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TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


  • Total voters
    43

(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 Instead, they've been replaced by a vast excess of false positives, adverts slowing everything down and social media that tries to maximise engagement and distract from ever leaving the virtual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?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 52: March 1990



part 3/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger continues to talk about general worldbuilding in spacebound sci-fi games. If you're not careful, you can wind up with too many underdeveloped options, leaving the PC's wandering around the universe with no clear goal or attachments. Better to create a smaller number of inhabited planets with clear and distinct identities and relationships with each other to travel between. While you can use "planet of the hats" style stereotypes as a starting point, you should always add at least one twist to make sure it isn't a straight rip-off of a real world thing. This is all pretty general stuff, familiar from many other columns of advice over the years. The sample worlds are a pretty mixed bag, some cool, others boring. Not too bad, but aimed too low for me to gain any more XP from it.



Into the 25th Century: Ah yes, the multiple attempts by TSR to create a Buck Rogers RPG, even though the general public had little interest, because Lorraine :wolves howl, thunder rolls, organ music plays: was heir to the property. They gave it a hard push in Dragon 157, and it looks like Polyhedron isn't escaping promotional duties either. Mike Pondsmith was apparently a huge fan of Buck from childhood, and despite being just a freelancer, he got put in charge of the project straight away when he asked about it, which shows how little enthusiasm the actual TSR staff had for it. What he came up with was a surprisingly dark and hard sci-fi setting that sticks to the solar system rather than embracing all the pulp ridiculousness (and making the main villains nazi analogues rather than chinese ones, because anti-racism.) of the original serials, paired with a system that's pretty close to the standard AD&D one with sci-fi themed classes. This is an odd pairing, as it's hard to get any kind of realism with a class/level system, and I'm not surprised it left most people indifferent. Just who are they trying to target as an audience? It's definitely not the people who want to play adventures like Buck's original ones, or who liked the most recent TV incarnation from the early 80's. It's all a little baffling. What was the thought process that led to the final product, and how much of it was caused by executive meddling, then the writers having to do the best they can within the boundaries they were set?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 52: March 1990



part 4/5



The Living City: For any city to remain functional, it needs a system of waste disposal. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it, and it can be very profitable, especially when used as a cover for organised crime. After all, if the law comes sniffing around, they'll be distracted by certain other odours and probably not spend longer than they have too in the vicinity. It's no surprise that this instalment is a little darker than usual. Even the legitimate operations of the garbage dump are powered by underpaid undocumented immigrant labor, which is a far cry from the somewhat twee artisanal shops than we're used too here. Meanwhile the guy in charge is a bitter small-time crook who'll target anyone who comes here that looks like they have money. There's certainly a lot a motivated team of adventurers could do to improve this place. It's not all grim though. They actually put genuine effort into recycling what they get, which is still better than many modern day governments, and for the things that are both dangerous and useless no matter how much you process them, there's a sphere of annihilation hidden in the basement. (kept secret and heavily guarded, of course, because if it was stolen it would have serious ramifications for functioning of the whole city. ) Definitely some interesting plot hooks here, plus they reference previous instalments in this series and add connections between them, which retroactively makes them more useful as well. It's a real strength of the Forgotten Realms in general, and it's good to see that they're applying it here as they build up the amount of detail.



Expanding Into Europe: They've had several complaints over the years that it costs a lot more to be a member outside the USA. Here they strike back, solving that problem for their european members at least. Now they can send issues in bulk shipping to their office in Cambridge, then send the individual issues at local postage rates, which definitely makes things cheaper. Of course, this means you have to learn a whole new set of addresses, and possibly staff names, but that's a small price to pay for a literal reduction in price. While they're at it, they also promote the new European edition of Gen Con, which while not as big as the original, is still hopefully going to draw several thousand gamers and host tournaments for all the active TSR games. When growth stalls out in your own country, increasing your international audience is what really makes the difference in having a long lasting career, and eventually the influence from your international fanbase will feed back, making what you produce more cosmopolitan. A sensible thing to do that I approve of.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 52: March 1990



part 5/5



The New Rogues Gallery: From sanitation, to sports. This column once again only details a single character, and that's basically an excuse to give us details on Deathball, Raven's Bluff's hardcore football variant, played by a mix of particularly masochistic PC classes and enslaved monsters. I strongly suspect that it's inspired by Games Workshop's Blood Bowl, and the easiest way to play it is to simply buy that and file the serial numbers off. So say hello to one of the biggest star players, Laemos the half-ogre, half-troll. His regeneration isn't as good as a full-blooded troll, but it's good enough to ensure he's never off the team due to injury, and his ogre side makes him able to gain pretty high levels in Fighter. He started off a slave, but over 20 years of excelling in the stadium, he won his freedom, decided to keep on doing the job because he enjoyed it, and is now one of the highest paid Deathballers in Raven's Bluff. Since it's not the most enlightened place, he still has to deal with hassle from wannabe heroes on the street who don't think someone of his heritage can be a member of polite society. (Gee, that's not still directly parallel to the experience of real life ethnic minority sports stars even now, is it? :p ) He takes great delight in knocking them out but not killing them to teach them a lesson. So it's all too easy for dumb PC's to wind up as his enemy. However, if they think before they fight and actually treat him well, he'll also return the favor. This is pretty interesting both as game material, and as an exaggerated commentary on real world social issues. As with the other Raven't Bluff material this issue it's less nice than usual, and gives you some genuinely dangerous adventure hooks to engage with. Will you get involved with Deathball for some quick cash, or campaign for improved player's rights or outright abolition. Either could become the focus for an extended campaign covering many levels.



Regional Directors: Following on from talking about their expanded european operations, they also list their current roster of regional directors, which has grown from half a dozen to 15 USA ones covering various states, plus people in Canada, Australia and Sweden. Still plenty of room for more though if you're offering. Nothing at all in Africa, Asia or South America? There's definitely things that could be done to fix that. Hopefully this list'll be even longer and more international in a few years time.



Bloodmoose & Company fight a cat necromancer who's kidnapped a rabbit princess. Won't someone think of the kittens?!



Less wacky than the previous issue, weirdly, but also somewhat more interesting, with plenty of unusual and thought-provoking articles, and signs that they're once again expanding and taking steps to solidify their structure. Can they overcome the bystander effect enough to find people willing to put in the work and build a local fanbase in every country around the world? Which ones still have hardly any gamers even in the present day? Let's carry on and see how many they've added next time they talk about this.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 22: Mar/Apr 1990



part 1/5



68 pages. A motley collection of gurning humanoids indicates that they are indeed in a comical mood this april, so at least one adventure inside is going to be on the ridiculous end of the spectrum. Let's see if they're guilty of just one or multiple counts of attempted comedy, and if the adventures manage to actually be amusing and/or playable.



Editorial: Fresh off Jim Ward's furor-provoking article in Dragon about the satanic panic, and why they removed devils & demons from 2e, Barbara puts her own two cents in on the topic here. Unsurprisingly, she's going to be sticking to the code of conduct like everyone else, and keeping everything reasonably family friendly. Personally, she'd prefer a little more sex, a little less violence, and a lot less adventurers meeting in a tavern. (which to be fair, they've been pretty good about not overdoing in here, but how many has she had to filter out to keep it that way?) Of course, this is D&D, so you need a certain amount of violence for the sake of XP accumulation, and villains that are sufficiently villainous as to be worth fighting. Even at it's nicest, D&D is never going to be Barney & Friends, (and thank god for that!) but as the biggest RPG company, and one who's buyers are largely kids, they do need to be mindful not to annoy the parents. Nothing hugely surprising here, but a reminder that their editorial direction is subject to interference from higher up in the company, and including certain things in your adventure will get your submission summarily rejected no matter how good the writing is. Hopefully most of the people motivated enough to write adventures are also smart enough to realise that, but I guess there's always a few that need it spelled out, especially as their standards get stricter and more specific over the years. This wasn't the last we heard of the topic in Dragon either. Let's see if they get any angry letters about being too bowdlerised in here or Polyhedron as well.



Letters: The first letter complains that they left out the precise stats of the wand of petrification. Pretty self-explanatory. You point it, they save or turn to stone. There's even an eponymous save category to use. Was that so hard to work out yourself?

Second complains that they haven't done any Dragonlance adventures yet. Yeah, the fight to find decent adventures for their less generic settings continues to be a tough one. They've finally included one this issue. You're welcome to try and add some more.

Third complains that the big monster in Ancient Blood was too tough for the intended level. It's a paper tiger. If you're smart, you'll see right through it. What you though was a mistake was entirely intentional, just from a different perspective than you thought.

4th is from Venezuela and encourages them to do more weird and experimental adventures. They're in favour of that, but within certain strict limits, as they pointed out in the editorial. Psionic adventures, for example, definitely won't see any coverage until the new edition has rules for it. (and even then probably not many, going by the way stuff in supplements is usually treated) Anything straying so far from standard D&D that they'd spend more time on how the rules have changed than the actual adventure definitely won't make the cut.

The final three are on the opposing problems of group size. Two struggle to find people to play with, and need a bit of help, while the third has a massive group that makes the balance on many published adventures go a bit skewed, as scaling is not linear to either the average class level or total party levels. Ironically, you may want to go back to the old Gygaxian adventures, which did assume a larger party bolstered by hirelings. Another example of how more rigid frameworks actually break more easily that'll become even more exaggerated in subsequent editions.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 22: Mar/Apr 1990



part 2/5



The Dark Forest: One area of real world weirdness that D&D underplays if anything is the vast variety of fungi. There are a few fungal creatures in the books, some quite deadly, but nothing that really replicates the sheer depth and variety of their lifecycles and chemicals they can produce. Myconids come closest, and are particularly interesting because they're relatively nonaggressive, but still alien enough that it's easy to come into conflict with them simply due to misunderstandings or differences in priorities. The PC's are hired by an alchemist to go down into the underdark to get hold of a particular type of fungus he really wants for his research. They need to explore the caverns, deal with the Myconids that manage it one way or another, plus the various fungal creatures that just live down there, and some invading Flinds just to top the cherry off. By default, you're supposed to side with the Myconids against the Flinds, thus winning their trust and actually getting them to help you find the specific fungus you're looking for, but wholesale slaughter is still an option. It's a dungeon crawl, but one with more opportunity for social solutions than usual, and even a mass combat battle if you take the right route. A cleric will also definitely be appreciated more than usual, as you might end up with a nasty fungal infection even if you get through the more obvious dangers. Nothing mind-blowing here, but it's a pretty competent starter that uses some less common monsters and gives you plenty of choice in how to deal with them. Would go down well fried with a nice slice of bacon.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 22: Mar/Apr 1990



part 3/5



The Leopard Men: David Howery once again takes us to warmer climates than most of their writers with another jungle-based adventure. The titular Leopard Men are serving as an obstacle to your friendly local colonialist's ambition to open up trading routes across the continent. The PC's get hired to kill them, and, as is the traditional way of your people, you can take their stuff too as an extra incentive. So you have to head into the swamp, and deal with both the mundane threats of the terrain, the Leopard Men's patrol parties (which will alert the others if you're not fast and careful taking them down, making the rest of your job that much harder) and several other tribes of humans and humanoids, some of which can be persuaded to switch sides if it looks like you've got decent odds of winning, as they're not particularly fond of their neighbours either. It's all pretty old-school, made particularly obvious by the fact that the leopard men's skills at sneaking, climbing and unarmed combat are represented by Monk and Assassin class levels, conspicuously removed from the new edition. It's not going to win any awards for political correctness these days, but it's still a pretty decent adventure, that shows some research was done with some really odd new undead obviously drawn from actual african myth. I can see myself using it without any difficulties.



Tomb it may Concern: Despite the pun title, this is also a serious adventure. It's another experiment, a one-on-one adventure rather than the solo ones that're designed to be played entirely without a DM like the last few. The PC takes on the role of a paladin afflicted with amnesia in the middle of a dungeon-crawl. You gradually remember who you are, why you're there and what cool powers you have over the course of the adventure, hopefully in time to use them to save your ass from the many undead that inhabit this tomb. It seems designed as a good way for a DM to introduce complete newbies to roleplaying by giving them a character who's considerably less fragile than a 1st level one, but not dumping all the statistical complexity on them in one go. Even more than the purely solo missions, it does seem like it'd be a bit of a pain to use in an established campaign, but as a one-shot, it's pretty good, with some interesting monster variants and a cool new magic item that you'll hopefully pick up in the adventure and make good use of. Another variant on their usual format I'd have no objection to them repeating. (although overusing the amnesia plotline bit would get old pretty quickly. )
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 22: Mar/Apr 1990



part 4/5



Unchained: Oh no. We finally have a Dragonlance specific adventure and it's a tinker gnome heavy one. :shakes head, purses lips: I'm not surprised, but I am very disappointed in you. I suppose it could be worse. It's not Gully Dwarves at least. During the War of the Lance, a priest of Takhisis commissioned the gnomes to build a giant mechanical dragon for the war effort. Tinker gnomes being what they are, the project suffered from feature creep and wasn't even finished by the time the war was over. :Cough:ty years later, (a couple of decades by default, but obviously whenever your campaign is set) they decide they've probably done more work than they can get paid for and activate the thing. It gets out of control and massively destructive hijinks ensue.

This is where the PC's come in. Guess who has to fix things as usual. Of course, before you get to the real danger, you first have to wade through a whole ton of tinker gnome dialogue, getting exposition in their distinctive brand of endless run-on sentences. (Do not even attempt running this adventure as a DM if you can't handle improvising that.) Then the PC's have to deal with the hazards of Mount Nevermind, all the various "conveniences" the gnomes fill their everyday life with, and decide which bits of experimental equipment they're going to take with them to fight the dragon. (including an Iron Man suit considerably less reliable than Tony Stark's, a very hard to steer steam-powered car, and a harpoon gun the size of a siege weapon) They then have to follow the trail of devastation to solve the problem for good. Along the way, they'll meet the priest who started this in the first place, stripped of his powers by Takhisis for his incompetence and driven insane by several decades of dealing with the gnome version of middle management and tech support. If they don't kill him straight away and unpick his ramblings, they'll gain valuable clues on how to defeat the dragon. The final battle has several dramatic ways of defeating the dragon more effectively than just trading blows until someone runs out of hit points, and actually looks like it would be pretty cool to play in the hands of the right DM. So this is goofy and cartoony, but the right sort of goofy and cartoony, in a way that's consistent with other writing in the same setting. I have no desire to run it, but I can see how other people might, and that it would probably work as intended in their hands. Plus it's amusing to read as a commentary on real life development hell. Anyone who"s worked in TV or computer games will be able to relate to that.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 22: Mar/Apr 1990



part 5/5



Rank Amateurs: Now if the previous adventure was a little niche and goofy, this one takes it up a few levels more in both aspects. It's a humanoid specific one, as presented in GAZ10: Orcs of Thar, which was basically the D&D answer to Paranoia. Parties are large, kids are born in litters, which means life is cheap & interchangable, and culture is a warped mockery of the countries around them, imitating the form without really understanding the function. The PC's get ordered to open up diplomatic relations with an adjacent kingdom. Since their grasp of diplomacy is not the strongest, hijinks once again ensue. The basic elements aren't that different from a regular adventure, but it's written in a way that not only expects but encourages things to go off the rails at every opportunity. Friends that betray you, enemies that are surprisingly affable, bad puns in the names, and a generally cavalier attitude towards life and death. If you get emotionally attached to your characters here you're definitely doing it wrong. Of course, the big difference between this and the Polyhedron adventures also filled with bad jokes and terrible pun names is the much greater degree of freedom it offers, and level of respect it gives to the players. They can be chaotic and silly in a way that they choose, which is much more fun. Another one that's probably not going to be useful in a long-term campaign, but that really isn't the point. It's for when you're tired of responsibility and working together even in your escapism and need to blow off steam. As that, it's a rousing success.



An issue which shows their conflict between making adventures that are good for reading and good for playing particularly strongly, as they start with ones that are relatively normal, and then grow increasingly weird and niche as they go on, ending with one only a very small proportion of groups will have the right supplement to be able to play. By doing both, hopefully they've managed to keep the magazine useful both for people who play every week and who just buy it to read. (and maybe encourage you to buy more supplements as well) Let's see if they manage to get anything else particularly obscure or unique in next issue.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 53: May/Jun 1990



part 1/5



35 pages. An Ice House on the cover? That's curiously mundane to the point where it loops around and becomes intriguing again. Once again it looks like we'll be reminded of the logistics of living in a pre-modern city which lacks many conveniences we take for granted even with magic to tip the balance a little. Let's see if they've manage to squeeze in some useful plot hooks for adventurers amid the worldbuiding as usual.



Notes From HQ: Unlike a few years ago, they're now getting enough submissions that they're not constantly stressed about the slush pile running dry, or having to publish everything sent in, no matter how crap. However, just like Dungeon, they're still not getting the kinds of submissions they really want. More non D&D articles, and system-free ones that are useful for gamers of any system would be preferable, so they can broaden their playerbase, and cater to all kinds of gamers, not just D&D players. It's not that they dislike D&D, but even the most obsessive writer craves a little more variety after years of working full-time on something and they'd really like to fully support their Top Secret, Gamma World, Marvel Superheroes and Boot Hill gamelines as well in both the newszine and tournaments. Good luck with that. We already know in hindsight that while they may win some battles, this is a war they're going to lose in the long run, eventually winding up all D&D all the time just like Dragon. But in the meantime, there's hopefully a few obscure gems to unearth yet.



Letters: Ironically in light of the editorial, the first letter complains that they don't do enough D&D material. They means specifically basic D&D material as opposed to AD&D material, but this demonstrates that in a large and diverse society, even people only differing from the default by one or two intersections and still falling into a relatively common group can still easily wind up feeling marginalised. If you get sad every time we are not about me, you're going to be miserable most of your life.

The other letter continues the debate about letting non-members participate in RPGA tournaments, and what to do if they win prizes that only make sense if you're a member like free subscription extensions. This is why they want to get big enough that they can start being stricter about these things. It's much less hassle.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 53: May/Jun 1990



part 2/5



The Bard's Corner: This column doesn't have a song for us, instead doing a Marx brothers riff where a dragon intentionally mishears everything the valiant knight who's come to rescue the princess says, bombarding him with puns and malapropisms before revealing that the fair maiden wasn't kidnapped at all, she decided to live with him of her own free will, and probably isn't a maiden anymore either. (no kids on the way though, as it's still a few years before Council of Wyrms makes that an option) By the time they decide he's gone from amusing to boring and actually get around to killing him, death seems like a mercy. It's all very whimsical. If they got the submissions, it looks like they'd do this every issue just like Dragonmirth.



Torrand's Tribulations: Hmm. This is a turnup for the books. A 0th level adventure designed to take the PC's from regular joes to 1st level characters over the course of their challenges. While still not exactly common, they've definitely become more of a formalised thing over the years, with Dungeon Crawl Classics in particular making the 0th level meatgrinder funnels an integral part of their system design. Was this the first of it's kind, or can someone point to an even earlier one? Not that this is particularly meatgrindy, as this is another of their irritatingly whimsical, heavily scripted tournament adventures where you're given pregens with very on the nose names and led from one encounter to the next with very little freedom of choice, if anything even less than usual because you're all so underpowered. Despite being 0th level, the characters do have more hit points than a regular 1st level one, and many 2nd or 3rd level ones who rolled poorly too, so you won't be falling to a single unlucky hit like in a normal game. The PC's were originally the hirelings of a group of adventurers being trained by the eponymous Torrand, who does this sort of thing regularly. Their masters got killed, and now they have to pluck up their courage, think of clever uses for the mundane skills they picked up as blue-collar workers and do it themselves. Over the course of it, they'll encounter Torrand several times, sometimes in disguise, sometimes helping them subtly and sometimes testing them. Basically, this is an adventure designed both IC and OOC as training wheels for complete newbies. It feels more than a little patronising to those of us who started off by being thrown into sandboxes and expected to sink or swim, and managed to figure it out for ourselves. I can see how some people might find it useful, but this is another one I'll be passing on. When the whole point of tabletop RPG's compared to computer ones is the freedom of choice, why would I want to introduce someone with something so linear?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 53: May/Jun 1990



part 3/5



American Steel: Gamma World once again goes to the giant mecha well, with another model of humanoid robot equipped with all manner of weaponry that the PC's could either have to fight, or find and use themselves (although it's unlikely to be in mint condition after several centuries unless the GM is feeling very generous.) The Dreadbot Mk I is a 10 meter tall humanoid that really needs two operators to function at full efficiency, but can just about get by with one expert pilot. Of course, if players try that, they'll probably cause a fair bit of unintentional destruction before they get the hang of it. Better hope they're not doing so in the middle of a (formerly) friendly town. Like a boat or spaceship, getting one of these may seem cool, but it comes with substantial expenses and makes you a target to a new class of enemies which are a challenge to your giant mecha. There's definitely plenty of fun to be had with this genre, otherwise they wouldn't keep on going back too it. Now if only they'd write a rules system that was better designed to support both human and mecha scale fights on a mechanical level. Then they wouldn't have to shoehorn it into the postapocalyptic survivalist weirdness.



The New Rogues Gallery: This column goes full "let me tell you about my characters", but in a particularly weird way, as it basically asks What if Frankenstein, but cosy slice-of-life story instead of gothic tragedy? A relationship between a wizard and his homunculus where they form an increasingly close relationship over the years, upgrading it from the original small impish form to a handsome one indistinguishable from human, but immortal, which then increasingly becomes a relationship of equals as it adapts to it's new body and mind. It ends bittersweetly, with the wizard dying of old age and setting the homunculus free, to seek out new companions, quite possibly your PC's. It's all exceedingly homoerotic, with loving description of the activities they get up too together, including cultivating their own unique brand of magical roses, which they then destroy all remaining specimens of in a pyre when the wizard dies. It's pretty much as close as they can get to gay representation in here as long as the TSR code of conduct prohibits anything explicit, which is pretty cool to see. As with many a slice-of-life fanfic, whether OC or using an existing property, the main problem with it is a lack of stakes or conflict. There's no real issues with or threat to their relationship other than the eventual one of human mortality, just one vignette of happy relationship after another. Which is interesting in one way simply because you don't see it very often in published media, but also boring in another. So this is simultaneously worth praising for breaking formula, while also illustrating why those formulas are necessary and become a thing in the first place. Life can be complicated like that sometimes.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 53: May/Jun 1990



part 4/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger zooms in now, and asks how you can make every city on a world unique, but still fitting with the overall character of a planet when there could be hundreds or thousands of them. Realistically, this is an impossible task. You could spend years worldbuilding and still feel like you've barely scratched the surface. Ultimately, if you ever want to actually get to gaming, you're going to have to cheat, sketching broad strokes and then making up details as the players choose to focus on something. The general advice is stuff I've read plenty of times before, but it's the specific examples that are interesting, drawing on a wide range or real world inspirations from different countries and time periods. If you want variety in your worldbuilding, it helps to have a broad range of real world experience to make sure you don't unconsciously put the same old default assumptions everywhere with a few stereotyped differences. Nothing too controversial here, good or bad.



The Skorpio: They find half a page free and decide to fill it with a new monster entry. Want a scorpion-esque humanoid in your campaign, but manscorpions are too deadly, between their HD, save or die attack every round and plentiful clerical abilities? Have a weaker, dumber variant which needs 3 minutes to recharge it's poison reservoirs before it can deliver another lethal sting, which in D&D combat means just one use per fight. Rather than a centaur body plan, they're bipedal, with humanoid hands, which makes doing some things easier, but without the brains, all they are is another marauding humanoid variant for mid levels, suitable for using once goblins and their relatives are no longer a threat unless in huge hordes. Pretty boring really. Another variant monster that doesn't really add anything new or clever to the game in either theme or mechanics.



Character Adjustments: The promotional piece this issue at least tries to be useful in itself rather than just selling you a recently released book. Jennel (nee Paul) Jaquays tells us about Central Casting: Heroes of Legend, a multisystem book advising you on how to create interesting characters in all sorts of RPG's. One they forgot to do, though was GURPs, which ironically is one of the easiest to make unique and flavourful characters in due to the finely grained point buy system. So along with the general advice on thinking about your character's personality, history, and other general connections to the world around them that we've all seen a million times before there's the quite specific advice on not spending all your points straight away to get high basic stats, but give them interesting skills, flaws, and social connections, quite possibly holding some back until after you've played the character for a session or two and have a better idea of how you want them to be. Definitely can't do that in D&D. A reminder that there are a whole variety of systems out there now, and some are definitely better at certain things than others. Your games will go better if you pick one that's good for the genre you want to play in, instead of trying to shoehorn everything into D&D because it's the most popular. Did any of you actually buy and make use of this back in the day?
 

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