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TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


  • Total voters
    31

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 40: March 1988



part 1/5



32 pages. The cover image gets a little narrower this issue, as they adopt a new trade dress of hexes along the page margin. They also feel confident enough about getting things out on time that they've narrowed it down to a specific month rather than a range. The adventurers on the cover look like they have a decent idea where they're going as well. Let's see if that impression is correct, or the map is inaccurate and going to lead them into more trouble.



Notes From HQ: This is mainly self-congratulation. They've finally got their schedules back on track, and decided to celebrate with some snazzy new trade dress (that just happens to also be quicker and easier to lay out and format properly.) In another rather interesting twist, they're doing another naming contest, to give the D&D Known World a proper name. Since most of us only found out it was called Mystara 5 years later, this is a turnup for the books. Will we get to find out who's originally responsible for the name in a few months time? Or will it be like Raven's Bluff, where the original name was disqualified due to bureaucratic reasons, and the TSR staff wound up picking their own name without any audience voting anyway. Definitely very interested to see how this particular bit of obscure history pans out.



Letters: The first letter reminds them that they really need to keep their subscription and renewal process working smoothly, because even minor disruptions massively increase their drop-out rate. Sort that out and hopefully their membership'll start going up again this year.

The second letter asks about playtesting for AD&D 2e. It's already taking place. Get a bunch of friends together and fill in a club membership form and you can get high priority for that sort of thing.

Finally, we have another of those regular complaints that their output is too TSR-centric. It's considerably less so than Dungeon, and about the same as Dragon. If anything, they try and favour the few non D&D submissions they get for the sake of variety, and have done for years. If you want to change the balance, send appropriate material in.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 40: March 1988



part 2/5



Critical Hit: Our review column engages in actual genuine criticism for the first time, devoting a full 2 pages to analysing the new rules in the Dungeoneers & Wilderness survival guides. A whole load of fiddly little optional rules for the sake of realism? Will that actually make your game more fun? All depends on your overall playstyle. These two definitely don't seem to be referenced as much now as Unearthed Arcana or Oriental Adventures, so it's safe to say hindsight hasn't been as kind to them, and the type of playstyle they promote. In another sign that Errol's take on the art of reviewing and game preferences are very different from mine, he comes down on the side of the Wilderness one, when I definitely found Dungeoneers less dull as a read. He's still doing his best to be positive about them both overall, but this is definitely more interesting for me, as it gets into specifics of what he doesn't like. More of this type of looking at fine detail and fewer "reviews" that are actually just bland promotion would be very welcome going forward.



Arcane Academe: Jeff has finished up going through the various classes and how to best use them, now he concludes this theme with a few more tricks for magical and mundane magic items. As usual, the Decanter of endless water turns out to be a perennial favourite for encounter bypassing physics exploits, but even a humble piece of string or jar of ink can save the day if used cleverly. The kind of thing we've seen many times before, but it remains useful, because they give us new specific tricks each time. The challenge is just in remembering which is where and having an appropriate one for the problem you're currently facing.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 40: March 1988



part 3/5



The Living City: The new location this month is The Black Lotus, an apothecary shop run by a thief/illusionist. This means he sells not only mundane herbs, spices and medicines, but also spell components for most low level spells, and chemicals that are useful for larcenous purposes, such as chloroform, flashbangs, ninja smoke bombs, etc. If you get in his good books he'll also help you hide out if the heat is on after a big heist, and store purloined valuables until it's safe to fence them. So there's something in here useful for pretty much every class but the most straightforward of fighters & paladins. Definitely worth making this one of your regular stops between adventures, as it gives you a chance to introduce a Q-like figure into your campaign, upselling them fresh bits of stock that'll just happen to be really useful for the adventure at hand if deployed cleverly. Strongly approve of this one, as it's very flexible indeed in how you use it in your campaign, and can be just another shop they visit or an active part of your roguish plotlines. That's the way to keep it relevant over a longer period of time, and get more use out of a relatively small pagecount.



The New Janeeva Herald-Prognosticator: The adventure this issue is a particularly strange Gamma World one. Postapocalyptic reporters in a rapidly growing boomtown unearth corruption and counterfeiting, and then have to deal with the attempts to silence them. Seems like a premise more suited to Gangbusters, or even Boot Hill for that matter, but since those haven't had anything released for several years, they tried to shoehorn it into this system instead. I know Gamma World is often a goofy game with pop culture references thrown in, but this is thematically divergent even by their standards. Unfortunately what's not divergent is the plot, which is another linear scene-based one like the recent Marvel adventures, that makes it rather difficult for the DM if the PC's deviate from the expected story due to lack of map or general worldbuilding. Basically, this is a goofy tournament adventure railroad that would not be easy to use in an existing campaign, as it's just way outside the usual playstyle for the setting and system, and you'd have to spend a fair bit of time establishing the rebuilding settlement and pushing the PC's into the journalist jobs before you could even start the main plot. I'm more baffled by it than annoyed, as it certainly adds some variety to the newszine, but I can't ever see myself using it. Just …… why?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 40: March 1988



part 4/5



Night of the Wolf: Another particularly unusual article straight away, this time a bit of fiction with stats at the end for Ars Magica. That got just one in the entirety of Dragon's lifespan, as part of their final attempt at pushing system diversity The Dragon Project in 1993. So this is very welcome, especially as this is only just after it was first released, and most of Polyhedron's readers would have been unfamiliar with it. Straight away, it establishes that these are not your familiar D&D wizards, with a few relatively fixed spells per day, and no thought on how their magic affects their day to day life and the society around them. These wizards are terrifying sociopaths who's power makes them largely above muggle law, and even the nice ones turn a blind eye to their fellow's abuses and side with them over mundane social mores to a worrying degree. Rather than learning individual spells, they have a detailed set of magical skills that they combine flexibly to accomplish nearly anything if they have the right ones, and enough time and power to spend. They also have a lot more emphasis on their personality, with several different axes of opposed personality traits plus customisable likes and dislikes with concrete mechanical effects a la Pendragon rather than a simplistic 3x3 alignment box. It all paints a picture of a much darker and more complex world than any D&D setting, where spellcasters are set apart from the common folk, shaped by the kinds of magic they specialise in and driven by obsessive passions. They might be interesting to play, but they're not safe to hang around if you're a regular person. A pretty good introduction to the system as well, showing the same character in both native stats and approximate AD&D ones, which illustrates all the things it does that D&D can't. Hopefully this drove a few sales their way back in the day.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 40: March 1988



part 5/5



Roll for Surprise: Our Marvel article for the issue reminds us that not only do they usually not kill villains in superhero comics, but even if they do, death is very much a temporary condition, and there are many ways to bring someone back, or have a new character with similar powers take up their mantle. This makes it much easier to build long-term relationships with enemies than D&D, where it's a challenge NOT to kill your enemies in combat even if you want to keep them alive. Of course, the more minor they are, the less of this plot armor they have. Still, this can be an advantage in it's own way. It's much easier to use a more obscure hero or villain in your own game without the players becoming intimidated by the challenge of fighting or playing them properly. To follow this up they then give three examples each for three less well-known characters, The Mauler, The Melter, and Miss America, showing how the PC's in your game could wind up taking on those titles. It's somewhat formulaic, but still raises some interesting points, and shows one of the fundamental tensions of playing in a licensed setting. Do you use existing characters? If you do, how do you deal with diverging canon? If you don't, how do you make sure your adventures don't feel small compared to the official ones? A complicated business without a one size fits all answer. Where do you fall on this spectrum?



An issue particularly high on variety, this one went by quickly and was relatively easy to write about. The new format and experiments in style are welcome, even if they are still a bit scattershot. Let's see what else they're going to experiment with as the edition change draws ever closer, and which will be kept or discarded.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 10: Mar/Apr 1988



part 1/5



72 pages. Just a wizard, having a smoke with some frog people. Now there's something you don't see on modern day products, since smoking was banished from mainstream TV and movies. Batracian humanoids continue to be one of the less popular anthromorph types as well. Let's see if these are pitiful Bullywugs or terrifying Hezrou, and either way, how well they'll be used inside.



Editorial: Once again, the editorial complains that they'd like a bit more variety in submissions. More people bought the Basic D&D set than anything else in their product line. Yet it's AD&D that gets the lion's share of of the module ideas sent in. What's up with that? I guess it's because it's marketed to the hardcore, and they're the sort who'll go beyond running it a few times then putting it on a shelf to gather dust. This problem never really goes away until 3e makes the whole distinction moot anyway, does it. Dragon pushed back against the AD&D hegemony with the Princess Ark series. Will Dungeon have anything to offer in response?



Letters: The solo module last issue provokes strong feelings, both positive and negative. Two for, but with suggestions for improvement, and one very much against. Better not overdo that idea then. Still, at least it gets engagement.

Next, we have someone complaining about the wizard in the Plight of Cirria using a rules exploit to gain extra power. It's a perfectly legal reading of the books despite it's cheesiness, so live with it.

Fifth, another bit of errata that they did actually get wrong. Not all maps point north.

A reminder to keep on mixing up long and short adventures for maximum utility to all their readers, and praise for John Nephew in particular. It's good to have something to look forward too when you scan the bylines.

Someone giving specific examples of how they incorporated adventures from Dungeon into the GDQ series to make it an even more epic journey. It's all a matter of making a few stitches around the edges to make it all fit together, and then you have a world with adventure wherever your PC's wander. Which also means you don't have to railroad them, their choices of which adventure to engage with can be genuinely meaningful.

Finally, they point out a particularly obscure and interesting reference in issue 8 relating to WWII secret codes. An educated writer can rarely resist slipping a few of those in to amuse their more discerning readers. I'm definitely guilty in the first degree of many counts of that.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 10: Mar/Apr 1988



part 2/5



The Shrine of Ilsdahur: Fresh from praising John Nephew in the letters page, they have another adventure by him. Like it says on the tin, it's an abandoned shrine to a demon lord. (who does not appear in the adventure, but is statted up anyway because they like their extraneous worldbuilding in here.) It's only a 6 page one, and pretty compact in design even for that, so it's no temple of elemental evil. (Although putting it as a side-encounter between T1 and T2 would actually make a lot of sense) As it's abandoned, some of the dangers have atrophied, but there's still more than enough for a solid single-sessioner. No problems with this, even if it's not ground-breaking in any way.



The Artisan's Tomb: The Oriental Adventure this issue is one of the shortest ones they've done yet. A ghost asks the PC's to destroy the vase containing it's ashes so it can head off to the afterlife. Go to it's tomb, face a couple of cursory challenges, and that's it. No twist, no particularly clever use of the cultural details that mean it couldn't be used with a western ghost. It's 3 pages long, but has less density of information than many of the old Polyhedron Encounters managed in one. Thoroughly dull filler material, obviously selected and laid out in a way to keep the page count neat. I deliver a resounding meh in response.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 10: Mar/Apr 1988



part 3/5



They Also Serve: A third all-thief adventure when they haven't done even one for any other class? This is becoming a real pattern. Are they really that much easier to write than one for wizards or fighters, or are the readers a bunch of sheep, echoing ideas they've seen recently instead of thinking up their own? Like the last one, they need to turn their rougueish skills to heroic purposes and steal the macguffin back from whoever took it, which makes this seem all the more ridiculous. Why focus on thieves when your code of conduct means you can never give them adventures where they're using their skills for their original purpose, actually stealing money for yourself?! I'm thoroughly baffled by this editorial choice. At least they're not throwing it into even sharper relief by doing one for the assassins they're about to put on the chopping block in the edition change. Still, taken on it's own merits it's pretty good, describing the rival thieves guild the players have to invade with plenty of detail, including lots of extraneous personality and history bits that mean this would be useful as setting backdrop as well as an adventure, and gives you several hooks for further adventures. It's not a railroad, which puts it way up on the Polyhedron adventures that involve investigating crimes, and makes sure you'll actually put your thiefly skills to good use. Overall I think they've just about managed to stave off the diminishing returns problem again.



Monsterquest: Last issue their experimental adventure was a solo one. This time, it's one of those amusing role reversals they do every now and then. Take the role of a party of humanoids on a mission to recapture their lost treasure. Originally designed as a one-shot with pregen characters, it would be perfectly suited to combine with GAZ10: Orcs of Thar, which came out a few months later and shares the same kind of comedic tone. I wonder if they were aware of each other's development, or it was a lucky case of convergent evolution. Either way, you have a decent selection of characters, although they aren't remotely balanced in terms of power levels, and plenty of choice in how you accomplish your objective. The humorous elements aren't so twee or overbearing that they make the adventure nonfunctional, and it makes some interesting references to less common D&D material such as the Witch class that turned up 4 times in Dragon Magazine over the years. Another successful experiment that I wouldn't mind seeing again, as long as it's not so frequently that they hit diminishing returns and wear out it's welcome.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 10: Mar/Apr 1988



part 4/5



The 4 centre pages of the issue are devoted to preregistering for Gen Con. Early bird gets slightly reduced prices and the best hotel rooms! People running tournaments and stalls particularly welcome! Don't recall seeing this in Dragon. Wonder why they decided to give preferential treatment to Dungeon buyers.



Secrets of the Towers: We've had a fair number of one-gimmick adventures so far. Now we have one that combines two that we've seen before - the non-Euclidean dungeon from issue 6 and the portal network from issue 7. The PC's stumble across a pentagonal tower full of portals to other towers across the continent. Unfortunately, each tower has it's own set of challenges, and just like last time, the portals are erratic. Some are only one way, some are awkwardly positioned, and some are broken entirely until you're high enough level to figure the system out and fix them. Wander the wrong way, and you'll likely find yourself stranded hundreds of miles from where you went in, only slightly more enlightened as to the big picture of the network. So this is an adventure that's designed as a framing device to a whole series of other adventures, which you'll gradually uncover as you wander the land, but not without facing a whole load of other stuff in between. (Which the DM has total freedom to vary in size and difficulty.) It'll take quite a bit of work to thread the gap between making the hunt frustrating, not so much they don't give up, but enough to make the successes all the more satisfying. Not one for the inexperienced DM who just wants to plop down a site-based dungeon and see how the players fight their way through it, but quite possibly worth the effort.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 10: Mar/Apr 1988



part 5/5



The Threshold of Evil: Another familiar name from Dragon makes the jump to Dungeon. Scott Bennie gives us the highest level adventure we've seen in here yet. (which checking the index, it turns out is actually the highest level adventure that'll ever appear in here for either edition of AD&D.) A wizard is seeking immortality. Now this isn't inherently wrong, plenty of Forgotten Realms wizards have achieved it and retained Good alignment. This one is not so competent or scrupulous, and the ingredients and methods he's using are expensive and environmentally harmful. The PC's are going to have to do something about that before all the neighbouring settlements become unlivable. But even if he hasn't quite cracked the eternal life problem, he's still a wizard with 9th level spells, who's had several centuries to build a fortress and fill it with magical gear & guardians. This could get pretty dangerous.

Amusingly, this is exactly the same basic premise as the highest level adventure in Polyhedron, Bigby's Tomb. Both are seeking eternal life and trying to protect themselves from wandering adventurers who might end it prematurely. It's just the ways they've gone about it that are very different. Bigby is content to put himself in stasis and let others do the hard work of improving the state of magical technology, and has a strong sense of humour in his trap design. Azurax takes himself far more seriously, although there are still a few bits of whimsical sadism in his traps and enchantments.

Still, overall, this is not a wacky meatgrinder like the old school dungeons, but a serious character study that examines the boundary between Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil. When do you cross the line from merely selfish and goal-focussed to outright cruel as the ends become more important, making you willing to adopt increasingly extreme means to accomplish them? The use of a CN antagonist also allows them to use a slightly less overused set of monsters, Slaad instead of Demons, and more opportunities to solve problems in a nonviolent way. It's all pretty interesting not only as an adventure, but as a bit of philosophical musing on D&D morality and how to apply it in game. I guess that's another way of making an adventure useful to readers when most groups will never reach high enough level to play it. It puts this on the spectrum of game design as artistic statement, which I thoroughly approve of. That's going way above and beyond for a magazine about RPG adventures.



An issue that definitely improved as it went along, getting increasingly experimental and saving the best until last. Which seems somewhat counter to the way most publications do it, but as long as there's at least some good adventures in there I can't complain too much. Let's see what good ideas the next issue has, and if the editors will have prioritised them in the same way I would in their shoes.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 41: May 1988



part 1/5



32 pages. The trouble with meeting and picking up your adventure hooks in taverns is that there's not much privacy and you never know who's listening. There might be spies actively looking out for trouble to get involved in, or other adventurers who decide to either foil you or beat you to the prize. Either way, it's definitely added complications that'll make your path much rockier. Let's see if this issue manages to avoid the obvious pitfalls, or winds up leading us into a trap or betrayal.



Notes From HQ: It's been a good 5 years since they established an XP system for RPGA members, so you could honestly call yourself an Xth level player or DM. In that time, a number of cracks and loopholes have come up in the scoring, so they've decided it's time for an overhaul. They're adding some new ways to earn points, fiddling with the weighting on existing methods, and making the overall number of points needed to earn each level higher, especially at the top levels so there's no risk of people maxing them out anytime soon. It's all about making everyone feel valued, while preventing a few people from running away with all the best stuff because they concentrate on what earns points over what makes for a good play experience. The usual problem in any large multiplayer interactive experience. If you don't keep on tweaking the rules, someone will eventually find a way to exploit them, and if you don't patch them, it will eventually ruin things for everyone else. It's an eternal struggle that I'm sure we'll see more of in the future.



Letters: Our first letter in another exceedingly long one from a Sunday School teacher trying to thread the needle between the fun parts of roleplaying, and the people in his community who are deeply suspicious of the concept. It's not the kind of problem you can solve with a grand gesture.To remove the stigma, you need to tackle them one-by-one, with regular exposure that shows how ridiculous their ignorant prejudices are. No substitute for actual feet on the ground doing the work, as any evangelist should know.

The second one is from frequent tournament winner Linda Bingle, complaining that if they mess with their scoring system too much, people like her will quit because it's no fun anymore. If you do change it, it should be to make the system more clear and consistent, not less. No surprise that the people the system currently favours would be the most worried about it's revision.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 41: May 1988



part 2/5



Fun in Games: Rick takes the piss out of Jeff's attempt to give fighters more to do a couple of issues ago. You know what they need? Spells! He then lists a selection of entirely mundane actions like attack and defence in spell format. A standard April fools style article, that introduces an idea as a joke, to show their scorn for it. The real irony here is that hindsight has shown it's actually a pretty good idea when taken seriously - giving a fighty class a selection of special maneuvers that are selected and tracked in a similar way to spells worked excellently in Arcana Evolved, was adapted officially to 3e in the Book of 9 Swords, and then all the classes got basically the same AEDU power system in 4e regardless of power source. So it turns out the joke is on Rick in the long run. His other ideas are more intentionally useful beneath the humour. A secret society of female spellcasters disguised as a sewing group? Perfectly reasonable in a patriarchal society where they're not taken seriously. Using items of food as improvised minis? Also quite effective, if also somewhat messy. Once again it looks like there are solid ideas under the veneer of ridiculousness he seems to coat everything with. I might be able to grow to tolerate him yet.



Arcane Academe: In an interesting co-incidence, Jeff also gives us a bunch of potential new powers. There are plenty of things thieves really ought to be able to do that aren't currently covered by the rules, but unlike spellcasters, no mechanism for them learning them other than outright giving them new powers. So I guess that's what he's got to do. Say hello to Appraise, Streetwise, Ransack and Infiltrate. All are pretty self-explanatory, and most will folded into the nonweapon proficiency/skill systems in subsequent editions. So this is an idea that they'd return to again in Dark Sun, adding a selection of extra thief skills, then slightly improved in balance by the discretionary skill point system, before realising the distinction between what was a thief-specific skill and what was a general nonweapon proficiency was pretty arbitrary anyway, and improving on the whole system again in 3e. A mildly historically significant article that's also a good reminder of the things that have gradually improved over the years in game design. It takes a lot of effort, and the process of experimentation often seems like 10 steps forward, 9 back, but some things do definitely work better than others and stick. I guess that's evolution for you.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 41: May 1988



part 3/5



Special Intelligence: Of course, sometimes the ways games change are not evolutionary at all, instead tearing the whole system down and starting from scratch in the hope of improving things by removing all the accumulated cruft. This was definitely the case when they went from Top Secret to Top Secret/ S.I. The designers decided to go for a very different playstyle to the original, dialling back the degree of realism to speed up play, making everything quicker, more clearly written, and more focussed on high action. Instead of players being employed by real world espionage agencies, and risk TSR attracting the attention of said real world agencies (which of course actually happened to Steve Jackson Games over GURPS Cyberpunk, and caused them considerably more real hassle than the satanic panic ever did) they also added Orion & The Web, fictional global ones that are unambiguously heroic & villainous, for that full-on 80's cartoon vibe. A fairly standard promotional article that reminds us TSR could be experimental with their design when they felt like it. D&D's editions got changed relatively little because they didn't want to kill the big cash cow, but Top Secret, Gamma World, Marvel Superheroes and Buck Rogers all got new editions that were essentially entirely different games. None of them hit the magic combination of factors to make them as big as D&D, but in having several very different versions of the game that cater to different audiences, it strengthens roleplaying as a whole by giving you more resources to draw from and combine in your own way. So overall, I approve of this. After all, the old game is still right there if you prefer that playstyle instead.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 41: May 1988



part 4/5



Wedding Party: The adventure this issue is an OA one, yet another tournament one given wider release after being used in Gen Con. The PC's are recruited by the emperor himself to protect one of his daughters on the way to her wedding. There are many people who would rather not see that happen, both in and outside the empire. The PC's have to balance protecting her while remaining within the bounds of propriety in the company of powerful people and creatures that haven't done anything obviously treacherous …… yet. This results in a set of scenes which while not quite as railroady as some adventures in here, are still pretty linear. Unless the PC's are cunning enough to short-circuit things, it culminates in the princess being kidnapped by Yuan-ti to be sacrificed to their god, and the PC's having to sneak into their city to rescue her. So it's better than many of their adventures, because it successfully combines it's roleplaying and combat elements, and gives the PC's proper room to succeed and fail. It still has horrible cringe-inducing pregens though, with grossly inflated stats and vaguely asian sounding pun names rather than anything remotely culturally accurate. I suppose the western ones we've seen recently are just as bad, but obviously it feels worse when there's the race factor added in. You'll definitely want to cut them out and use your own PC's if you use this one these days.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 41: May 1988



part 5/5



The Living City: The Raven's Bluff column goes uptown, to detail Volodar's Stardust Inn, a decidedly swanky place where currently rich adventurers can enjoy fine food and beds, plus a glitzy casino that tempts them to gamble away their hard-won treasures and leave them poor again for the next adventure. Gee, that's not a direct rip-off of a specific real world place at all, is it? :p It even has technomagically powered anachronisms like elevators and security cameras just to make it extra obvious. It's more than a little silly. But I guess that means it fits into the Forgotten Realms perfectly, with it's sense of whimsy and somewhat porous 4th wall. It also fits perfectly into the Realms in it's attention to detail, with plenty of interesting NPC's, who are of course high level enough that you can't roll through this one with violence or rob them easily. Once again, this has enough depth put into it that you can come back to it repeatedly and put it to multiple uses. It's good to see people taking the right lessons from Ed Greenwood's writing and managing to imitate it successfully.



New Rogues Gallery: This column also starts including Raven's Bluff references in the character histories. Still a bit early for them to have actually played their history out and gained all these levels in actual play though. So I strongly suspect some fudging has taken place in their backstories, as this does still have the feel of a player telling you about his characters, rather than NPC's specifically written to be useful in other people's games. They're just too darn nice for you to have any real reason to come into conflict with them. So once again it isn't nearly as interesting or useful as the preceding one. It's all a bit baffling as an editorial decision. Couldn't you give your readers a bit more guidance in this area.



With some useful crunch, and interesting changes to both their game & administrative systems, this is a well above average issue in both usability and historical significance. It definitely feels like they've got over their post-Gygax slump and are heading full steam for 2e with all that entails. Let's see what progression next issue offers, and how soon they'll hit another roadblock to their plans.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 11: May/Jun 1988



part 1/5



68 pages. Once again wizards fail to adhere to proper health and safety protocols, and face the consequences. Just how large will the explosion be this time, and how will the fallout affect the PC's when they come to explore the area? Will there be untold treasures, or only mutated monsters to deal with? Let's turn the pages and hope they aren't booby-trapped with explosive runes that'll just create more ruins.



Editorial: The editorial once again has to deal with the fact that most people aren't as original or unique as they think they are. A book, a song, some technological development, a bit of news, and a few months later, a whole bunch of variants on the same idea crop up like mushrooms. In this case, it's shapeshifters which have received an unusual number of submissions in quick succession. I wonder what inspired that? Oh to have the vast awareness of the universe that would enable you to track back to the butterfly flapping that set all these stories in motion. Oh well, until such omniscience is within our reach, I'll just have to keep on assimilating data and analysing it to form connections the hard way.



Letters: The writer of the adventure that David Carl Argall criticised for being too tough bites back. It was the right level of challenge for his players at that level, yours must suck at tactics by comparison. This is why an adventure can't be said to be properly playtested unless it's been run by multiple groups with no direct contact with the original writer, so you can get a statistical analysis of average performance.

Some errata for The Wounded Worm. Being crippled should be y'know, genuinely crippling.

More errata, this time for the Shrine of Ilsidahur. There's always more the writers think to add after sending in the "final" version. Naming your versioned save file for a project whatever_final is just tempting fate.

Someone asking if you need an agent to submit to TSR. Nope, and they'd be more surprised if you did go through one. Despite their rapid growth, RPG's are still a cottage industry, and no-one in it remotely approaches that level of bureaucratic gatekeeping. Just get your hustle on, the bar for entry isn't actually that high.

Some more details on WWII coded radio broadcasts. The intricacies of espionage and counter-espionage is something that has filled whole books. They can't really do it justice here.

And finally, suggestions on how to improve the solo module idea. Maybe next time. Hopefully prospective writers are indeed paying attention to the letters page.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 11: May/Jun 1988



part 2/5



The Dark Conventicle: In a reversal of the last few issues, we start with the highest level module they're offering. It does seem certain ideas are in the air at the moment, as just like last Polyhedron, it's a good old rescue the kidnapped maiden who's going to be sacrificed plot. Only instead of Yuan-ti, it's Yugoloths. (yeah, I know, they're not called that yet, but alliteration is fun) Which means you need to venture into a sewer-dungeon and fight disease-infested cultists of Anthraxus, all on a time limit. Hope your cleric picked an appropriate selection of anti poison & disease spells, because you're going to need them. Just as Threshold of Evil seemed designed to showcase the Chaotic Neutral attitude towards the rest of the world, this puts the spotlight on Neutral Evil enemies, with their conflicting tendencies towards fanatical nihilism and chronic backstabbing. (with a side order of incel bitterness, as all the disease cultists are male, and keen to despoil and destroy what they can't have.) Thoroughly destroying them will be a dirty business, but satisfying once it's over. So basically, this whole module is a subtle joke at the expense of the section of the geek world known for it's poor hygiene and sense of entitlement toward's women's bodies. I wonder if they'll get angry letters from readers who fit that category and realise it's aimed at them in the next issue. Hopefully they'll get treated with the polite condescension they richly deserve.
 
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(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 11: May/Jun 1988



part 3/5



The Wooden Mouse: ANOTHER all-thief adventure?! How many of these must they be getting if they're publishing them this often? In another variation on existing formulae, it's a one-on-one adventure, designed for one player and a DM rather than being entirely playable solo. That does make it more usable in a regular campaign as a side-quest than either the all-thief party ones or the Fighting Fantasy style solo ones where you really need to use the pregen to prevent choices that aren't covered by the paths, so I guess that's a certain degree of iterative improvement. In their travels, your character is spotted engaging in thievery somewhere they're not signed up to the local guild. They then get "hired" to engage in a somewhat rigged robbery. Either they die, and that's one fewer freelancer operating on guild turf, or they pass, in which case they're strongly encouraged to join up and pay their dues like a good thief does. It's basically a reminder of how ubiquitous and entrenched the 1e guild system is, and how badly it needs to be broken up. When the lawbreaking is as formalised and regulated as the supposedly legal avenues of employment, what does legal and illegal even mean anymore? This is definitely a part of the 1e implied setting that I don't miss, and this adventure shoving it in your face is somewhat tiresome. Roll on the many variegated settings of 2e to show players and writers it doesn't have to be this way, and they can create their own worlds that also depart dramatically from the assumptions in the corebooks.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 11: May/Jun 1988



part 4/5



The Black Heart of Ulom: It's not just wizards that wind up unleashing abominations on the world with their experimentation, although admittedly they're the most likely to do it intentionally. This time it's a druid that experienced unexpected complications in their attempt to make nature more resilient, turning a whole forest into a malevolent hive mind. Their magic isn't so great at dealing with problems like that, so they do the traditional thing and ask the first bunch of adventurers to pass by to go to the centre of the forest and purge the corruption. The result is an interesting combination of horror story and stealth mission, as like the Entish stereotypes, the forest is slow to rouse, but terrifyingly powerful if you do get it's full attention. Trying to slash and burn your way through the trees will rapidly set you up for overwhelming waves of monsters, while a more subtle approach will be both quicker and easier. They account for people who try to fly over the whole thing as well, which is good design. Even once you win, the problem doesn't just disappear overnight, and you have to get out, which presents it's own challenges. Overall, this is a pretty good one, scary without being a railroad, and putting natural animals to good use in it's encounters. No problems with using it here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 11: May/Jun 1988



part 5/5



Wards of Witching Ways: The last and longest adventure is also the lowest level one, continuing the inversion from their usual habits. While sailing, the PC's are caught in a savage storm and shipwrecked. They need to explore the island they wound up on, and face the various dangers if they're ever going to get off it. Even more unfortunately, the island is inhabited by a pair of wizards who use the PC's as pawns in a bet between them. Originally designed as a tournament adventure, this avoids the worst parts of tournament adventures in several interesting ways. First, since the wizards are actively watching over the game, it keeps the dungeon events reactive rather than having all the monsters stay in their room until disturbed. Second, the writer actively gives notes on how to alter it for campaign play where you're not limited to a 4 hour slot, letting you dial the amount of railroadyness up or down to your tastes without having to invent more material wholecloth. And as it's only a single-round adventure they aren't forcing you towards a particular plot resolution so the next one can be played at all anyway. It's all very considerate of the writer, and once again much better than most of the tournament adventures in Polyhedron, where they haven't even tried to make accommodations to campaign play. So this is a resounding success in how to make an adventure a lot more adaptable with just a few extra sentences. That's something a lot of writers could learn from.



Another solid 3/4 decent adventures this issue with a few amusing touches thrown in. I'm definitely starting to see some regular patterns in the types of adventures, but they remain sufficiently varied in terms of combinations and twists that they haven't become redundant yet. Let's see what twists next time will offer, and if the freelancers will once again have sent in a whole bunch of variants on the same old idea.
 

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