Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Polyhedron: Issue #18

Serendipity is a funny thing. No sooner did I mention my childhood affection for Spider-Man than I find that issue #18 of Polyhedron (July 1984) features everyone's favorite web-slinger facing off against the Scorpion on its cover. This only makes sense, of course, since TSR's Marvel Super Heroes debuted around this time and was a big hit for the company. In fairly short order, it seemed as if there were nearly as many adventures being released for MSH as there were for Dungeons & Dragons, though my memory might well be faulty.

Spidey and the Scorpion form the basis for this issue's "Encounters" article, written by none other than Jeff Grubb, the designer of Marvel Super Heroes. Like all previous "Encounters" articles, this one is brief, but Grubb nevertheless makes the most of the limited space, presenting a scenario in which Spider-Man must rescue J. Jonah Jameson from a subway car that's been commandeered by Scorpion. It's straightforward and simple but does a good job, I think, of presenting the kind of situation in which the Web-head often found himself.

James M. Ward's "Cryptic Alliance of the Bi-Month" focuses on the mutant mirror image of the Knights of Genetic Purity, the Iron Society. Also known as the Mutationists, the Iron Society seeks to rid the post-apocalyptic Earth of all non-mutated life, with pure strain humans being the primary target of their ire. Needless to say, this makes the Society an object of fear in Gamma World and I always felt that they'd be used primarily as antagonists in most campaigns. Compared to the Knights, who might excellent villains in my opinion, the Iron Society somehow feels a bit more one-note and the article does little to change my mind on this, alas.

"Remarkable, Incredible, Amazing" by Steve Winter. As you might guess from its title, it's an overview of the then-newly released Marvel Super Heroes RPG. It's basically an advertisement intended to entice gamers into buying TSR's latest product and, in that respect, it does a fair job. Much more interesting is Roger E. Moore's "Kobolds and Robots and Mutants with Wings." Over the course of three pages. Moore talks first about the joys of "hybrid" games that mix and match rules and setting elements, something that even the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide discusses briefly. He then moves on to talk about various hybrid games he's run, such as when AD&D adventurers made use of a well of many worlds to travel to the universe of Bunnies & Burrows to fight rats in thrall with agents of the Cthulhu Mythos. Finally, he presents a lengthy discussion of kobalts – kobolds who traveled to Gamma World's setting, were mutated by radiation, and then bred true as a distinct species. Moore stats them up for both GW and AD&D and presents lots of information on how they could be used in both games. As I said, it's a very interesting article and a reminder of just how imaginative a writer Moore was.

"The Magic-User" by James M. Ward presents yet another "archetypical" [sic] example of a Dungeons & Dragons class, including her personality, skills, possessions, and holdings. In this case, that's Delsenora, an older woman who uses potions of longevity to retain her youth, who has a particular hatred for powerful undead, like vampires and liches. She also has a passion for flying through the use of magic. Consequently, she's built her castle high in the mountains, in a place otherwise inaccessible to those without flight. Appended to the end of Delsenora's description are two more magic-users, one by Ward (named Lidabmob – Bombadil spelled backwards) and another by Susan Lawson, presumably a RPGA member.

"Two Cents" by Joseph Wichman is a rambling opinion piece in which the author, another RPGA member, covers a number of vaguely related topics under the header of "roleplaying." He begins by arguing, contra the "Two Cents" column in issue #14, that roleplaying is not the same as acting and that any referee who expects his players to immerse themselves deeply in their roles is being unreasonable. He also touches on "troublesome" players, evil characters, and player vs character knowledge – all perennial topics in the gaming magazines of my youth. While I don't disagree with anything the author writes here, the article is somewhat frustrating to read, since it bounces around from one subject to the next.

"Layover at Lossend" by Russ Horn, yet another RPGA member, is a short Star Frontiers scenario set on the titular planet of Lossend. The format of the single-page scenario reminds me a bit of the "Encounters" feature, in that it includes of player characters to be used in conjunction with it. The adventure itself isn't particularly worthy of comment, since it's very short and sketchy, leaving most details to the referee to work out. What is interesting is that Horn refers to the referee – the official term for the Game Master in the game – as "the DM."  This is obviously just a small slip-up, both on the part of the writer and the Polyhedron editorial staff. However, I think points to the extent to which the terminology of Dungeons & Dragons had become the defaults in RPG discussions, even discussions about other games.

"Money Makes the World Go Round" by Art Dutra – again, an RPGA member – is a thoughtful little piece about the role of money and treasure in an ongoing D&D campaign. Dutra's focus is primarily from the side of the referee, highlighting the ways that money can be used to both motivate and impede player characters. He points out all the costs that PCs can incur during a campaign, especially those that are overlooked, like training and converting gems into coins, among many others. Dutra is absolutely correct, in my opinion, that referees often fail to take into account the, if you'll forgive the pun, value of money as a driver of a campaign. My only criticism is that focusing on taxes, exchanges rates, hidden costs, and other expenses can very quickly become tedious, or at least that's been my experience. Finding a way to keep money in mind without degenerating into an exercise in bookkeeping would be truly worthwhile topic for an article or essay.

Speaking of tedious, this issue's "Dispel Confusion" is largely filled with very persnickety rules questions of the sort that bore to tears. Whether because of laziness or a lack of intelligence, I've always been much more of a rulings guy rather than a rules guy, so this stuff frequently baffles me. I'm especially baffled by questions that begin "Can I ...?" as if the sender felt he needed TSR's permission to introduce something into his own campaign. I suppose these are the inevitable fruits of the company's attempts to maintain tight control over all of its games and to discourage its customers from buying or making use of "inferior" supplementary materials.

Issue #18 of Polyhedron shows the continued evolution of the 'zine. Perhaps the biggest change is the inclusion of many more articles submitted by RPGA members. That's a welcome change, though the quality of those submissions seems to vary quite a bit. Over time, I suspect that, too, will change, but, for the moment, it gives the issue a much more uneven feel than some of its immediate predecessors. Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing what future issues have in store. 


  1. Sad news. Just heard that James M Ward passed away. https://www.enworld.org/threads/d-d-luminary-jim-drawmij-ward-passes.703205/

    1. Very sad indeed. Was a genuinely nice guy who loved to tell good stories about early TSR.

    2. Met him at a con, was a teenager. had my 2nd ed gamma world box set in hand, said to him Mr Ward i love Gamma World.

      not expecting him to ask me a question in return, he asked "what do you like about it?"

      haha i blurted out "everything!". He smiled and chuckled.

      DEP Mr Ward and thank you for your works

  2. I wonder if this Delsenora is the same one from the 2e PHB's example of combat.

  3. Now that's a fun little nugget to ponder. Google tells me there was also a Spellfire card called Delsenora. At the very least somebody, or several somebodies, connected to TSR liked the name.

    1. That was one of the ultra-rare chase cards in first edition, which I remember mostly because one of the few packs of that game I bought included her. Promptly sold her off. The proceeds paid for my copy of the Birthright boxed set IIRC.