Help, I Have Questions!

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In a situation like this, where an entire library is made available for free, the library itself serving as your only documentation, your bound to have some questions. This page is meant to address some of the more common questions we’ve received. For further help I encourage you to seek support on the Talislanta Yahoo Group, the place the rest of us fans have called home for years. Onto the questions!

1. I’m not familiar with Talislanta. Can you tell me a little about the setting or its system?
2. Can you provide an example from a Tal book you feel captures the “flavor” of the setting?
3. Um… five editions? How on earth do I go about picking an edition?
4. So only look at 4E/5E and only big difference is Char Gen? How do each change the game?
5. I’m ready to start reading. Any advice on how to approach this thing or just cover to cover?

Question: I’m not familiar with Talislanta. Can you tell me a little about the setting or its system?

Answer: A great deal of credit goes out to David Stallard, who’s 4th Edition Tal review I borrowed from heavily. I cannot recommend reading his review enough. While it is for Tal 4E, the information presented applies to about 95% of Tal 5E. If you want a summarized, system mechanics free, version of his review, well here you go;

Talislanta is a truly fantastic place with dozens upon dozens of exotic races and cultures, enough to fuel just about any type of fantasy campaign you’d like to run. Very few of these races are considered inherently good or evil. They are just different peoples with different ways of life. Talislanta itself is actually a continent roughly divided into seven large sections, each of which shares certain characteristics or qualities. There is no “baseline” race that populates most of the world, so you can’t learn about one race and thus have knowledge of how most of the world works.

Every race has its own geographic homeland, although many of them do travel the world and intermingle for business and other purposes. The lack of a standard and overly dominant primary race, like humans for example, really adds to the exotic feel and fantastic nature of the setting. A Talislanta campaign can easily be modified to reflect a variety of gaming styles, from cinematic “larger-than-life” Heroic Fantasy to gritty “by the skin of your teeth” Dark Fantasy. Talislanta focuses on breadth instead of depth. While there are so many different lands and cultures in the book that I won’t even attempt to count them all, due to the time and effort it would take, each of these lands or peoples is described in an average of about 3 pages.

Most sections cover the same common areas: Ancestry, Society, Customs, Government, Magic & Religion, The Arts, Language, Defenses, Commerce, and Worldview. With only about 3 pages per culture, that means that usually each section gets 1-3 paragraphs of detail. Each culture is remarkably compartmentalized in the book, so it is easy to drop into the middle of the book, read about one culture that you have an interest in, and then exit back out without having many hanging references that require you to read many other sections as well.

Gamemasters should view this as a good thing. What it means is that you are given a vast world with limitless possibilities and well-defined cultures. At the same time you are spared the minutiae and laborious detail that other settings focus on. Something that scares many GMs away because they feel trapped or locked in by the extreme amount of definition. You won’t have this problem in Talislanta. Talislanta’s setting is a very large and varied framework, but it is still just a framework. There is ample opportunity for the GM to insert his own settlements, enterprises, and intrigues without feeling they are violating canon or “breaking the setting” at all. It gives you both detail and freedom at the same time, which is quite a trick.

Question: Can you provide an example from a Talislanta book you feel captures the “flavor” of the setting?

Answer: Talislanta’s flora and fauna really stands out as something unique and special, even for the fantasy genre. The provocative art style in the bestiary really helps the entries jump off the page. Naming some of the more unique inhabitants, alone, would be a poor indicator of the diversity Talislanta has to offer. Instead, I’d rather give you an idea of what kinds of life you may encounter within the setting. For this purpose I will quote a short passage from the introduction of the 5E of The Menagerie;

“The great diversity of lifeforms found throughout the Talislantan continent can be attributed to numerous causes: the aftereffects of The Great Disaster, a magical cataclysm that reshaped the Talislantan ecology and caused many mutations; magical gates or tears in the dimensional fabric, which allowed intrusion by extra dimensional entities; the misguided experiments of magicians from the Forgotten Age; and the effects of natural and unnatural selection on creatures in a phenomenally altered environment.”

“As a consequence of these conditions, the student of naturalism may find organisms here that seem not to conform with natural law, or even common sense. Sorcerous anomalies and abominations are alarmingly common in certain locales, in particular the Shadow Realms and the Aberrant Forest. Mutated devolved, and hybrid species are also not unknown. The aspiring naturalist is therefore advised to exercise caution when studying the native flora and fauna, or risk consequences of the most dire sort.”

Question: Um… five editions? How on earth do I go about picking an edition and what books do I need to get started?

Answer: Talislanta is actually much simpler to approach than it would first appear. The first thing you need to understand is that the Talislanta RPG has always been about keeping the focus on the setting and having mechanics that generally melted into the background. Talislanta has pretty much used the same system from 1st edition to 5th edition with a few mechanical exceptions. Prior to Talislanta “going free” 95% of the Talislanta community is using either the 4th or 5th edition of the Talislanta rules and from what I can tell its a pretty even split.

It is important to note that a lot of material that was printed for Talislanta was later revised in a later edition. The 4th edition of Talislanta pretty much compiled everything published for Talislanta editions 1 through 3 into a single book. The only exceptions are a couple of adventures (The Scent of the Beast and Quantrigue), a campaign (Sub-Men Rising), and a sourcebook (Sarista). Each edition of Talislanta essentially had the same types of core books. They just went by different names in each edition. Here is how they break down.

1E Tal Handbook, 2E Tal Handbook and Campaign Guide, 3E The Tal Guidebook

Setting Information
1E Chronicles of Tal, 2E Tal Worldbook, 2E Cyclopedia Tal,
3E N/A

1E A Naturalist’s Guide to Tal,
2E N/A, 3E Thystram’s Collectanea

Magic Rules
1E Sorcerer’s Guide, 2E N/A, 3E The Archaen Codex

The 4th edition “Big Blue Book” rewrites, cleans-up, and generally smooths over all of this information, compiling it all into a single, magnificent tome. So at this point, as a newcomer to Talislanta, the only editions you should be considering are 4th and 5th. If you decide to go with 4th edition all you need is the Talislanta Fantasy Roleplaying book. Note the bestiary entries are scattered throughout the book, each appearing in their native region. For quick reference you should also have Talislanta Menagerie on hand.

The 5th edition breaks its core rules line into four separate books; Hotan’s History of the World (Setting), The Menagerie (Bestiary), A Player’s Guide to Talislanta, and A Gamemaster’s Guide to Talislanta. Technically all a player needs is the Player’s Guide but Menagerie and Hotan’s History can only enrich a players experience. While the GM’s Guide introduced 50 new races and paths into the game, most are recommended to remain restricted from the players, and the book is therefore probably not worth the time required for a player to read it.

Question: So at this point I should only consider 4E and 5E. The big difference being their methods of character generation. How does each method affect the game?

Answer: It really comes down to personal preference. The primary change between 4E and 5E was made in character generation. 4th edition uses an Archetype (pre-gen template) system and 5th uses a Paths (career) system. Those who love the Archetype system often state that they feel nothing captures the feel of Talislanta and encourages role play like Archetypes. Fans of the Paths system often state they find Archetypes constraining, limiting, and/or downright unfun. I’ve chatted with several folks, coming from a D&D background, who greatly prefer the Paths system to the Archetype. So lets tackle them both.

Breakdown Of 4th Edition – Archetypes
Archetypes are purely template-driven. You are allowed to make some minor customization such as raising and lowering a few values and specifying weapon skills and known magical modes, but essentially you play one of the defined archetypes. They essentially enforce the feel of the setting. I can already hear the outcry. “You mean there are dozens of interesting races, 11 different schools of magic, and a big list of skills, and yet I can’t build my own character by piecing together all these pieces? Hogwash!” I can understand your dismay, and at first I shared it. But now the archetype system has “clicked” with me and I appreciate it and can sing its virtues.

If you have a system that says, “Orcs are to be feared because they are so strong, and get a +5 to Strength,” but then any of the other races can spend points (or whatever mechanism) to get strength equal to an orc, then orcs loose a lot of their intended uniqueness, don’t you think? Talislanta maintains its racial definitions by simply giving some races values higher than others, or special abilities that other races simply can’t have. Yes, this means that the templates are intentionally not balanced against each other. Yes, this gave me heartburn at first too. But balance begets sameness, and I’m happy with the variety of Talislantan races.

When you see a Kang raiding party charging your way, you will properly experience fear because you will know that the Kang are inherently some of the fiercest warriors in the land. With 120+ templates in the book, untold thousands if you count online, you are going to have a pretty hard time not finding an Archetype that fits exactly the kind of character you want to play. It should be noted that the book does cover creating your own templates, but this is a fairly freeform activity where you basically give the template anything you think sounds appropriate, and then the GM looks it over and gives it his stamp of approval. There is no built-in system for ensuring that new templates are balanced with existing ones.

Breakdown Of 5th Edition – Paths
The 5th edition continues the tradition of templates, although Paths differ from Archetypes quite a bit. A Path is most easily compared to a “Career” in other games although a Path has a great deal more depth to it. Essentially all characters, no matter their age and race, have some measure of skill and talent to fall back on and use in day-to-day life. In the game, this is represented by Paths; the collections of skills, talents and traits unique to your character. Paths are not simply careers that a character is bound within. The Paths your character has is the sum total of your character’s life experience to date, and based on several factors such as region of birth, family background, careers and the character’s own personality.

The number of Paths that can be chosen is left up to the individual GM. The default given is 2-3 Paths for normal campaigns. The Player’s Guide recommends that a gritty campaign may only allow one Path while a heroic campaigns may make 4 or more Paths available to characters. Basically, each time you choose a Path, you add the bonuses/penalties together and apply them to your character. So, if you have multiple Paths available to you, you can mix-and-match Paths. This is similar to multi-classing in d20 or choosing multiple careers in Warhammer FRP.

Mechanically speaking, a Path is a package of several things. Paths are essentially a collection of skills, special abilities, quirks and attribute adjustments available to the character. Each Path has a set number of skill ranks available. Players are free to allocate these ranks among the skills available to their Path. Many Paths will alter a character’s base racial Attribute ratings in some manner. This could be a bonus or penalty to a primary or secondary Attribute. Each Path comes complete with a list of Preferred Skills available to characters of the Path along with a set number of skill ranks that the player may spread among any and all Skills on that Path’s preferred list.

In addition, players may purchase ranks in skills not found on their Path’s preferred list but at a much increased cost. Some Paths grant characters free Quirks and other special abilities. Each Path also has a list of Quirks commonly encountered in characters from the chosen Path. Players may select a Quirk for their characters from this list by forfeiting 2 skill rank from those gained from the Path. Finally, each Path has a list of gear, equipment, magical trinkets, wealth and other property. The character starts with all relevant equipment as listed on each Path he possesses.

Question: I’m ready to start reading. Any advice on how to approach this thing or should I just tackle her, cover to cover?

4th Edition Answer
In the case of the 4th edition it may appear you are in for a very long read, but you would be mistaken. About 100 pages of the 4E is rules, 60 pages of that being tables and stat blocks you’ll reference as needed. As a player you’re looking at reading 40 pages of rules. That’s it! You’ll need to pick out a pre-generated character (Archetype) which are spread over 64 pages at the end of the Chapter 5. Some Archetypes will be restricted, based on GM discretion. So this method teaches you the rules, gets you a character to play, but doesn’t really teach you anything about the world. That part is left up to a GM and you get all of this in 104 pages, 164 pages if you count the tables and stat blocks.

Still too daunting you say? Not any fun without some setting in there? Way to much of a commitment when you don’t even know if you’ll end up enjoying the game?! Enter the 4th Edition Quick-Start Sampler! 58 glorious pages of exactly what your looking for. 20 pages of rules, 27 pages of setting, 7 pages of Archetypes, and 1 whole page of tables. More than enough to serve as an introduction to the game. I’ve even gone through and added a comfy set of bookmarks for you. It doesn’t get any easier than this, especially considering what your poor 5th edition inductees are going to have to commit to *shutters at the thought*.

5th Edition Answer
All you need to do is read A Player’s Guide To Talislanta. The other three core books are only required reading for a game master. If you really want to immerse yourself into the world of Talislanta you can read any one of the other three core rulebooks; Hotan’s History of the World (Setting), The Menagerie (Bestiary), and A Gamemaster’s Guide to Talislanta. The 58 page sampler for the 4th edition of the game is currently being converted by a volunteer in the community and will soon be available for 5th Edition folks as well!