Talislanta 4th edition
Talislanta 4th edition Capsule Review by Mark "Tipop" Williams on 23/07/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
An excellent value, equal to a Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, DM's Guide, and several setting sourcebooks and boxed sets.
Product: Talislanta 4th edition
Author: Stephen Michael Sechi & John Harper
Company/Publisher: Shooting Iron
Line: No Elves!
Page count: 502
Year published: 2001
SKU: IRN 1001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Mark "Tipop" Williams on 23/07/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Post-apocalyse
A long time in coming, Talislanta has overcome amazing obstacles on it's journey to a 4th edition. Only the loyal fanbase has kept it alive all these years since Wizards of the Coast sold the property back to the original owner.
The wait was well worth it. This is the richest, most complete, and best-designed version of Talislanta to date. Over 500 pages with a hardbound cover make this the largest RPG book I've ever handled. Tons of beautiful artwork, a strong binding, and a classy and well-designed layout make it well worth the retail price.
On to the game itself. Often described as a "true" D20 system, there are no other dice used in the game. A single D20 and a simple action chart resolve all situations. The single game mechanic involves adding an attribute, a skill, and GM-assigned penalties or bonuses to the roll. Combat goes smooth and quick, yet the system is flexible enough to handle virtually any action a player might attempt.
The biggest change in the 4th edition is the magic system, which is, withuot a doubt, the best one I've come across. Magic is divided into about thirteen "Orders", including Wizardry, Pyromancy, Necromancy, Witchcraft, Cryptomancy, Shamanism, Mysticism, etc. Each order of magic has it's own distinct style, which includes it's own advantages and limitations.
The premise of the magic system is that the spellcasters in Talislanta know a huge array of charms, cantrips, invocations, enchantments, etc. Far too many to list in a game book, especially considering the various orders of magic would each require their own spell list. Rather, Talislanta uses a meta-system which defines the spellcaster's areas of magical knowledge, called his "modes". There are twelve modes of magic, including Attack, Defend, Move, Transform, Illusion, Heal, etc. The character's Order and his Modes define the type and power of spells he can cast. The player is encouraged to invent his own spells using the supplied system.
For example, a wizard might use the Move mode (that covers magic that affects movement, including telekinesis, flight, etc.) to trap a pair of thieves who are trying to flee. He might call his spell "Cascal's Crimson Cage", and describe the effect as a shimmering cage made of red light. A necromancer attempting the same feat, using the same mode, might call it "Infernal Grip" and describe the effect as a series of skeletal hands that erupt from the ground to grasp the targets. Both spells are identical in terms of the game mechanics, yet they each add their own distinct flavor to the game.
The rules are simple to learn. In fact, out of the 500 page tome only 100 pages are devoted to the mechanics at all (including magic, skills, etc.) The rest of the book is devoted to Talislanta's richly detailed setting.
The setting is unlike your typical mytho-european/tolkienesque fantasy game. There are no elves, dwarves, orcs, or any other stereotypes to be found here. There are very few "good" races or "evil" races... just different social systems and different points of view. There are more than sixty races, most of which can be used as player characters. Each of these races is given a detailed cultural writeup, including their worldview, economy, religions, roleplaying notes, and more.
Some examples... Cymrilians: Green-skinned humans who are facinated with magic to such an extent that their entire culture is centered on the arcane. Jaka: Furry people who look something like a cross between human, black panther, and wolf. They are guardians of the northern forests, although often take up occupations such as bounty hunters. Phantasians: Heirs to a fading glory, they live in the floating city of Cabal Magicus and ride the skies in their dream-ships. Ahazu: Four-armed barbarians of the Dark Coast, they wage war with the Moorg-Wan "the Mud People" and live by a strange code of honor. Danuvians: The women are the warriors, the leaders, and the decision-makers. The men stay at home in harems and raise the children. Gryph: Men with eagle heads and wings, these predatory warriors patrol the vally of Tamaranth, keeping it safe. Kharakhan Giants: Massive, primitive people standing up to fifteen feet tall... their great tragedy is that they are dying out because they cannot feed their population.
That's just a few scattered examples... the game is filled with such a variety of interesting races, each one fully detailed, that you could play for many years and still have new options available.
Every game has them. For one, I don't care for how the monsters are organized. Rather than put all the creatures in one part of the book for easy location, they are scattered in each section that details that part of the world. It can be annoying to be looking for a Necrophage, but be unable to remember under which region they're listed.
There is no sample adventure. It was cut from the final print due to space restrictions, which is understandable. (It's huge already.) I've heard that they're going to be offering the planned sample adventure on the official website, but that doesn't help you when you buy the book and gather your friends together for the first time.
The magic system, though very cool, takes away from some of the essential aspects of earlier editions of Talislanta... namely the hunt for new spells. One of the tried-and-true adventuring goals for many campaigns was digging through ruins and ancient tombs in search of lost arcane lore. There are work-arounds for this, but it still irks me a bit.
Well, that's about it. All in all I'm very pleased with this new incarnation of one of my all-time favorite games, and I await new supplements eagerly.