Sunday, May 20, 2018

Top-Notch Comics #2 - pt. 2

The second feature in this issue is Dick Storm.  Yeah.  Despite the awful name, this is one of the earliest features drawn by golden age great Mort Meskin.

It also illustrates the value of level titles. When the officers go down, Dick is able to take command because his level title in the fighter class is equivalent to an officer (sergeants are 3rd level fighters and captains are 5th level fighters).

Note to self: still need a tripping mechanic. I've talked about it before here on the blog. I thought it was something I could skip in the basic rulebook, but here it is again already.

I'm normally skeptical of allowing attacks that hit multiple targets, but I would allow someone with a held grappling victim to use that victim as a thrown club.

More doubtful is how Storm is able to throw a heavy keg of explosives as far as he does, unless that hallway is a lot shorter than perspective makes it look. Although a thrown weapon can be hurled 30', for extra-heavy weights I would probably shave some distance off of that.

You'll have to read this page and the next page together before understanding my discussion of them. Indeed, the first page threw me at first because it says The Mystic is "unseen," but the woman next to him is not surprised to hear him speak. It turns out, on the next page, that the two of them came together and she is his supporting cast.

Although the Invisibility spell, as written, ends only when the Magic-User attacks, there must be a way to willingly "switch it off" and become visible again. The spell section in Hideouts & Hoodlums is unclear about if spells can be willed to end by the caster or if he needs to wait for the duration to end, and that is because I wanted to leave that up to the discretion of the individual Editors.

It is unclear how a movie projector could be projecting onto thin air. This reminds me of the 4th level power I came up with for Supplement I: National, called Simpler Explanation. Maybe these tricksters (see the Trickster class from The Trophy Case v. 1 #4) were actually using magic, but the Simpler Explanation power allowed the player to change the scenario.

Of course, a Magic-User would not be using Superhero powers, but we've seen scant evidence of The Mystic being a Mystic so far. He does not, for example, use any real magic to escape at the end of this page, but uses a flash bomb to cover ducking out (flash bombs have been trophy items since Book II: Mobsters & Trophies).  A Superhero cannot turn invisible unless we introduce a new power, or if The Mystic was a psionic superhero (psionics are from Supplement III: Better Quality).

The wording in panel 3 is curious; The Mystic is "surprised" by the thugs (thugs has been a mobster type since Book II), but seems to still get in the first attack. They either all missed in their surprise attacks, or they only "surprised" him by being in his home, and he still won initiative in combat.

The Mystic's disappearing trick resembles the 2nd edition spell (from the basic book) Poof! Diving into the box first could have concealed the smoke cloud that comes with the spell. Or, this could be a magical effect from the box, and the box is itself a magic item (Box of Poofing?).

It's hard to know what's going on here -- is The Mystic using real magic or stage magic? Nadir was a hero like this. If it is real magic, could the mirror and the dummy be flavor text for a Mirror Images spell?  If it isn't real magic, is The Mystic a Mysteryman, throwing his voice at mirrors and dummies and making the thugs save vs. plot or they attack the wrong target?

Objects thrown into a melee, that miss, may hit another random target, so that vase checks out.

I've talked before on here about the ol' pull-the-rug-out trick, which can be a simple save vs. science to resist. But to get tripped so that you fall into your own trap chair? That makes it seem like we should have fumbles for saves in H&H, except that we learn on the new page that he meant to do that so he could overhear them talking after he was "captured".

One has to wonder about The Mystic's house. Maybe it makes sense for a stage magician to build a trapdoor in his own home (for practice?), but did the thugs not notice and wonder about the giant slide hooked up to the outside of the house?

I like the idea of the trick telephone that only calls police headquarters.

This is Stacey Knight M.D., and this is a good example of when level titles don't work.  Because a police chief, by level titles, is the equivalent of a 6th level fighter, it is absurd that this doctor can talk him out of doing his job, unless Knight is also at least 6th level. Or maybe he rolled a max score on his encounter reaction check and the Editor decided to go really generous.

1940 is probably the closest to modern day you can get in a story where a doctor can say "there's not much money in this business" and not be obviously lying.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Top-Notch Comics #2 - pt. 1

Today we come back around to MLJ's Wizard, the Man with the Super Brain. You would think he would be strong evidence of the need for a Scientist class in Hideouts & Hoodlums, but up close he looks a lot like a superhero. In fact, many of his hi-tech gadgets could just be flavor text for prepared powers. But we'll get to that soon!

First, The Wizard has a closed-circuit TV set, as some other comic book characters do. There isn't really any power or spell that covers this, so I'm more inclined to believe this is an actual trophy item.

The super-charged speedster, or rocket car, is a trophy item, unless this is flavor text for the Race the Train power. Although, since it's only to get somewhere else that is not a dangerous place and without any time restrictions, I'd be inclined to hand-wave any method the player wanted his Hero to get to the airport.

The "strato-amphibian" is either a trophy item or flavor text for powers, depending on how it gets used...

It takes a commercial flight about 9 1/2 hours to go from Washington, D.C. (where I think The Wizard is based) to Anchorage, Alaska, but it only takes a "few" hours to make the trip.

The "Syberians" are obviously meant to be Siberians, though they look like yellow peril hoodlums in the pages that follow.

You would think a strato-amphibian would be what you would use to travel by water after arriving in Alaska, but instead he produces a separate rocket sled. It could be that the duration on his Race the Plane power expired and he needed fresh flavor text.

The "vibra-ray gun" somehow stops mechanical machines, similiar to how an electromagnetic pulse disrupts electronics. The 3rd level power Hold Plane might duplicate this if the snow tanks are light enough, or it might be a not-yet created 4th level version of Hold Plane (Hold Tank?).

Panel 5 is curious. Is he using the push mechanic on three people at once? I suppose that is possible by using Multi-Attack and then transferring all damage into distance pushed.

Reverso-ray neutralizer sounds like a double negative to me; if it reversed the neutralization, isn't it just a ray? I'm also perplexed if this is another setting on the same gun or an entirely separate raygun.

I can't decide if the design of those snow tanks is pure genius or pure nonsense. It seems like the helicopter configuration on top might help generate enough lift to keep the tanks from getting mired in the snow...? Regardless, this is for sure a trophy item.

It seems really odd that the enemy commanders are working in an unguarded shack.

Vacu-suction gloves -- or the Wall-Climbing power?

Isn't every gun a high velocity propulsion pistol? They propel bullets at high velocity...

I really like the visual of that panel 3.  Leaping between tanks looks like he's using the Leap I power and probably also Nigh-Invulnerable Skin to buff his backside's Armor Class.

I wasn't going to mention anything about snapping wires with his bare hands, but snapping chains is definitely wrecking things. Of course, even a non-superhero can wreck a chain with a really good roll.

Uprooting a ship's mast, though -- that is definitely superhero-level wrecking things.

Pinning those troops down looks an awful lot like the effect of the Hold Person power.

A machine gun, at short range, isn't even fazing The Wizard? He must be buffing himself with a higher-level defensive power now.

"Visualizing exact positions" seems an awful lot like the Locate Object spell, and maybe there needs to be an equivalent power.

As much as you may buff your superhero defensively, none of the buffing powers cover an area of effect. So, while your Hero might go unharmed, what he's standing on can easily still be destroyed.

"Secret chemicals" may be the flavor text by which The Wizard operates his wrecking things ability.

Capsizing boats...I'm hesitant to assign the wrecking things mechanic to this, as the boat is technically not being damaged. But, on the other hand, I can't assign a save vs. science to something that does not have a level or Hit Die total. I don't think it should be a skill and can't see Mysterymen automatically overturning boats.

And then there's this awkward part where it sure looks like The Wizard is dragging the soldiers underwater before tying them up so they'll drown...

Solidifying the fuel, unlike capsizing a boat, does sound like it is meant to wreck something and I would use that mechanic, wrecking vs. generators.

The timing of the start of the bombardment seems like it was always at the Editor's discretion to start in the scenario, rather than a randomly generated start time.

Now, put aside all the incredulity of this story so far and think about this fluttering paper. The Wizard was just underwater, so either he had this card concealed in a watertight container on his person this whole time, or he found colored markers on the boat and drew the flag while waiting for the bombs to hit.

I had to hold in a lot of jokes while writing this page. But I'm going to share one:

"Need any help?"

"Snow tanks!"

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Speed Comics #4 - pt. 4

This is Smoke Carter, and here is some interesting evidence that helmets should count as armor for Armor Class.

Police were apparently already doing psychological profiling in 1940, so best to head to the police department and read up on those rogues galleries!

This story did a lot to inform my write-up of the arsonist for the Mobster Manual. The arsonist write-up first appeared in Supplement V: Big Bang, but I've since lowered his morale save ("I'll burn before I'll let you take me!") and added a passage about using 1-6 cigarettes to start a fire.

Poor New York City. Before getting famously razed by the Sub-Mariner, NYC was razed by ...a bunch of guys in asbestos suits using flamethrowers? Here, we see his killers have suits that are both fireproof and bulletproof (combining the function of two different trophy items). Those seem to be especially effective flamethrowers with increased range.

This looks a lot like the vampiric robots from Mercury that debuted in The Trophy Case v. 1 #2. Not sure why the brain needs a window.

When I add this robot variant to the Mobster Manual, I'll have to include a note about how fire can make the robot run amok. It needs the Raise Car power too.

Texas Tyler may think this town is unfriendly, but they sure are equal opportunity employers! I can't think of another example of an Hispanic female bartender in all of 20th century fiction.

I also don't think recognizing unfriendliness would be a skill check; things like this are best observed through roleplaying.

We haven't seen one of these filler pages in a while. They're handy for plane trivia that could affect statting them later.

This is Spike Marlin, as the mug tells us. Sometimes I see evidence for allowing critical successes in the game. In this instance, the mug not only identifies Spike Marlin, but know his secret profession too -- sounds like he rolled a 20 on his save vs. plot!

On the prior page, Spike had an automatic pistol in hand, but was disarmed by being grappled from behind. I include this page instead to illustrate that an entire brawl ensues afterwards, and not one person goes for the gun, which must still be laying there on the deck. There has to be a reason, like maybe it takes a full melee turn to pick up a dropped weapon and leaves the picker-upper effectively prone for that turn.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Speed Comics #4 - pt. 3

Random design, that makes no internal sense, is a feature and not a bug of Old School dungeon design -- and the same seems to be true here of outdoor hideouts. Does it make sense for a band of slavers to have a stockade for keeping elephants? Not really. Does it lend the hideout a fun, zoo-like quality? Yes. A seemingly unrelated question: can elephants be forced to make morale saves simply by flying low over them in an aircraft? The answer to that is apparently yes too.

This is Ted Parrish, Man of a 1000 Faces, and he seems to really like different modes of getting around. First he's got an ordinary car, like any starting character can buy. Then he's got a plane that he only uses to do recon in for one panel, and we don't know if he owns it or he rented it. Lastly, he has a jalopy with a "powerful engine" hidden in it -- that sounds like trophy transportation to me, and I wonder where he picked that up.

That's a pretty good place to put a sentry with a machine gun (as long as you're okay with your Heroes getting their hands on a machine gun!).

I like how Ted's plan is to summon the state police, but then he gets impatient because they're taking too long and he decides to just do it himself. I've had players like that.

This could be our first time seeing a Hero launch himself from a catapult before. I don't care how good his save vs. science is; I'm pretty sure he's going to take damage from this.

Okay, maybe the Editor gave Ted a roll to hit the window (AC 4, maybe? It is a pretty small target and catapults are not accuracy weapons), and then only 1-6 points of damage for hitting the window. I'd give him at least twice that had he hit the wall.

We get some details of a two-story ranch house with attic here. Note the spacious rooms and spartan furnishings. Better for making room for big combats.

I was just talking about plane rentals too -- now we know how much they cost.

I don't think planes were so unreliable in 1940 that Heroes will have to worry about a random chance of the motor dying per flight. Rather, this looks a lot like the set-up to a scenario before play begins, with the flight and the engine failure being prearranged to get Biff in the right spot.

Of course, play could begin right at panel 3, requiring Biff to make a skill check for a safe improvised landing.

I'm confused by this page. If the entire canal is underwater, and Biff crashed into it, where are Biff and the soldiers he's fighting standing? It's like we're missing some panels where he climbed into the submarine.

Curiously, the secret canal was dug through Panama, west of the Panama Canal, where the country is thicker and there are no lakes to take shortcuts through. A cursory glance at a real map would suggest that east of the Panama Canal, short-cutting through Lake Bayano, would have been easier.

It interests me that the secret canal was dug "years ago." Often in these stories, Heroes stumble across something like this when they are new, or still being built, before they can affect history. It would be interesting to conjecture how a secret canal through Panama would have impacted world history.

I also have to say, I'm liking the distinctively cartoonish art on Biff Bannon.

Convincing a tugboat captain to put someone else's freighter and his own livelihood at risk like this would have required an encounter reaction check at a substantial penalty, maybe as high as -3. Biff's player is a lucky roller, or Biff has a high Charisma and a bonus to offset some of that penalty.

Spotting a periscope in the water, at distance, without binoculars or a telescope? I'm going to rule that Biff only had a 1 in 8 chance of spotting it under those conditions. Lucky roller indeed!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Speed Comics #4 - pt. 2

Oh, this is interesting, or at least I always find it interesting when a superhero has to dodge instead of just take the hit. How much damage would a stream of fiery steel do? And can we work out a guideline for assigning such damage in the future?

A 1st degree burn starts at around 111 degrees F; let's assume that is for 1 point of damage. If we double the max damage every time the temperate doubles, that gets us to 1-8 points of damage at 888 degrees, which is the damage assigned to crossing fire in the Basic rules. Since steel melts at around 2,700 degrees F, that puts us about halfway between 2-16 damage and 4-32 points of damage, which maybe we could put at 4-24 damage. Shock would still get a save vs. missiles for half damage.

Water mocassins aren't something you see in comic books every day. Hideouts & Hoodlums already has an entry for poisonous snakes. Does it need to distinguish between a water mocassin, versus a rattlesnake, or just use the same stats for both?

There's currently no power that makes someone immune to poison (though there could be!), but the 1st-level power Different Physical Structure gives a high saving throw bonus and could apply here.

Shock is buffing himself with a power that either would not have been effective against the molten steel (like Nigh-Invulnerable Skin), or simply did not have this power prepared that day (assuming this is a separate day; he did get all the way to Florida between scenes).

It's an interesting tactic to collect poisonous snakes and throw them at your opponents.  I'm not sure a Hero should be the one doing it, though. Using poison as a weapon seems to be decidedly un-heroic. Perhaps Shock made his save vs. plot to avoid genre conventions here, or maybe the Editor allowed it because he threw snakes at them to invoke a morale check, not as an attack.

The various "Race the (blank)" powers say the superhero can move at so and so speed, but it does not specify how the Hero moves at that speed. So super-fast rowing is definitely a thing that an Editor could allow.

I've never spent much time in Florida and I was totally unaware this is a thing, but apparently Florida has lots of islands around it.

This is 1940, so Shock's concern isn't that Germany might be planning an invasion; his concern is that their base being too close to the U.S. violates American neutrality.

When raiding a submarine base, your first tactic should always be to raid the torpedo dump first.

Remember, Von Kampf's  goal two pages ago was escape. He has no reason to attack the ocean liner other than just being evil and not being able to help himself. Maybe villains should have to roll for saves vs. plot as well!

I'm not sure how Shock knows there are women and children aboard the ocean liner; it seems like he's just guessing. Unless, maybe, the Editor gave him a skill check to see if he could spot passengers on deck from where he was?

This page is a little troubling, as a lot of turns have passed since Shock activated his "Race the" power (surely there were some combat turns there while raiding the base!). Unless Shock is higher in level than I think he is (and last post I discussed how Shock might have some brevet ranks), it's possible he prepared the same power twice and re-activated it.

Given how comic books work, I think Von Kampf is underestimating when he says he has a 1 in 1,000 chance of survival. If I was using the villain class from 1st edition (Supplement II: All-American), Von Kampf would be level 3, maybe even level 4 by now, with a 40-55% chance of survival under mysterious circumstances.

This is from the back-up feature Crash, Cork, and the Baron. It's a very rare instance of a water buffalo coming into play in a combat, apparently with devastating effectiveness.

What's surprisingly not effective? Panthers, as this one is taken down with a single thrown rock. Maybe it was starving and down to its last few hit points. Or, even more disturbingly, I may have to stat water buffaloes better than panthers.

Combining a mobster type with a trap -- like putting a panther at the bottom of a pit -- is a good idea, though the story is unclear if the panther was part of the trap or the trap was for the panther and he just happened to still be in it.

It's also unclear how they managed to get captured again. Maybe they could not think of a way to get out of the pit on their own.

I would like to think my players would be more suspicious of a prisoner who just happened to still have her mongoose in her pocket, and her captives either never noticed or forgot about it when they put the cobra in there. It seems like a set-up to get you to trust her, so she can turn on them later.

If you thought "mongoos" looks like a misspelling -- you're right.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Speed Comics #4 - pt. 1

Yay!  Back to superheroes!

Well, you wouldn't know it at a glance, but this is a page of Shock Gibson, with Shock disguised as a hobo so he can investigate some shenanigans. How does he know those don't look like real hobos? He could have made a tailoring skill check to notice that their clothes looked too nice and too new to be hobo clothes, or maybe he just sniffed and figured they bathed too much. We don't know how, because he never tells us!

Knock-out drops are not called such in the rules, but are detailed under "Sleeping", under "Consumables", on page 67 of the 2nd edition Basic book.

The narrator is giving us a clue what is going on here, but how exactly are Shock's "alert senses" detecting the drug? Should Detect Poison become a power (hint: it might)? Should the power Super-senses detect drugs (hint: no, that's adding too much to an already broad power)? Should a simple skill check be able to detect the taste of the knockout drops (hint: maybe...)?

I guess Shock was hiding that helmet under his hat? Where else was he hiding that? We can overlook this with the use of the power Quick Change. His game of "ten-pins" means he may have activated the power Flurry of Blows (which could in theory hit up to ten targets), but since he does not appear to have struck more than three, and only needs to take out four, it could also just be Multi-Attack.

There's two ways this could happen: a) since Shock is literally lifting the tree out of the ground, this could be the power Raise Car, or b) since the tree is wrecked after this, this could simply be wrecking things. The size of a tree would impact how easily it is wrecked, but with this tree I could use the machines column, maybe generator at best.

I love the cartooniness of this: Shock doesn't even seem to have bound their feet, and left them tied up so loosely that one or more could easily wiggle free, but is confident that his Editor is running a campaign of light enough mood that he doesn't have to worry about such complications.

And I love that he happens to have a thick-tip marker on him for writing this sign on the fly like that. It's important for Heroes to carry gear with them!

Also worth noting -- DC and Marvel take note! -- danger does not always have to be epic in scope; it can be as subtle as those train tracks being disconnected.
Since Shock isn't an alien, in order to run faster and leap higher he has to burn powers for those -- in these specific examples, they would be Race the Train and Leap I.

Again, I appreciate the playfulness of tooting the horn by hand.

Ooo, this is tricky...and not just for Hideouts & Hoodlums. Most RPGs focus on rules for violence and destruction, not constructive things like "how long should it take to repair railroad tracks? Now how long should it take if using superpowers?"

It's difficult to make a fixed rule about such things because the details of building and repair work can vary widely depending on what is being built or repaired.

If the Editor doesn't want to spend a lot of time on this, he can flip the wrecking things chart around and use it as a building/repairing things chart. Like wrecking things, building/repairing could be allowed to take place in 1 turn. I think I wrote about that on the blog once before, but this is only helpful if a superhero is present.

Without a superhero, this could be allowed as a skill check, though the Editor may need to spend some time researching the situation and finding out how many man-hours of time this building/repair work usually takes. If used as a skill check, buffed by superpowers, then the number of man-hours can be halved for each level of power spent (as long as it makes sense for that power to help; Raise Car would be useful for a lot of repair work; Quick Change, not so much). For example, burning a Raise Car power would make the repair work take 1/2 as long. Adding Race the Train, for speed, would make it take 1/4 as long. Adding Flurry of Blows (a 2nd level power) to make for more hammer blows, would reduce the number of man-hours to 1/16.

The rules, in the 2nd edition Basic book, do not account for combining skills with superpowers; this rule will have to be added in the Advanced Hideouts & Hoodlums Heroes Handbook.

"I make my own rules, when lives are to be saved!" is not the motto of a Lawful Hero. It could be the motto of a Neutral or Chaotic Hero, though.

This is the power Raise Bridge, used exactly as intended.

The Basic book ends the Leap powers at Leap III, but after viewing Leap I, II, and III it should be obvious that the length of the leap is multiplied by eight each time. So, for a Leap IV power, Shock would be able to make a running broad jump of 256 miles, with a 2 in 6 chance of making subsequent leaps of the same distance (which the Hero can continue as long as his luck holds out with rolling). That said, it would take 10 leaps at that level of power to go literally "across country." But, unless Shock is given brevet ranks, he should only be a level 3 superhero by now, with access only to Leap I and II. 

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)