Friday, November 29, 2019

Game 348: Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny

Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny
Released in Germany as Das Schwarze Auge: Die Schicksalsklinge
attic Entertainment Software (developer); Fantasy Productions (German publisher); Sir-Tech (U.S. Publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS, 1993 for Amiga
Date Started: 13 November 2019
Where Britain and France mostly created their own styles of RPGs, and largely failed at it, German developers found more success analyzing and modifying the mechanics of the most popular U.S. releases. In the few years after Germany's RPG industry really got started in 1988, we saw games inspired by Ultima (Nippon, Die Dunkle Dimension), The Bard's Tale (Legend of Faerghail, Antares, Spirit of Adventure), Alternate Reality (Fate: Gates of Dawn), Dungeon Master (Dungeons of Avalon), and Demon's Winter (Sandor). Each of these games introduced its own innovations, to be sure; there are plenty of times, as in Fate and any of the Bard's Tale-inspired games, when the German adaptation exceeded the original.
Starting out in Arkania. The screen is nearly identical to Might and Magic III, although none of the gameplay is.
Realms of Arkania strikes me as the apex of this process of adaptation, drawing not from just one source (like most of the German titles) or two sources (as Faerghail did with both The Bard's Tale and Phantasie) but rather at least four. Building on the engine previously used in Spirit of Adventure (1991), attic has combined the basic exploration of The Bard's Tale with the main screen arrangement of Might and Magic III, the inventory interface of Dungeon Master (or perhaps, more directly, Eye of the Beholder), and a combat system inspired by the Gold Box while looking more graphically advanced.
The inventory interface recalls SSI's Eye of the Beholder.
Arkania is a licensed adaptation of the best-selling German tabletop RPG Das Schwarze Auge ("The Dark Eye," although I always have to remind myself that it's not "The Dark Age"). It started as a relatively obvious adaptation of Dungeons and Dragons (the developer, Schmidt Spiel & Freizeit, had first tried to get a license to publish D&D in German), but it got more innovative as the editions moved forward. In particular, I find that the inclusion of "negative traits" (introduced in the third edition) creates more memorable characters.

Arkania followed the by-now common 1990s tradition of telling one backstory in the game manual and another one--complementary but usually not identical--in the animated opening scenes. The opening is set in Thorwal, an ancient free settlement "populated with indomitable warriors and seafarers, rich in treasures from innumerable forays." Thorwal is surrounded by plains in which orc tribes roam freely and occasionally semi-organize into a threatening confederacy. This is currently the case, with a "great chief" gathering orcs on the steppes, planning "the utter conquest of Thorwal."
Evocative graphics introduce the setting.
Somehow this threat is going to involve a certain captain named Hetman Hyggelik who lived a couple centuries ago. He made a fortune pillaging the "hated slave trader towns of the south." After a particularly successful expedition, he had a magic sword forged in the Cyclops Islands, then took it with him into the orcish lands, where he and his band were slaughtered. I suspect that his sword is the titular Blade of Destiny, and that it will be needed to fend off the invasion.
If it was just left sticking out of a dirt mound, someone's probably taken it by now.
Either way, very little background is given regarding the party. Your group of six simply arrives in Thorwal seeking fortune and glory.
Character creation offers some good graphics for each of the classes.
Character creation is complex enough to tie in knots even an experienced CRPG player. There are 12 classes, which the system calls "archetypes": jester, hunter, warrior, rogue, Thorwalian, dwarf, warlock, druid, magician, green elf, ice elf, and sylvan elf. (Female versions have slightly different names in the manual, even when spectacularly unnecessary, as in "she-jester," "she-rogue," "dwarvess," and "magicienne.") Among them are five different magic systems. There are seven positive attributes (courage, wisdom, charisma, dexterity, agility, intuition) rolled on a scale of 8 to 13, seven negative attributes (superstition, acrophobia, claustrophobia, avarice, necrophobia, curiosity, and violent temper) rolled on a scale of 2 to 7.
Allocating numbers to attributes as they're rolled.
There are 52 skills, arranged into seven categories: combat, body, social, lore, craftsmanship, nature, and intuition. I have been jaded by a long string of Paragon games into suspecting that a lot of them will turn out to be useless. My money is on "Dance" and "Carouse," but I'm also suspicious of "Self Control," "Streetwise," "Human Nature," and "Tactics." "Ancient Tongues" sounds like a skill that will come in handy exactly once, but on that one occasion it will be pivotal.
Selecting skills to increase during character creation.
When creating a character, you can choose the class you want, but if you do, you only get the minimum attributes necessary for that class. The other method, which generally results in higher attributes, is to let the game roll the numbers and you allocate them to the attributes as they arrive. You could get unlucky and end up with worse than minimum statistics, but you can always start over. One positive of the character creation process is that you can take its steps in any order. You can wait until you see what kind of character you have before assigning name and sex, or you can start with those answers and then take whatever you roll.
After spending far too long studying the materials, I went with:
  • Female Thorwalian
  • Male dwarf
  • Male druid
  • Female green elf
  • Female magicienne
  • Male ice elf
My analysis was that if Realms is like similar fantasy games, spells will be more important than physical skills, and this configuration gives me the most spell options. I lack only the warlock/witch. I thought they had the smallest selection of spells, many of them sounding more like solutions to puzzles than typical RPG magic ("Witch's Eye," "Heal Animal," "Camouflage," "Fire's Bane"). It may turn out that I'll miss the position for just this reason.
Choosing my green elf's starting spell skills.

My primary angst is over the first two characters. I felt that for role-playing reasons, I ought to have a Thorwalian given the setting. I felt that the second character would need to be more of a rogue, but I didn't want to leave the party too weak in physical combat, as a rogue would be, and dwarves seem a bit like warrior/rogues. I'm happy to take recommendations, though, since I haven't gone very far into the game.
The city of Thorwal.
Gameplay begins at the Temple of Travia in Thorwal. In Arkania, it is at temples rather than inns where you can manage your party members. Thorwal is a 16 x 32 map with ocean to the south and west and rivers and ponds taking up some of the inner space. The buildings create irregular patterns in a way that goes back to the original Bard's Tale. Also adapted from that game is a tradition by which nearly every square of building can be entered, although many are houses occupied by offended Thorwalians who immediately tell you to leave. Sometimes, the residents give you a hint. Sometimes, the houses are locked and you have the option to break in.
This manual conditioned me to expect something else when I encountered a "Thorwalian."
There are numerous taverns, inns, inn/tavern combinations, armories, banks, supply shops, temples, and healers. (I bought some standard items like torches and rope at the supply shop.) These seem redundant, but each has its own unique name, and I suspect there will later be quests that require me to visit a particular location. I enjoy some of the location names, including the taverns "Drunken Emperor," "Boisterous Welsher," and "Red Morrow." There's also a temple called the "Temple of Tsa," which in the game's all-caps font makes it sound like it was founded by the one person who respects American airport security. The temples are all named after the names of their gods, which also seem to be the names of the setting's months.
I don't know how well I'm going to sleep tonight.
The taverns are quite odd. When you enter, you have options to order drinks or talk, but whatever you choose, events have a way of unfolding on their own. For instance, if you order drinks, you'll probably end up with a clue anyway, but if you choose to just start talking, some bartender will say, "Aren't you going to order anything?" Anyway, the "leave tavern" option seems to disappear a lot, so you get trapped in a loop of ordering round after round until your party members get drunk. (I guess this is governed by the "Carouse" statistic.) Also, if you have any talent in music, dancing, or acrobatics, you have options to engage in those activities for the amusement of the patrons, and thus have a little money thrown your way.
I don't want to know what kind of dancing Bramble was doing.
There are no combats on the game map, which distinguishes Arkania from most of its predecessors, including Spirit of Adventure. There are occasional random encounters in the street, such as traveling merchants, beggars who ask for a ducat, and a weird repeating encounter where a "small fellow" dances around a "table containing a mass of floral arrangements" and then falls down dead.
A random event. No, that is totally not "OK."
There are a number of unique buildings and oddities among the doorways on the map. These include:
  • Three estates with multiple entrances, all blocked by guards who refuse entry. Two are called "otttaskins" and are owned by groups named the Stormriders and the Windrunners. I don't know what "ottaskin" means; a Google search suggests the game may have invented it.
Can you just tell me what it is?
  • A large monolith at the end of the street that seems to have no entrance.
  • A post office called the "Beilunk Riders." It was closed.
  • Two "embassies," one from the "Central Empire," one from the "New Empire," both closed.
  • A couple of closed towers.
Maybe this will become important later.
  • A shipbuilder's where you can have your own ship made for way more money than I have.
  • An academy of magic where you can purchase potions and get artifacts identified.
I thought this harbor scene was particularly well-drawn.
There are four exits from the city, oddly placed. Only one is at an obvious point at the end of a road at the edge of the map. Two others are found in the harbor and a fourth in a random building in the northwest. Each exit seems to take you to a different option for moving forward on the overland map.
Each exit takes you to the outdoor map, but to different destinations on it.
As I mentioned, some of the random denizens offer a bit of intelligence when you open their doors. Everyone seems to be talking about the gathering orcs, and it's rumored that they've sacked a city called Phexcaer, but we also heard a little about other people and locations in the town.

Unfortunately, Arkania seems to have dropped Spirit of Adventure's keyword-based dialogue for more traditional dialogue options, some of which are either poorly translated or deliberately nonsensical.
Dialogue options allow us to insult the innkeeper for no reason.
During one visit to a tavern, a guard entered to announce that Hetman Tronde Torbensson, ruler of the city, is looking for heroes to take on a dangerous quest. We found our way to the Hetman's house at the west edge of town. There, Torbensson reiterated the danger posed by the orcs, united under a single chief, amassing in the Upper Bodir Valley.
The party learns of the main quest.
Noting that orcs are a superstitious lot, Torbensson suggested that their federation might collapse if a hero showed up wielding Hetman Hygellik's lost sword, called Grimring. "It is said that the sword put the fear of the gods into the orcs and their shamans or whatever they call their religious leaders," the Hetman recounted.

The sword is probably buried in Hygellik's tomb, and the Hetman suggested we start by visiting Hygellik's last surviving descendant, Isleif Olgardsson, in the city of Felsteyn. He gave us a writ allowing us to take a certain number of weapons from the city's armory. I always like it when a game has an answer to the common and obvious objection of forcing characters to fund their own adventures when the fate of the world is at stake.
The Hetman lays on the main quest. I love how my characters can say they have "just one question" when I have no idea what the question is.

There is one dungeon--the lower levels of an old fortress--accessible from Thorwal. The captain of the guard (or something like that) asked us to investigate the lower levels because someone keeps stealing supplies stored on the upper levels.
It took me a while to figure out how to light a torch. You can't just "use" the torch, nor can you use the tinder box. You have to pick up the torch, then right click on the tinder box and "use" it. This is annoyingly undocumented. 
Coming across a chest.
Anyway, the first dungeon level had a couple of combats and one chest. I'll write more about combats in the future, but for now suffice to say that it blends several systems. The screen uses the axonometric 45-degree rotation that feature heavily in British adventure games (Knightlore, Cadaver) and RPGs (HeroQuest, Legend) of the period. Characters move on discrete floor tiles, and action is turn-based, with the player selecting both movement and attack options from a menu. There's an auto-combat option called "Computer Fight" that puts your players under computer control, with or without magic. Overall, it plays a lot like the Gold Box games, and a "Guard" command (the player stands still until an enemy comes in range, then gets a free attack) particularly points to a Gold Box origin.
The combat interface.

I would finally note that the game has a decent automap, with walls, corridors, and doors clearly annotated by color. This helps make up for the fact that it's hard to see some doors when they're to the party's side rather than directly in front of you.
The automap alerts me to a couple of doors that I missed on my first loop.
Realms of Arkania is a thick game, meaning it has a lot of little elements that I may forget to talk about if they don't play a big role in my experience. When starting, it offers basic and advanced modes of gameplay; the primary difference seems to be that the computer controls your skill and spell leveling (and character creation) in basic mode. I've been playing on "advanced." Money is in gold ducats, silver crowns, and copper bits at a 1:10:10 ratio. At temples, you can donate and pray for miracles. There's a food and drink system by which you "feed" characters by picking up items and clicking on their mouths. You can split the team into two or more groups. An adventurer's log keeps track of major plot points. When camping, you assign various characters to guard duty for the hours of the day. Wounds, sickness, and poison can be treated with skills as well as spells. Armor and weapons degrade and must occasionally be repaired. You can pocket-pick shopkeepers. If I never mention any of these elements again, it means they weren't really important.

I thought Spirit of Adventure had a lot of promise, so I'm going to remain optimistic about Realms even though the first few hours have covered a lot of well-trod ground.

Time so far: 5 hours


  1. I remember playing this as a kid and getting repeatedly destroyed in the combats at first. Eventually (and unusually for me) I kept rerolling and rejiggering my party until I ended up with something sorta effective.

    I think I never really got anywhere in the game though because 12 year old me had no patience for visiting like 100 random unmarked houses looking for the plot hook. So I mostly went on random combats, took trips in the wilderness that killed me, and that was that. A good time was had by all, actually, because I liked the combats a lot.

  2. I don't remember if the game tells you this, but it deducts 50 exp from your characters whenever you save the game outside a temple, just fyi.

    1. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that this feature was removed in the CD version of the game. It is, most certainly, was not used in the second and third games.

  3. This game looks pretty good, although I share the bad feeling about most of the skills probably being useless. Wasteland was a good game, and even it had some skills of questionable utility (if I remember the GIMLET correctly.)

    1. Yes, I don't remember exactly which skills are useless, but some of them are. The game does a great job implementing the DSA system from the pen and paper rulebooks, but it's one of those games where the accurate representation of the ruleset also means that skills not used in the actual game also made it in.

    2. Well, Bramble seems to be doing a good job of monetising 'Dancing' and 'Carousing', and utilising whatever skill allows you to remain nonchalant when a chamber pot is unloaded over your head (Stoicism? Catatonia?)

    3. I don't think there are any skills that are *completely* useless throughout the trilogy, but a few of them are only checked once or twice in all three games, and some have only minor or cosmetic effect.

      Then there are skills whose individual effect is hard to discern, like Bind, Tracking and Survival all going into hunting success, or Tactics affecting combat rolls in subtle ways.

    4. If I remember correctly, all skills have one or more uses at least during the game trilogy. But there are spells that are completely useless (four or five) and another handful that only serve in a very specific situation in one of the games.

    5. The developers were so keen on faithfully recreating the PnP game that they apparently just dumped all spells from the sourcebooks into it and only then tried to figure out what to do with them. The result being that there is a ton of spells available, but some of them are indeed unusable. (Example: The "Mutabili" spell of the Transformation school is used to fuse two or more lifeforms together into a chimaera. It's the kind of ritual that a wizard who lives in a tower spends some serious time and resources to prepare and execute, not so much something you'd see from a traveling adventurer.)

      To make things worse, the manual doesn't tell you what any of the spells do, so not having played the PnP game puts you at a bit of a disadvantage :D

  4. As far as I know Arkania implements all skills and spells from 2nd edition DSA. Almost all of them have some use somewhere in the Northland trilogy (e.g. you already used Dance and Carouse). Very few of them have no use in the game, but it's not too critical as you have to spread your skill points around anyway.

    The main difference between the magic schools is the skill level the character starts with and the maximum increase per level. E.g. a mage can only increase witch spells by one skill point per level up, so it might take a bit until he can cast them at all (skill at -5 or higher).

  5. I think there might be two reasons why the game give the female archetypes different names, because that's just the case for things in German and the translator did it literally and/or it was picked because it sounded like something that would be in a middle ages-based fantasy setting.

  6. You and the readers probably noticed, but since it wasn't mentioned explicitely, I want to point out that the Thorwalians of course have parallels to the Vikings. Beside of Thor and the Viking-like Thorwalian helmets, it is also the fact that they went raiding in the South, and that their names often end on 'son' and 'dottir'. (I didn't realize, when I was younger, though).

    1. And Hyggelik is suspiciously similar to Hygelac who died on a raid in Frisia around year 700.
      In Norwgian the name is also a good pun name, "hyggelig" meaning "nice", but "lik" meaning "corpse".

      I remember my gaming buddy playing this game back in the days, and he was almost in tears when telling me how brutal the game was, with characters dying from cold and disease when traveling if they didn't have warm clothes and stuff with them.

    2. That's a nice piece of information. I wasn't aware of that.

  7. If ice elf and green elf would have been translated more directly from their original words, it would be firn elf and something like flood plain/alluvial/riparian elf. I don't mind ice elf or green elf, but i remember how those other, not so common words somehow fuelled my imagination during character creation.

  8. So you've reached one of the first RPGs I've ever played. This trilogy is what got me hooked on the genre.
    A word of warning ahead: The nights out in the wild can get cold, and your party members may get ill if they aren't protected. Also, pack a pair of extra boots, those thinge can be walked to shreds.

    1. Always pack when traveling:
      Blankets (if characters sleep in the cold without blankets, they can catch a disease)
      Extra boots (if a character's boots wear through and she has to walk barefoot, she can catch a disease)
      Pots, dishes, cutlery (eating without clean cutlery can lead to - yep, a disease)

    2. I'm pretty sure that happened only in the sequel. I never carried any of those in Blade, and never got sick. In Star Trail, yep, that happens all the time...

    3. I might misremember then, as I played the sequel more. If it doesn't apply to the first game, then yes, remember it for the sequel!

    4. I am pretty sure that you *can* get sick in the first part, although in my opinion, getting sick is not such a big deal.

    5. You can, but it's very rare even if you never carry blankets or wear boots. (I'm actually not sure if shoes don't decay in Blade or if I just didn't use any.) In Star Trail that'll get you sick almost every day.

  9. Ah, the game that has taken away more of the time than just about any other. I don't know if there's any other game that places so much weight on overland travel, its challenges and discoveries. In Skyrim, your character can walk for days in the nude, battle unwashed bandits and probably rabid animals and never contract any kind of sickness. In Arkania... not so much.

    Some remarks:

    - Only a few skills and in particular spells are really of any use in this game. The list expands if you wish to transfer the party to the other Realms of Arkania games. If you wish me to post a ROT-13'd list in the comments, just say so.

    - I think the party's fine, but I found witches to be much more useful than druids, if only for their healing capabilities. Treating and curing wounds, diseases and poisons is not a trivial matter in the Dark Eye games if compared to something like MM3.

    - The dialogues for the non-named townspeople are similarly weird in German. They are probably a bad attempt at offering options a pen&paper party would have. Then again, those conversations do not have a lot of utility anyway, so...

    - Events unfolding on their own is a major part of the game. Taverns, temple prayings, overland (and sea) travel all have huge elements of unpredictability. It does have a certain charm to it since you can never be sure what the game is still hiding from you, thus offering a lot of play for your imagination. In most other games, you can explore every space to the last.

    - In the world of the Dark Eye, an "otta" is a Thorwalian ship, and the "ottaskin" is the home of the ship's crew. I think the term is original to the Dark Eye, supposed to sound Viking-ish. They're irrelevant here.

    - After all these years, I'm still amazed at how the orcs killed Hyggelik while he was wielding the blade, and some decades later, the Hetman assumes they will cower in fear of it. I'd say that either the orcs or the Hetman are probably not exactly bright.

    1. Druids are as good at (non-magical) healing as witches, though, and more useful in combat because they can wield bows. (I was rather dismayed to find out they can't do that in Star Trail any longer.) And I thought druids had better spells, too - at least in theory, if only gurl qvqa'g snvy fb bsgra qhr gb haernyvfgvpnyyl uvtu zntvp erfvfgnaprf...

  10. Don't worry, witches are literally the worst caster class in the game, you're not missing anything by not including one. Besides, you can develop non-class spells if you want, it'll just take more level-ups to get the relevant skill from the negative numbers. I think the spell becomes available to cast when its skill is -5 or higher, but don't quote me on that.

    Speaking of spells, one aspect where RoA is very unlike the Goldbox is the total lack of fireball and a dearth of damage-dealing spells in general (there's a total of 3 of them out of 60-something I believe). Instead, spells that disable the opponents (Dance, Petrification, Transmutation) are your main nukes. The game treats disabled enemies as basically defeated for the duration of the spell. So if you're fighting, say, against three orks and manage to get them all to dance at the same time, you won the battle.

    The shops are redundant because there's a risk of the shopkeeper refusing service, temporarily or permanently, if you haggle to hard or fail at stealing stuff (or cheating at taverns). I don't remember there being quests that require you to go a specific store.

    The logistic elements you've mentioned in the last paragraph (and some things that you haven't mentioned, like the adventuring supplies and clothes for different climates) play a huge role in the game, so don't worry, you'll get to blog about them. It's probably going to be a very angry post.

  11. I got the trilogy on CD for Christmas when I was in high school, but I found it so complicated and confusing that I never got very far. I'll be glad to read your posts to see what I missed.

    I also remember a Dragon magazine review of the second game complaining about the complexity as well, and how things like getting colds and flu made it seem much less adventuresome.

  12. Ah, finally! The smell of unwashed Thorwalians! Annoyingly catchy tunes in my ears ... and somewhat mediocre graphics in my eyes. Anyway, a really good game - and I am not at all biased because I adore the setting and played the original paper RPG way too much. Why would I be?

    May the Twelve be with you. Or not. It is their business and I wouldn't dare to tell them what to do.

    P.S.: There is a time limit, but it's pretty generous. I'm not exactly the quickest player and never noticed it.

  13. I wouldn't say that the elements of the combat you described as Gold Box inspired are a direct copy from those games. It's more like Realms of Arkania being based on the "German D&D". Since both Gold Box and RoA use a grid based isometric combat system, there are bound to be similarities, since both games try to accurately portray the combat of the pen and paper game.

    1. Outside of the Gold Box, I've never seen an RPG that had a "Guard" function, but perhaps that's more common in PnP games than I'm giving it credit for.

    2. Quite a few RPGs have an 'overwatch' command, and in some of them it almost feels more important than the attack commands.

    3. I don't doubt that the basic concept of an RPG with first person exploration and isometric tactical combat was inspired by the Gold Box games, but when it comes to the actual rules and actions ycan take, they are all adapted directly from the pen and paper ruleset.

    4. Overwatch comes from wargames, many computer games (for example Xcom/UFO) took them from there. And of course pen and paper RPGs developed from wargames as well.

    5. "Overwatch" is a real military term.

      The concept of "overwatch" developed during WWII, while the term was invented by the US military in the 50s.

    6. Wizard’s Crown had a Guard option and predates the Gold Box games.

    7. I had forgotten that. Same team, anyway. It does actually play more like Wizard's Crown with its movement points, but I assumed that came from the tabletop rules.

  14. Oh man, screw The Dark Eye. I've never seen such a needlessly convoluted PnP gaming system.

    Pretty typical of early D&D knockoffs I guess. To differentiate themselves they either went more simplistic or waaaay more complex. TDE is the latter.

    1. What are some things that make the PnP version so "needlessly complex"?

    2. In general, while DnD progression allwos your characters, especially spellcasters, to become forces of nature, in TDE some levels mean that you finally have a decent chance of just surviving life as a traveler.

      It of course depends on edition and supplements used (TDE 4 and later got better). Just leveling up until that edition consisted of rolling inordinate amounts of dice for "chances of improvement", which unlucky rolls meaning that a levelup would not do much for your character. Skills being based on three attributes was a nice touch but meant rolling thrice for every skill check.

      Lots of stuff that DnD made trivial latest after a few levels with spells were literally vital to attend to, like dangers of diseases, very limited healing, herbs going bad after days or weeks (and most having downsides including possible addiction to the few plants that actually heal HP).

      Magic potions (at least with the alchemy rules of 3rd edition) would be created with unknown potency, meaning a healing potion (that would be ridiculously expensive anyways and have a shelf live of a few months) could even hurt you or have other side effects if brewed more potently.

      Wizards MP and MP regenaration were very limited, meaning they would often tag along to be useful twice a week (nice inversion from DnD though). To properly level up their spells you would need access to a magic library, to do alchemy you would need a huge lab, both requiring traveling with a wagon.

      Access to magic was extremely limited anyways (some editions had numbers like "one in 2000 people is a wizard"), with magic items that had permament effects being extremely rare and expensive. We are talking about a magic glowing nosering costing as much as a mansion.

      Class requirements for equipment were, beyond "iron nullfies magic", mostly social within the setting. Only a certified fighter is allowed to wear metalarmour and carry a two-handed sword, only guild wizards are allowed to officially cast spells. No "lets just multi-class to wizard".

      That might sound more negative that it was - TDE was not intended to be epic high fantasy dragon murdering like DnD. It was more about surviving as vagrant adventurer in a mostly medieval feudal system. Not crossing the law, acquiring food and shelter, not dying of disease, not offending the gods, occasionally overpowering a handful of goblins were all challenges even beyond the first few levels. Encountering magic was special, even a single zombie or skeleton a serious threat.
      This could on the one hand lead to good roleplaying, on the other hand lead to "my wizard has diarhea, is out of MP for the next week, the local sheriff wants to burn our witch, my stash of wirselweed is moldy and our weapons are rusting because it rained two weeks straight".

      Yes, there is some nostalgia speaking here. ;)

    3. It's funny because for me it was D&D that always felt needlessly convoluted - different races having different multiclassing mechanics, the THAC0/AC stuff etc. And then 3rd edition came and made this incomprehensible mess of classes and class abilities, skills, feats and what not, everything operating on their own rules. Ugh.
      TDE is just very anal with its attention to details, having whole books describing what herbs can be found in which regions and whatnot, but mechanically it's quite streamlined compared to D&D.

    4. I guess it is more about perception and memories with how we feel which system is more needlessly complicated.

      You are of course right, D&D has enough stuff like that going on.

    5. It's just a different system with a different focus. It's still a very popular system in Germany, standing on equal footing with D&D, and my pen and paper groups usually play both. DSA is way more simulationist and grounded, and makes for more down to earth adventuring.

      In D&D, supplying your party doesn't matter most of the time. If you want the environment to matter, you need to houserule it. Your sorceress can walk barefoot and clad only in a thin dress through the snow, and she won't freeze to death. If there's a cleric in the party, they don't need to bring along water and food because he can just summon that stuff out of thin air for a very low cost because creating food and water is a low level spell. The journey itself, therefore, isn't a challenging part of the adventure.

      In DSA, however, the journey is a big part of the adventure. Don't have the proper clothes for the climate? You can get sick. Don't have enough food and water in the desert? You better find an oasis because you can't just summon supplies out of nowhere.

      I like those aspects of DSA since they make parts of the adventure that are trivial in D&D interesting, and they make for a much more believable and consistent world.

      Plot devices like a famine among peasants or the king being murdered and you have to find the culprit work much better when you can't ask the question "Why doesn't a cleric just create food for the peasants / Why doesn't a cleric just resurrect the king?"

    6. That matches my experience playing DSA in the 90s. Travel, roleplaying, social situations all played a big part. Some combat, but certainly not a typical dungeon crawl fighting monsters all the time.

      I'm not sure how much the rule system has to do with that, though. We certainly never bothered with any rules regarding getting diseases. Having a skill system helps of course, especially one having a whole section for nature skills. But I think it's more the very detailed default setting that attracts a certain kind of player.

    7. One example of a very complex feature was weapon comparison (which was removed in later editions). Back then every weapon had a pair of numbers reflecting its aptitude for attacking and parrying, and whenever two characters fought, we'd cross-compare these numbes and apply the difference as a penalty.

      For example, if I fight with a spear (5/4) against your rapier (7/6), my attack stat is reduced by 1 (your weapon's parry minus my weapon's attack), while my parry stat is reduced by 3 (your weapon's attack minus my weapon's parry). That meant you had to do quite a lot of math during fights, especially when fighting groups of enemies with diverse weapons.

      For whatever reason, this system is not in the CRPGs. Instead, weapons have static modifiers that are applied to their wielders' AT and PA stats without regard for whatever weapon their enemies use. Incidentally, the best weapons with regard to these modifiers are swords, even though realistically spears and polearms should beat them handily. But I guess they just don't have the same iconic status :D

    8. I had totally forgotten that system! It was quite complex, and had some nice tought behind it, but i quess it just lead to everyone getting longswords when they could?

    9. People are comparing the systems on an overall basis, I'm talking about the nitty gritty dice rolls and character advancement mechanics.

      Consider THAC0, a relatively simple calculation in early D&D editions. To this day the game has essentially never lived it down--one commenter above already grouched about it. You can't bring up D&D without someone complaining about THAC0.

      Meanwhile, in TDE, one attack roll requires you to calculate like SIX THAC0s. It's preposterous. Completely absurd. Outrageous. I'd never retain a single player with such a convoluted system.

      The idea is neat in theory. You use a spread of stats combined for skills, plus weapon and defense skills, modifiers, etc. etc, and it's opposed by the enemies own statistic arrays. Every skill being made up of 2-3 stats is a neat idea. It makes your characters feel organic and multi-faceted. You also need a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. Every weapon attack requires rolling multiple dice, add up the numbers, low numbers are better (???) opposed by the enemy's dice rolls too (AC is a fixed target in D&D). Of course as a CRPG all this is taken out of your hands so that's a big improvement. But the system's poor mechanics are still there and come up in other ways.

      Here's a question, in D&D how do you increase your hit chance in melee? Any edition? Gain levels, increase strength, improve your weapon. There you go. It's intuitive and consistent.

      Same question, in TDE? Uhhh... boost courage... maybe? You have to figure out which stats are used for that type of weapon. Plus your combat skill, but then your weapon type compares to the enemy's... You boost a bunch of different stats and damned if it makes any difference at all.

      TDE has a very poor connection between the choices you make as a player and the outcome of the game. The system serves mainly as an obfuscation, a powerful noise-generating engine that serves to keep you from succeeding at anything you try. They say in D&D the DM is the enemy, in TDE the enemy is the rules.

    10. I think you mixed up combat and skill rules at some point. An attack is a single roll, W20 must be lower or equal to your AT value. Same for the parry for the opponent. Roll damage, subtract armor and you're done. AT and PA calculations are simple and listed right on your character sheet - not as simple as THAC0, but they are entirely pre-calculated and only change when levelling up. They are both pretty simple systems. The main difference is the separate parry roll in DSA.

      A complicated system looks like this (Shadowrun):
      - Attacker maked attack roll with n dice, notes number of hits (W6 >= 5)
      - Defender makes dodge roll with n dice, notes number of hits
      - Compare number of hits, adjust damage if attacker scored more (miss if he scored less or equal number)
      - Adjust weapon damage by net number of hits, compare with armor to see if damage is physical or mental
      - Defender rolls soak using body stat plus armor
      (And that doesn't take fire modes and ammo types into account)

    11. It's always puzzled me why people found THAC0 so confusing. Oh, I agree that having better armor class be lower is unintuitive, but the calculation itself is quite straightforward. Barely any worse than the modern to-hit calculations. And a -huge- improvement over previous editions' "well, let's consult these charts..."

    12. Not confusing, just counterintuitive and inconsistent. Like, when you check any other stat, you need to roll under the value, but for this one stat you suddenly need to roll over.
      I guess the conversation here operates on different understandings of "needlessly convoluted". For some of the posters it's about the number of calculations required to make a roll, for others (me in particular) it's much more about the amount of rules and special cases you have to memorize. What can I say - I count fast, but my memory is crap.

    13. To those who complain that a skill check takes three rolls: no DSA player I've ever encountered stuck to "rolling three times in succession" for more than a few sessions as a beginner. You put 3 d20s of different colour in that rolling cup and you're good to go.

    14. B.J.:"...Pretty typical of early D&D knockoffs I guess. To differentiate themselves they either went more simplistic or waaaay more complex."

      I see it this way:
      If Fantasy-genre would be transposed to "Western", D&D would be like Karl May (Old Shatterhand and Winnetou).
      DSA would be like "Once Upon a Time in the West".

    15. We used to roll in succession, mostly. Adds a bit of tension when you've used up your skill points with a bad first roll.

    16. Sounds very similar to.... I think it was Runequest in focus. The Basic Roleplay game by Chaosium that was fantasy focused. But where room quest was very simple and lethal, this sounds very completionist and lethal.

  15. Best English language explanation of The Dark Eye rules:

    1. And another good one:

  16. I think the party is ok. There is a fan page where a guy, who completed the game a few times, says his favorite party is
    Warrior - Dwarf - Magician - Sylvan Elf - Green Elf - Ice Elf
    This composition looks a lot like yours, except for the warrior (for which you have a Thorwalian, which I would rank second in classes, when it comes to fighting (after the even more forceful warrior, naturally)) and for the sylvan elf, for which you have the said-to-be-somehow-weak druid (*shrug*).

    You should probably especially not worry about taking a dwarf instead of a rogue. On the mentioned fan page, they actually advise to take a dwarf instead of a rogue, because of the same reason you chose him: he is good at lockpicking, but also a decent fighter.

    1. I don't know why druids are considered weak, they're actually pretty badass. They have some nice healing abilities, and they start with a cheap disabling spell (Dance), which makes them indispensable in combat.

    2. I don't disagree. I have read a few times that there are stronger classes, but I wrote 'said-to-be' because I never tried a druid myself. If someone says a class is weak, there is always some chance that he just didn't find the right way to make use of it.

    3. The druid's spells look very potent on paper, but I found them too unreliable for my liking. On the other hand, druids can use bows and wear lether armor, unlike witches and magicians, which gives them a big advantage in non-magical combat.

      I'd rank dwarves above Thorwalians; while they have very similar combat talents and the same choice of equipment, I think their non-combat talents are more useful (specifically lockpicking; also percention and danger sense but those can be easily covered by elves).

      Speaking of elves, they are just OP. They combine the archery and wilderness skills of hunters with passable melee capabilities and a pretty nice selection of spells. If there was a challenge to play through the game with a one-class party, elves would be the easiest choice for sure.

    4. I read that 6 elves are essentially the easy mode

    5. Except for entering Finsterkoppen.
      I mean, I'm not quite sure how the guard would react to a whole party of animals.

    6. There is a one use back entrance afaik, also an one use exit. I've found it both once exploring the mauntain paths

  17. I think this is the first game on this blog that I actually played as a child (admittedly years later in compilations). I still have many fond memories of the whole trilogy, despite its flaws.

    Some observations:

    -Many skills and spells appear to be only in the games in order to be a more complete port of the PnP and might get used once in the trilogy.

    -Self control (to stay with your examples) is actually one of the more important ones, IIRC, as it might prevent charaters breaking in stress situations or doing plain stupid things.

    -Having played them in german, the english translations sound... interestingly strange sometimes.

    -Disease/supply management is crucial while traveling in the first two games.

    -A mistake that I made as child before haveing played the PnP too: Armour items usually cause encumbrance penalties on attacks, decking out your warriors might make them quite tanky but unable to hit anything.

    -You will be able to import your party from game to game (not very surprising).

    -Spellcasters are way more limited than in DnD in regards to how much they can cast beyond cantrips. But your magiciennes staff should be a magic weapon right from the start (at least in later games, it can be improved by ritual magic).

    I am excited to read more. :)

  18. Ah, Realms of Arkania. We are slowly but surely reaching the games i played as a kid (Instead of the games i merely watched my older brothers play)

    Now i never actually played Blade of Destiny, but i played both star trail and Shadows over Riva so i guess i may as well comment


    "There are 52 skills, arranged into seven categories: combat, body, social, lore, craftsmanship, nature, and intuition. I have been jaded by a long string of Paragon games into suspecting that a lot of them will turn out to be useless. My money is on "Dance" and "Carouse," but I'm also suspicious of "Self Control," "Streetwise," "Human Nature," and "Tactics." "Ancient Tongues" sounds like a skill that will come in handy exactly once, but on that one occasion it will be pivotal."

    You are almost completely right there! Indeed a lot of skills (And worse, spells) are useless or only used once or twice (In all three games, not even one of them).

    That said, Tactics is actually useful! It makes you better at combat.


    "My primary angst is over the first two characters. I felt that for role-playing reasons, I ought to have a Thorwalian given the setting. I felt that the second character would need to be more of a rogue, but I didn't want to leave the party too weak in physical combat, as a rogue would be, and dwarves seem a bit like warrior/rogues."

    Dwarves can do almost everything that rogues can, so they are a solid susbtitute (They can pick locks and are good hagglers too). You only really lose the pickpocket skill. but that's fine.

    (Of the "earn money" skills, like instrument, acrobatics, etc, pickpocket is without a doubt the best - arguably too good, actually. I thnk it's too easy to break the economy using it).


    1. Dwarves are also the tanks, they have an life point bonus as far I remember

    2. Another note about skills: There are a bunch of skills that only matter in the party leader (The one in front)

      If i remember right, those are orientation (To reduce travel time) danger sense (reduce the chance of ambush), and stealth/hide (Although those are less useful)

    3. Also lockpicking, trap and secret detection, at least in Blade. And social skills, but they're mostly useless anyway.
      I think the general advice is to swap leader position between two characters - one specialized in wilderness skills for the world map travel, the other, in dungeoneering skills for dungeons and cities.

  19. Warriors are pretty good damage dealers here, spell casters are more for crowd control, direct damage spells cost s lot of astral points.

    The lightning spell which blinds enemies is pretty good at start.

    Played both the English and German version I recall a few wonky translations but it shouldn't bother to much.

    The second game had a much better engine, like casting and shooting arrow's more than a straight line is available, which made both much stronger

    But I like the "Schnitzeljagd" of the first game.

    1. The blinding lightning spell stays good throughout, actually. It's the cheapest disabling spell, and very reliably makes an enemy do nothing for two rounds, at range.

      I also like Horriphobus (enemy will seek the closest route to escape from battle; don't block their paths, or they will recover) and Böser Blick ("Evil Eye"?), which is basically Charm Person, a very good effect under this combat system.

      Save castings of Petrify and Mutander (mutate into a mushroom) for later in the fight, since enemies under their effects count as defeated, but can recover if you take too long to mop up their friends.

      Elves with access to it should try to go for Axxeleratus, which is basically personalized Haste.

      Pure spellcasters can get a lot of survivability out of Duplicatus (which creates a persistent Mirror Image).

      I would love to be able to recommend the demon-summoning spells... but they're frankly too unreliable for their cost.

    2. As far I can remember a blinded enemy doesn't do a counterattack.

      Yeah, Axxeleratus is pretty strong.

      Demon summoning is pretty cool but backfires nearly every time...

    3. Personally, I found elementals to be both more reliable and more powerful summons than demons. Skeletarius is also very sweet under the right circumstances.

  20. "It took me a while to figure out how to light a torch. You can't just "use" the torch, nor can you use the tinder box. You have to pick up the torch, then right click on the tinder box and "use" it. This is annoyingly undocumented."

    Try the Fiat Lux spell, now you never have to use torches ever again

    (And after you get the second wand spell, you get use that instead for free light without even needing to use astral points).

    And in a more general note, buffs and other such spells generally have pretty decent durations, so don't doubt to use them - for example, Acceleratus gives extra movement points and a single cast can last a full dungeon, so it's actually very good. Same for the +stat spells.

    1. Oh, and about the wand spells - You can improve the wand of a magicienne in the inn for some AP. A fully improved wand is unbreakable, can be used as a source of light or as a rope, and reduces the AP cost of all spells.

  21. Good luck on Blade. I never managed to finish this one, they were so faithful to the 'spirit' of DSA that I found it awfully painful to play. Star Trail and Shadows over Riva (especially the latter) have so many playability and QOL improvements they're much more fun to play.

  22. I've been waiting for this ever since we reached 1992 :) This game was my introduction to CRPGs, and I played the heck out of it a long time ago. I even replayed it recently to jog my memory and prepare for the Addict's playthrough. Very curious what he's going to think of it. I'm determined to not post any spoilers and let him figure out everything by himself, though I will say that knowledge of the PnP game does come in handy in certain situations. It looks like there are enough people in here that can help out with that, though.

    Even though the game never seems to have had much of a following outside Germany, here it had (and still has) enough traction to be re-released twice: on CD-ROM in 1994, and as a "HD remake" in 2013. The CD version included the soundtrack in a much better quality than the original floppy release, and it's a really good soundtrack (IMHO) that I'm still very fond of. You can listen to it on YouTube:

    1. And that was me, Blogger didn't seem to remember my posting options...

    2. The downside of the CD-ROM edition is that outside of Germany I belive it has one disc cutted out and therefore half of the soundtrack is missing.

    3. @EonFafnir: That is true for the second one: Star Trail. Blade only comes on one CD.

  23. From what I remember some skills are indeed pretty useless. However, survival skills are very important because the game heavily emphasizes travel and logistics. The negative traits are also very important, as they can come into play in events as well as affecting combat and travel (though more so in the later games iirc)

    1. Also, RoA2 is generally considered the best because it is quite similar to Bod, but more polished and with more variety, plus the benefit of being higher level so you can consistently cast your spells and encounters can be more complicated.

      RoA3 is all set in one city which results in survival being far less useful and a very different feel to things, which some people really dislike. Suddenly having someone who can do wilderness tracking and hunting really well isn't all that helpful when you can just go around the corner and get food no matter where you are in the game.

  24. This series had one of the strangest "bugs" that I ever encountered. Blade was tough so I wanted to carry my team forward into the next game (something I rarely do). When I did the import my team was there with their improved stats, but there pictures at the bottom were photos of toddlers ( I think a boy and a girl).

    The rumor was that a programmer working on the localization did it over anger at not getting paid. I gave up after awhile as I got to hate staring at those kids. I did write the publisher asking for a patch, but never got a response.

    I'm sure it was finally corrected.

    1. The bug still exists; I found a guide on how to repair my save using a hex editor, though.

    2. That's gonna be fun to see when Chet plays Star Trail and imports his old party!

    3. If I remember correctly the reason for this bug is the following:
      In the English version, experience points are multiplied by an amount X in comparison to the German "Abenteuerpunkte" (adventure points), which normally come in single or double digits, because at Sir-Tech they thought that the US audience would think that a game that gives such few experience points can not be good.

      Now, the babyfaces are meant to be mocking you for being a crybaby, if you try to increase your stats through hex-editing. The problem is that the check that is done was not changed in the English version and still computes on the German point system and thus assumes you have hex-edited your file if you have so many experience points.

      The other thing that results from this XP multiplication is that saving outside of Temples is much cheaper in the English version.

    4. I once opened a savegame from the English version in the German one by mistake. It was from the very end of the game, too. Cue way too many gained levels :D

    5. Experience in the English version is multiplied by 50. I think saving outside of temples costs 50 XP vs. 1 XP in the German version, so the cost is the same. Weirdly, fighting an enemy type you have fought before nets 1 XP in the German version, but 57 XP in the English version.

  25. As it turns out, I've been waiting for you to get to this game, too. I actually picked up all three Realms of Arkania games when they were on a deep sale once, though I barely touched the first one and found it quite intimidating. It'll be interesting to see the game from the point of view of someone who understands the game's elements a bit more due to playing the games that inspired them.

    Also, it seems that the first two games have modern remakes, which I seems to have picked up for my PS4. No idea how different they are compared to the originals.

    1. The remakes are weird because they demonstrably make things easier to use and add quality of life changes, but also pretty much every asset is a unity shop model and as such it sometimes looks deeply awful.

    2. As a fan of the old ones, and an old fan of The Dark Eye in general: Should I buy the remakes, or am I better not knowing?

    3. I'm just a few hours into the Blade remake, but there are lots of things I like about it so far:

      - The game world looks much more organic and alive with the modern graphics, making me want to interact with it more. Walking through a town is a much different – and, IMHO, better – experience in the remake than in the original where there were only a few house textures and all roads and buildings were perfectly aligned at right angles. Same with dungeons, which have a lot more going on visually. (Also the lighting is quite different depending on whether you are using a torch or a Fiat Lux spell, which is a nice touch.)
      - There is a lot more information available in the UI: descriptions of items, talents and spells, building markers on the map, and a proper quest log all increase quality of life considerably.
      - Signposts give access to all roads leading away from a town.
      - You can attack and cast spells diagonally :)
      - I'm seeing a lot more success with spells in combat, specifically my druid's control spells that seemed to fail way more often than they should in the original.
      - The spell list has been cleaned up and some of the useless ones removed. Each caster now only sees a part of the list, which makes it less overwhelming but may annoy veteran players (it can be reverted using a mod, so it's not a dealbreaker).
      - The game's infamous "hardcore" features can be toggled off, such as diseases and the need to manage food and water. On the other hand, for fans of the approach, protection from cold and wetness have been made actual stats that are visible on the items that grant them.
      - There is additional content through DLCs, and also a variety of mods adding new quests, items or character classes, changing visuals or modifying game mechanics.

      There is mainly just one thing that irks me about it, and that is the fact that it's still not bug-free. Specifically, my mouse clicks are not registered at the exact spot I'm pointing at but a few pixels below, which is very annoying and leads to lots of missed clicks. There is also one type of UI dialog that sometimes glitches out. Nothing that can't be dealt with once you know it, but it does drag down QoL quite a bit.

      I also wish there was a keyboard shortcut for "Repeat last action" in combat. Having to click a small button in the corner, especially combined with the aforementioned glitch, is way too inconvenient for a function that was my bread and butter in the original.

      And finally, I would have loved the original soundtrack to get a remake, too – that would have been amazing as it was already a very good soundtrack to begin with. Sadly (I suspect due to rights issues) the remake's soundtrack is completely different, it's okay but just doesn't have the nostalgia factor.

      Overall (and remember this is based on just the first few hours of gameplay) I believe the remake stays faithful to the spirit of the original, fixes (considerably) more flaws than it introduces, and offers better atmosphere and immersion. I'd say go grab the Ultimate Bundle on Steam while it's still dirt cheap, check out the mod list* and give it a try :)

      * Mod list here: The Steam release ships with a mod manager that makes installing them very convenient, but needs to be patched with a new release available at

    4. I don´t have any problem with the mouse if I play in fullscreen but if I use alt+tab and then go back to the game it appears
      Anyway might be worth trying it in fullscreen if you haven´t

    5. Now that you mention it, the problem does seem to be linked to using Alt-Tab. Too bad I use that all the time :D

      And I also found out that the original soundtrack is in the game after all – you just have to check a box in the sound options to enable it. So I happily take back that bit of criticism (or at least most of it; that option does not seem to enable the original opening theme on the title screen, which is a bit of a pity).

  26. The two modern remakes are on heavy discount at steam at the moment.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up, that's a great offer indeed! I've actually not played the HD remakes, so I grabbed the bundle containing all RoA games - the original trilogy and both remakes including DLCs - for 5 bucks. It doesn't get any better.

    2. I played the first remake, it was okayish... Is the second better?

    3. Don't know. 'Okayish' is widely interpretable.

      But when it comes to DSA rpg games there is also the more modern Drakensang Triology and Demonicon.
      Demonicon I have not played till now, but the Drakensang games are VERY good.
      All are at deep discount at steam now.

    4. There are also the two Blackguards games, the first of which is quite awesome, while the second, not so much. Although neither Drakensang, nor Blackguards give you the authentic DSA experience of being stuck in the swamp with no supplies and half your party on their last leg from various diseases.

      Demonicon is DSA in name only, mechanically it's an action-RPG in the Mass Effect vein.

    5. Demonicon does not really use the proper DSA ruleset, that is true, but in my opinion the setting is more important than that. I'd probably appreciate a game about establishing a rice bag trading company in Maraskan (as long as it is well done). ;)

      I just love the world and its atmosphere. Which, by the way, is just why the Dark eye adventure series (Chains of Satinav and Memoria) work so well for me. They show marvelously that adventures can arguably be as good as RPGs as a medium for storytelling.

      P.S.: The Drakensang Trilogy? I thought there was only one expansion or do you count Drakensang Online as part of the trilogy?

    6. Last game DSA game I played was Drakensang, i should try River of time...

    7. Sorry, 'Trilogy' is not exact word.

      These are the Drakensang games:

      Drakensang I: The Dark Eye (2008)
      Drakensang II: The River of Time [prequel)(2010)
      Drakensang - Phileasson's Secret [expansion pack] (2010)

      Drakensang Online (Browser game) (2011)

    8. Drakensang Online is a totally separate thing, though. It has no connections to the other Drakensang games and isn't even set within the Dark Eye universe. The only reason it even bears that name is that Radon Labs, the developer of Drakensang I and II, went bankrupt and was bought up by Bigpoint, (then still) a major developer of browser-based online games. The rights to the Drakensang brand were part of that purchase, and Bigpoint decided to stick the name on their new MMORPG for marketing purposes.

    9. The DSA games I'm aware of are:
      The original Nordland Trilogie (Blade, Star Trail, Riva)

      The modern remakes of Blade and Star Trail

      Drakensang and its sequel River of Time

      Blackguards 1 and 2


      The adventure games Chains of Satinav and Memoria

      And I think that's all of them. I don't really consider browser games as a thing due to their nature of being free to play/pay to win moneytraps rather than properly designed games.

    10. There was also a series of DSA games for old cell phones called TDE:Swamps of Doom.

    11. To complete the list of DSA/TDE games:
      The old cell phone series was later ported to browsers and expanded with more adventures. You can find them at tde-games (dot) com

      There is a trilogy of turn-based tactics games for android smart phones. They are called Moon of Blood/Vengeance/Death.

      A new rpg game for desktop is currently in development: Book of Heroes. It is single/co-op and gameplay lies somewhere between Diablo and Baldur's Gate.

      ...and then there is Skilltree Saga

    12. Chains of Satinav, Memoria and Blackguards are on discount at steam now.

  27. One of my favorite games for a long time. It can take very long and it's easy to get lost a bit in what to do. From my experience it doesn't lead you as much in a path as many other rpgs and as the black eye is much less only focused on fighting compared to D&D it has also much more use for other skills that are relevant (making music or dancing is a good way to make money in the taverns), healing is very important against the sickness, knowing plants and animals very important for collecting herbs, food and hunting animals during a travel.

  28. The CD Rom version has an awesome soundtrack, go against your habit and play with music!

  29. Alas, my first one... Blade of Destiny was the reason for my love for crpgs ever since. After this one I started playing the ones that came before (eg the gold box games) and what came after...
    In these times I also played P&P Schwarze Auge quite a lot, so the rules were quite easy for me. But I understand that the ruleset is quite difficult and way too complex if you`re new to DSA.
    And yes, there are way too many useless talents as dancing for example. If I recall correctly Guido Henkel and his team tried to create a universal engine for much more games, so they didn`t concentrate on the game at hand, but tried to implement all rules as faithful as possible. The traveling in the wilderness with all its diseases, hunger and thirst mechanic (I actually never liked such game mechanic, no matter the was) and so on...
    But I love this game nevertheless to this day, because of its love of detail.
    By the way, during my first playthrough I realized very late in the game, that one talent is a huge gamebreaker, if used correctly (and even according to the rules). I can ROT 13 it, if need be.
    Looking forward to your opinion!

  30. Don't underestimate the negative attributes. Your characters will probably flee when necorpobia ist top high and you're Meeting Up with ghosts or skeletons. Or even by entering a cemetery.
    There are 12 good gods and one evil one - the unnamed /13th god. If you are generous to the gods, they will rise your stats temporarly or with some good luck permanent. Some of those can also revive you.
    Druide can't wield or wear metal, beside of Magic items.
    Warriors, dwarfes and thorwaler are very important. They are essential at combat and as everything has a weight, you can't have enough strong characters.
    One magician should be enough. Enchant the wand of your magicienne - you can save the weight and space of ropes and torches. Also the wand ist considered a Magic weapon. There are some enemies you can't hurt with normal weapons.

  31. As an additional bit of linguistical curiosity: "Hetman" was a name for high level military commander in Poland (similar words exist in Czech, Ukrainian and Romanian, according to Wikipedia, but the spelling used in game is Polish) in the 16th - 18th centuries, at least. It seems to originate with German 'Hauptmann', actually, which makes it all that funnier that German game uses Polish spelling for Viking-analogues.

    The same word is used as a name for chess piece that in English is called 'queen'.

  32. Ah yes, the age of silly headgear and insufficient armor for female warriors. Memories...

    1. The artwork is absolutely amazing if you love oldschool 70s to 90s fantasy art!

  33. I seem to remember Elves being the best "class", and 3 (one of each) being a nice choice. I think I ended up with 2 + a Hunter just for the variety.
    I also picked a Jester for the female face I think, but I don't remember the class being that good, more like a jack of all trades.

    1. Elves are good at many of the things that are important in the game, and the things they are bad at are mostly not important :D Specifically:

      - They are not quite as good at melee combat as warriors, lacking the exceptionally high Swords talent and the ability to wield two-handed swords and wear the heaviest armors in the game. But they are still good with one-handed swords (the best weapon in the game, who needs two-handers anyway) and Green elves can even wear chain mail (in Blade, not in the sequels), plus they get two spells that are very useful for hard fights in Axxeleratus and Armatrutz, so the gap between warriors and elves isn't very large.
      - They are capable at ranged combat (Ice elves less so than Green and Silvan ones) and can use crossbows, the best ranged weapons in the game.
      - They are generally good at survival and healing skills, as well as Perception, all of which are highly useful.
      - Their weakness is in social and lore skills, which are not highly sought after.
      - Their spell repertoire is not as comprehensive as that of mages, but at least comparable to that of druids and witches, covering areas from healing and buffing to crowd control and direct damage.

      Basically, elves are almost as good at melee combat as warriors, almost as good at magic as mages, and almost as good at survival and archery as hunters – and that is something no other class offers. Every class that beats elves at something is significantly worse at something else. Mages are the best spellcasters and have the best lore skills by far, but they are severely handicapped at non-magical combat, being limited to light armor and staves. Warriors are obviously the opposite, champions in melee but no magic at all.

      That's why an all-Elf party would work better than an all-anything-else party; it would leave very few bases uncovered. There are a few useful talents and spells that would require some (or lots of) leveling before becoming usable (such as Open Locks, Reading / Tongues, Foramen, Analyze Magic and Transformation Dispel). Having a mage would certainly make things easier. But once your party has all the basics covered, surely the best way (in a powergaming sense) to use the remaining slots is to fill them with elves.

    2. From your answer I get many things changed to RoA2 and 3? Elves became less "overpowered"?
      Is there a best mix of classes if considering a full run RoA1-3?

    3. RoA3 doesn't have wilderness travel, so the adventuring skills become far less useful. One the other hand, many of the "flavor" skills and spells get an occasional use in RoA3.
      Anyways, the games aren't terribly hard and support different approaches, it's not like you have to have an optimal party to complete them. Except for jesters, and I would say witches, each class has its uses.

    4. A few of the weapon and armor limitations were tightened in RoA2, yes. Green elves can no longer wear chain mail, but that only matters really if you use them as front-line fighters, and even then you lose only 1 point of armor when downgrading to leather. On the other hand, druids lose access to bows, which is a big blow to their combat effectiveness.

      In general, when designing a party for effectiveness, I start with a warrior, dwarf and mage. Warriors, as mentioned, are the best melee fighters; the dwarf joins as a second frontliner and lockpicking expert. Mages are just irreplaceable for their spells and lore skills. Next we want someone with strong nature talents (ideally two – one for hunting and one for searching herbs). Several classes can do that – hunters, elves, druids and witches all have strengths in that field, but from a powergaming standpoint I'd take elves as they can do more things than the others. That leaves one slot open. By now our party isn't lacking any important skills and has enough strength in combat that we could put anyone in without endangering our success. For maximum breadth we could add someone with strong social skills such as a rogue, jester, or witch. However, as mentioned social skills are not very important, and those classes are rather weak, so this would be more of a role-playing choice. If you're a magic enthusiast, you might want to add another type of spellcaster – I am playing a party with all four caster classes right now – but for maximum effectiveness, I'd take another heavy fighter or another elf. Considering there are three varieties of elf, probably the latter :D

    5. Oh dear. Speciecism! A game like this would be immediately banned in todays Germany.
      No, only joking.
      It would be banned for sexism.

    6. I would say that even more important than party selection are the attributes.
      I took great care to have base attack and defense 8 (you need 2 of Courage, Dex and Str at 13 and 1 at 12). Then all started with either Courage (Praios) or Charisma (Tsa) at 14. Superstitions never higher than 4 (except when needed for class) and most of the bad traits rather low if not needed for the class.
      I always reloaded for bad rolls on increases (hit points, astral energy, skills etc).
      What an annoying system it was where level ups could mean practically no increase in power at all... :D
      But it was fun an I still have some old DSA stuff.

      Fan question: Courage + Intelligence + Level divided by 5 - two times superstition gives you what value? :)

    7. @minando I know you're just trolling, but funnily enough the censorship and content restrictions in Germany have become softer over the years, and games that would have been outright banned in the 90s and early 00s now get uncut releases here.

      Except for the actual 90s games, because nobody went back and re-evaluated the list, so while you can get an uncut copy of Doom 2016 in Germany, you can't even get the original Doom and Unreal because back in the 90s they were considered violent enough to ban.

      I noticed that when Unreal had a free giveaway on Steam. I followed a link to the Steam page and it redirected me to the frontpage, because the game is not available in my country... can't even access the store page, it's like it doesn't even exist!

    8. @Raketensegler: Magic resistance :)

      And I agree, attributes are very important. When your characters are stuck with 8s and 9s, it becomes very difficult to do basically anything successfully.

      By the way, according to both fansites and my own observations the calculation of the combat base stats seems to be slightly different in Blade than in the PnP game. It should be AT = (CR + AG + ST) / 5 and PA = (IN + AG + ST) / 5, but I'm quite sure that in Blade, both AT and PA are computed as (IN + AG + ST) / 5. Something to keep in mind when rolling melee characters.

      Also, strength is just a powergamer's best friend. Not only does it affect all combat stats (AT, PA and Ranged), but it can increase melee damage when raised high enough (and depending on the weapon), *and* it provides that sweet, sweet carrying capacity that you can never have enough of, because of how much all the loot you just can't leave behind is inevitably going to weigh your party down :D

    9. minando: "Oh dear. Speciecism! A game like this would be immediately banned in todays Germany.
      No, only joking.
      It would be banned for sexism."

      Just have a look at:

  34. This gives a nice impression of the sheer magnitude of existing p&p-DSA stuff:

    1. I love the ruleset but wish more of the material was available in English at prices like that!

  35. Have been waiting for this one. :)

    Please, when if you are in a town, take of the pants of one of your characters and see what happens... :) (I think it was already in BoD)

  36. CRPG Addict:"... the inclusion of "negative traits" (introduced in the third edition)..."

    These where introduced in the 2nd p&p Edition.

    From wikipedia:
    "The third edition (1993) was used (with a few limitations) to power the three Realms of Arkania computer games...The rules are similar to the second edition except for two additional positive attributes: Fingerfertigkeit (dexterity) and Intuition (intuition); and two additional negative attributes: Neugier (curiosity) and Jähzorn (violent temper). The character is thus defined by seven positive and seven negative attributes (qualities), and this edition uses the same system of talents."

    1. Very well, but the specific list of negative traits in RoA seems to come from the third edition.

  37. I think there are two important things to know when playing the game:
    1) The city of Prem has a mine - don't enter and leave it repeatedly. There's a bug that gives you XP each time you avoid a cave-in at the entry, and you will end up with a party that is over-levelled.
    2) There's a dungeon where you can set something on fire - keep a separate save after that, because in some versions of the game there is a bug where your party dies after a few steps in the _next_ dungeon. I think the GOG version doesn't have this bug, but it's best to play it safe.

    1. These are good tips. I haven't played yet, but it's in my GOG backlog.

  38. I wonder if Mike Judge liked that game. The left guy in the tavern opening screen clearly shows Beavis (an animated pic would be even more similar)

  39. If anyone is curious about the actual PNP game this is based on, Alea Iactanda Est has an absolutely incredible multi-part write up of a solo adventure:

    All of his stuff is worth reading if you have even the slightest interest in tabletop roleplaying.

  40. The grind you describe reminds me of Final Fantasy 13 I am playing through right now. Just as soon as the enemies in one area become a breeze it throws enemies 10 times harder in the next area and the grind begins again. It never feels easy, but does make those harder battles satisfying when you finally do get good enough to beat them.

  41. Guard Duty is essential - even in cities, otherwise you get robbed. Weapons will break more often, if they are in bad shape. You can get information about your weapons by looking at them. Drag the weapon at the eye in your inventory screen.

    The armories/traders/shops offer different are items and different prices. You will get some weapons only in certain shops. If you get an weapon from the blacksmith, it will be better than one bought from a trader. The option is only in certain towns.

    The months are inspired by the gods - also the days. The locals tell you about when and where to get supplies, weapons, shipping routes etc . You'll find, that in the smaller towns there will be a market only at certain weekdays. Also travelling will be affected by seasons / weather.

    Regarding useless skills and spells - you can ignore "train animals", "riding" and "lying". Also "animal healing", "Mutabili", "aeolitus", "storm roar", "congeal", "Nekropathia" and "witches look" - all other spells can be usefull. It depends on how you play.

  42. Another hint: hitting anything during a fight is pretty hard. The chances of a successful attack are very low through all the games. And increasing attributes and skills during a level-up is chance based. So I'd not consider it cheating if you save-scum the levelling as you NEED the attribute gain and the main melee skill gain every level. As not hitting 12 times in a row is rather annoying. And keep in mind: first you have to succeed the attack, then the opponent has to miss the parry and then the damage has to be rolled higher than the armor rating of the target.

    1. True. It may be a good idea to switch the party's melee fighters to aggressive stance, which increases their attack stat while decreasing their parry stat. More hits = faster battles = fewer chances to take damage even with the parry penalty. Also less frustration.

    2. I'd also suggest to only increase attack for melee characters. When you stack the heaviest armour you have 10 for 2h and 12 when using a shield which blocks most physical damage. Afair you could have 12 and 14 in the latter ones and BoD misses arm plating.
      Then you just use the strongest 2h weapon which is the Ochsenherde/triple flail. Although the best magic weapons are swords which can be taken by the elves.

      My brother once sold his pants when he bought and equipped leg plating, as he thought, it replaces them...
      But the game registers nudity in town and does not consider plating on your legs to be enough clothing... :D

    3. The disadvantage of the triple flail (it's called "goupillon" in the English version, which is French for "aspergillum") is that it reduces its wielder's attack stat by 3 points. Together with the encumbrance penalty from the heavy armor that reduction can absolutely wreck a fighter's odds of hitting their enemy even when you invest all weapon skill points into attacking and disregard parrying completely. Which by itself is not a bad strategy for a heavily armored fighter, I agree. But I'd recommend against letting their attack stat fall too low.

    4. I'm pretty sure that increasing positive attributes ALWAYS succeeds in Blade, Star Trail and Riva. Only decreasing negative attributes takes a roll. The chance of increasing your weapon skill with the three tries per level is also pretty good until you get to the higher levels: 92% for 7, 80% for 8, 62% for 9 and 42% for 10. Blade is easy enough so that save-scumming shouldn't be necessary, unless you are really unlucky.

      Instead: Gang up on enemies (they can only parry once per round), increase attributes by spell, poison your weapons, wear less armor, ...

  43. The advantage of the warrior to the other classes is that they start with the highest rating in swords. And swords are very good weapons. I'd strongly suggest you train at least one party member in swords.

  44. I'm still reading you blog in chronology order but since you are (apparently) writing it faster than I can read it, I'm still in 2017. For Realms of Arkania I'm making an exception from this rule.
    This is a series that I heard for some many years but never dared play it. It just sounded to complex. Now I'll finally know what I missed.

  45. Oh, you finally started realms of Arkania. I have been wondering about your take on that for a while. I played all three of the games multiple times, sometimes with very odd party configurations (e.g. 5 warriors and a mage, this one actually made fights a breeze). You definintely will use a lot of the skills you might never even have thought about. Dancing is good for getting some money early on. It's less useful later when you are swimming in money, but its good to bolster your funds sometimes.
    Carousing is also important, I think there were some times when you were supposed to keep a clear head.

    btw, fallen party members can generally not be resurrected, except when giving lots of gifts to the temple of Tsa and praying really hard. It's not always successful though.

    1. Hi. Thanks so much for your always-great coverage! I also dusted this one off and have been putting a few hours in from time to time, when time allows.

      Having played various tabletop RPGs with a variety of systems such as several D&D versions, GURPS, Traveller, Call of Cthulu, and RuneQuest, I can appreciate some of the elements of complexity in The Dark Eye. At the risk of exposing my inner geek, I recall filling weeks between sessions by poring over my characters, and the rules, for hours, trying to select the perfect upgrades to move my characters in the desired direction. In that world, complexity became a desirable and fun part of the role playing system's offering that kept the game's excitement alive between sessions.

      In contrast, when several of my BoD characters "level up" at the same time, the immediacy of my current activities within the storyline have to be set aside while I agonize, more motivated to NOT make the WRONG decisions. I'm not sure why, but that's the contrast I experience between tabletop of yesteryear and computertop of today.

      I find myself wishing that the vendor had implemented an option for automatic leveling. Of course, you can always do it manually, but basically I find myself improving a few, critical capabilities as much as possible, then cycling through my second tier choices maybe one point or one trial at a time, round-robin.

      The computer could save me a great deal of not-fun effort if, as an option, it could automate "levelling up" based upon my selection of first-tier and second-tier desirable attributes (unique to each character). Instead, I've really had enough of manually working through some 25 to 40 points of upgrades for 3 or 4 characters, per level, to last me a lifetime.

      Isn't that silly? It makes me feel like an RPG imposter! :)

    2. The Blade of Destiny "HD" remake actually gives you the choice to have automated levelling. I haven't tried it, though.

    3. That sounds cool, although you'd like an opportunity to set some kind of bias to influence each character's direction, beyond the class.

      Another thing I found myself wishing, when grinding through levelling point allocation, is that levelling was an ongoing opportunity to allocate a few points here an there, instead of an infrequent burst of a lot of work across the several characters, all at once.

  46. Late to the party, but I picked these up on GOG quite a while ago and haven't gotten into them yet. Tried this first one but found everything about it intimidating. Besides classes, skills, spells galore, there are also many utility items in shops - are they useful or just flavor?

    Something also went wrong in the first dungeon. I think I just couldn't beat one of the encounters, but also couldn't figure out how to improve my characters enough to manage it. Had the exact same problem with Arcanum back in the day.

  47. This brings back memories. Of DSA mostly, I managed to miss the DSA-CRPGS by a wide margin and only played Drakensang a bit. But I fondly remember reading tons of the books and (out of curiosity) trying a short one-shot adventure for 1 player.

    You were a peasant running away from some sort of famine/evil overlord related incident and ended up in a magic forest. It was fun, even though I had zero knowledge about the rules and had to make up my own. Essentially, I approached the DSA-adventure like one of these chose-your-own-adventure books.

    At one point I managed to get turned into a vampire by a tiny fairy. Apparently accepting a rat as food is a great no-no even if you're a starving peasant and you just want to be polite to the tiny, blood-drinking fairy in front of you

  48. Chet, you should be grateful. In some alternate timeline of you there is a Chet who is having to slog through a game based on the Phoenix Command rules, or playing a game based on Living Steel. While pretty cool settings, damn, taking wind speed into account for bullet physics? Little too much rules for most people.

    1. The complexity in a theoretical PC adaptation of those games would be absolutely transparent to the player - computers are really good at dealing with that sort of thing.

      That's one reason why computer D&D adaptations can sometimes feel so empty - so much of the ruleset is abstracted away, and the designers have to add enough content to fill in the rest of the experience.

    2. Depends on how many choices the player has to make each round. I have wanted to try making a simple engine for some of the more complex tabletop RPGs to see how they hold up when you remove the need to do all the work for yourself (my Dad did this in the late 80s or early 90s with the wargame Starfleet Battles by writing a BASIC program to do the math and track various things for you on his C64, then they'd move that to beside the table he & his friends were playing on.)

      But if you have to fiddle with a lot of factors, like in some of the GURPS magic systems (where you have to balance radius, casting time, drawing runes, making sacrifices) then while you don't have to do the math, you still have to make choices and go through a mental decision tree every time and it slows things down.


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