In order to tell the tales of the world, Bards listen. The creak of the ship, the luffing of the sails, the sharp snap of a rope on a roaring sea – all these speak volumes to one who listens. And sometimes, in the quiet moments between the mundane sounds of life or in the screaming gale at the heart of the tempest, the well-trained Bard catches faint remnants of the world’s forgotten song, the very sound of creation. Bards seek each other out to swap songs and stories, boast of their accomplishments, and share their knowledge. Bards form loose associations, which they call colleges, to facilitate their gatherings and preserve their traditions. And within these groups, as the firelight dies, they share the ancient music of the world, the First Song. Bardic Magic Bards draw their magic from these timeless chords and rhythms. As a bard gains skill, they can better interpret and manipulate these patterns, weaving them into ever more complex and powerful themes that resonate with the waves and winds. Each college holds close its own secret themes, and the knowledge is passed only from member to member. Bardic Colleges Each Bardic college maintains a loose association with its members. A Bard, once reaching a level of prowess deemed worthy by a member of the chosen college, is inducted into the practices and themes of that college. Each group takes a fundamentally different view of the world and the ancient musics, and bards trying to share secrets with bards outside their college are met with puzzled faces and uncomprehending eyes. In fact, the debates between colleges about the nature of the First Song are legendary. College of Lore (PHB) “...and next to life, Our death, the tree of knowledge, grew fast by, Knowledge of good bought dear by knowing ill.”
The College of Lore seeks to recreate the First Song. In their pursuit of this end, Bards of the College of Lore come to know something about most things, collecting bits of knowledge from sources as diverse as scholarly tomes and peasant tales. The college’s members gather in libraries and sometimes in actual colleges, complete with classrooms and dormitories, to share their lore with one another. College of Valor (PHB) “Of flutes and soft recorders; such as raised To height of noblest temper hero's old Arming to battle, and in stead of rage Deliberate valor breathed, firm and unmoved”
The College of Valor traces its founding back the renowned halfling bard, Hilda Olæfsdoðr. In the Battle of the Black Havens, the captain and crew of her ship were slain, but legend holds that she clung to life, and the echoing, insistent rhythm of her drum roused them from death itself to win the day. She was never found amongst the dead. Bards of the College seek to collect the legends of today’s heroes, experiencing these sagas from the front lines. College of Glamour (XGtE) “In discourse more sweet; For eloquence the soul, song charms the sense.”
The College of Glamour is the home of bards who mastered their craft in the vibrant realm of the Feywild or under the tutelage of someone who dwelled there. Unlike their wizard brethren attendant on the Fey for their knowledge of the 100 Oaths, members of the College of Glamour seek to understand and harness the susurrations and melodies of the Feywind itself. College of Swords (XGtE) “Who overcomes By force, hath overcome but half his foe.”
The newest of the bardic colleges, the College of Swords began as a splinter group of bards from the College of Valor who were discontent with extolling others to greatness. This faction honed their own skills with the blade and began to undertake daring but successful adventures themselves. There remains some tension between the College of Swords and the College of Valor to this day, though individual members often make fast friends. College of Whispers (XGtE)
“The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”
Some bards, in hushed tones after the mead has been drunk and the fire is almost out, speak of whispers in the silence - the silence between heartbeats, between the notes on the page, the silence before the last breath, or just after the drawn sword. In these moments, they say, one can hear the secret fears of the world. Bards of the College of Whispers appear to be like other bards, sharing news, singing songs, and telling tales to the audiences they gather. In truth, the College of Whispers teaches its students that they are wolves among sheep. These bards use their knowledge and magic to uncover secrets and turn them against others through extortion and threats.
Many other bards hate the College of Whispers, viewing it as a parasite that uses a bard’s reputation to acquire wealth and power. For this reason, members of this college rarely reveal their true nature. They typically claim to follow some other college, or they keep their actual calling secret in order to infiltrate and exploit royal courts and other settings of power.