The Bard's Tale

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The Bard's Tale is a fantasy role-playing video game franchise created by Michael Cranford and developed by Brian Fargo's Interplay Productions (1985-1991) and inXile Entertainment (2004-present).


Timeline of release years
1985 Tales of the Unknown I: The Bard's Tale
1986 The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight
1988 The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate
1991 The Bard's Tale Construction Set
2004 The Bard's Tale
2017 The Mage's Tale
2018 The Bard's Tale IV
  • Tales of the Unknown, Volume I: The Bard's Tale (1985): In the series' eponymous first game, the evil wizard Mangar has cast a spell of eternal winter on the small country town of Skara Brae to isolate it, and the group must find and defeat him to free the town.
  • The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight (1986; original projected title: The Archmage's Tale): To save the realm, the group must find the seven pieces of the Destiny Wand, reforge it (so that an Archmage from the group can become the legendary Destiny Knight), and confront the evil Archmage Lagoth Zanta.
  • The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate (1988; original projected title: The Thief's Tale): The mad god Tarjan, Mangar's master, has returned to Skara Brae and destroyed the city, though as it turns out this was only a small facet of his revenge. In their attempt to stop Tarjan, the group becomes embroiled in a war among gods across several dimensions.
  • The Bard's Tale Construction Set (1991)
  • The Bard's Tale (2004): Action role-playing video game created by Brian Fargo, and published by Fargo's InXile Entertainment; not a proper part of the original series. Brian Fargo only had the rights to the name but not to the content/stories of the earlier games in the Bard's Tale series at that point.
  • The Mage's Tale (2017): A side-story game set in the Bard's Tale universe, developed by inXile alongside The Bard's Tale IV and released in 2017. Like other games in the series, it is a first-person dungeon crawler, but is built for virtual reality, featuring action-based spellcasting, rather than turn-based combat.
  • The Bard's Tale IV: A proper fourth part of the original series, albeit with a somewhat different, more modern gameplay, was successfully funded as a Kickstarter project in 2015 by InXile Entertainment, and is slated for release in 2018.



Official Cluebooks were published by Electronic Arts for the first three Bard's Tale games that expanded on the games' stories and added new characters:

The Cluebook for the first game (1986, ISBN 1-55543-064-3) was written by T.L. Thompson as an in-universe document, the journal of a lord who had very nearly succeeded in solving the quest before finding that his party had lost crucial items. The party was implicitly wiped out just short of defeating Mangar but had seen to it that the journal would reach friendly hands.

The Cluebook for the second game (1987) was written by T.L. Thompson and David K. Simerly as a short story, narrating how a party of adventurers asks a wizard to foretell their (possible) future by means of a divination spell, if they should attempt the game's quest to find the Destiny Wand and defeat Lagoth Zanta. The resulting trance vision of the possible future reflects poorly on the character of the group's leader, who is also shown to get assassinated at the end, and it is implied that the group will thus not embark on the quest after all even though they technically succeeded in the vision.

The Cluebook for the third game (1988, ISBN 1-55543-236-0) was written by David Luoto in the style of a novella. The protagonist, Arbo, is initially a lazy and useless squire who is "volunteered" by his master to a party of adventureres at Skara Brae. The group proceeds to bring order to the dimensions and best Tarjan, and in the process form Arbo into a resourceful and responsible adult.


A series of novels based on The Bard's Tale were published by Baen Books during the 1990s. They include:

  1. Castle of Deception, by Mercedes Lackey and Josepha Sherman (1992, ISBN 0-671-72125-9)
  2. Fortress of Frost and Fire, by Mercedes Lackey and Ru Emerson (1993, ISBN 0-671-72162-3)
  3. Prison of Souls, by Mercedes Lackey and Mark Shepherd (1994, ISBN 0-671-72193-3)
  4. The Chaos Gate, by Josepha Sherman (1994, ISBN 0-671-87597-3)
  5. Thunder of the Captains, by Holly Lisle and Aaron Allston (1996, ISBN 0-671-87731-3)
  6. Wrath of the Princes, by Holly Lisle and Aaron Allston (1997, ISBN 0-671-87771-2)
  7. Escape from Roksamur, by Mark Shepherd (1997, ISBN 0-671-87797-6)
  8. Curse of the Black Heron, by Holly Lisle (1998, ISBN 0-671-87868-9)

While they are listed here in the order they were published, some books in the series connect more than others, such as Castle of Deception and The Chaos Gate, Prison of Souls and Escape from Roksamur, and Thunder of the Captains and Wrath of the Princes.


In 1996, Next Generation listed the series (referring to the first three parts of the original trilogy plus the construction set at the time) collectively as number 62 on their "Top 100 Games of All Time", praising the all-in-one interface using multiple display windows and the unparalleled level of plot detail and development.[1]

See also[edit]

  • Dragon Wars, known during development as The Bard's Tale IV
  • Swords and Serpents, similar gameplay to The Bard's Tale and developed by some of the people from The Bard's Tale and Dragon Wars


  1. ^ "Top 100 Games of All Time". Next Generation. No. 21. Imagine Media. September 1996. p. 48.