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Blade of Destiny

Introduction

The year 1992 may well be the acme of classic, step wise dungeon crawling. Yet most German role players held their breath for one game. Realms of Arkania, Europe's most prominent counterpart to D&D, made its debut on the computer screen. Attic Entertainment Software created a somewhat overlooked gem that is invariably memorable and fun to play - given you are into hard and heavy old school roleplaying with round based combat. You have been warned.

Realms of Arkania (Das Schwarze Auge) was released in 1984 by Ulrich Kiesow. It soon won over the majority of German roleplayers with its detailed world resembling renaissance era Europe. Ugurcan Yüce's artistic style did its share to promote the new game. He also painted this trilogy's covers. Arkanian adventurers are usually less souped-up than high level D&D heroes, giving the game a down to earth feeling. Its authors describe it as fantastic realism. The Blade of Destiny is based on an early version of the third edition of RoA (which was released between 1992-1994). Every character has a set of 14 positive and negative attributes. He or she can excel in dozens of mundane talents. Spell casters choose from an equally abundant set of spells and alchemy. The English language trademark changed from RoA to The Dark Eye in 2003.

Blade of Destiny sends up to six adventurers on a quest to find the lost sword Grimring. Only this fabled weapon can deter the orcs from invading Thorwal, home to a seafaring and hard drinking people (think Vikings). Our heroes chase the parts of an old map in a completely open world with a touch of randomness. Travels by land and sea take place on a map of Arkania‘s north western coastline and the bordering orcish steppe. An almost road movie like chain of events is set in motion, involving evil druids, unicorns - and cheese toast.

The soundtrack fits the game exceptionally well. Fans hold it in high esteem on its own right. The scores for the first part of the series were composed by Rudi Stember, while later on the games's producer and heavy metal guitarist Guido Henkel took over.

A lot of moody hand drawn pictures illustrate the locations and encounters. The prospect changes When the party enters one of the many ports, towns, caves and dungeons of the Thorwal region. Then the player navigates stepwise in pseudo 3D. The engine was first rate when the game was released but slightly less so when the English version was released a year later. Now it seems rather old fashioned.

Encounters with unfriendly creatures are shown from a bird's view on chess board tiles. The round based combat features rather cute animations and spells dubbed in latin.

The area where these games truly excelled, in my opinion, was the micromanagement of characters. I know, it sounds bad, but for many players this is what they were looking forward to. We wanted to make the most hardcore RPG out there, and I think we succeeded, all the way down to making sure players were feeding their characters on a regular schedule. Naturally, this kind of level of detail did not sit well with everyone. Many players and reviewers criticized the games for having too many minutiae in them to keep track of.” -- Guido Henkel, Interview on RPGCodex

Our party sets out from a temple for a tour of sight seeing. Sooner or later they will find one of the bars to have a drink and maybe replenish their purses as gamblers and entertainers. A herald arrives to anounce the quest to save the city...

A certain (generous) time limit is set until the orc army arrives. Otherwise the player is completely free to explore the region. There is a lot of searching for hints and carrying out quests. The party needs to be split to solve some puzzles, but solo runs are possible with occasional help from NPCs. Realms of Arkania leans more towards puzzles and exploration. Yet confrontations with the local population and roaming beasts happen. These fights are purely tactical and round based.

Character development is the strong point of this old school role playing game. Attic almost did a full adaption of the The Dark Eye with its detailed skill system. Blade of Destiny is somewhat obsessive on the rules, stats and micro management aspects of adventuring, e.g. camping skills are a necessity. Guards have to be scheduled, food and drink must be found in the wild and rare herbs for potions can be gathered. Meanwhile the reamaining party members may tend the wounded or meditate and cast spells.

While the game's German language version got splendid reviews, the English version had a difficult start. This may be because it was translated, reworked an then released a full year later by Sir-Tech. Ever since Blade of Destiny has attracted a loyal following. It can still be bought from the usual distributors. An on going effort to reverse engineer Realms of Arkania has recovered roughly 90% of the lost source code so far. The program is called Bright Eyes and needs the original data files.

Star Trail

Star Trail is a direct continuation of the story line from Blade of Destiny. The orc invasion of Thorwal has been averted, but instead the orcs occupied the Svellt basin. Our heros are approached by two odd competing parties to find the salamander stone. This magical artifact that might end the age old feud between elves and dwarfs in the face of a shared enemy. Or it might just as well be sold to the highest bidder. Things get really confusing when a cloaked figure demands they retrieve Star Trail, an axe blessed by the got of thieves and merchants.

The game is less open than the first part. It has a darker, thrilling crime and mystery feeling. Most of the time the party travels between besieged towns.

Shadows over Riva

etc.

  • Attic Entertainment Software
  • Reception
  • Roots in german P&P RPG: European-style P&P, more down-to-earth than D&D, very detailed world
  • Detailed skill system
  • Strong focus on exploring, not so much on combat
  • Short history of Attic software
  • Turn-based combat system + 3D exploration mode + Travel mode
  • German vs English language release date
  • first person view in RoA1 is pseudo 3D, while RoA2 and RoA3 is real 3D
  • The games are based on an early version of the third edition of The Dark Eye (which was released between 1992-1994, the magic rules were not finalized until 1994)
  • It should be noted that the English language trademark changed from Realms of Arkania (the three DOS games and three translated novels, 1993-1997) to The Dark Eye (since 2003 starting with the English 4th Edition p&p release)
  • Party split
  • Music

Quotes by the developers

I have always felt that real-time combat in a party based game is not only unrealistic but also extremely limiting. The beauty of role-playing is that you let your imagination go wild – if you force the player to revert to reflexive H*cking and slashing, you are, in a way, defeating the purpose of RPGs. I prefer to take my time, appraise a situation and make tactical decisions.” -- Guido Henkel, Interview on RPGCodex

These were niche products. It is easy to glorify these games in retrospect with nostalgic glasses on, but the fact of the matter is that compared to many other games and genres, games like Star Trail simply did not nearly make as much money. As a result publishers turned their backs on these kinds of hardcore games and instead went down the path of streamlined mainstream products, especially since Baldur’s Gate proved very clearly at the time that there is a market for light role-playing games.” -- Guido Henkel, Interview on RPGCodex

Many of today’s games are like fast-food. They are slick, simple, fast and pretty, but they have very little substance. The moment you finished your burger, you forget about it. Games like the Realms of Arkania trilogy operated on a different level, partially because they were very unforgiving and because they forced you to pay attention. It’s not that the games were unfairly harsh, but if you made a bad decision, you would suffer the consequences eventually.” -- Guido Henkel, Interview on RockPaperShotgun.

  • Todo: Can we find quotes by other people involved (H.J. Brändle, J. Hamma, ...)?

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