Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Polyhedron: Issue #12

Issue #12 of Polyhedron (June 1983) features a very striking cover by Larry Elmore that depicts a pegasus-riding warrior about to engage a red dragon in aerial combat. Like all of the newszine's recent covers, this one draws inspiration from the issue's installment of "Encounters" about which I'll write shortly. 

The issue proper kicks off with an editorial by Kim Eastland – now the publisher of Polyhedron – in which he discusses several matters. The first of these is that Polyhedron has joined TSR's publishing division. I've often called the 'zine "Dragon's little brother" in jest, but, starting with this issue, it's actually somewhat true. Consequently, Mary Kirchoff, who serves as editor, will see her attention divided between Polyhedron and other TSR periodicals. On the other hand, the look and layout of Polyhedron clearly benefitted from this arrangement.

Eastland also discusses the many and various meanings of "official" with regards to TSR and the RPGA. That he has to do this at all is painful reading in retrospect, particularly when it comes to the contortions relating to Gary Gygax's columns in Polyhedron and elsewhere. I'm not sure that the fans of any RPG company has ever been as obsessed with "officialdom" as those of TSR, but they clearly were. Sad to say, I was one of them. It's all so silly now, yet, at the time, it seemed oddly important to me and so many others.

The letters page contains one interesting letter and reply, concerning the omission of the Cthulhu and Melnibonean chapters of Deities & Demigods:
As with all such replies by TSR spokesmen, I'm sure there are additional complexities to be considered. Nonetheless, it's a fairly straightforward and plausible answer to a longstanding and much debated "mystery" of D&D history.

This issue sees the appearance of "Two Cents," a new column devoted to RPGA member opinions and suggestions. It's a fine idea for a column, though, if the first installment is any indication, few of the ideas on offer are all that remarkable. Gali Sanchez, a name I most strongly associate with Pacesetter Games, is the author of this issue's "Encounters," featuring Grifton Dunsaway, a human fighter, riding Orrex, a pegasus, as they do battle with Forszahn, a red dragon. Though evocative in concept, there's not much more to the encounter, which is too bad. I very much love the idea of aerial combats in D&D; I've just never seen them handled very well under the rules of the game.

There is a "Convention Update" on RPGA events about which there's little to say. "Dispel Confusion" is three pages in length this time, covering all of TSR's RPGs. The questions cover a wide range of topics, from the ridiculous to the sublime. My favorite question – or, more accurately, response – concerns the lethality of Gamma World, as answered by designer James M. Ward. 
GWQ: The GAMMA WORLD game system is so deadly, my players complain that their characters get killed off almost before they have rolled them up! What can I do to help them last long?

GWA: If your characters are constantly dying, they're probably not being very careful. The game was designed to test the intelligence and role-playing skill of everyone who tries their hand.

Ward does go on to offer some genuinely useful advice about how to moderate the game's deadliness for beginners, but I can't help but chuckle at his initial response.

"Basically Speaking" by Jon Pickens takes a look at mass combat in Dungeons & Dragons. It's a topic of long-term interest to me, but, unfortunately Pickens doesn't provide much in the way of concrete guidance on how to integrate large battles into D&D beyond "read some Tony Bath." Good advice, certainly; I guess I'd hoped for more. "Knight Hawks: A New Dimension" by Doug Niles is an overview of the Knight Hawks boxed starship rules set for Star Frontiers. It's mostly a bit of advertising dressed up as an article, alas. 

Part III of Frank Mentzer's "Mapping From Square One" continues its focus on how to describe dungeon rooms to players engaged in mapping. It's good stuff and I appreciate the effort Mentzer put into this, even as I realize that, by comparison, my own maps have always been rather straightforward. Mentzer, meanwhile, favors rooms like this:


Gary Gygax takes over "Notes For the Dungeon Master" this issue, with a very nice two-page discussion of how to create a campaign setting of one's own. Gygax introduces the "bullseye method" of using concentric circles of detail – lots toward the center and less with each "ring" around it, at least to start. Merle Rasmussen's "Roles" looks at the various kinds of agents possible in a Top Secret campaign – double agent, triple agent, mole, blunt instrument, etc. It's too short in length but offers some food for thought nonetheless. The same can't be said about Kim Eastland's continuation of his series on the RPGA tournament scoring system. Perhaps I am unduly harsh and this would have been of interest to RPGA members at the time. Now, it's tedious ephemera of the worst kind.

Leaving aside the RPGA catalog that takes up the final eight pages of the issue, that's it for issue #12. 


  1. "...that depicts a pegasus-riding warrior about to engage a red dragon in aerial combat."

    I often wonder about how good a mount a pegasus really is for this sort of thing. Real world trained war horses balked at fighting camels and outright panicked when confronted with elephants. And you want a flying one to charge a dragon, or help you fight the chimera? Hope you're strapped in securely, bub. Bucking broncos at 10,000 feet sounds bad.

    1. My memory is that a pegasus is a fairly intelligent creature, but I don't have my MM at hand and maybe I'm conflating unicorns?

    2. Smarter horses are even less willing then the seriously dumb ones to risk their hides in dangerous circumstances. You can break that with enough training, but that training is meant for animals (and ones that can't fly, to boot), not sapient beings. If the pegasi are people-smart you need to negotiate with them, not force things.

      OSE lists them as "semi-intelligent" as well as "willful and timid" - neither of which argue in favor of them being good combat mounts.

  2. That Mentzer map is hilarious. What, no spiraling curved corridors that change levels up and down as it twists? And what's this lazy work with so many walls neatly aligning with the grid? All rooms should be laid out in units of eight feet with 70/110 degree corners, I tell you!

  3. I'm thinking that Polyhedron is a bit dull. It doesn't seem to have the enthusiasm and energetic experimentation that I think a fanzine should.

  4. That is some fine Monday-morning lawyering by the editor. Given EGG and TSR's track record with other IPs — along with the subsequent lawsuits from the Tolkien and Edgar Rice Burroughs estate — I think the backstory is far more "complicated" than the letter lets on.

    In particular, Chaosium *couldn't* give permission when it came to their Elric license, and I recall that TSR pulled the material due the direct threat of a lawsuit from Moorcock. At least that was the story at the time. (While I don't have firsthand knowledge of what occurred, I did have some experience with the entanglements IP caused other game publishers.)