Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Polyhedron: Issue #6

Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, issue #6 of Polyhedron (June 1982) features a striking piece of original art for its cover. This time, it depicts a scene from (presumably) Boot Hill, as imagined by artist David D. Larson, whose name is otherwise unknown to me. Regardless, it's a terrific illustration and yet another reminder of how much unique artwork graced the pages of Polyhedron.

Apropos to my recent post on this topic, the issue opens with a letter from a reader in Georgia, USA: A local religious group is trying to ban DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® from our school and library. Can you help?" The reply – it's unclear whether it's from editor-in-chief Frank Mentzer or editor Mary Kirchoff – is as follows:
Though I can't be certain, I assume the "Duke" mentioned above is Bruce "Duke" Seifried, a friend of Gary Gygax who would join TSR sometime in late '82 or early '83 as the head of its new miniatures division. If so, I'm not certain why concerns about attempts to ban D&D should be directed to his attention, but there is much about the inner workings of TSR that elude me.

Frank Mentzer's "Where I'm Coming From" talks about a couple of related matters, starting with "why the various game manufacturers don't get along." Mentzer states that, since publishers are all competing for business, it only makes sense that they wouldn't always see eye to eye. That's why the RPGA doesn't support non-TSR games: the company isn't interested in directing sales to other companies. It's a very honest answer. Mentzer also mentions that TSR continues to expand its library of games, noting that the company has just acquired SPI, making Dragonquest a TSR game and thus eligible for inclusion in the RPGA. Of course, we all know how that turned out ...

The third and final part of the interview with Gary "Jake" Jaquet appears in this issue. I keep saying I ought to write a series of posts about what he has to say in this interview, but I've been distracted lately by other matters and haven't had the time. That said, there are a couple of tidbits worth mentioning here. First, Jaquet explains that he's kept "DRAGON™ magazine's style more conservative" because he views it in the same way a doctor might view a medical journal: "getting information, facts, people's opinions." It's "not a supermarket magazine that has four inch headlines." Second, he states that he prefers Dungeons & Dragons to its AD&D sibling. Here's why:
I suppose, because Jaquet's perspective is similar to mine, I'm naturally inclined to agree with it. Even if you don't share his point of view, I think it's fascinating to see an employee of TSR speaking so frankly about his own assessment of the company's two biggest games. Jaquet comes across in the interview as a plain speaker who isn't all that interested in spouting a party line on any topic and that's very appealing.

"Notes for the Dungeon Master" is uncredited, though it seems likely to have been written by Frank Mentzer. This issue, the column focuses on the much-vexed question of "realism" in RPGs. After the ritual invocations of "play the game however you like," the unnamed author suggests that a truly realistic game would be unplayable. In his view, internally consistent and fun rules are more important than fully simulating reality. I find this hard to disagree with this, but it's an old fault line within the hobby, one about which nearly everyone has a strong opinion.

"The Weapons of the Ancients" by James M. Ward presents a collection of new technological weapons for use with Gamma World. Reading these, what's most intriguing is to me is that, with a single exception, none of these weapons has ever appeared anywhere else. As I've said many times before, it's deeply frustrating to me how little support TSR gave Gamma World in terms of supplements and adventures. To see Ward coming up with all these new material for Polyhedron, a niche periodical of the RPGA, rather than for more widely circulated venues, breaks my GW-loving heart.

"Spelling Bee" focuses on illusion and phantasm spells. That the unnamed author, probably Frank Mentzer, spends two pages defining terms, proposing principles, and offering examples demonstrates just how difficult the use of such spells have long been in Dungeons & Dragons (and indeed almost any fantasy RPG). That's not a criticism of the article, which does a fair job of trying to make sense of it all. However, it's true that, in all my decades of playing D&D, few things have continued to cause consternation to myself and players more than illusion spells.

"Dispel Confusion" tackles a few more AD&D rules questions, one of which touches on the aforementioned topic of realism: weak spots in a dragon's hide. It's suggested that the game would be slowed "considerably" by the inclusion of hit location rules, hence their lack of inclusion. "An Ace Against the Odds" by Mike Carr is a solitaire scenario for use with Dawn Patrol. The amount of Dawn Patrol content in Polyhedron really surprises me. Though I was a fan of the game in my youth, I never got the impression it was particularly popular. Perhaps I was mistaken in this assessment. "First Tournament Tips" by Errol Farstad takes a look at the ins and outs of starting up a RPGA-sanctioned tournament at your local game convention. Though brief, it's an interesting article, especially if, like me, you've never dreamed of doing anything like this. Finally, there's another installment of Roger Raupp's "Nor" comic – still no more details about the downed starship from the first installment, alas.


  1. I was never exposed to the RPGA in the UK, but it does seem a bit cheeky to call it the role playing game association when it only covered their own games. That's a bit like the American Automobile Association being for Volkswagen only.

  2. "It's suggested that the game would be slowed "considerably" by the inclusion of hit location rules, hence their lack of inclusion."

    That's incredibly funny to hear considering Runequest's combats consistently ran faster and smoother for us than any edition of TSR D&D ever did. Of course, a large part of that was that RQ avoided the hit point creep D&D suffered from as levels increased, making every swing feel much more meaningful that whittling another d8 off a giant sack of monster HP - but the locational damage system did contribute to that a fair bit. Having a ton of "unused" hit points left didn't mean much when your guts were at -6.

    1. Although I can understand how - at some level - the 'location' of a specific hit on the body feels like it should matter; after all, a hit in the feet should only make you walk awkwardly/slower, while a hit to the head might mean instant death; I also find it severely over-engineered to use this mechanism. To me, 'combat' in a TTRPG should be an abstraction, and not a real life equivalent of actual combat.

  3. good post. im having a light obsession with telling the story of tom moldvay (considering his huge impact on me with the modules he wrote and other creations). started reading polyhedron after reading about it in your blog, in hope to find some bits about him but alas no luck. according to mentzer - that was the time (82-83) he left TSR, leaving his personal DMG and PHB to mentzer saying he's done with them. damn i was really hoping to find some interview with the man from those days in polyhedron. oh well. anyway, great post as usuall. cheers.