The Bard gets a bad rap in video game lore.
(No pun intended.)
From tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons to console games such as Final Fantasy, Bards are definitely the odd man out. They are not particularly the best with swords, staves, axes or archery. You can’t depend on them to open locked doors or to steal needed items. They dabble in magic, but don’t typically rain fire on their foes. They have some light healing powers, but won’t save your party from demise.
What DO Bards do, then?
Bards are cast as jack-of-all-trades, masters of none. In popular culture, they have only one defining feature: they sing.
Talk about bad luck. No wonder people ditch the lute for the sword. (Or, their lute gets smashed.)
But is the Bard truly as bad as all that? Historically, Bards were respected as being highly learned and were storehouses of knowledge and history. If it was not for their oral histories, tales and chronologies, we would not have the rich histories and epic tales from civilizations long gone. Where would our sense of place be without the stories of King Arthur? Where would we be without the works of Shakespeare or Homer? How dry would our cultural heritage be without the likes of Väinämöinen?
(Who, by the way, is identified as a source for J.R.R. Tolkein’s Gandalf. Tom Bombadil also has a host of similarities to Väinämöinen, both relying on the power of song and lore and being one of the most powerful beings in their respective worlds.)
But we arrive at a common theme: in each of these tales, the all-powerful Bard — holder of knowledge, advisor, sage, and powerful catalyst — fades away. Whether it is the approach of the Age of Men or an end to an era of paganism, Bards are tied to their histories and communities who give them power. The Bard is much less a hack-and-slash paladin or a fire-and-brimstone wizard than a steward. And once a steward’s charge is gone — or their charge outright rejects him — it is time for the steward to move on.
Perhaps popular culture eschews the Bard because he does not fit in comfortably with our favorite hero stereotypes. He is not a knight in shining armor. He does not resurrect the dead. While powerful, he does not himself take the glory. The Bard works through the people around himself and leads them to victory. The Bard, with his vast knowledge, determines the meaning of the patterns of events around him.
In short, the Bard is a shaper of ages. He holds the keys to history, which shapes a people, a nation, a culture. How do you encapsulate such power in the confines of a simple tabletop game? (Especially without becoming an outright game breaker.)
But remember the true power of the Bard. He chooses his actions carefully, taking note of the events around him. The Bard lies in wait, patiently watching until he is needed.
And then he shapes the world.