Saturday, April 29, 2017

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Complete Newspaper Dailies: Volume 1, 1929-1930 - pt. 2

More thoughts and observations on the early Buck Rogers.

Buck Rogers' future is a strictly Lawful society, but not necessarily a Lawful Good one. Participation and allegiance to the Orgzones -- municipal governments linked by a weak federal government -- is required and anyone who defies this is branded an outlaw. It is then legal to shoot these outlaws. The Orgzones made up the Federation Zone, which included all of Canada and all the U.S. east of the Mississippi, while the Mongol Empire controlled all the rest of the U.S. and Mexico.

If someone carries or wears two jumping belts, that person can fly off into space without extra ballast or letting go of one of the belts.

Eventually, it is no longer implied but explicit that airplanes 500 years in the future still run on gasoline.

The Mythic West exists even 500 years in the future. The cowboys of the future are Luddites who have rejected all futuristic scientific advancements and are suspicious of them.

For some reason I still can't figure out, MacGregor is a Canadian, but he dresses and talks like a Scotsman.

The North American Capital is Niagra, now a metropolis full of skyscrapers. People get around the capital on foot, or by rocket cars that can drive or fly (the police pilot rocket motorcycles). The city is powered by hydroelectricity and protected from Mongol invasion by "thousands" of giant cannons. Building security is maintained by sound detectors that can register the image of what made the sound thanks to echolocation.

Speaking of Alignment, it's very clear that the North Americans represent Law (though a pretty harsh Law) and the Mongols represent Chaos, which I suppose puts the Golden Dragons in Neutral territory. At first, this secret Mongol society aims to overthrow the Emperor for their own rise to power, but they throw in with Buck on first meeting him, and even put him in charge!

I have to say something here about Buck's Charisma score. I have never yet advocated exceeding the cap of 18 for ability scores, but Buck's CHA seems to be a 19. He's a man 500 years out of time, but when he shows up, people start putting him in charge of everything! It would be like if a man from the 16th century showed up today and the U.S. Army immediately made him a 4-star general. 

The Golden Dragons have an advanced disentegrator ray -- actually two disentegrator rays. They have a range of 1,000 miles and, wherever the two beams meet is an atomic explosion ("Don't cross the streams!"). 

Buck Rogers travels all over the place. It’s unclear where his original mine was except that it seems to be somewhere in the Midwest. He then heads west to California through the desert, then back across the country to New York to Niagra, then he pursues the Golden Dragons to the Cumberland Mountains, which puts them in…maybe Virginia? But their main headquarters is buried under a river in Iowa, near the ruins of Davenport (so that would make it the Mississippi River, or maybe the Rock River), accessible by what appears to be the conning tower of a submarine that rises to the surface like an elevator.

The preferred weapon of assassins in the 25th century is still the knife.

After Wilma and MacGregor, the next most prominent supporting cast member for Buck is Lanlu, a Mongol woman who keeps turning up in adventures. Her journey, going from jealous concubine of the Emperor, to Mongol spy in Niagra, to working for the Celestial Mogul’s treasure hunting company is an intriguing one and at least as interesting as Buck’s journey. Lanlu latter denies having aided Killer Kane in Niagra, which suggests that there might be more to her story than we even know (or this was one of the earliest retcons in comics).

Killer Kane eludes Buck in Niagra with the ol’ “disappear in a cloud of smoke” trick. This smoke bomb is enhanced, though, as it "paralyzes the senses."

The Buck vs. Killer Kane final battle is done by proxy, with each controlling iron robots (like the ones statted in Book II, but with tank treads and only pincer hands). These robots are completely remote-controlled and can make no autonomous actions. They are stronger than iron robots were statted as, being able to wreck through walls.

The "telev-eye" perfectly predicts the spy satellite. Rarely in literature, though, has a spy satellite been used to ram an emperor off the deck of a flying ship. Rarer still is a rocketship with an outdoor observation deck, for emperors who just want to see the view better while four miles high.

Another curious thing about future politics is the powerful nation-state of Chile that we encounter in the second storyline. Chile dominates, without controlling, all of South America, and its navy is the equal of the Mongol Empire's colonial forces in North America. Chilean submarines are super fast -- about twice as fast as today's nuclear-powered submarines. It isn't clear if this practice applies to all their submarines or just their command submarines, but the one Buck is a prisoner on uses two decoy submarines and a ring of radio-controlled torpedoes around the submarine to take fire -- like a hi-tech Mirror Image spell!

Chilean torpedoes come in two varieties, magnetic and lightning. It isn't clear how a lightning torpedo would work, but the magnetic torpedoes are just drawn to metal hulls, like a heat-seeking missile, and probably have a bonus (+2?) to hit. The lightning generator on the submarine seems extremely powerful when compared to a Lightning Bolt spell. The lightning starts in the clouds overhead -- a range of miles -- and then travels to the periscope-like projection on the submarine instead of from it. That could catch a lot of aerial targets.

The Chilean capital is inside an extinct volcano, accessed by subterranean water tunnels. Since there are about 100 volcanoes in Chile, this seems feasible.

The first of the American big rocket cruisers is three stories tall.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Complete Newspaper Dailies: Volume 1, 1929-1930 - pt. 1

I've been reading and reviewing Famous Funnies almost since the start of this blog, but have never read the Buck Rogers installments because they have all been excised from the public domain issues online. That doesn't mean I don't have access to Buck Rogers, though, as I have recently picked up this first volume in the reprint series.

How old is Buck? We know he's over 400 years old because he was in suspended animation for 400 years. He was also 20 years old when the Great War ended. If the first two panels take place in the then-present day of 1929, before he travels to the future, then he was 31 when he was trapped in the mine with the peculiar gas.

A passage that caves in and traps you with peculiar gas that puts you in suspended animation for 400 years is quite a trap.

Buck's first battle is with half-breeds because...yeah, Buck Rogers is pretty racist.

Buck's first trophy item is a jumping belt that he takes from one of the half-breeds he defeats (possibly kills, though the story isn't clear). The jumping belts make you weigh 1/30 your normal weight and let you make 300' standing high or long jumps.

The Mongol Empire that has conquered North America in this future world has anti-gravity technology, but have not been able to master miniaturization like the North Americans have (almost the exact opposite of which continent mastered miniaturization in the real world). So, while the Mongols don’t have jumping belts, they do have large armored airships. There seems to be no distinction between the U.S. and Canada anymore in the future, so everyone Buck encounters for awhile who is not Mongolian or a half-breed is a North American. Native Americans are, interestingly, finally on even footing with the white man, as their “org zones” (territories) are no more primitive than anyone else’s.

Weapons are also distinctly different for each culture. The North Americans have rocket pistols that shoot exploding bullets. It’s hard to say how to stat them, really, as they seem to miss an awful lot. Perhaps rocket guns would just be +1 guns and exploding bullets would do…2-8 points of damage? The Mongols use disintegrator rays. They are devastatingly effective when within range -- airships and giant mortars might have a 1-mile range -- while hand-held disintegrators have terribly short range, maybe half that of a rocket pistol. It’s unclear how much damage a Mongol disintegrator would do to a person, but the big ones wreck like mighty men (7th level superheroes).

The North Americans have an electro-hypnotic chair that they use to find out if someone is telling the truth. The Mongols use surgery instead, removing the parts of the brain able to tell lies (although they seem to still be able to withhold information, sometimes -- save vs. science to do so?). Other than jumping belts, rocket pistols, and electro-hypnotic chairs, the North Americans live exactly like early 20th century people (even flying in single-prop biplanes, though ones that could be flown by remote control). The reason for that seems to be that the Mongols, when they took over, took all technology away from the Americans. After about 50 years of that, the Mongols started to settle down in just the western U.S., leaving the east coast free for the Americans to begin slowly rebuilding their cities, their culture and their technology. But they fast forward past some technology, like past bows and arrows back to guns. Wilma has never seen a bow and arrow until Buck makes them.

That is not to say that all ancient weapons are unknown in the future. When Buck’s jealous rival Killer Kane challenges him to a duel, Kane’s weapon is a mace, while Buck goes for a more “modern” rifle and bayonet.

The Mongols eat synthetic food, though it isn’t clear what that means. Genetically modified? Theirs is the only culture that watches television; instead of prepared programming, though, Mongols entertain themselves by spying on each other (since their TVs work like crystal balls). All work in the Mongol mines is automated (at least they don’t use slave labor!).

Further evidence of how easy disguise is, going all the way back to the beginning of comic strips -- Buck Rogers only has to wear oriental clothing to disguise himself as a Mongol; apparently his face doesn't give him away at all.

Though Mongol soldiers use disentegrator rayguns, ordinary patrolmen in their cities use a gas gun that is shaped like a large syringe. The gas is simply pushed out with the handle at the back, so it can’t have a very effective range.

The Mongols also have glider cars that look like one-room huts with rocket tubes bending downwards from the sides of the “car”. Other than levitation, the glider cars have not yet been shown to do anything else.

Demonstrating how racy even all ages fare could be in the 1920s-30s, it is implied that Wilma would be drugged so she couldn’t resist the Mongol emperor having his way with her.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Jumbo Comics #11 - pt. 3

This is ZX-5 again, but I don't have anything Hideouts & Hoodlums-related to share from this page, I just like that it features the word "balustrade." You don't see that every day.

This is Wilton of the West, another feature that takes place in the "Mythic West" that still looks like the cowboy genre, but exists in the modern day world. And here we see a grim example of lariats being used as lethal weapons. Since the constriction damage would be continuous, then anyone dropped to zero hit points by the lasso/noose would die the following turn.

Inspector Dayton is out on the town when someone is murdered in a nightclub. Again, like in a previous story in this issue, the Hero takes a backseat to the supporting cast female accompanying him. I complained then about the Editor lazily allowing the SCM to find clues for the Hero, but maybe I have that backward -- maybe this is an example of a player taking advantage of a SCM's better chance at skills, like picking pockets. We have seen before, ever since Jane Arden debuted on this blog, that women seem to have a natural gift for being mysterymen in comic books. The slightly exotic name of "Miss Damien" might even suggest his companion is a vamp.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Jumbo Comics #11 - pt. 2

Well, that was a two week, unscheduled vacation from blogging!  Let's see where we left off...

Oh, that's right, in Jumbo Comics!  This is a page from Spencer Steel and, here, we see a car chase going on. I'm still in the early stages of formulating some car chase mechanics in my head which may or may not make it into the 2nd edition basic book, so it's worth saving this example of evasion during a chase. How do the hoodlums turn the corner so fast that Nora misses it? Is evasion a skill, or a chase-based mechanic that would have to be rolled for each turn?

It's also worth pointing out that Spencer and Nora marry before this story, making them the second married couple in comic books after Bart and Sally in Spy.

The driver has hard cover from the car. Because the car has not had time to get up to speed since turning around, there would be no penalty to hit for moving too fast. In a chase, there should always be a chance of a complication, like a crash. Though this is not a chase, as soon as the driver of a vehicle is incapacitated, the vehicle should move straight to crash complication.

The episodic nature of this installment leads me to think it was originally a UK comic strip, or was planned to be released that way.

The idea of placing a deadly gas inside glass vials, and then concealing the vials were they would be easily broken by accident, is a good trap.

Is Nora still a Supporting Cast Member? With her upgrade to married partner, I wonder if a player took over the SCM rather than roll up a new Hero. If Nora is still a SCM, then the Editor should not be using her to give away vital clues; that should fall to the players to find them.

For those not keeping track, Stuart Taylor was just the SCM in The Diary of Dr. Hayward, before being cast back in time and becoming a sort of "Yankee in King Arthur's Court"-type character, only in a generic fantasy version of medieval Europe. That's all the explanation you need to understand how Stuart has mini-grenades, or why he's the only character with a modern name.

Stuart doesn't feel so bold when it comes to five-to-one odds, but he also is Lawful enough not to murder them with a grenade just for doing their job.

The pit trap has the additional wrinkle of a stone slab sliding shut over the opening. Though it might be worse, depending on how thick the cover is, I would have that wreck as if a generator for superheroes trapped beneath it.

The pit trap is further complicated by apparently dropping them into an arena where a lion can be released to attack them. More portcullises block other exits from the arena, including one portcullis blocking a curiously small door.

100 xp for whoever can figure out the real life geographical analogues to this map. Chesterland sounds decidedly English, which would make the Island of Dono a substitute for Ireland. But none of that explains how Mongolia is right next to them.

That's actually not bad strategy -- enter the villains' hideout in disguise, slip them a fake map and plans, and watch them follow it into a trap.  Not bad, ZX-5!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)