Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Polyhedron: Issue #5

Issue #5 of Polyhedron (April 1982) features a cover illustration by Bob Walters, an artist who is otherwise unknown to me. It's a very nice piece, depicting what appears to be a trio of Viking-esque warriors facing off against a dragon. Given how good it is, I can't help but wonder why we never saw more artwork from Walters in Polyhedron or elsewhere in the RPG hobby.

The issue marks the appointment of Mary Kirchoff as editor of Polyhedron, while Frank Mentzer assumes the position of editor-in-chief. This suggests to me that both the RPGA and, by extension, Polyhedron were experiencing considerable growth during this time, or at least enough growth to warrant the expansion of its staff. Certainly, the hobby itself was still growing in 1982, thanks in no small part to the success of TSR in attracting younger players. Of course, not everyone was pleased by this growth, as evidence by a letter in this issue bemoaning the "munchkins with delusions of grandeur" who now "make up the overwhelming majority of new recruits to FRPing."

The second part of a three-part interview with Gary "Jake" Jaquet appears in this issue. As with the first part in the previous issue, it's filled with fascinating bits of information about TSR and the hobby at the time. Most interesting to me is Jaquet's defense of the "lukewarm" reviews that the Fiend Folio received in the pages of Dragon. "We call 'em like we see 'em," he explains, adding "It's not the best product it could have been." Jaquet then goes on to suggest that he feels Dragon, as a magazine for the entire hobby – compared to, say, more narrowly conceived periodicals like The Sorcerer's Apprentice – it needs to be fundamentally honest and not "self-serving," hence the critical reviews even of TSR products. He has a lot more to say on this topic and his philosophy of editing Dragon. If I can find the time, I will try to highlight some of his other comments in separate posts, because I think they're worth revisiting.

"Notes from the Dungeon Master" includes more tricks and traps for the DM. Most of those in this issue seem to involve mimics for some reason, but, to be fair, that is the purpose of a monster like that. Philip Meyers offers his impressions of a RPGA tournament in "The Round Table." Never having participated in one of them myself, I find his thoughts intriguing, because it sheds a little light on a part of the hobby that's long been somewhat opaque to me. Meyers offers both praise and criticism and Mentzer, in a separate article ("Counterpoint: As Fast as We Can ...") responds to both. Again, I get the impression from reading articles like these that the RPGA was growing quite quickly at the time, well beyond the capacity of its staff to keep up, hence the criticisms Meyers presents. 

"Dispel Confusion" provides answers to some questions about the AD&D rules. One question revealed something that I apparently never understood. In AD&D, dragon breath damage is equal to the dragon's original hit point total, not his current total. I had always assumed the latter, perhaps influenced by the text in the Moldvay Basic Rules, but this is apparently wrong with regards to AD&D. Who says you can't learn anything new from a 40 year-old magazine? "Bag of Tricks" is an uncredited assortment of ideas for use with D&D and AD&D, like the suggestion that characters should take doors off their hinges to ease their escape later or making use of mules to carry extra treasure – all fairly banal stuff, though I suppose they might not be obvious to everyone.

"Spelling Bee" simply reprints the spells crystalbrittle and energy drain from Against the Giants, while Mike Brunton's "Figure Painting" offers lots of tips on miniatures painting. Sadly, there are still no photos or illustrations to accompany the latter article, which is a pity. For someone like myself, the photos of beautifully painted minis are the main attraction of articles such as this one. "Codebook" presents three encoded messages for readers to decipher, along with advice on how to crack simple codes. I find that fascinating, because I remember well the seeming ubiquity of codes and ciphers in the D&D games of my youth. I can't say I've seen them much in recent years and wonder why that might be.

The issue closes with more news about upcoming conventions, Roger Raupp's "Nor" comic, and some very cursory news on Top Secret, Boot Hill, and Gamma World. Disappointingly, "Nor" moves slowly and the mystery of the spacecraft that crash-landed on the fantasy world of the comic last issue receives little coverage in this one. With luck, that will change in coming issues, because I think it opens up lots of possibilities for fun adventures. Of course, as I noted before, I don't believe "Nor" lasts very long in the pages of Polyhedron, so the whole matter may be rendered moot anyway. Oh well.


  1. Apparently Bob Walters got really into illustrating dinosaurs. I found his stuff on tumblr, of all places.

  2. >
    > In AD&D, dragon breath damage is equal to the
    > dragon's original hit point total, not his current total.
    Hrm. I really only know D&D 5e, where the (current) amount of remaining hitpoints has no relationship whatsoever with how much damage can be dealt (even at 1 HP, you/they can still do 'full' damage). So this makes me wonder if this was also true in original D&D, and in what edition this was changed ?

  3. "Vikingesque"? Looking at the shields, helmets and armour, I'd say they look more classical Greek.

    1. Those are pretty solidly vikingesque helmets. Left is a occular helm like the Gjermundbu or Yarm helms, with what could be thought of as Saxon style earflaps. Middle and right helmets are spangenhelm. The swords look like a a Petersen Type G sword or a Celtic fantasy sword.