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Item - Treasures of the Cursed Pyramid

Series: Proteus — no. 8
Contained In: The Orchid of Life (Gamebook)
Author: Caldwell, Elizabeth
Illustrators: Oakes, Terry (cover)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (interior)
Edwards, Les (poster)
Date: 1986
Ed's Thoughts: I've never been certain exactly what is going on 'behind the scenes' in the introductory passage to this adventure. Someone or something seems to be manipulating events to cause you to buy the old adventurer's journal that sets you on your quest, but it remains unclear whether it's fate or the stall-keeper or something more sinister. The ambiguity's a nice touch, anyway.

Whatever the truth may be, you buy the journal, which contains an account of the exploration of a pyramid around a century ago. It also contains a hidden message, telling of an as yet unexplored secret area within that pyramid. An inscription on the hidden door warns against seeking the treasure within, as careless adventurers risk dooming not just themselves but the whole of the world. Naturally, you decide to investigate – I mean, why let something as inconsequential as the possibility of condemning all humanity to undeath get in the way of looking for adventure, cash and glory? This time it's not so much an item hunt as an information hunt, as the curse you risk unleashing upon the world can be countered by an incantation, details of which are concealed within the pyramid. There are some items which will simplify your quest, but the only essential is a full translation of the hieroglyphs that spell out the incantation. Also helpful but not vital is the advice you can get from one of Horus' sons, though some sons give better advice than others, the best being the hint on what to do whenever presented with three things to choose from.

Talking of threes, there's a third attribute again, this time Charm, which relates to your ability to resist the malign forces at work within the pyramid. Unlike most attributes, it can be raised above your initial score, to a maximum of 12. Apart from that, the rules are much as usual. Regrettably, bonuses in combat are now applied to Dexterity rather than Fighting Power, but you can't have everything.

This is the second issue of Proteus to have more than 200 sections, going all the way up to 225. As in Ms. Caldwell's earlier adventures, it occasionally splits sequences into more than one section to add emphasis and heighten the mood. The revelation at the end of section 13 has much more impact there than it would have in the middle of a block of text comprising section 13 and the one into which it leads. As with TSotE, this adventure isn't really suitable for a character with low Dexterity. While not as bad as the average Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy book, TotCP cannot be completed without at least two fights against opponents with a double-figure Dexterity. You won't face any 12s unless you're unwise, but replaying this showed me that a character with less than 9 Dexterity has little chance of survival.

This has the lowest number of puzzles yet, with just one simple one near the end. Unless you count the maze, which is made rather more interesting than the average maze by the fact that you have to get out within fourteen turns or die. The margin for error is quite narrow, but if you go the wrong way you're liable to hit a trapdoor that dumps you outside the pyramid before the time limit is up. That still constitutes a failure, but a lesser one.

Finding most of the incantation is easy enough, but for one part of it you only have a 50% chance of getting what you require even if you go to the right place, which is a little tiresome. The only other real flaws are a couple of details that you'd have to be as picky as I to mention. That is, the author of the journal didn't dare to explore the hidden area because he couldn't translate the incantation, but the warning he did translate includes one of the words in that incantation. And the little knowledge I have of hieroglyphs is enough to tell me that the inscription reads in the wrong direction.

On the artwork front Mark Dunn does best, his Tomb Robber and Woman with Sistrum (and conveniently-positioned ribbons) both standing out from the rest. Gary Harrod's Mummy is a little too skeletal, but still impressive (please don't bother with the obvious pun), and Alan Hunter's Lions are quite nice, as is Dave de Leuw's sinister-looking Stall-Keeper. Some of the latter two's other pieces aren't so good, but as usual it's John Pickering who really lets the side down. After a passable Crocodile, he sinks to his usual depths with the atrocious First Doorkeeper, and his Giant Scorpion is also decidedly poor.

While neither the first nor the last gamebook to go for an Egyptian theme, TotCP is by far my favourite of the ones I've read. While challenging, it's not excessively difficult, and (as another reviewer has pointed out before now), its use of the actual characters from Egyptian mythology rather than made-up ones gives it a more authentic feel.

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