Bards were versatile arcane spellcasters, capable in combat, art, and magic alike. Bards practiced magic as they would art or song, using their artistic talents to induce magical effects that either bolstered their allies or hindered their enemies, typically through charms and illusions. In addition to their magical skills, bards were artistically talented and extraordinarily well-learned, possessing knowledge in a wide range of fields. Bards were among the most versatile of adventurers, capable of learning from practically any trade.
Both literally and figuratively enchanting, bards drew upon, more than perhaps any other profession, the works of all who'd come before them. Storytellers, musicians, enchanters, dancers, and lorekeepers, bards were prone to wanderlust, traveling from one place to another in search of new lore or perhaps in the hopes of spreading what they already knew. Some came into the services of others as ambassadors or spies, but most bards preferred the freedom of mobility and living by one's whims, though this was not without exception and most bards acquired their skills as a result of training under previous bards, drawing upon ancient traditions of lore and arcane magic.
Bards had a reputation for being joyful and inspiring, though as with every skill their ability to charm and inspire had a darker side. Evil bards were manipulative and cunning, twisting the hearts of others either through magic or sheer charisma. Most bards, though, regardless of their individual morals, held a strong distaste for blatant violence, at least when it could be avoided. To a bard the joys of life were in seeking knowledge or, better yet, witnessing the discovery of such knowledge firsthand. For this reason many bards were drawn to the adventuring lifestyle, hoping to witness the weaving of new tales firsthand - or perhaps even to instigate them.
Bards were common throughout Ord, appearing most commonly in Findle city and the metropolitan areas of Thessan though they could also be found in large numbers in as diverse locations as Fairport or Danasia. Some of the world's greatest magical and adventuring traditions were propped up and supported by bards. The most notable of these, the Mythic Conclave, held a large numbers of bards within their ranks.
The most common bards were humans, halflings and gnomes, as well as elves and half-elves. On the other hand, few dwarves or goblin-kin became bards, their ancient traditions less befitting the bard's lifestyle. Of all the races, half-elves, with their unusual combination of endurance and charm, were considered to have the best natural capability for a bard's lifestyle, though gnomes and tieflings also made excellent bards.
Bards typically got along well with non-bards, in no small part due to their versatility and charm. In parties of adventurers most bards served as spokesmen of sorts, due to their affinity for social interaction and skill at enchantment. Bards clashed with few people, having a little bit of something to offer just about anyone.
Bards were among the most versatile of adventurers. While not necessarily as tough as a fighter, as skilled as a rogue, or as intelligent as a wizard, bards were widely capable in a number of different situations and were widely recognized as a sort of "jack-of-all-trades." For instance, bards were better trained in weaponry than all other arcane spellcasters, trained in the use of all simple weapons, longswords, rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows. Additionally, some bards exhibited proficiency in scimitars and martial ranged weapons as well. Similarly, bards were naturally knowledgeable and had an uncanny ability for improvisation and trying new things. But unlike fighters or rogues, who might be similarly proficient, bards were capable of casting rituals and spells, including those normally only used by other spellcasters.
Bards of all kinds learned to inspire virtue and ability in those around them. Exactly how frequently a bard could do this depended partially upon their strength of personality as well as their level of experience. Some bards used their inspirational power to boost their allies' cunning or reflexes, while others inspired and furthered the courage and valor in those with whom they fought. In addition to this, experienced bards could also counteract the effects of spells designed to charm or frighten, providing magical aid to their allies. Similarly, bards, through their music and arts, could soothe the nerves of their allies and, through their magic, heal their wounds and bolster their spirits, either at rest or in combat.
Bards were, as a general rule, uncannily skilled advocates and diplomats. For many bards this was a result of their typically high charisma but some bards - including those who were less charming - could boost their persuasive power through magic. They did this by actually enchanting the very words they speak, making them sound even more persuasive and compelling than they would normally.
Like other spellcasters, bards usually used implements to increase the effectiveness of their spells or to subsitute for their material cost. Some bards used wands for this purpose, wielding them like a conductor's baton. Others use more specialized implements such as songblades. Most however used a musical instrument, enchanted or mundane, focusing their magic through music. Many bards particularly treasured this latter method and believed their music tapped into the Words of Creation themselves, sprinkling song and story with echoes of the universe's beginnings.
Eager to learn and often fond of company, most bards organized themselves into loosely bound fellowships known as colleges, which helped to preserve each bard's individual knowledge and pass them on to others. Some of the most common colleges are listed below.
College of Lore
Given all bards’ love of learning it is little surprise that some bards prioritized it during their training. Bards belong to the College of Lore, also known as cunning bards, collected bits of knowledge from every place they can find, be it academic writings or folk tales, gathering in universities and local festivals alike in their pursuit of lore. Bards of this tradition weaved what tales and trivia they found into their stories and songs to entertain, as well as to illuminate that which they hold to be important. Uncompromising in their views, College of Lore bards' first loyalty was to the truth, which made them valuable (if occasionally brazen) advisers.
Cunning bards preferred a path of trickery and cunning, using charm and intellect together to overcome obstacles. As a result, while cunning bards were as charming as most other bards, they placed less of an emphasis on vitality and more of one on intellectual pursuits. Witty with insults and distracting barbs, bards from the College of Lore were capable of whittling the confidence of their opponents, reducing their effectiveness in various acts of skill or combat. Proficient in a greater number of skills than most bards, College of Lore bards were also uncommonly capable in those same skills and experienced bards of the tradition were rarely completely ineffectual at any given task.
In addition to their peerless skill, bards from the College of Lore were also versatile spellcasters, capable of learning or imitating even more spells than a typical bard. Many cunning bards preferred using wands as implements to cast ranged spells and nearly all had training as tacticians, coordinating their allies in the midst of a battle. Cunning bards sometimes also trained to become summer rhymers.
The Vonovich College near Illden is the largest and most common college of bardic and historic lore.
College of Valor
College of Valor bards, also known as skalds, or valorous bards, were daring adventurers, who preferred to emulate the heroes they heard and learned of than to merely sing of them. Frequently found in mead halls or other gatherings of warriors, skalds hoped to witness heroic deeds firsthand so they may inspire future generations to similar heights. Believing that the heart should come before the mind, valorous bards were often great leaders, inspiring others to acts of heroism as legends inspired them.
Proficient in a greater number of weapons and armor than typical bards, bards from the College of Valor were also exceptionally skilled as warriors, capable of attacking more frequently and casting spells at the same time. A valorous bard might have neglected their intelligence to some small degree (though most of the tradition were still cunning) but they remained capable leaders while also improving their own durability. Many valorous bards preferred the use of short ranged spells and wielded swords as their weapon of choice. Valorous bards often make capable war chanters.