Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Polyhedron: Issue #23

April Fool's issues were a staple of my youth, but they're very difficult to pull off. Partly, that's because humor can be very subjective and, partly, that's because most attempts at humor, especially in writing, are simply not very good. Consequently, I greeted the arrival of issue #23 of Polyhedron (April 1985) with some trepidation, despite its delightful cover by Tom Wham (take note of the bolotomus and snits in the bottom lefthand corner). However, I'm happy to say that this particular April Fool's Day issue is (mostly) pretty good. In fact, there are a couple of articles that I still find rather amusing even now – not laugh-out-loud funny, but intellectually droll, if that distinction means anything.

The issue begins with another installment of "News from HQ" that explains the nature of this issue: 

If this is your first issue of the POLYHEDRON Newszine, I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the RPGA Network, and let you in on the gag. Five out of the six issues you will receive with each year of membership will bring you club news, informative articles on your favorite game systems, and a chance to make a serious contribution to the hobby by sharing your ideas with other members. This is not one of those five.
That's the kind of humor I'm talking about. The editorial goes on to explain that this issue was "conceived in madness and dedicated to the proposition that there is room for levity in gaming." I wholeheartedly agree, as anyone who's ever played in one of my campaigns will tell you. Yes, even the ones occasionally featuring unpleasant stuff. Games are supposed to be fun, after all, and it's important not to lose sight of that.

Much less funny is "An Official Policy Statement," whose entire shtick is using $64 words to say silly things about, in this case, "the sex lives of monsters." As I said above, humor writing isn't easy.

Fortunately, Gary Gygax gifts us with "Ultimists," a new character class for AD&D. Described as "fighting wizard-priests," Ultimists combine the abilities of clerics, magic-users, and monks. While their ability scores are rolled using only 3d6, the result of that roll is made by recourse to a chart, with most rolls resulting in scores of 15 or higher. This section of the class description pokes fun, as Gygax makes clear, those "enthusiasts" who objected to his system for rolling up the abilities of the then-new barbarian class. Ultimists also make use of spell points, because "memorizing spells is tedious, and the selection requires reasoning and intelligence applied to the game." Ouch. I can't really blame Gygax for using the article as an opportunity to vent about critics of AD&D. I imagine he was quite fed up with them by this point in his life.

"Why Gargoyles Don't Have Wings (But Should) (An Alternative Viewpoint) by David Collins is an attempt to explain away Gary Gygax's concerns about the illustration of the gargoyle in the Monster Manual through a variety of vaguely humorous means. It's fine for what it is, but nothing special. A bit more interesting is Skip Williams's "The Lighter Side of Encounters" in which he presents a couple of humorous encounters from Frank Mentzer's Aquaria campaign as a way of demonstrating how humor sometimes finds its way into otherwise "serious" RPG campaigns. The encounters are all based on things that actually happened in Menzter's campaign, which is fascinating in its own right. Speaking of Mentzer – or, rather, Knarf Reztnem – his "Punishments to Fit the Crime" offer a pair of humorous stories whose conclusions depend on puns. They're basically Dad jokes in written form. Make of that what you will.

Frank Mentzer reappears with "New Magic Items," which offers up some fun (and funny) magic items from his Aquaria campaign, like the canister of condiments and the sweet tooth. Then, he reappears yet again – the man was a machine back in the day – with "Excerpts from the Book of Mischievous Magic," a spoof of his The Book of Marvelous Magic. This second article many amusing magical items like the awl of the above, cool hand lute, stocking of elf summoning, and practical yoke. It's all very silly, of course, but done with some real cleverness and an understanding that a good joke magic item isn't just a joke, but should also have some potential utility in a game. Mentzer clearly understood this.

Part 2 of David Cook's "In the Black Hours" AD&D adventure (Part 1 appeared in the previous issue) is the sole piece of "serious" material in the entire issue and thus feels very much out of place. Like its predecessor, it looks fun, reminding me a bit of something in which Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser or Conan, while working as a thief, might have become involved. "Dungeonsongs" is back to form, with a trio of humorous, RPG-themed songs set to well-known tunes, like "I'll Be a Wererat in the Morning" and "Green Slime." "Dispel Confusion" answers numerous important questions for D&D, AD&D, and Top Secret, like this one:
Bruce Heard pens "Zee Chef," another new character class for use with AD&D. A chef is designed specifically for NPCs "devoted to the culinary arts and learning more about native delicacies." It's a spellcasting class, with a host of new spells, including my favorite, edible glamour. Concluding the issue is "The Male of the Species" by – you guessed it – Frank Mentzer, which describes "emezons," the male counterparts to the amazons presented by Gary Gygax in issue #22. Some emezons are members of the new chef NPC class, while others are "exceptionally skilled at child raising, interior decorating, and hair styling." Hey, it was a different time.

All in all, not bad. Even someone as humor-impaired as myself chuckled a couple of times, which is quite a feat in itself. I'd still rather have had a "normal" issue of Polyhedron, but I can't deny the staff did a good job with their assignment. Well done!

1 comment:

  1. What's even funnier is that "chef" has appeared as a playable class out there on the interwebs once or twice. I even took a stab at it (a post on EnWorld I believe).