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 99/158: June 2003



part 6/8



That Thing You Do: The skills section is considerably more interesting than usual, both in what they include and what they very intentionally leave out. Forgery, Repair, Wilderness Lore and Sense Motive exist in setting, but aren’t class skills for any of the musician classes because you aren’t supposed to be any good at those, particularly the last one as the leads in these cartoons can never spot the obvious villain until they show up in a monster costume. Animal Empathy and Disguise are expanded on and considerably more useful than otherwise. Innuendo and Read Lips are actually really useful for communicating mid performance. H4XX0r obviously indicates your skill with computers. Plus there’s another new skill called Scram, which is a class skill for all classes, that determines how effective you are in those comedic chase scenes. The decisions about which skills are in or out of class for which classes seem pretty arbitrary though, chosen more for comedic reasons than conforming to real life musician stereotypes. They could stand to be tweaked a bit if you want more accuracy.



Feats Don't Fail Me Now!: You already used that joke back in issue 144. What is this, a covers band? Unusually, the feats section is less interesting than the skills one. There’s a lot of feats that are just regular D&D combat ones given new names appropriate to the context. On the plus side they’re no longer filling space with big lists of +2 to two skill feats. The ones that are interesting and not just a straight refluff include one for Harmonica playing, which apparently doesn’t merit a full class specialising in it but is pretty useful as a secondary instrument. Pedal Air, which means spending a round running in place before moving actually gives you an advantage in those wacky chase scenes. Pet and its upgrade feat, which functions quite differently from D&D familiars. And nine archetype feats, each of which gives you a particular skill permanently in-class and some other minor benefit, although since this is based on 70’s cartoons, one of these is unfortunately “The Ethnic One”. Such are the perils of being accurate to the source material and you’ll have to decide how to deal with that in your own game.
 

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(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 99/158: June 2003



part 7/8



Getting in Gear: The amount of money different classes get at the start varies quite dramatically, although as it’s based on how expensive their instruments are they’ll probably wind up with similar amounts left over at the end. The quality of gear you have does make a difference, but as in reality, not as much as your skill, with moving up a category costing several orders of magnitude more for maybe one or two more points of vibe damage or a slight increase in range. The different types of gear do handle quite differently though, particularly once you start adding on accessories like guitar pedals, vocoders, horn mutes, etc. Remember to wear your earplugs, they’re cheap and don’t use up an item slot but boost your defensive capability quite a bit by effectively giving you Cover. Awesome threads also boost your defence, but limit the amount of wis bonus you can add and tend to get ruined in action scenes, so make sure you take them off when you’re not onstage or it’ll cost you to replace them repeatedly. Even in this short page count, they’re packing in a fair bit of difference between an optimised character and one playing a beaten-up second hand instrument and making each class feel unique. This is actually turning out really fun to read.



Rock the House: This is essentially the combat system, although as they said before, you won’t be getting into any real fights here. While you may be moving about onstage, that’s not important to the rules. You need to move your focus amongst the audience, trying to wear down their cool points to convert them to being fans of the band. Meanwhile they’ll be sending bad vibes back, some active ones like those from a rival band and some passive ones like an audience member who isn’t paying attention and just talks through the whole set. There are 5 different types of bad vibes, and like D&D damage, some classes get powers that make them better at resisting one kind or another. If your cool points hit 0 you stop playing and need pepping up by your bandmates pronto, because if you hit -10 you’ll quit the music business for good. Movement, flanking, stealth all get their own tweaks to fit the situation, but work similarly enough that it shouldn’t throw experienced D&D players off. One change that is pretty significant is that you generally have a fixed set length, with each song being 3 rounds (minutes) long and you getting 4 songs to a set (you’re only a small band, after all) after which it’s over even if you haven’t managed to win all the audience’s hearts yet. This isn’t a hard and fast rule though, so if you want to get into progressive rock as the campaign goes on and your characters get more skilled it’s easy to change this.

More divergent from the standard D&D rules is the eponymous Hijinx system, which is pure Hanna-Barbera. While you may sometimes encounter hostile people or creatures outside a musical context, direct fighting is simply not a thing you can do. (unfortunately for any wannabe Scrappy Doos) Instead, you go into a chase scene, with one side or the other losing cool points depending on how the rolls go until the PC’s escape or wear down their chaser enough to set a trap and turn them over to the authorities, or get knocked out and imprisoned themselves. In the middle they can take breaks to hide or quickly adopt disguises to temporarily confuse the pursuers, giving you several different tactical options that key off different skills so it once again isn’t just rolling the same dice over and over until the DM or players win. It’s one of the silliest things they’ve done in here in a long time, but still looks a lot more playable than most of the old april fool gag articles. If you have players who are willing to commit to the genre conventions it does actually look like a really fun change of pace from killing things and taking their stuff.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Dungeon/Polyhedron Issue 99/158: June 2003



part 8/8



Global Positioning interrupts the flow of the minigame with a downtown nightclub, which is at least appropriate, but the art style is just Christopher Wests standard one rather than adapting to the surroundings, breaking my sense of immersion a little.



For Those About to Rock: This section mixes up roleplaying advice with rules variants. Like most of these minigames, don’t go into it expecting a long term highly detailed campaign with lots of worldbuilding. Don’t bore us, get to the chorus. Introduce the villains quickly, make it fairly obvious OOC who they are even if the PC’s remain oblivious, wrap everything up neatly by the end of the session. Nonmusician NPC’s use simplified stats with a single generic class. Without standard combat, your skills become much more important as a way to solve challenges so don’t forget about them. If things do last a bit longer, there are a bunch of ways you can shake up the format, adding special powers to the adversaries and increasingly complex environmental modifiers to the venues. In a different timeline, you can see how this could support a whole bunch of supplements analogous to D&D ones introducing new monsters, classes and locations. But as in reality I’ll be lucky to make this a one session wonder, I think that’s more than enough material to work with.



Pre-Fab Villains and Goons: There’s a decent mix of adversaries for the battle of the bands sections and the investigative hijinx ones here. A level 1 punk band, because if they get any better at playing they’ll soon stop being punk and we can’t be having that. A level 4 all female prog rock band (a very rare combination indeed in reality) for when you need a more lengthy challenge. Generic Goons to menace your characters in level 1, 3, 6 & 9 varieties so they’re always going to be a nuisance. Robot Goons, which are tougher and faster than the human kind but susceptible to logic paradoxes and water exposure. The slimy svengali trying to get the PC’s to sign contracts that’ll trap them in a terrible record deal. The middle eastern vizier scheming to overthrow his caliph and take over the country. Dr Roboticus, a mad genius trying to hypnotise everyone with his manufactured synth-pop and TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!! And on the other end of the villain spectrum, Herr Showpenhower, the classical music purist who wants to eliminate pop for good and is willing to waste his zillions on increasingly implausible schemes while never getting his own hands dirty. Finally, the Swamp Ghost, which might or might not be any of the other villains wearing a very convincing costume and will try to scare away anyone entering its swamp. If the campaign takes you over 10th level, you’ll have to come up with more powerful adversaries, but what are the odds of that? All-in-all a pretty satisfying end to an interesting idea, decently implemented, that feels neither too short to do it justice, or so long that the joke stops being funny.



Downer continues to have a playfully friendly relationship with people who are trying to kill him and a much less pleasant one with the people he’s supposedly working with.



With an excellent Polyhedron side, and a Dungeon one that’s not quite as good, but still way better than last issue, this issue comes out pretty satisfying overall, mixing up long and short features without either dominating and overstaying their welcome. Next issue is of course the big one oh oh. Let’s find out what special celebrations they’ve come up with for that and if it’ll match up to Dragon’s centenaries.
 


(un)reason

Legend
Well, that went way better than any previous attempts. 6 people signed up well before the session and managed to divide up band roles in a fairly sensible way. One more turned up on the night, along with two of the now predictable zero hour bots who didn't actually engage, for a starting total of 7. However, the drummer didn't actually show for the session itself (already feeding into common musician stereotypes) and the bassist quit after the first one, leaving us with 2 vocalists, a guitarist, a keyboardist and a DJ. This band may wind up rather more electronic than expected. We spent most of the first session on character creation and introductions, which I then rudely interrupted by having the example band Criminal Tendencies smack talk them and challenge them to a duel. This led to a bit more roleplaying as they investigated their antagonists and found out that lead singer Jack Spasm is not nearly as punk as he pretends to be and is getting good grades at college, which they promptly incorporated into a diss track. Things ground to a halt just as we reached the first combat itself, where my inexperience with the roll20 interface once again became an issue, as I struggled to lay out enemy tokens and tie initiative rolls to individual ones. So I need to do some serious swotting up and make sure I'm ready for action next week and hope that enough of them will come back to run a second session. Fingers crossed.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Painfully close. Two of the players from last week turned up, but the other three didn't. They hung around for about an hour before leaving when it became obvious that we weren't getting a quorum this time. Meanwhile, another 4 pickup players with 0 hours played joined, only two of which engaged briefly before disappearing again. I'm going to give it another chance next week, but this kind of dropoff after a strong start is particularly frustrating.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Another turnaround that eventually wound up as a good session. 4 of the first week's players showed up, plus two new people. After a strong start, Criminal Tendencies soon started to fall behind against the numerical superiority of the players, particularly when the new DJ sampled the guitarist's solo to deliver two massive blows in quick succession. I strongly suspect we'll be seeing that combo again. Mike was reduced below -10 and quit the band, while the others were down but not out and reluctantly left swearing revenge. There was still quite a bit of faffing around trying to explain the nuances of the system to the new players, and some annoying bits where roll20 works differently depending on if you're on PC or Mac, but we definitely got more done than last time. At the end, I let them advance to 2nd level, because I want to keep this moving quickly and D&D's low level fragility is still definitely an issue here despite all the other things that have changed. Hopefully they'll be back again next week.
 

(un)reason

Legend
Mixed results again, but in a positive direction overall. 2 more people sent messages asking to join between sessions but not following through when it came to character creation. But thankfully 5 of the established players showed up so the session still went ahead. After finishing their first rehearsal, our band decided to hit the nearest open mic night. This allowed me to bring out the full spectrum of low level antagonists. The bored punters who talk loudly through the music. The impatient other musician who just wants to get to their turn. The heckler who picks up on every fluffed note. The annoying guy who jams along on harmonica to everything ... badly. The jaded sound guy who's seen it all before. Initially it seemed like they might be demoralised by this reception, but the mooks had few cool points and once a few of them were converted, the action economy soon tipped in the players favour, allowing them to gang up on the significant NPC's and use their guitar solo/sample combo to finish them off.

After the fight, they talked to their new fans, sold some merch and found out that the famous Dr Roboticus would be playing in their home city in a few weeks time. Apparently one of the support bands had dropped out and the sound guy thought he could make a call to get them the slot. The one man band busker was suspicious about this, not being a fan of that new-fangled electronica stuff, but nearly everyone else they talked too was, which made them suspicious as well. This intensified when they rolled well on their investigation and found that all the online reviewers were using suspiciously similar wording in their reviews. They decided to take the gig, but poke around to find out what was going on while there.

When they got to the arena, they easily got through security, but Roboticus himself was nowhere to be seen, leaving all the setting up to the suspiciously stiff looking roadies and his chief minion, Nurse Scratchit. Despite their attempts at being unobtrusive she easily spotted them and ordered them out until it was their time to soundcheck. No level of high intimidation roll can deter a PC, of course, and they decided to go around her to investigate backstage. She ordered two of the goons to chase them, which is where the session stalled, because the chase rules assume only one chaser and don't spell out what happens if there are more than one working together. Do they aid each other, or get in each other's way in a similar manner to the people being chased. Looks like I'll have to figure out how to houserule that by next week. And also figure out some more of the time-saving features of roll20, as the most experienced player in particular (12,000+ hours logged) grew very impatient with my struggles to manually change the scenes, scale the maps to the grid and set out all the new tokens instead of having that prepared beforehand. (in a tab I hadn't even noticed until he pointed it out.) It would be depressing to lose players for a basic reason like that.
 

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