Sunday, October 24, 2021

Vancian Talislanta

I've again been pondering running Talislanta in Pelgrane Press' Dying Earth rpg. Why this particular ruleset, which just happens to be based on the work of an author who was a big influence on Talislanta (particularly when there's another Dying Earth game on the way, after all)? Well, attempting to emulate its source material, it discourages combat and killing and encourages social interaction and trickery. While this isn't the only way to approach Talislanta, it is certainly a reasonable way to do it, and one supported by the example of the picaresque travels of Tamerlin through the land in The Chronicles of Talislanta.

Also, take a look at the key ingredients of a Dying Earth adventure the GM advice identifies:

  • Odd Customs
  • Crafty Swindles
  • Heated Protests and Presumptuous Claims
  • Casual Cruelty
  • Weird Magic
  • Strange Vistas
  • Ruined Wonders
  • Exotic Food
  • Foppish Apparel

I don't think all of those are essential for a good Talislanta adventure but Odd Customs, Weird Magic, Strange Vistas, and Ruined Wonders seem to me to be--and none of the others seems at all out of place.

The base level of the Dying Earth rpg is the "Cugel level" which seems to recreate the adventures of the knavish Cugel (hence the Crafty Swindles and Presumptuous Claims). The next level is that of Turjun (of Miir) and the earliest Dying Earth tales, which are a bit more standard Sword & Sorcery.  Turjun level protagonists are more competent and at least sometimes more moral, so the key adventure elements change somewhat:

Talislanta certainly leans "Turjun level" (with many an archetype based around combat), but I don't think it needs to abandon the swindles and verbal interplay of the Cugel level. My personal conception of Talislanta is that it would be best served by analogy to a Vance work that was written between the time of the early Dying Earth stories and the later ones (though Cugel's first appearance does predate it) and that's the planetary romance of the Planet of Adventure series. Tschai presents a sort of Turjun-level-esque hero, Adam Reith, in terms of competence--but he's less bloodthirsty than some other Turjun-level types--who is forced to deal with with verbose grifters at every turn and maneuver through oddball cultures.

Conceptual grounding aside, the ease of adaptation is always an issue with something like this. Completely remaking Talislanta in the Dying Earth system would daunting, even though Dying Earth is not terribly crunchy. I think though a complete adaptation might not be necessary; there may be a way to meld the sort of traditional Talislanta system with the DE mechanics, but I have only started thinking on this. Perhaps more on that in a later post.


Brutorz Bill said...

I've never ran a "true" Talilanta campaign. I've borrowed heavily from the material. The books are loaded with cool stuff.

bombasticus said...

Hot stuff! I initially thought you would be running Rhialto level but maybe Talislanta is a place where all the motives converge, a kind of inside-out Maslow pyramid if you like.

Trey said...

The Rhialto stories I think could provide ample inspiration for Cymril Lyceum stories and the like. I suppose Tamerlin might be a Rhialto level character. But the tone of Vance's "Turjun level" stories I think is more generally appropriate.

Trey said...

@Bil - I've never run a Talislanta campaign either! Though I have thought about it many times and presided over character creation at least once. I guess I do have a good track record with this!

Picador said...

Excited for more posts about this.

The only system I’ve considered for a Talislanta is the “Masters of Umdarr” setting for Fate.

Trey said...

That's a little for Masters of the Universe-y for my tastes, but I could see a game going in that direction.

Dick McGee said...

Interesting idea. I do kind of wonder if a Turjan-tier Talislanta really wants "Horror" as an "essential element" or "Casual Cruelty" as an important one, although there are certainly some regions where they'd fit better than others. I've always liked the DE rules although it's been hard to find good groups for it, a trait is shares with Amber Diceless IME. Feels like a nearly-essential element for any tier of play should be Betrayal, Attempted or Successful. Even Adam Reith runs into treachery regularly, it's kind of a Vance thing.

I've run Talislanta on and off since it was made by Bard Games, although none of my campaigns lasted any great length - a few months to a year or so. Been quite a while since I took a stab at it, maybe I could get something more lasting going now that I'm not moving around so much for work and school.