Talislanta‘s back with a new Kickstarter, and if you love great world building, you need this book. Trust me on this. Really. Go buy it.
If you INSIST on hearing more reasons why, though, I’ll make my argument. And as an added treat, after extolling this wonderful game world I’ll show you an interview I conducted with Talisanta‘s creator, the brilliant Steven Sechi.
If you’ve never seen me gush over a Talislanta product here on Black Gate it’s because Talislanta has been out of print for a long while — since before I became the games editor of the print version of Black Gate. That doesn’t mean I haven’t mentioned it from time to time, usually when praising some other product. Occasionally I’ve felt compelled to say, owing to a product’s excellence, that “it’s the best world building I’ve seen since Talislanta.”
These days ANYONE can see the excellence of Talislanta because Talislanta‘s creator Steven Sechi authorized free access to ALL Talislanta products as downloadable PDFs right over on the game’s official site.
You may think that you own enough role-playing games, but you’ve never seen one like Talislanta. It’s rich with imagination. It was fueled in part by Jack Vance although it’s hardly a pastiche of any Vancian ideas. Rather, Sechi took from Vance the idea of strange yet strangely plausible cultures grown up around stranger environments and then stuffed those environments full of interesting places to go, ancient mysteries to solve, lost regions to explore — and terrible monsters and obstacles.
One of Talislanta‘s tag lines was always “Still No Elves” because Tal isn’t a standard fantasy setting, not by a long shot. You’ll find all manner of interesting races, but none of the usual ones, and from few of the ordinary places. I’m not alone in finding it immensely inspiring: the game has maintained a devoted fan base, and those fans have eagerly awaited new books and even created some wonderful add-ons of their own. There are fabulous story hooks and exciting ideas on every page.
I love Talislanta SO MUCH that I think my Tal collection would probably be the last role-playing books I’d ever part with, even with those PDFs being available for free, as mentioned above.
And here’s further testament: I’ve taken scenes I developed for Talislanta campaigns I ran and dropped them into at least half of my published novels. Sechi is the real thing, folks, a builder of fascinating worlds that aren’t just fun to read of, but sound so interesting you want to run there and start exploring. The hooks on each of his pages make you want to jump in and start telling your own stories.
I’ve spent so much time extolling the virtues of the world that I’ve little time left to mention the excellent, brilliantly simple little system Sechi designed for the game, little changed since its initial inception in the ’80s. It was D20 before there WAS a D20 system, intuitive and fast playing and nearly invisible, so that the system could stay out of the way and let you focus upon the brilliance that was the setting.
The other day Steven Sechi was kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions about the new game.
What led you to become a designer of worlds?
A younger stoner-cousin from Seattle. He came east to CT to visit my folks back around 1980, and showed me this weird game called D&D. Never heard of it, was too busy to play it with him, until a day before he was about to head back home, I gave it a try.
I was hooked after the first 15 minutes. Started my own group to play soon after that, and from those sessions came the raw material I used to create The Complete Alchemist and Atlantis books, and after that, Talislanta.
When I was a poor college kid I once saw the original Atlantis books but didn’t have cash on hand to purchase them, alas! I’ve since purchased, read, and loved the new Atlantis books published by Khepera press. Can you tell us a little about the original?
Atlantis just kind of grew out of the research that I did for the Compleat Alchemist and the other books in that series. After reading so much about alchemy, magic, etc, I wanted to find a setting where I could put all of that info. That’s when I thought of Atlantis.
Two other writers — Vernie Taylor and Ed Mortimer — helped develop the Atlantis series, BTW.
How did you get from those books to Talislanta?
After doing the Atlantis stuff, Bard Games went through some changes. For awhile, I was out of Bard — during that time I wrote and designed the first Talislanta book, The Chronicles of Talislanta, then wrote up some rules and began playtesting this stuff with the group of gamers I had at the time, which included Vernie Taylor, Rick Petrone, and Simon Schapiro.
They were great role-players and really great playtesters, and I a lot of what ended up in the Tal milieu got in there because they liked it, and showed my that it could work.
When you were designing Talislanta, what led you away from a world where the dwarves were in those mountains over there, and a group of elves hid in those forests, and so on? The Talislanta game certainly was like nothing on the shelves at the time in the ‘80s, and remains like nothing else out there today.
I was reading a lot of Jack Vance at the time, and it made me want to try something completely different. I steeled myself with what at the time was my favorite brand of intoxicants, and spent 3-4 months writing and doing design sketches, working upwards of 14 hours a day, and loving every minute of it. The end result was Talislanta 🙂
What led you back to Talislanta after so many years, and how long has this been in there works?
Okay, this is going to be a long answer. 🙂
I think it was maybe 4-5 years ago that Jerry Grayson of Khepera contacted me to ask about doing a new and revised version of the Talslanta RPG. He and a partner had some ideas of what they wanted to do with the setting, but while the ideas were great, it made me realize that I didn’t want to make any changes in the existing milieu.
I also realized that I didn’t want to do another edition of the Talislanta RPG — five was probably one more than I should have allowed (I wasn’t involved at all with the Morrigan edition stuff). I think it was about then that I decided to give away free PDF versions of all the existing Tal editions.
Anyway… sometime later I dug up some old notes I’d written back in the late 90s about the post-apocalyptic Tal era — the time right after the Great Disaster and the ensuing collapse of civilization. I thought this might be an interesting time to write about, so I spoke to Adam Black about maybe doing a graphic novel set in this era. I thought my first draft was awful, and around the same time Adam got really busy, so we dropped the idea.
Then, a bunch of things happened. Jerry contacted me again — he thought I should run a Kickstarter campaign and do a new version of Tal with color art. He thought it would do well, which was just enough of a push to get me to write-up a “bible” for a new Tal setting called The Savage Land.
Things just kind of started rolling from there. In my “spare time,” I wrote a 30-40 page outline for the Savage Land setting, then re-wrote the graphic novel script. I contacted my “gaming son,” John Harper, and asked him if he wanted to get involved.
We had several long Skype chats about how I might design a game system around the Savage Land concept. We both have very similar views on RPG rules (the less, the better) and how the rules should be designed to fit the milieu. I wanted to get John in on TSL, but then his Blades in the Dark KS went through the roof, and he had to bow out to take care of his new hit RPG. 🙂
Then out of the blue Stewart contacted me, asking about Talislanta. I told him what I was doing, and he seemed interested in getting involved. I spoke again to Jerry, and he thought that given all the many games that he wanted to release through his company, I should go with Stewart instead of Khepera.
That pretty much did it. I don’t recall what order these things happened in, but we got Doug Bramlett to agree to help with writing and editing, then brought in other writers like Mark Williams, Tony Herring, Desi Conrad,and Dean Poisso. We found a great artist, Ben Dennett, to draw the Savage Land graphic novel, and Jerry pointed us towards another great artist, David Arenas, to do the color illustrations for the new RPG.
I found the cover artist, Mario Teodosio, on Deviant Art — he’s also terrific. Once things got rolling, I decided to compose a “soundtrack album” for the new game, which I did with my good friend, the very talented composer/conductor/orchestrator Kostas Varotsis.
One thing kind of led to another, and I got into this deeper than I thought I would. My main line of work is still writing and producing music and virtual instruments, but the game stuff has been a lot of fun, and the graphic novel is something I’ve wanted to do for many years (thanks again, Ben!).
I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done any of this without Jerry, who is a great guy and a terrific game designer — and, the folks on the Talislanta Facebook Group, who were very enthusiastic, and all of the other talented folks who got on board and put their time and energy into this crazy scheme.
Not really — it’s a pretty brutal place. There’s a legend about a stronghold called Sanctum (the subject of the graphic novel, BTW), but it may or may not exist anymore. Characters who want to have a base can build their own stronghold, if they live long enough to pull that off. 🙂
Among the things I love best about Talislanta is the possibility of adventure lurking in every place. Every location is layered with the potential for conflict, a sense of history, and the lure of ancient secrets. Will this new version of Talislanta offer the same?
I think so. In TSL, I trimmed down the number of races and tried to get a little deeper into a smaller number of cultures. Some of these peoples were the root races of many of the folks from the original Tal RPG, so it was fun to kind of think backwards and re-imagine what it was like in Tal’s far more dangerous and less-civilized past.
What most excites you about this version of Talislanta?
A few things. The idea of being able to form your own tribe, and play that tribe almost like a character if you want. I really like some of the new archetypes, which I think are going to be really fun to play. Also, the color art is terrific.
I never wanted to leave the RPG biz. It was so much fun. But I couldn’t make a living doing it, so I went back to my original occupation, music. Got lucky and found a niche in the production music world that allowed me to compose music for a living.
Do you have plans for additional RPG design, or follow-up Talislanta material?
Not sure at this point, but we’ll see. 🙂
A great deal of striking and iconic art has been drawn for previous versions of Talislanta. Have you enlisted any of those original artists, or did you seek out new authors with a similar aesthetic?
I did talk to Ron Spencer while TSL was in the planning stages, and he said he’d be happy to do some art for the new Savage Land game. That would have been great, but then for various reasons I just thought it would be better to do something totally different for TSL.
When Jerry recommended David Arenas, I decided that was the artist I wanted to go with for this book. Together, Ben Dennett, Mario Teodosio, and David helped create a really great look for the Savage Land milieu.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. It was a real pleasure.
Thank you, Howard, for doing this interview. Much appreciated.
The Kickstarter ends on April 31. Order while you can!
Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls, and the The Bones of the Old Ones, as well as the related short story collection The Waters of Eternity, and four Paizo Pathfinder novels: Beyond the Pool of Stars, Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast and Through the Gate in the Sea. You can keep up with him at his website, www.howardandrewjones.com, and follow him on Twitter or follow his occasional meanderings on Facebook.