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TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 51: January 1990



part 5/5



The Living Galaxy: The living city columns have been doing pretty well for themselves for several years. Now they're going to see if the fanbase is there to support a similar sci-fi setting. No word on what it'll be like yet, or even what system it'll use, but it took a good 2 years go from the basic idea to the fully laid out Raven's Bluff so that's not too surprising. In the meantime, Roger Moore kicks things off with a rather long column about one of the big differences between sci-fi and fantasy settings. Search Engines! You don't have to read everything yourself, you can just input a word or phrase into the computer and pull up all the instances of it from millions of pages of information. Ironically, this is one of those cases where real world advancement over the past 30 years has outstripped the imagination of sci-fi writers. Google and the internet have made general knowledge available on a scale, update speed and efficiency that's completely changed how the world functions. There are still limitations, but not many of the ones given here to keep having access to all this knowledge from solving all your problems. Instead, they've been replaced by a vast excess of false positives, adverts slowing everything down and social media that tries to maximise engagement and distract from ever leaving the virtual world to go out and accomplish things. It's not what most people thought the future would be like. So this is interesting, but also very dated and most of the plot ideas here would need retooling to be credible to a modern audience. Can't be having our sci-fi less technologically advanced than the real world, can we?



Spy School: The Top Secret article this issue is very 80's cartoon indeed, providing Orion members with a sample school where they can gain new skills between missions that leans right into all the spy stereotypes. You can only get there by flying in a plane without windows so they have no idea where in the world you are. All the teachers are given no names, only titles, and are obvious stereotypes. The shouty drill sergeant who does heavy weapons. The inscrutable japanese martial arts teacher. The over-the-top Oirish one who's all four-leafed-clovers and whiskey. The cool dude driving instructor who's, like, totally bodacious and radical, maan at all times. The mechanic who's literally a human version of Gadget from Rescue Rangers. It's all very cringy & uninspired and also moderately racist. Once again this is stuff that really hasn't aged well, albeit for different reasons. Another thing the internet has done is made it so much easier to talk to people around the world, and see that while they might be different in some ways, they're more complex and nuanced ones than the old stereotypes. We can get more information, faster and easier, and the things we create in response reflect that. Like many of the more obscure 80's cartoons, this article really does not deserve rebooting for the modern era.



Bloodmoose & Company find a secret trap door that leads them to some zombies. Hopefully they'll be guarding treasure and it's not just a dead end.



With a beginning stuffed with low-content promotion, a middle filled with distinctly unfunny humour, and an end that dives right into casual racism, this issue manages an impressive trifecta of badness, making it one of the most all-round awful issues in this entire series. It's interesting and noteworthy for all the wrong reasons, and even the bits that would have been useful for a group back then have aged unusually poorly in multiple ways. Definitely not a good way to start a new decade. One to move swiftly onwards from and hope the next one is better. Although given that it's humour season again, I'm not optimistic. If they'll put this much goofiness in a regular issue, imagine what they have planned for April Fools. :shudders:
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 21: Jan/Feb 1990



part 1/5



68 pages. People wearing insect masks? Anthromorphic insects? What's going on here? Looks like they don't take kindly to outzzzziders, in any case. Let's find out what level the PC's will need to be to have a decent chance of getting through this one alive and well, maybe even with more treasure than they started off with, and whether it's more suited to hack and slash play, or using your brain and diplomatic skills.



Editorial: Barbara confronts a particularly irritating little problem. She's been head editor for a couple of years now, yet a substantial fraction of the mail is still directed towards Roger Moore. I'm in charge of this magazine now! What do I have to do to make you remember my name and respect my authoritah?! Turns out Roger has no helpful advice on this, as he still gets a fair chunk of letters addressed to Kim Mohan, even though he hasn't worked here at all for even longer. This illustrates just how many of their readers aren't really paying attention to the fine details of what they read, quite possibly made worse by casual sexism. I'll bet the questions they send in are ones that have already been answered repeatedly in the letters pages too. A perfect illustration of how casuals can be irritating to the hardcore members of a subculture and vice versa, especially when they jump to conclusions and don't acknowledge your expertise. The eternal conflict between needing to repeat the basics and wanting to push the upper limits of knowledge or accomplishment. Still, if you put the credits in a larger font and more prominent position, you could easily reduce this particular problem by a few orders of magnitude. Would it be so hard to shift the formatting around a bit and do that?



Letters: The first letter continues the backlash against tightly scripting everything out. Now, if only you were sending that message to Polyhedron as well, where the problem is far worse.

Second points out that the wizard in Irongard knows a spell that's too high level for him to cast. Just add it to the list of many ways Ed screwed up with that module. Get that man a stricter editor stat!

Third, someone complaining that the state of Massachusetts has suddenly decided to apply sales tax to the magazine due to classification changes. You might be able to appeal that, but don't bank on it.

4th is someone complaining that they haven't published enough Forgotten Realms modules. Trust me, in a few years time you'll have the exact opposite problem, when they wind up overtaking everything else put together. You don't know how good you have it, living in an era where multiple settings are supported approximately evenly.

The next two are people complaining that there's a missing reference in last issue's solo module. Wrong! You just weren't paying attention. The number is given with the item so you can't cheat, and only go to the right paragraph if you have it. It's a basic trick used in tons of choose your own adventure books. As with the editorial, this once again shows how unobservant the average person can be.

Finally, a bit of general praise, with the solo modules in particular getting singled out. They may test some people's reading skills, but enough appreciate them to accept some more.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 21: Jan/Feb 1990



part 2/5



The Cauldron of Plenty: Willie Walsh once again draws on his irish heritage for inspiration. A magical cauldron that can produce a full feast every night? That's going to be in far more demand by normal people than magic items who's only purpose is violence. Unsurprisingly, it's currently in the hands of a giant who won't give it up willingly. (and would be much more dangerous without the reliable supply of food it gives him) Equally unsurprisingly, the local king would rather like to get his hands on it. What make this scenario much more interesting though, is that it curses people who take it from it's current owner by violence, so the traditional adventurer method of killing them and taking their stuff is a really bad idea in this case. Either negotiating with him and offering something he'd like even more, or a heist are still entirely viable options though. Maybe you could do a little investigating and figure out what that something might be. With an antagonist who's not particularly villainous, and good guys who aren't particularly heroic, this is a demonstration of the effect that even innocuous seeming magic can have on realpolitik when it's useful but in limited supply, with a strong sprinkling of celtic flavour on top. It encourages roleplaying and cleverness over violence, while not railroading out that option entirely. A pretty strong start to the issue.



The statement of ownership this year shows they're no longer increasing in size, and like Dragon, have actually drifted down slightly, currently holding around 31 thousand. Tune in again next year to find out if the ratio remains consistent through the fall of TSR and the WOTC takeover, or they'll ever get closer to parity.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 21: Jan/Feb 1990



part 3/5



The Bane of Elfswood: Less than a tenth of the way through the magazine's run, and we've already had the highest level AD&D adventure they're ever going to publish. Now we also have the highest level Basic D&D adventure, just barely pushing into Companion set territory and covering levels 15-18. Considering they're supposed to go up to level 36, that leaves the entire second half still untouched. Of course, while humans have that potential, if you're playing a demihuman, you've long since hit the level cap and are only getting minor upgrades in equipment and fighting ability at this point. Which is a definite problem for this adventure, because as the name indicates, it's an elf-focussed one, and having at least one elf PC in the party is strongly recommended.

The PC's are approached by an elf who's family has been killed and turned into undead. Now they're wandering the forest where they used to live and gradually killing everything else off as well. Probably a good idea to deal with this sooner rather than later. So you get to do some serious overland exploring, finding both survivors (who may well wind up dead later if you're not smart) and clues as to what precipitated the disaster in the first place. As with Ancient Blood last issue, they enjoy playing up the spooky gothic nature of the environment, and the dark desires & jealousies of the original spirit that led it to persist beyond the grave. Given the level of the characters, most of the random encounters are mere speedbumps, but the final confrontation is both atmospheric and exceedingly deadly, reminding us just how nasty those Companion set undead are, with save or die on every attack, plus spell-like powers they can use intelligently. Of course, at that level, you can easily raise your fallen companions as long as the cleric survives, so losing a few of them in the fight isn't a disaster. Still, this illustrates how at that level, things get weird because you have lots of hit points and good saves, but enemies also have lots of powers that'll take you out if you fail a single save, turning fights into games of rocket tag and making large parties padded out with hirelings and support characters very important for long-term survival. (Which is where most villains, who are too arrogant to work with teams of equals mess up.) It's pretty interesting, but also shows why there are so few prefab adventures for adventurers of this level and up. If you don't have some kind of world-ending threat or overarching long term goal, wandering around, killing things and taking their stuff gets boring after a while, especially if you have enough wealth to live comfortably for the rest of your natural lifespan. You're either on an epic quest or have already settled down to domain play. Either way, you're dealing with large metaplot heavy adventures that don't really fit into a magazine like this. That's a problem they won't fix until they completely change the whole XP system and it becomes possible to create adventure paths taking a party all the way from 1-20th level following a single plot without distractions. We've got a lot to get through before we can talk about those. Better carry on grinding then.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 21: Jan/Feb 1990



part 4/5



Jammin': We had a co-ordinated tie-in with Dragon a few months ago. Now we have one with both Polyhedron, (as this adventure's default location is near Raven's Bluff, so anyone buying both will get more out of it) and Spelljammer. Jim Ward gives us an adventure designed as a bridge to get earthbound adventurers up into wildspace, explaining the basics of the setting to everyone who hasn't bought the core set yet. A spaceship has crashlanded recently, and the PC's either see it happen, or get hired to investigate by someone who did. It turns out to be a ghostship, crewed by customised skeletons and led by a spectre, who will obviously try and separate their spirits from their bodies & add both to the crew in a permanent capacity, (waste not want not) then use their magical items to get the ship flying again. If they win, they obviously have a spaceship to play with, although it's not the most well-equipped or efficient example, so they'll soon realise they're noobs in dire need of an upgrade after an adventure or two up there. Given Jim's usual tendencies towards monty haulism, this adventure is actually a model of restraint, taking care to point out the dangers and expenses of owning a spaceship, and give the GM plenty of outs if they want to make it just another adventure rather than something that'll completely change the entire campaign. It fills the adventure with flavour bits and hints that will become significant later on if they do head for the stars, so it works well as an introduction to the themes of Spelljammer as well as the rules. It makes for a pretty interesting change of pace, even if it is obviously a thinly veiled advert encouraging you to collect all their settings. The big question is if they'll do enough spacebound adventures to sustain a campaign, or it'll suffer the usual fate of niche markets despite offering more room than every other terrain put together, forcing DM's to make it up themselves if they want to keep a game going? Yeah, you already know the answer to that. :( Back to regular pseudo-medieval fantasy we go then.



Incident at Strathern Point: As usual, we have a short adventure in amongst the longer ones that probably won't last you a full session, but is handy to keep players busy while travelling between bigger plots and makes sure the page count lines up neatly. The PC's come across a recently abandoned trading station, and need to clear the monsters out to get the proper exchange of money for goods and services moving again. They're not just facing a bunch of generic humanoids though, but monsters from the Abyss, led by a man who was banished there and returned, forever changed. Once again, they're going for the gothic melodrama of gradually revealing the monster and their tragic backstory, albeit on a smaller scale than the last few. It's fairly interesting, although it is a good reminder that Hordlings are one of the worst named monsters ever, as their extreme variation makes it difficult to actually use them in hordes and retain said variety, since you have to pregenerate every single one individually. It's reasonably flexible in use, and can be expanded out into a bigger plot if the PC's ignore the initial hook or run away. I can definitely see myself throwing it into a campaign.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 21: Jan/Feb 1990



part 5/5



The Chest of the Aloeids: Oh no. It's a time travel adventure. Those rarely turn out well, as they're either predestination railroads or the number of options for ways to change history rapidly outpaces the writer's ability to catalogue them. Eris has decided to mess with the timestream in an attempt to prevent Hermes from ever becoming a full god and joining the Greek pantheon. Athena picks up on the problem, but wanting to be subtle, sends the PC's back in time to stop this rather than acting directly. This turns into a romp through various classical references, with all the predictable monsters like centaurs, minotaurs and harpies making appearances, plus some previously unstatted ones like the Stymphalian birds and the titular Aloeid giants. Get distracted by the satyrs of Silenius, answer the riddle of the Sphinx (easy in hindsight), learn how to properly harvest Moly to make a potion that'll cure magical transformations. It does make this adventure feel much more significant than the majority of ones in here, and there's some definite opportunities for interesting roleplaying with such big, well-known NPC's. Of course, the greek gods are also well known for their pettiness and vindictiveness, and making the wrong choices will result in you getting arbitrarily squashed, cursed, or otherwise screwed over without a saving throw or chance to resist. So this is more irritating, obviously derivative and linear than most of the adventures in here, but not as bad as the two multi-part Polyhedron adventures that also involved godly meddling and prophecy/time travel, as it gives you all the information in one go, and at least offers multiple overland routes and interaction options. It's my least favourite of the ones in this issue, but still just about in the salvageable range rather than ones that make me want to throw the magazine at the wall in annoyance.



With adventures that take you up into space, back in time, and aimed at rather higher average levels than usual, this issue does push at their limits in an interesting way. Not all of them are successful, especially with the knowledge in hindsight that they'll never publish another adventure even this high a level for the rest of the edition, but at least they're trying to involve the PC's in bigger events that could make real changes to the campaign long-term instead of expecting them to wander aimlessly from one dungeon crawl to the next. Let's see if next issue continues that trend, or it'll be right back to the basics again to make sure they don't scare off the newbies.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 52: March 1990



part 1/5



32 pages. Riding a wolf while blowing a horn with a skull on the end? That's definitely worthy of going on a heavy metal album cover. Preferably coloured in, but budgetary limitations will always be with us. Let's see if they'll manage to produce interesting material inside despite their small size and budget this time around.



Notes From HQ: Just like their sister magazines, Polyhedron has to deal with it's share of people who don't pay attention and write in wondering who's in charge, or addressing it to people who have long since moved on. It's right there next to the page of contents every issue! Are you blind or something?! A reminder that they're all working in the same offices, and what affects one affects all of them, so certain topics are going to pop up repeatedly in quick succession. They also once again have to repeat their criteria for articles, and that there's a membership drive currently on. Please participate! Let's hope people are paying attention to those at least, and they won't have to repeat themselves again on these topics for a while, because this repetition definitely grows boring for me.



Letters: The first letter is the usual mix of praise and criticism. Nice dingbats. Shame there aren't more variety of them. Are they Mac? Why yes, as it turns out. You do have a keen eye for typography.

The other one is an unexpected dose of reality, asking them to officially sponsor the Red Cross this Gen Con. Unfortunately they're already locked in to another charity providing hearing dogs for deaf people this year, but don't let that stop you from donating as individuals to whatever charity you choose. Every little helps, but do your research and choose wisely, as some places provide a lot more actual help for your buck than others.



Bookwyrms: Wait, isn't this a Dragon column? :checks: Ah, not until 1996, which means Polyhedron had it first. I guess the pun was just so good that they couldn't resist promoting it to the magazine with a larger audience. The topic is also something that Dragon will do, but not until a few years later. An interview with R. A. Salvadore, currently just discovering that Drizzt is more popular than the main protagonist of his first trilogy, and shifting the focus of his next one accordingly. As he isn't yet one of their biggest cash cows, he still has the freedom to experiment with writing about other characters, and find time to actually game, which is the whole reason he got into this in the first place. Unsurprisingly given his creation of a dark-skinned protagonist, he's very much in favour of social justice stuff like racial equality, fighting religious oppression and standing up to bullies, and makes a point of this repeatedly throughout the interview. Hopefully what he writes can inspire a few other people to do the same. This is all surprisingly relevant to the modern day. The battle of heroism vs cynicism is eternal, as is having to argue that more diverse protagonists can sell to the suits even when you can point to multiple successful examples. Even if you win once, the next generation has to learn the same lessons all over again. The best you can hope for is to record and pass down your knowledge so they learn a little quicker.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 52: March 1990



part 2/5



No Dice: The module this issue is an ultra-meta one for Paranoia, putting your troubleshooters up against the forces of the Gamers, the newest secret society on the block. Pretending to be someone you're not? Recreating events from the past? Engaging in creativity?! Sounds like the sort of things commie mutant traitors would do. Your troubleshooters are ordered to deal with them. Hijinks ensue, packed with references to all sorts of roleplaying games. The transport is as unreliable as ever, most people's names are puns, and the "magic item" you recover from their bodies makes things much much worse, as it swaps people's minds to help them get into character more convincingly, giving you plenty of opportunity for chaotic roleplaying as you try to play each other's characters in quick succession. Your superiors then try to adjust this device to give citizens in general more pleasant, tractable personalities, and make alpha complex a better place. This, as usual, goes horribly wrong, turning everyone into pompous douchebag Roy G Biv, so you need to figure out how to keep your own personalities in the right body long enough to get near it and shut it down. Presuming things don't go completely off the rails or you run out of clones before getting through the adventure, which is very much a possibility. This is more linear than the average Dungeon adventure, but less than many of the D&D ones in here, and a lot funnier than Rick Reid's attempts at humour. The references actually have some intelligence to them instead of being just twee and tiresome, and the setting gives you enough room to try intelligent approaches. (even if many of them will backfire and kill you, or get other players to kill you for betraying the computer, because this is Paranoia, after all.) This has my approval as both variety and comedy. Making a comedy RPG adventure fun is all about getting the PC's to participate in the mayhem, not using them as the audience for your stand-up routine. That's the way to do it! (oh no it isn't) OH YES IT IS!!!!!



Riding Rules: Straight after the adventure for one less frequently played system, we have an even rarer one. Rolemaster never got a single article in Dragon, so like Palladium's TMNT, it's a very interesting turnup to find out there is one in Polyhedron. It's a very sharp contrast too, as Paranoia is very system light, and what rules there are are frequently broken in the name of comedy, while Rolemaster is very crunchy indeed. So here's a couple of pages of new riding manoeuvres, for more dramatic horsetop combats. Presuming you're good enough to pull them off reliably, of course, for fumbling them, having your horse trip on an imaginary molehill and both dying from a bad critical hit is a very real danger if you aren't. It is a rather lethal system, sometimes to the point of silliness. Interesting for the sake of variety, but not really that useful to anyone who doesn't play Rolemaster, due to the specificity of the rules. I guess that's a constant struggle when trying to maintain diversity of systems. You can please a few people a lot, or everyone a little bit. Which is more likely to keep them coming back and paying money for your material?
 

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