I’ve remembered the ‘feel’ of Talisman of Death since I first played it... damn, probably nearly a quarter of a century ago. It felt different to the other Fighting Fantasy books that I’d read until then, and not just because of the framing device of playing an adventurer (you, or YOU?) plucked from Earth, not unlike the characters in the D&D cartoon! Of course, I am now aware that Talisman of Death was written by Mark Smith and Jamie Thompson, gamebook writers of note, responsible for the Way of the Tiger series among other things, while Thompson, with Dave Morris, wrote the Fabled Lands series.
Orb, not Titan. Greyguilds-on-the-Moor is just to the left of of that ominous looking Crack O' Doom.
My adventure in Talisman of Death was largely urban, with a reasonable variety of locations explored and characters met. I did a little research in a library, met several scholars, recruited help from the Thieves’ Guild, accidentally explored the Temple of Death, and died in battle with the High Priestess of the Shieldmaidens, Hawkana. When you can’t trust a Shieldmaiden, who can you trust? This combat reminded me of the problems with the Fighting Fantasy combat system – the three point difference in Skill between my Hero (Me?) and Hawkana made an 18 point difference in Stamina irrelevant. It works for gamebooks, but for a multiplayer RPG, I’m wary of using it over other simple systems, say, Dragon Warriors or OpenQuest.
Unlike the previous ten books in the series, there was a much greater sense that meaningful choices could be made on the basis of the sections that had been previously read. It didn’t feel – though the truth might be different – that you had to push your Hero into engaging in Bizarre Search Behaviour, as in the previous urban adventure in the series, City of Thieves. Though, perhaps relatedly, Greyguilds-on-the-Moor has very little of the colour or character of Blacksand.
This sense of control was in stark contrast to my next experience of Fighting Fantasy, Space Assassin, an infiltration of the spaceship Vandervecken to kill the evil tyrant-scientist Cyrus. I remember completing the book on my first go when I last played, probably about ten years ago. This time, blowing apart a security robot, I examined its wreckage. Finding that it guarded a safe with three buttons, one green, one blue, and one red, the book left me with no option but to randomly press a button. That’s not even the bad GM’s game of ‘what am I thinking?’ BOOM!