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TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

What, you really thought I wouldn't include one of these? As if!


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(un)reason

Adventurer
12 years ago today, I set out to read and review every single issue of Dragon magazine. An enormous journey that took precisely 6 years of daily posting, and was left open for a sequel. Having finally managed to find every issue of Polyhedron as well, this felt like the right time to set out on another epic journey through the history of roleplaying, and see how it developed month by month from a different perspective. I hope you'll join me again on the trip, and it'll be both entertaining and educational. Without further ado, let's get started.



TSR RPGA Volume 1, No. 1: Summer 1981



Part 1/4



16 pages. Here we go again then. Interestingly, they aren't actually called Polyhedron yet, although they already have a d20 as part of their logo. Production values are higher than The Strategic Review, but below that of Dragon even at it's start, with no color, and decidedly sketchy line Illustrations. (Although Darlene does contribute a pretty decent cover.) Evidently the RPGA was running on a shoestring when it started, even though TSR itself had pretty decent revenues by this point. It'll definitely be interesting to see how that changes over the years as conventions expand, and presumably their membership does as well. But first, let's see how they fill this one on their own, before the majority of even their own organisation knew about it and could contribute to it.



Letters: Unsurprisingly, there are no letters addressed to them this month, although the other TSR staff have been made aware and are mostly enthusiastic about the idea of the newszine. They decide to be a bit cheeky and swipe one from the Dragon slush pile about characters gaining an AC bonus as they level. They disapprove of the idea, partly because gaining hit points as you level is supposed to represent your increasing ability to avoid damage anyway, not superhuman toughness, and partly because they're running tournament adventures, and so they have to do things strictly by the book for the competition and scoring system to be fair. Ah yes, the whole Official AD&D™ Rules vs basic D&D stuff that Gary made so much noise about back then. I definitely remember that well. Not surprised we'd see more of that in here, since it's right on the frontlines dealing with the most hardcore of fans.



Dispel Confusion: Also unsurprisingly, given their insistence on adhering to Official AD&D™ Rules in tournaments, is lots of questions as to exactly what those rules are. So they're starting this column up, which is basically just Sage Advice under a different name, and I have no doubt we'll be seeing plenty of it over the years, as rules quibbles are neverending, and only grow moreso the more supplements you add, with combinations of rules that were never considered by their writers growing geometrically. Let's see what they were concerned about back then.

Don't the PHB & DMG contradict each other about how wizards learn spells? (Nonsense!, the two combine into a harmonious whole! )

What do AC & Damage for humanoids mean? (Most of them are wearing armor & wielding weapons. We'll be more explicit about this in future editions)

Can Paladins become lycanthropes despite being immune to disease? (fraid so. Makes for better angsty drama that way.)

How much does magical armor really weigh? (Half for some purposes, none for others. Seems a bit like needless complexity, but there you go. Be honest, are you really tracking this stuff in detail anyway?)
 
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(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA Volume 1, No. 1: Summer 1981



Part 2/4



RPGA interview with E. Gary Gygax: Our largest article, and the obvious big selling point of the newszine to hardcore players is Frank Mentzer interviewing Gary. While there is a bit of historical stuff about the development of D&D that I've seen many times, there's also some more RPGA specific stuff about AD&D's development to be more tournament friendly and the creation of Gen Con that's more interesting. Turns out Gary was one of the founders of that too, which also explains why TSR's upper management were so tribal in the Gen Con vs Origins conflict back in the day. It might not really matter which one's the biggest, and being able to support multiple large conventions per year speaks well of the heath of the hobby, but it's still nice to be on top. So this reminds us Gary had his fingers in plenty of other pies beyond D&D and strong opinions about even more things than that. And he's noticeably less cantankerous here than many of his own articles, if no less verbose, as they overrun and have to continue it in the next issue. Oh well, at least I won't have to wait three months to see it like people at the time. This is a pretty entertaining little piece to unearth, so I'm looking forward to part 2.



The Fastest Guns That Never Lived: In another sign that they don't really have enough material for this, they decide to reprint a compilation of these Boot Hill articles from Dragon Magazine. A jumbled collection of real world historical cowboys, characters from specific films or TV series, and the actors that played them. As before, I'm vaguely irritated by the fact that they have stats much higher than PC's, and a whole load of special abilities you can't have on top of that. That never ceases to be a problem with their named NPC's from fiction. They're playing a much more high action and cinematic game than you are, despite theoretically running on the same system. It's like they don't want you to tell stories as awesome as theirs in your own games.



Notes for the Dungeon Master: This article is somewhat more entertaining despite having seen a fair few like it, as it's a list of sadistic exploits with which to screw your players over. Ah, good old fashioned adversarial play. There'll always be more tricks in that vein to come up with, even if you already have hundreds. So like new monsters, spells, and magic items, this is the kind of advice that never gets old, even if it does sometimes wind up repeating itself in the long run. Hopefully there'll be a good few gems like this to be found along the newszine's run. Muahahahaha.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA Volume 1, No. 1: Summer 1981



Part 3/4



The Fight in the Skies Game: Despite it's name, the RPGA isn't just about RPG's, it also covers organised play for their current wargames (although I suspect that won't last for long with wargaming in decline as it is.) So here's a promotional article for their game of WWI dogfighting. It's actually been around longer than TSR itself, another of their acquisitions when another company died, and has a small but enthusiastic fan club keeping it going through many editions. They obviously hope the RPGA'll bring it wider exposure. We'll see how long that lasts. Since this is pure promotion that doesn't introduce any new game variants, I'm not particularly enamoured of this. It once again feels like they're not running at full speed yet and padding things out a bit.



An open letter to Frank Mentzer: What the previous article did for Fight in the Skies, this does for Top Secret, talking about it's history, and reminding us that it's also available for tournament play. (although it doesn't have nearly as many modules as D&D) Let's get some modern day action going in here, not just fantastical alternate worlds and highly implausible futures. Do all RPG's need to have some sort of superhuman element to retain people's interest long-term? (30+ years of hindsight says yes, unfortunately) Another reminder of the wide variety of stuff TSR tried, only to gradually become more focussed on follow-ups to a few big things. It'll be interesting to see if Polyhedron follows a steeper or shallower trajectory in that respect compared to Dragon.



Gen Con South report: As conventions are the primary stomping grounds of the RPGA, it's not surprising that they start as they mean to go on, with coverage of a recent convention. Gen Con South is still relatively small, with attendance in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands big ones will reach in the future. Still, looks like they had fun, with 29 different parties all participating in the same tournament adventure. And the photo looks pretty good for the era, (those hairstyles look incredibly dated though) which certainly hasn't been the case a lot of the time in their minis reviews. Still, there's not a lot to comment on here. I hope they'll find some way of making these entertaining to people who weren't there, because otherwise, that'll be a whole lot of parties I get to read about but not enjoy.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA Volume 1, No. 1: Summer 1981



Part 4/4



Science Fantasy - A Role Playing Game With A Difference: We've covered dungeoncrawling, shootouts, dogfights and espionage. Now It's Jim Ward's turn to try and sell his baby to us. Gamma World May not have matched D&D, but it certainly outlasted all these others in longevity and number of supplements over the years. Despite being a very silly game in some ways, it's also ahead of D&D in terms of giving characters factions to identify their character with and reasons to have more complex roleplaying interactions, as they try to balance their personal goals, the party's ones and their long-term ideological ones. He also gives advice about starting equipment, and how characters should relate to remnants of ancient (ie, present day) technology. So this isn't just self-promotion like the last two, but actually has plenty of interesting advice that you can use in your game, showing he's thought about this in more depth than made it to the books and most people's actual play. I approve.



Rocksnoz: Tom Wham's style of drawing may not be the most sophisticated, but it still has plenty of charm. A trio of adventurers in a strange and savage land attempt to hunt their food, and fail in embarrassing fashion. In a curiously ahead of it's time touch, they're divided into Warrior, Spellcaster and Expert a-la True20 rather than the 4 D&D classes. Clerics eh, did anyone really like them? They always seem to be the first thing to get cut in a party whenever people reexamine the assumptions behind D&D and set out to make their own variant. So while this is just a simple gag strip, it still gives us something to think about in hindsight. How else could we rearrange the party roles in interesting ways to reflect different genres of game?



A bit of a slow start, as they struggle to come up with enough material despite the small size of the newsletter and pad it out with basic articles introducing their games, which won't be much use to the hardcore gamers that are their target audience. Although there's nothing here that had the future influence of the stuff in the first Strategic Review, there's still several interesting articles amidst the self-promotion, and the presence of plenty of big names leaves me hopeful that they'll contribute a few hidden gems in the future. Let's see how enthusiastic a response their requests for material get in the next issue. Will they be hitting the accelerator, or still stuck in first gear?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 2: Autumn 1981



part 1/4



16 pages. Stephen D. Sullivan (who'll write a lot of stuff for TSR in the future) shows he has more than one use for his pen by taking the cover art for this issue, and reminding us of the dangers of pissing off druids. Nature can be a real bitch sometimes. Inside, it seems like Frank has indeed got enough replies to get the newszine rolling properly. Let's see if they're good enough to satisfy the discerning tastes of the audience, and build upon further.



Letters: Our letters this issue are from far-flung corners of the world and the troubles they face trying to be a roleplayer. First, a Dutch one complaining about the small player base. Looks like you might need to get out and do a bit of recruiting.

Second, one from Sweden asking about international subscription prices. Only the mail rates vary at the moment, but that may change, so subscribe now before they go up.

More optimistic is one from Germany advertising a local convention. They always were one of the strongest European markets for RPG's and it's nice to see that started early.

And now for something completely different, a question about the D&D computer labyrinth game. It's like minesweeper. Explore and memorise where the invisible walls are while trying to avoid the dragon chasing you and get it's treasure. How quirky. I wonder how much they varied the layouts to create replay value.

Someone eager for the release of Star Frontiers. They'll release it when they're ready, sometime next year. Wouldn't want a shoddy rush job, would we?

A request on how to submit modules to the RPGA. The answer is full of the usual irritatingly restrictive legal ass-covering, as they've learned the hard way by now what happens if you leave your ass uncovered in the business world. We have enough rules-lawyer problems in game, we don't want to deal with them in the financial world as well.

And finally, Gary's opinions prove as controversial as ever, provoking serious debate on the value, and possible necessity of house-ruling. You do what you like in your own game, but tournament adventures must remain strictly By The Book. That's not up for debate.



Official Notice: Speaking of rules lawyers, they've noticed a loophole in the pricing on their subscription system that it's possible to game, so they're planning on closing it, but giving you a few months more to take advantage if you subscribe promptly. A sneaky way of incentivising it by making it into a special offer. This amuses me more than a dry little notice has any right to do, and shows once again, people try to exploit the rules out of game as much as they do in it. You've got to watch out for that.



Dispel Confusion: The rules lawyering continues, as they have more than enough questions to keep this column going. Better get down to business then.

Do strength bonuses apply to Vorpal weapons. (Usually, but when their special effect activates, it doesn't matter, you're already dead, you don't get deader if they're stronger. )

Does an amulet of life protection save you from The Void? (Nope)

how long does a Carrion Crawler Paralyse you? (Same as the Wand. We'll spell it out (differently) in the next edition of the basic set.)

Can you Gaze at more than one creature per round? (Nope. This doesn't make much sense in one minute rounds, I know.)

How many people can stand abreast in a 10' corridor? (2)

Is it as easy to make permanent Protection From Good amulets as just casting the spell? (Nope.)

Do nonmagical elemental effects hurt things immune to nonmagical weapons? (yes)

Do Str & Dex bonuses stack on thrown weapons? (yes)
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 2: Autumn 1981



part 2/4



RPGA interview with E. Gary Gygax pt 2: The second half is slightly shorter and less grumpy than the first, but still has plenty of interesting bits and pieces. The protracted writing of T2-4, which would eventually only exist as one big module rather than separate little ones. His ideas for the next edition of AD&D, because of course you see more changes you could make as soon as you've finished one. And of course their many multimedia ideas, most of which would see fruit, but not all in good ways. A reminder that we join them as they're in the middle of their phase of meteoric expansion, trying to scale up the company to meet demand, while also trying out any cheesy bit of merchandising they can think of to make more money and diversify their output, not knowing if this roleplaying thing was going to be a fad or not. It's an exhausting business being a CEO under those conditions, but it sure beats being in a shrinking company. I look forward to seeing how this segment of the company juggles it's responsibilities over the years.



Notes From Overseas: In another indicator of their international ambitions, they give addresses their UK and Australian members can write too and order stuff from without paying exorbitant shipping costs. Still a fair bit of work needed to build up their logistical base, but it's nice to see them making progress. Another thing the internet will make so much easier, and a little reminder how much things have improved since then in many ways.



Spelling Bee: Frank tells us that one column about rules questions is not enough, and he plans to do another one going into the limits and applications of specific spells in more detail. Send in your requests for spells to cover in future issues. Another short piece that reminds us they might have picked up a bit from last issue, but still have a fair way to go to being a big smoothly running machine.



Name That Newsletter: Another indicator that they're still going through the pains of setting up is the desire to find a nice snappy name for the newszine. We know in hindsight what the answer to that will be, but it'll still be interesting to see how long it takes them to get there, and what alternatives are offered along the way. Rome wasn't built in a day, it's all about the journey, not the destination and all that. On we go.



Dawn Patrol Preview: Mike Carr reveals that they've renamed Fight in the Skies for the new edition, and added more RPG elements, as that's the new hotness. So here's details on the naming conventions and promotion paths of the various countries' militaries, allowing you to characterise your pilots more accurately. Seems a pretty thin veneer that doesn't interact with the actual mechanics at all, so it's still primarily a wargame, not a system that can handle their in between flight interactions and dramas. That'd take a considerably more experimental mindset. Maybe at some point in the future.



White Rabbits: Yet another short logistical column where they apologise for stuff being late or damaged by the post. They're doing their best, but they're still only small, and figuring this stuff out as they go along. Shit will go wrong, and though you can reduce the odds, you can never stop it entirely. Same as it ever was.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 2: Autumn 1981



part 3/4



How to Create Monsters: Jean Wells reminds us that math is important when designing monsters. While you do have a fair bit of leeway in juggling stats around, the overall power level and numbers you encounter them in should be arranged so the players have a decent chance of defeating them, while not being a complete walkover either. Some stats don't scale much with level, such as movement rate and morale, which are more dependent on creature thematics, while others inflate massively in a system like D&D. All stuff that would be codified and formalised in later editions, but it's good to see someone in the office cares about this even back then. After all, it's tricky to make tournament adventures fair if you can't do the math to figure out odds of success.



Turnbull Talking: In another international twist, they give Don Turnbull, the head of TSR UK a column. Similar to Gary, this is a somewhat cantankerous little piece of writing that reminds us kids these days, we don't know how good we have it. When he was a youngster you'd be lucky to have 2 new games released per year, now SPI is releasing a new one every month, and there's so many other companies doing similar it's impossible for a completionist to keep up. This is actually a good thing! It means the hobby is growing, and the more games there are, the more likely it is that you can play something you genuinely like, instead of grabbing what's in store because it's the only game in town. Since the internet will further increase the degree of choice people have in entertainment (and their ability to crowdfund their own ideas and make them a reality) by several orders of magnitude, I find this very amusing. People can adapt to a lot. Just how much faster and more connected will the world get in our lifetime? Will it ever hit a breaking point and go in the other direction again? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.



Mutants: Jim Ward has never been short of ideas, so here's another collection of Gamma World creatures to do horrible things to your players with. Smashy giant humanoids, Crystal Intelligences, Lizards that disguise themselves as cacti, Intelligent flying monkeys, Treasure hoarding grape vines and ancient servant robots. Some familiar ideas, but given distinct spins by adding on seemingly random mutations that make them all the more unpredictably dangerous. It makes a good argument for using random rolls to spark your creativity, helping you come up with creatures far more complex and interesting than you would have on your own, as you try to make sense of their odd mix of abilities and how that would make them live and think. Definitely an enjoyable collection to read and use.



RPGA Gift Catalogue: As their star ascended, TSR was not shy of dipping their toes into all kinds of merchandising. So it's no surprise to see them offering a whole load of RPGA exclusive goodies for sale here, just the right time for christmas shopping. Along with the obvious new modules, they're offering a figure case for your minis and a snazzy TSR belt buckle, and giving lots more potential options for products that they want us to give our opinions on, so they know whether there's a market for them or not. Always a hassle before the days of crowdfunding. Don't want tens of thousands of copies sitting unsold in a warehouse, do they. I strongly suspect I'll be seeing more of this. Even without external ads in the newszine, there's still going to be plenty of promoting their own products.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 2: Autumn 1981



part 4/4



Notes for the Dungeon Master: This is much the same as last issue, if slightly less lethal. 8 more methods for screwing your players over in sadistic and inventive fashion, most of which they can't even save against and have to rely on the brains of the humans playing them to figure out and counter. Yup, that's old school all right. This is why players get into researching custom spells, so even the nastiest tricks have a counter, and possibly a counter-counter for when they get really overcomplicated and paranoid. Are you ready to put that kind of pressure on your players, and kill them mercilessly if they can't figure it out? If so, there's plenty here for you.



Top Secret Transmissions: The problem with D&D being the first and dominant RPG is the tendency of people who learned how to play from it to treat other RPG's in the same way. So our Top Secret article this issue bemoans people who play it entirely in dungeon crawling style, treating every mission as a commando raid where they load up on encumbrance-straining amounts of equipment and kill or blow up anything that gets in their way. Where's the intrigue and political manoeuvring in that? Whatever happened to seducing critical information out of the enemy agent and then leaving them none the wiser? Even James Bond doesn't get caught in enemy deathtraps every single mission. All very valid complaints, if particularly tricky ones to resolve in tournament play where everything has to be wrapped up in a single session, and the map and objectives have to be highly constrained to allow for winners, losers and a proper scoring system. The big push to get out of the dungeon and tell more sophisticated stories won't happen until 1983, but you can already feel the rumblings of discontent here. We can do so much more with the medium. But of course, the big question is how much of that we'll get to see in the newszine, given it's focus. Another complex question I look forward to finding out the answers too.



Rocksnoz: Following up on last issue's comic, Tom Wham gives us some of the setting details behind it. Despite the silly names and scrappy art style, it's a pretty standard fantasy world, where the heroes were thrown together by a despotic overlord, escaped, and are now trying to survive the best they can in a world filled with magic and monsters. (and as we saw, not doing a very good job of it) It seems like he's setting this up to be another recurring series, but looking ahead, it turns out to be another false start, and this won't be growing from it's humble beginnings and joining the ranks of Fineous Fingers, Wormy & Yamara as a nostalgic comic epic. Sigh. Just another seed that fell on hard ground and never got to reach it's full potential.



The RPGA Tournament System: Designing every tournament module as a meatgrinder with scoring based on how far players got through it, and how much treasure and XP they accumulated has it's limitations. So in another sign of how they want to prioritise actual roleplaying in their RPG's, they're scoring by creating a system where after the adventure, everyone in the group fills out a form ranking everyone else on several different categories. This means groups that work together well and play their characters interestingly will be more likely to progress to the next round, and means adventures can be less linear and brutal and still be used for tournaments. Some old school players may complain, but this seems like a positive step overall. It'll definitely be interesting to see how they change and refine their ranking systems over the years as they grow.



Still some self-consciously incomplete elements in this issue, but they're definitely picking up steam and improving with experience. Looks like it'll take a while before they level off and diminishing returns set in, which is good for me. Let's see just how much they've managed to add on next issue.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 3: Winter 1981-2



part 1/4



32 pages. Erol Otus manages to evoke more sympathy for the monster than the adventurer, despite it having altogether too many limbs and fangs. (also, nice trainers on that half-orc) A nice reminder that we're still firmly in weird fantasy territory here, and a raygun's as good a treasure as a sword +3 to an adventurer. Exactly how much of that we'll see in the tournament adventures I'm not so sure, since they're forced to be more conservative than home campaigns, but it's a fun image that reveals more with close examination. Let's see if the contents of this expanded issue are just as inspirational for our actual play.



Official Notice: They're not just organising the roleplaying community here, they're giving back to it as well by setting up a scholarship fund. After all, the average age of gamers at this time is in their teens, so there'll be plenty of suitable candidates to choose from. And if you help them get educated, they're more likely to get good jobs, and spend more on gaming in the future. It's just a win-win investment all around. I definitely approve of this idea. Did any of you benefit from it back in the day, or apply and get turned down?



White Rabbits: 1981-2 indeed. That's basically admitting they intended to bring this issue out in December, but they're running late. They're also running late on the modules they had planned. Always the way with creative sorts. You need to learn your limits and how to set realistic goals if you want to run a big company with detailed schedules planned well in advance. Better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around in the long run. I strongly suspect we'll be seeing more of this in the near future, as once you fall behind, it's extra hard work to get back on track.



Notes From HQ pt 1: Frank spins what Initially seems like a humorously presented actual play story, that turns out to be a case of monsters trying to catch Father Christmas as he delivers. Yeah, that's an epic level opponent you're not going to beat any time soon, and if, like Jack Skellington or Tim Allen, you somehow do, you'll come to regret it. I know it's tempting, especially in a system where you get XP for treasure, but you've just got to accept some things will always be beyond your CR. Go for incomprehensible squamous gods of madness or the IRS instead, as at least people'll be pleased if you do manage to kill them.



Where I'm Coming From: Despite all the lateness, their sights continue to be set high. Their membership is growing pretty quickly, so they're already planning to shift from quarterly to bi-monthly. Let's hope they've got the budget to increase the staff commensurately to keep up then, as many of the current ones are so busy they're leaving the newszine to concentrate on their work in other TSR departments. This reinforces that it's still a bit chaotic behind the scenes here, but they are making progress. Eventually they'll find their groove. Just got to stick it out and keep practicing and improving.



Letters: Our first letter reminds us that people always wanted more crunchy toys for their characters, and asks for a column on new spells. Dragon had one, so it seems likely a fair few will appear here as well over the years.

The second delivers a whole slew of ideas in quick succession. As the newsletter is only small, these definitely aren't all going to be implemented.

The third wants minis painting advice, which they don't really feel is their remit, and is covered more than enough in other magazines anyway.

And finally, a letter from someone annoyed their membership hasn't arrived yet. Yes, we've already apologised for that, what more do you want, blood? The postal system only works so fast, especially when you wait a bit so you can send stuff in batches to save money.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 3: Winter 1981-2



part 2/4



Dispel Confusion: What's a caltrop? (Like a d4, only much pointier)

I got surprised by gargoyles and they did a ridiculous number of attacks before I could move at all! (Yeah, surprise is actually a lot nastier in AD&D by the book than most people played it)

Good doesn't fight good, but does evil fight evil? (If it would be profitable, or fun, or maybe just for the hell of it. There's a lot of room for variation.)

Can a bard dual class (No. They've already taken three to get where they are. What more do you want, blood?!)

How do you fight psionically and physically simultaneously ( You can hold a defence while doing other stuff, but attacking takes uninterrupted concentration.)

Does level draining reduce your psionic powers too? (yup. Otherwise you could drain, grind, regain, drain, grind, regain, and be more powerful each time around to infinity. This is D&D, not Disgaea.)



RPGA Interview with Jim Ward: Once again the interview is easily the longest article in the newszine, clocking in at a full 7 pages. A fairly detailed account of how he got in at TSR pretty much on the ground floor (mostly luck of living in the right place) and what he's done over the past 7 years (mostly be a source of chaotic inspiration who needs a good editor to create a game usable by others). He's full of good humor about this and makes sure to credit his collaborators for their role in making complete products that are only partially filled with ridiculously overpowered monstrosities. I suspect that as with Dragon, we'll be seeing a lot of him over the years, as he's got no shortage of ideas that don't merit a full book, but would make a good article, and it doesn't particularly matter which of their periodicals carries it.



Chris Weiser Wins RPGA Fight In The Skies Game: We had a bit of fake actual play earlier, now it's time for the real thing. A turn by turn write-up of an 8-man dogfight, the winner is obviously never in doubt since they spoiled it in the title, but there's still plenty of drama in the journey, much of it caused by the slowness and unreliability of the equipment, which is why dogfights of that era could still have some semblance of chivalry instead of one shot KO's from over the horizon. A realistic modern war simulation would look very different, and probably not be as much fun.



Medals & Commendations: As part of their attempts to make Fight in the Skies/Dawn Patrol more campaign-friendly they talk about the various medals you could win in WWI for your accomplishments. There's a considerable number of them, so you can have a full chestful on your dress uniform, and the criteria for winning them seems pretty arbitrary and heavily dependent on luck. (ie, if your superiors notice your accomplishments and care) Sounds depressingly realistic then. :p A reasonably interesting little bit of history trivia that shows they're still catering to the wargaming crowd in here.



Turnbull Talking: Don weighs in on a debate that's been going ever since D&D was released, and still turns up in forums on a regular basis. Do escalating hit points represent actual increasing toughness, better skill and dodging ability, will to live, narrative protection, or some combination of the above? He's on the more realistic end of the design spectrum, so he's going for the skill and will explanation. A hit is not always a hit, just depletion of your energy reserves. Yeah, this is all incredibly familiar and more than a little boring. Some things just don't change, no matter how many editions we go through and how many other RPG's are released that don't have this issue, because if they did it'd ruin the D&D experience. Sigh.
 


(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 3: Winter 1981-2



part 3/4




Figure Painting: Another familiar article topic here as we get a primer on how to paint minis. That turned up several times in Dragon as well, sometimes as a one-off and sometimes building up more depth over the course of a series with the same writer. Not surprised we have one here as well, as wargaming is still a substantial part of what they do. It's a pretty good one for it's length too, with the writer giving advice based on their own unique painting style rather than what seems most easy and obvious, and doesn't talk down to the readers. Hopefully the target audience of the newszine will continue to be a little more hardcore than a general sales magazine, as that'll keep it interesting for me.



Convention Wrapup: Another of these, this time covering Gen Con East and the original one in Wisconsin. Unsurprisingly, this is where they debut several classic modules, Frank Mentzer's R1-4 series, which really put the players through their places. The winning players and the DM's both get credited, and there's a fair number of familiar names amongst them that would go on to work or freelance for TSR in the future. We're still at the stage where it's not too hard to go from dedicated fan to part of the machine if you live in the right places and know the right people. That'll probably decrease rapidly as the fanbase balloons.



Top Secret Gadget Contest: Merle can't keep Top Secret going all on his own. They've got to stimulate those freelance submissions if they want the game to grow and keep releasing interesting new material. So yeah, send in your ideas for James Bond style gadgets. Like D&D traps, they may be highly situational, but there's near infinite variations on the idea of cool stuff that might just save your life. Hopefully we'll get to see the winner a few issues later, because they should be able to come up with some pretty ingenious stuff.



Codebook: Merle's own contribution this month is on the classic topic of cryptography. Every spy needs a basic training in sending messages in a way that ordinary people can't understand even if they intercept it. This is one article that definitely feels a bit dated, as simple codes like the ones detailed here could be cracked in seconds by a modern computer, while the encryption systems used regularly in modern computers to communicate across the internet would take lifetimes to decrypt using pen and paper, putting them outside the ability of our brains to solve them directly. I don't feel particularly inclined to use it, as the real challenge would be making cryptograms that are solvable by the players and don't just make them give up or use their character's powers to solve it gordian knot style. It's not the kind of way I want to challenge my players.



Mutants: The Trek Droid sees Jim engage in some humorous copyright violation, with android replicas of historical and TV characters showing up in random caches, recreating the dramas and relationships of their past. They can have very useful skills and insights, but overuse may damage your sense of immersion in a serious game. (yeah, yeah, playing Gamma World? What are the odds?)

Torel Plants are semi-intelligent mutated Morel mushrooms that use their psionics to sense intelligent life, and spew acid at it. If I wanted that I could just go on Twitter. This does give the local ecosystem a chance to recover, at least.

Fluter are psychic sunfishes that hunt by creating air bubbles to suffocate other fishes with. They also have poisonous spines just for good measure. Still won't save them if they ever run up agains undead, which are immune to both.

Sorbel are eugenicist humanoid fish-mutants that once again, you guessed it, instinctively hate all other intelligent life and will do their best to exterminate it on sight, or trick and screw it over if that's not a viable option. Coming up with nuanced personalities and motivations really isn't his strong point is it.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
TSR RPGA No. 3: Winter 1981-2



part 4/4



Gamma World Art Contest: You may have noticed there's not much artwork for these new monsters, and what there is pretty scrappy. So here's a second contest in quick succession as they try and get free artwork out of their readers. (All rights surrendered to the company, of course, don't forget the SASE so they don't even have to pay to tell you if you won or lost.) Even as a company rockets upwards into a multimillion empire, they'll still exploit the free labor of fandom when they can get it. Sigh. Same as it ever was.



Notes For the Dungeon Master: Another 10 ideas for how to screw the players over with deceptive dangers and double-bluffs. Casting spells on a Gas Spore to make it more convincing as a fake beholder, letting monsters actually use their magical items to buff themselves, and good old pit traps, but used in unexpected ways. Muahaha. Yeah, these aren't going away any time soon. Just how many can you fit in your game before the players become so paranoid that nothing gets done due to distrusting everything and questioning the DM on everything they see before making any moves at all?



Notes From Overseas: Don Turnbull fills in another small article showing how things differ in the UK. We don't need to pay for the first year's membership, it comes for free with the D&D basic set if you can be bothered to fill out the form! The joys of living in a mildly more socialist country. Little acts of generosity can more than pay for themselves by increasing the long-term userbase, spreading the costs and getting better network externalities. How many more people got into roleplaying in europe because they're not saddled with vast amounts of medical debt eating up their income or just plain dead? Man, would that be a complicated question to actually answer. I don't think I have the tools to tackle it just for a little review like this.



Spelling Bee: So, the first spell to get a full column devoted to analysing it is the ever popular invisibility and it's many variants. Unsurprising, as like any illusory effect, it's far more subjective and susceptible to rules-lawyering than a simple blasting spell, and it's too common in the source material to ban from the game. Because it's simpler to adjudicate, most of them treat it as a one-time creature-linked effect, so anything picked up by the invisible creature remains visible, while anything leaving their possession becomes visible again, until the whole thing is dropped and another spell is cast. This contrasts with psionic invisibility, which is a clouding of the mind rather than bending light or turning things transparent, or a Harry Potter style cloak, which conceals everything underneath it and makes for easy adding of new items to the effect. So there's one way it generally works in D&D, but they're aware of other ones, and given the exception-based nature of powers, it's entirely possible to add new ones that use the other methods. This shows rules lawyering is already alive and thriving, if anything made necessary by the vagueness of the rules as written and the generally adversarial nature of play. You've got to fight for every advantage you can both in and out of game if you want your character to survive and advance levels when characters are fragile and the DM doesn't pull punches.



Saga of Marnie: They set up two competitions this issue. Now they show the other side with a report by a winner of a previous one. Marnie Bosch led her team in kicking much ass in the first RPGA tournament, and as a result she got to go to another convention for free as a guest of honor and meet Gary & Frank, who were thankfully in non-cantankerous mode for hobnobbing with the fans. One of those little reminders that there were women in gaming even in the early days, and they were often the ones doing the invisible work to organise groups, make a party get along and work as a competent team. One person only has one set of actions per round, no matter how twinked they are. Get a good team and stick with them if you really want to win the game, as the real winning is in having fun playing.



Incomplete Convention Schedule '82: The final page is filled up with the dates, locations and contact details of 22 different conventions coming up that year. Some of them look like they were more general fantasy/sci-fi than roleplaying specific, but it still shows you'll have no trouble finding geek-friendly places to go anywhere in the USA. They also show one in Canada, and one in Germany. Things may have spread more slowly back then, but gaming still became an international thing fairly easily. Definitely going to be interesting seeing how this side of the newszine grows over the years.



The increase in size definitely makes for another substantial leap forward this issue, letting them provide more material that's generally useful for gaming rather than just what's up in the conventions of the day. It's indicates that there are definitely going to be some more old school gems in here that deserve a wider audience, and this trek will be worthwhile for the readers, not just a historical curiosity no-one but me cares about. Time to see how 1982 fares from this perspective.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Polyhedron Issue 4: Jan/Feb 1982



part 1/4



16 pages. So, they've finally figured out their identity, and this is where the newszine as we know it really begins, just as Dragon started out as the somewhat less catchy Strategic Review for a year before transforming into the form we're more familiar with. The cover art takes a step up too, with Larry Elmore giving his take on the sexy world of cinematic espionage. Let's roll the bombastic orchestral theme tune, make Shirley Bassey an offer she can't refuse to come out of retirement for one last job, and prepare the circular matte background for the credits sequence.

Polyhedron
Nothing rhymes with polyhedron
So writing a theme song for it is really dumb
Beyond even the musical skills of … Joss Whedon
Polyhedron

POLYHEDRON!
It's rolls rule your heart, which is really ironic
For as a shape, it is purely platonic
You think you can roll just one, but you're wrong
Polyhedron

Though it may be, translucent or opaque
It can never be relied on,
There's a chance that you must take when you roll

Polyhedrons!
What would a game be without polyhedrons?
The most skilled always the champion
Does that sound fun?
Polyhedron

POLYHEDRON!
Inextricably linked with roleplaying
Don't hide your rolls or we'll know that you're faking
Roll low or high? Depends which game you're playing
Polyhedron!
POLYHEDRON!!!!!



Letters: Our first letter is from someone confused about what's going on with Gen Con East. They had problems with the previous venue and it's staff, so they've moved it to a new one next year.

Our second letter sees Gary comment on the interview of Jim Ward. If anything, it understated just how chaotic he is as an employee and a gamer. Be very wary of letting him into a position of authority. Muahaha!

Thirdly, we have someone floating the idea of a DM training camp. For this to work they'd need both expert DM's to teach, and people willing to pay money to be taught. Are the logistics there for this to work? Now that's a very good question indeed, and if properly advertised in a place like this, probably. Watch this space.

Finally we have someone complaining that polyhedral dice are too expensive. Are they really worth that much? Probably not, but as a small print specialty item, the network externalities aren't there yet. This'll definitely get better as time goes on, and even better still once 3D printing becomes a thing enabling small custom runs of all sorts of unique dice at much lower production costs.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Polyhedron Issue 4: Jan/Feb 1982



part 2/4




Where I'm Coming From: Typical editorial stuff in here. A list of the things coming up in the issue, and a couple of questions on what we want in the future. Many of them are familiar, especially the hints of new spells, which would appear in Dragon and then Unearthed Arcana. Things that are originally tested on a small audience then get refined and spread to wider ones if they're successful. That's the kind of thing I'm definitely looking forward to seeing as I go through this again.



Wizard"s Gold Giveaway: A little cross promotion with Grenadier, their official minis licensee. If you find a gold-plated mini in your box, let them know and you'll win an ounce of actual gold. That's actually a pretty decent prize, looking at the market rate. Less immediately useful than the equivalent amount of cash, but cooler in terms of prestige. That'll drive a fair bit of sales as people try to find the golden soldier.



RPGA Interview with Jake Jaquet: Looks like these interviews are going to be a regular column for quite a while, especially if the people involved are so verbose they keep having to spread them across multiple issues. So this time it's Jake Jaquet (who's real first name is Gary, but there's too many Gary's around here, so he got stuck with a more alliterative name.) who gets to tell us his history and what he's up too. He definitely has an interesting perspective on things, and while not ranty like Gygax, he certainly has no hesitation about throwing shade at other TSR employees and criticising his own work, as well as digressing completely into speculations about politics that are very interesting in hindsight, with the rise of social media resulting in echo chambers and increasing political polarisation. (but let's hope Gamma World isn't our future, because that would suck.) These guys were never media-trained, and their writing is all the more entertaining for it. Long may they keep that hobbyist spirit.



White Rabbits: The fight to get everyone properly credited for their work is endless. This is particularly a problem with new publications who don't have someone full time to handle all that bureaucratic stuff. So this is them apologising for not crediting their artists in the first three issues, printing a full list of them here, and promising to do better. This is a very familiar story in any creative field that's only got worse in the internet age. Credits and payment are neither for men. You'll be sending invoices again and again.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Polyhedron Issue 4: Jan/Feb 1982



part 3/4



Turnbull Talking: Don decides to do the thing where he tells us about his characters. Interestingly enough, it turns out his current favourite is an illusionist. He enjoys having powers that you have to use intelligently and flexibly instead of blasting your way through problems. I definitely approve of that. You don't have to take the most powerful options, and the game is more fun with figuring out how to use the quirkier ones. This is why they made random ability score generation the default in the first place. Too much emphasis on game balance and character optimisation makes designers eliminate the weird stuff that's hard to place on the scale and that's just boring. I could get to like him.



Spelling Bee: Time for a complete turnaround from the previous column, to tackle those good old combat staples Magic Missile, Fireball and Lightning Bolt. The interesting thing here is that they're not just different types of damage that various things will be selectively resistant too, they're different shapes as well. Magic Missile is relatively weak and limited but precise, while Fireball is a volume, and in a confined space it may stretch in surprising and unpleasant ways that result in the wrong people getting caught in the blast. Lightning bolt reflects, so never shoot it in a parallel line to the grid system, or it could bounce back on you - aim it carefully instead and you can fry a lot more enemies by thinking like a snooker player. Combat spells shouldn't just be interchangeable blasts of escalating power as you gain levels, they should have other effects that a clever spellcaster can exploit both for tactical uses, and use inventively for noncombat tricks as well. Definitely take this into account when designing new spells of your own. I approve of this column.



Notes For the Dungeon Master: This column tones it down a bit, curiously, with only three new tricks, none as sadistic as previous issues, and a load of basic organisational advice about how to prepare for a session making up the difference. Get your stats, maps, and basic math for the common rolls you're going to be making and everything will flow much more smoothly. All very true, but much less useful to me. Guess they've got to appeal to the less experienced members as well as the hardcore conventioneers. Well, we aren't starting right at the beginning this time, so I shouldn't be surprised we got to that phase much sooner than Dragon did.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Polyhedron Issue 4: Jan/Feb 1982



part 4/4



Dispel Confusion: If I blew my chance to learn a spell, when can I re-roll? (When you get smarter. This may take a long time, or a lot of luck on treasure rolls.)

Why doesn't Dispel Illusion affect all illusions (Because 1e is nonstandardised, and illusionists are a whole different class in this edition, not just a type of specialist wizard.)

Does holy water affect lycanthropes (No. They might be bad, but they're not cosmically eeeeevil.)

Can you slice people in half with a wall of force (No. That's not clever rules lawyering, that's outright reading something that isn't there.)



Basically Speaking: Looks like it's not going to be all tournament games for the hardcore in here, Jon Pickens starts up another regular column aimed specifically at Basic D&D games. That is interesting, given how little of that they did in Dragon, with the Princess Ark series in the 90's the only notable one. I wonder how much they'll be able to find to say about it before it gets pretty advanced anyway. But it will not be this day, as this really is ultra-basic, aimed at people who are daunted by even a 128 page softbound book, advising them that they should learn the mechanics before they get stuck into all the lists of spells, monsters and magical items. Given where they put it, I don't think it will reach it's target audience very effectively, and it's definitely of no use to me. Probably could have used this bit of space more constructively.



Notes From HQ: Another round of errata and growing pains. Not that they don't want to grow, as they only have 4,000 members internationally at the moment, but logistically, they can only handle so much, and so a lot of things are slipping through the cracks. As long as they're aware of the problems and taking steps to fix them, they'll get there in the end. You've got to build up the bureaucratic machinery so your regular members can have more fun in the long run, counterintuitive as it may seem.



NOR: Looks like we'll be having some comics in here as well, just like Dragon. A spaceship gets shot down and crashlands on what looks like a medieval fantasy planet, so they can cater to both their D&D and MA fans. What adventures and misunderstandings will they get up too in future issues?



Some more interesting development here. Between settling on their long-term name, more articles aimed at inexperienced players, and putting lots of effort into becoming bigger and more organised, they definitely seem to have a plan for their future, and are going full steam ahead towards it. Which makes it easy and fun reading for me. How long will they be able to keep up the rapid growth and general optimism that comes with it before it becomes a grind again? Let's keep going and find out.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Polyhedron Issue 5: Mar/Apr 1982



part 1/4



16 pages. Even though it's not the title of the magazine, they still have a dragon on the cover. I guess they are in the name of their biggest game, so they still have good reason to use them, but hopefully it won't be every year, otherwise they'd be stepping on their other magazine's toes. Let's see what they're up too, and how differentiated it is from their other products this time around.



Notes from HQ: Well, straight away they remind us that their primary focus is on conventions and tournament games in a way that Dragon wasn't. Come to both Gen Con's, meet the big name designers, and get very very drunk with them. Should be fun. As I noted last issue, it's still a good way from media training and focus groups blanding everything out, and they haven't been big long enough to get a strong separation between the designers and regular players. Enjoy it while it lasts.



Notes from overseas: Getting more international penetration is an important part of their expansion plan. We already know from issue 3 that the UK has it's own semi-independent RPGA branch, which is actually more popular per capita than the USA one. So here they tell us what other countries also have at least one member, and which ones will very shortly as people are sending applications as they speak. Mostly european countries, but there's at least one on every continent. Another of those pleasing little signposts that shows how fast roleplaying was expanding back then.



White Rabbits: Yet another apology that things are going to be late and cost more than they thought they would. They're doing their best, but logistics are still an eternal struggle. It'll be worth it in the end, and they'll even throw in a few more cool goodies for you to buy if you like. This is getting repetitive, so nothing more to say here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Polyhedron Issue 5: Mar/Apr 1982



part 2/4



Letters: Our first letter asks what kind of articles they'd like to see from the public. They're not in a position to be picky yet, so send them all, then we can grab the best. You have a chance to influence the direction of the RPGA! The joys of being in on the ground floor.

The second letter is in favour of the RPGA, but from the skewed perspective that someone needs to keep young players from being ridiculous power-gamers. Yeah, they'll pretty much have to do that as soon as they get into the Living Campaign stuff to keep things from breaking down.

The third letter asks how D&D got started. Gygax did it. There's a lot of places that retell the story in more detail by now.

And finally, we have a request for more high level adventures. They are planning some, but hindsight shows that in the long run, they'll always be a minority of published stuff simply because only a minority of groups ever get that far. It's just mathematics. The ridiculously powerful stuff may look cool, but it won't be used nearly as often as the bread & butter staples.



RPGA Interview with Jake Jaquet pt 2: The second half of Jake's interview concentrates on his ideas for Dragon magazine. The importance of maintaining enough independence that you can criticise other products by the same company, and not just be a promotional house organ, as well as making sure you cater to all RPGers, not just D&D players. Both things they'd eventually lose, and which were sorely missed when they did. The importance of listening to your fanbase and giving them what they need, not just what they say they want. This applies even more to the RPGA, where the membership is what really makes the games fun, and the rules are just there to facilitate that and keep a few assholes from ruining it for everyone else. If you don't keep listening they'll drift away before you know it. That's definite foreshadowing. There will be rough times ahead, and I'll have to go through them again from this perspective as well. Let's hope they're the interesting kind of bad, not the boring kind.



Where I'm Coming From: Huh. Just a year in, and Frank is already being moved to another department and off the editor's job on the Newszine. I knew he'd be busy with the BECMI series at some point, but I didn't think he'd leave here this quickly. His replacement is Mary Kirchoff, who also worked on the TSR issues of ARES, and googling says she stays in the company in one job or another until 2004. We shall see how much of that is with the newszine, and how much she stamps her own personality on it in future issues.



Notes For the Dungeon Master: This column moves away from random sadism, encouraging you to pick a number of monsters that would be a fair challenge for your party rather than roll the No: Appearing which often varies by many orders of magnitude. That way you can pace sessions better, putting regular ones in the middle, and the big climactic battle that might actually consume some resources at the end. And if you are going to keep that degree of swinginess, make sure they have a chance to run away if they're overmatched. Fair enough. Most DM's don't really want to kill their players, and if they really wanted too, there are quicker ways than slightly too many common monsters wearing them down in a lengthy fight. Another reminder that the truly old school phase of D&D didn't actually last that long, and we're already reaching the end of it. 3e and strictly defined CR ratings'll be here again before we know it.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Polyhedron Issue 5: Mar/Apr 1982



part 3/4



The Round Table: Oh, now this is an interesting but of crossover between their various publications, as it follows on from Dragon issue 49, and their assessment of the Slaver modules. As with that, it's a detailed assessment of the flaws in their current tournament system (while acknowledging that it is still fun overall) and what they could do to improve it. As with it's precursor, Frank then replies to point out that while some of those are ideas worth taking on, others are logistically impractical or don't fit his vision for how they should best grow and improve. As with any big organisation, it's going to be a big messy body politic even when it's running smoothly, as everyone has different ideas and experiences. The trick is being able to filter out the bad ideas, and make the good ones commonly used. Definitely looking forward to seeing how they handle it over the next few decades, and what dramas crop up in the process.



Dispel Confusion: What happens if enlarge is reversed and shrinks you over 100% your size? (Your math is wrong. It's 1/x, not minus x.)

Does dragons breath get weaker as they're injured? (Varies by edition. Very exception based design here.)

How much can you fit in a saddlebag? (A fair amount, but not as much as some treasure hoards you'll encounter. You'll soon be craving upgrades if your DM tracks encumbrance strictly. )

How do you handle clones and dopplegangers? (Muahaha. It's most fun if you keep the player replaced in on it, but don't tell the others.)



Bag of Tricks: To complement the sadistic tricks aimed at the DM, here's another column of them aimed more at the players. Stockpiling of continual light and darkness spells to disorient your opponents. Taking doors off their hinges to use as cover or battering rams and facilitate quick escape later. Use of Druid & Ranger magic to make friends of things you wouldn't normally be able to communicate with and use them both tactically and logistically. Have a travelling spellbook so your full one doesn't get destroyed by fire or water in your misadventures and render the wizard helpless. So as usual, some ideas that would go into common use, and some that would be mostly left behind with the passage of time because they're too specific, labor-intensive or out of genre. Like it's counterpart, this makes for very entertaining reading indeed, at least in small portions.



Spelling Bee: Instead of picking at existing spells, this column has a good look at some new spells (that would go on to appear in official books in a few years) This is even more important to do, as you can actually change them if they're too strong or weak for their level. Crystalbrittle could probably be dropped a level or two, as it's useful, but very specialist, and no-ones going to use one of their valuable 9th level spells on it unless they know they're facing something powerful but weak to it that day. Energy Drain, on the other hand, fully deserves to stay at 9th level, as level drain is one of the most hated and mechanically fiddly powers in the game, and they've been making it weaker and rarer with every edition change. Who wants to give the players access to that and have to recalculate your big bad's stats mid-battle when they use it? Once again, I approve of this message. Playtesting and revision is vital to making a game solid and functional, and ensuring rules lawyers can't turn themselves into virtual gods via unintended loopholes. (which is not to say they shouldn't be able to become gods if they work at it and get enough XP.) It's good to see these spells go through that development process, not just flung out into the world for us to cope with them on our own.
 

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