Updated Fri, Jan 02, 2009 by Shayalyn
A Bard By Any Other Name
Let's play a word association game. Don't worry, I'm not a psychiatrist, and I'm not planning to predict your personality type based on your response. I'm not a gnome, either, so you can be fairly sure that no weird inventions will result if you just humor me. Ready? Don't think about your answer at all; just say the first thing that pops into your mind. If I say "bard", you say
Some of you may have replied "poet," "minstrel," "troubadour," or even "vagabond." Maybe you're a scholar of all things Norse, in which case you could have answered "skald." William Shakespeare was certainly a skilled poet and playwright, but even he didn't fit the historical definition of a bard. In the first century A.D., the Roman writer Lucan described bards as the national poets or minstrels of Gaul and Britain. This was a crude definition of a diverse occupation. Bards composed elegies and eulogies to honor heroes and ordinary men alike. Bards were often granted diplomatic immunity in their travels. In later years, after Christianity came to Britain, bards were retained by monasteries as historians and genealogists. Still, I would imagine that the bards of history never stood on top of a hill, in a city full of enemies, waiting for the Orc Trainer to appear.
Did you associate a bard with "epic," "Ireland," "Wales," or "Britain"? By the 6th century, it was customary for the kings, chieftains, and princes of the British Isles to retain bards in their service, and to honor the bards with gifts. Bards were seen as wise and skilled, often considered to have the standing of officials in the king's household. The most famous of these bards were Taliesin and Aneurin, both of whom have been referred to in Arthurian legend. Taliesin is famous for boasting of his own exploits in his songs, such as the last lines of The First Address of Taliesin from The Red Book of Hergest XXIII: "And such as have heard my bardic books, They shall obtain the region of heaven, the best of all abodes." Despite Taliesin's immense ego, I would hazard a guess that few bards, if any, ever stood in the path of a dragon made of bone, arisen from the grave.
Did the words "harp," "lute," "song," or "instrument" come to mind? Celtic bards have been credited with the establishment of music as a popular form of entertainment, as opposed to the music used to worship the ancient gods. In the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, the word bard was used to describe the popular poets and singers who wrote and performed outside of the Soviet establishment. On the other hand, bards have been associated with skills aside from music and poetry. The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) is a modern spiritual group dedicated to the practice of Druidry. In the case of OBOD, a Bard is the first of three grades of the druid tradition. I don't suppose any of the members of OBOD have been been transformed into wolf form while waiting to attack an ogre?
The variety of words that can be associated with bard offers proof that both the factual and fictional concepts of a bard are broadly defined. In some ways, those of us who love to play the bard class are fortunate that the image of the historical bard is so dynamic. The traditional pen-and-paper RPG archetype of a spontaneous, shifty, non-lawful bard was not translated into MMORPGs such as EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. Instead, designers reached into history and conceptualized bards as being able to metamorphose into a variety of roles. It seems that Vanguard's designers are aware of the adaptability of the bard. Senior Game Designer Talisker, also known as Darrin McPherson, provided reassuring comments about his personal gaming experiences and designing the bard class on the official Vanguard forums. "Where you saw skill, where good bards were easily identified, was in the non-traditional group, with no enchanter, no monk. Or in the raid where several of the bard's songs were needed, but at different times. The bard's ability to multi-task was where you saw skill. This was different than the other EQ classes. Filling all the required roles at the right times and timing them in nice 18 second increments." Talisker, May 2005.
There is something wonderful about stepping into the persona of a bard that reaches beyond the mechanics of a game. As a storyteller, I find that I'm awed, and sometimes frightened, by the prospect of epic adventure, whether in a virtual world or in my own life. To quote the bard Aneurin, from The Lay of Adebon, "Be thy mansion large, thou wert a hero in the day of conflict. As long as there will be things to seek for thee there will be seekers."
So it came to pass that a young bard, or minstrel, or troubadour, or vagabond stood on the deck of an immense ship and raised her arms to the wind, and knew that whatever lay ahead, there would be stories to be written and songs to be sung.