Saturday, August 27, 2016

Crackajack Funnies #14

We haven't checked in on Dan Dunn in awhile. Here, I'm interested in the double protection of having a secret room, behind a secret door, and a second concealed door behind a painting in the secret room. But can we distinguish between secret and concealed doors here? We don't actually see the first secret door behind the bookcase; it's just described to us. If the bookcase is only blocking a normal door, then I would call that a concealed door. But if it looked like blank wall behind the bookcase until you pulled a lever disguised to look like a book on the shelf, causing it to slide open, then you have a secret door.

Slade missed his save vs. plot to see through Dan's act, but Fallon made his. It's worth pointing out that a disguise doesn't have to be a fake mustache or stage make-up; it can be trying to pass yourself off as someone else.

This reminds me of the Cowboy stunt Jump into Saddle (from Supplement III), and also reminds me that Jump into Saddle could have explained how Abdul the Arab could have leaped down into a moving car in the post I did on Smash Comics #1 two days ago.

Only a hoodlum who's never read Treasure Island would skip searching a crutch.

But I'm more interested here in Peggy's Mother's concern about her jewelry being all fakes. Granted, this is a non-Hero character, but if it was a Hero, how would I handle this? A successful appraisal check tells her they're fake, but a failed roll only tells her she doesn't know for sure yet.

In Hideouts & Hoodlums I don't tell you who should make the dice rolls, leaving that up to each Editor to decide. Often, I like to let players make their own encounter reaction rolls. I normally do let them make their own skill checks -- but I can see situations, like appraisal, where a secret check by the Editor might make more sense. Then the players have to react to what the Editor tells them, instead of what they know from the dice roll.

The nice thing about this escape plan is that there's no time crunch involved. If the cistern had been filling up with water, that would be another thing, but because the three of them can try the human pyramid trick as many times as they want, there's no reason not to just wave game mechanics, say it works, and reward Easy's player for his good idea.

From Myra North, Special Nurse, we learn that artificial respiration was much different in the 1930s! It makes you wonder how first aid ever worked back then. No wonder it doesn't give you immediate hit points back in H&H!

I just had to share this because it's pretty cool. Myra North must have at least one level in Fighter. Here she takes on a spy armed with a gun, using only a pair of scissors, and still wins!

Sound-proof doors in hideouts is something to consider. It would waste a lot of players' hear noise rolls during a hideout-clearing expedition. On the other hand, it would also keep mobsters from being able to hear combat in their neighbors' rooms and lend aid.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comics Museum)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Star Ranger Funnies v. 2 #4

Today, we rejoin the first frontier-era Mysteryman, The Ermine. Or is he a Mysteryman? This ability to talk to animals puzzles me (not as much as where he produced that duck harness from, but that's less relevant to our game mechanics discussion). Except for The Ermine, there's really no reason to give this special ability to the Mysteryman class. But the Explorer class -- modeled after Heroes in Tarzan's mold -- that would make sense to give this ability to. If I resurrect the Explorer class (currently still only an optional class from The Trophy Case), I'd definitely give it this ability.

This is also the only time in comic book history where the "Hero" is saved by a duck pulling a dead muskrat. Soak it in, folks.

The Erskine makes friendly with a puma/cougar (see Supplement III for stats), but hates the Red Man. Racist much, Erskine?

"Blood on the Rio Grande" is a one-shot story played serious, even though it's drawn by one of Centaur's funny book artists in the same style. The machine gun isn't actually shown until the next page, but yes, the bad guys really do have a machine gun -- and are hesitant to use it because the good guy has cover from a tree. It's making me wonder if I don't give cover enough of a game mechanic benefit...

I've always liked bison. I like them so much that when I first statted them in this post, I may have been a little overgenerous. Let's give them 5 Hit Dice instead, with 10-sided dice. Coyotes I would stat as dogs.

Some of these Centaur stories are just so awful....This is "Pot o' Gold". A slick hoodlum sells a played-out gold mine to a sucker. The sucker sticks around, ambushes the hoodlum, and shoots him through the neck. Then -- oops! Our Hero was only looking on the wrong side of the mine; there's gold there after all! So he was never scammed and committed murder for nothing.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Smash Comics #1 - pt. 3

I can't resist talking about the last feature in Smash Comics #1 -- George Brunner's Hugh Hazzard and His Iron Man (renamed Bozo the Robot by story's end).

Hugh Hazzard is the first Hero in comic books to be summoned by the police using a special signal device (before the Bat Signal and way before the Fantastic Four's signal flares).

The iron robot is operated by remote-control and cannot function independently. It also, laughably, has very few interior parts, allowing a full grown man to climb inside it without hindering the operation of the man-sized robot!

And then, instead of holding onto the robot as -- oh, I don't know, evidence for court? -- the police just decide to dispose of it by dumping it out to sea. This would make it very easy for Heroes to lay claim to trophy items from bad guys, if the police don't ever hold onto them, or treat them as the alleged criminal's legal property.

It's all very laughable, of course, but this is a comic book universe, and one that's very Hero-friendly!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Smash Comics #1 - pt. 2

This is Wings Wendall, and I can point out a few salient features from this page. One: more proof that seaplanes are incredibly common!  Two: the Pacific Ocean is not so big that you can't just fly around randomly and spot a bit of flotsam floating beneath you that will serve as the clue you need. Or, in other words, always leave your players a chance of finding something they need, even if you reduce their chance to just 1%. Three: fragments of powder, smoke, and slivers of steel are good clues of shellfire. Four: for the Editor, it's a good idea to have a sentry outside your hideout, concealed under camouflaged cover. And, with the benefit of modern technology, he can simply phone his boss inside and tell him who's coming!

Here, Wings and the villain only called "baldy" are engaged in tactics of opposing attack modifiers. Wings gains an early advantage, hiding behind hard cover and sniping mobsters as they approach him. But Baldy is willing to wait him out until dark, when everyone will have the same penalty to be hit as being behind hard cover -- or twice as good if it's pitch black out!

Now, Wings' modifiers are cumulative, so he'll be at -4 to be hit; -2 for the cover and -2 for being in dim light, while everyone else just gets the dim light bonus. But it's not the dim light modifier, per se, that has Wings worried, it's that with his lower chance to hit some mobsters might get past him, or outflank him, and he'd lose his cover bonus.

Also, it's worth pointing out that, personally, I think summoning the Air Corps and have them bomb the heck out of the bad guys is a cheating way to win a Hideouts & Hoodlums scenario.

Archie O'Toole has fun, thanks to a Potion of Invisibility. This page also sets a precedent for ingesting food soaked in hi-tech/magic potions to have the same effect as drinking the potion directly.

The Invisible Hood debuts. He's the third Mysteryman with a gas gun. Other than that, he does a lot of sneaking around here, relying on surprise rolls.

Your Hero is seldom going to be this lucky -- the Invisible Hood is captured and held prisoner, but underestimated (probably because his costume is a hooded pajama suit) to the extent where one of his two guards stops watching him and reads the paper! Your Editor is probably going to give you a break like that only once in a campaign, so enjoy it while you can!

The Invisible Hood's gas gun can down four hoodlums at once (if they all miss their saves vs. science).

This is Captain Cook of Scotland Yard. I've learned from Cook that you can pimp out your (circa 1939) planes with: wireless radios, parachutes (obviously), blinding headlights, train whistles, an engine silencer, and "anti-aircraft detector"? I guess from the context that it detects aircraft, and not anti-aircraft weapons. It's likely they mean Radar (a term which wasn't coined until 1940). Radar stations were not miniaturized enough to fit in a plane circa 1939, so they're referring to Scotland Yard men working the Radar from the ground.

This is Abdul the Arab. Jumping down into a moving vehicle as it speeds past you...I've never tried it, but it seems like that would be difficult. I guess it would be an attack roll, but the Armor Class would have to be guessed by the Editor based on how fast the car is going. Perhaps -1 to AC per 10 MPH? (a simplified version of the vehicular combat rules in Book III).

I've previously talked about how little damage car crashes seem to do in comic books, which makes it seem odd that Abdul gets knocked out here. But he is still a 1st-level Fighter, so it doesn't take much damage to knock him out yet.

The girl is "stunned". In this case, that means she's out for the length of a sandstorm, so...1-6 exploration turns?

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Smash Comics #1 - pt. 1

We continue the exciting (cover date) month of August 1939, when a lot of companies first started adding new titles to jump on the sales boost that Superman had begun. Today, we find Quality Comics finally putting a second title out in the field.

Smash Comics leads with Espionage, the best feature from Feature Comics. This story is an allegory for Germany and Europe obviously, and carries with it some significant alternate history for South America. Editors can be free to shake up world history as much as they want in their campaigns.

For some reason Black X is called Black Ace in this story.

Disguise is clearly central to being a Spy, and is the primary ability of the Spy class.

Black X/Ace's strategy is borrowed straight from "A Scandal in Bohemia". Feel free to borrow from the classics when running or playing in your Hideouts & Hoodlums campaigns.

I usually give Will Eisner credit for having well-thought out his stories, but this one seems a little lacking. If Koran's empire extends only as far north as Brazil, then does it make sense for the freedom fighters to be in Colombia, outside the empire? And how did Mara Hani get there ahead of Black X/Ace? I could imagine players crying foul there.

The numbness in Black X/Ace's arm seems to be mere flavor text, as it doesn't seem to be affecting his fighting ability any.

Jaguars we've seen before, and were statted in Supplement III.

Another example of a Hero taking "months" to recover from injuries, while a mobster dies from conditions that, for a Hero, could have been avoided with simple first aid and rest.

I include this page of Philpot Veep, Master Detective for three reasons. One, the inside joke on the wanted poster in the background about G. Brenner (long-time readers will recognize that as the creator of The Clock!); two, $8.65 is apparently a reasonable price for a radio, with tubes, in 1939; and three, the casual reference to Sherlock Holmes' infamous cocaine addiction.

Interestingly, we saw this same panel of the gar-wrestling man in another comic book, from a different publisher! This title from Quality and Fiction House's Jumbo Comics both had the Will Eisner shop in common -- does this mean both comic books were produced by his shop? Or was Eisner able to re-sell the already-published page because no one paid attention to the educational filler?

Swordfish were also covered here. A 450 lb. swordfish would only qualify as a large, 2 Hit Dice, swordfish.

This is Chic Carter, Ace Reporter, the new feature from Vernon Henkel, who we've seen before doing Gallant Knight.

A monogrammed broken watch fob is a good clue for an Editor to let Heroes find.

Players will know when they got a good encounter reaction roll, when the police walks in on their Heroes, catches them compromising a crime scene, and still just lets them walk away.

This is not a tactic I would normally recommend, since there's a good chance the bad guys will try harder to lose you. But if you're confident in your driver, you might want to make it easy to let the bad guys know you're tailing them, so they'll stop and attack you or try to capture you.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mystery Men Comics #1 - pt. 3

I am going to start a dangerous (for myself!) precedent today and allow myself three days to discuss this particular issue.

So -- back to The Blue Beetle! Tear gas canisters would be an uncommon enough item to keep them off the starting equipment list, but it's not rare enough to be anything but a mundane trophy item. Now, a tear gas capsule, on the other hand, is a pretty potent example of miniaturization. It's too small to contain the gas, so it must be releasing something that mixes the chemicals already in the air.

This is D-13, Secret Agent. In his inauspicious debut, D-13 strips down to his bathing suit and gets caught, kind of literally, with his pants down.

Now, currently, there is no distinction in Hideouts & Hoodlums between grappling holds; you have the same chance to achieve and to escape a one-arm hold as you do a two-arm hold. I'm thinking of changing that in 2nd edition.

This feature of a radio-controlled door, that opens when it hears the door tapped, seems like a good trick for a hideout.

We've seen a LOT of the flooding room trap already, but it's almost a novel twist to tie the prisoner up and hang them upside down in the flooding room trap. D-13 has trouble freeing his feet, even though he was working his hands free -- separate skill checks to escape both?

It's an awful easy trap to escape, though, to leave the door unlocked and unguarded.

And lastly, should ranchers be statted for the mobster section? Hmm...

I'm not sure what to make of this one. That leapfrog off a man's back and then vaulting over the wall sure looks like a Mysteryman stunt to me. Should spies be statted as Mysterymen instead of Fighters? In some ways it makes sense to, especially if you're not using the optional Spy class.

Haha, I can't believe they fell for the cablegram trick! (This is Lt. Drake of the Naval Intelligence, by the way.)

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mystery Men Comics #1 - pt. 2

We're still on Wing Turner today, and that's because of the "large Coast Guard auto-gyro" pictured here. Now, it's true we do have helicopters that big (and bigger!) today, but I wanted to look up if there really were transport auto-gyros in 1939. Now, I didn't make an exhaustive search, but the biggest auto-gyro I've found so far is this two-seater, which is clearly much smaller. But if this auto-gyro seems fanciful and futuristic, that makes it perfect for a Hideouts & Hoodlums trophy item!

This is George Tuska's Zanzibar, probably my second favorite Golden Age Magic-User after Yarko the Great. While Yarko deals with metaphysical threats, Zanzibar is a street level M-U, dealing with hoodlums. That doesn't mean he isn't crazy powerful (and way too powerful to be dealing with hoodlums!), as demonstrated by him casting a 5th level Telekinesis spell here.

But Zanzibar must not have too many hit points, because here he is getting clocked with one blow!

Now, this page is slightly problematic. Traditionally, a Magic-User can't cast spells with his hands tied, yet Zanzibar casts Knock by just looking at the door. There are two explanations here: one is that every M-U Hero should get to choose which factor he can't cast his spells without -- seeing, moving hands, or talking -- or the other possibility is that Zanzibar is actually a psionic. I'm thinking some pared-down version of psionics might have to go in the basic book as an appendix at this point.

It is not clear at all how Zanzibar snaps his bonds. Brute strength?

Zanzibar casts Knock again (he had it prepared twice), Disguise Self (very clever use of a spell), and ...Hypnotic Pattern? We don't see a pattern, but we can't see how often his eyes were flashing.

This is the Waco Kid, coming into a new town where a gang has killed the sheriff and taken over. Now, normally, most players would get that this is a situation they're meant to fix. But every once in awhile, your players might need a little more motivational kick to get them going. So have the gang approach the Heroes and threaten to take their stuff. That'll motivate them fast!

Also, "Brazos Teale" has got to be the lamest name for a Western bad guy I've ever seen.

This is Inspector Bancroft of Scotland Yard. Now you, as the Editor, might draw a map and think it's a great clue, but it may not be as easy for your players to draw the same inferences from it. Maybe your players infer that the bomber was riding the morning train, and you only meant to clue them in that the bomber is a train enthusiast. You can, at that point: a) change the plot to fit their idea, b) let them pursue a false lead that goes nowhere (frustrating, but it happens!), c) have someone else present suggest the inference you planned (not recommended -- your players will stop trying to solve puzzles and wait for you to tell them the answer), or d) let them learn a new clue while pursuing their inference.

Sometimes you just have to let a stupid plan work. There's no reason why the conductor should implicate himself by filling out the questionnaire, when he knows he's been hand-writing all his threatening letters. But it's the best plan your players have come up with, so you sigh a little inside and roll a save vs. plot for the conductor to see if he falls for it.

This is The Blue Beetle -- yes, just a Mysteryman with goggles on in his very first appearance. There's a couple of points to take away from this:

If you're playing a Hero with a job, and you want to get sent home from work so you can do some heroing, just get hurt. One or two hp of damage, and you're on sick leave!

I'm not sure if this chemical that reveals scratched out numbers is a real thing -- so it seems like a trophy item!

There does seem to be some psychological benefit to being announced by your calling card (in this case, a scarab). I haven't decided yet if there should be a game mechanic benefit, but I'm leaning towards no...

This is a pretty clever, but chancy, strategy, and only works for new Heroes without a reputation for being honest. Claim you want to work with the bad guys, offer them information, then have someone working with you offer the bad guys the same info in an anonymous call to corroborate your story.

There is no game mechanic for having a reputation, though how much XP the Hero has could serve as the Editor's guide. A good rule of thumb might be that you have a reputation within 1 mile for every 100 xp you have.

The first wireless phone wasn't invented until the 1970s, so this is a pretty advanced trophy item!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)