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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 31: Sep/Oct 1991



part 5/5



Bane of the Shadowborn: After an adventure designed to introduce you to psionics, and one designed to introduce you to the hardships of desert adventuring, we now have one designed to introduce you to the horrors of Ravenloft in a relatively compact form that doesn't require the core boxed set to use. In typically railroady ravenloft fashion, the mists suck the PC's in regardless of what precautions they take, and they're trapped in the grounds of Shadowborn Manor until they defeat the evil magic sword Ebonbane or become it's unliving slaves forever. (or at least, until some more competent heroes show up) One of them turns out to be related to the Paladin who originally owned the manor, and so gets special messages from beyond the grave hinting at how to get out. To have a decent chance at success, they need to recover the four macguffins hidden somewhere around the manor grounds and combine them for the final confrontation, while the sword toys with them even if it could kill them easily, because it's just as trapped here as you are, and eternity is very boring indeed when you only get visitors once every decade or two. Whether you enjoy this or not will depend on if you like having a big chunk of gothic tropes all served to you at once with absolutely no irony or winking to the camera, with lots of portentous boxed text that's intended to build atmosphere, but only works if the players take the expected routes and actions. It's more railroady than I would prefer, but since it's both a tournament module and a Ravenloft one that's not particularly surprising. It's still well done for what it is, and both better quality & less linear than most recent Polyhedron adventures, but not really to my tastes. I'd only break it out if that's really what the group is into.



An issue where even if all the adventures aren't to my personal tastes, they've all got lots of style in the way they're written, making them quite pleasing to read, and tread the fine line between being set in more specific settings while remaining usable by newbies well. Can they push things a little further, and have a Spelljammer or Dark Sun adventure that isn't written to cater to nonnatives? Seems like a tall order, but maybe just one as a treat? Let's see if the next issue manages anything particularly cool and unusual.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 64: October 1991



part 1/5



36 pages. That cover looks like it was posed for by real people then their proportions scaled down to halfling size. Hope you enjoyed getting all dressed up for it. Another reminder that they don't do nearly enough LARP around here, and there's lots of opportunities for fun if they did. Let's see if this issue offers any new opportunities in general, or just the same old tournament talk and living city locations.



Notes From HQ: The editorial involves another of their persistent problems, too many players, not enough GM's, particularly for anything non-D&D. In Baltimore, they wound up with 77 people wanting to play Call of Cthulhu, but only 3 judges booked. Since fitting 27 people around a regular size table is a challenge for even non-euclidian geometry, they had to scramble around for more, and fast. A combination of hitting the phones and slightly increasing the number of pregens got them to barely squeeze everyone in. Once again, it shows how much of convention organisation is a last-minute scramble, no matter how far in advance you try to prepare. You've just got to broadcast your request for help as loudly as possible and hope someone qualified hears, then if you're smart, you'll stay in contact with them so things are a little easier next time around. There's a good reason why they call it the RPGA Network. It's all about maximising the social side of roleplaying, and building those bonds that make for a strong, functional society. That's what all this play really does for us as a species.



Letters: The first letter reminds people that there's more to being an experienced gamer than playing lots of AD&D tournaments and getting lots of points. You should also do a bit of DMing, and at least try other systems as well, get a broader view of what roleplaying can be. Being insular and elitist in public is the quickest way to put people off joining your club.

Second is from the minnesota regional director. Apparently, they also have too high a player/judge ratio for upcoming tournaments, so they need some volunteers pronto! Polish up your skills and give it a go if you want the conventions to grow. At least this is a little less last-minute way of solving the problem.

Finally, our familiar friend David Carl Argall, worrying about striking the right balance between D&D, AD&D and everything else in the newszine. They definitely need a bit more basic D&D stuff, but no-one's submitting it. It's a very persistent problem.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 64: October 1991



part 2/5



The Gamma World Game Lives: Gamma World 3rd edition came out a few years ago, and didn't do too well, with more people still contributing articles using 2e rules than updating to the new ones. Now they're going to try again with 4e and see if they get any better results. As you would hope, this involves looking at what people complained about most in previous editions and changing things accordingly. The results turn out to be fairly predictable. More setting stuff, as that's what's in vogue in general for all their game lines, and a better advancement system, so you can actually play in said setting for a decent length of time without dying or getting bored. So they're adding a class/level system, and rejigging the mutation generation stuff so you can always have the powers of speech, movement and opposable thumbs no matter what base animal or plant you started out with. It all sounds a good deal more sensible and better balanced than a decade ago. The question then becomes if that's what people really want, or if in their heart of hearts they actually preferred the gonzo nonsense of the first two editions. I guess the real proof will be in the number of articles they get after it's published, not how much it's promoted, as the complete absence of Indiana Jones or Buck Rogers stuff so amply demonstrated.



Short People: The adventure this month is, as the title implies, aimed mostly at halflings, with a dwarf and a gnome thrown into the pregens for a little bit of diversity. The village needs to sell the pipeweed crop fast and at a decent price, otherwise the Zhentarim will foreclose on the farm and use the lands to build their next evil base. You need to make it through random wandering monsters, thieves, and intentional Zhentarim sabotage attempts, get the money, and then get back before the deadline. Another one which is both goofy and railroaded, as no matter what precautions they take, at some point they will be knocked out and robbed, and then have to win a riddle contest with a dragon to get out of this mess alive and with the money. Still, at least this time you probably had an idea what you were signing up for just from reading the synopsis, so it won't come as a disappointment to people looking for a more serious challenge. But yet again, this reinforces that whether they're writing or just editing, Jean & Skip have terrible taste in modules. Is this stuff really what the average RPGA member wants to play? The older modules could be goofy at times, but at least they were serious challenges where you actually had to put effort in and make the right decisions to succeed. These just seem to be getting easier and more linear as time goes on, which is not a good trend at all.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 64: October 1991



part 3/5



Cthulhu vs. Lakefront City!: They mentioned Call of Cthulhu in the editorial, demonstrating that it's become pretty popular amongst tournament goers at Origins. Now they try and use that to boost one of their less popular gamelines with a crossover. Gangbusters also has a default setting in the 1920's, so what happens if you combine them? Will your police investigations bite off more than they can comprehend, or your crooks start selling substances dangerous and illicit even by cosmic standards? Convert your characters and monsters from one to the other with these handy guidelines! Gangbusters uses larger numbers, but the BRP system has a lot more skills and powers, so there's a certain degree of fudging involved in either direction, but it doesn't seem too difficult mathematically. The kind of article that's interesting because it's so unusual - I don't recall them doing anything like it before, and it's nice to see them at least trying to keep Gangbusters alive and played when Dragon never did. Did this turn any new arrivals onto either system?



The Everwinking Eye: Ed once again demonstrates by the little details that Mulmaster is a terrible place. The primary form of taxation is a Poll Tax! Even Thatcher couldn't pull off that degree of diabolicalness without the peasants revolting! Equally amusing to see is the attempts by the Zhentarim to get their units of warrior maidens to wear the kind of skimpy cheesecake armor that may look good on the sourcebook covers, but really doesn't work in such cold and wet weather, and the pushback they have to deal with in response. Until they can afford to enchant them all to be climate controlled like Alias's set, it's really not happening. It's important to keep a sense of humour about the things the marketing department does to your setting once they get their hands on it. The Current Clack stuff is pretty wide-ranging and interesting as well, detailing plenty of adventurers and what they've accomplished recently. There's still plenty of challenges for your group to deal with though, as not all of those ended well, particularly the one involving a whole load of magically shielded dragon hoards. You can still make a name for yourself with the right deeds despite the breadth of the competition.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 64: October 1991



part 4/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger tackles another fairly general topic this month. How do you reduce the lethality in your game? Well, at least in this column you can actually suggest systems other than D&D, which is a good start. But his sci-fi knowledge definitely isn't at the bleeding edge, because he doesn't even suggest basic transhuman stuff like clones & memory backups or reloading your whole pattern from the transporter buffer. I guess it is 30 years ago, but these were still established concepts from sci-fi shows & literature of the time, even though they hadn't really tried to make that kind of hard sci-fi hypertech playable a la Eclipse Phase. However, he has heard of more meta ways of reducing lethality such as luck points, as well as plenty of in-setting ways such as adventures in cyberspace or places where weapons are heavily legally restricted. You may still have to invent new rules or fudge the existing rules a little to cover these scenarios, but at least the players know going in that they're in a safer position, and can act accordingly. Decent, but not as ambitious or inventive as it could have been.



Into The Dark: James covers more straightforward Sword & Sorcery films this month, with an eye on one particular thing. Do they throw their sword at any point during the movie? It's a completely impractical move, yet has somehow still become a cliche. Can't say I'd thought of it before, but now you've mentioned it I'll probably be seeing it all over the place, just like those damn berenstain/stein bears. Has he managed to find anything good amongst all the cheesiness this time?

Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings definitely does not qualify as good by anything but the laxest standards. A rotoscoped mess where the budget declines visibly as it goes on before giving up 2/3rds of the way through the story, to get a pseudo-sequel with a different art style by a different company several years later, it focusses on all the wrong things and somehow manages to be both tedious and too short. Not really worth digging up when we have a better alternative now.

Conan the Barbarian does considerably better, but still has pacing issues, being too slow through most of it then ending too abruptly as if they just ran out of plot. Casting and soundtrack are good though. Maybe a sequel where they're not bogged down with origin story would do better. Or maybe not, as history unfortunately shows.

Deathstalker II is apparently better than the first one, but still not actually good, save maybe as a parody of the genre. The bloopers are funnier than the intentional jokes, so this is probably best served by getting very drunk and doing the MST3K thing with some friends while watching it.

Ladyhawke does get a good review, being both well-done and not cliched with it's very distinctive cursed pair of lovers who never get to be human at the same time. The final fight scene attracts his ire for distinctly unimpressive choreography where the bad guys attack the hero one at a time, but otherwise the whole package is pretty solid. I should rewatch this, see how the effects and pacing hold up by modern standards.

Hawk the Slayer, despite sharing part of the name, gets completely the opposite result, both boring and derivative. They can't even use the elements they blatantly stole from other, better films right. Another one to skip.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 64: October 1991



part 5/5



Bookwyrms: Our second promotional article is for their new Ravenloft novels. Like Spelljammer, they revolve heavily around characters from their more established and popular settings coming to the new one to give it more legitimacy. And even more than Spelljammer, these crossovers are one direction only, as people check into Ravenloft, but they very rarely get out. Jander Sunstar from Toril, an angsty elven vampire doing his best to stay moral over the centuries and do some kind of good in the world despite his hungers. This leads him to a lengthy rivalry with Strahd that's the subject of Vampire of the Mists by Christie Golden. Meanwhile, Lord Soth from Krynn also gets sucked in, but does not change his ways, and winds up Darklord of his own messed up domain, with his own minions, including the dwarf werebadger Azrael Dak, who is not from one of the established D&D worlds. (although his world sounds more interesting, and definitely less generic than Oerth or Toril; an inversion of normal D&D worlds where the surface world is controlled by terrifying behemoths and the dungeons are places of safety by comparison. Why'd we get Dark Sun, which barely does the dungeon part of D&D at all and not this? ) This all fairly interesting, and reminds us that Ravenloft's novels did better than Spelljammer long term, particularly once they stopped bothering with heroes and put the darklords front and centre in the stories. Some of them will even get sequels. Will this column still be going when we get there, so I get to talk about those as well? Let's keep going and find out.



The Living City: After last month went into full-on gonzo plane-hopping fantasy, this time they cover something completely mundane from the real world. A guy from Kara-Tur who wanders the Realms doing shadow plays with lanterns and little carved scenes that you project onto a wall to magnify. If the Realms was written with any kind of consistency about how common magic is supposed to be, and how much it is treated as technology that actually improves people's day to day lives, this would be too mundane to even be worth noting against various other things they've covered, just like Raven's Bluff's weird love of dancing bears. But apparently this is indeed enough of a novelty to the common folks that he can make a decent living doing it, particularly as long as he keeps moving around and no-one else is doing the same thing, so it remains a novelty as any particular town won't see more than once a year or so. So this article isn't bad in itself, and is actually quite educational, as it goes into the mechanics of making the lantern shows in detail, but it's also somewhat exasperating as part of the larger picture, or rather lack of it that is the Realms overall editorial direction. This kitchen sink needs a bit of a clean out if you actually want to get any washing done in it, because not all the things they're giving us here really fit together any more. (Unlike Ed's contributions, which generally do fit together quite well despite the quantity of them, because he started this, and seems to have a good memory for things he wrote many years apart.)



Wolff & Byrd continue to have to deal with the financial fallout of interplanetary infidelity. Will they have the right jurisdiction to enforce any rulings the judge makes?



Once again the amount of goofiness and low usefulness promotional material is considerably higher than I'd like, making this another issue to move on from quickly and probably never look at again. Maybe next issue'll manage a diamond in the rough, maybe not. Once more into the deepening darkness of the autumn, trying to keep our spirits up until we hit festive season.
 
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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 65: November 1991



part 1/5



37 pages. If you're going to chop someone's head off, might as well do it in style. Make sure the massive scimitar is sharp and shiny, get all dressed up, pick the right kind of jewellery to properly complete the ensemble. Let's find out who the unlucky client is, and how well the articles in this issue will co-ordinate with one another.



Notes From HQ: This continues directly on from last month with more complaints about too many players, not enough judges. Gen Con was once again larger than ever this year, but due to a high level of flakiness, the number of official tournaments they got to run there was not. It was so disappointing that they've actively scaled down their plans for next year in the hope that by lowering expectations, they'll be more likely to hit them reliably. Obviously they've blacklisted the people who canceled at the last minute for no good reason or simply didn't show up on the day, but that still doesn't solve the fundamental problem, and might make it worse if the reasons they weren't there were beyond their control and unlikely to happen again, or they're the kind of people who would have brought their family along and now won't be going to the conventions at all. So this is another reminder that they need YOU! Having too many judges for an event merely means each one runs with a slightly smaller party, which actually isn't a drawback in all but the most brutal of adventures because everyone gets a bit more spotlight time, while too few means whole groups of disappointed would-be players. Act now, and you could save dozens of people from cancellation over the course of the weekend! I strongly suspect that this is another topic we'll be seeing again in the future, just like the complaints about the food at conventions.



Letters: The first letter rails against GMPCs and general railroading in games. Cause and effect based on the laws of physics should continue to apply in RPG's, not implausible twists, just outright saying something doesn't work no matter how you roll or that your player can't do that because it'd spoil the story. They give a response that makes it quite clear they don't take this complaint seriously at all, and will continue to run and publish adventures in here that are both linear and silly. The rot really does go right to the top with this particular problem.

Second thinks it's about time they did a survey so they can figure out which features are most popular, and if they should drop anything to make way for new ones. They reply that it's a good idea, and they hope to get around to it amid all the other things they're juggling trying to keep the newszine going smoothly. If only you'd kept on some of the staff from SPI when you swallowed them, who were actually good at that part of their jobs.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 65: November 1991



part 2/5



The Living City: Once again, it's time to exaggerate that west country accent and put on the Wurzels playlist, as this one's for the cider drinkers! As it's a fairly niche drink there, Raven's Bluff only has one cider mill, run by a powerful druid with a lot of daughters, all named after virtues, because that always turns out so well [/sarcasm]. Her husband disappeared while adventuring a decade ago, and since then she's been running the business while trying to keep them out of trouble on her own, with very mixed results, as each of them is a different alignment and 1st level in a different class. They seem like rich ground for a romance subplot or recruitment to your adventuring party as they become increasingly independent and look to make their own ways in the world. This is one that strikes a good balance between the down to earth bits drawn from real world research and the more fantastical bits that are good hooks for adventuring parties. The question of what happened to the dad gets a particularly interesting answer that could well be turned into a decent length quest spanning many sessions, there's a couple of new magical items, and should you be the larcenous sort, there's a few surprises in the brewery layout that you could find. This is definitely on the higher end of the quality spectrum for this series.



Oceans Of Potions: We don't have an adventure this issue. However, we do have a lot of game usable material indeed in here. A whopping 160 potions and oils over 10 pages, considerably more than any edition's corebooks. They're presented in a pretty old school format and style (as they'd have to be to fit that many in that small a space) with many of them being booby prizes or meant to be used in some way other than drinking them. Taste testing is really not recommended if you want to make the most of their powers. So this is a strong reminder of the value of having a spellcaster or sage available who can properly analyse magical items and tell you what all their powers are. Given the sheer quantity of them and skimpiness of many of their descriptions, I'm not going to assess them all individually, or this part of the review would be longer than all the other articles put together, but some of the highlights include a somewhat too powerful potion of longevity which automatically reverts you to a 5-year old's body, (whether you'll age back to adulthood normally from that point, or be truly immortal but stuck at that apparent age is not clear) one that lets you turn into a tree and back, several metapotions that modify the effects of other ones or just generally counter the usual miscibility problem that happens if you ingest more than one at once, and the ability to absorb the AC and resilience of whatever you touch like a Zorbo. They're not particularly balanced, but since they're mostly only one use items, you don't have to worry about them completely ruining the game either. Putting some of these in your random treasure rolls will definitely liven up the game a bit.
 


(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 65: November 1991



part 3/5



Ponderously Puzzling: To go with our potion feature, we also have a potion-based logic puzzle. As with last time, you need to figure out which is the one you want, by color, smell, shape & material of the vial it's in, and position relative to the other ones, and then a process of elimination. Fortunately, there's no dragon setting the parameters this time, so you have more time to mull it over IC and take notes. This format definitely seems like it would hit diminishing returns fast if they did it every month. Surely there are other kinds of puzzles they could throw at us.



The Living Galaxy: Roger recycles a topic he did several times in Dragon editorials, but in more detail. Taking your real world experiences and using them to generate game scenarios. In a sci-fi scenario, this frequently results in "planet of the hats" style worldbuilding, so you should take care to put a little more nuance in and maybe combine two or three ideas rather than just using one pretty much unchanged. This basic concept is padded out to a full 5 pages with examples this time, which is a new high for this column. As usual for these, they're not objectively bad, but I never come away from them feeling I've learned anything new. Such are the perils of being both generic & formulaic, and having a remit to write to people as if every issue is someone's first.



Into The Dark: James goes for another very specific combination this month that I'm mildly surprised he found enough films to fill out. Westerns and Horror. I suppose Deadlands did quite well for itself when released a few years later. And every western is technically a horror story from the indigenous point of view. But what will the weird bits they add on be, and how well will the historical and supernatural elements blend in this selection?

Curse of the Undead has some good ideas, and the actors do their best with the material they've been given, but is bogged down by over obvious telegraphing of the plot and sloppy editing. It's still an entertaining enough watch, but definitely no classic for the ages.

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter is the kind of hammy low budget ridiculousness that could never be called good, but is a fun watch precisely because of it's combination of cheapness and interestingly bad acting. More stuff to watch late at night, preferably with friends.

Grim Prairie Tales is the only one this time that's actually outright good. An anthology of four shorter stories, with a fifth one as a framing device where the people involved are telling the other stories and reacting to the tales by the other one, it builds tension nicely and gradually develops the characters in an interesting way. This seems like it could have plenty worth stealing for your own horror RPG's.

Ghost Town does decently but not exceptionally. There's a few strings visible on the special effects, but they're used effectively to build atmosphere and keep the viewer in a state of disorientation. The ending is a bit disappointing after all the buildup, but I guess the ride is more important than the destination.

Ghost Riders gets thoroughly slated. The kind of low-budget film that barely makes it to theatrical length, yet is still slow and padded out because they didn't write enough story in the first place. The sound mix in particular sounds like they never even heard the acronym ADR. Let's hope it was at least a learning experience for all involved.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 65: November 1991



part 4/5



With Great Power: Here we get reminded that the Marvel superheroic rpg was not just built around emulating around superheroes in general, but a very specific model of superhero, the guy in a costume with a secret identity who juggles a day job and their double life, with mixed degrees of success. This is (hashtag) not all superheroes! In fact, since the rise of ubiquitous cameraphones, they're a distinct minority, mainly legacy heroes who have reality-warping or social influence that can put the genie back in the bottle even if their identity does get leaked. But even 30 years ago, there were plenty of examples to choose from of heroes who were full time public good-doers or spent most of their time in other worlds/dimensions and didn't engage with the costumed crime-fighting scene at all. Government-sponsored agents who draw a legitimate wage for their activities and get the best in cutting-edge equipment. Eternals, who are more than powerful and long-lived enough that a day job is something only adopted temporarily for reasons other than needing the money. Inhumans, who's primary concern is their own society on the moon. Asgardians, who might travel the universe, but once again, their own society will usually be more significant than any earthly ties. Nothing ground-breaking but a good reminder for your own campaigns, which are less limited to sticking to a status quo than the comics, so you can take them all sorts of weird places without worrying about alienating people or what all the other superheroes and villains would do in the crossovers if you do something worldshaking. Even if you start off that way, at some point, you will get found out, and it's good to have a plan to continue without relying on the old gameplay loop before it happens if you want a long-running campaign.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 65: November 1991



part 5/5



Wolff & Byrd find out the martian visitor is hermaphroditic, bisexual, or simply beyond earthly concepts of gender and sexuality, and entirely willing to swing both ways when it comes to humans. This makes legal proceedings even more complicated than they already were. It also turns out to be too progressive for either the TSR code of conduct and/or the readers, as this is the last we see of them for now. They still have a long future of convoluted cases ahead of them, but you'll have to pay money for other publications if you want to see it. I suspect whatever comic replaces it will be a little closer to standard D&D style fantasy.



Bookwyrms: We only have one promotional piece this time, and at the end rather than the beginning. Zeb Cook reminds us of the merits of playing Gotta Collect 'em All! when it comes to their novels and adventures. Many of their novels are tied into adventures or sourcebooks and give further info about the place or events. Sometimes they change what's in those places from the previous sourcebook and supersede that information. If you want to know all the most up to date setting details and keep your campaign accurate, you need to keep that wallet open. Another reminder that they really really loved metaplot in the TSR offices at that point, and would apply it to all their settings until it was completely obvious it was alienating more people than it was attracting, which took the company collapsing and being bought out to properly sink into their thick skulls. In the meantime we have a good few years of them repeatedly switching things up, often in ways that reduce the overall adventurability of the setting due to their need to defeat villains and have happy endings in the novels. This is both irritating in itself and a harbinger of more irritation to come. Not a very good note to end things on.



An issue of two halves, as the game material is more interesting and useful than the last few issues, but the generic stuff is pretty boring and basic, and they seem to be slipping when it comes to their convention organisation abilities again. After several years of reliable growth, they once again need to fight complacency. Tune in again after a short break to see what plans they come up with next time.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 32: Nov/Dec 1991



part 1/5



72 pages. Hmm. A clearly native american coded shaman engaging in some kind of summoning on the cover. Looks like at least one of the adventures inside will be getting tribal. Guess we'd better head in and see if this is handled with any sensitivity, or stereotyping, slaughter and colonialist subjugation will be the order of the day.



Editorial: Once again, we deal with the question of generic adventures vs ones in specific settings. They'd like to do more of them, but they're not getting the submissions. With the brand new settings that's particularly understandable, as people simply haven't had time to digest them and come up with ideas building upon them, but it's still a problem. There's also the question of if the readers actually want them, because if they don't, all this effort to get more variety is just a waste of time. It's not as if the readers are unhappy, as not only do they regularly send positive letters in, but they also won best professional gaming magazine this year. If they published adventures in specific settings disproportionate to the number of submissions, they might lower overall quality and spoil that. It's a question of if you follow your muse or stick to safe crowd-pleasers. It really is an eternal battle in any creative field.



Letters: The first letter wonders what happens to bound abishai when they're killed? They're simply dead. Only greater fiends get to go back home and reform, maybe with a demotion, to come back later and wreak their revenge. The rest simply proceed on their way to oblivion.

Second has a whole load of errata for Ghazal, and wonders how you become an RPG editor. (since the current ones don't seem to be doing their job properly) Hardly anyone sets out to become an editor, so the job generally falls to the person in the company who fails to take a step backwards when they ask for volunteers. If you're good at nitpicking little details and actively want to do the job, you're probably overqualified even if you have no formal certificates saying so on paper.

Finally, another army guy who's found Dungeon very nice both for reading and getting games going with their irregular schedule. Building your own world is hard work, and when you have a more than full time job as well, there's no shame in taking shortcuts to get to the fun part.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 32: Nov/Dec 1991



part 2/5



The Wayward Wood: What happens when the trees get pissed off, and decide to go walkabout? If you're Saruman, this is an out of context problem that will ultimately be your downfall, but it's certainly no picnic for many other characters either. Now you can see how your PC's will cope with this somewhat unusual adventure. While in a inn in a small town (try saying that 5 times quickly), they're asked for help by some exceedingly flustered druids. They've lost control of their forest, it's heading this way at a rate of several miles per day, and very unlikely to politely go around the houses when it arrives. Unless you want a fastforwarded demonstration of what nature can do to even the strongest building, you need to do something about this and only have a few days to prepare. Will you go to the forest, try and talk to the trees & animals to discover the cause and see if there's a reasonable compromise you can arrive at without violence, or use the time to fortify & train the village and then use lots of fire and axes when they arrive, in which case you'll get to break out the mass combat rules. Either way, this is an interesting open-ended challenge that should stick out in the memory and has several twists that I won't spoil. It mixes the fantastical elements with the logical down-to-earth ramifications of them well and could have a fair bit of long-term effect on your campaign, depending on where you set it and if you can manage to move the forest back to it's original location intact, or simply wind up destroying it entirely. This definitely gets my seal of approval both to run myself and to recommend to other people to run.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 32: Nov/Dec 1991



part 3/5



Hermes' Bridge: After a fairly original start, we go back to the old cliche of a bridge with a troll on it. But then thankfully they build upon the idea so this particular example has a decent amount of distinctiveness and depth. The bridge is a massive one created by a fallen civilisation that current technology can't recreate, spanning a river that would be very difficult to cross otherwise, with micro-dungeons in the arches holding it up. There's some dwarves poking around to try and understand how it was built, a troll trying to steal money from the donation urn, a stone golem that's doing it's best to defend the place with it's nonexistent intelligence. The kind of flavour encounter that you could just gloss over and have them cross easily, but they could also spend several hours poking around, finding all the secrets and clearing out all the monsters and treasure. It's easy to put into any world (apart from Athas, where there's a distinct lack of rivers to build bridges over) and helps make your world feel bigger and more nonlinear, not just a backdrop to a single story. Not spectacular, but conveniently usable. Another one I have no problem with, and probably showed up in more games than the epic quests.



Side Treks: Changeling: The side trek actually manages to fit entirely into two pages this time, without even having to shift a paragraph to elsewhere in the magazine to round things out. It's a pretty basic gimmick encounter. The PC's think they're going up against a white dragon that's been marauding the local farmers. It turns out to be an albino dragon of a different colour, so all those cold resistance spells will have been a waste of time. Gotcha! It does actually suffer from some of the real world problems albinism causes in people & animals, so it's not the most deadly fight as long as you didn't overspecialise your builds for the day, but even a fairly weak dragon fight is still pretty scary for regular characters, especially when it uses the terrain and it's spells intelligently. This is much shorter than the previous adventure in terms of page count, but could wind up being a longer and more deadly one in actual play if the tactics work and the players can't figure out how to pin it down for a fair fight. The kind of playing with expectations that you definitely shouldn't overdo as a DM unless you want your players to be perpetually grumpy and paranoid about every encounter, but makes a nice spice when added sparingly.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 32: Nov/Dec 1991



part 4/5



Pearlman's Curiosity: Oh tihs it's a nilbog get out of the van! Willie Walsh indulges in some of the worst whimsy AD&D 1e had to offer and sets a nilbog loose on a town, courtesy of an amoral wizard who's studying all the havoc it's causing (from a safe distance) as a mere scientific experiment. Everything is going haywire as people find themselves doing the opposite of what they would normally do in a situation. Can the PC's manage to double-check all their actions long enough to figure out where the effect is coming from and do something about it? Anyone who's read the rulebook will know that despite their low stats, nilbogs are near impossible to hurt at all, as what would normally harm them heals them & vice versa, and since healing spells are spontaneously reversible, it's very likely your cleric will screw up and use the wrong version even if they know the trick to killing them. It's all an almighty headache, and it's quite likely that it'll escape entirely, or they'll have to capture it and seal it away while being unable to actually kill it permanently. This seems like the marmite of adventure scenarios, they'll either love it or absolutely hate it. If I were only reviewing Dungeon I'd probably slate it, but seeing at the same time just how much worse most jokey Polyhedron adventures are, I actually don't mind this. It has good worldbuilding, like most of Mr Walsh's work, and gives you complete freedom in how you try to solve the problem (within the confines of often winding up doing the opposite of what you stated). Once the adventure's over, this is another town that you can reuse easily, as the various NPC's and buildings in the vicinity get plenty of useful details. That puts it way above adventures that expect you to go from one joke encounter to the next in order with no deviation. It's important to keep a sense of perspective about these things.



Is there an Elf in the House: Murder mysteries continue to be a reasonably popular niche genre here. The PC's get hired to make a delivery to a country manor. Bad weather hits at a suspiciously convenient time, and they're trapped there for several days, when one of the serving maids gets murdered. Everyone's a suspect, including you, so all your weapons, armour, spellbooks, etc get confiscated until the culprit is figured out, giving psionic characters, monks, and other classes that don't rely on external trappings for their powers a big advantage. As is typical for these things, there's more than one secret going on at once, between the owners of the manor and the other guests, so you might solve one and think you've won while missing the others entirely, finger a guilty person for the wrong crime, get most of it but miss some of the secret rooms and bonus treasure, or of course, lose entirely and die horribly one by one over the course of several days. As usual for the genre, it requires both decent acting skills from the DM, and a decent degree of buy-in from the players (who's going to willingly give up their weapons knowing it's almost definitely going to become an issue?) or the whole thing just won't work at all. As long as those requirements are met, this looks like it could be a decent amount of fun, and the twists are indeed pretty twisty, so I'm not going to spoil them here. It's one that could probably be improved by running it in a different system, but since the readers rejected that idea, I suppose they're doing the best with the remit they have.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 32: Nov/Dec 1991



part 5/5



Ghost Dance: A second adventure that uses the BATTLESYSTEM mass combat rules in the same issue? Now that is interesting to see. I wonder if those bits were originally in the submissions, or they're adding them in in editing as part of their promotional efforts. Iuz is being diabolically evil as usual and wants to expand his territory, but the Rovers currently living there are proving considerably harder to exterminate or subjugate than the native american cultures they're heavily inspired by. Tiring of taking considerably heavier losses than their opponents in the face of asymmetric warfare, one of his priests hits upon the plan of infiltrating a tribe with an artifact that turns everyone exposed to it lawful evil, and then using them to fight the other tribes, while disguised as yet other tribes in the hope of turning everyone against everyone else, leaving them all weakened and easy pickings when the conventional armies finally come in again to mop things up. And he would have got away with it if it weren't for those pesky PC's and their little god too! Since en masse magical alignment conversions are one of the biggest threats to godly power structures, that's a huge faux pas on Iuz's part (not that he gives a naughty word), and the PC's will have powerful, if subtle forces helping them on their way if they take this mission.

If they pay attention to the clues, they'll realise this isn't a mission where they should be killing everyone and taking their stuff, and go for the magical artifact responsible for all the mindfucking. Destroying that will free them, and then you get a nicely climactic final battle where all the Rover tribes unite against the Horned Society forces. If you don't, the adventure will be much longer and messier, probably turning once again into an extended guerilla campaign. So there is a definite intended story here where the PC's act like proper heroes and get suitably rewarded for it, but there's also enough worldbuilding that you can go off the rails and play a very different kind of adventure if you like. It's all pretty interesting philosophically, as it shows how chaotic evil gods can value lawful evil followers, but also that lawful evil does not have to mean you respect anyone else's rules. (Iuz doing things that are just completely out of bounds for other gods, yet not being directly stopped because they can't bring themselves to break the bounds of civility no matter how blatant his rule breaking and how much normal people suffer as a consequence has new resonance after 4 years of Trump presidency.) Like the other mass combat adventure this issue, pursuing it could have long term effects on the geopolitics of your campaign, and lead into more Greyhawk Wars adventures where things go quite differently to the canon metaplot. Like most of the other adventures this issue, this won't be for everyone, but for those it is, it could add a fair bit to your campaign long-term.



A lot of adventures in here with relatively short page count, that are also quite heavy on the worldbuilding and potential for long-term campaign consequences. If you're a DM that's good at extrapolating and extending existing adventures to make them more significant, this could be one of the most useful issues they've ever done. So it's with with vague trepidation that I head back to Polyhedron, where they worldbuilding isn't nearly as prioritised or well though out. Let's see what presents we get for christmas this year.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 66: December 1991



part 1/5



35 pages. The big tragedy of interracial relationships in D&D is lifespan differences, as this cover illustrates all too well. 50 years for a human, and you body is completely falling apart, while your elf partner has barely changed and is now more your carer than your lover. Meanwhile, you've gone through a good 4-5 generations of pet cats, and might get through one or two more before finally kicking the bucket. Let's see how well this whole topic is handled inside.



Notes From HQ: Time once again to look back on last year, while planning ahead to the next. They're increasing in size again, albeit slowly, which is a good sign for the organisation as a whole, and have added yet another regional co-ordinator, this time one in Norway for the scandinavian countries as a whole. The number of submitted adventures is up too. On the negative side, this means the number of phone calls is getting to the point where it seriously impacts their productivity, so they're restricting lines to afternoon hours only. Ha. Wait until the internet gets a bit bigger and faster, then you'll truly know productivity drain in your office work. So growth brings new opportunities, such as being able to do more competitions targeted at clubs as well as individuals, but also new problems as well. If you use the same techniques you used at lower level, eventually you'll fail. Let's hope the ways they decide to change are the right ones for the situation.



Letters: The first letter is from future 3e designer (and many other RPG products) Mike Selinker, talking about all the charity work the RPGA does. Gamers are as susceptible to cancer, heart attacks, (possibly even moreso due to the sedentary lifestyle) and degenerative illnesses as anyone, so raising awareness and devoting money to medical research is helping yourself in the long run. Give a little extra for a good cause next time you're at a convention with a charity event.

The second is somewhat less positive. Regular correspondent Aaron Goldblatt gives his perspective on getting through Gen Con with not enough judges to go around. He had to GM 8 slots, which left him virtually no time to wander around and enjoy the convention as a spectator. He'd very much appreciate it if more people step up so he doesn't have to work to the point of exhaustion again next year. This is what happens when you're one of the hardcore few who stick with something through good times and bad. Reliability might be a virtue, but it's not a path to personal happiness.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 66: December 1991



part 2/5



The Living City: Turns out the family tree of the people on the cover is a little more complex than I thought. The woman is the half-elven granddaughter of the man, left with him when her adventurer parents set out on a particularly dangerous mission and never came back. Together with an adopted pair of ex-conjoined twins, they run Oljagg's Rag & Bottle Shop, the kind of place where people leave their worn out odds and ends, which then get cleaned up, stitched together in new ways and then sold on to other people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Because they're generally nice people, they know when to cut someone experiencing hard times a break to keep them coming back, and when to charge rich people more, so the business is decently profitable overall. So the commercial aspect of this is pretty ordinary, if somewhat archaic, and the interesting part is their personalities, and the representation of several unusual disabilities in both the writing and artwork. Even though they aren't represented mechanically in D&D, they still happen in D&D worlds, and magic isn't commonplace enough for ordinary people to be able to afford to cure themselves. They still have to make their way in the world and make a living, especially since there's no social security net there, and some of them will become adventurers. This shouldn't be controversial, but as we saw this the combat wheelchair stuff a few months ago, somehow it still is. Not every character is an all 18's mary-sue with no flaws apart from generalised angst, and having ones like these in your setting definitely makes it more interesting.



Monstrous Mayhem: They continue to do contests pretty much every month. This time, it's giving you artwork of a monster and asking you to come up with the stats. It looks like a Dark Sun monster to me, with all those muscles and asymmetrical body parts, but you've got plenty of freedom to stat it up in whatever system you please. Winners get a copy of the 2e Fiend Folio, which this time is being largely done from RPGA submissions, rather than the British fanbase the 1e one drew from, but retains it's remit of being somewhat quirkier than the core monstrous compendia. I look forward to seeing what mechanical effect those weird tendril like left fingers will have.



Martial Arts In Paranoia: Badass action heroes, karate kids and ninja turtles are all over the media in the early 90's. It's no surprise that Paranoia would get in on the action of parodying that as well. Interestingly, this is one form of knowledge that's not restricted to commie mutant traitors, with the computer seeing the value in training certain troubleshooters in unarmed combat to better deal with whatever they may be sent up against. So here's several martial arts styles, including their founders and the various types of moves each teaches. Underneath the pun names and pop culture references, this actually looks pretty mechanically functional, and similar to the unarmed combat stuff in the complete fighters handbook, so you could use it in a both the wacky zap style games and the more serious dystopian ones. This one definitely gets my approval, both as variety to contrast with the D&D stuff, and actual quality material. Now let's hope that'll be reflected in the tournaments. I guess Paranoia is more suited to one-shots than lengthy campaigns, so it would be pretty easy for it to get a foothold here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 66: December 1991



part 3/5



Caravan: In 1987, while they were still busy creating it, they had a whole series of articles devoted to things that might happen on the journey to Raven's Bluff. The city is well developed now, but they still want to bring in new blood, so here's another adventure aimed at starting level characters as an introduction to a Living City campaign. They've obviously been drawn to the city in pursuit of adventure for whatever reason, and all wound up travelling with the same caravan for safety. Turns out they'll need that protection, as there's a horde of tanar'ri and undead on the loose. They'll get ominous dreams for several days beforehand, which none of the NPC's will believe despite this being a magic heavy D&D setting. They have to deal with someone stealing their stuff without any chance to save and spot the culprit, a bandit attack, various small scale interactions with the NPC's, and then the main battle, where the higher level characters do all the work and the PC's only participation is mopping up a few mooks. So this adventure is not only bad in the now familiar for Polyhedron way of being completely linear and railroady, giving you virtually no meaningful choices or character agency, but also an all new one of making you not even the central part of the story, but spectators who's main purpose is to watch other people be awesome, which we'll also see again in some of the more metaplot heavy official adventures, particularly ones that are tie-ins to novels. This leaves me thoroughly pissed off after reading it and is not one I'd ever remotely consider using. It'd set completely the wrong tone for the kind of game I like to run or play in. About the only saving grace is that it's not filled with terrible puns. That puts it just barely above the Fluffyquest series overall in terms of sheer awfulness.



With Great Power: Dale continues directly on from last month, venturing even further from the traditional superheroic experience to outright crossovers with other genres. Does all that mad science that normally appears in comics as a one-shot get into mass production, and the setting rapidly become a cyberpunk one? Do Terminators come back to try and change the past, and find it's a much more even fight than in the original movies? How do your heroes deal with Godzilla or Dracula - wait, they've already both appeared officially in Marvel comics anyway. This illustrates how well superheroes combine with nearly every other genre, which is definitely a lesson the Marvel Cinematic Universe has consciously heeded and used to keep itself from getting stale. Individual characters feel like they're existing in their own genre, yet can still interact with other people's stories and the universe is big & flexible enough to accommodate them. Can you pull off the same trick in your campaign without the massive writer's budget? Another fairly competent bit of advice that's aimed at Marvel characters, but generic enough to apply to other games as well. No problems with this, particularly as it mentions lots of other RPG's you can use as inspiration, including ones they've never covered here like Vampire: the Masquerade. Try some new games out. Even if you don't stick with them, you can bring the best ideas back to your main system and combine them into the big stew of genres. Doesn't that sound like more fun than arbitrarily limiting yourself into a category that's purely a human construct anyway?
 

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