Friday, July 20, 2018

All-American Comics #2-4

In Bobby Thatcher, Bobby and his friends are setting up for the night in an old abandoned cabin when they stumble across a secret compartment in the fireplace, containing a box of old letters and a simple treasure map.

Skippy is pranked with a trick camera that squirts blinding ink.

On to #3...

This month's Red, White, and Blue is the first story to take place in Baja California, Mexico. The story moves to Hermosillo, Mexico, showing that someone really paid attention to his atlas -- just maybe not the artist, as we never get a sense of Hermosillo being such a big city. The three of them also "dicker" (a rare word for bartering or bargaining) for horses to get to Hermosillo instead of taking a car or train, which probably was not necessary in 1940.

Instead of answering to some office in Washington, D.C., Red, White, and Blue are headquartered out of a San Diego G2 intelligence office. I can neither confirm nor deny that such an office existed in real life.

Red learns a lesson from Whitey about reading both sides of secret notes for clues.

Blooey stops a plane from taking off by standing on the tail and making it too heavy (let's assume for now that is how it would work). He's not using any real skill to do it, he's just resisting the science of wind resistance that would normally sweep him off. That's why this would be a passive saving throw instead of an active skill check. I would still allow a mysteryman to burn a stunt to do it automatically.

Skippy tells us that butter went for 24 or 25 cents per lb.

Ma Hunkel and the Hunkel Family debut in Scribbly this month. While Scribbly's family always seemed like how Sheldon Mayer imagined gentile families lived, the Hunkels are a breath of fresh air and the truest-feeling New York ethnic ghetto dwellers since Moon Mullins

In Mystery Men of Mars, Alan empties his pockets. Many times after defeating hoodlums, Heroes will pause to search their pockets. I even put a table for random pocket contents in adventure module RT1 Palace of the Vamp Queen.  In this story, Alan has 56 cents, a knife, and a slide rule in his pockets. Funny, but I never would have thought of a slide rule!

When the three men are thrown in a cell, they are locked in with what appears to be an automated stenotype machine that records their every word, but turns out to be a talking computer. Although drawn comically, the concepts here are pretty advanced for their time.

It's an interesting story detail that the Professor establishes communication with the Martians by solving math problems with them.

Mutt & Jeff tells us you could buy a dozen eggs for 40 cents, or a dozen cracked eggs for 25 cents -- which says a lot about how poor people were in the '30s.

In Ben Webster, we learn that "all the jack" was slang for "all the money."

On to #4...

No sooner are Red, White, and Blue assigned to investigate saboteurs, than a saboteur tries to drop a cement block from a roof onto their heads. It seems obvious that the cement block would have done considerably more than just the standard weapon damage of 1-6 points of damage, and probably more like 3-18.  The block appears to be a 5' cube, which I would only allow to hit one target. Further, even though the saboteur has a more passive role in the attack once gravity takes over, timing is a critical issue in the attack and so I would require an active attack roll, rather than just passive saving throws from the targets.

Another point to consider is, does a Hero's save vs. missiles apply here, after the attack roll? The missile is larger than average -- almost large enough to count as an area effect attack -- but is also slower than bullets. I would allow the save.

Blooey comically says "Well blow me down!" -- a line Popeye would already be famous for.

The saboteurs are an oddly multicultural bunch; one uses the Italian word "signor," while another uses the French exclamation "sapristi," and still another uses the Latin word "amici."  Either the author grabbed words at random, the saboteurs are deliberately trying to throw people off as to what country they are from, or there are an awful lot of countries engaged in this conspiracy!

A "highpowered launch" sounds like a trophy item motorboat that goes faster than normal (Boat +1?).

This adventure takes our boys to Honolulu (via Pearl Harbor, though the story does not pause there), where there is another G2 office.

In Mystery Men of Mars, some of the Martian bug-men are revealed to be robots, and it is not clear if all of them are actually robots.

Daisybelle teaches us that ice cream cones only cost a nickel.

According to Reg'lar Fellers, movies cost 25 cents -- but there might be a free gift for attending, like a shaving cup.

(Scans courtesy of

Saturday, July 14, 2018

All-American Comics #1-2

This is out of order, but I finally have access to the early issues of All-American Comics and I thought I'd play catch-up!

The first issue opens with Red, White, and Blue, my personal favorite feature from All-American Comics until the introduction of Red Tornado in Scribbly.

Some unusual 1940 lingo from this story:  a found purse is called, instead of a purse or even a handbag, a "pocketbook."  The owner's ID card inside is not called an ID card, but a "name card."  An agent of G-2, the U.S. Secret Service (as it was also known at that time) presents her credentials and they look like a pamphlet.

Reg'lar Fellers features a simple trap -- or is it simply a trick? -- where an intruder trips a tripwire that rings a gong and announces his presence. There's also a good chance of the tripwire simply knocking the intruder prone (save vs. science?).

The very first Hop Harrigan adventure begins with his origin story -- how, as a young boy, he flees by plane after getting in a fight with his evil uncle. Hop and the uncle have a short, but dramatic struggle over a weapon -- a hatchet -- that the uncle planned to use on the plane. Rather than a disarming attack, it seems Hop initiated a grappling contest instead.

Hop makes reference to his aviation heroes Lindbergh and Corrigan. Everyone has heard of Charles Lindbergh, but Corrigan was Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan -

Hop's first plane is a "Jenny" biplane, which is very appropriate because that's the plane I assigned to 1st level aviators.We also learn that a Jenny was worth $500, used! 

The Mystery Men of Mars is a great name for a feature, but it starts with some shaky science; three men are going to fly to Mars in an anti-gravity ship. "I don't work with power! I work with the laws of gravity! I found a vay to reverse them und ve can reach Mars by simply falling upwards!"  For one thing, there's nothing simple about that. Two, even if you could repel yourself from a center of gravity, how would you gain speed? The further away you "fell," the weaker the repelling force. The trip is going to take a month, which may seem like a long trip to a young reader in 1940, but means that the ship is "falling" at roughly 50,000 MPH.  Despite this, the ship does not disintegrate on contact with Mars' atmosphere, and lands so safely that it occurs off-panel.  Oh, and Mars has breathable atmosphere and even a pleasant clime. Who knew!

In Ben Webster, we learn that the most expensive fur-lined winter coat in a men's clothing store was $200.

Moving on to issue #2...

Red, White, and Blue find they have to catch a train for a secret mission, so quickly that they don't have time to get their baggage from the hotel. Red isn't worried, because he can wire the hotel from the next town and have them send the baggage to them. Which I point out because it seems an outdated service and one we wouldn't think of hotels doing today.

Red's friend, Christophe Amore, who conveniently shows up has psionic powers (see 1st edition Supplement III). Psionics is, of course, my go-to whenever some form of magic in the comics breaks the rules of magic. Here, Christophe has the ability of Detect Thoughts -- like any magic-user of level 3 or higher -- but with the extra ability of being able to transfer that ability to others for 24 hours. What's more, the range on this power is measured in miles, making it fantastically powerful (and well beyond the 3rd level spell!).  I'm beginning to think that psionics needs to be kept out of the players' hands and used by the Editor whenever he needs a magical effect like this that breaks the rules of magic.

The science about helium is actually good in this story, including about how it is extracted from natural gas, but the stuff about it only being produced in the U.S. and the U.S. having a monopoly on helium is pure bunk.

In Mutt & Jeff, we learn that a pedigree dog goes for $60.

That Hop Harrigan's mentor's plane has a ceiling height of 22,000 feet just shows what humble beginnings Hop has; planes were breaking that ceiling height record as early as 1916.

Hop's first SCM, "Ikky", faints in a tense moment. I actually added "fainting" to the morale save results table for just such an occurence.

In Mystery Men of Mars, Ted, Alan, and the Professor encounter Martians riding around in somewhat resemble the dreadnought crabs we saw in Amazing Man Comics a while back.  These crabs can go 600 MPH despite walking on stilt-like legs. The Martians inside are called bugs, and look like pillbug men. They have telescoping third arms that come out of the center of their chests. They are encountered in groups as high as 13. The Martian bug men have advanced transportation, but primitive weaponry; they are armed only with spears. They use simple traps like portcullis traps.

(All-American Comics read at ReadComicOnline.)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Marvel Mystery Comics #3 - pt. 3

In American Ace, Wade Perry rescues a girl and gets a new mission from this plot hook character -- deliver her to her sister, 60 miles away, so she can tell her sister their parents are dead. It turns out to be a super-easy trip, as his plane is fast and they make the trip too quickly for the Editor to roll up any wandering encounters along the way.

Instead of speeding off on another scenario, though, Wade spends a whole week of down time just hanging out with the girls and their grandparents on their farm. Now, maybe Wade's player is just playing it smart...figures a war scenario is too dicey, so he's safer just hanging out here, earning some XP for including supporting cast members in the story, and hoping for more chances to rescue them for more XP. Or maybe his player just really enjoys role-playing.

But eventually, regardless of which it is, he tires of his character having no action here and decides to leave. Now the Editor gets that wandering encounter check he'd been waiting for!  He rolls up three enemy fighter planes.  Three-to-one odds are tough for low-level Heroes and are too much for Perry. Luckily, he survives, and revenge is a good motive to get players into more dangerous scenarios.

The third "episode" of the Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great provides a map showing us that Ka-Zar's adventures are firmly planted in the Belgian Congo. Again, Ka-Zar demonstrates an ability to speak with animals, which either must become a special ability of an explorer class, or just written off as part of the jungle/Tarzan genre.

This is a different adventure for Ka-Zar, as there is no "villainous" person or animal in it. Steve Hardy is a rival explorer, collecting animals for zoos. Ka-Zar is at cross-purposes and wants to free the animals, but without harming Steve. By waiting until nightfall, Ka-Zar only has to gain surprise against one guard and simply open all the cages. Of course, had the dice rolls gone against him, the guard would have woke the whole camp and Ka-Zar would have been quickly outnumbered. Sometimes, the result of just a few dice rolls can determine if a whole scenario is going to be easy or hard.

The wild animals released include a hog, a stork, a leopard, and an elephant. Boars, leopards, and elephants have all been statted for H&H, and storks...probably don't need to be. Curiously, Steve never just follows the tracks of the missing animals. Ka-Zar must have swept all evidence of tracks away?  When Steve goes hunting a rhino (also statted already), Ka-Zar attacks Steve's native porters and makes them all fail a morale save.

Ka-Zar is using a bow and arrow in this scene and manages a wounding shot, being careful not to kill the porter. I've not considered doing this before, but maybe H&H could allow Heroes to set a maximum damage they want to do. Or maybe that would just work with non-firearm damage. It bears more thought.

On his way home from that adventure (presumedly because the artist had another page to fill), Ka-Zar has a wandering encounter with a hostile leopard (apparently not the same one he'd saved earlier).

(Read at Marvel Unlimited.)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Marvel Mystery Comics #3 - pt. 2

There are at least 12 cultists, probably more, in the mansion/castle. We never see the drummers, though as loud as those drums are, I wonder if they were using a record and loud speakers.

The Angel demonstrates that he can climb walls and search for secret doors at the same time.  He also demonstrates the ability to catch thrown objects in mid-air -- this could be a stunt burned for a save vs. missiles.

The cult leader is a hypnotist, or perhaps just a slick hoodlum. The Angel clobbers him, as well as the cultists, pretty easily, with his bare fists. The hypnotism seems particularly strong, though, as the hypnotized cultists follow the leader into the pit, even though putting them at risk like that should give them all fresh saving throws.

The Angel breaks the bonds holding the abducted woman with his bare hands and makes a 10' standing high jump while carrying over 100 lbs. -- blurring the lines again between Mysteryman and Superhero. The Angel may need to be statted with both classes.

Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner's story continues, but he's clearly meant to be a villain here, referred to as an "amphibious demon" by the narrator no less!  This issue makes it clear that his people are based out of Antarctica.

Policewoman Betty Dean debuts in this story. New York had policewomen since 1918. Betty is fearless, tough as nails, and calls her gun "Roscoe." Betty has to patrol the waterfront for a week before finally spotting the Sub-Mariner off the shore of the Battery.

Betty gets surprise on Namor, claps Roscoe to his temple, and tries to trigger a morale save. Namor easily disarms her, grapples her, and then drags her out to sea. In fact, he drags her so far that they witness a U-boat skirmish in the Atlantic between the Germans and either England or France. This is particularly weird because, in 1939, there were no U-boat skirmishes anywhere near the U.S. So, either Namor dragged them reallly far, or for some reason the War in Europe is a lot closer to the U.S. than it should be.  Later in the story, Betty says there is a German flotilla and minefield further southeast of where they are. Ignoring for the moment that Betty seems to have secret military information -- where can this flotilla and minefield be? There's no geologic feature to blockade with mines within hundreds of miles of New York...did Namor really swim all the way to the English Channel?? That's like teleportation, or Teleport Through Focus, with water being his focus.

I'm not sure if we need a game mechanic for Namor grabbing onto a torpedo and turning it back at the U-Boat, but if we did, the power Turn Gun on Bad Guy would do fine. Once Namor is on board the sub things get a little simpler. Possibly buffed with a Get Tough power, Namor wades through the crew and punches out at least five of them before the remaining two crew members fail their morale saves and surrender. After that, Namor goes back on deck and uses the deck gun to shoot a bomber out of the sky. Thankfully, Namor likes to fight with his bare hands and never carries a deck gun around with him all the time (which I do worry about superheroes in H&H doing -- anti-aircraft guns are fearsome weapons).

"Great gar-fish!" was Namor's first catchphrase.

Namor displays the power Push Ocean Liner.  Between that and teleport-swimming -- Namor must least 8th level?

Betty Dean's stroke of genius is to convince Namor to fight Nazis first and judge the U.S. later -- turning Namor from villain to anti-hero.

Namor tricks the German flotilla by moving their mines around on them, and there's no power needed for that other than breathing water. He does rip the rudder off a second U-boat, using wrecking things, and then flies away with another power.

In The Masked Raider's cowboy adventure, we learn that he's wanted by the law, dead or alive -- meaning Timely has yet another anti-hero here.

(Read in Marvel Unlimited.)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Marvel Mystery Comics #3 - pt. 1

The Human Torch is on a train bound for Texas, discussing "Lawson Bell" -- apparently what Orson Welles' name is in the Timely Universe. The Torch befriends Mr. Carson -- and he really makes a good encounter reaction roll, apparently. Remember, in his first appearance The Torch killed his creator, and in his second appearance he accidentally sets fires everywhere he goes. Now he just introduces himself as the Human Torch and Carson calls him a "world-famous character" and wants to shake his hand (of course, Carson is in munitions, so maybe death and destruction just appeal to him!).

No sooner than they've exchanged pleasantries, then the train is attacked by spaceships with forward-mounted electric rayguns! Martians are on board the ships and they want Carson's formula for trinitroluol, or super-trinitroluol as Carson calls it on the next page. Think about that...they have technology that allows them to fly between worlds and shoot electricity as weapons...and they need to come here to steal explosives. Oh, and Martians look just like humans. They seem to need help breathing our atmosphere, since they wear sealed bodysuits, but it doesn't seem to bother them too badly when their face plates get smashed. Their leader's name is Captain Ott.

The Torch was temporarily stunned in the train crash and is pinned by bent steel when he comes to. He seems a little addled in the head too, because he thinks if he flames on, it will take him longer to get free than if he lies there struggling. If I was really mean, I would add an effect like the Confusion spell to those initially recovering from temporary unconsciousness.

Once the Torch recovers, he uses the power Wreck at Range (which, in 1st ed., was treated as a race ability) -- and he uses it on a knife. Think about that...the Martians have electric rayguns on their ships...and still kill with knives. Melting the blade makes the weapon harmless...though I would think melting steel would actually be more harmful than the blade was.

It's less clear what power The Torch is using when he kicks a fireball into a Martian's face, or if he's even using a power at all. Since the Martian is still in melee range, maybe this is just unarmed combat with some flavor text added.

In a sequence of panels that make it very hard for me to take The Human Torch seriously, the Torch decides that the best way to remove a huge steel bar that's crushing Mr. Carson is to melt the steel bar. Somehow, that much heat doesn't kill Carson outright, but both Carson and the Torch think it's curious afterwards when Carson gets dizzy and then passes out and dies. Oops!  This is why Hideouts & Hoodlums can't have too strict restrictions on Heroes killing people.

The Martians tail the Torch later in a car with a long, pointy hood on it; the hood can be shot as a weapon.

The Torch's flame is doused by water in this story, but not by being buried in sand. This is one reason I only make android players take one vulnerability (that, and just to make the race playable at all levels).

Characters usually don't get hurt by jumping from moving vehicles, but Ritton (the traitor working with the Martians) is knocked unconscious after jumping from a moving train.

The last new power displayed by the Torch is Message -- the ability to communicate through the use of a power or, in this case, to make giant sky-writing out of flame.

In The Angel's story, he is summoned on a new adventure by a random scream in the night. Three cultists (a new mobster type in 2nd edition) are abducting a girl, but manage to get away after they hit the Angel with their car and temporarily stun him (reduced to zero hit points and made his save vs. plot).

When The Angel recovers, he's either delusional or using the Super-Senses power -- because he claims he can hear voodoo drums from the north before driving out of town along a highway to a remote road to get to the source of the drumming. The source is said to be an old mansion, but it looks more like a castle with a curtain wall and courtyard. The entrance to the courtyard is trapped -- at the pull of a lever, the ground drops away to reveal a pit at least 10' deep. The cover can be raised back over the pit.

(Read at Marvel Unlimited.)

Friday, July 6, 2018

Pep Comics #1 - pt. 4

This is still Bentley of Scotland Yard, and I share it to point out something I had long thought was obvious, but perhaps should not have assumed it -- that facing is unimportant when considering if one side has surprise or not.

This is Press Guardian and he does not make the mistake of assuming the police already searched and found all the clues -- he wants in there to make his own search checks!

You would think a reporter would want more corroborating evidence before going to press, but okay...

In an unexpected twist, Flash Calvert seems to be the Hero of our story, but when a costumed mysteryman shows up, he's neither Flash nor seems to have any connection to him -- he's just a wandering encounter! 

A mix of gangsters and thugs are ready to teach Flash a lesson about not doing a better job on his skill checks while tying up bad guys.

Unusual for the comics, we see this adventure is dated -- it takes place on either December 1 or 7 (I'm having trouble reading that number), 1939.

This is The Midshipman.  Again, it makes me think that vehicles need hit points for combat, in case they are directly attacked during chases.

This also points out that fatigue rules, which have only been applied to combat so far, should apply to chases too.

Can strength stop heat damage? Since this is just conversation between two characters, and not hard evidence, I'm be fine with dismissing it.

But the propping up of the falling girder, that looks an awful lot like an ability score check (where you roll under your Strength score to succeed), definitely more than it looks like a skill check or a saving throw (mechanics actually used in Hideouts & Hoodlums).  Officially, H&H does not use ability score checks, but an Editor could use them anyway, if he feels the situation warrants it.

$250 seems like a pretty sweet pot for a first-time fight.

Although we are told that Hogan is using "tricks" and "dirty work," it doesn't appear to me he's doing anything other than throwing punches that would do normal damage.

In the Golden Age, not every story has to end with the bad guys being turned over to the police!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pep Comics #1 - pt. 3

We return to Sergeant Boyle.  Charles Biro would soon go on to do great things in comics, but like Jack Cole he was still finding his bearings on this feature.

Boyle's ability to dodge bullets, normally not possible at human speed, demonstrates how all classes should get the save vs. missiles to dodge gunfire.

There are two unexpected occurrences on this page that could affect game mechanics. One is the notion that anti-personnel weapons could also create concealing smokescreens, making grenades extra desirable for Heroes.  The other is the notion that artillery weapons are so combustible that they can be shot and made to explode. I like that notion, and may cite this as an example the next time my players want to cart a machine gun around with them.

It's also worth noting how graphic the violence is on this page; even from the beginning Biro was pushing the envelope there.
Could deciphering code be as simple as an expert-level skill check? Yes, I think so...

And this is interesting -- I can't think of other examples of grenades being used as distractions before. I'm not sure if my players would ever toss away a grenade like that instead of just choosing to blow bad guys up.

Aha -- the reason he didn't blow them up was that he wanted to make them do his digging for him!

And no, I would not allow someone to make three grappling attacks at once. In fact, in my campaigns, you can only attack the same target with multiple melee attacks, though that is not an official H&H rule.

This feature is Queen of Diamonds. The author is, supposedly, novelist Manly Wade Wellman, who must have just been cashing in a paycheck here. Rocket is here in the Land of Diamonds to woo their queen, but immediately turns completely subservient to her, anticipating a sort of reverse Gor.

The lion is knocked out with two punches.  I made punches pretty weak in 2nd edition to go with realism, but I definitely erred in staying comic book-authentic.

In true RPG fashion, Rocket doesn't stick with his fists because it fits his character concept, but picks up new weapons and armor/cover from battle to battle.

In the end, he is rewarded with the queen as a Supporting Cast Member, and also a title. The SCM is already worth XP, because he can earn XP for including her in his future adventures. I would award a one-time XP award to go along with earning the title.

Apparently also written by Wellman, according to --  I would like to have had a conversation with Manly about how a Chinese magician managed to be a direct descendant of Aladdin. Sometimes, not a lot of thought went into these stories. In fact, to get a real Golden Age feel to your H&H scenarios, it might be better to plot them out as fast as possible and avoid overthinking anything.

So Fu Chang, through the aid of the ghost of an old wizard, is able to animated his magic chess set and send them out to spy on people. This could be elaborate flavor text for a Clairvoyance spell...but I think what we're actually seeing are the first Figurines of Wondrous Power in H&H.

This figurine grants the Find Evidence power to anyone holding it.

And such convenient evidence too, pinned to the wall behind a curtain (who pins envelopes to walls??).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)