A bard is always a welcome visitor to lonely village, city tavern, and regal court alike, ready to sing and tell tales for the delight of all. But a bard is no mere entertainer. In a realm without tabloids or television, news travels only as fast as its messenger. Bards link a community to the outside world, and to its own history.
Most people in Arekhan are illiterate. They have no printing press, and lack access to courier pidgins or magic to rapidly deliver messages. Entertainment is largely democratic, where people sing with their friends & neighbors, swap stories at the grocer’s, participate in religious pageants on feast days, and so on. Some large cities may also have professional musicians, actors, jongleurs, and other entertainers, but they are not bards.
A bard’s main tool is storytelling. Music and rhyme usually accompanies the tale to make it more entertaining and aid in memory. Bards travel across the land to pick up more stories and gossip, even as they study the tales that have been passed on from generation to generation. This wide range of study, as well as the inherent magic of word and song, means that proficient bards pick up some arcane faculties, as well.
A bard’s success comes through his talent, but also through his reputation. Bards of great renown are invited to perform for kings and archbishops. They are also commissioned by influential patrons to compose songs or poems commemorating an event, memorialize a lost loved one, or simply enhance a reputation. Where bards are held in high esteem, particularly among the westerneese, they enjoy a legal immunity from being punished for their words. This allows them to relay accurate tales that might otherwise upset a nobleman or a religious dogma, and it is regarded as an important check to keep the powerful in line. Many bards have a reputation for licentiousness as well, though this can be considered a necessary outlet for society’s baser impulses.
An important part of this prestige comes from where a bard learns his craft. While the majority simply apprentice to an independent master bard, the most prestigious attend a bardic college. Avalonia is home to esteemed classical schools, but the most highly regarded bards hail from Cornis, particularly the Fochlucan and Mac-Fuirmidh colleges. Admission to a prestigious school is no simple task, requiring musical talent, recommendation of a college fellow, and memorization of traditional epic poems. Unsurprisingly, there is more than a little rivalry between distinguished bardic colleges. Colleges of the Cornis tradition use a system of feathers in caps to distinguish their members and to denote rank & honors.
Other cultures and races have bardic traditions as well, particularly the Gypsy halflings, though dwarven skalds and elven or gnomish minstrels are also esteemed.
See Also: Class