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Item - The Mines of Malagus


Series: Proteus — no. 2
Author: Llundsbrand, Viki (pseudonym used by Brunskill, David)
Illustrators: De Leuw, Dave (cover and interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (interior)
Date: 1985
Ed's Thoughts: The second issue of Proteus saw a change to slightly larger pages and the introduction of the infamous free poster. It also came with two free dice, in the same shade of green as the spines of most Fighting Fantasy books. The rules are essentially the same, but there are no potions, just two spells and one magical item given to you before you set out.

Content-wise, it's a small improvement on The Tower of Terror, except in the area of your character's background. No cheers, please, for the 'you are an itinerant adventurer looking for a new quest' biography.

Apart from the bit where the info-dumping Wizard in the preface mentions that he's soon going to have to be buried again(!), the introduction is very straightforward. Precious artefact (a magical headstone) lost in hazardous place (the eponymous mines), others have sought it and never returned, death and disaster if it should fall into the wrong hands... In a Forest of Doom-esque 'twist,' the headstone has been broken into three parts, all of which must be found and reassembled. However, there's a convenient mystical Mcguffin that teleports the pieces back to where you find them if you try to leave the mine with just one or two of them, conveniently avoiding the 'winding up with three hammer heads and no handle' bug mentioned in a review of FoD.

Essentially, TMoM is a self-proclaimed item hunt inside a whacking great maze - not the most original concept, but it'll do.

The writing has its good and bad sides. Unlike the sequence set in the mines in Island of the Lizard King, you get no sense of being in a mine, so this adventure could just as easily have been called The Dungeons of the Dagraig or The Caves of something beginning with C. Still, the text is trying harder to evoke an atmosphere than Proteus 1 did. The inclusion of a couple of Nasnas plunders a patch of folklore ignored by every other gamebook I've ever encountered, but as they function as generic monsters to be fought, it's rather a wasted opportunity.

As in Proteus 1, there are fewer instances of being denied the opportunity to go back the way you came than in the average FF dungeon crawl, but a few can be found. In consequence of a related issue, two of the three available options in section 1 guarantee failure. The mines are effectively divided into three sections, each containing one headstone fragment, and each of the options in section 1 leads to a different section. You can pass from section A to section B, and from B to C, but not B to A or C to anywhere (thanks to one-way doors and booby traps rather than contrived character whim). However, this isn't as annoying as when Ian Livingstone does it because you don't get killed if you leave the mines without all three fragments.

As regards combat, it's not as weighted in favour of high-Dexterity characters as the majority of such adventures. For once, it's true that someone with lousy initial rolls has a chance of making it through. On my first attempt while replaying TMoM as research for this I got a character with the minimum possible Dexterity, and while he did get killed fighting the toughest unavoidable foe, it was a very close fight. There are a few instant deaths, one or two of which are rather too arbitrary, but you've more chance of finding the way out too soon than of being boiled alive for taking the wrong turning. The correct path includes four unavoidable puzzles, three of which inflict Strength penalties if you get them wrong. There are no instructions on where to turn if you get the other wrong, which is a minor bug. TMoM has a few other flaws as well: section 146 assumes you've passed a certain door before, when it is possible to have avoided it, though only by following a needlessly convoluted route. In section 162, 'rejuvenation' should be 'regeneration.' You're worried that the Brimgeth might be coming back to life, not that the corpse might be starting to look younger. The plaque near the exit reading, "All that is written above the levers is false," is above the levers, and thus creates a paradox. Though there's a section covering what happens if you leave the mines with just two fragments, it only appears to be possible to leave with none, one, or three.

While not technically a mistake, the lack of any sense of scale when the layout is described is annoying. If you're trying to map the place, be prepared to keep having to extend corridors in order to fit everything in and make sure the passages link up where they should. This is particularly bad in the 'Labyrinth of the Lost' because there's more than one section for each junction, depending on the direction from which you approach it. Thus, you can find yourself back at a place you've already been, but not realise that this is familiar territory because the paragraph number is unfamiliar.

The cleverest part of TMoM is the secret of discovering the third piece of the headstone, which has apparently baffled some people for years, yet is very simple. The artwork is a distinct improvement on Proteus 1 - still nothing spectacular, but only John Pickering's Liamorra really disappoints.

Ultimately, The Mines of Malagus is an unremarkable but adequate adventure, and it's not pretending to be anything else. While superior to its predecessor, it's still not that much of an argument against the commonly held belief that Proteus was just a series of second-rate mini-gamebooks.

More reviews by Ed

Users Who Own This Item: dave2002a, Ed, katzcollection, kinderstef, Malthus Dire, outspaced, Robert Mammone, Sir Olli, sireeyore
Users Who Want This Item: Gartax, twar, waktool, yermither
Users with Extra Copies: dave2002a

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Proteus #2 Ad
from Eagle comic, October 5, 1985. Thanks to Ed Jolley for the scan.