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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
Dungeon Issue 24: Jul/Aug 1990



part 5/5



Dungeon Adventures Index: We only have three adventures this issue, which is a touch disappointing, as it's not as if any of them are extra large ones that would justify that. Chalk it up to needing to increase the amount of advertising before they can afford to increase the page count correspondingly. In the meantime, we also have a second index of the adventures so far. They've got enough now that it fills 2 pages, so it doesn't feel completely insubstantial like the first time, but it's still sorted in primarily in alphabetical order rather than by level or system/setting, so it's most useful for people who have already read the magazines and know what they're looking for rather than someone new who needs a prefab adventure for the right level and group composition quickly and wants to know where to find it. A slight improvement on the first one, but they've still got a long way to go to reach modern standards of easy sorting and searchability.



An issue where it feels like they're pushing up against the limits of what the D&D ruleset can do, be it in genre or scope, resulting in adventures that are interesting reads, but might be tricky to run. It once again makes me wish that they'd at least tried to be a multi-system magazine in the way Dragon & Polyhedron did; even if in practice D&D stuff would wind up being the majority, it'd still have resulted in more variety and opened people's eyes to other games that might have done the kind of playstyle they want to play better than trying to squeeze it into classes, levels and advancement by killing. Oh for the alternate history that could have been. But no point crying over it. On with the real history to see how they try to keep things interesting next time.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 55: Sep/Oct 1990



part 1/5



36 pages. Clyde Caldwell and his girlfriend once again rock the barbarian cosplay on the cover. I guess this is actually the first time, and the full color version in Dragon 172 is next year, but at this point, what even is linear time? So straight away, here's another thing that started off small and then moved onto wider scale release. Let's see if anything else is of long-term significance inside.



Games In A Classroom: Before we get to the table of contents, here's a little profile/promotional piece on John Wheeler & Peter Rice, who run workshops on how to be a better GM at conventions. They've been doing it for a good decade now, but still make sure to freshen up their routine each year, figure out what they can improve and keep it from getting boring for them as well as any repeat members of the audience. Like roleplaying itself, doing them is about putting on a show for a very selective audience, involving a combination of prepared material and improvisation, and the feedback from the audience is what really makes it fun for them. Quite valid. Some people do it for the worldbuilding, some do it for the storytelling, and some for the pleasure of social interaction. I wonder how long they kept it up. The odds that they're still both doing these today seem low, but not non-existent given human lifespans.



Notes From HQ: Growing the RPGA continues to be hard work. The results of the third membership drive are in. It brought in three times as many as the second, but that's still only 100 people. They're going to try again next year and hope recruiting fatigue won't set in. They're also continuing the quick pace of competitions in general, this time sending out a call for new monsters. Those are relatively easy to create, so It's likely we'll see a decent number of entires for that one. They also continue to have a sense of humour about themselves, with Jean taking having a roast thrown for her at a recent convention in good spirit. Even with all the difficulties they face keeping things running smoothly, it's still better than a regular day job doing something you hate.



Letters: The first letter is from Iceland. Like many far-flung countries, he worries that he might be the only RPGA member there, and this means no conventions or ability to participate in tournaments, earn points, and all that fun stuff the network is supposed to enable. He's not actually that alone and they can send him a list to prove it. Reykjavik does actually have enough gamers for you to set up an official RPGA club and run sanctioned tournaments, it's just a matter of making at least 10 of them aware of each other and co-ordinating their schedules to get them in the same room at the same time. We believe in you! Do it well and we'll be able to add a regional co-ordinator for another country.

The other one is a rather lengthy one complaining about people running official tournament adventures at private clubs. Surely they should only be available at public conventions where anyone can join! Jean has to gently disabuse him of that notion. In a small hobby which is primarily advertised by word of mouth, the line between public and private event is pretty blurry to begin with. Plus as the previous letter demonstrated, if they didn't allow registered clubs to run tournament adventures, there'd be nowhere to play them at all in many countries. They're not going to add more bureaucracy on this matter that'd be pretty much unenforceable anyway.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 55: Sep/Oct 1990



part 2/5



Gaming With Computers: The RPGA has been keeping track of it's membership with a computer database for a good half a decade now, although not without it's share of teething troubles and glitches. Home computers grow more affordable and powerful by the year, meaning using them to assist your gaming becomes increasingly viable. So here's one of those reminders of how things that we take for granted now were a real struggle just a few decades ago, and gives us a better idea of what became possible when. Character sheets, adventure outlines, session recaps, maps, all become quicker and easier to do and much easier to copy, edit and revise once you have a decent computer program set up to handle them. Obviously it's not telling us anything new or particularly useful to modern gamers, as the specifics of what programs they used are laughably out of date, so it's only interesting as a historical artifact, but that's true of a lot of these articles. There'll probably be another in a few years time, given how rapidly they were progressing back then.



Bookwyrms: This column takes the time to promote all the books TSR publishes that don't fit into an established game line. The highly meta murder mystery Bimbos of the Death Sun. The post-apocalyptic western The Earth Remembers. Monkey Station, Aradath Mayhar's take on Planet of the Apes. Warsprite, Jeff Swycaffer's tale of two robots landing on earth that seems very suitable for a movie adaption. The far solar system mining exploits of Outbanker. Surprised how few of these I've actually read, which is another reminder how much non D&D stuff they tried that didn't sell particularly well, and so never got any follow-ups. Even once I've finished this seemingly endless journey through the more obscure parts of their output, there's still a load of standalone things to go back and check out if I can find them. (Not always easy, as if they're both decades out of print and obscure, it's quite possible no-one's even bothered to pirate them.) In a world as big as ours, you'll never run out of things to do if you've got a little imagination. It's just finding the time and resources to actually do them that's tricky.



Easy Money: The adventure this issue is another one heavily tied into Raven's Bluff, taking advantage of characters and places already statted out in the sourcebook to link things into the bigger picture. The circus is in town and they want more dancing bears. The PC's get hired to go capture as many of them as possible, with a particular bonus for capturing a golden one that's been seen in the hills near Raven's Bluff recently. There's no real sense of exploration though, as this is a linear adventure that eschews a map for having them experience exactly the same encounters in order wherever they wander. Your basic orc and worg attack ripped straight from The Hobbit. A pair of ghosts that'll bicker and heckle your characters with a Statler & Waldorf routine, and probably mop the floor with characters of the expected level if you try and fight them. An awful asian monk stereotype who will speak only in inscrutable koans with a heavy accent, and is also probably capable of beating the whole party single-handed if they lose patience with him. And the climactic encounter, where the golden bear turns out to be a werebear who will pretend to let himself be captured and use the journey back to subtly prank the characters. So with a premise built around animal cruelty, plus railroading, racism and bad comedy as toppings, this manages an impressive catalog of yikes that makes it an absolute nope from me. Surely in the Realms there are enough fully sentient weird creatures with interesting powers that could be persuaded to participate in a stage show that dancing bears would seem too trivial to bother with in the first place? This is gross and stupid in both premise and implementation. A failure on every level.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 55: Sep/Oct 1990



part 3/5



Another trio of new monsters follows to fill out your games. Chakchak are a specially bred caste of hobgoblin berserkers with axes instead of hands, intended to be an ultimate weapon in their endless battles against everyone else. Unfortunately, it turns out that the amount of time and effort expended to create them is not commensurate with their effectiveness against intelligent opponents who use magic and tactics, so they're not actually that common these days. The ability to open doors and dress yourself far outweighs a few extra points to hit and damage in the long run, even if it's not reflected in the XP total you get for defeating them.

Oortlings are a variant of Grey alien, small and feeble-bodied, but with huge brains bulging out of their heads. Unfortunately, these large brains made them an illithid delicacy, and so they've been enslaved and bred for docility over the centuries, making them not much help to anyone trying to take down the mind flayer empire. Which is a shame, as their ability to live in space and survive off comet ice (hence their name) is pretty handy. Can you free them and help them rebuild a civilisation of their own?

MagiStars are another even stranger spelljammer creature, intelligent stars attached to the edge of a crystal sphere. There are normally 8 of them per solar system, each embodying one of the schools of magic, and able to use any spell from that school at will. This immense but idiosyncratically limited power could be turned to all sorts of ends if you could negotiate with them and offer them something they want in return, plus all of them can serve as gates into the phlogiston for spelljammers. Since they're enormous, immobile and pretty much unkillable, they're definitely intended more as a plot device than a monster to fight. If the regular sages on your world are stumped by a big problem, there are worse options than seeking their immortal wisdom.



The New Rogues Gallery: The new characters this issue are the Iron Maidens, an obvious pop culture reference that's a good excuse for an all female adventuring party. Unfortunately, they're down from the original 7 to only three members at the moment, due to treachery from the Mr Johnson of a recent mission. Many groups would retire after a setback that severe, but I guess the ladies are not for turning. There's Kiera, the relatively sensible fighter founder of the party, Lyrissa, the troublemaking thief/fighter who's constantly overspending, overdrinking & engaging in petty theft to make up for her financial incompetence, and has managed to make a personal enemy of Fzoul Chembryl due to one of her heists, and Tiralia, a flirtatious wizard who's wound up stuck at 8' 2" tall due to a magical glitch. (but hey, there are enough guys into that kind of thing that it doesn't hinder her love life.) They'd better pick up a new cleric soon if they want to last much longer as a group. They're quirky and unstable enough that they could work both as antagonists/rivals despite their overall good alignments, or join up with your party for a big adventure, which makes this considerably more useful than the parties where all the characters are generically good, the team is well-balanced and everyone gets on with each other. If they're going to be doing mostly good adventuring parties here, this is one of the better examples of how to make something that can actually get used by other groups.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 55: Sep/Oct 1990



part 4/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger finishes off his A-Z of satellite types, giving us a quite interesting ecology of large and small satellites of various functions, many useful to to people down on the ground, but some only in relation to other satellites, repairing & refuelling, or sabotaging and deceiving. Like venturing to the depths of the sea, or other planes of existence, there's rich possibilities for adventure up here, as the environment is very different from what we're used too, but there's still plenty of goals to strive for, competition for the resources available, and hazards to avoid. My only complaint once again is that it's all completely system free at a point where we most need mechanical help, due to things working so differently, and frequently unintuitively in free fall. Has anyone stepped up and produced a game that handles this well that would also integrate with human scale RPG action, or is it a nice idea that has yet to be properly exploited?



The Everwinking Eye: Ed gives us some more details on the village of Maskyr's eye and the surrounding environment to make it feel like a living place. The locals might seem taciturn and provincial, but they're more than prepared to deal with troublemakers both human and monstrous. Plenty of attention is given to the local temples, since they're one of the things wandering adventurers are most likely to need to use. The normally quiet town centre becomes a hub of activity several times a year when dwarves visit from the mountains with lots to trade, with all the lodgings rapidly getting filled by people from the surrounding settlements eager to grab a good deal. There's plenty of more open-ended plot hooks in the surrounding area too, legends of monsters past, and maybe ones that still lurk there in the present. It's all very useful for a DM looking for ways to make your character's treks interesting.

The Current Clack is somewhat less so, and reminds us of the Realms' glut of archmages with nothing better to do than be a nuisance. Be it seeking godhood, or pranking people by teleporting them into compromising positions without their clothes, they're there, they're probably too powerful for your group to fight, and they have all sorts of custom magic items that would be nice if you can get your hands on them. Use with caution.



Roll 'Em!: The winners of the d24 table contest are all very much on the silly side. The old canard of what happened to your homework. Deus ex Machina ways to end a Paranoia game. The ultra-basic idea of what hour of the day it is. The only one that's somewhat useful for a serious game is the random spaceship malfunction table, and even that has some silly results on it. This is much less useful for actual play than it could have been.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 55: Sep/Oct 1990



part 5/5



The Living City: One of the many modern amenities Raven's Bluff lacks is any sort of social security net. If you find yourself homeless or extensively in debt without any family or friends to bail you out, the closest thing to mercy you can hope for is a stint at a victorian era style workhouse. (which is still several centuries more modern a concept than their technology in some other areas) Unsurprisingly, overseeing this job attracts the kind of Lawful Evil douchebags who enjoy wielding power over others, and will do their best to ensure that once you fall into the system, it's very hard to get out. The work is menial stuff that would pay poorly even if you were an independent contractor, if you want anything better than gruel to eat, you can pay for it at inflated prices at the company store, and even the most minor infraction will result in fines being added onto your debt. About the only mercy is that their ursurers haven't really got the hang of compound interest, (after all, D&D worlds are mostly inflation free, looking at equipment prices over time and edition changes) which would make large debts grow faster than you could ever hope to pay them anyway. But even so, it's not a pleasant place. If the PC's wind up there, it's because they seriously screwed up, or were scammed/framed, and they probably won't want to stick around and pay off their debts the long way. Fortunately, this job also doesn't attract the most competent of people, and if you have a few levels, it won't be too hard to sneak out or beat up the overseer and escape even without all your equipment. This won't be the end of the story though, as he has a magical item that helps him track escapees, and if you escaped violently you can expect the city guard to be on the hunt for you as well. Might be a good idea to skip town if things go that far. Good thing the Realms is a big place with plenty of other detailed locations to head too. There's definitely plenty of scope for adventures involving this, but your players may not be happy about getting involved with them. Still, unless they're ambitious enough to do the truly epic and heroic quest of getting workhouses abolished and instituting a more progressive system of unemployment benefits and pensions in their place, (or even an UBI, which seems more possible there than here with powerful enough persistent conjuration effects) it's not as if the system will be going anywhere. If you're going to stick to easy targets like orc hordes and dragons, don't be surprised if the world continues to have problems when you get home.



Wolff & Byrd's secretary finds vampires and werewolves considerably better-mannered and easier to deal with than the demands of regular human Karens. Now there's something that hasn't changed over the decades.



Another step forward in terms of the degree of focus on Raven's Bluff and the Forgotten Realms in general. Even more than Dragon or Dungeon, it looks like from here on out, there'll be more Realmsian material than everything else put together, between the regular columns and the interactive tournament stuff. Another thing that eventually, the rest of the D&D universe will catch up with as all the other settings fall away, and only the biggest remains. I guess they really are ahead of the curve after all. Let's see if they maintain that over the whole decade, and how many less successful experiments that didn't catch on they'll try along the way.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 25: Sep/Oct 1990



part 1/5



65 pages. A knight holding a black rose on the cover? Isn't that Lord Soth's schtick? Are they going to have some Dragonlance material in here, or is it going to be some other jilted incel who thinks he's a chivalrous nice guy when they're really not. What kind of drama will the players be dragged into, and how much choice will they have in terms of outcomes? Let's head on, and hope they've kept to their general policy of being much less railroady than Polyhedron.



Editorial: Ooh. They're actually trying out a non-D&D adventure in here! The editorial is about their newest set of experimentation with system and format in the attempt to improve readability and sustain interest. Let us know which bits are good and which are bad so we can continue to refine them. And obviously, if you want to see more non D&D adventures in the future, send them in, because they can't publish what they don't have even if the audience demand is there. Well, this is an interesting turnup even if I already know it doesn't stick long-term. I look forward to seeing if they'll manage a few more before reverting to homogeny and exactly how people respond in the letters page as well.



Letters: The first letter asks if they plan to do a best of Dungeon any time soon? Nope. Since they ditched Gary, they've not been too keen on retrospectives. Who's got time for nostalgia when you're in one of the most productive eras for worldbuilding?

The second thinks it would be a good idea to have a regular section devoted to DM tips and tricks. That idea keeps on popping up, and yet they refuse to bite …… yet. Maybe it's tonight, Maybe tomorrow night, Next week, Next month Next year. We've only time to fear.

Third grumbles that their new cover stock is less water-resistant than the old one. What is this cost-cutting nonsense?! They don't have any clever editorial retort for that one.

Fourth praises the cunning goblins of Tallow's Deep. Their players were suitably chastened when put up against them. That'll tech them to plan their delves a little more carefully.

Fifth is a particularly long one continuing the debate for or against boxed text. Barbara is definitely getting fed up with this, so she calls time on the topic. Stop getting so worked up over procedural details at the expense of whether an adventure is actually fun to play.

Sixth takes umbrage at their statement that it's the type of games you play with RPG's that make them the tools of the devil or not, and therefore they're only going to publish adventures involving morally good characters. Good and Evil are no more real than God and the Devil. RPG's are just games. You shouldn't be dignifying the delusions of religious people with that much importance. Still, whether abstract morality is real or not, do as you would be done by remains a strong principle in real world practice, so try to be nice to your co-players even when you're slaughtering their characters in-game.

Seventh is some more orcish errata delivered in character. A little comedy makes the inconsistencies go down in the most delightful way.

Eighth wishes more adventures took account of the fact that many parties have a character that can talk to animals (or plants, or even weirder things. ) A smart druid or diviner could blow any mysteries right open. Yeah, if your players get that smart and paranoid, most written adventures will not go the usual way, and more linear ones will be amusingly short-circuited. If you're not equally cunning and able to improvise as a DM it can become a problem.

Ninth is a writer from Denmark who's looking for people to play with. Another potential growth market if they'd only network a little more.

10th is a Texan who also welcomes personal correspondence. The magazine is generally good, but it's the real world adventures we have as a result of it that really count.

11th is more errata on their illusionary adventures. It must have hidden itself all through the proofreading process.

12th is someone grumbling that all their players want to play fighty types, and this causes trouble with adventures that expect a well-balanced party. There's a lot of problems no amount of raw force can solve. Show them by example how much more effective a little magic can be.

13th a lengthy set of bullet points from someone who wants the magazine a little more idiot-proofed. Trouble is, if they do that, it adds a lot of repetition for more experienced readers if they have to see the same explanation of map keys and jargon every issue. We only have so much page count as it is.

Finally, a brazilian player who wants more wizard-centric adventures. Most of the other classes have had their turn to shine in solo or single-class adventures, but none have been aimed primarily at spellcasters. Barbara has no problem with that concept, hint hint, it's just a matter of someone submitting a good enough example to publish.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 25: Sep/Oct 1990



part 2/5



The Standing Stones of Sundown: So what was the point of those rings of standing circles many cultures made? In a D&D universe with plentiful magic, the question of how they were created without modern technology is less of an issue, but why becomes an even bigger one when there's all sorts of esoteric things they could be doing beyond tracking the cycle of the seasons. Of course, it wouldn't be a D&D adventure if it didn't involve something to fight, so they decide to go with this particular one being a result of a magical ritual to trap an ancient de*censored*, oh, I'm sorry, Tanar'ri that was too powerful for them to kill at the time. A modern day wizard messes with the stones, winds up releasing the fiend, and now it's terrorising the nearby village, partly to find a magical item that'll let it go back to the Abyss without being stuck for yet another 100 tedious years (as will happen if you kill it), and partly just for the fun of being free and getting to torment and kill again.

The result is a scenario that has strong slasher movie influence, as you're dealing with a monster that can appear and disappear at will, and will gradually work it's way through the cast of PC's and NPC's if not stopped, so you need to figure out what it is, it's goals and weaknesses, and how to lure it out, which will take exploring the area, talking to the NPC's and generally doing a fair bit of Buffy style research. There's a few darkly comedic moments to break the tension, it expects you to actually be smart and use divination magic rather than being ruined by those kind of tactics, and it has a short-term win condition (giving it the means to go home) that's actually a long term loss which will lead to the bad guy coming back to terrorise you again with friends later. It makes for a pretty cool read. It does make some assumptions about the nature of the cosmology that means it won't fit into every campaign though; that technology has actually changed meaningfully not just on this world but every world connected to the same set of planes over the past few thousand years, so a recently released demon would be genuinely surprised and sometimes blindsided by medieval technology. It definitely doesn't fit with the tone of most Planescape books, where low and high tech mix inconsistently, there's plenty of fallen empires where things were actually more advanced than now and experienced planar travellers are pretty jaded to whatever mix of science and magic they experience. But I guess you can't expect to make every adventure fit together into one massive campaign. At some point, you're just going to have to choose between mutually exclusive axioms and stick to one. It's not as if there aren't more than enough adventures to take you into the mid-teens just from this magazine by now.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 25: Sep/Oct 1990



part 3/5



Hellfire Hostages: So here we have a Marvel Superheroes adventure. We've had a few in polyhedron, but they've either been single-set slugfests or linear "mystery" adventures that involve very little actual player investigation. Once again, not being forced to wrap the whole adventure up in 4 hours or less works to Dungeon's advantage here. (although it's still hardly a multi-month epic) The Hellfire club is attacked by people calling themselves the United Front for Wakandan Liberation. Since Mutants aren't very popular in the Marvel Universe, the ones that run the club would rather not reveal their powers unless they absolutely have too to survive, so they'll let the hostage drama play out and hope some superheroes will show up to rescue them. Pretty soon it becomes obvious that the terrorists do know that their hostages are mutants and will threaten to reveal that knowledge as a bargaining chip. Which is where things get messy, and precisely what the PC's are doing at the time really matters. Will they save the day easily without ever discovering the politics behind what just happened? Will they find out and reveal it themselves, or leverage the secrets to their own advantage in future hellfire interactions? They could come out of this with powerful allies or enemies. It's nice to actually get offered choices that could have a long-term effect on how your campaign goes, rather than playing the game purely episodically and hitting the reset button at the end of each issue. A scenario that would be decent enough even if it was a D&D one using original characters, but gains a little extra because of the thrill of getting to see a different system in here and engage with fairly well-known official ones in a non-railroaded way. This is a very welcome bit of extra variety indeed.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 25: Sep/Oct 1990



part 4/5



Of Kings Unknown: Or The Ecology of the Moonmelon, as this is one of those small adventures that's really there as an excuse to introduce a new element to your game, and explore it's ramifications. What if there were a plant that mutated the offspring of creatures that ate it? Obviously whether it would be tolerated long-term would depend on the frequency of beneficial to detrimental mutations, but for r-selected species where there are plenty of spares, so you can let more than half your kids die straight after birth and still come out ahead, boosting the frequency of outliers in both directions works out as a net positive. As an example, they detail an orc tribe that has made consuming them part of their staple diet, and their leaders have all manner of quite effective mutations to make them stronger and smarter than the average orc. This means they have a better grasp of strategy as well as their individual skills, and will make good use of their follower's individual talents, while maintaining an active program of eugenics to weed out the weaker ones. A reminder that making each enemy you face an individual can be hard work, but there are definite rewards in doing so, particularly if they can survive more than a few rounds and actually be seen as a character rather than just another collection of stats. This is all reasonably interesting - even if some of it is basically just a toned down version of the old Hordling rules, they're making more effort to integrate it into the setting and make logical sense than Gary's old version. Plus it has been a long time since then, in a different magazine. These ideas'll be fresh to many people, and the core is strong enough to support many variants. I have no objection here, save wishing that the adventure part was a bit bigger.



Hrothgar's Resting Place: While the last adventure was a bit short, but made up for it by having some interesting ideas that you can expand on and use in other ways, this one is even shorter and not nearly so thought-provoking. The players find a diary talking about the final resting place of Hrothgar the barbarian, by one of his ex-adventuring companions. There's treasure in them thar caverns, particularly an intelligent magical sword that was his downfall in the first place. Surely one of you has a will strong enough to succeed where he failed, so off you trot. This leads to a pretty standard 4 page dungeon crawl which is mainly notable for using Caecilia, one of those basic D&D monsters I've never seen anyone talk about, as well as lots of other unintelligent giant animal types. A few minor jump scares and puzzles, but nothing particularly surprising, and the intelligent sword doesn't even get a properly fleshed out personality. Very much filler chosen to pad out the page count to the right size. It's certainly usable, but don't expect it to last you a full session unless you also pad out the wilderness bit getting there.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 25: Sep/Oct 1990



part 5/5



A Rose for Talakara: As the cover indicated, this adventure does indeed go full gothic, but in a slightly different way than I expected. An extremely powerful wizardess and her skeleton warrior lieutenant have ruled a secluded volcanic valley from a crumbling castle for over a century. Like all skeleton warriors, he loathes his undead existence and wants to get his hands on the circlet that holds his soul so he can finally rest in peace. He has to obey her every command, but has been serving reliably long enough that he gets a fair bit of leeway on the day-to-day operations of running the place. So he subtly seeds clues for adventuring parties in the surrounding kingdoms using his retinue of Shadows that will hopefully lead one of them to come there and engage in killing & taking of stuff, as they do best. In the meantime he cultivates black roses and leaves one at the site of every person he kills, because even if he's stuck as an undead monstrosity, he's still a chivalrous gentleman. So this is an adventure that's all about style, as both the main characters are melodramatic drama queens who's personal foibles, combined with considerable power warp the surrounding area to make things all about them. It would fit into Ravenloft seamlessly, but still works outside it as well. Some of the encounters are pretty tricky, but because one of them secretly wants the players to succeed, there's also several weak spots that'll make the adventure much easier to get through for observant players who use stealth and roleplaying rather than just charging in the front gate. Another one that's probably not for starting DM's, as building the descriptive detail and atmosphere between fights is definitely more important than the hacky bits. But if that is your thing, here's one you can really shine with.



Another set of adventures that are interesting because they're definitely not intended for every campaign, particularly with the addition of a Marvel one to the familiar D&D scenarios, but that makes them all the better to read collectively. Hopefully at least one of them will suit the game of any particular buyer. Time once again to see if they have anything particularly festive in the oven next issue.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 56: Nov/Dec 1990



part 1/5



32 pages. The background is in color, but the main character is in black and white? It's more commonly the other way around, but I guess either works as a means of creating emphasis. And simply inverting familiar tropes can be a good way to make them feel fresh, at least for a while. Let's see if this issue repeats familiar topics, manages to put fresh twists on them, or manages to come up with something completely original.



Notes From HQ: Advertising is nice, but nothing beats the personal touch and getting feet on the ground. They managed to sign up 200 new people to the RPGA this Gen Con, twice that of the whole membership drive over several months. The number of tournaments, seminars, awards, etc was once again up from the previous year as well, so this is mainly a list of people who made particularly significant contributions without a huge amount of detail. They only manage to squeeze in future plans right at the end, talking about the 4th membership drive, which is focussed on increasing the size of existing clubs, and encouraging people to fill in Raven's Bluff's harbor district, as apparently there hasn't been enough emphasis on it's nautical side for their tastes yet. Seems like the bigger they get, the more there is to do, to the point where it's increasingly difficult to fit it all in. They really could do with a page count increase soon, just like Dragon and Dungeon at this time.



Letters: First up is Lisa Stevens thanking the newzine for publishing their Ars Magica promotion, but pointing out that they've moved address recently, so if you want to write to them, it's already out of date. Hopefully it's because they're doing well and needed to expand.

Second is a complaint about them using obscure monsters in adventures without telling us where to find the full write-up. Does the Fiend Folio really count as obscure now?! One of those things that's much easier to solve now with a quick google, so you can easily get a list of what books you still need to buy.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 56: Nov/Dec 1990



part 2/5



Winter Holiday: The adventure this issue goes full festive themed in a Star Wars Holliday Special style. The evil forces of G.R.I.N.C.H are attempting to spoil the winter festival of YOUR world. (as long as it remotely resembles earthly climate, so that's Athas ruled out. :p ) The PC's become pawns in their machinations, recruited apparently to save it, but set up to fail and take the blame instead of the real culprits. Will they realise in time and turn on their employers? Eat the magical pears and be teleported to the north pole. Ride the iconic reindeer sleigh, fight a pair of giant turtledoves, four collies, six geese, and other things that would be easily spoilered by knowing christmas lore, and hopefully save the day. It's all very silly indeed, and sprinkled with a little dated casual racism too, but it's still better than last issue's one, because at least it's not a complete railroad, and it's not pretending to be an adventure you're supposed to take seriously and then bait & switching you, turning you into the butt of the jokes. Still not saying it's good, but it's cheesy groan-inducing bad rather than throw the whole magazine at the wall in disgust bad. If you've been at the sherry too much as a group it might be tolerable.



Bookwyrms: The Realms has already had one big metaplot event to justify the changes between 1e and 2e. Now they've got the taste for it, and are going to make a regular thing of advancing the timeline and changing things around. Round two! The Horde invades from the east! What will your characters do?! It's better than the first in many ways because it actually gives the PC's an opportunity to get involved and make a difference on a local level rather than just being stuck on the sidelines losing all their spells and watching gods clash. Their actions could save a good deal of lives and property for whatever town they're in at the time the invaders arrive. But it's worse in another because it's just a blatant rip of a real world event, and one that can easily devolve into yellow peril racist nonsense. To their credit, they are writing it in a way that makes it clear that no side is purely heroes or villains, with each book in the trilogy showing things from a different point of view. I'm sure a native reading them could find all sorts of things that are either wrong or grossly oversimplified about chinese and mongolian culture in them, but at least their hearts are in the right place. Plus it actively encourages learning about other cultures both IC and OOC by opening up a huge new area to explore, and creating more reasons for OA and regular AD&D characters to crossover with each other and form mixed adventuring parties. It's just a shame that this came as the OA gameline was winding down, so ironically, contact between the continents actually decreases after this in subsequent FR supplements. We'll be seeing a lot of this sort of shallowly diverse representation over the 2e era, one or two books on a culture, then moving on again. I suppose it's still better than the near total absence of multicultural setting stuff after WotC took over. Another of those persistent problems that never really goes away, as there's only so much media one person has time to consume, and long term, things will trend back towards the lowest common denominator because that's what sells to the largest audience and remains profitable.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 56: Nov/Dec 1990



part 3/5



The New Rogues Gallery: This column has nothing to do with Raven's Bluff for the first time in a while, instead stealing from movies to tell a story of an evil twin sabotaging his good counterpart's life. Dante Greyshadow is a cold, calculating and charming assassin who'll competently carry out nearly any commission if you've got enough cash to spend. Except where his paladin twin brother is involved, at which point he's a petty little bitch who'll pretend to be him to implicate him in crimes, kill his friends, and generally do his best to ruin his life while leaving him still alive to suffer and maintaining plausible deniability about who's responsible for these woes. He's assisted in this by the scheming wizard/priest of Set, Rezhyk, and the brooding, laconic Drow thief Clint of the East Wood. :groans, boos, throws popcorn at the screen: This is a little silly, but it's also definitely a lot more gamable than most of these, as it gives a clear plot hook that your PC's can easily be caught in the middle of, be it as collateral damage, manipulated by the schemes of the bad guys, or asked for help by the good guy. And a little silliness and referentiality can help with making things memorable. It's just when a whole adventure is composed of comedic references at the expense of plot that it becomes a problem. Besides, changing names is much easier than coming up with whole new sets of stats. I could definitely make this work to my satisfaction.



Small Cons And Us: Don & Linda Bingle remind us that the way to really rack up your IC & OOC XP in the RPGA is to attend lots of conventions and participate in as many tournaments as scheduling makes possible. This means not ignoring smaller conventions near to you because they're not a famous name with a big budget and learning to appreciate their charms. You may find you actually prefer a slower pace and the opportunity to have extended conversations with people without being constantly distracted or drowned out by everything else happening around you. This is part description of what you can expect to see at these smaller events, and part warning of the common pitfalls to avoid if you're thinking of throwing your own little gathering and want to actually get credited for the adventures you run. Even more than music, it's the grass-roots stuff that's crucial to the survival of roleplaying as a hobby, as nearly everyone is an active player rather than just an observer and making money from it is only an option for a tiny fraction of the participants. Neglect that, and the whole thing falls apart. This both makes for interesting reading, and is surprisingly full of concrete practical advice. If you want to get good at something, it really does help not only to put in the time, but also get multiple perspectives instead of sticking to the same small clique where everyone is used to playing together. Of course, you also need a certain degree of privilege in terms of money and free time to have a chance of competing on this level, and it's also a reminder of that. Like horse-riding or playing golf, competitive tournament roleplaying is not a hobby for the poor. Oh well. Just have to accept that you'll probably never catch up with them point-wise and concentrate on just having fun. That's the most important thing really.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 56: Nov/Dec 1990



part 4/5



The Living City: We saw just a couple of issues ago that the number of Bards is way up in 2e. So it makes sense that there'd also be a musical instrument shop in Raven's Bluff to supply their needs. Black Dugal's Music Shoppe (sic) produces both stringed and wind instruments, to high quality at quite reasonable prices. He also has a few magical ones able to cast various low level spells three times a day if you play the right melody. You can commission something a bit more powerful, but you'll probably have to gather some of the rare and expensive ingredients yourself. Alternatively, you could be hired as a courier to deliver one of them to some other wealthy client almost anywhere in the Realms. Once again, this has plenty to offer adventurers in terms of plot hooks and potential missions, as you'll have to put in the work to get the cool equipment upgrades. (which will hopefully make you appreciate them more) If you've got the complete bard's handbook and have gone for some of the multiclass bard with kit options there, your party could definitely have a long and mutually profitable relationship with this shop.



Going To Town: A short little Boot Hill article reminds us that even though they couldn't get enough signups to run tournament modules this year, the staff here still have a soft spot for it. So here's half a page of random generation stuff for when you need to generate a small town, but are stumped for ideas. It could really have done with being a bit bigger, but if that's all they're getting, that's all they can publish. Another attempt at diversity that isn't really going anywhere due to general apathy.



The Everwinking Eye: Ed spends a third issue in a row on the quirks of Maskyr's Eye, revealing some, but not all of the secrets to the history that he hinted at in the past couple of instalments. The ability to slowly dole out these little hints at a bigger world and let you speculate what's next over the months is how he built a fanbase in the first place, and he definitely hasn't lost his touch at that. We find out what's happened to Maskyr's staff, and the extra tricks it's current owner has up his sleeve. Some linguistic quirks of the locals and how they got started, which make about as much sense as any trend ever does in real life. And the dangers for people who try to get into another, still occupied wizard's tower in the area. All of these are interesting, but still have plenty of room for further expansion. Does he have any more on this location, or will he be moving onto another topic next time? Either way, I'm sure he'll give us much more than his fair share of good adventure ideas in here as well now he's settled in and got comfortable.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 56: Nov/Dec 1990



part 5/5



Word Search: As is often the case with festive issues, they fill a page with your basic word search packed with D&D terms and creatures. No particularly clever format, just a big square with words hidden horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Another familiar thing that'll fill maybe an hour or so at most if you really want to find everything listed. At least they got it in on time this year.



Gen Con 1990: Another reliable returnee after the big conventions is a couple of pages of photographs where we actually get to see the people behind the newszine, along with the competition winners and a few of the most outrageously dressed other attendees. Like many of the production values, these have definitely increased in quality, so we can actually see things like hair and clothing texture properly. 1990 is still a long way from the present in terms of fashion choices. A mildly interesting historical footnote that reminds us how much everyday things have changed in the past 30 years.



The GEnie Unleashed: We finish off with a single-pager that gives RPGA members in the USA a special offer to get online, communicate with people all over the country and enjoy TSR's services more cheaply. They're still charging several dollars an hour, but at least that's better than charging by the minute. :p Another reminder that the internet was growing at an exponential rate while coming down in cost year on year back then, but still has a long way to go in terms of ubiquity and convenience. It's longer and harder to get from zero to a million regular users than it is to get from a million to nearly every potential customer, because that's how word of mouth exponential growth works. In the meantime, it's pretty likely that there'll be several more years of articles like this, that are aimed at people who have no idea at all that online communication via computer even exists yet. Another mildly interesting historical footnote.



Wolff & Byrd give us some suitably festive poetry wherein the ghost of St Nicolas bemoans what's happened to the old festival in his name. A case even they're reluctant to take on, for not only would it be hard to win, but how would you enforce the judgement on the whole world if you did?



An issue that somehow has both more than it's usual share of useful, significant articles, but also silly humor and tiny inconsequential ones as well. Still, that means plenty of variety overall, which is welcome. Time to see what trajectory the next year will follow in turn.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 26: Nov/Dec 1990



part 1/5



76 pages. A wolf, a full moon, and a man growing claws and fangs? I do believe we may have a lycanthropic scenario on out hands. How very spooky, if a touch late to be seasonal. Still, if it's meant to be a surprise to the PC's at first, all the better to keep it so. Let's find out who's responsible, and how contagious their particular strain is.



Editorial: The editorial once again reiterates their desire to keep variety up, both continuing to publish non D&D material, and doing more small adventures. That is, presuming they can get suitable submissions, which is always in doubt. To encourage that, they're running a competition to come up with a snappy name for the short encounters column, which will hopefully help give it an identity and keep it regular, like the ecologies in Dragon. Give us something to look forward to to tune in again, even if we probably have enough adventures for a full campaign already.



Letters: The first letter quibbles about the rules for moonmelon mutation. The parents can be cured with the right treatment, but any kids you've already had are stuck that way forever. Not that forever means that much in a universe where shapeshifting magic is commonplace, and reincarnation spells only mildly rarer.

The second reminds the rest of the readers that they can only publish what's submitted. Be the change you want to see. That refrain definitely isn't going away any time soon, is it.

Third is from Barbara's daughter, who's friends don't believe she's really the daughter of Dungeon's editor because she has a different surname, and wants to get her name in print to prove it to them. A woman, not only having a full-time job, but also bearing children out of wedlock?! : Pops monocle: Well I never heard of such a thing! It's no wonder they find her story implausible! :p What is the world coming too?! Jeeves, pour me a stiff glass of brandy. I feel quite out of sorts.

Fourth is another complaining that some recent adventures are too deadly, and wondering what playtesting took place on them? Unless the writer did it with their own group before submitting it, absolutely none. They don't have the time or budget for that. This is why they wind up with ones that read well, but might not work out for many groups in actual play.

Fifth praises them for doing non-D&D adventures, and asks them if they'll do a TMNT one. Since it's a licensed property, and Palladium are noted for being litigiously obstreperous, I somehow don't think that specific example is going to pan out.

6th, 7th & 11th are also very happy about the Marvel experiment, and want more, more more! Just a shame that they also have to rely on advertising to keep the magazine going.

8th, 9th, 10th, 12th & 13th provide the opposing viewpoint, and want all the non D&D stuff excised pronto or they may stop reading altogether. Yeesh. It's only one adventure out of half a dozen, it's hardly as if they've stopped catering to you altogether. Do you treat every single film that doesn't have a straight white male protagonist in the same way?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 26: Nov/Dec 1990



part 2/5



The Inheritance: As usual, we start things off with a fairly typical site-based challenge. One of the PC's relatives dies and leaves them a castle in the will. The only problem? You need to clear out the hobgoblins that killed him in the first place. The twist? If you don't do so within 30 days, (more than half of which will be taken up just travelling there assuming you're using the Forgotten Realms map provided and starting from Waterdeep) it becomes the property of the state by default. As with Raven's Bluff, nice legal system you got there. This means no pulling 15 minute workdays, as if you go back to the nearest town mid-adventure to heal and restock, you'll easily run the clock out. The hobgoblins are a well organised bunch that draw upon the author's own real life military experience for tactics, and are given plenty of backstory and personality detail of their own. It's almost a shame to kill them so quickly and never see any of it in actual play. I guess it'll depend on what tactics you use, as this is another one where a frontal assault with melee weapons would be a very bad idea, but their real world tactics will fall before a group with a decent amount of magic and the cunning to use it in out of context ways. Even once you win, the adventure's not over, as you still have to get back in time to properly stake your legal claim, and may find that holding onto a prime bit of real estate is an expensive endeavour, (especially if you damaged the building in the process of conquering it) what with property taxes, the relatives of the hobgoblins coming to get revenge, and other adventurers trying to kill you and take your stuff in turn. It's all very strongly on the gritty low level side of adventuring, where the PC's are just one of many adventuring groups roaming the land, logistics & legal consequences are big issues, and any triumph is a plot hook to more challenges along the line. If you follow all those secondary plot hooks, this could tie you down to the area and keep you in work for a good long time. All in all, a pretty solid starter.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 26: Nov/Dec 1990



part 3/5



Operation - Fire Sale: The non-D&D adventure this issue is a Top Secret/S.I. one. The recent fall of the Berlin wall has substantially changed the geopolitical balance in Germany and the various espionage agencies present are working overtime to adapt and wind up on top. Someone is leaking military secrets at the NATO base in Bremen. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to plug that leak ASAP. The result is very much in the style of a mansion murder mystery, only on an army base, and just maybe everyone will get out alive. The real culprit knows you're onto them and will do their best to frame someone else. Everyone else is just going about their day to day lives, with a timeline of what will happen if you don't interfere. Will you find the real clues, or fall for the red herrings? If you do catch them, it turns out they're being blackmailed in turn, and you have to go and kick the ass of the real mastermind to solve the problem for good. That obligatory shooty climax aside, it's a combat light, roleplaying-heavy adventure that gives you plenty of opportunity to ham up the various NPC's personalities. It also means that if you get the wrong end of the stick you could fail completely while surviving, and get amusingly chewed out by your superiors later when further evidence emerges that disproves your conclusions. That's something you don't get to see very often here, regardless of system, so this definitely wins my approval.



Caravan Guards: Sometimes, you can choose whether or not you accept an adventure or not. Sometimes, you don't get that choice, or at least not obviously. While on the road from one place to another, the PC's come across a group of merchants travelling in the same direction. It can be dangerous on the road, so they'll offer to pay you to act as guards. You continue on your way, have a few conversations, face a couple of random monster encounters, maybe even the start of a romance subplot, then night falls and they all turn into Bhuts and try to eat you. Just can't trust anyone, can you? It's a hard life being an adventurer. Seems like more than half your potential employers are either disguised monsters, are lying to you & using you as pawns even when it would be easier to achieve their objectives honestly, or simply plan to stiff you on the deal to get out of paying afterwards. Oh well, I guess it all just means more XP in the long run. One of those kinds of adventures that you don't want to use very often, because otherwise the players become too paranoid to form emotional bonds with the NPC's and engage with any apparent roleplaying encounters because they know the other shoe is going to drop eventually. Not that it's bad individually, as it puts plenty of effort into building the individual personalities of the NPC's before they reveal their true colours, and talking about how their powers and hungers affect their day-to-day lives, but diminishing returns will rapidly set in if you overuse adventures of this type. Starscream might have been able to get away with betraying Megatron every week, but somehow I doubt your players will be as slow to learn their lesson.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 26: Nov/Dec 1990



part 4/5



Deadfalls on Nightwood Trail: As they said in the editorial, here's a two page encounter that you can easily put in nearly any campaign to spice up their journeys between more significant locations. A Spriggan and an Ettercap have joined forces to create more elaborate traps and string them up along a forest path where prey might well wander. If the PC's aren't in complete paranoia mode or powerful enough to have magical detection on as default, it's pretty likely they'll stumble into them, leaving some of the PC's strung up or netted and the others struggling to free them while the monsters attack and do their best to have everyone for dinner. A reasonably interesting demonstration of how different creatures working together intelligently can be more dangerous than the sum of their parts. It'd fit pretty seamlessly into the previous adventure too. Now, can they come up with a good name for these kind of little roadside encounters and get enough good submissions to keep them as a regular thing? There's definitely no shortage of demand for them, as long as PC's have to travel to get from one place to the next, a few filler encounters will always be handy to earn a few more XP and make the world feel like it doesn't revolve around one thing.



The Curse and the Quest: For a third adventure in a row, we have an adventure which comes to the PC's, so they don't really have an informed choice in whether they participate or not. There was a letter complaining about their players turning down too many missions a few months ago, so I guess this is the editors overcompensating in response. The PC's come across a dead body by the side of the road with a book. If anyone touches the book, they get cursed to be attacked by an exponentially increasing number of incorporeal horrors every day until it's too much for even the highest level party. Fortunately, one of the previous victims figured out and wrote down what it takes to destroy the book and free yourselves of the curse, if you can only get to the right place at the right phase of the moon and perform the right ritual. Double fortunately, the full moon is just a few days away. Better get cracking then. So you have to negotiate both the challenges of the wilderness, and the humans who own the land you're passing over, who will not be particularly sympathetic to the plight of some rando adventurers trespassing, and then figure out how to use the book to venture into the weird extradimensional place where it can be unmade & the curse lifted. While not as linear and restrictive as some of the worst Polyhedron adventures, this is still far more railroady than any adventure we've seen in Dungeon apart from Irongard, and while this offers more freedom of movement than that in terms of map routes, it has several horrible pixelbitch puzzles near the end that have very specific solutions, and if you mess up, you'll either die by running out of time and being swarmed or be trapped forever. In fact, you can destroy the book, and still be trapped forever to die of starvation all too easily if you don't think ahead or talk to the right NPC's. It's all a little irritating and worrying, and I hope it doesn't herald adventures like this becoming a regular thing. Not my idea of a good time.
 

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