Talespinner: A role-playing adventure game for children
“Though the wolves of twilight bay at my door,
And the shadow of despair stretches beyond all limit of sight,
Know that I forsake the road of War,
From this day and in all days to come,
I will tread the path of Peace,
Lest the Gloom claim our future as it once claimed our past.”
- oath sworn by initiates of the Wardens
Talespinner is the latest in the tradition of tabletop adventure role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, but it is aimed primarily at young people between the ages of 5 and 15, as well as older gamers who wish to share their love of roleplaying with their friends and families. Talespinner presents a world rich with the promise of mystery and adventure, offering unique gameplay features.
Players take the role of courageous Wardens embarking on quests and struggling against (or running away from) the dangers of their world. Like many other fantasy adventure rpg’s on the market, the action of Talespinner focuses on the exploits of central characters portrayed by the players, and the story is collaboratively told by both the players and the Narrator, who arbitrates the action, seeds adventures and portrays other people and creatures the characters may meet on the way.
Character creation is simple, making intuitive decisions with plenty of options. Players choose a race (dwarf, elf, fairy, gnome, halfling, human or troll) and a class (acrobat, bard, champion, crafter, mage, monk or ranger). Using their characters’ skills and abilities, the players and the Narrator spin a tale of magic, mystery and adventure.
The design approach
In developing Talespinner for a younger audience, we sought to design an open, complex world without making the game system overly complicated. It feels very much like a fairy tale, in which the protagonists are given tasks to complete with a variety of choices on how to accomplish them, often by outwitting their opponents and acting bravely despite the odds.
Unlike many other fantasy roleplaying games, even those aimed at children, there is little or no violence. Certainly there are dangers. Cunning traps, environmental perils and dangerous creatures are some of the challenges facing Wardens in their travels, and characters must work hard to avoid or overcome them. But using violence against other creatures is unthinkable, due to the ever-present power of the Bright Song. This invisible, world-spanning enchantment causes strange maladies and deformities in anyone engaging in violence, and curbs the power of the Gloom, an ancient force of destruction and corruption. But meeting creatures of the Gloom is, thankfully, rare in these days. Instead of slaying monsters, Talespinner stories are about exploration, discovery and adventure. Mysteries of the Old World can be unlocked through engaging puzzles and hidden secrets.
The book is beautifully illustrated and designed by artists based primarily in Adelaide, South Australia. The book’s core text is friendly to people with reading difficulties and the layout minimises clutter. The lavishly-illustrated pages are in full colour and are a delight to the eye. Chapters are laid out intuitively with easy-to-read rules. The player’s character sheet, detailing the character’s various abilities, has been designed to allow people with literacy difficulties to identify particular traits with colour coding and symbols. When the Narrator asks for a Strength check, the player looks for the red fist and knows what to do.
Additionally, the visual content will take the worry out of parents who might be concerned about questionable fantasy imagery. While not overly-simplified or cartoonish, the artwork in Talespinner avoids many of the common tropes of fantasy illustration, such as how female characters are clothed, or hyper-masculine male characters. Gender, culture, race and body image are treated respectfully and inclusively; no player should feel unrepresented when they look through Talespinner's pages.
An innovative system
Talespinner is designed to make telling stories fun, simple and engaging. The character creation chapter is easy to follow, and making characters can take as little as ten minutes. The core system is intuitive, using six-sided dice (d6's) and adding the result of the roll to an appropriate character Attribute. Bonus Dice or Negative Dice are added based on the situation. Character abilities come into play, either as inherent bonuses or as spendable resources. Players use tactical decisions to gain further benefits throughout the game.
One of the most popular innovations in Talespinner is the Active Challenge. This is used as an alternative to dice-rolling with a simple, randomly-determined test, such as balancing a pencil on your finger, or figuring out a simple puzzle. The result of the Active Challenge is used in place of the die roll. Active Challenges give players a chance to get out of their seats and actively engage in the game, breaking up the monotony of sitting around a table for a couple of hours, which some kids can find notoriously difficult to do. It's also a lot of fun.
Talespinner also contains advice on structuring stories, including a section on building action scenes with the Triggered Event System. Triggered Events allow players to identify and utilise elements within a scene to produce predictable effects, such as causing a rockslide to block a path, or upsetting a bee hive to scare away pursuing goblins. This aids the Narrator in quickly building scenes without the need for a lot of prior planning.
The Narrator is also shown how to incorporate simple numeracy, literacy and logic challenges, presented as in-game puzzles, to engage the players’ learning as well as their creativity. Deciphering an ancient map, pushing a sequence of stones or constructing a makeshift bridge are represented by real-world activities that blend seamlessly with the narrative. Practically, a Talespinner session could be used as a couple of hours of structured learning presented in a collaborative adventure story. Learning has never been more fun.
A world of adventure
Vast verdant forests, towering snow-topped mountains, rippling grassland plains, storm-wracked seas, wind-swept hills, mighty rivers and endless deserts are just some of the landscapes awaiting you. The world is dotted with forbidding cliff-top fortresses, ancient subterranean kingdoms, sprawling fungal metropolises, twilit arboreal villages, bustling barge communities, enchanted fairy glades, mysterious ruins, golden-spired cities, winding roads, secret paths and innumerable mysteries both ancient and new. This is the world of Telanya.
An age has passed since the Elder Wars, a terrible, realm-altering conflict between the civilised world and the savage forces of the Gloom. Though that time is long gone, the land still bears the scars of the past. At the end of the war, the mighty enchantment known as the Bright Song was unleashed, binding the Gloom and freeing the beleaguered people from an age of strife. Even today, the Freefolk are as bound to the power of the Bright Song as the Gloomspawn are, unable to raise a hand in anger or evil intent lest the darkness of such acts grows within their hearts and souls, and corrupts or twists their flesh. The Freefolk live in their fragile peace
But the days are changing. Rumours whisper of goblin-bands on the move, of increasing disputes between powerful factions and of desperate people fleeing from unspoken threats. The peace of the Bright Song is failing and fear among the Freefolk grows with each setting sun. And always the Gloom watches. And waits.
Only the Wardens, people gifted beyond the measure of ordinary folk, lend their skill and courage in these testing times. Bards give voice to hope, and remember well the songs and tales of the past. Mages command vast lore and powerful spells. Champions train to the peak of physical might. Acrobats hone their dazzling tricks and antics. Crafters create amazing works to inspire and aid those around them. Monks provide healing and wisdom to those in need. And rangers, even vigilant, watch the old roads and forgotten ways for signs of the Gloom’s return.
The world of Telaya is beckoning you to explore its secrets. Take to the road in your own adventure with trusty companions at your side. What tales will they spin of your deeds?
Art: Rowan Dodds