This is a letter written by Layka of Ergoth to Emma Xela, an inquisitive and brilliant sorcerer of the Solace Academy. This letter by Layka was a factor in the developments of Emma’s spell theories, which transformed the discipline of sorcery. Though it did not lead to her celebrated successes in breaking the false academic barriers that had been erected between the schools of Sorcery (see the Heroes of Sorcery boxed set), it did play a role in later discoveries. – TLD
I have been living well here in Ergoth, recording the events of history that unfold in this antique land. It is certainly not where I expected to be when we wore the red robes in the days before the Chaos War. When the magic was taken from our grasp, the Empire offered first a refuge from Khellendros, then a meal ticket, and finally a home. It took many years before I was able to put the foolish dreams of magical power and become content here as a humble scribe, but looking back on my life I can honestly say that I am content with my accomplishments. True, I was tempted by the opportunity to study the “new magic” when Palin Majere opened his academy a decade ago, but I was too involved with my work at the court to be drawn away from it. I do, however, enjoy the pleasures of the magic of my youth now that it has returned. It is a great aid and comfort as my body begins to fail.
I admire your skill in the new magic, and your spirit of free thinking and experimentation in your art. I myself have studied your writings, which I had copied and shipped to me, at considerable cost to myself. I am not surprised then, why you would desire information about the bardic colleges of Ergoth, though I am surprised to learn just how complete your ignorance is of them, given your extensive and lifelong training in magic. I fear you have been too accustomed to the cloistered environment of the academy and have neglected to study the world around you.
That may seem a harsh thing to say, but your questions leave me to know other conclusion. When you asked why they were able to cast High Sorcery when it had failed us, or were able to use sorcery before it was “discovered” by Palin Majere you revealed your blindness. After all, magic is innate and can be felt and experienced by anyone born with the talent. When you have cast your spells you felt the power drawn from an endless sea, as infinite and vast as the starry heavens. Why then do you assume that those with the most books have all the complete knowledge of infinity? Bards indeed use wild sorcery, but they do not use the wild sorcery of your academy. There are more things in heaven and earth Emma, than even your inventive mind can come up with.
The Power of Bardic Magic
Words and music have power. Through them, man can be inspired to courage, anger, tears or fanaticism. None know more the power of words and music than the minstrels and troubadours the sermonizing clerics and politicians, or (in all humility) we keepers of lore in the library of Palanthas. However, to the bards of Ergoth, words and music possess a much greater power as it can unlock the very magic of creation.
Every mortal soul possesses a divine spark, an inner power that can be drawn upon. The mystics tap this power directly, working miracles by the sheer strength of their will. Clerics offer this divine spark to the gods in a sacramental fashion, receiving their magical blessings in return. Monks through meditation and discipline tap the power of their souls (which they know as ki) to perform incredible feats of martial prowess.
However, there is another use for the divine spark, known to the wizards, sorcerers and bards. The magic within works as a lodestone to the ambient magic that permeates all life and existence in the universe. Thus, the same power within themselves that the mystics use to do miracles in the outside world, the users of arcane magic use the innate power of the mortal soul to channel magic from the outside world into their bodies. This energy is then instantaneously released in a display of magical power, giving the recipient of this magic a feeling of euphoria. This euphoria stems from the feeling of being in communion with the essence of the universe, similar to the feeling that clerics feel in working the miracles of their gods.
To aid in the channeling of magic, one will use material components, symbols, gestures, and incantations to summon the necessary power. For clerics, this usually involves a symbol of their faith and utterance of prayer to their god in order to strengthen their soul for the wonder that is to be performed. For wizards and sorcerers this involves the careful study of magical theory, which finds its application in the rituals they perform. How exactly the magical theory has any relevance to the nonsensical words they speak are a matter of closely guarded secrets.
The words of the bard however, which summon the magic that they wield, do not depend on any of these things. Rather the source of a bards power is the force of expression, in which through the power of their words and music draws the essence of the arcane energy of the universe to them like the songs of sirens lure sailors. The magic comes from finding the essence of something, which makes it manifest in song, which makes in manifest in the wild energy of Krynn’s creation.
We in Solamnia have always dismissed the Ergothian bards as self-important minstrels with noble blood. However, you cannot imagine the wonders of listening to an Ergothian Opera, as illusions and emotions come to life with the dulcet tones of their singers. You can only dream of the dances that I have seen performed by dancers of such grace and beauty that their very shadows are inspired to move of their own accord. I once saw Quivelan Sath, the most famed of bards, magically compel a man into slumber merely by singing a beautiful lullaby.
However, you might ask, how did the Wizards of the fabled Towers of High Sorcery tolerate such a display without persecuting them, as they have the sorcerers and renegades? Why do they not force the bards of Ergoths to cease or to don the robes of red, white, and black cloth? I remember my days as a renegade hunter well, all the moreso because they are tinged with shame. How much less traumatic the transition to the new magic might have been if those who practiced it were not driven into the shadows?
The bardic colleges however were birthed in a time before the towers were driven to such fear of wild magic by the power of Galan Dracos, and thus in a time when mages were more willing to live in the world and compromise with it. Perhaps now that wild magic has put down roots and begun to flower again, such a compromise can be made again. With Dalamar the Dark as the master of the conclave however, I fear that the mistakes of history will repeat themselves and a war between the practitioners of magic will be unavoidable. It would be my advice Emma, to ensure that you and your students are prepared from any sudden attacks from that elven snake. He is gathering his strength, and there is no telling where he will strike first when he recovers it.
The History of the Bardic Colleges
Bardic magic may be the oldest of Krynn’s magical disciplines. One can easily imagine in the deepest recesses of the age of dreams storytellers and shamans beating their drums and discovering the power within their acts. There has in fact been a theory, proposed by the late Brother Resmus, that a ghostly legacy of bardic magic can be found in all the disciplines. After all, do the cantors and clerics not sing to their deities? Is not the ritual of the wizard not a matter of artistry and beauty?
In any event, we know that the bards were around on Krynn when the Orders of High Sorcery were being formed, in the court where they are most prevalent today, that of Imperial Ergoth. In the centuries after the first founding of the Order of High Sorcery, progress was slow in recruiting mages and convincing them to swear allegiance to it. It was not until a few centuries had passed that the Order was a power to be reckoned with, and during those centuries the nation of Ergoth had grown to be the largest and most powerful empire Ansalon has ever seen. Thus, when the Order decided that all magic must be brought under their control and all mages must be trained by the order for the protection of Krynn the bards were declared among the renegades. In Silvanesti, all mages under the rule of King Silvanos promised to work no arcane magic but that influenced by the white moon. Various other scattered tribes and city states also agreed to send not only their sorcerers, but also their shamans and story tellers to study under the Order.
In Ergoth however, the imperial throne was unmoved by promises or threats. The bards in Ergoth were of noble birth, who had the role in society of preserving Ergoth’s legends and history, and thus the empire’s glory. They were also advisors to the various courts, heralds, and even the collectors of the taxes. The idea of submitting such an essential part of the imperial structure to another master would never be tolerated by the proud nobles of Ergoth, much less their Emperor.
Rather than risking a war between steel and magic, the two sides worked out a compromise. First, the bards had to form their own academy in which they would be taught to use their power responsibly. Secondly, they agreed to have a representative of the Order of High Sorcery to observe their activities. Finally, the Emperor agreed to allow for the construction of a Tower of High Sorcery within the walls of the imperial city of Daltigoth. Thus, the favored of Branchala and the gods of magic were reconciled, as they in the heavens had desired.
This experience proved to have a positive effect on the growth of both disciplines. Though originally forbidden to have anything to do with the study of bardic magic, the mages of Daltigoth could not contain their curiosity. Through the bards, they expanded their knowledge of incantations, leading to greater heights of magic. The bards themselves benefitted from the study of wizards much more. For example, the bards were until this time largely illiterate, using only a clumsy pictographic script, mostly for accounting purposes. Since the mages needed to pronounce every syllable exactly, they had devised an alphabet based on sound. This was copied by the bards, who devised their own script to suit their language. That script (known as Ergot) is being used by myself at this very moment, though I am writing in the tongue of Solamnia, Ergoth’s daughter nation. This increased literacy also created a new political class in Ergoth, that of the scribe, who used the script to keep an accurate accounting of the nation’s affairs, rather than the affairs of its heroes. These scribes would eventually supplant the bards as the administrators of the realm.
Thus, the bards survive to this day in Ergoth, and in places where the culture of Ergoth has touched. They blend the power of magic into their operas, their ballads, their poems and stories, ensuring that Ergoth remains the cultural center of the world, no matter how its power has faded.
I’m afraid this is all I have to say about bardic magic at present. I myself after all, am not trained in the traditions myself. It would be best for you to visit a bardic academy yourself, which I have always found to be a wonderful experience.
In every bardic academy you can expect to find three things. One is a well stocked library filled to the brim with various types of books chronicling the ancient and recent past of the area and its people. The second thing you can expect to find is a small cluster of wizards, who spend their time there studying magical lore that can be gleaned from observing the practice of bardic magic. Thirdly, you can expect music from the everywhere bards have a chance to practice, the frustrated muttering as composers seek to find the right words and the right notes and cheering of nobles and the wealthy as they cheer and enjoy the comedy and tragedy around them. This leads to a constant din of noise in the college that never seems to cease.
After Daltigoth fell in the Cataclysm and the Imperial Court moved, Gwynned became (and remains) the most prestigious bardic college on Krynn. Within its vaults can be found the legends and songs of power which are trained to the most talented students in the Empire. Here too is the wizardess who serves as the observer for the conclave. A beautiful black robe, she has inspired hundreds of sonnets and ballads by the heartbroken students.
With the sundering of Ergoth in the Cataclysm, many Ergothians took to the sea, sailing across the northern edges of Ansalon looking for new lives to settle. Some found their way to Saifum, this nation of sailors and pirates, and founded a new academy in the city of Seabreeze. Needless to say, the bards who learn their lore from here are often unscrupulous and dangerous adventurers.
The academy in the city of Goodbay would be well worth your time to visit, which I believe is only a week or two by horseback away from Solace. The prince of this plutocratic Abanasinian city married a Ergothian noblewoman. After his death, she used his wealth to found a new academy and to entice Ergothian bards to settle here and train new students. This school is now known for being the most unconventional of the schools, experimenting with all manner of artistic styles.
With the death of Takhisis, one knight of the Lily who had once been a student of bardic lore was devastated. Vowing that the legacy of his goddess would never die, he began to gather around a group of followers whose purpose is to continually sing in the old temple of Sanction in which she fell. Though their religious views are not appreciated, these bards enchant the residents in Sanction with their music, which seems to have an unearthly and haunting quality of sorrow.
Peace and long life,
Layka of the Red Robes