The Magical Quest Game
Harris, the creator of Talisman, gives some background on the history
of the game.
it was first published in 1983 Talisman has gained a world-wide
following. Editions have been published under license as far afield as
Israel, and Australia. I thought that I would give my own story of how
it came to be.
tale begins in the early 1980s in Deans Court, a small residence of
postgraduate students at St. Andrews University. It was my future wife
Debby who suggested that a group of us put our money together and buy
something called 'Dungeons And Dragons' from the local toy store. She
had played the game back home in Florida and assured us that it was
great fun. "So you pretend you're wandering around in a tunnel and you
draw a map of it?" I remember saying skeptically. But still, I parted
with my share of the cost.
first session was run by Tony Cant, a physicist who had played the part
of Games Master back in his native Australia (among his other
accomplishments were the fact that he spoke six languages and had the
largest collection of punk rock LPs I had ever seen).
played for an entire weekend, hardly pausing for sleep or food. It was
an intoxicating experience as character after character was horribly
killed to be replaced by another freshly created adventurer. After that
we played regularly, but while others worked up new scenarios, I had it
in mind to come up with a way we could have all the excitement of a
roleplaying adventure without all the hard work of creating characters
and drawing maps. At the back of my mind was a game I had designed
while still a pupil at Morgan Academy in Dundee. It was called
'Rectocracy' and involved each player taking on the character of one of
the teachers. You moved around the board, gradually working your way
towards the centre, where you would try to make yourself Rector
(headmaster/principal) of the school. I had a notion that I could use a
similar layout to make a fantasy adventure game.
Lives! It Lives!
As the characters in the game
were meant to be as interesting as those in a roleplaying game, I gave
each of them two or three special abilities and assigned them a moral
rating of Good, Evil or Neutral. In addition to this they each had a
Strength rating to represent their physical prowess, and a Craft rating
to represent their mental and spiritual faculties. Spaces on the board
represented a landscape where various encounters would take place by
means of drawing cards. As the character moved around the board he
would acquire gold, objects, followers and magic spells. He would also
be able to increase his Strength and Craft.
As he grew more powerful the character would be able to make his way
towards the centre of the board through increasingly dangerous regions
until he finally reached the centre with the aid of a mystic talisman.
At this point I was calling the game 'Necromancer' and at the centre of
the board was the Necromancer's Isle, where a player would gain the
means of killing off all of his rivals.
first version was drawn up entirely in pencil so that I could make
changes. In spite of this rather lame appearance, the first game went
tremendously well and all my fellow game enthusiasts were eager to play
particularly fun things became clear. Whenever someone was making a die
roll that might turn them into a toad, all the other players would
spontaneously start chanting, "Toad! Toad! Toad!" The other interesting
factor was that the person who was first to reach the centre of the
board rarely won the game. Usually someone would catch up with him and
clobber him before he could kill off all of the opposition.
game was so popular among my group of friends that it was no problem
play-testing it extensively. I had designed it originally just for our
own enjoyment, but if it was this good, might someone be interested in
is interested in publishing it
leafed through various games magazines, looking for a potential
publisher. I found an advert by a company called Games Workshop, who at
that time were selling four or five hobby games. A couple of years
before they had been operating out of the back of a van, selling
backgammon sets. I contacted them to confirm they would be interested
in seeing a new game. I had by this time fashioned a beautiful full
colour set using only my own limited artistic abilities, but the point
was simply to give an idea of how good this game could look. I posted
this prototype off to Games Workshop and had a reply only a couple of
weks later. Next thing I knew I was down in London chatting with Ian
Livingston and Steve Jackson and preparing to sign a contract that
would give me a royalty for each copy sold. They wanted to make some
minor changes, including changing the name to 'Talisman'.
mentioned casually that I had designed the game in such a way that
expansion sets could be added to it if there should be a demand for
such things. Everybody laughed good-naturedly.
Day 1983. Production of the finished Talisman game had been
running behind schedule so that all I had seen of it up until now were
some black and white xeroxes of the artwork. I had been assured,
however, that there would be lots of copies ready for the launch on
the day I was somewhat the worse for wear after spending the evening
before in a popular Islington pub with some friends. This did little to
dim my excitement, however, when Ian Livingston handed me the first
brand new boxed set of Talisman. Most of the cards in this first
edition were in black and white, but it was still a thing of beauty.
had a pretty busy time of it running demonstration games for hordes of
eager fantatics, but I still found time to chat with Ken St. Andre,
creator of the 'Tunnels and Trolls' RPG which was the basis of the
system I used for running role-playing adventures.
this same day Games Workshop launched another game, one based on
insurance whose major (perhaps only) selling point was that it was
designed by millionaire composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. I can't remember
what it was called, and I don't suppose you can either.
of the fact that it received a surprisingly mediocre review in GW's
magazine 'White Dwarf' (in those days the reviewers were independent),
the gaming community embraced Talisman with wild enthusiasm. Soon plans
were afoot to produce a glossier, full colour second edition. And
somebody called me to say, "Hey, how about an expansion set?"
I delivered an expansion set full of new
characters and cards. Citadel miniatures produced a set of Talisman
figures and there was even a short lived computer version. Workshop
produced another in-house expansion set called 'The Talisman
Adventure', which was unfortunately filled with errors that could
easily have been avoided if they had allowed me the opportunity to edit
it. But that's business.
delivered another expansion set, 'The Talisman Dungeon', which added a
secondary board to the game. Soon two more boards were to be added. A
Canadian fan had designed a set that was released as 'The Talisman
Timescape'. Finally Workshop produced 'The Talisman City.' By now the
game had been licensed to companies in France and Germany. The German
edition advertised it as a "struggle against death and the devil."
it's only a game!
it spread to Scandanavia, eastern Europe and Australia. Games Workshop
had opened a US branch and the game became a massive seller there. By
now Talisman was getting rave reviews and one magazine even listed it
as one of the top ten games of all time. It was a regular winner of
the 'Best Fantasy Board Game' award at the annual Games Day.
I attended one more Games Day where I ran a Talisman tournament and was
delighted to hear players chanting, "Toad! Toad! Toad!" as some hapless
soul rolled the die.
end of an era
A lot of games now had huge
plastic pieces as their selling point rather than lots of beautifully
illustrated cards. We had discussions about expanding Talisman into a
series of separate games each with lots of plastic bits, but nothing
came of this. In the end a large, glossy third edition was published.
By the time this version had run its course, the chaps at Games
Workshop were a completely different bunch from those I had dealt with
at the beginning. We exchanged letters and phone calls regarding the
future of the Talisman. In the end they offered me a generous sum of
money to buy out my interest in the game. In the life of every creative
individual there comes a time to take the money and run, so I did.
I was very
pleased to hear that a new edition of Talisman hit the shops in autumn
2007, a testament to its continuing status as one of the classic board
games of all time.
Visit Talisman Island: A
good source of more information about Talisman, and the various
Talisman expansion products (both commercial and amateur). Lots of
links to other Talisman enthusiast sites.