Publisher Electronic Arts released Tales of the Unknown Vol. I: The Bard's Tale in 1985. The plot is similar to that of most fantasy-based role-playing games (RPG). Players create a party of up to six characters and lead them on a quest to save the town Skara Brae from the evil wizard Mangar. Along the way players explore maze-like dungeons and towers and fight a wide variety of enemies in order to gain experience and skills. Released during the early years of computer RPGs, The Bard's Tale offered a number of innovative features that influenced the development of the genre.
The Bard's Tale expanded the selection of races and classes available for player characters. Choices included half-orcs, hunters, monks, rogues and paladins, all with unique skills and abilities. The Bard's Tale also introduced the bard to computer RPGs. Bards are unique and useful characters that cast spells by singing a variety of magical songs. The spells provide various benefits such as increasing the health of party members or producing light in dark dungeons. This type of character was unprecedented at a time when most RPGs only featured wizards, thieves and fighters. Other innovations of The Bard's Tale include 3D color graphics and animated character portraits. It was also the first RPG to feature indoor and outdoor quests. The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, released in 1988, was one of the first RPGs to feature an auto-mapping system in which the computer generated maps of dungeon levels, effectively eliminating the need for hand-drawn maps.
At its release The Bard's Tale received commercial success and critical acclaim for its innovative features. The state of the art graphics and intuitive system of rules attracted a variety of gamers, making it the first computer RPG to achieve mainstream success. The Bard's Tale inspired two sequels, a series of novels, and Vivendi Universal Entertainment's 2004 action-adventure entitled The Bard's Tale which is loosely based on the original series.