Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-84046-566-2
Fantasy, 2006 (Reissue)
Talisman of Death is an unusual Fighting Fantasy book in that it is a fantasy campaign set in a new world, called Orb, rather than Titan. Eventually the authors will use Orb as the setting for their own gamebook series, but for now, this gamebook provides an intriguing introduction to that world.
You play a person on Earth who is brought over to Orb by the gods and given abilities in swordplay for a reason. The gods Fate and Time are concerned over the latest plot of the minions of the god Death. You see, these minions have fashioned the Talisman of Death that will enable them to summon Death to Orb. When that happens, all life will cease and only undeath will remain. (Shouldn’t Death be called Undeath if this is the case?) We can’t let that happen, of course. Unfortunately, the minions of Death are quite clever – they made it such that the Talisman is indestructible. Therefore, you have to take the Talisman of Death and then find a way back to Earth, bring the Talisman with you so that the minions of Death will not be able to get it back. Fate and Time can bring you to Orb, but for some reason they can’t tell you how to get back to Earth, so you’re on your own with that one.
You emerge on Orb right in the Rift, an unfathomably deep Underdark-like realm that stretches for miles across and who knows how many miles beneath the earth. You’re just in time to meet a bunch of crusaders who had managed to retrieve the Talisman from the dark elves and what not that protected it. Realizing that everything would be lost unless they hand it to you and sacrifice themselves to let you get away, they send you onto the surface, just outside the Rift, and tell you to head over the city of learning called Greyguilds-on-the-Moor. So off you go, dutifully looking for a way back to Earth while every evil minion and his mother are out to get you.
This is a very tough one, folks, because there are many combat encounters with opponents having high to maximum stats, but it’s not that bad. There are several reset points – when you die, Fate and Time will send you back to a certain reset point in time (which one depending on how far you have progressed). You can start again and hopefully have better rolls this time around. There are many sudden deaths, but with the reset points, you can always choose the other option next time around, heh.
What makes this one interesting is the setting and the presence of many memorable scenes. The encounter with the Envoy of Death, for example, is a very painful one as you actually lose Skill points with each hit you receive from him (don’t worry, the effect isn’t completely permanent), but it’s one you won’t forget so soon. Likewise, the naughty trio of Tyutchev, Thaum, and Cassandra will make their mark on you. We also have a bad-tempered tyrannical swordmistress to deal with, some truly ugly monsters, and cute little pig-like men to deal with.
There are some flaws in design, such as how the authors sometimes fail to keep track whether you still have the Talisman with you and come up with some eyebrow-rising situations as a result. But these flaws don’t really intrude on the enjoyment of the whole campaign. All things considered, this is a pretty good example of how a gamebook can be insanely tough but still be entertaining at the same time.