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 97/156: Mar/Apr 2003



part 10/10



Campaigns: After the rules stuff has been laser-focussed on creating a specific mood, the campaign advice is surprisingly broad and shallow, giving us lots of different ideas in relatively little detail. There’s the basic grunt campaign, where you follow orders and life is cheap, but many players may chafe at that kind of treatment. There’s the special ops game, which the players may graduate to naturally anyway if they survive a while and gain levels. If you want a little more freedom, albeit at the cost of fewer resources you can play a resistance fighter behind enemy lines, hiding up in the hills as guerrilla partisans or engaging in subtle sabotage and smuggling while keeping up the day job in occupied territory. If you want things to be even more desperate than normal, you can play a penal battalion, taken out from your sentence, given crap equipment and sent on suicide missions. If you can survive a few of these you might get a bit more freedom and respect, but don’t count on it. An even further step is playing in a Kampfgruppe, the increasingly ad hoc battalions put together by Germany as they ran out of resources and lost territory near the end of the war. Will you engage to the kind of atrocities they did in real life, knowing that it’s all meaningless and imaginary in the end so why not go wild? Whatever kind of campaign structure you choose, you’ll still probably find yourself doing the same basic classes of missions. Patrols, assaults, rescues, sieges, establishing bridgeholds. Whichever side you’re on, you’ll also probably find it best to create multiple characters and rotate them out when they get injured so they can heal in a realistic timeframe, rather than getting attached to one and pressing on with them until they die. All in all, it’s pretty solid advice, giving you plenty of options and making it clear how you carry them out. I can definitely return a positive verdict overall on this particular minigame.



Having spent much of the issue in WWII, Godlike goes back a little further to talk about the first publicly known superhuman. Der Flieger unsurprisingly had the power of flight, and made a spectacular introduction to the world by lighting the 1936 olympic torch. What he later did in the war is not disclosed here, but as a symbol, he will forever be important in their alternate history.



They may have dropped some big announcements in here, but the adventures themselves are mostly just business as usual, with even the start of the adventure path not feeling that different from any old regular adventure so far. All quite usable, but nothing particularly surprising. Time to see if the increased amount of content once they go monthly will let them release more quirky and experimental things and cater to an even wider audience, or merely more of the same, but with a lower average level of quality.
 

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(un)reason

Legend
Another partial success. Got one enthusiastic player who signed up early and had a clear concept for their character, then nothing until right before the game. 4 people dropped in during the time the pickup game function was active, 2 of which vanished shortly after, while the other 2 are still signed up but haven't completed characters. Looks like this is another case where I keep on trying to recruit for another week, see if we can finish rolling characters and actually get to play or not.
 

(un)reason

Legend
More incremental progress with one more player managing to complete a character, but also a load of people with zero hours played signing up, but then never actually interacting. The two people who have completed characters did do a nice bit of in character interactions in boot camp though, which is encouraging. Once again it's enough to string things out for another week, see if there are any more recruits out there and I can actually hit critical mass on this one.
 

(un)reason

Legend
And yet again, we have an ambiguous result. Final tally this time, 5 people with zero hours who joined but never engaged, two who did come into the chat briefly, one with a few hours play who actually talked for a bit and downloaded the rules. Maybe they'll have made a character by next week, maybe they won't. Either way, it looks like I'm stringing this out for another week. This is becoming increasingly weird compared to the previous attempts.
 

(un)reason

Legend
And we've well and truly lost any momentum. None of the previous people who joined showed up, and the only new ones were two more users with zero hours played who never engaged and something called Hashco which just rolled 99999d100 a few times to glitch the system and then left. Still not sure if that was just trolling for the lulz or had some other hacking-related purpose that might have unpleasant long-term consequences. Either way, this one's a wash. Looks like it's time to start moving forwards again.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 98/157: May 2003



part 1/8



90 (100) pages. Hello, my eyes are up here. Proper loincloth maintenance is important if you’re planning on getting into a fight, unless you think the distraction value will outweigh the vulnerability. Or maybe she’s using magical armor like Alias to enjoy the best of both worlds. But I won’t get distracted from the imminent peril. Time to open another issue and see how much slower the months go by now I need to deal with each of them separately.



Editorial: Over the years, the Paizo adventure paths will develop a reputation for … working best with highly optimised characters, to put it politely. They’re all experts and if you’re not, you’ll find many of the fights they design tough going. On the plus side, that does mean if you put in a few extra side quests and they’re slightly overleveled it still won’t be a cakewalk when they get back to following the main plot, which’ll let the campaign run for longer. But that requires knowing about these tendencies in advance and preparing for them. If you don’t you may find yourself facing multiple party deaths or even a TPK. Which unsurprisingly is the topic of the editorial, telling us how their party handled the start of the shackled city, with many of them dying and Chris having to figure out how to introduce replacement characters and get the group back into the action. This is then used as an attempt to spark debate, asking you, the readers how you’ve handled situations like that in the past. Did you fudge the dice, make it easy for them to pick up the bodies and get resurrections after the fact, or force them to roll up new characters? Or just give up on the quest altogether and go try something a little less formidable looking. It’s important to learn how to deal with failure as well as success and at least in an RPG you have a little more leeway to learn from your mistakes. This is all pretty familiar stuff, with only the fact that they’re doing longer-running campaigns now changing the nature of the equation. More continuity means more headaches when characters die and you have to introduce new ones who don’t share in their history and motivations. Oh well, there’s always the old canard of a previously unmentioned relative here to avenge their fallen family. Then the emotional investment just gets stronger the more of them you lose. :p



Letters gets renamed to Prison Mail, showing that this issue has more shakeups in store beyond the basic switch to monthly. A very suitable name since their stock in trade is supposed to be dungeons.

First letter is somewhat irritated by the decline in number of adventures per issue lately and also by Hollow Threats in particular. That problem is going to get much worse now the issues have returned to regular size, but are still having to share with Polyhedron.

Second is the contrasting one, not entirely sure where they’re going with this adventure path idea, but excited by what they’ve seen so far and willing to trust that they know what they’re doing, given their previous record of high quality material.

Third suggests rewarding players for journaling and other ways of keeping track of what happened between sessions. Even small amounts of XP can really increase their willingness to invest in their characters. Given how the 3e xp system works it’s not as if the lazier players will wind up more than a level behind either.

Fourth is in favour of them getting vile and dark every now and then. It’s important not to be swayed by a loud minority pretending to be the moral majority.

Fifth also thinks a bit of darkness is good as long as you expose kids to it in a controlled way. Better they learn about drugs and sex like that instead of stumbling across it at random on the internet, where they’re much more likely to come to the wrong conclusions about it.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 98/157: May 2003



part 2/8



Side Treks - Gluttony: J. Bradley Schell has another vaguely vice themed adventure for us. A cleric of Wee Jas has formed an alliance with a group of Rasts. He provides intel on good targets and buffs, watches their backs while they feed and in return gets the bloodless bodies they leave behind to animate as zombies. Win-win. The fact that bloodless bodies that later rise as undead is more associated with vampires also means heroes trying to stop the problem may well prepare the wrong equipment and be caught off guard. So you get to wander around several farms, dealing with not just human zombies, but also zombie sheep, cows, pigs, etc, plus some living wolves just for variety. Eventually you’ll find the Rast lair, which will be a somewhat tougher fight. (but still less so than vampires) Slightly longer than the average side trek, but still probably won’t fill a whole session, this is another competent but unexceptional starter who’s main selling point is combining monsters you might not think to put together yourself. I guess they have been doing articles on that in Dragon as well so it’s on their minds lately.



Nodwick is snatched by the Rasts while the rest of the group isn’t looking, making their speculation about the culprits wander even further into conspiracy theory nonsense.



Side Treks - Wings, Spikes, and Teeth: We have a second side trek in a row following exactly the same formula, although this one does have the potential for slightly more interesting roleplaying. An ageing manticore lost control of his pride and decided better to be a big fish in a small pond than completely alone, so he took over a pride of regular lions. They’re not that happy about this, particularly the former dominant male who’s now being used as a whipping boy, but what can you do? It’s his job to lead you guys into an ambush, which he’ll do reluctantly. However, if any of the PC’s can talk to the animals and think to do so it won’t be that hard to get him to explain the situation, giving you a chance to turn the tables. Of course if you don’t it’s just another straightforward wandering monster encounter, but it’s nice that they put that backstory depth in there and give you the chance to use your powers creatively to resolve this with fewer deaths. Slightly higher marks than the previous side trek, but still in the competent but unexceptional level that doesn’t leave me with much to say overall.
 

Just wanted to say I really appreciate this thread. I'd been a fairly regular Dungeon reader in the earlier days of the magazine, but the entire Paizo run was pretty much a mystery to me so having a retrospective deep dive into what I missed is nice. My main DM at the time was relying heavily on Dungeon material so we were discouraged from purchasing it, and once I fell out of the habit I never resumed.

I do recognize both those side quests from his campaign - and we did talk to the lion in our run-through, without which it would have been a pretty "meh" encounter instead of something that had some modest campaign impact for years to come. I don't know if it was in a later Dungeon or improv, but we wound up more-or-less befriending the pride and eventually negotiating an agreement with the local ruler to preserve their hunting territory and leave them in peace in exchange for them keeping an eye on the nearby frontier and alerting his ranger corps of any shenanigans that cropped up. One of the royal rangers even "adopted" the pride leader when he got displaced by a younger male (as happens) and made sure he had a decent retirement, which might have become a tradition if the campaign had continued long enough.

The fact that it also gave us a reliable smuggling/escape route in and out of the kingdom was purely a coincidental benefit... :)
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 98/157: May 2003



part 3/8



Flood Season: The second part of the adventure path isn’t a record-breaker like the first one, “merely” sitting comfortably in the top ten at 36 pages long. Like the previous one, it has a linear sequence of chapters, but each has a larger map than most standalone adventures and gives you fairly free rein to explore it by multiple routes. It’s been a little while since the last adventure and winter is setting in. This means they need wands of control water to make sure the central lake of Cauldron doesn’t flood. Unfortunately, there have been several mild winters and the churches have become slack on manufacturing new ones. Wouldn’t it be terrible if someone hijacked the main delivery and held the city to ransom! Which is exactly what happens. The PC’s are going about their day when they get an urgent message from the cleric of St Cuthbert they helped in the previous adventure. The high priest is in serious trouble. He managed to get a Sending out revealing his last location, but he’s in trouble and every minute could count. The PC’s need to get to the Lucky Monkey Tavern several miles away ASAP.

Unfortunately, you’re still too low level for teleportation magic, so by the time they’ve found you, you’ve got your gear together and got there, it will be at least several hours later and the fight is already over. The bandits have ransacked the inn and barricaded themselves in. On the plus side, they’ve helped themselves to the booze and are now mostly rather drunk, making them slightly easier targets than otherwise, but it’s still a big inn and there’s lots of bandits, including their werebaboon leader and some regular baboon minions, so there’s plenty of challenge and lots of little bits you could find or miss, including the sole survivor of the raid. The wands have been taken, but if you look carefully or leave some of your enemies alive and interrogate them you’ll find clues to the next part of the adventure. If not, you’ll get hints from a sketchy informant when you get back to town anyway to keep you on the rails. Either way, you’ll wind up at the second site-based challenge, some partly flooded ruins underneath the city that were once home to Kopru. Now there’s an interesting old school reference to draw upon. There’s only one of those left, scheming in the waters to take the place back, but the selection of other monsters is both tougher and more varied than the previous section. The wands aren’t all in the same place, so you’ll need to thoroughly explore the dungeon to get enough back to completely avoid any flooding damage to the town. Once again that gives you a decent amount of degrees of success or failure short of dying, which will make a difference in the state of the town and how positively the NPC’s view you, although it probably won’t make a difference to whatever adventure comes next. You may still wind up in the same place at the end of all these adventures but at least you have some freedom in how you get there.
 

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