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Item - Lord of Chaos

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Series: Proteus — no. 9
Contains: The Tower of Terror (Gamebook)
Author: Collar, J. A. (pseudonym used by Brunskill, David)
Illustrators: Garland, Linda (cover)
Campbell, Paul (interior)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Kelly, Ken (poster)
Date: 1986
Ed's Thoughts:

The people of the walled city of Valantia have been minding their own business for some time, repelling the occasional raid as necessary. Following a recent raid, they've learned that the arch-demon Uthergan is soon to rise up and destroy the area. Rather foolishly (but all too plausibly - choose your own political parallel), they've chosen not to do much about it, and you only get given the quest to try and defeat him because you happen to be passing through on the day before Uthergan is due to rise. Uthergan is, of course, far too powerful for you to defeat in combat, but there's a collection of items that will destroy him if put in the right place at the right time. Yes, it's another item hunt, this time in a region with names that might be familiar to a student of British prehistoric constructions.

Rules-wise we're back to just the two basic attributes, though for once you actually have to keep track of your finances, as certain purchases will prove essential if you are to prevail. Nothing new for gamebooks as a whole, but this is the first time Proteus has made gold more than just a reward.

The author appears to have been reading too many Ian Livingstone books. Take the wrong turning out of section 1, and you cannot win. What's worse is that it's like the infamous tube from Deathtrap Dungeon - you have to go just far enough to get the right item (a decision based on guesswork or knowledge gained from past failures), then turn around, go back to where you began, and go the other way to have a shot at another essential item. Later on you'll find points where you're penalised for doing the 'heroic' thing, and others where you pay the price for not doing it. Still, the toughest unavoidable opponent only has an effective Dexterity of 9, so poor initial rolls aren't an automatic death sentence if you follow the right path. Other paths, not all of them inevitably leading to failure, have more formidable foes on them.

There are two puzzles in this issue, one a mathematical one, the other logical. A couple of later issues' letters pages contain complaints about the difficulty of the first of these puzzles, but it's simple enough if you pay attention.

The departure of John Pickering and the arrival of Paul Campbell raise the standard of the interior artwork. It's still variable, but the worst illustrations are nowhere near as poor as in previous issues. Gary Harrod's Forest Lizard and Paul Campbell's Marsh Monster are particularly impressive. Something about Mark Dunn's Uthergan doesn't quite work, but his humans are good.

Errors: Section 142 has no 'none of the above' option, but needs one. If you make the wrong decision when trying to obtain the statuette, the instruction "turn to the appropriate section" isn't much help, as you weren't asked to make a note of the number. There's no Strength deduction for being knocked out in the Forest Dwarf ambush.

Proteus 9 seems to mark the stage at which the writers began responding to letters complaining that the adventures were too easy, as almost all subsequent issues have similarly narrow paths to success. This development is regrettable, but the most vociferous gamebook readers were rating difficulty over other aspects, so it's understandable that the publishers gave in to this misguided demand.

Apart from the 'tube factor', LoC isn't a bad adventure. It's not a particularly impressive one, either. There's a nice mixture of locations - caves, plains, a couple of villages, a rain-forest – and one of the points at which the adventure forces a choice of direction on you is more intriguing than annoying (Who was that man? What exactly did he do to you? And why?), but ultimately this issue is more memorable for the mini-replica of issue 1 that came free with it than for its original content.

More reviews by Ed

Special Thanks:Thanks to David Brunskill for revealing his identity as J. A. Collar.
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