Mythic Musicians To Inspire D&D Players Creating Bard Characters

The Bard class in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is a master of music and mystical lore, frequently presented in sourcebooks as a magical version of a European minstrel from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. There are, however, no small number of heroes from myths and epics all across the world D&D players can pay homage to when designing their Bard characters. Celtic satirists, lyre-players who descend to the Underworld, and prophetic poets - the sky's the limit when it comes to the forms of "magical musicians."

In early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the Bard class was a bit of an odd duck. In 1st edition D&D, the Bard was a prestige class players could access only after taking several levels in both the Fighter and Thief classes. Later editions of D&D took different approaches in how they presented the Bard as a jack-of-all-trades archetype - with the skills of a thief, the magic of a wizard, and social abilities that let them charm and win the trust of NPCs.

Related: Unique D&D Backstories & Builds For Bards

As of 5th Edition, the Dungeon & Dragons Bard, lore-wise, explicitly creates magical effects and enchantments through performing arts, be it playing a musical instrument, singing, whistling, reciting poetry, or dancing. They can rouse allies with inspiring words and hinder foes with a well-placed insult. They are decent with many skills, and the spells at their disposal focus on enchantment, illusion, healing, talking with animals, and shapeshifting. This presentation of Bards to the magical artists recorded in ancient myths and romantic epics is truer than one might think.

There are many heroes in the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, but the most iconic hero of this compilation of mythic songs is Väinämöinen, described as a wise old man with a magical singing voice created by the goddess Ilmater at the founding of the world. This Finnish culture hero - sometimes a god, sometimes a mortal mystic - is known for many deeds of magic and cleverness. This includes singing his enemies into bogs, stealing a mighty artifact called the Sampo, and crafting the first Kantele zither from the bones of a giant pike he slew.

Taliesin, the chief bard to several Kings of Britain during the Dark Ages (including King Arthur, in some tales), has many myths associated with his name. After accidentally swallowing three drops from a brewed potion of wisdom, he flees from a vengeful witch, transforming himself into a rabbit, a fish, a bird, and then a single grain that is swallowed by the witch (who had turned into a chicken). After the witch gives birth to Taliesin, now a beautiful babe with radiant white eyebrows, she places him in a leather sack and hurls him into the sea. Effin, a Prince of Wales, fishes Taliesin out of the water; after becoming Effin's court bard, Taliesin guides the prince's kingdom to prosperity with his prophecies. This strange lore could work well as a D&D backstory for a bard.

Near the end of the Book of Invasions, a mythologized account of Ireland's early history, the Milesian people, ancestors of the modern Irish, invade the lands ruled by the fey Tuatha Dé Danann. After some strife, the rulers of the Tuatha Dé Danann asked the Milesians to withdraw to their boats as part of a three-day truce, then conjured a magical storm to drive them away. Amergin Glúingel, a Bard and Druid for the Milesians, broke through the storm by singing a song to the spirit of Ireland itself.

Orpheus, a musician from Greek Mythology who's appeared in games like Hades, is most famous for his beautiful singing voice and lyre-playing skills, able to calm even the wildest of creatures. To rescue his love, Eurydice, from death itself, Orpheus journeyed into the Underworld, his songs of sorrow winning the sympathy of Hades and Persephone. Orpheus's epic journey ended in tragedy when he broke the "don't look back" rule, but his descent into a chthonic space of magic and monsters has timeless parallels to the epic dungeon-crawling of early Dungeons & Dragons and other old-school RPGs.

Next: Why D&D's Bard Class Is So Popular

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