Big shout out to The Player’s Handbook: a world of possibilities all within a 300-page tome. The Bard Class got two options within these pages; You could either focus on being a Caster, or get some Martial flavor. The College of Valor pursues the latter goal… But that’s not all. No, the College of Valor won’t settle for just the flavor; they want the glory. You’re a daring skald, inspiring a new generation of heroes. You want to be the history of the world. You want to ensure memories pass on from generation to generation by writing the history books. You’re the light that inspires the next generation of heroes… Or the flame that ignites the next generation of villains. How will this college of inspiration benefit an adventurer? Let’s read on and find out.
Lead Your Party: College of Valor 5E
The Valor school introduces some weaponry into the Bard’s toolkit. Your focus is on having higher AC and dealing good damage without needing to cast spells. This is one of the few colleges that supports a Strength build, but it has major merits in becoming a Long-Range bow build. Thanks to the proficiencies and few combat-centric abilities you’ll have, you’ll still have the absolutely divine support features and spell list of the bard, with a few extra weapon abilities.
If you’re like me, you see Bonus Proficiencies and you get happy. Sometimes, they can be a little bit of a bummer. Other times…
When you join the College of Valor at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons.
Medium armor by itself is somewhat meaningless. It’s super nice to have, but if you’re going for a Dexterity build, Light Armor will inevitably be a little better – once you get to 18 Dexterity, you should swap to whatever magical leather you have. If you’re going for a Strength build, Medium Armor requires you to get 14 Dexterity. Otherwise, you’ll have to dedicate yourself to a Heavy Armor feat, or suffer lower AC. Not the end of the world, and it’s at least a start towards good options.
Shields are usually great for you. As a bard, you don’t benefit too much from Two-Weapon Fighting; the extra 1d6 or so on the other swing isn’t really worthwhile. A shield gives you +2 AC for your other hand, giving you both extra protection for frontlining and maximum limb efficiency. That’s great for the Bard! And you can save your bonus action for things like Healing Word or Bardic Inspiration. Do consider either taking Warcaster or talking to your GM about what their casting while wielding policy is.
Martial Weapons are obviously fantastic. The Bard got solid-tier weapon proficiencies anyways, but Martial Weapons have a few awesome builds when you’re proficient in them. The Strength build is hard to do on a standard bard, since you don’t have access to Heavy Weapons like Greatswords. Now… You suddenly have access to Heavy Weapons, including Greatswords. That’s fantastic for boosting your round-to-round damage!
You don’t really want to have Longsword be your weapon of choice – why would you take the archetype if you were just going to use Longswords? But in the case that you’re going for a one-handed build, you can get Warhammers and Morningstars for good damage coverage.
On the opposite end, you now have ranged options like Longbows and Hand Crossbows to make ranged combat significantly easier and more effective. You either get larger dice than Shortbow, or the option to dual-wield ranged weapons. The ranged build is likely to waste your Medium Armor and Shield proficiencies, but the more efficient ranged dice are good enough to carry the build by themselves.
Consider your size and race when you build this character; Small characters actually don’t benefit too much from this proficiency! Accursed Heavy Weapons… Ruining halflings’ fun.
You also get one other thing right off the bat. Unsurprisingly, it’s a new way to spend Inspiration.
Also at 3rd level, you learn to inspire others in battle. A creature that has a Bardic Inspiration die from you can roll that die and add the number rolled to a weapon damage roll it just made. Alternatively, when an attack roll is made against the creature, it can use its reaction to roll the Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to its AC against that attack, after seeing the roll but before knowing whether it hits or misses.
So, this is one of the least interesting ways that a Subclass changes Bardic Inspiration. It gives your allies two additional ways to use a Bardic inspiration already spent on you. Let’s go over both of them
There is exactly one situation where doing damage is the best option; your GM told you exactly how much health the enemy had left, your allies’ attack would have left them at 1 health… And the enemy is next on the initiative order. In that case, you’d be spending a Bardic Inspiration proc to deal another 1d6 (scaling) and potentially take a threat out of the fight. That’s significantly more worthwhile than saving it for later! If that’s not the case, then dealing just one more dice of damage tends to not be worth it. That additional modifier is much more helpful applied to attack rolls to get a hit, rather than just dealing a tiny amount of extra damage.
More interesting is the reaction. Adding 1 to 12 (at level 15) to AC gives your ally a huge chance to dodge any attack. If an attack barely hits, then spending Bardic Inspiration to avoid all damage is extremely useful. In addition, since you have such a wide range of additional AC – even at level 3, a +6 to AC is wild – a desperate ally can try and toss the roll at it to avoid damage.
The AC booster’s usefulness directly scales with your GM’s willingness to tell you the result of attack rolls. If your GM is open about it, your party can use this ability perfectly, and it becomes potentially better than using it on attack rolls. If they’re secretive, then just remind your party about this ability when they’re low on health and about to take a hit. They might not care so much about the attack roll boost when an ogre is about to send them to the moon.
Hey. You know what’s better than swinging a sword one time?
Starting at 6th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.
You guessed it!
So Extra attack is actually pretty useful on bard. The Bard gets two damaging cantrips; Vicious Mockery and Thunderclap. Thunderclap is situationally valid, since it hits multiple creatures. Vicious Mockery is a fantastic spell, but doesn’t do much damage. That means that, unless you plan on picking up Eldritch Blast from multiclassing or Magical Secrets, weapon attacks were actually your best damage option. And now, every attack action that you use, you double your damage potential. That’s amazing!
A big problem with this ability is that, without a Fighting Style, you don’t benefit too much from weapon attacks. Without multiclassing, you’re just doing weapon damage. That’s fine, but not overly impressive.
This ability is why you should either go two-handed, heavy weapons for your melee build, or solid ranged options. You benefit a lot from hitting your enemies as hard as you can, so a Greatsword does a good job delivering on your promise. Most GMs would allow you to take a hand off of it briefly to cast magic, so you don’t have to worry too much about your hand requirement. If you’re going sword and shield, that’s more than fine! But, you might want to consider multiclassing into Fighter or Paladin for a Fighting Style, such as Dueling, for extra benefits.
Ranged options are nice, since you can get two damage procs almost anywhere on the battlefield. While they have less dice than melee weapons, the difference in total pain is somewhat low. And you more than make up for it by being about 30 ft away from the combat. You’ll want to be in range of your good spells, but this lets you stay away from the frontlines and use your magic from a more potent place.
No matter what weapon you choose, this nearly doubles your damage potential. There’s no real downside; just consider throwing out a Vicious Mockery against dangerous foes.
Earlier, I said that your bonus action would be better saved for Bardic Inspiration or Healing Word than a 1d6 light weapon. Well…
At 14th level, you have mastered the art of weaving spellcasting and weapon use into a single harmonious act. When you use your action to cast a bard spell, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.
Okay, this might be worth it.
This is a really cool feature, but it comes at a slight cost. Obviously, being able to swing a weapon after casting a spell is fantastic! If you can gain access to Greenflame Blade, you can deal much more damage than your Extra Attack, just at the cost of your Bonus Action. In a lot of other cases, you can cast a Combat Control spell – such as Charm Person – and then still have the time to deal damage to another target.
So, when would you not want to use this? Well, if you don’t plan on using a spell slot, and want to strictly deal damage, then Extra Attack is going to be better… That is, of course, unless you multiclass, or spend Magical Secrets on a damage cantrip. If you do that, then your Extra Attack will likely be wasted. Because those two abilities are so at odds, I’d recommend letting Extra Attack be your “damage cantrip” and use Magical Secrets on utility spells, like Counterspell or Protection from Energy.
Just remember to be in a good place to hit an enemy before casting – another great reason to be a ranged build, but a melee build that can Charm Person and then Greatsword someone is probably great, too!
Best Race for Valor Bards
The Valor Bard is the best subclass for a Strength build. You’ll still want an even spread of Strength/Dexterity and Charisma, but you finally have a valid reason to be the Performer that Lifts. Charisma is still essential for your spellcasting to be in any way effective, as well as help Face in social scenarios. If you plan on being on the frontline – and even if you don’t – you’ll want a small amount of Constitution to survive a hit or two.
Your standard Strength race from the Player’s Handbook! The Dragonborn’s stats are perfect for your build – +2 Strength, +1 Charisma works wonders for your new Strength-based life. Bards don’t exactly excel in swarm encounters. So, a Breath Weapon won’t be amiss, and neither will some DR against an element of your choice. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything introduced two feats that may or may not come in handy; Dragon Hide isn’t great for you (unless you want to go for a Dexterity build!), but Dragon Fear might be a good combat control option. Sing the song of dragon’s past!
The Half-Elf might be the best possible race for any bard to take. The standard Half-Elf gains a +2 to Charisma, and two +1s to put as they please. You’ll be putting them into Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution. Skill Versatility improves your already stellar utility, Fey Ancestry is situationally fantastic, and Darkvision reduces the number of eyes on you in dark combats. Overall… A literally perfect choice, no matter what subclass you pick. But especially good here.
Eberron: Rising from the Last War is not a standard book, and thus you should consider talking to your GM before trying to get a Shifter by. The Swiftstride shifters get boosts to Dexterity and Charisma, an extra skill proficiency, and the ability to take a bonus action for temporary health and movement speed. Fantastic options, wherever you roam on the battlefield! The Dexterity boost could be use to make your Medium Armor AC, or to dedicate yourself to a ranged build. The choice is yours! And the glory shall be yours, too.
Conclusion – Our Take on College of Valor
The College of Valor is a great choice if you’re looking for a basic bard. It’s much simpler than the Lore Bard. It requires fewer choices and a better grasp of what to do on any given turn. Your damage potential is pretty okay, though your utility suffers compared to the 3 of the other 4 colleges. If your group needs a frontliner, or a ranged damage option, the Valor Bard can work with both of these roles.