D&D 5e: College of Valor Bard Guide
D&D 5e: College of Valor Bard Guide
Role in the Party
The fight ebbs and flows as spells sizzle overhead. Amidst the chaos, a warrior spits a word of power that causes the gnoll they’re dueling to clutch at their muzzle in fear, only to be laid low a moment later. They turn and call out an ally’s name, just in time for the strike that would have hit them to miss by a hair’s breadth, though whether that’s luck or blind chance, only the gods knew.
The battle’s over, the Bard stands atop a pile of bodies, cloak flapping heroically as they turn, grin at their allies and say “Imagine how many free drinks we’re going to get telling this story!”
Rhythm and war have a complicated relationship. From drummers and warhorns to long standing traditions of heroic poetry and Viking Skalds, the Bard has a storied history on the front lines of battle.
The Valor Bard takes that tradition and runs with it. Probably headlong at the enemy, screaming a battle cry. Combining spellcasting, melee prowess, and a whole load of the usual Bardic utility, the College of Valor is a literal jack-of-all-trades that can slot neatly into any party composition.
This guide breaks down the subclass, including class features, build options, feat choices, and more for an effective character. Let’s read on.
College of Valor Features
Bonus Proficiencies: From level 3, the Valor Bard gains proficiencies in Martial Weapons, Medium Armor, and Shields. This is the suite of gear it needs to perform as a front line melee character, and it’s a solid list. The lack of Heavy Armor is noticeable but easy to work around, and this gives you all the tools you need to step up.
Combat Inspiration: Also at level 3, the Valor Bard can directly inspire their allies’ combat prowess. This has two effects. The first is that a character with your Inspiration can add the dice to a weapon damage roll.
This sucks. Bardic Inspiration is a valuable resource, especially at low levels, and wasting it on a few points of extra damage simply is not worth it.
The second ability, on the other hand, lets a character burn Inspiration to boost their AC, after seeing the attack roll.
This is incredibly powerful. Adding anywhere from 1 to 12 points of AC to a character can make hitting them almost impossible, and the fact that this can be used after the attack roll is made, so you can predict the rough odds of turning a hit into a miss, is the cherry on top.
Honestly, the first use of this ability is a trap. It should almost always be spent on AC and having your party all enter battle with a floating Inspiration point to burn on not getting hit is a very powerful use of the resource.
Extra Attack: From level 6, the College of Valor can attack twice when it takes the Attack action.
This comes one level later than all the martial characters get it, but it’s an essential buff to your combat damage, and entirely necessary if you plan on still being relevant with weapons at later levels.
Battle Magic: From level 14, the Bard’s use of magic and steel write themselves together into one fluid dance. Whenever the Valor Bard uses an action to cast a Bardic spell, they can attack as a bonus action.
This is a reasonable boost to damage, even if it does come a bit late when your attack rolls are going to be slightly less relevant. Building into this with spells that boost attack damage, or finding ways to get Smite and Sneak Attacks rolled into the damage with multiclassing, makes this much more powerful, but it’s still a really useful ability to have on hand.
At low levels, the Valor Bard is a very effective combat caster. As soon as it gains access to its class features, the toughness and melee prowess of the class spikes incredibly high, easily matching main martial classes like the Fighter.
This is reinforced by the traditional Bardic abilities. Fully powered spellcasting, equal in power to main casters like the Wizard, with a solid spell list that’s packed with buffs and debuffs, even if it is low in direct damage options.
But at mid levels, any holes in the Bardic spell list can be neatly sidestepped using Magical Secrets, and the Valor Bard’s own Battle Magic ability supplement their casting with melee strikes, turning the class into a full on war mage without any extra effort needed.
Outside of combat, the Bard is potentially one of the most useful classes in the entirety of 5e. A diverse spell list, the ability to be good at any skills it wants to be using Expertise, and even being good at skills it isn’t proficient in mean that the Valor Bard is going to be the character the party relies on whenever things don’t need to be hit in the head.
All of this adds up to a subclass that’s incredibly generalist, able to walk into any situation and contribute something useful. While it might not excel at anything, in particular, the College of Valor can happily turn its hand to whatever is needed. Which is precisely how a Bard should be.
If you’ve read any of our other guides, especially guides on the more recent Bardic subclasses, you might have noticed how thin on the ground the features of the College of Valor are.
That’s the first issue with the subclass. It simply doesn’t get as much as other options. Luckily, the Bard gets away with it, because the base class itself is so packed with features that it doesn’t need anything more to be good, but it’s still slightly galling to see how this compares to things like the College of Creation’s ability to control an entire battlefield with summons, or even the College of Swords as a directly equivalent combat caster.
Secondly, while the subclass gains proficiencies in weapons and armor, it’s surprisingly low in effective hit points and lacks defensive options beyond a handful of spells. If a Valor Bard intends to step onto the front lines, they’re going to need investment through Feats or Magical Secrets to adequately, hah, perform.
Finally, at higher levels, the main schtick of the Valor Bard, fighting on the front lines, starts to fall behind as its main Bardic abilities, specifically, spellcasting backed up by Magical Secrets, outpaces anything the character could ever do with weapon attacks. While the class can attack once every time it casts a spell at later levels, it might still want to use that bonus action on other things, for example, Inspiration. So past mid-levels, the Valor Bard might just start feeling like every other Bard, except wearing chainmail and holding a shield.
Best Race Options
Eladrin Elf: Great stats, Darkvision, a (good) skill proficiency, and incidental bonuses against some spells are all nice. But the once per short rest bonus action teleport, which is tied to rider effects that can CC enemies and scales with CHA, is just fantastic.
Fairy: Permanent flight is incredibly powerful, and it’s only limited by light armor, which isn’t an issue if you’re building DEX. Extra spellcasting is just lovely, especially since it can key off of your CHA, so the save DCs are going to be nice and high.
Tabaxi: Perfect stats, two exceptional skills, Darkvision, built-in weapons, and a climb speed, plus the opportunity to run really really fast when necessary are all fantastic things for a Valor Bard.
Choosing the Right Skills
Bards are one of the single best skill based classes in the entire game, with multiple subclass options that boost skill use and function.
Essentials should be CHA skills, specifically Persuasion, and maybe also Deception. There’s a high probability you’re going to be the face of the party, and without these skills, you can’t do your job correctly.
It’s probably worth picking up some mixture of Performance, Stealth, and Perception, as well. All are incredibly useful. Grapplers, while they might be a niche build, absolutely need Athletics, and with Expertise, the Bard can, hilariously, be one of the best characters in the game at it.
But really, skill choices are utterly open for the Bard. You’re free to take whatever you want, comfortable knowing that you have the tools to excel at it. Fit the party’s needs, or just go wild. The choice is yours.
Inspiring Leader: This feat does a whole lot to shore up the toughness of the Valor Bard, as well as increase the effective HP of basically your entire party. It scales with CHA, and can also be refreshed every time you short rest, which, as a Bard, you probably want to take. If you’re unsure what feat you should pick up, Inspiring Leader is always a great choice.
Sharpshooter: The College of Valor makes a fantastic archer, happily sitting at the back of the battlefield, inspiring their allies, casting control spells, and plinking arrows into opportune targets.
Sharpshooter is the king of feats for archers, adding a massive amount of damage, and making it much easier to hit. If you’re going ranged, pick up Sharpshooter ASAP.
Fey Touched: Gaining Misty Step and another spell choice, many of which the Bard doesn’t have access to like Bless, are incredibly useful to open up buffing and flexibility, especially at low levels.
Courtier: Two essential social skills and twin languages, so you can handle all the talking your party needs.
Sailor: Perception and Athletics are near perfect adventuring skills. Navigation tools and Water Vehicle proficiency are less useful, though might still come in handy, especially in nautical campaigns.
Urchin: Two perfect thiefy skills are a great start. Disguise Kits are probably less useful than your magic, but Thief’s Tools are essential for someone in the party, and you can be very good at them.
Hexblade Warlock: Everything the Hexblade offers makes the Valor Bard much better at its job. In a way, the subclass is almost a better College of Valor, offering many of the same benefits, plus more.
One level adds a lot of power. The primary bonus is the ability to use CHA to swing your sword around, which turns the build single stat reliant. Secondary to this is access to the Warlock spell list, including standout defensive options like Shield, and Armor of Agathys, both of which synergize perfectly with what a Valor Bard likes to do. Plus, of course, the best damage cantrip in the game, is Eldritch Blast.
One level is a great dip, but two grants access to Invocations, which offer a lot of power, and you could potentially take 5 for the Thirsting Blade Invocation, then build upwards from there.
Echo Knight Fighter: The Echo Knight turns the Valor Bard into an area control monster, letting it lock down whole zones of the battlefield with summoned clones and magical spells.
The main draw here is the Manifest Echo ability, which lets the character summon an Echo of themselves only using a bonus action, that can attack as if they were the character, but, more importantly, can reaction attack enemies who move away from it and also eats attacks from enemies.
The base Fighter kit backs that up with a ton of power, including a Fighting Style which can add damage or toughness, and the almighty Action Surge, which gives the class another Action once per short rest, so you can slam a spell into an enemy in the same turn you swing your sword.
Conquest Paladin: Conquest Paladins do two things. Lock down enemies using fear effects, and Smite their foes into dust.
Combining that with the Valor Bard, which already has fear spells built right into its kit, and has the spell slots to fuel even more smiting. Add in some incidental healing, decent extra spells, and a Fighting Style for aggression or defense, to build a solid and powerful melee character.
The College of Valor is a perfectly fine subclass, but unfortunately, nothing it does stands out or makes it a particularly compelling choice. Back when 5e first landed, the College of Valor was decent enough, adequately balanced against other classes, and it’s still a reasonable option.
But unfortunately, there are so many more ways to build an effective melee Bard in 5e now. The College of Swords is simply more efficient, and building a multiclassed gish is simple and powerful using Hexblades or Paladins paired with other Colleges.
There’s nothing wrong with the College of Valor, and it’s going to be perfectly reasonable at the table. You’re not going to get your whole party killed by picking this subclass. But you might feel a little overshadowed by people who are playing something designed with more modern sensibilities.