Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Polyhedron: Issue #19

Issue #19 of Polyhedron (September 1984), like the previous issue, features a cover illustration promoting one of TSR's licensed RPGs, in this case The Adventures of Indiana Jones. The reputation of the Indiana Jones game has long – and somewhat understandably – suffered as a result of the game's narrow focus and presentation, squandering its real potential as a vehicle for pulp adventure. The scenario included in this issue, "The Temple of the Chachopoyan Warriors "(written by Doug Niles), does little to correct this. The adventure reframes the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark as a means of introducing the game and its rules to newcomers. While adequate to that specific task, it also reinforces the sense that the RPG would never really rise above its limited source material and that's a pity.

This issue's "Two Cents" is a rebuttal to last issue's rebuttal to another article, appearing in issue #14 – yikes! If nothing else, it's a reminder that roleplayers have always liked to argue with another about almost anything. It's also a reminder that my patience is very limited when it comes to such things, then or now. That said, this issue's installment, by Christopher Gandy, at least makes a few solid points, most importantly that, for many players, roleplaying is an escape and an opportunity to do and experience things they'd never be able – or want – to do in real life. There's nothing wrong with this and it can, in fact, serve a useful purpose.

"Lost Ships, Madmen, and Pirate Gold" by Antonio "Crazy Tony" O'Malley is a fun article intended for use with Gangbusters, Call of Cthulhu, Daredevils, or any other roleplaying game set in the 1930s (interestingly, Indiana Jones is not mentioned). The general thrust of the three-page piece concerns the care and feeding of pulp adventure campaigns. O'Malley covers a wide range of topics – legendary treasures, historical mysteries, gangsters, and ghosts, among others – with an eye toward offering advice on how best to make best use of them in play. The article is both creative and practical and I remember enjoying it when I first read it long ago, an opinion that didn't much alter upon re-reading it.

"... And the Gods Will Have Their Way" by Bob Blake concludes the "Prophecy of Brie" series of adventures begun back in issue #16. The adventure takes up the interior twelve pages of this issue and is designed to be removeable by bending back the staples that hold it together. Though I never mad direct use of it, I appreciated its attempt to provide a consistent cultural backdrop for the scenario, in this case, pseudo-Celtic, rather than the usual vague mishmash found in most Dungeons & Dragons modules at the time. On the other hand, the fact that this "mini-module" took up half of the issue's page count was a bit of an annoyance. As always, I suspect that the editors of Polyhedron were struggling with figuring just what the 'zine was supposed to be and how it differentiated itself from TSR's other gaming periodical, Dragon.

Frank Mentzer presents the results of the RPGA Network Item Design Contest, consisting of six winners selected from a pool of "almost a hundred." The items were judged in the categories of "usefulness," "originality," and "rules compliance." The grand prize winner, whose creator received a lifetime membership to the RPGA, is the talisman of the beast. Written for AD&D, the talisman enables its wearer to shapechange into the animal associated with it, as well as to speak with animals of the same type. Usable seven times a week, any attempt at an eighth use traps the wearer in anima form until the curse is dispelled by the Great Druid. With the exception of the taser rifle, intended for use with Star Frontiers, all the other winners are for AD&D – a reminder, I suppose, of just how much more popular it was than any of TSR's other offerings.

Tim Kilpin's "If Adventure Has a Game ... er, Name, It Must Be Indiana Jones!" is a two-page overview of The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game. It's essentially an advertisement masquerading as an article, though I do appreciate that there are some quotes from David Cook, in which he explains his intentions while designing the game. Alas, his intentions included not just a desire for "fast action" but also hewing as closely as possible to the characters and events of the two movies released at the time. Not to sound like a broken record, but it's a real shame that TSR either didn't (or couldn't – I've seen claims that it was Lucasfilm that dictated this) open up the world of Indiana Jones a little more, so as to include original characters and situations. Ah, well!

James M. Ward's "Cryptic Alliance of the Bi-Month" looks at The Created, a group of sentient androids and robots that believe themselves superior to the human beings who created them. The Created make for a great antagonistic cryptic alliance in Gamma World campaigns, which is why I like them. Compared to earlier articles in this series, this one doesn't add much to our knowledge beyond making The Created even more explicitly villainous than we already suspected (their leader is android/robot hybrid called V.A.D.E.R. X and, no, there's no explanation for that acronym). 

"The Laser Pod" by Jon Pickens is a nice – and very useful – addition to the Star Frontiers starship combat system found in Knight Hawks. One of the oddities of baseline Knight Hawks is that fighter craft are too small to carry any type of laser weapons. Instead, they're armed exclusively with rockets. While this makes sense within the context of the starship construction rules, it nevertheless felt a little disappointing to those of who'd grown up imagining fighters dogfighting with lasers. Pickens presents a clever little option that simultaneously stays true to the original rules while also giving us laser fanatics what we've wanted all along. Bravo.

Finally, there's "Dispel Confusion" with more questions and answers about TSR's various RPGs. While reading this issue's sampling, a few thoughts occurred to me. First, the AD&D questions are overwhelmingly technical in nature, which is to say, they're about how to interpret the text of the rules as written, whereas the questions for most of the other games are much more in the realm of advice on how to handle situations the rules don't explicitly cover. This might simply be a consequence of AD&D having more rules than other TSR games, but I suspect it may speak to the culture surrounding AD&D as well. Second, there are no questions in this issue about Boot Hill. I can't help but wonder if this is reflective of its relatively small fanbase at the time.

As always, Polyhedron continues to be something of a moving target. Every issue offers a different mix of content, coverage, and quality, which, I suppose, is fairly typical of a zine that is increasingly relying on outside submissions for its content. Still, I find the inconsistency a little bit frustrating, making my enjoyment of this series similarly inconsistent.


  1. I think I was one of the RPGA members who submitted an item for the Item Design Contest. I didn't win, but I think I have a copy of my submission somewhere. (It wasn't great. It was a nonmagical mace/morning star contraption with detachable parts. Silly, really.)

    1. "Silly" is often the essence of what makes for good RPG fodder.

  2. Still ironic and rather sad that Gangbusters (along with Crimefighters in Dragon Magazine) were arguably better rules for many kinds of pulp roleplaying than Indiana Jones was. Having FGU's Daredevils and Hero's Justice Inc. in the mix just made Indy look even worse.