log in or register to remove this ad

 

TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


  • Total voters
    30

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 38: Oct/Nov/Dec 1987



part 1/5



36 pages. Put some trousers on man! Thigh high boots and a loincloth will not provide adequate protection against a dungeon full of kobolds, oozes and carrion crawlers. On the other hand, if you're only going up against creatures significantly taller than you, I guess it's not so much of an issue, and you'll appreciate having a bit more freedom of movement. Let's see what we'll actually be up against this time around, and if it'll be an easy challenge or a profoundly unfair one.



Notes From HQ: Everything's been running late this year, so it's not that surprising that their postscript of this year's Gen Con is late as well. Once again it was bigger than last year, and more games were happening at the same time, making choosing which one you want to join the most increasingly difficult. The list of tournament adventures for both the various D&D settings and other games is quite impressive, including both the sublime and the ridiculous (another instalment of Fluffyquest? Haven't we suffered enough?!) All the kerfuffle in the letters page about needing more volunteers seems to have actually paid off, and they try to make sure all the generous people who did it for exposure do actually get the appropriate credit. The biggest complaints were a few hygiene issues that mean con crud was particularly unpleasant for those of delicate constitution. It's all a bit of a relief really. Let's hope they'll be able to keep that streak going next year, and maybe even improve on it.



Arcane Academe: Unsurprisingly, this series moves on to wizards and illusionists. The crucial thing about them, even more than divine spellcasters, is not only the wide choice of spells you have, but also the ability to create your own. If your DM allows it and you have a bit of downtime between adventures, you should exploit it for all it's worth and develop counters for any challenges that turn up repeatedly. Once you get over that early level hump where you're squishy and can only do one or two cool things per day, you have by far the most flexibility of any class. If only fighters had the same encouragement to develop special fighting tricks so each has their own personal style. (I guess there's always the Street Fighter RPG for that) Once again, this reinforces that Wizards are easy mode not only for optimising yourself, but the rest of the party as well. They may die quicker without a cleric, but they're more likely to hit a problem that completely stumps them without a wizard. It really pays off to invest in them long-term.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 38: Oct/Nov/Dec 1987



part 2/5



Welcome to Magic-User University: Of course, a big reason wizards don't run roughshod over the other classes in-setting is because they're supposed to be much rarer and require years of specialist (and expensive) training before they can cast even one spell. People who can just do magic instinctively, or take shortcuts to have it infused into them won't be mechanically supported for another 2 editions yet. Here's another excellent example of the balancing factors most groups ignore in-game, breaking down the sheer quantity of things there are to learn to get a solid grasp of magic theory, in the format of a three year degree course with 1-4 credits for each unit, requiring you to pass about 75% of the units in each year to get a basic grade and not be flunked out or have to repeat them next year. It's simultaneously aware of the silliness of it's premise, while taking the anal attention to detail very seriously. Unless you're planning to run a wizard school game, I very much doubt it'll see any use in actual play, but it's still an amusing read. The rules are not the physics, and there's a lot going on that we usually gloss over. It's good to have the extra details in optional rules so you can bring it into focus when a game needs it.



The Critical Hit: This column engages in another round of self-promotion for TSR's own products, with a review of Unearthed Arcana. Thats a good two years old already! Couldn't you have chosen something a little newer? As usual, he tries to be as positive as possible, but even he can't ignore the facts that the editing is atrocious, the binding is shoddy, the whole thing was a cheap rush job, and a lot of the material is recycled from magazine articles. But it does give both players and DM's a lot of cool toys to play with. Which is really the secret of it's popularity, as at that time, the vast majority of products they released were purely DM facing, new adventures with perhaps a few new monsters, and if you were very lucky a unique spell or magic item to add to your repertoire. If it had been just one of many new sets of crunch like the 3e splatbooks, people would have been far less forgiving of it's flaws, and it would not be remembered today save as a minor footnote in the product lists. A somewhat irritating reminder of the lower design standards and slower pace things moved at back then.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 38: Oct/Nov/Dec 1987



part 3/5



Escape from Demoncoomb Mountain: The adventure this issue is a somewhat comedic curveball, featuring a single human and his 5 sentient magical items. Each player picks one of the items, (sword, wand, gauntlets, boots & ring) and you use your various powers to help your hapless human get through a fairly standard single session sized dungeon. If you disagree with the other items, the rules for ego control come into play (which is obviously why there's an odd number of them, to reduce the chances of a stalemate grinding play to a halt) Like most of the adventures in here, it's obviously designed as a tournament one, but it makes good use of the format, doing something unique while still being adaptable to a standard adventure, and providing inspiration for you to create your own quirky magical items with unique sets of powers and personalities. As it works on an unusually high number of levels, I definitely approve of this one. You can have nonstandard characters as PC's without breaking the system, sometimes very nonstandard indeed, you just need to use your imagination.



Making the Grade: In the early days of the newszine, we had a few people worrying that roleplaying would hurt children's grades. Even more quickly than the satanic panic, it's become obvious that this is nonsense. Participating in any RPG will give you a seamless boost in your basic math and language skills, plus history if they're remotely realistic, geography if they involve travelling and mapping, religious education if you actually care about the source of your cleric's powers and what they do when not adventuring, etc. This particular teacher has introduced it to their school, and found it an excellent way to make learning fun. What's even more significant is it's ability to develop social skills and teach you how to work together effectively in small groups, which is incredibly useful in nearly any real world job. This is particularly noticeable with a certain kind of neurodivergence that struggles with social interaction, and tends towards obsessive focus on a particular interest, helping them learn to function in the world by giving them structured interactions with other people. Gee, doesn't that sound familiar? So this illustrates a struggle that's still happening today, between the fact that people actually learn better when education is also fun, and people who want to force learning by rote to score well on standardised tests, cut funding to the arts and anything else that doesn't have an obvious function, and seem to actively want to make education unpleasant for both students and teachers. A literally textbook example of how evil is stupid and self-sabotaging in the long run. If you genuinely want to get the most out of people, you need to learn how to effectively apply kindness, not push them to burnout in the name of efficiency, then replace them with a new set of people that don't have the experience to do the job as well. (and will never gain it if you make constant churn your standard operating procedure)
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 38: Oct/Nov/Dec 1987



part 4/5



Magic Theory By Degree: A third wizard-focussed article here, effectively making this a proper themed issue. This sees them continue to tackle the thorny topic of specialist spellcasters, and how to make them interesting, but also balanced with generalist wizards. Well it won't be by hijacking the new nonweapon proficiency system, and requiring them to spend one slot for each school they want access to at all, and a second to gain the benefits of specialisation. That essentially destroys their ability to be well-rounded characters, while also increasing the gap between low and high level ones. Even Masque of the Red Death used a separate set of resource slots when doing something similar to nerf their spellcasters. So this makes a rookie mistake that'll show up several times over the 2e era, trying to use the proficiency system for something it's really not intended for, and doesn't give you enough slots to do properly, especially when there are several different supplements that have the same problem, overlapping poorly. Not recommended at all.



On the Road to The Living City: A few of the people who set out early have already made it inside the walls, but we have one more of these articles for everyone else. Instead of trying to trick you or sell you goods of dubious quality, they instead set you a moral dilemma stolen directly from Chaucer, as a pair of feuding knights try to get the better of one-another by fair means or foul. Will you side with one or the other, try to compromise and get them to kiss and make up, or will you spot the reference, realise they're both as bad as each other, and put a pox on both their houses? Could be amusing, especially if you ham up the roleplaying side and include all the florid dialogue and inventive insults from ye olde english source material. It's a well D&D doesn't go back to that often, as it's more interested in greek myth and modern high fantasy, so I can live with this being a bit derivative. Stealing from an unusual source is a good way to make what you come up with more different than trying to just make it all up yourself.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 38: Oct/Nov/Dec 1987



part 5/5



The New Rogues Gallery: Another 5 characters that are clearly just an actual adventuring group sent in by their players. A ranger that's been half turned into a tree, probably because there's no PC-friendly Ent race in D&D and they really wanted to play one. A dashing acrobat with a magical boomerang. An arrogant yet loyal and protective wizard. A somewhat rebellious wandering cleric. And a somewhat more cunning than usual cavalier. All are unambiguously heroic and get along with one-another pretty well, so your reasons to come into conflict with them are pretty limited. Another of these articles that won't be very useful for other people's campaigns. I can understand why people would want to write them, but not why they would want to read them.



The Role of Taxes: Now here's a topic that shows up over and over again. Reminders that taxes are a thing, and maybe you should remember to include them in your game appeared several times in Dragon, with varying degrees of humorousness over the years. Here's another single page article that plays it fairly straight, reminding us that all these kingdoms need to keep themselves economically functional in some way or another, but also that although things have GP values listed in the books, this is just a ballpark, and prices can vary widely due to supply, demand and your negotiating ability. (unless things do have an objective magically determinable price in your universe, like people have alignment, which would have very interesting ramifications on your world if explored logically) Similarly, if you're sufficiently badass, your group effectively becomes a state in itself and can largely ignore taxes, just like many real world corporations that pay negligible or even negative amounts through a combination of offshore accounts, loopholes, rebates and subsidies. But in the meantime, you're going to have to deal with arbitrary percentages of your money and stuff being taken away when you go back to town. Strong incentive to not take it all back, and keep it in somewhere well hidden (possibly with guardian monsters and traps, in which case we're right back where we started ;) ) until you need it. I guess the important thing is that if you're going to make a big deal out of tax enforcement in your game, you need to do it in an interesting way that generates more adventures, not a boring one that just irritates the players and wastes time. At least this article has it's priorities straight in that respect.



Pleasing to see a proper themed issue in here, but there's a lot of stuff in it that's not very useful, due to a combination of self-indulgent whimsy and clumsy experimentation. Since those two things turned up a lot in the 2e era, I guess it's a sign of the times. Just got to keep on picking out the good bits and discarding the rest. Let's see how next issue fares compared to Sturgeon's law.
 
Last edited:

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 8: Nov/Dec 1987



part 1/5



65 pages. Samurai, ninjas, demons and flaming tigers, oh my. They're obviously still getting plenty of Oriental Adventures submissions then. Let's see how important the cultural elements and worldbuilding will be to the adventures this time around. Will it be dungeon crawls with a slightly different set of monsters, or will the unique setting details be crucial to the plot? Time to unroll the scroll and see how finely it's been inscribed.



Editorial: If producing one magazine per month was a lot of work, just think how much 2 is. So this editorial is basically Barbara complaining that she doesn't have enough time for reading, computer games and other recreation due to the long hours of the job. RPG editor might sound like a dream job when you're a kid playing the games, but it definitely has it's drawbacks. On the plus side, it also means they can browse the internet on the company dime (which is of course a much bigger issue as they still charge by the minute to connect) and call it community outreach. At least, until Rob Repp cracks down on D&D stuff online, slaps their wrists and sends out a bunch of Cease & Desists to the websites, but that's still in the future. For now, their relationship with online communication is friendly. That's interesting to know. We never did find out exactly when that changed in Dragon. I wonder if we will in here.



Letters: Our first letter features some examples of how they've altered the adventures in previous issues for their group. It's amazing how little you need to change to make it unrecognisable to players who've read the magazine. Don't complain because it's not exactly what you wanted, get to kit-bashing and use the parts to your own ends.

The other one also reiterates how easy it is to mix and match basic & advanced modules. More frequent artwork would be nice though. That's not so easy for us to create or adapt ourselves.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 8: Nov/Dec 1987



part 2/5



Mountain Sanctuary: In a pleasing bit of continuity, this adventure takes one of the potential plot hooks dropped in issue 1, and expands it into a sequel adventure. (that's still entirely capable of being used standalone as well) What's in the former home of an illusionist? A certain amount of treasure, but also a whole load of annoying little creatures - fae, giant insects, rats, and intelligent mice that have somehow picked up illusionist skills. Essentially, this is a showcase for how annoying fighting smaller enemies can be, especially in a dungeon environment where many of the tunnels are too small for you. Unless you have halfling & gnome party members or some means of shrinking yourself, (which thankfully is part of the treasure you can find) you get subjected to a whole bunch of tricks, traps and hit & run attacks, which you'll struggle to pursue. It's definitely an interesting theme for a dungeon, which it sticks too pretty strictly, but also one your players may hate you for using. Guess it all depends on how sadistic you're feeling then. At least it's fairly short, so even if they struggle with it, it won't drag out more than a couple of sessions.



For a Lady's Honor: A second all-thief adventure, just 8 months after the first one, and they haven't even put any other single-class focussed adventures in? How curious. Still, since this is aimed a couple of levels higher, it would be very easy to use it as a sequel with the same characters. The PC's get hired by their guild to engage in a heist in the big city, stealing back a rich lady's precious keepsake and keeping her affair from being exposed. As usual, it probably won't go smooth, as you're on a fairly strict time limit, and there's a bunch of intentional obstacles and random encounters in the way. Although you're supposed to do it stealthily, it may well degenerate into violence or capturing and interrogating the thief, as the stolen thing is pretty well hidden. So this is interesting because it offers lots of room for failing without dying, from succeeding, but more messily than you'd like, to being captured by the authorities and having to deal with the legal consequences. Seems like a decent palate-cleanser for when you're sick of missions where enemies are irredeemable monsters and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 8: Nov/Dec 1987



part 3/5



In Defense of the Law: In deliberate contrast with the last adventure, and as another sign that they're intentionally including adventures that won't be for every group, here's one aimed strongly at Lawful PC's, where you're dealing with both chaotic evil and lawful evil groups, and have to decide if you want to ally with the lawful evil ones, or take them both out at once even though it'll be considerably tougher. Other than that gimmick, it's a pretty standard dungeon crawl in the Temple of Elemental Evil tradition, with clerics as the big bads rather than wizards, and a mix of monsters that'll work together under them and react to events elsewhere in the dungeon, and others that just sit in their rooms and attack anything that enters. It's a curious mix of old and new school design, with the shades of grey throwing the blacks into sharper relief. Fittingly, it leaves me thoroughly ambivalent about using it, as the bits where there's real effort at setting building make the bits that are just there for the sake of dungeon crawling xp accumulation feel more gamey and artificial. Funny how that works.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 8: Nov/Dec 1987



part 4/5



The Wounded Worm: Dragon regular Thomas M. Kane gives us another adventure that does exactly what it says on the tin. A crippled dragon is looking for a cleric powerful enough to heal it. Being an evil dragon, the concept of exchanging money for goods and services is not one that occurs to it, and so it's engaging in an elaborate pyramid scheme of capturing and mind-controlling people, then sending them out to capture more people to mindfuck, in the hope of getting hold of someone who can fix it, while it turtles at the bottom of a dungeon underneath the sea. This scheme obviously runs into the players, one way or another, and they need to foil it or become it's latest set of mind-controlled slaves. This is interesting in a number of ways, as it combines several different gimmicks in a sufficiently complex way that I doubt I'll see it precisely replicated, and once again gives you room to fail without it being the end of your character. That they've done that in two adventures this issue shows they're really thinking about how to tell more interesting stories in here, and it's just a shame that it happened in this relatively small department of TSR, rather than the 2e development team, where they could have made actual mechanical changes that make nonlethal failures easier to achieve. But no. Adventure designers who want to tell more literary stories will continue to have to fight the system for the foreseeable future. Anyway, I quite like this one. None of the individual elements are original, but there's an interesting combination of ingredients and they're put together well. That's the way to keep things interesting long term.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 8: Nov/Dec 1987



part 5/5



The Flowers of Flame: Our last and longest adventure follows in the footsteps of Tortles of the Purple Sage, in being an area sourcebook as well as an individual plot. Go to fantasy Tibet with the serial numbers barely filed off, and become pawns in a complex political plot that also deals with the real relationship between tibet and china with magical stuff added in. Maybe you can give the story a rather happier ending than the real world. Either way, it should take a good month or two of game time, with plenty of opportunities to get lost along the way. It's somewhat darker and more linear than TotPS, with the same "random" encounters turning up wherever the PC's may wander to push them towards the main plot, plenty of gruesome deaths and nasty tricks, and the decidedly cynical attitude towards the government all the OA adventures so far have shared. Not as epic as I thought it was going to be at the start, but another solid way to spend a few sessions.



With a real effort to include plots with stakes that aren't life and death in every encounter, this shows definite progression towards the 2e style of writing and adventure design, but thankfully avoids the worst of the railroading that will plague them in the future. Let's head into 1988 and see how long that continues to be the case as their settings and metaplots accumulate more detail and feel the need to escalate to keep people interested.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 39: Jan/Feb 1988



part 1/5



35 pages. That bard looks somewhat oddly proportioned. I guess 2e will see a relaxation of what class/race combinations are allowed, even moreso once the Complete Bard's Handbook adds a bunch of radical reworkings on top. Let's see what hints to the future this issue has to offer.



Notes From HQ: They're getting closer than ever to being on top of the schedule, to the point where they've actually put the months on the cover instead of just year x, issue y. Combined with Raven's Bluff finally reaching a fit state for publication and they're feeling quite positive about the upcoming year. But some problems will always be with them. One of those is a few people getting drunk and belligerent at conventions and giving everyone else in the group a bad name. It's bad enough dealing with all the accusations of being satanic, but being an uncouth lout is even worse! Keep on doing it and we may be forced to kick you out! I'll bet that'll be the topic of most of the letters in the next few issues, as it's the kind of thing that provokes plenty of debate from both sides of the issue.



Letters to HQ: Our first letter is an exceedingly long one about people who take the fun out of convention gaming by their determination to score as many points as possible every game. When his game wasn't an Officially Sanctioned RPGA Event™ he actually had more fun. This always happens, doesn't it. You take a recreational activity and put in complex rules around what is a good or bad example of that recreational activity, or worse still, get money involved, and next thing you know, a few people become obsessed with gaming that system, even to the point of breaking it. And unlike speedrunning video games by exploiting glitches, this sucks for everyone else involved when put into a larger social context.

The second letter is shorter, but covers the same topic from another angle. High XP ratings are largely a matter of having the free time, money and living in the right areas to attend lots of conventions. If you think that has much correlation with actually being a good roleplayer, you are sadly mistaken. Jean responds to both of these and reminds us that it's only a few people out of thousands who cause problems. The system still has more benefits than drawbacks, at least for them.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 39: Jan/Feb 1988



part 2/5



AD&D 2nd Edition Sneak Preview: The cover this issue was indeed hinting at one of the largest changes 2e will make. Bards go from being an overcomplicated proto-prestige class mess requiring multiple class switches before you even start properly back to a regular core class, the way they were in Strategic Review 6 before Gary got his hands on them. The details are subtly different though, both from the original version, and the final one that'll appear in the PHB next year. Spellcasting uses the wizard table at half progression rather than their own unique one at full caster level, inspiration and countersong will get subtle tweaks, and they don't mention the new ability to choose how you advance your thief skills at all. Maybe they're saving that for the main Thief teaser, or maybe they haven't thought of it yet. So this is a pretty interesting snapshot of where development is at the moment, and how important playtesting and editing will actually be to the 2e corebooks. We've already seen several different attempts at a specialist wizard system, all different from the one they'll finally settle on. There's more experimentation going on behind the scenes than you'd think for what turned out to be a relatively conservative update.



Tym's Supple Leather Shoppe: Our second Living City location seems like it was stolen from a sitcom. A shy but talented leatherworker who's perpetually struggling financially because he doesn't have the self-esteem to charge what his work is worth, his loud, fat, nagging wife (who like many a bully, is actually a coward if someone does stand up to her), and the "friendly" local extortionist who drops in weekly to collect protection money and make things even more precarious for them. All you need is a few quirky supporting characters, a new scheme to better themselves or customer with an odd request each week, a jaunty theme song and a canned laughter track and it would have run for well over a decade back in the 80's, before dying sometime in the mid-late 90's when political correctness got going, and those old stereotypes looked increasingly gross and cringy. So this is certainly evocatively written, in that it manages to vividly describe a scenario and set of characters that are full of flavour and could provide years of adventure plots within a single page. It's just that it's also horribly dated, goofy and sexist. I'm definitely going to have to pass on using this one. It's the kind of interestingly bad that gives me plenty to say as a reviewer, but I would hope anyone I'm actually playing with would have higher standards than to revive.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 39: Jan/Feb 1988



part 3/5



Fun in Games: After a full year, Rick Reid finally gets around to submitting a second instalment of his column. As we would expect from the writer of the Fluffyquest series, strict adherence to the rules of the game is not on his agenda at all. If you try to rules lawyer or metagame in his adventures you will be roundly mocked both IC and OOC. I think it's fair to say we really can't look to him for advice on how to build your character and select your equipment. On the other hand, if you want someone to take a good look at the assumptions of your setting and put quirky twists on them, he's your man. Picking up gossip and adventure hints in the hairdressers rather than a tavern? Entirely reasonable given how well coiffed many of the people on the magazine covers have been. (If it's good enough for Luke Cage, don't say your adventurers are too macho for a proper haircut every now and then.) Creating guilds for classes other than thieves, so they can get the same kind of benefits in terms of social contacts, training, and hiring people for missions? Also entirely reasonable, even if he can't resist slipping some goofiness into the specific example. Looks like we might actually get something useful out of him after all, even if it will be regularly interspersed with bad jokes and pop culture references. Oh well, I've made enough of those myself. I'd be a hypocrite if I could dish it out but not take it.



The Big Con (and me): They may be less behind than last year, but they're still not entirely up to date, as Skip gives us his perspective on Gen Con 4 months late. While better prepared than last year, there were still a few last minute panics as they tried to squeeze all the scheduled events into the space they had available. A lot of the con crud can be blamed on a single person, not naming names, but you know exactly who you are. One does not simply bring egg salad sandwiches to a convention and leave them around in the heat all day without consequences. On top of that there was the usual playful tormenting of each other by the TSR staff. This reminds us that the crucial thing that decides if any event is fun or not is the other people there. As long as you know and respect each other's boundaries, things can get pretty extreme and still stay fun. If you don't, even something seemingly minor can ruin a whole day. Now if only it were easier to find out where those boundaries were with people without so much trial and error.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 39: Jan/Feb 1988



part 4/5



The Investigators: Our adventure this issue is a Marvel Superheroes one. Take on the role of the eponymous Chicago-based superteam and … not do a huge amount of investigating, actually. It turns out to be one of those missions where the PC's just get handed an assignment by their leader and from then, it's a railroad from one scene to the next with no real choices beyond combat tactics in the action scenes. It spends only 3 pages on the adventure itself, and a full 11 on the pregen heroes and villains, which seems entirely the wrong way around to me. If they'd put a bit more substance into the scenario part, there'd be enough setting material to give the players a bit more freedom of choice, and actually live up to their name. Rather disappointing, really. Superpowered detective stories are an entirely viable subgenre, as Superman's journalistic career, and the whole of Lois & Clark: TNAoS in particular demonstrate. It really should be possible to write them for RPG's as well rather than just falling back on a series of slugfests.



Arcane Academe: Jeff finishes off his class advice series with Fighters. There's not a lot that you can do with them that you can't do with any other class, but he tries gamely anyway. They get to be the leader! Yeah, they don't have any powers which actually make them any good at it, and their favoured stats don't support it IC, but as the default class all the others deviate from and are measured against, they get to be the straight white male point of view character all the others revolve around anyway! They stand proud at the front of the party, they get the most credit for adventures afterwards, and attract the greatest number of devoted fanboys & girls when they get to high levels, even if they don't really deserve it. Basically, he's trying to push them into the role of party organiser and battlefield tactician, who understands things like positioning, drawing fire from the more fragile members of the party and team strategy. Something that would actually get mechanical support in 3e supplements with the Marshal & Knight, which then rapidly proved popular enough to become a core class in 4e as the Warlord. Like the Wizard/Sorcerer divide, tactical leader fighting characters are something that has tons of literary inspirations, and seems utterly obvious once they've done it, but it took such a long time to get there, and think to give them powers that make them actually good at what they're supposed to be good at. A good reminder of just how far we've come since then, and how some people did see the problem and tried to help, but in a way that didn't actually do anything concrete about it. The article equivalent of sending someone Thoughts & Prayers.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 39: Jan/Feb 1988



part 5/5



With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: So far, Polyhedron's Marvel output has been mostly adventures. This time, they do one that's more like Dragon's Marvel-Philes, giving us the stats and brief history for a fairly obscure set of characters. The Crimson Commando, Stonewall and Super Sabre, patriotic war heroes turned murderous far-right vigilantes, who when beaten and exposed, then got put on the decidedly morally grey government-sponsored superhero team Freedom Force, where they continued to be generally unpleasant people and get in the X-men's way until finished off in the Gulf War. An excellent example of how the "right sort of people" can fail upwards and do all sorts of horrible things with token punishments at the most when caught, because the way they're bad aligns with the way the system is corrupt and discriminatory. Gee, that's totally not political or incredibly relevant in the modern era at all, is it now? :p A strong reminder that the USA has always had serious issues with police/military brutality and corruption, and ubiquitous camera phones merely made it much harder to sweep under the rug. The Marvel writers have known about and been commenting on that social injustice since the 60's, and it's still not fixed. If only we had some proper superheroes in the real world who could do something about it without becoming corrupted by that power and winding up worse in the long run than the system they replaced. Then there wouldn't be a need to keep on telling these kinds of stories.



The Critical Hit: This column ventures out into the wider realms of roleplaying again, to look at MERP, the current official licensed game for if you want to play in Tolkien's world. But not particularly in the same style as his writings, as it takes a lot of liberties with the design like putting in D&D style clerics when nothing in the source material even hints at them. The core system is a simplified version of Rolemaster, and is still considerably heavier than AD&D, retaining the love of large and brutal critical hit tables, and granular spell lists with lots of escalating versions of the same effect. Surviving a long-term campaign in it seems difficult. While he tries to be positive as usual, this is the closest he's come yet to a negative review. It could definitely be both more fun, and more faithful to the source material, possibly even at the same time with a bit of a redesign.



Convention Judge Appeal: We finish off with another attempt to get more people actively involved in running officially sanctioned convention adventures. They never seem to have enough for the number who want to play, and really want to get up the number running non-D&D systems in particular. They keep the form pretty simple, so hopefully people won't be intimidated by the idea. I guess we'll see in the september issue or so if they managed to increase their turnout yet again, and if their system can handle all the scoring and xp tracking in a timely fashion now.



An issue that feels particularly of it's time, both in covering a lot of current events, and in it's somewhat dated attitudes. Many of those problems have been solved, but some are still all too present, or could crop up again at any time. Quality-wise, it's also a very mixed bag, with both good, interestingly bad, and boringly bad. Let's see if next issue is more progressive, regressive, or merely closer to the present by a linear amount.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 9: Jan/Feb 1988



part 1/5



64 pages. Both Dragon & Polyhedron have had aerially themed issues. No surprise at all that Dungeon is also doing a cloud island adventure, as this rather good cover indicates. Let's see just how much freedom the skies have to offer this time, and if they'll try to take it away afterwards so players can't skip big chunks of subsequent adventures.



Editorial: Barbara Young has been doing the editorial for several issues now. Here's where they formally make her lead editor, so Roger can put his full attention on Dragon instead of exhausting himself setting policy for both. Since Dragon definitely got it's groove back this year, hopefully Dungeon will also benefit from the better spread workload. In addition, they congratulate Tracy & Laura Hickman on the birth of their child. Not sure why they're saying that here in particular, when he hasn't done anything in the magazine yet. Oh well, it's still an interesting little bit of trivia. Wonder what they're doing now. :googles: Oh god, she's followed in her father's footsteps, has a horror themed podcast, and released a filk album. Song titles include Dragon Named Larry, My Best Knight, Fake Irish Pub Song :shudders: and worst of all, Ukulele Music. :recoils and hisses like a vampire facing a cross: Do not want! Not listening to that, no way, no how! Moving swiftly on then.



Letters: Our first letter bemoans how many adventures are purely about seeking treasure rather than doing good deeds because virtue is it's own reward. Not in a universe where you gain XP by killing things and taking their stuff it isn't. Unless you change those incentives next edition, this will be a constant tension even if you do write adventures with more lofty goals.

Second, since the Manual of the Planes just came out, we have someone asking if they can submit outer-planar adventures. Sure. Just don't get too overambitious, because the usual page count limits still apply.

Third, we have some errata for the non-euclidean dungeon, and a request for more interlinked city-based adventures in a persistent setting. They've just started doing that in Polyhedron. Subscribe now, get in on the ground floor! :teeth ting:

Fourth, David Carl Argall turns up again, complaining that the challenge ratings on their adventures are not scientifically done at all, and two that say they're aimed at the same level can vary hugely in difficulty. Now there's a problem that's never going to go away.

Fifth, some generalised praise. You're doing a great job so far, keep it up!

Finally, someone complaining about large dungeons with empty rooms. Lengthy exploration and random encounters are boring. Everything you put in the adventure should have a purpose! That's not how the real world works at all, but I guess you've got to find the right balance between pure sandbox and railroad for your group.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 9: Jan/Feb 1988



part 2/5



Our second statement of ownership shows that Dungeon has indeed increased it's sales substantially since it went on general release, rocketing from 5,000 to slightly over 20,000 over the course of last year. Particularly notable since Dragon & Polyhedron both declined slightly, and means Dungeon is already more than twice as popular as Polyhedron. If that trend continues, it's no surprise at all that it wound up the dominant partner when they merged.



The Lurkers in the Library: P. N. Elrod starts things off with another small, low-level adventure which is as much about giving you a bit of prefab setting material to slot into your world and reuse when they pass through the area again as it is the actual challenge. A librarian has disappeared in the basement. Can you navigate the labyrinthine bookshelves down there and find out what's happened to him? It's pretty short, and not that difficult, but full of amusing flavour bits, making sure all the NPC's have personality details that could be useful in play for the DM. Maybe a bit too whimsical if you prefer your grimdark epics, but you can't please everyone. Could pay off well if used at the start of a campaign and the PC's need to do research later.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 9: Jan/Feb 1988



part 3/5



The Crypt of Istaris: Another Finnish-influenced tournament adventure where the PC's are on the clock to finish the mission or face dire consequences? How very odd. It's not an obvious combination of elements at all. One of the joys of the arctic circle in real life is the several months a year when day or night becomes constant, and you don't have to keep your body clock bound to the insistent 24 hour rhythm the rest of the world imposes on you. But anyway, you have 4 in-game (and real world) hours to find and destroy two macguffins before the planets align, and untold destruction is delivered on the land. Are your characters up to the job?! Fortunately, it's only a single-round adventure, so the actual dungeon itself isn't a railroad pushing you from one encounter to the next with no room to deviate from the story like the Maiden of Pain series. There are multiple objectives, and you could succeed or fail in each of them independently of the others. Like many tournament adventures, it has a scoring system so you can directly compare how you did overall to all the other groups that have been through it. Overall, I think it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack quality-wise, neither particularly good or bad, which is still an improvement from the last time they went here. I can live with that.



The Djinni's Ring: Ooh. Another interesting experiment here, as they try out a solo chose your own path adventure like the Fighting Fantasy series. That's a good way to keep up variety, and particularly good for people who haven't got a group, and would otherwise just be collecting the magazine to read. They take pains to make sure everything in here works even if you haven't read the full rules, simplifying the stats somewhat. Of course, since it's only 11 pages, not a full book like those, it won't occupy you more than an hour or two even if you roll through all the encounters legitimately, explore every branching pathway and go all the way back to the start each time you make the wrong choice and die horribly. (of which there are a fair few, as is the nature of Fighting Fantasy books) Take the role of an elf trying to free a genie in an ancient abandoned palace. While you can try to leave, you'll die of dehydration before you can get back to civilisation. Other than that, you do actually have plenty of meaningful choices, tracking your equipment really matters, and you'll both expend resources and gain new ones that could be crucial later on. It's a pretty decent dungeon crawl, and I just wish it was longer. Hopefully there'll be some more of these over the course of the magazine to come.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 9: Jan/Feb 1988



part 4/5



The Golden Bowl of Ashu: The Oriental Adventure this issue once again sees the forces of heaven treating earth like straw dogs. Someone or something pisses off the spirits, and they punish the entire region with months-long drought. Obviously, it falls to the PC's to figure out what it'll take to make reparations before everyone starves to death. The result is a fairly linear trek through a series of mythologically inspired setpiece encounters that are definitely a rather too high CR for the intended player level they give. So this is one where you're not supposed to fight some of the encounters, but are supposed to fight others, it's often intentionally unclear which tactic you should take due to the creatures being tricksters, and if you chose wrongly, you'll fail the adventure. Somewhat irritating really. If you are going to use it, wait until the PC's are at least 5th level, and have both the strength, and the improved information-gathering toolset 3rd level spells offer so they have better odds of not screwing themselves over through making a wrong choice they could never have had the information to solve without guessing luckily anyway. Not very keen on this one at all.



The Ghostship Gambit: Ruh-Roh Raggy. A g-g-g-ghost?! Jinkies, we'd better investigate this. Yes, this adventure is straight out of a Scooby-doo cartoon, as it doesn't actually involve undead at all, merely people pretending to be undead with the help of various magic spells & items and highly water-resistant makeup for profit. Fortunately, it's flexible enough to set anywhere, so I'm not spoiling anything, as there are plenty of real ghost ship adventures out there and your players won't know it's this one unless they can see your notes. All the spells and items are preexisting ones, and this serves as a rules exercise as much as it is an adventure, showing you how one thing can pretend to be another in a entirely rules-legal way under the D&D system, and the limits to the accuracy they can achieve. So if you're into that kind of system wonk rules exploit stuff, this is a very entertaining read as an article as well as an interesting adventure. Like the non-Euclidean dungeon, you can apply the principles in here to create other adventures that do interesting and unusual things with highly specific combinations of creatures and spells. It's good that they're trying to teach you how to be a better DM in here, not just become reliant on the prefab adventures they're providing.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 9: Jan/Feb 1988



part 5/5



The Plight of Cirria: As usual, we have to wait until the end before we get our cover story, the longest and highest level adventure in the issue. The PC's are hired by a female cloud dragon (with newborn babies to look after to explain why she doesn't just do it herself) to rescue her husband, who's been captured by an evil wizard that's trying to figure out how to control and expand the cloud castle he's recently taken over. The PC's had better follow the clues to find it before he figures out how to move it, and discards his captive as of no further use. This involves a fairly substantial trek through jungle, that will be made massively quicker and easier if they have long-distance flight capability, but you'll still have to deal with a fair few flying monsters as random encounters. There's a decent number of setpiece encounters across the area, including a dungeon large enough that it could have been a whole other adventure, but the biggest challenge is saved for last, with multiple powerful spellcasters and their summoned monsters inhabiting the cloud castle, and plenty of treasure if you succeed. While it's neither as broad in scope or freedom as Tortles of the Purple Sage, which continues to set the high water mark for sandbox adventures in here, it's still large and interesting enough to fill a month or so of sessions. Seems like a pretty good use of their page count to me.



Several interesting experiments in here that make the adventures useful not just as adventures, but in building your campaign in other ways as well. They're now publishing more adventures in here every year than they are standalone modules, and they have room to push the limits of their formats in a way that they wouldn't if they were trying to sell them individually. Just how much can they push the formula before they either get slapped down by the corporate suits, or complaints from casual players who prefer their adventures more vanilla since they don't have to worry so much about staving off ennui? Better keep going and see.
 

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top