Sunday, 20 March 2016

Talisman of Death playthrough

I call the horse 'Mr Clip-Clop'
Written by Jamie Thomson & Mark Smith, Artwork by Bob Harvey

I'm sure I read Talisman of Death before. I just can't remember when.

At some point during my childhood I would comb through local libraries for FF books, and I strongly suspect that Talisman of Death was one that I borrowed from one. I know that I never owned a copy, and I just can't remember anything significant about it. That's about to change, though.

This is one of those strange FF books in which you start out as a regular person on planet Earth. It wastes utterly no time in throwing you into the new setting though, by casting you as the chosen earth-man who has been selected by a powerful god-entity to save the world of Orb. This whole "earth man chosen and thrown into fantasy story" trope is one that we tend not to see a whole lot and it's quite nice to see it here. Significantly better than it's been done in any of those awful 'Gor' books!

I've rolled up a skill of 9, which is not bad for a mere earthling who has probably never wielded a sword in his entire life. I've got a luck of 12 and a stamina of 23, so things are starting out looking fairly hopeful. After having been told that I have been chosen (but noticeably not informed as to what I've actually been chosen to DO) I'm chucked into a big empty underground chamber. Nice. I'm already starting to suspect that this is all a big joke being pulled by my university chums.

This is what happens to
all your old D&D parties
Before I even have time to get used to this large chamber I've awoken in, I hear the sound of running feet. I try to turn and make a run for it, but only succeed in running right into a brick wall. Eventually I turn to face the people who are approaching - a group of adventurers, who demand to know what I am doing here. I decide to be honest and tell them that I'm actually an earthling who was chosen by an alien force and dumped in this dark room somewhere for no known reason.

The group believe my crazy story, and tell me that I have obviously been sent to aid them. The wizard of the group hands me an amulet, and tells me that if it falls into the wrong hands then the god of death will be summoned and eat the world for lunch. Gods of death tend to do this kind of thing. The wizard then tells me that I am their only hope, and teleports me out of this dungeon before a horde of monsters rush into the room and stamp on the adventurers.

With his last breath, the wizard teleports me above-ground, and I start my trek towards wherever the nearest large city happens to be. No sooner am I on my way, that I catch sight of a group of orcs approaching from the south. I seem to immediately recognise them, despite being an earthling who has never seen an orc in real-life before. I choose to avoid them, only to notice another group of dark elves approaching from the north. I promptly run from both groups, not wanting to end up being crushed by either ones... but the moment I find somewhere safe to hide, both groups rush over and beat the snot out of each other instead!

Tree sap. Easy to carry.
Glad to have escaped this little incident, I rest by a lake in the forest to catch a few moment's breath, having run across that orc-elf battlefield. As I drink the cool water, one of the nearby trees decides that it wants to grab me and drag me off to... do whatever trees do to their prey. Eat them via osmosis, I suppose. Either way, I whack it with my sword until it changes its mind, and I find that its sap has some interesting healing properties. I pocket some of this sap (if you have any idea how I manage to carry around a handful of tree sap in a backpack, please let me know) and scurry along on my way.

It seems that the dark elves made short work of the orcs, and have been pursuing me across the landscape. I first notice this when I catch sight of one of their scouts sniffing along my trail. I dive into the river to lose throw off the scent, but this does little to help me. Before long I'm running across the open plains, an entire dark elf squadron hot on my heels.

It's only by the timely intervention of a group of riders that causes the elves to turn and flee. The riders in question, consisting entirely of female warriors with spiky helmets and big swords, demand to know what I am doing in the lands of Rohan (or wherever I've wound up).

The riders in the book look like this,
but wearing chain-mail bikinis... sorry.
I ask them to take me to their home city, where I can find some help. The book asks me if I wish to hand over my sword. I choose to ask if the riders would mind awfully if I held onto it for now, which the book interprets to mean "take out your sword and hit the riders"

After being soundly thumped over the head, I am dragged along to the city of Greyguilds. The book keeps asking if I want to try to escape from these riders, despite the fact that they seem quite nice and didn't chop my head off when I started randomly waving my sword around earlier. I am informed that the city of Greyguilds is a noble center of learning, and that there are many old men in robes who carry books around. The book then tells me that I am 'no match' for these men, obviously for no other reason than to insult me further. Thanks for that, book!

Things seem to go from bad to worse here. It seems that any time I set foot in a city in a Fighting Fantasy book, really awful things happen to me. The less said about Blacksand, the better - and let us never mention Khare ever again. So in Greyguilds, I am taken to see the leader of the city, a lovely woman called Hawkete, who steals the talisman of death from me and has me thrown out into the gutter.

A wretched hive blah blahblah, you know the drill
I make my way through the streets, stopping in at a blacksmith in order to buy a new sword. Then, in the middle of an alleyway, a billowing cloaked figure confronts me and tells me that it is a messenger of death and that it wants to take the talisman from me. I calmly tell it that I don't have the talisman. It calls me a liar and punches me in the gut until I hit it back. This is an extremely difficult fight, because each time it hits me I lose a skill point, meaning that this quickly comes down to a battle of luck.

I'm eventually able to get away from this weird creature, and keep on through the alleys. Shortly afterwards, I hear a group of thieves planning to rob a jewelery store. I drop into the store, intending to tell the owner about this, but end up getting attacked by the thieves instead. The store owner gives me a giant ruby in gratitude, although at this stage a load of bandages would be more useful.

Last seen littering busy city streets
I leave the store and then step in a bear trap.

Let me rephrase that. I step in a bear trap. In the middle of a city street. Someone had set a bear trap. For what possible reason would someone do this? Just... what was the logic of this trap, again?

While I'm lying in the city streets, a group of robed figures walk over to me. They tell me that they are the cultists of the god of death, and that they want the talisman. I roll my eyes, tell them that I don't bloody well have the talisman. The first robed figure calls me a liar and punches me. I feel a strange sense of deja vu. But then, thankfully, a group of the town's guard come marching down the street, and the cultists make a quick retreat.

The guards see me as I lay in the street, clutching my bleeding leg that's stuck in a bear trap. They laugh. Then they walk away, laughing about it.

I hate the guards of Greyguild City.

Some changelings don't have
time for all your rubbish...
I sit there on the street, stuck in the bear trap, for some hours. Eventually, a man comes up and offers to help me out of the damn thing. He is a scholar, and gives me a place to stay for the night. I tell him about my adventures, expecting him to probably sell me into slavery or something. To my shock, he is actually rather helpful, and tells me that I should check out the local tavern in order to get some leads as to how to get the talisman back. He then gives me a broach to wear so that he will know I'm not a shape-changer in future... wait, does this kind of thing happen often? Does the city of Greyguild often have hordes of changelings walking the street? Has the Dominion taken over? Are the guards mocking me because they are secretly Jem'Hadar? We may never know!

On the way to the tavern, a group of students are having a fight, which I ignore in favour of heading right into the bar. The term 'dive' doesn't begin to describe the bar, but 'miserable and foul-smelling' might be a good start. I buy a pint and I'm offered the chance to talk to the surly guys in the corner 'who look like thieves'. I don't quite know what a thief in the world of Orb looks like, but they look like it. Possibly because they're wearing masks, have bags with dollar signs on their sides, and are stealing each other's wallets constantly.

If all thieves looked like this, the city
guards would have a far easier job
I try to ask them if they would be interested in a job, and they seem vaguely curious, and ask me to drop by the Thieves Guild tomorrow morning to make a booking. I'd never have thought thieves were so specific with their paperwork! And can I just point out, it's always this kind of scummy, wretched cities that have Thieves Guilds, operating out in the open and with their own buildings nice and clear in the public. They probably stole the building, it likely used to be a bank.

I leave the tavern, and I'm promptly told that I can have a point of luck for getting out of the place alive. *rubs his head* Urrgh... seriously, where did my life go wrong? Most people feel lucky if they win the lottery, I feel lucky if I go for a pint of beer and don't get stabbed in the face.

The terror of an
ice cream Pokemon
Whatever luck I did have instantly runs out a few minutes later. I'm walking happily down a street, when a robed man crashes through a nearby window and into the middle of the road. People from inside the building start to flee in panic. I have no idea how, but the people inside this particular building seem to have found an Ice Demon, which is now out of control and running amok. The ice demon's cold aura immediately hurts me. Then its fists do.

And try as I might, the dice simply aren't with me on this fight. Before long, the ice demon has punched me into little pieces.

Talisman of Death is a very strange book. Not in a bad way, but in a very atmospheric and entertaining way. It's not going for the slightly surrealist atmosphere you'll find in some of the earlier FF books, but it has its own sense of strange comedy and is often very entertaining to read. If you've played Sword of the Samurai, you can instantly recognise some of the ways in which the writers convey atmosphere, although the structure and pacing in Talisman of Death is far superior.

This was a decent and enjoyable FF book, I wouldn't rate it high enough to consider it a must-have, but it is a nice enough read in itself.

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of horror stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'", "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance" and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie". His newest novel, "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)


  1. This book is set on the world of Orb, the same world where Smith / Thompson set their Way of the Tiger series (my fave gamebook series ever) and also the Duel*Master series. You don't mention running into the Tyutchev / Cassandra / Thaum trio, but they are a recurring piece of bad news throughout the world of Orb.

  2. As I recall, when you die in this, you get sent back to the beginning; did this not happen with the ice demon?

    1. Dying in battle is one of the few ways not to get sent back to the start of this book. Non-combat-based Stamina loss can also lead to lasting death. And there are a few 'no second chances' Instant Deaths - one or two before you get to Greyguilds, and the others involving some of Death's more high-ranking servants or other particularly powerful entities.