TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 74: August 1992



part 2/5



The Living City: As is often the case, the Raven's Bluff content is the cover story. The eagle is the mascot of an inn called The Ill Eagle. Why is the eagle ill, you may ask? Does it have a rare degenerative illness that some heroes need to go on an epic quest to find the cure for? Or is it known for it's sick lyrical skills and way it busts a rhyme when it gets on the mic? :checks notes: We regret to inform you that the eagle is racist. He was given intelligence by a mad wizard, raised by followers of Wastri, (because the Realms doesn't have any homegrown racist deities to use apparently, another thing to praise Ed's work for over Gary) and now spends his time screeching slurs at any demihumans who enter the premises, to the amusement of the regular patrons. So this is the same joke as people who teach their parrot to swear in real life writ large. Oh, he's such a card, lol. It's a textbook example of Polyhedron's tendency to use casual racism as humour, that Dragon & Dungeon are mercifully free of by comparison. The lower module quality is excusable, as they have to publish more while getting fewer submissions, but racism as a joke (as opposed to something you depict in the villains to make it extra clear they're terrible people you can kick the ass of guilt-free) is the kind of thing you only let through if you agree with it on some level, no matter how few submissions you're getting. The kind of thing that makes me sigh heavily and apply a suspicious side-eye to all the staff, because no matter who's primarily responsible for picking this out of the slush pile, all the others didn't care enough or were too scared for their jobs to complain about it at the time. Is this really the kind of roleplaying you want to encourage in your members? If they weren't already more than 95% white male, this would drive people away and skew the demographics even more in that direction. I think it's pretty safe to say this is one that'll never be appearing in any form in any of my campaigns.



Secrets Best Kept Hidden: Fresh from that bit of awfulness, we have a more common and mundane annoyance to deal with, the low-content promotional article that's useless once you've actually bought the thing being promoted. This time it's the Forbidden Lore boxed set, a grab-bag of things for Ravenloft, many of which will be incorporated into the next revision of the core rules. Lots of details on how various spells & psionics are affected by being in Ravenloft, making escape impossible and telling who the good & bad guys are much trickier. Various organisations that do their best to make the domains better or worse places. What you can do with those tarroka cards. But the majority of the preview is devoted to Powers Checks, that reminder that the Dark Powers may or may not corrupt you if you commit evil deeds and cast certain kinds of spells, and it's deeply arbitrary who winds up as a darklord for their sins, as there's only 10% chance of going up a level for even the worst acts. Some people can do a whole ton of them and remain completely normal, some will gain awesome powers and near indestructibility with relatively minor curses, while others will be pushed into falling by events outside their control and then punished disproportionately as soon as they step out of line. (what a coincidence that Von Kharkov, the only black darklord, is one of those) A reminder that part of the horror of Ravenloft is a deep degree of unfairness and disempowerment as PC's. To enjoy a long-term campaign set there, (as opposed to a weekend in hell adventure where you come in, beat the Darklord in a few sessions, and then escape back to your regular setting) you need to accept that as players, no matter how hard your characters struggle against it IC. Some people will love that, others hate it, and it's a good idea to know which type you're playing with and how far you can take inflicting horrifying things on their characters before it stops being fun. Otherwise, you could wind up destroying the biggest city in the setting and turning any adventurers that investigate it into undead, which proved to be a bit much for most players.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 74: August 1992



part 3/5



The Everwinking Eye: Setting material continues to grow in importance in most RPG's. White Wolf will rapidly become notorious for including a glossary of terms that each of their supernatural types use to refer to each other and the common things they do without alerting the mundanes in every corebook. Ed decides to get in on this action with a couple of pages of Realms slang, proper nomenclature and pronunciation guides. The kind of thing people who are obsessive enough to construct whole languages for their fantasy worlds will eat up, and everyone else might remember one or two bits of, at most. Good to see him keeping up with the times. (although with Ed, you never know which bits were written years in advance, and only assembled into an article once he's accumulated enough or found a good spot for them) Worldbuilding isn't just new people to fight and dungeons to delve, but all the little stuff like languages, cuisine and musical instruments. It's good to know those details are there if you need them, so I approve of this.



Experience Preferred pt 3: The final part of this adventure continues in much the vein as the previous one, quite linear, but thankfully only moderately silly. After finally reaching the plane you were shooting for in the first place, you eventually catch up with the evil wizard and find out why he left the retirement home in the first place. He was sick of one of the PC's getting all the credit for the adventures they had together, and wants to prove his superiority once and for all, preferably in front of an audience. So he's assembled a team of similarly statted villainous counterparts for the party, taken a hostage, and wants the PC's to fight one-on-one duels with their counterparts to settle the score. Whether you go along with that, or just rush them, it'll probably take a similar amount of time to resolve given the way D&D combat works. Hopefully, you'll be able to beat them, and return home to rest your aching bones. Overall, I think this one has turned out mildly above average for a tournament adventure, but due to it's backstory specificity it wouldn't work in most regular campaigns without some adaption, and it's not as good as the average Dungeon adventure. I can at least see how this would be fun in the original context, with plenty of opportunities for roleplaying amid pursuing the mission as long as you get the right group of players, but I probably won't ever wind up using it personally.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 74: August 1992



part 4/5



A New Crystal Sphere: The second half of the Spelljammer/Space:1889 conversion stuff is slightly smaller, but still contains a fair bit of crucial information, such as the full stats for the various martian races and thoughts on how the crossovers might go. Spelljammers are massively faster than Ether Flyers, but the earthly vessels usually have superior weaponry and armor installed on their ships. It illustrates the difference between a setting which is at least somewhat grounded in 1800's science, and the pure fantasy of D&D. The long term winner will be determined by which side figures out how to combine the enemy tech with their own first, and enjoy the best of both worlds. An interestingly crunchy article that reminds us just how different the assumptions of different games can be, resulting in substantial power disparities if you try to remain faithful to both settings in one system. Of course, that only matters if a game is tightly point balanced in the first place, which definitely doesn't apply to either edition of AD&D. I think you could get a decent campaign out of this scenario under either rules engine. Just got to be ready to tweak things if one exploit dominates too much and have the opponents come up with IC counters.



Into The Dark: Another themeless grab-bag of film reviews this time, mostly on the horror end of the spectrum. As is often the case though, skipping the theme means they get higher average ratings. This is one collection James can recommend all the films in, albeit with various degrees of enthusiasm.

Cast a Deadly Spell merges lovecraftian lore with a hardboiled private detective story, which is actually a pretty decent combination. There's a few too many in-jokes and references for it to be truly horrifying, but it's still interesting, especially if you know where all the references come from.

Curse of the Demon is one of the films referenced in the previous one, a 1957 adaption of an M. R. James story. Aside from the special effects, which thankfully are shown sparingly because even at the time the director thought they weren't good enough, it holds up excellently. Well worth watching if you like that black & white atmosphere.

The Body Snatcher features both Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi, and reminds us why they were some of the best early horror stars, managing to be deeply creepy without any cheap jump scares or overt supernatural elements. Monsters may come and go out of fashion, but man's inhumanity to man will always be able to scare with the right actions.

The Monster Squad is now mainly remembered as the source of the "Wolfman's got Nards!" meme. It's not particularly horrifying, but the costumes & sfx are decent and the kids act more realistically like actual kids than most movies. An amusing enough bit of kitchen-sinkery to fill an evening with.

Frankenweenie is a low budget Tim Burton short from before he made it big. A kid resurrects his sausage dog but it doesn't come back quite right. Hijinks ensue. As usual for his films, the real bad guys are the conformist suburbanites, not the "monster" who just wants to be loved. Some things never change, i guess.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 74: August 1992



part 5/5



The Living Galaxy: Like James, Roger can't think of a theme this month, so he offloads a bunch of little ideas that wouldn't have made a full column on their own. The danger of a computer virus pandemic destroying all your data and connections. (much scarier and more plausible now the internet has become ubiquitous.) Gritty sci-fi where players have to deal with all the hassles of zero-g. Definitely not enough systems that go into that in the same way D&D does with encumbrance tracking. The merits of making a smaller setting where you travel between the multiple habitable moons of a gas giant rather than having to deal with the hassles of FTL travel. Going the opposite direction, and having a campaign set entirely on a STL generation ship, dealing with internal politics and occasional repair crises. The hassles of interacting with intelligent creatures from vastly different environments, like the underground seas of ice planets or deep in the high pressure clouds of gas giants. The many ways you can upgrade your characters with genetic engineering, possibly enabling them to cross those great divides, but also raising serious questions of character balance & screentime in an RPG environment. There might be full books on each of these topics, but they're mostly ones that don't convert very well to the small group tabletop RPG formula, either due to the challenge of finding rulesets that cover these situations, or being generally unfun when you try to track all the realistic details. Like adventuring in the elemental planes, you're dealing with things that make no allowances for your squishy organic body, and while there might be great rewards to be found there, you've got to know what you're doing and be well prepared before even starting. Good luck finding a similarly nerdy group willing to take on these topics and explore them in detail over the course of a long-term campaign.



Wolff & Byrd wish a good knight to all, especially the dark knight who badly needs teaching some manners in his interactions with the peasantry.



Bloodmoose & Company find out that a well-designed gun is not a double-edged sword, so make sure you know which end is which.



Another issue where there are some good articles, but they almost seem to be in spite of the terrible standards of the editorial team, rather than because of them, with some of their choices being actively unpleasant. It's becoming increasingly obvious that they're not held to the same standards or subject to the same scrutiny as their bigger-selling books & publications, which leaves them free to indulge their worst impulses here. Once again I find myself looking forward to the next big changeover and not wanting to stick around. Let's see if next issue manages to be interestingly bad, or just typically linear and hack & slashy.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 75: September 1992



part 1/5



32 pages. They must like this cover a lot, because they've put it on a t-shirt. That protagonist definitely looks like he's been taking influence from the rising wave of JRPG adventures and spending plenty of time at the hairdresser & carefully applying eyeliner before setting out. Let's hope his sword skills are similarly precise because that castle looks pretty foreboding. Time to see what challenges lie within.



Good Con Goer: Just two issues after the last one, they lead with another bit of ultra-basic advice on what to do and what to avoid at conventions. A little politeness goes a long way. Keep track of which events you've booked for, and show up on time, otherwise you'll hold everyone up and decrease the chances of getting through the adventure with a decent score. Try to be nice to everyone, but particularly the guests of honour, because many of them are sensitive divas who will respond to even mild criticism by chewing out the organisers and never attending that particular convention again. How would they ever cope with the hard life of having a high follower count on modern social media? :p It all reads like a specific attempt to avoid the problems of last year's Gen Con, where they had an unusually high level of flakiness result in a whole load of cancellations. It pushes quite strongly on the idea that it only takes a few bad actors to ruin things for everyone there, so behave you 'orrible lot! To be honest, it feels like the kind of lecture you'd get in school when a few people had broken the rules, but they weren't sure who, so the whole student body suffered the consequences, which isn't a particularly good way to start things off.



Notes From HQ: The editorial is also very repetitive from two issues ago, reminding us that the contest for membership of the advisory council is a big deal, so they want lots of participation or they probably won't bother to do something like it again. Why would you & your PC make good candidates? What ways would you improve Raven's Bluff if you were in charge? You need to figure out how to stand out from the crowd and win popularity if you want to have a chance. Keeping the membership engaged and growing is hard work. Will this particular gimmick be a success? It might still be touch and go. In more mundane administrative matters, they remind us that if you're buying anything secondhand through the classifieds, watch out for scams, and they take no liability if you get something broken or they take the money & send you nothing. Another of those things the internet has definitely made a bit easier in resolving, with places like ebay letting you easily see how many good transactions an account has made and get refunds if things go wrong. The past might be fun to look back on, but I wouldn't want to live there, missing basic conveniences we take for granted now.



Letters: The first letter continues the debate on ways you can reward Judges for judging without encouraging them to go easy on their players to get more points and undermining the integrity of the tournaments. Instead of by vote, the australians give them one ticket in the hat per slot they run, and then draw for prizes at the end. That way, they're less likely to run one and then quit if they get a good vote to preserve their batting average.

Second raises a related problem. If you are going to rate judges, there should be at least some degree of anonymity so problematic ones can't immediately see who has an issue with them and retaliate. Not really possible when all the forms are done on paper and handed in immediately after the round, but maybe if they were handled electronically. It'd be easy now, as you could put it all on an app linked to your membership, but in the early 90's, this would be pretty challenging. Another thing for them to seriously consider on a logistic level.

Finally, a bit of general opinion on recent articles, and asking why they haven't done a Living Mystara location. They barely get any basic D&D submissions at the moment, so they don't think they'd be able to keep it alive. If you want to prove them wrong, step it up significantly and they'll happily reconsider.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 75: September 1992



part 2/5



The Living City: We have not just one, but a pair of linked establishments here, courtesy of future Changeling: the Dreaming authors Carla Hollar & Nicky Rea. A spell component shop for the discerning spellcaster, then right next door, a restaurant that's specifically designed to be familiar friendly, so you can bring nearly any well-trained pet in and they'll have something suitable for it to eat. No more worrying about hiding them away in your coat pocket or leaving them at home on a date, here your wizardly eccentricities are expected and catered for. They're run by a typically chalk & cheese married couple. He's meticulously organised, she's messy, and only by setting boundaries so they each have their own spaces the other leaves alone do they keep the partnership stable. They have a daughter, who after a lifetime of the little annoyances of being around other people's spell components wants to be anything but a wizard, to her dad's disappointment. An entry that's full of both attention to detail and opportunities for roleplaying, this definitely has several good plot hooks for your characters to engage with, be it being employed to get hold of some particularly rare & valuable spell components for the shop, forming friendships or rivalries and negotiating to learn new spells with the other wizards who shop there, or the increasingly ubiquitous cliche of the teenage kid rebelling and leaving their parents to join an adventuring party. It won't win any awards for originality this far in, but it's another light-hearted but structurally solid entry that you can use to fill out your higher-magic settings with.



The Everwinking Eye: In the course of publishing the Realms books, errors inevitably slip in. Elminster of course takes no responsibility for this, foisting all the blame on that incompetent scribe Ed Greenwood and his cow-orkers. They even managed to screw up the literal cows! How hard is that to get right? Messing up the rules for Spellfire is understandable, as it's ultra-rare and even the people who have it struggle to control it properly, so no-one really knows how it works, but basic geography and history errors? Any educated native would spot them straight away! So this is him taking the issuing of errata, which is normally very dull indeed, and making it more palatable by spicing it up with his distinctive sense of humour, bending the 4th wall and blurring the boundary between author and character. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, etc, and he doesn't forget that even when dealing with serious topics. Another demonstration of why he's the guy at the top of the pile when it comes to worldbuilding.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 75: September 1992



part 3/5



You've Lost Your Marbles: After seeing they can still do decent length adventures in here, it's quite disappointing that they go back to a short, easy and linear one that easily fits in a single tournament slot, so the vast majority of groups will get through it in one session with time to spare unless they really faff around in the roleplaying portions. A kid has lost his marbles in the sewer. He's a rich kid, so they're actually quite valuable marbles and his parents will be mad if they find out, but still, this is already immediately silly and inconsequential as a premise. The contents are similarly inconsequential, leading you on a straight line from one encounter to the next whichever route you take, so the recovery doesn't even involve getting lost and using proper search procedures with a chance of getting some, but not all of them back. (unlike, say, the Dungeon one where you hunt down dinosaurs in Waterdeep's sewer.) Fight crocodiles, & leeches, maybe fight a mimic, maybe talk to it, and talk to an intelligent toad & a pitiful mongrelman (unless you're in an ultra-killy mood, which you might be after putting up with this despite the flavor text discouraging it.) it does at least have a decent mix of roleplaying & combat encounters, but neither are particularly challenging, and many of them are played for comedy. It's not so much an adventure for people who roleplay for the challenge of solving puzzles, the worldbuilding or the character immersion, as an excuse to get together and socialise for a few hours, and maybe add on a few points to your RPGA ranking in the process. It once again shows that a big part of the problem is their editorial direction, as the old tournament modules were at least challenging (in many cases far moreso than ones aimed at home campaigns. ) and nonlinear within the bounds of their time limits. This is just weak formulaic drivel by comparison. Why are they making current adventures so much easier? Is that really what the players want? Is being able to carry over characters between adventures and the fear of losing them making them overcautious? Another one that makes me want to finish this issue quickly and get back to the decent adventures in Dungeon.



With Great Power: Dale follows on from last time, reminding us that if you're going to be point-buying your characters rather than rolling them randomly, you need to have more of a concept for what you're doing. Fortunately, they already did an article on common character types in Dragon 171 fairly recently, so he can recycle a big chunk of that to pad this out. The rest of it is fairly familiar advice on not only designing your character's personality & history, but also their relationship with the team, and how they fit together as a combat unit as well as what everybody in the group thinks of each other & their original reason for getting together. A bunch of individually powerful characters may overlap a lot and get in each other's way if you don't talk it out as a group, leaving themselves open to weaker ones who are capable of teamwork. Nothing we haven't seen before, but it's good to see they're applying it to this genre as well as their fantasy works.



Thri-Kreen: Ed talked a little bit about Forgotten Realms linguistics last month. Not to be outdone, Tim Brown goes into the linguistic quirks of Thri-Kreen, which is obviously most useful for Dark Sun players, but might well become important in other settings too. Having mandibles and no lips, some of our consonants are impossible for them to duplicate, but they can also make an array of clicking and grinding sounds that the human mouth would find similarly problematic. Sign language runs into similar problems, as four four-fingered hands vs two five-fingered hands also creates some puzzling translation ambiguities. It's a good thing psionics are so frequent on athas, so hopefully someone in a group'll have the telepathic capabilities to enable smooth communication. Like Roger's talk on playing alien creatures that live in dramatically different environments to humans, this is a reminder that it's a big universe out there, and all it takes is a few small differences from the basic human body plan to cause all manner of hassles in interaction and getting through adventures. The addition of flight and the removal of opposable thumbs in particular can completely throw off any normal expectations of what is an appropriate challenge for a group of a particular power level, and being even one size category above or below normal can also make things unexpectedly effortless or impossible. But anyway, this is a pretty interesting and logical little bit of worldbuilding, showing how the communication problems go both ways, and one isn't obviously superior to the other. If you're playing a Kreen character, leaving out your labial fricatives is as important as the scottish accent for dwarves or the attitude of insufferable smugness for elves. Used in moderation, it can really improve your roleplaying.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 75: September 1992



part 4/5



The Living Galaxy: Roger gives another reference-heavy article that reminds us that not only does he have a huge amount of general RPG knowledge, he's been responsible for writing a fair few books of his own over the past decade. This time, it's a list of published adventures for sci-fi rpg's, with a particular eye on things that can be easily converted to any system of your choice. After all, there's probably fewer prefab adventures for all the sci-fi RPG's put together than D&D alone, so you need to get used to adapting them or creating your own. Traveller is probably the system that has the most published adventures that are usable straight out the box, while GURPS has easily the most different but intercompatible sci-fi setting books. (which usually also contain plenty of adventure ideas) Despite being technically a modern day setting, Top Secret:SI also pushes the tech envelope just enough to have lots of inspiration for the more grounded sci-fi settings. Shadowrun is also pretty well equipped, even moreso now than then, although many of it's adventures fall into the railroady metaplot trap so they might need a little more adaption to work in other systems. The kind of list that would have been decent enough at the time, but is now 30 years out of date, with most of the specific examples out of print. (although the ratio of D&D adventures to all the sci-fi ones put together remains just as lopsided) No way you're going to be able to get hold of many of these without resorting to piracy. So this one isn't hugely useful to me, even though I can respect the time and effort that's gone into it. Mainly interesting on a statistical level then.



Into the Dark: James decides not to go for an obvious theme this time, but instead review movies who's only connection is that they were all released in 1975. I have no idea if that was a good year for cinema or not, so I'm very interested in seeing what he picks from the rental store this time. (and if they're available on streaming sites so I can see if I agree with his conclusions)

Beyond the Door (not the green door, which takes you somewhere completely different :p ) is a particularly poorly made bit of satanic possession schlock. A mix of The Exorcist & Rosemary's Baby without the charm or coherent editing, James finds absolutely no value in it whatsoever.

The Love Butcher is the kind of non-supernatural slasher movie that's long since gone out of fashion in the face of indestructible supervillains who make better franchise-headers. A guy pretends to be a mentally handicapped gardener, and then gruesomely murders the women who look down on the hired help as his suave alter-ego. The police are incompetent enough that he racks up a substantial body count before being stopped, along with quite a few terrible one-liners relating to the way he kills them. With terrible production values and a premise that definitely wouldn't pass the political correctness test these days, this can probably be left safely in the past where it belongs.

Death Race 2000 is basically a big-budget wacky races cartoon with real gore and consequences for crashing. It's pretty much the perfect inspiration for the Car Wars rpg. Watch David Carradine & Sylvester Stallone duke it out for the big prize, along with plenty of other quirky characters and their highly customised cars. Not particularly deep, but a fun way to spend an evening.

Jaws gets a 5-star review from James, reminding us that while the sequels might have sucked and run the idea of a scary shark into the ground, the original is a well-paced story where there's more emphasis on the stupidity of humanity and their desire to protect profits than showing the monster, ironically resulting in more deaths and loss of money than taking the threat seriously straight away would have resulted in. (Another thing that shows how little things have changed decades later with the USA's reaction to the pandemic.) All good horror stories are ultimately about humanity, and unless we genetically engineer ourselves to remove our flaws (something which has it's own fair share of horror stories involving all the many ways it could go wrong) the core of what horrifies us and how we deal with it isn't going to change that much no matter how many years pass.

Trilogy of Terror is unsurprisingly one of those collections of shorter horror stories that wouldn't make sense as a theatrical release otherwise, as still parodied in The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror episodes long after most of the watchers have forgotten or grown up too young to ever know what the reference was. Like those, it reuses the same actors in completely different continuities to tell it's stories. The third of them is by far the scariest and best. Another of those reminders how ideas can be traced back through history, with true originality being surprisingly rare.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 75: September 1992



part 5/5



Of Lamps And Logic: Al Qadim gets in on the logic puzzles business. You are presented with 5 lamps. One contains a genie who will grant you a wish getting you out of your predicament. The others will be either lacking that power or not nearly so nice when released. You know the drill by now. Figure out by process of elimination by name, material the lamp is made of, color of turban, favourite food & gemstone. Nothing particularly noteworthy, but it keeps the new setting in people's minds, increasing the odds they'll buy it.



Bestiary: Blade Golems are for those wizards who want to be a little more edgy than the average bear. They're somewhat intelligent, surprisingly stealthy, can track anyone they've wounded automatically and completely loyal to their creators with no chance of going on an unscheduled rampage. They can also explode their blades outwards, a signature move that will be shared (in a somewhat weaker form) by Planescape's Bladelings. Good to see a bit of thematic consistency there. I can definitely see why you'd want to build one over the more commonly known types.



Bloodmoose & Company try to act a little classier in the hopes of blending into high society, but that good ol' murderhobo spirit soon slips out again.



Wolff & Byrd get very meta indeed, as they represent a character from a D&D game who's wound up in theirs, then the people playing him realise what's going on. How will they disrupt legal proceedings in response?



Some fairly interesting D&D bits in here, while the more generic articles were considerably more repetitive and less useful in general. The longer I do this, the more I come to value specificity, as that's where I learn new things. Despite the overall flaws in the D&D system compared to more flexible point-based ones, the sheer amount of material lets it stay interesting and cover ground nothing else can touch. If only we had a sci-fi system that dominated the market in the same way D&D does the fantasy one they might have accumulated enough material for similar ultra-specialisation. But so far, it still hasn't happened. Maybe some day. In the meantime, let's keep on heading through the obscure corners of the 90's and seeing what we find.
 


(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 37: Sep/Oct 1992



part 1/5



76 pages. A murky, low contrast image that reminds us that a swamp is not the most glamorous of adventure locations, but you've got to take the rough with the smooth if you want to be a successful adventurer. Can they deal with the trolls and escape without all their adventuring gear being ruined by the damp and mold, seriously cutting into any profits to replace them? At least they're not carrying smartphones, which are particularly vulnerable to this kind of terrain. Let's find out why they ventured there in the first place, and what the potential rewards are.



Editorial: They may get more than enough adventure submissions to keep Dungeon running smoothly on a bimonthly schedule, but apparently they still don't get enough letters for Barbara's liking. (And those they do tend to be pretty repetitive in terms of topics, going from previous issues.) What people say they want in terms of settings is not the same as the demographics of the submissions either. In the hopes of getting a bit more feedback from the silent majority, they've finally got around to doing a survey. Rate a whole bunch of settings, terrains & themes from 1-5, plus some basic demographic details. The answers will determine what they're more likely to publish in the future. You know the drill by now. As usual for TSR, they are neither particularly exhaustive in number or scientific in type of questions asked, so exactly how useful it'll be to them long term is questionable. Still, at least it means they have an easy topic for another editorial in a few months time once the results are in. One less thing to worry about.



Letters: The letters page is indeed pretty anaemic, backing up Barbara's complaints in the editorial. First is one complaining that the whale in issue 34 isn't scientifically accurate, but a conglomerated mess of characteristics from several different real world species. Expecting scientific accuracy in D&D is a mug's game, but Wolfgang will accept the scolding with good grace this time and try to do better in future.

The only other one is yet another in favour of variety in their adventures. Doing nothing but settingless dungeoncrawls with monsters that attack on sight and no opportunities for roleplaying would get tedious very fast. D&D should draw influences from other things if it wants to avoid getting stagnant. Definitely a lesson certain future edition books that feel like a closed loop of doing nothing but updating things from previous editions need to be reminded of.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 37: Sep/Oct 1992



part 2/5



Serpents of the Sands: Snakes without badgers or mushrooms? Haven't you ever heard of foreplay? Looks like the Yuan-ti have decided to diversify from their usual tropical jungles to desert terrain as well. A previous adventuring party took some of their valuable magic items, and now they want revenge. After a lengthy bit of infiltration and scheming the players play no part in and will probably never find out the precise details of, but are fully written out anyway to show how clever the writer is, they kill their target, (with considerable collateral damage in the process) steal their stuff back, and make their escape. Presuming the heroes act in a suitably heroic manner in the immediate crisis, they'll be sent in pursuit, to face a dungeon with nice wheelchair accessible ramps between levels and lots of reptile themed monsters, capping things off with a yuan-ti/medusa hybrid with all the best powers of both. It puts the yuan-ti's powers to good use, particularly their polymorphing powers, which have all sorts of utility tricks a less clever DM might forget. It's a fairly interesting read, but a bit too enamoured of expositing on details that won't be relevant to the adventure at the expense of ones that might, and the dungeon design is rather more linear than I would prefer as well. It's still entirely usable, and as usual, even a below par adventure for Dungeon offers much more freedom, worldbuilding and interesting challenges than the average Polyhedron one, but it still feels like it could have been improved quite a bit with another editing pass. A pretty middling start to the proceedings.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Dungeon Issue 37: Sep/Oct 1992



part 2/5



Serpents of the Sands: Snakes without badgers or mushrooms? Haven't you ever heard of foreplay? Looks like the Yuan-ti have decided to diversify from their usual tropical jungles to desert terrain as well. A previous adventuring party took some of their valuable magic items, and now they want revenge. After a lengthy bit of infiltration and scheming the players play no part in and will probably never find out the precise details of, but are fully written out anyway to show how clever the writer is, they kill their target, (with considerable collateral damage in the process) steal their stuff back, and make their escape. Presuming the heroes act in a suitably heroic manner in the immediate crisis, they'll be sent in pursuit, to face a dungeon with nice wheelchair accessible ramps between levels and lots of reptile themed monsters, capping things off with a yuan-ti/medusa hybrid with all the best powers of both. It puts the yuan-ti's powers to good use, particularly their polymorphing powers, which have all sorts of utility tricks a less clever DM might forget. It's a fairly interesting read, but a bit too enamoured of expositing on details that won't be relevant to the adventure at the expense of ones that might, and the dungeon design is rather more linear than I would prefer as well. It's still entirely usable, and as usual, even a below par adventure for Dungeon offers much more freedom, worldbuilding and interesting challenges than the average Polyhedron one, but it still feels like it could have been improved quite a bit with another editing pass. A pretty middling start to the proceedings.
having run this adventure - well over 20 years ago - this matches my memory of it - the start was very messy, but it made for a fun challenging dungeon.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 37: Sep/Oct 1992



part 3/5



A Wizard's Fate: An adventure where a wizard only just died, and the PC's are sent in to deal with the power vacuum and find out what happened? We've seen that idea before. (issue 28) Thankfully, the specifics are completely different. That was a high level one where the wizard's ambition outstripped his reach. This is a low level one where he was redeemed by the power of love, trying to get out of being evil and be a better person, and was assassinated by his imp familiar, for the 9 hells are notoriously unforgiving of deal-breakers. Now the imp is holding said girlfriend in the dungeon underneath the tower and enjoying his relative freedom to be an inventively sadistic little pain in the ass, while trying to cause enough misery down here to earn a promotion when he gets home. He'll use his invisibility, shapeshifting, poison and other various tricks to make your life considerably more difficult while you're facing the various static challenges throughout the dungeon. Sounds pretty fun to DM, as you have a decent selection of powers, but they're not very strong ones, so you're free to play it smart but fair and not have to pull your punches to keep the PC's alive. Plus if you defeat him, he won't be killed permanently, so having him appear again further along the road in a more powerful baatezu form with a grudge is a very good option for an extended campaign. It's good to get those kinds of plot hooks going in the early levels so you have something to call back too later. So this isn't the biggest or most spectacular adventure, but it's a solid low level one that's easy to build upon and make your later adventures better. Well worth using.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 37: Sep/Oct 1992



part 4/5



The White Boar of Kilfay: WIllie Walsh continues to be their most prolific adventure writer, with another celtic inspired one that reminds us wild boar were actually one of the scariest real world animals of centuries past, requiring whole teams of hunters with dogs and specialised spears to have good odds of winning the fight. Not that this is devoid of supernatural elements either. The eponymous boar came from the darkest depths of the forest, and slew both a human & an elf from separate hunting parties before escaping. Both sides now hold a grudge and want to be the ones that get revenge, further complicating things politically. Perhaps a multiracial team of adventurers bringing it back and sharing the meat would be the best way to satisfy everyone's sense of honour? So you get blindfolded & led through the elven portion of the woods (as they're a reclusive paranoid lot, in tolkienish tradition) and sent into the depths which even they fear to tread, to face goblins, evil trees, giant spiders, crocodiles, the net using trolls from the cover and other creatures I won't spoil, and eventually catch up with the boar, gaining clues along the way as to the boar's location & nature from the more intelligent monsters if you bother to talk with them before attacking or search their stuff afterwards. There turn out to be some quite interesting twists in the plot that I won't spoil for you, as if they players knew them in advance they'd act completely differently and ruin them. It's interesting and full of flavour, but it shows even he isn't immune to the temptation to make things a bit more linear and tell a particular story rather than letting the dice fall as they may. Not his best work ever, but still head and shoulders above any of the genuinely railroady polyhedron adventures in both worldbuilding and flexibility. It's still well within the usable range of quality as long as you know your players haven't read it.



Side Treks - Their Master's Voice: As usual, the side trek is a single encounter built around an amusing gimmick. An obnoxious enchanter has raised a pair of leucrotta from babies, and uses their mimicry skills to complement his own mindfuckery & illusions. They provide the distraction and lure PC's away from camp, and he sneaks in and takes their stuff while it's unguarded, using sleep spells and similar tricks if they were smart enough to leave someone behind. They'll probably betray him eventually, but in the meantime it's a pretty effective trick. So this is particularly notable because the enemies aren't trying to kill the PC's, and could well succeed in their plans without ruining the campaign. Will you take the loss and head on with your main objective, or develop a serious grudge and scour the whole area for the culprits? If you do, the next conflict will be much more serious, as unsurprisingly, they've trapped their lair in case of pursuit. Let's hope the PC's aren't blinded by rage and able to play this as smartly as their opponents. A fairly interesting use of a less common class & monster that gives them sensible goals, this seems like a good one to use after a big adventure when the PC's are headed back to town and heavily loaded down with treasure, and maybe a little less cautious than they would be on the outward journey. Can't let them get complacent, can we?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 37: Sep/Oct 1992



part 5/5



The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb: After getting a letter a couple of issues ago where they suggested they ought to step up their artwork and use the illustrations to help with puzzle setting in a similar way to the Tomb of Horrors, it looks like we have an adventure that took this advice very literally, coming up with something that's very similar in general, just with the specific details changed. What happened to the lost cult of the mud sorcerers? Why did they go from a thriving villainous organisation to virtually nonexistent 700 years ago, and what lurks in their heavily guarded tomb complexes? If you dare venture within, get ready for the kind of adventure that's best approached in a slow and paranoid manner, for there's several traps that'll kill you automatically if you take the wrong approach. (although they're still fairer in general than the original ToH, and there are at least a few regular combat encounters in between to break the tension.) Many of the obvious ways of short-circuiting the dungeon have been anticipated and countermeasures prepared, so don't think you can scry & teleport your way through this one. The general theme of earth & water based magic is stuck too pretty well, giving all the encounters a nicely consistent flavour even as they vary the types of tricks these elements are used for. Thankfully, despite the sadism, it's also very generous with the treasure (although watch out for cursed/trapped items, as they don't skimp on the ingenuity in that area either) so if you've got the brains to make it through, the rewards will be all the more satisfying. A good challenge for your high level characters that's got plenty of flavour and is designed to be easy to expand upon, this could keep your campaign going for a while after hitting name level and feeling the temptations of retirement. Then you can hit them with the real Tomb of Horrors & Labyrinth of Madness and see if they've built up enough skill and paranoia to survive that, or they'll fall before an adventure that genuinely doesn't pull it's punches. :)



Lots of adventures where the monsters use their brains this time, so the PC's need to be similarly inventive with their powers if they want to keep up and survive. The level of linearity continues to creep up compared to the adventures of 5 years ago, but there's still more than enough which give you complete freedom to filter that out if you want too. Let's get through another couple of polyhedrons and find out if they have anything special prepared for christmas this year.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 76: October 1992



part 1/5



38 pages. October rolls around, and we have the traditional vampire noble of indeterminate title with a luxurious mansion on the cover, facing a somewhat less well-dressed set of adventurers. Will they be able to resist dangers both overt and subtle to avoid becoming his next set of minions? Good thing we don't need an invitation to head inside and find out.



Convention names continue to have some spicy puns, with Chilli Con Carnage down in Texas, Concoction in New Jersey, and Constitution in Virginia, which is what you'll need a high score in if you want to travel between all of these in quick succession.



With Great Power: Straight away, this column is in theme, talking about how to combine superheroics with horror. You might think that power removes reasons to be afraid, but a good GM can always scale up the threat to fit the protagonists. Plus there's the possibilities of your powers stopping working, or worse going out of control and becoming problems in themselves. The X-men's whole premise in particular is heavily built around having weird and hard to control powers and being hated & feared by the general public no matter how much they try to do good with them. If you wind up in space or another dimension over the course of your adventures, you could be out of your element and have to deal with the isolation and diminishing resources while you try to find your way home. If you prefer your horror a little more schlocky, there's always being captured by a maniacal villain and chained to some kind of imaginative death trap. (which happens to have a subtle but convenient weakness you can use to escape) A good reminder that superheroes can be combined with nearly any other genre, if limited in depth as usual due to the small page count. Indeed, regular diversions into other playstyles is what can keep a long-running campaign interesting to it's players and prevent burnout. Don't let arbitrary man-made concepts like genre become a straitjacket to your creativity.



Notes From HQ: The first half of the editorial is the now-familiar complaint about tardy and sloppy form-filling. If you want to get XP for your adventures, you need to get this bit right. Like paying your taxes, it's just something you have to learn to deal with if you want to live in a society. (and you need to be even better at bureaucracy if you want to cheat on them successfully.) The second half continues their constant churn of contests. Fluffy's birthday card competition has a winner, although somewhat disappointingly, they only describe it rather than showing us a photo. The new contest is much more interesting than that bit of cheese, as they're looking for ultrapowerful magical artifacts, the kind of macguffins that can cause the rise or fall of empires and a whole campaign can revolve around. The winner will be mostly determined by the quality of the backstory, not the specific powers, so get to writing. Sounds pretty promising as a premise to me. People are suckers for a good end of the world threat.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 76: October 1992



part 2/5



Letters: The first letter thinks that Raven's Bluff has too many merchants with class levels, and that dungeons with lots of traps are just the worst both to design and play through. That's both Sigil and the Tomb of Horrors out as well then. :) Good luck finding a group who agrees with your preferences.

The second is from the winner of this year's Glathricon award for outstanding gaming. He's stunned and grateful to get publicly praised in this way. Not sure what the criteria were, but hopefully it was a meaningful competition, and not something decided by nepotism. In any case, the RPGA approve of things like this, and thoroughly encourage other conventions to have their own equivalents. Gives them an easy way to fill page count and get to know people better, if nothing else.



Babette: A second contest gets resolved this month, reminding us how busy they've been on that front. In issue 70 they asked us what magical powers the sword wielded by the female barbarian on the front has. The results range in power from the ridiculously dangerous Sword of Babette Maelstrom, capable casting several spells at 45th level and inflicting 200d100 points of damage once per year (and not much less time OOC to roll all that damage :p ), to the Sword of Underwear Snatching, which seems like it would only be of use in a very particular type of campaign now served better by Black Tokyo d20. It's another good example of how Polyhedron gets relatively little editorial oversight compared to their other departments, allowing things that are both mechanically unbalanced and pushing at their code of conduct to slip through. In the middle of these extremes, there are plenty of more reasonable entries though, offering various plusses, often with additional ones against dragons or some other specific monster, and more than a few with personalities of their own. So this article definitely falls into the category of use with caution, as much of it is interestingly bad and there's no balancing for level unless you do so as a DM.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 76: October 1992



part 3/5



The Valley of Death: As the cover shows, we're once again venturing into a gothic land terrorised by undead. However, the big bad isn't a vampire, but a lich with several vampire lieutenants. Vampires being the egotists they are, they want to be in charge, and will happily turn on him if they think they've got a chance of winning, preferably in a plausibly deniable way like giving help to passing adventurers, as failing in open rebellion would be hazardous to their unlife. So this is an adventure that could go quite differently depending on how you interact with the monsters on the way, as despite being mostly undead, some of them can still be talked too, and might be found in different places at different times of day. The map has just one path through the encounters overall, but there are a fair number of optional offshoots along it that you might or might not engage with, changing the amount of danger you face, and treasure you could gain from the adventure as a whole. It allows for a decent amount of roleplaying, solving the puzzles in the rooms in different ways, includes a fair number of interesting new or customised monsters and only has a few irritating joke references for NPC names. It's still a linear tournament adventure, but as linear tournament adventures go, it's one of the better ones. I can both see myself using it as is and stealing the individual elements to use elsewhere.



Into The Dark: This column is shorter than usual, picking a particularly niche topic. Horror movies that also have meta elements, making the cinema itself a set for the killings. Well, if the movie is loud and long, you could kill someone in there and be hours gone before it ends and the ushers find the body if you're sneaky. There are definitely worse tactics if you're feeling homicidal. Of course, these are more likely to indulge in cheap shocks and gore than realistic ways of killing someone & getting away with it. Let's see just how cheesy these are.

Movie House Massacre is the kind of cheaply made movie that's bad in deeply baffling ways. Terrible jokes terribly delivered, incoherent chronology, a bizarre obsession with shots of people using vacuum cleaners, you don't know whether to blame the writer, director or the editor more for the way it turned out. Some movies would never have been good even if they did have the time and money to do as many takes as needed to get things perfect.

Drive-in Massacre is similarly technically inept, but it's weird choices are at least entertaining in a b-movie way, and the special effects people come up with some quite interestingly gruesome deaths. Coupled with better actors it's ideas might have actually become good. I guess we'll never know for sure.

Popcorn is the only one of these that's actually decent, even if it is filled with 50's B-movie references that I wouldn't get. Why is the slasher killing people in the theatre this time? Will they diversify out of the typical teenage girl targets? Don't skimp on the concessions if you plan to find out.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 76: October 1992



part 4/5



Bestiary is also in theme, with a motley collection of undead all submitted by different people. Probably been saving them up all year, just waiting for the stars to align again.

Ghost Dragons can only be permanently laid to rest by giving them an amount of treasure equal to the size of their original hoard. Since they'll probably have part of it already made up from previous people who crossed their path and tried to fight them, this makes them a particularly counterintuitive guardian which will let you come out with a net profit without fighting if you're rich enough. The kind of trick that only works once in a campaign, but can be a pretty cool twist the first time the players face it.

Scavenger Spirits are another of those monsters that's primarily there to lighten the coffers of over-endowed adventurers. After a lifetime of grave-robbing, they stick around and try to add to their collections from whoever passes by, invisibly filching from your pockets and hopefully not being noticed until later. Ironically, they can't steal from other dead people, but can encourage the living to take their stuff, at which point it becomes fair game. That's an interestingly quirky set of powers and limitations that makes them feel suitably folklorish.

Grave Watchers do the complete opposite, protecting graves and tombs from anyone who would try to rob them. If both exist in the same area, they're going to come into conflict pretty quickly.

Bloodstone Zombies retain their intelligence, and are actually even prettier than they were when alive, but become always chaotic evil homicidal maniacs who will infect other people whenever they get the chance and turn them into more bloodstone zombies. Basically the same idea as buffyverse vampires, they're too strong to be mooks until you're very high level, but lack the special powers that would make them truly scary as big bads. You can do a pretty effective monsters among us plot with them. This collection is a pretty good one overall, with lots of stuff that isn't just a straight-up fight, but can actually be spooky as well. That's what you ought to be doing with undead, not just throwing more waves of dumb enemies at the players.



The Living Galaxy: Dale talked about horror in relation to superheroes, Roger predictably does the same with sci-fi. As usual for him, there's lots of references, not all sci-fi themselves. They've got to plug Ravenloft, as it's their largest remotely relevant product, but he can also talk about Traveller & Dark Conspiracy, which do have a decent amount of sci-fi elements. In terms of movies that combine sci-fi & horror most successfully, he references The Thing, Alien, and A Space Odyssey, all of which go heavy on the isolation aspects of horror that happen when you're trapped with something dangerous, and can't trust the other people either. Even better are episodes of The Outer Limits & Twilight Zone, many of which pose some excellent "what if" questions with horrifying ramifications. There's a certain amount of redundancy here, both spend a lot more time on heroes being captured and put in over-elaborate and impractical deathtraps than modern writers would, which reminds us how that kind of cheesiness has gone out of fashion over the past 30 years. If I had to choose between them, Roger's is both longer and better written, so there's more useful info in there overall, but neither is particularly groundbreaking. Just more generic advice to fill page count with.
 

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