Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bard's Tale: Intense Dungeon Crawling

I had hoped that I would be able to announce that I had won The Bard's Tale this weekend, but I'm not even close. I finally just finished mapping the first dungeon of four levels; at least, I hope it's only four. I nearly didn't find the fourth level because getting down to it involved (d)escending through a pit in the floor with a levitation spell in effect. The pit was barely visible, though.

As you can imagine, the monsters get tougher the lower the level. I'm finding that spellcasters are my worst enemy. I routinely run into parties in which there are 12 or more spellcasters in three or more groups, making it nearly impossible to clear them out before they get a couple of fireballs in. Most monsters are standard D&D fare; I haven't encountered any truly unique ones yet.

Fortunately, I've yet to have my entire party wiped out. I don't even know what happens if that occurs. I've lost individual characters several times, though, and it's getting expensive to raise them.

Some miscellaneous things about the game:

  • There are several party-effect spells that I've found useful to have running when I start my dungeon crawling. These include MALE (levitate), YMCA (mystical armor), MACO (compass), and GRRE (a light spell that also reveals secret doors). The screen shot below shows my party in a dungeon with several buffing spells active (lined up in the center of the screen).

  • These spells take up a lot of spell points, and spell points do not regenerate in the dungeons. I've gotten in the habit of standing outside Roscoe's Energy Emporium, casting these buffing spells, then going inside and paying to get my spell points recharged before heading into the dungeons.
  • There are four spellcaster classes in the game--conjurer, magician, sorcerer, and wizard. You cannot select the latter two when you start, but you can change a conjurer or magician to those classes (or each other) once they reach Level 3. There are seven spell levels per class. I'm on the cusp of getting Level 7 spells for my conjurer and magician, at which point I'll switch them over to the other classes. Theoretically, I guess, one character can cycle through all spellcasting classes and get all the spells, but this must take an incredibly long time.
  • Only after about 10 hours of playing did I figure out that the "T" key pauses the game. If you don't pause during mapping and such, the clock keeps running and your spells run out faster. It would have been handy to know that earlier.
  • The "P" key starts combat with your own party, giving you a chance to have your characters assail each other. I can't imagine why I would want to do this.
  • When you first encounter creatures, you can try to run from combat. If you succeed--which you seem to do about 75% of the time--you stay in the same square, and as far as I can tell there's no penalty. I have frankly been running from a lot of combats if they look difficult.
  • Instead of armor and weapons +1, +2, and so on, better armor and weapons seems to be distinguished by the metal used to craft them. During this dungeon crawl, I found some mithril swords and armor that seem to be one step up from the regular weapons and armor I had. I also found a "bardsword" that only my bard can equip; I'm not sure what it does.

The main purpose of dungeon crawling so far, it seems, is to pick up hints and clues written on the walls. I don't understand most of them yet. These are some of the ones picked up in the first dungeon:

  • "Pass the light at night!"
  • "Golems are made of stone."
  • "Heed not what is beyond understanding."
  • "Thor is the greatest son of Odin."
  • "The hand of time writes but cannot erase."
  • "Seek the snare from behind the scenes."
One inscription was helpful, though. A magic mouth appeared and told me that "a man called Tarjan, thought to many to be insane, had through wizardly powers proclaimed himself a god in Skara Brae a hundred years ago. His image is locked in stone until made whole again..." I'm guessing Tarjan is the name of the "mad god" whose priests keep asking me for his name. I suspect this leads to the second dungeon.

I'll leave you tonight with my map of Level 4 of the wine cellars/sewers. With luck, I'll win the game this week.


  1. I remember this game quite well-perhaps my first dungeon crawl game, on my Amiga 1000. Glad to enjoy some of the early moments once again, through your eyes.

  2. That is one hell of a complicated map you've got there. Great blog by the way, I love reading about these games that where released before I was born.

  3. FTR... Internal party fighting has 1 major advantage. There is a bard song that only heals the party during combat (The rest of the time it is bard only healed). So internal fight. Bard song it. Everyone selects "Defend". Everyone heals 1 hp.

    Good for those times in the dungeon when you need healing and things are tight on spell points.

    1. Really, nobody else got a doppelganger into their party and needed to be able to kill them!
      Maybe that was Bard's tale II.

    2. Happened to me, definitely the first Bard's Tale, at least on the NES.

  4. Oh....%&($#&. I can't believe I didn't think of that. All those spell points I wasted on healing spells. Damn. Thanks for the tip, and here's hoping that same setup is present in "The Bard's Tale II."

  5. Bard Sword = Unlimited Bard Songs.

  6. Thanks, 'Ymous. Where were you a few months ago?

  7. Hey Mr CRPG Addict, I hope you don't mind me coming to these posts late and commenting many months after they were posted. The Bard's Tale was my first ever CRPG back in 1989 and has influenced my taste in computer games ever since.

    What are you using for the digital graph paper there? I've been working my way through Bard's Tale 2 for over 10 years now (no joke - it's one continuous session that I go back to every few months, and which has been transferred onto 3 different computers) and could really do with something a bit more sophisticated than pen and paper.

  8. Don't mind at all, Ben. I get notifications of all comments, and I know not everyone's been with me from the beginning.

    I use Microsoft Excel for the mapping. I just shrink the columns and rows until they are small and square, and I use the "draw border" tool to make the walls and doors. One workbook per game; different worksheets per dungeon level.

  9. Found your site through thinking about doing Bards Tale, and then jumped back to the beginning and catching up over the last months.

    Again, a bit late, but you might want to investigate the following:

    They're mentioned on some of the game sites for Bards Tale and Bloodwych, not used them myself yet.

    Trying to tempt my brother into Bloodwych 2 player again. :)

  10. Marshalsea, thanks! I'll check them out when I next come to a game that requires mapping. If I find them easier than Excel (or capable of creating better doors), I'll use one.

  11. Hi! Just discovered your blog. Very cool to see you jump in and play this game with no preconceptions. I was 8 years old when this came out and loved it, but never really played to win, just liked to get into battles lol. No I'm playing through them to win as an adult.

    Interesting to see you thought you might finish the game in a week! I'm sure it took a lot longer than that! :)

    Did you get to Bard's Tale 2 yet? The difficulty of the monsters scales up from BT1, even after considering that your characters are higher level. And the 4th dungeon (which I just finished last night) is a big challenge!!

  12. My timing estimates are always way off. I think I'll be able to play for 8 hours a day or something.

    No, I never returned to BT2. I really hated it. Character development is a big deal for me, and I felt that both BT2 and BT3 way overpowered the characters, so leveling up lost any meaning. I wish they'd had the characters start over at level 1 in both of them.

  13. You could start as lvl 1 in BT 2. Actually I recommend starting as lvl 1 for two reasons:
    1. The startet dungeon is actually the best dungeon in the game.
    2. The game gets too easy if you transfer characters and items from BT 1.

  14. But just like BT3, the whole purpose of the starting dungeon is to get your characters to the level they'd be if you imported them from BT1--a level in which you pretty much have all the spells in the game. There's almost nowhere to progress from there.

  15. That was not my experience. My victorious party from BT 1 was higher level than my BT 2 party that completed the starter dungeon. In addition you get the Spectre Snare and other nifty items if you import characters.
    I actually quit my first ettempt at BT 2 part way through because it was just too easy. Using new characters was more fun and more challenging, and I eventually completed it.

  16. BTW, you are probably technically right. There won't be much character progression after the starter dungeon, but unlike the BT 3 one,the starter dungeon in BT 2 is actually fun.
    And the overall game balance will be better.

    But of course, all this is academic unless you can stomach random encounter every five seconds...

  17. CRPG Addict, I've since read some of your other posts and I really like your take on games. I'm going through a similar run through older games myself, and I'm starting Wizardry while at the same time working my way through BT2.

    Your praise of Might and Magic makes me want to add that to my list as well. Like BT, I had that too when I was a kid but wasn't old enough to really know what to do to beat it.

    I share your dislike of the repetitiveness of BT especially while working through the sequel. The difficulty of the monsters don't seem to scale that well - melee fighting seems to have become completely useless as I now complete dungeon level 16 (out of 25).

    I DO want to play Dragon Wars, though, which I've only heard good things about, and so I'm really looking forward to when you get to it! Apparently, Interplay was not that happy under Electronic Arts and so saved a bunch of ideas and produced the kind of game they wanted with Dragon Wars. It's just not as well-known because it wasn't distributed by EA.

  18. I really like how Bard's Tale and Tunnels & Trolls have funky spell names.

  19. The team fight function was also used because there was a monster called a doppleganger that could take the place of a party member and you'd have to teamfight to kill him....or something like that.

  20. Ah yes, "Dissention in the ranks". Bard's Tale had lots of fun stuff.

  21. Before I read your posts I didn't know how simplified the console port actually was. There's no levitation spell, and no pit to descend in the sewers. The cost to raise party members is a static 300 gold, and it's as easy to accumulate as you might expect. There's no active compass spell or mystical armor (replaced with a bard song). I mentioned in the first post, but magic-users can't change classes. Also, gaining spell levels seems slower as I reached level 7 just before Mangar's Tower. There aren't any hints on the walls. All hints are given via magic mouth, which seem far more limited. Maps are much less complicated, and limited to a 16 x 16 grid.

    1. I don't know which console you played on, but Xbox play as exactly as the blog describes 🤷🏽‍♀️

  22. I'm amused by the spell names that coincide with real words and acronyms. MALE, YMCA, what else? (And was the game's developer a Village People fan?)

  23. I'm amazed you did this without creating backups of your character disk. The manual actually suggests making backups of your character disk as part of play.

  24. Great to see that the Bard's Tale trilogy has made the jump to the Xbox console - I'm enjoying revisiting my youth as I had the ZX spectrum version many years ago.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.