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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 28: Mar/Apr 1991



part 5/5



Visitors from Above: The second Spelljammer adventure in here is once again aimed at getting people in a standard fantasy campaign up into wildspace, rather than accommodating people already up there. This is a pattern that would hit diminishing returns very quickly if repeated, especially if there's nothing up there to keep your game going once you make the transition. Even more repetitively, it's also set in the Forgotten Realms, although the default vicinity is Neverwinter rather than Raven's Bluff. Once again, a spaceship suffers a calamity and crashlands spectacularly. The PC's are in the vicinity and obviously investigate. Also once again, there are survivors of the crash making trouble and you have to defeat them to get your hands on the ship. Once you have it, you can make it spaceworthy with a little tinkering and get into new cosmic vistas of adventure, presuming the DM can write those themselves. The difference is that this is longer and more railroady, with several NPC's that'll push you in the right direction in an over-obvious way and then prevent you from enjoying all the fruits of your labours if you follow everything they say, plus a bit of annoying comedy. Overall, not an improvement on the first attempt, leaving me a little irked. You'll need to come up with more variation than this if you want to make wildspace a viable long-term setting.



Still plenty of good adventures overall in this one, but it was particularly easy to see the patterns and formulas they were using, which is a little worrisome. It's definitely easier to run out of new ideas for adventures than it is general magazine articles, particularly with their general reluctance to do multi-parters at this point. Let's see if next issue repeats ideas, and if so, from how recently.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 59: May 1991



part 1/5



36 pages. A dimetrodon waits in ambush in a swamp for some astronauts from a crashed spaceship. Let's hope their ray guns are still functional, otherwise their stay on the planet is likely to be a short one. Another day, another world to explore and analyse.



Bookwyrms: This column promotes their burgeoning Dragonlance novels, packed with more than one multi-book series being written concurrently by various authors. The Elven Nations trilogy, where you get to see what intolerant jackasses Krynnish elves are close-up. And the Meetings Sextet, (giggedy) where you get to see how the heroes of the lance met first, and in what order & combinations. That's a lot of backstory building up to a big event we've already seen. Let's hope they have someone on the ball keeping track of continuity with all these different authors working togethahahaha who am I kidding? They can't even keep track of how many moons Krynn is supposed to have, let alone more subtle timeline details. They're going to churn them out until it hits diminishing returns, and they have no choice but to advance the timeline and introduce a new generation. They really could have done with a stricter line developer. Even Ed Greenwood, who's much better at keeping track of little details, calling back to them and building on them in further articles & books is still no Kevin Feige in terms of managing others playing in the same world. So this is more cautionary tale than nostalgic callback for me. Some of their past practices really don't need to be brought back.



Notes From HQ: Once again, they're planning on making Gen Con bigger and better than ever before. Over three dozen official tournaments to choose from over various systems. The person who scores the most points overall across the three days (probably entering in every time slot available) wins a trip to Gen Con Europe, which means even more opportunities to gain XP! Hope you've been working on your constitution score. They also continue their onslaught of competitions to drive engagement. This time it's potions. What weird concoctions will we see in a few month's time? Seems like things are running pretty smoothly here, despite doubling the amount they have to write and edit.



Letters: There's only one letter this time, complaining about creating new rankings for players. No matter how many you create, a persistent congoer will eventually be able to make up the points, and the more you add, the more the RPGA systems favour a few whales who have the free time and money to do so over people who might score well in one or two tournaments, but can't manage the same degree of quantity. All the same issues MMO's struggle with today. If someone has an insurmountable lead, it can be demotivating to others and the hobby as a whole shrinks in response. They accept that eventually, they're going to have to change their system again, but not for a few years, since every time they do it's a whole load of hassle, and besides, it'll take that long for people to max out the new rankings anyway. No point rushing these things, especially pre internet where communications take months to filter through the worldwide system even if it is an emergency.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 59: May 1991



part 2/5



On the Warpath: Boot Hill manages to get another article, and in doing so, manages to remind us precisely why it went way out of style, with a detailed timeline of native american genocide & forced relocation and their failed attempts to fight back from 1834 to 1895. They're still trying to blithely treat them like equal sides in a fantasy game, and even more than then, this isn't flying as more minorities are given voices by social media and remind us that this is was a pretty one-sided series of taking stuff and breaking treaties that happened to their ancestors and still has a real impact on their living conditions today. Can you really still play cowboys as the cool, rootin-tootin heroes of the story after reading about all that? Would you want to game with people who would? This is a short sharp dose of reality amid the more fantastical stuff, and reminds us that even the early 90's are a long away away in terms of political attitudes. The TSR code of conduct keeps blatant sexism & racism out of their products, but the overall staff demographics are still strongly white & male and some perspectives are still more default than others.



The Living City: This column also deals with some unpleasant day-to-day realities, talking about a Raven's Bluff slaughterhouse and butcher shop. Unless your PC's are vegetarians, (a principle that will be sorely tested when you're on a lengthy adventure and running out of supplies) hunt everything themselves, or are powerful enough to magic up their food, they're going to be regular customers to something like this. They don't have any magitech to make the actual butchery any more humane, (and one of the owners is a sadist who likes it that way) but they do have a magical freezer to help with storage. (which would be a threat to the dedicated icehouse a few issues ago if they decided to focus more on that aspect of their business) They also stick strictly to selling mammalian meat, so as not to compete with a nearby poultry vendor that hasn't got a full write-up yet. (but may in the future, hint hint) There is a subplot about a vampire lurking beneath the abattoir and feeding off the waste blood from the animals, but as it's been able to cut way down on killing people thanks to that, it's pretty low priority for the average adventurer. So this is mainly interesting on a socio-economic level, showing what modern amenities they do & don't have in this world, and the bounds of where they're competing with their rivals due to overlap of remits. You want to make a profit, but you can't sell everything to every market, so it pays to specialise. These kinds of worldbuilding details are fascinating, and I just hope that other RPGA writers are paying attention and will create something consistent that builds further on them in response.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 59: May 1991



part 3/5



The New Rogues Gallery: A particularly interesting foray into unfamiliar systems for this column, as they detail a group of smugglers for the Star Wars d6 system. A half human/half orlac, and three new alien species that don't appear in the movies at all. Like many a petty criminal, they really just want to make a profit and have a little fun on the side, but when you've got a huge expansionist evil empire breathing down your neck, I guess you've got to do a bit of heroics just by default to stay alive and free, so they wound up joining the rebellion forces. This is in keeping with the general tone of the WEG star wars books, where they focussed much more of the everyday folks in a weird universe just trying to survive than the space wizards and heroes journey stuff. You're not going to go from farmboy to psychic master pilot in a matter of hours, so scale your ambitions accordingly. As long as you can accept that, it does seem to support a fair bit of flexibility, with the new aliens including a bird-person, a shapeshifter, and an intelligent giant ant. Are you going to join them on their journeys? Will enough people in the RPGA do so for them to run tournament adventures in that system? It did pretty well with the general public, so hopefully this won't be a one-off appearance in the newszine.



The Living Galaxy: Roger continues with fairly generic worldbuilding advice with a sci-fi flavour that's actually useful for most campaigns. Originality is hard, so if you want to make lots of planets for your setting, it's much easier to steal from existing planets and change them just enough to make them interesting to adventure in. (usually by decreasing the lethality and increasing the amount of life.) Make it martian, but the air is just about thick enough to breathe with the aid of a respirator. Europan, but the sea is close enough under the ice for you to dig to it. Earth-like, but with saturnesque rings rather than one basic moon. It's all a pretty strong reminder that to make space adventures work, you need to either soft-pedal the challenges, or provide the PC's with hypertech that we don't even have a theoretical path to creating in the real world, because otherwise the vast distances and hostile environments will either kill your PC's in seconds, or have them die of old age before they even get to another solar system. While you can make interesting adventures in an ultra-hard sci-fi setting, they won't be much like D&D ones, and you'll have to fastforward through large stretches of time even more than in D&D wilderness exploration missions. It does seem pretty challenging, which is why most settings don't even try. Oh well. When it comes to storytelling, It's better to fail in an interesting way than succeed in a boring one. That's another lesson suitable for any genre.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 59: May 1991



part 4/5



A New World to Conquer: Our second promotional article this issue is for Dark Sun. The desert world where everything is psionic and arcane magic is destroying the ecosystem. Can you free the city-states from the cruel grip of the sorcerer-kings and make it a better place, or will you merely struggle to survive between all the social and environmental hazards? Your equipment is limited, but your basic ability scores are jacked way up, everyone starts at 3rd level, and the enemies are similarly scary in response. It's easily the biggest departure from regular D&D rules and setting assumptions they've done so far, as well as the highest production values they've tried, with the concept art by Brom playing an integral part in it's development rather than being commissioned after they'd already done all the writing. Unsurprisingly, Jim Ward is involved, which makes perfect sense, as Dark Sun is a merger of the AD&D and Gamma World aesthetics with a less comical veneer, and he always was one of the biggest twinks on staff. With sample NPC stats and a new monster, the Psi-Shadow, this lets you know exactly what you're in for if you buy this, although I don't think even they knew how convoluted and metaplotty it'd wind up in the supplements at this point. (the full details of what, why, and how common sorcerer-kings were definitely seems to have been added on after the initial writing) It's a pretty good teaser, making it clear that they're trying to push the limits of what you can do with the D&D system, and produce something completely distinct from the 4 fairly generic worlds they're currently supporting. Their ambition may exceed their reach sometimes, but they're putting out both far more quantity and variety of material than WotC now, on much more specific subjects. Who's going to be nostalgic for generic mishmash supplements like Tasha's Cauldron in 25 years time? Give us new settings that do something different and relevant to the modern day.



A Friend In Need: The adventure this issue is a whimsical one with nonstandard pregen PC's. Take on the roles of a Sprite, Sylph, Swanmay, Centaur, Werebear, & a regular elf just for good measure and save the woodland creatures from some fairytale cliches given interesting combinations. A handsome prince is searching for his bride. The (evil) sorceress with a magic mirror offers to help him in his search, secretly intending to use a love potion to make him fall in love with her instead. On the journey, he meets a dryad and falls in love with her instead. By amazing co-incidence, her tree gets struck by lightning and she passes out. The prince takes her away from her tree to get medical attention (not realising this just makes matters worse.) The evil sorceress pulls a sleeping beauty routine on both of them, and the PC's have to rescue them in a hurry. (with obligatory waking with a kiss) It's frequently silly, and the influences are very obvious, but it is willing to subvert expectations and give you some freedom in how you solve the challenges, so it's definitely not the worst they've ever done in here. Like the one where you played as magic items, the set of nonstandard PC's definitely strengthens the adventure as a whole, and while it could be played in a regular campaign, it'd lose a fair bit of it's charm without them. That means it's probably not one I'd wind up using under normal circumstances, but I don't have any particular animosity to it either, unlike some of their so-called humorous adventures which are just annoying to read.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 59: May 1991



part 5/5



With Great Power: It's this column's turn to do a competition. They give four sets of stats, and ask the readers to come up with backstories for them. The magical cowboy Desperado, able to generate horse, six-shooter and lasso out of thin air. Kaleidoscope, a rainbow-generating flashy teleporter. Mongrel, your basic beast-person powerset of undefined gender. And Sidestep, who's basically a human Displacer Beast, always appearing to be a few feet from her real location. Will people go for the obvious stereotypes for their personalities and history, or manage to throw some interesting curveballs that intrigue the editors better. Tune in several months later to find out!



Into The Dark: This column goes even further back than last time in it's pursuit of decent fantasy films, with two of them originally released in 1962. Without CGI and green screening being common things yet, making a fantasy film is expensive compared to more grounded genres, as you have to actually make all the sets, or at least, elaborate matte paintings. Finding ones that have both decent budget and writing was not an easy task. Let's see what he's dug up, and if I've heard of any of them before.

Carnival of Souls is that increasingly rare concoction, a horror movie where the supernatural details genuinely seem to be all in the protagonist's head. A flop on initial release, it's gradually built a cult fanbase since then, and James is quite pleased to see it appear on home video. Yes, the production values might not match up to modern stuff, but the low-fi special effects work well with the black and white film to make it all seem more detached from reality. There's a reason people still use black and white to make things nostalgic and/or creepy today.

The Navigator gets a fairly positive review for it's interesting reverse wizard of oz story, where a group of people from the 14th century go on a quest to modern day earth to save their village from the plague. The challenges are a bit easier and the resolution neater than James would prefer, but I guess that's a general problem with it being a movie rather than a series. There's only so much challenge you can fit into a single sitting.

Tower of London sees Roger Corman try his hand at the Richard III story. Vincent Price hams it up impressively as usual, but the low budget does limit what they can do somewhat. Still, like all his films, there's enough energy there that it remains an interesting watch, and also like all of his films, it managed to make a profit. There are many far bigger directors with far worse records on that count.

Deathstalker gets thoroughly and viciously panned. Terrible writing, terrible continuity, terrible pacing and huge amounts of sexism. They can't even make the violence and nudity convincing. File pretty near the bottom of boringly bad.



Another issue that makes it clear just how hard TSR is working to come up with new ideas and add them to it's repertoire at this point. Some of it is formulaic, some of it is silly, and much of it won't stand the test of time, but if they'd only stuck with one idea, chances are, nothing'd be remembered at all.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 29: May/June 1991



part 1/5



80 pages. I know librarians can get a little irritable if you don't return books on time & in good condition, but this is a bit excessive. That's what you get for employing Baatezu staff. They may seem efficient and responsible workers, but there's always a catch. Let's see who's getting the bad end of the deal inside, and if there'll be any obvious loopholes that'll let the PC's escape unscathed.



Editorial: This is about their attempts to add more cool special features to the magazine, like the full boardgames Dragon occasionally carried. They had to turn a whole bunch of them down due to logistic reasons, although both including audio tracks to play at certain points in the adventure and a holographic cover will appear elsewhere in their product lines once the price points come down a little. They settled on a cut-out card map with rearrangeable rooms that lets you build new dungeon layouts with the same pieces quickly and easily. Just make sure you don't lose any of the pieces, or you could render the adventure unwinable. They look forward to seeing how people react to it, and remain open to further suggestions to spice up the presentation and build atmosphere. As long as they keep things interesting for themselves with experiments like this, hopefully they'll remain interesting to the readers as well.



Letters: The first letter is another far-flung gamer who struggles to get hold of books and other gamers. Any leads in Israel? As long as you're buying something legal, mail-order and Mastercard will be there for you.

Second, your usual bit of errata from a writer who only just realised their mistake after they'd already sent off the final draft.

3&4 are another round of opposing opinions, one wanting more adventures set in specific settings with concrete worldbuilding details, the other less, as it makes it harder to use them in your own campaign. Sticking entirely to either seems like a bad idea.

5th wants them to collect the new monsters, spells & items they've introduced over the years into books so more people can use them. It may take them a few years to assemble enough, but they will get around to it eventually.

6th is another who thinks system isn't important, it's the underlying ideas. Put them in whatever game form you want.

7th reminds us that atmosphere is as important as stats, particularly when it comes to horror. Awful things don't need to happen to their characters every encounter, but they need to feel the danger is real or they'll lose immersion.

8th is another generally happy with the magazine, although slightly more frequent solo adventures would be nice.

9th is completely the opposite, sulking over them including a marvel module and moving on from AD&D 1e. It's been 2 years since the new edition came out, and there's no great changes in the rules anyway. Get used to it.

Finally, praise for stepping up the number of handouts and other bits of clever formatting they're including. It really does make a difference.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 29: May/June 1991



part 2/5



The Tome of Magic gets a weirdly formatted 4 page advert that makes it quite clear that this is a high priority book for TSR. Lots of future books will reference the new spells and specialist wizard variants in here, so picking it up is highly advised.



Nymph's Reward: Ah, chronic backstabbing disorder. The downfall of any villainous organisation, no matter how large and powerful. Even if they share the same personality type, ideology and goals, everyone wanting to be on top is a quick path to enmity. This time, it's a covey of hags that bring about their own downfall by getting adventurers involved in their scheming. Two of them get sick of the third, and chuck her out, in the process "cursing" her to be trapped in the form of a beautiful nymph. She wants both revenge and to get her minions (who didn't believe her new form is her) back. Will the PC's fall for the request of a damsel in distress and gather the ingredients to break her curse? There's some hints right from the first meeting that things aren't entirely what they seem, but only very careful use of divination magic will give you definite proof of her perfidy. Besides, as long as you're hurting evil things, does it really matter if your employer is also evil? Just be prepared for when they assume their true form and engage in sudden but inevitable betrayal. (because being a maniacally cackling villain means not paying your employees and keeping them around even when they've proven to be reliable) This all feels firmly on the 80's cartoon end of the villainous spectrum, with unrealistic, exaggerated characterisations, and built around a sexist joke. (The worst thing you can do to a woman is to make her ugly (by her standards)) It's not completely unusable, and the worldbuilding is still better than most Polyhedron adventures, but this is one | think I'll pass on overall. There are both better sandboxes and funnier jokes out there.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 29: May/June 1991



part 3/5



Ex Libris: The cover story goes in the middle rather than at the end, due to the special cutout centrefold features. They use a gimmick I only recall seeing once before, in the final dungeon of Skyward Sword. You have a grid of rooms with a single blank space, and have to slide it around, rearranging the dungeon correspondingly to make it all the way through. This makes for a highly nonlinear experience where conventional mapping is useless, and you need to get to grips with the meta puzzle before you can hope to get through the internal challenges, which are also very varied from room to room, as each occupies it's own mini dimension with complete environmental control. Fortunately the plot is pretty different from it's Zelda imitator. The PC's are hired to search an abandoned temple of Oghma for any cool books or other treasure still remaining. It was abandoned for good reason, so this pisses off the rest of the church hierarchy, and you'll have to deal with a rival adventuring party hired to stop you, as well as the rather complex magical defences and multiple bound abishai as depicted earlier. There's plenty going on here to challenge you both physically and mentally. This feels quite different from most of their adventures because it was designed setpiece first by the TSR staff and then then the finer details & story were written afterwards. It's obviously had a lot more eyes on it and development work put in than usual, rather than being a story written by a single writer and then having the editing and artwork smarten it up afterwards. Getting the art department integrally involved in design work is really paying dividends in distinguishing Dark Sun from all their other worlds, and it's pleasing to see them applying the same lesson here on a smaller scale. A very interesting thing for them to try that I hope gets repeated in the future.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 29: May/June 1991



part 4/5



Side Treks: Through the Night. Our mini adventure this issue delights in subverting expectations. An inn having people killed in their beds, being found in the morning drained of all their fluids with everything else undisturbed? Any normal person would suspect a vampire, and put crosses and garlic around the place accordingly, and that's what the PC's will find when they arrive at the place, throwing them off the scent. Nope, it's a slithering tracker that's ventured out of the dungeon and likes it up here! Not actually quite as deadly on a mechanical level, but the ability to squeeze through the tiniest gap, paralyze people and keep them for later consumption is still pretty scary when treated cleverly. Imagine being aware but unable to move, with a bunch of other people, not knowing which one of you is going to be dinner this night. That's what awaits you if you all fail your saves repeatedly and don't have any contingencies prepared. It'll sneak in your rooms in the night, hit and run, and not kill until anyone who might be able to interrupt it while feeding is incapacitated. In the darkness and rain it's hard to tell what it is, and it can easily escape into the puddles and cracks in the ground. So this is a pretty effective horror scenario that's unlikely to result in a TPK even if you lose the encounter, (someone'll probably make their save to escape from paralysation during the day when it's asleep after a day or two), but could well kill some of the characters and put a real scare into the hearts of your players. Whoda thought a translucent blob could cause so much trouble. :) Muahahaha. This one definitely gets my seal of approval.



'Til Death do us Part: While the last adventure uses gothic trappings to subvert your expectations, this one plays them completely straight. A Banshee and a Ghost haunt an abandoned abbey in the woods of Myth Drannor. Due to her regular use of death scream even when no-one's visiting, all the plants within a few miles of it are dead and rotting, setting the stage in a suitably spooky way, and making it easy for any adventurers venturing near to spot. Like any insubstantial being with decent ranged attacks worth their salt, they'll use hit and run attacks, possession, and magical trickery to scare the players and wear them down as they explore the area rather than engage in a straight fight. There's a bound daemon in the abbey as well, so if it looks like they're losing the battle against the PC's & they're getting close to the treasure, they'll release it. This is probably less scary than the previous adventure, but considerably more deadly, between the repeated AoE save or die attacks and ageing ones that'll permanently mess you up unless you can afford Restoration. 2e undead are still not anything to treat lightly. The degree of backstory isn't as great as some of these, but it's still enough to get a handle on the ghosts as people, not just monsters, so you can roleplay them interestingly if you want. As long as your players can handle the lethality it looks pretty usable and flexible, so no objections here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 29: May/June 1991



part 5/5



Mightier than the Sword: With the cover story moved to the middle, we finish off with a typically playful medium sized adventure from Willie Walsh instead. What happens if someone invents a better pen and spreads literacy amongst the common people? A whole load of economic disruption from people who's living depends on the old supply chain, or having a captive audience for their services. They'll make attempts to prevent the new technology from gaining widespread use, sabotage the equipment or even resort to violence against it's manufacturers. So here we have a murder mystery involving fantasy luddites. Was it the goose-breeders, (for the quills) the guild of scribes, a druid wanting to protect the forest from increased logging for paper, or even just a co-incidence? Most of the town council have connections to one or another of the industries involved, so they don't trust each other to do an impartial investigation. They hire the PC's to function as neutral parties and get to the bottom of this before it tears the town apart. (preferably bringing the killer in alive for proper trial, and generally avoiding hack and slash behaviour, as this is a civilised place) It may be humorously presented, but this is also surprisingly educational, inspired by logistic & economic issues and historical conflicts that have happened repeatedly in the real world. The details of the advancement will need tweaking if you run it in a high magic world where mundane technological concerns like this have long since ceased to be an issue, but the set of interesting NPC's with plenty of quirks to ham up in roleplaying should remain valid regardless of genre, and this is another town you can put on your map and reuse when the PC's pass by again. I look forward to seeing what inspirations he draws upon next time.



Yet another issue that maintains reasonably high standards for writing, while really pushing at the production values. At least that's one area that generally only moves upward, at least until the readership drops and their budget gets cut accordingly, and even then it's often made up for by technological improvements. Now it's time to enter the era where we'll be seeing two Polyhedrons for every Dungeon, which will hopefully keep the whole idea of a magazine doing nothing but adventures from hitting diminishing returns for a little longer. Let's hope both sides of this journey still have plenty to offer us.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 60: June 1991



part 1/5



32 pages. What's a little cannibalism between friends? Just one of the many things that's much less likely to happen if you have a cleric in the team. Let's recruit a better-balanced party next time, and never talk about what happened here again. Now to find out what the rest of this issue contains.



Picture This: We kick off with a page of photos from various recent conventions. One of them is from australia, which definitely raises questions about the logistics. Did they fly there and take it themselves, was it airmailed, or did they spend hours transmitting it pixel by pixel across dial-up internet? As usual, it all looks pretty goofy, with any dressing up not particularly convincing. You've got to use your imagination to make roleplaying work, because we are not trained actors with millions of dollars of special effects to depict our character's exploits. As long as fun was had, that's the important thing.



Notes From HQ: Straight away, the editorial answers my questions about the photographs. Jean actually got to go out to a bunch of conventions, including flying to australia as a guest of honor. She even got to play in one instead of editing or judging, with Ghengis Con managing what even Gen Con couldn't and organising a Boot Hill adventure for them. It reminded her why she does this job in the first place. You can do all the character optimisation and game theory you want, but ultimately it's about the human interaction. Spending all your time facilitating the fun of others without having any yourself will lead to bitterness and burnout, and you don't want that. Get out there (once the pandemic is over, obviously) and play! You'll thank yourself for doing so later.



Survival 101: The cover article is one of those realism heavy ones that reminds us adventuring is actually pretty hard work, with the long dull traveling bits requiring just as much technique as the few minutes engaged in life or death battles. A primer in basic outdoors survival techniques by a hard-bitten old Ranger who demonstrates that good does not always mean nice, and a short sharp reminder of how unprepared you are now might save your life in the future. Always carry more food than you think you'll need, have appropriate outfits for every terrain and recharge water at every opportunity. (checking that it's not poisoned, of course) All stuff they've published before in much more detail, as the Wilderness Survival guide is only 5 years old at this point. Definitely one aimed at their new readers rather than the long-term ones, and so not particularly interesting or educational to me.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 60: June 1991



part 2/5



Stop By For A Spell: This, on the other hand, may be, as new spells are always handy for your characters, and even when they're not original, it's interesting to compare and contrast them with similar variants from other sources. Let's see if these are ones I'd actually get any use out of.

Find Underground Water is basically dowsing, only it works reliably. It may seem minor, but as the previous article showed, running out of water is one of the quickest ways to kill a party, so praying for this may happen more frequently than you expect once you know you can.

Protection is the spell used to enchant rings of protection and the like. Your basic boost to AC & saves. It has a pretty short duration, so you can see why it doesn't get commonly used by adventurers as a buff spell in it's raw form. Until the great duration nerf of 3.5 edition, anyway, where lengths like this will become the default, completely changing the tactical meta in fight preparation.

Cure Intermediate Wounds is also completely self-explanatory, and will be invented independently many times by mid-level clerics seeking a little more healing oomph for their slots.

Decay rapidly eliminates any dead organic matter targeted. This is handy for destroying corporeal undead, removing a rival party's food supply, collapsing bridges, possibly even causing sudden nudity. Very tactically dangerous in combat situations even if it doesn't do HP damage.

Quicksand is a slightly weaker, more specialist variant of transmute rock to mud. Another one that doesn't do HP damage, but can win a fight outright if cast in the right situation.

Torban's Hammer is an upgraded Spiritual Hammer, so you can keep up with the increasingly dangerous monsters you'll be facing as you gain levels.

Protection from Corrosives is the kind of buff spell that won't be useful in every fight, but when it is, it's very very useful. If you know you're facing oozes or black dragons, stock right up the night before and cast it on everyone.

Detoxify is a more powerful neutralize poison, as you can use it pre-emptively on toxic substances or creatures to prevent them from poisoning you as well as saving lives post-hoc. One casting on a snake or scorpion at the start of combat will save you many castings on your compatriots. (which you probably won't have anyway given how suboptimal memorising the same spell multiple times is in most situations)

Transmute Metal to Ice is another very effective way of screwing with your enemy's equipment, although it rarely works on magic items. If you have a particularly stubborn door it'll also make a good substitute for Knock, and I'm sure you can think of other creative ways of screwing with people too. These all seem of well above average usefulness in actual play, even if they're not all that original in concept.



With Great Power: We don't have an adventure this time around, and this is the closest thing instead, a 6 page AU setting outline for Marvel fans. What happens when two Dr Doom's clash for control of Latveria, and the PC's are caught in the middle? Given all the imprinted doombots, clones, time-travelling and other weird naughty word he delves into, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. Will you side with original flavour doom, or new coke doom? Here are the important superhumans that will be your allies or enemies if you do. Curiously, there are considerably more on clone Doom's side than the original, and it looks like he has the upper hand at the moment, with more temporal support and a younger, fitter body, but the gaps in his knowledge will probably be his downfall eventually. Definitely seems like a fun scenario where the PC's could tip the balance of power one way or the other, which could be resolved in a few sessions or be extended into an epic war campaign. Not a bad idea at all.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 60: June 1991



part 3/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger is also continuing to come up with good ideas, but be far less helpful in implementing them mechanically. What if, instead of playing the humans (and aliens of similar scale), you played the spaceships? With their vast computer systems, they're frequently sentient in themselves, and can get up to some pretty interesting stuff over both macro and micro timescales that squishy organics can't participate in at all. Anyone who's read Ian M Bank's Culture series will know there's definitely some good storytelling to be had there, but how do you keep a spaceship from overpowering their crew? (both literally and plot-wise) Making them not so advanced that they don't need humans for maintenance & upgrades takes care of the first one, possibly with some Asimov style laws of robotics on top to further restrict smaller-scale rebellion. Handling space battles amongst essentially immortal beings that are set up meticulously over centuries and then resolved in nanoseconds is a little trickier. Maybe a variant of Nobilis might be able to pull it off, or high points BESM if you want higher crunch. It's probably not going to work with anything built from a D&D chassis. This concept definitely needs a bigger, more in-depth treatment to properly do it justice.



Bookwyrms: Last time, they talked about extending their Dragonlance ambitions from trilogies to a sextet. Now the Forgotten Realms side strikes back with the Harpers series, which they're not even going to put an arbitrary limit on. Looking forward, it'll run for 16 books over 7 years before finally being cancelled, which definitely beats their Krynnish rivals. After all, they're in a much bigger world, not bound to a single epic story and it's offshoots, but regularly introducing whole new casts for standalone books, many of which will only be seen once. Troy Denning, Elaine Cunningham and our own Jean Rabe are all looking forward to putting their own spins on their heroic adventures. Why does someone join the Harpers, what is their internal organisation like, and what kinds of resources do they have to help you fight evil if you're a member? Will they succeed in their quests, and will they do so cleanly, or in a way that leaves them open to revenge and further novels focussing on the same characters? Do you care enough to get hold of books that are long since out of print at the time of writing? Going through Polyhedron may be revealing yet more stuff about Toril, but even after this, my knowledge of the place won't be completely exhaustive because it has just so much material produced for it. Oh well, put it on the list of things to do if I live long enough and finish this.



The Everwinking Eye: After spending plenty of time in the taciturn, but reasonably benign environment of Maskyr's Eye, it's time for something far less pleasant, Off to Mulmaster, where there's certainly plenty of people deserving of being killed and having their stuff taken, but if you do, it'll be a long trek to somewhere safe to recharge, so it might be safer to knuckle down and think happy thoughts, for the secret police are fully allowed to scan anyone's mind anytime, and unregistered arcane spellcasters who might be able to block that are inherently illegal, so if your mind is closed to them you're definitely breaking the law and even more likely to attract their attention. It all seems pretty effectively despotic, as how can you organise an effective internal rebellion under controls that tight? Most of the people in charge are named and given class levels, with enough of them in the upper teens that you won't be overthrowing them by raw force any time soon either. The Realms may be stereotyped as the happiest D&D world overall, but there's still not just plenty of individual villains, but dystopian nations out there that provide challenges well into epic levels. There's still plenty of cool little flavour details here, some of which can be exploited, but you'll have to work to stay alive and free long enough to do so. Maybe forming an alliance with one of the feuding noble houses would be most effective, as you can gain their legal protection while striking at their rivals and even get paid instead of your only gains being what you take. Good luck, you'll definitely need it adventuring around here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 60: June 1991



part 4/5



The Living City: What is it with Raven's Bluff and dancing bears?! This is the third article they've done connected to that idea. Must be like bullfighting in Spain, something that remains popular because it's part of their stereotypical cultural identity, despite any humanitarian protests (not that there's been a huge amount of that either, with the one set of protest singers being treated mostly as a joke) and there being plenty of more entertaining alternative pastimes in a world filled with magic. So, the Dancing Bear Inn. It has indeed not only contained dancing bears, but has a small pit fighting arena in which all kinds of brutal entertainment that would be forbidden on both humanitarian and health & safety grounds in modern day earth takes place. You can also bet on the outcomes of these entertainments, but make sure you can pay up unless you want to be the subject of the violence instead. Unsurprisingly for such a rough and ready place, most of the serving staff are at least moderate class levels, including a cleric as one of the serving wenches, which I'm sure comes in extra handy for patching up gladiators so they can go a few more rounds in a night. Starting an unscheduled fight probably won't go well for the PC's. There's certainly both fun and profit to be had here as long as you're not of a delicate disposition, but watch your back. Another article that reminds us that while not a dystopian place where evil rules supreme like Mulmaster, Raven's Bluff still isn't remotely civilised by modern standards, and is unlikely to become so as long as adventurers from all over the continent are drawn there. Unlike the real wild west, the dangers here replenish as fast as adventurers can clear them out, so you're never going to get out of that frontier town mentality. Changing that would truly be an epic quest for high level characters.



Into The Dark: James admits that he's writing these columns months in advance, so he's not even trying to be timely in terms of what releases he covers, and hasn't got to see any responses to the first ones yet. He's just an RPG writer doing this as a side gig, so he has to rent these films in a shop like the rest of us, without any special behind the scenes access or comp copies. Given Polyhedron's relatively niche readership that's unlikely to change any time soon, so calibrate your expectations accordingly. Let's see what he's picked out for us this month.

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter puts a fairly interesting spin on the hammer horror formula, where a vampire hunting organisation has to figure out which one of many variants they're dealing with this time around. A valiant attempt at franchise building, mainly hampered by the woodenness of the lead actor. When all the supporting cast are more interesting than them, you wonder why you're bothering to put them centre-stage.

Battle Beyond the Stars is too busy making references to other, better movies to produce a solid plot and special effects of it's own. For all the flaws in it's writing, there's good reasons Star Wars became a blockbuster franchise starter and all it's imitators from the same era have long since been forgotten. No matter how ludicrous the premise, never wink at the camera if you want the audience to get emotionally invested in your product.

Fiend without a Face gets a mixed review, with some interesting and unusual monsters, but dated themes, shoddy editing and cheap use of stock footage. It's reasonably entertaining if you switch your brain off, but don't expect it to hold up to deep analysis, or even MST3K level.

Tremors is the first film James gives a full 5 stars too, which makes perfect sense. It might be B-movie fare, but it really brings it's A-game to characterisation, writing & soundtrack, and makes good use of it's limited special effects budget to build tension instead of just shoving the monsters in your face. It comes highly recommended. Now they just need to figure out how to avoid diminishing returns in the sequels like most horror franchises, which is much easier said than done.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 60: June 1991



part 5/5



The New Rogues Gallery: Only a single mildly silly character here this month. An Ettin who put a helm of opposite alignment on one of his heads, so his overall alignment averages out to true neutral, and he became a druid to help deal with his constantly conflicting impulses & reach some kind of balance. His two heads still argue over things a lot, but they've learned how to do so in a much more logical and erudite fashion, and work together very effectively once they do finally come to a decision on a subject. He rides a magical white elephant, and has several other tricks up his sleeve to make him more dangerous than a regular ettin if the PC's are the sort to mindlessly attack on sight. If you don't, he seems like a solid sort to go to for advice, giving you a well thought out opinion on both sides of every argument. (maybe interrupting himself a few times in the process) This definitely seems aimed at the hammier end of the DM spectrum, giving you plenty of exercise for your roleplaying muscles by playing two characters who are also one character. Good practice if you plan to have Demogorgon as the ultimate big bad of your campaign. (and maybe a clue on how to defeat him for good & make the multiverse a better place if you find another helm of opposite alignment on your travels) It won't be a good fit for every campaign, but it's an entertaining enough read.



Aussie Complex: We've recently established an australian branch of the RPGA. Now we have an article from the Australian branch of Paranoia players, detailing the unique secret societies to be found down under in their dystopian future. As usual, they're heavily based on pop culture references, many of which are specific not only to australian TV, but of the era this was written. Surfer dudes, Satellite TV nostalgia, fast car obsessives and a very particular investigative reporter stereotype that never made it outside the country, but is all the more interesting precisely because it is unfamiliar to me. Another one where not all the jokes would pass modern standards of political correctness, but in a relatively mild way. And if you soft pommie drongos can't handle a little Aussie humour, you're never going to survive the wildlife there, so better steer clear entirely.



Wolff & Byrd have to deal with the hassles of finding the right cleaning staff, as does their client. Even a pharaoh's wealth isn't enough for three thousand years of overtime and back-wages.



A very variable issue indeed in both quality and subject matter, which made for quite interesting reading, but I definitely wouldn't want to use all of it. Not that I could even if I wanted too, but it's definitely the principle of the thing in this case. Lots more to go before we hit the point where they cut out all non-D&D material, so let's see what else this era has to offer, and if the average quality will rise or fall.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 61: July 1991



part 1/5



38 pages. So long, and thanks for all the fish, say the dolphins as they turn into spaceships and blast off from the hex-gridded earth. Is it a metaphor, a dream or entirely literal? It's definitely a little artier than their usual cover fare. Will the contents be similarly abstract, and will we be able to make anything useful from them? Let's turn the pages and see if they count up in a linear fashion, or loop back on themselves like one of Escher's buildings.



Notes From HQ: The editorial is one of the reminders of how non-linear putting together a periodical is. You have the date-specific stuff that's written close to the event, although there's often a pre-prepared template to help you do so quicker. Then you fill things out with ideas from the slush pile that could be published anytime, hopefully picking several connected things to put in the same issue, commission suitable artwork and make sure the overall page count lines up with what you have the budget for. You're constantly thinking 6-12 months ahead with multiple issues in various stages of completion and jumping around in terms of what you're working on day-to-day. It takes getting used to, and sometimes things seem to happen in reverse order to the perspective of the readers. To further reinforce that nonlinearity, they introduce a new staff member who's already contributed several articles in the past few issues. Say hello to Tim Beach! Now there's a name I remember from the writing of several awesome AD&D supplements, most notably Red Steel. Good to have him on board working his way up the TSR ladder. History is definitely moving forward overall, even if it might not seem like it to the participants sometimes.



Letters: The first letter continues the education about their nonlinear process. He sent in an article months ago with no response on if they planned to use it or not. So he got impatient and sold it to another publication instead, and wants it back. They're obviously mildly annoyed about this, but it's understandable when you don't know how the world of publishing works. They could hold onto things for quite some time until the right moment arrives to slot it in. It's like doing an infinitely large jigsaw puzzle, you never know when a piece will fit.

Second praises Ed Greenwood's work as the best thing in the magazine, and hopes there's plenty more of it to come. (while still leaving room for new writers as well) No worries on that front. He's already submitted enough to last them years, even if he stopped, which he won't. He outpaces all their other writers in prolificness (and horniness) in a similar way Prince does to the rest of the music industry. Even with multiple periodicals publishing as many of his articles as is reasonable on top of the many full-length FR books, they just can't keep up.

Third complains that for such a big, well-populated, liberal-leaning state, California is surprisingly light on gaming clubs and conventions. As regional director, he's making progress, but it's hard work. I guess D&D did start way over in Lake Geneva, so it takes time for word of mouth to spread that far. Eventually persistence will pay off.

Finally, the usual thanks from the recipient of their latest charity tournament. We are the world, We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving, etc etc. :yawns:
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 61: July 1991



part 2/5



The New Rogues Gallery: We continue to celebrate their new Australian branch with a bunch of characters submitted by gamers down-under. Let's see if their ideas are particularly unique or not.

Dee Jay is (obviously) a bard who possesses several anachronistic magical items that let him simulate modern day rap music. He uses his ability to bust rhymes right on time to talk about all the injustices in the world, which gets the message across better than strumming a lute and doing it in ballad form. Now he just has to worry about the people in positions of power responsible for said injustices. Sounds like a good excuse for the PC's to run into him when he's in trouble and could use a helping hand.

Varin is a Jester who's possessions include the book of Ethnic Humor from one of Dragon's april fools issues. This lets you know exactly what level his attempts of comedy are at. His bad jokes have nearly got him killed several times, and he's considering giving it up and settling down with a nice girl, but despite being able to perform to large audiences, can't work up the courage to ask her out. Great, so he's a racist and an incel too. Now all he needs is a Gab account and a podcast and he'd fit right in on the modern day internet. Our sympathies are obviously intended to be with him from the way it's written, but 30 years later, I think I'll be siding with the people booing and driving him out of town instead.

Maylin of Waving Grain is another Bard who's really taken the jack of all trades thing to the extreme, switching to thief and then wizard in his pursuit of fun and adventure while avoiding putting himself in direct danger. Expect trickery and ranged attacks using a bow and that extensive selection of low level spells. Best to have him as a friend, because you'd hate to have him as an enemy.

Diamen is your basic ronin Knight, who was on the fast track to success, screwed up one mission catastrophically by going against enemies way above his level, couldn't face going back to his lord to report the failure, and decided to become a wandering adventurer instead. This is what happens when prodigies meet a problem they can't solve with raw talent and crash. You need to push through and realise that life isn't always going to be easy, but you've got to get up and keep on trying.



With Great Power: Having spent last issue setting up the playing pieces, it's time for the Doom Wars to properly begin. 8 pages of mini adventure ideas suitable for teams on either side with minor modification. Can you get through the scenarios with a minimum of death & destruction for the common folk of Latveria caught in the middle of all this? Things could get confusing, with both Dooms blaming anything that goes wrong on anyone but them, including the other Doom, and you, their (loyal?) minions, while deploying all kinds of experimental technology in their attempts to gain an edge. It all seems like a distinctly unhealthy workplace environment, but of course, that's what makes it fun as a campaign. Since Doom has made no shortage of enemies over his years as a Marvel villain, all sorts of heroes might interfere, and a similar number of lesser villains might be roped in as other servants, including werewolves, Frankenstein's Monster, and depressing gypsy stereotypes, because apparently Latveria is adjacent to Transylvania, so it's also full of gothic horror tropes. (as if the poor peasants didn't have enough to deal with from Doom's whims. ) You have carte blanche to make it as over the top and kitchen sinky as you please without even departing from the source material. This is much more flexible than little tournament adventures that they have to write to be resolvable in a 4 hour slot, and so is much more interesting to me as well. Not saying I'd want them to stop publishing prefab adventures entirely, but given the number that I'm reading in the Dungeon side of things, I wouldn't particularly miss them either. Maybe alternate them instead of having one of anything every time.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 61: July 1991



part 3/5



Dark Sun gets Gladiatorial Combat tournament rules so you can create your own characters, bring them to conventions, and earn points for their arena fighting escapades. Unsurprisingly, they're a lot more generous than the Living City ones. 100 points to divide amongst only 6 attributes (no-one cares about comeliness in this harsh environment), everyone starts at 3rd level with max HP and a psionic wild talent. (which will likely be the real deciding factor in battles if used cleverly, particularly if you pick one with multiple prerequisites, as that make some choices strictly better than others. ) Let's get ready to rumble! Let's hope they'll have enough signups to tell some interesting actual play stories and keep it going long enough for characters to level up.



Bookwyrms: Last year, the Forgotten Realms was invaded by mongols from the east. This time, the Faerunians are the ones doing the invading, as they blatantly steal from another bit of real world history with the Maztican colonisation. However, since Toril is a brighter and shinier world than Earth, and there isn't a convenient plague to wipe out 90% of the new worlders, things won't go nearly as well for them. While both sides will take losses, ultimately the invaders get repelled, and contact between Faerun & Maztica will fade away after a few years to make room for the next big metaplot event. (until they remember about them decades later just enough to teleport the whole continent to another planet for a century, and then bring it back, which was one of the biggest head-scratchers of the whole 4e era) While there are good and bad people on both sides, overall we're the bad guys here, and this doesn't forget it in the way it depicts things. Once again this falls into the category of shallow representation, but still better than no representation at all, and is at least trying to be more culturally sensitive than Boot Hill, while still making a Mesoamerican setting playable either as a native or a visitor. Hopefully there's still stuff to be found in the boxed set, trilogy, and adventures that's useful today.



Back to Basics: The second promotional article this issue is pretty self explanatory. They're releasing a new basic set! Easier to learn, better production values, and with a set of cards helping you quickly reference various concepts. Upsell it to all the people in your life who don't roleplay yet, but you think might be receptive to the concept. Once they're in, the upgrade path is much simpler too. Instead of a full 5 boxed sets covering various level ranges, they're releasing the Rules Cyclopedia, which'll put everything up to level 36 in a much more conveniently organised way, and then an all-new system for Immortal level play. (not that many people'll get there, because the XP system for lower levels remains the same) So this sees them sweeping some of their built-up cruft away, and then setting out to replace it with plenty more, as they're embracing the current trend to put massive world-changing metaplot events in every campaign world, with yearly almanacs to keep you up to date on everything that's happened and what it'll mean for your PC's. That'll last :checks: 4 years before they decide to shake things up again, moving Mystara to the AD&D system, where it'll be cancelled for good well before they can update everything. There's good and bad points to the changes they're making, but ultimately, too many settings, treated too similarly will be one of the big factors in TSR's downfall. Oh well, it's still an interesting journey, even if we've done it before and know how it ends, hopefully there's still a few more insights that can be gleaned viewing it from this perspective.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 61: July 1991



part 4/5



The Living City: One of the very first facts they settled on about Raven's Bluff was that it's a port city. So here's another ship based bit of setting for your games. Eldritch, Lightfoot, Findrol & co are a trio of elf ship captains who've set up a joint trading company. Their long lifespan means they've been going longer than humans could with no turnover in the upper ranks, and they've worked their way up to becoming the second largest trading company in Raven's Bluff. Since they can take the long view without pandering to the quarterly demands of shareholders they're actually pretty good employers, sticking to any deals they make and paying their crews decently. While each of them has their own statistical strengths and personality quirks, they're all pretty well-balanced mentally and none of them is secretly plotting to betray the others or running scams on the side. If your PC's take a job from them, they can sleep safe knowing any dangers on the journey are purely external ones. Like many of the Rogues Galleries, this is competently written, but just too darn nice to be top tier gaming material, and will probably be mostly a background element rather than something your players interact regularly with and become attached too.



I Blew Up The Car: Another convention story from the organisers that makes it clear that RPGA headquarters runs on mercilessly taking the piss out of each other. Chris Schon is the latest in a long line of people who volunteered to help out at Gen Con, and found that once you've done it once, it's very hard to escape doing it again, and suffering from duty creep as they offload tasks on anyone available at the time. He gets revenge by exposing Skip's terrible hygiene, Jean's terrible organisation, and the strange cuisine they serve up their "guests". He then tried to blow up Skip's car (in-game of course), which the GM made backfire with hilarious consequences (they were playing Paranoia, so that makes sense) He spent the rest of the weekend grumbling about this, only mildly leavened by the sadistic amusement at Skip suffering a real life fire in his house due to a faulty toaster, then losing the key to his filing cabinet just before a game, forcing them to use brute force to bust it open. It's a surprisingly hard life being the Sage, it seems. Despite spending the whole article complaining, he then ends it by saying he looks forward to seeing them again next year. It's all in good fun, but I can also easily see how it would be alienating to newbies, particularly people who's social skills aren't the best. If you don't realise that it's all part of the game, and they want you to get stuck in and give as good as you get, this environment would definitely seem bafflingly abusive and might drive potential gamers away if it was their first experience of roleplaying. If these are the staff at the biggest RPG company in the world, you can see why it remains a niche interest overall.



The Living Galaxy: Roger continues to deal with the challenges and potential rewards of making a spaceship PC. You definitely won't be going on most dungeon crawls with the rest of the party, although you might be able to make something with a hollow asteroid work. Overall, it definitely seems easiest if each player controls multiple characters, so you can have at least one that's useful both in space and away party missions. For the first time in here, he actually engages with the system side of things, looking at Battletech, Buck Rogers XXVc, GURPS, Star Trek & Wars, and multiple editions of Traveller for their suitability to large scale mechanical PC's. GURPS definitely seems like the least hassle, given it's extreme modularity and lack of a default setting that restricts your options, although you'll probably have to allow them a higher point total than the humans. (or milk those no limbs, and generally unable to function in gravity disadvantages for all they're worth, or make the ship into a combiner constructed of several smaller mechs, each owned by a different player to spread the cost around) This is definitely the most useful instalment he's done yet from my perspective, even if it does spread itself pretty thinly, it gives you lots of examples for you to choose from, and may well have introduced less experienced players to the wide world of sci-fi RPG's. If it encouraged people to step out of the tight bounds of the D&D formula while still making a fun game, that's a definite positive overall.
 

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