Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Polyhedron: Issue #20

Issue #20 of Polyhedron (November 1984) is another with which I am very familiar. Regular readers should also remember it from another post I wrote almost a year ago. The cover, by Roger Raupp, depicting the events of this issue's "Encounters" article, is a big part of the reason why it made such an impression on me as a teenager. I'll have a little more to say about it shortly.

"Notes from HQ" is a good reminder that, whatever else it may have been, Polyhedron was supposed to be the official news organ of the RPGA. Consequently, the article focuses on the most recent GenCon and the events run there on behalf of the Role Playing Game Association. While most of the information it conveys is ephemera – "Due to a computer mixup, our events didn't make it into the pre-registration brochure ..." – I nevertheless found the titles of some of the RPGA events fascinating. For example, there was "Baron of San Andreas" for Boot Hill, "Seventh Seal" for Top Secret, and "Rapture of the Deep" (or "Face of the Anemone") for Gamma World. It's all quite evocative and makes me wish I knew more about them.

Speaking of Gamma World, there's another installment of James M. Ward's "Cryptic Alliance of the Bi-Month," this time devoted to the Healers. To date, most of the entries in this series have been, in my opinion, vague on details and generally limited in utility. Some, however, get by because the cryptic alliance covered is sufficiently interesting in its own right, like, say, the Knights of Genetic Purity, Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Healers, who come across as very generic peaceniks without much in the way of adventure hooks that might convince a referee to include them. Also, like too many of the cryptic alliances in this series, the Healers' own legends include too many sly jokes and references to 20th century pop culture ("Lue of the Sky" and "Bencassy"), but then that's a common problem with the presentation of Gamma World's setting and not unique to them.

Kim Eastland's "The Proton Beam" describes a new form of weapons technology for use with Star Frontiers, along with defenses against it. I've always had conflicted feelings about the fixation sci-fi games have with an ever-expanding equipment list, so I tend to greet articles like this with some skepticism. In this case, though, I appreciate that Eastland use the introduction of the proton beam into an existing Star Frontiers campaign as an occasion for adventure. He suggests several possible ways the new weapon could debut, each of which has the potential to send the campaign in different directions. To my mind, that's how new equipment/technology ought to be handled.

James M. Ward returns with "The Druid," a two-page article describing Thorn Greenwood, a druid NPC, in some detail. This is part of an irregular series begun back in issue #17, in which Ward presents an archetypal example of an AD&D character class as an aid/inspiration to players and referees alike. Accompanying the article is another page in which RPGA members have submitted their own shorter examples of members of the class. It's an interesting idea, but I'm not convinced it's quite as useful as Ward might have intended.

"The 384th Incarnation of Bigby's Tomb" is a very high-level (15–25) AD&D tournament adventure by Frank Mentzer. Despite its title, the scenario does not seem to have anything to do with either Gary Gygax's character Bigby nor with The World of Greyhawk. The titular Bigby would seem simply to be a generic archmage, though artist Roger Raupp seems to have taken some inspiration from Gygax's actual appearance in depicting him:
The premise of the adventure is that Bigby labors under a curse that makes him unable to employ potions of longevity and thereby extend his life. Rather than die, he placed himself in suspended animation within an artifact, where he would rest until brave adventures might find him, lift the curse, and deliver to him the desired potion. The dungeon surrounding the artifact is not really a tomb, since Bigby isn't dead, but it is a deadly place filled with lots of tricks, traps, and challenges, just as you'd expect of a good tournament dungeon.

"Encounters," yet another piece by James M. Ward, features the Aquabot for Gamma World, about which I've written before, as I noted above. In my youth, I remember finding the article somewhat jarring, because, up until this point, the setting of Gamma World had never included anything like this in any of its previous supplementary material and I didn't quite know what to make of it. Years later, I'm still not sure, but there's no denying that it made an impression on me, so I suppose it achieved its purpose.

The antepenultimate section of this issue is a doozy: Roger E. Moore's three-page essay on "Women in Role Playing." The article is a very well-intentioned and reasonably thoughtful attempt to broach a number of topics relating to the entry of more women into the overwhelmingly male dominated hobby of roleplaying. While I suspect that many readers today, male or female, might detect the occasional air of condescension in Moore's prose, I think that's probably the wrong lens through which to view this piece. TSR, to its credit, was always quite keen to expand the hobby beyond its traditional male fanbase and articles like this suggest, I think, that they were at least partially successful. 

Roger Moore returns with "Now That It's Over ...," another report on the most recent GenCon (17 for those who care). Unlike "Notes from HQ," Moore's article focuses not solely on RPGA matters but on the entire con. Consequently, there's some genuinely interesting bits of historical trivia, like the performance of a dramatic reading from the first Dragonlance novel that received "a standing ovation." He also highlights all the new RPGs that appeared that year, like Paranoia, Toon, Ringworld. and Chill, not to mention TSR's own additions, like Marvel Super Heroes and The Advenures of Indiana Jones – quite the banner year for new releases!

Finally, there's "Dispel Confusion," with answers to questions about D&D, AD&D, Gamma World, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret. Only the AD&D questions have any lasting importance, largely because they're questions put directly to Gary Gygax himself at the latest GenCon. One concerns the appearance of the mythical module T2, whose manuscript Gygax says is now complete, though without committing to a release date. The second monsters that are "pretty useless" and that "are never seen in the modules." Oddly, Gygax replies that "work is being done to update and improve the Fiend Folio," even though the questioner, at least as reported, did not specifically mention that book of monsters. It's well known that Gygax didn't like the Fiend Folio and many of its entries, so perhaps he simply took this question as another opportunity to vent his spleen about it.

1 comment:

  1. Those proton weapons highlight one of Star Frontier's issues - defenses are extremely specific and the game suffers from a real rock-paper-scissors problem where having the right weapon to bypass enemy defenses trivialized fights, while being on the unfavorable side of a matchup was a great way to die. Adding a brand new weapon type and new defensive gear that only works on those weapons is the last thing SF needed. And that's without even questioning the balance of the things compared to existing weapons - these look OTT in terms of energy efficiency, which I'm guessing is meant to be offset by limiting them to smaller powerclips and forcing you to reload more often.