Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Bard's Tale III: The Age of Aggression is Just About Done

The guy was dead literally four seconds later.

I can't believe how many comments I got on my last Bard's Tale III posting. I really starved you for those five weeks, didn't I? The last week has been rough, work-wise, so while I struggled to find time to play the game, I read your comments and tried to figure out what to do. Most of you wanted me to get on with it, but some of you offered cogent arguments for staying. I was particularly intrigued by bobturkey's comment that there's a World War II-themed world, and I appreciated Stephen Tanner's reminder that Sir Robin's Song eliminates a lot of the random combats. Then Killahead came along with a link to a thread on The Adventurer's Guild that not only explains the programming behind the random combats, but also offers a patch to reduce them and fix some other errors, like enemies not using their special attacks (or, in some cases, attacking at all).

I'm pretty sure he's referring to stuff that happens in a different world. These bartenders get around.

I downloaded the patch (created by a user named "drifting") and I can't say I noticed a huge difference, although I wasn't keeping track of the various monsters' special attacks in the first place. It sounds like most of the high-random-combat squares were in the starter dungeon.


I resolved to finish at least Arboria. I opened up my mapping file and was surprised that I'd already mapped much of it. I don't remember getting as far as I did, but then again, it was over a year ago. I do vaguely remember hitting a lot of places that I could not get past because I lacked some crucial item, and a foe (Tslotha, it turns out) who kept coming back to life. The key was doing everything in the right order. I had to collect an acorn from the outside area and the "water of life" from the palace beneath the lake.

It took me forever to figure out I needed to use a wineskin to "collect" the water.

Planting and watering the acorn allowed me to get through a portal in Valarian's Tower, where I found a weapon called the Nightspear. The Nightspear was needed to trap Tslotha's soul so he wouldn't come back to life.

See if you can figure out which part of this message nearly made me rage-quit.

Returning Tslotha's head to the king allowed me access to the Sacred Grove...


...where Tslotha's heart and the water of life, placed in the cavity of the dead Valarian's chest, allowed...I don't know...somehow allowed me access to a part of the dungeon where I--at last--collected Valarian's Bow.

Returning it to the guild master in Skara Brae, I was awarded 600,000 experience points and given a new quest to retrieve Lanatir--or at least his gear--from the realm of Gelidia.

"Actually, it would probably be easier if you just killed him and took his stuff."

After finishing the level, I reloaded a backup and played parts of it again so I could make the following video, which illustrates some key aspects of gameplay. The pauses are me consulting my maps, but for the most part, it's quick because I'm able to teleport to most of the places I need to go.

Some highlights from the video:

  • 00:00: Start off in a tavern. Note how the animation makes it look like the bartender is repeatedly spitting into the patron's glass. It takes Essyltt a while to order a drink because I forgot to give her any money. Earlier in the game, the bard needed to keep drinking to replenish her songs, but somewhere along the way, she found something called the Bardsword which makes that unnecessary. So I basically just wasted a minute for nothing.
  • 01:16: My characters are nearly at max health, but I figure I'll heal them anyway. A few seconds later, I lose patience with pointing and clicking, and throughout the rest of the video I'm using the keyboard.
  • 01:58: Note the unfortunate gesture the king is making with his staff.
  • 02:31: An easy combat begins. I could run, but I want to illustrate some combat things.
  • 02:43: Notice the difference in attack damage between my monk and my bard! The bard is fairly worthless except for "Sir Robin's Song."
  • 03:35: Boy, that tower sure looks high.
  • 04:27: Another combat. Mabon the Mad pulls out all the stops and casts Mangar's Mallet (while shouting, "Run home and cry to MAMA!"), which does 200-800 points of damage on every foe but costs 80 spell points. It's one of a few fairly overpowered spells. I've been complaining that spell points take so long to recharge, but perhaps that's deliberate. Perhaps the creators wanted your pool of spells to last through basically one world, with a little recharging or harmonic gems in emergencies. My guess is it would definitely be worth having a third spellcaster, especially since Escorducarla, as a chronomancer, doesn't have nearly as good mass effect spells.
  • 05:32: The game forces me to pick up some armor that I don't want, so I have to immediately go and drop it.
  • 05:54: In preparation for entering the tower, Mabon the Mad casts the "Batch Spell," which simultaneously casts light, compass, protection, wizard eye, and levitation. One of the better inventions of the game.
  • 06:35: I teleport to the place on my map that I want to go.
  • 07:00: For some reason, planting an acorn in a dungeon floor accomplishes something.
  • 07:40: I "trap zap" a trap ahead of me, but frankly I get the message so often that it's a waste of time to keep doing it.
  • 08:01: Watch the compass. I run into a spinner. It takes me a few seconds to figure out where I'm going.
  • 08:18: Every first-person tile-based game of the era features "zones of darkness." These serve no purpose but to making mapping a pain in the neck and waste spell points.
  • 08:31: Forgot to have Sir Robin's Tune going. This allows me to "(R)un" from unwanted encounters with near-100% success. I haven't been having much trouble so far, but just in case...
  • 09:13: I find my objective.
  • 09:40: Yes, I'm looking at my map and counting squares. Moments later, I exit. Time to hang out in the sun and recharge my spell points!

At some point, leveling became meaningless. I stopped by the Wizard's Guild every once in a while and got a level or two, but all I'm getting at this point are more hit points and spell points on top of an already-staggering total. When games get to this point, it's time for them to be over. Usually it happens late in the game. When I was playing Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal and started thinking, "Ho hum. I guess I'll take another improved whirlwind attack," it was fortunately close to the last battle. In this case, it's relatively close to the beginning of the game. I know it seems like I've been playing for a long time, but all I've really done is complete the optional starter dungeon and the first of seven worlds.

When you have to start mentally putting commas in the experience point figure, your characters are perhaps a bit over-leveled.

Although each of the four dungeons featured only one or two key locations (the rest was just mindless mapping), the levels at least had the virtue of being small, and thankfully the developers didn't restrict the use of APAR (teleport) at key locations like most games do.

I confess that when I started this posting, I had intended to include a GIMLET in it, but it ended up being longer than I anticipated. I hated the game a little less during this play session--mostly because I took the time to re-read and note the spells, which make combat a lot faster--but probably not enough to keep this up through six more worlds. I'll explore Gelidia a bit as I gather the screenshots for my GIMLET, but I really think the next posting will be the last.


  1. I had a savegame on c64 where the characters had 2000 hp and mana.
    Some of the fights were very very difficult in the later areas, even with that overpowered party.

    Still, 15 years later, I do not comprehend why I even bothered ...

    1. Buzz from Rebel Without a Cause says it best: "Well, ya gotta do SOMETHING."

    2. Oh, an another thing: Paladin (Geomancer), hunter, rogue, bard, archmage, archmage, Chronomancer is the way to go.
      Get stoneblades for the paladin and the bard (if he can use one), those stone hence kill with every hit.
      There is another weapon which does critical hit every hit, but i do not remember which one it is.
      Besides, you get a free song each time your bard levels up, meaning that a level 30 bard can sing 30 tunes before he needs a drink.

      Hunter has 99% critical hit anyways, as does the rogue. Archmages can do mama, chronomancer is a necessity.

    3. You just named seven characters, and the game only supports six, plus an NPC you can't control.

    4. What? I distinctly remember having 7 characters in the C64 version because the S (as in Special) place was just a party slot.

    5. Also, crucially, critical hits DO NOT WORK in the DOS version. Unless that patch fixes that.

    6. This game definitely permits seven characters. There are some hints that are fairly important that you can get from uncontrollable NPCs, and some puzzles that require putting an NPC in your party, but you can swap characters in and out, so you can easily play more than 95% of the game with 7 characters.

  2. I suppose BT3 could be subtitled "the problem with high level campaigns".

    I guess that's why a lot of sequels start you with either a new character/party, or make an excuse for why you're back at level one.

  3. Woohoo! Congratulations on clearing Arboria. And I'm glad that you hated this game session less.

    Gelidia has some of the tougher boss battles. They're an interesting tactical challenge, but they may put the Game Hatred Factor [tm] into overdrive. (I hit a wall in Gelidia and ended up rolling a brand new character and hauling him through the Brilhasti battle to build a second Archmage)

  4. Was your problem the apostophe S? "its" instead of "it's", goddammit!

    I must say that the unofficial Bard's Tale IV, Dragon Wars, from what I've played so far, seems more fun than this game. But it also has its grammar problems. In particular, the authors say "lay" when they mean "lie" and they do it consistently! Chet, it might drive you mad.

    1. Yes, that was it. I'm well aware, by the way, that my own writing contains the occasional malapropism, grammatical error, or other flub. It's getting worse as I get older. But my writing isn't a commercial product that's presumably been vetted by a staff of developers and test players.

  5. You should stay away from JRPGs I think. Bad translations abound, and worse offenses than this.

  6. Chet, did you download the latest of Drifting's patches? (There's 2 pages in that thread.) I noticed you selecting spells from a menu, but the latest patch lets you type in the 4-letter names...

    1. Ah, no. I didn't see the third one on the page. I just downloaded that now. Hallelujah on the spell typing.

  7. You might like Gelida. It's frozen and I think has a number of riddles to solve. My very vague recollection has it being about as complicated as Valeria.

    As ronaldsf said you can type the 4 letter spell names instead of using the menu. I don't even remember there being a menu actually.

    Gobble gobble.

    1. The riddles were fun, but I gave up because of the spell-point-recharging thing.

  8. Ick - 2,128 points of damage done by your monk, and only 17 points by your bard?

    The character and development in The Bard's Tale was definitely not, to use a modern term and perspective, "balanced."

    Another thing about these older games was that there wasn't much opportunity for buyers to share notes and opinions about the quality of various games. This was before the internet, and the magazines' standards for "what makes a good RPG" were as undeveloped as the CRPGs themselves in that regard.

    I imagine that packaging and advertising played a bigger role then in making a game sale, and actual quality was important less than today. As a 9 year old kid, I would just walk into the computer game store (yes kiddos, those existed once) and look at the various game boxes. If the cover of something looked interesting, I would pick it up, turn it around, and look at the back cover to see the graphics and guess if the gameplay looked like something I'd want to play.

    That's how I bought the Bard's Tale. I was 9 at the time. The "box" (It was more like a cardboard folder actually, with the floppy disks themselves making the whole thing feel more solid) looked interesting. And there was a RED DRAGON on the back! It sounded fun to be able to cast magic and fight monsters and fight in some dungeons.

    I never saw any commercials or read any reviews. Today, I wouldn't even think about getting a game until I visited its website, read some reviews, and played a demo if it was available.

  9. Kudos for the Skyrim skjald song reference in the title. I can hear Mikael singing it in my head.

    1. has a very nice version of it.

  10. My game buying was mostly like you describe it Ronaldsf. None of my game playing friends bought RPGs, I was pretty much on my own in deciding what to buy back in the 80's. So I got sucked in my magazine ads and fancy packaging.

    I should have used magazine reviews more to guide my game buying, but most reviews were like they are today, they mostly hyped the latest hot games.

    Scorpia in CGW had by far the best reviews. But I couldn't wait months for her review to come out of the latest RPG. I could have saved so much money if I had been more patient. It's not like I was starved for games to play, I would usually have a backlog of games to play. So even though I rushed out to buy the latest hyped RPG, it was months before I got around to playing it. By that time Scorpia's review of the game had often come out, and more often than not I knew the game wasn't worth playing.

    Game buying is so much easier now. Much cheaper games with Steam and other online retailers, and if you search hard enough you can find honest reviews. All I am lacking is a good selection of modern RPGs that are worth playing. I'm looking for to the upcoming remake of Wasteland, maybe that will satisfy my desire for a modern RPG in the classic/hard core style.

  11. Well, I'm surprised to see you playing this after all our support for you leaving it!

    It must have been hard to write games back then: Most were probably in assembly or basic, no functions (or very, very primitive GOSUB type ones), no Object Oriented Code... just messes of GOTO statements. *shudders* I can see why so many of them were buggy.

    You probably have also gained some readers due to everyone and their brother linking to your exit and return posts.

    Did you ever look at that mapping program I gave you?

    1. I did, and although I liked a lot of the features, I still find it faster to do it in Excel. I also couldn't figure out a way to annotate the map with the Dungeon Painter.

      I was going to try it out with the next game I was serious about, though.

  12. Hello!
    anyone here can tell me if there is a maximum value on characters' attributes? Got one to 26, is there any cap? Thank you = )

    1. A reply long after you wanted it: It seems 30 is the maximum for character stats in this game.

  13. Regarding the World War theme in this game, it's a neat concept but as probably won't surprise you, the game does not do it justice.

    There are some fun moments of internal dialogue over what sort of curve-ball the game has delivered when re-contextualizing your adventure outside of fantasy themes and into modernity, but nothing is really done with it. I felt truly gross casting NUKE on a war-torn battlefield at times, but of course as expected, the section goes on far far too long with not enough interesting going on.

    You didn't really miss anything.

    1. I appreciate you filling in some more blanks. I imagined that even if I got to the WWII area, it wouldn't be as satisfying as it sounds.

    2. BT3 is one of those rare games where the level design actually gets better as you progress in the game.
      With the unofficial patch it was finally playable on any platform but the Apple II GS, and I enjoyed it enough to finish it.
      If you are are to try it again I heavily recommen two things:
      1. Use the unofficial patch.
      2. After the starting dungeon, start running away a lot, 'cause the encounter frequency is still insane, and if you fight every battle your party gets too strong, and the game too easy.

    3. It's definitely true that Bard's Tale (1, 2 and 3) are made better games by taking advantage of the high success rate (eventually) of the (R)un command.

      If you're enjoying the feel of levelling up, go ahead and kill stuff. Or figure out optimal farming. But you really don't need a tenth the experiencce points the game would give you by killing everything you met.

      Perhaps it's a workaround for a design error, but the ability is certainly there, and I rode the Run command to game completion.

  14. I'm thinking of giving the Bard's tale games a try - what's the pros and cons of each version?

    1. BT1 has the best "continuity" when it comes to enemies, while the other two have new sets of enemies for each level.
      BT1 is rather unbalanced; starts hard, gets easier, then the last few levels are brutal.
      BT2-3 have difficult starter dungeons, but then things get too easy if you don't run away a lot. I recommend hitting that Flee button a lot.
      BT2 has the best level design and combat system, and is the hardest one to navigate.
      BT3 has the best story and most advanced class system, the latter of which is kind of wasted since get a bazillion XP after completing the first dungeon. BT3 also has lower production values than the two first ones. The Amiga and GS versions of BT1-2 still look great.
      For BT1-2 all but the Apple version are riddled with bugs, and the Apple II GS versions are the best versions. There is no GS version for BT3, so for that I recommend the DOS version with the unofficial patch.
      Anyway, start with BT1, but avoid using the Hunter (bugged) if using the DOS or Amiga version.

    2. I meant which system - should I play the DOS, C64, Amiga, or Apple versions.


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