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Item - Challenge of the Promethean Guild

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Series: Proteus — no. 11
Author: Caldwell, Elizabeth
Illustrators: Oakes, Terry (cover)
Campbell, Paul (interior)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Pickering, John (uncredited)
Berdak, Keith (poster)
Date: 1987
Ed's Thoughts:

It was with some trepidation that I bought this issue back in 1987. Not because I feared it would be another Triad-esque shambles, but because the man depicted in the cover illustration held a gun. Had Proteus decided to risk sci-fi after all?

Not really, as it turned out. Science fantasy, yes, but apart from the fact that the occasional opponent is robotic and there's the odd laser here and there, there's nothing to distinguish CotPG from the standard fantasy fare of the previous 10 issues.

The funny thing is, a lot of readers didn't see this. Subsequent issues printed several letters objecting to the SF elements as if they made a massive difference to the plot. It would appear that, to these readers, running around corridors with a sword, fighting monsters and gathering items is thrilling stuff, but running around corridors with a sword that has a laser built into the hilt, fighting monsters and machines and gathering items is a cure for insomnia. Weird.

The only significant difference the SF elements make rules-wise is that the laser built into your sword enables you to inflict 6 points of damage in the first round of combat, if you win it. This time round, the third attribute is called Skill, generated on 1d6+6. Perhaps the demise of Warlock magazine not long before had made Proteus less wary of using Fighting Fantasy words.

But what of the actual adventure? Back in '87 I soon forgot my fears, and while my critical faculties are better developed now than they were then, I remain fond of CotPG. And I still want a laser sword of my own. The Promethean Guild is a powerful but mysterious organisation, dedicated to the elimination of evil, though its methods often step outside the law. Anyone who finds the Guild's Testing Complex and passes the tests within is assured of expert training, thrilling missions, and substantial rewards. You know where the Complex is, and now you're ready to take the next step and face the tests....

There are three tests, which can be taken in any order, effectively making CotPG three mini-adventures linked by a tenuous framing device. One test involves stealing an item, another involves wandering around a maze seeking the components of a key, and the third sees you and another applicant hunting each other, victory going to whoever first wounds the other.

The theft test doesn't really match up to the expectations raised by its description, turning out to be more a test of your puzzle-solving skills than of thievery-related attributes. It's not bad, it's just not what it could be. But then, what is?

The test in the maze is much as you'd expect, marred to a degree by the never-popular Deathtrap Dungeon pipe factor, occasional moments of being forced to go north whether you want to or not, and the fact that random chance determines whether or not you get one of the key components. The odds at that point are better than Ian Livingstone would give you, but there is a definite possibility of failing by virtue of obtaining too many wooden frogs.

The 'track down and wound another would-be Guild member' mission is inevitably more linear than a two-player gamebook would make such a confrontation (Combat Heroes being the obvious comparison). Nevertheless, it does a decent job of keeping you on edge, anticipating an ambush, at least until replaying-induced familiarity with the set-up takes over. Guild requirements would appear to include a high Dexterity, as there are three unavoidable fights against opponents with double- figure scores. Roll up a character with a Dex of less than 10, and you might as well send him/her back home to become a quantity surveyor.

A couple of items you may acquire over the course of the adventure have some interesting features. There's a magic staff that has a 50% chance of helping you and a 33.33% chance of seriously inconveniencing you whenever you use it in combat (get the 'halve your Dexterity and increase your opponent's Dexterity to 12' option, and you might as well give up). Identifying the other noteworthy item would be a big spoiler, as it's one of the four from which you have to choose at the start of a particular test. Choose it, and you'll soon be dead, as it causes you to lose 1 Dexterity at the start of each fight. The Guild can be very harsh at times.

Items also tie in with one of the adventure's bugs. They can only be used during the test in which you find them. I can see that carrying them over would make things a lot more complicated, but it would have been simple enough to insert a line following completion of a test to indicate that whatever you found in there must be placed into storage while you take the other tests.

Other bugs: section 62 neglects to mention where you should go if you roll 4, 5 or 6 and got lower on the previous roll (102, most likely). More trivially, there's no stated penalty for getting the puzzle at section 59 wrong, but if you do, you wind up in the middle of a completely different task. And the fragments of the glass plate that reveals how to get out of the room with the crazed youth are different shapes in the two different illustrations, despite both pictures being by the same artist.

Not so much a bug as an unintentionally humorous element – at one point you may enter a room and come face to face with a Barbarian Giant who, judging by his picture, probably eats adventurers for breakfast. He calls out a challenge to you, then gets out his jewellery collection and asks a riddle. Yes, quite.

This is by far the most puzzle-heavy Proteus yet, with a variety of different types. There's an interesting way to avoid the dire consequences of failing to solve a certain puzzle, but to say any more would be a spoiler. Art-wise it's another strong issue. De Leuw's depiction of Ah-Pukh (Mayan Lord of the Underworld) is disappointing, especially as the scene could have been so much more disturbing if drawn by Dunn, Campbell or Harrod. Campbell's Witch-Monster is impressively gruesome, and Harrod maintains his usual high standard. As for Mark Dunn's Black Queen... Ay Carumba! Her hips look odd, but all the same, this must have fuelled all sorts of fantasies among Proteus' adolescent male readers.

Inevitably, the published version of Challenge of the Promethean Guild doesn't match up to the one I remember from when I was less than half my current age. Even so, it's a vast improvement on Triad, and indeed on most of its predecessors. This could be considered the beginning of Proteus' (admittedly somewhat patchy) Golden Age.

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