Sunday, November 29, 2015

Detective Comics #17 - part 2

Bruce Nelson seems to be an aviator in this month's installment. In fact, he seems to be demonstrating the Increase Speed stunt while flying (a more colorful name for this stunt would have been "Yank the Throttle Wide Open").  He also demonstrates Wing Walking.  I now wonder if my aviator rules shouldn't be a separate class, but stunts anyone can use, based on their level, when they hop in a plane...

The smuggler's plane is trapped, literally -- there's a trapdoor underneath the passenger seats.

From the telephone style in Buck Marshall, Range Detective, it appears this strip is meant to take place in the early 1900s.

Slam Bradley is revealed to have a great singing voice in this story; not surprising, since Golden Age Heroes often happen to have whatever skill they need for the scenario. Maybe this should be handled by a save vs. plot each time. Any inconsistency in skill is only more appropriate for the continuity-lite Golden Age.

For some reason, the radio station that hires Slam buys a $1,500 clock. It's unclear why the clock costs so much. A valuable antique? Slam and Shorty are also hired for a $5,000 reward, so this radio station really likes to toss its money around. The scenario is ridiculously easy to solve too. If microphones are exploding and killing performers, all they have to do is have an engineer take each microphone apart and check it before each program.

(This issue can be read at Comic Book Archives)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Detective Comics #17 - part 1

What am I thankful for, on the day after Thanksgiving? More comic book reading!

Speed Saunders has always been a peculiar duck, both in terms of how irrelevant his river patrol job is to his adventures (but, really, how often does a hero's civilian profession come up in a scenario?) and how fluid his adventures have been so far in terms of genre. This month, we find out that Speed's abilities are also pretty fluid in terms of skills. Here, Speed steps off a low roof onto the top of a parked car and lays down on it -- and no one inside the car hears him doing this! This is a level of stealth more appropriate to the Mysteryman class than the Fighter class. Or...the Editor has simply fudged how the surprise rules work. Even if Speed has complete surprise, his free turn of action should only be 1 combat turn long before being discovered.

Now, the hideout Speed finds in this issue is rather interesting. The kidnapper is in a remote cabin, located on a mountain terrace inside a giant gorge. The only way to get down to the cabin is by climbing down, which seems to come with a high risk of falling. The kidnapper does have a rope tied to a tree overlooking the gorge that is used to lower supplies down to the cabin, and Speed uses that to descend safer (though a nastier game Editor would have made this a trap -- rigging the tree branch or the rope to snap).

Speed is saved from a deathtrap by the "fact" that snakes won't cross a rope made from hair. Now, call me overly suspicious, but if one of my players tried this, I would think he was trying to hoodwink me. It does seem like the sort of phony science you see in comic books, though, so if one of my players did come up with this "fact", I might feel charitable enough to give him a save vs. plot to determine if this turns out to be true -- particularly if every other attempt to thwart the deathtrap has failed.

Larry Steele isn't a very good detective sometimes. He's exploring an old castle in Maine this month and notes how dusty the floors are, but completely fails to notice any footprints from the three kidnappers in the castle in the dust. Now, this could be the result of bad dice rolls; Larry's Editor has been asking for keen senses/notice things checks periodically, but Larry's player just keeps rolling too high. Note that the players can ask for checks as often as they want to, but it is the Editor who decides how often they are eligible for new checks.

Larry later makes up for it by rappelling down the sheer side of a rain-soaked castle wall, which you would think would come with some serious penalizing modifiers. Since it's not clear yet in the Hideouts & Hoodlums rules what the chance for a Fighter to climb should be, I can't comment yet on what those modifiers should look like.

One of the kidnappers is a drunken hoodlum!

Sometimes you might want to tone things down from the comic books, for the sake of game balance. This month's installment of Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise introduces an explosive gun, handheld, with a 125 mile range, that wrecks as if an 8th level Superhero. If this weapon isn't destroyed forever by the end of the scenario, I know it's bound to wind up in the hands of the Heroes and there goes any challenge ever for the rest of my campaign.

The Russian embassy serves as a sort-of hideout-in-plain-sight in this story. It would be interesting to run a scenario where the Heroes can't get in without wearing tuxedos, surrounded by foreign dignitaries and spies. On the other hand, the possibility for mass deaths that lead to war...maybe there are safer places to put your Heroes...

Cosmo also demonstrates lip reading in this scenario, a skill not covered by the H&H rules.  It should, I would think, be more difficult than hearing noises, and possibly relegated to a stunt.

This issue begins a serialized adaptation of Dr. Fu Manchu.  Fu Manchu's henchmen make use of poisoned arrows. There isn't much discussion of poisoned weapons in H&H, but it's definitely a practice best left in the hands of villains. I would either outright forbid Heroes to use poisoned weapons, or force a save vs. plot with a -1 or -2 penalty each time to use poison.

Well before Superman tackled the KKK on the radio, Bart Regan, Spy, tackles the "hooded horde".  Jerry Siegel directly labels them a "terrorist organization", which, sadly, remains quite prescient about today's politics.  However, the KKK isn't up to lynching blacks here, but inciting general unrest and wrecking businesses.

Bart Regan demonstrates ventriloquism in this story, even throwing his voice about 10' away!  I've talked about ventriloquism before and feel the same now; that, for Golden Age stories at least, ventriloquism needs to be a basic skill.

(This issue can be read at Comic Book Archives)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Famous Funnies #48

Skyroads shares an unusual crime problem -- gas rustling!  It could never happen at an urban gas station, but a rural gas station could have enough room for a plane to land, the aviator steals gas for his plane, and flies away. Something for Heroes to solve?

The middle panel reads like a wandering encounter chart for desert environs -- jack rabbits, horned toads, and gila monsters.

This page of War on Crime brings up something that was suggested in my last game session -- can you wreck things with bullets? Possibly...there is a wrecking things mechanic for non-Superheroes and applying it to guns could just be flavor text (particularly since, as this page shows, shooting off a doorknob is something you'd want to do at point blank range, so you wouldn't be giving your Heroes the benefit of added range).  I hesitate to say it could be used for wrecking robots or better, though, as that would be handled better by normal combat rules.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Star Comics #13

By 1938, Centaur is publishing less silly stuff and more adventure. Which is good for its inclusion here!

Costumes are important for superheroes, but optional for everyone else. Secret identities are entirely optional -- you can take them as seriously or as not seriously as you want.

This is "Scoop" Cody, aka the Mask.  He insists on wearing the mask even though it doesn't fool anyone. His supporting cast has figured it out and barely humor him.

And it's not just his girlfriend who has him figured out -- even the bad guy sees through the obvious disguise! Hideouts & Hoodlums has a mechanic where anyone in costume can be recognized with a save vs. plot, but it is up to the Editor how often to use this and it will help determine the mood of the campaign he wants.

After Dan Hastings, Fred Guardineer launches another hero for Centaur -- Don Marlow.

The locale is high fantasy -- "a strange island in a lake of liquid gold". It seems Don can get all the XP for treasure he wants by dipping a bucket! Not content with just getting rich (which I suspect many players would do instead), Dan and friends search the island and run into one of the earliest uses of amazons in comics. Amazons have no H&H entry, yet, but will in 2nd edition.

Note the use of one of Guardineer's favorite tricks, having people speak backwards.

Here's something to consider: can a Lawful (or even a Neutral) Hero strike a female? Should a code of honor be entirely self-regulated, or should the save vs. plot mechanic be used for this?  There already is a precedent for the later, in the save needed for non-Fighters to shoot anyone.

And just what is Don and the Professor wearing? Is that supposed to be chainmail, or just heavy sweaters?

Move over Bunnies & Burrows -- this game is Walruses & Wastelands!  If I only had time for yet more projects...

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Funnies #22

Alley Oop uses pteranodons a lot. They are called pterodactyls in the strip, but the scale is off (pterodactyls were too small). Pteranodons are one of the few dinosaurs that can be domesticated and ridden in Alley Oop. Dropping rocks while flying overhead is also shown to be an effective tactic. Helmets are shown to protect wearers from attacks directly overhead, though (act as shields from overhead attacks?).

This is from Four Aces and the lesson here is that pilots flying mail planes were, apparently, authorized to carry a gun.

Goat joke #15!

Oz is a place you could send Heroes to in Hideouts & Hoodlums.  Maybe they need to recover some of this Magic Powder of Life?  It's hard to define, in game mechanics terms, what this powder does. Besides functioning as a Raise Dead spell, it also grants sentience and intelligence.  This stuff would be worth a ton of experience points!

Should a pumpkinhead be a mobster type? Maybe statted the same as a bugbear?

This is a, so far, faithful adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz, second book in the Oz series.

Mombi has a potion that will turn Tip into a marble statue. I should have a mobster type for witches, maybe with a random table of crazy potions or powders they might be carrying.

From a gag page called, appropriately enough, Hold Everything.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Action Comics #2

And we're back again already, visiting the second appearance of Superman. We pick him up where we left off, in mid-leap, and when he lands his impact breaks the sidewalk apart. It's a perfectly natural result and one often ignored by future superhero scribes -- but also one of the inspirations for Superheroes being able to wreck things as an "at will" power. It seems to be the impact as much as the fall that startles the man with him into confessing, and pages later Superman casually bends a steel bar to intimidate another man into submitting to him. This leads me to think that any show of wrecking things should lead to a morale save.

Consistent with last issue's assertion that Superman could leap 1/8 of a mile, he appears to have leaped over 500 feet to the top of the Washington Monument. This is the power Leap I. But even in this issue inconsistencies begin to creep in. Superman jumps up to crash into a fighter plane that was surely strafing at 3,000 feet. This would be Leap IV, well beyond what a 1st-level Superhero should be able to do.

Incidentally, the South American war depicted in this story is meant to be fictitious; there actually were no wars going on in South America in 1938. The closest war was the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay that raged until 1935.

There is a curious instance on page 4 where Superman appears to fail some kind of balance check, though he might just be toying with the thugs who are after him.

This issue is also the one that clinches that Superman is from Cleveland, just as all of Siegel and Shuster's characters seem to be.

Superman blocks the shots from a firing squad with his body...and perhaps I've been too harsh, game mechanic-wise, on blocking like that. Giving the attacker just a penalty to hit their original target may be too harsh, and not in keeping with the spirit of sacrifice one expects from heroes.

The power Extend Missile Range is sort of a catch-all power for throwing missile weapons extra far, or throwing people around "as tho he were hurling a javelin".  The range of a thrown javelin may or may not be 60', but that's what I went with for the power.

Moving on to the Scoop Scanlon story...Scoop dives into a storm-tossed ocean and swims out to a shipwrecked boat -- what should his player have to do to make that happen? Obviously there is an element of risk here and simply moving ones Movement rate across the terrain isn't going to cut it, but the risk is not something easily expressible as lost hit points.  A save vs. science or drown (die)? Perhaps a bit extreme. A save vs. science or take 1d6 points of drowning damage per turn? Possible, but not very elegant.

Tex Thompson finds a lost city known only as "The Sealed City" inside a hollow volcano up in the wilderlands of northern Canada. The entrance is a secret door that appears to be part of the rocky side of the slope, but vanishes when a doorbell-like button is pressed on a small panel nearby.  Despite being thought of as a city, it is mostly wooded inside, with just a few buildings and only two residents (seen so far). They both look like yellow peril hoodlums, but are clearly inhuman, speak some unknowable tongue, and one (but not both!) only has a single central eye in his face. Gorrah of the Sealed City also has a hi-tech device -- a telepathic projector that projects any words he is thinking into visible words anyone viewing the projection can understand.

Chuck Dawson demonstrates the ability to climb up to a roof (albeit of just a small shack). He definitely demonstrates that there should only be a random chance of successfully climbing, because he falls off the roof by accident and stuns himself for 1 minute (1 combat turn) when he lands. This, coupled with my suggestion from yesterday, means that all damage to a Hero (expressed in lost hp) should come with a saving throw to avoid being stunned (but measured only in combat turns?).

Zatara suddenly has the more familiar mustache and black hair he's known for in this issue and hereafter. Could his brown hair last issue have been an illusion?  He also demonstrates casting Levitate, Charm Person, and has a spell that must be a weaker version of the spell Create Food, as it alters already existing food into better food, and a stronger version of Fly -- this version summoning a magic carpet that lets up to three people fly (or he owns a Carpet of Flying, that follows him invisibly?). He also casts Project Image - which is currently a high-level spell.

Zatara uses a spell that allows him to transform a weapon into something harmless (a gun into flowers), and we probably do need a new spell for that. When he transforms someone into a giant sunflower plant, though, I'm more inclined to believe that's only an illusion (particularly since the giant sunflower still has a face).

Zatara also, curiously, lives in a world where people can calmly see him work magic in public and react as if it was normal, and then does not himself act suspicious about how normal it seems to them.  A high magic campaign?  He also makes the curious statement that ghosts cannot kill living people -- which would make undead monsters a lot weaker.  Of course, Zatara might have just been lying to comfort those around him.

In this story, Zatara uses a mixture of backwords words and simple nonsense words as "magic words". All of this should be considered flavor text and not important to how the spells function.  Something that does effect how spells are cast is that Zatara cannot cast any spells with a bag over his head. However, Zatara can still project his "spirit form" (Astral form?). Could Zatara have both magic spells and psionics? Psionics were introduced in Supplement III: Better Quality, but have seen little use in any other Hideouts & Hoodlums material other than that.

Something else that comes up in this story is that Zatara casts a spell that does not summon ghouls, evil spirits, and demons, but simply makes ones already present visible to frighten some thugs. This is similar to the Dr. Mystic story I talked about a long time ago, where a densely populated spirit world always seemed to be just outside the panel borders. Some sort of Lower Borders spell would need to be a brand new spell.

(This issue can be read at Comic Book Archives)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Feature Funnies #10

Ah, a pleasant walk in the park with two big dogs...all well and good until you start getting dragged for points of damage!  Yesterday's post brought up the subject of being pulled off your feet in combat, but today's Joe Palooka makes me wonder if there is a lower threshold for what should be able to pull you off your feet? In other words, does it need to be two dogs dragging Knobby, or could one dog have done it?

I'm thinking someone should have a chance to pull a target with up to 3 times his hit points off his feet. A small dog would have no chance of pulling a grown man off his feet, but a giant rat might. That same giant rat would likely not be able to pull a 2nd-level Hero off his feet. 

This is from Off the Record. I thought it was really funny.

I never thought I would be featuring Lena Pry, and probably shouldn't here. I mean...if Hideouts & Hoodlums is to reach as broad an audience as possible, I shouldn't engage in the very negative stereotypes I point out on this very blog, right?  So if I was tempted to include a hillbilly mobster type that is permanently confused and shoots shotguns at random targets...I should just ignore that impulse, right?

I include these panels from Gallant Knight because I want to pose the question -- should fire have any additional effects than regular damage? Weapon damage does not take into account any residual effects, like bleeding, so it seems wrong to take residual effects like being set on fire into account.  Plus you just don't see many instances of people burning to death in comic books.

You do, at least here, see fire having a stunning effect, similar to how weapons sometimes just seem to stun people. So maybe H&H needs a game mechanic for any type of damage having a chance of additionally stunning the victim for 1 turn. Maybe there should always be a save vs. science?

Twelve days ago, I used a Dixie Dugan strip to support my supposition that people were accustomed to walking everywhere in the 1930s. I failed to remember how far back America's love affair with the automobile goes and, while this page of Dixie Dugan is probably exaggerated, it does go far in refuting my supposition. The urban streets were definitely still full of cars in the 1930s (or at least they were on weekends!).

I have no reason to post this page of Dixie Dugan, though, except that it's hot.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Keen Detective Funnies #8

It's July 1938 now (just pretend with me here) and this issue from Centaur Comics is on the stands. It's a bit confusing; despite being #8, it's actually the first issue of Keen Detective Funnies (and it's unclear what title it would have taken over the numbering from, since all of Centaur's titles had been higher than #8 at this point). Further, if you only looked at the first story (The Clock), you would have thought this was an all-reprint book, since the Clock story is (and the Rocky Baird story later on).

And then there's new stuff, like "Bayfront Cowboy".  He's more of a Fighter than a Cowboy and his weapon of choice is a grappling hook. There's no reason for it to do more than ordinary weapon damage, but it should have a range of at least 20'.  More importantly, it appears a hook can pull someone off their feet with a failed save vs. science after the tug.

This guy's pretty bada--. Besides grappling hooks, he also uses human body shields!  I would make even a Chaotic Hero save vs. plot before allowing them do such a deed. The living shield would count as soft cover (hard cover if he wasn't also attacking). Any miss would require a second attack roll against the shield (who, in this case, would be dead on a hit).

"Terror of the Timber" is a done-in-one story with a Fighter protagonist who can shimmy up a tree (something he's not supposed to be able to do by the rules) and definitely seems to be kicking two men at once, even though one of them is armed (something else he's not supposed to be able to do).

I've said before that it's rare for comic books to name specific types of guns, but here we've got a Smith & Wesson .38 Special carbine. Nothing special about that, in game mechanics terms, other than range. 

This page is from an installment of The Spinner (just an old guy who spins stories for kids), and the highlight of this story is definitely the Lost Maniac Mine. A perfect adventure location -- there's caves full of owls, bats, skulls, and chests full of gold for the brave souls willing to go in deep enough. Of course, this wouldn't even challenge a single 1st-level Hero without being toughened up a little. Maybe giant bats? Or an undead skeleton or two?

Oh, never mind -- there's a brown bear in there! Maybe this requires a party of 1st-3rd level Heroes!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Friday, November 13, 2015

New Adventure Comics #27

This issue starts off with the latest installment in the Captain Jim and the Texas Rangers serial. Captain Jim and Bob have been looking for the kids Rusty and Spike for an awful long time now. Part of this is due to how good Rusty and Spike are at hiding, which fits well with the half-pint race introduced in The Trophy Case v. 2 no. 4.  The issue also comes up of gun range, and verifies that rifles have longer ranges than pistols. This is true in the real world, of course, but it's good to know what is factual in comic books and doesn't need to be glossed over in the abstractness of Hideouts & Hoodlums' combat rules.

Detective Sergeant Carey of the Chinatown Squad is still in China, where the soldiers there are the good guys and Carey and his friends are helping them root out bandits. The bandit leader, Sin Fu, has a lair inside a dormant volcano. The soldiers know about the cave complex visibly accessible from outside and have found the caves are all dead ends; the true entrance to his lair is a secret door made to look like part of the rock slope, and opens by being pushed in by a heavy weight (or much force). Sadly, the strip ends abruptly and we have no sense of what the interior of the hideout is like, save that is has a holding cell for prisoners (which keeps the army from just blowing up the volcano).

Captain Desmo fights with lengths of chain, snapping them like whips, in his installment.  Even improvised weapons should do normal weapon damage.

Just like Zatara four posts ago, Nadir the Master of Magic uses a gun in this installment -- though, really, Nadir hasn't cast a spell in so long we can barely call him a Magic-User at this point. He might just be a Fighter with a magic item or two.

(Available to read at Comic Book Archives)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Detective Comics #16

We're just six months away from the debut of the Bat-Man at this point, so instead of him -- let's talk about Larry Steele, Private Detective!

This installment of Larry's adventures features a pretty exciting gunfight in a burning warehouse. Caught on a four-story roof ledge with fire behind him, Larry jumps and catches a fire escape on another section of the building to save himself. This is a big warehouse -- four stories tall, with what appears to be an alley running up the middle of it, nearly dividing the warehouse in two (and hence providing the gap that Larry has to jump over). Heroes could spend a whole game session just exploring this warehouse!

It does bring up the question, though -- how far can a Hero leap (without being an alien, or buffed by powers)? The world record for a running broad jump (and we'll assume in this case that the fire was not so close behind Larry that he couldn't back up and get a running start) is over 29 feet -- but I'm not suggesting that every Hero should be able to jump that distance. Indeed, I would say that any Hero trying to clear over 15 feet should have to save vs. science to clear the rest -- up to 29 feet maximum.

There's even an idea here for a nifty trap, when the floor gives way under the bad guy called "Snow", and then the ceiling collapses on top of him and pins him to the floor. Now, in an ordinary building, with 8-foot high ceilings, falling damage between floors would be negligible, because it's less than 10 feet. In a high-ceilinged warehouse, though, falls might be 1d6 or even 2d6 damage (per 10' fallen, of course), with the weight falling on top of them doing an extra 1d6 of damage, and necessitating a save vs. science to avoid being pinned and immobile.

Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise, investigates a case of jewel theft from a museum perpetrated by (spoilers!) fake undead. Night watchmen are being temporarily driven mad or dying from fright when they see a mummy costume, painted in phosphorous, hanging from a pole so it appears to be floating. I'm interested, now, in introducing a new mobster type called undead imposter, who can Scare Good Guys (like the power, reversed) -- but Editors have to be careful with using this. If fake undead can do this, then what would happen in your game if people saw real undead?

Bruce Nelson encounters the world's worst secret door -- it's opened by turning the light switch in the room.

Bart Regan, Spy, demonstrates how easy it is to unlock a door with a hairpin. Very likely, picking locks will become a basic skill for all Heroes -- with the prerequisite of asking a woman for a hairpin.

Buck Marshall overhears the slang term ranny, which I've found out means "cowboy" or "ranch hand".

This month's Slam Bradley confirms that Slam is from Cleveland, same as Superman. Slam not only takes tap dancing lessons for $3 a lesson, but learns to tap dance in only five hours.  Hideouts & Hoodlums has no skill system, nor any game mechanic you could tie directly to tap dancing. You could use a save vs. plot to decide if the Hero tap dances well enough, offering a +1 bonus for every four hours (length of a downtime turn) spent practicing beforehand.

Despite taking place in New York, Chief Gage from Cleveland, Slam's nonviolent foil, returns. This police chief turns up just to laugh at Slam and Shorty and impede their investigation. These characters should not be treated as Supporting Cast, since they have no loyalty to the Hero. Likewise is a new rival character, PI Joan Carter. A rival is looking to complete the same scenario faster (though by the end of the story it appears that Slam has recruited Joan into his SCM roster).

(Available to read online via Comic Book Archives)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Famous Funnies #47

The theme of the day is maps! This is from a page of Roy Powers, Eagle Scout. The scenario is about whose property the scout cabin sits on and, while I'm hard pressed at the moment to think of a good idea for one, I'm sure there's something exciting you could do with a cabin by a remote lake!

This is from Life's Like That, a gag filler page, with a particularly still-relevant today gag here.

This map is slightly better, though still not as detailed as most RPGs require for careful exploration. It would be interesting, though, to see someone flesh out this map and stock it with Dr. Sting's Indian watchmen!

For Lawful Heroes, taking trophies from bad guys is harder (by the book, requiring a save vs. plot to do so). The flip side is that Lawful Heroes should be the ones most likely to get to stick around afterwards and receive rewards for their good deeds. Here, Patsy, Thimble, and the Phantom Magician get $20,000 for solving a mystery from a generous railroad tycoon.That's a huge chunk of XP.
To keep this from leveling up Heroes too quickly, there needs to be an official leveling cap in place (either what you need for the next level, or halfway to the level past that), which H&H does not have now (only discussion of the need in The Trophy Case).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Crackajack Funnies #1

For months now, I've been reviewing pretty much the same cycle of comic books each month; now I've got two new ones in consecutive posts!  Though, to be honest, Crackajack Funnies has a lot of familiar content in it...

We've certainly seen Dan Dunn before! Sometimes I share particular pages for the history they teach us; this time, I share this page because of how accurately it predicts the future. Here, Dan and Irwin predict the prevalence of security cameras in modern society. Next stop, red light cameras!

Speaking of predicting the future -- this notion of mobsters using a naval destroyer seemed novel to me when I thought of it for The Trophy Case no. 9, and here Norman Marsh had already done the same thing 77 years earlier!

Here's an aviator we haven't seen before! So, what stunts is Captain Frank Hawks, Air Ace, using? Conjure Parachute? Deadstick? These both come from the Aviator-themed issues of The Trophy Case, vol 1. nos. 6-7, of course.  Broken oil line sounds like one of the plane mishaps identified in The Trophy Case no. 8.

Is Hawks a two-classed Hero, an Aviator/Scientist? Naw -- he's using the Repair Plane Damage stunt. With all the stunts Hawks has used so far, he must be at least 3rd level.

I've never been satisfied with the Scientist class, and it may be that I made inventing things too difficult. It turns out, any crackpot tinkerer working in a movie theater can invent a death ray!  The things special nurses have to deal with...

Hmm...a rubber finger tip sure seems handy for framing people (and I just saw how you can make your own in the Ant-Man movie!). I wonder if this should be a trophy item...?

Hunting for food is something that could come up when Heroes are on long expeditions, or simply run out of money. I don't think there needs to be a separate game mechanic for hunting, though one should dispense with the rule about only being unconscious at zero hit points.

Ventriloquism, largely forgotten now except by the occasional stand-up comedian, used to be a skill that seemed to fascinate comic book/strip writers. Not everyone could do it (given the confused and surprised reactions in The Nebbs), but you also didn't have to be a Hero (or even an adult) to use it. I'm thinking now that this needs to be more accessible than a stunt; perhaps a basic skill, like finding secret doors and hearing noises, that everyone has a flat chance to do?

We haven't touched on the Spanish Civil War in a while, but Don Winslow reminds us that neutrality poses its own challenges and a scenario can be built around "get in, get out, don't attack either side".

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Action Comics #1

And this is the moment all this has been leading up to. Although I started this blog looking further back, all the way back to More Fun Comics #1 in 1935, Action Comics #1, in June 1938, is often considered the proper start of the Golden Age of Comics.

I have to say, I thought I'd get here sooner. When I counted the number of comic books I had access to, I figured I would reach Action Comics #1 sometime in June. It's taken me almost twice that long because of some issues I spread out over two days, plus other days I just took off from posting.

But here we are, with the issue that is, in many ways, both the impetus of the Golden Age and the game Hideouts & Hoodlums itself. When I started working on H&H back in 2008, it started as this mental exercise: is there a role-playing game out there that does a really good job at emulating comic books, specifically as they were back when Superman started, and if not, could I build one?

Now, of course, Superman was only one feature in the anthology title, Action Comics.  There was also Chuck Dawson, Zatara the Master Magician, Pep Morgan, Scoop Scanlon, Tex Thompson, "The Adventures of Marco Polo", and filler by Russell "Alger" Cole ("Sticky-Mitt Stimpson"). In fact, there are more pages done by Fred Guardineer in this issue (he drew both Zatara and Pep) than there are by Siegel and Shuster. I have only bits and pieces of these features accessible to me, but I really want to concentrate on Superman anyway.

The Superhero power Raise Car comes from the cover (and again on page 9). The powers Leap I and Outrun Train come from page 1 of the story (the origin page). Superman busting down the door on page 2 -- as we've seen on this blog -- is not the first instance of wrecking things -- but is obviously the first time it is used by a Superhero. Nigh-Invulnerable Skin is demonstrated by the bullet ricocheting "off Superman's tough skin" on page 4 (though this could, admittedly, just be a miss explained with flavor text).

The "wife-beating" plot hook on page 5 might be an instance of a random encounter, but all three of the newspaper people featured in this story are classic examples of plot hook characters -- the unnamed reporter who clues Superman in on the wife beater, the unnamed chief (who is later named as George Taylor) who tells him to go to "San Monte" and report on the war there, and Lois Lane, who gets into trouble by spurning a hoodlum.

Superman throwing the wife-beater into the wall, I didn't treat as a new power; rather, Superman is using the stationary wall as a clubbing weapon by throwing the man into it. I was this close to making wife-beater a mobster type....

Because page 6 starts with the second instance of Superman's "tough skin" saving him, I made this the first 2nd level power, Super-Tough Skin.  The power Quick Change is based on how quickly Superman is able to change to look like Clark Kent before the policeman arrives (note that Superman did not come in carrying his clothes, so he either had them on under his costume, had them stashed elsewhere in the building, or is wearing some of the wife-beater's clothes and was only carrying his Clark Kent glasses with him).

Senator Barrows is an example of the corrupt politician mobster type.

As to the other features...

Cowboy Chuck Dawson's adventure starts off with a wandering encounter, a henchman who just happens to walk out of a dance hall spoiling for a fight. I also learned new cowboy slang -- a jigger is the boss' second-in-command. While in jail, Chuck tricks a deputy into coming to the door by saying he has something important to whisper to him. A deputy would have to be pretty dumb to fall for that, but the Editor should still give it a chance to work, either by rolling an encounter reaction check or maybe a save vs. plot to see if Chuck gets lucky.

Zatara has a magic crystal ball that shows future events -- definitely more powerful than the Magic-User spell Crystal Ball, and potentially a campaign-breakingly powerful item unless it cannot be controlled and only shows plot hooks.

In terms of spells, Zatara: summons a first aid kit out of thin air (Cure Wounds I?), uses Feather Fall to save himself when he's pushed off the roof of a train, Zatara encounters three thugs (2 HD mobsters, according to Book II) and casts a hypnosis spell on all three of them (this spell does not yet exist in H&H),  he casts a spell that seems to be teleportation limited to his SCMs (SCM Summoning?), the text says he casts hypnosis again (though the use of the spell here more resembles Hold Person), he can, at least temporarily, polymorph an object (a gun into a banana, unless he used an illusion spell to make it seem like that happened). 

Zatara fires a gun, breaking the rule about what weapons Magic-Users are limited to. He has no trouble freeing himself from knots tying his hands together behind his back, but since this occurs off-panel, it's impossible to say if he used magic or some sort of escape artist stunt. Zatara is at least a 4thd-level Magic-User here, and probably higher.

The "Scoop" Scanlon, Five-Star Reporter feature has constant narration throughout. When Scoop shoots at a speeding getaway car with a trophy sub-machine gun, the narrator says Scoop "completely disables the car". Perhaps I've been going about car chases all wrong! What if cars were assigned hit points, and you won the chase by reducing the opposing car to zero hit points? It does seem only slightly more abstract than the current combat sytem...

It's also worth noting that Tex Thompson identifies himself as a cowboy. While the character was later converted into more of a superhero, his initial appearances should be statted as a Cowboy, if you're using that class from Supplement III: Better Quality. The interesting wrinkle to Tex Thompson is that he was rich and became a globe-trotting cowboy, a concept that might have won him more attention had he not been always in the shadow of Superman.

(My copy of the Superman story was courtesy of Superman: The Action Comics Archives vol. 1, but the entirety of the issue can be read at Comic Book Archives).

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Comics #8

Ted Strong, indirectly, made me think of an interesting question today. What do you call hoodlums in a Western campaign? This page makes me think "henchmen" would be a good substitute for hoodlums, in a Western or any non-urban setting.

Rod Rian introduced us to the devil-like aliens, the Mephisians, last issue. This time we meet their enemies and they are, refreshingly, not made to look like angels. Instead, we have the Unicor who, interestingly enough, are distinguishable from the Mephistians by virtue of having just one horn instead of two and hair (reminding me of Star Trek's "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield").

Projectile planes look like spaceships, but they don't appear to be able to enter orbit. They would more properly treated like jets.

The destructor-flame gun is an interesting weapon -- it seems to shoot a pencil-thin beam and only erupts into flames when it hits its target. In this sense, it's more like a heat ray than a flame thrower.

I would not normally turn to a humor strip like Salesman Sam for realism, but perhaps Sam makes a good case that not everyone should have a game mechanic available to them for climbing sheer walls. This will likely remain a Mysteryman skill, or a stunt that can be prepared.

This cowboy is Tex Ritter, and I include these panels for three quick points. One, those costumes, like poison-KKK mash-ups, are pretty impressive-looking designs. Second, "cracker box" was apparently slang for a jail cell. Third, poisoned whiskey bottles might make a good trap for your Heroes, depending on how likely they are to drink out of random bottles found in hideouts.

Tomorrow...Action Comics #1, at last!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Feature Funnies #9

Hey, it's my blog to do with what I want -- so sometimes it's not all about Hideouts & Hoodlums.  This page of Joe Palooka I'm just sharing because it's so funny...and maybe I can relate a little...

This, on the other hand, is a bit of a sore subject for me. It's a proven fact that torture does not produce reliable information, yet it always seems to work when Heroes like The Clock want to use it. It's one of those areas, like racism, that is a tough call -- how far are you willing to go to emulate the comic books, even if it encourages non-heroic actions?

This cane with a spring-loaded trick head was mentioned in the Clock entry for Supplement IV: Captains, Magicans, & Incredible Men.

Will Eisner's Hawks of the Seas has been running for awhile now at this point and is starting its second story line, but I've never found an excuse to feature it until now. The new magic item is a Locket of Warning, that plays music whenever the owner is in danger (read: immunity to surprise).

It's often the non-adventurous strips, like Dixie Dugan, that give us the best idea of what life was like in the late 1930s. Note how Dixie's date balks at an 8-course meal for just $3 -- what sounds amazingly inexpensive to us now, wishes for the 50-cent dinner, but then lucks into a hot dog place selling everything for 5 cents each. Now, I'm not sure how many fancy hotels had to sell their in-house restaurants to hot dog vendors back then, but it does seem plausible to me that fancy eateries were going out of business often.

More subtle -- and more interesting -- is the fact that they are walking home from the beach, apparently having to cross the entire town to do so, and that's not even an issue either of them are worried about. The fact that her date can't afford better transportation doesn't even come up as part of the joke. This tells me that a lot more people were just used to walking to get to where they needed to go back then.

This is from Off the Record and, while funny, I think the interesting thing about it is that the girlfriend sitting on his lap in front of the parents is not part of the joke. Was it really socially acceptable in the 1930s to have your girlfriend sit on your lap?

Though lotteries were technically illegal in the 1930s, this "bank night" at the movie theater sounds an awful lot like a lottery...

This page of Mickey Finn seems to confirm a question I had last month about carnival rides in the 1930s. Apparently, an open spin-around ride was a real thing. I wonder how many people got hurt on those!

Lastly, from the back cover, this ad shows how available firecrackers were to anyone, for just $3. Firecrackers are, of course, excellent tools for diversions in any H&H scenario.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)