Monday, October 2, 2017

Top-Notch Comics #1 - pt. 2

As I move deeper into this issue past The Wizard's feature, it becomes clear that this issue was prepared by the same packager (Chesler?) that produced a lot of the early Centaur books...and has that same level of quality. Still, I found some things worth commenting on.

This feature is Scott Rand in the World of Time and, as a campaign idea, the focus would be on traveling through time and trying to pick up the most unusual supporting cast throughout history you can get. Here, we see Scott and his boss picking up a high-level Viking Fighter. On the following pages, they also recruit a very un-Egyptian-looking Egyptian princess.

In Hideouts & Hoodlums, language is not an issue -- except when the Editor chooses to make it one. In 2nd edition, there's a note about how the Editor can require a Hero to spend one month's time learning a new language, but these Heroes have a work around for that thanks to the timeless limbo their time ship can reach. This limbo also opens up all kinds of other possibilities for breaking the downplay parts of the game, like unlimited time for inventing things.

I think it's interesting to point out that the time ship has to move forward in physical space before it can time jump; it isn't a one or the other deal.

The Doctor Who parallels should also be pretty obvious and need no elaboration.
From Air Patrol, we see the Aviator stunt Find Blind Spot. Also the stunt Find Origin Story?

Interesting, that the dog fight takes almost an hour of game time to resolve. In second edition H&H, an hour is 120 combat turns!  Maybe aerial combat needs to be run at a different speed?

A rare example of "splash" damage from a comic book (I mean the fire "splashing", not the splashing from hitting the water).

This is from The Mystic.  I find it interesting because, despite the trappings of a magic-user, The Mystic appears to only have skills like escape artistry, which makes him more of a Mysteryman. Never be fooled by the trappings.

This is from Manhunters, showing the true crime genre being a poor fit for Jack Cole.

So how hard should it be to vault a 6-foot fence?  The world record for pole vaulting was almost 15' circa 1939, and that's the closest comparison I can think of. If we rounded down to something divisible by 6 and split the feet between pips on a 6-sided die, that would give us: a 1 in 6 chance to vault 11-12', a 2 in 6 chance to vault 9-10', a 3 in 6 chance to vault 7-8', a 4 in 6 chance to vault 5-6', a 5 in 6 chance to vault 3-4', and vaulting 1-2' would be automatic successes.

And that's all assuming the Editor has time to break things down like that. On the fly, I probably would have ruled a 2 in 6 chance, but might have compromised with a 3 or even a 4 in 6 chance depending on how good a case the players made I was wrong.

Okay, there's no way a belt buckle counts as armor, so using it to explain the miss is just flavor text. I think I've used this example, or something like it, from a comic book story before, though. The real reason I like this page is because Sukup is such a comically ridiculous name, as is the line "Alright, Sukup, come along!"

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top-Notch Comics #1 - pt. 1

We're now up to the third of the MLJ titles and still about two years away from their superhero zenith.

Here we get the first of their superheroes, The Wizard. He's not a magic-user wizard, but a hi-tech wizard. We'll observe him carefully and see what class he best fits shortly.

First a historical note -- there was no historical General Steven Whitney in the Revolutionary War. The actual Chief of the Naval Intelligence Service in late 1939 was Vice-Admiral John Godfrey, not Grover Whitney.

Telephone scrambling was already in development in 1939, but was not practical until 1943.

Somewhat famously, Pearl Harbor would be later attacked almost exactly as it's laid out in this issue.

The Wizard is one of the earliest characters we can pin down to an exact age, having been born in 1904. It was certainly not uncommon for comic book heroes to be grown men in their 30s.

The phone scrambling computer must be a trophy item, but we can't be as sure about this steel-burning chemical. Hi-tech potion -- or wrecking things power?

Woodrow Wilson is the first historically real character in this story, as well as this being the first time President Wilson had ever appeared in a comic book.

That's some mystery chemical -- even in 2017 we don't have a chemical that will burn 1,000 times hotter than acetylene.

In 1939, the land speed record was 369 MPH; it would not exceed 500 MPH until 1964.

The Wizard's invisible car, occurring in flashback, makes it chronologically older than the Ultra-Humanite's invisible car in Action Comics #13. An invisibility field generator that can fit in a car was a trophy item since first edition.

That The Wizard's prop plane can go from New York to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 45 minutes is suspicious -- even today the flight takes almost twice that long. Despite appearing to be a prop plane, it must be a jet.

Now here's where we start to get into guessing what class The Wizard is. First, he appears to be using magic -- maybe some powerful divination spell -- to figure out both what his objective is and where to find it. Then he dresses like a Mysteryman. Then he tears fish nets apart with his bare hands -- strong, but not quite wrecking things strong; a Mysteryman could accomplish this with a stunt.

"Jatsonian" must mean Japanese.

But, here, we see The Wizard using Leap, he leaps unharmed through gunfire as if buffed with Nigh-Invulnerable Skin, and it sure looks like he's using wrecking things on that submarine portal. Further, his high velocity propulsion pistol could be another hi-tech trophy item, or it could be flavor text for one of the Blast powers.

It's also curious just what a high velocity propulsion pistol is. Just about any gun works by propelling ammunition at high velocity. If there is no ammunition, it sounds like an air gun.

Here, again, is the Wizard wrecking his way through that door or using an actual vial of some sort of super-acid?

So, in just his first story, we've already seen what appears to be three different classes represented -- basically, all the core classes other than Fighter (unless the 3rd panel of that previous page counts as that too!).

I'm wondering if I should develop a sort of "bard" class for H&H...a jack of all trades class that can switch back and forth between classes, possibly from turn to turn...

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Crackajack Funnies #18

Freckles and His Friends deals with an unusual trophy item of questionable keep-ability -- seal pelts. There are $5,000 worth of seal pelts in this boat, though we don't know how much that comes to per pelt. We do know they bought a used boat for $75, but found it a good enough value to be suspicious.

Clyde Beatty, Daredevil Lion and Tiger Trainer encounters a very well-guarded trophy item -- gold chains, with a lion attached to them. In the story the lion is what they consider the trophy, though I imagine most players would prefer the gold chains.

Myra North, Special Nurse is not actively looking for Supporting Cast Members, but after healing Captain Weaver, it's only natural to make a recruitment roll for her. SCM recruitment can be initiated by the player or the Editor.

The lair of The Spider is a fortress-like villa in Mexico. We see a fence around the yard and a roof defended by three guards armed with an anti-aircraft gun.

Again, we see evidence of complications in vehicular combat (plane stalled) instead of hit point loss (or an equivalent mechanic). We also see the stunt Deadstick.

(Scans courtesy of ComicBookPlus.)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Smash Comics #5 - pt. 3

Whew! I've been getting so much Hideouts & Hoodlums stuff done, I haven't had time for this blog!

When I last left off, I was looking at the Invisible Justice story from this issue. I've already talked plenty about how easy disguise and hypnotism skills are in comics, so this whole first row should come as no surprise. No, what I'm interested in here is that Invisible Hood has to still sneak silently into the room -- invisibility does not itself guarantee surprise conditions -- and the fact that Invisible Hood was willing to shoot Hyde in the back as he was running away.

When I talk to people about H&H and golden age comic books, more than once I've been asked about how the game handles the perceived notion that all the Heroes of the Golden Age were goody two-shoes. Invisible Hood just tried to shoot the bad guy in the back.

This is from Abdul the Arab, and game mechanics-wise this is more complicated than it may at first appear. Abdul encounters a lone man wandering the desert and rides out of his way to aid him; the man turns out to be an ex-member of the mobsters Abdul didn't even know he was after. So what did Abdul just encounter -- a random good deed that rewarded him with a plot hook character, or a random plot hook character Abdul mistook for a random good deed? Only the Editor knows what he rolled for...

Sand pits are a good desert trap -- but not when they conveniently lead to the exact room in the mobsters' hideout you need to reach.

The bad guy is consistently referred to as a brigand here, a mobster type present since the beginning in H&H.  There is no game mechanic reason for the brigand's horse to stumble; it seems like a creative explanation of a missed attack roll.

This is Captain Cook of Scotland Yard, and one clue that this is meant to be a short, one-night scenario is that it starts at the entrance to the hideout (a freighter in this case) and he's already been given his mission.

The fact that this is a low-level scenario is evident by the single guard, armed only with a throwing knife. The guard misses, despite having bonuses for attacking from behind and above.

Linen is a good random thing to find in a hideout.

What the heck kind of map of England is that?

A clipped newspaper article is a cliched clue; making the clue an obituary of the guy who's office you're in gives the clue a creepy twist.

I can easily accept that Cook found the warehouse's address while in the company's main office. He could have even looked up the address in a phone book. But the warehouse address is on the company stationery's letterhead?  Instead of the corporate office address?

Though I've been riding this story pretty hard, this last wrinkle -- about the secret gas solidified into powder and sprayed onto the linens that have been out in plain sight all this time -- is a pretty good wrinkle. It could also make a pretty good trap. "This room's full of nothing but worthless linen; I'm burning it." BOOM!

Hugh Hazzard and His Iron Man would have me believe that large robots are worth $5 million. Nooo, I'm not putting something that valuable in my hideouts!

It's odd that Bozo is immune to the death ray, since it very easily wrecks the plane it strikes first. Bozo is clearly no ordinary robot, but one statted with levels in the superhero class. But no power of a superhero buffs you to be immune to rayguns (yet). Could this be as simple as a successful saving throw?

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Smash Comics #5 - pt. 2

Wow, it's been so long, I finished and published the HIDEOUTS & HOODLUMS Basic Book 2nd Edition between posts!

I love how the Scientective uses science for problem-solving. Here, he realizes that something in the room with him can dissolve the material binding his wrists. Of course, a smart Editor anticipates things like this and stocks his hideouts accordingly.

"Rheostat" is a word that's fallen out of common usage. It means an adjustable resistor so constructed that its resistance may be changed without opening the circuit in which it is connected, thereby controlling the current in the circuit.  Of course, John could have just said "This switch ought to shut off the power," but that wouldn't sound very Science-y!

With little time to spare, John Law has to start playing hunches. His first hunch is that the brand new power plant right by the tracks can't be a coincidence, just like every reader was probably thinking on the first page.

John is able to smash the generator easily despite not being a superhero (and wouldn't he be in trouble if his hunch had been wrong!). I did include a note in the scientist entry in the mobsters section of the H&H 2nd ed. basic rulebook that scientists can all wreck labs -- but John is a Hero, not a mobster. For now, this will just have to fall outside the game mechanics...until the scientist class comes back in the Advanced Hideouts & Hoodlums Heroes Handbook someday...

There's a very curious editor's note about a giant induction field displayed at the New York World's Fair. I have not been able to find evidence of this, unless the editor is referring to the automated highway system demonstrated in the Futurama exhibit. I can find no evidence that Russian scientists were ever working on a "floating railroad." Could the author have read something about the electrification of the Russian railway system and misunderstood...?

This is from Wings Wendall and what makes me stop and pause is...what did that officer look up commercial airplane listings in?  Trade journals? Records of the Civil Aeronautics Authority? If Wings is flying with the U.S. Army Air Corps, how do they have these civilian records close at hand?

I like to think these hoodlums are just sitting there in warehouse drinking and planning because they're drunken hoodlums.

I've waffled for a long time now on how vehicular combat should go in Hideouts & Hoodlums. Do weapons trigger a chance of complications, like crashing? Or should it, like man-to-man combat, be a incremental process of hit point loss? The wording of "guns take their toll" suggests to me the latter, as the abstract, cumulative damage -- not any one hit on any one part -- is what causes the crash. But I've so far seen evidence in the comics that support both ways.

The idea that the Boss left such a simple note for Agent M-29 on a scrap of paper, rather than expecting him to commit a single sentence to memory, is an obviously planted clue. But planted for a trap, or by an Editor who really wants his player to get to that warehouse?

It's also worth noting that Wings doesn't head straight to the warehouse, but reports his intention to his superior officer first. That's a very Lawful way to play.

Why is one window locked and another window left open? It could be saves vs. plot, or it could be a simple 1-3 yes/4-6 no roll. The first option makes Heroes luckier as they advance in level, while the second option keeps circumstances at an even random chance.

We also see Wings being surprised. Fresh arrivals to an ongoing combat still get a chance at surprise.

Wings is attacked here by gangsters, a new mobster type with a special ability of getting victims into cars.

Although players should have some control over their supporting cast, they cannot just arbitrarily declare that their SCMs show up when the Hero is in trouble. The players can suggest that SCMs show up, and the Editor can decide if he should say yes or no, or give them a save vs. plot to see if it happens.

This sequence reminded me, while preparing the chase rules for 2nd edition, that I needed to include a missile combat phase during the chase turn!

I think I missed this, though -- when I compiled a list of abstract complications that could happen during a chase, I may have missed the slowing complication, like a flat tire. I'll have to double check...

Wings recovers quickly because of the new rule in 2nd ed. that allows unconscious Heroes a save vs. plot to recover in 1-6 turns. Because he's still in danger, turns are still being counted in half minutes.

The "boss" is either a master criminal or, if the spy class was in use, a higher level spy.

This is Invisible Justice. Thurston is driven off the road during a car chase (the complication is crash, but because there's water nearby to crash into, Thurston only loses the car and takes no damage).

Here's a precedent for invisibility, at least granted by trophy items, not turning items touched invisible.

Old mansions, on the only estates for miles around, make great hideouts (plus, its fairly easy to find a map of a generic mansion you can use for your game on short notice).

Large patio doors without closed drapes make a great way to spy on the hideouts' occupants before going in.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Smash Comics #5 - pt. 1

Black X/Ace doesn't have a clue where the saboteurs are, but he gets a "hunch" that seems to come out of nowhere. I actually wrote a game mechanic for the never-played Detective class that allows him to get a clue from the Editor.

The fight here with the saboteur is a mix of grappling and punching, and I've talked about unarmed combat on this blog plenty (and Black X/Ace doesn't dodge in panel 6; the saboteur just misses). What's worth noting here is that circumstances -- not anything in particular that Black X/Ace does -- forces the morale save (and that saboteur either rolled well or has a fanatical morale).

It's unclear what Batu is doing here, though it seems an awful lot like the spell Locate Object. The casting time seems unusually long, but if Batu is a Supporting Cast Member and not a Hero then the Editor has a little more latitude for changing how magic works for him. Now, the Editor doesn't have a lot of wiggle room for changing things like casting times -- once or twice to heighten tension and the players might overlook it, but used too often it will have the players rightly calling foul.

The crushed forearm is an unusual complication from an injury and, of course, one incompatible with the abstract hit point mechanic. I have talked on the blog before about adding complications for injuries for SCMs, tacked on to hit point loss, but this rule is unlikely to make it into the 2nd ed. basic rulebook now, mainly for space considerations (I'm already past page 110!). I would treat this, then, as just a knockdown/trip attack (and I do need to make sure there's room for that in my combat section) with some pretty brutal flavor text.

Those are some awfully convenient papers Batu finds on Taneo's body. Black X/Ace would be wise to say they were too convenient and might have been intended to falsely implicate another country. That seems a more convincing argument, to me, not to make the papers known.

This is some interesting alternate history, a dream scenario where just the threat of U.S. intervention ends wars. Future history will clearly show otherwise, that the U.S. can't ever seem to end a war in just one year.

The Chief's curious joke about what league the Dodgers were in is, according to Wikipedia, likely a reference to this: "In 1934, Giants player/manager Bill Terry was asked about the Dodgers’ chances in the coming pennant race and cracked infamously, 'Is Brooklyn still in the league?'"  The Brooklyn Dodgers had actually been in the National League since 1890.

Chic Carter is in "Moravia" -- what seems like a clear reference to the then-Soviet-controlled state of Moldova. But the "Arlbourg Pass" must be a reference to the Arlberg Tunnel in Austria. And Brennburg is a barely disguised Brennberg, Bavaria. But, if Chic's train is stopped less than 10 miles from Brennberg, where does that put him? Regensburg is the next largest city, but I believe that would be more than 10 minutes away by train. So that leaves Chic in some little way-stop village along the tracks. No wonder he thinks the place is dead!

The abduction of a Bavarian princess kind of makes sense. The Bavarian royal family, the House of Wittelsbach, was anti-Nazi, and the family's arrest after fleeing to Hungary earlier in the 1930s might have inspired this story.

Bavaria had no king, but a crown prince.

It's a bit of a stretch that the crown prince would want an American journalist's help...but, hey, if that's what it takes to give out a plot hook!

Some Heroes would investigate the duke carefully. Maybe search his home for clues. But our man Chic, he just marches right up to the duke in public and asks him to his face. It's a risky move that angers the duke into attacking Chic with a sword and implicating himself, but an encounter reaction check could have gone a lot of different ways than that.

I'm not sure electric eyes can do what John Law, Scientective, is saying they can, but it's plausible enough for comic books, and thus for Hideouts & Hoodlums.

Also, as a Hero, it pays to check under your hood every once in awhile to look for planted devices. You can never be too careful around villains!

Given how dangerous falling damage is in H&H, levitating someone 35' into the air is a pretty effective trap. Luckily the distance to the trees is shorter, though John's player must have rolled to hit to reach the trees.

(Read at Digital Comic Museum.)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Blue Ribbon Comics #2 - pt. 2

Before I get into any comic book talk -- this is my 500th post. Yay me! It took me exactly two and a half years to get to this point. I've discussed every comic book I can get my hands (real or virtual) on from 1935 up through December 1939, and discussed them in terms of what I can glean from them to add to my comic book role-playing game Hideouts & Hoodlums.

I really thought I would have the 2nd edition of these rules done long before now. I know this blog has been slowing me down. But I have learned so much from writing this blog that is informing my game and my new rulebook. So even though I have slacked off on the blog in recent months to step up production of the rulebook, I am not giving up this blog.

With all that said...I have sadly little left to say about Blue Ribbon Comics #2 to mark this auspicious post. We left off with Bob Phantom...

I wrote yesterday about about how Bob Phantom was acting like a low-level superhero. I see that in game play from certain players, that they play very conservative and try to play it safe no matter what level their Hero is. I think that is the case here, because Bob shows off some pretty frighteningly high-level powers when he feels like it. Here he demonstrates Teleport through Focus (the focus being this gas that seems to follow him around -- ate a lot of beans lately, Bob?) and then tosses in a quick example of wrecking things to boot. But he uses none of these abilities against the hoodlums so far.

Finally, Bob decides to take personal action against the hoodlums, only when he's concerned Butch will escape the dragnet if he doesn't get involved. It was not concern for his own safety that kept Bob out of the fight, since he has some serious defensive buffing power on display, perhaps even Imperviousness.

Maybe it was not concern for his own safety that kept Bob out of fighting all this time...but respect for law and order? He delayed to give the system a chance? I guess I understand that from a character perspective...but in game play, it seems like it would make for boring game sessions. The game is much more fun when Heroes just jump into trouble.

Now, I had just mentioned yesterday some justification for a low chance to hit in H&H. But here we have Corporal Collins shooting, not one, but two pilots right out of their planes as they pass overhead. I was all prepared to write something here about how a higher chance to hit balances the Fighter class, but there may be more at play here...

Because what's going on, on this page? Collins has a "sixth sense?" His "fabri-steel flexible repeller" makes him harder to hit? He can leap high in the a baseball player? (??)

The second two of those abilities seem an awful lot like what an alien can do in H&H, and "sixth sense" is starting to look like some new power. Even those amazing shots Collins got off before might benefit from a buffing power like Bulls-Eye. Could Collins be an alien superhero, but with all the trappings of a human fighter? His military uniform serves as his costume? It would certainly be possible to build the character that way.

(Read at Comic Book Plus.)