Magic, Music, and Minstrels
As a child, I was a huge fan of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey. It was my intro into the Dragonriders, and remain my favorite of the books. I was entranced the Bard’s Tale video games, the Spellsinger series (by Alan Dean Foster), and the musical elements of numerous Piers Anthony series (from Xanth to the Apprentice Adept series). I branched out into the (never-to-be-finished) Fire Dancer sf series (Ann Maxwell) and The Riddle-Master of Hed (Patricia A. McKillip), but I was still a sold fan of arcane art. I went back and re-read the musical elements of the Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien), and picked up The Wishsong of Shannara (Terry Brooks). It was a short hop from those to Bedlam’s Bard and Bardic Voices series (Mercedes Lackey — along, I am reminded, with strong bardic magic in all the Valdemar books), and I found the “power of music” was an element I loved even in films outside “high fantasy” from Yellow Submarine to the whole Macross/Robotech saga.
I came by this interest in music honestly. I may not be able to carry a tune in a bucket if I use two hands (and my idea of taking up a musical instrument was to play the tuba… not many sousamancers in fiction), but my mother has written dozens, if not hundreds, of songs. Some you may even have heard before. And my wife has a lovely voice and a lot of choir in her background. But since I loved music and magic, and had little music talent, and played a lot of D&D, one potential solution seems obvious.
Oddly, though, I rarely played bards in RPGs, though I played a lot of RPGs. The AD&D bard (and its modern offspring) rarely seemed to hit exactly the note I wanted from my magic minstrels. I played with the ideas of the music-infused stories I loved when acting as GM (and, with apologies to Misty Lackey, stole the Skull Hill Ghost outright), but it was always a piecemeal, ad hoc effort to recreate the feel I was looking for. I was, after all, not a professional game designer.
Which brings us to today, where I am a professional game designer, and Lead Developer for Super Genius Games. I write and produce a lot of Pathfinder RPG-compatible products. I have a venue, and the skills to make the most of it.
So I’m working on something to bring the magic back to bardic magic. It’s in early stages, and I’m not sure how long development time will be, but I want to produce something that lets other people run the harpers, minstrels, fire dancers and riddle-masters I was always enthralled by. Songs of sorcery, riddles of eldritch might, and (with luck and good design) a way to add some of the wonder of the melodic masters of fantasy fiction.
So, what were your favorite magic maestros? What abilities and systems would you like to see added to reclaim the flexible, different feel of some of the great bards and harpers of fantasy? Leave me a comment, and let’s see if we can find the music in us.