Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Polyhedron: Issue #11

Issue #11 of Polyhedron (April 1983) is another whose cover I remember well, because, unlike all of its predecessors, it features a historical photograph of a World War I German pilot. I've long been a sucker for this sort of thing, since it brings the past alive in a way that no drawing or painting, no matter how well executed, can ever hope to do. In this case, the photo is meant to complement the issue's "Encounters" article by Mike Carr, which outlines a scenario for Dawn Patrol, in which German and British dogfighters face off against each other.

"Notes from HQ" focuses not on RPGA ephemera but on TSR. The column's author, Kim Eastland, begins by unveiling the company's new logo:

Though my personal affections lie with TSR's earlier Game Wizards logo – the depicting the silhouette of a wizard – there's no denying that this 1983 logo was both memorable and long-lasting, being used well into the AD&D 2e era. Eastland explains that the logo is intended to "resemble a maze in structure (which credits TSR's first love – FRPG's)." The remainder of "Notes from HQ" is devoted to announcing the imminent release of various products for most of its RPGs, as well as Endless Quest books and miniature figures.

The letters page fills two pages and begins with the following:
I can't help but wonder whether Mary Kirchoff's strongly negative response was reflective of TSR's official policy and was itself a hedge against unhinged criticisms of D&D that were starting to gain traction in certain circles. Also included is a letter from pre-Dragon Roger E. Moore and a plea to publish the ages of RPGA members appearing in its directory. The letter writer is an adult and has found that almost all the members in his area are children – further evidence perhaps of the extent to which TSR's efforts to expand the hobby to younger people was, in fact, successful.

Mary Kirchoff's "The Allegory of the Party" is a bit of humorous fiction intended to broach the subject of "problem players," by which she means those whose actions "impair a role playing game, both in the playing atmosphere they create, and how far the party or campaign progresses." Re-reading this article now is a bit of serendipity, given my musings about so-called murderhobos yesterday. Articles like this are a reminder that I've been very fortunate over the years in playing with friends who've (broadly) been on the same page as I with regards to what I want out of roleplaying. If Kirchoff's fiction is any indication, not everyone is so lucky.

"Getting Started" by Mike Carr is another Dawn Patrol article, this time presenting some very basic thoughts on how to introduce players to the game. I wish I could say there was any deep wisdom here that I haven't read many times before, but I cannot. That's no knock against the article; it's simply evidence that I've been at this a long time. "Dispel Confusion" once again answers questions about the D&D, AD&D, Boot Hill, Dawn Patrol, Gamma World, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret games. As is often the case, none of the questions is worthy of extended comment. However, I do find it interesting that, in response to a D&D question, Frank Mentzer reiterates that D&D and AD&D are "different game[s]," adding emphatically "Don't mix the two!" 

Mentzer's "Notes for the Dungeon Master" continues the discussion of deities begun last issue. As before, his concern is dealing with reports of high-level player characters slaying gods and demigods, something he deems not only impossible but also unwise within the context of the campaign. Part II of Mentzer's "Mapping from Square One" is, I have to admit, rather tedious. He goes on at length, presenting a wide variety of corridor types, how they differ from another, and how they should be described. Here's the accompanying illustration:
As I said about Part I of this series, I appreciate what Mentzer is trying to do here. My main concern is that, in his effort to cover all the bases, he may be undermining its utility to its intended audience of neophyte cartographers.

James M. Ward's "Under Construction" presents a new locale for Gamma World: a crashed shuttle from an orbital research station now overgrown with alien fungus. It's a fun little mini-dungeon concept and I must admit I've repurposed versions of it in various games I've run over the years. Frank Mentzer's "Spelling Bee" tackles druid spells and their overlooked uses. 

"Escalation and Blackmail" is a very strange, two-page article by Gary Gygax. In it, he addresses two related concerns about the play of AD&D. The first concerns the first part of the title, namely characters who achieve high level too quickly and/or easily. Gygax claims that it should be uncommon for characters in a properly refereed AD&D campaign to reach 20th level. By "properly refereed," he means following all the game's rules as written and adjudicated by "superior DM's" (his words). The second concern related to players who coerce and bully their DM to give them what they want without regard for either the rules or the health of the campaign. As I said, it's a very peculiar article. Gygax suggests at the start of the article that he's addressing problems brought to his attention about behavior in the RPGA. Since I never participated in any RPGA activities, I can't say how widespread they might have been. Was it really bad enough to warrant this sort of pontifical denunciation?

There's a second part of the "Tournament Scoring System" that I must admit I simply could not read. More interesting were the reviews of the two Mattel electronic D&D games: the Computer Fantasy Game and the Computer Labyrinth Game. The reviews are predictably positive, but I am willing to overlook that, owing to my own weird fondness for both games. Neither one is good by any reasonable definition. However, I played them extensively upon their release and had fun with them despite their flaws. There's nothing wrong with a dose of nostalgia now and again.

Issue #11 continues Polyhedron's evolution toward something more akin to a proper gaming magazine. It's still very focused on RPGA matters, which is understandable, given its origins, but the number of articles of general interest to players and referees of TSR's RPGs is increasing. That's why I remained a subscriber for so long and why I look forward to re-reading future issues. 


  1. "James M. Ward's "Under Construction" presents a new locale for Gamma World: a crashed shuttle from an orbital research station now overgrown with alien fungus. It's a fun little mini-dungeon concept and I must admit I've repurposed versions of it in various games I've run over the years."

    How strange. I know I never owned or even read this issue, but that adventure description is essentially identical to one I have read somewhere in the distant past. I even used it in a Thundarr-inspired one-off at one point, with some personal tweaks. Could it have been reprinted somewhere else? Maybe the idea just recurred among the GW community...wish I could recall where I saw it.

    I suppose a fanzine might have copied it wholesale. Used to read a lot of fanzines.

    1. Perhaps you're thinking of "The Albuquerque Starport", which accompanied the Gamma World referee screen? There are at least some thematic similarities to the above.

    2. Maybe. I remember that one as well, although it is kind of blurry at this point. Maybe I'm conflating the two somehow, but I'm pretty sure I also ran something that sounds more like the one from Poly - or wherever I saw the shuttle-crash scenario.

  2. This was an issue that I had as well.
    It motivated me to actually seek out and purchase Dawn Patrol. Truth be told it was a little disappointing in application when I managed to play it a couple of times with a friend. It did lead to us discovering Ace of Aces though, which we enjoyed much more and I still own today!

    1. I went from Dawn Patrol to GDW's Blue Max myself, then Ace of Aces later - starting a lengthy obsession with similar "combat book" games like Lost Worlds.