Monday, June 3, 2013

Game 100: Dragon Wars (1989)

That is one ugly-looking dragon.
Dragon Wars
United States
Interplay (developer and publisher)
Released in 1989 for Apple II and Commodore 64; 1990 for DOS, Amiga, Apple II GS, and PC-98; 1991 for NES and Sharp X68000
Date Started: 3 June 2013
Everything about the interface of Dragon Wars tags it as an Interplay game, but going in, I didn't know whether it would be more like Wasteland or The Bard's Tale. Since I had heard that it was originally going to be The Bard's Tale IV, I feared the latter, but having invested a few hours into it, I'm pleased to say that it solves a lot of the problems that caused me to prematurely abandon the last two Bard's Tale games, and it nicely incorporates many of the gameplay elements of Wasteland.

If there's any connection with the Bard's Tale games in the back story, I don't see it. The game is set on a dying world called Oceana, orbiting the giant star Sirius, which according to manual is "60 times brighter" than our own sun. It's so bright, in fact, that it never gets dark on Oceana, and the star's intense rays are melting the ice caps, slowly drowning a world that's already 85% water. Civilizations exist only in small islands, never unified under a single rule.

The game takes place on a mysterious island called Dilmun, which my adventurer/pilgrims have just reached seeking its fabled lore and treasures. But they were in for a rude awakening when, upon their arrival, they were seized, stripped, and thrown into a horrific slum called Purgatory. It turns out that Dilmun has fallen under the rule of Namtar, "The Beast from the Pit," and he expects us to die from Purgatory's privations.

Character creation in the game is a bit confusing, in the way of Wasteland, with 50 points to allocate among 5 attributes and 24 skills. The skills include weapons (sword, two-handed, bow, crossbow, fistfighting, thrown weapons), magic (low, high, druid, sun), thievery (climb, hiding, lockpick, pickpocket), "lore" (cave lore, arcane lore, town lore, forest lore, mountain lore), and other assorted abilities (bureaucracy, bandage, swim, tracking), and as in Wasteland, I suspect that some of them will turn out to be useless. Also like in Wasteland, you can buy skills at multiple levels, but the manual suggests that they don't improve through use, only through allocating points at the outset and each time you level.

Allocating skill and attribute points during character creation.

You don't explicitly assign classes in the game, but clearly you can bend characters towards particular classes with the allocation of attributes and skills. After studying the manual a bit, I created:

  • Bolingbroke, a "fighter/ranger" sort-of character with skills in mountain, forest, town, and cave lore, tracking, swords, and two-handed weapons. The leftover points I allocated to strength, dexterity, and health.
  • Valeria, a "fighter/thief," with skills in climbing, hiding, lock picking, pocket picking, and swimming. I put her remaining points primarily into dexterity, then health and strength.
  • Ulrich, a mage, with skills in bandaging, low magic, druid magic, sun magic, and arcane lore, and a focus on intelligence and spirit.
  • Elspeth, another mage, with skills in low magic, high magic, bandaging, and bureaucracy.

In many cases, I wasn't sure I was making the right choices, and I have no idea at this point how to develop my characters. They've already risen four levels, so I have eight more skill/attribute points to spend, but I'm waiting for better guidance before I spend them. Some skills cost a lot of points. If I want to give low magic to Valeria or Bolingbroke, I need to spend 5 points, and it's 10 points to gain any of the other magic types.

The choice of the name "Ulrich" turned out to be rather funny. After "Bolingbroke," my default, I chose the others based on characters in the film Dragonslayer. It turns out that the first NPC I picked up in the game was named...Ulrik. That might be a little confusing.

In its basic interface and combat, Dragon Wars resembles The Bard's Tale series with slightly more screen elements and slightly better graphics. But it borrows some welcome additions from Wasteland, including:

  • The ability to directly "use" skills and attributes to solve puzzles
  • A manual full of "paragraphs" that you encounter as you play the game, fleshing out the game world
  • The ability to create macros to accomplish common sequences of menu commands

The game also fixes a few common problems that I had with The Bard's Tale. Primarily, combat seems much rarer, occurring every 20-30 moves instead of every three or four. There's a "quick fighting" option, although this doesn't seem to be that much quicker than regular fighting. And the automap actually works.

A small part of Purgatory.

More important, the game (at least in the opening areas) presents actual role-playing choices. It's too early to determine whether these choices are "Morton's forks" that ultimately converge on the same destiny, but there was nothing like it in The Bard's Tale games, so they're welcome even if they're illusions.

Now, if "gypsy" had been an option...

I rather like the setup of the game, with the party tossed into Purgatory with no weapons, armor, or gold, facing hostile denizens, and trying to find a way out. In difficulty, it reminds me of the opening stages of Might & Magic. There's something thrilling about progressing from bare fists to your first short sword that simply isn't present when you're progressing from a long sword +4 to a long sword +5.

Bolingbroke was doing better towards the end of his Purgatory explorations.

Purgatory is a large city that took me several hours to explore. There seem to be five possible avenues for escape:

  • Winning gladiatorial combat in the arena grants you a badge of citizenship. Frankly, nothing really changed for me after I got this, so maybe this was just a way to get weapons, armor, and experience.

The gladiators are defeated, and everyone gains a level.
  • There's a secret door into the wall surrounding the city, and another secret door from there to the outside.
And a few combats in between.

  • There's a set of stairs going down into the underworld.
  • You can fight past the gate guards and get to an area that seems to offer you the ability to jump into the sea and swim to safety. However, the game hasn't really given me the option to do so, perhaps because not all my characters have swimming skill.

Despite this message, I wasn't actually able to do anything here.
  • One area presents you with the option to sell yourself into slavery.

Some of these were given as tips in the same bar where I picked up Ulrik by "asking for volunteers."

My explorations of Purgatory also produced a side-quest from a deranged lunatic calling himself the "King of Purgatory." He wanted me to kill a giant in one corner called the "Humbaba."

Humbaba falls.

It took me a while before I developed my characters enough to win the combat, but when I did, I got 1,000 gold pieces.

Gold was otherwise sparse, as you might expect in a city where everyone is desperately poor. True to reality, spiders, wolves, thugs, and assorted low-lifes don't carry any. I got paltry amounts from battles with guards and pikemen, who more sensibly would be expected to have it. Slowly, at a shop called the black market, I purchased weapons and armor.

The weapon selection at the beginning of the game is a little paltry.

The only spells I found were free, from a helpful wizard who just wanted to share. Everyone learned low magic spells like "mage fire," "mage light," and "light healing." These spells turned the tide so much against the guards that I sucked it up and spent the experience on low magic for my two fighter characters as well. From what I can tell, spell points don't recharge naturally, but there was at least one pool in Purgatory that restored them to the maximum every time I stepped in it.

I'll save combat discussions for later, when I understand the tactics better. It is clearly descendant of The Bard's Tale and Wasteland, with enemies starting some distance away, often attacking in multiple groups at varying distances. Unique to this game is a "stun" score, treated separately from overall health, that can leave a character incapacitated in the middle of combat (at which point the enemies stop targeting him). If all characters are stunned, they automatically flee the battle. It appears that stunning is far more common than death. The manual hints that there are few ways to raise slain characters, so I guess this makes sense. It rather reminds me of Don't Go Alone in that regard.

"Spleen-kicking? We're really going to be that PG?"

I do enjoy the paragraph system, which we first found in Temple of Apshai and saw at its peak in the Gold Box games. It won't be long before interfaces and processing power make them unnecessary, but for now they're a fun addition. I found seven of them in Purgatory, explaining various bits of the city and its lore. For instance, arriving at this statue...

...I was directed to a paragraph that explained the following:

A statue of Namtar, the Beast from the Pit, dominates this dirty city square. You carefully examine the statue, trying to memorize the features of the villain who exiled you to Purgatory. You struggle in vain. the citizens of Purgatory, themselves no less fond of Namtar, have taken it out on this image--the nose is broken, limbs are chipped, and the mouth is deformed beyond all recognition. As you watch, a wild beggar spits on the statue. "Filthy face of stone!" she mumbles. "Layed down with the lizards he did, that stone face lies as much as he!" The poor mad creature wanders off, still spitting and mumbling, leading you to wonder if a similar fate awaits you in the months to come.

As you can see, the graphics are reasonably good, but they do feel slightly more cartoonish than in The Bard's Tale. The sound is quite good, too, with different effects for different weapons and spells. When enemies hit party members, there's a "scream" sound, and I find it helpful when sleepwalking through combats to listen for that sound and note who was hit.

This Wasteland-ish graphic and name is a bit silly.

So it's time for my party to get out of Purgatory. Selling myself into slavery is definitely not an option, so it's either wander into the wilderness or explore the underworld. I'm leaning towards the underworld option because I don't know if I can get back there otherwise, and I hate leaving areas unexplored.

My one angst is over those skills. This is just the sort of game for which an experienced player is likely to comment something like, "I can't believe you chose town lore and cave lore! Everybody knows that they don't do anything in this game! You really needed to get your druid magic score up to at least 3, and if you don't have a pocket-picking score of at least 4, you can't win the game." (What would I have done if I hadn't taken "toaster repair" in Wasteland?) Keep in mind that I'm playing the game blind, and I want to do it that way, but if there are any famous pitfalls when it comes to allocating skills, feel free to give me a hint.


  1. I found the interview with Rebecca Heineman, Interplay's co-founder. She talks a great deal about the creation of the Bard's Tale series and a bit about Dragon Wars. A bit spoil-y for you, given what you are playing, but a great read.

    1. Well, bollocks. I should have listened to you. I read the first couple paragraphs, and now I know there are no dragons in the game. I was wondering how they were going to figure into things.

    2. No worries - there are a few dragons. Just not as many as one might expect in a game called "Dragon Wars."

  2. I think your skill spread is pretty good, you shouldn't have any problems getting through the game.

  3. I suggested you use the pregenerated party. It's balanced and you don't have to worry needlessly about missing skills.
    Unless you have already played the game it's hard to know which skills to pick. And as you yourself noted, even if the game is skill based and not class based, you still end up with "classes" in practice.

    Been a while since I played it, but I remember one character with high Bandage skill is very useful, since each use is not cumulative, and the skill saves on spell points for healing spells.

    But it should be interesting to see how creating your own characters plays out for you.

    1. I remember you said that, but I think I'm physically incapable of using a pre-generated party. I also can't bring myself to use Times New Roman font. "Reprobo Defaultus" is the the Bolingbroke family motto.

    2. I remember as a kid my brother and i would spend hours making a party in POR, or something similar, only to play for a couple hours and start again. Making the party was so much of large piece of the fun. We must have made dozens of parties for Bard's Tale and the Gold Box games we played on the ol' Commodore 64.

      I don't think I have ever used a pre-generated party for any game. I have, however, loaded them up to inspect them, but only to get an idea of any required elements needed to make a successful party.

  4. You missed one way out of Purgatory (or, at least, over the wall). I think if you go one step forward from where you took the screenshot, the game will let you fall into the water. Maybe you have to use a skill? I forget exactly.

    Toaster Repair is not 100% necessary in Wasteland. You can find all four keys without it, it's just harder :)

    I know you don't like walkthroughs but I highly recommend you find an equipment list. Differentiating between weapons is difficult otherwise because damage varies wildly, but (I think) there's no way to discover a weapon's damage rating in-game. Not to mention, certain weapons have special uses that are not knowable unless you regularly go around wasting actions by trying to attack enemies at 30' with melee weapons.

    A navigation hint: you will have plenty of opportunities to enter the Underworld. Enemies down there will kick your ass, but encounters usually start at range so you can run away for now. Also, you can get back into Purgatory through the secret door if you want to.

    1. One more thing. Don't worry too much about gold once you leave Purgatory. Most everything you need you will pick up. Money doesn't weigh anything, so it's okay to horde it, but you're much more likely to run into inventory management problems than you are to run out of cash.

    2. Also, if i remember correctly, there is an area where the dead are piled up and you can hide yourself to be thrown over the wall into the river as a supposed body.

  5. Skill point distribution is super important, and you basically have to fly blind until you've played the game and know what's useful and what's not. The hints in the manual are mostly misleading. You will get to somewhere around 12th or 13th level by the end of the game, so consider that by the time you leave Purgatory at 4th or 5th level, you've already earned around 20%-25% of the skill points you'll see.

    A couple of tips on skills. (I'm writing this blind because I'm away from the computer that has my walkthrough on it -- oops!)

    * One of my biggest frustrations with the game was picking up an NPC with levels in a skill that I thought was important and put points into, only to discover that those could have been used elsewhere (like DEX).

    * You don't need Swim. Ever. Even if you take the watery way out of Purgatory. (I think if you just step forward again where you took the screenshot, you can jump into the water.) I will note that (U)sing a skill does not count as a "move."

    * You only need one PC with Bandage, but you REALLY want them to have a skill level equal to (Your toughest fighter's Max HP) -10 or maybe -11. You should Bandage before and after every fight. Make a macro. Because of the high cost of magic skills, I usually give this to my #2 fighter.

    * It is useful to get 2 or 3 skill levels in High and Sun; more than that is mostly overkill, although it will make your direct-damage spells more powerful. Druid is *mandatory* in order to win, although it's possible to "win" it as a bonus for completing a side quest. All your fighters should eventually get Low Magic.

    * Arcane Lore 1 is 99% necessary. (You wouldn't be able to use the Underworld portal in Purgatory without it, and it's useful later on.) Other Lore skills just give you an extra paragraph here and there. (There's a late-game Two-Hander that requires Mountain Lore 2, but you probably won't want it by then.)

    * Bureaucracy 1 is 98% necessary. You *could* work around it, but you really don't want to.

    * On the ranger/thief skills, Lockpick 2 or 3 is nice to have, Climb 3 (or maybe 4, I forget) helps a lot, Track isn't necessary but is useful once or twice. Don't take Hide or Pickpocket.

    * Skill points are generally too precious to use on weapon skills. If you're going to take any, only take one per PC. I recommend Swords. Two-handers, although they promise better damage, generally have a terrible AV and will also generally decrease your DV.

    DV (chance to avoid being hit) is way more important than AV (chance to hit), and somewhat more important than AC (reduces damage taken). The only way to increase it is with higher DEX, which also increases AV and makes you more likely to strike first. DEX 20 is really, really useful, but hard to get unless you commit to it. All that being said, I'd rather put skill points towards higher DEX than weapon skills.

    1. My experience was very different. The two times I played this I was a bit sloppy about optimizing use of skills and I finished anyway. So my advice is don't sweat it if you mis-allocate a few points. Perhaps I made things harder than they needed to be but then I've never been a power gamer.

    2. Well, I wish I'd known about swim. I ended up giving it to ALL of my characters because I thought not having it was the reason that I went "splash!" in all the rivers instead of being able to cross them. I guess not. I should have experimented and reloaded instead of saving after wasting the points.

  6. "if there are any famous pitfalls when it comes to allocating skills, feel free to give me a hint"

    Ben gave you far more detailed info than what I remember. (Yes, if you raise any weapon skill at all, pick SWORDS.) I also went into this game blind, just making my best guesses on what to raise here and there, and it was perfectly winnable. So don't stress out too much.

    Skill point/stat growth is EXTREMELY slow and limited. I hope you generated good stats for your party, because they are obnoxiously difficult to raise. A major portion of your increased power/character growth will come from finding better weapons/armor/items and learning magic, rather than from just leveling up.

    One thing that I remember clearly is that most puzzles had multiple solutions. A skill could work; or an item could work; or you could search for a hidden trick; or maybe you could just brute force it. Dragon Wars was extremely creative and clever in that regard, which is why I suspect that you'll enjoy this game at least as much as Might & Magic I, if not more.

    I have one concern, about your resurrection rule:

    "If a character dies, I must heal or replace that character. (Exceptions made for unique situations like trying to kill Lord British.)"

    You may want to consider making an exception for Dragon Wars. Resurrection is technically possible, but the method is inaccessible to characters until they're maybe halfway through the game. It's also incredibly obscure; I only learned about it through the official hintbook. I'm going to Rot-13 the only(?) way to resurrect:

    Zvq gb yngr tnzr, lbhe cnegl pna fnvy gb gur ynaq bs Aretny, rkcyber uvf cnynpr, naq svaq fgnvef yrnqvat qbja gb n jnyyrq-bss jryy va gur Haqrejbeyq. N punenpgre jvgu rabhtu Nepnar Yber (enax sbhe? V'z abg fher) pna hfr guvf jryy gb erfheerpg gur qrnq.

    The "stun" system makes it unlikely that your characters will die in the early game anyway... they're more likely to die later on, especially vs. enemies that use breath attacks on the whole party. Such as dragons!

    1. Definitely agree with making an exception to the resurrection rule. At best, resurrecting a character requires a long voyage and a number of difficult fights. Also...

      V guvax lbh bayl arrq bar enax va nepnar yber gb hfr gur Jryy bs Fbhyf. Ohg vs lbhe fntr qvrf, lbh'er fperjrq. Gur bayl gvzr V hfrq gur Jryy jnf jura bar bs zl punenpgref qvrq juvyr V jnf nyernql va gur Arpebcbyvf.

      On the other hand, there's the weird "restart the game" feature that allows you to start over in Purgatory at any time, minus your equipment and gold, but retaining all your stats and attributes. But that feels more like cheating than save-and-reload-upon-death, at least to me.

    2. When combined with a certain trick that awards five free skill points (no more than once per playthrough), the "restart the game" feature is an outright cheat, allowing the player to gain potentially infinite skill points.

      Here's the "five free skill point" trick Rot-13'd. The temptation to abuse it with multiple restarts can be incredible; you have been warned:

      Tb vagb gur Haqrejbeyq naq fgrc bss gur tebhaq, vagb rzcgl ibvq. Lbh jvyy trg svir serr fxvyy cbvagf, cerfhznoyl orpnhfr gur tnzr qrirybcref qvqa'g jnag gb pbqr lbhe cnegl snyyvat gb gurve qrnguf.

    3. Yes, I suspended that rule for this game for the reasons that you state.

      I appreciate the ROT13'd tips, but I've declined to translate them just yet, since I'm not exactly having any huge problems.

  7. I remember this game. I was horrible at it. Even with a hint guide--or at least, a section in a hint book that covered 19 other games--I couldn't get very far. It sounds like I really could have used some of the above hints instead of the ones in the hint book, which only really had maps and puzzles but no hints on skills or combat, which eventually I couldn't survive.

    But the Addict is way better at these games than I ever was so he shouldn't take this as a reason to cheat.

  8. This is one of my favorite oldies... can't wait to continue reading about your travels and see how you score it.

  9. Tried to play this several times, always got stymied. May you have better luck than me :)

  10. Very pleased to see a Dragonslayer reference, I love that movie. BTW Humbaba is a figure from Sumerian mythology -- a fearsome giant with a beard (or face, depending on whom you ask) made of human entrails.

    1. And a phallus that ended in a snake's head. Yikes!

    2. A one eyed trouser snake?

      Sorry I couldn't help myself.

    3. That's the giant that Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeated, right? I think it was called slightly differently in Croatian, but I can't remember exactly. It just sounds familiar.

    4. Sorry to say after watching the movie I didn't really like it (OK, seeing The Emperor as a priest was a pretty enjoyable double-take for me). It definitely wasn't Lord of the Rings (the Peter Jackson movies, I had my fill with The Two Towers and half of The Return of the King book versions) or my beloved The Chronicles of Narnia (got a compilation of all of them at Christmas 2005 and blasted through all the books before vacation ended).

      Also, I remember when I kilt Humbabba I got a "Fenrir Magicite".

  11. From what I recall, 'Dragon Wars' also referred to a Cold War-like premise. A lot of the major powers kept a dragon as a deterrent to other powers from attacking them.

  12. This looks like a fairly good game, suitable for your 100th game milestone! If they never made another RPG you would be nearly 10% through your list :)

  13. I enjoyed the story in Dragon Wars quite a bit. The Cold War like "Dragon Deterrent" is, I think, a very well captured and believable plot device. Quite different than the silly, shallow devices used in many other games of the era.

    This is the one of the few games of the era that I have actually beaten. After seeing an image of the box art I remembered seeing this game many, many times in the store. I have no clue why we never got it. It seems like exactly the type of game that my father would have bought. Instead we had the original Bard's Tale games, which are much better remembered than played, unfortunately. In fact I finished this one about a week ago so many of the quirks of the game are still fresh on my mind. Most of the following will be in ROT, just in case, but I will use a heading above each to try to describe the nature of the information, well aware of what you do not/should not want to know.

    Skills - What is necessary, what is not, and how you can easily waste points (unfairly) if these values are unknown to you. It's a bit like KoL in that perhaps they figured further episodes, or expansions, were meant to utilize these to their full extent.

    First of all NO skill besides perhaps....

    gur jrncba fxvyyf, onaqntr (Gur 1fg tnzr V'ir npghnyyl hfrq gur onaqntr fxvyy orpnhfr vg vf IREL rssvpvrag), naq gur zntvp (Fha/Uvtu/Qehvq) fubhyq rire tb cnfg guerr. Bayl va bar be gjb cnegf bs gur tnzr qb guvatf yvxr ybpxcvpx, pyvzo, rgp, erdhver n inyhr bs guerr naq bayl sbe vafvtavsvpnag erfhygf.

    Someone said that they would not put their magic above 3, but.....

    V sbhaq univat fvk gb rvtug cbvagf va n fvatyr zntvp fpubby sbe zl guerr znva zntvp hfref jnf terng. Sbe rnpu cbvag lbh trg na rkgen qvpr ebyyrq sbe qnzntr. fb n Zntvp hfre jvgu n fxvyy bs guerr pbhyq guebj na vasreab gung uvgf nyy rarzvrf sbe sbhe-q-fvk juvyr fbzrbar jvgu n fxvyy bs rvtug jbhyq uvg gurz sbe gjryir-q-fvk be fbzrguvat pybfr gb gung. N ovt qvssrerapr, naq n yvsr fnire.

    Second, as for attributes, the effect of some are obvious, but the subtle effects of others can be difficult to notice. The best, simple way to put it, I believe, is...

    Whfg cvyr rirelguvat vagb qrkgrevgl jura lbhe abg chzcvat hc bgure fxvyyf. Nebhaq gjragl gb gjragl gjb vf terng. Guvf vzcebirf gb uvg engrf, gur engr ng juvpu LBHE uvg, naq vavgvngvir. Fgeratgu vf znvayl whfg n erdhverzrag sbe jvryqvat pregnva jrncbaf. Vg nqqf bayl irel zvabe qnzntr gb nggnpxf, naq gur jrncbaf lbh'yy raq hc hfvat erdhver ab zber guna rvtugrra be ng zbfg gjragl, jvgu fbzr rira orvat zhpu yrff. Lbh pna svaq gurfr erdhverzrag ol univat gur zrepunag vafcrpg be vqragvsl vg sbe lbh (va snpg gung, naq gur jrncbaf pynff glcr, ner gur bayl vasb lbh trg sebz gung freivpr). Vagryyvtrapr arrqf ab zber guna rvtugrra sbe nalguvat. Ng yrnfg V unq ab-bar jvgu zber guna gung, VVEP, naq V unq ab ceboyrzf ng nyy. Fcvevg vf tbbq sbe lbhe cevznel zntvp hfref, ohg vgf hc gb lbh ubj zhpu lbh jnaan qhzc va vg. Urnygu vf nyjnlf avpr, naq univat rvtugrra be fb xrcg zr nyvir ybat rabhtu gb svavfu bss nalguvat.

    For weapons it gets a bit trickier not to spoil anything, so I'll keep it very succinct. Just don't specialize in more than one or two. There are PLENTY of great weapons in the game, and you may or may not find all of them. Because of this it's really impossible to tell which to use so just go with your gut. I ended up wasting a bunch of points here, but it was still fun. There are a couple of items/weapons that go together perfectly. Almost too well, but the game allows it. You'll figure it out.

    1. You start by saying that magic should (n)ever go past 3, then you tell me it should go up to eight. I'm confused. Also, a previous post said that bandage should be allowed to go as high as 10 or 11, so there seems to be some room for argument there. Care to elaborate?

    2. Oh, wait. Duh. I read the decoded part without taking into account the lead-in sentence. Nevermind.

  14. ******Also, something I'm pretty sure the manual DOES NOT cover and is TOTALLY UN-intuitive: You can, in fact, somehow equip a two handed weapon AND a shield. It may have to be a Magic Shield or better, I'm unsure because at the time that's all I had, but it works. Don't know how or why, but it does.********

    Magic: Its really best to just have one of each. Their spells are redundant. Except for a few special spells that ONLY druids have, or that are known to ONLY sun mages, the spellbooks are basically the same. All the very functional spells, the workhorses of your repertoire, will be among these redundant spells. The unique ones are necessary, but rarely used. However, it probably won't hurt to have one guy with multiple disciplines; tear it up.

    As for Purgatory I really enjoyed the multiple paths to get out. I think there are 4 or 5 different ways. One in particular is very original and while I didn't take that route, I read up on it after I beat the game. I'm talking about fryyvat lbhefrys vagb fynirel. Vg bcraf hc n jubyr arj fvqr dhrfg xvaqn cngu naq frrzrq irel sha.

    All in all this was the best old game that I have played in ages. I will be astonished if you do not love it. At the very least this one looks like a polished diamond when set besides the fuzzy turds of the original 3 games, which as I said earlier, are better remembered than played.

    1. I suppose the shield thing makes sense if you imagine it's strapped to the arm or something.

      It's hard to imagine a roleplaying choice to sell yourself into slavery even if it opens some interesting options. But I like how it enhances the replayability of the game.

  15. Oh and rezzing a char, once you find out how, is not THAT big of a deal. It may take you 10 min or so to get where you need to go and do it and may require a few random battles, but it is FAR from as bad as some make it out to be. I did, however, save scum the crap out of the game to prevent myself from making that trip five dozen times. The random encounters are SOOO random in the make up of the enemy party. Same for fixed battle squares. Even they are random to a large extent. One attempt at a semi-boss fight may have you face the boss and 1000 Immortal Ogre Highlanders plus the Boss, but it could just have easily been 10 Baby Goblins plus the Boss.... Random.

  16. Never really made it very far in this game when I tried to play it, so I'll be looking forward to your playthrough.

    Am I the only one who noticed that Namtar is "Ratman" spelled backwards?

    1. Probably just coincidence... the name's from Mesopotamian mythology, as are a number of DW's deities.

    2. It was also the name of the "DNA Mad Scientist" in a particularly good Farscape episode. In that episode, he did indeed turn out to be a mutated rat-like creature, so it's tough to say whether they went to Mesopotamian mythology on that or not.

    3. I meant to mention that since Irkalla and Nergal are also both Mesopotamian gods, it's clear that was the source for DW specifically.

  17. In case it isn't obvious, I dearly enjoyed playing Dragon Wars, and I think it's one of the great, underappreciated classics of CRPGs.

    In contrast, I would suggest that Bard's Tale I-III (which are not set in the same fantasy world, they're just made by some of the same people) are *overappreciated* CRPG classics... since they're 99% monsters/mazes/fiendish puzzles, they don't hold up to the test of time as well.

    As I remember, DW tones down BT's irritating encounter rate, and adds a great deal more backstory and lore to the mix, including some memorable villains and quixotic NPCs. Sometimes the player has to make choices with severe consequences. Also, DW is fairly nonlinear.

    Anyone reading this blog who loves old-school CRPGs and hasn't played Dragon Wars yet should track it down and try it out ASAP.

    1. The funny thing is that I absolutely loved BT1 and 2 (but not 3) back in the days, but couldn't muster the enthusiasm to finish Dragon Wars.
      But 20 years later I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to replay the BT games, but I finally finished Dragon Wars.
      I still mostly like the basic game mechanics of BT and the randomization of loot and monsters, but the sheer frequency of the encounters is just too much.
      Dragon Wars is a much more managable game that you can finish in a couple of days, thanks to the much more senisble random encounter frequency. But I missed the randomization of the BT games. I think all the loot is handplaced in DW and you'll often face the same monster groups.
      But to me Might&Magic 2 was the old school turn based "blobber" that really did the random loot and encounters gameplay best.

    2. I compared DW and MM a little in my last posting. I do like the randomness in MM2, but for the story it was such an absurd melange of themes and dumb jokes that I think DW performs much better as a narrative.


    1. By aschultz? Can it be the master of FAQs and Walkthroughs, and one of the few "fossils" Chet has not managed to lure to this blog ?

    2. Not specifically spoily but you may want to wait till your write your review to read it, so you don't have the risk of reviewers influence.

    3. I did exchange some e-mails with Andrew Schultz. But I think I ended up overwhelming him with questions, and he declined to submit to such an interrogation for my blog.

  19. This was a real treat when I first played it a few years back. One of the best RPGs I've played. I contacted Rebecca Heineman and let her know you're beginning to review it. I hope she stops by.

    1. Dude, that's not cool. You gotta give a guy a chance to clean up his Bard's Tale postings before you invite a woman over unannounced.

  20. There's a really useful but also really easy to miss easter egg in the Underworld:

    Gelvat gb whzc (jnyx) vagb n pregnva cvg jvyy tvir lbh n bar-gvzr qbfr bs 5 fxvyy cbvagf sbe rnpu punenpgre.

    1. (rot'd spoilers)

      V oryvrir gung orsber lbh pna qb gung, lbh arrq gb fnpevsvpr fbzrguvat gb bar bs Vexnyyn'f fgnghrf va gur birejbeyq - gurer'f bar va Chetngbel naq bar ng gur Cvytevz Qbpx. N ybj zntvp fpebyy vf n tbbq pubvpr.

      Guvf vf n ernyyl tbbq jnl gb tvir ybj zntvp gb nyy bs lbhe svtugref, fvapr vg pbairavragyl erdhverf svir fxvyy cbvagf.

    2. Lbh pna nyfb or ernyyl purrfl naq trg hayvzvgrq fxvyy cbvagf. Vs lbh xabj jung lbh ner qbvat, lbh pna dhvpxyl (cebonoyl va haqre n zvahgr) trg gur fxvyy cbvagf, naq gura erfgneg gur tnzr jvgu gur fnzr punenpgref. Gur tnzr jbeyq vf erfrg, vapyhqvat gur fxvyy cbvag obahf, ohg lbhe punenpgref ner abg. Ercrng hagvy lbh trg oberq.

    3. I actually didn't find it easy to miss, since I couldn't tell from the image that the picture was supposed to represent a chasm, and I just blundered onto it. It didn't occur to me to keep doing it and restarting the game, but as you say, that would be "cheesy" anyway.

  21. I think I was too young when I played this - got to the end without ending it, did not understand ANYTHING about the storyline.

    I guess I have to revisit this, fifteen years later.

    1. Yes, take another look at it. The story is half of what makes it fun!

  22. This game looks really cool indeed... I liked the first Bard's Tale very much, but never played the 2&3 (and your blog kind of discouraged me to).

    I may give that a run at some point!

    1. Take my blog with a grain of salt on BT2-3; I seem to be among the minority in my active dislike of those games, and some of that was related to some misunderstandings about the rules and such.

  23. I'm excited about this play through. Bard's Tale 1-3 were my obsessions when I was a kid (although their flaws would surely be more apparent now), and I'd always wondered about the unofficial sequel. Keep up the good work.

  24. Wow, first comment on this article in eight years...! Anyway, the introduction to this game sound reminded me startlingly of Brandon Sanderson's "Elantris:" thrown into a walled-in zone of poor folk and forced to make one's own way, despite starting with only the shirt on one's back. Pretty common tropes, but it still caught my imagination.

  25. this one hasn't been built up by your audience /quite/ as much as dark heart of uukrul/starflight were, but there's clearly been some anticipation about getting to this particular game, so i'm very curious to see how this turns out.

    i never played it - my interest in crpg's always existed, but the actual thought of playing them filled me with dread [because they just seemed like such massive time investments, with sometimes very little payout for your trouble], but i've seen it around the internet and i /love/ the title of the game.

    i've always wanted a game that had dragons in it that you could treat as friends and could quest with. while dragon wars is obviously not that game, the name of it might have given that impression at a casual glance at the store in ye olden times.

    very much looking forward to your coverage of this.

    1. 10 years ago I was hyped for this playthrough despite never having played it :)

    2. @tristan gall:

      of the games chester's played so far [up to where i've read, anyway], the two i have most anticipated were ultima 4 - since that game is just so monumentally different from everything else [in terms of it's plot, at least] and also dark heart of uukrul, which i've always known of as a bit of an underdog in the rpg community.

      [and to a lesser extent quest for glory 1/hero's quest 1, but that's always been a known quantity for me, since i lean more toward the adventure game spectrum of video games.]

      i hope you enjoyed his postings on this particular game when he finally got here. :)

    3. I think this will be my new policy: when someone comments on an old entry, I'll re-read the entire entry. That way, I can refresh my memory about some of the features of titles I played years ago.

      I have virtually no memory of playing this game. Re-reading this now, it sounds fun.


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