TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 3/10



Provincial Prior Cause: Another short coastal adventure for 1st level characters, this time a tie-in to one of their recent T. H. Lain novels. The PC’s are sent on a mission by the local equivalent of the Knights Templar. They’ve had a rough time lately, being banished from the country, having to smuggle their treasure out in short order. Unfortunately, one of the forces doing this has vanished, along with half their stuff. You’re sent to find them. Exactly why they’re entrusting such an important mission to 1st level characters I’m not sure but oh well. When you get to the last place they were sighted you get attacked by a one-eyed wild boar. You then find the dead body of the envoy. Heading up the cliffs nearby, you encounter the ruffians that killed him, who are trying to make away with the horses after finishing off the remaining squire. After beating them, you find out that the squire isn’t dead after all. He’ll deliver exposition that leads you to the culprits - Gruumsh worshippers. (hence the eye removals) Heading to their hermitage you’ll be attacked by a priest & barbarian with a one-eyed falcon. When you get there, it’ll be guarded by some darkmantles, a homunculus and a troglodyte, with a bugbear cleric at the end trying to destroy one of the missing holy items and some correspondence that proves the templar has indeed switched to Gruumsh worship, so you’ll need to spend more of the campaign hunting him down to retrieve the rest of their stuff. The kind of adventure that leads you by the nose from one encounter to the next with very little consideration of what would happen if the PC’s make any choices other than the one expected, this is shockingly flimsy and poorly designed, and definitely wouldn’t have been published if it weren’t a tie-in adventure written by a member of staff. This is what happens when you let your novelists cross the streams without properly playtesting what they write. Not quite as offensive on a rules design level as Bill Slavicsek’s tie-in adventures, but still bottom tier dreck I’d never stoop to using when there are so many better ones even in the same issue.
 

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(un)reason

Legend
And here we are at the 4 year anniversary of the thread. I actually finished writing the polyhedron parts months ago, but slowing down and trying to actually run the minigames means my buffer has been growing. What position will we be in next year? Will the spark finally catch on one of the minigames and turn into a long-term campaign, leaving little further progress on this thread? Or will this era of the magazine be but a distant landmark in the rear-view mirror? Keep on tuning in to find out.



Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 4/10



Pandemonium in the Veins: Another tie-in adventure in quick succession. But while last one didn’t feel like it was stress-tested by unruly PC’s at all, the gladiator material in Dragon got a well above average amount of workouts due to the ease of running it in quick lunchtime sessions. This adventure is a chunky 33 pager designed to work whether the PC’s are already gladiators or wandering adventurers hired to go undercover in the arena to investigate a particularly perplexing mystery. The number of unraisable deaths is way up and if they don’t figure out what’s behind it they’re in danger of running out of contestants. (but of course it’ll still work fine for you as long as you pay your clerical insurance, so you can lose a bout and it won’t be the end of the story.) Long story short, it’s one of the medics, who’s developed a grudge against the owner and is giving the gladiators performance-enhancing drugs with unpleasant long-term consequences (so don’t do drugs, kids!) But the journey is more interesting than the destination and it is indeed quite a long and interesting one, with a mix of staged combats, backstage roleplaying and investigation, with several different plot threads you can advance independently to get to the dramatic final confrontation. So this is designed to scratch the same itch as the wrestling level in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, which is a fairly rare but awesome combination of elements that’s still fondly remembered today. The kind of adventure that’s not for every campaign, as it requires both a setting with a very high magic level fully integrated into society and players who’ll get into the charop side of building their characters & tweaking their tactics for each fight to really hit for full effect, but for those it does fit it’ll be very cool indeed. It’s nice when they cater to a particularly niche part of their audience and manage to pull the implementation off with aplomb.



Nodwick is used as a guinea pig to demonstrate just how deadly Yeagar can be in the arena. They’re going to go through duct tape supplies extra fast if this becomes a long residency.



Tired of wondering what adventure to run next once you’ve finished the current one? Try their new Shackled City Adventure Path, designed to take characters from 1st to 20th level. Coming Soon! About time. It’s been nearly 5 years since the Mere of Dead Men series and it’s not as if that was unpopular with the readers.
 
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(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 5/10



Beyond the Light of Reason: Even though 3e’s tagline was going back to the dungeon, we’ve still seen very few large site-based adventures where the enemies mostly stay in their rooms until the adventurers come to kill them. Here’s one, although there’s still a fair bit of exposition as to why this is the case and how things work there so it’s not some gleeful old-school throwback like the return of Keraptis. 50 years ago, a cleric of Pelor foiled a cleric of Nerull scheming to destroy the village of Rutherton. After an epic battle underneath the nearby mountain, he came back with a magical lantern that repels evil creatures from the village, keeping them safe for decades. Unfortunately the PC’s arrive in town just as there’s an enormous storm that extinguishes the lantern. They’ll need to go back under the mountain and relight it from Pelor’s Pyre before the monsters in the area realise the village is now vulnerable. Of course, this isn’t simple. While the lantern repels monsters, the larger pyre attracts them and traps them in it’s vicinity so there’s several levels filled with various challenges before you get down to the bottom, finding out that the cleric of Nerull was also trapped down there rather than destroyed, became an Lich and has spent the past 50 years working on a magic ritual to break his imprisonment. (which will also release all the other monsters on the world as well.) Fortunately you’ll arrive just as he’s in the middle of the ritual, which will somewhat hamper his ability to fight you, but if you don’t act fast he’ll be freed and plane shift out of there to cause more trouble later, plus you won’t be able to relight the lantern and have to deal with all the other monsters around the hard way. So while this is a fairly large site-based dungeon where most of the monsters will attack on sight, it also has a strong time factor added in to prevent the PC’s from pulling 15 minute workdays and is set up so there’s a distinct possibility you’ll fail the mission without dying. That leaves it a fairly satisfying read I’d have no problem using.



The Statement of Ownership shows them hitting a new peak and then starting to decline again, with average circulation of 51,000 but a last month one of 49. Some of that’ll probably be made up in back orders anyway, so it remains to be seen if they’ll be doing better or worse overall next year.



Table Talk: Our editorial reminds us that there is life beyond gaming. If you want to create an interesting new world, don’t restrict yourself to reading other RPG’s or even just works of fiction, but do real world research as well. A good encyclopedia is worth it’s weight in gold in providing random information that even the internet probably wouldn’t give you unless you were specifically searching for it, and then only if you already knew the right keywords. You can work your way through it alphabetically, or just let it fall open anywhere and try to build an adventure around the first thing you see. Another familiar topic they do every few years because it’s important to keep perspective. Why, I could wind up going quite mad otherwise. :giggles:



Bolt & Quiver seek a unicorn for surprisingly wholesome purposes.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 6/10



First Watch: The Urban Arcana teasers focus on the feats. These unsurprisingly wind up recreating D&D ideas, but with a modern spin. Divine and magical heritages, which give you the innate ability to cast a few 0th level spells per day so you don’t have to wait until 4th level to have any magical powers on the team. Or if you actually want to be not entirely human, you can take Shadow Heritage or Shadowkind, sacrificing some of your human versatility for more specific sets of powers (and also some extra weaknesses on top because not all humanoids adapt well to the modern day) Hopefully the tweaks they make are all in the direction of being more balanced, so we don’t wind up with no-one picking human even though they’re supposed to outnumber everything else put together.

The Release Roundup stays at a steady size giving the spotlight to the usual companies. Bastion Press release Pale Designs: A Poisoners Handbook, for anyone who’s DM will actually let them fight smart for a change. Goodman Games release the Complete Guide to Wererats, which definitely seems like it could be used synergistically with the previous book. Green Ronin release The Avatar’s Handbook, which is nothing to do with elemental control, but angel summoning instead, because honestly, that’s safer than summoning demons even if you’re a bad guy. I’m sure you can build a good BMX bandit to pair them with using the recent racing minigame. Malhavoc have a third helping of Eldritch Might for us, now with more interesting locations linked to the spells & feats for you to visit. Mongoose stay hyperactive and release The Quintessential Paladin, the Slayers Guide to Undead, (another pair that go well together) the Ultimate Equipment Guide and Cities of Fantasy: Arcania. Mystic Eye Games release a book on Tarot Magic, which adds a different spin to randomising effects than the usual wild magic method. Necromancer Games keep it simple and meaty, with the Book of Taverns, another adventuring staple that you can always find a use for until the PC’s become high level ascetics who conjure all their own food & lodging.

Thirdly, we have a new Living setting! They may not be doing a Living D20 Modern setting officially, but AEG are setting up Living Spycraft, which will hopefully scratch that itch as long as you can handle the level of crunch. Looking it up, it lasts until 2007, when I suspect the edition changes to both 4e D&D and Spycraft 2.0 played a strong factor in it ending. A decent run of adventures there if you can find them now.

News from the Top shows them once again changing their points system, in the process sweeping the board clean from the old one and starting everyone from scratch. Seems like that kind of thing is happening a lot more lately. Shoulda used them while you had the chance instead of stockpiling indefinitely. They’ll try to make the new ones more meaningful so you feel a genuine incentive to earn them and cash them in. We’ve seen those kinds of promises before. As we approach the end of RPGA coverage I grow increasingly skeptical that the new version will work better than the old. They also say farewell to the old Gen Con location, as they’re moving from Miwaukee to Indianapolis. Since they’re still there 20 years later and have more than doubled the average number of attendees per year in the interim (with a couple of exceptions due to covid) that move can fairly be called a success by now. Finally, they list the ENnies winners, which isn’t surprising since WotC takes slightly more than half the categories. It’s nice to have independent corroboration of your awesomeness. They definitely can’t say that anymore, looking at the much wider range of companies winning in recent years.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 7/10



Monte's Haul: Monte Cook is our interview subject this time. After nearly a decade working with TSR and being the primary developer on the new DMG, he quit to form his own company, since the creation of the OGL means he can still bring all his system expertise to bear, but also have more creative freedom and keep all the profits that way. No hard feelings though, otherwise he wouldn’t be appearing in here or still doing freelance gigs like the Book of Vile Darkness. In fact, he still runs twice-weekly games with many of the WotC and Paizo staff so he obviously hasn’t gone anywhere physically. You might wonder where he finds the time to do this on top of the full-time job, but the irony is that playing hard makes it easier to work hard as well, as you’re writing stuff based on what’s actually needed for the game and making sure it’s properly tested. (unlike certain writers producing railroaded stories that obviously never faced the pokings of players before publication. ) Even the company name itself is a reference to in-game events, as Malhavoc was originally an evil elf wizard who betrayed the rest of his party and sold them into slavery, which sets the tone for his sardonic asides and personal creations in the books. Much of this info is repeated from other times they’ve talked about him and his books over the years, but that just goes to show what a long-running and influential writer he is in the world of RPG’s, still producing interesting new stuff even now. I very much doubt this is the last we’ll hear from him in here, particularly when the full release of Ptolus approaches.



Genetech: We heard about genetech a few months ago, when it was supposed to be one of the example settings in the D20 Modern corebook. We still don’t get any explanation about why it was cut from there and is now appearing in here instead, going straight to the introductory fiction. You play animal hybrids (moreaus) and otherwise enhanced humans (franks) thrust into a world where they’re tools in the machinations of governments and big corporations, either carrying out missions or escaping and trying to forge their own path. As with their other settings, they’re skipping the angst of their modern day rivals and aiming straight at the action movie end of the spectrum rather than realistically looking at the existential and legal questions genetically engineered human/animal hybrids would pose. You can still roleplay that stuff if you want, but both the cited influences and the rules are firmly focussed on the action-adventure genre rather than having some kind of humanity or genetic degradation meter that incentivises certain behaviours and punishes others. Load those guns, cue up the awesome early 2000’s movie soundtrack on your ipod and don’t spend too long building your character, because the campaign probably won’t last that long anyway unless you add some other sources to the allowed options.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 8/10



Inside Genetech: Unlike most of the other minigames, the setting stuff comes before the crunch and is surprisingly long, giving us 6 pages of both real world history of medical experimentation and how the world of Genetech is in advance of our own. They’ve been successfully producing enhanced humans of various kinds since the 80’s, which means the first ones are just now reaching adulthood and being used openly as supersoldiers by not so ethical countries like Albania and Israel. The USA is mildly less xenophobic in this timeline, (did 9/11 happen here? They don’t say, but given development times at least some of the writing probably happened before then.) so they’ve banned human experimentation (at least publicly) and let Moreaus who can escape their handlers and reach the states claim asylum, but that doesn’t mean things are great for them there either, between general racism from many normal people, not being trusted because they might actually be spies rather than genuine escapees, crappy bureaucracy, organised crime and general ecological problems due to pollution. It’s all very cyberpunk, only with less cyber and more wetware than the average cyberpunk setting. So there’s several obvious campaign models in here, as well as obvious ways to transition between them in one campaign. Going from mission based adventures for the government or secret society that created you, to beating your own path as escapees, the on the run campaign arc, reaching somewhere safe(ish) and trying to integrate into free society, then quite possibly winding up being captured or recruited by another secret society and having to go back to the mission based format again because that’s the only way to make a living with your highly specialised skillset. (only hopefully with slightly better conditions and equipment) Between them, a decent GM should be able to keep things interesting for a nice long campaign, or at least as long as the quite fast 3e xp system allows. (and without any supernatural powers, at least your characters don’t become setting-breaking the way spellcasters can no matter how high level you get)
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 9/10



Characters: Continuing the inversion of previous minigame designs, there’s a mere 4 pages of new systems, as they’re assuming you’ve already read the D20 Modern corebook and hopefully Urban Arcana as well. All the previously listed types of Moreaus are allowed, plus Orca ones, which obviously gain an improved ability to hold their breath compared to regular people, plus blindsight from their sonar. Franks get stats, but their changes are relatively minor, merely adding +2 to one stat, -2 to one or two others, since they still think physical stats are more valuable than mental ones, plus low light vision for some of them. You might be able to squeeze a bit of minmaxing out of them, but the choice between one and a regular human will be mostly flavour. There are only two new prestige classes, both restricted to specific types of moreau by including race specific abilities in the prerequisites. Guerilla intruders, which take the blindsight of bats & dolphins and hone them further for nighttime special ops missions. And Patrol Pointers, which require Scent and make you extra good at spotting traps & close quarter firearms work. Most prestige classes are allowed, apart from anything with supernatural abilities, which means some Urban Arcana ones are partially permitted but capped at low levels before they push from the merely improbable to outright supernatural levels of skill. That leaves it as by far the lightest minigame yet, systemswise. I guess it wasn’t written as one in the first place, but it definitely sticks out put next to the past six issues.



Adventures: The adventures section is also crunch light and surprisingly long, filling another 10 pages with advice and adventure outlines. First up another reminder that this is supposed to be a techno-thriller, so keep things moving and don’t forget the thrills or the technology. Second, a three part starting campaign arc where the PC’s start off as subjects at a top secret military base, escape, try to make their lives in the city, then their previous owners come calling with a full special forces team that they have to defeat or evade. Fortunately, since the whole organisation isn’t supposed to exist, raising a public enough stink about what’s going on might be enough to get them off your back, or you can kill them in self defence without getting in the same kind of immediate escalating trouble you would if they were regular police. Don’t expect that to be the end of the matter, but at least by this point you’ll be mid level and a little more able to determine your own path. Then there’s a couple of smaller standalone adventure ideas. A sabotage mission in Turkmenistan. A city being held hostage by racists who say they’ll detonate the bombs if the USA doesn’t deport all the moreaus. While not enough to build a whole campaign, it is enough examples to work with and actually more material than this would have got as one of the example settings in the corebook. I guess there are some advantages to being cut material that’s then released standalone and given Dungeon’s circulation, there might actually be more people reading this than bought D20 Modern. I know the magazines do better than many D&D supplements, after all.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 96/155: Jan/Feb 2003



part 10/10



PX Poker Night: The minigame has only been half the size of the previous ones, which means they have the room to squeeze in another full adventure. Delta Green is among the many games that have wasted no time in putting out a D20 edition and here’s an introductory adventure for it, although not a new one as it’s converted from the previous edition. (and doing some googling, will be converted and rereleased again in 2020 for the Gumshoe system edition as well. ) The PC’s play a bunch of air force misfits who find their nightly gambling intruded on by some not-so fun guys from Yuggoth. First up, a mysterious van will arrive on the base. They’ll be ordered to stay well away from it and not to investigate it under any circumstances, which may well be enough to get players going on it’s own. Unfortunately, the van contains a Majestic-12 experimental weapon designed to mess with flying saucer navigation systems and make them crash. While it does do this, it also messes with human minds, temporarily depleting the SAN points of everyone on the base. (although the NPC’s will be affected worse than the PC’s) They’ll have to deal with several hours of everyone becoming increasingly erratic and experiencing hallucinations themselves before having to deal with some very real weirdness. A spaceship will crash, and the grey aliens inside will ask the PC’s for help. Meanwhile a Dimensional Shambler will be attracted to the base and start stealthily picking people off one by one. How will they react and which will they prioritise? If they survive the night, they’ll be in a perfect position to be recruited into DG in the future. So this is a single session tournament adventure with pregens, but thankfully not a railroaded one. It manages to mix up it’s humorous and horrifying moments competently and give the PC’s plenty of room to solve the problems in different ways. One I’d still use with caution due to all the mindfuckery, but much better than the D&D and Alternity introductory adventures we saw in recent years. After all, in CoC there’s much less expectation that everyone will make it through the adventure alive, and half the fun is in just what strange ways you’ll die or go insane. You can afford to write intro adventures that are a little less hand-holding under those conditions.



Godlike tells the story of Vogel, who couldn’t be hit by ranged attacks, but managed to kill himself in a car crash several months after the war ended. Letting your guard down to party when you think you’ve won is a basic mistake both good guys and bad guys can make.



For the first time since the merger, the Dungeon side is more interesting than the polyhedron one, with both very good and very bad adventures, while the minigame feels small and mechanically bland compared to previous ones. Are they already running out of ideas for other genres you can do with D20? Let’s see what the next pair of conjoined issues will bring us, and if its ideas turn out to be malformed abominations that should never have been allowed to be born.
 

Richards

Legend
I remember laughing at all of the things they got wrong in "PX Poker Night," like an Air Force Base even having a PX ("PX" stands for "Post Exchange" - the Air Force has bases, not posts, and thus they have a BX, or Base Exchange) in the first place, and there being NPC stats for an "Air Force Corporal" ("Corporal" is not an enlisted rank in the Air Force). It was fairly certain the author had a rather poor understanding of the Air Force and hadn't done much in the way of basic research.

Johnathan
 


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