TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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


(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 58: Mar/Apr 1996



part 3/5



A Bad Batch of Brownies: We eventually got solo adventures for each of the core classes. Now we have one for a druid, courtesy of Lisa Smedman. As you'd expect from the title, it's whimsical one where you have to deal with trickster fae, and find out that a big part of being a druid is not summoning the raw power of nature to destroy despoilers, but talking to people with differences, some of which are unable to communicate with each other at all without your help and coming to an equitable solution. The little folk are taking way more food than normal from the Paradiso family inn, and you get asked for help. If you stay up late you'll spot them easily. (catching them is another matter) Turns out they have a "visitor" in the woods that they're trying to keep comfortable. You may go in expecting it to be some evil monster threatening them. The reality is far worse. It's a biker who wandered through a portal from earth and is now getting all the local fae into tattooing skulls & lightning bolts, switchblade fightin' and hog-riding with his tales of burnin' rubber on the open road. It would be a very good idea for you to restore the integrity of the 4th wall and find a way to send him back home. This will require collecting ingredients for oil of etherealness, which involves solving several other minor problems around the forest, most of which are also best resolved by talking. A distinctly silly adventure, but one which does actually have a genuine moral message and real challenges underneath that and doesn't railroad you from one scene to the next with no freedom of choice. Probably not one I'm going to use personally, but not completely groan inducing and infuriating as a read at least.



Challenge of Champions: Ah, here's an interesting turnup for the books that I'd heard about before going into this. Not content with turning the Ecology articles into a series with several recurring protagonists to make things more dramatic and memorable. Johnathan M Richards also gave us this one in Dungeon, a series of puzzle based adventures designed to be solvable challenges for characters of any level, primarily testing the brains of the players rather than the stats of your characters. (You do still need at least one of each core class though, as some of the magic items you're given need the right one to activate them) There are 10 challenges and you're given 15 minutes of real time each to solve them, so you can easily do everything in here in a single session even accounting for snack breaks and OOC digressions. Once you've completed them, you get scored for how well you did on each trial, allowing you to compare your result with not only the NPC's on the leaderboard but also other real groups around the world like the old school competitive tournament adventures. Since this is one where the dice rolls aren't important and knowing the details beforehand would remove all the challenge I'm not going to give more specific spoilers, but it is indeed a pretty cool departure from the usual adventure format in here and I can see why they'd be happy to accept sequels to it, particularly if it gets specific praise in the letters section in the next few issues.
 

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(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 58: Mar/Apr 1996



part 4/5



Side Treks - The Ghost of Silverhill: Not content with werewolves, we have a second dose of spooky stuff. While staying at an inn, they hear a spooky story about the ghost that appears on a nearby hill during the full moon. Supposedly it's an old king and his treasure hoard is somewhere underneath the hill. Do you dare risk magical fear, energy drain, ageing, possession and whatever else it may inflict upon you to get that loot? Since this is an adventure for level 1-4 characters it's pretty obvious you're not intended to fight a full power ghost. Unsurprisingly, you're not getting a full king's worth of treasure, but there are not just one but two ghosts, and it's easy enough to avoid combat and lay one of them to rest by talking and doing what it asks, then get what treasure there is. This feels like one of the many plot hooks Ed rattles off in his Everwinking Eye articles blown up to 3 pages and given full stats, reinforced by specifically mentioning a FR novel in the sidebar. As long as your players are willing to engage with it in a non hack & slashy way it's a pleasant enough but unexceptional little flavour encounter. If they aren't, good luck to their next characters and hopefully they'll learn their lesson about not picking fights with things way above their pay grade. :p



The Baron's Eyrie: Off to Ravenloft for a third horror themed adventure, showing that they get far more of those than they do comedy ones whatever the time of year. A werebat got his hands on a flying castle, killed it's previous owners and became it's Lord. This may sound like a sweet deal, but in Ravenloft, it sucks, as he can't control where the castle goes or leave it, so he's trapped in a micro domain floating through other ones (an easy excuse to put this adventure nearly anywhere ) looking down on the world and ordering his infected werebat minions to fetch him food. The PC's are staying at an inn when they swoop down and carry off one of the other patrons. You're the only ones around with any flying capability to follow them with, so guess who's got to be the heroes again. Careful on the approach, as there's giant spiders on the underside, flying ghouls living around the crags, vultures enjoying the leftovers, and other general spookiness. Things get more interesting once you get inside the castle itself, as the infected lycanthropes hate their master, and would love for you to destroy him & free them, maybe cure them as well, but their magical compulsion means they can't do anything directly against him. This does still mean they'll be surprisingly civil if you don't attack everything on sight, giving you the option to play the adventure in a more political way with various twists and turns as you uncover the various personalities of the place and their secrets. Some of those twists are sufficiently sneaky that I'm not going to spoil them here, and there's enough of them that it's unlikely your group will discover all of them, making this both an interesting read and of well above average replayability too. A worthy addition to the Ravenloft canon of spooky places to explore that don't railroad you into a specific story, which is becoming an increasingly small proportion of the published adventures.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 58: Mar/Apr 1996



part 5/5



The Menacing Malady: Not content with three horror adventures, they manage to repeat the medical theme as well, with another story where people are transformed and while you could just kill them all, you're strongly encouraged to take the more ethical route and figure out a way to turn them back. This time it's an outbreak of russet mold, turning a full dozen patients at a hospital into mold men. Since it is a hospital, there's a whole bunch of things throughout the place that could be useful in treating the problem, and good luck in finding the right ones. So there's less emphasis on the mystery part of the adventure than Caveat Emptor, and more on the puzzle aspect of curing the victims successfully, but there are a lot of similarities between the two, as in both cases you have a socially driven, location based adventure that doesn't force you to use a precise solution, and has plenty of leeway for different degrees of success or failure in how many of the victims you manage to catch and successfully cure, plus the additional question of if you'll figure out how the problem started in the first place and take steps to deal with the responsible parties. Once again, it's decent enough in it's own right, but loses impact due to the quick repetition. It'd have been better if they'd taken just one of these two and made it twice the size. That way you could fit more character development and emotional depth into it rather than going over the basics twice.



An issue where all of the adventures are of pretty good quality taken individually, but they get very repetitive read in one go, all using much the same formula of being mystery & roleplaying heavy and combat light. Only the Challenge of Champions stands out as an attempt to do something different, returning to the principles of old school modules where challenging the brains of the players took precedent over any kind of character immersion. It makes me hope they see the merit in not being all 2eish all the time. On we go, time to see if polyhedron will have anything particularly wacky to serve us this year.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 118: April 1996



part 1/5



36 pages. A cover comprised of several covers past, it looks like they're in a retrospective mood. They seem to have chosen this month as the birthday of the newszine, even though it's only the anniversary of when they chose their name, and their first issue was a summer one. Let's see what they consider classic articles worth reviving for a new generation, and how well it meshes with my tastes.



Artifacts, Relics, & DM Headaches: Roger Moore has been contributing regularly to TSR since before polyhedron even started, and is still going as we speak, so it's no surprise that one of his early articles gets reprinted in here. Unfortunately it's not one of the fun worldbuilding ones, but this bit of nagging negativity, telling you in multiple ways over three pages why it's a bad idea to be over generous with handing out magical items and what you can do about it if you've already gone full monty haul. Many powerful artifacts have minds of their own or heavy costs for using their powers, so even if they seem cool at first you can make them more trouble than they're worth to the players long term. Other people hearing that the artifact has surfaced again will want to either take it from you or destroy it, possibly including the gods themselves if it's a particularly notable one. No matter how powerful they are, the DM can always bring out even more powerful antagonists to keep their lives interesting. What made you think people want to hear all that again when you never stopped saying it in other ways from further articles through the years? This is a tediously nepotistic choice.



Open Air Market: Ah, now this is more like it. One of the best early Living City articles (although not the very first as it bafflingly says here. The first was in issue 37, while this is from a full year later in issue 44. They can't be keeping very good care of their archives. ) Between the 16 booths in the open air market and the owners, you have both a solid selection of everyday items and several interesting plot hooks, as well as a good mix of 0th level NPC's and ones that have gained adventurer levels for one reason or another. This remains both interesting and useful on a reread, although it does also remind us that they've got stricter about the code of conduct over the years, so incidences of casual sexism and racism even when presented as an IC bad thing to be challenged have become less frequent over the years. They killed off Anton Paere because they wanted to enforce the rule against anything promoting distrust of cops, blew up Chemcheaux and made the admantite supplies dry up to bring the power levels down, and are currently in the process of strictly certificating every magic item that appears in future adventures. This article is already a reminder of a more freewheeling time, just 8 years later.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 118: April 1996



part 2/5



"Zee Chef": Urg. Our only comedy article this year is a reheated one that was deeply irritating even the first time around. The (not so) terrifying powers of a chef to thwack you with a frying pan, throw cream tarts, give you hiccups, always know where the right ingredients are kept and so forth definitely have their practical applications, but they're not going to be able to compete with a serious adventuring class out on the road. This is an article intended for reading, not playing, unless you feel in the mood for a Fluffyquest marathon and want PC's that match the tone. As with the first time, this just serves to rub in how little use Polyhedron is when it comes to providing new classes, races, etc compared to Dragon. Couldn't they have concentrated more on the strengths of this place rather than the weaknesses?



Elminster's Everwinking Eye: Ed's always been too busy coming up with new stuff to let nostalgia dominate. If he wants to call back to one of the classics he'll do a new entry in an irregular but acclaimed series like Pages From the Mages or The Wizards Three. For now, it's business as usual with another two locations in the Border Kingdoms. Dunbridges is a peaceful looking village that's kept that way by not just one but three different adventuring parties, including an all-female one, and their various (mostly friendly) competition for the coolest exploits is the topic of much local gossip. Ed is in an extra horny mood for this one, with relationship gossip also running rampant and the Lord Protector of the place being a famed hearthrob with a lengthy list of conquests of many species. (and an equally serious talent for diplomacy to prevent them from all jealously fighting each other over his favors. ) You can set up shop there knowing that the people in charge know how the adventuring life works and won't try to overly tax or regulate what you bring back from your dungeon delves. The Duskwood, on the other hand is completely different. One of the thickest and most dangerous woods around, there are beholders, deepspawn, and all sorts of lesser dangers, including a profusion of fungi that have medicinal properties if used correctly. (but good luck finding the right one and getting out alive) Some of the monsters are linked with powerful bonding magic so beating one teleports another in to avenge them (or the smart ones can swap out tactically, heal, buff, and swap back in again) turning what you thought was a single fight into an extended boss rush like near the end of a video game. Another example of his ability to steal ideas from a wide range of sources and then put his own distinctive flavour on it, in a way that makes sense IC that something would actually want to do this. If you could figure out how to replicate the power, your adventuring party could reach new heights of tactical badassery with an extended roster of PC's, picking the best half a dozen for each particular encounter on the fly, getting all the glory at a fraction of the time and effort for each individual, not having to completely leave your day to day responsibilities behind to adventure. But what are the odds of having a DM that nice?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 118: April 1996



part 3/5



World Under Construction, or The Kargat Wants You!: Ravenloft continues to be one of their most popular settings, getting the second greatest number of reader submissions after the Forgotten Realms, with even it's spin-off exceeding expectations and getting it's own Living setting. They're not planning on cancelling it any time soon. Quite the opposite, they're doing a new edition and welcome feedback on their directions, particularly using the internet. The big change from last time is trying to make the place more of a setting you can spend an entire campaign in, focussing on creating native PC's rather than ones sucked in by the mists, with new kits & races appropriate to the setting. So this is the start of the approach they'll keep all the way to the end of the 2e era and through the licensed out 3e books, trying to make the place feel more like an internally consistent world rather than a theme park created purely to torment people, only going the opposite direction again when they intentionally reject simulationism in their game design in the 4e changeover. If a world is all horror all the time the scares soon lose impact. You've got to have the bright clear days to set off the dark and stormy nights. (although they still go by suspiciously quickly) It also reminds us that a big part of Ravenloft's survival through the 3e era was due to a strong hardcore fanbase that was given the leeway to create their own websites and netbooks without WotC getting all stompy with the cease & desists. The Kargatane and Fraternity of Shadows websites are still alive to this day and you can download all sorts of interesting things from them to liven your game up. I mostly approve of all this, as even if it is a promotional article, it shows that their hearts are in the right place, and they're approaching their audience with a spirit of collaboration, not just writing something in-house and expecting us to follow their railroads, then being shocked when the line doesn't review or sell well and winds up getting cancelled.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Dungeon Magazine Issue 52: Mar/Apr 1995



part 4/5



My Lady's Mirror: So we've reached our first sequel adventure since issue 17's return of Flame. Turns out we're returning to the scenario of secretive highlander style immortals amongst us from issue 42, whiling away the centuries with their machinations until it all goes a bit pear-shaped. You thought all of them had died in the last adventure, but there's always one who escaped notice, or drank the potion of immortality later than the others so it hasn't worn off yet, or some even more implausible plot contrivance to ensure there's always another story for adventurers to get involved with. Once again it's time to investigate a large castle filled with weirdness, some of which is hostile and some of which you shouldn't fight, but which is which is not always clear, as there's a lot of plot threads going on at once. Thankfully, making it a sequel means they can spend less time on the exposition text and more time on the actual meat of the adventure, so although they're about the same page count there's more rooms and more action in this one. So this turns out to be an improvement on the first in a similar way Wrath of Khan is to The Motion Picture, not losing the atmosphere entirely, but speeding up getting to the parts that are actually useful for the DM when running the adventure rather than wasting it on stuff that looks pretty, but will probably never be seen in actual play. From that perspective, if you've already got through the first one it would be a waste not to use this one with the same group as well. Even without the other one it still works decently as a stand-alone adventure. I have no problem with this, so the only big question is if there'll be any further follow-ups, and if so, will it be the odd-numbered ones that suck? :p
I've run this adventure 3 times now - once in 2e, and twice in 5e. It's definitely a bit of a challenge, but it's more dynamic than the average dungeon. I recommend it!
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Dungeon Magazine Issue 52: Mar/Apr 1995



part 2/5



Spirits of the Tempest: Another adventure that's specifically based on a specific story and is particularly blatant about it. Those do seem to be getting more common. This time it's Shakespeare's The Tempest that gets converted to D&D stats, making Prospero considerably more ruthless than the original play and trapping the PC's on the island with him. He'll use mind control spells and his various summoned minions to mess with the PC's, separate Ferdinand & Antonio from them, and get his revenge and/or freedom. You'll need to get through several weird setpieces to reach him, inspired by, but not sticking strictly to the details of the play. Then to get out, you'll need to abandon all your memorised spells and magical items at the end, which most players will balk at, or figure out the extremely tricky to perform loophole to that clause. This isn't a complete railroad, with most of the scenes having several outcomes, but it is very plot driven and you'll have to be very powerful or clever to not be sucked back to the main path in the end, as it's definitely not balanced to be a fair challenge for the expected character level. So this is for groups who want to get into the theatrical roleplaying, not ones that are attached to their characters stats and equipment, making it very 2e indeed. Definitely not for every group.



Side Treks - Pakkililir:

Confidence is a preference for the habitual invader of unfamiliar planets
Breaking connection to the hive-mind should be avoided when taking a trek through potentially hostile terrain
Pakkililir's got too much free will, he gets intimidated by the other Grell, they love tearing apart traitors
So he decides to do a little less marching, stick around here where there's no overlord

All the space Grell, so many space Grell
And they all fly round and round, leaving behind their friend, Pakkililir

I get up when I want, except on wednesdays when I get rudely awakened by the merchant caravan
I set some traps, eat some leftovers and think about leaving the cave.
I eat the pigeons, I sometimes eat the humans too, it gives me a sense of enormous well-being.
Then i hide the bones, happy that this'll make sure no hunters are devoted to catching me.

All the space Grell, so many space Grell
And they all fly round and round, leaving behind their friend, Pakkililir

It's got nothing to do with your illithid empire, you know.
And it's not about your giant space hamster wheels, which just go round and round and round.
I remember reading the Tempest, thinking "this is pretty cool, but how the hell do I run it?" so... I never did.

I did run the Pakkillir adventure, not very memorable though.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Dungeon Magazine Issue 52: Mar/Apr 1995



part 3/5




The Hurly-Burly Brothers: As should instantly be apparent from the title, this one also has definite comedic elements. A pair of ogres have found themselves in possession of a Quaal's feather token that turns into a Roc, a crumbling tower, and a giant scorpion. They've put the scorpion at the bottom, rigged up a net and rope mechanism to slowly lower people into the scorpion pit, and are now going to grab some passers-by in the Roc's claws and put them in said deathtrap, then watch and laugh as their victims die horribly. Basically, a Batman '66 or James Bond scenario where one of the PC's gets captured and has to figure out how to escape the deathtrap, or at least stall proceedings enough for their friends to catch up, only unlike in the movies your last-minute escape isn't a foregone conclusion. Less irritating than the previous adventure, but still only one for the more theatrical DM who can get the players into the right spirit by going full ham with the roleplaying of the ogre brothers. It's also only a single encounter, so don't use it thinking it'll last the whole session and have other stuff prepared for afterwards. Since it's the kind of thing that you can use nearly anywhere when they're travelling between more intentional adventures, that shouldn't be too hard. Overall, neither good nor terrible.
I ran this adventure when a number of players couldn't make it, so the party had 2 (maybe 3?) players in it. I remember it going fairly well and the players having fun. Not bad at all!
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
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.
it's definitely a solid one. I ran it in 2e, and then again using the GLOG. It's definitely a nice twist on the evil wizard's tower concept.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
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.
I ran that in 2e back in the day. I don't remember too much about it, but it definitely was one of the better ones (in my much more limited sampling than yours). I remember the "insert this in your campaign" was not a 100% easy shoe in, but definitely doable.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 118: April 1996



part 4/5



Forgotten Deities: Something a little different this month. Rather than gods who grant power to worshippers, (albeit of not very good selections due to their general weakness) Eric gives us two fully statted out elder evils. Dendar the night serpent and Kezef the chaos hound. Even without any worshippers, they're god level threats, with hundreds of hit points, serious damage outputs & selections of spell-like powers, the ability to devour your soul after killing you, immunity to a whole load of things, regeneration and the ability to reform if even that isn't enough unless killed in very specific ways. Don't even think of taking them on unless your group can deal with the Tarrasque in one sitting and still have time for lunch. And unlike the Tarrasque, once you've annoyed them you can't get away just by flying and waiting for it to go back to sleep. Dendar can send you nightmares anywhere in the world, while Kezef can find you anywhere by manifesting at the point of your birth and then flawlessly following the path of your life experiences at the rate of several years per hour until he catches up with you in the present. They're not just combat monsters but terrifying on conceptual levels. This is very interesting indeed as it presents a departure from the 2e policy of gods being things you can't even hope to fight or resist no matter high level you become, towards the 3e style of them being epic level opponents which you can beat, but only if you have a good handle on the system in general and how to exploit the cracks in that particular creature's laundry list of powers and resistances. Looks like that might have happened even if TSR hadn't been bought out by a company more keen on complex tactical gameplay. Definitely a lot to think about here, even if these two are unlikely to appear directly in anything but the highest level campaigns. Maybe if you incorporate the tricks from Ed's article this issue a slightly lower level team would have a decent shot.



A World of Your Own: Roger's look at the elizabethan era once again turns into a lengthy list of references. This is a good century after the invention of the printing press, so there's not only plenty of books about the era, but books from the era you can use for research as long as you can decipher the somewhat archaic language and lack of spellchecking. Francis Bacon, Robert Kirk, Galileo, Christopher Marlowe, Shakepeare, there was both interesting fiction and scientific primary sources that have managed to survive to the present day. You'll still probably want to consult some history books written after the fact for the sake of accessibility, particularly ones with good illustrations so you can get a better idea of the fashion, and maybe some RPG books so you don't have to make up all the stats for the technology yourself, but this is one where you can get a clear picture of how the people of the time thought and wrote without it being filtered through multiple layers of translation and revisionist historical agendas. The usual iteration of formulas here, with Roger providing lots of useful material, but leaving it up to you to put the real creative spark of life into it if you use the ideas for a campaign of your own. No enthusiasm here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 118: April 1996



part 5/5



Notes from HQ: Since they promote it for long enough, the events at Winter Fantasy are the biggest story here. Once again, they managed to be bigger than ever, with both the tournaments and seminars packed. The big highlight was of course a gigantic minis battle of the sort you simply couldn't set up at home, where Raven's Bluff was attacked from the north. The usual limitations of number of players at a table are thrown out the window and everyone involved potentially gets to have their characters interact with everyone else's. Not sure how they handled everyone waiting for their turn to act or split that responsibility between multiple judges for different areas but it's nice to see them pushing the envelope with things you can't do in a home campaign after all these issues dedicated to telling us what we're forbidden to do with our characters around here. The rest is yet more repetition of their ongoing rules tweaks. When and how you book a slot zero for your judges to play through adventures before running them for others, reminding us how long you need to book in advance for your adventures to count for points and whatnot and making their "flexible six" table size rule default for all Living campaigns. Just because one convention succeeded, doesn't mean that you have to stop working to get everyone following the rules and making sure there are enough judges available to meet demand at future ones.



Fresh from finishing Winter Fantasy, they have three pages of Gen Con adventure listings to encourage people to sign up early, especially the potential judges. Which of the 17 AD&D ones and 11 for other systems will get enough to satisfy all the potential players, and which will be forced to scale down or cancel due to general lack of interest? Given the lack of Rolemaster material in here, I wouldn't be surprised if the big three round elimination tournament by the ICE staff turns out a half-empty white elephant.



The Raven's Bluff Trumpeter: The newspaper presents the same convention events as the editorial, but from a more IC perspective. Still reeling from the pirate attack two months ago, the Zhentarim decided to take advantage of the city's weakness in the middle of the winter festival to send in their own forces. Fortunately there were plenty of brave adventurers present and armed to repel them and still have time to carry out the planned wedding spectacular of Lord Charles Blacktree & Lady Katharine. Things weren't so positive a little further out, as the outpost of Belgard's Stand fell to a well-organised army of mercenaries and the whole thing was razed to the ground. The war theme of the year continues to escalate and it looks like they're coming good on the promise to let player actions affect the way each battle goes and make a small difference to the overall course of Forgotten Realms history. Where will be the target of the next attack, and which big convention will the scenario play out at? All very exciting to read about, but try not to lose your character in the battles, because a mention in the obituaries may be nice, but getting back to your previous level with a new character could take years.



I definitely preferred the new articles in here to the greatest hits part, which is curious, and shows that they are still gradually improving overall, even if some of their decisions do remain baffling or just plain sloppy. Still, the worldbuilding and scenarios seem to be on an exciting upswing, so I remain interested in seeing what the future has to hold for their living settings, and if any of it'll be useful removed from that context and put in a home campaign. Bring on the next issue.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 119: May 1996



part 1/5



32 pages. The chaos in TSR's offices gets to here, as they let their numbering slip, remaining volume 16 number 4. They don't even notice it either, and every issue after this for the rest of the year is one number too low, which is a quite shocking lapse in editing really. Let's hope they managed to pick some good articles inside despite this degree of basic mathematical carelessness.



Champions of the Faith: Why should lawful good people get to have all the holy warrior fun? A question that's been asked many times, and answered repeatedly as well, with Dragon issue 106's Plethora of Paladins article probably the most comprehensive and enduring. Robert Wiese asks what if there was a customised holy warrior subclass for every god, just like there are specialty priests? (after all, they've been detailing a new one of those nearly every month for a while now) Unfortunately 3 pages isn't really enough to provide a comprehensive list of examples, so this winds up turning into some fairly basic advice about swapping out specific powers, but keeping the same overall framework to balance things. A daily power to replace lay on hands, a more powerful but less frequent one to replace cure disease. A thematically suitable immunity and mount or companion. Maybe even the ability to turn or control another class of creature rather than undead. So his approach is closer to the standardised approach they'll use for the 3e variant classes than the 1e approach of making them all very different from the ground up, with neither formula or any great attention to game balance. Another article that reminds us that 3e would have made many of the same changes even if they hadn't changed companies, (although we probably wouldn't have got the OGL) because those changes were based on concerns that appeared repeatedly in the letters and forum pages and were house rules in many people's games. Interesting to see an article like this in here, once again showing their gradual increase in crunchy stuff like variant classes, races, kits & knightly orders, but it doesn't have the sheer impact of the original. Needs to think bigger.



Knights of the Dove: Our third knightly order is unsurprisingly a little more pacifistic than the roosters or griffons. While still entirely capable of combat, they're forbidden from killing anyone who didn't attack first, and will generally try to deal with conflicts by negotiation or subdual, on pain of being kicked out or having to do an atonement quest if they get caught killing unnecessarily. Their prerequisites definitely favour priests over any other class, particularly if you want to stick with the order and rise in the hierarchy. If you can stick to the code, you do actually get a fair amount of social prestige, and more importantly for PC's easy access to healing potions at 500gp a pop. (which still means they'll probably be your last resort after using up all your own healing spells for the day, but is nothing to be sneezed at as a lifesaver. ) You can definitely see what kind of players they'd appeal to, although the mechanical effects of belonging are more low key than most kits or any prestige class and it's obvious that they're being extremely conservative with giving out magical items in general compared to 3e. On we go then. Still got another 5 orders to get through, see if they offer any more powerful rewards.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 119: May 1996



part 2/5



Elminster's Everwinking Eye: Ed's tour of the border kingdoms just seems to get slower and more detailed with every month, as he devotes a full 3 pages to the town of Emrys and it's surroundings. Another one where staying is artificially expensive and getting a permanent home even moreso because it's a walled town on a hill surrounded by a bog, with no more room to expand outwards. This is not helped by the rulers, a group of seven powerful assholes who style themselves dukes, but are just your basic high level evil adventurers who took the place by force and haven't had anyone come along who can beat them yet. Good civic management and draining the swamp is low on their priorities compared to enjoying the high life and protecting their positions. The kind of place that's an excellent target for high level PC's to improve, but don't think it'll be a cakewalk, particularly if you just storm in there openly, as they have their fair share of high level remote smiting magic hidden away in their heavily guarded keeps. If you're lower level, there's still plenty of opportunity for adventure in it's narrow seedy streets and equally cramped high-rise buildings, with all sorts of wealthy traders passing through and a lucrative market in "escorts" for people needing to do things we're forbidden to talk about directly due to the code of conduct. He's definitely pushing at the limits of that in general lately. What with all the other things going wrong in the company their editors must have other things on their minds. He's still coming up with places that are both varied and good for adventuring in in their own ways where anyone else :cough:Roger:cough: would have run out of steam a long time ago.



Role-Playing First Aid: Backing up the articles about pacifist knights and new kinds of holy warrior, we have one about the merits of playing healers and defensive characters in general. If you pick your spells right, you contribute a lot more to a group than another person rolling to hit and damage each round. Yet somehow they're not actually that common, and tournament play often suffers from this, as unlike in a home group where someone'll probably take the healer role even if they don't really want to, in a Living campaign everyone is building and bringing their own characters separately and being assembled into groups on the day, so many groups lack a balanced selection of classes. Even in a standalone tournament using a fixed set of pregens, people seem more likely to pick the other classes first, so if you don't have a full table, cleric is the most likely to be missing. Like the begging for more judges in the editorial, this feels like an attempt to counter a longstanding demographic inequality where people favour the cool classes even when the results turn out tactically suboptimal. It does have some decent advice on spell selections, plus four handy new defensive spells (that are mostly more powerful variants of existing ones) but the underlying agenda is pretty obvious here. Will it make any difference? Probably not, given the way they intentionally overpowered clerics & druids in the 3e changeover to make them a more attractive option and even that didn't completely work. Roll on introducing other classes that can take on the healing role without bringing in all the issues that making religion of some kind mandatory in your worldbuilding causes in D&D.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 119: May 1996



part 3/5



The Endless War: A break from all the faith heavy stuff as we head off to Krynn, where the gods are currently AWOL and regular people are having a lot of spiritual crises because of that. That is, when they aren't having more immediate physical crises of being attacked by the new, bigger badder dragons. Even the oldest and most powerful of regular dragons has no hope against them one-on-one. Not that this stops them trying, whether out of arrogance or desperation, as we see in this bit of fiction, which is basically just 5 pages of a single battle between Onysablet and one of Takhisis' dragonriders. They put up a brave fight, but their dragonlance snaps on her scales and both dragon & rider die without even learning some philosophical lesson or winning some small long-term victory with their sacrifice. So this is a piece where the scariest enemies of the original trilogy get worfed to show how much more of a threat the new big bads are and how the old battles of good vs evil seem trivial compared to the threats of chaos, magic ceasing to work and monsters from another world. Unless they learn to set aside their petty ideological differences they've got no hope of survival. A reminder that the short fiction in Dragon was taken over by 5th age material for nearly the whole year. It was jarring in there, drastically lowering the average quality and accessibility of the fiction by making it all in-house metaplotty crap and it sticks out even more here, which doesn't normally publish stat free fiction at all. One of their most irritating management decisions in the final days of TSR, this is no more pleasant to experience second time around.



The Druid Circle of Chauntea: The religion-centric articles continue with another mid-length temple overview. As befits a nature deity, it isn't actually set in the city, but 30 miles away, making it one of the most distant locations yet that still falls under the Living City umbrella. Unsurprisingly, this physical distance also reflects a certain emotional distance from and suspicion of the city dwellers. Don't let the nobles get too cocky or they'll expand their holdings and domesticate yet more wild land. Don't let the humanoids get too populous or they'll consume like locusts before crashing when they run out, leaving behind barrens that'll take years to recover. Keep an eye on that Mellisa Eldaren, she's might still be a druid but she's getting too close to the city dwellers, accepting an official government position and all. Don't let those extremists in the shadow circle infiltrate the whole druidic hierarchy or it won't end well for anyone. Maintaining balance is a big complicated job, and not everyone agrees what the ideal intermediate point to aim for even is, plus the criteria for druids losing their powers are considerably more relaxed than paladins so there's plenty of room for internal conflict on these matters. With war brewing in the area again, there's a lot of things they could get involved in and probably not enough high level druids to go around. So this isn't as good as the previous two in mapping out the temple and depicting the day to day life of the faith because it's very focussed on the current metaplot events and the fallout they might have upon the countryside. It still makes pretty interesting reading and gives you plenty to think about philosophically, but it has less general usefulness outside the very specific context of the Living City in the year 1367 DR. One mainly for the hardcore readers.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 119: May 1996



part 4/5



Finder Wyvernspur: Eric's god this issue isn't forgotten at all, as he only just ascended in the novels and has yet to build much of a following in the first place. Once a famed bard, Finder's perfectionism led him to do morally dubious and hubristic things like cloning himself so more people could experience the perfection of his musicianship, then torturing the clone when it turned out not to have all his knowledge and skill. For a long time, he was locked away by the gods, and all memory of him erased. Eventually he was freed by Alias & company, learned to be a somewhat less naughty word person, was instrumental in the defeat of Moander and gained his godly powers, and is now trying to figure out how to integrate his own bardic interests with his inherited portfolio of death & rot. He's managed to turn this into more of a cycle of life thing, teaching that change is inevitable and stasis only leads to decay, so you should always be learning and growing rather than seeking some kind of rigid perfection. His specialty priests actually get a pretty good selection of bonus powers, and there are few enough of them that a PC could easily reach the upper ranks and make a difference in how far the faith spreads, making them actually a decent choice for players for a change. Did any of you actually use him in your campaign and fulfil that potential?



The Gamers Choice Awards: Not content with offering you the chance to prebook the best tournaments in advance and at a discount, now they're giving you the chance to influence who wins awards this year. Fill in these 16 categories (the last of which is messed up, but oh well, it's pretty apparent what they meant to say.) with products from last year. (so no AD&D winning every eligible category every year.) Will we also see the results in here in a few months time? Another thing to keep on tuning in for.



A World of Your Own: Roger decides that maybe humans are overdone, and suggests some ideas for a campaign where they're completely absent. These first two don't stray far from what AD&D has already covered though. An all minotaur game, as handled by the Taladas material for Dragonlance. Or an all dragon game, as statted out in the Council of Wyrms boxed set. Both get some twists so people who've read those won't know all the setting details, but the mechanics remain untouched. In both cases he actively avoids putting spelljamming into the settings, which seems a bit weird if no-one asked in the first place and probably reflects what happens in his own games rather than the wider gaming world. Another fairly formulaic entry, with the quirks due to the fact that he's done so many of them by now, so he has to draw on more obscure sources and themes to keep his own interest up. It's another multi-parter, and he promises to make next issue's ones weirder, so we'll see if he has anything genuinely interesting to offer then. For now, this is another article that makes me give a resounding meh.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Polyhedron Issue 119: May 1996



part 5/5



Dispel Confusion: Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time. Once a rival to Sage Advice, it looks like they've brought it back and rebranded it from answers to game rules disputes to clarification of RPGA rules, since they've been changing those nearly every month lately and can't fit all of that information in the editorial alone. It's another religion focussed article, as it concerns the recent release of Faiths & Avatars, and what things from it are allowed in Living City games. A good 20 of the good & neutral deities are allowed as specialty priests and you can say you're a generalist cleric of any non-evil one. Another of the things that's permitted is the new version of Monks, which means they've also added the unarmed combat rules from the complete fighters handbook to the permitted list. That'll be a definite windfall for the people wanting to write more adventures with nonlethal solutions. (which as we saw last Dungeon are very strongly in fashion at the moment. ) However it does also show how interconnected the 2e ecosystem has become, making some more recent books require several previous supplements, some of which are already out of print to make sense. That'll wind up driving more than a few people away.



The Raven's Bluff Trumpeter: No further assaults this month, giving the city a small breather to recharge. The news this month goes heavy on advertising for military recruits and appointing new people to replace fallen higher-ups. That doesn't mean things are going smoothly though, as there's both political wrangling about who gets these battlefield promotions and a rising crime rate, some of which is likely driven by outside saboteurs. One of their reporters was killed when investigating these gang wars, which is very concerning to them. Will journalistic truth be another casualty of the war? It's definitely getting darker around here, although there's still hints of the old goofiness, as we also find out what Jean Rabe's character got up to during the big fight and it's as silly as ever. This whole plotline probably wouldn't have got started if she was still in charge. A reminder that the change in management is having a difference on the overall tone of the newszine even if they haven't made formal declarations to radically change direction.



Notes from HQ: Not content with tightening up all their Living tournament procedures, now they want to create a formal charter or constitution for the RPGA like some sort of government? Sounds like a whole lot of wrangling that mainly benefits the rules lawyers and slows things down. But in their current mood, they think that creating a defined bill of rights and responsibilities for their members is a good idea, it's just a matter of pinning down precisely how many of them you should have and what they should be. Well, that'll give them something to talk about in the editorials for many months to come. All this talk of responsibilities neatly segues into another plea for more Judges at their big conventions. Even relaxing the table limits from 6 to 7, there's still not enough to go around, particularly for non AD&D adventures where they can't shuffle people who signed up wanting to run one adventure to another to meet demand if there's simply no-one who knows the system and stop me, oh oh oh, stop me, stop me if you think that you've heard this one before. It just never ends, does it. Where are all the people who actively enjoy GMing? You should be spending more energy figuring out how to encourage and reward them and less on empty words of a constitution that's always going to be an ideal rather than a reality.



Another busy issue with quite a strong theme running through it, with a full 5 religion focussed articles of various perspectives. There's some definite signs of strain between what they want to be doing and the reality of the situation they're in though, and they haven't even mentioned that they just lost another editor apart from changing the masthead. Onto the next issue to see if they'll explain that, or if things'll just continue to get more messy for the rest of the year.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 59: May/Jun 1996



part 1/5



79 pages. The knights of hell ride again! Let's hope that mount has some flying ability, or the sticking power of a skyrim horse to get over those volcanic mountains without tripping. It would be a shame to see the evil army lose before the fight because they didn't account for basic logistics. Let's find out if there are any apocalyptic threats to be found inside, or the villainy will remain small scale and bumbling, easily beaten.



Letters: First letter is by John Baichtal, listing his top 10 favourite adventures. He pointedly notes that they're all from 1992 or earlier, which jives with my feelings that 93 was the real tipping point for adventures becoming smaller scale, easier and more linear in general. If they could reverse that trend that'd be good.

Second is a more generally supportive message sent by email. He doesn't use any of the full length adventures as written, but gets plenty of use out of taking the various components and putting them in his own stories.

Third is one of their many requests for more high level adventures. We have more than enough low and mid level ones by now, but double digits is still largely uncharted territory. Does no-one have the courage to provide suitable challenges for long-running campaigns?

Fourth specifically praises the art in last issue. The choice of an appropriate artist can really make or break an adventure, so they deserve just as much credit as the writers.

Finally, we have Chris Perkins, with a lengthy letter playing backseat editor and pointing out various errors that slipped into recent issues. Not long now before he'll get the job officially, and he's already eminently qualified for it by this showing.



Editorial returns after skipping an issue, albeit with some distinctly unwelcome news. They're no longer even going to look at your unsolicited manuscripts. Unless it's a single page trap/side trek they can assess at a glance, (because they still don't get enough of those) if you don't know by now to send in a proposal first and wait for the reply all your hard work is going straight in the bin. As when Dragon decided to do the same with short fiction, this is almost definitely going to result in fewer new people getting published and the magazine working increasingly with the same small in-crowd who know the proper way of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. Such are the problems with getting far more submissions than you need for many years and coming to take that for granted. This doesn't bode well for them publishing some weird breakout adventure that everyone'll remember in the near future.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
Dungeon Issue 59: May/Jun 1996



part 2/5



Seeking Bloodsilver: Chris Perkins continues to make himself indispensable by being the only person submitting adventures for their brand new settings. (that get published, in any case) This time it's Birthright that gets it's first and only adventure ever to appear in here. As the title says, one of the dreaded bloodsilver weapons, capable of draining a a regent's entire bloodline strength & connection to their domain, is rumoured to be found in the ruined fortress of Highwall. A halfling suspects that the reason it hasn't been found yet is because it's actually in the keep's shadow world counterpart. Of course, the shadow realm is rather dangerous, so he wants some stalwart adventurers to accompany him. Hopefully the PC's can be persuaded to put domain politics aside for a month or two and go on this adventure. However, even if they do, the politics will continue to follow them, as they have to either negotiate or sneak through the domains in between here & there, (much easier if you don't take a big retinue with you) plus there are multiple other groups who've also heard the rumors, one of which gets there before you, and the other afterwards, that you'll have to deal with one way or another. While the keep itself is also a decent length dungeoncrawl with lots of nasty undead inside, the real focus of this is the challenges of dealing with the other human elements, as well as gently introducing readers of the magazine to the unique aspects of the setting. While not a page count busting epic like Umbra, this once again shows that he reads the books properly and has understood the assignment, trying to make an adventure that isn't just another dungeoncrawl, but works with the themes of the setting. Birthright in particular isn't one you can do metaplotty railroads for, since the whole point is that the PC's have domains and get to make big geopolitical decisions right from 1st level, so you can't just ignore the dice to push them into a specific story that might not even make sense given the changes to the world they've already made over the course of the campaign. Overall, this gets my approval, as it gets the thematic stuff right and has the potential for plenty of roleplaying without forcing us into telling one specific story. Just a shame that it won't inspire anyone else to send in any more and this is all we're getting for the setting.
 

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