"Nothing Ventured …"
A look at the risks and rewards of challenging the Lord of Darkness in Talisman: The Dungeon
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“So,” the thief’s voice rasped out from the shadows of the dark alley, “a troll, a cultist and a swashbuckler walked into the bar —”
Quiet sniggering erupted from the other shadowed figures.
"— No, seriously,” he said. “I’m not joking.”
A tall robed man held up a hand, and silence fell upon the small gathering. With a comfortable gesture of command, he motioned for the thief to continue.
“As I was saying, they came into the tavern, and the cultist — all legs and eyeliner she was — drops a musty old tome on the table and orders a round of drinks for everyone in the room.”
“And you’re sure it was the book,” the tall figure asked.
“Indeed, my lord. She proclaimed it loud enough for all to hear. She said she’d won the Book of Lore from the Lord of Darkness himself, besting him in a contest of darkest sorcery.”
“Boasts do not proof make,” the tall man said.
“That’s why I asked the ferryman, my lord. He said he’d just rowed her over from The Temple, where she had appeared magically in a puff of smoke and brimstone. He said he could hear dark laughter rolling from — well, from whatever sent her there.”
“Intriguing. Where is the cultist now?”
“Errr … well, I’m a bit shady on that part, my lord.”
“And why is that?” the tall man asked, his voice thick with menace.
“Well … it’s just that the drinks were free, and I was thirsty.”
“You got blind drunk and passed out in the corner again, didn’t you, rogue?”
“Y-y-yes,” the thief admitted, stuttering. “But, I didn’t fight the farmer this time!”
Talisman: The Dungeon offers a high-risk / high-reward alternative route to adventurers seeking conquest and glory in the world of Talisman. Rather than engage in the time-honored journey deeper toward the center of this world of peril, a player now has the opportunity to consider another path, one that offers the opportunity gain experience and power in struggles against the powerful denizens of The Dungeon. If the encounters are not fatal, these challenges will often shape the adventurers into powerful heroes, ready to test themselves in the fires of the Inner Region.
Many a questing character, though, will wade into The Dungeon merely for this crucible effect, often backtracking once they feel they’ve seen enough to test their mettle elsewhere, or when they realize they aren’t ready for what The Dungeon holds. Many adventurers who journey into the dark confines of The Dungeon have no intention of following it through to the Treasure Chamber at its end, fearful of the overwhelming might of the Lord of Darkness who lurks there.
For some, the thought of throwing down with a Strength 12 / Craft 12 demigod is not worth whatever bounty the Treasure Chamber may yield. And, while it is certainlypossible to enjoy and benefit from The Dungeon without challenging the Dark Lord, those who shy away from this conflict are missing out on a great opportunity to make a push for the Crown of Command, no matter how convincing the bout’s outcome.
It is easy to fixate on the most potent potential benefit of putting the smackdown on the Lord of Darkness: Instant teleportation to the Crown of Command. However, by no means is the chance for that devastating shortcut the only valid reward one should consider. Eking out even the slimmest victory can make almost as much difference.
Consider some of the rewards of the Treasure Chamber: A Book of Lore that not only adds +1 to the user’s Craft, but allows the bearer to draw one spell at the beginning of each turn if his or her Craft allows. Or, a Clockwork Owl that gives its owner the powerful ability to move any number of spaces up to its die roll, instead of the full distance. These kinds of items can be huge difference-makers in the final rush to the Valley of Fire.
Even if a character bests the Dark Lord by a tiny margin, the victor will still earn powerful treasure and teleport to a space in the outer region — emboldened, empowered and ready to pursue any tried-and-true means of reaching the Crown.
Now evaluate the risk of battling the Lord of Darkness: While the whole of the journey through The Dungeon is harrowing, this single combat ultimately poses no worse threat than any other. Assuming the character has at least two life left at the beginning of this battle, he will do no worse than to lose a single life and be banished to the Crags — escaping The Dungeon without having to cut through its various nasties during a retreat to the surface. Assuming the character is in possession of some sort of armor, the risk is even more mitigable.
Obviously, there are some basic tactics one should consider in using The Dungeon as a path to glory. While neophyte characters have ventured into The Dungeon and emerged as masters of battle, it is far more advisable to attain at least a couple of raises and some useful equipment before plumbing those depths. Treating The Dungeon with the same respect one reserves for the middle region, at least, will make sure that those who make it to the Lord of Darkness are likely to be in a condition to make it a fair fight. Additionally, it’s a good idea to hold on to spells or one-use items that can boost the hero’s effectiveness or diminish that of the opponent when planning to face off with the Dungeon’s master. While spells and allies can’t fight in an adventurer’s place in this challenge, a little augmentation can go a long way.
So, while some will cower and swear that only a fool would dare challenge the Lord of Darkness, it may just be that you’d be a fool not to.