Saturday, July 30, 2016

Wonderworld Comics #3 - pt. 2

While most heroes are running around stopping hoodlums, Yarko the Great is double-teamed by Death and the Devil. least something claiming to be The Devil. So far, its only power seems to be summoning Beppo.

Death is an imposing character, one of my favorite villains from the Golden Age. By the 1970s, Marvel Comics will be full of metaphysical characters like this, but for 1939 this is really different. When Death manifests in mortal form, he is killable (though I'd still be pretty charitable with the Hit Dice), but also kills at will with a gaze attack.

So let's look at what Yarko has to counter that with. He casts something that seems to be a more powerful version of Mirror Images (it can conjure up to a dozen illusory images of the caster). Maybe Mirror Images should be bumped up to a 3rd level spell for this. Yarko can cast a Wall of Force -- 5th level spell!

Stopping a Magic-User by blindfolding him seems consistent for how the class normally works -- it's usually the hands and mouth that have to be stopped, but this seems a reasonably close limitation.

I'm not entirely sure what to make out of Yarko's first spell. Create Water seems a little weak for what it's being used to do here. Maybe this is what Dispel Magic looks like, when used on magic fire? The Devil goes bye-bye -- without having done anything other than tell his hoodlums what to do -- thanks to Yarko's Dispel Evil spell. I still don't put much stock in that being the actual Devil -- more likely an incubus or yaksha (the two weakest demon types I statted in Book III: Better Quality).

But what is that? Did Yarko just use wrecking things to pull himself free from the wall? No Magic-User spell duplicates that (yet). Either I need to consider a new spell, or I need to give Yarko a level in Superhero!

Death is tough enough that even Yarko doesn't want to take him on!

I've used that panel before of Yarko walking on water to illustrate the Ring of Water Walking. There is still no spell for Hideouts & Hoodlums for water walking -- just the ring. I guess I have time to think about that again now.

The next spell Yarko casts is either some Mass Levitate or Mass Telekinesis spell - neither existing in H&H as of yet.

Looks like Yarko's Mass Telekinesis spell has a long duration, and has been coupled with a Hold Person spell to keep their traps shut. Then, just to show off, Yarko casts Passwall -- his third 5th level spell? That would make Yarko at least 11th level -- or, he has a new spell called Passdoor (a weaker version of Passwall), or he never actually entered the room and sent in an illusion of himself instead (we've seen him do that once already in this adventure), or this is flavor text for the Knock spell.

This is Shorty Shortcake, a surprisingly useful source to mine for ideas. This installment reminds us that, if the Heroes over-rely on calling in the cavalry and trying to always overpower/outnumber the bad guys, then the Editor has to do the same for the bad guys. This escalation of forces might convince the players that they're better off taking their chances with a small, stealthy force.

This is from Dr. Fung (and his sidekick Dan). Dan is pretty unlucky with his dice rolls there, shooting six shots at a fleeing mystery assailant and missing every time, even though he has a bonus for attacking from behind, and is only penalized for cover at the last shot.

It may seem too cliche to have the bad guy drop a note that explains everything the Heroes need to know, but that doesn't mean it isn't appropriate to use it!

Just like the ol' "constrictor snake coming through the window" trick is fair game!

There seems to be a good amount of precedent for the Snake Charm spell in comic books, but since it has such limited utility, I'm planning to just replace it with a more generic Charm Animal spell.

This is K-51: Spies at War. Mad science devices are seldom portable, but take up a whole lab or much of a lab. This mad science device is a variant on the death ray, in that it kills at a distance with projected sound. This page doesn't give us a good idea of the device's maximum range, but it seems to be in miles.

When you're not a superhero, your wrecking things options are somewhat more limited. Sure, you can bust open a locked door as a skill check, or count on your limited chance of non-superhero wrecking (most things have good saves), or you can just choose an action -- like throwing a rifle into a transformer -- and leave it up to the Editor to decide what happens.

It's a tricky call for the Editor to make. It could end the scenario prematurely to blow up the lab. It could be a total party kill if the explosion does too much damage to the Heroes!  Or it could be anti-climactic if nothing happens at all. With so many options to consider, it might be best to leave it to a 50/50 chance...or, put the ball back in the player's court by saying "Save vs. plot -- if you succeed, the transformer blows!"

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Wonderworld Comics #3 - pt. 1

I read a page like this and wonder, what am I going to do with my Hideouts & Hoodlums campaign after my players get a hold of one of these? This page calls the Boeing Y-B-17 a "flying dreadnought", but this 1936 plane you would probably know better by its WWII-era nickname "the flying fortress". One of the Heroes in one of my campaigns has an advanced VTOL plane, but it's a two-seater so he rarely uses it. Now, if he gets a Flying Fortress, that can zoom in at 250 MPH over the enemy hideout and drop bombs from above, while the whole group of Heroes rides along in comfort...? *shudders*

I've talked about nitroglycerin before here, usually as a means of blowing up hideouts. Here, we see a wily pirate using nitro-filled mines to foil pursuit. This trick would work on sea or land.

This is The Flame, Lou Fine's first superhero, and the third superhero ever. We can see that he has a base somewhere along the Hudson River, he has a stylized launch that matches his flame motif, and a butler-assistant named Jarvis.

We also see how a hideout entrance doesn't have to be on land. And the entrance doesn't need to be obvious.

I've said before that the superhero powers introduced in Book I: Men & Supermen are mostly examples from Superman's early adventures. This is the first time we see a superhero doing something Superman can't do. I called the power Teleport through Focus, leaving it up to the player to decide what the focus is. In The Flame's case, it's being able to teleport to anywhere there's fire.

That Flagg has heard of The Flame before bears out, since The Flame seems to be clearly over first level here. That the sub-machine guns don't affect him suggests he already has Imperviousness, if not Invulnerability, as a power. The flame powers seem to be coming entirely from the gun so I didn't make up superhero powers for those. He does seem to be able to create a Wall of Fire, like the Magic-User spell, with the gun.

We've seen smoke inhalation causes damage before. Here we see Feather Landing when they land safely in the boat.

Not sure how the "flourish of the crimson cloak" sets the boat on fire, but this might be some supernatural flavor text for wrecking things.

I statted The Flame as 7th level in Supplement IV: Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men, but it seems he's already 6th level here.

The Death spell was introduced in Supplement I: National. It's very appropriate, for this is Death. So we know Death is at least a 12th level Magic-User.

Yarko foils the ambush by sending in a Phantasmal Image first (still working on the name of that spell). Then he casts Melting Things (that's another new spell I'm working on), and follows up with Invisibility so he can follow the mobsters when their morale fails them.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Keen Detective Funnies v. 2 #7 - pt. 2

Dan Dix, Ship Detective seems like a strip that doesn't have a lot of room to grow, but this scenario does sport some interesting locals. It starts in Miama, is bound for Puerto Rico, and winds up on the Island of Nassau -- and I had to look that one up, but it is a real island in the Bahamas. It almost sounds more like someone's idea of a dream vacation more than an adventure story, until someone starts shooting at Dan.

$50 for a sailboat, even a small one, seems like an awful good deal, but let's give the author the benefit of a doubt; maybe the economics of the Bahamas were like this in 1939.

This cheap deal seems to be the only break these bad guys get; other than that, they are comically incompetent. Which may be fun to read for a page, but does not make for a challenging adventure scenario in game play. Your villains need to be about equally competent with your players.

This is from a one-shot story called "The Keefer Snatch". I find myself highly skeptical that someone could hang on to the side of a car as it drives for miles, then roll under the car when it stops, and have no one in the car notice. In fact, I'd probably assign a stiff penalty to his surprise roll -- like down to 1 in 8 -- but that still makes it possible.

You wouldn't think it from looking at this page, but it brings up an age old issue, as old as Dungeons & Dragons modules themselves -- why do bad guys leave treasure lying around to be collected, without using it themselves? In this case, it's the sub-machine gun conveniently left sitting out while the bad guys try to pick off the cop with their revolvers.

Comic books and their inconsistencies....I had just posted recently about needing to apply falling damage rules to horizontal sliding/falling -- and here's a motorcycle cop who takes no harm from falling off a speeding motorcycle. Maybe there needs to be a save vs. science to avoid horizontal sliding damage?

This is from Spy Hunters. We usually see people seemingly fall dead right away from poison in comics, but on this occasion we actually get an example of the onset time for a lethal poison -- 15 to 30 minutes.

How to rig a trap in a hockey stick (in case you ever plan to do so in a scenario).

Dean Denton, Scientific Detective, doesn't want to ride the fancy plane with the electric refrigerator. That's the only plot point I've seen so far, but it's worth pointing out that an electric fridge light enough to be on an airplane. and this is just the sort of modular perks I was talking about yesterday.

I'm not sure if 12 hours to fix a smashed carburetor and ripped ignition sounds right. Right now, Hideouts & Hoodlums has no mechanic for fixing things, just inventing things. I'm not sure if we need a mechanic for fixing things...

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Keen Detective Funnies v. 2 #7 - pt. 1

Although The Arrow was Centaur's first attempt at making their own superhero, The Masked Marvel was their first obvious attempt at duplicating Superman. MM had super-strength, leaping ability, and mind-reading to boot!  What set him apart was that he had operatives, a secret headquarters, and super-science gadgetry more like the pulp heroes.

He might also be the first non-cowboy hero to be based out of a southwest state.

It seems to me that the U.S. Navy came up with much simpler arresting gear for aircraft carriers than this strange method of blowing on a plane so it comes in slower. The real purpose of this page was, of course, to show that The Masked Marvel could leap around like Superman. Well, not quite like Superman, since this seems to be only a 20' leap or so. Clearly only the Leap I power.

There are quite a few hi-tech trophies on display here. The "teloptican" seems to be a miniature two-way television with a range of hundreds of miles.

The "infra-vac" helmet allows the wearer to see invisible rays (and presumedly other invisible things).

The ray being talked about has a range of 50,000' and nothing mechanical or electrical can move through it without ...well, it isn't clear yet if the machines just stop working, if they blow up, or what.

Also note how the FBI have a map for MM to use to get to exactly where he needs to go. No investigating necessary in this scenario!

900 MPH would be faster than any plane could fly in 1939 (planes could only break Mach 1 in power dives). Interestingly, 30,000' was achievable in 1939, and had just been accomplished by Jackie Cochran, the first woman pilot to reach it.

A deicing equipment seems like a good add-on for trophy planes. I'm considering making trophy items more modular, with add-on options, instead of being separate trophy items.

Oxygen pills seems to need to be a thing in Hideouts & Hoodlums.

What kind of psychic power is MM using to learn his operatives are in danger? There is a power I introduced in Supplement II called Sense Friend in Need, but I hesitate to give it a range of 55,000+ feet...

The ol' trap door under the "welcome mat" trick!

MM appears to be using the Aviator stunt Wing Walking, but straightening out a rudder with his bare hands sure doesn't seem like a typical aviation stunt. Could that just be a reversed application of wrecking things?

I'm not sure what to make of this page. Is MM using some form of psychic shadow projection? An illusion spell? A projector and ventriloquism? Whatever it is, it really seems to break their morale. Maybe it's just a manifestation of the power Scare Bad Guys?

The Masked Marvel seems to be at least a 3rd level Superhero, probably 4th or 5th, with a few levels in Scientist as well.

This is Gabby Flynn. After inspecting a crime scene, he wisely starts questioning people to get clues fed to him. The Editor might have pre-prepared a random rumor table for this scenario, or could wing the answers, judging on the spot how much he wants the players to know.

I have some players who play like Gabby. Unhappy with having to look for clues, find a motive, and stuff like that, Gabby would rather just punch his suspects and see how they react!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Crackajack Funnies #13

This is Red Ryder and...hmm...that's one impressive panel. I wonder if I shouldn't consider a cattle stampede a save or die situation...

Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy are lucky to defeat a single mobster and win a boat as a trophy item.

The "ghostly ruins of an old plantation" is an atmospheric location for a hideout. That there's only building on the island makes it easy to find the hideout.

The hideout is under the ruins -- a common place for hideouts. The entrance is a concealed trapdor and has to be found, though. Luckily, the Editor rolls a wandering encounter and gives them someone to question.

Also note that time of day affects what the mobsters are doing in the hideout; they aren't just static stat blocks, frozen in place until encountered.

The first thing Easy does in the hideout after knocking out the lone guard isn't to slit the throats of the sleeping bad guys, but to sneak around and take all their weapons. And this is the behavior of a Hero who can probably be defined as Neutral rather than Lawful.

Yes, leaving his prisoners alive does sometimes lead to complications. But how exactly did that mobster left on the beach get free? It seems editorial fiat created that complication. In game play, this would only discourage Heroes from leaving their prisoners alive.

It's interesting how Roy Crane, normally such an attentive artist to detail, just said "forget this!" and stopped drawing the background to panel 1 in mid-panel. This is sort of like what hideouts are like for your players when you stop adding dressing to the hideouts. Describing the brickwork, placing random barrels in hallways -- these are the things that remind players that their characters are in a physical place and helps them visualize it.

Extra guns under beds is another good dressing detail, and handy for the bad guys.

Yes, secret doors can have alarm systems hooked up to them now. No need for Magic Mouth spells!

This stage money brings up the topic of recognizing forgeries. I had written up more on the subject under the spy class (in The Trophy Case), but basically the only mechanic you need here is save vs. plot -- succeed, and you recognize the bills for what they are. Disguise works the same way, and what is a forgery but a disguised bill?

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Superman #1

And now we reach this milestone at last -- the first time an ongoing comic book will feature only one main character, and the first time a comic book will be named after a superhero.

This is also the comic book that gives Superman his origin story. We see clearly for the first time that it is Superman's alien heritage that gives him his ability to leap higher, raise tremendous weights*, run faster, and have bulletproof skin.

*So, technically, the alien race should automatically let you have the power Raise Car as well, but as already broken as the alien race is (game balance-wise), I decided to eliminate that one since Superman did not lift heavy weights as often as he used the other powers. Alien superheroes can still buff themselves with the Raise Car power. Perhaps I could tweak this in second edition Hideouts & Hoodlums, to say that Raise Car has double the normal duration for alien superheroes...?

Of course, if I wanted to "fix" the alien race, maybe I could restrict those three abilities to bonus powers, usable no matter what class the alien is, but still force the hero to activate them and stick to a duration, rather than making them "use at will" abilities.

This issue also features the first time a superhero appears in a text story. All the early comic books included one text story (to qualify for the cheaper mailing rate), but you wouldn't know that from this blog because I've been ignoring them. H&H is based on the actual comic book stories, not all of the contents of the comic books.

(The content not reprinted from Action Comics was read in The Superman Chronicles v. 1)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Famous Funnies #59

After a string of DC titles we're back to Eastern's one title.

Map!  It's not much more than a map of Cuba, but it stands out for me because a) this is in (or near) Guantanamo Bay, and b) my home campaign was just there at the beginning of this summer.

Is $100 a day reasonably representative of how much bit players made in movies?

The amphibious plane, or seaplane, is so commonly featured in these early comics that I'm half-wondering if it shouldn't be on the starting equipment list instead of as a trophy. But it also begs the question: do some planes need to be on the starting equipment list?

Also -- what does this storyline have to do with aviation??

This joke's kind of clever; I had to think about it for a moment.

It takes Pooch a week to heal back to normal after being critically injured. What's unusual about that is, I can't imagine a dog that size having more than 3 hit points.

I don't plan on introducing negative hit points into Hideouts & Hoodlums, but I could track how far into negative hit points someone goes after losing consciousness and come up with a chart that increases length of healing time for how deep into negative numbers you go. Like:
-1 to -3 hp: 4 hours to heal back 1 hp
-4 to -6 hp: 8 hours to heal back 1 hp
and so on...

More great King Cedric banter in Oaky Doaks.

Ugh -- another goat joke!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Adventure Comics #39

Barry O'Neill begins having post-Fang Gow adventures, though Count Guniff seems to be cut from the same mold. Indeed, when Guniff traps O'Neill and LeGrand in a water trap, Barry would have been within his rights to go "What, again?"

Two things worth pointing out from this story: one, it is one of the first time in comic books where the hero runs out of bullets; and, two, Guniff's second death trap for O'Neill and LeGrand is a much simpler affair -- he douses them with gasoline and is going to brings a match towards them. That's a pretty serious death trap -- serious enough that I'd probably have it do 1-10 points of damage per minute to heroes until they can somehow extinguish themselves (like a save vs. science to smother the flames by stop, drop, and rolling).

Cotton Carver continues exploring his Don Dixon-like lost world environment. One thing to notice is that the hideout/dungeon Cotton is exploring is taking him down quite a few levels, by stairs and slides, but his encounters are not getting significantly more challenging. He gets to a dead end where he cannot proceed without having a special stone with him that fits into an indentation in the wall -- a classic dungeon trick.

Cotton fights a half-cat, half-man called a Watcher. Watchers must be pretty tough; this thing takes multiple arrow hits without going down, and is probably at least 3 Hit Dice. They're also Lawful because, if you defeat one and leave it alive, it agrees to repay the life-debt by serving you (or maybe Cotton just had cat treats in his pocket).

The animated statue Cotton meets seems straight out of Dungeons & Dragons. I wonder if it's a living statue, a golem, or if I'm going to be disappointed next issue by it getting explained away as ventriloquism...

In Federal Men, we learn more about how reefer works in the comic book world. It's "the drug that causes the smoker to lose all moral restraint". So, if you smoke marijuana and fail a save vs. science, you become okay with killing others (just like most of my players) and don't have to save vs. plot before you can take a life.

Jack Woods (fresh over from More Fun Comics) faces a bandit and an unusual dilemma -- a victim who isn't glad he was saved. Soon he's confronted with another dilemma much like one I recently used in my Monday night campaign. The Hero is hired to deliver something under suspicious circumstances. Does the Hero do the job and go home, investigate the sender, or investigate the receiver? It's a nice scenario because the Hero is free to choose and shouldn't be railroaded into investigating one before the other.

Steve Malone finds a cuff link. This is important because a cuff link is never mentioned in a story unless it's a clue.  If your Editor so much as says "cuff", you'd better be ready to take notes.

Steve does a lot of searching. He finds the first cuff link searching by a gong (not where you'd normally expect to find one), but finds the second one searching a bedroom where you'd expect to find one (maybe at a +1 bonus then?). There is a secret compartment hidden in a model castle and, unless the Hero has reason to suspect it's there, the chance of finding it is the same as a secret door.

Tom Brent is sailing down a jungle river, seeing no natives, but they see him and track his boat's movement. Which might not bear mentioning, except that there seems to be a lot of natives and they evade being noticed for quite some time. Maybe natives need to have a better (3 in 6?) chance of surprise?

The Skip Schuyler story has him pitching for the Yankees during a special game for charity. Which might not bear mentioning, except that it's so rare for a real baseball team to be named, and real players (Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio) cameo. Of course, in your home campaigns, whether you go with real historical figures, characters obviously based on real historical figures (with similar names, like Jim DiMaggia?), or entirely fictional characters is entirely up to you.

In Anchors Aweigh, because the Editor clearly doesn't have a new plot for them lined up, Don and Red decide to go hunt up some experience points, literally, by hunting crocodiles off the Panama Canal. They meet a wandering encounter while hunting who turns out to be a mad engineer who makes bombs (I can't decide if that qualifies him to be a mad scientist (Book II), a madman (Supplement V), or even an anarchist (Supplement I). Once the encounter has been rolled up, the Editor has to think up an excuse for the engineer to be there, so he concocts a plot on the spot for foreign powers to have hired him to blow up the Canal.

(Summaries read at DC Wikia)