Friday, April 9, 2010

The Bard's Tale: Won (at last)!

I'll be back to collect Shamino in a few weeks.


Well, my roller-coaster journey through The Bard's Tale is over. I know my postings on this game have been a bit schizophrenic, sometimes seeming as if I liked the game and sometimes as if I hated it. If so, then the posts are accurate, because that is exactly how I felt.

The game is challenging from the very beginning, thrusting you into a Skara Brae full of monsters in which the difference between survival and death depends primarily on luck. Run into some kobolds and you'll make it; stumble into a house with six barbarians, and your level 1 party is history. The game became more stable once I started dungeon-crawling, and for four out of five dungeons, my characters rarely died. But once I hit Mangar's tower, the vagaries of chance returned with a vengeance. Turning a corner and blundering into a party of six demons, four master wizards, and three red dragons is relatively commonplace, and if you can't run from the battle, there's essentially no way to survive it. Demons, dragons, magic users, and several other creatures are capable of launching deadly attacks that do more than 100 HP damage to all your party members, against which you have essentially no defense (the anti-magic bard song seemed, in my experience, to do nothing). If my characters were 10 levels higher, they wouldn't survive such an encounter, and I don't think there was any realistic way to get them 10 levels higher. It would have taken millions of experience points (most battles, even at the end, were giving me 5,000-7,000 each on average).


This is the bastard causing all the trouble.

So my winning was mostly luck. I made probably 20-25 forays onto Level 5 of Mangar's tower, dying each time, before I found the path that led me to Mangar himself. After that, I traced that path about 12 times before I finally got lucky and defeated Mangar. I would have recorded it, as I usually do for end games, but I never knew which time would be "the" time, and by the time I finally won, I had given up on recording.


  
Mangar is surrounded by two demon lords and three vampire lords. Vampire lords can stone you with a single touch and demon lords can belch fireballs. Mangar himself is no pushover, capable of some serious damage. Again, I just got lucky. The monsters decided to go after my summoned dragon, giving me enough time to kill a couple of them. The demon lords decided to cast spells instead of spewing fire. One lucky round is really all it took.

(Incidentally, the summon dragon spell is the most awesome spell in the game. The dragon almost always gets the first attack, and if you're lucky he'll breathe fire and wipe out an entire group of monsters.)


   
Winning gives you 300,000 experience points--like I really need those now, thanks--and returns you to the Adventurer's Guild, where I was happy to save and quit. I never finished mapping Level 5. As I allow myself to do once I've finished, I consulted a walkthrough and discovered I didn't really miss anything, although he found the final battle "disappointingly easy." Whatever. Apparently, I could then have gotten a cool magic item, but I don't see any reason to keep playing after I've won.

I'm going to do a quick posting with a final ranking for The Bard's Tale. After that, I have to regress to Wizardry II and Wizardry III (I ordered The Ultimate Wizardry Archives after my first attempts to play them didn't work) before moving on to Phantasie.

One final thing: most of the messages scrawled on the dungeon walls turned out to be clues to one thing or another. Even the message "Thor is the greatest son of Odin, "found in the first dungeon, turned out to be helpful in the fifth when answering that question gives you a little Thor figurine you can use to summon him. But one message I never did figure out, also from the first dungeon: IRKM DESMET DAEM. It doesn't seem to be an an anagram ("mirk Ed Mets made?") and it doesn't give enough letters to be a solvable cryptogram. Googling the phrase just turns up references to The Bard's Tale. Any ideas?

43 comments:

  1. What level were you characters? I seem to recall getting to higher hp totals than that. I certainly put a lot of time into this back in the day. I also used to take "small" parties out to focus on xp gain. And of course there's our buddies the 99,99,99,99 berserkers. I seem to recall getting much bigger XP gains fighting them over and over than 5-7k (even with a full party), but it's been so long I might be on crack there.

    I liked the demon better than the red dragon. He usually moved first and had a great breath attack as well. And while I may be crazy, iirc he had a better AC. I also preferred a third caster. Typical strategy was to "race" a caster to wizard for the awesome buffs/demon party member, and then slowly/properly level (that is, getting all the spells) two characters through all 4 wizard classes (landing in wizard, thought this wasn't smart actually, it was better to land on Conjurer or the other basic class, since leveling was quicker). Ditching that one caster at that point and leveling another.

    We used to do crazy things with BT's character transfer. You could stick a lot of random floppies in and get lots of weird stuff. Usually gibbrish characters who couldn't be saved. But sometimes good characters and sometimes characters with lots of good eq (mithral and better).

    BT was definitely tough to start. Fun memories.

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  2. I agree with Peacedog - your characters seem to be pretty low level based on their HP totals. Definitely should've spent an afternoon re-fighting the 396 berserkers. I recently replayed this game myself & managed to win it in under a week without much trouble (mind you, I played it endlessly back in the 80's, so I still remember most of the map layouts). You definitely should've gone with three spellcasters - magic is hardcore in this game. Also, stick with fighters, don't use the variants like hunter, monk or paladin - they all suck compared to the fighter. Maybe not as interesting for RP purposes, but definitely more effective.
    The demon lord hit harder than the red dragon, his breath weapon did more damage and he had a better AC & hit points; however, he also had a bad habit of casting a spell that did nothing (I think he was trying to summon lesser demons), so I always stuck with the dragon as you knew he was going to do some damage.

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  3. Yeah, yeah. I won, didn't I? Still, good information for players who come along and read this later.

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  4. I just won tonight. My demon lord never breathed on anything, but I ended up using him or Thor in the tower anyway because they tended to have more HP and better AC than the dragon. I also missed out on the Spectre Snare even though I had the note about it from level 2 in the tower. Oh well, I feel like I accomplished something by beating this game.

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  5. This game literally took me 21 years to beat. Started playing in 86, and I don't think a year went by since then that I didn't spend at least a few days with it. My first problem with it occurred on the C64 - my data disks turned out corrupt, so certain items needed (the triangle or circle, I think) didn't exist. I gave up on the game for a while there till I picked up a DOS version. The next problem occurred because of the infrequency of play. I'd put in a couple weeks, leveling the hell out of a party, then I would abandon it for a year or so, and when I came back no longer felt any emotional attachment the characters or game... so I'd start over. Rinse and repeat a dozenish times. Finally stuck with one party and beat it on, of all days, April Fools' of 2007.

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    1. For a second here I thought I'd stumbled across a long-forgotten post. I first played Bard's Tale in '87 at a friend's house, then bought myself the Mac version when that came out in the 90's. I played on and off for years, but could never figure out Kylearan's tower so kept poking around everywhere else, looking for some missed clue. It was probably about 2006 that I finally decided to just consult a walkthrough and finish the game, just to see it defeated.

      Despite also having some exposure to Wizardry and early Gold Box games, this is the one that always captured my imagination.

      28 years later I also wonder for the first time at a possible pun. Is Harkyn's Castle a play on "hearken" as in "listen", which is something you'd do to a bard? Given the puzzle with the throne, that might be a (very) subtle hint.

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  6. I love this blog; only wish I found it sooner!
    What I really like is that you write very well and to the point, and you get a good feeling about how the games are to play.

    Bards Tale was the first CRPG I played on my Amiga back in '88 and I was awestruck by the graphics, sound (especially the priests using a latin chant from Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grauil) and sheer scope of the game.

    My favourite memory was when my band was returning to the Review Board after defeating the 396 Berserkers, kicked in the wrong door and met "death itself in the form of 1 Hobbit". ;-)

    There seems to have been some differences between the various versions. I could swear that in the Amiga version you regained mana in real time, and that it could be speeded up by certain Staffs, which name I can no longer remember. When I got older and wiser it was the curious mix of real time and turn/tile based gameplay that put me a bit off the game.
    But the worst part, which noone else seems to have noticed was that _every_ roll your characters and monsters did was based on the AC. AC didn't only determine how hard you were to hit, but also your chance to hit and your resistance to special and magical attacks.
    But I wonder if this was only on the Amiga version and if things were different on the PC version?

    I also remember that the first monsters that killed my entire party was Blue Dragons. And I really liked that fact that even though the entire party was wiped out, other members of the Adventurers Guild could find the remains and resurrect them at a temple.
    But I don't remember the end game being as brutal as decribed in this blog

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  7. Anon', I maybe didn't cover it, but you do regain mana in real-time in the PC version of the game, but only outdoors and in the daytime. Since you spend so little time outdoors in the daytime, this doesn't really help.

    As for the difficult end game, the consensus seems to be that I rushed it and should have been at least 3-4 levels higher.

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  8. I've decided to do a mini version of your project, only playing the games I think or know I will enjoy, and I will start with Bard's Tale - Tales of the Unknown.
    Just did some testing of various things and was confirmed that spell points only regenerate. Also noticed that AC affects chance to hit also in the DOS version. And entering the Adventurers Guild resets the time to Early Dawn even if it's only Mid Dawn when entering.
    I guess only BT3 was seriously flawed - at least in the Amiga version you regained spell points in real time. I don't remember if you needed Mage Staffs to regenerate spells points in dungeons, though, but in any case it made the game way too easy when you regained mana, cast healing spells and regained more mana with no chance of being interrupted by monsters.

    BTW, your low levels at the end could be due to DosBox running the game too slowly, thus reducing the amount of random encounters.

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  9. Correction to my post above:
    "Just did some testing of various things and was confirmed that spell points only regenerate" - when in daylight.

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  10. Great! Keep commenting with your experiences!

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  11. I did some more experiments, using various CPU Cycles and I found out that they don't really matter (except the game is too sluggish with less than 1000 cycles). One day - from Early Dawn to the start of the Night - is the same length as a Seinfeld episode no matter if using 500 or 3000 cycles: 22 - 22.5 minutes. Which means my party don't get to kick in many doors in one day.

    The game is brutal at low levels, so I gave the equipment from the "A-Team" (El Cid and CO) to my lvl 1 characters. My guys have better stats so they will be better in the long run.
    The Fire Horn is a real life saver - only way for a band of lvl 1 Adventurers to survive against 8 heavy hitting Barbarians.

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  12. BTW, check out this very amusing review of Bards Tale: http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/3398
    And check the comments for more info on who made Bard's Tale.

    Oh, and did you ever try calling the Mad God "Burger" instead of "Tarjan"?

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  13. Well, I re-fired it up, refreshed my memory of the interface, created a part, and ventured out into the city, died a couple of times, recreated the party, finally made it to the Mad God's Temple and tried the line, only to get "Cease your babbling." Not sure it was worth it, but thanks for the Easter egg.

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    1. Haha, i am playing BT1 currently on my iphone and just tried this:

      Name of Mad God?
      Me: Burger.
      They got really upset told me to "Prepare to die" and then hit me with an encounter, if i remember correctly:
      99x Jabberwocks
      99x Maze Monsters
      99x Ancient Enemies
      99x Gimps

      Needless to say, my Avg Level 8 party was evaporated before they could act and yes I did try to run haha.

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  14. Hmm...the prists are supposed to get angry at calling their god "Burger" and send monsters on you. But i guess it only works for those versions (of out a total of 16, I think) that were actually programmed by "Burger" Heineman.
    With no save and load feature I haven't tried it myself.

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  15. Just a few assorted comments (as I mentioned before, Bard's Tale is my favorite game, so I could go on forever, but I won't):

    The Mage Staff could restore spell points without sunlight, which was quite handy (in Bard's Tale 3 harmonic gems were everywhere and they restored all your spell points, thus taking away much of the challenge). I used to have a website with a very detailed item list for all 3 Bard’s Tale games. It’s gone now because it was on geocities, but several other Bard’s Tale sites used my information.

    The level drain “cheat” works this way: when you go to the temple to get your level back, your experience points are actually restored to the amount needed for the next level. Therefore, you can leave the temple and go straight to the review board for an extra one.

    I believe the answer to the “IRKM DESMET DAEM” mystery is found scrawled on a nearby wall. “Heed not what is beyond understanding.”

    Also, I disagree with rattmice that you should go with just Warriors. One Warrior yes, as he gets the best items, however the Monk really kicks ass at later levels. You just have to remember to unequip any armor or weapons that may be hindering him.

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  16. Hmm...one thing I did different than you was that around when I started exploring the Castle, I ditched my bard and started training a third magic-user. Doing the 396 beserker fight a bunch helped get him up to snuff quickly. And having 3 magic-users made a lot of difference in Mangar's Tower.

    @peacedog and others: when I was a kid, I played the C64 version, I would usually summon a Demon Lord, who frequently used is breath weapon. When I replayed BT1, I used the DOS version and the Demon Lord either didn't have a breath weapon or used it way less frequently. Weird little differences between versions...

    In general note, I've been really enjoying your blog, Addict! So much nostalgia!

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  17. Personally I found that when I needed a little breather, the Red Dragon was the most reliable one.

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  18. I just didn't feel right not having a bard in "The Bard's Tale."

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  19. In BT1 at least, the Bard itself (or a Paladin, perhaps) becomes essentially extraneous in place of a 3rd magic-user, later on. Also keep in mind that any AC above some representation of 'LO' (-10 or greater) becomes *exponentially* easier to hit, so don't even think of dropping a Paladin in place of moving a Bard up (if you're thinking of making a 3rd spellcaster - and still want to keep your Bard) unless their AC is also up to par.

    Besides, in a pinch - in the dungeon - a Bard using 'Badh'r Kilnfest' (and a party with a few Troll Ring(s) and Mage Staffs, perhaps?) can regenerate both spell and hit points up to 2 per round, using Party Attack and 'Defend'.

    ...Er, minus having a Summons, of course...)

    I'm rather fond of the Bard myself, but only because I also played the game when it came out back in '85, along with Wizard's Crown (great), Ultima IV, and all the rest.

    For those folks who've only found these games later in life, and didn't have direct experience with them on the original 8088 / Apple / C64 processors et. al., it's perhaps more difficult to understand just how and
    *why* some of them were so cutting edge. Today's modern games wouldn't EXIST without the groundbreaking work of yesteryear's programmers on such gems as Ultima, Wizardry, BT, WC/'Gold Box' (SSI), Might & Magic, Temple of Apshai, and the like.

    Ahh, the Heady Days of Yore - back when 300 baud was 'fast', the Compuserve BBS service hosted online versions of the first RPGs, ASCII characters were considered 'graphics', and Madonna was still considered to be 'Hot'...

    Anyway, thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. Almost as long (ago) and endless for some of us as Sinister Ave... ;)

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  20. It should be noted that you need a bard in order to solve a later puzzle. Having a bard in your party is pretty mandatory in Bard's Tale 1.

    The nice thing about getting the special item right after Mangar is that it carries over to Bard's Tale 2 if you convert your party over. It is the best melee in that game as well, in my opinion (it constantly crits, casts unlimited Spell Binds, and can be equipped by bards). Sadly, it doesn't carry over to Bard's Tale 3.

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  21. Well, that makes a lot more sense. I wondered why you got the spectre snare at the end of the game when it was no longer usable.

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  22. You don't need a Bard to complete BT1. I guess you are referring to the 'who will sit on the throne' puzzle. I got around that puzzle without a bard by casting a phase door or a teleport.

    I had the C64 tape version, which actually could be considered superior to the disk version because all the core code was kept in memory, so there were never any delays when walking around or when encountering monsters.

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  23. I'm not sure that I ever thought it was *required* to have a bard; I just couldn't imagine not having one in "The BARD'S Tale" for role-playing reasons.

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  24. I loved this game! It was one of my favourite games growing up.... (next to Dragon Warrior Games and the Legends of Zelda). It seemed very easy to get through, though I guess as a kid, you have more time to focus on things like games so maybe you spend a lot of time playing and don't realise - whereas now I get bored struggling to get through and replay different levels in Xbox games...mainly cause I have so many other things to focus on. To be a kid again! I loved this game so much. Well done for getting through.
    http://www.jenikya.com/blog

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  25. Strangely, my most moments of BT is kicking down doors and slaying the surprised occupants as they haplessly defended themselves against a motlew crew of intrepid tresspassers while I mumbled to myself, "Ooh, look... hobbits. The other white meat." or something along the line. It was really therapeutic while I held down the "A" key till I popped back out on the streets, ready to kick down another door...

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  26. (Belatedly) The assessment seems fair enough. I played this on the c64 in the mid-80s (probably mostly 1987?) talking with friends and comparing notes. Struggling with the poor-quality item identification was a group activity, while racing to have higher levelled party members was a competition.

    I think none of us really considered the idea of not killing those berserkers for days in our little munchkin hearts. Thus we reached Mangar's tower with characters possibly 10 to 20 levels higher than you, and the only serious threats were instant stone attacks and the like. Which did exist. Aplenty.

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  27. This is one of my favorite games while I was still in middle school. I played the hell out of it then on my C64. Later in college I had gotten my hands on a SuperCPU for my C64 (20MHz 65C816 processor.) You could switch it between 1MHz and 20MHz while the system was running. In 20MHz mode it was too fast for the game to be playable walking around. But I used it to great effect in the berserker battle. I would find a battle to speed up the scrolling, then I would teleport up, enter combat, and issue my battle commands. When it asked if I wanted to use those commands, I would flip it to 20MHz mode and hit 'Y'. Oh my god. It took seconds to finish the entire battle. Flip back to 1MHz, teleport to castle exit, leave the castle, re-enter, teleport, etc... I did some massive level up in no time like that. It was absolutely great!

    And I got a version with the copy protection stripped so I could put it on my CMD HD 170 connected via a RAMLink. I slapped the disks on the CMD HD as 1541 partitions so all that slow disk access for events was a thing of the past.

    Playing in an emulator like VICE today you can get the same (or better) disk speed increases by turning off "True Drive Emulation." You can do some emulation speed increases in VICE to help out with the performance. You can have a very pleasurable experience playing this game even today.

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  28. I fondly remember this game. My first CRPG ever, bought with no clue at all about what it was, for the Amstrad CPC. I finished it and had mapped everything on paper. I still have these maps in a box.

    It seems this version was easier because you could just turn off the computer when you died and reload the last saved game. It didn't work on Apple IIe I think.

    I later bought BT2 on Amiga but couldn't get around playing it, too frustrating.

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  29. I was playing Bards tale 1 on my Atari ST at college in '89 while a friend was on Bards Tale 2 on his PC. When I reached the Beserkers in Harkyn's Castle (3rd floor barracks area) I told him about it the next day and he didn't believe me, then I showed him. He said it was "insane" as the biggest single group of monsters he'd met was 9 in BT2. BTW that beserkers encounter will net just over 1 million XP divided between the party, so I used to average about 60,000 per character. I also went in with the red dragon and prayed the bugger would breath, the frost horn helps too because the damage is higher than the fire horn. I found the beserkers could resist the fire horn effects.
    BT2 was devious too as it had "Death snares" real time puzzles that couldn't be paused and HAD to be completed in a given time or the party was wiped out. If you did the snaares though you got 7 pieces to a destiny wand that if all put into the hands of one spellcaster turned him into the destiny knight I never finished BT2 so don't know what the ending was.
    BT3 then has Skara Brae destroyed and your party must travel through time and 7 worlds to ultimately face Tarjan himself, not even started BT3.

    So now I'm a 45 year old IT tech and still playing it, this time all in order as I have all 3 PC versions, to see if I can get the ultimate Bard's Tale party. I run it on Ubuntu linux through dosbox and it plays fantastically. I've got an entire A4 folder just for Bards Tale with maps to the first 2 games (though 2 isn't complete), just never got round to BT3.

    I have even played, and completed, the 2004 version; better graphics but you only play the bard, all other characters are summoned beings. I found when I gave that bard the bow he could become lethal as an arrow machine. That's how I beat it just stayed at range and pulverized the enemy with flaming arrows.

    So IRKM DESMET DAEM in the sewers is like the message on level 2 of Dungeon Master? Yes I play DM as well! In DM you step onto a trigger pad and a message appears on a far wall, step off to read the message and the message disappears. Drop a rock on the trigger and you can then step off to read THIS MESSAGE SAYS NOTHING! Programmers will have their little jokes! ;)

    I also had a mac version of wizardry (I think wizardry 1, but have wizardry 8 on my PC) so you think you are a CRPG addict? We should compare games lists sometime.

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    1. In regards to "IRKM DESMET DAEM", on the dungeon level following the on you find it says: "Heed not that which is beyond understanding."

      In other words, it is gibberish and has no meaning.

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    2. I refuse to believe it. Ted Sme made a mirk, and by god, it's somewhere to be found.

      Delete
    3. Believe it! :-) https://twitter.com/burgerbecky/status/651636561981796352

      Delete
  30. The recent news of a proper Bard's Tale IV coming out led me back here to read these again. Regarding the 'low' Hit Point total at the end...

    One the one hand, I've played this game start to finish 3 times. And I agree with earlier posters that it seems like you were somewhat low on HP at the end. I recall totals in the 400-500 range. It's quite an impressive feat that you beat it with those totals.

    On the other hand my last playthrough was 1997, so I'm really struggling to think of what we could have done differently to end up with higher HP totals...

    The one thing I can think of is grinding those infamous 4 groups of 99 berserkers. I'm sure I spent quality time power-leveling via that encounter on each playthrough. I'm wondering if you did that, or if you avoided them.

    It couldn't have been any sort of grinding in Mangar's tower because you'd never make progress with the creatures such as Vampires draining your levels. I'm thinking it has to be the berserker-grinding.

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    1. I definitely remember the 99 berserkers, and I know I grinded against them SOME. Probably not as much as other players did.

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    2. When my spellcasters got high enough, and I had enough of the right gear to get them to L0, I used to send them up to the Berserkers solo to grind to even higher levels. That let me level them six times faster, at the expense of the fighters, but let's face it, they were just there as cannon fodder while the mages let loose from the back row.

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  31. A couple more differences from the port: Dragons always show up solo. There's a single Demon Lord battle before Mangar, and then Mangar all by himself. Also, there's no battle with berserkers to grind on, but not a great loss.

    I didn't read all comments, but if anyone's interested in more details on the port feel free to contact me.

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    1. Thanks for your series of comments regarding the differences. I didn't respond to every one, but I read them all, and I find it very interesting. The console version sounds simpler and less challenging. On the other hand, you can play it on your couch.

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  32. It's funny finding your blog about this. I played Bard's Tale for years starting around 6th grade until I finally won it when I was a soph or junior in highschool. For the longest time I couldn't find my way through the tower and I never thought I was a high enough level even though for years I was doing the 396 berzerker and killing them all with one cast of Mind Flay or whatever the spell was for the mage. Needless to say by the time I got to the final battle it was anticlimatic as he also died from one cast of it too. Then I was thinking, man if I would have really tried to find my way I could have done this a looong time ago.

    After that I imported my characters to Bard's Tale 2 and I thought I was going to kick some butt from the start but my guys were getting wrecked and I never really got into that one.

    The cool thing is I still have my characters on a 3.5 disc and still have my original Bard's Tale game I bought from Babbages back in the day. I also found my Leisure Suit Larry game and box too.

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  33. Oh and by the way, I would do the berzerkers with only my mage so he would get all of the xp each time.

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  34. So I'm playing through Bard's Tale now, and I'm still in the catacombs, so I haven't hit the truly difficult or unfair parts yet, at least according to this journal.

    However one things I've noticed is that as I level, I can more reliably run away from opponents below my level. It seems at a point you hit a sufficient level to pick you battles with almost complete certainty. So I'm curious if with a bit more leveling, your experience trying to avoid getting stoned or annihilated on the final dungeon may have been lessened, by simply avoiding those fights.

    I'll know for certain when I get there I suppose!

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    1. I think the consensus here is largely that I didn't grind enough before taking on the final dungeon, thus partly explaining the difficulty I experienced.

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