Talespinner: A role-playing adventure game for all ages
“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 6 and 16, 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 meeting the dangers of their world with skill and courage. The action of Talespinner focuses on the exploits of central characters portrayed by 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.
Creating Talespinner characters is simple, making intuitive decisions with plenty of options. Players choose a race (called gentim) -- ashkasi, cornar, eesheeya, khumos, quesatera, napsani or sindipar -- and a class -- acrobat, bard, champion, crafter, mage, monk or ranger. Using their characters’ 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, immersive and complex world while keeping the game system simple and intuitive. It feels very much like a fairy tale in which the protagonists tackle tasks with a variety of choices on how to accomplish them, often by solving puzzles, outwitting opponents and acting bravely despite the odds.
Unlike many other fantasy roleplaying games, even those aimed at children, no violence is committed by the player characters. Certainly there are dangers to face. Cunning traps, environmental perils and dangerous creatures are some of the challenges the central characters face in their adventures, and characters must work hard to avoid or overcome them. But for Wardens (the central characters of Talespinner), using violence against other creatures is unthinkable. This is, in large part, 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. The Bright Song is what gives the Wardens their special abilities. Thankfully, meeting creatures of the Gloom is rare these days. Instead of slaying monsters, Talespinner stories revolve around exploration, discovery and adventure. Mysteries of the Elder Times 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 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 rule systems. The player’s character sheet, detailing their various abilities, has been designed to allow people with reading difficulties to identify particular traits with colour coding and icons. When the Narrator asks for a Strength check, for instance, the player looks for the red fist and knows what to do.
The visual content of the book has been chosen to meet the needs of parents who might be concerned about questionable fantasy imagery. The artwork of Talespinner avoids many of the common tropes of fantasy illustration, such as how female characters are represented, 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 has been designed to aid the Narrator in telling stories that are 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; we use six-sided dice (d6's) and add the highest result of a roll to an appropriate character Attribute. Bonus Dice or Negative Dice are added based on the situation. Character abilities come into play, either as permanent enhancements or as spendable resources. Players use tactical decisions and strategy, like using the environment, to gain further benefits throughout the game.
One of the more popular innovations in Talespinner is the Challenge system, used as an alternative to dice-rolling. A deck of cards contains simple tests of skill, such as balancing a pencil on your finger, spelling out a word, counting the result of six dice, or figuring out a simple puzzle. The result of the Challenge, expressed as a number, is used in place of a die roll. Challenges give players a chance to get out of their seats and actively engage in the game, breaking up long stretches of time sitting around a table. For players who struggle with sitting still for long, this can be a good solution.
For the Narrator, Talespinner also contains advice on structuring stories, including a section on building encounters (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. Some events can be triggered as a chain reaction, and if the players can identify one or more of these events, the results can be very satisfying. A random event generator also aids the Narrator in quickly building scenes without the need for a lot of prior planning.
For educational purposes, the Narrator is shown how to incorporate simple numeracy, literacy and logic challenges into the story, 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. In practical terms, a Talespinner session could be used as a an hour of structured learning presented in a collaborative adventure story. As we all know, learning is easiest when students are engaged and enjoying themselves.
A world of adventure
The vast bulk of adventures in Talespinner occur in the realm of Telanya, a great land sprawling across the Tamor Basin. 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, golden-spired cities, mysterious ruins, winding roads, secret paths and innumerable mysteries both ancient and new. This is the realm of Telanya.
An age has passed since the Gloomwars, a terrible series of realm-altering conflicts between the civilised world and the savage forces of the Gloom. Though a thousand years have passed, the land still bears the scars of old horrors. At the end of the war, a mighty enchantment known as the Bright Song was unleashed across Telanya, binding the power of 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 wrath without the risk of inviting the Gloom into their hearts and souls, corrupting and twisting their flesh into Stains. The Freefolk live in a 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 unnamed threats. The peace promised by 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, can lend their skill and courage to combating such troubles in these testing times. Bards give voice to hope and inspiration, 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 cunning tools to aid those around them. Monks provide healing and wisdom to those in need. And rangers, ever 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
Tiberius's Journal written and illustrated by Zebulon the Storyteller