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Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin)
Fighting Fantasy (2002-2007, Wizard Books Series 1) — no. 24
Dødens amulet (Danish)
A haláltalizmán (Hungarian)
Shini-gami no kubi-kazari [死神の首飾り] (Japanese)
O talismã da morte (Portuguese)
O Talismã da Morte (Portuguese)
Le Talisman de la mort (French)
El talismán de la muerte (Spanish)
Der Talisman des Todes (German)
Talisman na smartta [Талисманът на смъртта] (Bulgarian)
Talisman smrti (Czech)
(Original (American) - cover)
Harvey, Bob (interior)
Jones, Peter Andrew (Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st] - cover; Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number spine only) - cover; Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd] - cover)
McKenna, Martin (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W) - cover; Wizard S1 (Special), UK printing (C&W) - cover)
December 6, 1984 (Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st])
1985 (Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd])
September, 1985 (Original (American))
April, 2006 (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W))
0140318593 / 9780140318593
(Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st], Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number spine only), Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd])
0440985153 / 9780440985150 (Original (American))
1840465662 / 9781840465662 (Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W))
400 sections |
|Number of Endings:||
12 instant failures, 1 victory, plus death by Stamina loss |
Original (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st]:
Thanks to James Thompson for the cover scans.
|User Summary:||You have been transported by mysterious beings from Earth to the land of Orb, where you must save that world by keeping a dangerous artifact out of evil hands.|
Talisman is rather like The Lord of the Rings - you have the talisman, you must journey with it for the sake of the world. Ringwraith-like creatures are on your tail as well as a bunch of warrior women and whatnot.
It's fairly fun, but a little linear. I was enjoying it up until towards the end, when there is a ridiculously hard battle sequence - you must fight a Skill 12 priestess, then the best swordman around along with his sidekick and magical allies. And if you manage all that, then there is a good chance of a sudden death ending near the end.
In short, a decent FF gamebook - not the best, not the worst.
Nearly twenty years ago, I came up with a plan: if I played through a Fighting Fantasy gamebook every month, I could make my way through the original run in a little less than five years. The fact that I'm now reviewing number eleven shows that things did not go according to plan; I simply hadn't accounted for how arbitrary and frustrating these books can be, and back in 2007, the aptly-named House of Hell drove the final nail in the coffin, putting me off the series for over a decade with its arbitrary solution and lack of a cohesive plot. The urge has finally returned, though, and Talisman of Death turned out to be the perfect adventure to welcome me back to the series.
While the adventure is not without challenge, and it will almost certainly take multiple attempts to solve, it manages to stay well under the frustration threshold. While there is clearly a "true path" which allows victory with a minimum of risk, there are places where the reader can diverge from this course but still survive through a combination of luck and strategic resource management. There are some critical points in the plot that offer a wide range of choices, making replays interesting since there are many things to try when starting over. Perhaps most importantly, in an innovation for the series, there is a sort of "save point" mechanism -- in several places where the reader encounters an arbitrary instant death, they have the option to be revived and sent back in time (in a way that fits with the book's plot). Not only does this mean that it is possible to avoid replaying the first half of the book once the finale is in sight, but it also means that once you have finally been lucky enough to roll up a powerful character that is able to survive combats and SKILL checks with a minimum of risk, you have a reasonable chance of hanging onto it until victory.
Fairness is important to an enjoyable gamebook, but you also need interesting choices; Talisman of Death delivers there as well. Many of the choices have a logic behind them, rewarding careful thought and attention to detail. A few offer ethical challenges, one of which even forced me to stop and consider the options longer than I normally would in one of these books. When the book does fall back on essentially arbitrary decisions -- a common characteristic of almost any gamebook -- the theme of the adventure is not the usual Fighting Fantasy "which way do you go?" but rather the much more interesting "who do you trust?" This emphasis on trust really makes the book stand out; it comes up again and again, and it swings both ways: without trusting the right people, you can't possibly succeed, but trusting the wrong people will get you hurt or killed on several occasions. This is a lot more interesting than mapping random geography, and it sticks in the memory an awful lot better. I can't necessarily remember whether I should turn right or left at a given juncture without taking notes, but once I've made a friend or been stabbed in the back, it's easy to make the right choice on a future run-through.
The only point where the book fell down for me a bit is in the plot. The "stranger in a strange land" setup never really appeals to my personal tastes, and the series of ominous-looking but easily defeated adversaries sent to retrieve the Talisman didn't sell the threat particularly well. In its debut appearance, the world of Orb didn't seem especially distinctive from the usual Fighting Fantasy setting, and its pantheon of gods, a crucial part of the plot, felt rather generic. None of these are fatal problems -- this somewhat generic flavor is hardly out of step with the series as a whole, and the fact that this book has so much character interaction does a lot to make it feel livelier than many of its predecessors.
All in all, this is a strong debut for Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith, and while I didn't find the setting especially distinctive here, I'm interested to see how it develops in some of their subsequent works.
Talisman of Death (the first of only two Fighting Fantasy books co-authored by Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, creators of The Way of the Tiger and Falcon series) is a classic gamebook adventure. It is set in the world of Orb (which would later be the setting for The Way of the Tiger). In this book, however, you do not play a ninja, but a regular warrior transported from Earth to Orb in order to find a way to get the talisman of the god Death out of his reach. In order to achieve the final objective you must traverse a variety of subterranean, wilderness, and city settings. This variety was unusual in the FF series at this early point in its development (Ian Livingstone had previously tried to achieve something similar with Caverns of the Snow Witch, with much less effective results). The adventure is also different from many other FF books in that navigating social interactions (including trusting the right people and not revealing information to the wrong people) is just as important to complete it as fighting and item-gathering. The personalities of the nonplayer characters really help bring the world of Orb to life. The adventure is also notable for including a mechanism to help the player avoid starting again from the beginning (in some instances it is possible to get revived by the gods and allowed to pick up from an earlier point in the story).
The game is not without serious flaws, many of which can be attributed to the authors' lack of experience writing gamebooks at that time. Many of the cues used to determine whether the player has done certain things in the course of the story are awkward and can lead to confusion; something like the codeword system used in the later Fabled Lands series would have worked much better. The book also suffers from the stat-itis and item-itis so common in Fighting Fantasy adventures; it is impossible to complete it without winning at least two very tough fights (granted, there are several powerups which make things a bit easier if you find them, but an unlucky roll for SKILL during character creation will still place you at a great disadvantage). It also cannot be completed if certain items are not found. This includes a particular article which can only be obtained early on, missing which makes it likely you will get stuck getting revived over and over without being able to ever win at the quest.
All in all, in spite of a few problems here and there, this is a flavourful and involving adventure, which is well worth playing even if you need several attempts to finish it successfully. I even enjoyed Bob Harvey's illustrations more than in other books in the series. This story realized early on the full potential of the fantasy gamebook form (much better than Joe Dever did with Fire on the Water, which came out at about the same time). I would go as far as saying you can't claim to know the FF series if you've never tried it out. So if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?
I recall as a child thinking this book was very hard to beat, which is one of the reasons I was so surprised that I defeated it on my second playthrough in my later years. Talisman of Death is a well-written and engaging story, referencing Earth briefly before setting the tale in the world of Orb (which is heavily featured in the author's later gamebook series, The Way of the Tiger). The reader must protect the Talisman of Death, keeping it out of the hands of Death and his minions, until you can find a way to return to Earth where the Talisman will be safe. Along the way you spend most of your time inside a city, coming across recurring characters (not a common thing to see the same people showing up multiple times in Fighting Fantasy books) which allows for some more development of those characters for a change, instead of the usual, "oh, look, you've met somebody... nope, they're dead!" The mortality rate of this book is quite high, but the successful path through is logical and as long as the dice rolls behave themselves you can get through without straying too far from that path. The book is quite linear, and while there are many choices to be made, you will find you are quickly steered back to the main storyline (again, this allows for a better controlled and tighter tale). Interestingly enough, some of the better choices are not always intuitive. For example, at one point you have the opportunity of doing something very bad or choosing a more noble option. If you take the low road and do the bad thing, the book 'punishes' you by taking away a luck point. However, if you take the high road and try to be noble, you will be forced to test your luck, costing you a luck point anyway, but if you lose the luck check you also die! So in this instance, it is actually better to act the bad guy for a change. A good, fun, well-written book.
I still haven't finished this one but I expect to soon, and it's not for lack of trying. It's a pretty challenging book and like the others will take many tries to get through. Luckily, it does have a few restart scenarios which don't always make you start from scratch (unlike the Snow Witch).
It has a Narnia fantasy type start in which you get pulled to the world of Orb which is pretty much a standard fantasy world. I kinda wonder why they started with this. It would be something to expect from the first book in a series not book 11. You are entrusted with the Talisman by a group of dying crusaders, giving you a lofty quest.
This book has loads of twists and turns and covers a lot. It starts out moving you through the wilderness. Eventually you meet a gang of female warriors who take you to a town where it then becomes a city crawl. You lose the amulet only to have to enlist a group of thieves to steal it back, before leaving the city and having another wilderness adventure. It even has some logic puzzles to solve.
Much like Snow Witch, you can't tell when it will end. You feel like you defeat several "big bosses" but the quest continues. Hawkana, the high priestess, is the strongest, but you can find lots of stuff to help you fight her along the way.
Overall, a good book and a really great example of the genre with all bases covered.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to Nicholas Campbell for the jagged logo British cover scan.|
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jr - Zig-Zag Cover
Known EditionsOriginal (Zigzag), UK 1984 1st printing (C&W) [1st]
Original (Zigzag), UK 1985 2nd printing (C&W) [3rd]
Original (Dragon, Bronze text, Number spine only)
Wizard S1 (Standard), UK printing (C&W)
Wizard S1 (Special), UK printing (C&W)