TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron 94/153: Sep/Oct 2002



part 9/10



Combat & Freeform Experience: There’s a lot of very interesting rules tweaks packed into this section. Relic weapons have penetration against normal armor to reflect their superior construction. Grenades have larger splash & scatter radiuses than usual to make for interestingly chaotic combat. Since there’s no magical healing, they introduce Reserve points, another interesting little mechanical development that will be used in other d20 variants like Iron Heroes in the future and give you a bit more long-term staying power without affecting how much you can take in a single fight. You can also get forcefields that’ll absorb the first few points of damage you take in an encounter, but they’re easy to hit and take several minutes to recharge after that, making them no panacea against a determined assault. Radiation will often trigger mutations, but on average, you’ll accumulate more bad ones than good from uncontrolled exposure, which means characters may well get worse as well as better in an extended campaign. ( but in more interesting ways than ones like warhammer that go heavy on the crippling long-term injury tables. ) Poison is slightly scarier than the D&D default. XP is given in flat amounts to the whole group based on how well they did that session, which means advancement rates will start off faster than regular D&D, but end up much slower at higher levels, just like old school advancement used to do it. Once again it’s all very efficient, as it’s from one of the official designers of 3e who really knows how the rules work and how to tweak them, but isn’t overly concerned about fairness and balance in this instance. This continues to be a considerably better implementation in a more concise package than the White Wolf d20 version.



Relics: This is a condensed version of equipment from previous editions that once again goes heavy on the randomness, both in what you find and what condition it’s in when you do. Will it be broken altogether, only of use to an expert in repairs. Will it be functional but need recharging? Will it appear fine, but have hidden defects that mean it’ll blow up in your face at an inconvenient moment? Who knows! Aren’t you just itching to find out?! A whole load of quirky armors, relic drugs, grenades, guns, melee weapons, tools, and for those of you who’ve been reading polyhedron from the start, powered armor so you can get your Iron Man on for as long as the fuel cells last. Unlike in D&D it looks like the intention is that equipment is easy come, easy go, and your characters may fluctuate in power quite a bit from session to session depending on what gear they have on hand and working independently of their level. A very different playstyle for anyone brought on board by the new edition. (and we know from sales figures there are quite a few of those) Will it convince them that the old ways can be fun too, or be ignored? Hopefully we’ll have some feedback in the letters pages in future issues.
 

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(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron 94/153: Sep/Oct 2002



part 10/10



Encounters: While the other parts of this feel reasonably complete despite their brevity, the info on monsters & NPC’s does feel the squeeze a bit and could have stood to be a bit bigger. Monsters updated are Thinker, Warrior & Worker androids, giant weather controlling dog-people called the Ark. Badders, typically cranky mutant badgers. Blaash, radioactive moths that may look pretty, but are very bad for the health of anyone who isn’t radiation-proof. Hissers, psychic snake people with sonic blasts. Hoops, intelligent humanoid rabbits who have the very irritating power to turn metal to rubber. Hoppers, somewhat larger, ridable rabbits. Latterbugs, giant beetles that are terrifyingly fast, but vulnerable to cold. Orlen, which are basically two people smushed together. Having two heads and four arms definitely gives them some serious advantages in combat even before you add their dual-brained psychic powers. Podogs, giant ridable dogs that are also excellent mimics. Sep, sharks that can dig through the ground. Not quite as dangerous as D&D Bulettes, but hey, nothing’s stopping you from including them as well. Spider robots, stalker robots, and the gargantuan unstoppable Deathbot, which is way more powerful than anything else here by many orders of magnitude. So most of these are calibrated with the 10 level advancement limit of standard play in mind, but then there’s one deliberately unfair one at the end to remind us of the stunts Jim Ward used to pull whenever players got uppity.

The cryptic alliances stuff feels even more abbreviated, cramming 13 of them onto a single page, which leaves no real room for nuance. You’ll definitely have to hunt down the old books if you want more detail on that bit.

Finally, three more pages full of random encounter tables, which once again reinforce that this game is designed to work well even if the GM doesn’t have a plan and the characters just wander around to see what they can find. You could encounter savage tribes, which generally tend not to communicate too well with outsiders so be ready to fight or run. Explorers, which cover the whole gamut of levels and could be friendly or hostile depending on if you’re after the same treasure. Domes, which contain the treasures of the ancients, but often a whole lot of other trouble too as everyone knows this and wants some for themselves. Finally, 9 adventure seeds for if you want your characters to find slightly less random trials & tribulations and you lack inspiration this session. Putting it all together, that makes this the easiest minigame to run straight out of the box so far. You could do so entirely procedurally for quite a few sessions, with both characters and challenges created by the roll of the dice before having to add scripted elements back in to keep it from getting repetitive. That definitely makes it valuable if you can’t play your regular game and want something you can get started with quickly.



Godlike shows us the accomplishments of Cien, who can lift nearly any weight with his shadow. Many tanks and soldiers fell to him before he was finally pinned down and finished off by overwhelming odds. No happy endings here.



A medium quality Dungeon side, but the Polyhedron one is probably the best yet, seeing them being increasingly adventurous in reintroducing old school elements while not totally sacrificing the game balance parts of 3e. This is one I’m particularly keen on trying out at some point if that’s at all possible. Maybe crossing over with the content from next issue, since Gamma world had its fair share of giant mechas back in the day. Time to see what cool synergies the next crop of d20 material offers.
 

RealAlHazred

Frumious Flumph (Your Grace/Your Eminence)
I really liked Omega World, and preferred it to the contemporary implementation of Gamma World. I knew people who ran an Omega World campaign for several years at the local hobby shop.
 


(un)reason

Legend
Well, that was, if not quite a success, less of a failure than previous attempts. All through the week it seemed as though it would be another dud, but literally half an hour before the game was scheduled to start, half a dozen people joined. Only 4 of them actually turned up in the chat room, three only stuck around for a few minutes and the last got about halfway through character generation before RL interfered, but at least the nature of Gamma World random chargen meant that was still somewhat entertaining. ( a mutant with superspeed, telekinesis, pincers, frenzy and hemophilia.) It's enough of a not failure to schedule it again for my next free weekend, see if anyone turns up again and gets any further. Looks like this thread will be staying on simmer for a little while longer.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 95/194: Nov/Dec 2002



part 1/10



143 (168) pages. Sex, drugs and demon lords! So vile and dark we had to seal it! It’s that time again, when Dragon celebrated its 300th issue by going edgy and obviously Dungeon is getting in on the act too. Let’s find out how much worse this issue is than our routine killing and taking of stuff, in both senses of the word.



Editorial: Kyle the art director takes this editorial, as he’s apparently the baddest mutha:shut yo mouth: they have in the offices. But everyone thinks of themselves as the hero of their own stories and he’d prefer to think of himself as an anti-hero, coming up with crazy schemes to save the day that may sometimes be sneaky and underhanded, but serve the greater good in the end. In his gaming he has even more freedom to create situations where the PC’s have to be bad to survive, because the people they’re up against are in charge and even worse. When the laws are bad, even the stuffiest LG character has to break them and even the most apathetic true neutral one will eventually hit a point where all the raping and baby eating starts to stick in their craw. (Or maybe not, given that the meat industry is still going strong in the real world, but hey, as long as it’s not your own species different standards apply, particularly when the gruesome parts are hidden away from the general public and all they see is the neatly sliced final products on the shelves. ) There’s a lot of moral complexity that they’ve intentionally kept out of adventures up to now. Now we just have to see if including it makes them better, or at least interestingly different.



Letters: First letter (and many others) complains that they put the wrong number on the spine of last issue. Don’t worry, neither that nor the move to Paizo affects when your subscription ends.

Second is absolutely delighted by Omega World. They haven’t been this wacky in years and it’s good to see them willing to go back to that well. More material would be good though, particularly a character sheet and full-length introductory adventure. Maybe online.

Third is irritated by the section tabs cutting off parts of the artwork. That’s easy enough to fix.

Fourth is annoyed by the magazine merger and price increase. Why not sell them separately? They tried that, for over 20 years. It worked until it didn’t. At least give the Polyhedron material a chance before dumping it altogether.

Fifth does like the d20 material, but would like more variety of it, not just minigames. That’s another request they fully intend to fulfil in future issues.

Finally, praise from someone who does mostly read the magazine for the polyhedron material, as they prefer to make their own adventures. It takes all kinds.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 95/194: Nov/Dec 2002



part 2/10



The Jackal's Redemption: Even when they’re pushing the amount of darkness, they have to allow for the possibility of a happy ending, otherwise why are you playing an RPG instead of just reading a story? So it proves here, where a wizard seduced by an Erinyes might just live long enough to regret his poor life choices and try to make amends. The PC’s are (as usual) passing through a small village when they see a tower on the hill appearing and disappearing approximately every 3 minutes. When they go to investigate, they’ll see a bunch of farmers being attacked by Xill, trying to carry them away for impregnation. Unless you’re very quick at killing them, they’ll manage to get away with at least one, and even if you do there’s still people captured in previous raids that need rescuing. You’re going to have to listen to their exposition and then investigate the blinking tower. As usual, there’ll be some leftover magical defences and notes by the wizard that will fill in part of the backstory but you won’t get the whole picture unless you step out of the tower while it’s elsewhere. Elsewhere turns out to be a cavern in Gehenna where the Erinyes and her Xill minions are lairing. Brave the lava, rescue the imprisoned villagers and wizard, hopefully remembering to cure them before the Xill eggs in them hatch and go home, hopefully figuring out a way of controlling the tower’s planeshifting so it’s not an open door for more invasions. Nothing particularly surprising here. Another competent and playable but also very formulaic adventure to get things warmed up. Meh.



Nodwick once again reminds us that demons and worse are everyday occurrences in Yeagar’s attempts at dating.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 95/194: Nov/Dec 2002



part 3/10



The Witch of Serpent's Bridge: After one basic adventure where the problem is exactly where you expect it to be, it’s time to solve the problems of another little village where the person to blame is trying to pin it on someone else. The Gnolls of the Stagnant Wood are not pleased about the nearby town of New Pedwich continuing to flourish despite their raids. Their wizard has hypnotised one of the villagers into thinking that the titular witch is responsible for the villages escalating woes, when she’s really just a harmless hermit. Will the PC’s go straight to killing her, which won’t help at all and remove a valuable ally in the long term fight, or will they listen to her and team up against the real culprits, who will mount an all-out attack on the village if not found and stopped before three nights have passed. Another adventure where all the elements are ones I’ve seen before, put together in a familiar way that’s competent but completely unsurprising, following predictable plot beats that’ll fill a session and then be forgotten.



Critical Threats: The first of these this issue is Yu’thiol Mansecho, a githyanki spy who poses as a whole range of identities on the prime material plane. He’ll do all kinds of sneaky underworld activities for hire for surprisingly reasonable prices. Of course, there’s a catch. He’s feeding all the info he gets from this back to the Lich-Queen and taking out anything that might interfere with her long-term schemes. The kind of character you could meet several times under different disguises before realising they’re the same person. (at which point you’ll become his target, because he very much wants to keep that a secret. ) Then if you do beat him, that could lead into the bigger Gith related plots they have coming up next year. A nicely flexible bit of mid-level material if your campaign is headed in the planeward direction long-term.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 95/194: Nov/Dec 2002



part 4/10



Side Treks - Lust: J. Bradley Schell continues his themed series of side treks loosely based around deadly sins. No sexytimes here though folks, as we’re dealing with a half-fiend satyr who uses his hypnotic piping to get groups of people to fight each other to the death, before killing the victor with his own claws & fangs. These gruesome death scenes in the woods have naturally caused locals to hire people to find out the cause and stop it, but so far, they’ve just become more fuel for his bloodlust. Will the PC’s be able to break the cycle, or will they join the trio of knights currently entertaining him and all hack each other to pieces? Let’s hope at least some of them have high will saves or something to shield them from mind-control in general. If they have something to dispel it on others as well the fight’ll be even easier. So it’s the kind of encounter who’s difficulty will vary widely both due to luck of the first few rolls and the build of the party, with a distinct risk of a TPK at their own hands if they screw up their saves. Quite interesting, since it’s an idea they haven’t done before, and has quite a bit of thought put into potential follow-ups but also one to use with caution, because if some players react badly to a TPK, one caused by mind-control will be even more annoying.



Critical Threats: In theory, fiends can be demoted as well as promoted, but you don’t see it as often, particularly if you want to fight the same one multiple times in an adventuring career and have it remain a fair fight. Doing it in backstory, however … So here’s an imp who was once a pit fiend, but was busted back down to the rookie leagues for a particularly egregious screw-up. He still retains a higher int than the average imp, a few wizard levels and a cache of scrolls to save his ass in a pinch, but his former bombast sounds distinctly comical in his squeaky little voice. Because devils love their bureaucratic loopholes even amongst themselves, his higher-ups have left him a fast track option back to his former position by killing 100 good adventurers. The various tricksy antics he’ll try to accomplish this without risking his skin in direct combat will be entertaining to them either way. Whether you’ll encounter him with many still to go, or having already done 90-odd and ready to undergo a mid-combat evolution if he manages to drop some of you is up to the GM. :evil laugh: Another one designed to make a good behind the scenes schemer for multiple encounters before finally regaining his full power for a climactic final confrontation, at which point the PC’s will probably be powerful enough to win anyway, resulting in him dramatically exclaiming that this is impossible as he’s sent back to hell for another roasting by his superiors. Pretty easy to see how to make a good story here, so this one gets my approval.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 95/194: Nov/Dec 2002



part 5/10



The Porphyry House Horror: Freed from several decades of being forced to keep everything family friendly, the Book of Vile Darkness tie-in adventure predictably overcompensates with the edginess. James Jacobs does his best to go full Frank Miller and cram in as much rape, cannibalism, whores, blasphemy & other miscellaneous crimes as possible in 31 pages. (but only one exposed nipple and no genitals of either gender, because they still don’t have the courage to push the artwork as far as 3rd party d20 books.) We’re off to Scuttlecove, a pirate town ruled by a triumvirate of cannibal ur-priests who encourage pretty much any depravity that doesn’t endanger the town as a whole apart from open displays of religion. But there’s always someone who’s not happy with even that degree of freedom, and a Yuan-ti cultist of Demogorgon is scheming to take over. She’s cornered the prostitution market by using Yuan-ti polymorphing to turn animals into cheap sex slaves of any race desired. (then jacked up the prices once her competitors were out of business) Eventually she plans to perform a massive orgy that’s also a magical ritual to turn everyone in the city into demons, with her as the most powerful one. Probably the kind of thing the PC’s will want to stop even if they are evil, as both monopolies on non-utilities and everyone turning into demons are bad for the economy. (all that at-will teleportation really undercuts the supply chain) Fortunately, they’ll make some little mistakes that give the PC’s plenty of opportunities to get involved. An escaped abused gulgthydra, introducing new drugs that threaten the market shares of other powerful citizens, there’s plenty of reasons you might decide to investigate Porphyry House.

Once you get there, things obviously get even worse. The upper floors may be primarily intended for pleasure, but they have more than enough guards and traps for anyone who strays from their assigned rooms or tours, plus said pleasures include sado-masochism, baby-eating, and one of the largest libraries of porn on the Oerth. The basement is where you find out how the pudding is made, with a menagerie of monsters yet to be polymorphed and put to work. In terms of actual play it’s not that different from a regular site-based dungeon where you’re underleveled to fight your way through everything and have to use sneakiness if you want to survive, but oh, the trappings. Overall, it’s a qualified success, as it’s not an annoying railroad and it does do things that no adventure in here has been allowed to do, but at the same time it’s nothing exceptional in terms of overall design and it won’t be beating Black Tokyo in the sheer perversion stakes anytime soon either. Will it get any follow-ups from regular writers, or is this going to be a one-off bit of boundary pushing only the official staff are allowed to do? I guess we’ll see in time.



Table Talk: Erik’s editorial is in praise of the many d20 variants that are licences of some other property. Wheel of Time, Call of Cthulhu, Everquest, Farscape, all have already got d20 editions of varying quality and suitedness to the ruleset. Still, even if not all of them are great, the fact that they’re all cross-compatible makes using them convenient, particularly if you want to run a gonzo multiverse hopping kind of game. Of course, there’s still tons of things that don’t have d20 versions yet, some of which Erik would very much like to see. Doing little checking, the only one on the wishlist that actually comes true is Perdito Street Station, which will appear in Dragon in 2007. (also helmed by Erik, obviously he held onto the dream and really put the legwork in to secure that one. ) They Live! or the works of William S. Burroughs, on the other hand, you’ll need to put together yourself. (The first of those sounds considerably easier to get the tone & rules right than the second) So this is distinctly above average in providing me a whole bunch of interesting references to check out, showing how the d20 ecosystem is expanding. A little more data on what was happening when.
 

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