Previously, I wrote about domains that were best suited for paladins, but paladins are not the only class that needs help fitting in. When Domains of Dread was creating the rules for native classes, it also said there were no bards. This time, the argument was that the insular, paranoid nature of life in the Land of Mists was not conducive to traveling minstrels, except for the gypsies, for whom it offered a new player class. These--and the wolfwere bards of Kartakass--were expected to fill that role alone.
But once again, these are more suited for an argument that bards are rare, not completely absent. Not all domains are culturally backwards and xenophobic, or at least not equally so. The best suited would be ones that are have a thriving economic middle class, value literacy and learning, and have lots of travelers from other lands, either by road or by water.
Cue the slideshow:
Kartakass: While it deserves to be mentioned first, I'm only mentioning Kartakass to say that it appears it's actually very hard to have a bard from here, unless you're a murderous beast. The wolfweres have entrenched themselves in the bardic tradition, and can presumably weed out naive humans who apply for bardic training. My only suggestion for having a non-wolfwere bard from Kartakass would be to draw inspiration from Heart of Midnight, with its non-evil wolfwere protagonist, the human friends he made, and the manipulative Darklord Harkon Lucas. A non-wolfwere bard who was protected by wolfwere allies or patrons for some reason might manage to graduate from the Crystal Club.
Liffe: This little island nation in the Nocturnal Sea boasts perhaps the only university in Ravenloft that specializes in bardic education. The Nocturnal Sea Gazetteer by the Fraternity of Shadows goes into great detail about the costs and value of such an education. Even without this, the island itself has all the ingredients of a good bardic origin: strong local economy based in trade, traditional values in literacy and history, and lots of visitors from other lands, both from the Core and beyond the Misty Border. Of course, one possible downside might be that, unless your campaign is based in Liffe, your character will almost always be far from home. And if you remain in Liffe, the biggest danger might be in being good enough for Baron Evensong to invite you to entertain him for the evening….
Ghastria: Like Liffe in the East, Ghastria stands out among the Sea of Sorrows islands for its level of trade with the mainland. Mainland foods of any kind sell very well here, and entrepreneurs are bound to bring stories along with them. The need for such stories is only made more greater by the fact that Ghastria was once part of the continent before the Grand Conjunction, within the lifetime of any adult. This would all be enough to justify a bard or two, even without an aristocratic lord with a penchant for art and wild parties. But of course, like Kartakass and Liffe, Ghastria may be a little too inviting of fledgling artists. Entertainers at the Marquis' feasts will need to beware lest they learn too much about the real purposes of these quarterly celebrations, either firsthand or secondhand.
Richemulot: Smack in the center of the Core, Richemulot is actually an excellent area for a bardic character to grow up in. Richemulot's strange false history would strongly discourage the development of anyone interested in probing the past, but it has enough of the other ingredients to qualify. Indeed, it may have the strongest middle class of any domain in the Core. Richemulouise bards would probably prefer contemporary music and literature, and would make great candidates for the rumormonger Prestige class from Legacy of the Blood. And unlike Kartakass, Liffe or Ghastria, the wererat rulers of the domain don't hate entertainment enough to make life difficult, nor like it enough to interfere too often.
Borca: Growing middle class, trade on all sides by road and river, very long history in the Core--right back to the founding wars of Barovia--and the state-controlled Church make Borca a center of economics literacy and education. It would be hard for a social-based character like a bard not to get swept up in all the poison politics of Borca, but it's not like every dish is poisoned, and saying a character grew up in Borca amidst all the poisons is no more unusual than saying they grew up in Barovia amidst all the wolves and vampires: it's just assumed that, even with all the deaths to those causes, your character is one of those who has managed to stay alive...so far.
Darkon: More than any other domain, Darkon is large enough, and cosmopolitan enough, for someone to travel around picking up widely varied stories and folklore without leaving the domain. Likewise, with all the people who come to Darkon and put down roots, (whether they intend to or not), the stories practically come to you. And it while the economy isn't what it was under Azalin, there is still enough upward mobility to allow for a moderate middle class. The memory issue that keeps people in Darkon is also the greatest liability, however: PC bards will have to brave going across the border, and risk discovering whether one of those stories they heard people from other lands was actually their own!
Dementlieu: The Musarde River delta is an economic and social advantage that has not always been emphasized when Dementlieu has come up. Being a natural draw for commerce as far away as Sithicus or even Kartakass, this river delta is enough to get Dementlieu on the list all by itself. The educational climate is also very supportive of bardic subjects, all the way up to the University level, but the domain has strong economic stratification and a suppressive atmosphere when it comes to the arts that must be counted against it. While my suggestion about paladins from last time could also help with this problem, not every PC can be a relative of the Darklord. Most Bards in Dementlieu are going to have to pick a side: produce the soporific fluff that supports the status quo, or become a subversive and join the uprising against the nobility. And if you are too good, either choice includes the risk of becoming someone's mind-slave.
Nova Vaasa: While Nova Vaasa has a growing middle class and river-centered economics--with each of the noble families taxing the properties along their respective rivers--it has one major drawback to playing a true bard: the Church's view of arcane spellcasting. The Iron Inquisition's dim view of "sorcery" is going to make it harder for a budding bard to learn arcane spells. Malken's criminal underworld might be able to help you out, if you pay their price, but there's another alternative: gnomes. Domains of Dread mentions that some of the nobles keep whole families of gnomish retainers, some of whom serve as entertainers. Bard was the favored class for gnomes in 3.5, and the protection of the noble families--and possibly their reputation as harmless jesters--might keep the Inquisition in check if these gnomes started teaching adventuring bards, or becoming such adventurers themselves.
Vistani: Not a domain, but perhaps the best origin story for a Bard would be to grow up among the gypsies. Half Vistani PC's might be estranged from their tribe of origin, or a mortu Vistani might yearn to wander again. While some fans have argued against it, Domains of Dread clearly stated that the Vistani might take in a Gorgio child in for a few years and give them a view of the world from their eyes. This was actually the origin of the gypsy character class that was intended to replace the 2E bard to begin with. For those who dislike this option, their arguments against it tend to be--once again--more for rarity then for impossibility.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). This article draws inspiration from J. W. Mangrum's article "Classes of the Damned," in the Kargatane's Book of Sorrows.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.