If there’s only one thing to take away from Talislanta, this probably isn’t it. Yet the fact that Fashion is an actual skill in the skill list speaks volumes about both the level of detail and focus of this wonderful, gloriously imaginative and sorely under-rated rpg. Talislanta is a game about a myriad of people and cultures, and your knowledge about how folks dress means you can learn much about their social standing; that’s as much a life-saving skill as the ability to wield a shield.
Sadly, the most known fact about Talislanta (thanks to the advertising campaign) is that Talislanta has “no Elves”. That’s akin to the only thing you know about bacon is that it contains “no broccoli”. It’s kinda missing the point.
Talislanta is two things. It is both a rules system and the name of the world in which the game is set. The rules have spanned multiple editions (five plus a d20 variant and a 10th Anniversary edition) and the whole wonderful shebang is available for free at the Talislanta Library. There’s a 58 page Quick Start Sampler too if you don’t fancy ploughing through hundreds of pages of text just to jump into trying the game out. That covers one section of Talislanta known as the Seven Kingdoms along with a load of Archetypes to get you started.
My own preference is for Fourth Edition rather than Fifth (I can hear you D&D edition warriors sharpening your pitchforks already. Stop that.) so that’s what I’ll cover here. Character generation is based about tweaking pre-generated Archetypes, whereas 5E provides a complete character generation system with multiple Paths and whatnot. I’m an old hand at using Archetypes (thanks to my love of Mutants & Masterminds, which offers something similar). They mean you can pick an Archetype and focus on what really matters (your PC’s personality, outlook and what makes him or her different) and get into the game quickly rather than spend time with all that fiddly chargen stuff. If you prefer the fiddly chargen stuff, Fifth Edition has that, in spades. There’s also the d20 version as well, though I feel that loses some of the unique flavour of Talislanta. Each to their own, of course.
Rules-wise, 4E Talislanta does a fine job of feeling familiar, low-key, innovative and advanced all at the same time. There is only one rules mechanic – roll d20, add modifiers and deduct penalties – but what makes it a step about the average d20-based system (yes, I’m looking at you, D&D) is that there are graduations of success and failure. If the result is 0 or less, it’s a Mishap; 1-5 is a failure; 6-10 partial success; 11-19 full success; 20+ critical success. As the difficulty of the Task is deducted as a penalty on the roll (rather than a DC to aim for) the range of possible results is intentionally kept within a limited range.
There’s your Bounded Accuracy right there, D&D Next.
This one mechanic governs skill use, attribute checks, combat (combat is also Skill based and that’s a Very Good Thing), magic use and opposed rolls. It’s familiar enough for anyone who has played an rpg before (or not, for that matter) to immediately get the hang of it, doesn’t slow down the game or get in the way of immersion, and the graduated success/failure is still decades ahead of what we have in D&D. Yes, other systems offer this too but I’ve yet to see one that handles it as elegantly and with as little fuss as Talislanta.
When is comes to stats we have Intelligence, Perception, Will, Charisma, Strength, Dexterity and Constitution. These replicate the big six D&D stats and adds Perception as a stat all of its own (YES!). Along with Hit Points we also have Ratings for Speed, Combat and Magic, all of which work as you’d expect.
With the exception of Hit Points all of the attributes (including Speed, Combat and Magic Ratings) are numeric values from around -10 to +10 (in reality, it’s open-ended). This roughly follows the D&D attribute modifier scale where +0 is “average” and +3 would approximate to a D&D attribute value of 16. Again as with D&D, skills are modified by attributes, and there are a lot of skills. Including Fashion.
So far, so familiar(-ish). Rules-wise, Talislanta differs from D&D in two key areas; Experience, and Magic.
Experience Points are spent rather than accumulated, with skills (including combat and magic skills) being improved at an XP cost equal to double the target value. For example to improve your character’s Climbing skill from +3 to +4 would cost 8XP. New skills are gained that same way; learning a skill to +1 costs 2XP, though the initial period of learning can require many weeks of research, practise and study.
XP is also used to learn new Magical Orders (100XP) and Modes (20XP). Magical Orders are schools or traditions of magic that encompass particular casting style, focus, set of restrictions and theme to your spells. They includes such stalwarts as Elemental Magic, Invocation and Necromancy as well as more esoteric Orders such as Cartomancy, Crystalomancy, Shamanism and Witchcraft.
Modes are the core Skills of magic, and there’s 12 of them (Alter, Attack, Conjure, Defend, Heal, Illusion, Influence, Move, Reveal, Summon, Transform and Ward). Each Magic Order has its own list of spells that uses these skills, and players are encouraged to devise their own unique spells as well. Spells have levels but a caster can attempt any spell they know – the Spell Level acts as a Penalty on the skill roll to cast the spell. Watch out for Mishaps!
There are no fixed limits to how many spells can be cast per day, but casting spells from memory is mentally exhausting and imposes a cumulative -1 penalty on any further spell casting rolls that day. This makes for tense and tatical role-playing with the players having to decide whether to use spells merrily only to risk the possibility of Magical Mishap further down the line as the penalties add up.
Rules-wise Talislanta is an excellent, solid system that stands up in its own right as a brilliant piece of rpg writing. And the rules are barely 10% of what makes Talislanta great. The other 90% is the world, the cultures and the races which are, quite simply, ranked among the best imaginative creations ever to come out of a role-playing game.
You owe it to yourself to find out about them all for yourself. I’m not going to spoil it and do it for you.
Go hit the Talislanta Library. Download the 4th Edition Talislanta Fantasy Roleplaying rulebook, and start your own voyage of discovery.
You won’t regret it, I swear.
Till next time!