Sunday, January 19, 2020

Talislanta: The Continent and Magic

This is a follow-up to this post, and the beginning of my examination of the setting throughout its publication history. First up, the big picture.

Talislanta the setting is named for the continent which is its central focus. Though other, semi-legendary lands are mentioned in passing, The Chronicles of Talislanta (1987) makes a pitch for dropping the continent into any fantasy setting:
As to the land of Talislanta: those scholars who do not dismiss the topic out of hand disagree as to the origins of this otherwise forgotten realm. Some claim that Talislanta existed long ago, perhaps during the legendary First Age of Atlantis. Others, lending even broader scope to their imaginations, cite Tamerlin’s chronicles as proof of the existence of parallel worlds or alternate realities. Proponents of the hollow earth theory, avid readers of Charles Fort, and others of similar bent may formulate even more intriguing explanations for the Talislantan texts.
This vagueness regarding the wider world doesn't last. In 1988's Sorcerer's Guide, Talislanta's world is placed on the plane of Primus within the wider Omniverse, not utterly unlike D&D's planar setup, but much less complicated. With the 2nd edition and The Talislanta Worldbook (1990), Talislanta's planet gets a name: Archaeus. Archaeus has seven continents in total:

The origin of magic in the Talislantan milieu is revealed for the first time. A tribe of "Sub-Men" (Talislanta's name for the primitive humanoid inhabitants of much of the continent) discover the wreckage of a ship of some kind and find a crystal orb that contains "the secrets of a lost and forgotten art—magic." Learning magic, these Sub-Men develop into the race known as the Archaeans (simply called "Men" in the 1st edition).

The 3rd edition largely follows the Worldbook's details, but demotes Archaeus from the center of its system to being a planet orbiting binary stars. This star system is just one of many within the material plane. The Sub-Men tribe uplifted by magic from a wrecked "strange vessel," now become known as Archaens.

Archaeus' solar system is de-emphasized in the last two editions, but the origin of the Archaens is now firmly established. In the 4th edition, Sub-Men is a derogatory term for the "Wild Folk" and the crashed ship is called out as "alien" and called an "ark." The 5th edition, affirms the ship was alien and states that it is believed to be of extra-dimensional origin. There are parts of it still in existence, recognizable by the rainbow color they emanate. The Sub-Men are again Sub-Men.

Why does the stuff about the Archaens matter? Talislanta was established from the beginning as a post-apocalyptic setting with frequent references to a Great Disaster. The Archaens were not only the ancestors of the "human" races of Talislanta, but the source of most of its magic, and also (perhaps) the cause of the destruction of their own civilization.

The idea of magic, or at least the advanced practice of magic, being alien in origin is a nice little detail to me, and one I don't think Talislanta has ever explored to its fullest. There is a lot that could be done with that in a campaign.

The vacillation between extraplanetary aliens and extradimensional ones, seems to coincide with some ambivalence about whether Archaeus is a planet in a science fiction conception or a "world" in a fantasy conception. I like a view of "outer space" more metaphysical than strictly physical, like in Medieval cosmology or pulp fiction like Howard's "Tower of the Elephant" or Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, for Talislanta. I favor a more fantastic Archaeus, as well. One where you could sail across an ocean and into another world, perhaps.

Those preferences are in general. For the Sword & Planet thing I'm planning, I'm go with a much more realistic world around a realistic star.


bombasticus said...

Hot stuff!

The initial sketchiness around the Big Picture is super interesting given the late '80s peak Dragonlance timeline. Don't know what to make of that but it feels important in the evolution of these things . . . now I want to go back to the Atlantean Trilogy and see what came across when they left prehistoric earth behind.

Archaeus as a "dimension of mind" may be the revolution of the year and it's still January. A dreamland for a much more realistic dreamland.

Anne said...

The kind of hazy, ambiguous science fantasy you're describing sounds really appealing. It would be interesting to have multiple factions that care strongly about Talislanta's ontological status, but give them conflicting beliefs.

Would it be more interesting, or just incongruous, if a highly scientific faction insisted that Talislanta was a "world" in the sea of stars reachable by sailboat, and a more fantasy magic faction insisted that it was a planet in mundane space?

Trey said...

@Anne - That's a neat idea, and rife with possibility for Vancian absurdity.

Granpafishy said...

In the 5th Ed Tal. Gamemaster's Guide, in the section "A Brief Guide to the Omniverse", it had this to day
about the Material Plane, and Talsilanta specifically.

"The myriad worlds of Primus exist in a variety of shapes and forms. Some, such as Talislanta, are flat disks
surrounded by a watery ocean, allowing one to sail off the edge of the world and into Aethereal Sea."

So the above article author desire for a more fantastic Archaeus, where you could sail across the sea and
into another world, is very much a thing. You just need a windship.