FF11: Talisman of Death

Gilles Bélanger
Nicholas Campbell
Per Jorner
Mark J. Popp


[Gilles Bélanger]

Jamie and Mark do a very good job in opening up your imagination and putting such a vivid image in your mind. I've always noticed that some authors don't do this as much as others and I think it shows. In the beginning introduction you find yourself waking up and not knowing where you are and then told " Yes, you have been living a nice life back on Earth, but now you've been summoned here to save this world from the forces of Evil".

This book has your usual set of rules except for one little addition, POTIONS, you get the choice of one of three potions ( SKILL, STAMINA or LUCK ). Depending on what potion you choose it will make a big difference in how you will stay alive during the adventure.

Trust me when I say, you might not make it through the book with 1 life, this book also has something different than some of the other books. On some occasions when you die, you die, other times you die and get resurrected at an earlier point in the book with minimal equipment. This feature is original in the fact that you get a second chance at life without having to reroll a new character.

The action in this book is forever forward, because the plot gets more exciting as the story unfolds. You find yourself being chase by Death's minions and everyone else that wants their hands on the Talisman of Death.

One thing that is essential when playing each book is making a map. With this books it was easy to make a map, but afterwards you get flown around by Dragons to find different items ( Sword, Shield, etc )

Even though the story takes place on another world, it doesn't have any weird spaced monsters or aliens, and because of that I give the book three separate ratings:

8/10 Story
7/10 Illustrations

Rating: 7 out of 10


[Nicholas Campbell]

It all started when you awoke to discover that you had suddenly become a skilled swordsman. A songbird announced that you had been transported from Earth to the strange and unfamiliar world of Orb - a world full of talking creatures and mythical beasts. Standing in the Garden of the Gods, you learn that you have been specially chosen for a mission to restore the natural balance that is threatened by the forces of Chaos - then you are transported to the Rift, deep below the surface of Orb.

Once in the Rift, you meet a group of four people and learn something more about your mission - to take the Talisman of Death from Orb and bring it back to Earth, where it will be out of reach of the minions of Death. But how are you going to return to Earth?

As I've already stated, Talisman of Death is set on Orb, which is also the setting for the Way of the Tiger series of gamebooks by the same authors, Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith. The authors do a good job of revealing more about Orb as you progress through the game and meet people. Once you reach the nearby town of Greyguilds-on-the-Moor, you discover that there are many gods of Orb, and that two rival groups have control of the town - one of which worships the All-Mother, and the other group composed entirely of female warriors who worship the goddess Fell-Kyrinla. Greyguilds is also full of scholars, which makes a change from most of the towns and cities that one comes across on Titan.

As far as the difficulty is concerned, you will require a high Initial SKILL, and a high Initial LUCK is also quite helpful. One complaint I have is that you can collect several items along the way that increase your SKILL when you are using or wearing them, yet the rules state that you are never allowed to increase your SKILL above its Initial level! If the authors actually intended these items to increase your Attack Strength rather than your SKILL, then Talisman of Death would be rather fairer on adventurers with a low Initial SKILL. As it is, there are two SKILL 12 opponents that you must fight, although thankfully both of them require only two or three hits to kill them. There is also the unique feature of 'restart points'; if you are killed, you may be resurrected and able to restart your mission at one of two points in the game - but this doesn't make the game much easier.

Talisman of Death is a well-written and interesting gamebook, with a wide range of scenery and characters. One event in particular really stands out; the innocent-looking brass tiger charm results in arguably the funniest consequences that one can expect in Fighting Fantasy. It has to be read to be appreciated, as I don't want to reveal anything more here! This is a book that is well worth owning.

Rating: 8/10


[Per Jorner]

Talisman of Death arguably set a new standard in FF for plot development and dialogue (FF9 not having been conceived as a unit, and FF10 being more of a premise than a plot). The atmosphere is more reminiscent of Legend (Blood Sword) than Titan, with factions, odd practitioners of dark magic, abominations of nature and murderous scum on the loose wherever you turn. Which is not a bad thing.

The introduction is kinda Moorcock-esque, as you are summoned from Earth to do battle on the world of Orb. The story then sees you lugging the eponymous bauble to the city of Greyguilds and beyond, while minions of Death and others try to trip you up and laugh when you fall. The set-up is also the basis for a gamebook device resembling two optional "save points". These are used most often, but not always, when you reach what would usually be an instant death. The first is little more than a novelty as it "only" skips a few inconsequential paragraphs in the beginning and lets you keep your old character scores if you want. The second on the other hand is situated well past the adventure's halfway point. Although it doesn't let you reset your Skill, Luck or Provisions, you are reasonably likely to win once you reach it unless you started out with a very low Skill. Since it shouldn't take more than three or four attempts to pass Greyguilds (it took me two), this means the book can easily be over and done with in a single (long) sitting. No doubt some would call this "a nice change of pace", but it's not exactly ideal in terms of longevity.

When it comes to difficulty, no one will mistake this for a Livingstone or Green handiwork. I hope I'm not spoiling anyone's fun overmuch if I say that most of the time, the "common sense" option will carry you along. There are often no-combat alternatives, and when you do fight, few enemies have a Skill above 8 - in fact a startling number of them have just Skill 8. There are two Skill 12 opponents that must be faced down, granted, but you don't necessarily have to win too many rounds against either. You get to start with a potion, but I never used one. What there is in the way of required actions and items will not elude you for long.

Bob Harvey's art is a few strokes short of par for the course and I can see why he was enlisted for further work in the series. I take exception to certain details, though: for instance, the remarkably goblinoid Dark Elves whose gnomish appearance, just as in the Warlock adventure Dungeon of Justice also illustrated by Harvey, finds no support in the text. Hawkana's evil laughter is maybe just a little too cartoonish; the curious twist of her lower lip doesn't seem to be a mistake, either, seeing that a head in one of the recurring pieces shows the exact same feature. Griffins usually have forelegs, although Orbian ones could be different for all I know. The Wraith's horse should have a bit to strain at.

The eternal Skill vs. Attack Strength issue rears its ugly head: should you be able to counteract the loss of your weapon by drinking the Potion of Skill? Is 87 meant to refer to Attack Strength? Is 98, 117, 165, 371, 395? When told to deduct Skill until you find another sword, what do you do if the first weapon you come across is a spear? (The rules and introduction specifically mention that you have been trained in swordfighting.) Although you may never find a replacement sword there are numerous references to your drawing one in preparation for battle.

Valuable information: "Your horror turns to dread". Why would the player character necessarily believe his or her statement to be untruthful in paragraph 60? 331 should read "steeling" instead of "stealing"; 352 should read "taut" instead of "taught". Though it doesn't matter, why is the Willow Weird's Stamina different in 319 and 36? "Then you notice a red book bound in strange multi-coloured scales" - wouldn't you usually call that "a multi-coloured book"? Like FF43 this one has a noticeably different system of paragraph ordering: each paragraph has a higher chance of linking to the hundred sections or so nearest to it than to others further away. What do you do in paragraph 43 with an initial Stamina of 14? "A report like a rifle" feels like an anachronism even though the protagonist may have repressed memories of Earth. There is no need to keep track of the flares/torches mentioned as being an important part of your starting inventory. In 6 you are told to note down the specific words used to invoke a god's help, but when the opportunity to do so arises there is no indication that any foreknowledge is necessary ("Call upon a god? Sure, why not?"). 362 should presumably read "number rolled" instead of "Attack Strength" since the latter can never be below 10. In 109, should you restore the gold which you did not have when you "began the adventure" but did get before you reached that point in time? 273 is odd since it seems to assume that readers might lie about having received an invitation but not about owning an item. In 370, what is it that the thieves know that they don't in 276 or 333? In 366 you are robbed of an item you may not have.

Talisman of Death is not at all bad at what it does well. Most of its high points are located within the city, such as the scholars who take notes while you're fighting for your life, or the hilarious turn that your visit to the Red Dragon Inn might take. Unfortunately many paragraphs are used on largely unnecessary branches or needless near-duplication of sections, both of which are evident in the opening sequence. A little trimming could have enabled for instance some fleshing out of the journeys to and from the city. The writing and originality - in FF terms, at any rate - are still enough for a respectable score, but there are somewhat similar titles in the series that get more mileage out of the same number of paragraphs.

Rating: 6/10




Although like all of the series credited to the series creators Jackson and Livingstone, this book was actually authored by Mark Smith and Jamie Thompson, better known for the Way of the Tiger, Duel Master, Falcon and (in Thompson's case) Fabled Lands gamebook series. The title and cover are slightly misleading - this is a high fantasy FF, not a horror title like "Return of the Vampire" or "Beneath Nightmare Castle". It's not especially spooky and the monsters/NPCs include things like trolls, dark elves, orcs, a dragon, griffon, roc, wolf, ninja, chaos god, etc, as well as various undead. The story I found less believable than most FF's, partly because of its reliance on a "transported from your own world" scenario reminiscent of the Dungeons and Dragons TV series, rather than actually placing the character in a fantasy world. This said, it has a good mix of options and elements, and holds together fairly well as a fantasy scenario.

It is not particularly difficult in terms of the plot structure, but it's hard at a statistical level - the player will have to beat several Skill 12 adversaries to succeed, so a high-stats character is a must. This aside, one of my criticisms is that it is too easy in gaming terms, with the "good" choices being fairly obvious in most cases and the actual path through being fairly short - too much text volume is spent on lengthy sidetracks a player will only enter as a result of taking a wrong choice they are unlikely either to make or to repeat. It is therefore only likely to take a few reads to reach the end. Another problem is that it is fairly linear - though branches split within various sections, it splits too easily into three mini-adventures (before, during and after Greyfriars) which are self-contained in relation to each other. It is not, however, linear within each part, with various "good" paths through the before and during sections.

The rules are fairly standard for FF; the only real addition is a resurrection option after most of the non-combat deaths (from bad choices, failed skill or luck rolls etc) - a nice addition I felt, reducing the frustration of replaying, especially in the more difficult later parts of the adventure.



The Talisman of Death is an excellent Fighting Fantasy game book. In fact, it's one of the best of the series in my opinion for its originality and well developed fantasy story.

In this book, you play an unwilling adventurer who's plucked from obscurity and plunged into a dangerous, violent, medieval/fantasy world called Orb by supernatural beings.

The mission that they burden you with is to carry an indestructible talisman, that's sought out by evil forces, through the land and off the world via a magical portal. As the talisman cannot be destroyed, this is the only way of keeping it out of the villains' hands and saving Orb.

So, you set off on you hazardous quest on your own. During your adventure, you get to experience the world's land and towns and cross paths with various friends and enemies, all the while being pursued by the forces of darkness who want to kill you to get to the Talisman.

My favourite bits of the book are meeting the dangerous warrior women and their leader. Also, the crooks in town are interesting too. The ending is particularly exciting and you have to keep your wits about you if you're not to get tricked!

Although I feel that this book was inspired by the Lord of the Rings in some ways, it's an original work that stands upon its own two feet. A great adventure that you'll enjoy if you like collecting Fighting Fantasy.

It's one of my personal top five books in the series.


[Mark J. Popp]

Here's an unusual little book written by the team of Jamie Thomson & Mark Smith. It takes place on the world of Orb, a planet much like Titan, with not very much in common with Earth, where you were spirited away to begin this adventure. You must be cautious in your new surroundings, for many of the savage creatures outside the cities, and the militant peoples inside the cities, would sooner stick a knife in your ribs than look at you. High initial rolls would help, as in all Fighting Fantasy books, but especially because you are almost certain to be disarmed at some point the adventure (-2 skill), and there are a lot of powerful enemies to be overcome. Any encounters with the undead will also cause you to lose skills points, so taking the Potion of Skill isn't such a bad idea.

Your task, unlike what the back of the book tells you, is *not* to destroy the Talisman of Death, since it cannot be destroyed, but to bring it to another world where the creatures of Orb cannot reach it. So you must first discover how to get off the planet, then combat all manner of creatures that somehow know you have the Talisman. They will stop at nothing to reclaim it before reaching your destination.

Although the book is not exceptionally difficult, there are quite a few traps to be overcome, such as various encounters with Tyutchev, the Thieves' Guild, the Red Dragon Inn, Hawkana, the Dragon, and many other events. Also difficult is the fact that the authors decided to allow you to fight 2 or more difficult opponents almost consecutively. These people have 10 or 12 skill, and are not easy to overcome when you aren't carrying a weapon anymore!

There are also the standard devices used in many FF books, where the story ends unless you have a particular item. Fortunately, a level-head will lead you to the right solution most of the time. Remember not to take what people have to say at face value. This book also has an interesting twist where you avoid death. Everytime you reach the valley of the dead, you are spirited away to fight again with the same dice rolls as when you started, minus all your items. This is good when you don't want to re-roll your character. Unfortunately you have to start from the beginning again, but oh well.

The ending is, unfortunately, disappointing, and the plot is not as developed as it could be. But there are plenty of diversions in the city to keep you interested. Overall, I'd recommend this book as above average reading material. As an afterthought, I remember starting the book with flint and tinder to "combat the terrors of the night", and being told to "guard them with my life," but I never ended up using them.

Rating 7.5/10