Bards in Combat
If you’re the College of Valor type - take the Medium Armor Master or Heavily Armored feat and dive directly into combat. With Extra Attack and Battle Magic, and the right equipment, you can go head-to-head with most foes and fill a frontlines Buff-DPS hybrid role. Couple this build with the True Strike cantrip for a chance to hit twice with each roll. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and if you’re able to take down enemies quickly with the right combat prowess, you won’t need to spend as much time protecting others.
Speaking of combat prowess, Magical Secrets (open at 10th level) broadens the bard’s available spell options beyond the simple buffs and debuffs you may be used to up to this point. The bard’s strengths won’t be in some of the heavy hitting damage spells like a Wizard might use. But, a spell like Heroism offers an extra combat boost for your tank or primary DPS ally to keep them in the fight longer (and hopefully keep the attention off of you). A bard’s best powers are proxies, controlling enemies and uplifting allies.
If your party comes across a fight they’d rather avoid altogether, however, or if you’d rather come back later to deal with a combat scenario - use Sleep or Calm Emotions. Even in situations where not all creatures would be affected by Sleep, this spell can still take one or two creatures out of the fight and make combat more manageable. Calm Emotions can open the party up to dialogue or other non-combat scenario options - provided someone can communicate with your would-be attackers.