Friday, July 31, 2015

Popular Comics #22

Our coverage of November 1937 begins with another issue from Dell Comics, which begins with some pages of Dick Tracy I'm choosing not to show here. For those who want to go down to the bottom of this post and follow a link to where you can read them, you'll see Dick talking about poisoned chewing gum (trophy or trap?), and a hot playing tip -- you can write secret messages in butter with a toothpick, which will show up under ultraviolet light, or scratch a message onto paper with a pin and you can read the impressions if the light hits it just the right way.

Of course, we're also asked to believe that a bed mattress can serve as safe cover from a sub-machine gun, so the whole veracity of those tips feels up in the air to me now...

Speaking of questionable things, Don Winslow is shown hollow ice cubes holding poison gas. I guess that could work, but if you're really concerned about not leaving bomb fragments behind, why not just rain the poison down on the island in liquid form? Oh well. At least you could leave a freezer-full of poison gas-filled ice cubes in a walk-in freezer in a hideout, to catch Heroes who habitually try to break everything.

Bos'n Hal learns that incendiary bullets and whale oil are a bad mix -- but should incendiary bullets do additional damage if they hit living targets? Because Hideouts & Hoodlums uses an abstract combat system and one-time damage assignment, it largely ignores continuing effects like bleeding and burning. In Book II: Mobsters & Trophies, I assigned incendiary bullets an additional +1d4 damage because I figured players would expect it, and yet the anticipated demand hasn't been there; my players get more excited about armor-piercing rounds. More to ponder...

Smilin' Jack teaches us that radio compasses on planes were once a luxury, not a necessity!

Did I say before that the Skull Valley strip was getting out there? I didn't know the half of it! Here, we get flying plants, giant tumbleweeds, intelligent cavemen, gas cacti that shoot their needles like darts, and "nameless monsters" that have triceratops-like heads, but backwards-bending legs with clawed feet! I'm not even sure where to start statting!

...Seriously, the flying plants and the giant tumbleweeds are noncombatants, the gas cacti are more like a trap than a mobster-type, cavemen were already statted in Book II, and I can't tell the size of the nameless monster to help me place a HD value on it.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Detective Comics #8 - pt. 1

We've gone through seven months of comic books since I last had access to an issue of Detective Comics. No, still no Batman yet. This time we join Larry Steele, Private Eye, as he explores a hidden catwalk under the docks. And, while the story only shows one catwalk, an interesting hideout would be a maze of hidden catwalks running under an entire waterfront.

The lonely building at the end of the pier is a good place for a hideout, and easily defended from anyone approaching by the pier.

But the main reason I was going to share this page was because of the suggestion that in melee combat it can be "too late to shoot".  It seems odd to suggest that a gun is useless at point blank range, when it is actually most deadly, and yet in a game mechanics sense it works to make clear distinctions between melee and missile combat.

And here Larry gives us a tip about approaching spooky old mansions. Skip that front door and go in through a window!  Then head down to the basement as fast as you can, because that's where the real action is.

It's hard to believe that National Comics was so poor, per-Superman, that they couldn't print all their comics fully in color...

We know from TV cop shows that morgues use long drawers to hold bodies today, but if this page is accurate then morgues were still leaving bodies exposed on slabs as late as the 1930s.

I have a feeling this is not a lair of literal ghouls that Cosmo is going to find, which is unfortunate -- that would make for a really exciting adventure, with the morgue robberies being a great plot hook to lead to a ghoul adventure.

Bruce Nelson observes that yellow peril hoodlums use outdated weapons like knives and hatchets, while Americanized Orientals favor automatic pistols.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Archives)

Monday, July 27, 2015

More Fun Comics #25

We'll start this revisit of More Fun with Sandra of the Service and this question -- in Hideouts & Hoodlums, do non-Heroes have to roll to notice things, like the men on the larger boat spotting Sandra's rowboat? It does make the game more fair if everyone rolls and plays by the results of the dice rolls. If, however, a specific result would make for a better story, the Editor should hand-wave the dice roll, or fudge the results to a better one. The most important thing is that the players should never feel cheated by hand-waving of dice fudging.

A seemingly simple, 2-page story of Doctor Occult, the Ghost Detective, actually requires a lot of unpacking. One point is that, in the climactic scene, the scientist seems to be casting a spell, one that can transmute, or polymorph, a human being into a small statuette. It's worth pointing out again that the narrator specifically refers to the villain as a scientist.  

Another point is that we see Dr. Occult's magic symbol reflecting the spell back on the scientist. Now, this seems very much like the Superhero power Turn Gun on Bad Guy, but the scientist has no visible weapon. A less literal interpretation of the power might allow it to reflect any form of attack. Or perhaps we need a new spell for spell reflection. 

The difficulty we're seeing here in Doctor Occult we've seen before -- it's the trope of magic and advanced science being indistinguishable and it tends to play havoc with a set of game mechanics that tries very hard to keep magic and science separate. Ultimately, I'll have to look at whether this is really the exception, or is it the rule, when dealing with magic in comic books. The latter situation could require a drastic overhaul of H&H.

Less dramatically, Johnnie Law deals with the threat of -- marijuana!  Reefer madness will occur frequently in comics until all mention is squashed by the comics book code in the 1950s, and it will be interesting to trace all the permutations of how the effects of marijuana were perceived by the average comic book artist, who was almost always too square to know anything about the drug other than its name. Here, we learn that marijuana causes hallucinations and fits of violence. 

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Famous Funnies #39

One of the challenges Editors like to put in Heroes' way, when running Hideouts & Hoodlums, is environmental challenges. Can the Heroes navigate safely from one side to the other of a treacherous creek? True, an alien could just leap over it, an aviator might fly over it, but there are other races and classes that, with limited resources, might be challenged by even so simple a scenario.

Here we see that the best route for non-powered, non-magical Heroes is to only risk one Hero in the crossing and have him post a guide rope for the others following. The first Hero would still need to make a save vs. plot or science (depending on which is easier, or harder, which in turn depends on how treacherous that stream really is), but the Heroes who follow would not need to roll.

Tetra-nitro-cellulose, as we see here in Skyroads, is one of those nonsense-word explosives so common in comics. It's apparently intensely powerful -- able to vaporize a man who's clearly missed his saving throw vs. science. But note the small size of the blast crater; bear in mind that, in comics, the intensity of an explosion tends to have little bearing on its blast radius.

We haven't spent as much time with Hairbreadth Harry lately as we used to spend in the early days of this blog, but here his outer space adventure continues. Aliens were, until this point, usually drawn to look like ordinary humans in just funny clothes. This might be the first distinctly nonhuman, though still humanoid, alien I've yet seen in the early comics.

Sarians are, apparently, potbellied dwarfs with pointy ears and advanced technology; the ray-rod is capable of making any object it hits disappear.

Dickie Dare's climatic battle with the Black Panther ends with the pearl everyone's been fighting over winding up in the maw of a giant devil ray (that is, a giant manta ray). This is a story trope I've used in my own games, where the "macguffin" item the Heroes are questing for is actually too valuable or too powerful for you to want them to be able to keep it, so it's lost to a bigger and badder adversary the Heroes should not be able to beat (or catch). Of course, that might not stop them from trying and -- if Dickie and Dan's players are that dead set on hunting down the ray...maybe the Editor should just relent and let them catch it.

Giant sting rays were statted in Supplement II: All-American. I daresay, now, that I was a tad conservative. I would likely put a giant devil ray at 7 Hit Dice, of the d8 variety.

Meanwhile, it's a good idea to have a Supporting Cast Member around to tie up the bad guys for you, while you're busy beating up still more bad guys.

By the size of them, these should be "ordinary" 2 HD robots, but the scenario calls for some dressing to be added to these robots. They've been given the ability to wreck things (probably as a 2nd level Superhero), and they seem intelligent (though not too intelligent).

An upgraded mobster should always be worth more Experience Points, probably as if 1 Hit Die higher in this case.

For a strip about aviators, we've seen Scorchy Smith engage in very little dogfighting, until now. Here we see him using the stunt Tight Circle to counter the stunt Find Blind Spot, exactly as they are described in The Trophy Case v. 1 no. 7.

Scorchy Smith's player might have a case for his Editor being out to get his Hero. The armored cars pictured here are close to the light tanks statted in Supplement I: National. Let's hope Scorchy makes lots of saves vs. missiles!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Star Ranger #7

Speeding through the month of October 1937, I have to pause and just share a few things about this issue from Centaur.

A flask of acid could be a minor trophy item. This particular acid is mild enough that it does only 1 point of damage per exploration turn, until washed off.

I include this Fred Guardineer two-page spread because of the masked vigilante mob. On seeing this, I realized this mob is probably what a group of player Heroes would look like if I ever ran a Mythic West Hideouts & Hoodlums campaign. This art is unusual because of the size of the group; most Western stories feature a lone hero and maybe a sidekick.

Guns are loud. It's easy to forget that during game sessions, since you're not actually hearing anything. I've always tried to discourage relying on guns as weapons in H&H, but guns can be used in the game for more than just combat. Here, we see three shots being used as a signal, to communicate when a party splits up (note that many Editors may discourage players from having their Heroes split up, though, as it adds considerable challenge for both the Editor and his players).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Funnies #13

If TV shows aren't lying to me, then Dan Dunn is using a legitimate police "trick" here, ignoring the obvious smuggling charges because it's not his department.

Having a law enforcement officer present can be a handy incentive for getting mobsters to talk. How much they reveal is always up to the Editor, and it doesn't always have to be as specific as this ship captain is here, about the secret door.

But here...Dan seems to be on some pretty shaky legal ground here. I'm not an expert on what the rights were of police captives in the 1930s, but I'm pretty sure you weren't supposed to beat them up and drug them.  That's not to say that your Neutral and Chaotic Heroes couldn't possibly do this to prisoners...

Captain Easy always offers a wealth of playing tips. Here, we learn the value of prearranging a simple code between Heroes, so you can safely write messages to each other, even when captured!

Even though we get a great overhead shot on this page, it doesn't reveal too much about the hideout. We do learn that the clever mobsters have concealed doors leading to adjoining buildings, so that they can escape more easily.

These mobsters also have a pretty fancy car, that has a smokescreen ejector and is bulletproof as well (that's revealed on the next page). Bulletproof cars and smokescreen ejectors can be found in Book II: Mobsters & Trophies.

Another player tip is to remember how old-time doors used to have transoms above them. They're a good way to peek into the next room, or drop gas bombs into the next room. But bear in mind that the bad guys can use them against you too!

Somehow I missed this stunt when I was designing the Aviator class for The Trophy Case v. 1 #6-7, but there should be a barrel roll stunt that allows you to force someone to fall off the surface of your plane, or out of the passenger seat, if not strapped in.

Five cents for a root beer seems like useful information, but really I'm just interested in this Daisybelle strip because, if I was ever tempted to open my own hot dog stand, it would like just like this.

A fortune telling booth is actually a trophy item listed in Book II -- though it's not much of a trophy item if it works this poorly.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

More Fun Comics #24

Sometimes things don't go as planned in a Hideouts & Hoodlums scenario. Sandra of the Secret Service can attest to that. Here, she and her guy-friend have gotten themselves captured again and can't figure a way out of this. What is an Editor to do?  In unsubtle fashion, you let the Heroes find a sheet of paper with instructions on how to find a secret escape route. There's no official game term for this, but you can call it a freebie.

There are freebies, and there are things the Heroes are willing to pay for. Here, Wing Brady's player could have trusted to the luck of the dice on his encounter reaction roll, but he's decided to sweeten the deal and improve his chances with a $5 bribe. As the Editor of this scenario, I'd be willing to give him a +1 bonus to the roll for the bribe.

Roleplaying should matter, though, so I'd also be willing to give him a -1 penalty to the roll for being kind of a dick. "I gave you five bucks to drive the cat, not to ask questions" indeed!

This month, Brad Hardy learns that there is arm wrestling and there's ultimate arm wrestling. The first one to lose a save vs. science and fall off-balance from the bridge lands on the...well, what is that creature supposed to be, anyway?  Some sort of giant catfish with tentacles? It sort of reminds me of the AD&D monster called the aboleth...

One of the best things about reading these old comic books is when you see a cool idea for an encounter area that you've never seen in a game scenario before. Bat infested caverns might be pretty common place, but ones with "sentinel-like stalagmites" taller than the Heroes? Navigating a maze of stalagmites? Sounds intriguing!

We're still months away from the debut of Superman. We've already seen one prototype, in Dr. Occult. Is Bob Merritt another? Here, he topples boulders and collapses tunnels with just a sword (yes, a ridiculously huge sword!). These feats of strength seem more appropriate for the Superhero's wrecking things game mechanic than anything a Fighter should be able to do...

And, lastly, there's Jack Woods, modern-day cowboy. Low XP-value trophies should be items that are only slightly better than ordinary. So, taking a bad guy's car would not net you any Experience Points, but a high-powered car, that might be worth 100 XP?

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Famous Funnies #38

We all know how injuries work for Heroes in Hideouts & Hoodlums -- you lose hit points until, if you're not lucky, you run out -- and that's it, with no complications. But that doesn't mean that non-Heroes can't have complications, like broken legs that need special attention, as we see here in the new feature Roy Powers, Eagle Scout.

This one has nothing to do with H&H; I include it only because I think it's the funniest gag filler I've read in a long time.

It's worth noting here that "lottery joints" used to be a thing. That's right, instead of playing the lottery at your local gas station, you'd have to sneak into the dingy backroom of some disreputable saloon.

Speaking of disreputable...I find reading War on Crime particularly enjoyable because so much of it happened in Chicagoland. I know Chicagoland. In fact, I know where the Ontarioville used to be that is referred to here!

Here's a low-powered magic item: the magic torch. Touch the end of it and it bursts into flame on its own. It's easily blown out, but can be re-lit with just another touch, and is never hot to the touch when not lit.
And I included this page of Jane Arden because that's a pretty clever trick for avoiding being caught following someone in a taxi. That Jane is a quick thinker!

Goat joke!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Star Ranger #6

I've written about both bandits and robbers before on this blog. In Hideouts & Hoodlums, they are two distinctly separate mobster types, but what makes them distinctly separate in the comic books is not always so evident.

Previously, I thought I had plenty of evidence that bandits are robbers of an ethnic/racial stereotype, most often Hispanics. But in this issue of Star Ranger, we see the same ethnic stereotype villains being referred to as robbers!

Regardless of how this one gets resolved, it seems robbers should maybe be extra good at finding concealed money on people's persons -- maybe a 3 in 6 chance?

H&H specifies melee combat as being when you're within 10' of your opponent, but what it doesn't spell out is that there are conditions in which that doesn't apply. Common sense has to be applied to figure out when the environment precludes melee combat, but one example would be when locked behind a door and trying to attack through a barred window. In these cases, you obviously have to lure your opponent right up to the bars before you can attack.

I have yet to meet a player who would pick a hot air balloon over an airplane, but they are in the rules (Book II: Mobsters & Trophies).

H&H is very generous when it comes to lifting weights. Essentially, anyone can lift up to 1,000 lbs. without needing a superpower. Non-Superheroes can even wreck things (the mechanics for that are in Book II in the ebook version, but moving to Book III: Underworld & Metropolitan Adventures in the POD version).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Funny Picture Stories v. 2 #1

Centaur was right to start a volume 2 here, as they must have been infused with enough cash to pay Chesler for more, better material. We're still not talking about a lot of quality here (I suspect we've seen the last of Will Eisner from Centaur already), but some that was better.

Case in point, the first of what was promised to be a continuing serial of Jack Strand. Here, we get a good story set-up, with a dying man handing off a valuable item to the Hero of the story, and his Supporting Cast Member.

Here, poor Jack's player just can't roll well enough to find secret doors, no matter how long he searches that closet. Time to switch dice, Jack!

The item, a magic pin, can transform into a gem that serves as a Crystal Ball.

And here's where things start to get Eisner-/Ditko-esque funky.

Possession of the mystic pin seems to make Jack Strand a Magic-User. He engages in a contest of wills, which was already given game mechanical form in The Trophy Case v. 2 #3.  Only a contest of wills can, apparently, open the magic gate through which Diana fled. The gate opens onto some sort of magic realm/dimension with a giant, echo-filled forest and, on following pages, fantasy trappings like a castle with a moat and drawbridge. These are the places Editors will rely on more and more as Heroes advance in level, and fighting ordinary hoodlums just isn't challenging anymore.

I include this page from the Shore Club Window Mystery, not because I expect Editors to run full-blown murder mysteries as scenarios (every player I've ever had would balk at the challenge of this), but because the detail of a sniper replacing a pane of glass with cellophane in advance is remarkably clever and worth re-using.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)