Bardic Magic – Lindsey Stirling

Last week’s blog hop was delightfully successful, and I’m pleased to see an influx of new readers.  Which is awesome.  To let you know up front, there are no rules on this blog.  I write about anything and everything, as long as it’s tied to the genre of science-fiction or fantasy in some way… sometimes it’s about writing (moreso recently), but I’ve done movie and game reviews as well.  And, I don’t write short blog posts.

Oh, and music is a kind of fantasy (it’s the language of the soul), so I consider music fair game from time to time.

So, since we have new readers (welcome, new readers!  WOOT!), I wasn’t going to continue the in-depth world-modeling and game analysis of table-top RPGs quite yet.  I didn’t want to scare of the merely geeky with the super-geeky (we are like mere geeks, but we wear capes).  Part 1 of that series covered Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and I will continue to the other RPGs mentioned in the weeks to come, interspersed with other stuff.

I was going to address writing violence and action scenes in spec-fic, and started looking for some convenient youtube music videos to set the tone for violence and action.  I perused some John-5 recordings (no videos I wanted, alas) of his latest album God Told Me To, which has proven brilliant writing music for my troglodyte-infested Book 3 of When Dragons Die.  But, you know where youtube surfing takes you…

…the future!  (kinda like twitter and reddit too).

And other places.  I rediscovered an old Skyrim fan-music video I had seen a while back… and I fell in love all over again with Lindsey Stirling.

I know, right?  Super awesome violinist, likes fantasy, and very easy on the eyes.  But more than that… such charisma when she plays!  (Isn’t Charisma a key stat for bardic characters in RPGs?  Hers is way high.  Like a 19.  Charisma and Dexterity.  I say, she’s almost positively elvish.)

Where was I?

So yeah.  Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite class of fantasy hero:  Bards.

Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking.  There’s nothing exciting about the dude in the back of your dungeon delving party, singing a song and strumming a lute while your hands are slick with goblin gore, your sword is covered in blood, and your wizard has just run out of spells.  You hope and pray your cleric hasn’t used up all his healing magic while the Goblin King fixes you with his dark and powerful gaze.

But, all you can think about is that annoying guy in the back with that damned lute and its plinky, pretty, niggling notes.  And by the gods, why is he wearing tights?

You and the Goblin King lock eyes, and come to an understanding.  You, the wizard, and your cleric drop your weapons and step to the side while the Goblin King runs past and impales your friend with his spear.  More importantly, he rips the strings from that damned lute.

Come to think of it, that guy really wasn’t much of a friend after all. I mean, he only came to help you explore dungeons every other Saturday, and spent most of his time talking about gods know what.

Hmm.  Maybe the Goblin King isn’t such a bad dude after all.  So you, your companions, and the Goblin King go down to his wondrous realm to share a few drinks.  Actually, the Goblin King is kinda hot.  Like David Bowie hot.  And at least  his bard has a guitar.  Rock on, Goblin King.  Dance, magic dance, and jump, magic jump.

Book 2 of When Dragons Die, Covenant, features the bardic hero Danry.  He plays a guitar (my book is not classic fantasy–more advanced instruments than a lute), and his fingers make magic on the strings.  Specifically, he can create sunlight with his music, which is a wee bit handy when traveling in vampire infested lands.

So, I get excited about having a bard in my story, but then my wife tells me, “Sweetie, bard’s aren’t cool.  No one loves bards.”

She might be right, but I love bards.  I rarely play them in games, because they are somewhat uninspiring in RPGs.  And lame in melee combat.  But, I like the idea of bards.

Why?

Well… I’m not going to repeat celtic history (there’s a wikipedia for that), but I will highlight that bards were respected and feared… their words and wit, and in particular, their satire, could undo the leaders of men.  I mean, what’s not to like about that?  That’s frickin’ awesome.  That’s a kind of magic, in and of itself, but maybe I’m biased because as one who likes to sell words (in books), I’d like to think that words–specifically, my words–can affect people.

But, it’s more than that.  Music is the closest thing to true magic we have in this world.  Think about it.  The spell is the notes, the rhythm, the beat… they have the ability to reach into your soul and change what you’re feeling!  Right then!

I view all creativity as magical, in a way (in addition to being a craft).  Art, stories, music, what have you.  But music…  music and stories.    Seriously.  How much more awesome was Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings because of the soundtrack?  The answer: even more awesome.

So getting back to Lindsey Stirling.  Let’s pause for a moment and watch some shadow magic.

(Holy Malahkma, Goddess of Desire… ok, breathe, Kyle.  Collect yourself.)

So, yeah.  Magic.  Bard.  Her.

So the thing is, bardic magic isn’t about combat.  It is kinda lame to be relegated to sitting in the back of your party, singing a song, while the rest of your teammates go to work.  And please, by the sacred spirit of Paganini and Steve Ray Vaughan, don’t play a lute.  It’s a quick way to turn your friends into the Goblin King’s buddies.  (I know, because I witnessed that scene a few paragraphs back).

However, imagine a fantasy with social intrigue.   Maybe something more up the alley of a White Wolf game (like Vampire: the Masquerade, or Mage: the Ascension).  A bard captivates.  A bard inspires.  A bard controls.  Lindsey Stirling would take out her +5 enchanted Violen of Eldritch Might, prance around so gracefully as she waves her wand over a crescendo of vibrato, and damn it if those trolls don’t walk off that cliff.

Bardic magic can be more than just a means of crowd-control.  In a story where magic isn’t instant, you won’t see a lot of wizards throwing fireballs in combat.  But, you might see powerful rituals where casting a spell takes time… minutes, or hours.  A ritual is a performance, and there’s no reason why this couldn’t be done through music.

So, back to Lindsey.  Needless to say, I’m positively enchanted.

So, to summarize… Oh hell with it.  No summary is better than watching Lindsey Stirling, a bona-fide, real-life, truly magical bard conjure some elemental forces.

And SWEET, she’s on iTunes.  I see more writing-inspiring music in my immediate future.

cheers all,
Kyle

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