Finding the Fun within the Weird or: How I prepared a Talislanta One-Shot

Finding the Fun within the Weird or: How I prepared a Talislanta One-Shot

Talislanta is a weird world. I have been meaning to run the game for years, because I love the kind of weird fantasy it seems inspired by: the works of Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, and perhaps China Miéville.

I had trouble, however, to find an entry for me as a GM and, more importantly, the players. The game and its world seemed a stunning heap of very strong, yet disparate images rather than a theme park with a unifying „core story“ that would give me an idea of what to actually do with all the glass palaces, veiled bird people and slightly mushroom-y landscapes. If anything goes, it is hard to get something specific going.

Another game I have long admired, RIFTS, poses a similar problem, but there, amidst all the cyberpunk gunslingers and post-apocalyptic crazies, not to forget the quite extensive rules and lists covering MEGADAMAGE extravaganza, it seems far more viable to just pick a cool area, organize it into hexes, drop in a techno-dungeon or two and murder-hobo away. In Talislanta, however, we can’t even be sure that the characters are rugged adventurers, or adventurers at all. It feels way more … whimsical? Dreamy? Nightmarish? Everything seems too precious to just be killed or conquered and have its stuff taken. If you hit it with your sword or cast magic missile at it, it might just evaporate into scented smoke.

But on the other hand, it is a game played for fun after all. So what does one do and where is the fun for players in Talislanta? Having finally found a group willing to actually play the game for a one-shot, I decided to approach my prep in a somewhat methodical manner.

Here are the guidelines I came up with.

1. I as a GM need to have fun preparing this.

I browsed the world description and the monster book looking for stuff jumping at me. That’s where I would work from.

2. At its core, Talislanta is about four things. Weird creatures, sublime landscapes, a sense of deep history that is being hinted at rather than fully spelled out, and, tonally, a mix of quirkiness and scariness. So all of those elements need to appear to some degree, even in the space of 3-4 hours.

3. For a one-shot, the richness of the setting needs to be balanced structurally by some rails and guidelines. If I throw all that weird stuff in front of the players, it should come with an idea or at least an offere of what to do with it.

Here is what I came up with.

The adventure is going to take place in thr Werewood. I have always liked the „dark, magic forest“ trope in any fantasy setting. It frees me from having to present a huge city or state with countless places and factions. People know what a fantasy forest looks like (rails and guidelines– check).

The Werewood is full of stuff that checks all of the boxes from no 2, too.

It has wonderous and dangerous critters, it has a river, it is dark, dusky, misty, majestic, and ancient. Sorcerers from an empire of old used to be buried along the shores of the river like pharaos, their mummies carefully sat among their everyday riches.

There are gnomes that hoard treasure and fulfill exactly 12 wishes over their lifetimes, while the 13th wish is a curse, and you never know how many they have granted already. There are vampire creatures that attract victims by perfect impersonation and imitation of voices and even spells.

Nice abd shroom-y. Now all I need to do is tie this all together in a simple structure for a one-shot.

So the group will be tasked by a wizard to fetch her the mummy of a sorcerer king of old from the Werewood. Go to X, find area/dungeon Y, bring me Z, we know the drill.

Normally, I would play out the journey, have some random encounters, let players pick up some rumours, but since it’s a one-shot, we will start right in front of the tomb.

There will be a second party, a warrior from some exotic place I have yet to pick, who is not after the mummy, but after the wish from the gnome who has made the tomb its home. His lover has died and he needs the wish to bring him back to life. Will the players cooperate? Fight? Trick him?

In any case, they will now have to deal with the warrior, the dangers of the tomb AND the gnome.

Among the dangers will be a vampire creature, and just maybe, a willing participant secretly gets to play that shape-changer disguised as their character.

Of course, the gnome has only the 13th wish to grant. What will that do to the warrior? Or the players?

Of course, the gnome has in its hoard not just the one original mummy, but two, which look pretty much alike. Which one will they pick? And how will they get it back out of the wood, especially if their ship is destroyed by some of the nastier were-beasts in the forest?

That outline seems familiar enough to be on the weirder side of osr-dnd, yet feels distinctly Talislanta.

Looking forward to playing it out!

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