A wand'ring minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches, of ballads, songs and snatches, and dreamy lullaby!
—Nanki-Poo, The Mikado
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.
The trope goes back at least to Alan-a-Dale, the minstrel friend of Robin Hood (which is to say, Victorian times; Alan was a late addition). 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.
- A Knight's Tale's plot hinges on the fact that the protagonists meet a bard (and 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.
- The Black Cauldron has Fflewddur Fflam, an inept minstrel whose lute is constantly breaking
- Thom from The Wheel of Time.
- 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 higly 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 the Dragaera novel 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 waiting to be settled, but the population believes the world is flat). 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. 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.
- Cantus in Fraggle Rock is a mystical example.
- Gabrielle from Xena: Warrior Princess becomes a wandering Bard for a while, before becoming Action Girl Jr.
- The eponymous Bard of The Bard's Song.
Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends
- The Pied Piper has aspects of 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 they were holding him.)
- 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 Seen It All, traveled everywhere and gave a concert even in Underdark (for drow and local fairies) at least once. Before that, he was a member of several mercenary companies and then led his own, the Moonlight Men (thought it mostly was caravan guard for hire on the roads around Silverymoon and was around for less than 10 years, then wiped out in one of those wars with orcs - only six members survived… and, of course, he wrote a song about that, too).
A wandering minstrel I -
- 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 main character of Dragon Quest IX poses as one/becomes one near the beginning of the game.
- Dubious, its the jack of all none class you get after you fall to Earth. Also it seems your hero has that it as their class because the first person you meet mistakes you for a bard.
- 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 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's apparently an exciting 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.
- Hurdy of FFTA2 is one of these, and can use his music to cast buffs/debuffs. He's arguably one of the more useful support characters in the whole game.
- 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 Rerelease 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.
- Okami 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 wander the streets in Assassin's Creed 2, and they're always pestering people (Ezio, in particular) for money.
- Elan from The Order of the Stick.
- The protagonist of the old MS Paint Adventures comic Bard Quest. He arrives to the king's castle as this, but quickly gets roped into dragon-slaying business instead.
- The Music-Human from Water Human, who pops up at the end of episode three to play the outro. In episode four, he inexplicably has a new look: a costume decorated with musical notation.