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TSR [Let's Read] Polyhedron/Dungeon

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

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Polyhedron Issue 18: May/Jun 1984

part 6/6

Dispel Confusion cont:

Gamma World

My players complain when unexpected things happen! (You're probably playing the wrong game then)

Does Dex 10 really mean you can only jump 6 foot regardless of character height? (big things actually can't jump as far due to the square cube law, but we're ignoring that and keeping it a flat rate for simplicity)

Is nyctophobia really as crippling as my GM thinks? (no)

Can I play a mutant dinosaur? (absolutely!)

Do archivists really refuse to use laser guns (usually. Too valuable and rare to waste on regular adventures)

Star Frontiers

How much does a telescopic sight cost (half the cost of the weapon) Which weapons benefit from them? (most ranged weapons, to some extent)

Are Sathar affected by sonic stunners? (yes)

How flexible is a Dralasite really? (fairly, but not absolutely)

What are heavy weapon skills (they aren't. They're modifiers to regular ones)

Can Yazirians use missile weapons at melee ranges and get a bonus? (no)

What's a robot's to hit chance (30% + 10% per level)

What does PS stand for (Punching Score)

Can Vrusk walk with a broken leg? (somewhat better than bipeds, but they're still hindered)

Can Dralisite shapechanging help them resist falling damage? (no)

How do I earn money? (by providing goods and services to others)

Can anyone drive? (No, you need the proper skills)

Top Secret

What is a wired probe mic? (like a wireless one, only easier to spot, but harder to detect electromagnetically)

How much does barbed wire hurt? (not a lot if you cross it slowly and carefully, but you may not always have that luxury in the spy business. If it's electrified, it's twice as bad.)

What do you roll to climb? (Coordination)

How much do tear gas grenades cost? ($12.00)

Can you carry extra magazines for regular rifles? (yes)

As with the last issue, there are both very good and very bad indeed articles in here, showing they still don't have enough submissions to really be rigorous with the quality control. I guess even if they did, they'd still choose a fair amount of basic stuff I've already seen before, due to the nature of the periodical format and need to make articles accessible to casual readers, so there'd still be boring bits in there. Let's see how the ratios shift next time around.

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Polyhedron Issue 19: Jul/Aug 1984

part 1/6

34 pages. From Marvel Superheroes straight to Indiana Jones. They are doing a lot of licensed stuff at the moment. With mixed success, as history shows this particular partnership doesn't have the same kind of impact, since they only have a few movies of material to draw upon compared to decades of comics, cartoons, tv shows and movies. Let's see how good a job they do of making it look cool in here.

Notes from HQ: The classifieds are getting enough submissions to fill most of this page with people looking for gaming groups all across the USA, so they shrink the font size for the editorial. As a result it's not very interesting. Just another apology that bureaucracy is slow and they can't be absolutely certain your subscription will start straight away after you send it in. Between postage times and processing, and depending what time of the month you send it in, it could be next issue or the one after. Definitely an area the internet has improved things, cutting response times enormously. It's good to be reminded how much some things have improved in our lifetime.

The Temple of the Chachapoyan Warriors: Our indiana jones adventure is quite different from the marvel superheroes scenario last issue. While that gave you a general setup, but left you the freedom to try and solve it any way you want (which is quite a lot of ways given the flexibility of spider-man's powerset) this is heavily scripted, and almost entirely based upon rolling the dice and following the results to the next bit of text, like a choose your own adventure game without, well, the choosing part. This is not as pleasing to me, especially as I've seen from ARES recently that you can squeeze a full solo choose your own adventure game with meaningful choices into a module sized space with small font and good editing. This could have been a lot better. Railroads are no more interesting when they're in a flimsy minecart underground.


Polyhedron Issue 19: Jul/Aug 1984

part 2/6

Two Cents: This follows on direct from last issue with a rebuttal to most of the points in there. Actually, it seems like they're in agreement on the broad points of their opinions, and it's more the finer details, and also the tone in which they write that rubs each other the wrong way. One of those cases where the smaller the hobby, the more intense the storm in the teacup seems. That's definitely all too familiar over my many years of forum reading. You have nothing to debate about with people who are completely opposed to you, it's ones where you're supposedly on the same side that get vicious and result in splitting into increasingly narrow subdivisions. If you can't get along with your current group, just leave and find another one. In this age of online gaming, it's never been easier to game with people you share preferences with rather than just settling for proximity.

Lost Ships, Madmen, and Pirate Gold: Nostalgia tends to come in cycles, as people grow up and try to recreate the things they enjoyed when they were young. It's not surprising that the 80's saw a secondary revival of 30's influenced material as two generations were in the position to spread their first and second-hand love of the interwar trappings and tropes. Here's a system-free article full of plot hooks for any game with a 1930's influence, which includes several current TSR ones, but also Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu, FGU's Daredevils, and probably several other smaller ones they can't be bothered to mention here. It's pretty eclectic, as the actual pulps were, not just the two-fisted tales of derring-do. Man vs man, man vs monster and man vs environment. As it's larger, it can cover more ground than the bibliography in issue 15, but there's still a fair bit of rehash here. Oh well, as long as it makes for fun gaming, we can forgive it being somewhat formulaic.


Polyhedron Issue 19: Jul/Aug 1984

part 3/6

And the Gods will have their way: So we've finally reached the conclusion of the module series and get to find out what's behind all this Prophecy of Brie business. Turns out it's a clusterfuck of reincarnated souls destined to be together due to time loops and things that happened in parallel universes of the kind that gives even the gods headaches unraveling the causality of it all. Why couldn't we have been playing that cosmic detective game instead of a bunch of dungeoncrawls littered with bad jokes and obtuse riddles? Oh yeah, because it's D&D, and we have to deal with a combination of the ruleset breaking down long before you get to that kind of cosmic powerlevel, and that the current management have turned against the idea of deities being something you can ever interact with on an equal footing, no matter how much XP you gain. Meanwhile the PC's have been just pawns blundering from one fetch quest to the next without ever really understanding what's going on. If I wanted to deal with that, I'd just play Skyward Sword again, which at least makes sense once you get through it and understand that there's two different forms of time travel interacting, each of which works by different rules, and the payoff is suitably epic as long as you don't mind the linearity. I definitely won't be playing this though, which makes me angry just reading it. Really, the whole series can safely be consigned to the dustbin of history. Don't waste your time slogging through the early instalments, it doesn't get any better in the end.

RPGA Network Item Design contest results: Looks like this competition went pretty well, giving them plenty of options to choose from. The first places are a bit bland, a basic shapeshifting item and a sci-fi taser, but the runners up are much more quirky and interesting, with some things that have both useful powers and potentially nasty side-effects. All of them will be reprinted in the Encyclopedia Magica later, so they're familiar to me, but it's good to see them in their original context. And like adventures, now they've introduced one to the newszine, the odds increase that more will be showing up in the future because they know it's possible and there's demand for them. Another thread starts weaving it's way through history.


Polyhedron Issue 19: Jul/Aug 1984

part 4/6

If adventure has a name……: Our straight Indiana Jones promotional article follows pretty much the same formula as last issue, trying to sell the game by giving a synopsis of the system and what you do in it. It's a much simpler system than the Marvel one, with resolution for everything being a basic roll-under test vs your attribute scores, with occasional difficulty modifiers. This doesn't give much opportunity for customisation or advancement, and indeed, actual character generation rules are conspicuous by their absence, instead forcing you to choose between 7 pregen characters from the movies. (which at least avoids another pitfall of licensed games, making the original characters way more powerful than any PC's you can create yourself) It all seems very small in scope and execution. This is definitely one there's no need to revive and retroclone. Something like Adventure! or Savage Worlds could do all the high action pulpy fun this tries to do and much much more. I'm not surprised they never did any articles for this in Dragon, and the supplements for it petered out after only a year. They just didn't have enough to work with in the first place, and the strictness of the licensing agreement quite possibly precluded any reader submissions from being published anyway. If you want to make something big and long lasting you need to start with the right foundations.

Cryptic Alliance of the Bi-Month: The new gamma world organisations continue to be primarily essentialist rather than ideological, making them difficult to join as PC's and primarily intended as antagonists. This time it's one comprised entirely out of robots. Various specialist types are created by the main factory and sent on missions to expand their influence and exterminate the remnants of humanity. Unlike the average robot, they have underwater bases and are actually quite well equipped for long-term function down there. The master droid has the usual groan-inducing pop culture references. While there's still some amusing and inventive bits, this barrage of fantasy racism is getting a bit tiresome, and I hope the next instalment doesn't continue the trend. Come on Jim, surely you can come up with other motivations for conflict between groups. It's not as if there's a shortage of problems around here to make creatures hate each other for entirely rational reasons.

The Laser Pod: Our Star Frontiers material this issue extolls the virtues of miniaturisation, giving us a new small weapon that can be fitted onto smaller ships, or mounted in great quantities on something larger so they have lots of secondary guns and are difficult to blindside. They might not have the range or power of missiles, but sometimes you want to hold back a bit and do a warning shot first or don't have that option anyway. Along with the stats, they also include a bunch of plot hooks for how people might react to this technology being introduced mid-campaign, which is very pleasing to see. Too many Sci-fi settings are oddly static and need a good shake-up to keep them interesting. Let the new technology be cool and an advantage to the side that gets it first, then spread and become commonplace over time like things do in reality.


Polyhedron Issue 19: Jul/Aug 1984

part 5/6

Dispel Confusion drops back to two pages. Have they finally worn through the dumbest questions?


How much damage does a flaming arrow do? (1-3 extra unless it hits something flammable)

Can you tie a flask to an arrow? (It'd fuck the aerodynamics and massively reduce the range)

Can you tame a great cat? (If you've got the skills)

Can elves be paralyzed by carrion crawlers? (yes)

Can you make traps? (Oh yes)

You forgot some monster stats! (Sorry, here you go)


How much does it hurt getting rid of green slime? (depends on the method)

How long does it take to get in & out of armor (long enough to be a real inconvenience in an emergency)

Do vampires retain their class levels? (Sometimes. Entirely up to the whim of the DM)

How long does it take to get a protection from demons scroll active? (Sometimes too long. Better not hesitate.)

Can multiclass wizards exploit that and use tenser's transformation with better weapons? (no)

Are Jann affected by Protection from elemental scrolls? (Yes, all kinds. Sucks to be them.)

Do rings of protection & magical shield plusses stack? (no, best boost only)

Does a Staff of the magi overload still have a chance of sending you to another plane? (yes)

What happens if a bag of holding is cut from outside? (all the stuff inside is lost)

How hard is it to get a thing with Magic Resistance into an iron flask? (as if it were an 11th level spellcaster)

How frequently can you use cell adjustment again (after a long rest)

Can you stack Hastes (no)

Can familiars be dispelled (no)

Can you turn undead in the lower planes (usually)

Can Cleric/Assassins use edged weapons (yes. Any god that allows that combo in the first place cares little about avoiding bloodshed.)


Polyhedron Issue 19: Jul/Aug 1984

part 6/6

Dispel Confusion continued

Dawn Patrol

Can you pull upward even when shot down? (yes. It might just help you land in a better position)

How accurate are onions (1 roll every 2 hit factors)

When do you decide how big a loop-the-loop is? (after the other player's move)

What happens if an attack hits a hit location that particular plane lacks (it has no effect)

Gamma World

Can you mix and match editions? (If you feel like it)

How bad a defect is a hopeless character? (Entirely up to your players)

How short is a shorter character? (subtract from a base height of 1m for humanoids)

How do I balance inventing new weapons? (lots of time and adventures for the right raw materials)


How do I improve HP? (spending XP on the stats that it's derived from)

What is Robert Jackson's legal score? (85)

Star Frontiers

Can robots have skills? (if someone programs them in)

Can you be trained without spending XP (no)

Where's the security lock program? (oops)

Can you repair a robot? (If you have the right equipment)

Can a parabattery recharge a power pack? (no)

Can infrared goggles see infrared devices (the ones that emit it, not the ones that absorb it)

Can maintenance robots carry backpacks? (If properly programmed)

Can a robot defend itself if not programmed to do so? (no)

How far can a robot travel? (about 1km per SEU)

Does Vitasalt work like regular salt? (No, it's even better!)

How many languages can a polyvox learn? (as many as you can find tapes for)

Top Secret

Can you hotwire vehicles? (If your AOK is 75+, it's A-Ok!)

Is there a minimum AOK to drive at all? (no)

What's the chance of catching a thrown item (roll co-ordination if you've got an action ready.)

An issue with a lot of interestingly flawed stuff in it, as they try things that really won't work out in the long term. There's a lot of stuff that they did that never made it into the history books, and this is one of those bits very few people will have any nostalgia for. I don't feel the desire to dwell on it any longer. Let's see if next issue is memorable for good or bad reasons.
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Polyhedron Issue 20: Sep/Oct 1984

part 1/6

28 pages. Giant robot attack! Looks like it's attacking something in Gamma World, by the looks of the things in the foreground. Will we be playing the poor beleaguered mutants, or the mech pilot? Somehow I suspect we'll be on the lower end of the power spectrum, but let's not jump to being pessimistic straight away. Let's see what else this issue contains.

Notes from HQ: As usual for this time of year, they're in post Gen Con recovery mode, and enthusiastic to share their experiences. There were the usual organisational snafus, but they had cool new tournament modules for all their systems, most of which will eventually see general release. Once again, it was bigger than last year, and their expansion shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Good to see things going well for them. It'll be interesting to see how this department is affected by the upper management battles of the next few years.

Cryptic Alliance of the Bi-Month: After three issues in a row where they gave us unambiguously villainous racist organisations, Jim goes to the other extreme, with the Healers. As you'd expect, they're a bunch of goody-goodies who'll accept anyone who wants to promote peace & harmony, and work towards turning the radioactive planet into a blooming paradise. Rather stereotypical and cheesy once again, but as we've found from D&D, a cleric is an incredibly important part of a team. Even if they aren't a combatant in their own right (which D&D clerics are no slouches at either) being able to heal and buff your allies is a real force multiplier. Even if the other PC's are somewhat less nice, they'll still eagerly want to keep one of these around, so they can definitely find a place in nearly any party.


Polyhedron Issue 20: Sep/Oct 1984

part 2/6

The Proton Beam: Proton beams? So shooting charged hydrogen atoms at people? That seems like an exceedingly impractical weapon in an atmosphere, as it would attract to whatever atoms were in the way, making it's range short. Given that regular hydrogen already tends to bond highly exothermically (ie, goes boom) to form compounds with whatever's available, slathering things in exposed protons would certainly mess people and objects up, but it would be tricky to fire them fast and far away enough to keep the user from being caught in the explosion, and repeated shots would build up a dangerous level of negative charge on the weapon that would make it even harder. A strong reminder that while Star Frontiers may be harder science fiction than Gamma World, that's a very low bar to clear indeed. A fun new bit of crunch for your players to enjoy, but the science doesn't hold up to even cursory examination. So it goes. At least it gave me a chance to engage a different part of my brain to most of this reviewing.

The Druid: Looks like the sample characters series isn't going to complete itself properly after all, as they skipped last month, and this is the last one before it disappears unmourned. Guess they just couldn't get the submissions or something. As with the previous two, he's into double digit levels and has a pretty swanky home, albeit one made out of shaped still-living trees. Thanks to his heroic deeds, he has plenty of treasure, which of course he doesn't need to spend any of to survive, so he can use it philanthropically to maximum effect, which further cements his popularity. It's so much easier to get through life when you have the power to disengage from capitalism any time you feel like it.

Despite not labelling it as a separate article, they also include 4 more NPC's, 2 druids, which as before are the same level, but have quite different equipment and spell selections, plus a paladin and a wizard. While they do tend to well above average stats, they're still considerably less annoyingly written and more usable in actual play than the Giants in the Earth ones from Dragon, so I regret this not being properly completed. An eternally unfilled symmetry is a troubling thing to see.

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters