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Item - Caverns of the Enchantress

Series: Proteus — no. 5
Author: Caldwell, Elizabeth
Illustrators: Oakes, Terry (cover)
De Leuw, Dave (interior and poster)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (interior)
Date: 1986
Ed's Thoughts: Issue 5 of Proteus introduces several changes to the format of the magazine. I've no idea whether these are due to the change of publisher or developments that would have taken place anyway (or a bit of both), but it doesn't really matter. The most obvious difference is the new cover artist, Terry Oakes' style being very different from Dave De Leuw's. The credits have moved from the end of the magazine to the first page, and the teaser for the next issue mentions the adventure rather than just concentrating on the poster. The rules are even more blatantly Fighting Fantasy with the serial numbers filed off than before, Dexterity having been reduced to 1d6+6 and Strength to 2d6+12, while Courage has been phased out in favour of Fate/Fortune (1d6+6, as if you needed telling).

While these changes do make a difference, the main part of the magazine remains the adventure, and that's adhering to the familiar format. Once more you are an adventurer, though with slightly more personality than is standard, as it's spelt out that you're in it for the thrill and the challenge, rather than being motivated by altruism or avarice. Encountering a Sorcerer, you receive a few useful items and are put on the trail of a great treasure (I was all set to point out the contradiction between this and your stated motivation, and then the final section addresses the point anyway). As usual, the fact that a degree of item-hunting will be called for is spelt out to you. As the title suggests, what follows is another subterranean adventure. As it turns out, a rather good one.

The quality of the writing is above average, creating a degree of tension in places. There's also a good deal more freedom to explore than usual, only one room along the way containing an essential item, and there are plenty of ways to get to that room. While replaying it as many times as it took to succeed I explored more than usual, partly because I knew that trying a path I hadn't previously investigated wasn't so likely to result in automatic failure, and partly because I was feeling a bit of the thrill of adventuring myself.

CotE is also low on arbitrary instant deaths, usually giving you a chance to reconsider before heading into lethal territory, or having you make a Fate/Fortune roll to escape. On the downside, good stats are more important this time round, an unavoidable fight against a Dexterity 11 Demon weeding out the less able fighters. A magical weapon found within the caverns could balance things out a bit more (and, as in TFC, the bonus only applies in combat), but it lies on a very narrow path, and the necessity of making a couple of Dexterity rolls along that path means that those who need the weapon most are also the most likely to fail to obtain it.

The puzzles are more low-key this time round. There's a riddle protecting that magical weapon, and the floor with the coloured tiles should pose little threat to a player who thinks it through. Assembling the Medallion of Eirion is perhaps not so easy, but the logic I followed at that stage provided the right answer, so it's not pure guesswork.

A couple of mistakes have crept into the text. On section 51, the creature you face destroys certain items that you might have already destroyed, while section 96 gives you the option of referring to a couple of characters within the caverns, even though you might be unaware of their existence.

As usual, the artwork is a mixed bag. Mark Dunn's d├ębut gives little indication that he would go on to be one of Proteus' finest artists, and John Pickering is still churning out disappointments, his 'lady fair in chains and tears' being far too cartoonish. At the other end of the scale, Gary Harrod's Lizard-Man is magnificent, and his other illustrations are also very good.

There's nothing particularly remarkable about CotE, but it's an enjoyable adventure, more fun than several FF books I could name.

I'm not surprised that they brought Elizabeth Caldwell back again as soon as they did.

More reviews by Ed

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