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A Time Mage’s Guide to Video Game Systems – RPG Games of The Early Days of Personal Computing

Welcome back, hello again, and nice to finally meet you. I’m Marius Breaux the Time Mage and I am here in Balbo’s fine establishment to talk about the early days of RPG games on the PC, Apple, Commodore 64, and all those other whacky home computers of the early 80s.

You see, in the time I am from, everyone from the richest man to the simplest of pauper carries their own person computer in their hand. They are always and forever plugged into the net and can obtain all sorts of information within a fraction of a microsecond. It’s true. You can even tell the future by looking at the weather forecast in the days ahead.

(Marius pauses to allow the crowd to gasp.)

Alas, it was not always that way. Like you, sweet and kind common folk of this realm, people once had to sit stationary in their own homes to play complex strategy and RPG games and they played them on things called personal computers.

When personal computers first arrived in people’s homes, they were designed for elementary computations and straightforward word processing. But, in the world I come from, ingenuity always leads to a way for people to play their games.

Balbo, imagine playing cards with your meat locker. Odd, right? Well, in my time they are called refrigerators, and you can play solitaire on them as you decide what meat you want to defrost.

So, as you can imagine, in the early 1980s of my world, innovation brought us all sorts of new, fun, and stimulating games to play. Let us begin with this small sampling of fan favorites. Perhaps you have heard of them.


In 1981, the first Wizardry game was released and, in many ways, changed gaming forever. Wizardry is one of the most well-known and played RPG games on PCs back in the early 80s. It opened the door, or shall we say, unlocked the gate, for other game creators and developers.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord was the brainchild of Sir-Tech Software based in the United States.

Based on Dungeons and Dragons, the game starts with you in a town (represented by a text menu) and has you create characters for your new party. You get to pick from the typical D&D races like: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Gnomes. You can also pick your alignments from good, neutral, and evil. Lastly, you can pick from several beginner classes: Fighter, Mage, Priest.

Sounds like a normal night for new adventures in this town right, Balbo? Well, it’s that familiarity that made the game popular. Pen and Paper gamers who owned a computer jumped at the chance to start a new journey. Once equipped in basic gear the game began! Best of lucky, brave pioneer!

Wizardry is what the call a “dungeon crawler.” What is that? Well, it’s the kind of fantasy RPG game where you spend most of your time navigating a maze of traps, puzzles, and enemies. Oh…treasure too! Don’t forget the treasure!

One thing that those early 80s gamers will tell you is that the first Wizardry game was relentless. The level of difficulty was intense because you could not save the game within the dungeons. You had to survive and find an exit before you could save your progress.

Back in the day, Wizardry was a best-selling game and it kicked off a long series of sequels and remakes.

Have you played the original? Or maybe you have played one of the follow-ups? This old Time Mage put a lot of hours into Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant back in the 1990s.

If you are someone who values their time, like me, then you might be wondering how long it would take to complete this game. Well, set aside somewhere in the 28-to-33-hour range.

The Bard’s Tale

In 1985, the first Bard’s Tale was released on the Apple II by Interplay Productions. The game starts off in the fictional town of Skara Brae. Heard of it? I think I have a second cousin who lives there. It was a large town back in the day, a whopping 30 by 30 square map tiles!!! 

Like Wizardry, you start the game by putting together a team of characters. In The Bard’s Tale, you will need six to complete your squad. Get ready to pick from some more familiar classes like, Monk, Rogue, Paladin, Bard, Hunter, Warrior, Conjurer, and Magician.

Of course, you are going to want to play a bard. The game is named after the class. And when playing the Bard, you will be rewarded with the ability to sing magical songs that will improve the stats and armor of your teammates. The bard’s songs even trigger actual music in the game, some of which was classical in theme.

For magic-users, casting spells has never been easier! All you had to do was open the game’s printed manual and find the four-letter code. Boom! Fireball!

In the Bard’s Tale you get some excellent turn-based combat, but it’s all in text. So, get your readers ready children of the eighties if you plan to revisit this one.

Remember, this was back in a day when selling 100,000 copies of a game was considered a massive success. The Bard’s Tale sold over 407,000 copies before 1990. I wonder if the developers were all driving red Lamborghini back then?

I hope you have saved 30-40 hours of time to give this one a try. It’s fun and part of the important foundation of PC RPG gaming.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – Pool of Radiance

The first adaptation of Dungeons and Dragons on home computers was released in 1988 by Strategic Solutions. It was a single player tactical role-playing game. The game held to the AD&D rules set by TSR. The game’s cover art by Clyde Caldwell gave it the feel of a novel cover or an illustration for a module, which I bet hooked many gamers. (I’m 90% sure this is why I bought it.)

One of the most exciting things about this game is it takes place in the Forgotten Realms fantasy world (a famous campaign setting for D&D). The story begins with the players arriving at a town which has fallen into ruin. It was once a nice spot, and now few humans reside there and evil surrounds it.

The game promised the D&D experience. Form a team of six adventures from the familiar D&D classes, pick from the races from the AD&D rulebooks, and choose alignments for them too. It was your chance to play your favorite pen and paper RPG game solo!

“Exploration” mode had you running a 3d maze and combat mode was viewed from top-down. The game had decent graphics for its time and was ported to Apple, Amiga, and later NES. Did you play it on NES?

With the right mix of strength, courage, and will, a gamer could finish Pool of Radiance in about 30 hours.

Ultima 4: Quest for the Avatar

One word. Cloth Map. Yes, the game came boxed with a high-quality cloth map. If you have never seen the Ultima cloth maps, Google them; they are rad!

Ultima 4: Quest for the Avatar was released in 1985 by Origin System and it also had cover art which was stunning and caught the eye of gamers. The art appeared to have a Jesus-like character parting a sea with a staff with a glowing ankh on it.

Originally released for Apple II, the game was successful and released on just about every other imaginable system at the time and for years to come. Commodore 64? Yes. Atari 8-bit? Yes. Sega Master System? Yep! NES? That too!

This game has a lot of reasons why it stands apart from the others. First off, it is not set it a dark age or time or setting of ruin. It’s in an age of prosperity. Cool, right? Well, that’s not all. This game does not have a “big bad.” You know what I mean, no all-encompassing, great, mastermind, super evil, mega arch demon fiend. Nope. Just you. This game focuses on you. Your improvement. Your ability to grow and make good morale decisions. Also cool, right?

Another neat detail is you are not building your character in the normal way. Instead of rolling or picking stats and classes you are asked questions by a fortune teller and how you answer determines your resulting characteristics. What does that mean? Well, if your answers tend to favor honor then you will probably roll a Paladin.

The game itself looks and feels a lot of Ultima: Exodus (which is more than fine by me, I love Ultima: Exodus)(It’s a top 5 game!). Ultima 4 is much later though and has a nice open world feel for the time.

Ready to jump on some quests and sub quests? Me too. Let’s just go check in with Lord British first. And remember, he is invulnerable/immortal. Don’t bother attacking him. Trust me.

If you can avoid stealing anything and remember to give a few coins to beggars, you might be able to finish this game in about 34 to 40 hours. If you are a completionist, prepare to invest over 50.

Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World

In 1988, many gamers entered the world of Might and Magic with Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World. This single-player RPG game was released by New World Computing. Yes, it is another sequel. As you can imagine, many of the games in this list are parts of a series. Like everyone hope with movies, a sequel should be better than its predecessor. Might and Magic II achieved that goal and improved on Might and Magic I in many ways, but most noticeable was the graphics and interface. The game just simply looked and controlled better which made it easier and more fun to play.

Once again, the player is set to create a team. Like many of the games listed above the team consisted of six characters the player created. Where Might and Magic II stood apart was that you could create up to twenty characters and swap them out. You could even import characters from the original to play in the sequel. That is a feature we love!

Might and Magic II focused on lots of battle, but also had some puzzles for the gamer to solve. It did not lack in humor either. Unlike some of the other RPGs of the time, Might and Magic II had lots of peculiarities around for you to discover and have an occasional chuckle over.

Another unusual feature about Might and Magic II was that your characters aged and once over 75 they could die of natural causes. Yep, after investing all the time raising their stats, they might just croak. Kinda puts things in perspective, right?

The game had lots of praise back in the day and often landed 4 of 5 or 5 of 5-star reviews. In 1990, it was listed among the top 50 best PC games and now in 2024 we are listing it in our top PC games too!

Make sure you have your provisions because this one takes time to finish. Prepare for a journey of at least 40 but more realistically 60+ hours.


1985 brought us another cool PC game from Strategic Solutions. This one is called Phastasie and it predates Pools of Radiance above (just an FYI).

Phantasie allowed players to form a team of…wait for it…wait for it… YES, six characters (from six different classes), to embark on a quest to defeat an evil sorcerer called Nikademus. We have to wonder if most people picked one character from each class or did they double or triple up on their favorite class in this one.

Imagine a team of three fighters and three priests. Or maybe a team of six monks. Hmmm?

Phantasie had bright colorful graphics that were also very flat and one-dimensional. In some ways, they felt like a mix of Atari 2600 and NES. The game gives you some options in the town and a mix of choices here and there. Expect some puzzle solving at turn-based combat too. It’s a good balance of all your favorite RPG elements. You can find free versions of Phantasie if you Google it. Or at least check out some screenshots.

The game’s developers accredit many well-known fantasy elements as part of the creation of the game from, D&D, Tolkien’s writing, Narnia storylines, and Greek Mythology.  So, of course the game did well. And is considered a favorite among many earlier PC gamers.

We are happy to inform you that Phantasie can be a quick one for some gamers at under 20 hours to finish. 



Here is a bonus game for you. It’s not in the fantasy realm, instead it’s based on the popular pen and paper RPG game Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games.

Autoduel allowed gamers to play Car Wars on their computers. It was released in 1985 by Origin Systems. Car Wars was set in the future and had people doing combat in heavily armored and armed cars. It was sometimes in tournament style, others in missions like transporting things from point A to B.

The main RPG feature of the game had players create a driver character and assign skill points to either marksmanship, driving, or mechanics. Then, after a few battles with lender vehicles, you can buy your own armored car and start the main story.

Autoduel’s story had the player performing courier missions. Sound familiar? (We are looking at you, with a side-eye, writers of the Twisted Metal TV show). Through a mainly top-down perspective, you traveled down highways to cities and fought in tournaments.

The game was received well back in 1985. People liked the graphics and enjoyed the gameplay. Sadly, it has not weathered the storm and some gamers do not look back at it as kindly as others do.