From the tribal dancers of the Mwangi Expanse to the warrior skalds of the Linnorm kings, bards perform across the face of Golarion. While the common folk welcome them in almost any taproom, their reputations as rapscallions and thieves are hardly misbegotten. Handy in a pinch, bards do a little bit of everything, befitting their hodgepodge training and vagabond lifestyles. Still, all are good at one thing: performing. Not just for supper, but frequently for their very lives.
In the major cities of the Inner Sea, bards tend to wear colorful clothing to attract attention. As they say, perception is half of the show. In wilder regions, performers tend to dress as the common folk, both out of practicality and as a way to stop standing out when necessary. Trained performers often wear badges or other signets to mark their tutelage, assuming their schools bear some renown. Some place this mark on their instruments instead.
Despite his wanderlust, a bard always reveals telltale signs of origin in his style of performance, a cultural specialty from childhood. Northern skalds chant and lead rousing songs of victory. Varisian dancers spin to the boisterous pace of their peoples’ traditional songs. Chelaxians accompany vocals with simple instruments, while Taldans favor stirring oratory and layered songs from days past. Garundi use horns and wind instruments with their leaping dances, and the lore keepers of the distant south play drums and stomp in complex rhythms, tracking the histories of their people. Razmiran officially outlaws performers – a waste of time better spent worshiping the Living God. Yet even there, those who worship Razmir most artfully receive recognition and preference for their talents.
Among the nonhuman races, the elves weave rich traditions of dance, music, and song into hypnotic, beautiful displays; dwarven forge-ringers craft wondrous works of art with the songs of their hammers; gnome storytellers fascinate with elaborate tales; and halfling whistlers ares said to speak in a hidden language amid their airy tunes.
Bards hail from every region of every nation on Golarion, but one thing draws them together: an audience. You find bards where you find crowds. Absalom, for example, is so thick with bards that city law requires them to join the Performer’s Guild if they want to make money. Bard schools in Absalom, Oppara, and Westcrown teach the craft of performance, a task every bit as grueling as swinging a sword at practice dummies all day. All bard schools teach music, dance, and theater. In addition, the Absalom Hothouse teaches popular or “low” arts, including tumbling, puppetry, and mimicry, and welcomes frequent guest instructors to teach regional specialties. The Oppara Conservatory teaches older formal styles such as operatic singing and strictly stylized theater forms developed during Taldoran ascendancy. The Westcrown Academy is frayed around the edges, but still functions as a beacon of chaotic freethinking under fiendish rule. The new Chelaxian capital of Egorian houses the impressive Imperial Hall, which trains and performs only High Chelaxian Opera, a form of performance popular across Cheliax and its holdings.
Those bards trained at one of the great schools of the Inner Sea focus their training on one performance type. Because of this, they are not as familiar with the knowledge of the outside world, but their performances have stronger and more advanced effects.
Sources: Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting