Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Polyhedron: Issue #29

Issue #29 of Polyhedron is another April Fool's Day issue, though it actually appeared in May of 1986. The issue features a cover by Tom Wham, which is always a delight. I wish the same could be said of its content. I readily admit that I'm not an ideal audience for issues like this, but that's not because I lack a sense of humor. Rather, I simply dislike forced humor and this issue is full of it. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy re-reading this one. Apologies in advance if my frustration gets the better of me.

"Notes from HQ" is typically ephemeral and focused on RPGA matters. The only genuinely interesting thing in it is the announcement of the Gamers' Choice Awards. "Unlike other gaming industry awards, for which the winners are chosen by manufacturers and special panels, these awards are given to those companies whose products are judged the best by the most qualified judges of all – the gamers themselves." I must be old, because I don't recall ever hearing of these awards before. On the other hand, I was never much of a con goer, so that might explain my ignorance. 

Skip Williams gives us "The Lighter Side of Encounters II," a sequel to his article in the previous year's April Fool's Day issue. Like its predecessor, what makes the article interesting is not so much its content as the origin of the content, namely AD&D campaigns run by the Lake Geneva staff of TSR, in this case Williams himself and Frank Mentzer. Williams presents two different encounters, one involving a mad dash through a dungeon and another about trying to prevent a pit fiend from regenerating, that aren't exactly humorous in context, but that seem so when presented in isolation. They're the kinds of things that happen in any RPG campaign played with friends and I love them for that reason. This article is probably the best in the issue and it's because it's the most "serious."

"The Camel's Nose" by Mike Selinker is an AD&D adventure that takes up 16 pages – half of the issue. It's a humorous scenario for six pregenerated player characters, all of whom are valley elves with ridiculous names like "Tattieboggle Spauldrocky" or "Arglebargle Collieshangle." These characters are tasked with protecting a talking camel (a cleric of the Camel Lord, Camelopardus), on his journey across the Burning Desert to a shrine of his deity. He brings with him a sacred rock called the Camel's Nose and ... well, I think you can probably guess where this is going. The adventure is filled with puns and humorous allusions and general silliness, like the Camels Oasis shopping center. I'm sure someone might find it funny, but that someone is not me.

Selinker returns with "The Ecology of Tiamat," which is a rambling dialog between Feargall the All-Noxious and Greenhorn the dim as they "humorously" discuss Feargall's many encounters with Tiamat. It's strange, self-referential, and fourth wall-breaking and, again, I just found it tedious. Your mileage may vary. "Fractured Spells" by Rick Reid is a collection of goofy spells for all magic-using classes, from neutralize person to detect chum to continual lice and more. As you can see, they're all based on puns or misreadings of pre-existing spells. I'll give the author points for cleverness, but not much else.

"The Gods of the Gamma World Game" by James M. Ward is a very strange article. Ward presents five larger-than-life characters from the setting of Gamma World, each of which represents "a different ideal." For example, Ren – there's that name again – is the archetypal scientist, while Tobor the Unstoppable is the archetypal robot. If I squint, I can sort of see what Ward's getting at with these characters. They're more akin to "tall tales" like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill than "gods" in the usual sense. That's kind of interesting. However, Ward saddles them all with absurd Gamma World game stats akin to what you'd find in Deities & Demigods and serendipitously provide additional insight for my recent post about that very book and the drawbacks of its presentation.

The issue ends with Roger E. Moore's "Savage Sword of Lugnut the Barbarian," another "humorous" story, this time about a mighty-thewed barbarian and his quest to save a princess from Skuzzdrool the Ultra-Necromancer. It's not very funny, even as a parody of Conan, but's thankfully short, which is more than can be said of "The Camel's Nose." I still cannot understand why half the issue was devoted to that adventure ...

Oh well. One more issue to go before this series ends, which is probably for the best. My patience is wearing thin, especially after this issue.


  1. There might be others with more historical knowledge than me who can answer this - is this whole thing about assigning stats to gods and legendary beings just a weird obsession James Ward had, and TSR indulged him in, or was it an edict from the top and Ward just seemed to get those assignments? After this article I’d assume the former, but Gary’s vociferous defense of DDG in the earlier post makes me suspect the latter.

  2. I read a lot of different gaming magazines back in the day and I'm struck by the fact that very few of them ever wasted much space on April Fool's stuff. The odd absurdist article or phony news announcement, maybe a bogus ad or two, but never a whole issue thrown away on hit-or-miss comedy. TSR was the only company I can think of that leaned into it hard, and it wasn't just Polyhedron, they'd piss away large parts of Dragon and Dungeon some years as well. Seemed like Poly got the D-list material to boot, which didn't help any - bad humor is worse than no humor at all.

    White Dwarf had a fondness for "goof" articles and games (remember Santa Wars?) too, but they showed up more or less at random instead of being clumped into a single annual issue. That made them a lot more tolerable to me.

  3. I suspect Jim's article was included for the same reason they spent 16 pages on the Camel's Nose: there's a page count to meet! Every Camel's Nose saves us from 8 comics/stories worse (remember, they're actually showing off their best) than Lugnut the Barbarian.

    My best guess is that regular April Fool's issues started as a way to actually use all the chaff that was too ridiculous to print in most issues, meaning they only needed to come up with 11 serious magazines worth of articles per year.

    For Jim's article, this was probably meant to be a slightly more serious piece (by the standards of Gamma World, which is itself a "piss take") but better than any of the alternatives.

  4. I'm not sure how you can complain about funky names for the Pregen charachters included with the adventures that how they rolled even with serious ones back in day.

    1. Compared to the ones in this issue, Fonkin Hoddypeak and Fnast Dringle are amazing.