The game we’re looking at today is Talisman Adventures, which is converting the Talisman board game into its own roleplaying game. For anyone not familiar with Talisman, you pick a different character type to play, acquire spells, magic items, and followers to give you additional abilities, and you attempt to move from the outer track, to the middle track, to the center of the board, to claim the Crown of Command.
Talisman is a game that has been licensed for other properties, so if you are familiar with it from some of the other versions of the game, such as Kingdom Hearts Talisman, Batman Talisman, or Fantasy Flight’s out of print Warhammer 40000 variant, Relic, this adaptation is based on the more traditional fantasy setting of the board game.
I was offered a review copy of the game in PDF form. If you would like to see my first look at the starter rules that were offered last year, you can find that on my personal blog here.
The Play Space
This review is based on the PDF version of the game, which is 302 pages long. This includes three pages of ads for other Pegasus Spiele products, a two-page blank character sheet, an eight-page index, a full-page map of The Realm, a credits page, and a four-page table of contents. In addition to the blank character sheet, there are also six pre-generated player characters based on six different combinations of ancestry and classes from the book (although there is no example PC of the Leywalker ancestry).
The pages have a patterned border, with faux-yellowed pages. The full-color artwork that appears in the book is bright and clear and should look very similar to the style of illustration found in incarnations of the board game.
Book I: Player’s Guide
The Player’s Guide starts with setting information, including an in-universe story, general introductory information, and a glossary of terms. The history of the setting is noteworthy because rather than being gritty fantasy or epic fantasy, the feel leans heavily towards a storybook fairy tale. Locations are named broadly, the cursed King and Queen have ruled for a long time, and much of the important history of the setting begins with The Great Wizard.
While many locations are painted broadly, there are several smaller locations and personalities listed to give the characters someone to interact with, and who all have their own purpose for existing. One aspect of the setting that is especially noteworthy is that the primary faith of the setting recognizes a balance between On High, Oblivion, and the Natural Powers. This ties into later alignment rules that translate these concepts to the more basic good, neutral, and evil.
In keeping with the story of the boardgame, most of the locations detailed are in The Outer Region, with less detailed notes on The Middle Region and The Inner Region, locations that are more dangerous and harder to access.
I like that this section firmly establishes the fairy tale feeling of the setting. It helps to distinguish the setting from many other fantasy RPGs and gives the game an identity beyond being based on a board game. There is a nice balance between broadly drawn concepts, and examples of locations and people that will be relevant to adventurers in the setting.
The resolution system in the game is similar to the board game, but with a few more robust rules subsystems attached to the core mechanic. All dice rolling is player-facing, so not unlike, for example, Cypher System, when enemies take an action, the player character will react to that action, but in a manner not entirely unlike PBTA games, there are degrees of success and failure that might mean that an opponent gets to take an action as a consequence to the player’s roll.
Players roll 3d6 and add bonuses for their skill focuses, measured against a difficulty number. That creates the following tiers of resolution:
- Failure (the total is below the difficulty)
- Standard Success (the total equals or exceeds the difficulty)
- Great Success (the total equals or exceeds the difficulty and two numbers on the die match)
- Extraordinary Success (the total equals or exceeds the difficulty and all three dice results match)
In addition, one of the three dice will be the Kismet die. When that die rolls a 6, characters can either trigger a special ability, or receive a Light Fate token. If that die rolls a 1, the GM can trigger an opponent’s special ability, or can receive a Dark Fate token.
These points can be spent to add extra dice to a roll, to reroll dice, or cheat death on the player’s side, and to increase the Threat Rating, trigger special effects, or activate curses on the GM side.
Different types of actions have a list of what the levels of success mean in that instance. For example, casting a spell might fail, cause the spell to function but require the resolution of a complication, go off without a hitch, or resolve with an additional special effect. Because rolls are all player-facing, the opponent’s threat rating is the catch-all number representing how difficult it is to affect that opponent with any kind of ability.
Skills act as narrative permission to attempt a task, with a penalty to the task if a player doesn’t have the skill for the task being attempted. Focuses are specialized functions of a skill where a player gains a bonus to that particular action.
Ancestry and Class
There are several ancestries available for play in the game, some of which may seem familiar for a fantasy game, and some of which have their own twist. The core book presents these ancestries for players:
- Dwarf (you probably understand this one if you have played fantasy games)
- Elf (see above)
- Ghoul (not undead, but otherwise, you might have an idea from the name)
- Leywalker (tattooed, satyr-like fey with an affinity for magical gates and passageways)
- Sprite (the small, winged kind, not the electronic kind)
- Troll (regenerating bridge entrepreneurs, not the internet kind)
While there are not ability score increases or reductions, there are modifications to the upper limits of different aspects based on ancestry. Instead of having subcategories of ancestries, each ancestry has three different backgrounds, describing what place the character held in their culture before becoming an adventurer, which may modify different aspects. They also have different special abilities, some of which trigger by rolling a 6 on the Kismet die, or that can be activated by spending Light Fate.
The classes included in the game include the following:
- Assassin (sneaky killers)
- Druid (nature-based spellcasters)
- Minstrel (charming musicians with some natural spellcasting)
- Priest (mystic spellcasters tending the faith)
- Prophet (mystic spellcasters directed by higher powers)
- Scout (straddling the line between nature rogue and ranger)
- Sorcerer (familiar dependent flashy spellcasters)
- Thief (people that borrow things without permission, usually without the intent of returning said things)
- Warrior (meat in armor with big weapons, or possibly a duelist)
- Wizard (studious spellcaster that uses psychic attacks)
Each of these classes gets core features, like the wizard’s ability to learn and cast spells, and their default psychic assault, or the assassin’s ability to spend fate to increase damage against surprised or friendly opponents, or their ability to modify dice rolls when attacking targets they have studied.
In addition to the core abilities, each of the classes chooses between two options that change how the class does its job. For example, the druid can pick either Animal Fellowship, which grants them an animal friend, or Animal Features, which lets them shift into animal aspects for different benefits. When characters advance in levels, they can take more special abilities. Some of these are universal, and some are class-based abilities. Of the class-based abilities, some require that a character chose one path over another at character creation.
Some special abilities are limited by alignment, and if a character changes alignment, they may have to choose a different special ability once they no longer qualify. If you are used to other games where alignment changes are uncommon, much like the board game, there are more opportunities for characters to realign themselves, or to be affected by spells, curses, or magic items that shift their alignments.
Equipment probably won’t hold too many surprises for anyone that has seen how other RPGs handle things, but it’s worth noting two separate unique elements related to gear.
Anything that doesn’t cost a full gold piece can be purchased with “pocket change,” if the Kismet die doesn’t roll a one, at which point the PC will need to shell out a gold piece. I really like this, because I like semi-abstracted wealth, and I’ve often thought about systems where anything under a certain threshold is just “available.” This system provides a nice way to curtail any potential overuse of that concept.
There seem to be two paradigms for armor in RPGs, either making a character harder to hit, or reducing damage from damage dealt. In this case, armor has a certain number of points that can be spent to absorb damage, and between combats, characters with the right toolkit and a successful check can restore points to the armor. This is a pretty simple concept, but I have to admit, I tripped over the explanation a few times until I revisited how it was expressed in the quick start from last year.
(For what it’s worth, you draw a line for each available point of armor you have, and when you expend that available point, you turn the line into an X to show that you have used it)
Magic is part of the game system that might seem familiar but has some unique nuances based on the game. In the board game, spells are a type of treasure you can pick up that some characters are more adept at using than others. That “disposability” shows up in the RPG rules in interesting ways.
All characters have spellbooks of one kind or another, showing the spells that the character has available. A character has a certain number of spell points they can use to power their spells, but if they are out of spell points, they can sacrifice their access to the spell to cast it one more time, after which, they need to learn the spell all over again. Even when using spell points, characters might roll low enough to lose the spell from their repertoire.
Magic is divided between Arcane, Mystic, and Nature spells, which limits the spell list available to different classes. For example, wizards and sorcerers can use Arcane spells, priests and prophets can use Mystic spells, and the druid and bard use Nature spells. Characters that aren’t spellcasters can be infused with spells under certain circumstances, but once that spell is utilized, the character loses access to it going forward.
Spells are divided into level (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced) and rarity (Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Legendary). Legendary spells aren’t listed in this book, but are unique magics that usually aren’t learned, but rather granted by powerful beings for single-use, by the infusions mentioned above. I like this bit of wiggle room in the narrative, that defines how to use some one-shot, powerful magic, without making it a permanent paradigm shift to the campaign.
Book II: Game Master’s Guide
This section begins with a discussion on how to structure stories, how to frame failed roles, facilitating character aspirations, story goals, and some optional rules. One of those optional sets of rules is how to adjudicate player versus player situations in a player facing rule set, as well as setting the circumstances under which the game recommends player versus player action be allowed.
The next section of the Game Master’s Guide discusses NPCs and classifies them as Strangers and Allies. Strangers are any characters that haven’t established their disposition, and allies are, well, allies. There is an attitude chart for resolving interactions, which takes into account alignment, ancestry, and history. An element I appreciate is that it does quantify how often you can attempt to shift a character’s attitude.
There is a section with Stranger Descriptions, which classifies a lot of different NPCs that can be encountered, presenting a simplified stat block for what is going to be relevant to interactions. These descriptions give multiple abilities that the NPC might use to help PCs if they are made friendly. For example, armorsmiths have I Can Fix That and Only the Best Steel, two abilities that define how much it takes to fix a suit of armor, and how likely it is to find armor that a character is looking for. I like the quantified boons that all these NPCs can potentially offer.
In the Allies section, there are rules for Followers. Unlike other games, where a follower might still have a full stat block of some kind, followers in Talisman Adventures have features that might modify the player’s abilities along a narrow range, or that might be triggered by spending Light Fate points or Loyalty. Loyalty is a statistic that the follower has, to show how long they keep the job, and different types of followers have different means listed to add Loyalty back to the total.
In addition to the defined followers in this section, there are several abilities listed that allow the GM the ability to custom build other followers by picking and choosing from the presented options. There are dangerous situations where followers can be sacrificed to save characters from a hazard or given to a monster for a benefit or to avoid conflict, although doing so shifts a character to Evil if they are not already.
Enemies have simple stat blocks, consisting of about two paragraphs, one descriptive, and the other consisting of the actual game rules. Many Enemies have special abilities that trigger on a 1 on a Kismet die, or that trigger when the GM spends Dark Fate.
There are almost 40 pages of Enemies, organized under the following categories:
- Cultists and Outlaws
While some of these creatures will be familiar to players of other fantasy games, many of their origins are tied more strongly both to the lore of the setting, and to the fairy tale nature of the narrative. For example, some creatures are cast out fae, and the fae themselves are defined as creatures that once served the Fates, and now feed off manipulating the fates of mortals, for good or ill.
The Adventuring section details multiple rules for traversing the Realm. Maps intentionally have no scale, and the GM is encouraged to state distances in days traveled. There are discreet rules with different tiers of resolution for The Guide, The Hunter, The Watcher, Camping, and Surprise. This section also details hazards (outdoor dangers) and traps.
I’ll be honest, I really wish certain other fantasy RPGs had travel rules this well-defined.
This section covers monetary rewards, magic items, and experience points. Experience points are used to track level advancement, but they can also be spent on followers, to grant them more abilities. There are examples of XP rewards for different situations, including combat, exploration, hazards, and social encounters. The allocation of XP is simple, ranging from 0 XP to 3 XP based on the stakes of the encounter.
Magic items usually have a list of special qualities, benefits, requirements, load, and value. Special qualities are often abilities that can be triggered with Light Fate spends, while benefits are usually ongoing bonuses to some ability or another. Requirements list what ability requirements the item may have, and value tells the sale price of the item.
Magic Items are divided into:
- Amulets and Necklaces
- Holy Relics
- Magic Rings
- Potions and Elixirs
While some of these do what you would expect them to do (extra damage, special defensive abilities, extra use of spells), there are a few that have some nice setting flavor built into them. For example, the Everfull Purse generates coins based on how long the character has gone without wealth, and Dragon’s Blood can cause a character to become a dangerous berserker.
Because one of the potential rewards that a character can gain is a follower, in this game it can truly be said that the real treasures are the friends you made along the way.
The included adventure is Death’s Messenger, an adventure where characters are attempting to keep someone from using a lost relic created by the Great Wizard from doing something that will cause a dangerous supernatural imbalance. The motivation of the villain is sympathetic, even if they have clearly crossed quite a few lines by the time the player characters catch up with them.
In any adventure that is included with a game that has its own setting, I look for that adventure to not only showcase the rules of the game, but also to show what elements should appear in an adventure in the setting. With the ancient magical Talisman at play, and the concerns about supernatural balance, I feel like this isn’t just a fantasy adventure, but a Talisman adventure. My biggest quibble is that there are sections of the adventure that will be easier for characters of some alignments over others, which feels like it could cause sections to stall out a little if characters are all on one side of the alignment axis.
In the appendices are optional rules for Critical Failures and Aspirations, Enemy Encounters, and Interesting Locations.
Critical Failures just introduces the idea that matching numbers on the die when failing could be used to trigger critical failures, and the text gives some examples of what these might look like.
I like the Aspirations, because these break down some simple goals based on Ancestry, Alignment, and Class, that trigger additional XP gains. The goals are simple and focused on what they track. The XP triggers remind me of similar triggers in more story-based games like Dungeon World.
Encounter tables are split up by terrain types and levels, and they don’t go into any details on the creatures encountered, just the kind and number on different charts.
My favorite part of the appendices is the Interesting Locations. These are randomly found notable locations that might be found when traveling from one place to another, and include things like ancient altars, castle ruins, faery mounds, magical pools, or glades. Most of these involve mechanical interaction that may provide a benefit under the right circumstances.
While this emulates some of the spots on the Talisman board where characters can pick up treasure or followers, I love the idea of some wondrous, interesting sites that can be happened upon while wandering. I would love more products just detailing quick mini-location scenes in all kinds of fantasy roleplaying games.
Draw a Card I’m impressed at how seamlessly concepts from the boardgame work back into a useful narrative for a setting, as well as a basis for game mechanics. The follower rules are simple and non-intrusive, and the details in various locations are both functional, table ready, and fun.
I love the fairy tale feel of the setting, which is well reinforced by the rules. The rules do a good job of making the game player-facing and addressing the various resolution situations that arise from that paradigm. I’m impressed at how seamlessly concepts from the boardgame work back into a useful narrative for a setting, as well as a basis for game mechanics. The follower rules are simple and non-intrusive, and the details in various locations are both functional, table ready, and fun.
Dice with Death
I understand that the alignment system is part of the board game, and while I liked the less absolute presentation of On High/Oblivion/The Natural Powers, most of the rules default back to the Good/Neutral/Evil alignments. When describing how to keep a harmonious party, it feels like we start to split hairs a bit and end up with Good/Neutral/Evil (but mainly selfish) and Really Evil (for dangerous NPCs). While most of the book flows well and is a compelling read, a few places get a little tangled in their explanations (for example, tracking armor damage).
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
Not only is there a lot to like in this game if you are looking for a fantasy game with a slightly more fairy tale feel, but this is a great game to look at when you want to see how it handles mechanizing procedures that have become staples of fantasy RPGs. This does an excellent job of modeling how to list useful locations and functional reasons for NPCs to exist in a setting, without getting bogged down with hyper-detailed sections that would work against the storybook reality of the setting.
Do you have a favorite RPG derived from an unlikely licensed source? What was it, and did it do a good job capturing the spirit of the original IP? What unlikely source would you like to see made into an RPG? We want to hear from you below in the comments!