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A Spy in Isengard

Series: Middle-earth Quest #5
Translated Into: Un espía en Isengard (Spanish)
Spion i Isengård (Swedish)
Ein Spion in Isengart (German)
Um espiao em Isengard (Portuguese)
Una spia a Isengard (Italian)
Author: Amthor, Terry K.
Illustrators: Forton, Gerald (interior)
McBride, Angus (cover)
Ney(-Grimm), Jessica (cartography)
Release Date: 1988
Length:523 sections plus prologue.
User Summary: The events in this book take place shortly before the War of the Ring begins. You are Saruman the White's favorite apprentice, but you believe Saruman might be guilty of treason against the White Council. You have to explore the citadel of Orthanc surreptitiously in order to find proof of Saruman's treason, then flee the realm of Isengard and reach Lothlórien to warn Lady Galadriel of the wizard's treachery.
Guillermo's Thoughts: This book, written by the creator of the Shadow World RPG setting, is one of my favourite entries in the series, for several reasons. I'll explain myself better if I give an overview of the different parts of the adventure.

The first part involves exploring the citadel of Orthanc, and since it is your home at the start of the game, you are relatively free to search it as you want. There are, however, restricted areas, as well as several secrets you can uncover, and as such exploring the tower is a lot of fun (my personal favourite involves using the Palantir stone incorrectly and meeting Sauron face to face). It's possible to betray your intentions if you are caught doing something forbidden, make unwise choices, or deal incorrectly with Saruman, so the player must proceed with care. This serves to build up a feeling of tension which, combined with the possibility of uncovering the many secrets of the ancient citadel, makes for a very enjoyable and entertaining read. On the other hand, obtaining evidence of the wizard's intentions is not too hard, and this reduces the challenge level of the book.

Whether you find the evidence or not, leaving the tower is not easy, and the countryside of Isengard is full of danger as well. There are several encounters to have on the way to the final goal, which are distributed in a very clever way along the map as obstacles for the player. Finding a succesful conclusion to the adventure can be difficult, since it requires good luck and strategy, and getting captured or killed by one of Saruman's many minions is a likely possibility if the player is not careful. Both the citadel and the countryside are explored using a map with symbols that refer to a specific section of the book. Whenever the player explores an area, s/he has to read the corresponding location text first, and depending on whether something happens or not, it may be necessary to turn to a part of the book divided into numbered paragraphs with "turn to" instructions in order to resolve the encounter. Thus the player in this book is given complete freedom of movement, and deviating from the original goal and discovering several secrets hidden in Orthanc and Isengard can be fun - though dangerous - if the player chooses to do so.

My only complaint with the adventure is that the combat encounters are a bit on the easy side. However, the player can get around this by wandering around looking for combat, or by altering the rules so in multiple combats all opponents get to attack the player simultaneously, instead of one at a time.

Overall, this is a very realistic, complex and interesting gamebook which can be recommended both to Tolkien fans and experienced gamebook readers.

More reviews by Guillermo

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary.
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Related Documents

Play Aid

Middle-earth Quest: A Spy in Isengard Character Sheet

Middle-earth Quest: A Spy in Isengard Map Card (side 1)

Middle-earth Quest: A Spy in Isengard Map Card (side 2)