Storm King's Thunder
Bards hold a special place of responsibility and respect in the Forgotten Realms. They are bearers of news, gossip, and messages in their travels from place to place, in addition to being living storehouses of history and folklore. Bards know a great deal, and they tend to be willing to share what they know, or at least barter for it. The arrival of a renowned bard is a special occasion, akin to the visit of a dignitary.
A bard can reasonably expect at least a hot supper and a clean place to sleep from a local landlord or inn in exchange for a few songs or stories. A noble might host a bard in fine style- while also being careful to guard any secrets the noble's household doesn't want retold or sung across Faerun. Not all wandering performers are true bards, nor are all bards inclined to sing for their supper, although most will, given the need. Bards literally have magic to them, and the powers they command through their performance and lore earns them additional respect. In the Savage North, singers and storytellers called skalds are keepers of the history and great legends of the Northlanders and the Reghed. These warrior-poets are the singers of the songs and sagas that fire the blood of warriors in battle, and composers of the new songs and sagas relating the mighty deeds of heroes and villains. However, spellcasting is taboo among Reghed and Norhtlanders unless it is considered a gift of their gods. Characters with the bard class who rise to prominence
among these folk must align themselves with their clan's priests and shamans or risk being outcast. Most skalds are members of the College of Valor, as described in the Bard College class feature in the Player's Handbook.
Bards in the North and the Dalelands benefit from the existence of the Harpers, that legendary society recruiting bards and other independent agents to struggle against the forces of evil. Even though most bards in the region aren't Harpers (and many who are don't advertise that fact), common folk in the North often behave as if all bards are legendary wandering heroes, and are aslikely to ask a bard for the solution to a problem troubling their community as they are a wandering fighter or wizard. This reputation cuts both ways, however, as some enemies of the Harpers suspiciously assume any humble minstrel might secretly be a Harper agent.
In addition to the tradition of apprenticing with a master bard, the Sword Coast has some bardic colleges where masters teach students the bardic arts. They hark back to the great bardic colleges of the distant past, particularly the seven elder colleges: Fochlucan, Mac-Fuirmidh, Doss, Canaith, Cli, Anstruth, and Ollamh. These seven are said to be the origin of the instrument of the bards, each of which is named after one of the colleges. See chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master's Guide for the game statistics of these magic instruments.Long ago, bards who sought the rank of master bard attended each of the elder colleges, seeking to learn its musical and magical secrets. Traditionally, the colleges were attended in the order given above, starting with Fochlucan That tradition fell when the colleges went into decline, but some bards dream of restoring it.
Over a century ago, the Harpers endured a schism. Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun was denounced by other Harper leaders for empowering Fzoul Chembryl, then the evil leader of the Zhentarim, with a powerful artifact. That Khelben did so in order that Fzoul destroy a dangerous
lich mattered little. Khelben and Laeral Silverhand, his wife, left the Harpers then, taking with them certain agents and folding them into to a different organization, which Khelben had been secretly working to create for some time due to an old prophecy of the elves of Cormanthor. This
group was the Moonstars, called Tel 'Teukiira in Elvish. Although the Moonstars worked in concert at times with the Harpers, they also worked at cross purposes, and the Moonstars membership included many whom the Harpers considered too evil, such as a vampire. The Moonstars performed many good deeds, but their methods were often more brutal and pragmatic than the Harpers' lofty ideals allowed. When Khelben died, the Moonstars seemed to collapse, and for many years the organization was assumed defunct. Yet during the Sundering, Moonstar
sleeper agents reactivated the organization on a surprisingly massive scale, with members active in Candlekeep, Waterdeep, and Myth Drannor. The organization has since gone underground again. Their relationship to the present-day Harpers, Laeral Silverhand, and the current Blackstaff of Waterdeep, Vajra, remains unclear.