For the last couple months off and on I have been playing online through Talisalanta 5e online with Roll20, this is the first time I have really ran any long term game outside of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e, and the first time I've played /anything/ in probably close to 3-4years. It has definitely been a learning experience, I've become quite rusty at actually running a game, I've become sloppy with descriptions and pacing which years ago I probably would have not issue with whatsoever. However, it has also pointed out that a lot of what you can do with a game comes down to the ruleset you're playing with and in the end Talislanta has created far more of a hindrance then a help in this regard.
The basic rules of the game for the most part are fairly agreeable, but the world and how close it ties into the rules (making it unable to be separated from it) and the way magic is formulated in the game have created a nightmare to create content for and master for my group of players. The game puts too much detail into unimportant and generally easily determined parts of the rules and world and leaves out great pieces of information that leave the product as a whole lacking in substance. It is a collection of ideas that don't even come together. e
I originally chose Talislanta because it was a fairly old system that had had many additions and prints for multiple languages, so it wasn't that obscure and had been played a fair amount and was best of all _free_. This allowed everyone I was playing with to easily get a copy of the rules and be able to build their characters without much effort or trouble. The issue with all this however is the quality of the content within this, overall at least with 5e it is a mess - which after looking a bit harder has been pretty much agreed upon with the community. I mean, it has some neat features such as choosing your paths which allows you to have a very diverse and interesting group of characters playing. As well I do like the /Action Table/ it makes it very easy to roll and play online and have everyone stay in the moment. But beyond that, it really goes from a mixed bag to downright dreadful for the Dungeon Master to run with. However the outlining and layout is a mess and it becomes confusing and frustrating to find information and rules on a short notice.
The problems that game have come down to how it presents both magic and the world, they take a freeform approach when describing limitations, how they work and the extent of their interactions - all of which would be fine except that the rest of the game, both with races and classes depend on very important parts from both and the vagueness doesn't help setup a coherent style of play.
I'll start with the world, because it is both a bigger and smaller issue in the overall picture. Talislanta prides itself for being a nonconformist setting with "No Elves" being the tagline it sets itself on. There is a 'rich' and 'varied' history to the world that spreads throughout cultures and time periods. However the amount of information that each area has varies so much that unless you start in some very predefined areas there isn't a whole lot of information available to work off of. For example there are two nations - Khazad and Cymbril each of these are pretty standard locations in the world. The entire information on Khazad in /Hotan's History of the World/ which is suppose to be full of detailed information on the world has 3 pages of Arim and 16 pages for Cymbril. This is a game that has been around since 1987 and the 5th edition came out in 2007 - the fact that there hasn't been more information provided on these regions to make them equal out is sloppy. In fact to find more information about Khazad you have to look back at the first edition which has maps and information on certain areas in the country that don't exist in the newer edition.
However in character creation there is information and vague references to these places, in some sort of an attempt to create an interconnected world. These don't work because beyond the very basic information included in the other books /there is no more information/ on these places. When creating content using this information there isn't a structure to build off of, instead there is just odd bits and pieces of information you string together to make a coherent location and culture. Instead of creating a cohesive world they've went for the 'spread but vague', this lets you create characters that are from all over the place which is a problem in and of its own. My party has a Kang, a Cymrillian, Xambrian and more. Each of these races are from different edges of the continent and have a couple paragraphs of "information" that details how they should act. However the players don't know this because they're not identifiable and or important enough in their readings to stand out.
Oh dear Lord, Magic. Instead of going for a traditional setting where paths can have access to a variety of preset spells the game allows you to go and create your spells. Magic in-universe is extremely important to the workings of the world and is separated into 12 /Orders/ which are like types of magic including Necromancy and Wizardry. They have specific interpretations and are limited by race/path but can eventually be learned. On top of that there are 9 /Modes/ which are the spell-effects. Within these twelve paths of magic and nine ways of casting spells the player has the ability to create their own spell definitions.
Spells in the Talislanta setting are defined by their parameters. Range, duration, effect, etcetera are all set at the time the spell is researched and scribed.
Because of this players can have a multitude of spells and many versions of the same spells. This makes the player have their own 'personal' spell book that is unique for their character. All of this sounds great for the /player/ and could perhaps work well in theory but in practice it becomes a mess of over powered or jack of all trade magic that can take over any number of situations. This leaves other characters that are not so magically inclined at a great disadvantage, and makes it so that players focus on using magic instead of deductive reasoning and /roleplaying/ to solve puzzles and get out of tight situations.
As I said at the beginning I've been running this for the last 3, almost 4 months. They're online and we have limited time so I've tried to keep it as much in world and out of combat as possible (with exceptions) and it is frustrating. I started in the area of Arim which is a small mining based nation in the Western part of the main continent. It is surrounded by mountains, a couple of really religious nations to the south and some barbarians to the northeast. As for the information about the actual nation is that it is a. a mining nation b. has a forbidden city c. there is a big lake d. a port city thats dirty and e. a fortress by the barbarians. That in a nutshell is it, there are no maps detailing the interior, or any places describing any real interesting features of the nation. I considered this to be fairly acceptable because it would leave me with a fair amount of leeway to work with and on the surface I thought there was enough information about the culture and customs to get by. I was wrong.
The game makes it incredibly difficult to balance for encounters, I am playing with a group of four players that are all level one, they have some crazy characters but nothing that is too outlandish considering the overall 'uniqueness' of the world they live in. However encounters will either be far too hard, or far too easy - most likely the latter. With the freedom of magic, and the wide range of abilities open to character even encounters that should be difficult or challenging for them (or a party that is slightly more powerful) usually is easy as pie. Their rolls are high, the balancing is awful and in general there is nothing in their /Menagerie/ that either will fit into these less known areas logically, or make sense in terms of building encounters. As well because the world tries to be /ever so different/ in its makeup, the creations that inhabit it are all grotesque or abnormal.
I understand that this game probably isn't what /I/ was looking for, but overall it feels like it is a juvenile and mixed bag of attempted tricks and grand gestures that becomes muddled under its own weight. I couldn't recommend it to anyone else to play, and once I finish up the little adventure I'm running I dearly hope to move onto something that is more coherent on my end so that I don't get stuck fighting the system instead of making interesting encounters and developing stories that they can as individuals become invested in. As a Dungeon Master it is my responsibility to work through these issues - but in general the game works against me when trying to find solutions to these problems.