Sure, you know about bardic lore, or as they call it nowadays, bardic knowledge. Everyone knows that bards, especially lore bards, steep themselves in the lore of any region they happen to be spending a good deal of time in, or sometimes even when just passing through. Many will also be steeped in the lore of places they’ve never been and people they’ve never seen, if they’re the book-loving kind.
But bards also have their own lore, to go with their colourful history. The lore of bards is a tangled web to be sure, but it includes useful bits of knowledge, myths and legends from all over the world, and of course, a plethora of songs and tales every bard should know. For the most part this lore is not written down but rather passed on from bard to bard by word of mouth, as in the old days, for the bard’s deepest roots are in an oral tradition.
Bards are the world’s memory, and a lore bard is a walking library. But ask any bard about the greatest bards in the history of their homeland and you’ll never get them to shut up. Even the least lore-inclined bards will know at least half of these famed adventuring artists, performers, scribes, historians, ambassadors, and sages by name.
Some bards believe the world was brought into being by a song, though not all agree upon the identity of the singer. Many say it was the god Ogma, who they also say invented writing. Others say it was Thoth, who they also say invented writing. A few maintain that these two are one and the same. Still others name lesser deities or even animals, usually birds, a popular one being the lark.
But long before the invention of writing, and certainly for some time afterward, bards were tasked with the preservation of tradition, history, and of course, entertainment. Their treasury was as rich as their capacity to remember such things, and as varied as their ability to extemporise.
Once there was a bard they say spent a lifetime collecting all the variations of all the world’s songs, poems, and tales. When old age impaired her memory, she invented both shorthand and musical notation in order to continue her work.
Most tales of bards from long ago are not set in any particular time or place. This makes them consistently relatable. Some of the characters don’t even have names that are still remembered, so it’s a common thing for their tales to be ascribed to any legendary name, sometimes even those not commonly associated with bards. Most of these works are credited to the legendary primordial bard known as Anon.
Perhaps the best thing about the lore of bards is that it’s forever changing, despite staying essentially the same. In fact, any time any piece of lore changes hands–or mouths, as the case may well be–there’s a good chance it will change, even if only somewhat. Every artist has something to say.
Some are not always careful what they say, however, and this can often get them into trouble. There are many rollicking tales surrounding famous fools and clowns and court jesters, the most popular ones being those satirical rogues who can tell the truth in a humorous fashion and get away with it. Some of these tales they only appear in briefly, for comic relief. But the most popular ones are the ones they star in.
There are a few bards, usually nobles, who look down on this sort of entertainment. Indeed many of these tales are rather vulgar, and there seems to be a competition between certain bards to make them still bawdier. But they’re a favourite of the common crowd.
Of course, not all bards enjoy a crowd, but when two or more bards get together it’s almost always a party. Unless, of course, they happen to be enemies. Alas, there are evil bards… but I digress. The meeting and greeting of fellow bards, whether they know each other or not, is so important to the bardic tradition that there are official events dedicated to this purpose. Most people just call them music festivals… or fairs, depending on the region.
Inns and taverns, of course, are also great places for bards to meet up. Some might form a band after having performed together for a night. They might even go on tour together. Travel is an important part of the bard business, as are welcoming hearths along the road where ale is served and locals and travellers alike gather to exchange news and pleasantries and… other things.
It is not unusual for bards at such gatherings to challenge one another to a performative duel, known colloquially as battling. These are usually fun for all, but every now and then things can get ugly. Such scuffles are rarely fatal, but have on many occasions sparked a full-on barroom brawl, or even a ballroom blitz.
Shortly after I blogged about My Big Dumb Ugly Half-orc Hero from the Neverwinter Nights video game I waxed nostalgic and decided to try playing Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition as a Half-orc Barbarian. In that short amount of time I’ve gotten pretty far in the game with this character, but I have to say it’s not all just him. Well, a lot of it is, and it’s not merely due to brute strength. But damn if I didn’t assemble a strong party as well.
His merry band of mercenaries currently consists of Viconia, the Drow Cleric, Kagain the Dwarven Fighter, Imoen the Human Thief, Garrick the Human Bard, and Neera the Half-elven Wild Mage. This is not my first time playing the enhanced version of this game, but I gotta say it’s the first time I could really appreciate the advanced AI. Sometimes when these guys encounter hostiles all I have to do is sit back and watch them go to work.
****** SPOILERS AHEAD ******
Since my Bhaalspawn is chaotic neutral, he didn’t spend too much time with Khalid and Jaheira. In fact, he left them at the Jovial Juggler in Beregost and went off to do his own thing. They wanted to get to Nashkel as soon as possible, but I preferred to hold off on that for a bit while I finished some side quests. Then, even when we did finally get to Nashkel, we went to the carnival first. After all, who cares about some silly old mines?
Anyway, by now I had the party I thought I might finish the game with, but there was one more thing I had to do before looking into the iron shortage and that was to help Minsc and Boo save Dynaheir. I love Minsc, and the only reason I would end up removing him from the party after helping him complete his quest was to make room for a tougher fighter, namely Kagain.
But for now I left the Dwarf in Nashkel and the rest of us journeyed to the Gnoll Stronghold. Then, in what I must say was a mission of near surgical precision, we rescued Dynaheir from the pit she was imprisoned in and said our farewells to both her and Minsc, leaving him only a two-handed sword and of course, his beloved miniature giant space hamster. This of course meant we were only five as we headed back, but I wasn’t worried.
It wasn’t even having done this quest before with a different party that made it so easy this time around, except for the fact that I now knew enough to skirt around the Xvart village (time enough for that quagmire later on). But this meant I was taking a different route; one I wasn’t familiar with. To be honest, the real reason I wasn’t worried was that for once I didn’t have Khalid as a party member. In my opinion he’s practically useless as a Fighter. He might’ve made a better Bard. Also, Viconia taking Jaheira’s place as the party’s healer turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in this game. With the Ankheg Plate Mail and Stupefier Mace she’s practically invincible, and she has a much wider range of spells, not to mention the Turn Undead ability which Jaheira lacks as a Fighter/Druid. The only thing I miss is the often witty banter the Half-elven couple brought to the party. But Viconia has a few of her own quirky interactions with some of the other NPCs, and Neera has personality enough for them all.
Once safely back in Nashkel I picked up Kagain where I’d left him by the barracks, and we all went to the inn. If you’ve gotten this far in the game (and honestly if you haven’t you shouldn’t be reading this), then you know what happens next. A hapless bounty hunter messed with the wrong mercenary group. We tore her apart in mere seconds. It was epic.
By now the party had a reputation of 9 (due to Viconia’s inclusion in the group), so after my Bhaalspawn’s first nightmare he woke up the following morning with the Larloch’s Minor Drain ability. I purposely avoided getting the rep up to 10 so that that would be the case, but now at last my reluctant hero could begin his long redemptive arc, starting with sorting out the mines and the rotting metal situation.
I was astonished at how quickly we blew through those underground passages which had proved so deadly to parties I’d gone into them with in the past. Before I knew it Mulahey was dead at my feet and we were off to collect our reward. Now that’s all sorted, Tranzig is dead as well, and we’re bandit hunting in the Peldvale. The party’s rep is back up to 10 again, and my Half-orc Hero has had his second nightmare and gained the Cure Light Wounds ability.
In conclusion I’d just like to also mention that the Enhanced Edition appears to have made Bards much more useful. In most encounters, Garrick just stands there singing, and yet I consider him one of the most valuable members of this mercenary group. He’s also cheerful and fun to have around, like Imoen and Neera, especially in contrast with the other three party members. Also, the voice I chose for my Bhaalspawn (MALE6) is perfect. It’s one of the newer ones, and I’m absolutely in love with it.
When most people encounter the epithet “the Bard” in text or speech, they automatically assume it refers to William Shakespeare, who is known as the Bard of Avon. But there is another who has acquired that particular sobriquet, and deservedly so. I’m of course talking about Robert Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire, and the national poet of Scotland.
Perhaps most well known for having written the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”, that nostalgic ditty only half understood by so many and yet sung the world over on New Year’s Eve, Rabbie, as he is often affectionately called, was born in 1759 near Ayr on the 25th of January, the son of a tenant farmer. Later hailed as a folk hero and collector of Scottish folk songs as well as Scotland’s national poet, the Bard “is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism” [Wikipedia].
You may know him by a few other of his poems which have been set to music, such as A Red, Red Rose, Ae Fond Kiss, and my personal favourite, The Banks O’ Doon, which gave us the song “Ye Banks and Braes”. But if you don’t, don’t worry. I put together a YouTube playlist for Burns Night you can grab a wee listen of. Just note that I also added a number of songs that he didn’t write the lyrics to, as part of an overall celebration of Scottish culture, music, and history.
And what is Burns Night ye might well ask? Well, ’tis first and foremost a celebration of Rabbie’s life and legacy amidst a feast known as a Burns supper, replete with Scottish food and music, a toast with fine Scotch whisky, and of course, readings of the Bard’s poetry and singing of his songs. Central to the supper is almost always the haggis, Scotland’s national dish, a savoury meat pudding which Burns eulogized most eloquently in his famed poem Address to a Haggis:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o' a grace As lang's my airm.
Yet the Burns supper is not merely a celebration of the Bard’s birthday, confined to that one night only. It can be enjoyed anytime, and regardless of whether or not one is Scottish. One need only have an appreciation for the works of the Bard and/or Scottish music, poetry, food, and culture in general, just as the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” that ends the feast isn’t only for the year’s end, as reminiscing about days gone by is a perennial thing not necessarily tied to any season or date on a calendar.
If you’d like to learn more about Robert Burns, his works, and the traditions of Burns Night and its celebratory supper, below you will find a few good links, as well as a fascinating documentary video of a modern facial reconstruction of the Bard as he might have actually looked in life.
When I started as a player of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in middle school, as an androgynous half-elf thief named Valerian (I was very much a fan of the movie Dragonslayer), I couldn’t help but imagine myself in the role of Dungeon Master. It not only looked like fun, it seemed right up my alley. I’d always been a storyteller, from the time I was small.
So back home I tried to start a D&D game of my own. I created worlds and characters and scenarios and imagined prospective players playing them out. I roped my friends who had never even heard of roleplaying in and ran one-on-one adventures for them. But I was never able to get a group together. I didn’t really mind though, because it was great to just be able to play; to take my characters to the next level, and the next, and tell their stories to the DM and the other players.
See, players are storytellers, too. Never forget that. And a good DM helps them tell their stories. Well, I was blessed with good DMs, and sometimes I longed to be one of them, though if given a choice between one or the other I would’ve chosen to remain a player. Still, ideally I would’ve liked to have been both, roleplaying in one campaign and running another. But as it turned out, that was never meant to be.
Anyway, I continued to gather materials and resources, study manuals and modules, invent worlds and monsters and scenarios, map areas and come up with side-quests. All for imaginary players who might never materialize.
Then I got distracted by life, as did the other players in our adventuring group, and even to a certain extent, our DM. I think he started to get discouraged by the ever-increasing scheduling difficulties. Our last session lacked closure. We never picked that storyline up again. We never all got together in that capacity again. It was like a television series got cancelled mid-season before it could be wrapped up.
By the time I got back into D&D again I was a college dropout. Third edition had introduced the d20 system. That piqued my interest. I created a Bard character I was excited to play. But no one I knew was interested in D&D anymore. So once again I tried to start my own game. I did my best to recruit players, and was mildly successful. Underwhelmingly successful, to be honest.
I went back to sleep. Years went by. Fourth edition came and went. I read the online comments on it with passing interest. I got my D&D fix by playing video games like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights.
Then 5e made its quiet debut. I couldn’t ignore the improvements. The streamlined game mechanics. The elegant balance between combat and roleplay. I started to ask around, and lo and behold, others had suddenly become interested in D&D again. Next thing I knew I was reluctantly agreeing to DM for a local would-be mercenary party when what I really wanted to do was bring my Bard PC to life. Oh cruel fate!
No matter–that character would be the first NPC the party met. Sometimes you just have to take what life offers you, and make the most of it. 😉