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Can anyone tell me what sources, in literature, film, etc. inspired the Bard class for Dungeons & Dragons? I'm familiar with the Celtic Bards of history and legend, but the modern D&D Bard seems to carry a set of assumptions unrelated to what I know of history: A jack of all trades both in spells and skills, a bit of a scoundrel or scofflaw, a wandering ladies' man, and so forth.

What books, TV shows, movies, etc. depict Bards (or Bard-like characters) similar to the D&D Bard? I'm particularly interested in examples that predate the Bard class's first publication in 1976, but any examples would be useful.

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4 Answers

It will have a lot to do with the mixing of the Bard, Troubadour and Minstrel. Which, when combined, create a weird class. I think the idea of the D&D Bard might be traced to the tales of King Arthur, but I don't know. It is probably a composite creation of EGG et al.

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For a great depiction of the "modern" bard as presented in most modern fantasy RPGs (not strictly D&D, as Pathfinder and various video game RPGs use the same concept now days) you should read the "Bardic Voices" series by Mercedes Lackey. I think that you can get a really good feel for the modern bard presentation from those books.

Another good representation of this style of bard is the stereotypical belief regarding gypsys. A great representation for this style of gypsy (although not traditional "fantasy") is the movie Chocolat with Johnny Depp, although they aren't a major part of the story and don't show up until almost half way through iirc.

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I love the river-folk in Chocolat! One of my favorite underrated Depp roles. –  Joel P. Shempert Jun 3 '11 at 20:35
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In such cases, it's often best to let the original author speak for themselves. Fortunately, Doug Schwegman does so at the start of his article where he introduces them to D&D.

. . . I believe it is a logical addition to the D & D scene and the one I have composed is a hodgepodge of at least three different kinds, the norse ‘skald’, the celtic ‘bard’, and the southern european ‘minstrel’. The skalds were often old warriors who were a kind of self appointed historian whose duty was to record the ancient battles, blood feuds, and deeds of exceptional prowess by setting them to verse much like the ancient Greek poets did. Tolkien, a great Nordic scholar, copied this style several times in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (for example Bilbo’s chant of Earendil the Mariner). The Celts, especially in Britain, had a much more organized structure in which the post of Barbs as official historians fell somewhere between the Gwelfili or public recorders and the Druids who were the judges as well as spiritual leaders. In the Celtic system Bards were trained by the Druids for a period of almost twenty years before they assumed their duties, among which was to follow the heroes into battle to provide an accurate account of their deeds, as well as to act as trusted intermediaries to settle hostilities among opposing tribes. By far the most common conception of a Bard is as a minstrel who entertained to courts of princes and kings in France, Italy and parts of Germany in the latter middle ages. Such a character was not as trust worthy as the Celtic or Nordic Bards and could be compared to a combination Thief-Illusionist. These characters were called Jongleurs by the French, from which the corrupt term juggler and court jester are remembered today . . .

I wanted to put the Bard into perspective so that his multitudinous abilities in Dungeons and Drageons can be explained. I have fashioned the character more after the Celtic and Norse types than anything else, thus he is a character who resembles a fighter more than anything else, but who knows something about the mysterious forces of magic and is well adept with his hands, etc.

(Schwegman, Doug. Statistics Regarding Classes: (Additions) — BARDS. Strategic Review Vol 2, No. 1, February 1976, p. 11.)

To recap with clarity -- a mixture of:

  • Norse Skald
  • Celtic Bard
  • Souther European Minstrel & Jongleur
  • Tolkienian historian

Mr. Schwegman gives no list of references aside from this. The incredible prequisites (mid-level fighter and mid level thief) of the Gygax style of Bard strongly remind me of the 20 years of training of the Celtic Bards; a change made by E. Gary Gygax in the version in the AD&D Player's Handbook.

Edit: as a side note, the initial presentation was as a standalone class; Spells and thief abilities were those of a member of those classes of half the bard's level. In AD&D, Gygax revised them, and this was changed, and the prerequisites of Fighter 5-8 level then thief of 4-6th level then finally to bard were added, and give more of a celtic feel.

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+1 Great quote from Schwegman –  GPierce Jun 1 '11 at 5:31
    
Interesting. So it would seem the roguish elements entered later as Sorcerer Blob said. As I said, I'm familiar with the bards of legend; it's the rogue-bards of modern D&D I have a hard time getting a feel for. Anyone know any (non-D&D licensed) fiction that depicts Bards that way? I can only think of Keith Taylor's Bard series. –  Joel P. Shempert Jun 1 '11 at 16:21
    
@joel You really need to read some sagas and some of the old French stories. The Roguish elements were there from the beginning. The Jongleurs and Minstrels were noted for prestidigitation, acrobatics, and such, in addition to singing. The prerequisite levels of thief are not out of place. Same for the Norse Skalds... And remember: the D&D Thief class also represents military scouts and sappers. –  aramis Jun 1 '11 at 23:59
    
Fair enough. Though the "roguish" elements I'm mainly thinking of aren't acrobatics, or even scouting, but the charming scofflaw motif. Do you know any examples of this character type from, say, modern fantasy fiction? –  Joel P. Shempert Jun 2 '11 at 1:41
    
Aside from Alan a'Dale, in Robin Hood, and Bilbo in the Hobbit and LOTR, not really. Mostly because the D&D Bard isn't a modern concept, but a mashup of historical ones, and if Hollywood is consistent about anything, it's avoiding actual history.... Well, actually, ignoring movies... Pern's Menolly, Piemur, and Sebell fit the mould, but not well. They each have issues with authority, and a variety of skills, including when needed, melee. The sidekicks in the Hercules and Xena series. –  aramis Jun 2 '11 at 6:23
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According to the Dungeons and Dragons Bard Wiki, the Bard as a class draws a lot of inspiration from the Pied Piper of Hamlin, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it mechanically. Someone who, in a mythological/archetypal standpoint, used wit and music to magic away children. In addition to that, the Bard finds inspiration from other fictitious heroes such as Will Scarlet and Alan-a-Dale, both from Robin Hood's Merry Men fame. Some inspiration also comes from the poet Homer and in Tennyson's Taliesen.

As far as where their "jack of all trades" moniker, it started in AD&D 1st edition. As mentioned by Aramis, the requirements to become a Bard where very intense and as a result there were not many of them in the game, simply due to Ability Score requirements alone. This version, which first became a standard character class in 2nd edition, has pretty much stayed the same throughout the more current editions; ie. magic-wielding, singing, thief-like scoundrel. Of course, with updates from editions and rules they have changed slightly, but the idea and spirit has remained the same since their release in the 2nd edition Player's Handbook when they became more accessable to anyone wanting to play them (provided they were a Human or a Half-Elf!)

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In 2e, there's a Complete Book of [Every Class], including Bards. There's some options for dwarves, elves, and gnomes to be bards there. However, it's mostly other bard-like tropes that are introduced instead of the 'classic' bard. –  Dakeyras May 28 '13 at 21:00
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