days gone by, parties of computer adventurers were invited
to take up their +1 swords and their mandolins and slash
and sing their way around the precincts of Skara Brae
in search of treasure, experience points and the chance
to rescue civilisation as they knew it from destruction.
The depressing thing about such computer-confined ultimate
quests is, as any seasoned adventurer will know, that
as soon as they've saved the world, the software house
bungs out a sequel to reveal that their efforts were
in vain and another evil megalomaniac threatens to take
Brae features once again in Bard's Tale III,
which must make it one of the best-known metropoli in
computer fantasydom. But, alas, it is not the city it
once was. Hours after the end of Bard's Tale II
and the defeat of the evil Mangar, his superior the
Great God Tarjan turned up to put a stop to the party.
If the bard's compositions were anything like the doggerel
ballad that opens Bard's Tale III it is hardly
surprising that he razed the city to the ground, unleashed
foul monsters, and closed down all the businesses. Skara
Brae is nothing now but a smoking ruin, echoing with
Tarjan's threat to march onward and conquer the other
Six Cities of the plain and than to devastate Life Itself.
blank disks and about two and a half hours are needed
before you can begin to play, to go through the arcane
ritual of Copying Ye Master Disks. I've said enough
on this subject in the past. I suppose it's necessary,
but must it be so infuriatingly slow?
it worth getting into a fight with some thick-skinned
Gnomes just for some experience points?
setting out to put the world to rights, the player must
assemble a party of up to seven characters. There is
a readymade party already available, equipped with some
experience to let you into the game quickly. But character
creation is not a particularly complex or time-consuming
business, and I found it more interesting to make up
my own heroes. Character generation follows traditional
D&D lines. There are seven character classes, including
hobbits, half-orcs and gnomes, with the usual pluses
and minuses on certain characteristics. The attributes
are Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Constitution
and Luck. Strength seems to determine how much damage
a fighter does when hitting something, Dexterity decides
the character's place on the initiative ranking in combat,
Intelligence limits the number of spells that a magic-user
can know, Constitution represents hit points. Instant
re-rolling is available if you're not happy with the
Tale III is particularly rich in character classes.
There are 13 altogether, though only eight are available
to starting-level characters. Although there are two
types of first-level magic users -- magicians and conjurors
-- and four types of fighters -- warriors, paladins,
hunters and monks -- character advancement is very much
magic-orientated. The five advanced classes add to the
character's spell ability and most require mastery of
large numbers of spells. An important character to have
is a bard, for he starts off in effective possession
of six spells; twice as many as a first-level magician.
His ultimate abilities are, however, limited to eight
tunes and advancement only means that he can play more
of them before having to stop for a drink.
and sorcerers get a 'level' of spells, three straightforward
and not very dangerous pieces of trickery. At first
level, the magic-using characters seem weak. As they
advance they become very powerful. A seventh- level
Archmage can cast Mangar's Mallet and inflict up to
800 points of damage in a single blow.
advancement depends on gathering experience points and
presenting yourself to the Review Board in Skara Brae.
This was once a venerable academic institution, and
now, though it is one of the few places in the city
left standing, is manned by one mysterious quest-dispensing
Old Man. It still performs its original function by
granting promotion to characters worthy of it. The number
of experience points needed to gain levels is not made
clear in the rulebook.
party begins the adventure not in the old Adventurer's
Guild in the city, but in a refuge camp set up in the
wilderness outside. The Guild was one of the casualties
of the blitz, but the refugee camp is just as useful
for creating and deleting characters and assembling
parties; parties can be saved onto the character disk
under a collective name. Near the camp is the Scrapwood
Tavern, a place to buy the alcoholic take -- always
essential to keep the bard oiled and to pick up rather
screen display is very polished and visually attractive.
The characters are clearly and permanently listed at
the bottom, with their essential attributes and hit
points displayed. The upper half of the screen is divided
into two panels, one for messages and one for the small
three-dimensional visual display that is the player's
window into the world. Bard's Tale III is unusual
in having no overhead views of wilderness, swamps and
forests. After a bit of practise it is not difficult
to judge the proximity of trees and buildings, and to
map in the conventional 'one bit of terrain to a square
of graph paper' manner. The message window helps by
indicating the facing direction, and there is also a
very useful 'automap' facility which tells you how many
paces east, west, north or south you are from a central
point; the refugee camp in the wilderness and the city
gates in Skara Brae. One confusing feature of the wilderness
is a Wraparound effect -- go far enough north and you
end up coming back up the map from the south. When this
is taken into account, the wilderness around Skara Brae
turns out only to be 20x20 graph paper squares large,
and is quite easily mapped by those who have tackled
catacombs of the temple is one of those bedsit dungeons
with unpleasant monsters camping out in every room,
treasure to be found, and magic items to be picked up.
The Old Man in the Review Board tells the party to go
down the dungeon and kill someone; when that task has
been accomplished he will tell them their 'real quest'.
encounters occur with the usual monotonous regularity.
Combat is fast, efficient and accompanies illustrations
of the monsters being fought. At the start of each round,
the player can choose whether to stay and fight or run
away, and then the individual actions for characters,
who can attack, defend, or cast a spell or sing a song
if appropriate. Only the first four characters in the
marching order can attack, so it's worth putting your
best fighters up front. The results of combat are then
scrolled on the message screen.