Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Polyhedron: Issue #8

Issue #8 of Polyhedron (October 1982) occupies a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons. For one, this was the very first issue I ever owned, having joined the RPGA after seeing numerous advertisements for it in both Dragon and various TSR products. For another, the issue features a memorable Gangbusters-related cover illustration by the incomparable Jim Holloway. Gangbusters was a favorite RPG of my youth, as I've no doubt mentioned, so it was especially delightful to see it take center stage in Polyhedron. (One of these days I need to start up a large, sandbox-y GB campaign; it's been too long since I last played.)

Issue #8 also marks a significant turning point in the history of Polyhedron. Frank Mentzer, who had been the 'zine's founding editor, is now well and truly gone from its management. In his place are Kim Eastland, as managing editor, and Mary Kirchoff, as editor. Kirchoff had been in this position since issue #5, but this is the first issue where she's become a public presence. Her column, "ESP," replaces Mentzer's "Where I'm Coming From" as the editor's personal soapbox.

The second part of the interview with Mike Carr that began in the previous issue appears here. This part is much shorter than the first one, focusing on – unsurprisingly – Dawn Patrol, but also touching briefly upon Top Secret (whose acceptance by TSR Carr championed) and then shifting to the future of TSR. There's sadly not as much depth or insight in this installment. However, it does include a charming caricature of Carr as drawn by Holloway.

"Encounters" by James M. Ward is the premier article in a series I remember well from my days of reading Polyhedron. The idea behind the series was to present one-page encounter descriptions "that may be used by referees to interject something unusual into their games." I was a big fan of "Encounters," because it was yet another vehicle by which Polyhedron highlighted TSR games other than Dungeons & Dragons, which appealed to me. The inaugural article is devoted to Gangbusters and presents three gangsters – Big Bernie; his moll, Maria Kirchinetti; and Lefty O'Malley – as they face off against a beat cop, Tom O'Donahur. The cover depicts Big Bernie and company.

Frank Mentzer may be gone as editor-in-chief by he continues to contribute "Notes for the Dungeon Master." This issue's column talks a bit about strategy, specifically from the perspective of the monsters the characters encounter. Mentzer suggests that monsters shouldn't just wait in a room for the adventurers to arrive, but might instead defend themselves with cleverness. He then provides several examples of what he means, like the inventive use of fire or spells. I can't really complain anything Mentzer offers – it's broadly good advice – but I'd have appreciated more concrete examples rather than general principles.

"Figure Painting" by Michael Brunton offers more tips and advice on this topic. There's a single black and white photo of a nicely painted miniature to accompany it, which is nice. I'd have liked more, since seeing the finished product is the primary joy of articles of this sort for non-painters like myself (and why White Dwarf's minis articles were so good). "Nerd's Quest" is an uncredited little bit of fiction that's really just a lengthy pun-filled joke – an amusing diversion. "Run Scry" sees the return of Polyhedron's forays into ciphers. This time, the hidden message is written in the Theban script, which is probably best known for its appearance in Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia. As a long-time fan of ciphers, I really enjoy articles like this.

"Spelling Bee," also by Frank Mentzer, talks about material components for AD&D spells. Mentzer states that "some of the most successful campaigns I've ever seen involve a close watch on components" because "the DM can create whole adventures for whole parties to go looking for the rarest items." That's certainly how I've long wanted material components to be used in my games, but it's quite uncommon for it to work that way in my experience. After a while, the whole thing tends to get bogged down in tedious bookkeeping, which is a shame. I very much like the idea of material components. Unlike Mentzer, though, I don't think I've ever seen them used effectively.

"Getting Started in the the Gangbusters™ Game" by Mark Acres is a short and fluffy article introducing the range of campaign structures in Gangbusters. It's fine for what it is, but not nearly as helpful as I would liked at the time I was first getting into the game. "Dispel Confusion," once more by Frank Mentzer – the guy sure does get around – answers more AD&D rules questions. The questions are the usual mix of stuff one typically encounters in columns of this sort. The one that stands out, though, is the statement that "Sage Advice" from Dragon does not provide "official" answers to rules questions; only "Dispel Confusion" in Polyhedron enjoys that distinction. "Another good reason for being an RPGA™ Network member." Indeed.

"Notes from HQ" by Kim Eastland is, unfortunately, a lengthy bit of self-congratulatory fluff, singing the praises of both TSR and the RPGA. Eastland once again addresses the question of whether the RPGA or Polyhedron will ever include non-TSR games. His answer is, of course, in the negative, just as Frank Mentzer's had been some issues previously. He elaborates on this in a rather silly way:

As I had long predicted, Roger Raupp's "Nor" comic disappeared without a trace before its characters or plot could be developed. Replacing it is Ron Shirtz's "The Knight Error," which is a fun little, four-panel strip that wouldn't have been out of place in "Dragon Mirth" in TSR's other periodical. 

Issue #8 is nowhere near as good as I remembered its being. Even so, re-reading it after all these years was a pleasure, if only for the memories it evoked of my earliest days in the hobby. The issue is also clearly a step up in terms of production quality over its predecessors. Its graphic design, layout, and illustrations are all quite good. They point toward Polyhedron's becoming, if not quite as "professional" as Dragon, a more polished and attractive 'zine. That has its good points and its bad points, of course. For now, I'll simply say that, with this issue, Polyhedron has begun to take on the appearance of something I remember enjoying more often than not – and that makes me very happy. 


  1. Issue #8 was also my first issue of Polyhedron.

  2. "Yeesh."

    Understatement. Even back then the self-aggrandizing attitude was starting to show its ugly head. Something to keep in mind when railing against WotC for the same kind of pompous nonsense. TSR was far from innocent in that regard - although I don't think they ever sicced the Pinkertons on anyone. Leave that to Hasbro.