[Let's Play] Tales of the Unknown: The Bard's Tale

Sphinx of Black Quartz

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Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1985!

Oh, my friends... this game. This game. Back in Ye Auld Dayes, my family had an Apple IIGS (upgraded from a //e) and I whiled away many happy hours with The Bard's Tale. The IIGS port knew precisely how to leverage the spectacular graphics and sound capabilities for which the system was named, and the result was a game that looked and sounded absolutely magnificent.



The Adventurer's Guild music (Wayland's Watch)

And even fancier, because the game took advantage of the IIGS's wavetable synthesis capabilities, the bard's songs would sound different based on equipped instrument. Frex, here's another clip of Wayland's Watch, as played on a different instrument. I know it's not terribly impressive by modern standards, when games often take up thirty gigabytes and includes a soundtrack performed by a live orchestra, but 30 years ago that was pretty darn posh.

(By the way, the image and MP3s above are hosted at Bard's Tale Online, an excellent fansite you should definitely visit.)

And here's a thing: Technically, I never finished it.

So tonight, my friends, let us set out on an adventure begun thirty years ago! Together, we shall free the town of Skara Brae from the eternal winter loosed by the wizard Mangar. The journey may be long, but we will persevere with a few stout sword-arms, a mage or two, and most important, a bard to inspire and enchant us with his music.

Or, at the very least, he'll sing a really sad song about it when we get gruesomely killed.
 

Prisoneroffantasy

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I think that you should do this let's play vlog style, so that you can sing us songs yourself recounting your adventures.
 

Sphinx of Black Quartz

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Of course, the first consideration of any tale of heroism is: Who are the heroes?

Unfortunately, we're tightly constrained on party creation for a few reasons. First, this is The Bard's Tale, so we need a bard. (Fun fact: Originally the series was to be titled Tales of the Unknown, with each game highlighting a different class, but Tales of the Unknown: The Bard's Tale was such a breakaway hit Interplay chose to keep the name for future installments, so we got The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight instead of Tales of the Unknown: The Destiny Knight, et cetera.) We'll also need a rogue, because the game really wants us to have one, even if they aren't actually much use in the first game. (Besides, a rogue is necessary to complete The Bard's Tale III: The Thief of Fate, and I'd like to think our heroes live that story as well, even if this LP doesn't tell it.)

Second, this is an 80s CRPG so the class balance is awful. And it's an 80s CRPG based quite closely on 80s D&D, so it suffers from "linear fighters, quadratic casters." Early on, your fighters do most of the killing, while your pathetic apprentice mages cower behind them and hope they aren't accidentally killed by a kitten scratch... but by the late game, warrior classes are merely ablative armor for the arcane demigods who rain down merciless thaumaturgic death on your enemies.

Speaking of which... your party size is six, and position counts. Most monsters can only attack the first three party members, and tend to focus most on the first party member; your last three party members are immune to most non-special, non-magical attacks. Smart party composition means putting your Wall Of Meat up front and your squishes in back; accidentally leaving a clothie in the front row usually means a dead party member.

And oh yeah, resurrection and healing are expensive in this game.

So while it might be funny to create a deliberately suboptimal party (say, with a stabbin'-mad wizard in the front line), I want to put together a decently effective lineup so I don't need to spend hours grinding up Wizknife the Stabomancer (and then another hour grinding the gold to rez him after a monster one-shots him). On the other hand, I don't want to exploit changes in power level by changing party comp partway through the game; I'd like to complete the whole game with a single party. And that doesn't give me much wiggle room, so I'd like to leverage your suggestions and your character ideas.

Here are the classes available in The Bard's Tale. (Images are once again linked from Bard's Tale Online. Have I mentioned it's a great site and you should check it out?)



Depending on whom you ask, the eponymous bard is either a warrior who discovered the power of music can conquer any foe, or a rowdy tavern minstrel who got into so many drunken brawls he decided he'd better learn to use weapons and armor. Bards are adequate fighters, appalling drunks, and truly gifted musicians whose songs have a magic unlike any other.
Strengths: Bard songs are useful and flexible, cheaper to refresh than magic points, and they work in places where other types of magic fail. He's more than happy to perform at your wedding — anything for a friend!
Weaknesses: Not as potent a fighter as a fighter class, not as potent a caster as a caster class. Plus, he's sleeping with the groom.
Races allowed: dwarf, elf, half-elf, hobbit, human​



The baseline "kill people with sharp and/or heavy things" class. Can take or dish out a beating, but don't have any particularly remarkable characteristics.
Strengths: Wide variety of gear available. Can help you move heavy furniture. Decent damage at all levels.
Weaknesses: Even with top-notch gear, warriors can only kill one enemy per round, and are still vulnerable to instant-kill melee or magical attacks (such as being turned to stone). Calls you "bro" so often it gets on your nerves.
Races allowed: dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, hobbit, human​



Paladins deal slightly less damage than warriors, but they're somewhat tankier due to their innate resistance to enemy spells.
Strengths: Decent damage, less likely to be magically one-shotted than warriors. Always uses coasters.
Weaknesses: Like all fighty classes, endgame potential for mass murder is limited. Invariably either a complete tightass or a complete space cadet.
Races allowed: dwarf, elf, human​



Monks aren't fighters in the strictest sense; they're ascetics, mystics, and theosophists who embrace one or more traditions of meditation, self-discipline, and inner harmony. Fortunately for us, one of the side-effects of their lifetimes-long journey toward spiritual perfection is truly prodigious martial skill. Most monks would insist that using their remarkable physical gifts for combat is an appalling misuse of enlightenment, but regrettably, sometimes you just need to kick somebody so hard his entire large intestine explodes up and out through the top of his head.
Strengths: In the endgame, the best melee class by a country mile. Tea connoisseur, and always willing to share.
Weaknesses: Soft like bread for the first few levels. High-level monsters may still have enough HP to survive his ludicrous DPS. Won't stop telling you about the health benefits of some hippie-dippie diet or other.
Races allowed: dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, hobbit, human​



Hunters are a bit of a conundrum. Theoretically, they're potentially the best melee class, since they have a critical hit ability that can instantly slay most enemies, and it remains potent even when enemies have so many hit points the other melee classes barely muss their hair. Unfortunately, getting an actual crit is quite rare early on, and by the time crits become useful your casters are doing most of the heavy lifting anyway.
Strengths: Potential instant kills, high initiative. Dashing, romantic, and popular with the girls... and the boys too, for that matter.
Weaknesses: Limited selection of weapons and armor mean damage and survivability are both subpar. Even with critical hit, the hunter can still only put down one enemy per turn. Will probably break your heart because he's not looking to settle down.
Races allowed: dwarf, gnome, half-orc, human​



Rogues basically just disarm traps. That's about it. They can also hide in shadows, but in the first Bard's Tale that isn't good for much.
Strengths: Saves spell points early on. When you wake up in a jail cell because of whatever the bard did this time, he can probably jimmy the door open.
Weaknesses: Far too squishy to put in the front row, and the damage output wouldn't be worthwhile regardless. Basically a wasted character slot once your casters have enough spell points not to care about burning them on Trap Zap. Silverware goes missing every time he visits your place.
Races allowed: dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, hobbit, human​



Conjuration, in this setting, is about creation of things and effects. Novice conjurers can create light or hurl bolts of flame; more powerful conjurers can incinerate enemies with storms of arcane energy or create magical allies ex nihilo.
Strengths: Potent damage spells and valuable utility spells. Can grow into a nigh-omnipotent purveyor of terrifying arcane wrath after multiple class changes. "Elik's Instant Hot Shower" spell is a godsend in hygiene-challenged dungeons.
Weaknesses: Fragile. Dependent on spell points. Pretty much the source of the "can be killed by a housecat" trope at low levels.
Races allowed: elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, hobbit, human​



Magicians deal with magic as it applies to enhancing or altering the properties of physical objects — what the hoi polloi call "enchanting." Their low-level spells are largely unimpressive, concentrating on buffs and debuffs that are mostly too slow and subtle to be useful, but at the high end they get handy little tricks like instantly striking enemies dead, large AC buffs for the whole party, and deflecting enemy spells.
Strengths: Like the conjurer, starts weak and gradually develops PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS. Knows a magical hangover cure and trust me, in this game, you'll be grateful for it.
Weaknesses: Also like the conjurer, squishy. Few good spells at low levels. Has a human. fucking. skull. on the top of his staff. Jesus, who does that? Also, sometimes you could swear it's looking at you.
Races allowed: elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, hobbit, human​

There are two other caster classes available: Sorcerer and wizard. They aren't available at chargen, though, so we won't worry about them for now; later our casters can evolve class change into other caster types. Yes, I will make Pokémon jokes then too.

Now, here's the part where you come in: I need entertaining character ideas! The Bard's Tale doesn't actually have all that much plot, so if I'm gonna make this boss, I need some fun and interesting characters. Show me what you got!

(Nota bene: TBT1 uses male pronouns and pictures and assumes all characters are male, but I'm fine with putting some female-types in here too. In fact, I think we should!)
 

kenichi-kun

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I don't know much about the setting, but I am going to assume our intrepid Bard is tired of recording everyone else's epic heroisms and singing at taverns for minimum wage, so he sets out to record his own epic heroic story.... a bard's tale, if you will.
 

Sphinx of Black Quartz

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I think that you should do this let's play vlog style, so that you can sing us songs yourself recounting your adventures.
Alas, I'm not much of a composer. And while I was a chorus geek back in my school days, these days I have a voice like a crow choking on a cicada.

I don't know much about the setting, but I am going to assume our intrepid Bard is tired of recording everyone else's epic heroisms and singing at taverns for minimum wage, so he sets out to record his own epic heroic story.... a bard's tale, if you will.
I like this idea!
 

Fedifensor

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If you have to have a rogue, I’d suggest a name that is normally reserved for wizards (at least, based on JourneyQuest) - Superfluous. Our group of five adventurers come to Skara Brae to make their mark on the world, and keep running into an urchin begging for new clothes, coins, a free room at the inn, a 7 course meal...

Some party members want to help the urchin. Others realize the urchin will never stop asking for stuff. So, the group decides to let him join, on the theory that if the suckers in the group keep giving him stuff, it’d cost more than just giving him an equal share of the profits. Thus begins two games of a useless rogue filling out the group’s ranks, until Bard’s Tale III comes around and he actually becomes one of the best party members...at which point they start asking HIM for stuff.

—————

For party effectiveness, given the limitation of requiring a rogue, I would suggest the following: Bard, Monk, Paladin, Rogue, Conjurer, and Magician. Turn the Conjurer into a Sorcerer and the Magician into a Wizard once they’ve hit sufficient level to do so. Go ahead and put the Rogue on the front line - if he Hides in Shadows successfully, that’s one less target to be hit.
 

Sphinx of Black Quartz

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So here's the party comp I'm leaning toward:

  • Slot 1: Paladin or Warrior. This slot will face-tank the most attacks, so we need somebody sturdy.
  • Slot 2: Monk or Hunter. Combined with the first slot, this will provide most of our damage-dealing in the early game.
  • Slot 3: The Bard. It would be better to fill this slot with a third melee monkey in the early game, but like I said, I don't want to exploit party comp changes.
  • Slot 4: The Rogue.
  • Slot 5: Caster #1, a Magician or Conjuror.
  • Slot 6: Caster #2, whichever class we didn't pick for the previous slot.
If you've got character pitches, I'd love to hear them! If nothing else, I'll need names for our intrepid band; for me, names are the hardest part of chargen.
 
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Sphinx of Black Quartz

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If you have to have a rogue, I’d suggest a name that is normally reserved for wizards (at least, based on JourneyQuest) - Superfluous.
Ha! This could be a workable idea!

Go ahead and put the Rogue on the front line - if he Hides in Shadows successfully, that’s one less target to be hit.
Unfortunately, Hide in Shadows isn't reliable enough to count on in the early game; a front-line rogue usually means a big bill coming up at the healing temple.
 

Arachne

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Our paladin is Stanley the Dour, a man who defines pessimism to all of Skara Brae. His battlecry is "This is a bad idea!", and his idea of comforting words is "Don't worry, we will all die one day, and then this won't seem so bad." He's in the quest because he's doomed either way, so he might as well make the best of it.
 

kenichi-kun

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Alas, I'm not much of a composer. And while I was a chorus geek back in my school days, these days I have a voice like a crow choking on a cicada.



I like this idea!
Bob the Bard, ready to forge the Epic Tale of Bob!

Conjurer: Doddering old man who thought he was hired to do party tricks?
 
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