bard mandolin creative writing roleplay

The Fantasy Bard for Creative Writing and Roleplay

Traveling the land, singing songs and telling stories, the fantasy bard enjoys many adventures. Their cunning intellect and empathetic demeanour endear them to crowds. The bard is a fascinating character who loves to entertain folks, charm foes, and negotiate their way to compromise over a flagon of ale. They can be found around the town market, in the monarch’s court, or adventuring somewhere along the long road. With their keen wits and personable approach, the bard is a quick learner constantly studying human behaviour, music, lore, spells, stories, and tricks, and picking up local language.

The bard has tons of narrative adventuring possibility whether they are a protagonist, antagonist, or secondary character. They can even be used in bit parts as comic relief or sources of clandestine information. A fantasy bard can be adapted to fit into practically any genre, especially steampunk and sci-fi or any dystopian universe where strange travellers abound.

Bards range from storytellers to musicians, from wise seers to entertaining fools, from lowborn lewd entertainers to members of royal courts reciting histories of the old kings. The one thing that every bard has in common is that they possess some rather extensive knowledge of history, art, politics, common lore, mythology, legend, religion, human behavior, nature, the arcane, existential, or metaphysical… and so on. The great hero bards also have some secret skill or talent well masked until desperately needed. Be sure to develop a cool backstory for your narrative bard.

In this post, we’ve provided some writing prompts, brainstormed some equipment and tools for the bard, and explored a variety of attitudes and attributes to flesh out your character. Enjoy!

Writing Prompts for the Fantasy Bard

  1. What if your bard was to pick up an obsessive fan? What might the “fan” want from the bard?
  2. A bard in town tells a story, but you know it isn’t true. What kind of difficulty could this rumour cause in your community?
  3. An old bard is looking for a protégé to learn their ways so they can retire. Will you take on the challenge and make your dreams of travel and adventure come true?
  4. A magical bard has lost their spell-casting ability. And it’s not good. Spells that flew from fingertips now fizzle and sputter as embarrassing duds. The bard signs up for “magic rehab” with an old sage in the hills. Imagine what this experience is going to be like.
  5. The monarch is holding auditions for a new minstrel or bard. Do you have what it takes to earn the job as the Royal High Poet?
  6. A bard is tasked with writing the biography of a great adventurer… but when the adventurer suddenly dies, the bard decides to continue the adventure.
  7. A bard finds a relic. After trying unsuccessfully to get the local wise ones to identify it, they undertake a journey to its place of origin to seek answers.
  8. Traveling with a band of gypsies (or performers, acrobats, mimes, musicians, penny wizards, druids) the bard experiences the world, plying their trade and gathering knowledge and lore to deepen their tales.
  9. As a sidekick to a famous cartographer, the bard travels to the frontier (borderland, wilds, terra unknown, wastelands). What new things will the bard encounter there?
  10. A bard from long ago is discovered “preserved”. What happens when they are awakened hundreds of years later? Perhaps they know of a prophecy that will shock the world.
bard playing harp
Along the forest road a bard stops to play a tune.

Types of Bards

Bards exist in many forms in many genres. Basically, anyone who is a storyteller or performing artist is a bard of sorts. Here’s a pile of variations we brainstormed that you can riff on for your story and gaming creations:

  • bard, baird, bardoi, bardi, minstrel, troubadour, kobzar, jongleur, wandering balladeer, singer, songstress, crooner, warbler, yodeler, fili (filid, filidh), skald, scop, ollave, hedge-bard, trouvere,
  • caller, harmonizer, rhythm master, chanter, echokeeper, rhymster, veil lifter, sleep bringer, soother, wordmaster, wordmaker, wordspeaker, legend talker, myth caster, written-one, spoken-one, pity speaker, conduit of rhyme, chorus of satire, the unwritten, the true spoken, truth speaker, tale teller, truth teller, myth teller, myth keeper,
  • tale teller, storyteller, folk artist, laureate, poet, spoken word poet, writer, songwriter, rhymer, master poet, court poet, elocutionist, public speaker, herald, crier, rapper, town wit (t’wit for short),
  • vilifier, critic,
  • juggler, performer, artist, dancer, graffiti artist, singer, member of a quartet, lutenist, flutist, pianist, accordionist, recorder player (whatever they’re called… tooter?),
  • comic improviser, stand up comedian,
  • recorder, blogger, journalist, biographer, record keeper, historian, rapper,
  • explorer, anthropologist, sociologist, philosopher, thinker, consultant,
  • oath keeper, justice, magistrate,
  • drunkard, fool, jester

Bard Instruments and Tools

For this post we brainstormed a pile of instruments and tools that bards might use. Have a look and pick and choose whatever ideas jump out at you. First of all, keep in mind that bards need to travel relatively light, so it’s unlikely they have a grand piano… unless of course it’s a magical grand piano they can fold up. Generally, their instrument will be light and portable.

Secondly, you’ll want to supply your bard with some adventuring essentials. For example, they would probably benefit from a light weapon like a dagger or rapier or a simple (but effective) staff.

Finally, consider the degree to which they are magical. For instance, they may carry a spell book, or they may have a tube of scrolls or belt of potions, or they may have a holy symbol through which they attain magic granted by their deity. There are so many options so be creative and have fun as you build your bard!

Musical Instruments and Performing Devices

  • to begin with, consider stringed instruments: lute, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, harp, cigar box guitar, didley-bow, lyre (check out Wikipedia’s list here)
  • another favourite portable is the wind instrument: flute, pipe, recorder, clarinet, horn, bugle,
  • slide whistle, magical horn,
  • bagpipes, accordion, squeeze-box, harmonica,
  • drum, bongo, djembe, hand pan, cymbals, snare, tom, cajon
  • some dancing bards may carry instruments such as: a tambourine, castanets, clackers, shakers, spoons
  • also consider some of these fun ideas: washboard, xylophone, wood blocks, cowbells, triangle,
  • the bard could have a washtub bass that they breakdown for portability and quickly snap together and string for wicked cool performances
  • some bards may be singers and could use a box to stand on or a makeshift foldable stage outfit; another thing they may employ is a megaphone to aid projection
  • performing bards may carry a collapsible backdrop and a tickle trunk full of costumes and props for their shows

Travelling Essentials

  • Let’s equip your bard with food, water, shelter, and clothing:
    • Food: hardtack, iron rations, biscuits, pemmican, jerky, cheese, bread, bacon; many bards may be good at foraging for roots, berries, and mushrooms; some bards have been known to pilfer from a garden or two along their way
    • Water: canteen, wineskin, bottle, flask, jug,
    • Shelter: tent, canvas tarp; some may carry a hatchet to build a lean-to, while others stick to towns and lodge in cheap hostels
    • Clothing: two sets of light traveling clothes, a good set of boots, a hooded cape or robe, and some fancier duds (puffy sleeves) or accessories for accommodation; we’d also recommend a cool hat; other items might include: feather hat, linen tunic, doeskin breeches, hose, belt, over tunic, vest, robe, leather jerkin, toga, dalmatic (stolen), drawers, skirt,
  • Give your character some kind of weapon that’s light and primarily defensive:
    • rapier, dagger, stiletto, knife, short sword,
    • pole, staff, rod, cane, walking stick
    • sling, dart, blow gun, short bow,
    • caltrops, marbles,
    • vial of oil, grease (and a match to light it)
    • sleeping potion, pixie dust (charm)
    • sap, cudgel, brass knuckles, billy club,
    • rope, lasso, whip
    • hidden blade, walking stick with concealed blade, (see sneaky, tricky weapons)

Magical components

If you’re creating a fantasy bard, you can give them a bit of magic depending on the type of fantasy world they live in. High magic fantasy has lots of spells and magical creatures, but in low fantasy, spells and magical powers are rare and much-coveted. In high fantasy, everyone has a potion for something, yet in low fantasy there may be one powerful wand that is prized as an artifact of great power. So depending on your world, consider some of the following:

  • spell book, magic scroll, rune tablet, arcane scripture, leather-bound magic tome,
  • prayer beads, holy symbol, lock of demi-god’s hair,
  • potion of giant strength, healing elixir, charm dust
  • magic marbles, smoking pipe, kaleidoscope,
  • another approach is to have a bard whose magic is derived from nature: herbs, weed, magic leaf, natural components, stick of hawthorn, branch of willow,
  • magical familiars are animals that accompany a magic user, so your bard could have one of these: cat, mouse, bat, rat, owl, raccoon, lizard, baby dragon (very rare and expensive, I imagine), wolf, or possibly a sprite or faerie companion
  • magic items: teleportation wand, ring of invisibility, potion of shrinking, amulet of protection, magic arrows, exploding beans, flying carpet, bracers of quickness, vial of dragon spittle (very spicy), liquid courage, one wish rune stone, gem of illusion, flute of fireballs, a talking dagger,
  • give your bard a “sidekick” of some kind, such as a special object with which they have a magical bond or are stuck to by a curse: a golem or magical construct; a weapon with magical properties that also talks incessantly. Have fun with this sidekick that can act as comic relief and get them into–and possibly even out of–trouble!

And a few extra items a bard might possess

  • lantern, torches, candles, flint and steel, tinder box, matches
  • colourful stuff to catch attention: ribbons, colourful hat, sparklers, fireworks, sandwich board sign, discoball
  • rope is always useful; make sure your bard knows some cool knots
  • bards love pouches and bags or robes with lots of pocket to squirrel away their many trinkets, such as: belt pouch, back pack, satchel, hidden pocket, money belt,
  • trinkets, baubles, kitsch, toys, sundry, ornaments, curios
  • mapping equipment, drawing and sketching supplies, paper, notebook, parchment, pen and ink,
  • cards, dice, trick cards, loaded dice
  • stuff to juggle: bean bags, balls, dull knives (or sharp knives, I suppose), handkerchiefs, batons, (see Juggler for more ideas)
  • jewels, gems, foreign coins, neat rocks
  • fishing gear, snares,
  • telescope, eye glass, spy glass, mirror
  • potion, poison, elixir, alchemical concoction,
  • tobacco, booze, drugs, psychedelics, herbs, medicinal tea, jar of moonshine
  • healer’s kit, thieves tools, artisan’s tools,
  • guild papers, significant emblems, insignia, heraldry, passes, grants,
  • forged heraldry, disguise, fake moustache
  • compass, telescope, eyeglasses,
  • set of darts for pub night,
  • ring of keys, lock picking tools,
  • tokens, coins,
  • pet/steed: pony, donkey, burro, horse, dog,
  • songbook, poetry notes, book of sea shanties,
  • scroll, script, map, book,
  • bag of tricks, tickle trunk, can of worms,
  • totem, amulet, holy symbol, sigil, talisman, orb, gem, wand, scepter,
  • gunpowder, black powder, fire crackers,
  • magic bones, sacred skull, lock of hair, bone beads, horn of a beast, ground rhino phallus,
  • treasure chest, box of oddities,
  • cart, wagon, carriage, caravan,
  • a very cool relic, ancient artifact carefully hidden, a mythical piece of weaponry,

Attitudes and Characteristics of Bards

  • endless possibilities exist for their performance attributes; for example: singing, dancing, playing music, juggling, rapping, comedy, storytelling, magic tricks, clowning, imitations, joke telling, riddling, poetry, improvising
  • they could possess some skills of a rogue or thief, such as: slight of hand, trickery, conniving, lock picking, setting traps, pickpocketing
  • charismatic, have presence, enthralling, empathetic, flamboyant, gregarious, outgoing,
  • intelligent, cunning, strong memory,
  • talented, skilled, knowledgeable, learned, well-read, well-versed, savvy, street smart, wise, thoughtful, considerate,
  • polite, gracious,
  • hilarious, funny, comedic, lewd, brash, over-the-top, crass, cocksure, arrogant, self-deprecating, audacious, bodacious,
  • bubbly, flamboyant, boisterous, vociferous, talkative, gregarious, exuberant, loud, prominent, bold,
  • drunk, wild, rambunctious, rowdy, scrappy, ribald, rude, irreverent, blasphemous, vulgar, sordid, indecent, obscene, gross,
  • approachable, friendly, social, sociable,
  • biting words, taunting, goading, teasing, sarcasm,
  • consider giving your bard some idiosyncrasies that can get them into some trouble: gambler, risky behaviour, addictions, vice, craving
  • in order to tell a good story, the bard benefits from having “lived it” so consider where they’ve been and what kind of backstory they have
  • another consideration are the related professions a bard may have, so try some of these: cartographer, historian, rune-writer, veterinarian, hostler, carpenter, healer, handyman, translator, town crier, librarian, alchemist
  • engaging, entertaining, enthralling, enchanting, entrancing, engrossing, enticing, captivating, fascinating, delightful, pleasing, captivating, mesmerizing, seductive, alluring, bewitching, beguiling, spellbinding, dazzling, charming, amusing, hypnotic,
  • a bard may have a dark side: angry, melancholic, self-loathing, jealous, vengeful, addicted

Things a bard might sing, play, or do

  • sing, vocalize, croon, serenade, belt out, warble, yodel, harmonize, intone, chant, trill, singsong, pipe, roar, bellow, wail, whistle, lift a voice, roll, quaver, tweet, hum, drone, whisper, purr, bumble, mumble, moan, rap, lament, rhapsodize,
  • sing low, sing high,
  • recite, incant, intone, orate,
  • play, strum, pick, work,
  • lead a round, engage the crowd, work the audience, stir everyone up, get them dancing, take requests,
  • engage in ribaldry, insult a heckler,
  • compose, write, orchestrate, arrange,
  • dance, jig, tap,
  • perform, act out, portray, improvise, mime,
  • beat a drum, stomp feet,
  • perform a ballad, song, tune, ode, lament, dirge, lyric, epic, elegy, chorus, verse, requiem, recital, rhapsody,
  • tell a tale, story, memoir, history, fable, myth, legend,
  • impress with a town favorite, folk tale, old wives’ tale,
  • bring off a sing-along tune, audience participation song, call and answer song,
  • lay out some satire, parody, farce, imitation, mimicry, impressions of politicians,
  • spin a ditty, jingle, chant, chorus, canticle, madrigal,
  • bark out a sea shanty, bawdy tune,
  • execute a traditional piece, customary tune, ritual, chant
  • lead an anthem, praise, recitation, commemoration,
  • sing a lullaby, kids’ rhyme, nursery rhyme, camp song,
  • teach a lesson, moral tale, idealistic story,
  • joke, riddle, do some comedy,
  • perform a melodrama, love story, tragedy, heart-breaker,  tear-jerker,
  • recite a poem, rhyme, limerick, sonnet, verse, haiku, quatrain, poesy, free verse, couplet,
  • try out an experimental creation, a new composition, a questionable joke about the king, an old ditty, foreign tale,
  • cast a spell, a curse, bewitching tale, enchantment, incantation,
  • play a deception, trick, ruse, red herring,
  • give a clue, hint, reference, allegory,
  • challenge to a drinking contest, game of darts or horseshoes, game of chance

Variety of Skills and talents

Because of their extensive travel and rampant curiosity, bards pick up many skills and discover latent talents. Now they’re not always particularly good at these things, but they do try them out from time to time. Have fun picking a few of these to either help out your bard or get them into some trouble:

  • singing, playing musical instrument,
  • satire, political commentary, goading, teasing, provoking, entertaining,
  • thievery, stealing, pickpocket, robbery, piracy, smuggler, bandit, scoundrel, highwayman,
  • sleight of hand,
  • assassin, poisoner, stealth, ninja,
  • martial arts, monk, hand-to-hand combat,
  • archery, sharpshooting, sniping, target shooting,
  • light weapons, swashbuckling, mercenary, military consultant, special ops,
  • deception, disguise,
  • buffoon, fool, jester,
  • seer, oracle, prognosticator, diviner, soothsayer, visionary, augury, card reader
  • political savvy, diplomacy, negotiation, blackmail, lawyer, litigator, inquisitor, witch hunter,
  • espionage, spy, stealth, peeping tom, spy-for-hire, planting magic “bug” listening devices,
  • detective, investigator, sleuth, secret agent,
  • appraisal, jeweler, art thief,
  • magic spells, magic training, witchcraft, spellcraft, scroll writing, magic alchemy, spellcraft investigator/inspector,
  • drinking, drinking games, drinking and gambling, partying way too hard,
  • peddler of trinkets, merchant, charlatan, hawker, snake-oil salesman,
  • baking, brewing, butchering, pulling taffy,
  • athletics, swimming, climbing, good at footy, gladiator, cage fighter, bocce champ, jockey,
  • sea captain, airship pilot, navigator, chariot racer, sailor,
  • astronomy, astrology, star navigation,
  • tracking skills, survival, scouting, directional sense, terrain familiarity, spelunking,
  • lore, legends, mythology, theology,

Places to Find a Bard

Bards can show up almost anywhere but here are a few places where their ability to perform couples well with their travelling style…

  • tavern, bar, pub, inn, cantina, hotel lobby,
  • festival, carnival, fairground,
  • town square, market, mall,
  • crossroads, country lane, bridge, ferry crossing, space port,
  • jail cell, prison, dungeon (check out classic fantasy dungeon here),
  • clandestine meeting room,
  • library, archive, records, scriptorium, map room, study, den, sage’s chamber, art gallery, museum,
  • baker’s, pastry cook’s, smith’s, general store,
  • training ground, arena, fighting pit,
  • casino, betting hall, game room,
  • king’s court, castle banquet room, inner circle, courtyard, royal wedding, noble’s funeral,
  • cave, cavern,
  • cove, bay, fjord,
  • dock, pier, jetty, dam, lighthouse, wharf,
  • downtown, warehouse district,
  • park, natural area, serene valley, surveying a cool mountain vista, wandering in the hills,  crossing the great plains,
  • graveyard, cemetery, tomb, crypt,
  • on a ship, galleon, ferry, sea vessel, dragon boat, frigate,

Final Thoughts on the Bard

Bards are tons of fun to play in RPGs because they are the quintessential “jack-of-all-trades”. Through their travels, they pick up myriad skills, and like artists of all ages, they must eke out a living by improvising in many jobs. Their cleverness and general good nature endear them to many common folk and nobility alike which leads to a dynamic roleplaying experience.

In writing, the bard’s life is a conduit for adventure. They don’t shy away from opportunities to exercise their curiosity and this delivers them into situations both ridiculous and exciting. If you throw a bard in your story, you’ll never be more than two shakes away from a new side plot.

Some other cre8opedia pages and posts you may find useful are:

The most intriguing thing is that we — roleplayers and writers alike — are all bards in one way or another. We have a penchant for story and adventure, and love to recount key moments both heroic and comic-tragic. So playing or writing the bard just somehow feels like home.

Have fun and remember the ancient bard’s phrase: you can never be wrong if you sing it in a song!