The song I sing
Will tell the tale
of a cold and wintery day;
Of castle walls
And torchlit halls
And a price men had to pay.
When evil fled
And brave men bled
The Dark one came to stay,
'Til men of old
For blood and gold
Had rescued Skara Brae.
— Introductory songThe Bard's Tale Trilogy is a series of games developed by Interplay Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts. It was a first-person game in the style of the Wizardry series, but with more impressive sounds and graphics, especially the Apple IIGS and Commodore Amiga versions. As the title of this page suggests, there were three games in the series:
- The Bard's Tale: Tales of the Unknown (1985). The mad wizard Mangar has cast a spell of eternal winter over the city of Skara Brae. The heroes, who just happen to be stuck in the city, must stop him.
- The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight (1986). The evil wizard Lagoth Zanta has shattered the Destiny Wand into seven pieces and scattered them across seven cities. The heroes must reforge the Destiny Wand, and one amongst them must become the Destiny Knight.
- The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate (1988). The mad god Tarjan has finally lost it, destroying Skara Brae and wreaking havoc across other dimensions. The heroes must stop him once and for all.
This series provides examples of:
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: The Sewers of Skara Brae in Tales of the Unknown are a three-level labyrinth accessed via the wine cellar of the tavern on Rakhir Street. Given the altar you find down there, the local spider cult may be to blame. Until you get the Master Key, they're also the only way to get to Mangar's Tower—directly on the opposite side of town.
- Achilles' Heel: The crystal sword for the crystal golem in Tales of the Unknown; the Nightspear for Tslotha Garnath in Thief of Fate.
- After the End: The Skara Brae area in Thief of Fate is in this condition. Gelidia is no better off, and the Wasteland zone of Tarmitia is a nod to another Interplay game.
- Anachronism Stew: Tarmitia's core. The previous sections each highlighted a major battle from Earth's history (well, the Earth in which Wasteland takes place, anyway), with enemy encounters being troops associated with that region. In the core, all the previous sections' goons are encounterable.
- Anti-Magic: Anti-magic zones don't just prevent you from casting spells (except the most basic of light spells), they also turn off all persistent spells except light spells. In The Destiny Knight, the entire Grey Crypt is a single massive anti-magic zone. Better bring a source of light which doesn't rely on spellcasting.
- Apocalyptic Log: In Thief of Fate the diaries of dead people, as well as old poems, can be found.
- The official clue book for Tales of the Unknown is written as the journal kept by a previous party which attempted to solve the quest. Obviously, they failed; after being defeated and trapped on the final level, their mages cast a spell to save the journal so that some future adventurers could use it. A side effect of the spell was that everything their party did, save for the journal itself, was erased from history. The final page is rather creepy.
- Artifact Title: When "The Bard's Tale" took over as the primary title for the trilogy, it became this for the latter games in the trilogy, since the Bard is only of special importance in the first game.
- Barbarian Hero: The portraits for some characters in some versions of the game are this.
- The Bard: Unsurprisingly, it has a few with the Magic Music power.
- Beef Gate: The gray dragon statue outside Harkyn's Castle in Tales of the Unknown can inflict a one-turn Total Party Kill on a tenth-level party with its breath weapon. Said party would probably be able to handle the Random Encounters inside, at least on the first level.
- Bigger Bad: Thief of Fate reveals that Mangar (Big Bad of Tales of the Unknown) was actually a high-ranking lieutenant of Tarjan's.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Werra was this down to a tee. He doesn't have any hard feelings at all after losing to both Hawkslayer and the party. In fact, he's thankful to all concerned for allowing him opportunities to engage in some fun fighting.
- Bonus Boss: At least one in each game.
- Booze-Based Buff: This is how the bard replenishes music points.
- Bragging Rights Reward: The oft-acclaimed Spectre Snare in the first game (always lands a critical hit, can cast Baylor's Spell Bind) can only be gained at the very end of the game; in the 8-bit version, it's entirely possible to find it only after killing Mangar. The good news is that it can be transferred to The Destiny Knight, where it's downright mean for the first few dungeons. (Just remember to periodically sell it and buy it back so it doesn't disappear by losing its Spell Bind charges.)
- At least in the PC version of the game, the Spectre Snare can be obtained immediately before the final battle, but you have to take a particular route, which you're unlikely to do unless you already know about it. (There is a hint about this much earlier in the game* , but it's so vaguely worded that even if you still remember it by that point, it's not likely to mean much to you.)
- Broken Bridge: In Tales of the Unknown, the gate out of Skara Brae is permanently locked. Sinister Street, which appears to lead out of the town, is actually an infinitely-repeating corridor.
- Church Militant: The Paladin class is in the game series.
- Class and Level System: Of course. There's even a Prestige Class system of sorts. Sorcerers and wizards have always been this way; a sorcerer needs you to have at least three spell levels in either conjuror or magician, and a wizard needs that for at least two classes. The archmage of The Destiny Knight was hinted at in the first game's manual, and in that game, you need at least three spell levels in all four other mage classes. In Thief of Fate, you have to turn an archmage otherwise-candidate into a chronomancer to get much of anywhere...which requires you to lose all your non-chronomancer spells in the bargain (the non-travel spells definitely make up for it though). A similar situation exists with the geomancer, except only a fighter class can promote to this, trading their special qualities (paladin saving throws, hunter critical hits, etc.) for the spell privilege.
- Copy Protection: Tales of the Unknown and The Destiny Knight required the player to look up four-letter codes in the manual in order to cast spells, at least on the originally supported platforms. Thief of Fate supplied the codes in-game to help you remember which mages could cast what, but you still needed the manual to see what those codes would do. Additionally, The Destiny Knight required hints in the manual to win the game, and Thief of Fate had a code wheel for traveling between the dimensions.
- Critical Hit: Of the One-Hit Kill variety. The Hunter does this with his normal attacks, the Rogue does this with sneak attacks, some monsters do it with their regular melee attack, and any player character wielding the Strifespear does it. This is required to be done by the Rogue to kill Sceadu and Tarjan.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Alliria suffers this when Tarjan subjects her to slow Cold-Blooded Torture non-stop until she finally expires from it.
- Crossover: In the initial game, you could import characters from Wizardry or Ultima III.
- Not to mention Skara Brae is an original location from the Ultima series.
- Driven to Madness: Cyanis from Thief of Fate encountered some recent difficulties, to say the least.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Between Destiny Knight and Thief of Fate, almost all of the NPCs of Skara Brae were killed by Tarjan. Hawkslayer from Thief of Fate is utterly crushed and pulverized by the time you get to Malefia.
- Dummied Out: Some features of the original 8-bit versions of the game failed to make the transition to the 16-bit ports, although artifacts of them remain in the game. For example, an encounter on the final level of the first game (with 2 Liches) can only be activated by going to a particular location after the final battle but before leaving the dungeon; however, the 16-bit ports automatically return you to the Adventurer's Guild immediately upon winning the final battle, meaning that it's impossible to ever have that encounter. (The location in question is still flagged as special, however, suggesting that the code for the encounter, or part of it, is still present.)
- The first game has several magic items defined in its database (like 'Death Dagger' and 'Travelhelm') which cannot ever be obtained (they aren't given out by any in-game event, and they are outside the range of the random item-drop algorithm).
- Also, Casinos are inexplicably present in the 16-bit versions of The Destiny Knight, even though you are prevented from entering them (they are fully functional in the 8-bit versions).
- Dungeon Bypass: In Tarmitia, you can bypass the dungeon circle and go straight to Werra's place if you already know the password.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Cast Trap Zap all you like, you're not going to escape setting off those two tripwires in Oscon's Fortress that force you to rehearse Outrun the Fireball for a corridor.
- Fantastic Nuke: Played With, there is a spell in Thief of Fate whose codename is "NUKE" but its full name is Goetterdammerung.
- Flunky Boss: Many of the bosses are this. This is also an important part of the fights against Lagoth Zanta and Tarjan.
- Game-Favored Gender: In the first two games, all characters are male. This has the incidental side-effect of meaning that only male characters in the third game can benefit from the Old Save Bonus class, which is only accessible by importing a character from an old game. This isn't reflected in the official guides, whose casts included female characters through all three games.
- Game Maker: The trilogy was followed up with The Bard's Tale Construction Set - an extremely limited tool which couldn't even accurately reproduce the plot or mechanics of the first game, let alone the second or third.
- Ghost Town: The vast majority of town buildings are either empty or populated by random encounters.
- A God Am I: Tarjan used to be mortal. Not anymore...
- Good Old Fisticuffs: The Monk class is most-effective without any weapons at higher levels.
- Guest-Star Party Member: Numerous summonable creatures, many different ones in The Destiny Knight, and Hawkslayer in Thief of Fate.
- Guide Dang It!: Almost literally, some puzzles can only be solved by following some esoteric instructions in the manual.
- Joke Item: The most distinctive one may be the Dork Ring.
- Killer Robot: The dimension of Kinestia in The Thief of Fate is full of them.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: The Mad God's name is Tarjan. This was a password in the original game, but is freely referenced in later games (and given to you directly by the Old Man in 3).
- Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Due to having a boatload of additional character advancement options, spellcasters take center stage after the early levels.
- MacGuffin Delivery Service: Depending on how you interpret his intentions, Lagoth Zanta may think he has manipulated the party to this effect, not realizing the true nature of the MacGuffin. A problem with this theory, however, is that he is supposedly the one who shattered the Destiny Wand into seven segments in the first place. A simpler explanation may be that he simply wants to send the party to their deaths, figuring one of the Snares will do the job without him jeopardizing his Villain with Good Publicity status.
- Made of Iron: The Monk class naturally gets good armor class without needing to wear anything.
- Mad God: One of Tarjan's titles is the Mad God.
- Magic Music: This is what makes bards so important. If they have an instrument, they can sing a song that either lasts for the rest of combat, or lasts for a good chunk of city/dungeon exploration. As long as the song lasts, you get a particular boon (e.g. easier saving throws, regeneration, improved armor class, can always flee). The trick is that the bard's voice dries out after singing a number of songs equal to their character level. You can "recharge" this by getting them a drink.
- Magic Knight: The Geomancer in Thief of Fate. Spells? Check. Archmage armor and weaponry? Check. Warrior armor and weaponry? Check. We have a winner!
- Meaningful Name: Sinister Street is not an ordinary street, that's for sure. Not just because it survived Tarjan's attack in Thief of Fate.
- The alternate dimensions to which you travel in Thief of Fate have names reflecting their natures (e.g. Arboria is a woodland, Tenebrosia is a place of shadows and illusions, Malefia is the dimension of evil).
- The four-letter code for the "Youth" spell (which removes the "withered" status effect) is "OLAY".
- The originally planned names for the trilogy mark out the classes needed to actually win. In The Bard's Tale/Tales of the Unknown, only a bard can activate the throne in Harkyn's Castle that lets you progress past the first floor. In The Archmage's Tale/The Destiny Knight, only an archmage can reforge the wand. In The Thief's Tale/Thief of Fate, a rogue's critical strike is the only way to kill Sceadu or Tarjan.
- Mechanically Unusual Class: The eponymous bard is the only class that uses singing ability with a variety of effects, and that needs to drink beer to recharge this ability.
- Multi-Platform: All three games were originally written for the Apple IIe and then ported to various other platforms. Other 8-bit versions include the Commodore 64 and (for the first game) the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. 16-bit versions of each were subsequently released for platforms including the Commodore Amiga, MS-DOS, and (for the first two games) the Apple IIgs. The 8-bit and 16-bit versions both have their fans.
- The 16-bit versions have greatly enhanced graphics, but their share of problems as well (see Dummied Out, above). Also, not all 16-bit versions provide the same experience: the Apple IIgs and Amiga versions have better graphics and sound than the MS-DOS version, which only supports EGA graphics and PC speaker audio.
- The Amiga version of Tales of the Unknown was the very first 16-bit port, and is generally considered one of the buggiest. The MS-DOS port of Thief of Fate was also notoriously problematic, with a slow and awkward interface, magic items that didn't work, monsters with ineffectual attacks, and a massively increased random encounter frequency that many people found nigh-impossible to play through. (There is a fan-made patch available for the MS-DOS version which fixes some of the problems with it.)
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Kylearan...WHY couldn't you have noticed the heroes before they reunited Tarjan's eye with his petrified form, thus restoring him? Sure, you thought he was slain by them shortly thereafter, but look at what happened after the Lagoth Zanta incident...
- Nigh Invulnerable: The Destiny Knight, of whom it is said "Of wounds this man can never die", cannot be killed by hit point damage.
- Nintendo Hard: It makes Wizardry look like Half-Minute Hero.
- Old Save Bonus: Enforced fully, to the point of being able to carry over unique and powerful weapons such as the Spectre Snare.
- Omnicidal Maniac: Tarjan's ultimate plan is to destroy all dimensions except Malefia.
- One-Hit Kill: Critical hits and stoning attacks, and the Deathstrike and Far Death spells.
- Peninsula of Power Leveling: The most famous one in Tales of the Unknown is 99 berserkers, 99 berserkers, 99 berserkers, and 99 berserkers. You remembered to bring a sorcerer with Mangar's Mind Blade, right? RIGHT? Or you can take the sane option, and wear robes so they think you're part of the staff.
- In The Destiny Knight, the Dream Mages who appear as random encounters in the Maze of Dread do nothing but raise illusory monsters. Three points cause this to be a Metal Menagerie-grade XP farm: Summons (including illusions) can't act until the turn after they appear, a high-level party will reliably disbelieve every single illusion the Dream Mages raise, and disbelieving an illusory monster counts as killing it for XP gain purposes. If you're playing the 8-bit version, just remember to kill off the mages after a while, as there's a cap on the XP and gold gain from each individual encounter (65280 per player character on the Commodore 64).
- People Puppets: Anyone hit with possession will start going after you, until you dispossess them.
- Plot Coupon: Numerous.
- Plot Coupon That Does Something: In the first game, the crystal sword is a better weapon than you'd be able to find as a random drop at that point. In the second game, each segment of the Destiny Wand has a special power. In the third game, you have to collect the gods' personal equipment, and can then use it during your assault on Malefia (there's also the Nightspear, in Arboria, which performs much the same plot role as the crystal sword).
- The Power of the Sun: Spellcasters slowly regenerate SP when outside during daytime. Outside nighttime, or inside anytime? Hope you have a Mage Staff...
- Public Domain Soundtrack: Some of the tracks come from real Renaissance-era songs.
- Random Encounters: It's a 1980s CRPG series.
- Remake: The original 8-bit games were ported to several 16-bit platforms such as the Apple IIgs, Amiga and PC, with major upgrades to the look and feel (see Multi-Platform, above). More recently, plans to update and re-release the trilogy for modern operating systems were announced by some of the original developers.
- Sequel Difficulty Spike: The Destiny Knight was famously much, much harder than the first game, with its timed death puzzles, cryptic clues, and vastly more powerful monsters.
- Sequence Breaking: Possible to an extent in the first two games; impossible (apart from skipping the two dungeons under Skara Brae) in the third, because the Old Man won't teach your chronomancer the travel spells for one dimension until you've recovered the artifacts from the previous dimension.
- Shout-Out: Several, especially to Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Sir Robin's Tune allows escape from any encounter or prevents monsters summoning new monsters, and one of the consumable items available is the Holy Hand Grenade.
- The term 'Snare' pops up in several contexts in Bard's Tale I and II, probably as a nod to the first game's original working title (see Spiritual Successor, below).
- Siblings in Crime: In Oscon's Fortress in The Destiny Knight, one message refers to Mangar's brother now being your nemesis. It doesn't make clear whether it's referring to Oscon or Lagoth, though.
- Single-Biome Planet: The different dimensions of Thief of Fate.
- Snowed-In: In Tales of the Unknown, Skara Brae has been cut off from the rest of the world by an unnatural cold; going to the city gates reveals them to be covered in snow.
- Spiritual Successor: To Maze Master, an obscure dungeon crawler for the Commodore 64 by the same author. When beaten it mentions Shadow Snare, the working title of the first Bard's Tale game before Cranford switched publishers.
- Dragon Wars, a game Interplay developed after Thief of Fate, is considered by many to be an unofficial fourth installment. In fact, it originally was intended to be The Bard's Tale IV, but publisher Electronic Arts, which held the rights to the name, wasn't interested in extending the franchise.
- Spoony Bard: Totally inverted, the Bard is the most important class in the whole game series... in case the name of the game didn't clue you in.
- Squishy Wizard: Downplayed. The spellcasting classes' armour options are highly restricted (robes and various magical accessories only, except for the Geomancer in Thief of Fate who wears armour like a warrior), but because of the way character advancement and class changes work, they will have much better saving throws and noticeably better hit points.
- Taken for Granite: Several monsters can inflict this with their melee attacks. You can return the favour with the Stone Touch (in Tales of the Unknown) or Petrify (in Thief of Fate) spells, or with the Stoneblade weapon.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: The Sword of Zar in The Destiny Knight can be thrown to a range of 80', and always returns after being thrown. Aram's Knife can go to 90', but can't do as much damage as a melee weapon (so you give it to the hunter because his One-Hit Kill ability makes melee weapon damage not matter much).
- Timed Mission: In The Destiny Knight, each dungeon (except for the starter dungeon) contains a lethal puzzle area called a Snare of Death. As soon as you enter a Snare, you have a fixed amount of real (not game) time to solve the puzzle or the entire party dies. The game doesn't show you how much time you have left, either; when the game determines that your time has run out, you just suddenly die. As icing on the cake, you cannot save the game inside a Snare, and even pausing is disabled. Naturally, you cannot win the game without successfully completing every single Snare.
- Time Travel: It is implied in Thief of Fate that each of the dimensions exists in a different time, thus Hawkslayer has a different age each time he is encountered.
- Town with a Dark Secret: The main (shown-in-game, at least) religion of Skara Brae, worship of Tarjan, turns out to be rather malicious. This is hinted at in Tales of the Unknown (unlike the other temples, they want nothing to do with you unless you know Tarjan's name) and comes to fruition in Thief of Fate.
- Treacherous Advisor: Lagoth Zanta
- Unwinnable by Mistake: In Tales of the Unknown, this can crop up in Kylearan's Tower. There's an unavoidable fight with the Crystal Golem, and you must have the Crystal Sword in your inventory, or else it will reassemble and start the fight anew. If for some reason you don't have the Sword (you didn't find it in Harkyn's Castle, or you decided to sell it), you'd likely just go back for it (items sold to Garth's don't disappear). Except... the entirety of the Tower is teleport-proof, and there's no path back to the stairs in the Golem's segment. At least when you get wiped out, you can just make a few new characters to drag your crew's corpses to the local temple.
- Useless Useful Spell: Sorry, but the first game's spells for inflicting withering, poison, and insanity have no effect on the enemy goons. Ditto any such brands on your weapons, such as the poison brand on Kael's Axe. The bad news is that the enemy has those spells, and when you're the target, they do work.
- Spells that cause instant death and petrification, however, mostly avert this, as they generally do work most of the time (even against enemies that are already made of stone). However, by the time you get them, most of your fighters will be able to One-Hit Kill most mooks with attacks alone, making such spells unnecessary since they affect a single target only.
- The Sorceror's illusion summoning spells. These summon monsters that immediately disappear if the enemy realises they are illusions. One of the base magic classes - that you have to level to at least 5 before choosing sorceror - is conjurer and provides real monsters as summons instead of the illusions of the sorceror. There is also wizard - requiring two magic classes at level 5, admittedly - which has considerably more powerful real monster summons.
- The 'Word of Fear' spell, which is supposed to reduce an enemy's effectiveness in combat, not only doesn't work properly in the first game; it was eventually discovered that, due to a bug in the game code, it actually boosts their effectiveness.
- Vendor Trash: Brooms and other mundane things can sometimes be gotten as loot.
- Not that mundane; the Broom casts Greater Levitation. Played straight, however with the Dork Ring, which does absolutely nothing.
- Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Attack your allies and they'll turn on you.
- What Could Have Been: Tales of the Unknown was actually going to be the name of the trilogy. The Bard's Tale was originally the title of just the first game. Games two and three were planned to be The Archmage's Tale and The Thief's Tale, respectively. This was changed to the above titles when the public took far more readily to the first game's subtitle than its title.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: One of the Bard's poems in Lucencia explicitly says that Alliria was this not just in the entire world, but in the entire universe. Given the Cruel and Unusual Death she suffered at the hands of Tarjan, it also amounts to an extreme example of So Beautiful, It's a Curse. The other Gods died relatively quick deaths by comparison. It is heavily implied that Tarjan murdered Alliria the way that he did because of the perverse pleasure he got from it.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: The theory behind the sorcerer's illusion spells. As long as the enemy believes that you conjured up a genuine red dragon or storm giant (they haven't read the manual, so they don't know that spells to call up said genuine red dragons and storm giants don't exist), they'll believe that they have indeed been mortally wounded by them, and will proceed to die. Of course, the reverse is true when they call up their own illusions. Hope you have your Disbelieve spell ready...