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Item - The Triad of Evil

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Series: Proteus — no. 10
Author: Caldwell, Elizabeth
Illustrators: Berdak, Keith (cover)
Campbell, Paul (interior)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (uncredited)
Heller, Julek (poster)
Date: 1987
Ed's Thoughts:

In this adventure you play the valiant George W. Bush, seeking the Weapons of Mass Destruction that will enable you to defeat Saddam Hussein, Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani and Kim Chong-il, thereby making the world safe for Democracy(TM) once more.

Well, no, you don't, but the true plot is almost as ridiculous. You're actually trying to destroy Death, Pain and Fear, who moved into the citadel of Llamar a while back. Since then they've demonstrated how evil they are by... well, actually they've not done much except kill all the heroic adventurers who sought to destroy them, but they might do something evil at any moment, so it's best not to give them the chance. Your father was one of the ill-fated adventurers, but after section 1, that fact ceases to have any relevance to the plot, wasting the opportunity to up the emotional stakes by revealing his fate at an appropriate moment. All you get is to see a hint-laden poem he wrote, which is a little better than most Proteus poetry.

It doesn't help that there's no real explanation of what the three villains are. The fact that, should you only succeed in destroying Fear, you can still experience the emotion of horror, suggests that they're merely earthly avatars for the Triad, but their nature and purpose are left so vague that they come across as a pretty superficial bunch of bad guys.

As usual, this is an item hunt, the poem listing what you need (though two of the things mentioned are not essential, one of them arguably proving more of a hindrance than any help). This time round there is some justification for your being able to find the required items within the citadel, as its former owners, the Knights of the Jewelled Heart, were a powerful force for Good, and would have had a use for them. Their still being there after the fall of the knights can be explained by their being exceedingly holy, which makes it hard (if not lethal) for the Triad's forces to go near them. In any case, most of them are locked away and/or protected by traps. The rest are naturally occurring phenomena, and probably powerful enough to foil any attempts to wall them off, block them up etc.

The only significant addition to the rules is a new third attribute, Valour, which starts at 12 and can be reduced to 0 without killing you. It gets quite drastically reduced in the course of the adventure, the safest path costing you at least 5 points. While characters with abysmal initial rolls are unlikely to succeed, average to good scores should suffice. The toughest unavoidable opponent has Dexterity 10, and when I finally won TToE, it was with a Dexterity 9 character. There is a Dexterity 12 Dragon at one point, but the item you can only get if you fight him is not essential, merely useful. Besides, he's a sporting chap, and will let you go if you wound him four times before he can do the same to you.

The puzzles in this issue are an odd mix. A knowledge of Greek will be of great use at one point. The logic behind the puzzle for opening the safe is a bit dodgy, though. There are also a few avoidable words in code, which shouldn't be too hard to solve if you encounter them, but aren't really worth the effort.

The path to success is narrow, but there's more flexibility than in the average Ian Livingstone or Jonathan Green Fighting Fantasy book. For a while I was beginning to worry that the correct route might include the chamber from which you can only get out alive by throwing a double six, but there is a path which avoids it. What you can't get out of is literally dicing with Death at the end. This has a 1 in 6 chance of leading to instant death and a 1 in 6 chance of giving you a shot at victory. The other possible outcomes are less significant, though one of them could get you killed depending on what condition you're in.

Quite apart from the arbitrariness of this endgame, there are other problems with the final confrontation. It's not really a spoiler to point out that the last Valour roll you make is pointless. Succeeding at it merely gives you a few useless options to try before doing what you'd have done anyway if you failed. And why does it not occur to you to do anything with the items you've collected until you get lucky in the dice game? All right, so you can't have been that smart when you chose to go on this quest in the first place, but even so, that's just dim. A few changes could have improved it no end, giving that final Valour roll some significance and/or deriving some benefit from the item which (as things stand) does you more harm than good. As things stand, it's a disappointing ending to a decidedly patchy adventure.

The ending also creates a loose end involving the knight whose weakness led to the order's downfall. He's been cursed with immortality and locked up to perpetually reflect on what he made possible. In return for the assistance he can provide you promise to try and find a way of lifting the curse, but after defeating the Triad you just set off home, whistling a merry tune. Meanwhile he's still languishing in his cell....

Once again Proteus breaks the 200 section barrier, this time going all the way to 250, and again Ms. Caldwell uses some section breaks to good effect. Even so, there's some rather obvious padding, which could have been put to better use during the climactic confrontation. There's also a higher incidence than usual of sections leading to other paragraphs on the same page mid-play.

The artwork is largely okay, but nothing special. Alan Hunter's Cuckuroo look more comical than menacing, and Mark Dunn's Vampire is marred by an unnecessarily weird background. Paul Campbell's Soul Eater and Horned Lizard are good, though, and Dunn's sinister-looking warrior (which I can only assume is supposed to be you) is quite striking.

I hadn't actually reached the end of this Proteus before I replayed it for review purposes, and based on my memories of past failures I hadn't been looking forward to it. It's better than I'd feared, though, and there's certainly a lot of potential in there. Even so, overall it doesn't quite work. Still, it's no Shinderg's Tomb, either.

More reviews by Ed

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