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Item - The Forgotten City

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Series: Proteus — no. 4
Author: Brunskill, David
Illustrators: De Leuw, Dave (cover and interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (interior)
Date: 1986
Ed's Thoughts:

I'm not sure why I carried on getting Proteus after the disappointment of issue 3, but TFC was a significant improvement.

The Fighting Fantasy-lite of issues 1-2 is back, but Courage is now only 1d6+4. Perhaps the fear that this might be as bad as Shinderg's Tomb has weakened your resolve. Rations have gone up to 6, and in place of the potions and magic of earlier issues you have two portions of a rare herb that will restore all your attributes to their initial level.

The plot's not going to win any awards for originality, but that's true of many gamebooks. Meldoin, the eponymous city (which can't be *that* forgotten, or you wouldn't have been engaged to lift the curse which lies upon it), has been occupied and taken over by the Wizard-King Chaladon. The few citizens who managed to escape have sent in spies and found a few handy clues for you (just another generic adventurer, unless you want to go with the Eternal Champion theory). It's going to be another item hunt, keys being at the top of your want list, and there might be a chance of assistance from one or two of Chaladon's assistants, who are said to be seeking to overthrow him.

As most gamebook veterans know, being aware of what items you need most of all is rarely enough information on its own, as you're liable to require other items to get access to them. There's probably potential for a Dry Bones pastiche based on item A leading to item B and so on until you get the treasure you seek, but that'd best be reserved for an Ian Livingstone FF book, as the chain of items in TFC is barely long enough for one verse.

For the first time Proteus breaks the 200-section limit, TFC weighing in at a hefty 275 sections, and it's a lot less blatantly padded than certain of its predecessors. It could probably have been trimmed to 250 without losing any meaningful content, but there aren't so many strings of sections with no choices.

This time round there are three puzzles on the optimum route, two leading to Instant Death if your logic is faulty. If you go way off the track, another puzzle can lead you away from a No-Options Kill Zone, but it's only delaying the inevitable, as you'll still be short of several essential items as you approach the endgame. There are also plenty of fights, but no opponent has a Dexterity above 12 (1d6+8, remember), and a rather handy magic sword that adds to Fighting Power, not Dexterity (avoiding some of the messiness found in all too many FF books) increases the likelihood of even a low-Dexterity sap having a decent shot of success. Low Courage is more of a problem, though. One essential item can only be obtained by successfully testing your Courage just after losing a point. Also annoying is the encounter (avoidable, thankfully) in which a bad roll of the die will cost you an indispensable item.

TFC boils down to another semi-maze, this one urban (with a brief detour into the subterranean), followed by the gauntlet of item checks that stands between you and the final battle. Nothing spectacular, but reasonably entertaining, and nowhere near as likely to get thrown across the room in disgust as Shinderg's Tomb.

The artwork's not bad, apart from John Pickering's gang of robbers. His Serpent and Lumberbug are okay, though. Gary Harrod's malevolent Dwarf is most noteworthy for the fact that it appeared in the previous issue, but his Rattlebone and Miletus are impressively loathsome. Also worthy of note is Dave De Leuw's Tylwyth Teg, the Faerie babe on the front cover. In the past I've rather dismissed De Leuw, and that was doing him a bit of an injustice. While few of his pictures are outstanding, none are particularly bad, either. In a few issues' time, Mark Dunn will significantly raise the bar as regards depictions of feminine pulchritude within the pages of Proteus, but for all that Meldoin's resident Faerie remains a nice piece of work.

In terms of quality TFC is only a small step up from Brunskill's previous adventure, but it's a giant leap away from the mediocrity of Shinderg's Tomb.

More reviews by Ed

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