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Friday 10 December 2021

[Free RPG Day 2021] Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen

Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.


Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen is the introduction to the Talisman Adventures Fantasy Roleplaying Game. Published by Pegasus Press, this is actually the roleplaying adaptation of Talisman: The Magical Quest Game, the classic fantasy board game originally published by Games Workshop in 1983. Like the board game, the Talisman Adventures Fantasy Roleplaying Game and thus Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen takes place in the in the Realm, a land of deadly creatures and ancient dragons and wondrous magic and fell curses, born in ages past after the Great Wizard cleansed the land of its many threats. Yet the Great Wizard did not stay, leaving behind the Crown of Command, talismans of great power, and perturbed peoples. Without the presence of the Great Wizard, vile monsters and other evil servants of Oblivion have begun to regain their power across the Realm, and now it is up to Heroes to step up and make a name for themselves.

The Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen comes with everything necessary to play. This includes an explanation of the setting, the core mechanics—including combat and spellcasting, four pre-generated Player Characters, and a short three-act scenario. To play, each player, including the Game Master, will need four six-sided dice, one of which must be a different colour to the others. This die of a different is the Kismet Die. Each player will also need five or six tokens, whilst the Game Master will also need five or six of her own, but of a different colour. These represent tokens Fate—Light Fate for the Player Characters, but Dark Fate for the Game Master.

The Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen quickly leaps into an explanation of the mechanics—the 3D6 Adventures System—and how tests work. However, to understand how they work, both Game Master and her players need to know what makes up a Player Character. Each Player Character has two Attributes, Strength and Craft. The former represents a character’s physical capability, and has three Aspects—Brawn, Agility, and Mettle, whilst the latter represents a character’s mental capability, and also has three Aspects—Insight, Wits, and Resolve. For the pre-generated Player Characters provided with the Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen, both Attributes and Aspects range between one and five. A Player Character can also have Skills, for example, Decipher, Entertain, Melee, or Psychic, and some Skills can have Specialisations, such as Mystic for Spellcasting, Axe for Melee, or Forest for Survival.

When a Player Character wants to undertake an action, his player rolls three six-sided dice, one of which must be a different colour, and thus the Kismet die, hoping to beat a given Difficulty, for example, an Average Difficulty might be eleven. If the Player Character has an appropriate Skill, then an associated Attribute or Aspect can be added to the total. More than the one Attribute or Aspect can be associated with the Skill, for example, Entertain Skill is associated with Wits, Insight, and Agility. Obviously, Agility for physical performances such as dancing or juggling, Insight for singing and playing a musical instrument, and Wits for reciting a saga or performing in a play. Further, if the Player Character has a Focus for the Skill, the player receives a flat +2 bonus to the roll. The outcome of the roll generates a Degree of Success. If the combined result—including the dice roll plus appropriate Attribute, Aspect, and Focus—is equal to, or greater than the Difficulty, then that is a Standard Success. If doubles are rolled on any of the three dice, and the combined result is equal to, or greater than the Difficulty, then that is a Great Success. If triples are rolled on any of the three dice, and the combined result is equal to, or greater than the Difficulty, then that is an Extraordinary Success.

A result is less than the Difficulty, then the Player Character has failed. In combat this means that not only has the Player Character failed to strike his opponent, that opponent has struck back and inflicted full damage. A Standard Success means that the Player Character has succeeded in the Test, but at a cost or with a complication. This then, is a classic, ‘Yes, but…’ result. In combat, this means that a Player Character has managed to attack an opponent, but said opponent strikes back and inflicts half damage. A Great Success means that the Player Character has succeeded without any beneficial or detrimental effect. This is complete success. An Extraordinary Success means that the Player Character has succeeded and done so with great effect. In combat, that might be to inflict extra damage or another effect. This is a classic ‘Yes and…’ result.

Further, if a one is rolled on the Kismet Die, the Game Master gains one Dark Fate, whilst if a six is rolled, the Player Character gains one Light Fate. Rolling a one on the Kismet Die, can also trigger the Special Ability for an NPC or Enemy, whilst rolling a six can trigger a Player Character’s Special Ability. Light Fate points can be spent to add a bonus six-sided die to a Test, reroll a single die after a Test roll has been made, activate a Special Ability or an item’s Special Quality, and to avoid dying following a failed death test. The Game Master can spend Dark Fate to increase an Enemy, activate an Enemy’s Special Ability, activate effects in special areas, and activate an item’s curse effects. Both the Player Characters and the Game Master have a limited supply of their respective Fate, but more is generated throughout play.

Combat in Talisman Adventures is player facing, with each player making a Test with a Difficulty equal to the Threat of the Enemy faced by his Player Character. What this means is that the Player Characters act first and the Degrees of Success their players generate determine exactly how the Enemy react. So if an attack fails, the Opponent will attack, inflicting full damage or a Special Attack, whilst with a Success, the Player Character inflicts full damage, but suffers half damage from his Opponent in return. Only with a Great Success will full damage be inflicted without any comeback, whilst an Extraordinary Success does that and more. Numerous options are given for what that ‘more’ might be, depending whether the Player Character’s action is a Melee or Ranged Attack, a Psychic Attack, a Spell being cast, and so on… Once the Player Characters have acted, any Enemy who have not been engaged in combat, are free to act. In this case, any Player Character attacked must make a Defence Test, again against the Enemy’s Threat, and again, the Degree of Success determines the outcome, even to potentially stopping the attack and riposting with half damage on an Extraordinary Success.

Armour in Talisman Adventures is ablative, but can be repaired between encounters. However, armour always suffers a single permanent point of damage in combat which requires repair with a full set of tools. What this means is that the effectiveness of armour degrades over the course of an adventure, from encounter to encounter. When armour has been rendered useless in an encounter, any further damage is inflicted as Wounds. Successive Wounds also inflict increasing penalties to Tests and if a Player Characters suffers too many Wounds, his player must begin making Death Tests—or die!

The Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen comes with four pre-generated Player Characters. They include a brawny, axe-wielding Troll Warrior; an unarmed and unarmoured Dwarf Priest who can heal and bless, plus banish spirits; an Elf Scout, good with a bow and moving in the forest; and a Ghoul Assassin (!) who is incredibly sneaky and can even turn a dead Enemy temporarily against his former companions. In general, the Player Characters are clearly laid out and easy to read, though players should note that the Dwarf Priest has no armour and the Ghoul Assassin has the Soul Drinker Special Ability, but not the Psychic Assault Special Ability necessary to initiate a psychic attack.

The adventure, ‘Curse of the Rat Queen’, in the Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen runs to ten pages. A three-act affair, it sees the Player Characters travelling to the village of Jellico which requires their help. After the cliché of a barroom brawl to get the players used to the dice mechanics, the village elders summon the Player Characters and explain the problem besetting the village. It has been beset by a plague of rats, and naturally, the elders hired a Pied Piper and his tunes drew all of the rats out of the village. However, now they are returning, and the elders cannot not find the piper, so they want the Player Characters to find him, get their money back, and hopefully put an end to the rat menace. This will take them out of the village and into the surrounding wilderness to the Whispering Woods where the piper led the rats… Even if the start is a cliché, ‘Curse of the Rat Queen’ is a decent adventure, supported with good advice and optional content that the Game Master can add if she wants to. It adds a couple of rules of play along the way, so the Game Master will need to the adventure through thoroughly as part of the preparation. The adventure is not necessarily straightforward, but should be fun to play and adds several extra monsters which the Game Master could use to expand upon the adventure. Overall, a decent adventure which should provide two or so sessions’ worth of play.

Physically, the Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen is decently presented. The artwork varies a little in quality, but the writing is clear and easy to understand. The Game Master will need to conduct a careful read through as it does leap straight into the rules and there are extra rules explained later in the scenario. This does mean that The Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen is not quite suited to the novice Game Master as intended, but anyone with a little experience will pick the rules up fairly quickly. Also, the phrasing of the Degrees of Success feels slightly odd in that a Standard success is one with an element of failure. Adjust to that—and of course, the player facing mechanics which do make the Game Master’s task much easier, and Talisman Adventures serves up a mix of the traditional and the slightly lesser than traditional fantasy. Overall, the Talisman Adventures – Quick Start Guide: Curse of the Rat Queen is a solid introduction to Talisman Adventures combined with fairly simple mechanics and a fun adventure.

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