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Item - The Sceptre of the Elvenking

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Series: Proteus — no. 7
Author: Brunskill, David
Illustrators: Allgeier, Ullrich (cover)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (interior)
Fowke, Bob (poster)
Date: 1986
Ed's Thoughts:

You know how it is sometimes. There you are, quietly minding your own business in an inn, and some local low-life takes an irrational dislike to you. A fight ensues, and the next thing you know, he's dead and his friends are all after you. So you run away, and (assuming you don't get yourself killed in an alley) it's at about this point that things cease to resemble an ordinary Saturday evening in Hull, as you then meet 'a girl of stunning beauty' who guides you towards the actual adventure, the background to which is a little too familiar.

Not too far away is a forest, home to a brotherhood of Elves (not a Dwarven village - indeed, Dwarves tend to be villains in Proteus, which is a nice change from the usual Tolkien-influenced racial stereotyping). The Elves are having some trouble with a barbarian army (not Hill Trolls). The Elven leader's magical sceptre (not a warhammer) has been stolen, and now resides in the Temple of Eternal Darkness (not Darkwood Forest). Unless it can be brought back, things will go badly for King Gallibran (no comment). So, after being taught a little magic (in a sequence that's not quite identical to the start of a certain non-Forest of Doom Ian Livingstone gamebook), you set off to try and find the Sceptre.

Once you get past the padding of the flight from the angry mob, Aalandrin the Elf's hefty info-dump, and spell selection, what follows is quite a decent adventure. As usual, it's an item hunt in a mazelike environment, but there's plenty of freedom of movement, and as long as you make a map you shouldn't have too much trouble finding your way around the Temple (for the most part, but see the Errors section below). Winning is rather more of a problem. What with the profusion of opponents with double-figure Dexterity scores, some of them unavoidable, this is not for anyone with poor initial rolls. Plus, spell selection can mean the difference between success and failure. You get to pick four of a possible nine, and some of the essential items can only be obtained if you have the right spell. You may well have to try and fail a few times before you work out which spells are essential.

For part of the adventure you may have a companion. While longer-lived than some, and very handy with the sword, he's not really adventurer material, and it's a good thing for the Elves that you got involved.

The rules are pretty much as usual, except that there is no third attribute this time, just Dexterity and Strength. Spells have a Strength cost, but this is only listed when you select them, so if you don't make a note of it you won't know how much to deduct when you cast it. In a departure from the Fighting Fantasy model, each spell can only be used once. You might end up wasting some spells in order to circumvent obstacles you don't need to pass.

Proteus wouldn't be Proteus without puzzles, but TSotE has a pretty feeble selection. One is too arbitrary, and the only unavoidable one is pathetic (see the Errors section for more on this).

Artwork is variable. Mark Dunn's Ravellia is rather wonderful, but John Pickering is still letting the side down, his Gonderak looking especially poor now we've got someone who can draw decent pictures of women. Gary Harrod has produced a few more grotesque monstrosities, and Alan Hunter's full-page Elf is quite nice.

Errors: Section 26 is described as a crossroads, but the options available make it a T-junction. As in TMoM, 'rejuvenation' is used to mean 'regeneration'. The 'puzzle' at section 79 (why would a mind-controlled Goblin give you a mathematical formula to work out the correct plate to press rather than just say which is the right one anyway?) is so obvious that Brunskill didn't even bother to make the wrong decisions lead to Instant Deaths. If you're so mathematically inept as to get it wrong, you wind up at an out-of-context section. It's not as if he couldn't have cut a bit of padding to free up those sections, so why didn't he? Section 149 assumes that you don't have the Translate spell, when it's possible that you might do. I may have missed a detail that clears this up, but it doesn't seem possible to make all the passages connect up as they should inside the Temple. Most of it is all right, but the two routes leading to the Sceptre's resting place seem to get in each other's way.

It's not really a mistake as such, but your discovery of one essential item is buried in the middle of a lengthy paragraph, and could easily be missed if you're not paying careful attention. There are a few lengthy sections that might benefit from being broken up, actually. Elizabeth Caldwell's adventures sometimes enhanced the mood by splitting what could have worked as one big section into two or three, and some of the more info-heavy sequences here would be more digestible in smaller chunks.

Despite all the criticism above, I did enjoy TSotE. There's plenty of room for improvement, but even with all its flaws it's still quite fun, and reasonably challenging. What's more, even if you ignore the superfluous material that precedes your encounter with Aalandrin, it still comes across as a more substantial adventure than TFoK.

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