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Thine Sex, Thou Drugs, These Rock n' Roll: Gaming & Writing #2

I sure hope Sean can see me in concert this year

This is part 2 of my series on Gaming & Writing. Today we talk about the Bard as a character in writing, with an eye towards the historical bard and the history of the bard as a character in RPGs. For Part 1, go here. ~SMH

There are a couple of tropes, the druid and the bard, that make my teeth cringe. (Is that a thing?) Because they are largely wildly inconsistent from their historical and literary counterparts. This is nothing new of course; each new generation of storytellers invents their own versions of things. I want to focus on the bard here and help dispel (see what I did there?) some of the nonsense that seems to have taken over the bard character.

As a creative, you are of course well within your rights to have any kind of bard you want. In some ways that is my point. While as a writer I think

sticking to some kind of historical or literary tradition helps create verisimilitude, going in a complete different direction is an option. Where I have issues are the sex and rock'n'roll bard being the only bard available as a story beat or theme.

Where it All Begins - History & Literature

The term bard comes from Celtic origins and in rpg terms this is the biggest influence. But I think we as researchers can recognize that a tribe or kingdom has members of the society that chronicle its history and perhaps make up poem and verse about famous members of their community. Bards were often used as messengers, diplomats, and genealogists. So there is a connection to the sage as well. If you look into the terms used in gaming, we often find them doing double duty to describe different or discrete social classes. But there is no doubt these individuals existed in most(all?) human cultures to one degree or another.

Our fictional bards do seem more adventurous than their historical counterparts. A few who come to mind are Alan-a-dale from the legends surrounding Robin Hood and Dandelion (Jaskier) from the Witcher. And I dare say Moonglum from Moorcock's Elric books. Some do have characteristics that resemble the modern notion of the bard.

Where it All Begins - The Game

As far as I know, and I could be wrong, the bard as a playable entity in an rpg first comes to life in the AD&D 1st Edition. A human character (it also says half-elf, but more on that later) needs to begin life as a fighter and after 5th level, become a thief. And after attaining 5th level as a thief, they became level 1 bards and are powerful Think about that when you consider how the reputation of the bard has changed. Becoming a bard took a great deal of time and effort, and a little luck.

Soon after they started showing up in various fantasy rpgs.

Modern Influences

Is a bard, but doesn't play one on TV.

When I think of the modern bard, I do think about musicians and writers. I Am not sure every song is a bard song nor every performer a bard in the historical sense. But there are plenty to choose from. Off the top of my head, if we are talking the idioms of art and genre, the two types of music that come to mind are Rp/Hip-Hop and Blue Grass. In particular they speak about the cultural crucibles that gave rise to their creativity and voice.

Rock-n-roll is full of storytellers from its roots in Rosetta Thorpe, to the 60s with Dylan, Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison. Of course I am partial to Stevie Nicks myself in terms of what the bard of my youth might look like. I am not as much a fan of modern music (yes old man yells at millionaires), but I am sure you can think of a few. Oh, cannot leave out Led Zeppelin and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.

So What is the Problem?

This is where we take a dark turn. As much as I love a Scanlan Shorthalt, the idea of the bard as a gross and over-sexed con artist has a ton of issues. For one, not counting Scanlan, there are some real issues with boundaries and consent regarding the bard as played. They are more caricature than character, and it creates a bump in the narrative whenever they come into a scene. The same can be said for play at the table, though I admit I have enjoyed friends who have played outrageous bards. As characters who live fast and die young, it feels like there is a ton of space where the historical bard, and even some of the literary ones, could find their ways into your stories. Because the bard is not a jester; those are two different social classes, despite some of their purpose being similar.

Point: a little research will go a long way towards bards that are three-dimensional and serve more purpose than comic relief.

In Part 3... I have no idea, so it will be a surprise for me too!



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