Monday, December 21, 2015

Detective Comics #18 - part 1

As always (so far), this issue begins with Speed Saunders, this time investigating a murder -- and that's all we know. We don't know how Speed knows the dead man's son helping with the investigation, and we're given very little to go on why Speed suspects it's murder and not suicide.

If you only have time for a short scenario of Hideouts & Hoodlums, it might be best to jump into a story, in media res, like this -- cutting out the plot hooks and setting up the scene and just lay out what the challenge is in the scenario right at the start. And place any supporting cast your players will need nearby.

As evidence of how combat needs to stay abstract in a comic book RPG, Speed is shot at point blank range, but recovers when a doctor performs first aid on him, and doesn't even have blood on his clothes.

Later, "Speed learns the truth from the glint of fear in the fence's eyes."  There's not a game mechanic tied directly to lie detection or eye reading, but if the Editor really wants to give the Hero a chance to pick up on a clue, then a "notice things" roll should be allowed, just as if the Hero were searching for secret doors.

Later still, Speed wants to go back to the murder scene "to make a more thorough search."  What his player means is he wants more "notice things" rolls because he doesn't think he has enough clues yet.

This installment of Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise, is suggestive that Cosmo might be based out of Chicago, since he leaves from Chicago to start a vacation.  Cosmo's vacation takes place in the Mythic West, where everyone gets around on horseback, the only way to not draw suspicion to yourself is to dress like a cowpoke, and the town is remote enough that its only tavern is the only place to eat in 20 miles.

It is unclear how Cosmo solves his mystery. It seems he overhears the Mexican in the tavern say something incriminating, but all we're told is that Cosmo overhears the Mexican "babble" to himself. The implication seems to be that the Mexican's "babble" is him talking in Spanish, and indeed the only reason Cosmo seems to find the Mexican suspicious-looking is because he's a Mexican (or, to be fair, the only Mexican in the tavern). Further racism is found in the sheriff's "Negress" servant.

In the Larry Steele installment, Larry and his pal are in a deathtrap -- a dark pit that is being filled with a lethal gas. The way out is to search the floor and find the floor boards are loose enough to be pried up. Below the pit trap is an underground stream with a strong current, leading to a waterfall outside, near the house they were in. Although waterfalls are never lethal in comic books, there are still overhanging branches to grab in case the Heroes don't want to chance it.

Larry's big fight scene breaks down like this:  Larry gets a surprise turn and, because everyone is unarmed, he gets two attacks. He uses them both to swing from the chandelier and kick the two hoodlums, doing enough damage to one of them to knock him unconscious. In the first turn of regular combat, the boss bad guy wins initiative, but the Editor rolls so poorly on his attack roll that he says the boss is still drawing his gun. Larry makes a disarming attack on the boss and wins possession of the gun. Because a weapon is now in play, we switch to one melee attack per turn. On turn 2, Larry wins initiative and clocks the bad guy, doing enough damage to only lightly injure him. The hoodlum who wasn't knocked out, though, fires into the melee. Because firing into a melee is dangerous, there is a chance to hit either combatant, and the Editor rolls that the bullet hits the boss instead of Larry. The remaining hoodlum gets shot on turn 3 by Larry. It's not clear if the second hoodlum and the boss are unconscious yet, or if they've failed morale saves and stopped fighting.

Bosses should maybe be a new mobster type, between hoodlums and master criminals.

If the Fu Manchu adaptation here was a H&H scenario, the Editor would be in for a tricky situation. There is a scene where one of the Heroes is approached by a mystery lady (a female practitioner of the Mysteryman class, no doubt). She gives him an important clue, and then needs to disappear (or she won't be mysterious). Now, the Editor could just make her high enough in level to give her a great roll at becoming effectively invisible through stealth, but that may later beg the question why she doesn't just tackle Fu Manchu herself if she's so high in level. Or, the Editor could fudge the die roll so she gets away, but fudging dice rolls just to railroad through a plot doesn't feel fair to most players.

Now, the trick used in the story to keep our Hero from following her is to have Wayland Smith show up with even more vital information our Hero needs. The problem with this is, Wayland is probably also a Hero in play in this scenario, so the two players will likely be confident they can share information at any other time. For a RPG scenario, Wayland would have to be swapped out for a character not under a player's control.

In Spy, Bart Regan is assigned to recover the Kahoon Ruby, not to keep, but to give back to the Maharaja who owned it. Still, because the ruby would clearly have a monetary value, it is easy to assign an XP award for finishing this scenario. Had the mission been to recover the Maharaja's missing child, the award would not be so clearly quantifiable.  A further wrinkle is that the Maharaja will sign a peace treaty with whatever country recovers the ruby, so there will be lots of rival factions vying to compete this scenario first.

This is also the issue that Bart proposes to his partner Sally. If these were both played Heroes, this is role-playing above and beyond the call of duty.

(You can read this issue at Comic Book Archives)

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