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Item - Into the Dragon's Domain

Series: Proteus — no. 18
Author: Allanson, Brian
Illustrators: Oakes, Terry (cover and poster)
Campbell, Paul (interior)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Sell, Tim (interior)
Pickering, John (uncredited)
Date: March 18, 1988
Ed's Thoughts: The evil Dragon Dagmor the Terrible is terrorising the province of Culhaver, and a 3000 GP reward is offered to whoever slays him. You decide to give it a go, and encounter a local who once discovered the location of the Dragon's lair and (for no adequately explained reason) is extremely well-informed about its contents. He warns you of the Dragon's proficiency with charm spells, and tells you of the various potential dragonslaying aids to be found in the vicinity of Dagmor's lair. These aren't all items - a couple of people held prisoner by Dagmor will be able to assist you in the manufacture of a potion of fire resistance (so how come the Dragon hasn't charmed them to prevent them from aiding adventurers, eh?). Sounds a right barrel of laughs, doesn't it?

Well, that depends on how much you enjoy dungeon crawls. This is about as generic an adventure as you'll ever get. You wander around a network of subterranean passages, fighting monsters, consulting old men, solving puzzles, encountering traps and acquiring items. Eventually, should you last long enough and pick up the right things along the way, you get to fight the Big Bad.

And what a fight that is. Dagmor has Dexterity 16 (not 18, as I claimed many months ago), and his fire-breathing will probably cost you at least 4 Strength just before battle commences. While not as bad as the editorially inflated Giant Mudworm in The Crimson Tide, this is by far the hardest 'straight' combat ever to feature in Proteus, and given the lack of Dexterity or Fighting Power bonuses to be found, it's probably one of the toughest unavoidable fights in any gamebook.

Where other writers would usually make at least a cursory attempt to integrate the 'hidden' numbers into the game, Allanson doesn't bother. The text just says to make a note of such-and-such a number for future reference. This might be seen as a refreshing avoidance of the usual contrivances, or as an obstacle to suspension of disbelief. Though only 200 sections long, ItDD has quite a bit of padding. While not as blatant as the worst examples in the earliest issues, it's not done particularly well, with too many sequences that tell of your arriving at a chamber with so many exits and redirecting you to another paragraph that describes the contents of the chamber. It strikes me as unlikely that you'd spot doorways to several points of the compass and only then notice that there's, say, a dirty great Ogre crouching over a fire in the middle of the room.

Section 4 is missing a line, and should say to turn to 113 if you make the roll, and to 30 if you fail it. Section 43 is badly written, implying that an option is missing. The choices given in section 180 lead to paragraphs 86 and 88. The Rock Troll described as having "a low Dexterity" has a Dexterity of 10, higher than two thirds of the other opponents you may face. In what's more an editorial blunder than an authorial one, the puzzle which must be solved to obtain the helm is the same as the one used to open a secret door in issue 16.

The illustrations aren't bad (apart from the Pickering filler) but, perhaps in part due to the overly traditional subject matter, there's nothing outstanding. Dave De Leuw's Wyvern and Alan Hunter's picture of Dagmor atop his hoard are among the better examples of their work, but Dragons and their ilk have been depicted so often that it takes more than just a nice picture to make them grab the attention. Other artists, despite also showing overly familiar fantasy beasts, have more impact thanks to things like the fine detail of the drool on Paul Campbell's dozing Hobgoblin or the sense of motion in Mark Dunn's attacking Ogre.

The letters page includes a query as to why Dexterity and Strength dropped from 1d6+8 and 2d6+15 to 1d6+6 and 2d6+12, the response to which says that you can continue using the old system if you want. Doing so would make the final battle in this issue less unbalanced, but probably make the earlier encounters too easy.

Way back before I started this series of reviews, I described ItDD as a relatively easy quest topped with a preposterously tricky combat. Replaying it has not changed my opinion. Admittedly I haven't yet beaten it by the rules (though on one occasion I'd have made it if I'd used the 1d6+8 Dex loophole), but I can't see the final section containing much in the way of character development, so I see little point in delaying the review in order to replay ItDD a few dozen more times on the off-chance that I might win the fight.

More reviews by Ed

Users Who Own This Item: Ed, kinderstef, Malthus Dire, Robert Mammone, Sir Olli
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