Talislanta 4th Edition
Talislanta 4th Edition Capsule Review by Alex Hanna on 04/09/01
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
A brilliant fresh fantasy game with a rich background.
Product: Talislanta 4th Edition
Author: Talislanta Writers
Company/Publisher: Shooting Iron
Page count: 502
Year published: 2001
SKU: IRN 1001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Alex Hanna on 04/09/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
Talislanta 4th edition is a wonderful game and I highly recommend it to anybody looking for a new, exciting, exotic fantasy game.
Before I get into the details, be warned that I’ve tried to make this as complete a review as I could manage. Talislanta deserves no less. As such, this review might be longer than you may be accustomed to.
Right, here goes.
Talislanta 4th edition( referred to in the rest of the review as Tal 4 ), is a hard cover book weighing in at 499 pages plus character sheets, published by Shooting Iron.
It’s layout is an example of what the industry standard should be. Everything is well presented in an order that makes sense. Everything is clearly labeled and information is easy to find. It features a decent table of contents, and, white wolf pay attention now, a VERY complete index at the back of the book! In fact, chapter 8 is devoted entirely to the appendix. You find the master archetype list, master skill list, master bestiary list, even a guide to pronunciation for the more colorful terms and names in the game, as well as other important information. All conveniently organized in a manner that makes it an absolute pleasure to look up info. One more nice point that I really appreciate, there is a two page map of the Talislantan continent at the start of the book and another, one page map of the continent at the back. I can photo copy the map at the back and pass it out to players so they can keep a record of where they are and where they’re going. Great games are all in the detail…
The book features copious amounts of art work, some decent, some good, some fantastic, none bad. Also, none of it is what I would consider filler. It really helps set the feel of the setting, appearing in appropriate areas, relevant to what the text is discussing. The art is all black and white by the way.
As with all games, the heart and soul of Tal 4 is the setting. Let me state here and now, Talislanta is the single most original fantasy game I’ve ever encountered. This is anything but a D&D/ Middle Earth clone. If you absolutely want Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and the rest of the standard fantasy fare, look elsewhere, but you’ll be doing yourself a great disservice if you walk away. Talislanta’s setting is a brilliant, vibrant world that is ripe for any kind of game style you care to try you’re hand at. Politics, exploration, dungeon crawls, mercantile ventures, piracy, war, magical threats from beyond, and any other kind of adventure has it’s place in Talislanta. It can be a personal, low key game involving the players struggle to survive in the seedy part of any number of cities, or an epic, continent wide campaign involving the destiny of nations. Now, while this may be true of any number of other games out there, the exotic, sometimes surreal feel of Talislanta is not. As I mentioned earlier, there are no standard fantasy races in this game. Instead, the creators of the game have dreamed up some truly original races to populate the world. Of the dozens of races available, a few examples include the martial, albino Thralls who tattoo their bodies in order to tell one another apart. The Sindarins, a race of dual-encephalons (two brains) who become obsessed with collecting items and information on subjects that interest them. The Kang, a warlike race of red skinned warriors that have carved out a great empire for themselves. Gao-Din sea rogues, pirates, explorers and charlatans. The Djaffir desert merchants who wear fetish masks to hide their face, which they believe mirrors the soul. The Rajan, a dark and sinister people who are fanatically devoted to the worship of death. The Mirin, a blue shinned folk of noble bearing who live in crystalline ice castles in the north. Xambrian wizard hunters, the small remnants of a decimated people who doggedly pursue the latest reincarnation of the sorcerers who destroyed their people long ago to bring them to justice. And many, many, many more.
Every region of the Talislantan continent is explored in detail. The breakdown is as follows: The 7 kingdoms, the western lands, the eastern lands, the southern rim, the desert kingdoms, the northern reaches and the wilderlands.
Each section covers the basic geography of the region, the nations and people who live there, their customs and outlook as well as some information on the political situation of each nation. Also, each section has descriptions of the flora and fauna that exist in the region, a nice touch I thought, giving every place on the continent a distinct feel.
I really can’t stress enough just how alive the world feels when reading about the setting. The authors have succeeded in thoroughly immersing the reader into an alien world filled with rich cultures that have a dynamic quality rarely seen in the current games market. Even small details, like travel for instance, are given a very distinct spin. There are no horses in Talislanta. Instead, you get the Equs, an hybrid mammal/ reptile of which there are four sub-species. Crossing a desert? Forget camels, there aren’t any. But you could ride an Aht-Ra, a species that was created by accident centuries ago. Alternately, if you have the money, you can book passage on a duneship, a sail powered vessel that glides across the sands on runners. Just watch out for the sand demons.
Even the equipment section of the book, a gaming standard that usually produces a most unenthusiastic yawn from players, even this helps to define the setting. I’ve NEVER been enthralled reading about gear before. At least not in a fantasy game. But Tal 4, there are so many strange, distinctive items that I just had to give it a try. Weapons and armor are interesting not because of what they do, but because the different races in Tal 4 use such different designs that you can tell the items are from different cultures. The same holds true for transportation, specialized equipment, trade goods, magical mechanisms, etc…
Character creation and the mechanics of the game are both simple and quick.
Characters are created by choosing one of the many templates provided ( there are over a hundred ) and then making some changes to it to personalize the character. Note however that Tal 4 does not have a meta system for creating characters from scratch. However, with the vast array of choice offered in the game, it really isn’t an issue. Besides, if you really want to create your own template or character from nothing, it shouldn’t be hard to do just by modifying one of the existing templates or just assigning a block of points similar to one of the preexisting examples.
Characters have 10 stats plus hit points. A rating of “0” is average. 1 or higher is considered above average, -1 or lower is below average. Likewise, skills have a rating expressed as a bonus. Obviously, you can’t have a negative rating in a skill. The higher the skill rating, the more proficient the character is at the skill.
Resolution of actions, whether it’s skills, combat, magic or whatever, is handled the same way. You add the stat to the skill, compare it to the difficulty number assigned by the GM and roll a D20. If the stat skill rating is higher than the difficulty, you add the difference as a bonus to the roll. If the stat skill is lower than the difficulty, the difference is subtracted from the roll. Example: An Aramite knife-fighter is trying to climb the steep wall of an Inn to break into a room on the second floor. His Dex stat is 3, his climb skill 2, so his rating for the task is 5. The GM decides that the wall is still wet after the recent rain and imposes a difficulty of –4. So the player would now roll a D20 and add 1 to the roll.
Once the roll is made, you compare the result to the following table: 0 or less = mishap, 1-5 = failure, 6-10 = partial success, 11-19 = full success and 20 or more = critical success.
That’s it. Quick, simple, elegant. Keeps the game flowing.
Depending on what the nature of the action was, there may be damage to resolve or spell results which may take effect or whatever. All weapons have a set damage value. A partial success means you do ½ damage, full success means you do full damage and a crit means you double the damage value of the weapon.
Magic is somewhat more complex. Not because of the resolution method, which you can all see is very simple, but rather because the design of the game has you make up spells as you go. To be honest, the mechanics provided are more than adequate for figuring out how and what to do, but it may take some getting used to. GM’s in particular need to be careful that their players don’t abuse the system, as there is a certain built in potential for munchkins to try going nuts. To help mitigate the situation, the magic system in Tal 4 is based around the premise of Orders and Modes. An order is the style of magic practiced. Wizardry is different from witchcraft which is in turn different from elementalism. An Aeromancer ( mage using the power of wind and air) will be able to do things that a Shaman won’t. And a Wizard will have a different approach to dealing with a magical barrier than will, say, an Aamanian Inquisitor, who will call on the aid of his deity. The differences in orders are very much a question of perspective and approach. Modes on the other hand, are the actual spell effects. They break down as follows : Alter, Attack, Conjure, Defend, Heal, Illusion, Influence, Move, Reveal, Summon, Transform and Ward. While the aesthetics of a spell may differ, the effect is what determines which Mode it falls under, and a mage who hasn’t studied a given Mode, simply cannot cast spells that have that effect. So for instance, a necromancer might hurl an howling spirit skull at an opponent instead of the lighting bolt hurled by the aeromancer, but they both cause direct damage, so they both fall under the Attack Mode. The nuances of the magic system may be a little tricky to grasp at first, but after a GM has had the time to feel his way through it a few times, he’ll be able to quickly decide what he will or will not allow a player to do, and in so doing, further help establish the feel of his own personal Talislantan world.
Finally, Tal 4 offers a number of tips and suggestions for a GM to start running his own game in the GM section. These tips range from adjusting the power level of a campaign so you can run it as gritty or as cinematic as you like, to dealing with the wide range of climates and weather that exists on talislanta. They even provide details on the talislantan calendar and examples of Talislantan script, currency and other details pertaining to the game. Also provided are suggestions on starting games in the various regions of the continent.
Talislanta is a welcome addition to the fantasy genre. With the prevalence of the D20 system ( which certainly has it’s own merits mind you ) it’s great to see a game on the market that takes a fresh take on things and provides an exciting setting and the opportunity to try something different. It’s been a huge hit with my own gaming group and I’m sure that if you give it a fair chance, you won’t be disappointed. One last item of note. For American gamers, the listed price of $37.95 is a real steal, considering that you’ll be shelling out close to $100 for the D20 stuff. But Since I live in Canada, and between the taxes and the exchange rate, it cost me over 60 bucks. Every last dollar well worth it mind you, but still… For any other Canucks out there, it may look pricey for one book, but trust me, you will not be disappointed.