Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bard's Tale III: Just What I Needed

Enjoying the sunshine between battles.

Some of you may have noticed that I've been a bit manic lately. In January, I had 29 postings--a monthly record for me--and I covered 11 games. Truth be told, I've probably been devoting too much time to playing CRPGs this month--to the detriment of my real work. Thus, The Bard's Tale III came along just in time.

Let me explain. Spell points are vital to the survival of your characters. In fact, if the rest of the dungeons go like the first one did, I'm going to regret not just creating an all-spellcaster party. You need them for healing, buffing spells, exploration spells, and defensive spells, and all of the necessary exploration spells (magic compass, greater revelation, levitation, mystic shield) take up about 1/3 of your spell points right there. So when you go exploring and you start to run out of magic, it's time to get out of Dodge.

The first two games had a shop called Roscoe's Energy Emporium where you could pay to get your spell points recharged. But in III, Roscoe's was destroyed by the Mad God. Thus, the only way to recharge your mana (that I can tell) is to hang around outside. This only works in the daytime, too, so if it happens to be night when you emerge from the dungeon, you have to wait.

A full recharge takes about 20-30 minutes in real time, even with the bard song called "The Rhyme of Duotime" playing in the background. This time only gets longer as my levels (and, thus, max spell points) increase. Consequently, I'm getting a lot of work done on my "to do" list when I'm supposed to be playing the game. Explore the dungeon. Write a few pages for a report. Finish mapping Level 1. Check in on my online classes. Map half of Level 2. Design a database form. This really is just the kind of game I need. In fact, it gives me an idea: all computer games ought to come with built-in timers. When you create your character, you tell the game how long it should allow you to play and how long a break you should take in between playing sessions. Want to override those settings? Fine, but you'll have to restart from the beginning.

Based on comments I got from yesterday's posting, there are things called "harmonic gems" that recharge your spell points, but I haven't found them yet.

Tarjan's dungeon, Level 3

I managed to map four levels of Tarjan's dungeon since my last posting It's slow-going. The game throws encounters at you on every other square, it seems, and you never "clear" a level, so it's relentless. With "Sir Robin's Tune" playing, I can avoid most of the fights if I want to, but obviously the point of the dungeon is to increase my experience. My characters are Level 13/14 and my spellcasters have rolled over into their second classes. I had to find a word on Level 2 ("CHAOS") to allow access to Level 3, and on Level 3 there was a riddle ("The tint of melancholy paves the way" and "A splash of noble's blood colors the exit"; answer: BLUE) to pass to Level 4.

Here are my notes from the last day's sessions:

  • In a departure from the first two games, monsters do not attack while you wait, only when you actually turn or move. This makes my strategy above possible.
  • The game has introduced a new way to cast spells, and it's so annoying that I don't know what the developers were intending. Instead of typing in the four-letter code for the spell, you now have to choose the spell from a list. A long list, especially as your spellcasters achieve multiple classes.

They could have at least put them in alphabetical order.

  • There are a lot of ways to get NPC assistants in the game. I've found half a dozen figurines that will summon them, sometimes wandering monsters offer to join me, and there are several spells that conjure them. What I've noticed is that these monsters are nigh indestructible. A figurine gave me a "Molten Man" with an AC of -12 and 146 hit points. I've had him for two levels and he hasn't come close to dying.

I think in real life I'd be suspicious of this offer.

  • The ability to save in the dungeons, while beneficial on the surface, potentially removes a lot of the challenge inherent in the first game. There, you felt a real tension as you explored the dungeons, taking care not to stray too far too fast, watching your hit points and spell points. While I have been forcing myself to take slain characters for resurrection rather than reloading the game, I decided that when my entire party is wiped out, I'll allow myself to reload rather than trying to create dummy characters and resurrect them all from the adventurer's guild.
  • Along these lines, one level of the dungeon had a couple of doors that said, "Those who enter this door will never leave through it." Entering takes you to a dark level with no exit in which you take constant damage while moving. Lesson learned: heed the warnings on doors.

Honestly, if you saw this in real life, you wouldn't open the door, right?

  • I don't know if the creators were afraid of copyright infringement suits or something, but none of the monsters from I or II appear in this game. This game features a slate of creatures found in no other game. So far, I've counted about 15 different monster portraits, with each portrait standing for at least half a dozen monsters. For instance, the goofy looking thing below is shown as a "Hookfang," but the same portrait serves for "Blackclaws" and "Greenclaws" as well. Since these creatures are all unique to The Bard's Tale III, I suppose a dedicated player would keep track of their names, toughness, and special abilities to help better plan combat tactics. Alas, I have lacked such motivation.

I need to work on better insults.

  • In another departure from previous games, not all of the dungeon levels are the same size. The first level was only 13x13, for instance, while the second was 22x22.
  • There is precious little in the levels, aside from random encounters, traps, dark squares, spinners, and other such dangers. The first two levels of the dungeon, for all of their twists and turns, served only one purpose: to tell me that the word CHAOS, when spoken to the Mad God's priests, would allow me access to the deeper levels. This whole "message-scrawled-on-the-wall" thing is a staple of early CRPGs, found in Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, and Might & Magic, among others. But it does break the immersion a bit, doesn't it? I mean, why would the bad guys go and write their code words on the walls?

Was this written by some helpful fifth columnist in Tarjan's horde?

  • The game theoretically introduces an automap feature. I say "theoretically" because it doesn't really work. I think it's supposed to black out places you haven't been, but calling up the automap seems to either 1) show me the entire map of the level regardless of whether I've been there; 2) show a map with random parts--including places I've been--blacked out. I haven't abandoned my Excel maps.

This is what the automap showed me before I had even gone anywhere.

  • The rogue's attack abilities are a nice touch. I'm not sure if they're new to this game since I didn't have a rogue in the first Bard's Tale. Essentially, the rogue can take one combat round to hide in shadows. If successful, he can attempt a sneak attack against a foe on the next round. The sneak attack has a decent chance of being a critical hit (instant death). He can also do this from the fifth rank--a rank from which you can normally not attack. Also related to the rogue, the game follows Wizardry's tradition of having the rogue first identify the trap and then attempt to disarm it by typing in the trap's name. This can get annoying during repeat failures, when I have to type "poison blades" six or seven times. Inevitably, I screw it up ("pison blades") and set it off.

The thief makes a back stab.

I'm actually a little disturbed by how quickly I'm leveling up. I guess I had the erroneous impression that III restarted all characters at Level 1 for a reason, but the game seems bent on ensuring that I'll have Level 20 characters and arch-mages (spellcasters with all spell levels in all spellcasting classes) before the end of the first dungeon.

In this posting, I probably haven't been able to successfully conceal my disappointment. I don't know why, but I was really looking forward to this game. Somehow I thought it would be a lot different than II, but it's not. The lack of scripted encounters, the needlessly large dungeons, the constant combat, and the insanely rapid leveling have conspired to create a game that is fundamentally boring. The first Bard's Tale wasn't a whole lot different in gameplay, but it was somehow different in quality. It was more compact, for one thing. There were more NPCs and scripted encounters in dungeons, and the maps had a little more thematic sense to them. Compare the largely random map above to this one from the first game, for instance:

See how you can discern a pattern in this map? There was a consistent theme on this level with undead, and the walls led you inextricably to the location of the level's main encounter. Not so in the maps so far in The Bard's Tale III.

But the forced waiting has been a real benefit to me during a couple of days when I had to get some real work done, so in that sense, it's been just want I needed. And perhaps I'm being a bit premature--I understand that after this starter dungeon, I get to explore other worlds and stuff. That must be cool, right?


  1. In the department of not realizing game features exist: Somehow, I missed you can save in dungeons.

    2 has a much better starter dungeon, although I still think Bard's Tale 1 > 3 > 2. Don't feel obligated to plow through if you're unhappy, though.

  2. The Bard's Tale was I think the one major classic RPG series with which I never had much meaningful interaction. I played Ultima, Wizardry, and the Gold Box games, but aside from having a friend that owned The Bard's Tale on his C-64 I didn't get to play it much. I can't decide if these posts on the Bard's Tale games are making me want to play them or not...

  3. I finished BT3 two years ago and it was a good game. The slow mana regeneration was annoying, I had to write a little savegame editor program to rectify the problem :)

  4. Regarding finding the harmonic gems - when I played the dos version the other day and went into the cache house in skara brae I think the game asked me who in the party would inspect. I selected my thief and found a whole load of items including harmonic gems and a fire horn.

  5. Wait till you get to Dragon Wars: it's Bard's Tale's spiritual sequel with a skill system (similar to Wasteland's one, which is another game you should really look forward to), multiple ways to solve almost any problem and sometimes great consequences to your choices (you can destroy cities!)

  6. I'm with samtam90. I remember Dragon Wars (and Wasteland, for that matter) as being truly great games. I always got the sense playing Bard's Tale games that it was a bunch of stuff that had been done better elsewhere, though part of that was undoubtedly because I was playing them chronologically out of sequence with other games, and not really aware of which came out when. Just another reason this blog is a public service and should be supported by taxpayer dollars (or gold pieces, for the fantasy feel). But yeah--while I regularly go back and play games from this period, the desire to re-live The Bard's Tale series has never overtaken me. Thanks again!

  7. Seems like the Bard's Tale series had not aged well, based on Addict's experiences and my own recent replay of BT1.
    I never played M&M 3, 4 and 5 as a kid, only MM 2, but replayed 3 to 5 a few years ago, and they were much more fun than replaying BT 1.

  8. Some non-spoilery advice:
    - The first dungeon is grind-y, but things get better! After that the pace picks up and the grinding is over.
    - I recommend putting three spellcasters in the party, even if that means you don't have a slot for NPCs.

    I did a let's-play of BT3 last year. It's full of spoilers (of course), but you might get a kick out of it after you either finish or abandon the game:

  9. "I mean, why would the bad guys go and write their code words on the walls?" I always look at this as some clever spy found the secret, and managed to write it on a wall before being killed on his way out of the dungeon.

    1. I rather thought of it as some kind of password-reminder for Tarjans priests, who might want to visit their boss in the cellar every now and then :-) (Yeah, doesn't make too much sense, the way the dungeons are designed...)

    2. I usually figure it is earlier expeditions, that died along the way.

    3. Unless the villain is extremely Lawful evil and feels honor-bound to let you have a chance at defeating him, it doesn't make much sense. In my blog-novel parody I ended up concluding there has to be a greater conspiracy. The given hints are intended to keep the opposition characters playing it straight, aiming at what appears to be a primary boss while keeping their attention away from the suspicious back-room dealings that are running the whole thing. It's the only way for it to really make sense.

    4. Were I trying to turn the game into a logical narrative, I'd probably consider the wall codes as a symbolic representation of the clue-finding process.

  10. I pretty much missed out on this Wizardry sub-genre of CRPGs until I played Wizardry 6: Bane of the Cosmic Forge. Unfortunately it blows pretty much all older games in the sub-genre out of the water in many ways, to the point where I can't stand their quirks enough to get sucked in.

    It looks like Wiz6 did steal the Rogue hide+backstab from back-ranks mechanic from this game, though.

    I should also mention that Wiz6 through Wiz8 are technically a trilogy (Wiz6 serves mostly as a rather random prologue to the stronger story arc of its two sequels), and you can transfer your party from Wiz6 to Wiz7 and Wiz7 to Wiz8 (something I've only seen in a few other game series such as Quest for Glory and Mass Effect). I've never managed to beat Wiz7 though, so I beat Wiz8 with an original party. I've always wanted to go back to Wiz7 and carry my party from Wiz6 the rest of the way through the trilogy, though.

    1. I have been keeping an updated list of all the game series where you can import characters from one to another, and though I certainly agree that it is hardly a common feature, without counting it looks like there are about 20 different game series that allow importing in some fashion (including bizarre examples from the 1980s like importing your Wizardry characters into the Bard's Tale series or your Phantasie characters into the Legend of Faerghail and such). I get really excited whenever I find a new one!

  11. Count me in along with others who never felt the need to replay the BT games. I played them through on the Commodore 64 and never went back. I have vague memories of obsessive mapping and...that's about it. I have happier memories of Alternate Reality: The City, as crazy as that game was.

    In contrast, I missed Wizardry 6 and 7, but played 8 through multiple times. And I've played and replayed all of the Might and Magic games from 3 to 8.

    I bought the Bard's Tale "reboot" for PlayStation a few years ago, and Cary Elwes' voice was the best thing about it. I have miserable eye-hand coordination as well, and Bethesda Softworks' games are about as close as I can stand to get to action "RPGs."

  12. Since Maeralin reminded me of them...

    Alternate Reality: The City and The Dungeon were masterpieces - far ahead of their time, with alot of innovative features. Too bad the subsequent chapters (after Dungeon - the game was meant to be a huge universe made of seven separate chapters which would have joined together, something akin to World of Xeen for M&M4 and M&M5 but far greater in scope) were never made, because from what was planned I'd say it was going to be one of the best RPGs ever made (for instance, they planned you would have been able to own your own piece of land and manage it! Something that still today I've seen only a handful of times in RPGs).

  13. Another vote for Wizardry 6-8, possibly the best RPG trilogy ever (I consider part 1, 4 and 5 to be the first triplet, with 2 & 3 being merely data disks to the original).
    I thorougly enjoyed Might & Magic 3-5, even though gameplay got rather repetitive towards the end.
    But that's the golden 90s.. *sigh*
    Still, '88 isn't too bad what with Might & Magic 2, Ultima V and Wasteland. And maybe CRPGAddict will uncover a hidden gem on the way? :)

  14. samtam & Maeralin, reading your posts I went back and looked at my posting on AR: The City and I realize I didn't quite give it the chance it deserved. But the game didn't have a quest, and thus I wasn't quite sure what the point was. It was very innovative, though, and like samtam, I'm sorry it didn't get finished.

    trutodyr, I had never played any Wizardry games before starting this blog, but aside from the insanity of IV and the forced character transfer, they have a lot of charm. I look forward to V coming up later this year.

  15. Just to get you looking forward to Wasteland, I'll note that it's one of the very few games I've ever finished. In fact, I played it through to the end at least twice.

    Now, I'm easily bored, and I'm always ready to move on to a different game. So I have to think that Wasteland was pretty short. Or maybe it was just that good. I do remember that I loved it.

    I can't wait until you get there (although I'm also looking forward to Pool of Radiance - and several other games, too).

  16. The Bard's Tale is fond memories for me... The I is one of the first CRPGS I ever played, and I was so addicted to it, my father actually erased permanently the disks in the end, as nothing else was actually able to make me do my schoolwork or anything, lol. So I never got to finish it, but got back to it and did it a few years ago. Never tried the II & III, but these posts doesn't give the sequels a good name...

    I played M&M3 like a dozen times over, best one in the "early" series for me before VI/VII in my opinion, I really loved this game. I am looking forward to your coverage of M&M2, as I never played it, and if it's as good as M&M1 in your opinion, I'll probably give it a try.

    I actually finished Wiz7 a year ago, which is I think one of the hardest and most complicated games I've seen, mapping everything myself along the way. I remember failing it when i was 13 in the 90s : we actually had bought the clue book and still weren't able to complete it, imagine! (Then again, the clue book had errors as I did find out). Tried to import my chars in Wiz8 to go on, but really found the combat system too annoying. Should backtrack to Wiz6 someday, too...

  17. WCG & G.: thanks for ramping up the anticipation. I'm looking forward to all these games and I'm afraid I just want to get the hell out of BT3 right now.

  18. I'm just nearing the end of BT III myself right now; I'm glad to see I'm not alone or 'missing the point' with my list of annoyances at this game. I started playing when I was 15 (in the 90s) and recently decided I needed closure. Can't come quick enough now...

  19. I'm currently playing on Apple II emulator. I'm afraid the PC version looks much worse. The final dungeon stumped me as a kid, now I am equipped with Internet lore to cheat it.

  20. In BT1 and BT2, if you equipped your casters with a Mage Staff (SP regen in darkness/dungeons/wherever) and a Conjuror Staff (1/2 off the SP cost of all spells) you almost never needed to buy energy back. I've noticed in BT2 that simply having the staffs in your inventory (not even equipped) gave you the benefits. This allows for conservation of spell points and constant renewal while dungeon questing. I'll have to check if this effect continues into BT3, but obviously would be beneficial (even if it takes 2 inventory slots).

    1. Unfortunately, I never found those staffs in BT3. I agree that if I had, it would have made things a lot easier.

    2. FWIW, in my current playthrough, I got my first Conjurstaves around the time you decided (wisely I think) to stop.

      I'm currently in Malefia (last world) and while there are a few interesting moments along the way, most of it boils down to mapping and slaughtering.

  21. Bards Tale 3 has been developed on a C64. On this computer, the spell selection system was really good. You either could enter the four letter name or select it from a GUI menu. The GUI menu was quite modern and new for the C64.
    The PC version is the most worse version you could play. It has bad spell selection, bad graphics and the game mechanics changed somehow so that monsters repel spells much more often.
    If you play BT3 again, please try the C64 version.

  22. Your level of fastidiousness is ridiculous. You realize you're insane right? Lol


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