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Something that I recently have been puzzling over in my choices for my character has been the decision to give him character high strength (18), despite being a bard. I like the idea, but I'm having trouble finding a way to use it effectively as a character that doesn't have much health or AC, due to the lower investment in dexterity. An event that happened in the third session (lvl. 1) was a fight with a yeti which was aided by five guards, who tanked the aggro and hits (mostly). My bard ran to the front (an especially dangerous choice due to the 25 ft movement speed), shoved the yeti to knock it prone, and attempted to leave, only to get nearly one-shot by an opportunity attack. Websites like rpgbot.net have been really helpful for understanding mechanics, optimization, and perspectives with more experience, but it continually addresses classes from a min-maxed perspective, rather than my less-than-ideal setup. Bard's are a support class, which to me means they are supposed to help the other characters be better at what they do, whether that's surviving, doing damage, or succeeding in general, but I find it difficult to reconcile my class - which is long-ranged, squishy, and support-oriented -, my stats - which are face/bruiser oriented-, and my race - which is stealthy, semi-mobile, and burst/damage oriented -.

Lastly, since my character has a small size, he has constant disadvantage with Heavy weapons, which are more commonly used in strength heavy builds, though certainly not the end-all-be-all.

Please limit your response to official material only, and any uses of class abilities in the answer besides those in Artificer (no subclass) and Bard (College of Creation) will be mostly unhelpful, since I'm pretty set in the class decisions I've made.

Putting the question differently, how do I fulfill my role as a bard without neglecting the high strength of my character?

Relevant and Requested Stats:

Lvl: 2

Stats (4d6, drop lowest # method)
Strength 18 (+4)
Dexterity 14 (+2)
Constitution 14 (+2)
Intelligence 12 (+1)
Wisdom 14 (+2)
Charisma 20 (+5)

Background:

Outlander - Athletics & Survival Proficiency, awareness of surrounding geography, comfortable lifestyle via foraging/hunting

Skill Proficiencies:

Athletics, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion, Stealth, Survival

Feats:

Lv. 1 Chef - WIS 13->14, Cook's Utensils Proficiency, snacks

Race: Homebrew (Grung + Bugbear)

  • ASI +3, Tasha's-Style - +2 & +1 OR +1 (x3)
  • Amphibious - Breathes air and water
  • Common & 2 or 3 languages - Common, Goblinoid, Halfling
  • 25 ft walking & climbing
  • Darkvision 60
  • Stealthy - Gain Stealth proficiency
  • Small
  • Powerful Build & Long Arms - Functions as a medium character for all intents and purposes of reach and carrying/lifting/pulling/pushing capacity
  • Fey Ancestry - Resistance and advantage on saving throws against charmed condition, but excludes immunity to magical sleep
  • Goblinoid
  • Standing Leap - 25 long, 15 high
  • Poison and Poisoned Immunity
  • Can't Swim
  • Not-Squeeze Tiny - Small size + Bugbear Stealthy = Don't have to squeeze in a tiny space, but can't squeeze into a smaller space than tiny(DM ruled as much, at least).
  • Water Dependency - 1hr of submersion in water per day, else +1 exhaustion level
  • Surprise Attack - +2d6 to attacks in the first round against creatures who haven't acted this combat.

Notable Equipment (High magic setting):

Of note, I intend to take College of Creation at lvl. 3, followed by a two level dip into Artificer on levels 6-7 for Infusions, which would give me proficiency in Medium Armor and Shields. I also planned to take the Telekinetic feat at level 4 to get the +1 to INT for multiclassing into Artificer. We haven't had many sessions yet, so my character hasn't done much, but so far he's been a traditional bard, casting from the rear and generally being uninvolved in combat, with the occasional instance of flexing his athletics in sports and being left behind often because of how slow he is (I didn't realize 5 ft. would make such a difference). His schtick is a Southern-style country hick who's set out on an adventure after growing up with a halfling bard adoptive father in the forest.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What is your characters goal here? Are you doing other primary actions that you don’t want to replace or are you looking to replace those? Or are you just asking what actions available with strength? I’m that last one seems too broad, though. I think k we need to narrow down what you are looking for. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Nov 7, 2023 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NotArch I've already seen posts and forums about how strength is used, so that isn't my question. My understanding of what a bard is is a support class that specializes in casting spells from the rear, or, in the case of its martial subclasses, as a spell-sword on the frontline that needs dexterity for a high AC. Neither of those options are very viable for my current layout, and so I'm understandably a little bumfuzzled. \$\endgroup\$
    – J Thompson
    Nov 7, 2023 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Explicitly, what is your PCs race/origin? Gnome? Halfling? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2023 at 20:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you think your role as a bard is? And don't say "support" because that's really vague. The main answer so far is selecting a melee focussed role, but that's not what I would expect when I think of a usual bard role. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 7, 2023 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is much better 🙂, more questions though, because you already have what seems a reasonable plan on terms of multiclassing to make better use of your stats. Are you fixed to creation and artificer? I assume so because that tracks with the apparatus magic item, but it means answers like "use X class" are not useful \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2023 at 22:47

3 Answers 3

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You do not have to front-line

Your problem is that with a squishy character that has low AC and low hit points, you want to avoid being on the front line and that creates some tension when you fight based on Strength, because most Strength based weapons are melee weapons, and good Strength based tactics like grappling or shoving also require it. But in general, a simple solution is to play in a way that keeps you out of the front line.

There are multiple ways you can leverage high Strength without being a front-line combatant, especially with a bard. Using Each Ability (p. 175/176) under Strength gives you good pointers:

  • Strength checks. There is only one skill, Athletics, which you can use expertise on. Unless you grapple or shove you are limited to things like climbing or swimming, which do not support other characters. There however are also other Strength checks that benefit from your Jack-of-All trades feature, and support exploration, like forcing open stuck doors or portcullises, tipping over statues or lifting heavy sarcophagus lids, and so on.

  • Thrown weapon attacks. Thrown weapons, like the Spear or Net do not require you to be in melee. They have typically lower range than ranged weapons, making it a bit trickier, but it still is possible.

  • Lifting and Carrying. If like us you play with the more realistic variant encumbrance rules, this is quite valuable. Under those rules, characters can only carry Strength x 5 pounds before getting slowed down, and all the weaklings that put Strength to 8 and push Dexterity instead very quickly run out, as basic kit like backpack, bedroll, clothing and rope already weigh half that. Strong characters often will be frontliners in heavy armor. Until your get party gets magic support like bag of holding, or deals with the difficulty of pack animals in dungeons, every pound can help.

Bardic Inspiration and all your spellcasting obviously still works, even if you do not front line, and you can pick spells that support the fighters there, like faerie fire, healing word, sleep or shatter.

What if you still want to front-line?

As explained in this answer, you also can improve your durability by picking a College of Valor bard that has better AC from medium armor and shields, and go into melee grappling and shoving, where Expertise gives you a big boost. The College of Swords bard, from Xanathar's Guide to Everything also gives you access to medium armor, but no shields. It instead can use Blade Flourish to boost your damage and AC, at the expense of using up Bardic inspiration.

Medium armor benefits from Dexterity up to a +2 bonus. Your best Stat will be Charisma and you also put a lot into Strength. Normally for this, you want as much Con and Dex as you can to boost your hit points and AC, and you can get decent values if you dump Int and Wis. You write that you already put less in Dex, and that makes you vulnerable. Maybe discuss with your DM if you can retcon that and shift some points to Con and Dex from Wis and Int, if you want to play in a way that sees you in melee more. With a standard array, you'd have a 13 and 12 to use after putting 15 and 14 on Strength and Charisma, so you will get at least a +1 bonus to each.

Or, just embrace that you may go down occasionally. You obviously don't want to be a liability to the party, but if you and the group are OK that you'll occasionally go down with your foolhardy brave bard in battle, that is entirely fine. Not every group and tactic needs to be super optimized, and if your DM knows what they are doing, they can adjust the level of difficulty to account for your group not being min-maxed.


Addendum: You added your stats and race information, which are insanely good, far better what one could achieve with point-buy or standard array, and far above what you could expect on average from 4d6 drop lowest. (Which is 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 9 unmodified, or 18, 14, 14, 12, 11, 9 with +2/+1). This addendum is answering for your specific situation, which differs from what anyone with a normal bard build would need to worry about.

Your Dex and Con are already as good as you reasonably could hope them to be with a normal bard, and you have decent Int and Wis to boot, which they would not have and you already have maximized Charisma which they would at the earliest get at level 4; and you have a homebrew race which on top of a lot of other goodies has a feat thrown in, normally the defining hallmark of variant human, which you put on Chef. With all that, you easily can just pick Moderately Armored as your feat on level 4, and have as good AC and hit points as a bard can normally get. You also got a magic item that is generally considered to be too good for uncommon. Your high Strength is just icing on the cake, really.

I think you are letting your one experience with dropping in combat get to you too much. Unless all of you used magic dice to roll, your character will be a lot stronger than the others in regards to stats. I would not worry about getting more bang out of strength here, I would worry to not outshine the other players' characters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The point about just going to the frontlines anyways is a great one because the problem may not be as big as OP initially imagined. Unless they have a DM of a particularly sadistic breed, not every combat is deadly and they'll be fighting plenty of weaker fodder enemies too. A caster using melee to save valuable slots is perfectly normal. As long as they aren't completely dumping constitution, they should have enough HP to not be particularly threatened by mooks as long as they avoid getting completely swarmed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Nov 9, 2023 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ The funny thing is that the other players rolled really high, and mine actually has the lowest value of the group. One of them rolled much lower, but my DM allowed them to reroll their lowest two stats, 8 and 9, I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – J Thompson
    Nov 9, 2023 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I really would love the dice you guys use. Unless you use somehting else than 4d6 drop lowest, the likelyhood to get as good or better results as you have are 0.2%. The likelihood that all of you got these values are in the 1 to a billionth range. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2023 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin It was on roll20 that we rolled for stats, so you technically have it already, haha. And I'm kinda sad you edited out the "gravy on the cake" bit from your post; I couldn't stop myself from cracking up looking at it. \$\endgroup\$
    – J Thompson
    Nov 10, 2023 at 3:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JThompson :). I'm not a native speaker as you can tell. I think there is an expression about "thats pure gravy" or such to mean the same thing as "icing on the cake" and I mixed them up, but then realized something was off... \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2023 at 5:35
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The College of Valor Bard, as a Bruiser, fits this aim

While most bards are squishy (having only light armor proficiency) all Bards gain Expertise as a class benefit (I did this with a Lore Bard, will cover at the end) which you can use to amplify a Strength/Athletics proficiency.

College of Valor bards gain medium armor proficiency at level 3, and yet remain a full caster. You have the dual option of being able to shove enemies (large and smaller) all over the battlefield by taking the Strength (Athletics) Proficiency and applying Expertise to it while being a valid melee fighter as well.

At level 6, for example, you could have a STR of 18 (+4) and add +6 to your shoves and grapples (thanks to Athletics with expertise) to equal a +10. 18 STR also gives you nice + to hit and + to damage all the way through tier 2 and into tier 3. (Thanks to bounded accuracy).

To double down on this, you could take the shield master feat instead of an ASI at one of your level ups, and always have a bonus action Shove available (+STR + Double Proficiency Bonus) during combat if you choose the Sword and Shield fighting template.

What I did with a Lore bard

She chose for Background Sailor (STR and Perception proficiencies) Beginning with a 13 Strength (boosted to 14 with a +1 from the vHuman) I had +6 to Athletics checks at level 3 when I got my first two Expertise options. Narratively, this was presented as being athletic and trained somewhat in martial arts (like judo) in her youth, and thus good at using leverage). She was a bard with a full caster progression but was often able to help out with a variety of tasks (like climbing, helping others to climb, and various shoving and grappling tasks) to add a non-squishy dimension to her contributions to the party.

One of her finest grapples was to reduce a beholder's (Death Tyrant variang) speed to 0 by leaping up and grappling him by his lower jaw at level 12 during a very deadly battle with that monster. A variety of other monsters got shoved out of the way to enable allies to withdraw without triggering opportunity attacks.

That's two different ways to take a squishy classed character and use Strength as a feature of the characters play.


The substantial additions you made to the question renders part of this answer less useful, other than as a frame challenge in terms of "if you want a bruiser bard using strength, Valor is the better college."

Also, since you have had little actual play experience with this bard your question is premature in the first place.

With that said, I'll offer this advice since I've played a bard (Lore) from 1-20, a Valor bard up to 12, and I sub in for a Whispers bard (7) and Creation (12) in campaigns when the player does not show up.


Of note, I intend to take College of Creation at lvl. 3, followed by a two level dip into Artificer on levels 6-7 for Infusions, which would give me proficiency in Medium Armor and Shields.

You are hampering your spell progression (delaying acquisition of higher level spells) for armor proficiency that you can get with a feat, and you are delaying the ASI/feat choices with the multiclass to artificer, so this is a poor idea.
Suggestion: go all in on Bard.
If you want to be college of Creation, and you want to have Medium Armor proficiency, you'll be better off to stay Bard and take the Moderately Armored feat at 4. Your stats are so strong that you don't need to boost your stats any time soon.

I also planned to take the Telekinetic feat at level 4 to get the +1 to INT for multiclassing into Artificer.

A very inefficient choice, even though Telekinetic is a fun feat. Your stats are very strong, so you do not need to boost the INT stat at level 4 to enable an inefficient multiclass choice.

We haven't had many sessions yet, so my character hasn't done much, but so far he's been a traditional bard, casting from the rear and generally being uninvolved in combat, with the occasional instance of flexing his athletics in sports and being left behind often because of how slow he is (I didn't realize 5 ft would make such a difference).

You chose a small race, you get to live with that. If the DM will let you choose a different, medium sized race as a retcon you will solve two problems.

  1. speed
  2. shoving and grappling large opponents.

Or, given your high stats, take the Mobile feat at level 4 and don't look back. You can go "feats only" for your ASIs since your casting stat is 20 already.

Discuss with your DM. Adventurer's League had a neat idea that a lot of DM's I have played with adopted: up until you reach level 5, you can re-spec your character if you end up with "buyer's remorse" after a few levels.

I suggest that you do that. You have overly complicated your build. (But discuss with your DM first).

His schtick is a Southern-style country hick who's set out on an adventure after growing up with a halfling bard adoptive father in the forest.

You can also do that as a wood elf and eliminate quite a few of your problems with just that one choice. And the PC's speed would be 35.

Up to you, but you are making this hard on yourself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is viable, but the second you pick Valor you are stepping outside of the standard bard role, and the OP hasn't been clear on what they expect that role to be. If you are using your action to shove or grapple you aren't using it for spells, which is what I would expect from a usual bard. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 7, 2023 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I think the OP may need some help with understanding the bard class in general, and no, valor bard is PHB / SRD so it is a standard bard sub class. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2023 at 23:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast By "non-standard" I think SeriousBri does not mean Valor is non-core, but rather that it approaches the bard's party role differently than typical (striker vs ranged support or caster battlefield control). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 7, 2023 at 23:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt There is more than one role for a bard in D&D 5e. Try to stay in context with this edition. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2023 at 1:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JThompson OK, have fun, one need not optimize to have fun. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2023 at 23:14
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For a Bard, it's not a problem

It's true that Bards are typically associated with hight Charisma and Dexterity. You focus Strength instead of Dexterity, but that's not a problem, since Bards are jacks-of-all-trades who don't actually depend on specific ability, aside from Charisma.

Dexterity is neither used in spellcasting, nor it affects features like Bardic Inspiration. In combat you might wield STR-based (melee non-finesse) weapons. You can even throw some of them (axes) using Strength. College of Valor is perfect for this kind of build, since it gives you proficiency with medium armor and martial weapons. Out of combat, capitalize on STR-based skills with Expertise. Roleplay-wise, you could be someone like a circus strongman, who entertained people with feats of strength.

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