Six Questions with Stephan Michael Sechi

Talislanta is about to get a 6th (and final!) edition. This seemed like a good time to ask the creator, Stephan Michael Sechi, a few questions.
Stephan Michael Sechi. SMS to his friends.

Recently, I have been working on various passion projects. In that capacity, I am not only K. David Ladage, I am also ZiLa Games. While managing my online presence (be that the web page for my little imprint, the web page for my upcoming edition of the classic board game Bin’Fa, or the various elements that exist on Facebook), I was discussing with friends and collaborators the history of The Arcanum. Part of that history is Bard Games and its creator, Stephan Michael Sechi.

Disclosure: Back in the mid-2010s, I approached Mr. Sechi and asked about the possibility of acquiring the rights to The Arcanum and the rest of The Atlantean Trilogy. It turns out that not too terribly long prior to my bringing this up, Khepera Publishing had purchased the rights to the other two books in the trilogy (The Bestiary, which is a monster manual for the game and setting; and The Lexicon, which is the Atlantean setting material). With that, they would go on to create Atlantis: The Second Age. It is a great game and setting with some wonderful books. I recommend you check them out. I purchased the rights to The Arcanum, the game system book for that series. I would go on to publish Arcanum: 30th Anniversary Edition. This book was ZiLa Games’ first passion project. I had a wonderful time putting that together. Since then, I have also acquired the rights to The Compleat series (The Compleat Adventurer, The Compleat Spellcaster, and The Compleat Alchemist). The material I did not ask about was Talislanta. I love that material, but I knew that several years prior, Mr. Sechi had given it away. All the old editions were made available for free on the Talislanta website.

It was under that umbrella of knowledge that I was working on the web and Facebook presence for ZiLa Games. After updating some things, I thought to myself, “I have not been to the Talislanta website in a while. I should go check it out.” My jaw hit the ground when I saw that the 6th Edition was coming out soon! I quickly went to the Gamefound page and pledged at the Adventurer level (to get all the books; the All In pledge with all the extras was a bit outside of my price range). I reached out to congratulate him on the new edition, and while exchanging emails, thought it would be cool to interview him!

So here are six questions with an icon of old-school role playing, Mr. Stephan Michael Sechi.

Bard Games Logo


Q1: Back in the early 1980s, you and some friends formed Bard Games. The company unfortunately did not last, but while it was around you guys released some amazingly original material: from The Compleat Series to The Atlantean Trilogy to Talislanta. What can you tell me about the formation of Bard Games? How about its time as a viable company? What caused it to come to an end?

I started Bard Games with two friends of mine, Butch Taylor and Steven Cordovano. All of us were musicians, hence the company name. We started Bard Games with an investment of $600 apiece. The Compleat series did well, mainly because I had a friend who helped get the titles into Waldenbooks, which was a large chain back in the 80s. Aside from D&D, we were the only RPG books in Waldens for some time.

The company had some internal issues—it changed ownership a couple of times—but we did well through the release of all the first Talislanta books. What sank us was an attempt to expand too rapidly after that. Except for the first volume, the Cyclopedia Talislanta series sold poorly and was over-ordered by the book trade—a bad combination, as the large returns caused us to have to close down the business.


Q2: Talislanta has gone through multiple iterations: 1e (Bard Games; 1987), 2e (Bard Games; 1989), 3e (Wizards of the Coast; 1992), 4e (Shooting Iron Design; 2001), d20 (Morrigan Press; 2005), 5e (Morrigan Press; 2007), and now the upcoming  6e (Everything Epic, 2024). With each edition has come a few tweaks; aside from the foray into the d20 system, nothing I would call a major deviation from the original system has ever taken place. What would you say is the core reason for the stability of the system? What is its biggest appeal? What were your major influences in designing the system? What sort of changes can we expect in the new 6th edition?

I think the main reason for the system’s stability is that it’s simple, easy to learn, and fast-playing. When I designed Talislanta, that was the idea: keep the system as simple as possible, and put all the detail into developing an original milieu. That’s almost exactly the opposite of what D&D was doing at the time, so I guess you could say that was innovative. And that has been the game’s greatest appeal, too—the milieu, the strange cultures, the unusual professions like wizard hunters, dream merchants, etc.

I think the game that influenced me the most system-wise was the old Conan RPG. That game had an action table, which I thought was a really interesting idea. So I created my own version of that for the Talislanta game.

The new Epic Edition is essentially a “greatest hits album” of my favorite Talislanta material, both system-wise and milieu-wise. There’s some new material in it as well—some new cultures and creatures, new rules for windships, and the mass combat system from Talislanta: The Savage Land. It’s the last edition of Talislanta ever, and hopefully it’s the best one as well. The color artwork certainly is mighty fine. 🙂

Talislanta — a setting unlike any other…


Q3: The setting of Talislanta is unlike anything I have encountered elsewhere in fantasy. Much of it feels like it’s drawn from science-fiction (e.g., the races and monsters feel closer to alien species than the things one might encounter in Western mythology). With each edition of the game, as with the system, the setting has been adjusted. These changes tend to be limited to additional material (i.e., more history, more background, more lore). Best I can tell, the setting has never undergone a major overhaul. How did you first come up with the setting? How have your ideas about the setting evolved? What were your major influences in designing the setting?

The major influence for the setting is the fantasy and sci-fi books of Jack Vance. Also, to a lesser extent, Phillipe Druillette’s Salambo, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dreamlands of Unknown Kadath, and the Travels of Marco Polo. The idea was to try to create a setting that would be full of surprises, strange and unexpected cultures, oddities, and curiosities.

I’ve mentioned this before but most of the visuals, design sketches, and culture-concepts were created under the influence of my drug-of-choice at that time, which was black Moroccan hashish. I think that pretty much explains a lot about Talislanta. lol


Q4: At some point in the early-to-mid-2010s, you gave Talislanta to the fans. If it was possible, you scanned every book from every edition and made them available for free in PDF form on the Talislanta website. What prompted this decision? Do you regret doing that, or do you still feel this was the right thing to do? Will the 6th Edition be added to the site at some point?

I decided to give away all the early edition Talisalnta books as a thank-you to the game’s fans, who stuck with Talislanta through some of the worst publishing and licensing SNAFUs you could imagine. I’ve never regretted that—quite the opposite—and never will. The fans were great to me, and I am happy to have done something for them in return. Since Talislanta is now jointly owned by me and Everything Epic, the final edition will probably not go the way of those the free-PDFs. But the other stuff will be available for free, forever.

The complete 6th Edition Bundle


Q5: You have designed role playing games, and developed campaign settings. If one looks carefully, they will find that you were an artist for those publications as well. Those are three very different skill sets in which you appear to excel. Add to this the fact that those who follow you on social media will see a picture of you with your saxophone. Obviously there is far more to Stephan Michael Sechi than meets the eye! What other talents do you have that we might not know about?

My main talent is composing music, and which is how I’ve earned a living for the past 25+ years. My music has been in dozens of movies and advertisements, and in thousands of TV episodes. Luckily, that turned out to be a much more lucrative profession for me than game design.

No famous uses that you’d know offhand, but tons of sports stuff, HBO/Starz/Hulu promos, cable shows in the United States/Europe/Asia/South America, documentary films (like this classic: Machete Maidens Unleashed!). Also had a good placement on the show Money Heist—the entire opening sequence of Episode 17.


Q6: As your music career is your focus, you can imagine how surprised I was when I saw that Talislanta was getting a 6th Edition! Where can we experience your music? Can we expect more from you in the gaming sphere?

It seems that a Talislanta board game could soon be in the works, so that would be fun. And right now I’m finishing work on a novel—which seems like it might want to be a RPG too. Guess we’ll see. 🙂


First, I want to thank Mr. Sechi for having this conversation. He is not really involved in the game industry these days, but the longevity of Talislanta (as a system and a setting) is a testament to the talent he brought to the hobby. He has allowed me (d.b.a. ZiLa Games) and Jerry Grayson (d.b.a. Khepera Publishing) to play in his sandbox: that is an honor I cherish.

Lastly, if you have not experienced Talislanta, head over to the site, have a look around, and download some books for the most original and interesting fantasy game setting you have ever read. Then, once you have gotten your bearings, if you are so inclined, head over to Gamefound and order the final edition. This is a game world you do not want to miss!

About the author

K. David Ladage

Avid board gamer, role-player, and poet; software and database engineer. I publish some things under the imprint ZiLa Games. Very happy to be here.

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