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The Bard's Tale: Won (at last)!

posted Apr 14, 2010, 6:07 PM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Apr 14, 2010, 6:11 PM ]
From the CRPG blog...

Well, my roller-coaster journey through The Bard's Tale is over. I know my postings on this game have been a bit schizophrenic, sometimes seeming as if I liked the game and sometimes as if I hated it. If so, then the posts are accurate, because that is exactly how I felt.

The game is challenging from the very beginning, thrusting you into a Skara Brae full of monsters in which the difference between survival and death depends primarily on luck. Run into some kobolds and you'll make it; stumble into a house with six barbarians, and your level 1 party is history. The game became more stable once I started dungeon-crawling, and for four out of five dungeons, my characters rarely died. But once I hit Mangar's tower, the vagaries of chance returned with a vengeance. Turning a corner and blundering into a party of six demons, four master wizards, and three red dragons is relatively commonplace, and if you can't run from the battle, there's essentially no way to survive it. Demons, dragons, magic users, and several other creatures are capable of launching deadly attacks that do more than 100 HP damage to all your party members, against which you have essentially no defense (the anti-magic bard song seemed, in my experience, to do nothing). If my characters were 10 levels higher, they wouldn't survive such an encounter, and I don't think there was any realistic way to get them 10 levels higher. It would have taken millions of experience points (most battles, even at the end, were giving me 5,000-7,000 each on average).

So my winning was mostly luck. I made probably 20-25 forays onto Level 5 of Mangar's tower, dying each time, before I found the path that led me to Mangar himself. After that, I traced that path about 12 times before I finally got lucky and defeated Mangar. I would have recorded it, as I usually do for end games, but I never knew which time would be "the" time, and by the time I finally won, I had given up on recording.

Mangar is surrounded by two demon lords and three vampire lords. Vampire lords can stone you with a single touch and demon lords can belch fireballs. Mangar himself is no pushover, capable of some serious damage. Again, I just got lucky. The monsters decided to go after my summoned dragon, giving me enough time to kill a couple of them. The demon lords decided to cast spells instead of spewing fire. One lucky round is really all it took.

(Incidentally, the summon dragon spell is the most awesome spell in the game. The dragon almost always gets the first attack, and if you're lucky he'll breathe fire and wipe out an entire group of monsters.)

Winning gives you 300,000 experience points--like I really need those now, thanks--and returns you to the Adventurer's Guild, where I was happy to save and quit. I never finished mapping Level 5. As I allow myself to do once I've finished, I consulted a walkthrough and discovered I didn't really miss anything, although he found the final battle "disappointingly easy." Whatever. Apparently, I could then have gotten a cool magic item, but I don't see any reason to keep playing after I've won.

I'm going to do a quick posting with a final ranking for The Bard's Tale. After that, I have to regress to Wizardry II and Wizardry III (I ordered The Ultimate Wizardry Archives after my first attempts to play them didn't work) before moving on to Phantasie.

One final thing: most of the messages scrawled on the dungeon walls turned out to be clues to one thing or another. Even the message "Thor is the greatest son of Odin, "found in the first dungeon, turned out to be helpful in the fifth when answering that question gives you a little Thor figurine you can use to summon him. But one message I never did figure out, also from the first dungeon: IRKM DESMET DAEM. It doesn't seem to be an an anagram ("mirk Ed Mets made?") and it doesn't give enough letters to be a solvable cryptogram. Googling the phrase just turns up references to The Bard's Tale. Any ideas?