Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Polyhedron: Issue #26

Issue #26 of Polyhedron (November 1985) is another one that I recall very vividly, almost entirely because of its Roger Raupp cover, depicting a reptilian alien superimposed over what looks to be photograph from one of the Viking landers sent to Mars in the mid-70s. The cover was inspired by Roger E. Moore's article, "Gamma Mars," on which I've briefly commented before. I have lots to say about it but will hold off on doing so until later in this post. 

"Notes from HQ" is, as usual, mostly filled with RPGA ephemera of minimal lasting value. There is, however, a brief section worthy of mention. The "City Project" announced in the previous issue is moving forward, though Penny Petticord asks RPGA members to "hold your actual submissions until specific procedures are announced next issue." Furthermore, she explains HQ "will be finalizing details with Gary Gygax" regarding the placement of the city within the World of Greyhawk setting. Of course, Gygax would depart TSR less than a year later and the City Project would, in turn, head in a different direction.

Next up is "Squeaky Wheels," a guest editorial by Frank Mentzer, in which he tackles criticisms of roleplaying games in the mass media. Mentzer isn't talking solely about the religiously-inflected Satanic Panic – though he does have rebuttals to offer on that score – but also to more general worries about RPGs, such as the suggestion that playing these games inclines one to suicide. I must admit that, despite having lived through these times, I encountered almost no resistance to my involvement in roleplaying. If anything, my parents and the parents of my friends were incredibly supportive of our hobby. Perhaps we were just lucky, I don't know. In any case, I'll never cease to be baffled when I come across articles like this one. They're yet more evidence that the past really is a foreign country.

"Con-Fusion" by Fas Eddie Carmien is a brief collection of thank yous to the volunteers at GenCon 18 – nothing special. "Where Chaos Reigns" by Sonny Scott is more amusing, being a fictionalized account of his time working telephone assistance on behalf of the RPGA at GenCon. Though hardly an article for the ages, it's fun and, as someone who's worked at a phone bank a few times over the course of my life, the inanity of the calls Scott recounts seems very true to life. Michael D. Selinker's "A View of GenCon 18 Game Fair from RPGA Network HQ" is a day-by-day recounting of the con from the perspective of someone involved in its operation. I've never been involved in running a con, so I found this article more interesting than I expected. It's helped by the fact that Selinker can spin a good yarn and has a decent sense of humor.

The third and final part of Frank Mentzer's AD&D tournament adventure, Needle, appears in this issue. Part I focused on the location of the titular obelisk, while Part II was about the process of retrieving it for transport it across the sea. Part III concerns what happens after it's been installed in the palace square of the king who wanted it in the first place. In case you're wondering: a magical door to the Moon opens in its base and the characters must journey through it to see its wonders. As premises for an adventure go, it's not a bad one and Mentzer does a solid job of presenting intriguing and challenging encounters. 

"Dispel Confusion" is short this month, tackling only AD&D and Gamma World questions, none of which are especially memorable. For me, what's most fascinating is how increasingly truncated this column has become. In early issues of Polyhedron, "Dispel Confusion" covered two or three pages and covered all of TSR's RPGs. As time went on, its page length shortened and its focus contracted, with only AD&D and Gamma World being consistently covered. The former is understandably, as it was always TSR's most popular and best selling game. Gamma World's continued presence strikes me as stranger, as I never got the impression it was very successful, despite its having no fewer than four editions during TSR's time. 

Speaking of Gamma World, we come at last to Roger E. Moore's "Gamma Mars," which, as its title suggests, presents information on the state of the planet Mars in the post-apocalyptic 25th century of the game. In this timeline, Mars was first visited by human beings in 2002, with a stable colony growing there over the course of the 21st century. By 2076, the colony became independent of Earth. The colonists would eventually discover evidence of alien habitation on the planet – the reptilian Luntarians – but these beings are not natives to Mars but visitors from another planet outside our solar system. A small number of Luntarians placed themselves into suspended animation in the past and were subsequently revived just in time for the Social Wars to engulf Earth and cut Mars off from the mother planet.

I was a big fan of the articles from Dragon that described the state of the Moon in Gamma World, so I was understandably excited to learn more about the wider solar system of the game's setting. As described by Moore, Mars has only been partially terraformed. Its atmosphere, for example, remains too thin for humans to breathe unaided. In addition, pure strain humans predominate, since Mars largely sat out the conflict that devastated Earth. The result is a very different take on Gamma World, one where rival cities jockey with one another for power and rumors of alien ruins and technology form the basis for adventure. At the time, I found it compelling stuff; even now, I think there's something remarkable about it.

Jon Pickens provides "Unofficial Illusionist Spells" that are actually fairly interesting, at least when compared to the cleric and magic-user spells from previous issues. I think that's because, in AD&D, there are comparatively few illusionist magic items and thus the spells here don't exist primarily to act as means of explaining how such items exist. Michael Przytarski's "Fletcher's Corner" also deals with magic, in this case magic items, which he first divides into the categories of "mundane, powerful, deadly, and ridiculous" with the goal of suggesting how common each type should be in a good campaign. He also addresses the question of "magic shops," something I get the impression was becoming increasingly common in mid-80s AD&D (based on how often it was criticized in official TSR publications). The issue ends with Errol Farstad's positive review of Twilight: 2000.

Twenty-six issues in, Polyhedron continues to lack a solid, consistent foundation on which to build. As I have repeatedly said in this series, you never know what to expect from an issue, with some having numerous useful and excellent articles and others ... less so. While I completely understand why this was the case, it's disappointing and played a big part in why I'd eventually let my subscription lapse, even as I continued to read Dragon for many more years to come. 


  1. "I must admit that, despite having lived through these times, I encountered almost no resistance to my involvement in roleplaying. If anything, my parents and the parents of my friends were incredibly supportive of our hobby."

    Same here, my parents were thrilled to see me reading and writing so much. But there were a few 6th and 7th grade English teachers who scanned our AD&D books and bemoaned the poor writing.

  2. My parents were pro D&D as my math and reading got better. But I had friends who had to hide that they were playing it from there folks.

    I also will always remember some random grocery store checkout lady who launched into a tirade about D&D. We weren't buying anything D&D related she just brought it up. My Mom stood up for the hobby.

  3. I had a friend whose grandmother freaked out after seeing the cover of the original Dungeon Master's Guide. I suspect a church newsletter may have been involved. Otherwise no problems when I was a teenager. On the other hand, in the 1990s, when I was a married adult, one of my mother-in-law's friends solemnly informed us that those games were "dangerous." This was a college-educated woman in an excruciatingly liberal part of the country, too.

  4. I have no first hand experience of the Satanic Panic, but I was aware of it at the time (and like a lot people, I was aware of the Egbert case). But what I have observed first hand, and what I think was a very common attitude in D&D's early heyday, was a hostility toward fantasy in general. This wasn't a religious objection so much as the belief that one must always be engaging with the actual rather than with the imaginary -- pragmatism rather than pie in the sky. This hostility was not particular to D&D but rather toward what these people saw as an infantilizing obsession with make-believe.

    The BBC made a documentary about Tolkien back in the late 60s or early 70s, and there is the following quote from a critic of Tolkien:

    "I don't at all like Tolkien or what he stands for. It seems to me his work implies an escape from political and social reality. Now, uh, this, it seems to me is reprehensible, uh, it's an implication of triviality, it's an implication of regression, a refusal to face up to our political and social problems, our religious problems of today. And the cult of 'The Hobbit,' the cult of Tolkien, in America particularly, seems to be responding to this failure of engagement with our political and social situation."

    It might be worth remembering that sci fi and fantasy fiction as we know it is a comparatively recent invention, really only a product of late Victorian advances in the understanding first of the solar system and the wider universe. Before that, stories featuring totally made up worlds (or radically different versions of earth) were very rare (though there are a few examples).