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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 35: May/Jun 1992



part 3/5



The Year of Priests Defiance: Straight from one familiar name to some more. Rick Swan & Allen Varney team up for the first Dark Sun adventure in here. Like the two Spelljammer adventures, it's written in such a way as to clearly explain the differences between Athas and most campaign worlds to people who haven't bought the books, in an obvious attempt to make it accessible and hopefully persuade people on the fence to buy them. However unlike them, it isn't written as a crossover, as Athas avoids that due to easy travel to other worlds ruining the air of hardscrabble struggle for resources. But even if getting to other prime material worlds is difficult, and going direct to the outer planes impossible, they sure do have a lot of inner plane connections. In fact, without the effort of the elemental clerics & druids bringing a few precious drams of fresh material in a day, Athas would be in even worse shape from the destruction defilers wreak on the land. Which leads us in a roundabout way to the plot. The PC's are wandering through the desert when they encounter a suspiciously verdant bit of grassland with no obvious water source. Poking around, they find a ruin with a bound water elemental in, keeping the place alive. Unfortunately, there's also a senile comic relief sage poking around, and once you've had a few interactions with him and are starting to get fed up, a defiler & his minions will show up and try to take the whole joint over, ruining more of that painstakingly grown grass with every spell. If the sage is still alive, he'll free the elemental during this fight, which will go for the defiler first, giving you a chance to escape, before heading back to it's own plane, but leaving enough water behind to keep the place verdant for another year or two. With both multiple comic relief bits, trying to set you up with a cute animal sidekick, and the way it puts the captain planet eco-preaching at the centre of the story, this feels very much like a saturday morning cartoon portrayal of Athas. It's still darker than the average Dragonlance story, but much cheesier than the tone in the core boxed set. So it's not exactly badly written, as these are two skilled gaming veterans, but tonally miscalibrated. TSR's attempts to make a dark and gritty postapocalyptic fantasy setting are being hampered by the code of conduct and writers who are used to writing in a more comedic milieu. The result leaves me frustrated and unsatisfied. I don't think I'd be using this one even discounting it's setting specificity.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon issue 35: May/Jun 1992



part 4/5



Side Treks - The Whale: Like last issue, the short adventure is something that could be run completely without any supernatural elements, involving an animal you could actually hunt in reality, but would get serious complaints for doing so, due to the whole endangered species thing. While traveling along the coast of anywhere vaguely nordic, they come across a beached whale, and two tribes of vikings fighting over it. You could edge around them and avoid the fight altogether, you could side with one or the other, you could watch from hiding and see who wins, then kill them while they're weakened and take everyone's stuff, or even be good guys and try to save the whale's life by negotiation. The only limitation is your own conscience, and maybe level relative to the enemies you're fighting, although taking the everybody lives option seems a little easier here than the last one. Whatever choice you make will likely have consequences further down the line, with the family of the party you decide against seeking revenge unless you kill them all and move on before anyone can find out you were involved. This seems like it could occupy time at the table nicely in excess of it's page count. If you're playing on the grittier end of the gaming spectrum it seems pretty easy to use. It also gains extra points by having the option of using the viking runes from the appropriate sourcebook rather than regular spellcasters. What real world endangered animal or plant will they use next time? :p



Green Lady's Sorrow: Sometimes the PC's are hired by someone who might be shady and attempt to betray them at some point, but they aren't certain and go along with it anyway because they agree with the cause or need the money. This is not one of those occasions. A green dragon was nesting in a dormant volcano that suddenly proved to be not so dead. A fissure opened up right below the nest and dropped her eggs into the chasm. Dragon eggs are pretty tough so they survived the fall, and are obviously being kept warm by the volcanism, but she's too big to go down and get them. So she approaches the first group of adventurers she finds and offers surprisingly generous terms if they can go down and get them for her. If they refuse, she won't take no for an answer, and the terms will be somewhat less congenial. You probably aren't high enough level to take her in a straight fight out in the open and skip the rest of the adventure, so best to go along with it for now. The rescue isn't just a simple rappel and climb back though, as there are magmen living in the lava tubes, and the eggs are their favourite new toys. This leads you on a merry game of hide and seek amid lava flows, geysers, and various other fire based monsters, with the possibility that some of the eggs will get broken or hard-boiled in the process, or hatch just as the PC's arrive, leading to a whole other set of problems in wrangling the baby dragons to the surface alive and unharmed. Hope you have a decent selection of fire resistance powers available. Whether you do rescue them all or not, she plans to welch on the deal, so smart PC's will use the babies as hostages, find the alternate exit to sneak out of the caverns and escape entirely, or come up with some other contingency plan to make sure they get out alive and with a positive bank balance. This all feels very old school, both in it's playfulness, and in expecting adventurers to be sneaky sorts who have to use their brains to stay alive against all sorts of monsters and environmental hazards, many of which you don't need to fight to complete the mission. It pretty much demands you not follow the obvious path blindly if you want to win, which is the kind of dungeon-crawling I prefer. This kind of lightheartedness is much better for actually gaming in than Polyhedron's attempts at humour, as it arises naturally from the situation rather than 4th wall breaking references and puns, and I'd have no problem with using it.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon issue 35: May/Jun 1992



part 5/5



The Ghost of Mistmoor: The final adventure is indeed as gothic as the cover suggests, but also has just enough humour in it to throw the scares into sharper relief rather than ruining them. The PC's are hired by an impoverished noble to go to his abandoned ancestral mansion and retrieve the treasure. Of course, there's good reasons it was abandoned in the first place, because it's haunted. The twist is that it's actually a scooby-doo situation where the ghost is actually a pair of thieves also looking for the hidden treasure while trying to drive off any rivals. Then the second twist is that there are actually real ghosts as well, they're just slow wakers, and all this excitement does eventually get them up to have a little fun with the "guests". But with one exception, they're not evil either, and just want you to get rid of that one (who's responsible for the traumatic deaths of the others) so they can all finally pass on. Of course, being ghosts, their sanity is dubious, and their manifesting ability is limited, so figuring that out is not easy, especially when there's also the fake hauntings further muddying the waters. It's the kind of scenario for groups who prefer their gaming roleplaying heavy and combat light, rather than blundering into a dungeon and smashing whatever they find. Like any adventure that's all about the atmosphere and mysteries, it won't work with every group, but for those it does, it'll work very well. Like the specific setting stuff, it's good to dip into other genres while technically remaining generic.



With lots of adventures that are high on roleplaying and the option for low-combat solutions, but not railroaded, this selection is very 2e feeling, but in a good way. It does feel like they'd like to be even more progressive on that front, but are held back by a fanbase which is mostly only interested in D&D, and only submits adventures in a limited range of even that's settings. There's a fair number of their audience that would be happy with static dungeoncrawls forever, and forgetting about them was part of their downfall in a few years time. Let's carry on and see how those tensions play out from this perspective.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 72: June 1992



part 1/5



32 pages. Ooh. a fishman. Do we have another full-on underwater special on our hands, or just a single article? Will it be doing anything to make long-term underwater adventures accessible for players, or merely a few more antagonists to trouble them on the beaches and ships? Like adventures in space, these options are consistently underrepresented when you consider the amount of the universe they take up compared to the land. Time to see what this issue has to add to my toolset.



With Great Power: The RPGA has been using pure point buy rather than random generation for several years now, and in new RPG's, that is increasingly becoming the majority. Another way that the FASERIP system seems increasingly dated, given the massive degree of precision-tuned customisation available in it's rivals. So Dale uses this column to provide a new character creation system that's free of randomness. As it's only a single page column, he doesn't time to meticulously playtest & price every power in the book according to it's in-game utility, so they're simply divided into regular and double cost ones, and the GM is warned that they'll need to watch out for broken builds themselves. It's progress, but they'll still need to do a new edition to really catch up with the competitors and have more people see these refinements instead of just putting it in a magazine article. Interesting, but very incomplete, this definitely needs a few follow-ups to reach it's full potential. Still, he says this article is part of a series, so hopefully we'll be seeing those in the near future.



Notes From HQ: Oooh. They've moved offices again, getting a bigger place with multiple rooms instead of just one big open plan thing with cubicles. That may be a long term improvement for them, but they also have to worry about losing or leaving behind some of the paperwork, so the short-term may be a little rocky. Other bureaucratic details fill the rest of the editorial, showing they never cease to be a problem. They're increasing the deadline modules have to be in by to 6 months before the intended convention. If they aren't fully written & in their hands by then, they'll use something else and what you sent will be assigned to another one if it's used at all. However, they're cutting the deadline for the classified page to only 3 months in advance, due to improvements in their computer technology accelerating their turnaround. In addition to individual & club memberships, they're also including family ones, so you don't need to assemble half a dozen people to start getting some economy of scale benefits. Good luck recruiting. Lots of little tweaks, that hopefully add up to increased membership and smoother running conventions. Fingers crossed, and don't be afraid to revert to the previous methods if it turns out a change is actually for the worse.



The Living City: Tim Beach lives up to his name by talking about swimming lessons in Raven's Bluff. As a coastal city, there are indeed plenty of opportunities to hit the sand (although surf's a little rarer, since it's an enclosed inland sea so tides are weak) and go for a paddle. Since attacks from aquatic monsters aren't unknown, it's sensible to learn in groups with a trained instructor. Obviously there's no floorplan this time, so most of the word count is dedicated to the three instructors, a cleric of Eldath, a Ranger, and an Enchanter. All have well above Charisma and are specifically noted as looking good in their swimsuits. ( :sighs, inserts rant about how a bit of body fat is actually far better for swimming than visibly shredded muscle definition, due to both insulation and lower overall density, as demonstrated by most aquatic mammals: ) Ruleswise, this one is a bit problematic too, as it allows you to improve your swimming proficiency with relatively minor GP and time expenditure without spending any slots, which would interact badly with the rules if applied to other skills. 2e does desperately need to decouple your number of skills from your level and allow you to buy more of them so you can have skilled low level characters who are useful to players at some mundane thing, but this goes too far the other way, particularly when it comes to the upper reaches of proficiency level, which do hit diminishing returns and get increasingly hard to improve in reality. So this one is more than a little irritating on both a setting and system writing level. I feel no particular inclination to go splashing around here.
 
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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 72: June 1992



part 2/5



Know Who Your Friends Are: Aka, the ecology of the doppleganger II: Mackie's back in town. Well, the original was 8 years ago and in Dragon, so there's plenty of reader turnover between them. In fact, Bruce Nesmith either hasn't read the original, or intentionally chooses to present a different take on their abilities, as some of the details contradict the previous one, particularly with respect to the limits of their shapechanging abilities. Wheras the previous one had them able to simulate clothes & equipment as part of their shapeshifting, which means they're actually naked all the time unless carrying something specific, and removing or getting them to drop something is a good way to catch them out, this makes their shapeshifting even more obviously magical, and able to transform possessions as well as long as they remain within 5' of their body. Ah, the joys of 2e bowdlerisation. The best way to catch them out continues to be if they can walk the walk, as while they can use their mind reading to give you all the right answers in conversation, they can't imitate class skills, exceptional ability scores or innate magical abilities, so productivity will be way down. (which is why they actually prefer to take over the lives of rich people rather than working class folks or adventurers) Of course even that isn't an ironclad rule, as he then introduces a new more powerful variant that has greater ability to functionally emulate your attributes and equipment, but only if it actually touches you. The kind of article that's interesting because of it's extreme specificity, and covering a topic they've already covered elsewhere, so you can compare & contrast. If you're going to run a disguise-based antagonist, you need to establish the rules they work by and stick to them so the players can do the detective work legitimately and feel clever when they succeed by asking the right questions and exploiting the loopholes in the game. Having something like this look at the logical implications of certain powers for you helps speed things on their way.



Experience Preferred pt 1: Time comes for us all. Those adventurers who don't fall in the course of their adventures or embrace transhumanism will eventually find themselves slowing down, struggling to heft a sword or memorise a spell the way they used too. What do they do then? If they've earned enough money to afford it, they can retire to the Nellie Thursday Home for Experienced Adventurers, where they can probably live the rest of their lives in peace, for who's going to mess with all those high level characters at once? But there's always some idiot, and so you're dragged out of retirement for one last mission, sending you across the planes on as epic a journey as they can squeeze into three 4 hour tournament slots. The kind of adventure that could be used in an existing campaign, but would lose a fair amount, as much of the page count is devoted to the pregens, which are high level with plenty of magic items, but have various idiosyncratic age-related penalties imposed on them on top of the general ability score adjustments, and lots of notes on how they relate to one-another. You're strongly encouraged to ham up the roleplaying of their bickering and complaining about their ailments, as if they've known each other for decades with various degrees of affection and irritation. So while this is still as linear as most recent adventures here, including some typically railroading and petty nonsense involving the greek gods, it is a serious adventure, and expects you to add the lighthearted humorous elements as players rather than being bombarded with jokes by the DM. If you're a fan of The Expendables or Bubba Ho-Tep it could well be fun for your group.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 72: June 1992



part 3/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger gives us another column that is basically just a long list of references. It may take a long time to build up that degree of knowledge, but once you have, you can churn this kind of thing out in your sleep. If you're going to do a sci-fi story set on a single world, what kind of plots do you run, and how do you keep them interesting? If you can't go to the aliens, then why not bring the aliens to you, with a good old invasion scenario. Wars between countries can drag on for years, one involving planets could easily take thousands even if one side is clearly superior simply due to the ground you have to cover and time it takes to build up or completely subjugate/exterminate a population. Whole generations can be born and die in the process, gaining or losing ground and making new technological leaps in the search for an edge. Similarly, a planetwide disaster can set the population back centuries even if all the knowledge isn't lost, as well as creating plenty of ruins filled with valuable stuff that can't be made anymore, as should be familiar from D&D settings. Unlike in a fantasy setting, a problem will rarely be solved in a single stroke by a single hero finding or creating a particularly powerful macguffin. Anyway, lots and lots of examples, both RPG & literary. Have fun tracking them down to see what you can learn from each of them.



Into the Dark: James decides to give superheroics a spin as this month's theme. There's a genre that has had it's ups and downs over the decades, but the overall trajectory has been upwards, both in terms of special effects, and the creators taking what they're producing seriously instead of churned out drek for kids. Even at the time of writing this, he can safely say that the early 90's are a substantial improvement on the 80's in that respect. Let's hope it continues to be the case, and we won't hit a wall in that progression anytime soon.

Spy Smasher is a 12 part serial from 1942, where the titular hero defends the USA from german infiltrators. Consumed as a movie, the need to have cliffhangers precisely every 15 minutes gets a little tedious, but it still holds up better than most things from that era. Might be worth checking out to see how far we've come.

Batman may have started the current superhero renaissance, but James still has plenty of criticism for it. It's more a joker film than a batman one, giving the villain more screentime and making them more interesting than the hero. There's clear conflict in the writing between people trying to make something dark & modern and people who preferred the 60's camp, and there's continuity errors as a result of heavy cutting for time. All problems that will appear again in DC films, but I somehow don't see a director's cut of this surfacing 30 years later like the Snyder cut.

Darkman is clearly derivative of Batman, but James finds it hangs together better, with Peyton Westlake's dealing with his scarification and need to avoid the light to maintain his disguises far more interesting than Bruce Wayne's rich kid with parental issues angst. Sam Raimi pulls off some typically gonzo camera setups, and both hero & villain chew the scenery quite effectively. Just don't bother with the direct to video sequels, which have neither the budget or the charm.

The Punisher sees Dolph Lundgren do his best second-rate ahnold as Frank Castle. The kind of superhero movie that seems embarrassed by it's comic book origins, and the lead never wears the iconic costume, with a bit of yellow peril racism to top things off. It's not surprising the modern MCU version never even did ironic callbacks to this.

Blind Fury is essentially Daredevil with the serial numbers filed off, a blind martial artist who fights crime, only without the lawyering parts and catholic guilt. It's not actually that bad, and gives James hope that they might be able to pull off a genuinely good adaption in the future without breaking the bank on special effects. Well, it's a long wait with several false starts, but I think we got there in the end.
 

Richards

Legend
Blind Fury is essentially Daredevil with the serial numbers filed off, a blind martial artist who fights crime, only without the lawyering parts and catholic guilt. It's not actually that bad, and gives James hope that they might be able to pull off a genuinely good adaption in the future without breaking the bank on special effects. Well, it's a long wait with several false starts, but I think we got there in the end.
Blind Fury was actually a remake of a Zatoichi movie and had nothing to do with Daredevil.

Johnathan
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 72: June 1992



part 4/5



Of Masks And Men: Ooh. Another themed collection of magical masks. That turned up a couple of times in Dragon, but I think there's still room for more. After all, it's not as if there's a shortage of faces to wear them, and stylish customised mask selection seems more important than ever in a post-pandemic world. Let's see if these are any good.

The Mask of Light shoots rays of light from it's eyes that do lots of damage to evil creatures, moderate to neutral ones, and leaves good ones unharmed. Like many a strongly aligned magical item, donning it risks forcible conversion if you don't already match it morally, so watch out.

The Mask of Night is the precise opposite, only it's beams still mildly damage other evil things because evil is more likely to engage in infighting. If you're not already a cackling archvillain, donning it would be distinctly unwise.

The Mask of Twilight is the obvious neutral counterpart, blasting everyone equally, presuming you can find the motivation after having neutrality forcibly thrust upon you. This is getting a bit formulaic.

Masks of Combat give you the skill of a fighter your level, or a +2 bonus if you're already a full THAC0 progression class. Just another way spellcasters can shortcut their way into doing everyone else's jobs better than them.

Masks of Stealth do roughly the same, but for thief skills. So much for niche protection.

Masks of Trickery return the favour, giving nonspellcasters illusionist spells, albeit not quite as many as someone of the same level. This relationship continues to be distinctly asymmetrical.

Masks of Knowledge do the same for other wizard schools. This is involving a lot of variations of the same few ideas.

Monster Masks let you get your Breath of the Wild DLC on. This is usually a downgrade power-wise for an adventurer, so if your acting skills can't match your appearance, get ready to ditch the disguise to survive.

The Mask of the Wraith is a particularly effective example of the above. However, energy draining is not a power PC's can be allowed to have easily, so it only has limited charges. They may not find out until later, or course, depending on how good their appraisal skills are.

Masks of Disguise are one of those ideas that's turned up independently many times. Just remember that while you might be able to imitate someone's face with one, you still have the same height & weight, and have to make sure your outfit is suitable manually, so it's still much easier to catch you out for inconsistencies than a doppleganger.

Masks of Attractiveness boost your charisma (not your comeliness, curiously enough, showing even the holdouts in here are struggling to get people to submit stuff using those rules) with regards to the opposite sex. Rings, potions, hats, oils, there's no method someone won't use to increase their odds of scoring.

Masks of Jealousy are the cursed comedy version of the above, dramatically increasing your attractiveness with the opposite sex, while making everyone else of the same sex hate you, because everyone is heterosexual in 2e due to the code of conduct, and we are forbidden to even hint at the existence of an alternative.

The Mask of Lycanthus gives you the full powers of a werebear, fairly unsurprisingly. Another one that'll completely change your general tactics until you get to very high level with it's power. This collection definitely wouldn't be allowed in subsequent editions without some severe nerfing.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 72: June 1992



part 5/5



Everwinking Eye: Ed also heads over to Raven's Bluff to give us a plot idea that's interesting, but thoroughly unbalanced mechanically. The Tears of the Dragon were shed several decades ago when a gold dragon lost her human lover in an epic magical duel. They turned out to be quite powerful all-purpose macguffins, curing all kinds of ailments including poison, disease, energy draining & geas, which would be well out of reach of the average adventuring party to afford the regular way. This means they were fiercely fought over, and most have disappeared into private collections, with the largest collection owned by a horde of gargoyles once controlled by another evil wizard, which continue to follow their last orders to sniff them out. (ahh, I see someone else watched the Baron Karnor episode of Thundercats :p ) This gives you not only a strong plot hook for a single adventure, but also makes it clear that succeeding won't be the end of it, as owning one of these paints a big fat target on the back of your head for monsters and other adventurers of all alignments. For the Realms to support as many adventuring parties as it does, there needs to be a fair amount of recycling of treasure & dungeons, with active process of restocking facilitated by evil wizards and creatures like Deepspawn. It's good to see them at least trying to make the functioning of their world internally consistent, while still being a good place to adventure in.



Bloodmoose & Company meet their ancestors in the time of the dinosaurs. They narrowly escape messing up their personal timeline.



An issue that's interesting because it has an unusually high level of crunchy stuff, but it's also pretty unbalanced and filled with exception based design that goes against the general rules. It shows that worrying about that isn't really on the radar of the people writing or editing this, and even if they wanted too, they'd need a fair bit of practice to get good at eyeballing the material and spotting what would cause problems in actual play. Another thing that will change eventually, but it'll be a long road with multiple phases in between. Better not wait around then. Onto the second half of this year.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 73: July 1992



part 1/5



36 pages. Giff! Who doesn't love a hippo-man? At least, until you're on the opposite end of their blunderbusses, or their terrifying teeth & bulk even when they're unarmed. They may be presented in a comedic way, but they're considerably more of a threat than your average kobold or orc. Let's see just how seriously they'll be taken in this issue, and if there'll be a usable scenario underneath the humour.



Notes From HQ: Back near the start of the Living City campaign, Charles Oliver O'Kane and his player won the position of mayor in a tournament. This has actually worked out decently, to my surprise, and so they're going to extend the opportunity to more important city positions in the near future. Come to Winter Fantasy next year if you want to have a chance of getting on the advisory council. Don't expect it to be easy though, as only the best at all sorts of challenges in a several round tournament have a chance at winning, so you'd better earn as many XP in other tournaments before then and level your character up. This pretty much guarantees it'll go to a long-running RPGA member who lives fairly locally to the TSR headquarters. (which does make things easier if they want them to actually have any administrative power after winning.) So this sees them escalating the degree of metaplot and theoretical influence normal players can have on the setting as a whole. You get to appear in official D&D supplements and maybe even have some of the details of your deeds turned into a permanent part of forgotten realms history. This could go wrong in so many ways. I recall L5R followed this path as well, and had the metaplot & progressing timelines of the setting dictated by which clans won the tournaments each year, with some silly and dramatic swings of history as a result. Still, whether it works or not, it's ambitious, and should make for interesting reading. Let's get 90'stastic and see how long it takes for them to overreach themselves.



Letters: The first letter complains that the Living City is getting a bit full up in terms of basic amenities. Now what we really need is more adventures. That all depends what other members submit. If you agree, get to writing them.

Second complains that they don't cover Star Frontiers enough, despite having a dedicated sci-fi column. Now there's a system they haven't thought about in a long time. If you send something good in they might publish it, like they have for Gamma World 2e, but the TSR staff simply don't have the time to work on dead systems that were cancelled for lack of sales, even if they still have a soft spot for them personally. Another reminder that if D&D didn't outsell everything else put together, many of the designers would favour entirely different systems instead of churning out more supplements & settings for the same one.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 73: July 1992



part 2/5



Take My Advice: Summer rolls around again, the number of conventions reaches it's peak, and we have the requisite advice column on how to get the most out of your time there. Remember that in the real world encumbrance isn't tracked in neat weight classes, but every extra pound will gradually increase your exhaustion at the end of the day, particularly if you use a bag rather than a decently ergonomic backpack. Most convention tournaments don't let you build your own characters using supplements, so there's no point bringing more than the corebooks anyway. Speaking of tournaments, better to know which ones you're playing in in advance and turn up on time rather than trying to sign up on the day, particularly in large conventions where the popular options get snapped up fast, and you risk double-booking if you enter multi-round tournaments without knowing when all the subsequent instalments are. Don't fill all your time with tournaments, leave some time for wandering around, browsing the stalls & listening to the seminars. Make sure you eat a balanced diet, for nonstop hotdogs & soda from the concessions stands will not be kind to your bowels, waistline or budget. Another of those articles that shows up every year or two with slightly different flavours each time, growing increasingly specialised towards the RPGA experience, because by this point they're their own little subculture amid the larger one of regular convention-goers. It's important to get the new arrivals up to speed, but gets increasingly repetitive for the long-runners.



Experience Preferred pt 2: The first instalment of this adventure was only mildly silly, with most of the humour in the hands of the players. The second one sees them sent from Olympus to a parallel prime material world, where things escalate to moderate silliness. Everything is subtly off, with some things that are recognisable analogues that make for serious battles like the giant and dragon, and some that are just plain silly like encountering an irascible food critic and a bunch of elves performing Hamlet. At the end of it they take another interdimensional portal and wind up in Kansas, which definitely bodes ill for the next instalment. What inverted Oz-related jokes do they have in store for us? After reading this, I'm not particularly enthusiastic to find out, but I guess I'll have to do so anyway. Tune in next month for the climactic finale! Cheeses need time to mature, and this is definitely getting more cheesy as time goes by.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 73: July 1992



part 3/5



Starting From Scratch: After a whole bunch of stuff that's quite RPGA specific, here's one of those ultra generic single page articles that could appear in nearly any publication in any era. Don't just roll up a character and pick a class, think about what they look like, their history, likes & dislikes, why they've become an adventurer, etc. Seen it before, frequently in much greater detail. The kind of thing that makes me emit a resounding meh and move on quickly.



The Living Galaxy: Roger is also continuing to be generic, but in much greater detail and with plenty of reference materials for further reading. What do the PC's know about their homeworld, how does the DM decide all this and how much detail do they go into creating it's geography, history, political factions, etc, particularly if they'll be spending most of their time starfaring so it might not even be relevant to the plot. Do you make it all up yourself and give them a big infodump that they probably won't read, do you hash it out in session zero, do you leave it vague and give them freedom to come up with big chunks of it when it becomes relevant in actual play? For ease of play, it's best to make things mostly earthlike with a few big differences, even if that does risk planet of the hats style worldbuilding. Whether newly colonised or with millions of years of history, there should be some interesting conflicts taking place that would make for good plot hooks. Decide what overall tone you want to set, the hardness of the science, effectiveness and integrity of law enforcement. Give plenty of literary examples of each type of campaign you're suggesting. Put next to the previous article, it finely illustrates the difference between being formulaic and rehashed in a professional way vs an amateur one. The pro has a lot more tricks up their sleeve, some of which will hopefully be fresh to the audience, and executes them in a more reliable way. You're still probably engaging in a cycle of doing a bit of investigation & exploring, then some killing things & taking their stuff in actual play, but you should be doing it with a bit more style and efficiency.



Bestiary: In most other editions, Bahamut & Tiamat appear in the corebook or a significant supplement. 2e hated allowing direct interactions with deities, so they only put simplified avatar versions in Monster Mythology, and shuffled the full statblocks off to Polyhedron where hardly anyone will see them. Like regular dragons, the stats have been substantially boosted from their 1e incarnations, but the basic details of their personalities and surroundings remains pretty familiar. So this is a particularly odd footnote in D&D history as a whole, reminding us of some of the political wrangling behind the scenes in what was kept in and left out, and who was against these changes and gave them at least a limited release despite opposition. Which is probably more interesting than actual play stories involving these two, since so few campaigns get to the stage where you can legitimately challenge them in a fight, and who wants to fill their campaign with railroading & deus ex machina?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 73: July 1992



part 4/5



Into the Dark: Another fairly commonplace theme from James this month. Time to look back half a century for a bit of pulp action. A rich vein of inspiration for making movies out of, but many unfortunately follow their inspiration in being cheaply made and implausibly plotted. Which ones will work and which are best forgotten?

Doc Savage's 1975 movie outing gets thoroughly slated. Cheesy and grating, he gets the feeling the filmmakers have no respect for the source material and are taking the piss throughout. Batman '66 was at least sincere with it's cornball humour. Plus listening to this much John Philip Sousa in one go is just cruel and unusual punishment. No thanks.

Buckaroo Banzai, on the other hand, perfectly encapsulates the feeling of picking up a pulp serial in the middle despite not being based on a particular one. The cast is excellent, the humour fascinatingly oddball, and the plot audacious. It's just a shame it never got any follow-ups, even if it would ruin the central joke long-term.

King of the Rocket Men is our token serial from back in the day. It's actually pretty decent for the time, although the effects are simple and the acting sometime wooden. Still, the story is exciting, and was popular enough to inspire a whole load of imitators, so maybe it's worth checking out.

The Rocketeer is obviously one of those. It's a little disneyfied, but that just means it has clear heroes & villains and is suitable for the whole family. A good one to introduce your kids with before getting to the more convoluted and ambiguous examples of the genre.

Dollman has the same name as a pulp character, which is why James rented it in the first place, but turns out to be completely unrelated. He is not impressed, finding a 13 inch cop from another world cleaning up the bronx just too silly to stomach, particularly with the crappy effects and attempts at grimdark seriousness. As is often the case, the direct to video sequel is even worse. Don't know why film companies keep throwing good money after bad.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 73: July 1992



part 5/5



The Living City: Since the letters were complaining about too many Raven's Bluff businesses, we don't have one this month, instead filling the space with a collection of items that have histories tying them into the Realms, but are perfectly capable of being used generically as well. Not that we don't have plenty of them from Dragon, so doing this every month would get stale even faster than new setting details, but it's good to mix things up now and then. Let's see if these are the kind of things adventurers would risk their lives over.

Heavy Water has all the quenchiness of several gallons of regular water in a single mouthful. Very handy if you're going on an extended desert adventure, and if enchanted by a cleric, also has concentrated undead scouring power. Get all those tombs extra clean! :teeth ting:

The Helm of Asps gives you medusa hair. This does not include turning people to stone, but save or die poison with every attack is nothing to sneeze at either. Some monsters really are overkill, aren't they.

Morgrim's Tapestry depicts a brave knight that will step out of the tapestry and protect your home from unwelcome intruders. Probably doesn't have the strength to beat a whole adventuring party, but it's loud and clanky so it'll at least alert everyone else in the building and ruin any rogue's plans at a sneaky burglary.

A Ring of Nine Lives saves your life every time you're dropped to 0, with the expected number of total charges. It doesn't heal you though, so if you're in a pitched combat those can go down very rapidly in quick succession. An angry beholder could wipe out all of them in one round if you're very unlucky.

The Ring of Scrying Globes creates magical bubbles that let you not only scry nearly anywhere, but also cast spells through it on whatever you're seeing. The kind of thing that's pretty powerful on it's own, but absolutely game-breaking in the hands of an archmage, letting you perform selective scry & fry's or mind control anywhere in the world at no risk to yourself unless you're dealing with another spellcaster similarly powerful & paranoid. It has it's limitations, but this is the kind of macguffin that can comfortably drive a whole plot and make an enemy seem unbeatable. Good luck finding it before Manshoon or some other FR bigwig. These are all pretty interesting and do more than just add more plusses onto your preexisting abilities so they seem quite capable of spicing up a game.



An 1889 Crystal Sphere: The cover image turns out to be connected to this article, a Spelljammer/Space:1889 crossover. What happens if your D&D characters stumble across earth, only a little more technologically advanced than usual in an odd direction. Both have Crystal Spheres & Phlogiston, so the cosmologies mesh pretty seamlessly. But the rules systems are pretty different, so here's 5 pages of both way conversion notes, mildly favoring converting from 1889 to AD&D, since that's the more popular and complicated system. As usual when you convert a skill-based system into a class/level one, you can often wind up with characters that are impossible if rolled up natively and played from 1st level, but they encourage you to prioritise cool over strict adherence to the RAW and roll with it. There's class/level limits for the three different types of martian, plus plenty of new types of armor & weaponry, so there's a decent amount of stuff to plunder even if you've never played Space:1889 at all. A pretty neat article that also serves to introduce a new game to the RPGA in general, and hopefully get a few more people playing it. Will we see it in the lists of official point-earning tournaments in future years? This is one I wouldn't mind seeing a few follow-ups for.



Bloodmoose & Company find themselves in medieval times, and that the rules of chivalry do not apply to anthromorphic animals. It's a hard life, being a metaphor.



Wolff & Byrd make a brief return, to remind us that just because the dead don't respond when you try to contact them, doesn't mean they can't hear you, and grow increasingly irritated that you aren't getting the hint.



A fairly decent mix of stuff that's aimed at new people who still haven't become jaded to repetition of the basics, and more advanced material that's still relevant to me. Their adventure choices continue to not really be to my tastes, but at least i have plenty of alternatives at this point, and the attempt to make player choices in tournaments tie into larger-scale metaplot looks like it'll be interesting in the future. Still plenty of reasons to carry on then. Let's head on into convention season and see if they've managed to solve last year's flakiness problem.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 36: Jul/Aug 1992



part 1/5



76 pages. Dragons iiiiinnn SPAAAACEEE!!!! I guess we do have another spelljammer adventure on the way. Hopefully not another one aimed at elevating the minds of landlubbers, as I think we're already decently catered for in that area. Let's see how far we can get from generic starting level dungeon-crawls this time.



Editorial: Since issue 2, they've had a fair share of adventures where the mystery is a big part of the fun, and investigation, finding clues & interviewing suspects is more important than the killing things & taking of stuff. Wolf decides to spend the editorial celebrating this idea. Challenge your players and their brains, not just their character's stats. This is 2e, where nonweapon proficiencies are still optional, and you're expected to actually roleplay your way through social situations, rather than pick between diplomacy, bluff & intimidate and let the dice determine how well you did overall. More adventures in this vein from the freelancers would be very welcome. The kind of editorial that lets you know which way the wind is blowing in the offices. They want to grow beyond their dungeon delving & dragon slaying origins, and make D&D a more general purpose RPG with lots of different detailed settings. Can they get people to play along? Well, they're not doing too badly so far. I guess I'll keep going and see if they drop mystery based adventures when they do the whole back to the dungeon thing with the edition change, or it happens earlier, later, or not at all.



Letters: First letter is particularly pleased by the trading cards in issue 34. In addition to making characters easy to look up, they also make good bookmarks. Another round of them would be very welcome.

Second complains about blatant spoilers in the adventure titles and maps. It makes keeping the true nature of the adversaries in more cerebral adventures difficult. They need to draw you in somehow. It's a tricky path to balance, but they'll try to be a bit more subtle.

Third reminds them not to discouraged by satanic panic idiots and keep on keeping on. Roleplaying is just another hobby so just keep on making good adventures for us to play.

4th is by future design head Chris Perkins. He'd like to see them do a best of, put better maps and illustrations in, and cover more terrains & cultures. In the meantime, he'll keep on submitting his own adventures here. Another example of persistence paying off.

5th wants to know about the statistics behind the magazine. Just how many adventures do they reject for each one they choose. It's not quite hundred to one, but not far off. Once again, you need to be persistent and patient if you want to become one of their regulars, because even if they accept you, your adventure could be waiting a long time in the slush pile.

6th is another one that really likes the trading cards and other inserts. Can they come up with any new ones to keep the variety up?

7th wishes they'd do more Spelljammer & Dark Sun adventures. Well, they're trying this issue. Send them in and increase the odds of the settings surviving long-term.

8th reminds people that not every adventure is, or indeed should be aimed at them. Even the one that aren't will hopefully expand your mind and let you understand what else you could try in the future.

Finally, another one asking what computer programs they use to make their maps, and if they could get hold of the original files. Sorry. Diesel still does them by hand. It'll still be a long time before you can get hold of issues online, and even longer before you can do so legally.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 36: Jul/Aug 1992



part 2/5



Asflag's Unintentional Emporium: Willie Walsh once again delivers something fairly lighthearted with plenty of opportunities for roleplaying on top of the dungeoncrawling. The Wizard Asflag met an unfortunate end when a magical experiment went wrong, and now the wards on his tower are starting to break down, letting all sorts of weirdness leak out. Who ya gonna call? The twist is that instead of lurking in the forbidding wilderness where this wouldn't disturb anyone, he's right in the middle of the city of Serin, which has turned into a boomtown of wizard's towers. You have to deal with both the bureaucracy of the legal authorities, which is at least less obnoxious than Westgate or Raven's Bluff, and the various other wizards of the city, who all want to get their hands on various magical items he possessed, preferably without getting into an open bidding war which will jack up the prices. Then there's the traps and monsters themselves, which are also on the more quirky side, with heavy Fiend Folio representation. The dungeon-crawling bit probably won't last you more than a couple of sessions, but the social bits before and afterwards can be dialled up or down quite a bit depending on the tastes of your group, and seem like rich grounds for starting petty feuds between the wizards and PC's that can come back and have long term repercussions on your campaign. Another one by him that mixes it's various elements to good effect and allows you plenty of freedom in how it plays out, plus giving you prefab setting details to speed your worldbuilding along. Just generally good all round.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 36: Jul/Aug 1992



part 3/5



Troll Bridge: They forget the side treks branding on this month's short adventure despite it being shorter than some of the ones that got it. The premise seems fairly simple and familiar. A troll has set up under a bridge and wants food or money to let people pass. Since they've already done that before, there's a twist this time. It's actually a gnome illusionist using his spells and a few physical props for the purposes of extortion. If you decide to seriously fight the troll despite it's ferocious appearance it won't take long to figure out that the maths aren't adding up. A bit of magic detection/dispelling will reveal the real culprit, who will lead you on a chase across a route with some more traps prepared to increase his odds of escape. If he gets away, he'll hold a grudge and become a recurring antagonist, putting further obstacles in their way while avoiding direct confrontation. It's amusing to have a villain who thinks small, and is using their considerable powers just to run a grift, and not even a particularly well-paid one at that, as you probably have to hang around for hours between groups of passers-by doing nothing. One of those encounters that isn't going to fill a whole session, but is easy enough to put in or between other larger adventures for a bit of light relief. Those are always handy.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 36: Jul/Aug 1992



part 4/5



Granite Mountain Prison: After a very common scenario indeed, we have one that steals it's inspiration from a somewhat lesser-known source - Brian Aldis's Helliconia trilogy. A great prison that's near impossible to escape from because the cells revolve slowly within the mountain, each only passing the main door once a year. The only way in and out of the cells until they complete a full cycle is a tiny hole for food and air. Without both magic and considerable cleverness you've got no hope of rescuing a guy who was framed for a murder and unjustly imprisoned in there. So this is the good kind of heist adventure, where they set you a seemingly impossible challenge, and expect you to scout the place out, come up with a plan and rise to the challenge. You could try shrinking, gaseous form or ethereality. Just make sure you've got enough uses to get both in and out again. You could charm a xorn or umber hulk and dig your way in. But don't try going through the front door, as the strongest guards & anti-magical precautions are there, obviously, and don't destroy the air elemental powering the ventilation system if you try to sneak in that way, because killing all the prisoners is the precise opposite of what you want to do unless you're considerably higher level than intended and can raise the body afterwards. There's plenty of detail on the guards and several other key inmates that might be handy due to having important powers or dubious loyalties, so there's plenty of opportunity for roleplaying amid the scheming, and ways you could still achieve your goal even if the initial break in doesn't go as smoothly as you'd like. This one definitely gets my approval, and seems like it could be used repeatedly in a campaign before wearing out it's welcome. Just don't let them find out about Elan, otherwise they'll remove the foodholes and it'll be even harder to rescue anyone.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 36: Jul/Aug 1992



part 5/5



The Sea of Sorrow: Steve Kurtz once again submits the cover adventure, a chunky 30-pager that could easily have been turned into a standalone module. It's not another introductory one too, although it does play heavily into D&D cliches in other ways. A Radiant Dragon is attacking an important shipping lane … IIIIIINNNN SPAAAACEEEEE!!!!! This is not good for business, so the Arcane are willing to pay quite considerable sums to the group that can kill it & take it's stuff, including a decent advance to upgrade your ship, as anyone who knows anything about radiant dragons knows they are not an easy target. Off you head through the phlogiston and arrive in the dark and mostly deserted crystal sphere you'll be spending most of the adventure in. Turns out the dragon has been corrupted by an evil artifact, which explains it's unusual degree of violence and weird colour scheme. Like his other big adventure, this climaxes with a load-bearing boss situation where either you or the dragon will probably wind up destroying it in the final battle, forcing you to flee as the place goes boom or die horribly in the implosion. Guess he really likes that cliche, which is a real pain when used in D&D as it prevents you from collecting a lot of the potential treasure.

Once again, this is easily the most linear adventure in here, with a lot of bits where if you try to do something unintended, you'll be forcibly pushed back on the path. (which is still better than the polyhedron adventures that don't even seem to consider what happens if you don't follow the intended path, or have exactly the same things happen in the same order no matter what route you try to take, admittedly) There is still some room for exploration and getting variable amounts of treasure, but this is primarily story-driven even when it has to push at the limits of the rules to achieve it, like trying to have multiple encounters with the dragon where neither side dies before the final confrontation. So this is one of those cases where the 2e writers' desire to tell interesting stories conflicts with a system designed for small scale battles & dungeon-crawling, mostly unchanged since 1974. I can't help feeling his writing would be better served by another system which does narrative-heavy stories more easily. But then of course we wouldn't be seeing it in this magazine. What an irritating circle to have to try and square.



Index to Issues 25-36: Another two years has passed, but instead of extending the index to three pages, they decide to do another small one only covering the recent issues, once again primarily sorted by alphabetical order rather than level or setting. This once again means it's mainly useful for people who already own and have read the issues, and simply need to jog their memory rather than someone coming in cold and trying to put a campaign arc together. This still needs work. But then again, until back issues are freely available online, they don't have much incentive to improve their indexing methods anyway.



A pretty good issue, although once again there's signs of creeping 2e linearity. But that's still only a minority here, and considerably less than in Polyhedron, which has long since embraced it as standard. It's becoming very obvious that the push to linear storytelling adventures full of metaplot came from inside the house without any research as to whether that's what the public really wanted or not. Still, that means as long as Dungeon is primarily supported by freelance submissions, there should still be plenty of adventures that give the players free reign to explore them in the way they choose. Time to go back to the chore of doing two of that, then another one of this.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 74: August 1992



part 1/5



36 pages. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a large ham like BRIAN BLESSED would own an equally impressive eagle. After all, he's played a hawkman before. Let's see who he's depicting in this issue, and just how loud & scenery-chewing they are.



Bestiary: Geran are the winner of the competition to name and stat a Dark Sun monster from issue 66. They're somewhat less aggressive than the picture indicates, but since Dark Sun is a deadly place, looking scary is a good defensive method. They have pretty decent telekinetic abilities, which compensates for their very asymmetrical hands. Like most humanoids at this point, they don't gain class levels, but have an idiosyncratic set of upgraded leader types with specific extra HD & powers. They can be both decent allies or enemies depending on how you treat them. It's easier to get over misunderstandings when everyone can talk mind to mind. (But when resources are scarce, you may still wind up having to fight over them anyway) I can see myself getting some use out of them.



Notes From HQ: Things seem to be going smoothly, so the editorial is relatively short. The number of clubs continues to increase, and enough of them are participating in the decathlon that it's actually a proper competition this year. If you keep it up they'll be able to expand it's scope even further next year. The competition this month is to design a piece of cyberware for any cyberpunk RPG of your choice. Like new magic items for D&D, that's a topic with enormous scope for expansion before hitting diminishing returns so hopefully the winners will be suitably interesting and useful. Which systems will the RPGA members favor, and will there be enough of them to run tournament adventures in them as well? I strongly suspect Shadowrun will wind up on top, as it did with the general public.



Letters: The first letter grumbles that the comics are a waste of space, but the Living content and the film reviews are quite useful. There's room for plenty more of those before they grow stale.

Second reminds us that you can split the Living City locations up between different places in your home campaign. Just because it's a kitchen sink with a ridiculous concentration of high level characters in close proximity in the official Realms, doesn't mean it has to be that way for you.

Finally, an anonymous writer distinctly unhappy with the general standard of tournament modules, although their main complaint is too many of them being pure hack & slash and terribly edited rather than my big peeves of railroading linearity and irritating whimsicality. They try to defend themselves, but can't deny that their quality control still needs work. It'd take a lot more volunteers to properly playtest & edit all their submissions before they're used with the quantity of tournaments they're trying to service. By contrast, Dungeon can just throw out over 90% of their submissions as they only need to settle on 4-6 every two months, which means they don't need to work as hard to edit the ones they like into shape because they're already mostly there, and they've got a bigger budget for drawing cool maps, artwork and other quality of life improvements in the layout. The exclusivity of the RPGA actually works against itself in this respect.
 

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