Mar 212014

There are few games that come along in our life and totally rock our world. These games seem to just grab you and devour endless chunks of your life as you spend days, weeks, or months playing them. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones you decide to just start it up and play for a half-hour or so only to find that you’re still playing the game eight hours later as you realize that the sun is coming up. One such game is The Bard’s Tale, which was the subtitle to Tales of the Unknown: Volume 1.

Released in 1985 by Interplay Productions and Electronic Arts, The Bard’s Tale was a revolutionary game that spawned a number of sequels. It was ported to the most popular computers of its day, such as the Commodore 64, Apple II, Amiga, and MS-DOS systems. What made this game so amazing was that it heavily borrowed from pen-and-paper rpgs such as Dungeons and Dragons to create a video game that rpg gamers would love to play.

The Bard's Tale

The elements that any rpg gamer would know by heart was found in The Bard’s Tale. You had different classes to choose from (bard, hunter, monk, paladin, rogue, warrior, magician, and conjurer), you had gear you could find and use, magic items, spells, dungeon crawling, and a party of six characters you created with stats. Your characters could actually die, requiring you to spend quite a bit of gold to resurrect them. While party-based dungeon crawls have become commonplace, it was revolutionary when The Bard’s Tale was released, especially with the 3D graphics of your party moving through the city Skara Brae and the dungeons. You could swap out characters if you wished in order to make the ultimate party.

I spent months playing The Bard’s Tale. I just couldn’t get enough of crawling through dungeons and fighting mobs of monsters. I can still remember fleeing from monsters in the streets of Skara Brae in order to reach a safe haven like a shop. As many other players did, I dumped powerful items into the shops to be picked up by my lower level characters to make them nigh on invincible. Charting your location in the dungeons required you draw a map on graph paper, just like my friends and I did playing Dungeons and Dragons. I confess that I eventually broke down and bought the hint book with all the maps as I got insanely frustrated when I found myself in a dungeon that was in permanent magical darkness

The early to mid 1980s were the days when a computer game could be created and coded by a single person. While one or two other people pitched in, The Bard’s Tale was the primarily the creation of Michael Cranford. I used the heck out of the game cover as it had the map of Skara Brae in it that I used as a reference. Perhaps my greatest joy was to relax at the tavern and listen to (at the time) awesome fantasy/folk music being played as a fire cheerfully burned in the background.

The Bard's Tale

Unlike most tabletop rpgs of the time, bards were indispensible in The Bard’s Tale. Their various songs could boost your party’s attacks or provide healing. I would have my bard play a song just to hear it as I was travelling through the city. Combat was handled abstractly in rounds as your party fought against mobs of creatures. Your attacks and results were done in text, but that didn’t keep the excitement down. I can still picture the glee that I felt when my bard used a powerful magic horn to attack four mobs of 99 monsters each and wiping them out.

While today’s players may scoff at The Bard’s Tale, it was groundbreaking when it came out and its design was quite elegant. It allowed gamers like me who wanted to scratch that dungeon-crawling rpg itch during the week but didn’t have a group of friends to sit down and play AD&D. I hate to think how much of my life that the game claimed from me, but I consider it well worth it. It was truly one of the best video games that I have ever played.

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