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Item - Boneshaker's Mountains of Forever

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Series: Proteus — no. 19
Author: Bulmer, Ken
Illustrators: Few, Chris (cover)
Campbell, Paul (interior)
De Leuw, Dave (interior)
Dunn, Mark (interior)
Harrod, Gary (interior)
Hunter, Alan (interior)
Sell, Tim (interior)
Edwards, Les (poster)
Pickering, John (uncredited)
Date: 1988
Ed's Thoughts:

On the trail of your treacherous ex-partner in adventure Butcher Corelli, you and the rest of your crew are captured by a tribe of jungle-dwellers who also want Corelli dead, though they'll settle for killing his former associates if they can't get him. He has kidnapped the children of some prominent tribe members and taken them to the Mountains of Forever, which are taboo to the tribe. As you are not bound by the taboo, you wangle a stay of execution by promising to go after Corelli and rescue the children. The rest of your crew are held as hostages, and will be put to death if you do not bring back the children within a week. How's that for motivation?

As was the case in Bulmer's previous adventure for Proteus, there's a twist, but this one is revealed so early in the adventure that describing it barely constitutes a spoiler. If you really don't want to know, skip the rest of this paragraph. Still here? Good. The thing is, straight after entering the mountains, you find the dying Corelli. The vast palace beneath the mountains has just been taken over by the evil wizard Stirkness Boneshaker, whose forces butchered Corelli and his men, and took the children. There are still a few survivors of the old regime around, who may be willing to render assistance, but the wizard's guards are searching for them, so the place is just crawling with bad guys. Having given you the real plot, Corelli promptly expires, and is dismissed with the touching epitaph, 'He just didn't run fast enough.' One thing about Bulmer's adventurers - they have attitude.

Based on my unreliable memories of playing this back in the eighties, I had it down as an inferior not-quite-sequel to BCC. It turns out that, while it shares many of the former adventure's flaws (albeit to a lesser extent), this is actually pretty good. The vast subterranean complex in which this is set so interested me that for some time I avoided culling any obviously doomed characters I rolled up, and sent them down paths I knew had to be 'false' just so I could find out what was down there and see how everything linked up. Certain regions remain unexplorable, adding to the mystique of the place.

As usual, there's item-hunting to be done, and if you don't encounter the Elementalist you've no chance of getting all you need, but a lot of what you need shouldn't be too hard to track down, and you can get away with the odd deviation from the 'correct' path in places. This time round there's only one bit of trivia you overlook at your peril, but it would be annoying to fail at the end just because you weren't paying enough attention when somebody thanked you. Narn, the being whose assistance you require in order to have any chance of survival, is almost as demanding as Ruth Pracy. Still, there's a nice bit where your character seems to be getting as fed up with all Narn's demands for proof of worthiness as you are likely to be by this stage.

I was all set to complain about the arbitrariness of the hiding place of one essential item, and to express my confusion over where one part of the vital incantation fit in with the rest, but then I twigged that it's not part of the incantation, it's a clue as to where you find that elusive item. It's all too easy to get these cryptic combinations of letters mixed up. The incantation is the most challenging of the puzzles in this issue (and one of the less clumsy examples of concealed section numbers I've encountered), but you do pick up a neat hint as to the solution along with one of the bits you find.

While the final combat (when you eventually get to it) is liable to prove lethal to anyone with a single-figure Dexterity, BMoF doesn't require massively above-average stats. The other fights (the unavoidable ones, at least) shouldn't be too much for most characters, yet still have the potential to challenge the tougher ones, and while there are still Fate/Fortune penalties just for being there, they're less common than in BCC, and there are no F/F rolls where failure will automatically kill you (on the correct path, at least).

Another thing in BMoF's favour: it's certainly packed with incident. Before I'd covered even a quarter of it, I already felt that I'd experienced more than in the whole of ItDD. There's also a decent amount of detail to the place, with lots of morbid little touches to the d├ęcor. Oh, and there's another entertainingly quirky info-dump, this one actually containing some useful information. Apart from your character's slight cynical streak (and briefly-glimpsed culinary talents), there's also a bit of a deviation from the 'normal' adventurer character in that some common traits prove disadvantageous in the extreme. This is subtly done, which has both good and bad points. I think the lack of overt moralising makes up for the fact that you may take a few attempts to realise that certain courses of action are bad for you this time round, but some may disagree.

Section 147 is missing an 'either of'. Compass directions are often eschewed in favour of the less helpful left and right. Section 121 should say 'left,' not 'right'. The choice given in section 189 leads to either 207 or 208. You may receive a warning about a trap, but not until you've passed it, so what's the point? Section 202 ends with an unnecessary comma, while section 222 is missing one. The word 'disappointed' is, strangely, used to mean 'startled to find that your expectations have been vastly exceeded.'

The artwork is variable. Owing to the perennial chicken/egg question regarding artwork and text in Proteus, I don't know if it would have been possible for Mark Dunn and Paul Campbell to swap commissions for sections 200 and 48 respectively, but if so we might have been spared a couple of the weaker examples of their work, and seen pictures that make better use of their strengths. Dave de Leuw fares better than usual, particularly his picture of Ashenar, and the other artists are up to their usual standard. The cover's nice, even if it does have next to nothing to do with the content.

Like EfS, BMoF has gone up in my estimation now I've played it through properly. Challenging, but not needlessly hard. If Proteus had ended with this one, it would have gone out in style.

More reviews by Ed

Users Who Own This Item: Eamonn McCusker, Ed, juski (PDF), kinderstef, Malthus Dire, Robert Mammone, Sir Olli
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