Bard's Tale III is the last chapter of the Bard's Tale series
. As with the Bard's Tale I
, players must assemble a group of adventurers together in order to discover and destroy the source of Skara Brae's destruction. The box text describes the player traveling across seven dimensions, 84 dungeon levels, and fight over 500 kinds of monsters some of whom might even join the player, all in a bid to stop the Mad God.
Additional improvements were made to the gameplay system on top of those made with the Bard's Tale II. As noted on the fly cover of the box, the improvements include:
- Enhanced save game feature allowing the player to save anywhere
- Automap feature
- Improved graphics
- New spellcasters
- Ability to import Bard's Tale I and II characters.
Traveling to different dimensions has significantly increased the vast scope of the Bard's Tale game and each dimension has its own quirks that the player must work through in order to solve the puzzles within each and succeed in their quest. The original packaging of the game had clues within its fly cover describing each dimension and hinting at the possible solutions within. The party needed to visit each dimension in order to collect special items and magic that would be needed to face off against the Mad God Tarjan.
The game continues to use the grid-based
, 3D system wherein the world is viewed from a first-person perspective with 90° turns and movement spaces. The interface continues to be a persistent feature in the GUI with a small window on the upper left quadrant of the screen displaying the world with the party listed below. A text box in the upper right quadrant of the screen displaying messages and encounter options. Random enemy encounters would provide combat opportunities within the game against mixed groups of foes, providing experience
The Bard's Tale III also employed a rudimentary form of copy protection
by using an included code wheel. When teleporting to a dimension, the player would be challenged to enter a response requiring the use of the wheel. If you had lost your wheel at the time, it would render the game unplayable since you needed to use it in order to answer the challenge correctly. When Interplay had released their Ultimate RPG Archive collection, they had forgotten to remove the copy protection
schemes from all three games ( Bard's Tale I
used the included maps as a part of their protection). They made both the maps and a cracked executable for Thief of Fate available from their site in order to rectify the misstep.
Time is also a factor in the game with day and night cycles influencing the kind of monsters that may be roaming around in the Wilderness. Mages can regenerate spells by simply waiting under the sun during the day.
In the last chapter of the Bard's Tale trilogy
, the party receives a letter from a dying mage who has risked his life to warn them of the arrival of Tarjan, the Mad God.
Skara Brae, the city that was saved from destruction at Mangar's hand in the first Bard's Tale
, has been destroyed on the day celebrating the death of Mangar. Tarjan invaded the city with terrifying monsters and incredible magic, laying waste everything within its walls and leaving few alive to warn the living. The mage's message had managed to make it to the adventurers who, led by the player, must now journey across the very dimensions themselves to other worlds and cities in an effort to gather together the magic and the means by which they can seek vengeance against the Mad God before he extends his dominion across the land.
The title refers to using a thief in the final battle to assassinate the Mad God while the rest of the party holds off the horde of deadly monsters that Tarjan will send against them, although creative players with sufficiently powerful characters have discovered that one isn't absolutely needed in order to win the game. Much of the quest is focused on the so-called "Thief of Fate" concept, however, with various hints and suggestions woven into its fiction.
At the conclusion of the final battle, the ruin that had been afflicted on Skara Brae is lifted and the party become gods themselves as a final reward, their constellations set into the night sky above.
The brutal nature of the monsters and challenges in Thief of Fate made the game extremely hard for newcomers to get a grasp on, even with the included pre-made party. Importing characters from the previous games was included as an option. Grinding the beginner's dungeon was almost a requirement.
The game significantly altered the landscape of Skara Brae and the Bard's Tale world by reflecting the devastation wrought by Tarjan and his minions across the land. Where adventurers in the earlier games would start their quest from the Adventurer's Guild, it has been replaced by the Refugee Camp which is all that is left of the people of Skara Brae. There is a starter dungeon in the ruins of Skara Brae which should get new players up to speed on both the game systems as well as toughen their characters up for the trials ahead.
Despite the dramatic changes made to the setting and the quest, the core mechanics remain unchanged with little to differentiate the system from its previous iterations. As before, party setup and character selection were left entirely up to the player. A party continued to be limited to seven characters, although the manual suggests leaving one slot open for summoned monsters or special encounters that may join the party.
Characters could be transferred from the following games:
As noted earlier, it is suggested that players do so in order to survive the initial encounters, or grind the first dungeon until they are able to hold their own in combat. It will only get worse from there. However, there are a variety of exploits that can dramatically level parties up with experience
early on in the game.
Seven races are available for players to choose from and is the first step in creating a new character and a party of seven adventurers with which to go out and save the world. Players can now select what kind of sex their character is which has no effect on their abilities, only in their appearance for the character portrait.
As with the previous titles, the races did not undergo any significant changes and had been presented in the same way as before.
- Human: As in most RPGs, their statistics and abilities are fairly average across the board with no distinctive bonuses.
- Elf: Fair haired, fair skinned, and more agile than humans, their specialities are focused on both magic and war although they tend to do better as spellcasters.
- Dwarf: Short, gruff, and strong if not very smart, dwarves excel as solid warriors in the Bard's Tale.
- Hobbit: Small, nimble, and wise, they make ideal rogues.
- Half-Elf: Thanks to their mixed ancestry, they are able performers as fighters although not as good as spellcasting as their elven peers.
- Half-Orc: Part human, all ugly, they also make decent fighters but offer no other significant bonus other than variety to the party.
- Gnome: Resemble dwarves but are better at using magic. If you are looking for a little toughness to go with your mages, this is one race to consider.
The manual suggest using a combination of different skills to build a solid party that will be able to return home and sing of their adventures. On the party screen, characters are represented by their name and abbreviated class for quick reference along with all of the requisite attributes such as hit points
(Hits) and Spell Points (SpPt) in columns and lines alongside other statistics. The class column has been dropped from the screen interface and abbreviations for the classes have also been removed as another change.
None of the classes that make a return in the game have undergone any changes aside from the Rogue and the additions made to the magic users expanding the number of classes available to them.
- Warrior: They can use nearly every weapon that they find. For every four levels of experience after the first, they gain the ability to dish out an extra attack.
- Paladin: They can perform multiple attacks at higher levels, use most any weapon including certain ones that other fighters can't, and have a greater resistance to evil magic. Unlike in other systems, such as Dungeons & Dragons, the player does not have to pick a deity for them to worship nor can they cast any spells of their own at higher levels. They are a pure fighter with bonuses making them a staple of any party in the Bard's Tale.
- Rogue: These have been significantly improved since the last game, likely owing to the fact that the game is subtitled as "the Thief of Fate" which points out just how important they are now. The professional thieves of the Realm, what they lack in fighting ability they make up for being sneaky. They can hide in shadows (thus avoiding damage from enemies) and are able to search for and disarm traps. However, they also have the ability to identify mysterious items and can backstab and critically hit, often killing, powerful monsters by hiding in the shadows and getting close to their prey. They're extremely useful for sneaking behind enemy lines and killing that annoying mage that happens to be ninety feet away.
- Bard: They are warriors that have learned to sing. Although they don't have multiple attacks at higher levels as a true warrior class would, their songs are capable of spell-like effects that can aid the party in a variety of ways. Unlike spell casters, the Bard's songs bestow important buffs on the entire party for the duration of the song. Their songs can often work even within anti-magic zones. If combat interrupts a song, it will pick up again when it is completed even if another song is performed during the fight. An instrument is needed for a Bard in addition to whatever weapons they have. The Bard can play as many tunes in his repertoire until his throat dries, thus necessitating a visit to the Scrapwood Tavern for a tankard of fine ale to get them going again.
- Hunter: They can use most weapons and have the ability to often instantly kill an opponent by striking a vital nerve center, an ability that improves as they gain experience levels.
- Monk: They use traditional fighting weapons and gain more effectiveness at fighting with their bare hands at higher levels becoming devastating juggernauts of punishing annihilation.
Magic users were divided into several classes with a few of these requiring a pre-requisite in ability. As before, magic users that meet certain conditions can graduate to more powerful classes. Such a change is still a one-way street forcing players to carefully consider their options.
- Conjurers: One of the first classes that a magic user can start with. They can create fireballs and compasses to help defend and guide the party and have a smattering of healing spells for support.
- Magicians: This is another class that new magic users can start off with. They can enchant items with temporary effects and user their spells as buffs to aid the party in combat, such as improving their armor class.
- Sorcerers: They can create illusions including illusory party members and aid in the perception of the world around the party with spells enabling them to see in the dark. Most of their offensive spells tend to be mind based. These are not initially available to new characters until they have earned three levels of experience as either a Conjurer or a Magician. In other words, if a Magician character class has leveled far enough to cast third level spells, they can become a Sorceror.
- Wizard: As with the Sorceror, a mage must learn at least three spell levels of their starting class before they can become a Wizard. Wizards are the summoning specialists and have the ability to raise the dead making them extremely valuable.
- Archmage: Unlike in the Bard's Tale II, to be an Archmage, a character must have mastered all of the spells of any three magic classes (Magician, Conjurer, Wizard) as opposed to simply learning three levels from each one. Archmages have the smallest number of spells to choose from, but make up for this thanks to the sheer power vested within each. They are able to heal an entire party, resurrect multiple characters at once, crush enemies with incredible magic, and summon powerful allies.
- Geomancer: These are warriors that have chosen to become spellcasters, however the class cannot be initially chosen. Instead, a special location must first be found where the rite of passage can be performed. The class can still use all of the armor and weapons from before, but there are sacrifices. Warriors lose their multiple attacks, hunters lose their critical hit ability, and monks lose their AC (armor class) and attack bonuses. They do, however, have an excellent selection of hard hitting spells and thanks to being able to wear any armor and wield as many weapons as did before, aren't completely defenseless as the other, dedicated, mage classes. Their repertoire of offensive magic is also impressive for the high damage values that it can blast enemies with.
- Chronomancer: These are not initially available to players until one of their mage characters have mastered all of the spells of any of the three mage classes in the same way as an Archmage. However, upon becoming a Chronomancer, the character loses all of their previously learned magic in order to focus all of their energies into casting the portals needed to take the party across the dimensions. A party has to have one in order to advance in the game. The good news is that Chronomancers also have a number of highly damaging offensive spells.
The Mad God and his minions have ravaged the lands and city of Skara Brae, leaving nothing but a ruined wilderness. Many of the previous locations that players may remember from the first two games are no longer around, replaced by the survivors:
- The Wilderness: Outside of the Refugee Camp and surrounding Skara Brae is the wilderness where a temple can be found along with the special locations where a Chronomancer can work their spells to teleport the player to other dimensions.
- Shrine: Provides the services that a temple from the previous games had in terms of healing and resurrecting the dead until your mages are experienced enough. It's located out in the Wilderness.
- Refugee Camp: The Adventurer's Guild is no more, having been destroyed along with the city, but the Camp performs all of the same functions without the nice tables, vermin free bedding, and a roof over your head while sharing your tales of adventure. Character can be created here, parties reorganized, saved, and new members added in when needed.
- There is no longer an equipment shop such as Garth's Equipment Shoppe anymore. Players will be forced to either find the equipment they need during their battles or purchase and sell items by finding merchants elsewhere.
- Review Board: Nearly all of the members were killed when Skara Brae fell, but the Old Man still sits on the Board in the city, reviewing those that have earned the right to advance.
- Scrapwood Tavern: Located in the Wilderness, just a short way from the Refugee Camp. The Bard can wet their whistle here before heading back out and the barkeep may have something new to gossip about.
The casino and bank from the Bard's Tale II
are no longer around.
The dimensions that the player will travel to each have their own unique problems and quests. No two are alike and the player will need to travel to follow a string of clues in linear fashion as they proceed from one world to the next. They can always revisit their home dimension and previous worlds.
The fly cover box provided clues and insight into each dimension as listed below, quoted from the material:
- Arboria: "Valarian's Bow and the Arrows of Life are only two of the prizes you'll gain from the strife."
This is the first dimension that players will journey to, offering a traditional fantasy world with a small town and a few dungeons to explore.
- Gelidia: "The ice storm whips up a terrible chill, so hurry to Lanatir or be frozen still."
- Lucencia: "Red monsters are trouble, but the blue ones are double."
- Kinestia: "Spells will cost you dearly to cast, so find where Umbrech is hidden real fast."
- Tenebrosia: "Blackscar is where you'll want to go, before the shadows deepen your woe."
- Tarmitia: "Travel in time and between the wars, survive the battles and the Strifespear is yours."
This is a dimension filled with pure combat from a variety of eras. Players will face off against everything from Mongol Raiders to SS Officers. At the completion of this world, Tarjan finally acts and kills the Old Man at the Review Board, so be sure that you have earned all of the levels that you may need before completing your quest here.
- Malefia: "Evil evil, from the cracks they tee, when will you wake from this nightmarish dream?"
This is it, the final dimension and the trickiest one out of all of them. The most brutal encounters in the game are here along with the Mad God himself. Here is where a thief can change the fate of a world.
The fighting system of the series did not undergo any significant changes throughout its run and the last title retains all of the basic mechanics with only cosmetic changes to the visuals.
Fighting in the game continues to be handled through random encounters wherein experience
, items, and gold are earned. A list of foes (broken down by the number in each group) is given at the start of the fight. The maximum number of foes is up to four groups of monsters. Any group of monsters within 10' (feet) of your party are within melee range. Some monsters, however, will also use ranged attacks such as breath weapons or spells to deal damage, or summon monsters to block your advance. Combat is divided into a series of rounds and it is up to the player to decide what they should do next.
Party arrangement is also important. The first four characters can be physically attacked and can dish out the same leaving the last three to resort to ranged attacks.
Combat actions are triggered by hitting the appropriate key when a character's turn comes up, allowing the player to time certain attacks for when it is a particular character's turn to act in that round. They are:
- (A)ttack foes: Orders a character to physically assault the enemy. This applies to the first four characters only.
- (P)arty attack: Orders a character to beat down a fellow party member or special character. Sometimes necessary.
- (D)efend: This reduces the damage a character may recieve in case you suspect that they can do nothing else at the moment.
- (U)se an Item: Allows a character to use a ranged weapon or a magic item.
- (B)ard Song: Tells the Bard to play a short tune during the fight. Typically lasts for only one round.
- (C)ast a Spell: This is where mages get to work their magic. When selected, the player must enter the four digit code for the spell in question and specify a target if required.
- (H)ide in Shadows: Tells a rogue to hide in the shadows, avoiding damage during that turn since the enemy can't see them. They can also avoid spell effects this way.
All of the results are calculated in the background. Certain statistics, such as dexterity and luck, determine who will strike first in a fight. The character in the first party slot is designated as the leader and the chance of running into danger is heavily determined by the statistics of that leader.