TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


Davies

Legend
The ongoing cataloging of tournaments focusses on multi-round ones this time. 16 3-round ones, 7 of which are generic, 3 Greyhawk, 2 Forgotten Realms, 2 Al-Qadim, 1 Oriental Adventures & 1 Spelljammer. 32 2-round ones, 12 generic, 6 Forgotten Realms, 6 Ravenloft, 1 Birthright, 1 Oriental Adventures, 1 Dark Sun, 1 Dragonlance, 1 Greyhawk, 1 Spelljammer, 1 Al-Qadim and 1 with an unexplained abbreviation. (MZ?)

Maztica, probably.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 115: January 1996



part 5/5



Notes From HQ: The editorial is near the end, which is very unusual. It's another busy one with lots of little sections. They're releasing a new Players Guide to the Living City, to replace the now very out of date LC1 from 1989. Pick it up for $6 by pre-order or at any participating convention. :teeth ting: They're also bringing in a new, somewhat lower-key replacement for Chemcheaux for people who still want to get hold of magical items outside adventures, and trade them for ones better suited to their class. Navarre the magic trader will be appearing at these listed conventions so you can perform properly certificated trades to optimise your characters. Expect long queues if previous years are anything to go by. They're also hoping to raise the amount you get paid for tournament modules if you also include pregens, and add a bit more flexibility with deadlines in general, but no promises. More slow progress, and hopefully improvement. They do still have the same old complaints about remembering your SASE if you submit anything, and not enough judges to meet player demand at upcoming conventions though. Will the balance ever tip on that and make that 6 players per table limit feel like an actual maximum rather than a default?



The Raven's Bluff Trumpeter: Sarbreenar devastated by humanoid hordes! Will Raven's Bluff step up to aid it's neighbours?! Good thing they've been preparing for military action for quite a while now. This bit of metaplot continues to move slowly on a month by month basis, but at least it is going somewhere coherently. Slightly less coherent is the plotline about the deputy mayor resigning, when he'd been absent for 2 years and only recently returned, but wasn't replaced in the interim. The job obviously can't have any important responsibilities attached to it if his previous absence didn't cause any problems. Why was he away so long before, and where is he going this time? Will we actually get any hard-hitting journalism here, or just fluff pieces about who's marrying who and who might or might not secretly be a vampire. (if they're still being played by a player, not the DM, they're not a vampire, because you know the rules around here) At the moment they're raising considerably more questions than they're answering. I guess that keeps people full of anticipation for the next issue, particularly when it's the last thing you read in it.



Lots of new mechanical bits in this issue along with the ongoing attempts to revise the RPGA rules. It shows a growing discontentment with the AD&D system in general and desire to get it to do things it's not really built for. Which does make me wonder what an RPG built from the ground up to work well in tournament play would look like. Of course, it'd have to deal with the problem that D&D got there first and has all the network externalities, making getting traction much harder even if it was mechanically superior. Probably another one for the parallel worlds column, unfortunately. Let's take another step forwards on our own timeline.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 57: Jan/Feb 1996



part 1/5



80 pages. Brown, brown and more brown. Don't you necromancers ever clean your skeletons before you animate them?! No respect for the dead. Well, this cover leaves me distinctly unimpressed. I recall the composition and color balance of the Dragon covers also went downhill this year, so I'm not surprised Dungeon is following suit, since they're all being done on the same equipment. Let's see if the contents are a little higher contrast.



Straight away, the table of contents disproves that with more low contrast gimmickery, as the contents are threaded through a mini dungeon map. While not a terrible idea, this does slow down figuring out what is where in what order. This feels like putting trying to be cool and modern over functionality.



Letters: First letter is positive about all the adventures from last issue except Grave Circumstances, which he's still more diplomatic in his negativity about than I was. You can get some use out of even the worst adventures if you take them apart and use the pieces in other ways.

Second is Chris Perkins, who in contrast praises Grave Circumstances highly, which definitely increases my trepidation about the type of adventures he'll encourage when he's in the editor's seat in the future.

Third is James Wyatt, who likes the idea of Dark Sun, but is also dubious about the quality of adventures & supplements they're publishing for it, and really wishes that Dungeon would go monthly so they can do more big themed adventures without alienating the part of the readerbase that isn't a fan of that specific setting.

Fourth is by somewhat less prolific adventure writer John Baichtal, who is also very critical of Grave Circumstances for being an obvious promotional piece that wasn't held to the same writing and editing standards he as a freelance writer is. The other regular writers last issue were also not up to previous standards and it fell to the newbies to keep it from being a complete loss.

Fifth is generally positive, but wants more adventures set in unusual terrains. Surely you have enough forests & jungles by now?

Sixth defends Planescape & Ravenloft from the generic fantasy purists. Fantasy is supposed to be fantastical. If you limit yourselves to the same few spells and nonhuman races in every setting you're missing the point. The adventures in here could stand to be a lot weirder.

Seventh is Allen Varney, who's also critical of Grave Circumstances for having the PC's kill the final member of an endangered species. That's not very eco-friendly. Such are the inherent tragedies of D&D. Hopefully it'll nag at their consciences and they won't act the same way in real life.

Eighth is another one baffled by steamboats in Ravenloft, suggesting a distinctly silly solution as to how it happened. I don't think the place really needs more gnomes.

Ninth wants more high level adventures, which is a common request, but the number of submissions just don't match the demand. If you think you've got the math skills to put together a good one, the inbox is wide open.

Finally, another letter full of suggestions. Many of them are things that Dragon or Polyhedron already do, so they aren't going to step on their toes and do them as well, but the idea of a trap column seems to be increasingly gathering momentum. As with the high level adventures, it's now just a matter of making supply match demand.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 57: Jan/Feb 1996



part 2/5



Editorial is after the letters for a change, and has also reorganised it's formatting. The topic is pretty basic though. Do you describe your character's actions in third person, or act them out dramatically in first person? Since this is the 2e era, they're definitely in favour of you getting a bit more immersive with your roleplaying. Get into character, maybe learn how to do a few accents so it's more obvious when you're speaking IC vs OOC, and the whole experience will be more memorable. The kind of thing that would have been a short article in Dragon, and very familiar indeed. Meh.



To Cure a Kingdom: We start out the adventures with your basic macguffin hunt where the PC's are secretly being played by the villain of the story. An overambitious Illithid tried to take over it's city, failed and was cast out & stripped of it's psychoportive powers to wander the underdark the slow way. Despite having developed some extra psychometabolic tricks to compensate, it still wants them back so it can go home and get revenge. So it's taken over a disease cult, engineered a particularly weird disease that (hopefully) needs the same ingredients to cure that it does, leaked info of the cure & and waited for adventurers to come around with all the crucial bits that it couldn't get hold of on it's own. The PC's will be hired by the king of the land above to sort this out. Killing all the disease cultists so they can't do it again is optional but not discouraged. The result is a medium sized dungeoncrawl in the Temple of Elemental Evil mould, where the early parts are easier than expected to make sure the PC's are deep inside and can't escape easily when the real fun begins. Then there's some nasty traps, disease using enemies, high level clerics and the mind flayer itself, these last two having complex sets of powers that you'll really need to read carefully beforehand to use as smartly as you're supposed too. A fairly decent old school style adventure that revels in it's convoluted elements, so it's not for DM's who don't know how to do prepwork and play enemies as smartly as they're written. It looks pretty easy to expand outwards and connect to several other adventures in here, such as the other set of disease cultists from issue 11 and Goblin Fever from issue 46, so I can definitely see myself getting some milage from it. A whole disease themed adventure path would be all too resonant after the real world events of recent years.
 


(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 57: Jan/Feb 1996



part 3/5



Side Treks - Carcass Fracas: Thouls! There's one of the most interesting old monsters that don't get used enough. Like the Bhaergala one a couple of issues ago, that's very pleasing to see, even if it's only a short scenario. One of them uses their part undead nature to more convincingly pretend to be a regular hobgoblin corpse in the road with some treasure on it. Then when the PC's get close, they'll try to paralyze them while another one attacks from behind. If the battle turns against them, their regeneration makes fleeing and then attacking again a little later to wear their opponents down an extra effective tactic, so some way to finish them off with ranged attacks would be very useful. Nothing exceptional, but another good example of how to use a creatures's special abilities to best effect and make the players work for their XP. The more complex their tricks are, the more examples like this are valuable.



The Rose of Jumlat: Time to head to Zakhara again for an adventure where the machinations of genies interfere with the fates of ordinary mortals in interesting ways. The titular rose is a jewel of ridiculous beauty & value that's also reputed to be cursed. (technically it's not, but with nearly everyone who sees it competing over it, it brings plenty of strife and misery to whoever owns it anyway.) The PC's are hired to escort it from Jumlat to Gana. Unsurprisingly, things do not go smoothly at all and it'll wind up getting stolen on the journey whatever the PC's do. Now you have to get it back, and deal with the efreeti who lives inside it, the sea mage who stole it, and the restless spirit of a previous owner, all with their own agendas. To top it off, the desert experiences one of it's rare torrential rains during the pursuit, further complicating your journey, particularly if you allied with the ghost, which has some idiosyncratic desert based powers and weaknesses. Not a complete railroad, but somewhere in the upper half of the linearity spectrum, this feels like it was written as a story first and an adventure second, with a definite "right" set of moral decisions and only minor support if you stray from that. It's a decent enough read, and the maps are well above average quality for some reason, with the cartographer putting in extra effort to make them not only useful but fit the style of the setting as well, but I remain ambivalent about the idea of actually using it.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 57: Jan/Feb 1996



part 4/5



The Murder of Maury Miller: Straight away, it's time for another ghost story with a mechanically nonstandard undead seeking revenge so they can finally pass on. Maury Miller was killed by the tax inspector and his hired thugs for standing up to their corrupt and punitive collection regime. Now his spirit is possessing the scarecrows in the fields, causing trouble around the area of his death in the hope of luring someone to the mill who'll find definitive proof that the taxman was responsible and get him removed from the position or killed himself. A few dream visitations or other more direct communications would probably be more effective, but he's obviously not a particularly rational ghost. If you destroy a scarecrow, he'll just possess another, so that won't solve the problem and you'll have to engage with the mystery sooner or later. A low-key little starting level adventure where the main satisfaction is obviously in getting to go up against the taxman and win, (a power fantasy we can all relate too) it encourages you to do so the legal way, but won't fall apart if you just kill him yourselves and then get out of town before the law can react. (and the villagers obviously won't dob you in, because they all hated that guy) There's some info on the village so you could wander through it and reuse it later, but not as much as older modules. Another solid middle of the roader in quality that's useful but not amazing.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 57: Jan/Feb 1996



part 5/5



Side Treks - Cloaked in Fear: The second side trek follows much the same formula as the first - take a monster with some neat tricks and put it in a context where it can use them intelligently instead of just jumping out and hacking at the PC's until it dies. This time it's a cloaker lurking in a graveyard, where PC's would suspect some form of undead and come with a cleric & holy water instead. It's already driven the gravedigger insane and will delight in spooking and separating the PC's with it's powers before actually fighting them. So this is heavily dependent on the DM playing up the horror aspect of things, with several jump scares before you get to the real fight and an encounter with the gravedigger that could be comic or tragic depending on how the PC's react. Another decent but unexceptional little scenario that won't fill a whole session unless you really drag it out, but is easy to put in wherever there's a small village with a graveyard, so plenty of groups will have got some use out of it.



The statement of ownership sees Dungeon shed readers, but considerably fewer than Dragon, once again moving the ratio a little closer to parity, at just over 50%. Still some way from justifying them going monthly, but it shows they have carved out their own niche in the D&D ecosystem comfortably and have hardcore fans separate from Dragon.



An issue with no exceptionally good or bad adventures, this stuff is all solidly built and usable, but not pushing the envelope in any way, and doesn't add much to the pot if you're a long-term reader. A bit dull from my perspective then. Let's hope they get that traps column running, or think of something else a little different to add next issue then.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 116: February 1996



part 1/5



32 pages. Return of the comedy humanoids! This time on skis! Jim Holloway gives us one of his wacky illustrations where humanoids ape more civilised cultures poorly, which probably isn't going to end well for someone, but when your breeding rate is several orders of magnitude faster than humans you can lose many battles and still win the war. I guess comedy season is coming early or something. Time to see how irritating it is this time around.



The Raven's Bluff Trumpeter: The main thrust of the news continues to be building towards war. Sarbreenar was indeed pretty thoroughly destroyed and looted last month, although they managed to evacuate most of the people, so they're optimistic that they'll be able to rebuild in a few years if they don't suffer any more catastrophes in the meantime. While a decent chunk of the Raven's Bluff forces were away dealing with that, a large and well organised fleet of pirate ships attacked Raven's Bluff harbor, while goblins attacked from the land. They were eventually repelled, but not without cost, and it's increasingly obvious some mastermind with inside knowledge of the city's watch schedules is behind all this. Let's stay unified as a city, find out who it is and strike back! This jingoistic attitude does not please the priests of Eldath, who are pacifistic to the core, and they're foretelling woe and catastrophe. But despite all this, life goes on. There's still the usual gossip about political figures maybe having affairs, and follow-up on what caused the recent admantite shortage. Apparently the price was being kept artificially low by smuggling, the people responsible were caught, and now none of the smiths want to pay the full legal price with tax on top so there's none available at all. Man, what a breakdown of supply & demand. It may come back in the future, but if it does it'll be much more expensive. Guess this war'll have to be fought with inferior iron weapons & armor. Another month of generally thickening plot then, with things looking increasingly interconnected. Hopefully the tournaments at this time were actually letting you engage with these events in meaningful ways.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 116: February 1996



part 2/5



Notes from HQ: After having asked for feedback on several new rules, they present their final decisions. The exclusivity period after the premiere of a new tournament in which no other conventions can run it is one month. A convention can request up to 4 tournaments per day, only half of which can be in any particular Living setting. The max number of players per table has been mildly relaxed to 7, but 8 is right out! The deadline for the new certificate rules grows ever closer, but now they have a nice excel spreadsheet to make it easier to figure out if an item is legal, and if so, which adventures they could have acquired it in. If you want to run a slot zero for your judges, you need to request it in advance then fill in the forms afterwards like any other tournament adventure or it won't count for XP and other character advancement. Glad all that's settled. Still plenty to do though, as they need more people writing adventures for their big plotlines, as seen just a page ago. Evidently they're still flying by the seat of their pants rather than having that properly planned out in advance. Let's hope they have something cobbled together in time for Gen Con, or it may never get done at all.



Leprechauns & Giant Eagles - Oh My!: Roger Moore gives us a second article this issue, of a kind more commonly found in Dragon than here. As the title implies, he makes Leprechauns & Tolkien style intelligent giant eagles available as PC's. Will you go for small size and an array of spell-like powers, or flight and ripping talons? Sounds pretty nifty right? The reality is somewhat less impressive, as rather than increase the XP requirements to compensate for the powers, he'll make them weaker than their NPC versions in all sorts of niggling little ways. They're still less restrictive than his similar collection of new races in issue 241 of Dragon, but each only has two valid class choices and they have some pretty hefty hindrances to go with their powers. So this isn't quite as bad as that article next year, but shows he's gradually ossifying as a writer and self-editor, reverting to the old restrictive style of race as class when the general trends in game design are for more character options and freedom in building what you want. Frankly, it's just sad seeing him go downhill like this compared to all the cool things he contributed too in the 80's.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 116: February 1996



part 3/5



Elminster's Everwinking Eye: Unlike Roger, Ed's material continues to be consistently good, even if the sheer quantity of things he produces makes them lose impact when taken in large doses. This time we look at the towns of Blackbarn, which does indeed have a large black barn built when it was first founded. It's a prosperous farming town, which doesn't have to worry about the brigands who plague the rest of the Border Kingdoms due to a group of ghostly riders who attack any groups of overt troublemakers and are typically immune to nonmagical attacks themselves. They won't attack anyone poking around underground though, which means more sneaky adventurers can still do some looting, and the place also has an unusual frequency of gremlins, so be prepared for pranking and small items going missing. That should keep a visit from being boring despite the relative safety. The town of Bloutar, on the other hand, is particularly dangerous for outsiders, as it's right in the middle of monster-infested hilly forest that's a real challenge to navigate. The people who live there have to be pretty tough to deal with that, so picking a fight with a random local is probably not a good idea. Still, if you want to do a little XP grinding, you could pick far worse places. These once again manage to pack in both interesting histories and present day challenges into page sized chunks.



Forgotten Deities: Some more plausibly deniable portfolio juggling going on here. Malyk the Dark Mage seems to be just your basic ascended archmage, providing patronage for the still young school of wild magic and encouraging wild mages to create more wild magic zones wherever they can. He's actually an aspect of Talos, giving him an inroute to attracting a slightly smarter selection of chaotic evil havoc causers. No-one knows this apart from Mystra, who's obviously aware of these new perturbations of the weave, but doesn't seem to consider this muscling in on her portfolio a threat for the moment, or actually wants someone else to take credit for that kind of magic so she doesn't have to be responsible for it's negative aspects in the same way that Tempus keeps Garagos around but weak rather than completely wiping him out. Like the Krynnish gods of magic, he doesn't actually have any conventional priests, but he does give wild mages who worship him an expanded spell list with access to Chaos and Elemental priestly spells, which is nothing to be sneezed at. Certainly looks like you can have plenty of fun using his followers as antagonists in your game, with their very unpredictable magical powers and agenda of spreading chaos. Looking forward, he'll gain independence and become a full deity in his own right in 5e, so his number of followers must grow over the following century without integrating them with the Talos worshippers. Another danger of messing around with aspects and multiple portfolios for deities. When the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing, there's a danger of them becoming full entities in their own right and turning on the head, making all your centuries of clever machinations fall apart. Doncha just hate it when that happens.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 116: February 1996



part 4/5



Runefire: The adventure this issue continues the trends of being less linear and nothing to do with their Living settings since they brought them back. It's still very much a tournament module in other ways though. Ullr is annoyed that the people of the far north didn't appreciate the artistry of his latest winter and if not properly propitiated, may never allow spring to come. The PC's have to light all 10 runestones within 6 hours of game time (the current day length) or face the consequences. Each has some kind of challenge you need to get through before you can light them. While in theory you could do them in any order, in practice that means you'll probably go in a clockwise or anticlockwise circle simply due to the time constraints so the freedom of choice is actually pretty illusionary. Also illusionary are many of the challenges, because Loki is involved, so expect trickery and whimsy. It has a full four writers, which is a bit much for an adventure this size, and it feels like each of them was told to come up with two or three of the individual encounters and then stitched together. Between the tightly tracked time limit, high level of overall difficulty aimed at challenging the brains of the PC's as much as their character's stats, heavy use of norse setting material and general level of whimsy it feels like a throwback to early tournament modules like the Saga of Brie and Maiden of Pain series. This even extends to the pregen characters, which have some very interesting twists indeed. Overall, it comes out at above average for Polyhedron, but not quite up to Dungeon standards of writing & editing. Still, it's interesting enough that if you like old school adventures full of tricky screwage encounters you can probably get some use out of it and refreshing simply because we haven't seen any of those for a few years now. Absence can make the heart grow fonder I guess.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 116: February 1996



part 5/5



A World of Your Own: After having come up with a pretty cool world last month, Roger then treats it in a pretty restrictive way that seems intended to keep the most interesting parts of it out of PC's grip. As soon as they appear in this fantastical Madgascar they're met by a dubious Mr Johnson who seems completely unsurprised by outworld visitors, will tell them just enough to get them on side, and then send them on a macguffin hunt from one location to the next, which will eventually turn out to be a nazi plot to get hold of an old uranium golem and cause mass devastation. It appears that like most of the TSR staff at the moment, he's been thoroughly seduced by the idea of big metaplotty railroads that tell world-changing stories, even when we haven't been given enough time and opportunity to get to know the specific world as it is, which would make changing it have an impact. There's still some useful material here, plus a comprehensive set of references, but his personal creative contributions to the mix are not very satisfying. Another example of how the TSR office culture was becoming increasingly detached from what regular gamers want in their adventures, trying to tell their own stories rather than giving you the tools to make better ones, made worse by Lorraine : organ music, rumble of thunder: discouraging playtesting so they didn't even know if the math added up to make the plot desired outcomes plausible if the dice rolled average results, or have contingencies prepared for the other common choices PC's would make in a particular situation. As with his previous article this issue, reading this just makes me feel frustrated and a little bit sad.



Our big list of tournaments covers the non AD&D ones in their repertoire. 6 Amazing Engine ones, 2 Amber Diceless, 2 Boot Hill, 1 Buck Rogers XXVc, 14 Call of Cthulhu, 3 Champions, 2 Chill, 1 Cyberpunk, 1 Dark Conspiracy, 4 Marvel Super Heroes, 12 Paranoia, 1 Runequest, 18 Shadowrun, 1 Shatterzone, 8 Star Wars, 1 Teenagers from Outer Space, 4 Timemaster, 1 Top Secret (not S.I., I note), 8 Torg, and 2 Traveller adventures. The big ones are pretty much what I expected, as is the complete lack of WoD ones despite it's popularity due to their refusal to comply with the Code of Conduct, but there's several systems that are long out of print now and were never particularly big even when they were current, which is interesting to see. A little worried by the lack of Earthdawn ones when it's supposed to be one of their officially supported Living settings though. Has anyone bothered to play that outside of it's original creators at all?



An issue which has a few interesting old school throwbacks, but the way they're done shows that history as a whole continues to march onwards, and even if the same people are involved, it's not quite the same because they're now over a decade older and not quite the same either. If you're struggling in the present, is it a good idea to try to go back to past glories, or will it only make the present problems even worse because new solutions are needed? Now there's a question you could go round in circles with many times and get no good answers. I'd rather not get stuck like that so onto the next issue.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 117: March 1996



part 1/5



32 pages. Tarzan?! How'd you get so big? Oh well, at least it'll keep you from catching a chill in the snow, presuming the square/cube law even applies in this setting anyway. Time to see how fantastical and memorable another issue will turn out inside.



The Incantatrix: Now here's a blast from the past and no mistake! The extremely rare alternate spellcaster from the Forgotten Realms. Introduced in Dragon issue 90, and then appearing in several of Ed's novels, they excel at metamagic effects, taking other people's magics and removing them or turning them back on their caster, while lacking access to many conventional spells unless they can drain them from the mind of another spellcaster. This makes them terrifying beyond their level in a one-on-one battle with other magical types, but less useful than a regular wizard at practical everyday stuff. Here's where they get updated to 2e, courtesy of Eric Boyd, who's becoming a pretty familiar face in here as well. They get a bit of mild tidying up and standardisation compared to their 1e incarnation, being turned into a type of specialist wizard. This also moderately increases their power level, as they gain the usual extra slot per level, full access to 9th level spells from 4 of the 8 regular schools of magic and more spell slots in general than the idiosyncratic 1e table. Still, the lack of conjuration, invocation, illusion or necromancy spells is more negative than positive, so even with their boost they're still not on the level of regular core spellcasters, and if you strictly enforce the need for training to gain levels they're at an even bigger disadvantage due to the difficulty of finding mentors. You should still be able to use them in a group without problems. A very interesting and unusual article indeed, reminding me of the things Dragon does that they don't. Sending in all that new crunchy stuff just doesn't have the same appeal when you know it won't be allowed in their tournament games even if Polyhedron does publish it. With Roger also doing new races last month, is this going to change in the near future? Well, either way, I guess the plethora of new classes in the 3e minigames will make up for lost time.



Larger than Life: Following straight on from last article, this one gives us an incantrix NPC. I wonder if that was co-ordinated by the staff, or they got this one first and then decided to reprint the previous one so this would make sense to the non-hardcore. Verity Shanae is an angsty self-taught spellcaster who only learned magic as a tool to fight another wizard who killed her father & son, and magically imprisoned her husband. Having had anything tying her down to a normal life destroyed, she's extremely obsessively motivated, and will take out any spellcaster abusing their power in her path, all the while wishing she could just stop using magic entirely. Like many a self-taught person, she doesn't even realise how different her skillset is from someone who learned the regular way is and how special she really is. Sounds like she'd find a lot of common ground with the likes of Drizzt, but less so with the perpetual cheerfulness of Elminster. Blatant novel protagonist bait, in other words. This feels like Steve Miller's attempt at pitching his own trilogy of cliched extruded fantasy product to add to the Realms. Thankfully he'll be staying on the adventure writing side of things and this character will never be seen again as far as I can google.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 117: March 1996



part 2/5



The Citadel of Protection: As part of our extended buildup to war in Raven's Bluff, we now get a good look at the temple of Helm, who's just as involved in fighting as Tempus, but from a more defensive viewpoint. Despite one being LN and the other CN, their temples have a lot of similarities in both layout and day to day routine, being designed for defensibility and spending a lot of time training people to fight properly, craft armor & weapons, make sure they have enough supplies to hold up if besieged, etc. The difference is that Tempus will eventually blow it all on a glorious display of battlefield carnage while Helm is happy to turtle forever if nothing happens, which weirdly enough makes him less popular with the common people despite all the charitable work his temple does. (being the cop of the gods during the time of troubles also didn't help with this, as worshippers of pretty much every other god still have grudges about that.) So this shows that they're seen as the stodgy religion who are respected but not particularly liked no matter how hard they try to be responsible and helpful. There are more characters statted out than the previous entry, but each of them gets a relatively short backstory/personality and none of them are particularly unique or rebellious. Like the things it's describing, this article is useful but not particularly interesting, which at least makes it an effective bit of writing on a meta level. Between these and the Forgotten Deities series they're really stepping up the amount of focus upon religion lately.



Feather and Claw: The second knightly order to get a full writeup of their own is the Knights of the Griffon. Don't think that just because you manage to join you'll get your own griffon to ride straight away though. If you don't spend a slot on the appropriate nonweapon proficiency you'll be kept in the lower ranks. As I expected, they're somewhat harder to get into than the roosters, requiring you to be between level 5-7 (depending on class, with the fighty ones having an easier time) and have a decent number of chivalry points. You'll also be held to higher standards, being expected to swear an oath to protect the innocent, act honourably at all times and defend Raven's Bluff in times of need. On the plus side, it's a lot cheaper to be one than a rooster, as you not only lack the regular membership fees, but get a 20% discount on weapons & armor and fast tracked resurrections for 10,000gp, plus the possibility of riding a muthafuckin' griffon on adventures. (which I suspect they may wind up nerfing if it turns out to be disruptive to their railroads) It does seem like a definite step up overall if you're serious about the whole knighthood thing. It'll be interesting to see if the higher knightly orders can manage to top that in terms of cool factor and keep people motivated to climb the ranks.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 117: March 1996



part 3/5



Forgotten Deities: The deity entry this month is rather larger than the previous ones, filling a whole two pages. Bright Nydra, goddess of the winter moon, worshipped by the marsh drovers of Farsea. At some point she might have been an independent goddess, but now she's merely another aspect of Selune who's church is allowed to maintain it's own customs, like Pixar after becoming part of Disney. Most notable of these customs is the extremely dangerous occupation of catoblepas farming, with the cheese they make from their milk an infamous (and very expensive) delicacy. This close association does have it's benefits though, as they can use the cheese as a material component in a spell that replicates their death gaze, so it's not a good idea to mess with them. Other than that, they have the same requirements, equipment limitations and spell spheres as druids, but a different set of granted powers, making them particularly good at dealing with the murky swampy terrain they live in, but not quite as powerful overall as the things you can do with wild shape. An entry that's particularly interesting for the amount of worldbuilding included, letting you know more about the worshippers rather than the god and showing that while small, this is a living faith integrated into the community rather than something secretly practiced by a few evil cultists in their spare time who wouldn't know what to do if their god did get powerful again. That gives players plenty of material to work with if they want to play a character from this region, which is all for the good.



Mr Whiplash, I Presume?: No plan survives contact with the enemy once again! No sooner have they introduced Fame Points to the Living City, than they have to revise them in response to feedback. So here's two new categories. Infamy points, for if you do something villainous, or people think you did due to being framed or deliberately choosing to take the credit from someone else. Accruing many of those will definitely make your life more interesting. (at least until you go too far, actually switch alignment and they take your character away from you) And Null Points, for when you do an act that would get you fame, but intentionally avoid having it connected with your day-to-day identity via doing it secretly or in disguise. These won't count for general reaction rolls, but are still worth noting down so other GM's know your character has superheroic tendencies, and if you build up a lot of them it may become plot-relevant later. Another couple of stats to keep track of that might improve storytelling, or might just slow things down and result in more admin after every tournament. It still remains to be seen whether this system proves to be a net positive or negative.



Elminster's Everwinking Eye: The Border Kingdoms apparently have no places that start with C, as we skip directly from B to D this issue. The tightly packed river town of Dapplegate, kept from expanding outwards too much by marshy ground along the river banks, so what safe land there is is highly urbanised, noisy and bustling with trade. It's protector is the seemingly immortal archmage Danchilaer, who's in the habit of picking one or two people a year and giving them permanent magical enhancements in return for a quest, then being generally cryptically helpful for the rest of their lives. Basically, he's Zordon or the Dungeon Master from the D&D cartoon, which means adventurers from here have an easy route to lots of CR appropriate challenges. A little further down the river is the port of Derlusk, which is notable not just for trading raw materials, but it's unusually large and sophisticated literary scene. Whether you're looking to buy, sell, or merely ask a sage to find an obscure bit of information for you in the libraries, this is a good place to go, and then you can sell your autobiography when you come back from your adventures and make even more money. It's also notable for it's Mage-Fairs, a yearly event where spellcasters from all over the realms teleport in to engage in hijinks suspiciously similar to real world RPG conventions, only with magic to enhance their drunken tomfoolery. Ed does love his 4th wall jokes, and this is one that make extra sense put in here rather than Dragon, so I approve of this. Both of these locations offer their own distinctive adventure opportunities to make visiting them desirable for certain types of players over the thousands of other choices you have in the Realms.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 117: March 1996



part 4/5



A World of Your Own: Roger intentionally goes for something completely different from last month to keep the variety up. We have enough worlds stuck at medieval level forever, and we just did a high tech & magic one. (where the players are kept away from the best tech so they don't ruin other worlds when they leave) Let's get out HR4 and do an Elizabethan era one instead, where everyone is a native of the world and there'll be several years between each adventure so players can get involved in big historical events and see technology advance accordingly. Supernatural creatures will be mostly derived from the legends and fiction of the era, including giants, dwarves, fae, griffons, unicorns, and maybe a bonnacon if we're very lucky. Similarly, the further away from England you go, the more the map diverges from reality, with Prester John's empire being real in this world and the America's geography more like the early maps they had at the time. Your adventures are going to wind up being unironically eurocentric and colonialist. So this is an outline that would have read just fine at the time, but comes off as very dated now in unintentional ways on top of the intentional ones that come with any historical setting. They can't help reflecting the era they were made in as well as the era they're trying to represent. The core idea isn't unsalvageable, but this one could do with a few more revisions before trying to run it with a modern audience.



Notes from HQ is near the end for a change, which looking ahead will continue to be the case for the rest of the year. Like many of their format experiments this year, it's not an improvement. The news inside is even worse, which may well be why they wanted to put off telling it so it didn't spoil your reading the rest of the issue. The TSR mail order shop has closed down. This makes redeeming gift cards or getting that RPGA 10% discount on products just got a lot trickier unless your FLGS was one that's already got with the program. They're still offering some products discounted directly from this department to compensate and trying to put a brave face on things, but in hindsight this is one of the big signs that TSR is falling apart behind the scenes, their cash flow disrupted by dropping sales, which leads to unsold products being returned and distributors ordering fewer of future ones, which leads to even worse cash flow problems, inability to service debts and the whole house of cards toppling in slow motion. But we still have a few more months of trying to pretend it's all business as usual so they're still advertising their upcoming conventions as well, particularly the country-wide Weekend in Raven's Bluff special event, held in 12 cities on the same weekend. What big metaplot adventures will take place then, and how much will the actions of the players be able to influence the future? Will they get enough interest to turn Sarbreenar into a UK-centric Living outpost, which is another idea they're floating here? After the past few editorials got very repetitive and boring talking about little procedural changes, this is all much more dramatic and interesting to read about. Looks like we might get to discover a few more little details about what happened in the offices in those final months we didn't see in Dragon.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 117: March 1996



part 5/5



Decathalon Update: They've got the final results in for the 1995 decathlon, and the new one is just getting going. The ARC Fellowship were the winners, taking the lead by being the only group to even try at the Most Sanctioned Tournaments category, while the Players guild of central Oklahoma and the DOGS take silver & bronze. The whole thing winds up demonstrating again how few people participate in this thing, with only one or two entries for many of the events, and none at all for the multi-round non-AD&D tournament category. The RPGA just isn't big enough to have that many tiers of further hardcoreness within it and many of the things the admins would like to do in an ideal world simply don't get enough volunteers to run the events. Will that ever change? Probably not this year with the other big things we know are going to go wrong.



The Raven's Bluff Trumpeter: After the big battle last month, the newspaper counts the casualties. Nearly all their big ships and 400 sailors in the sea battle, and over 700 people against the land assault. Both the mayor and deputy mayor fought on the front lines and sustained injuries in the process as well. This means they're frantically trying to rebuild and find new troops as fast as possible, stepping up the calls for adventurers to sign up as mercenaries or city watch. They've also asked the neighbouring city-states for help. Tantras has decided to keep all their troops for their own defence, while Procampur is nice enough to help out. The leaders'll definitely remember that next time either of those are in trouble. On the plus side, the enemy lost nearly twice as many, but given humanoid breeding rates that might not be a good enough ratio in a lengthy war of attrition. Time for heroes to step up and make a difference! So this is their obvious pearl harbor moment, when everyone is temporarily united against an external enemy, and even if they're not quite organised and equipped enough to strike back yet, the war machine is grinding into action. Neutrality is no longer an option! At least, that's the theory. Just how omnipresent was the metaplot at the time at conventions? Did your PC's get involved, or wander off and keep on doing their own thing?



An issue that sees them heading full steam into making their settings bigger, more complex and more metaplotty, even as TSR starts to crumble behind the scenes. Despite a few complaining letters from people who would prefer to go back to the old school in the other magazines, the staff are too invested now to dial it back, and if anything are doubling down, trying to get more stuff out faster and squeeze more money out of the hardcore fans in the hope of keeping things from going off the cliff a little longer. The tension is really ratcheting up. What will be next to go or change in their attempts to turn the tide next issue?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 58: Mar/Apr 1996



part 1/5



80 pages: She sells wolf howls on the sea shore? Doesn't have quite the right ring to it. Looks like it's time for another bit of gothic tragedy, quite possibly set in Ravenloft. Whatever the season, the readers do love a bit of that. Let's see if that's the only card up their sleeve, or they'll also manage a bit of april comedy as well.



Letters: First three letters are all pretty similar, first wants more Dragonlance, second wants more Shakespeare and third wants more Al-Qadim. All get the usual boilerplate about how they can only publish what they get, so if other readers agree, send it in.

Fourth is your typical contrary opinion, against them publishing anything particularly divergent from the core rules, particularly if it's a big adventure like Umbra that makes half the issue pointless to him. The new Players Option stuff seems particularly prone to making an adventure offputting to the non hardcore with all the ways you can fiddle with an NPC's stats. Since the majority of submissions still don't use them, you can feel fairly safe on that front until 3e makes detailed build selection core.

Finally, we have Willie Walsh again, complaining about covers/titles that spoil the whole adventure. How's he supposed to write fun mystery adventures if the Dungeon editors undermine him? This is why you need a nice solid GM screen between you and the players so they can't peek at your notes. It's even easier now if you're playing purely online.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 58: Mar/Apr 1996



part 2/5



Caveat Emptor: Ted Zuvich decides listing all his middle names every time he gets published is getting a bit much, and slims it down to something we can easily remember. Time to head back to Volkrad for a particularly gruesome bit of murder mystery that works best if the world is low magic enough that you can't get all the answers just by casting a few divination spells. A dentist is gruesomely murdered and her assistant is thoroughly traumatised. When you manage to get coherent words out of him, you find out a patient turned into a monster on the chair and ripped her to pieces and he barely managed to escape. It's not a huge leap of intuition to realise you have a lycanthropic problem on your hands. Just track him down, kill him or cure him, right? What you probably won't figure out until too late is that you're not dealing with only one werecreature. The dentist got hold of the skull of a seawolf and had been using the teeth as implants for nearly a month already, so there's a whole list of people that could have been infected. You'll have to track them down throughout the village, each of which is handling the changes they're going through differently and will be more or less amenable towards the idea of going to a cleric or losing control and having to be subdued. So this is an adventure you might be able to get through without killing anyone, (and it'll be extra rewarding if you do) but it'll take real effort on the player's part to not take the easier option in the face of ravening werebeasts, even when you know it's not their fault and a cure is entirely an option. (For this reason, it's one of their few horror scenarios that actually works better outside of Ravenloft, where curing lycanthropy is a real crapshoot, ironically making players more likely to go straight to the murderous option) Another pretty solid and flexible adventure from him that also includes a fair bit of worldbuilding, so it remains of use even after the adventure is over. It's just a shame that this is the last adventure we see from him, so Volkrad is never going to get any more filled out than this. Dungeon is never going to have any settings ascend to official status the way the Forgotten Reams managed at this rate.
 

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