Chronicles of Neverael
The Bardic Way
The bardic tradition (called the Bardic Way), as it is known today, began over two and a half millenia ago as a movement amongst a group of Atlaneian loremasters, scholars, and poets who sought to preserve the knowledge of the ages from an Atlaneian Emperor whom they deemed mad and unfit to lead. This Emperor, Ragnos Asharthe VIII, was power-mad and highly paranoid. When Ragnos took the throne he had reading and writing outlawed amongst the peasantry and all forms of creative expression heavily restricted and prohibited. Many libraries and gallerias were put to the torch during the first months of his reign. The bards of the time used their influence at court in conjunction with the unrest this proclamation created amongst the peasantry to incite a coup d’etat against House Asharthe. This brotherhood of lorekeepers decided that never again should such lore be put in danger and that safeguards had to be maintained to keep lunatics like the last emperor from destroying such knowledge.
The modern bard is, to most, a musician, poet, and artist – a multi-talented individual who makes a living entertaining the peasantry and the gentry alike. However, those with the right connections know that real bards are far different than the perceptions projected upon them by the masses. Bards have, for many years, been the keepers of a complex oral tradition of knowledge encoded in an extremely intricate and secret cipher-language known only to their brotherhood. While the bards have no central organizing force behind them they do form a network of sorts. In defense of this knowledge, bards have been mucking about in politics for centuries – manipulating intrigue and such to the advantage of both themselves and the “greater good.” Greater good is a very loose term, however, and bards are known for their skills as both spies and assassins. Many of the traditional bardic skills are, at first glance, “useless” in such endeavors but only to those with a limited imagination.
Bards make extensive use of the brushwork taught by both painting and calligraphy to refine their manual dexterity and engender in themselves unparalleled precision when it comes to blade work. Painting also teaches the Bard how to take in a scene and its important details and the movement or flow of events in a given situation. This skill allows the Bard to notice fine details which others simply do not and, also, to infer things about a situation which would be impossible for an untrained eye.
The stories which Bards so famously recite for the masses are full of anecdotal wisdom which provides sound advice regarding any number of given situations – these same stories are often peppered with covert sighs and code which allow the Bard to send secret messages to audience members in the know. These stories can also serve other purposes in the hands of a master Bard – they can be used in conjunction with the Bardic Liturgical Cipher to instill emotional states in listeners and to manipulate them on a psychological level.
Musical training is an extremely important part of what the Bard does – many of the stories, poems, and ballads which a Bard knows require some form of musical accompaniment to be enjoyed to their fullest – but this is not why the Bard is trained in music. Music, first and foremost, teaches the Bard about rhythm and patterns and detecting such things in the every day – in the movements of an opponent, in the night time patrol of a guard, etc. It lends the Bard a curious level of insight which enables the individual to predict, on an instinctual level, what’s coming – to a greater or lesser degree. Bards are legendary for their ability to snatch hurled knives out of the air or to precisely side-step an unseen sword thrust from behind – this is how they do it. Finally, musical training is used in conjunction with the Bardic Liturgical Cipher to create powerful psychological effects in listeners – Bards are well known for their music’s ability to enrapture, fascinate, and seduce the unwary.
Bards also practice many of the skills associated with thieves and common street performers and mummers – acrobatic techniques and sleight-of-hand tricks, in particular. Some of the Bard’s more colorful skills are an application of one of these skills – tumbling, juggling, tight-rope walking, etc.
Finally, Bards make use of a unique and powerful form of communication amongst themselves – the Bardic Liturgical Cipher, Bardic Liturgical Codex, or – simply – “Bardic.” This coded language is used only by true Bards – pretenders to the profession have no knowledge of it. The application of this information dense tongue has powerful psychological effects on listeners who are untrained in its secrets – it is capable of conveying significant chunks of information in just a few words using strange mnemonic techniques and powers indicative of post-hypnotic suggestion. The language was first developed, it is believed, to safeguard the lore of the ancients. It is believed that the various metaphors, phrases, and such commonly employed by speakers of the language contain hidden meanings which speak of the sort of secret lore the ancients would want preserved – the multi-layered nature of the secret tongue makes it such that even the Bards themselves are somewhat unsure as to the full scope of the secrets encoded in their favored way of communicating.
While many claim a title such as gleeman, ministrel, etc., few indeed claim to be an actual Bard. Knowledge of the Bardic Liturgical Cipher is the trait which, ultimately, determines whether a given wanderer is a Bard or some other form of vagabond. While the Bards’ propensity for espionage and assassination are widely rumored, such accusations are rarely voiced for fear of angering this mysterious organization.