Thursday, July 26, 2012

In Review: Printme1 and Talislanta!

Readers of my blog may have noticed entries for an RPG titled Talislanta. Entries containing odd little spells about an odd little student of the arts arcane. While a few of my readers (if my blog's traffic meter is to be trusted) know what Talislanta is, some of you might be going, "Right, Daniel, what's the deal?!"

Well, I thought I'd answer!

Talislanta is a high fantasy RPG with a long-running pedigree. Originally released in 1987, it trundled (sometimes clumsily) its way along through the next twenty years and five editions (including a brief foray into the OGL), providing a colorful alternative to Dungeons and Dragons.

A step ahead of D&D Next, Talislanta's fifth edition was released in 2007. Unfortunately, while the game remained strong in France, its US line floundered, and disappeared. 

"But Dan!" the gentle reader might protest, "How are we supposed to care about a game that's been out of print for years, and now brings collector prices far beyond what I'm willing to pay?!"  To that, we have to thank the good graces of the line's creator Stephen Michael Sechi. In 2010, SMS released the entirety of the English Talislanta library, first edition through fifth, under the creative commons license.  Thousands of pages, entire rulebooks, and thanks to dedicated fans, manuscripts of unpublished rules! Great for online play. But what does one do when they want to take the game to the table?

That's where Printme1 comes in.

A small-scale printshop, Printme1 will print documents too cumbersome to tax your home (or work... or school) printed with, and through a combination of collating and black magic a package will arrive at your door containing one printed book. Charging 3.9 cents a page for black and white, or twenty-four cents for color, their prices are better than major competitors like Kinko's.

Could I print the books at home? Yes. However, Printme1 saves me the frustration of collation, and saves me the rage of loved ones at using up the black cartridge... again.

That said, let's jump into the meat of this post, a review of Talislanta 4th edition!

A hefty beast at 500+ pages, the rules required to play Talislanta take up a scant few pages.  Driven by what's known as the Omni System, a Talislantan Character's skills and attributes combine to form a modifier applied to a single 1d20 roll. This role is modified further by bonuses or penalties set by the GM, and the end result compared to a static difficult determined by the action table.

Every action in the game, from combat, to using a skill to perform some task, all the way down to casting a spell,  is resolved by this one simple mechanic. 

Speaking of magic, Talislanta 4th edition's Magic system is something I love dearly, allowing players to build grimoires custom tailored to their mage's style, with little real work on the part of player or GM.   Magic in Talislanta is broken up into 12 modes. Each Archetype (the term for characters, more on that in a moment) of a magical persuasion (and there are many) belongs to a school of magic.  These schools manipulate the Modes in different ways, and each archetype has access to a certain number of modes at a set bonus. When casting a spell, the player states the intent (the desired result), chooses the spell's level and modifiers (thus creating a penalty to the roll), and adds this to a modifier derived from the character's skill plus their Magic Rating.  This final modifier is added to a D20 roll against the Action Table, and the result noted.

Simple, elegant, and full of flavor. My kind of mechanic.

Combat plays out similarly. The player combines their combat skill and Combat Rating to determine a modifier for their roll, and the end result determines how much of the weapon's Damage Rating is applied to the opponent's armor/HP.

I mentioned Archetypes, so let's talk about character creation. When creating a character in Talislanta 4th edition, players choose from one of several Archetypes. Each one represents people of Talislanta, a varied continent that brings to mind elements of Jack Vance's Dying Earth mythos, and true to its slogan of "Still no Elves!" does little to evoke a Tolkienesque feel.

Once an archetype is chosen, the player may customize their archetype further by lowering any one trait by two points, or any two traits by one point each. These two points are redistributed as the player sees fit. In addition, the player chooses two additional 'common' skills at a rating of +1 each, embellishing the archetype's training. The final numbers are noted down on the character sheet, skill choices (if any) are made, and the character is ready for play.

while some may consider this too restrictive, I've found it helps build a flavorful party, one that doesn't suffer from characters growing too similar as play progresses, as often happens in classless systems.

The world of Talislanta itself is a bright milieu, one that deserves its own series of posts. Look to those in the future, as well as posts about the fledgling campaign I'll be launching tomorrow!

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