The Fortress of Kruglach (Gamebook)
In Search of Christmas (Mini-Adventure)
Bolton, M. W.
(cover and interior)
Smith, Nick (cover)
Campbell, Paul (interior)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Sell, Tim (interior)
Heller, Julek (poster)
Pickering, John (uncredited)
November 20, 1987
You have been engaged by a representative of the Royal Household of Garrangar to help save the kingdom. Since the arrival of the insane Havarines, madness has swept the land, even afflicting the king and any resident adventurers who didn't get killed on the quest you're about to undertake. The Sword of Ruin is needed to drive out the Havarines, and there's a potion that can cure the madness, both of which can be obtained from the wise man Zermahaar. However (there's always a 'however', isn't there?), Zermahaar is a bit mad himself, and liable to plague you with riddles and demand a precious gift if you survive the journey to his castle. For no adequately explained reason there's a strict time limit, too.
There is generally little point in criticising something for not being what it isn't, but there's too much wasted potential in THM for me not to comment. The race against time and the possibility of becoming afflicted by the madness yourself play no part in the adventure, so it's just another wander around a generic fantasy locale, fighting monsters, collecting items, and repeatedly dying because you didn't go the way the writer thinks you should have. Yay.
The structure of the adventure is bizarre. Imagine if, at the start of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, one turning led to the sleeping Orc guard, while the other took you directly to the far side of the river, causing you to unknowingly miss out on about half the adventure, including a couple of essential items. That's pretty much what THM does. Go one way from section 1 and (provided you don't die in combat, blunder into the mist and fall into a chasm, or do something foolhardy) you eventually reach the same junction at which you would have arrived if you'd gone the other way right at the start. I got lucky, and twigged on my second attempt (there's nothing like being asked if you have a certain item during your first encounter to make you realise you've missed something), but there are plenty of other courses of action following on from section 1 that could leave the reader unaware of this daft set-up for a long time yet.
Another annoying quirk is that several of the junctions include turnings into regions that will kill you whatever you do. Not in the more common 'going west means you don't get the silver spatula, and will thus die when you encounter the Vampire Chef' way, but in the far more tiresome 'at the next turning, both paths lead straight to Instant Death' way. There are also many routes that lead you to dead ends containing vicious opponents and no treasure just for the sake of padding.
For some strange reason THM is 202 sections long, though it could easily have been brought down to a round 200 by ditching the junction which takes you to the same place no matter which way you go, or losing a couple of the turnings that lead to the increasingly annoying 'you get lost in the mist and DIE' Instant Death. Or combining a few of the sections that make up the ending, which has unnecessarily been split into six parts.
There are enough unavoidable opponents with double-figure Dexterity scores that if your initial rolls are lousy, you might as well send your character into the mist. (Mind you, on one occasion my Dex 7 character beat the Dex 10 archer, only to get carved up by the similarly-statted Giant Crab later on.) In view of the fact that, unless you fiddle your rolls, you're likely to wind up at a disadvantage, the Dexterity-free system used in Shinderg's Tomb could be considered less unfair than the set-up here. Indeed, a plausible case could be made for THM's being the worst Proteus adventure yet. But it doesn't annoy me as much as ST did. Irrational, but there you have it.
All the puzzles appear towards the end, as you face Zermahaar's riddles. The first of these is in code, and you're not allowed to work it out unless you picked up the key, even though it's simple enough. The final riddle is simply wrong, but I'll come back to that after I've listed some other flaws.
Should you find more than one item in the same place, you are only ever able to take one of them, though the text rarely provides a reason for leaving the rest. When ambushed by the Wood Sprites, you are hampered by a net, and must deduct 2 Dexterity, but there is no instruction to restore the lost points when the fight is over and you have removed the net. If you ever have to use the rope provided to save yourself, your character is too stupid to remember to retrieve it afterwards. A piece of advice you may take gets forgotten for no reason if you encounter the She-Devil. The writer can't spell 'leech' (though those familiar with Cary Grant's real name might derive some amusement from the thought of being attacked by an oversized member of his family). And then there's the final riddle... I'll give the whole thing here, so people can check that I haven't got it wrong:
"Fingers of a score of men" ('fingers' must be taken to exclude thumbs, or the total is even more egregiously wrong.)
"Legs of a crab multiplied by ten" (which doesn't even scan. According to a marine biologist friend of mine, the claws do count as legs, but even if you disregard them, the correct answer is still higher than the one that fits in THM.)
"Less the ears of a baker's dozen of dogs" (I suppose Zermahaar's insanity can be used to excuse his poor rhythm.)
"Plus the bulging eyes of a couple of frogs."
If you can come up with an answer that's lower than the number of sections in the adventure (202, remember), show me your workings, because I can only get the 'right' answer if I use crippled crabs. Or mutant dogs. Or frogs with less than no eyes. Or redefine 'fingers,' 'a score' or 'a baker's dozen.' And Bolton has the gall to say, "If you can't solve the riddle, shame on you!"
I only managed to complete the adventure because I went to recheck that it did have the number of sections I thought it did, and inadvertently glimpsed the 'correct' section, which is on the last page.
Art-wise it's not a total loss, but it could have been better. Mark Dunn and Gary Harrod aren't up to their usual standard, though Harrod does at least know how many legs a crab has. Dunn's not having been selected to depict the She-Devil is a wasted opportunity, and Tim Sell's picture of her looks more like a punk than the character described in the text. Sell's other illustrations aren't that great, either. He's no John Pickering, but Messrs De Leuw and Hunter have little to fear from him. At least Paul Campbell is as good as ever, his Slime Dragon in particular.
The cover of Proteus 15 proclaims it a "Special Bumper Issue" as, in addition to THM, it contains a reprint of The Fortress of Kruglach and In Search of Christmas, a silly, inconsequential micro-adventure that turns out to be more entertaining than the proper one. Proof, if proof be needed, that quantity and quality are two very different things.
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