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Tabletop Game: Talisman

Talisman is a fantasy adventure themed board game originally released in 1983 by Games Workshop. The game is played by moving one of a variety of archetypal fantasy characters around the board, amassing power and treasure that is used to challenge the increasingly more deadly inner regions until one character claims the "Crown of Command"... killing all other player characters in the process. In the years following its initial run, the game has received numerous revisions and edition changes, some of which have added alternate play-styles, characters, and victory conditions. The fourth and most current edition was released in 2008 by Fantasy Flight Games.

The story of the world of Talisman is as follows: Long ago, a wizard controlled the land, his rule going unchallenged for centuries thanks to the powerful arcane magic and the mighty enslaved spirits at his command. The wizard's reign only came to an end when death inevitably claimed him... however, before meeting his fate the wizard hid his most powerful magical item, the Crown of Command, deep within the Plane of Peril, where it would be forever guarded by the most vicious and powerful of the wizard's former servants. With his last breath, the wizard proclaimed that "only a person with the strength, wisdom, and courage required to take my crown will rule in my stead."

In the many years following the wizard's death, countless adventurers have attempted to claim the crown, and each of them have met a gruesome end at the hands of the crown's guardians and the innumerable deadly creatures that have come to inhabit the region. Though the lands are littered with the bones of those who have failed in their quest, the promise of ultimate power draws ever more to make the attempt... each certain that they will be the one to eventually take the crown of command for themselves and become the supreme ruler of the lands.

In Talisman, the game is played by first selecting one of numerous characters, each possessing unique abilities and varying levels of prowess in both battle and magical power. Players move their characters about the various squares of the board by rolling dice to determine how many squares the character can move in the direction of the player's choice. At the end of the character's movement, the player follows the instructions of the square their character lands on: this most often involves rolling a die to determine a random beneficial or detrimental effect, or drawing from a deck of "adventure cards" that can grant the character items or followers, cause events that apply to a single or multiple characters, or initiate combat with a wide variety of enemy creatures.

Combat is resolved by rolling dice to add to the relevant stat of both the character and enemy, depending on the type of combat that is occurring: Strength for "battle" (physical combat) and Craft for psychic combat. Once the base stat, the value of the die roll, and any relevant bonuses granted by spells or items have been tallied, the scores for each combatant are compared, with the highest score winning. If an enemy creature is defeated in combat, it is most often killed and its card is removed from the game board. If a player character is defeated, they lose one of a limited number of "lives", which can eventually lead to the character's death if their total lives is reduced to zero. Players can choose to initiate combat against other player characters that are in spaces that their own character lands on. In player versus player combat, the winning player may choose to either take a single item or reduce the life total of the opposing character.

The goal of the game is to acquire items, followers, and experience to increase the character's strength and craft scores until they are powerful enough to move into the deeper regions of the board: the middle region offering more dangerous combats and greater rewards than the outer region, and the inner region containing a series of challenges that eventually leads to the character gaining the Crown of Command at the center. Once a character acquires the crown, the player can use it to attempt to reduce the life total of all opposing player characters each turn. Once all opposing players' life totals are reduced to zero in this way, the player with the crown is declared the winner. Later edition changes and expansions have added a variety of different victory conditions that can allow a player to win the game without claiming the Crown of Command.

A PC version of the game based on the revised 4th edition rules and titled Talisman: Digital Edition was developed by a game making company named Nomad Games, and was released on Steam Early Access on October 14, 2013. The game's various expansions will come out as DLC sometime after it comes out of beta. Additionally, a single player version of the game called Talisman: Prologue and made by the same people can be purchased on various digital distributors.

A Warhammer40000 themed version named Relic was released in 2013.


Talisman provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Alchemy Is Magic: The standard use of alchemy in Talisman is to turn objects into gold by casting an alchemy spell, using the alchemist follower, or visiting the alchemist in the City board space. The Alchemist player character expands on this with the ability to turn gold into potions, which can then be used to heal, gain fate tokens, or draw spell cards. (While nothing prevents the Alchemist PC from casting the alchemy spell and using the alchemist follower all while visiting the alchemist in the City, there is no added benefit for doing so outside of player amusement.)
  • All There in the Manual: The entire story of how the Crown of Command got to be where it is and why the world is in its current state is in the manual, and is easily ignorable for players who just want to roll dice and acquire treasure.
  • An Axe to Grind: The Axe is a very desirable item in the early stages of the game, because it can be used both as a weapon and to build a raft to the middle region.
  • Bag of Holding: The Mule can be used to store an unlimited number of items. Later expansion packs added a literal Bag of Holding.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Certain encounters may force you into the form of a frog. You'll get better.
  • Beef Gate: The guardians of the middle and inner regions are far more powerful than enemies the players normally face randomly, and can often easily defeat most characters who have not done the requisite amount of Level Grinding.
  • Breath Weapon: Most dragon enemies have a breath weapon, which they use on attacking characters before they enter combat. There is usually a condition that determines whether the character is affected by the breath attack, be it decided randomly with a die roll, based on a character having certain types of equipment in their possession (like weapons or armor), or based on the character's strength or craft scores. While many of the breath attacks cause characters to lose additional life, others may cause them to miss a turn, lose their spells, discard their fate, or anything in between. Some dragon breath weapons even affect other cards or characters that are unfortunate enough to share the same board space as the dragon.
  • Chained to a Rock: The Sacrificial Stone card from The Dragon expansion has artwork depicting a young woman chained to a rock. Players encountering the Sacrificial Stone must draw an adventure card, and if the card drawn is a dragon their character is outright killed, making them the sacrifice in this scenario. This card can be especially dangerous in conjunction with effects that move cards from the top of a dragon deck to the top of the adventure deck, drastically increasing the chances that the next card drawn will in fact be a dragon.
  • Chess with Death:
    • Playing chess is one of the random events that happen when a player character encounters the Grim Reaper NPC. In terms of game mechanics, this simply results in the player in question missing their next turn.
    • One route players can take through the inner region forces the player to "Dice with Death" by rolling dice against the Grim Reaper. If the player rolls higher, the player's character can progress further towards the Crown of Command. If the Grim Reaper rolls higher, the character loses a life and must dice with death again on subsequent turns until the player either wins or the character is killed.
  • Critical Existence Failure: This applies to Talisman, as spells and attacks that outright kill enemies and followers only remove one or two "lives" from a player character's total. True player character death only comes when the last life is removed, save for a rare few "instant death" situations.
  • Cursed with Awesome: The Poltergeist curses characters by forcing them to move one space at a time until they can break the curse. Under many circumstances, this can be a great benefit to the character, allowing him to hop back and forth onto beneficial spaces rather than move randomly around the board.
  • Easy Evangelism: Several encounters are with strangers who are so charismatic that they instantly change the heroes' alignment to match their own.
  • Extra Turn:
    • Extra turns are most commonly granted via randomly drawn spell cards (like Temporal Warp, which grants the user three turns, or Time Steal, which allows one player to take the turn of another), or quest rewards.
    • The Swashbuckler player character has an ability that grants him an extra turn whenever he wins a battle.
    • Some cards grant players an extra turn when they meet a specific condition. For example, the Dragon Stalkers follower grants the character an extra turn whenever the character defeats a dragon. The Madcap stranger (who randomly changes the alignment of characters who encounter him) will grant the character an extra turn if the random alignment roll matches the character's current alignment.
  • Good Versus Good: Characters of the "Good" alignment are supposed to fight each other just like everyone else, and in the endgame they HAVE to fight each other.
  • Good Versus Evil: The "Lightbearers" alternate ending in the Blood Moon expansion changes the nature of the normally free-for-all game into a cooperative one, where every player must choose a character of good alignment. The players cannot fight each other, and instead can assist each other in combat against the forces of evil, freely exchange items, and work together to win the game as a group before time runs out.
  • Grave Robbing: The aptly named Grave Robber character has a special ability that allows him to encounter the top card on the discard pile instead of drawing a card for their space as normal. This presumably represents the character digging up graves for their treasure, though interestingly enough the power lets them encounter any type of card, including events, places, and previously killed enemies. The character can rob graves in a more traditional sense by visiting the graveyard space, which allows them to take one item of their choice from the top 8 cards in the adventure deck.
  • Human Sacrifice:
    • One of the random warlock quests requires the character to sacrifice one of their followers to receive a talisman, an item that is usually required to progress to pass through the inner region to the crown of command and ultimately win the game.
    • A character may choose to sacrifice the lives of his followers to avoid losing his own lives when visiting the Vampire's Tower in the inner region.
    • The Dragon Priestess character released in The Dragon expansion has a special ability that allows her to sacrifice her followers when encountering dragon enemies in order to receive a random boon, with the results being the same as those for characters landing on the Temple board space. This can range from gaining stats, spells, life, and fate, to enslavement or loss of life for particularly low rolls (however, she can use additional followers to adjust the results in her favor.)
    • A Stranger card introduced in The Dragon expansion gives the player character an option to sacrifice a follower, or one of the character's own lives. Choosing the former changes the character's alignment to evil, while the latter changes the alignment to good.
  • Impassable Desert: A character will lose a life (leading to death if they are on their last life) whenever landing in a desert square, unless they have the water bottle, Holy Grail, or Profane Relic objects.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: The Knight character starts the game with the Good alignment, and this cannot be changed throughout the game by any spell or effect that would normally change the alignment of a character. In practice, this means that the Knight can never use objects or followers that Good-aligned characters are prohibited from, they always take damage when landing on the Graveyard board space, and they are not affected by any board space, creature, stranger, event, or place card that specifically benefits or hinders characters of neutral or evil alignment.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Talisman provides two examples of this trope, who reflect the chivalric code slightly differently:
    • The Knight character, who is always of good alignment and who cannot attack other characters of good alignment
    • The Chivalric Knight, who can aid rival characters in battle and cannot attack another character whose strength value is less than his own.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Talisman has a large number of playable characters for a board game. With all of the expansions released so far, the current edition includes: Alchemist, Amazon, Assassin, Bounty Hunter, Cat Burglar, Chivalric Knight, Cleric, Conjurer, Dark Cultist, Doomsayer, Dragon Hunter, Dragon Priestess, Dragon Rider, Dread Knight, Druid, Dwarf, Elementalist, Elf, Fire Wizard, Ghoul, Gladiator, Grave Robber, Gypsy, Highlander, Knight, Leprechaun, Magus, Merchant, Minotaur, Minstrel, Monk, Necromancer, Ogre Chieftan, Philosopher, Priest, Prophetess, Rogue, Sage, Sorceress, Sprite, Spy, Swashbuckler, Tavern Maid, Thief, Tinkerer, Troll, Valkyrie, Vampire Hunter, Vampiress, Warlock, Warrior, and Wizard.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic:
    • Fate tokens, introduced in the revised fourth edition, allow the player possessing them to re-roll any single die at-will, expending the token in the process. Players are given a certain amount of fate tokens at the beginning of the game based on the character they are playing, and have means of gaining (or losing) more tokens throughout the game.
    • The Warrior character has this mechanic directly incorporated. During battle, the player controlling the Warrior rolls two dice instead of the standard one, and chooses the result they wish to keep.
    • The Misfortune spell allows a player to negatively affect another player's luck, by changing the result of any single die roll to a "1".
    • The Prophetess character allows the player controlling it to manipulate the "luck of the draw" by re-drawing cards from the adventure deck if they do not wish to keep their original draw. The Orb of Knowledge object offers a similar mechanic to characters who possess it.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: The Timescape expansion tended in this direction, introducing Captain Ersatz versions of Indiana Jones and Judge Dredd, as well as the Chainsaw Warrior (who was from the game of the same name also produced by Games Workshop).
  • Necromancer: The Necromancer player character has the ability to enslave defeated enemy spirits (which include ghosts, mummies, demons, and most other types of undead) instead of killing them. Enslaved enemy spirits add their craft to the Necromancer's in psychic combat, and while each spirit can only be used once before being discarded there is no limit to how many the player can amass during the game.
  • Our Elves Are Better: Subverted, in that the Elf character's special abilities are fairly underwhelming, especially when two of them can only be used in the Outer Region of the board.
    • It should be noted that those two abilities are extremely useful, however, and can allow the Elf to both avoid almost anything that can hurt him, as well as enabling him to abuse anything beneficial that turns up in the Woods. Most tier lists place the Elf somewhere in the second or third tier from the top.
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • The Vampiress player character can treat her followers like portable health potions by sacrificing them to heal herself. She can also charm the followers of other players, and is one of the more durable character choices (reflected by having a higher starting life value than most other player characters.)
    • The vampire prince and vampiric dragon enemies drain the life of one of a defeated player's followers (thereby killing the follower.) If no follower is available, the enemies will take an additional life token from the defeated player character instead.
    • The lord of the Vampire's Tower board space demands a blood toll of any player character attempting to cross the space on their way to the Crown of Command in the inner region. This toll can be paid either by removing some of the character's life tokens, or sacrificing one or more of the player's followers.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different:
    • The Werewolf NPC introduced in the Blood Moon expansion functions in a similar fashion to the Grim Reaper, in that it's moved around the board whenever a player rolls a one for their movement and attacks any player character it lands on. This attack can result in the player losing a life, a follower, contracting lycanthropy, or (if the player is lucky) choosing from a list of beneficial effects.
    • Player characters can contract lycanthropy, which grants them bonuses to their rolls in battle and psychic combat during the night, at the cost of being forced to attack any player character that is in a space that the lycanthrope lands on. Lycanthropy can be cured by the wolf's bane object, among other means.
  • Private Military Contractors: The Mercenary is a particularly useful follower if you have the gold to burn. He will add 3 to your strength on combat, but only if you pay him a gold. He also costs 3 gold to hire.
  • Race Against the Clock: The aforementioned "Lightbearers" Alternate Ending uses the newly introduced Day/Night mechanic to incorporate this trope. The players have a number of days (varying according to the number of players) to cooperate in order to ensure that a player reaches the Crown of Command. If they manage to do so before time runs out, every player wins. However if no one has reached the Crown before night falls on the final day, everyone loses.
  • Religion of Evil:
    • The Dragon expansion features cultists who worship the various dragon lords, doing their bidding in the world by attacking the player characters. These cultists invariably receive a combat bonus when the particular dragon lord they worship is the dragon king, sometimes doubling their effectiveness in battle or psychic combat.
    • The Dragon Priestess player character is implied to have a leadership position in the aforementioned dragon cults, having the abilities to automatically take cultists as followers, and to make sacrifices to dragons they encounter in exchange for random benefits.
    • Other types of cultist enemies are thematically linked to various "boss" characters, such as the Ice Queen, the Eagle King, and the Dungeon Lord.

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alternative title(s): Talisman
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