The Collegiate of Bards
Named after their founder, the legendary Bard Blackhammer, the Collegiate of Bards is where the eponymous Bards of the world are trained. An individual institution of the Collegiate is known as a College. The Collegiate was formed from the principles of the great swashbuckler Bard Blackhammer, a blade dancer from the Sea of Pearls in the west. It has three purposes: the worship of Nimbul, patron of thieves and musicians; the storing and keeping of arcane lore; and preserving and teaching the way of the Bard. While the Collegiate of Bards teaches most bards, their inefficient but convenient methodology of learning magic and their particular style of skill with blade has become popular throughout Leng, and is taught by many, especially the men from the Sea of Pearls, from where the first Bard originated. In Morus, there are many "bards" and minstrels, but the only characters with the Bard class are those who are members of and have been trained by the Collegiate or at least one who has aped their practises.
The Way of Bard
The Way of Bard is a refined form of the art taught by Bard Blackhammer when the Collegiate was first founded. It is a subtle blend of art, arcane lore and skill with a blade. The Bard is taught to be careful and fluent, and all learn an instrument during their early studies, which they will continue to improve upon throughout their stay; a Bard is taught that the minstrel has the ear of all, from pauper to noble. As their studies progress they will be schooled in the way of the blade, even as in classrooms they focus on more mental pursuits, learning ancient tales and songs and being taught the lore of the land. It is during this time that they are also schooled in the control and shaping of their own mind, pursuant to becoming aquainted in the magical arts. The Bardic approach to teaching magic is a curious one, very inefficient compared to the methods of a wizard, but effective at allowing them to pick up the skill of a dabbling mage while leaving them free to take up other arts. By the time their training is complete, which usually takes three years, they have aquired many skills: speed, stealth, magic, music, and the most powerful of all their abilities: knowledge.
Together, these skills create an extremely well-rounded agent with diverse talents at their disposal. With their skill at arms they can protect themselves and survive in dangerous circumstances, while their more clandestine skills can get them out of trouble when the situation calls for it. Their dabbling proficiency at magic provides utility and eventually moderate arcane power, and - perhaps most importantly - their tutelage in music, social niceties and extensive memorisation of lore provides them with the skillset needed to fit into any environment and better learn the secrets of the world. No compulsion is placed upon a Bard when they graduate; if they wish to do so, they are free to cut all ties with the organisation. Few do, however, and most either remain connected with the organisation purely for its influence or because they truly wish to further its ethos. Through a Bard's training, key philosophies are hammered into them; as their skills are taught to them, it is constantly reinforced that a Bard should be neutral in all things. They should be able to thrive in any situation and move through society in the most trusted position - that of a minstrel, an entertainer and a keeper of lore. They should be as comfortable in the study of a scholar as the throne room of a king or the camp of an adventuring party. They preach passivity in all things; indeed, the motto of the Collegiate is "Do not change, only observe". A Bard's true purpose, they say, is to unearth secrets and collect lore, to follow the exploits of the great and tell the tales of their deeds. It is for this reason that it is common to find a Bard travelling with an up-and-coming adventuring party, aiding them in their quests and taking note of all that befalls them and all they learn.
A graduated student from a College has all the skills and abilities of a Bard from their training; the newly graduated student is thus a first-level bard. However, being a College Bard does have a few restrictions: first of all, at least one weapon proficiency must be dedicated to some form of blade, as bladecraft is a mandatory part of Bardic schooling. Secondly, the Ettiquette NWP must be taken, as this is a part of the training that aspiring Bards receive.
The Bardic Agenda
Pinning down the agenda of the Bards is difficult, if not impossible; from College to College, nation to nation, and man to man it varies. This is no accident; the Master Harper and the Collegiate's few other members of rank are notoriously secretive, and very little is ever actually traced back to a Bardic College. Whatever their overall agenda is, it is clear that the Collegiate strives to maintain and preserve art, literature and all forms of knowledge and wisdom, and works constantly to beat back those who threaten it. At times, their involvement in the toppling or weakening of oppressive kingdoms and tyrannical rulers has been suspected, but - even if true - none are ever sure whether their actions were ethically motivated, or if these leaders simply stood in the way of some goal of theirs. Another property of the Collegiate's dealings that makes them difficult to pin down is their pervasiveness and patience; Bard-trained operatives are everywhere, many operating covertly, and it would be impossible to root them all out. At the same time, the Collegiate does not act openly, frequently, or in numbers. Their information network is vast, but when they feel that action needs to be taken - which is rare - they will almost always send a single skilled agent to do their dirty work. This is part of the reason for their success - if their agent fails, they have lost but one. Invariably, though, if their agent succeeds the repercussions can be felt throughout a kingdom. Many of those who work as agents for the Collegiate - particularly those proven enough to undertake the more dangerous tasks - are completely willing to lay down their lives for the elusive cause of the Bards.
Nebulous as it is, the agenda of the Collegiate is nevertheless shared by many Bards - even those who take no part in its grander dealings. The reason for this dedication to ideals that are so vague is a consequence of their training; above all, an apprentice Bard is taught to think. Very little is ever told outright to the apprentice; they are given oblique parables and frustratingly confusing instructions, and a major part of their training is their interpretation of these teachings. As a consequence, most Bards are free-willed and individualistic, and the fact that they are allowed to come to their own conclusions about the teachings of Bard Blackhammer rather than having them drilled into them is one of the reasons so many hold such strong convictions. As one of their many maxims says, "What suits a soldier will suit a soldier, but a Bard can only be taught - never trained." The Collegiate does not want subservient drones or simple soldiers - those Bards who choose to serve the Collegiate's interests once they have graduated are informed, educated, intelligent and deadly agents, willing to lay down their very lives for a cause greater than themselves. Many who entered a College seeking only to take advantage of its resources and teaching have left more dedicated to the cause than any priest to his god. Conversely, many choose to leave the Collegiate's affairs be and never associate with it again. This is accepted, even encouraged, for the Collegiate would have little use for such as them. Most walk a road between these two - making their own path, gathering tales and glory (which furthers the Collegiate's cause in its way), and standing ready for the day a task is brought before them.