Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Retrospective: World of Greyhawk

Longtime readers may object that I've already done a Retrospective post on The World of Greyhawk. Pedantic as ever, I must reply that, while it's true that I have indeed written a post about The World of Greyhawk, I have never written one about World of Greyhawk. If that last sentence makes any sense, congratulations, you are every bit the quibbler I am. Less fussy readers will probably require an explanation.

In 1980, TSR published The World of Greyhawk, a 32-page "fantasy world setting" by Gary Gygax for use with AD&D. Commonly referred to as the Greyhawk "folio," this is the version of the product that first introduced me to the Greyhawk setting and to which I devoted a previous Retrospective post. However, in 1983, TSR published a product called World of Greyhawk (without the definite article). This version of the setting came in a box and is greatly expanded in scope, consisting of a 48-page booklet and an 80-page one. I have never devoted a post to this version of the setting until now.

There are a couple of reasons why this is the case. The first and most obvious one is that I originally didn't see much point in doing so. Having already written about the folio version, I thought I'd said all I needed about the topic. The second is that, while I owned the boxed set, I didn't make much use of it in play. By the time of its release in 1983, I was making my earliest forays into the creation of my own setting, Emaindor, which I'd use almost exclusively for the remaining years of the 1980s. Consequently, my thoughts about the World of Greyhawk boxed set are almost entirely theoretical, rather than based on its use in play. All that said, as a good TSR fanboy, I did buy the boxed set and I spent a lot of time poring over its pages, so I do have some thoughts to share on it. 

The most obvious difference between the 1983 and 1980 editions is, of course, their relative sizes. The folio version was only 32 pages long – a quarter the length of the boxed set's two books combined. That's partly due to the fact that the boxed set includes a lot more information about the setting than did its predecessor (including a reprint of David Axler's magisterial 1982 Dragon article, "Weather in the World of Greyhawk"), but it's also due to changes in TSR's layouts and graphic design. The folio version's 32 pages are dense, with small fonts and narrow margins. By contrast, the boxed version has larger print and much larger margins. These changes are responsible for a great deal of the increase page count between the two editions.

What's interesting is that, despite appearing three years later, when TSR had significantly more resources to draw upon, the boxed set does not feature significantly more artwork than the folio version. Every fan of the 1983 version naturally remembers Jeff Easley's cover illustration, which is indeed striking (and features the knight bearing a banner on which can be seen the same escutcheon that appears on the cover of the 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide). However, there's very little interior art in either of the two enclosed books aside from historiated initial letters (rendered by Darlene, I believe). There is some – all by Easley – and it's not bad for what it is, though it's all fairly generic in the way that all TSR artwork was starting to become during its Electrum Age.

None of this is intended as a serious criticism of the boxed set, which is quite an attractive product overall. Rather, I say all of this primarily to highlight how much TSR – and, by extension, Dungeons & Dragons – had changed over the course of just three years. The company that produced the folio in 1980 was still small and energetic, as well understaffed and amateurish. It could still, I think, be called a hobbyist enterprise. By contrast, TSR in 1983 was both bigger and more "professional," but its growth in these areas had domesticated it somewhat. The World of Greyhawk was always rather vanilla, but its 1983 presentation takes that to another level.

Nevertheless, there is much to praise in the boxed set. TSR wisely collected many of Gygax's best Greyhawk-related articles from the pages of Dragon and included them here. I was a big fan of the coverage of Greyhawk's deities, for example, so seeing them in one of the constituent books was a thrill. The same is true (though less thrillingly) of the Greyhawk regional encounter tables, which are precisely the kind of low-key naturalism that is a hallmark of Gygaxian D&D. Combined with everything else, from kingdom and population information to geography and social hierarchies, the result is a solid, if also stolid, "fantasy game setting" for use with AD&D. 

In that respect, the 1983 boxed set is still very much in line with the 1980 folio, even if it's now longer and with higher production values. Despite my personal preference for the original, born out of both philosophical and nostalgic reasons, I think well of the World of Greyhawk boxed set and think it'd make a fine model for other fantasy RPG settings to emulate. It provides just enough details to inspire without becoming intrusive, which is how it should be, in my opinion.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Retrospective: Southern Mirkwood

The series of Middle-earth sourcebooks published by Iron Crown Enterprises during the early 1980s occupy a strange place in my personal history as a roleplayer. Like nearly every other gamer I knew at the time, I had, of course, read the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and I liked them well enough, though I'm not sure I'd have called myself a huge fan of them. That would come later, thanks in no small part to I.C.E.'s products, whose advertisements in the pages of Dragon I can still vividly recall.

The reasons those advertisements still linger in my memory decades later is their artwork, which is wonderfully evocative. They made me want to know more about the region of Middle-earth detailed in the associated product, which, in turn, helped fuel my appreciation for Middle-earth as a setting. (It would still be a little while longer before I'd come to a similar appreciation for Tolkien's storytelling, much to my embarrassment.)

My very first I.C.E. Middle-earth purchase was Bree and the Barrow-Downs, primarily because the hobbits' visit to the Barrow-Downs is one of my favorite sections of The Lord of the Rings and I therefore assumed the book detailing it would be similarly great. Unfortunately, I was disappointed and this dampened the enthusiasm those Dragon ads had elicited in me. Despite this, I decided to give the series another try, this time selecting Southern Mirkwood as my next purchase. I did so for the flimsiest of reasons: I liked the cover. I might also have been influenced by the book's subtitle, "Haunt of the Necromancer," since I was keen to know more about Sauron's hideout in the region, Dol Guldur.

Written by Susan Taylor Hitchcock and first release in 1983, Southern Mirkwood is 60-page softcover book covering not just southern Mirkwood but also southern Rhovanion, the region of Middle-earth commonly called Wilderland. Much like Bree and the Barrow-Downs (and Moria, which I'd acquire later), the pages of Southern Mirkwood feature a dense, two-column layout using a very small typeface that is occasionally broken up with a piece of spot art or a map. The overall effect, even when I was younger and had more patience – and eyesight! – for such things was mildly intimidating. This effect was made even more potent by the dry way that information was conveyed. This was not a book that one read casually; it took real effort to make it through even a couple of pages.

I began to feel some of the same disappointment I had felt about Bree and the Barrow-Downs creep back in. When I bought the book, I had hoped it'd present some frightening and exciting things about this part of Middle-earth. I remembered Mirkwood well from Tolkien's tales, particularly Bilbo and the dwarves' encounter with its spiders, so I expected the book to contain all manner of similar nastiness. Likewise, the presence of Sauron, in his guise as the Necromancer, certainly piqued my interest, since I remember wondering what he might have been up to while hiding in the forest from the prying eyes of the White Council. By all rights, Southern Mirkwood should have been a really good sourcebook, one that commanded my attention for a long time – but it was not.

A large part of the problem lies with the presentation of the material it contains. As I alluded to above, the prose is dull and focuses too much on minutiae and trivia. There are thus pages of history, enumerations of flora and fauna, people and places of note – all good in principle and precisely the kind of stuff one you'd want and expect to find in a book like this. But rather than detail all of this with an eye toward how to use them in adventures or campaigns set in and around southern Mirkwood, we get encyclopedia-style entries that do little to inspire. Toward the end of the book, there are some short suggestions for scenarios but they're quite sketchy and, frankly, boring ("Acquire 5 crates of Dwarven nails for renovation of Tree-town," "Trap and cure or kill as need be a trained mountain lion which has gone wild," etc.).

The banality of it all is really evident in the sections relating to Dol Guldur, the Necromancer's lair within Mirkwood. The book provides eight maps of the place, along with keyed descriptions. One would imagine – or at least I did – that such a place of supreme evil would be compelling and frightening. Instead, it comes across as little more than a run-of-the-mill dungeon filled with traps and orcs and storage rooms. It's all so dull and predictable, with only a few hints that suggest it's located in Middle-earth rather than in some vanilla fantasy setting. 

It's a shame, because I still think there's great potential in this region of Middle-earth, especially during the time period in which I.C.E.'s books are set (Third Age 1640 – nearly 1500 years before the War of the Ring). I can easily imagine fun adventures or exciting campaigns dealing with the growing corruption of the area and the Necromancer's role in it all. That's not what Southern Mirkwood provides, sadly. 

At least the full-color poster maps by Peter Fenlon are terrific, as always. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Cargo Cult

Yesterday, I was chatting with one of the players in my House of Worms campaign. He mentioned that, growing up in Europe in the 1980s, he learned to play Dungeons & Dragons from the German translation of the Basic Set supplemented by a photocopy of a handwritten French translation of the AD&D Players Handbook that also included articles from the magazine Casus Belli. He even showed me some of the pages from that translation, which was well over 200 cramped pages in length, which frankly delighted me. There was, unfortunately, no name attached to the translation, so we may never know which dedicated French roleplayer undertook this gargantuan task that had repercussions greater than he likely ever imagined.

Hearing this story reminded me of similar stories I'd heard from friends and acquaintances living outside the English speaking world: how they'd learned to play D&D – and it was almost always D&D – from a weird combination of sources, including fan-made translations passed down through multiple hands (and sometimes languages) before they laid eyes on it. The result, as the player in my Tékumel campaign explained, was often a faulty understanding of the game's underlying rules and mechanics, thanks in no small part to the "broken telephone" effect that comes when ideas are filtered through so many intermediaries. Of course, none of this lessened the impact of those ideas, as evidenced by the fact that most of these people continue to participate in the hobby of roleplaying decades later.

What's interesting is that, though I grew up in America, my own personal history as a roleplayer nevertheless contains plenty of similar "broken telephone" moments. To a great degree, this is because roleplaying, as a formal entertainment, was so revolutionary. People sometimes forget just how genuinely new – and peculiar – an idea it was at the time of its introduction. Looked at from the vantage point of a world where roleplaying and roleplaying games are not only widely understood but also widely played in one form or another, it's all too easy to see their ultimate acceptance as inevitable. Having lived through those times, I can assure you they were not. I can also assure you that it took a lot of explaining to get people to comprehend just what a RPG was.

In the days before the Internet, my friends and I had to rely upon our own wits and the accumulated "wisdom" of others to make sense of D&D. We turned to various gaming mentors, like my friend's high school-age older brother and guys we met in game stores, to learn how to play – and even then we were often led astray. The early days of the hobby had a rich oral culture, in which ideas about the "right" way to play various RPGs were shared freely anytime two or more gamers met one another. My friends and I were the beneficiaries of these ideas, because we had a very difficult time make sense of the rulebooks available to us at the time (the Holmes Basic rulebook and the AD&D Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide).

Even after we had a better handle on the broad outlines of how to play D&D, we continued to make use of idiosyncratic rules interpretations and additions that we'd picked up here or there. Many of these were things that "everybody knew," though they could be found nowhere in the pages of any official D&D rulebook. To this day, I am still sometimes tripped up by "rules" I long ago took as Gospel that are nothing of the sort. Such is the power of oral tradition. In those days, it was likewise commonplace to see gamers, especially those, like me, who regularly served as referee, to carry around folders or binders filled with mimeographs or photocopies of house rules or articles from Dragon or White Dwarf that helped "fix" this or that aspect of D&D. 

None of us looked askance at this. Indeed, we considered it perfectly normal, since it was so widespread. Dungeons & Dragons was, for us, a bricolage, made from TSR's published rulebooks, gaming magazine articles, ideas someone once told us, and received opinion that we'd picked up, magpie-like, in our travels to local hobby shops, libraries, and schoolyards. It was a moving target whose basic shape was more or less consistent, but whose precise details often varied considerably from place to place and time to time. That's just how things were – and we loved it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Ultimate in Adventure Games

Retrospective: Timemaster

That the history of the RPG industry is filled curiosities should come as no surprise. Then, as now, "the industry" largely consists of small operations big on passion but often lacking in the business sense necessary to channel that passion into a lasting enterprise. Pacesetter Ltd is a great example of this from my youth. Founded in 1984 by a number of ex-TSR staffers, the company lasted only two years before disappearing. However, during those two years of existence, Pacesetter managed to publish four different RPGs, three of them in the same year – Chill, Star Ace, and Timemaster. 

Though Chill was by far my favorite of the three games the company published in 1984, Timemaster was a close second. As a kid, I enjoyed watching reruns of the old Irwin Allen television show, The Time Tunnel. Even though it only ran for a single season, I remember thinking that it was a great premise for an ongoing TV show – like Star Trek, except that time, not space, was the final frontier. Consequently, Timemaster was an easy sell for me.

Like all Pacesetter RPGs, Timemaster came in a box, inside of which was a 64-page rulebook (Travelers' Manual), a 32-page Guide to the Continuum, which explained in greater depth of how time travel worked; and a 16-page adventure, Red Ace High, set during World War I. Also included were some cardboard counters and a hex map to use with the adventure, which dealt with the First Battle of Cambrai in 1917. It's a nice little package that very much appealed to my sensibilities as a TSR fanboy. I've long suspected that this was intentional on the part of Pacesetter, whose games always had a "TSR-but-not" vibe to them – no surprise, given that its staff included Mark Acres, Garry Spiegle, Carl Smith, Stephen D. Sullivan, and Michael Williams, all of whom had worked at TSR in the years prior. 

Mechanically, Timemaster is pretty similar to the other RPGs in Pacesetter's roster. It makes use of a color-coded action table of the sort I most strongly associate with Marvel Super Heroes but which would eventually be found in many other games during the mid-80s. Character ability scores are generated randomly, but the player can choose his character's skills and paranormal talent, a psionic power of limited utility, like telepathy. The design is nothing fancy but I recall it working without too much fuss in play, which is precisely what I've generally wanted out of RPG mechanics.

Where Timemaster really shined was in the execution of its basic premise. The game assumes that characters are members of the human Time Corps, a 72nd century organization tasked with protecting the integrity of "the Continuum" from those who would disrupt it for their own ends. The two primary sources of disruption are renegade humans and a race of shapeshifting aliens called the Demoreans. Adventures thus consist in efforts by the characters, as agents of the Time Corps, to ensure that disruption is, if not stopped completely, kept to a minimum.

What I found most intriguing about Timemaster was that the Continuum was more than just a linear progression of time. Instead, it encompasses a wide variety of parallel timelines, some of them very different from the timelines from which the characters come. This gave the game a much wider scope than just traveling up and down the timeline to visit famous historical events – though the game certainly supported and encouraged that. Characters could also visit odd parallel worlds where magic works or dinosaurs evolved to intelligence, for example, or even where literary characters like Sherlock Holmes or the Three Musketeers were real. 

It's all quite ridiculous, of course, but Timemaster made it work, in large part because the game clearly spells out the Laws of Time and then follows through with them in a way that makes game sense if not necessarily scientific sense (assuming such a thing is even possible when talking about time travel). This makes it easier for both the players and the referee (or Continuum Master) to get a solid handle on how the universe of the game works and that's essential. Otherwise, everyone can quickly get tied up in knots over questions of paradox and time loops and so on. Timemaster recognizes this and lays it all out in a way I found quite helpful. You might disagree with its take on certain aspects of time travel – I was never fond of the "literary" parallels, for example – but there's no question that it all hangs together decently, if you're willing to accept the game's premises.

Timemaster is one of those roleplaying games that I occasionally remember exists and then think, "I should play this again some time," because I had fun with it in the past. As I said, the game won't win any prizes for game design, let alone scientific "realism," but, like many of the best RPGs, it's a delightfully open-ended vehicle for exercising your imagination and that's no small thing.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

An Oddity

I was examining my draft posts on Blogger to see if I'd left any genuinely worthy ones unfinished and noticed something peculiar: there were a lot more draft posts than I thought there should be. Looking more closely, I soon saw that a half-dozen older posts originally published many years ago had all been reverted to drafts on the same date: May 23, 2023. Take a look.

All of the posts carried a little red "hidden" icon and, when I clicked on each one, I saw a note indicating that each one had been "unpublished because it violates Blogger Community Guidelines. To republish, please update the content to adhere to guidelines." Those guidelines are available here, but, looking at them, I honestly can't fathom how any of the above posts, five of which are reviews and one of which is related to a previous review, violates them. 

It's quite baffling, especially since these are all very old posts that have existed on this blog for more than a decade. Likewise, none of them, as you can see from the pageview numbers, is an especially popular post that lots of people read and commented upon. The only common element, so far as I can tell, is that five of the six pertain to Judges Guild's Wilderlands setting, though none of them were published by Judges Guild itself. More to the point, I have plenty more Wilderlands-related posts and reviews and none of them were reverted to draft form like these were.

Has anyone else experienced this sort of thing? If so, can you explain the logic behind it? Concerns about arbitrary changes like this are precisely why I keep contemplating moving this blog to another platform. So far I haven't pulled the trigger, because doing so would be a huge headache, especially for a guy like me whose tech skills are minimal. Now I find myself wondering if I shouldn't consider it more seriously ...

UPDATE: Following the advice of others, I re-submitted all the flagged posts to Blogspot without any changes. All of them were re-activated without any explanation of why they were hidden in the first place. Looks like it probably was a case of an errant algorithm.

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. 

Friday, September 1, 2023

Memories of Game Stores Past II

One of the things I most enjoy about reading gaming magazines like Dragon is looking at the advertisements. They're a terrific window on the past, not merely the past of the wider hobby but more specifically of my own personal history with it. Consider this two-page advertisement that appeared in issue #90 (October 1984). (Apologies for the smallness of the image below; I'll soon zoom in on a part of it that's relevant to my post.)

The advertisement is for miniature paints sold by The Armory, a Baltimore, Maryland-based manufacturer, distributor, and importer of RPG products. I have very fond memories of visiting their storefront and warehouse on a couple of occasions when I was a teenager. The warehouse was a warren, filled with rows and rows of shelves among which my friends and I would wander, peering into random boxes to see what treasures they might hold. 

What struck me about this ad is that its second page includes a listing of the "fine hobby & game stores" in the United States that sold Armory paints. Perhaps because The Armory was itself located in Maryland, there are a significant number of stores in the same state. Here they are:
I remember several of these stores from personal experience of them. The Ship Shop was located not far from the State House and focused primarily on miniatures and wargames, though they also sold some RPGs. A friend of mine worked there during the two years I attended St. John's College. I've talked about The Compleat Strategist before, as well as What's Your Game. Both were located in Baltimore City proper, so I only ever shopped at them when I was visiting my grandparents. I sadly never got to go to the Barbarian Bookshop – great name! – but I know Dream Wizards quite well. When I lived in Washington, DC, I could take the Metro to Twinbrook station to reach it. Of all the stores on this list that I patronized, it's the only one that definitely still exists

I find it fascinating the way that, for so many of us in this hobby, our memories are closely tied to the stores where we purchased our games, dice, and miniatures. In part, I think, that's because, in the past, RPGs, even at the height of their first faddishness, weren't available everywhere. Often, you had to travel to out of the way places to find what you were looking for. It was almost an adventure to get hold of this stuff, especially if, like me, you were young and your knowledge of the world beyond your immediate neighborhood was limited. Good times!

Secrets of sha-Arthan: Milesho

Milesho (Ashen Spirit)

A milesho by Zhu Bajie
The tombs of Inba Iro hold not bodies but cinerary urns filled with the ashes of the honored dead. Sometimes, whether through sorcery or an incursion of the False World, the twisted shade of one so entombed returns to sha-Arthan, seething with hatred for the living and a desire to spread chaos and destruction.

Called a milesho, this accursed spirit can form a "body" from its burnt remains. The process of doing so takes 1d4 rounds, during which time it cannot attack and can be harmed by normal weapons. A milesho can also disperse its body at will so as to attempt to enter and inhabit (see below) a living being. If it fails to do so, it is then vulnerable to normal weapon for a round, as it reforms from its ashes.

DR 20, LVL 10 (45hp), Att 1 × weapon (1d10) or touch (Vigor drain) or inhabit, AB +8, MV 90' (30'), SV F6 D7 M8 E9 S10 (10), ML 10, NA 1 (1), TT E, N, O

        • Undead: Makes no noise, until it attacks. Immune to effects that affect living creatures (e.g. poison). Immune to mind-affecting or mind-reading disciplines and spells.
          • Mundane weapon immunity: After forming its ashen body, only harmed by spells or magic weapons

          Weapon: Capable of wielding any weapon available with great power (dealing 1d10 damage, regardless of type). If treasure includes magic weapon, the milesho will make use of it.
            •  Vigor drain: Victim permanently loses 1 VIG per hit. If reduced to 0 VIG, the victim dies. Lost Vigor cannot be restored through the usual methods (advancement, training, etc.), but several mystery cults of the Eternal Gods (see Alignment) are reputed to have the means of doing so.

            Inhabit: A living being within range must make a mind save or become inhabited. Failure indicates the milesho gains control of the being's body (but not mind, including his spells or disciplines). The ashen spirit retains control until it relinquishes it, the inhabited being dies, or dispel is successfully used against it.

        Wednesday, August 30, 2023

        Retrospective: Dungeons & Dragons Immortals Rules

        In the early days of the OSR, a common topic of discussion was D&D's endgame. Both OD&D and AD&D assume that player characters, when they have achieved higher level, will settle down to rule baronies and become movers and shakers within the campaign world. There's little disputing this, since even a cursory reading of the rules reveals that this was clearly the intention of the game's creators. Unfortunately, neither game provided much in the way of explicit rules or even guidance on what this intended endgame would look like in practice, which no doubt contributed to its loss

        It wasn't until the release of Frank Mentzer's Companion Rules boxed set in 1984 that D&D players were a clearly stated version of D&D's intended endgame, however inadequate one might judge it (I personally liked it, but I recognize that not everyone feels the same). However, for reasons I've never understood, the Dungeons & Dragons game line, starting with the beloved revisions of Moldvay, Cook, and Marsh, was obsessed with the number 36 as the highest possible level attainable by a character. That's why Mentzer followed the Companion Rules with the utterly pointless Master Rules: to fill in the level progression gap between 25 (the top level of Companion) and 36, the inexplicably Highest-We-Mean-It-This-Time level for D&D.

        Given the vacuity of the Master Rules, one might be forgiven for thinking Mentzer had finished with his revision, having provided rules coverage all the way up to the lofty heights of Level 36. You'd be mistaken, of course, because Mentzer had one more trick up his sleeve and it was a doozy. 1986 saw the release of the fifth and final boxed set for Dungeons & Dragons, the Immortal Rules. As its title suggests, this set focused on characters who had achieved, in the words of its preface, that "most ambitious of goals – Immortality itself." Now that's an endgame.

        I should immediately note that becoming an Immortal is not the same thing as becoming a god – or at least not exactly. The Immortal Rules appeared during the "angry mothers from heck" era of TSR, when the company was doing everything it could to avoid giving offense to Middle America. That meant eliminating or scaling back anything that skirted too close to religion or religious belief. Hence, Immortals, though they "oversee and control all the known multiverse," are explicitly not its creators. More importantly, Immortals do not seek – or receive – the veneration or worship of mortals. Instead, they have their own goals, which largely consist of exploring and understanding the mysteries of the multiverse and its infinite planes beyond the Prime.

        The rules governing Immortals are clearly derivative of those in Dungeons & Dragons – there are, for example, still six ability scores, armor class, hit points, etc. – but most of them have been thoroughly re-imagined or re-contextualized – so much so that they're scarcely the same game anymore. Most importantly, a character accumulated experience points are converted into power points on a 10,000 to 1 basis and those power points are used by the player to purchase talents and abilities for his now-Immortal character. As an Immortal learns more about the multiverse, he acquires more power points, just as normal characters acquire XP. These new points can then be used to buy new abilities and to advance within the Immortal hierarchy. 

        What Mentzer has done here is effectively turn D&D into a more freeform point-buy system that is wholly unlike the class-based structure of "ordinary" Dungeons & Dragons. I remember, when I first read the rules, shortly after they were published, just how odd it all seemed to me. Now, to be fair, I had absolutely no idea what the Immortals Rules should look like. For that matter, I wasn't even sure that there was much point to rules for player character immortality. All I can say is what I expected and that was something similar to the D&D rules of levels 1–36, though at a greater scale.

        That's not say that what Mentzer does in the Immortal Rules isn't interesting, because I think it is. He clearly had a strong idea of what Immortals were within the cosmology he'd created for the game and, knowing that, the kinds of powers and abilities they should possess. Then, as now, the question is one of why? Did anyone really want these rules? Did anyone ever use them in play? I certainly never did. I read them a couple of times and then largely forgot about them – not because they were badly done but because they scratched an itch I'd never had. Re-reading them in preparation for this post, I can't help but think that the Immortals Rules existed only to fulfill some vague sense that D&D had to include rules for immortality eventually. 

        I suspect my own interest in the Immortal Rules might have increased considerably had Mentzer done a better job of fleshing out just what Immortals did. He talks a lot about exploration of the multiverse and of learning its secrets, but, aside from a few small details here and there, he doesn't provide any practical examples – in a way, recapitulating the problem of D&D's original endgame. It's a shame, because I think there might have been room for a wild and woolly multiversal game at the pinnacle of D&D's level progression. That's certainly in keeping with some of the stuff with which Gygax had long been toying, so it's not in any way alien to Dungeons & Dragons. 

        Mentzer's reach exceeded his grasp with the Immortal Rules, which is no crime – but it is a disappointment.

        Tuesday, August 29, 2023

        Polyhedron: Issue #7

        Issue # 7 of Polyhedron (August 1982) once again features a cover artist – Scott Roberts – with whom I am unfamiliar. I find this fascinating, as it suggests that the staff of the 'zine wanted to cultivate a unique look for the periodical, one that was distinct from that of Dragon, even though both were published by TSR. True or not, this trend lessened somewhat as Polyhedron's run continued, as we'll see in future posts in this series. 

        The issue begins with Frank Mentzer's last(?) "Where I'm Coming From," in which he briefly recounts the founding of the RPGA and the role he and others played in that. Then, he announces that "it's time for me to move on," as he will soon be "very, very busy working with Gary." He explains that he will "essentially ... be #2 right after Gary when it comes to D&D® rules and AD&D™ games, and so forth." This is obviously a reference to his oversight of the revision of Dungeons & Dragons game, as well as his assistance in getting things like The Temple of Elemental Evil completed, both of which earned Mentzer a lasting place in the history of the hobby.

        The letters page includes the following:

        This letter hits home, because I remember well the first few years after I discovered D&D and other RPGs. They were most definitely obsessions for me – not to the extent that they affected my schoolwork and other responsibilities, but I certainly devoted a lot of time to playing and preparing to play them. 

        "Dispel Confusion" contains a number of interesting questions and answers this issue. For example, one reader asks about the level at which a ranger casts druid and magic-user spells in AD&D. The answer is that, at the time a ranger gains access to a new type of spellcasting, he casts those spells as if he were 1st level in the appropriate class. Thus, a ranger gains druid spells at 8th level in his class but casts those spells as if he were a 1st-level druid. The same is true of magic-user spells, which a ranger gains at 9th level. I believe I already knew this, but it was fascinating to be reminded of it. Additionally, there's this question and answer:
        I have no strong feelings about this matter one way or the other, but I do think the reasoning here is worthy of note. Also notable is the way that Mentzer, who provided this issue's answers, mentions that he agrees with "Gary" on this point – another example of the Cult of Gygax that was popularized in the pages of TSR periodicals.

        "RPGA Interview with Mike Carr" is exactly what you'd expect: an extensive interview with Mike Carr, who was at this point Executive Vice President of TSR's Manufacturing Division. From my perspective, the interview is quite good, focusing a lot on the early days of both the hobby and TSR. It's also very clear, as if there were any doubt, that Dawn Patrol means a lot to Carr, since he mentions it often in his answers. "Spelling Bee" looks at clerical and druid spells, providing some thoughts on their use in play. Of interest is the following note about know alignment: "Often cast at the beginning of an adventure, it's aimed at 1, 2, or 3 creatures, all of whom (except the Lawful Goods) should retaliate by disrupting the casting, leaving the area quickly, or some other equally rude action."

        Gary Gygax offers a very short piece entitled "Notes from the DM," in which he holds forth on the matter of AD&D's one-minute combat round and "detailed combat." All of this old hat to those of us who've seen Gygax discuss this in other places. However, the fact that he needs to keep trying to justify it goes a long way, I think, to explain why it would eventually be abandoned in contemporary versions of the game (and, it should be noted, in Dungeons & Dragons, including the edition that Mentzer himself would develop).

        "Campaign Clues" by Corey Koebernick, husband of Jean Wells, offers advice to Top Secret referees (or Administrators) on starting espionage campaigns. Meanwhile, Bill Fawcett's "Ranch Encounters" is a collection of random encounters for use with Boot Hill. One of the upsides of Polyhedron's narrow focus on TSR RPGs is that each issue is likely to contain articles devoted to some of these "lesser" games that my friends and I played. That's something that mattered a lot to me at the time, since Dragon tended not to include many articles of this sort, at least not when I was a regular reader (the day of the Ares Section being a significant exception). 

        "Notes for the Dungeon Master" takes a look at higher-level characters. At the start of the article, Frank Mentzer, the author, mentions that "looking at the data we've received from hundreds of DMs worldwide, it seems the average advancement of a character is about 2–3 levels per year." That jibes with my own experience of playing AD&D around this time, though I also recall a few outliers who achieved higher levels, mostly due to being played very often (and perhaps a little greater generosity of XP on my part). 

        This issue marks the first appearance of the RPGA Gift Catalog about which I've written before. I still get a kick out of looking at it even now, because it's such a wonderful artifact from the days of D&D's faddishness. "Convention Wrapup" briefly reports all the happenings at various conventions across the USA during the previous months. As one would expect, there's much emphasis on RPGA events, including the winners of tournaments, who are listed by name. I always keep an eye out, to see if I recognize any notable individuals among the winners. Finally, there's Roger Raupp's comic, "Nor." Sadly, the comic continues to plod along without any obvious direction and there's still no follow-up to the crashed spacecraft from its very first installment

        Oh well, there's always next issue, the very first one I ever owned. 

        Monday, August 28, 2023

        A Means to Freedom

        It should come as a surprise to no one who reads this blog that I have never ridden a motorcycle. I have, on the other hand, known a good number of motorcycle enthusiasts, including my childhood next door neighbor, who had been a member of a motorcycle club during his own youth in the '60s. One of the questions I'd eventually ask all these men – and they were always men; I never met a female biker, unless you count my neighbor's wife, who'd sometimes ride along with him – was why they rode and their answer was usually some variation on "I love the freedom."

        As if to confirm my own lack of cool, I can't deny that this answer used to baffle me a little bit. Even in 1970s America, which was vastly less obsessed with safety than today, there was already public concern about the deadliness of motorcycles. Consequently, my youthful self absorbed the notion that motorcycles were coffins on two wheels, a notion reinforced by my neighbor's accident, which left him on crutches for a long time and eventually led to his trading his Triumph bike for a "cage."

        "Cage" is a relevant bit of slang to this discussion, because it touches on the sense that an automobile is a prison of sorts, trapping the driver inside, and taking away his freedom. I'm not all that fond of cars – even less so since I was hit by one the day before my fiftieth birthday – so even the thought of speeding down the highway with only my clothes and a helmet to protect me is terrifying. But I suppose one man's terror is another man's freedom, or at least that's the impression I've got from talking to avid motorcyclists over the course of my life.

        Shortly before my parents were married, my father was inducted into the US Army and received orders to go to Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, a very short distance from the Mexican border. So, for their honeymoon, he and my mother drove across the country to reach his posting, along the way stopping at a number of fascinating places. This trip, as well as a later one that took my parents to a NATO Joint Forces base in the Netherlands, profoundly affected my father for the rest of his life, largely, I think, because he got to see more of the world than he otherwise would have.

        One lasting effect was on my Dad's taste in food. He came to love spicy foods, no doubt due to his proximity to Mexico during the first part of his military tour. He passed that love down to me. Judging by what I see on grocery store shelves and on restaurant menus, the love of spicy food seems increasingly commonplace. Nowadays, you can find spiced-up versions of just about anything, from baked goods to desserts to drinks. I've seen jalapeño and chipotle-spiced chocolate, for example, and these are pretty ordinary compared to some of the other foods out there.

        Indeed, there seems to be an arms race when it comes to spiciness, with ever more absurdly hot peppers being cross-bred and used for sauces and flavoring. I'm talking peppers rated a million Scoville units or more – stuff that can literally harm your body in certain cases. As I said, I enjoy spicy foods quite a lot, but I simply don't see the appeal of eating peppers so spicy that I doubt one's taste buds can even register their flavor – but maybe that's not the point. Maybe the point is simply to experience something unique, even extreme by the standards of everyday 21st century life.
        In one of his letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard wrote:

        “I think the real reason so many youngsters are clamoring for freedom of some vague sort, is because of unrest and dissatisfaction with present conditions; I don't believe this machine age gives full satisfaction in a spiritual way, if the term may be allowed.”

        As one might expect from the creator of the legendary wanderer, Conan the Cimmerian, Howard devoted much thought to the question of freedom and its importance to the well-being of the individual in an increasingly, as he called it, "machine age," by which he meant the ever more regulated, narrow, and "safe" world that was already being birthed during his lifetime. That's why he "yearn[ed] for the days of the early frontier, where men were more truly free than at any other time or place in the history of the world." 

        Whether one agrees with him or not is immaterial. What's important to remember is that Howard very much believed this and nearly all of his fiction was an attempt to transport readers – and I daresay himself – to times and places that were, in his judgment, freer and, therefore, uplifting to the human spirit. Again, one can quibble as to how well REH achieved this emancipatory goal, but there can be no question in my mind that he saw literature as a possible means of escape from the soul-crushing drudgery of the modern world.

        "Who are the people most opposed to escapism? Jailers!" That sentiment, or others similar to it, is often attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien, though other authors (C.S. Lewis, Arthur C. Clarke, et al.) sometimes take his place. Regardless of its origin, it's an interesting point of view and that, I suspect, with some minor caveats Robert E. Howard would have agreed with, as might bikers and pepper-eaters – and roleplayers.

        I sometimes find myself wondering if the growth in the popularity of not just tabletop RPGs, but fantasy more generally, is a symptom of a larger malaise with modernity, specifically its lack of frontiers or places to adventure. When I was a kid in the '70s, it was still possible – just barely – for me to imagine the opening up of our solar system (and beyond) for exploration. Now, though, I think that's probably a pipe dream, something confined to the realm of science fiction rather than reality.

        I'm grateful I had those dreams of traveling to the Moon or Mars when I was younger, just as I'm grateful for the escape provided, then and now, by roleplaying games. Perhaps it speaks poorly of me that I consider many of my RPG experiences as among the most fulfilling and indeed liberating ones I've had in my life. They're not the only ones, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that they've been immensely important to me and, I know, to many of my friends as well. 

        Friday, August 25, 2023

        That New Car Smell

        Is there anything more intoxicating than the promise of a new campaign? Whether you're the referee or a player, the vast horizon of possibility that a new campaign lays before you is a feeling like no other in the hobby. I thought about this the other day because a friend was preparing to start up a new campaign and I must admit that, in hearing about it, I was more than a little bit envious.

        As you probably know, I'm currently refereeing two different RPG campaigns: the House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, currently starting its ninth year; and the Barrett's Raiders Twilight: 2000 campaign (now in its second year). Both continue to chug along each week and I – and my players, so far as I can tell – continue to enjoy them. Nevertheless, even I am not immune to the scourge of gamer attention deficit disorder, particularly when I hear about others trying something new with their own group of players.

        It's a fascinating phenomenon. I used to think – and, to some extent, still do – that gamer ADD is largely a consumerist impulse facilitated by how many RPGs are now competing for your time and attention. In the early days of the hobby, this impulse was probably less powerful, though still far from non-existent. I remember how my friends and I used to bounce from one campaign to the next. Of course, back then, we also had a lot more free time to devote to such things, so it was genuinely practical to have multiple campaigns running in parallel to one another. 

        Nowadays, that's nowhere near as practical. I'm fortunate to have a large pool of devoted and enthusiastic players from which to draw, but very few of them could play in multiple campaigns at the same time. Moreover, I'm fairly certain that, were I to pause one of my current campaigns for any length of time to take up a new game for even a little while, it'd likely deplete the momentum of – and perhaps even interest in – the original. Better instead to avert my eyes and not give into temptation.

        Yet the temptation remains. 

        Map Assistance

        As I mentioned recently, I'm trying to put together a map for Secrets of sha-Arthan. I've already got a continental outline for the whole world, but my focus at the moment is on a smaller region intended as a "starting area" for new characters and campaigns. Nevertheless, I have several problems and I'm hoping readers might be able to point me in the right direction for solving it.

        Here's a portion of the continental scale map of sha-Arthan:

        Because it's continental scale, those hexes are very large in size – about 90 miles across. That size is based on two factors: that sha-Arthan is roughly the same size as Earth and the number of hexes used in the continental map. I could, I suppose, redraw the continental outlines and then layer on a small hex grid in order to make each hex smaller, but that's something I can't easily do, given my lack of technical skills. If someone can suggest a relatively easy way to do this, so easy that even an incompetent like myself could do it, most of my problems go away.

        Barring that solution, I was intending to break down each 90-mile hex like so:
        Done this way, each of the sub-hexes within the 90-mile hexes would be 18 miles across. These 18-mile hexes would be further subdivided into 3.6-mile hexes. Both 18 and 3.6 miles are odd increments, to be sure, but that's what happens if I stick to 90-mile continental hexes. A possible "solution" is to create in-game units of measurements that correspond to 3.6, 18, and 90 miles. On some level, I like that, because it's potentially immersive, but it's also potentially annoying and easy to forget. 

        Another possibility is to use a different set of divisions for each continental hex. The only reason I went with the five hexes within five hexes set-up above is because I was able to find some templates online. I'm not kidding when I say I am utterly incompetent when it comes to these matters, so it may well be that there are simpler configurations that will serve my purpose – that purpose being breaking down continental scale hexes into small, more manageable ones for use in play. 

        Any ideas or suggestions you have to share would be appreciated. 

        Wednesday, August 23, 2023

        Retrospective: Traders and Gunboats

        I've mentioned before that Star Trek was my first fandom. If you were a kid with an interest in science fiction in the early 1970s, there simply weren't many other options. Despite this, Star Trek wasn't heavily merchandised at the time, certainly not to the extent that Star Wars would be in a few years. Consequently, fans like myself had to make do with a fairly limited selection of Star Trek products to sate our lust for more information about Gene Roddenberry's vision of the 23rd century. 

        A couple of items from that limited selection stand out in my memory, both of them created by the German technical artist Franz Joseph Schnaubelt, known by his nom de plume, Franz Joseph. In 1975, Ballantine Books released Joseph's Starfleet Technical Manual and Star Trek Blueprints. Each included lots of beautifully rendered maps and schematics of Star Trek space vessels and technology (and, fascinatingly, served as the basis for Starfleet Battles, but that's another story). Needless to say, I owned and adore both of them, spending countless hours poring over the secrets they revealed about the layout of the USS Enterprise and other Starfleet ships of the line. These books initiated my lifelong love for deckplans of all sorts, but particularly of science fiction vehicles – a love I'd later transfer into the realm of science fiction roleplaying games.

        GDW's Traveller, which I first picked up sometime in 1982, was more than accommodating of my love of starship deckplans. Nearly every adventure released for the game, along with many of its supplements, included one or more deckplans of this sort. There were even separate but related games, Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning, that included deckplans large enough to use with cardboard counters or 15mm miniatures. From the standpoint of someone like myself who loved starship deckplans, Traveller delivered the goods.

        Which brings us to the true topic of this post: Supplement 7: Traders and Gunboats. Released in 1980 and written by Traveller's creator, Marc Miller, with assistance from Frank Chadwick, John Harshman, and Loren Wiseman, Traders and Gunboats is a 48-page supplement that provides information on, as its title suggests, merchant starships and patrol craft. The information is not limited solely to game statistics – though there's plenty of such detail – but also includes an equal amount of information on the place of such vessels within GDW's Third Imperium setting. The inclusion of both game mechanical and setting information makes Traders and Gunboats equally useful to players and referees, as well as to those using Traveller's official setting or one of their own creation.

        Ultimately, what makes Supplement 7 so appealing to me is its practicality. All of the space vessels described in its pages are small in size. The largest is no more than 1000 displacement tons, but the vast majority are in 100–400 ton range, which makes them perfect for use by – or against – player characters. That's one of the things that's always appealed to me about Traveller: it keeps its focus on the PCs and their adventures. It's true that Traveller can be vast in scope and certainly the official Third Imperium setting encompasses tens of thousands of worlds spread across dozens of sectors of space. Yet, the play of the game remains human-scaled, which is exactly what Traders and Gunboats supports with its information on smaller space vessels.

        Of course, as you'd expect, given my preamble, it's the deckplans that still excite me. Here's a sample page featuring a few small (20–50 ton) craft.

        Traders and Gunboats includes more than a dozen of these maps, most of which have proven very useful to me over my years of playing Traveller – so useful that I rank it up there with 76 Patrons in terms of how much I've used it at my own table. That's probably the highest praise I can give any RPG product.

        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.