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Item - Escape from Scarpathia

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Series: Proteus — no. 16
Author: Brunskill, David
Illustrators: Oakes, Terry (cover)
Campbell, Paul (interior)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Sell, Tim (interior)
Mitchell, Judy (poster)
Pickering, John (uncredited)
Date: January 15, 1988
Ed's Thoughts:

An itinerant adventurer, you encounter a civilised and hospitable people who have no need of a hero to save them from anything. Their leader advises you to avoid the nearby land of Scarpathia. Margas, its ruler, is an unpleasant sort, albeit lacking the magical ability he'd need in order to become the sort of villain he'd like to be. Guess where you decide to go as soon as you leave....

Before long it becomes apparent that you're out of your league, and but for the intervention of a few mystical beings, most of which make a point of reminding you that you are a mere mortal, you would be doomed. Given the punishment you take at times, even their help may not be enough. The worst opponent you have to fight has an effective Dexterity of 10, so you have a chance of scraping through with a slightly below-average score, but non-combat-related Strength loss is a good deal higher than usual, and you may have to get through the bulk of the adventure with no means of replenishing Strength.

For some reason I remembered very little of EFS from when I played it back in the 20th century. It thus came as quite a surprise to find that it is (for the most part) a really good adventure. There's an actual developing plot, and while none of the events are particularly surprising, it makes a pleasant change to have your aims changing in response to the situation rather than simply getting a rough checklist of things to do at the start and working your way through them all. Much of the content of the adventure is the usual stuff, but the different approach makes it seem a little more original. The ending is not what you might expect, either, and hints at character development.

Brunskill seems to have learned a bit as regards making good use of transitions between sections. One paragraph ends with your being ambushed and preparing to take on your assailants. I was expecting the section to which it directed me to contain the attackers' stats, instead of which there's a textual jump cut to your coming round in a cell, somewhat the worse for wear. It's startling (I rechecked the numbers to be sure I hadn't turned to the wrong section by mistake), but effective. The padding is more subtly done than is usual for a Brunskill adventure, too. On the other hand, there are several instances of sections leading to other sections on the same page, or even adjacent ones, leading to inadvertent spoilers.

Considering how previous issues have made a bit of a hash of such things, I was pleased to note that in EFS molten rock radiates heat, so you can't get close to it without appropriate magical protection. Elsewhere, the bonus for a magical weapon applies to Fighting Power, not Dexterity. It tended to be other writers who had a problem with that anyway, but at least it shows that Mr. Brunskill has avoided picking up their bad habit.

I was really enjoying EFS until near to the end, at which point you reach a locked gate and have to guess which keys to use (unless you didn't get all the available ones, in which case your options are limited). Choose wrongly, and you're dead. This arbitrary 'puzzle' spoils things, but not enough to drag the adventure down to the level of the really rubbish ones. There are a few other flaws of varying significance. The Quench Fire spell is described as being able 'to put out small or large fires.' Does that mean that if you encounter a medium-sized fire you're stuffed? More seriously, at section 49 the numbers given to indicate where you should turn if you have as many keys as there are locks and where to go if you don't have enough keys are the wrong way round. Section 187 gives an inaccurate reference to turn to if you lift the jar (it should be 168, not 158). Depending on how you reach the Troglodytes, you may find a raft appearing from nowhere. The word 'Quench' is misspelt in section 139.

The artwork is nothing spectacular. Paul Campbell is as good as ever, but the other artists all seem to have been having a bit of an off-day for at least one picture. At least there's nothing outstandingly bad, except perhaps Sell's Hellbat.

If it weren't for the 'guess the right keys' bit at the end, EFS would be a strong contender for the best Proteus adventure. Even with that irritating feature, it's still top five material.

More reviews by Ed

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