of the rules presented in the various colleges were innovative. Unfortunately many of the archetypes didn't follow the same pattern as those created by Wizards of the Coast. In other words, people created bard archetypes that were vastly different from the basic rules. This included bards that didn't get to use their Bardic Inspiration for anything, bards that simply gained multiclass features, or bards that gained 2-3 features at one level. My favourite was the College of Mourning, which had completely innovative rules not seen anywhere else while still using the basic bard archetype pattern.
I didn't playtest any of the bard archetypes and I'm not sure the creators have either. Some of them seemed like they had been created on the fly, some of them even rushed such as the College of Dilittante. The best archetype was the College of Hymns. Though I haven't tested this archetype myself, it seems very balanced compared to the other colleges, although other reviews scored it very low.
In conclusion, the College of Hymns and College of Mourning were my favourite bard archetypes I could find on DMsguild.
My own creation
Now the time has come for me to create my own archetype. The character I have created is a bard character that focuses on lies, disguises, and illusions. He's very similar to a bard of the College of Satire, but he is focused on what's below the surface and not on the idea that the bard is a jester. The four features I need to create to follow the standard bard archetype pattern are as following:
At 3rd level he should gain some type of proficiency bonus. I'm thinking that he should gain proficiency and expertise in the Deception skill.
At 3rd level he should gain some type of feature that uses Bardic Inspiration as a resource. I'm thinking about some type of self-bonuses, like the ones that the College of Swords have. This is because I don't understand why a deceiving bard should use his resources on the other players, wouldn't he just use it on himself?
At 6th level he should gain some kind of extra action feature. I'm thinking about stealing a rule concept from the College of Diplomacy as I did with the bonus proficiency concept (I know, I'm not very original). The College of Diplomacy gives the ability to conceal certain components when casting spells. I'm thinking about adding this feature to illusions spells.
At 14th level he should gain some type of feature that either uses Bardic Inspiration or grants some kind of extra action. I haven't thought of one yet, but revieweing the other archetypes, I'm thinking some type of feature that mixes a rogues' abilities with an illusionists'.
Once my first draft is completed I'll run it by our group. I will surely get some feedback and make changes. Then it'll be time to playtest it and make additional changes. Finally, when the archetype is completely finished, I'll upload it to DMsguild.