Bard's Tale novellas

Novellas based on the first the Bard's Tale games, written by Nathan Long, published by inXile. The Bard's Tale (2018), Destiny Knight (2018), The Thief of Fate (2018)

It is very likely, that most people will never play through the first three Bard's Tale titles, despite the current remakes of them. This is mostly because, despite some concessions towards modern players, the original three game's haven't really aged that well.

That in mind, when inXile had their Kickstarter for the Bard's Tale IV, they promised to deliver novelizations of the first three games as well, despite the stories in them aren't really that verbose.  these novellas try to recap what happened in the games by narrating them from the perspective of a hero team, that goes through all the events.

The characters are Gillan, a human bard, Lady Svante, an elven wizard, Dag, an Einarr fighter, Isobel, a human Fatherite paladin, Rhodri, a dwarven fighter and Coira, a thief of the party.  This group starts out mostly unknown to each other, but dwell into deeper understanding, and perhaps friendship as well, through the novellas.

The Bard's Tale tells a tale of a wintry summers days when an evil wizard Mangar casts his spell upon a city of Skara Brae in order to create a cover for the resurrection of the mad god Tarjan. The novelization basically tries to turn an almost storyless game into some sort of a coherent narrative and in that it succeeds pretty well.

As the game itself doesn't offer any kind of characterization for the heroes, them being empty slates of whomever the player decides to name them, Nathan Long has had quite the free hand to come up whomever he wanted. What he has come up with is nothing spectacular as far characters go, nor really the story either, but which are perfectly serviceable to the end of all the three narratives.

Surprisingly enough, the Bard's Tale is the best of the novellas despite the game is nothing but a dungeon romp with next to no story. Or perhaps it's just because of the straightforward nature of the first game why it has folded into a neat little narrative in a fashion the sequels just don't. The whole thing is just a team of heroes killing monsters in dungeons until they get to the main baddie. Speckle it with some drama and fantasy cliches and voilá, you have a perfectly decent little fantasy story.

The relationships and the diverse personalities of the hero team bring some much-needed meat to the story, that would otherwise be just a page worth of synopsis if even that.

Destiny Knight begins when the team meets years later at a tavern. They've been called there by a man, who needs the heroes of Skara Brae to get back pieces of the Destiny Wand which when broken is creating disharmony to the lands. From here rolls out a story, where the heroes have to travel the lands, beat up monsters and again win against all odds.

Bard's Tale was a relatively simple story based around a simple premise: evil wizard Lagos Zanta is trying to kill everyone, so he has to be killed before he can do that. The premises with the Destiny Knight isn't much more complicated, but it is stretched around a treasure hunt, which might have worked in order to make the game feel bigger, but in a written form it feels more of a stitch work that doesn't quite hold up.

Again, the bulk of the story is really held up together by the party dynamics of the heroes as well as the overarching story of Gillan. Not only did he lost his wife in the first story, but he was also gravely wounded by a wraith and is now, for the most part of the story, suffering the aftermath of this event.

The Thief of Fate begins with a 10-years celebration of the defeat of Mangar when the crap hits the fan again. This time around it is Tarjan the mad himself, who wreaks havoc upon the city, so the heroes have to get on the job again.

This time around they need to travel the time itself in order to find the most legendary heroes of all time so that they can get either them or their gear to help them to defeat the biggest threat Caith has ever experienced.

If Destiny Knight held up badly in a written form, the Thief of Fate does so even more poorly. I'd even say the structure of the game and trying to stay within its limits shines through from the narrative and how it's been structured. It is a story, that might work for a game, but as a novella, it creaks from the seams. It might have worked as a longer form book, but 130 or so pages is clearly too little for it.

With the Thief of Fate, not even the party manages to keep the narrative together and in many places, it comes out a bit too obvious, that Long didn't really manage to squeeze the different threads of the fractioned story into a one, flowing tale. The way the story is written reads out like he just threw the towel in and ended up describing a solution to an in-game puzzle instead of trying to turn it into a coherent narrative.

As the games themselves have barely story in them but you are still interested to know what happens in them but don't feel like playing them, it might be smarter to read a shorter summary of them. You won't be missing anything important at least as far characters go, as the game characters don't have personality what so ever.

And really, knowing any of this is hardly important in contrast to the Bard's Tale IV.

I don't rightly know if these novellas are available outside the premium edition of the Bard's Tale IV. If they aren't, you won't lose that much. They are reasonably nice for what they are but don't really hold up as genuine stories in the end. So take that as you want.