Sunday, May 22, 2016

Action Comics #11

Superman's powers are starting to look very familiar at this point. We again see Leap I, Outrun Train, Wrecking Things, and probably even Invulnerability (because even Tough Skin might not save you from a sub-machine gun, depending on how you're rolling weapon damage). Story-wise, it is good to see consistency in what a superhero can or cannot do. Superman, for instance, uses a drill to dig for oil instead of the Dig power, and he uses an ordinary torch because he has no powers that generate heat or flame.

In most different superhero RPGs, the superhero would be limited to a specific set of powers. Here, the player is on his honor to only prepare the powers that best emulate his Hero each game session. But this gives the player great flexibility too. In this story, Superman's player decides to use X-Ray Vision and Super-Hearing for the first time. Had he decided to use Blast II and Chick Magnet instead, Superman would have turned out like a very different character!

In Scoop Scanlon's story, Scoop is undercover and, to pass himself off as a mobster, has to shoot his friend Rusty. To keep Rusty alive, Scoop shoots his metal belt buckle -- which seems to me an incredibly risky move. I'm not even sure how I would handle that with game mechanics. A big penalty to hit for a "called shot"?  Or I could treat the buckle as cover and move Rusty's AC from 9 to 8. If Scoop rolled just right to hit AC 9 or 8 it would hit the buckle, but if he rolled any higher than that, he would hit Rusty.

With this issue, Pep Morgan moves closer to being an adventure strip. Press ganged onto a gun smugglers' ship, Pep escapes by swimming to shore ahead of the ship, past some sharks that luckily choose to ignore him. It's easy for the Editor and players to fall into the trap of thinking that all encounters need to be adversarial encounters, but that's too limiting for a RPG -- which is why we have encounter reaction tables in the first place. The sharks should be just as likely to be uninterested in Pep (if they've eaten recently), and what a more memorable encounter it would be if the sharks turned out to be friendly!

How The Adventures of Marco Polo hails from different times! A leopard hunt is already over when Marco decides he wants a leopard cub to train. So he instigates a fight with a female leopard protecting her cubs, the poor mother is killed by others in his hunting party -- and Marco is commended for his bravery! You know, instead of everyone telling him what a Class A jerk he was. At least, from this scenario, we see trained cheetahs being used like hunting dogs (an interesting idea, though I doubt wild cats would do that unless being magically controlled), jackals being used as a clue during the hunt, and a pack of leopards.

I almost want to keep jackals out of H&H -- they're so small they would, at best, share stats with a giant rat. A cheetah I would give 2 Hit Dice, the same as I would give a leopard. There would be little reason to stat them differently, except to give the cheetah a faster movement rate.

Tex Thompson and a party of supporting cast members explore a lost island. Despite the H&H rules on languages, Tex can't speak to the local Malays and needs an interpreter. Supplement I: National suggested an optional rule for language barriers. Basically, instead of tracking how many languages your Hero can speak, you track the exceptions (this will be explained as such in 2nd ed.).

Tex has to pass three challenges on the Malay island. The first challenge drops him through a pit trap into a pool with a shark in it. The second challenge is to overcome a warrior in single combat. In each challenge, the Malays are generous and make sure Tex always has a weapon. The third challenge is to get through a wall of fire. Here, Tex plays it smart and goes through the previous two rooms to look for items that will help him get through the wall of fire. He settles on a flag from the warrior room that he soaks in water from the pool room. It is important for the Editor to allow for multiple solutions to a puzzle like this; don't penalize the players if they fail to come up with the single solution you had in mind (so long as their solutions also make sense!).

Chuck Dawson's adventure reminds us that it's important to give some thought, when you're constructing a trap for your players, as to how the trap would be reset. In this story, a trapdoor in a cabin has a concealed pull-string rigged up so you can pull the trapdoor closed from outside the cabin (though, in this case, I don't get why you would need something so elaborate).

Zatara has a travel adventure -- that is, an adventure that happens to him as he's traveling from place to place, rather than having to travel to the adventure. His cruise ship crossing the Pacific is haunted by a ghost that can't be harmed by magic. Zatara figures out (before I did!) that the ghost is an illusion spell. This story sets a precedent for people being "killed" by illusions -- the body is convinced it is dead and stops functioning, so the person is effectively killed -- but a person killed by an illusion can be revived if done quickly enough before all body functions cease.

For spells, Zatara throws around a powerful polymorph spell that can turn a man into a door (that's got to be pretty high level -- it not only affects the man, but a nearby wall as well!), a Polymorph spell on both himself and Tong -- to turn them into mice (setting a precedent for how small the new form can be with that spell), and Gaseous Form on himself (this lets him move through keyholes). He casts some kind of spell that creates a hole in the wall (like Stone Shape, but is not limited to stone -- maybe it's just a 3rd level spell called Create Hole?).  He casts a polymorph spell that turns one object into another (4th level?).  He casts a spell that conjures items (Minor Creation?), then Fly Sphere on the audience around him. He casts an "astral form" spell that seems to be linked to the spell Locate Object -- this reminds me of the Improved Locate Object spell I already planned to introduce. He uses Phantasmal Force/Silent Image, and Dispel Magic. Finally, he uses Flesh to Stone.

Zatara must be at least 12th level magic-user at this point, and probably more like 16th level.  In comparison, Superman is probably only a 5th or 6th level superhero at this point. Which is why I plan to flip the xp charts around and let magic-users advance much faster than superheroes.

(Superman adventure read in Superman: The Action Comics Archives vol. 1, while summaries of the rest were read at DC Wikia.)

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