The wandering minstrel is a classic fantasy character and a frequent feature in many Ensembles. He wanders the land, making music for money. Generally carries a lute, (or sometimes a flute) and always has a song in his heart.
He rarely has any fighting ability, but he might have Magic Music that makes him slightly more capable in battle.
The trope goes back at least to Alan-a-Dale, the minstrel friend of Robin Hood (at least by Victorian times; Alan was a late addition to the mythos). The word "minstrel" comes from Latin ministerialis— "a functionary living as a member of the knightly class, with either a lordship of their own or one delegated from a higher lord." Fiefs were very often not self-supporting, and poor knights were forced to supplement their income by other means, such as traveling from court to court to offer services to various patrons— one of which was entertainment.
There's also the French tradition of the troubadour/trouvere from the Middle Ages; singers and lutists that would wander around and compose songs of Courtly Love. They were one of the first groups to take music from the sacred to the secular realm.
If a Wandering Minstrel is very lucky and very good, he can get a settled job as a court bard in a Standard Royal Court (see also The Jester). If unlucky, stuck as a Street Musician. If exceptionally unlucky, one step above street mime (with a similar level of hate from people in general). A particularly adventurous minstrel may join up with a Heroic Archetype as their personal Tagalong Chronicler.
- Queen's Blade Grimoire has Despina, who is an Expy to The Pied Piper of Hamelin. She used to be a ratter, but she became the Demon of Winter's first in command, and now uses her horn to enthrall beautiful women using her horn.
- The Tokyo Ghoul novels include recurring character Ikuma Momochi, a peaceful Ghoul that moved to the big city to become a musician. When he's not the Butt-Monkey of Chie's schemes, he's offering advice to a variety of characters that stop to listen to him playing at train stations and public parks.
- One makes a brief appearance in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, having been charged by the gods to walk around singing Norwegian Wood endlessly until he finds the people who recognize the song, and deliver them a message. He's quite grateful when he finally doeshis feet are killing him, and he desperately needs to go to the bathroom.
- In The Vagabond, Charlie Chaplin's Tramp is mixing it up by attempting to make a living via wandering around and playing a violin.
- A Knight's Tale's plot hinges on the fact that the protagonists meet a bard (and Plucky Comic Relief) who can help forge the documents they need to "prove" that The Hero's of noble birth. Did I mention he just happens to be Geoffrey Chaucer?
- Brave, brave Sir Robin of Camelot from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and again in the Broadway theatrical adaptation Spamalot, has an entire band of minstrels follow him wherever he goes until the rest of the party eats them during the winter.
And there was much rejoicing...
- The anthropomorphic rooster Alan-a-Dale (voiced by Roger Miller) acts as the narrator and occasional participant in the action of Disney's Robin Hood. As he himself puts it:
Oh, incidentally, I'm Alan-A-Dale, a minstrel. That's an old-time folk singer. My job is to tell it like it is, or was, or whatever.
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin appears to be this.
- Blondel the Minstrel, in the 13th century legend of King Richard The Lion Heart, went from castle to castle in Europe, trying to discover where his master was being held, by singing a song they had composed together, until he heard the king singing the refrain from his cell. (Note that this is pure fable; at no time was Richard's location unknown, as his captors wanted everyone to know who was holding him so they could negotiate a ransom.)
- When King Alfred is found by the Norsemen in The Ballad of the White Horse, he convinces them he is "a rhymester without home". Since he is the forgotten king of an occupied country, who isn't even recognized by most of its peoples as anything other than a traveller with a harp, this is technically a true statement.
- The Chronicles of Prydain have Fflewddur Fflam, an inept minstrel whose lute snaps a string whenever he tells a lie. On the other hand, he's a surprisingly badass fighter. It turns out he's also a minor king.
- In Dragon Bones, Ward learns that his brother Tosten has become one of those. He agrees that it's for the best, as Tosten is good at it, but was a bit worried about his pretty brother spending time in the company of drunken sailors. Tosten later becomes a Warrior Poet, who can ensure his own safety.
- In The Wheel of Time books, gleemen are traveling artists, masterful story tellers as well as skillful acrobats, and typically wear a cloak made of many colorful patches. Most skilled gleemen can play one sort of instrument or another, some examples are flute, or if more skillful, harp. Gleemen are allowed to go almost anywhere they wish, as nearly all commoners delight in or at least tolerate their presence, and are among the few that are allowed by the Aiel to travel through their territory. The most skilled can even become court bards, usually discarding the patchwork cloak for silks as elegant as any noble's. Thom Merrlin is introduced as a gleeman, but was originally a court bard for Queen Morgase.
- The nameless bard in The Last Hero. It's not clear whether he was one before he got shanghai'd by the Grey Horde, but at the end of the story it's implied that he'd be singing their saga all over the Disc.
- In Shelters Of Stone, there's a class of traveling story-tellers and musicians whose visits are highly anticipated in a world without TV or internet.
- Phyllis Eisenstein's Alaric the Minstrel fits the bill perfectly. (He can teleport back to any place he's ever been, but not anywhere he hasn't, so wandering widens his teleport range.)
- On Gor the Caste of Poets (or Singers) is basically this. They can go from town to town and spread news as well as poetry/songs, despite the normally xenophobic nature of many City-States.
- In Athyra, Vlad encounters a female one of these from the house of Issola (Issola are often courtiers, but it's suggested that this would be the typical job of a lower-ranking Issola), and a later novel, Iorich, suggests he might have had an affair with her at some point.
- Jon Tom from Spellsinger is this plus Magic Music.
- Sangfugol from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is an example of this. Aside from being a more or less useless companion to the protagonists, his sole claim to plot relevance is when it's suggested that he, having a similar build and hair color, impersonate Prince Josua during the Final Battle. Needless to say, he reacts to the notion with horror.
- Bards can be this in the Heralds of Valdemar series, but due to superior training and a touch of Magic Music, they are seldom allowed to be just entertainment. Ordinary traveling minstrels wander The 'Verse, occasionally writing songs about the protagonists (to their embarrassment and/or irritation).
- In Mikhail Akhmanov's Envoy from the Heavens, Ivar Trevelian travels to a planet populated by Human Aliens whose culture has been stuck at Middle Ages for centuries with no push for progress or discovery (there's a whole continent in the other hemisphere waiting to be settled, but the population believes the world is flat and that their chief deity will punish them for attempting to reach the edge). His job is to find out about this stagnation. He disguises himself as a member of the Rhapsod Brotherhood, a society of highly-respected wandering bards. He soon finds out they're much more than that, when a group of rhapsods wipes out a mercenary squad three times their number suffering only two casualties. Apparently, they also enact justice when The Empire fails to do so, usually when a nobleman is involved. They turn into vengeful warriors, all of them expert swordsmen and archers. Should the first party sent after a nobleman is wiped out, the Brotherhood puts together another, five times the size. Unlike the first party, this force isn't planning on sparing anyone, who stands in their way, which is why most people are reluctant to fight them. After that, they return to their lutes and songs.
- The main characters and others in the Bardic Voices series by Mercedes Lackey. There's the Guild Bards and Minstrels, the Free Bards (those that are good enough to be in the Guild, but can't because they're women, or don't like the Guild), and ordinary minstrels.
- Dandelion from The Witcher novels and games is a world-famous bard who often travels with the titular hero, Geralt of Rivia. He sometimes gets in trouble for singing about the parts of their adventures that are supposed to remain secret.
- In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, a woman appears in the opening by going into the bar and beginning to play.
- The Reynard Cycle: All of the priests and priestesses of Wulf, the Watcher (who is the personification of death), are wandering minstrels of one variety or another. Their grim songs and stories tend to make most people uncomfortable, but they are highly respected, and are given food and shelter wherever they go. They are also occasionally hired by the wealthy to perform concerts, or perform theatrically. The mysterious disappearance of one who plays the fiddle opens Reynard the Fox.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has several, often portrayed as handsome lads of dubious morals (especially where the ladies are concerned), all of whom come armed with a stunning ability to completely mangle the events they put to music (be said events current, historical, legendary or merely rumour). As the equivalent of the Westerosi news organisation/ network... well... they really aren't organised, and you can forget journalistic ethics; they're all individuals out to make their livings by whatever means they can: fair means or foul. And, it seems almost a Running Gag for them to come to either ironic, downright sardonically cruel or just plain sticky ends when their ambitions even come remotely near to getting them what they think they want. A nameless singer is mutilated on the orders of King Joffrey for a crowd-pleasing, but subversive, song about Queen Cersei and the late King Robert; Symon Silvertongue ends up almost certainly dead and very likely in a pot of stew after trying to blackmail Tyrion; Marillion is tortured for at least a week into falsely confessing to the murder of his new, dream patron, Lysa Arryn, which then ensures his own judicial murder; Dareon is murdered by Arya Stark after he deserts from the Nights Watch seeking fame and fortune far from the Wall (at least it was quick). It's not clear what has happened to Manse Rayder under his cover of "Abel the Bard", but... it's unlikely to have been (or currently be) a barrel of fun: sieges and high politics almost never are. Tom of Sevens is still alive, but his life expectancy as a spy for a gang of notorious outlaws in the Riverlands would make an actuary inhale like a plumber seeing a challenging job. The Blue Bard is currently too crazy and under a constant watch to manage his own suicide after disfiguring torture at the hands of both Qyburn and the Faith for a fair amount of time, the poor bugger (Hamish the Harper would be in the same position, except Qyburn couldn't keep the much older singer alive long enough to get brainwashed and passed along to the Faith)... The short version: you're rather better off taking an entertainment career as a mime, mummer or fool than as a musician in Westeros; wandering or not.
- The titular character in the Lythande stories is a mercenary mage with a love of music, and carries a lute to sing for supper when magical employment isn't available (or desirable).
- In the story "The Wandering Lute", Lythande switches lutes with someone who needs to get back to his kingdom to be crowned king; the titular wandering lute is enchanted to keep its bearer on the exact same route, year after year. Unable to break that enchantment, Lythande has no choice but to be that wandering minstrel. In the end, Lythande pawns the lute off on a dragon in human form who admires it...
- The same wandering lute, with new minstrel attached, makes another appearance in "The Gratitude of Kings". Luckily, the dragoness isn't compelled by the lute and finds the trick amusing.
- Windhaven: A number of side characters are of this profession. Among other things, the story explores the subtle type of power that otherwise powerless bards can have in a world without writing.
- The Stormlight Archive: Played with. Worldsingers are not storytellers, but rather a formalized sort of Mr. Exposition. They teach about foreign lands in order to "make the world a smaller place" and bring people closer together. They therefore know quite a bit about history, religion, and politics, but very little about stories and legends. Doesn't stop everyone else from treating them like your basic minstrel, though, which annoys them to no end.
- Villains by Necessity: Robin, who uses his profession as cover to spy on the villains, using as justification the fact that there aren't many adventurers left, and he wants to write a ballad about them.
- The eponymous Bard of Blind Guardian's "The Bard's Song." The song itself is all about how the songs the bard sings will be remembered when whoever hears them closes their eyes.
- Power/folk metal band Falconer have this as a gimmick, acting as wandering minstrels for their concerts.
- The Bard class from Dungeons & Dragons, at least when applied to adventurers.
- Forgotten Realms got classical (mentioned from Dragon Magazine #74 on) character Mintiper Moonsilver "the Lonely Harpist". As footnotes in "Mintiper's Chapbook" tell, tales of the Author Avatar "Lunargent" are excerpts from Mintiper's own adventures he deemed most interesting, yet even some sages think it must be an embellished compilation, because even for a legendary figure like him it's too much. He has Seen It All, traveled everywhere and gave a concert even in Underdark (for drow and local fairies) at least once.
- This is Nanki-Poo's disguise in The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan:
A wandering minstrel I -
A thing of shreds and patches,
Of ballads, songs and snatches,
And dreamy lullaby!
My catalogue is long,
Through every passion ranging,
And to your humours changing
I tune my supple song!
- Like in the film that inspired it, brave, brave Sir Robin of Camelot has an entire band of minstrels follow him wherever he goes in Spamalot.
- In Henry IV, Part 2, Hal and a friend disguise themselves as minstrels to get into Falstaff's house and prank him.
- The main character of The Bard's Tale spoofs this character type. The eponymous bard starts out the game by summoning and dismissing his rat familiar to scam rewards out of tavern wenches, and, per the game's tagline, is only really motivated by 'coin and cleavage'.
- The main character of Dragon Quest IX poses as one/becomes one near the beginning of the game.
- In Dragon Quest IV, Laurel, one of the two mercenaries you meet in Torneko's chapter, is a former minstrel who gave up the life because it didn't pay him well enough.
- In King's Quest IV, Rosella encounters a wandering minstrel who is terrible at making music. She helps him by giving him a book of William Shakespeare, which leads him to decide he wants to be an actor instead.
- Leliana from Dragon Age, at least in her life before the Chantry. Of course, "bards" are more often than not professional spies, but their job still involves considerable amounts of musical entertainment. In Orlais it apparently adds spice to a party to know that the performing bard might be spying on you, or planning to assassinate you. Appropriately for a bard, Leliana is the most Genre Savvy person in your party.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition has Zither! the Virtuoso. He's more of a traditional RPG bard as a magic-casting musician. Originally announced as an April Fools joke, he was eventually made an actual playable character in multiplayer via DLC. There's also Maryden Halewell, a perfectly normal minstrel who performs in every tavern in the game.
- Hurdy of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 is one of these, and can use his music to cast buffs/debuffs. He's arguably one of the most useful support characters in the whole game.
- Final Fantasy XIV has a recurring NPC called... well, the Wandering Minstrel, who is an Author Avatar of the game's director Naoki Yoshida.
- In A Realm Reborn and beyond, he also issues the embellished versions of duties against various climax bosses of main scenario quests* and raid quests* .
- Yoshi-P himself will sometimes hop onto the servers during special events like E3 on a character identical to the Wandering Minstrel NPC (usually named something like Yoshida Eee), wearing special gear that, while a recolor of the standard bard gear, is not available to players (Though one can try it on in the dressing room by inspecting him), and he may actually not be be a bard. (That said it's been hinted over the years that Yoshi-p's personal character to actually play the game is Female Lalafell Black Mage and thus not actually making him a member of this trope.)
- Toyed with in Fire Emblem Jugdral. Levin pretends to be one of these in the first part of Seisen when in reality he's a King Incognito, whereas Homeros from Thracia 776 is more of the real deal. Both of them are also Wind Magic users.
- In Romancing Saga and its Updated Re-release Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song, The Minstrel hangs out in the local pub and serves as Mr. Exposition, and can be recruited if you talk to him enough times. However, he leaves whenever you visit the next bar, and depending on the player's actions, may become completely unrecruitable late in the game, depending on whether or not you complete the Trials of Elore and discover his identity.
- Ōkami introduces Issun as "Wandering Minstrel Issun".
- The Sims Medieval: The Bard Hero Sim, whose duty is to gather inspiration from around the kingdom in order to write plays, perform poetry, and play the lute to entertain the populace.
- Wandering minstrels infest the streets in Assassin's Creed II, and they're always pestering people (Ezio Auditore in particular) for money. They can also be found in the streets of Rome in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, but they are much less numerous due to now sharing the Goddamn Bats spot with groups of female beggars.
- In Assassin's Creed: Revelations Ezio is utterly delighted when he discovers that a party he needs to infiltrate hired some Italian minstrels as entertainers. He gleefully beats them up for their outfits and spends the rest of the mission singing little ditties lampooning the enemies he fought in the previous games and the annoyances from said games.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, choosing the Avatar of Boris challenge path replaces your familiar slot with Boris's trusty bard Clancy, who plays songs after combat with effects that differ depending on which instrument he's using.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has Talsgar the Wanderer, an NPC bard who you may encounter out on the road or in taverns. Pay him a bit of coin and he'll sing you a song.
- Europa Universalis IV has a random event in which you're informed of the growing fame of a wandering minstrel. You have the choice of bringing them to your court and hiring them as an adviser, or letting them go where their heart desires, which increases the stability of your nation. The latter is almost always the better choice. Wander on, you crazy minstrel.
- Dwarf Fortress In DF these wonderful people can visit your fortress and they can even petition you to work at your fortress! You can also play as one in adventure mode, you can even become a jester for a lord if you can prove to them that you are skilled enough!
- The Witcher. Geralt's friend, Dandelion, who gets a big kick out of turning Geralt's exploits into ballads. By The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dandelion has inherited a cabaret and settled down, but disappears before appearing in the game, kicking off a quest to find him that includes a Yennefer-inspired ballet and Geralt acting in both a theater production and a street performance.
- The singing nomads the GAang encounters in Avatar: The Last Airbender are half wandering minstrels, half New Age Retro Hippies note .
- On Muppet Babies (1984), during a Medieval European Fantasy sequence, Rowlf took the role until Piggy could take no more of his music.
- This was the career wish of one Mikey Blumberg from Recess.
- In the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Tank", "Weird Al" Yankovic voiced a singing minstrel who follows the duo around narrating their triumphs and woes (eventually leading to Stitch just smashing the minstrel's guitar to get him to stop).