log in or register to remove this ad

 

TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


  • Total voters
    42

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 61: July 1991



part 5/5



Into The Dark: This time, James tackles movies very specifically based on or inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Popular guy for someone his fans think of as underground. Of course, the fact that his works are public domain, and anyone can build off them means there's no quality control at all on movie adaptions. Since cosmic horror is harder to do well than gore and jump scares in the first place, that means there's a lot of drek out there that misses the point. Let's see what he wants use to check out or avoid.

Die, Monster, Die! gets a fairly mediocre review. Boris Karlof does the best with the material he's given, and the first half builds atmosphere decently, but when it comes to actually resolving it, it goes for the cheap schlocky scares, and then revealing the monsters aren't real at the end. Sounds a bit scooby-doo to be honest, which isn't what you want in your cosmic horror.

The Dunwich Horror sees the unlikely pairing of Dean Stockwell & Sandra Dee try to mix lovecraftian themes with 60's psychedelia. It doesn't go very well, managing to be both shallow and boring, with cheap special effects. This isn't going very well so far, is it.

The Unnamable manages to get an even lower rating. It's more faithful to the original story than the previous two, but that just makes it even worse on a cinematic level, padded out massively to reach film length, and once again with completely unconvincing rubber suit monster effects. Just leave it on the shelf where it belongs.

Re-Animator is where things finally start getting interesting. The tale of Herbert West might be played for laughs, but there's still plenty of spectacular violence, perversion and gore to turn the stomachs of sensitive viewers. An excellent example of the kind of shock horror the home video boom of the 80's really encouraged, tempting people into the store with the prospect of things they'd never show on TV, at least uncut.

From Beyond reunites the same director and lead actor a year later, and follows much the same formula. There's slight diminishing returns, and once again it's not remotely faithful to the source material, but it's entertaining watching, which is much more important. The kind of viscerality you just don't see much these days, due to overreliance on CGI over practical effects.



Wolff & Byrd try to relax and have a party, but their work has an annoying tendency to follow them home.



An issue that wasn't exactly bad, but was harder going to think of things to say about than most of them. They've got to the point where they've got a solid rotation of regular columns going, and the formulaicness got to me this time. It's still a long way to go until I finish this, and I'm not going to get there without a lot more work. Time to roll up my sleeves and chip away at the next issue.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 30: Jul/Aug 1991



part 1/5



80 pages. An elf once again blindsides the humans with magic. Such are the advantages of a longer lifespan giving you the opportunity to pick up a wider knowledge base. Once again, let's broaden our selection of adventures to use in a campaign, and sort them into the good, bad and mediocre.



Editorial: 5 years they've been going now, so it's time to look back and do some statistics. 148 adventures over 30 issues, an average just under 5 per issue. 89 authors, most of which obviously only did one, but a few approaching a dozen. Best thing, only three of them were TSR staff. (although a few more will be in the future) It's a credit to how many enthusiastic readers they have, that they're submitting far more adventures to the magazine than they need. Keep it up. More solo stuff, ultra low and high level adventures and other such twists on the general adventure formula would still be nice, but at least they have a reasonably solid buffer to keep them going. Here's to the next 5 years.



Letters: The first letter specifically praises regular writers Willie Walsh, Randy Maxwell & Bill Slavicsek for their contributions. Keep it up!

Second is another happy reader who's got plenty of actual play out of the magazine's contents over the years. Good to see the quiet majority speaking up for once.

Third is a misaddressed Sage Advice question wondering where the details are for Bucknard's Everfull Purse. They put the wrong description under the wrong item name in the 2e DMG, and now it's all a bit confusing.

4th is a newbie who wants more underwater adventures. They haven't done one of them in a while but they are this issue. Unusual terrains is another of those things they always want more submissions of.

5th suggests an origami based special feature, cutting out and folding up things in the magazine to create minis for your game. Seems a bit fragile and unlikely to hold up to extended play, but they'll give it a go. Even if they don't repeat it, it'll be an amusing novelty people'll remember.

6th praises them for covering Spelljammer. Another novelty that's struggling to become more than that. Good luck to it.

7th praises the atmospherics of Night of Fear. A low level adventure full of style without resorting to explosions and hordes of monsters. Just what the doctor ordered.

8th is a letter from France, pointing out the village of Elven and it's large draughty dungeon. Make sure you don't get locked up in it.

Finally, another pleased reader looking to become a submitter to the magazine. It's good to give something back. Just don't expect to get rich off of it.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 30: Jul/Aug 1991



part 2/5



…And a Dozen Eggs: Randy Maxwell starts things off with a short adventure where the PC's head into the sewers of Waterdeep to deal with baby (but very fast-growing) dinosaurs. Some idiot imported eggs from Chult, they hatched and escaped, and now the sewers are even more dangerous before. It might be a good idea to do something about this. The fact that their former owner is offering a substantial bounty for ones brought back alive only sweetens the pot. (while complicating the adventuring process, given how hard subduing things without killing them is in D&D. ) While short in page count, this could make for a surprisingly lengthy adventure, as the sewers of waterdeep are large and byzantine, making it easily expandable if you're willing to put a little extra work in. It makes for a good framework for starting level adventurers, ensuring that while they may face a fair variety of challenges, they're never more than a few tunnels away from a ladder & manhole cover that'll get them to safety so they can heal up and buy new equipment between delves. Then once you have a few levels under your belt and cleared out all the dinosaurs in the sewers, plus a fair amount of rats, fungi, slimes and similar unpleasantness in the process, there's the much larger and more intentionally replenished challenges of Undermountain just a few blocks away. With a solid grounding in both geography and timeline of what will happen if you don't clear them out straight away, plus some surprisingly smart scientific bits in the worldbuiding, this makes a pretty interesting read. There are definitely much worse ways to start off your campaign.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 30: Jul/Aug 1991



part 3/5



Elminster's Back Door: Another short adventure from a regular set very explicitly in the Forgotten Realms. As with his previous one, this shows that while Ed may be fun to read when he gives you plot hooks and setting details and gives you the freedom to do with them as you will, when it comes to writing fully fleshed out adventures, he's obnoxiously linear and twee, producing things that you wind up wishing you'd never engaged with at all. As the title indicates, this is what happens if you try to get into Elminster's tower the wrong way. All the sadistic imagination of an archmage with access to 9th level spells and centuries of time on his hands, this'll be a challenge to any characters below epic levels if they try and fight through it with brute force, but if you use caution and divination magics you can just bypass a lot of the tricks harmlessly, plus you could stop any time if you just swallow your pride and ask Elminster nicely, or simply walk away from the dungeon. So unlike most adventures in here, this is one that you're not really supposed to play through and win, but a warning of what will happen to you if you try to go up against the Realm's resident mary-sue in chief. Not only will you fail, but it'll be in a humiliating way that'll probably leave you alive to tell the tale, thus further warning away any other adventurers who think it's a good idea to kill Elminster and take his stuff. It's interesting as contrast to all the normal adventures, but also really not the kind of adventure you'd want other writers to imitate and make a regular feature of the magazine. It further reinforces the idea that while I might get plenty of use out of Ed's material in my own games, I'd hate to have him as a DM. Hopefully he'll stick more to his strengths in Dragon & Polyhedron and it'll be several more years before I have to deal with him in here again.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 30: Jul/Aug 1991



part 4/5



Ghazal: After two strongly Realms-flavored adventures. they quite pleasingly decide to do one that leans heavily on the things that makes Greyhawk distinct. Off to the Bright Desert to deal with slavers, one of the foundational elements of the setting. An unambiguous evil that you can kick the ass of without guilt, with the added benefit that they may well want to take you alive, so even if you lose you get to play out another scenario in your attempts to escape and get your stuff back. The ambassador from a small Amazon country has been kidnapped, and you need to get her back before it really spoils their peace negotiations. Head over harsh terrain, climb steep cliffs to the top of a plateau, storm (or sneak into) the fortress and delve a dungeon that is actually a literal dungeon for a change. It's all very old school, with a few relatively subtle puns and pop culture references, some goofy monsters in small rooms with no clue how they got there, interesting new magical items the bad guys will use intelligently and plenty of freedom in how you approach your mission. It fits perfectly with the established Greyhawk aesthetic, and makes for a good palate cleanser after the linear obnoxiousness of the last adventure. Nothing enormously original here, but that also means I'd have no objection to using it.



A Wrastle With Bertrum: Willie Walsh once again produces something nonstandard and fairly lighthearted that still makes for a good story. An inn with a (fairly) well behaved troll for a bouncer. Anyone trying to start a fight there will rapidly get thrown out with great velocity. However, his presence attracts a certain degree of notoriety, so the innkeeper offers a massive (for nonadventurers) prize to anyone who can beat him in a fair wrestling match. (for a certain value of fair, because he has regeneration and you probably don't, so even if you're strong and skilled enough to win one round, the odds are strongly against you in an extended slugfest) If one of the PC's takes them up on the offer and looks like they actually have a chance of winning, certain other people take advantage of the distracted clientele, and then things get chaotic in ways I won't spoil. A relatively small and nonlethal diversion for your players between dungeon delves, that's elevated by both the level of little details in the NPC's and the production values. The centre pages of the magazine include a full color cardboard map of the inn's interior and counters representing all the NPC's, making the whole thing a much more physical, visual experience than normal. It's the kind of flavour filled bit of worldbuilding that's designed for putting down somewhere in your world that they're likely to make repeat visits too. As long as you take care of the props between uses, it should liven up your game quite nicely. Another interesting example of their current drive to improve production values and provide more things in here that'd be tricky for you to create yourself.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 30: Jul/Aug 1991



part 5/5



Thiondar's Legacy: The final adventure is more than twice the size of any of the others in the issue, a 29 pager that could easily have been a standalone module in the old days. Steve Kurtz, another freelancer who will go on to produce quite a few full books for TSR, sends the PC's to a mysterious tropical valley in the middle of arctic wasteland. What magic sustains it's unnatural presence, and what treasures from ancient civilisations might be found there? Get ready for the kind of expedition that could easily take months of in-game time, and only mildly less in reality if you're only doing weekly sessions. The whole thing is heavily inspired by pulp tales of derring-do and lost continents, with several places that you could stop play on a cliffhanger, and a suitably maniacally insane villain at the end. Deal with some decidedly suspicious stone giants and their similarly oversized sheep. Offer tribute to the mushroom king or face his wrath. Team up with or wind up fighting a rival adventuring party after the same prizes, some of which have wound up in rather dire straits after being split from the others. There's definitely plenty here for you to get stuck into covering the exploration, roleplaying and combat pillars, with quite a few memorable setpieces along the way.

However, this does come at a price, as there's far fewer forking paths in the map than usual for this magazine, and many of the encounters assume a default solution rather than just letting the PC's do whatever they please, so wrong choices may screw the story up further along the line. The final dungeon in particular is very linear indeed, with a default plot where the final boss is too powerful to beat in a straight fight, so you win by destroying the artifact empowering him, which is also responsible for the climate change, thus setting off a load-bearing boss situation where you'll likely have to escape without most of the treasure, and be responsible for mass genocide as the whole valley rapidly cools to normal temperatures for that latitude. But I guess that's also in-genre. No-one cared what happened to the Ewoks when the Death Star exploded, they just cut to the celebrations. So this makes pretty decent reading, but I have a suspicion it'd be one of the more annoying ones for me to actually play through, as it's a very 2e one where the author is telling his specific story rather than giving you a sandbox where you tell your own. Still, it's less annoying than Ed's attempt this issue, and more flexible than most of the polyhedron ones where they're forced into ultra-linearity by the strict 4 hour time limit. It could well work with a party who likes that more scripted approach to their campaigns.



An oddly lopsided issue, as the sheer size of the final adventure meant all the others were smaller than average. Still, all the adventures were interesting reads, even if they definitely weren't all ones that I'd actually like to use. Their choices are still more good than bad overall, and the gradual upgrade in production values is definitely appreciated. Let's see if they can last another full 5 years without going wrong, or things'll go downhill sooner when TSR starts to run into trouble in general.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 62: August 1991



part 1/5



35 pages. Ach, that's a fine kilt ye've got there laddie. Hope it's nice and thick to stand up to all the thistles and nettles you'll have to trample through in the wilderness. Let's see how threatening the challenges are this issue, and whether they'll be physical or more cerebral ones.



Bookwyrms: The promotion this time around is for the Cloakmaster Cycle, Spelljammer's upcoming novel series. Like most of the adventures we've seen so far, an ordinary guy from an ordinary D&D world (Krynn in this case) is suddenly thrown into adventures on a magnitude he never even imagined when a spelljamming ship crashlands on his farm, making him owner by default of a magical cloak who now has to fulfil it's destiny in a very Green Lantern style. From the looks of things, It'll take him the whole of the first book just to get off planet and properly start his quest. They don't say how long they intend the series to last overall, but looking ahead, it'll run for 6 books over the next couple of years before reaching it's climactic conclusion. (not so co-incidentally just as they cancel the line as a whole, which says that if it had sold better, they probably would have spun out the middle parts of the saga some more) I really should get around to reading these so I can judge if they're any good, or just yet more extruded fantasy product for myself. In any case, this shows them once again using pretty much the same formula for all their campaign settings, with the same mix of supplements, adventures, tie-in novels and metaplot changes regardless of how the settings themselves differ. If you like it there's probably something you can get out of these, even this far in the future, as it's not as if they've gone back to space in any depth since then.



Notes From HQ: Time once again for complaints about the satanic panic and general public relations. They'd rather not be seen as either dangerous deviants or pathetic nerds, but both stereotypes of roleplayers are still irritatingly common in general media. So they're making an extra effort to include positive stories about gamers and the things they do for the community. Send your ideas and submissions so we can make a regular column of it! Don't forget to send them to your local newspapers as well, as that's where they'll really make a difference. This is one time where they really don't care about exclusivity in what they publish. Good luck, as this seems like the kind of thing that's particularly susceptible to the bystander effect and might get no responses. As ever, we shall see. At least it gives me something to anticipate.



Letters: The first letter is mostly positive, but wants more contests, and Wolff & Byrd cut, as it doesn't fit the tone of the newszine. This is what you get for not covering more modern day/horror rpgs in here. If you'd kept up the Chill coverage or been a bit quicker about adding White Wolf stuff to the tournament roster maybe the audience would be more receptive.

The second grumbles about the impossibility of keeping up with all the sourcebooks TSR is releasing, and submitting things to the newszine that take all that into account. Some of them are contradictory, so you can't use them all at once anyway. Just stick to core and let the editors worry about whether your submission is redundant given the various other things they've released recently.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 62: August 1991



part 2/5



Past Honors & a New Challenge: No point in doing competitions if they don't announce the winners, so here's half a page wrapping up previous ones and setting a new challenge. Just who is that kilt-wearing man on the cover this issue, and how powerful are his statistics underneath that tartan? You have plenty of scope to decide what his history is, which system to use, and how he's likely to wind up interacting with the PC's. Let's hope they get enough submissions to make the competition meaningful, because it seems they're having that problem again, with the monster submissions dominated by familiar name from Dragon Greg Detwiler to a very high degree, and some categories not getting enough to award all the prizes. Despite their recent growth, it seems they're still not big enough, or with a dedicated enough readership to reliably do these properly and not expend more time and money on the prizes than they make from them.



Club Champions: While the monster and ship competitions just listed the winners, probably because they didn't get enough good submissions, the spell contest gets a whole page printing the winning entries. They're all both interesting and useful in general play as well, which isn't always the case. Good for them.

Malraz's Dramatic Death creates a full sensory illusion of your gruesome demise with very quick and subtle spell components, giving you plenty of opportunity to escape. Very handy if you want a recurring antagonist in your campaign.

Dark Fire makes your barbecue or campfire only generate heat, not light or smoke. This won't be much use if you're in an area full of things with infravision, but when sneaking through hostile human territory, it could be very logistically handy.

Neutralise Components disrupts the sympathetic magical qualities that make spell components work, seriously restricting an opposing wizard's options. Quirky but very effective indeed, and complements casting Silence on them to extra brutal effect. Overuse of this tactic may make the DM start using psionicists and monsters with innate SLA's all the time in response though.

Ivy's Irresistible Scent makes virtually everything with a sense of smell follow you around. Duration is a bit short though. Might be more effective to do this the mundane way. This is even more true of the reverse, where there are plenty of vile smells you could throw on someone to thoroughly ruin their day until they have a chance for a thorough wash without casting a spell.



Showdown At The IQ Corral: Speaking of psionicists, the Complete Psionics Handbook has been out long enough for people to realise that since in this edition the two power sources are completely separate in terms of detection, dispelling, and other countermeasures, a well-built psionic character can run roughshod over a spellcaster of similar level in social situations due to their ability to use powers without any obvious signs. Fortunately there's always researching custom spells to counter them. So here's another 10 in quick succession, albeit slightly less imaginative than the last 4. Your basic low level resistance booster. Setting a psychic trap inside your head. Filling the area with psychic static as if there were tons more thinking creatures in the area than there actually are. Low and high level all-purpose psychic power blockers. A tracer that points out exactly who and where is trying to get inside your head, letting you easily teleport there even if they're doing it from long range. One that lets you reflexively use your own mind-affecting spells on them when they try to get you. The obvious low level detection spell. And on the opposite end, a high level one that'll overload the mental connection and temporarily burn out their psychic powers entirely. Nothing enormously surprising, but a decent amount of variety, evenly spread between wizard and priest spells so neither are helpless. (although the clerics'll probably be quicker off the mark in gaining access to them in response to psionic enemies showing up, since they won't have to spend a load of time and money researching them, just have a god that grants the right spheres.) The kind of thing that's highly situational, but when you need it, you'll really appreciate having access to it.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 62: August 1991



part 3/5



The Jade Monkey: The adventure this issue is short and silly. Macon the Monkey Mage and Serialla the Snake Sage are having a wizard's duel at his mansion when the PC's call around to get hold of some spells. He's currently losing and trapped in the body of his pet monkey. He's not actually in serious danger, (unless the PC's kill him) but he would rather like to not concede the duel, so he'll try and get them to turn him back. Of course, he can't speak, and in the meantime they're probably blundering through his collection of magical defences and intelligent items (each of which has their own goofy personality. ) All but one of these aren't particularly deadly, but the trick is getting your players to realise that, especially if they've had to deal with more diabolical wizard lairs before. Will they heed the monkey's attempts at mime, or treat the whole thing like a serious dungeon and engage in wholesale killing and taking of stuff? This is less annoying than some of their modules, as it isn't a railroad, but it is close to the edge of being a comedy adventure that would only really work in an april fools issue, so it's definitely not for every campaign. The average quality of adventures in here continues to be a fair bit lower than Dungeon then.



The Living City: We've had several pubs before, now they decide to include a more high class wine shop for when the PC's have accumulated a little more wealth, and want to drink in style, or merely convert their cash into a more portable form. As the Vine Twines is a somewhat twee sounding, but very profitable place owned by a Halfling (of course!) cleric of Llira who works hard at being the best winemaker he can be, including custom spells (which they sloppily forget to include levels for so you can't have them) to ensure they can be produced faster and at higher quality. He makes good money but still treats his employees well, gives to charity, and is generally nice and has his life together. There's no dissension in the ranks, no monsters lurking around the edges. It's all very healthy and wholesome. So that puts this pretty low on the rankings of actual in-game usability, particularly with the slipshod editing. Sorry, but you're going to be staying as background detail rather than actually featuring in any interesting plots at this rate.



Truly Tacky Treasure: Another quick diversion into lighthearted silliness here, as they talk about ideas for treasure that isn't exactly cursed, and may be quite valuable, but adventurers would still hesitate to load up on it and bring it home with them after clearing out the monsters. Crocheted crossbow coverings. Tiamat night lights with five little glowing heads. (those blue canaries in the outlet by light switch had better watch out) Bell-bottom armor. Ki-rin bobblehead dolls. Polyester cloaks. They might have some practical use, but they're silly looking and frequently anachronistic. It'd take a particularly tasteless world-hopping wizard to latch onto some of these ideas and decide to decorate their lair and accessories accordingly. Not saying it's unusable, and giving your dungeons wacky themes like this will definitely make them memorable, but this is the kind of thing you should use in moderation if you want to keep your campaign's 4th wall intact. Once again, probably would have been better positioned in an april issue.



The New Rogues Gallery: The characters this time are a pair of hard-bitten half-elven mercenaries with hearts of gold that simply call themselves The Freelancers. If you have large amounts of cash, or a good cause, they might be willing to solve your problems. They used to be more conventionally heroic adventurers, going into dungeons, killing monsters and taking their stuff, but became disillusioned after losing too many companions, and now go for the more directly profitable gigs while keeping their identities mysterious. The brother can blend into nearly any crowd, and has an evil intelligent sword with lots of cool powers that he usually manages to keep control of, while the sister plays the femme fatale and engages in more attention-grabbing infiltration and information-gathering techniques. It all seems very TV show-ish in feel, with influences like The (non-Marvel) Avengers, The A-Team, Charlie's Angels, Sapphire & Steel and MacGuyver springing to mind as I read it. They're powerful but interestingly flawed, and could work as allies, rivals or enemies, possibly all three if encountered repeatedly on different missions. This definitely seems usable, if on the cheesier end of the plot spectrum. But sometimes you're in the mood for a little cheese, and if you are, this could wind up being an excellent side dish for your campaign. Just don't make it the main course, unless you want bloating and indigestion to follow.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 62: August 1991



part 4/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger continues to talk about the opportunities and obstacles to adventures involving sentient spaceships. Is there any systematic legal discrimination or informal prejudice against free-willed machines in the various jurisdictions of your galaxy? Are they employed? If so, can they quit if they want without having enforcers sent after them, or are they trapped by a punitive contract or hardwired behavioural limitations? Are they in debt, and so need to keep earning or risk repossession? Does the ship have a human scale avatar? What cool stuff can they do beyond space travel? (cloaking, scanning, weaponry, etc) Once again this demonstrates why a fairly crunchy but flexible system like GURPS is probably the best choice for defining what they can and can't do without getting into regular arguments with your players about unexpected situations. Once you know these things, figuring out the kind of plots they're likely to get involved in becomes much easier. There's definitely an extensive list of ideas to draw upon, some of which will get repetitive sooner than others. Given the length he's been expositing on this, it's definitely seeming increasingly achievable. Hopefully someone got some use out of it back in the day. Or you could now, as it's not as if it's system specific. Good luck if you do.



Into the Dark: This time, James picks the somewhat quirky theme of fantastical movies with lots of music in. (though not full-on musicals) The kind of thing that's extra challenging because if even one of the aspects isn't good enough, the whole thing winds up subpar. Even Disney can't get it right every time, so what hope something independently produced with a low budget? Will he be able to recommend anything this issue, or will it be all warnings?

Slumber Party Massacre II takes the whole having sex = death thing that's common in slasher movies, and elevates it to parodic levels, with the killer wielding a guitar with a drill on the end to kill a synth-pop based girl group. A metaphor for toxic masculinity that works on multiple levels! There's definitely things here to amuse a watcher, but the characters and dialogue are unrealistic to the point of being ludicrous. If you can't write horror without making the characters complete idiots, you probably shouldn't be working in that genre.

Trick or Treat fails in the other direction. It's apparently supposed to be a parody, but comes off as a sincere tract for moral majority nonsense about how rock n' roll is corrupting are youth! Skarka's law strikes again! Of course, if the music isn't good, it's not going to be convincingly corruptive in any case, and it fails in that area as well. No amount of backmasked subliminal messages can get people to buy things if it's not tempting in the first place, they merely tip the scales a little further.

Hard Rock Zombies is the kind of b-movie that sounds interesting on paper, with a rock band summoning zombies to fight nazis, but the basic technical ineptitude of the filmmaking makes it a much duller watch than it should be. The kind of thing that's immensely improved by having the MST3K guys at the bottom of the screen taking the piss.

Labyrinth gets a decent but not exceptional rating, which still puts it above everything else here. The muppets steal the show from the human actors, with even Bowie much stiffer than in many of his other roles. He's not too keen on the music for this one either, to which I say BLASPHEMY!!1!!!, as it's easily my favourite of Bowie's 80's output. (which admittedly is praising with faint damnation. ) One of the few here that has actually aged well, with better critical reception now than at the time.

Two Thousand Maniacs takes us way back to the mid-60's, for one of the ancestors of modern shock horror. This time with extra banjo music to fit the hillbilly theme, which is more horrific than the gore. The plot is once again not much to shout about, but as long as you go in with the right expectations, it's entertaining enough.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 62: August 1991



part 5/5



The Living City 2: The second Raven's Bluff article this issue is somewhat more useful than the first. A half-deaf cranky old mapmaker, who's maps include places not only all across Toril, but a few places from other worlds as well? There's plenty of fun to be had in both short-term roleplaying and long-term plot hooks in that. You can spend money to make your expeditions easier, and make money by mapping places further afield that he hasn't got in his collection yet. It's one of the most important parts of old school gaming, along with tracking encumbrance, and neglecting them is one of the quickest ways to make you feel like you're playing a video game with unlimited hot-swappable inventory space rather than exploring a real world. If you want a campaign to last for years, you need to build up the little details and make them feel like their explorations are meaningful, with definite progress, but not escalating to god mode too quickly. This seems like a clear enough picture to me.



RPGA Network Retail Members: Over the years, a fair number of companies and games shops have signed up to offer discounts for RPGA members, in the hope of driving further traffic. But as it's usually mentioned just once when they start, it might be a bit tricky to keep track of what options you can apply this too. So here's an alphabetical list of all 52 places in the USA you'll get special privileges at if you flash your membership card while making a purchase. Let's hope it doesn't go out of date too quickly.



Paperwork Etiquette: Tim Beach gives us his first communique as a member of staff to tell us what he'd like to improve about the network, and what he wants to see from us. Obviously tardiness in filling out and submitting your tournament scoring sheets is the number one irritant, with other basic errors like not titling your submissions, remembering to put a name or return address, or just sending a computer disk with no indication of what's on it or what brand of computer you use it with close behind. There's also some less objective preferences, like a list of cliches in adventure writing that he's thoroughly sick of, and will reject with great prejudice if you persist in regurgitating them. On a similar note, more non AD&D adventure submissions would be very welcome in general, to keep the variety up for the RPGA staff and give people more choices in what they play when they go to big conventions. In return, he'll do his best to simplify the forms and speed up turnaround on his end of the submissions & approvals process. Good luck. They come in all fresh-faced and optimistic, thinking they can do a better job than their predecessor. Most are wrong, and will be ground down by the system soon enough. We shall see just how much change he can actually implement. At least he's managed to make what could have been just dry bureaucratic lists interesting with a bit of wit and personal asides that help us get to know him as a writer. I look forward to hearing more from him.



Wolff & Byrd are apparently not immune to time loops, which is a real problem when your client is in a Groundhog Day scenario, as they'll have to explain themselves over and over again.



An issue that was oddly high on silliness, particularly considering the time of year. That definitely made it interesting, but also meant it had a fairly low ratio of articles I'd actually want to use in a real campaign. I'd miss it if it went away completely, but this is too much. Curious that they do have so much more of it in general than Dragon or Dungeon. Is that because they get more joke submissions proportionally, or just because they don't have the same quantity in their slush pile to choose from overall? Or is it just because Jean & Skip are more inclined towards making cheesy jokes in general than Roger & Barbara? Given the books and adventures they've written themselves I suspect it might be the latter. Oh well. Their tenure will end eventually, and then I'll be able to test that theory. Let's keep on moving and see what next issue brings us.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 63: September 1991



part 1/5



35 pages. When your neck is thicker than your head, what are you doing with all that bulk. The amount you can eat or breathe is still limited by the size of the openings up the top. Plus those scales look like they seriously hinder flexibility. This kind of thing is why lizards get outcompeted by mammals in many ecological niches. When you can get up earlier, stay up later, and squeeze into smaller spaces, that makes up for the difference in strength and resilience quite effectively. Let's see what plot ideas lie within, and if they're best solved with brute force or brains.



Bookwyrms: Unsurprisingly given the cover, their promotional article is a Dark Sun one. Get ready for the pleasantly alliterative sounding Prism Pentad. Unlike many of their series, where they have multiple authors trading off the same characters so they can publish the overall story faster, making it much easier for tonal or continuity issues to slip in, this is going to be entirely from the pen of Troy Denning. His Forgotten Realms work has proven popular enough that they're giving him much freer rein to make sweeping, permanent changes to the setting as a whole based on what the characters do in his books. They may wind up regretting this, mainly due to the overall TSR code of conduct mandating happy endings to all their stories, which means they can't help making Athas a less grim & messed up place over time and ruining the original mood. Expanding the map could somewhat mitigate that, but then raised the question of why there were so few sorcerer-kings, all clustered in one tiny part of the world, how they managed to exterminate all their respective species worldwide (or even if they did, or just did a few thousand miles before getting bored), and then decided to just ignore the rest of the world again. Once again this shows the flaw in your worldbuilding consisting mostly of getting Brom to draw a bunch of fukken awesome heavy metal album covers, and then deciding how they fit together into a coherent geography & history afterwards. It's more superficially impressive than the Forgotten Realms, but built on shakier foundations, and that'll catch up with them in a few years. Oh well, it's still a fun read, and there's plenty to be learned from their mistakes. It's good to go through it again from another slightly different perspective.



Notes from HQ: This month's actual play stories are some more decidedly whimsical ones from ConnCon, Connecticut's finest. The featured tournament had the PC's sent on a mission to bake a cake for grandma. (yes, she's all of their grandmother, must have been pretty busy back in the day :p ) In a fit of insanity, Jean decided to use all three recipes that featured in the module at once to bake a real cake for the writer as thanks. The result …… definitely had a lot of flavour. Fortunately, there were hundreds of attendees, so no-one had to consume enough of it to kill them. Well, this seems like the kind of silliness people will definitely remember, and hopefully come back next year to see more of. Another reminder that they don't cover LARP stuff as much as they could. It is odd in hindsight just how little TSR tapped into that quite lucrative potential market, avoiding it for stupid ideological reasons. They are still trying to improve their coverage on non TSR tabletop RPG's though, with the latest competition being Megatraveller gadgets. Let's hope people submit some suitably inventive things, and not just bigger, badder lasers. Al in all, things seem to be going pretty well here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 63: September 1991



part 2/5



Letters: The first letter wonders how you can get hold of the old Rod of Seven Parts tournament adventure by Frank Mentzer. Sorry, that was never properly formatted and officially published, and while TSR will release an adventure of the same name in a few years, it'll be completely different in details. (and much longer)

Second is from a newbie wondering where they explain all the scoring and ranking stuff. They did an introductory issue once, but that's a few years out of date. Just go to conventions, participate in official tournaments and have fun. Don't worry about the precise numbers, as they'll update them every year or two anyway.



The Everwinking Eye has an editing fail, reprinting exactly the same article from issue 60. How very baffling. What went wrong with their production process that caused this glitch to get all the way through without being spotted? Or did they just have a shortage of material? Seems unlikely, given it's Ed we're talking about here. Either way, this is pretty disappointing and annoying.



The Circle of Swords: Another single page logic puzzle to amuse and confound. Mayor Oliver O'Kane has to choose from six swords in a dragon's hoard to fight the beast. Each is strong against a different monster, so only one will give him a decent chance of success. Each has a different shape, is made from a different metal, and has a different gemstone set in it's hilt. Can you figure out by process of elimination how to save his life? These continue to be pretty decent time-fillers.



Crisis in the Cragmoors: The adventure this issue is only 4 pages, and so is short and linear even by their tournament adventure standards. Your basic rescue the kidnapped maiden plot. Ok, so she's a sorceress, not a princess this time, but once they're bound, gagged & stripped of any magical items or spell components, all those spells are useless until the edition changes and you can add still or silent spell to your feat list. You need to follow the (thankfully large and obvious) trail of the troll that carried her off and catch up to them within 4 (real and in-game) hours, otherwise she'll be dinner. So you just follow the list of a dozen encounters with various dumbass monsters who attack without provocation from one to the next in order until you reach the end. No significant choices, no accounting for if you use flight or divination to take a more direct route, etc. The kind of thing you could program a computer to do, largely ignoring the roleplaying part of RPG. Thoroughly dull reading and not what I'm looking for in adventures at all, with that nice little cherry of cliched sexism on top. I'll definitely pass on this one.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 63: September 1991



part 3/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger finally finishes the series on spaceship PC's, and goes back to something far more basic and generic. A reminder that it's your flaws that really make a character interesting, not their powers. Be it simply low ability scores in D&D, more complex weaknesses and limitations in systems that handle that, or merely personality flaws that are only roleplayed without any mechanical effects, it's what they can't or won't do that'll really define them in a long-term campaign. Perfection is boring, and while the character might strive towards it IC, you need to have enough detachment from your character to put those flaws in and make their life more challenging and unique. As usual, this basic principle is padded out with lots of examples from various systems, but that's pretty much all it boils down too. It's not bad, but we've seen it plenty of times before, so I can't get particularly worked up about it in either direction.



With Great Power: While Roger only had one idea and spun it out over several pages, Dale jumps from one short topic to another in quick succession. First, talking about a few problem powers. The always annoying superspeed, plus the slightly more situationally plot breaking invisibility and insubstantiality, and the sometimes powerful, sometimes useless ability to control highly specific things like Magneto. Then some ideas that are common in D&D, but not covered by FASERIP, surprise rolls & initiative modifiers. Some more minor errata on magic and karma rules. And oddest of all, recommending a bunch of superhero books by other companies that cover things they don't, like building your own superheroic campaign that doesn't use the established Marvel characters. It's interesting precisely because it is so scattershot, just a bunch of ideas that happened to be passing through his brain recently. It shows that the system has been going long enough now that it really needs a new edition to put all the lessons they've learned in the past 7 years in, although I hope they'd be incorporated in a better edited form. Otherwise keeping track of all the optional and altered rules in supplements and errata will definitely slow things down.



Naming Military Units: Greg Detwiler has been contributing to Dragon and many other RPG products since 1985, but only made his first appearance in here last issue. But like Ed, now he's got his claws into Polyhedron, you can expect to see him again more frequently. Such as this amusing little bit of generic advice, talking about naming conventions of military units throughout history. You need something short enough to shout out in a fraught scenario, but preferably also memorable and badass sounding that'll strike fear into the heart of your enemies. Animal name & colour seems to be a very common combination that shows up over and over again, but there's a fair amount of variation in what different colours imply in different cultures, and obviously also what animals are commonly known in the area. (Which doesn't necessarily mean common, as the frequency of lions on european heraldry demonstrates) Current or famous ex-leaders, the town they come from, or something related to their fighting specialty are also fairly frequent choices. With an A to Z of common elements for you to combine, this looks like a pretty decent time-saver for when you need to creates several of these in short succession. No objection to seeing some more material from him over the next few years.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 63: September 1991



part 4/5



Into The Dark: This column is shorter than usual due to a VCR malfunction at James's. As a result he also hasn't had time to think of a clever theme, and gone back to your basic swords & sorcery flicks. Has he managed to find any he can unreservedly recommend this time?

The Princess Bride gets the full 5 stars for it's metatextual humor, excellent casting, writing and plot twists. Now there's one that's definitely stood the test of time, with many of it's best lines still being regularly used memes to this day. Let's keep on using those words, even if they do not mean what they thought they meant in the original context.

Fire and Ice sees Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta team up for another heavily rotoscoped bit of fantasy animation, full of overmuscled heroes, scantily clad women and grotesque monsters. It's all very formulaic and regressive, even at the time, and probably looks even worse to modern eyes. I'm not hugely tempted to hunt it down and test that theory.

The Barbarians isn't particularly great, but James does give it credit for being the movie most like an actual D&D session he's seen, with monsters that show up for no reason other than to fight the main characters, and dialogue that's anachronistically pop cultural in exactly the way a bunch of nerds sitting around the table playing a pair of badass but dumb barbarians would be. There are even better depictions of gaming based media now, but it was the 80's, you had to take what you could get, and this is at least tolerable in a cliched kinda way.



Chemcheaux: What would normally be the Living City column doesn't get the usual branding, and with good reason too, as while it mentions Raven's Bluff, it's not the primary focus. Slade, who if you remember your RPG history is responsible for cataloguing the entirety of TSR's magical item output in a few years time, foreshadows this with the complex system of magical item shops in his own campaign world. They do have a branch in Raven's Bluff, but as it's all rather higher magic than the default FR setting, and being able to buy any magical item you want upsets game and economic balance, they're nobbled by local regulations severely restricting who they can sell too and at what prices, so they don't undercut the locals with their ability to mass produce things. (with a full two pages devoted just to these laws and legal wranglings.) Another four are devoted to the ridiculously powerful founder, Prismal, (Wizard 35/Priest 35/Monk 14, evidently they never suffered from the 2e Monk & Assassin purges that swept Oerth & Toril) how he founded the franchise & rose to power, and some of the struggles he's faced in his multi-century lifespan. A story involving a fair bit of plane-hopping, some complex scheming, and the invention of multiple custom spells & magical items, it's all much more gonzo than the usual Raven's Bluff fare, as well as quite a bit longer than the average article. It's definitely an interesting read, but the kind that you incorporate into your own campaign with caution, because once you've opened the Pandora's box of easy plane-hopping and magic marts, it's very hard to close without hitting the reset button and starting a new game from scratch. It demonstrates the tensions between wanting to have Speljammer & Planescape stuff that crosses over with their other settings, but not have it advance the overall state of technology in those worlds and destroy the themes for regular fantasy dungeoncrawlers, so any otherworldly visitors remain rare or secretive, keeping things in a state of artificial stasis. All a bit frustrating really. That's the problem with running a shared world. You have to be extra careful about these sorts of things if you want to maintain consistency and playability.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 63: September 1991



part 5/5



Extra Enchantments: After a long and involved article that would be quite game-changing if incorporated, we go back to the disconnected collections of spells that you can easily introduce to a game individually, collectively, or not at all as you choose. Let's see how powerful and useful these are.

Stairway lets your group ascend or descend safely at anywhere between a 30 and 60 degree angle, which is probably more useful for accessing awkward spots than levitate. Unglamorous, but you never know when you'll need it in a big, awkward dungeon.

Guardian is way less useful for an adventuring party than a good fireball, but for a wizard running a dungeon, sometimes you want a fighter of magical energy to block a corridor or doorway. Unfortunately, it doesn't scale with level, so it'll become mostly useless against any determined invaders that are a threat to you.

Serrel's Minor & Major Enchantments are another way to create those basic AC & save boosts that are then made permanent on magical items. We had one of those just 3 issues ago, so this is another case of editorial laziness. If it's that popular an idea it should be in a book, not getting several different variants in their periodicals.

Serrel's Confining Sphere is basically wall of force, but spherical. If spells were more flexible, you'd be able to do both with one memorisation and choose freely, but that's what you get for living in a D&D universe and not Mage: the Ascension or Ars Magica.

Incendiary Entrapment is basically delayed blast fireball, but with slightly reduced damage, and greatly increased delay, so you can cast it on a thing, and it'll go off months or years later when interfered with. Another generally handy one when you're building your own dungeons, but PC's probably won't be in a position to get the most use out of. Meh.



Wolff & Byrd have to deal with illegal aliens coming to our planet, taking our jobs, and sleeping with our men like the shameless green-skinned hussies they are. We need to build a dome to keep them out!



A second issue in a row where the ratio of hits to misses is relatively low, between the editing snafus and the general degree of goofiness. It makes Polyhedron feel like the goofy id of hardcore gamers, publishing things Dragon & Dungeon would decline because they have higher standards. It once again makes me glad I'm interleaving these things, to remind me just how differently the various departments of the same company are run. Better hop over and see how the other side is doing as we slide into horror season.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 31: Sep/Oct 1991



part 1/5



80 pages. How do you fight flying weapons? Sure you can whack them away with your own when they fly at you, but if you can't do any serious damage, some of them are going to get through your defences pretty quickly, especially when there's lots of them. It's not the kind of problem a paladin's powerset is equipped to deal with. This is why alive adventurers travel in parties. Let's see if these are adventures we want to get involved in, and if so, how easy it is to get out alive and financially better off.



Editorial: This is another of our irregular reminders how much hassle overland hiking really is, as Barbara gets a taste of the wilderness. Having plenty of armchair adventuring experience, she made sure she was well prepared with all the equipment she could think of. Then got promptly reminded about tracking encumbrance. :p Turns out more than half of what she thought she needed she didn't, and the one thing she really did need was tougher shoes. See, this is the big difference between 1st and 2nd level. Rope, 10 foot poles, holy water and wolfsbane are all good in specific situations, but skimp on the coat and shoes and you'll regret it every step of the way. As soon as you get your first big treasure haul and get it home you're going to fix that mistake ASAP. Course, when you're in the double digits you'll hopefully have bags of holding, flight, teleportation and other labor saving magics, so you can have the best of both worlds. Good luck getting there and keeping the campaign going long enough that you really get to enjoy the fruits of your labors.



Letters: The first letter nitpicks the details of regeneration. They only don't regenerate the amount of HP caused by their weakness. Yes, this does complicate tracking somewhat. It's no worse than brawling vs weapon damage for regular characters.

Second wants more puzzle and mystery based adventures that challenge the player's brains rather than their characters statistics. That's where the real roleplaying potential lies.

Third reminds people they can use their packaging efficiently as protective storage for their magazines. If you want to sell mint copies decades later at a profit, you need to plan ahead.

Finally, more generalised praise from someone who's used lots of their adventures over the years. Keep it up.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 31: Sep/Oct 1991



part 2/5



Beyond the Glittering Veil: We've had a couple of adventures designed to introduce spelljamming to regular parties, hopefully making it a properly integrated part of the campaign long term. Now we have one designed to do the same for psionics, gently lifting the veil on the powers of the mind that have probably been there all along, just unnoticed compared to more flashy spellcasters and monsters. As such, it only uses a fairly limited subset of the powers in the Complete Psionics Handbook, and a fair chunk of it's page count is devoted to explaining them so it can be functional even if you don't have it. Ancient mystics created a psionic gate between worlds. Unfortunately, the design was flawed, and in a very Pullmanesque twist Shadows from the void between worlds come through it and start spawn cascading the locals. The PC's just happen to be the only people in town with magic weapons that can hurt them, so they save the day, and then get volunteered for the much more epic quest of going the other way through the gate, finding out what's there and figuring out how to end the threat for good. In the process, they gain psionic wild talents if they didn't have them already, (with the option of them being temporary or permanent depending on if the DM wants to make psionics a long-term part of their campaign) and wind up on a dead world of eternal night, where they get to explore the mystic's ruined city and the few monsters that still live there. It's all both ambitious and packed with atmosphere, with the psionic elements used to freshen up familiar monsters and magic items in interesting ways. Seems like a pretty decent way to kick your campaign up a gear, and one much easier to keep it going afterwards than giving the PC's a spaceship. Definitely one to keep in mind if your game is starting to feel a bit stale with the same old dungeoncrawls and wilderness treks.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 31: Sep/Oct 1991



part 3/5



Telar in Norbia: Willie Walsh is back yet again, this time to take us on a camel ride to an arabian nights influenced story. The neighbouring cities of Telar and Sepron mutually annihilated each other in a brutal war several centuries ago, leaving behind the kind of ruins that are rich pickings for adventurers. If that wasn't enough to lure the PC's to the area, there's a whole load of political stuff going on between the nomads that currently roam the area, as they try to get enough water to survive without escalating to another full-blown war. This is escalated by the minions of Set being dicks and kidnapping the chief's daughter just as she's about to engage in a political marriage to secure peace between them. There's a lot of plot threads packed into what could have been a much simpler dungeon crawl here, giving you plenty of scope for both puzzle-solving and roleplaying, as well as extending the harsh overland travel and political manoeuvring bits. Even if you manage to kill the monsters and take their stuff, which is not an easy feat for spoilerific reasons, there's no neat happy ending either, unless you're equipped with some pretty impressive out of context powers. So while as interesting as usual from him, this is also pleasingly devoid of his usual tweeness, and will take real effort on the player's part to deal with both the short and long term ramifications of the adventure. This definitely looks like lots of fun with the right group and a DM that can deal with the open ended complexities.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 31: Sep/Oct 1991



part 4/5



A Local Legend: Even the short filler adventure this issue is heavy on atmosphere. Every 9 years, three people disappear mysteriously from the small town of Trellmont over the course of the winter. The PC's happen to pass through just as the cycle starts again. The locals are ignorant and superstitious, and will attempt to warn the PC's against getting involved. (which hopefully won't deter them) If they do take the mission, it's fairly short and easy, although the monster does have a trick that'll allow it to seem to die but actually survive and continue the cycle if they don't properly search the area and clean everything out, which will make them a recurring antagonist and come back to bite the PC's on the ass in the future. So this isn't too impressive if you treat it like a straightforward hack and slash encounter, but is pretty good as a bit of folklore. If you like perusing big books of real world local legends from across the globe, this is written in a way that hits the same buttons. If your PC's like getting into their roleplaying and detectiving, it seems worth using. Just don't expect it to fill more than a session at the very most.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top