Originally published at British Fantasy Society
Originally released in 1983, the board game Talisman has been around for decades. As noted on publisher Pegasus’ website, the game is currently on its fourth edition and has ventured forth into new territory as a tabletop roleplaying game, Talisman Adventures: Fantasy Roleplaying Game. Transitioning from a fantasy adventure board game to a fantasy RPG seems simple enough, but there are areas where re-creating the classic game could go awry.
Ultimately, Pegasus has done a great job. The core rule book is a complete full-colour standalone product with great art. It is a player’s guide, gamemaster resource, bestiary, and introductory module. Reading through the game gives one the impression that it was designed to be efficient, but still offering enough that players had options for customization. No, there aren’t overwhelming lists of equipment, spells, or feats. There is enough to give a respectable variety of options.
The game makes use of some interesting mechanics such as the Kismet die and fate. The kismet die is a very simple way of augmenting the action in the game. For example, a rapier might be able to ignore armour on a good kismet roll, or it could break if being used against a two-handed weapon on a bad roll. In either situation, it could significantly impact the game. Then there is what’s called light fate and dark fate that can be used to swing the momentum towards or against the players. It’s a fun tactical/dramatic element that can abruptly alter the course of the action.
Pegasus included some fun options for playable characters as well, including being either a ghoul or troll. That’s right, players can hunt for treasure as the walking dead or the much-maligned villains of classic fairy tales. The book even takes a jab at trolls saying that, as great builders, “no one knows bridges, as well as a troll does.”
In contrast to its more unique elements, the game feels a bit lacking as far as the setting goes. Even though Talisman has been around since the early 1980s, this RPG feels as if it were embracing fantasy as broadly as possible, maybe even to a fault. Now, some might appreciate this, but it lacks any distinctive flair. There’s even a city called, “The City”. It’s the kind of thing that feels like a placeholder in a homebrewed adventure, not a professionally published game.
Adding to this is that the world feels very “contained”. The borders are very clear and even though the scale isn’t specified on the map, it still gives a sense of being kind of limited. That doesn’t mean that the world couldn’t be expanded upon by a GM, but once players have trekked through a couple of forests there could be the sense that they’re running out of terrain.
Without actually saying it, Talisman feels like a tool kit for tinkerers. Beyond fans of the board game, this would be a great fit for people that like creating their own gaming material. The specifics were intended to be left to the players. Instead of offering fleshed-out details for everything, the game poses questions to consider throughout the rulebook.
Ultimately, this is a tightly conceived ttrpg, derived from a board game that has endured for decades. While it lacks flavour for its default setting, the devil is in the details. For Talisman, it appears that the point isn’t to reinvent fantasy RPGs, rather it aims to put its twist on the tried and true of the genre. It is a simple d6-based game, with a very open world that invites players to make it their own.