Friday, October 15, 2010
Endless Quest #11: Spell of the Winter Wizard
Book 11 in the Endless Quest series looks pretty good. The Elmore cover is cool, and the back cover text sounds like your standard EQ adventure hook. Unfortunately, this one is a real let-down once you crack it open.
In this book, you are Omina, a child (yeah, strike one) and niece [it's never explicitly stated you're a girl, but the artwork and characterizations are definitely feminine] of the once great, now sick Alcazar, Wizard of Spring. His enemy Warzen, the Wizard of Winter, who is a big burly guy with a crazy hillbilly beard and an army of boar-riding orcs, comes and captures the sick Alcazar and you're left to rescue him.
You get two basic options at the start--go after Warzen to rescue Alcazar, or try to find some help. Armed with a poker from the fireplace (lame!) and a magic whistle that you can use once as a 'get out of jail free' card, you set out.
Now, the second major failing of the EQ series, the annoying sidekick, takes an interesting turn, and it's one of the few good things about this book. If you set off after Warzen, your cat--now polymorphed by Warzen's spell into a reindeer--may accompany you if you choose. If you go for help, you get a talking moth for a companion. Neither companion is overly moralistic, and you can choose not to take them with you if you like. The moth, however, is suffering at the hands of an abusive relationship with the lepidopterist (see below), and you need to show her what a beautiful snowflake she really is.
The book is populated by a bizarre list of NPC 'helpers' you meet along the way. There's a fussy and obsessive lepidopterist, a snake-oil alchemist, a very gay elf named Fluffergrund, a sailor polymorphed into a clam with big gold teeth... And aside from Warzen's orcs on boars, monsters in the book include flesh-eating flowers, bleeding trees, an orc ghost, a witch, 'quagbeasts' whatever the heck they are, and the ghost of an orc Warzen tortured to death. There's potential for some cool encounters here, but since you fight things off with a poker if you fight at all, and mostly just run and hide, it's kind of uncool.
One of the most annoying things about the book is how often it funnels you into the 'Etaknon' section of the book. Usually, if you blow your magic whistle you end up there. Some other paths also lead to Etaknon. Etaknon is an island populated by hippy halflings who want to keep you doped up with funky fruits so you never leave, but if you insist they'll take you to the beer-belly sporting 'hero' ThorTak, who will take out Warzen and rescue Alcazar for you--but at the cost of forcing you to learn a heavy handed moralizing lesson. ThorTak's more than willing to blast Warzen to smithereens with a meteor swarm spell if you just ask, but then keeps you prisoner until you've learned to be peaceful. Of course, if you ask him to take out Warzen peacefully, you get what I assume is supposed to be the best ending, where he polymorphs Warzen into a daffodil then sends his hippy halflings to rescue Alcazar.
The other 'best' ending involves getting the aid of the poncy elf (and he seriously is poncy), and the frost giant riding a white dragon seen on the cover (who are actually another wizard and his pegasus, again polymorphed by Warzen) to help you.
The final strike against this book is the artwork. The Elmore cover is cool, but the interior art, by Jeffrey R. Busch, is simplistic and not very inspiring, especially compared to the artwork in Dungeon of Dread or Light on Quests Mountain.
Overall, this is a very weak entry in the Endless Quest series. There's very little action, mostly just oddball situations that don't feel very D&D to me at all. It's more like it's trying to be a mix of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Alice in Wonderland" only lamer. It's one that I read a few times as a kid, hoping to find some cool stuff, then never read again (unlike some of the others, which I would reread from time to time even after I'd found all the endings). The kid I was tutoring and having read the EQ books also didn't like this one, and after one reading (he got sent to Etaknon early, thankfully), he didn't want to try other paths. There's not much to pull out of it for your games. Unless you're a completionist and want a collection of all EQ books, don't bother with this one.
Protagonist: A young girl who runs away from everything, and dies if she ever tries to fight.
Sidekicks: A talking bashful moth, or a cat polymorphed into a reindeer, both optional.
Adventure: Bizarre and not so interesting. Some paths lead you to a quick ending, others are long and circuitous, leading to the same ending you could have gotten to early.
Endings: Moralizing in the extreme for the good endings, and somewhat counter-intuitive for some of the bad endings. Trying to be a hero can get you killed or captured.
Art: Nice Elmore cover, uninspiring interiors (Busch).