Monday, October 14, 2019

Amazing Mystery Funnies #18 - pt. 2

We're still looking at Jon Linton's adventures in the future; a future where men wear robes and women wear short skirts.

It seems like a huge design flaw that Satan Rex's atomic power plant is controlled by two exposed electrodes. I was going to say the place should also have some fail-safes in place, but I suppose the power shutdown is a fail-safe, preventing something worse like a meltdown.

I don't think any 1940 writers knew about meltdowns yet...and yet, Harry Campbell did seem to have more knowledge of science than your average comic book writer of the time, so...?
I just complimented Campbell for his smarts, but there seems to be a glaring mistake here; two pages back, Jon learned the systems would need 30 minutes to reboot, and here the "wall of force" is rebooting well before then. Of course, maybe Satan was smart enough to have a back-up system kick in for the force wall.

It's interesting that Campbell calls it a wall of force and not the more common term, force field (in use in science fiction going back to 1920!). Wall of Force is, of course, a magic-user spell as well.

The second to last panel spells out that the Scientist class normally takes a week of downtime to invent something, but has a chance to kit-bash something in just a day.
The Mount Wilson Observatory telescope would be the largest in the world until 1949. I'm not sure where the "6,000 billion million miles" came from, but researchers could see nebulae over 5 trillion miles away.

The "reveal houses on the moon, if there are any" is as optimistic as telepathic television-phones.
Bill and Davey is an odd duck, a comic strip coming from a minor league syndicate that was picked up by both Dell and Centaur (though neither for long). It's hard to see what they saw in it -- unless they just picked it up cheap.

There were headhunters, and cannibals as well, on the Solomon Islands, so while the depiction of Ajax might seem racist, the description isn't. 
This is Tippy Taylor on Fantasy Isle, a non-subtle rip-off of Swift's Lilliput. This scenario should be a cakewalk for even a class-less half-pint; since I'm still working on the assumption that 1 hit point represents roughly 30 lbs. of mass, and a 6" tall person would weigh less than an ounce, then Lilliputians...or Fantasy Islanders don't even come close to having a full hit point, or being able to do any damage themselves.

The tank poses more of a threat, even scaled to tiny size. Since it's the size of a gun, I would allow it to do a full 1-6 points of damage if it shot Tippy in the leg.

That must be a 3' high jump by Tippy. Impressive! 
This is John Degen, Private Detective, from a one-shot called "The Fiend of Halwith Hall." Shadowing someone, by car, on a country road, should be a basic skill check.

John is smart to head straight to the cellar, as most of the good stuff in a hideout is underground.

John has a skeleton key, a minor trophy item that gives him a bonus to skill checks when opening locked doors.
Here we have a mad scientist with the emphasis on mad. Like many mad scientists, he wants to do a brain transplant. Now, he might be just a raving loon, or maybe he has the science to do it; we never do find out.

Two wolves are unusual pets for a mad scientist.

The pit trap in the driveway is very unusual. It also doesn't make a lot of sense, since the car was parked when John goes inside, and is in the pit trap after he gets out. Maybe it took a long time for the weight of the car to activate the trap?
That's a lot of blood loss, to make the gunpowder too wet to burn. The Hideouts & Hoodlums rules don't account for blood loss and there's no way to make yourself bleed faster to foil traps.

Wow, that is one dark ending. It's rare for Heroes in comics to fail, but John not only failed to save this poor guy, but we find out just what horrible fate befell him.
Lastly, we're going to look at a verbose page of Larry Kane, investigating "The Ghost of Kirkwood." There's a pretty good set-up for a haunted house scenario here, with lots of rumors being supplied on this page.

My curiosity has been aroused too, but it's late and I'll read the rest next time!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Amazing Mystery Funnies #18 - pt. 1

Speed Centaur? Really? You're going to make me read Speed Centaur, first thing? Sigh..

Now, to be fair, this scenario seems as preposterous on the face of it as a centaur superhero. What would the Axis Forces possibly want with U.S. horses circa 1940? It turns out there actually is a real story like this.

"Hop on my back and ride me, trusty sidekick!" How did  Fredric Wertham miss this?
What the waaah? Since when can centaurs fly? I guess I'm modifying the centaur record in the Mobster Manual again!
I've never heard of such a killer horse -- but killer horse seems almost like a worthy mobstertype for Hideouts & Hoodlums! It also appears here that killer horses can attack with both 1 bite and 1 kick in the same turn. Speed beats the killer horse with grappling.
I'm interested in this page for the first panel. Reel is able to gamely perform a move worthy of a movie stuntman; but keep in mind Reel's training is as a cameraman. So when did he become such a capable acrobat and marksman?

On an earlier post, I speculated about Supporting Cast and at what point they can become classed and I may have missed the obvious; as soon as they become Supporting Cast to a Hero, they become important enough to gain a class, even if they only had a mundane profession before. 


Killer horses will chase after you if you run!

...It's been as hard as ever taking Speed Centaur seriously, but perhaps this could illustrate, instead, that Supporting Cast animals can be given very specific and out-of-their-character tasks, like running down and trampling someone.
Phew! Moving on to The Inner Circle now. There's not a lot of game-relevant material here, although I'm curious to see if any of those newspapers really exist...

Long before The New York Bulletin became a fake newspaper in the Marvel Netflix Universe, it was a real New York newspaper, running from 1840 to 1850! There was a London daily called The Courier, but I can't find that there was a London Daily Courier. The Montreal Post-Telegram is completely bogus.

Next, I'm noticing how widely different the value of the gold stolen is between countries. How close are those exchange rates?





No, there was $4 to the pound, so the London Daily Courier should be reporting 200,000, not 250,000 pounds. The Canadian numbers are even worse; the Canadian dollar was only worth 10% more than a U.S. dollar in 1940, so the Montreal Post Telegram should say 55,000, not what looks an awful lot like 500,000!

I tried to also do a little research on why damage to the conning tower, specifically, would keep a sub from being able to submerge. I don't think it's because the hit was on the tower, per se, but any hole in the sub is going to take on water.

Leaving those Circle Boys behind on their boats, let's jump ahead to Jon Linton, the thinking man's Buck Rogers (well, sorta...).

I suppose there's something comforting in knowing that notes handwritten in cursive are still going to be a thing in the future.

Jon's trick here seems a bit too obvious to me, but I suppose when you're dealing with a narcissist like Trump -- er, I mean Satan -- it's easy to play on his vanity and get him to think you're on his side.

In game play, this can be difficult, particularly if the player and Editor don't see the character's motivations the same way.

If the Editor felt, Jon's player is misinterpreting what I'm going for, he could prompt his player with a skill check or Wisdom check (we've talked about unofficially using ability score checks in H&H before) and correct him if he succeeds - or, simply change the way the villain's character to match player expectations, if that makes things easier.

I love how Harry Campbell, even if he doesn't always get the science right, certainly makes a game try of it. Here he fairly accurately predicts safe atomic energy plants, with 2 million volts being possible if the plant has up to six transformers. He also accurately understands reboot time.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Prize Comics #1 - pt. 5

I haven't tackled a five-parter in a long time, but I had a lot to say about this issue.

We're going to pick up not long after where I left off with K the Unknown and we will, as usual, discuss it in terms of RPG game mechanics. As anyone who's ever read a previous post knows, I wrote the RPG Hideouts & Hoodlums and feel it does a spectacular job of  emulating the early history of comic books -- which I prove post after post on this blog.

And yet...K, getting stunned on the first hit by a thrown paperweight just doesn't match up with the hit point model of incremental defeat that H&H uses. It seems more like every hit has a random chance of delivering a stun. And, as I think about it, I see this all the time against bad guys and animals; only Heroes are usually incrementally defeated. And it does give me pause.

This page also highlights the importance of checking every mobster you defeat for disguises.
I'll give K this, the finale is worthy of a James Bond movie, with the hero and villain struggling upright on a speeding bobsled -- in fact, it predates the bobsled chase in On Her Majesty's Secret Service by 23 years!

I would think that two men grappling on a moving bobsled would wind up getting thrown off almost immediately, but in-game would be fine with giving each a save vs. science each turn to stay put, with a penalty to their save on the hairpin curve.
If Buck Brady of the F.B.I. seems science fictional, it's because of the absence of 1,000-dollar bills out there today. The U.S. government stopped making the bills by 1946, and finally recalled them all in 1969, so I've never seen one in my life.
I decided to share this page to talk about players choosing the direction of the scenario, because I read this I couldn't help but think, if this was a game I was playing, I would have had Buck follow the car rather than search her room. Now, if I was the Editor instead, I could leave a clue in the room telling the player where the old lady was going, and hopefully the player will get the hint that it's important to go to that location...
In this case, the Editor seems to have decided to move the planned encounter back to the hotel room. On one hand, it makes the villain seem smarter, guessing Buck was coming, but on the other hand it makes the Editor seem like he's unfairly using his knowledge of the player's actions against them. A way around that might be to let the player attempt to save vs. plot to find the hotel room abandoned.

Here is the oddly-already-a-cliche of the man dressed as an old woman, but with the switcheroo that the Hero then uses the same disguise.
I'm impressed by the daring involved in piloting your boat into a police boat just to get their attention. A mean Editor could well give you a chance of sinking the police boat, and then where will you be?

The final story we're going to look at is Storm Curtis of the U.S. Coast Guard. I'm showing you this page for two reasons: one, it's more fun playing a character with interests other than crime-fighting 24/7. Give your Hero a hobby, either one you already know about, or one you're willing to research.

And two, check out that grappling hook gun! This is much closer to what a real grapple gun looks like than what Batman has carried since the 1980s, though I'm not convinced grapple guns were that small and handheld in 1940; there could still be some artistic license at play here.
Paper and pencils are good things to find on a defeated mobster, as are cigarettes.

Note the use of "espy" in panel 2, a word I don't think was even in common usage then!
Those are really convenient clues to find in someone's pocket!

Personally, I find the chief spy encounter anticlimactic, but it's certainly surprising and good to pull on your players once.

I think it's amusing how Curtis sort of bumbled into this whole spy ring, like a player getting a lot of railroading help from his Editor.

Comics.org doesn't say who the artist is here, but I suspect Dick Briefer. What do you think?

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Friday, October 4, 2019

Prize Comics #1 - pt. 4

We're back with Jaxon of the Jungle, just in time to see Jaxon go up against wild pigs! These boars look small enough to be juvenile boars, which makes it even more unseemly when he starts gutting one. There's got to be better ways to earn experience points, Jaxon!

Note how Tarpe doesn't, to her credit, draw blacks as caricatures, though we see plenty of stereotypical behavior, like being superstitious, cowardly, and on a later page, prone to alcoholism.
The constrictor snake is obviously a random encounter. But is the village? Editors who are not working from detailed maps sometimes randomly generate details as significant as village placement, or even just make it all up as they go. However, since this particular village figures into the plot, it seems more likely to have been premeditated.
This page, combined with the last, suggests that fatigue can be relieved by a short nap, or rest.

That poor native guard only wanted to come in and discuss the poems of Lewis Carroll with them, and look how they treat him!
I'm generally opposed to guns in both comic books and RPGs, even though I had to include them in Hideouts & Hoodlums to emulate their consistent usage, and the fact that my players love using them. Something I am okay with guns being used for in-game is holding your enemies at bay, by creating a line of fire that is dangerous for them to cross.

Any attack on a plane can cause a complication, even if it's a flaming spear.

"Scattering" isn't a game mechanic that guns can do, directly. Rather, they failed a morale save because they were being shot at by someone they could not attack back (not a situation covered in the rules, but a common sense reason to give a morale save).
Moving on, we'll join the debut of M-11. This page interests me for several reasons. One, "Empress of Auckland" feels like such a realistic name, I wondered if there really was a ship called this. Not that I found, but I did find a plane called The Empress of Auckland, a Douglas DC-6B, that would later fly, starting in 1961!

And that $200 million in gold is not that unrealistic either, as over 140 tons of gold were transported to the U.S. in the early days of WWII. The unlikely part is it all coming on just one ship.

A villain with no fingernails on one hand is a creepy detail to use in your games!
How do you pull off someone's glove, using game mechanics? I think it would be sleight of hand, practiced as a skill. If you're just forcefully yanking it off without any attempt to go unnoticed, I might call that a basic skill check with a -1 bonus modifier, but if you were trying to pull the glove off so that the wearer doesn't notice, that would be an expert skill check.

I've talked about extenuating circumstances to add saving throws for additional penalties in addition to taking damage (like if you're leaning over a railing), as well as rolling to hit to grab something, before, and won't go into detail about them again this time.
The H&H rules do talk about using fire to create boundaries that are damaging to cross, but this is a different scenario where the fire is being used to create a boundary a vehicle won't cross. And it does make sense, if crossing the line of fire triggers a complication check, which is the way I'm still leaning towards handling damage vs. vehicles.
And the last story we're going to look at today is K the Unknown, a mysteryman in uncommonly orange long underwear.

I share this page because a good tactic for the Editor is to have mobsters doing more than just attack the Heroes; it gives the players more to react to and make decisions about during encounters. Here, K has to stay and fight or head after Terry.
K uses a smart tactic to lure a mobster outside and question him alone, rather than beard them all in their lair and then try and get answers.

Judging by what's on the table on the last panel, we might be dealing with drunken hoodlums here.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Prize Comics #1 - pt. 3


Today we start with the third feature, Jupiter the Master Magician. He's our second alien magic-user after Magician from Mars (in fact, the inspiration should be obvious).

Is Jupiter using magic words, or just talking in his native tongue?

Since Jupiter is "sent" to Earth, we don't have to speculate about what spell he used to cover   628,743,036 km. Perhaps it is some super-teleporter that his people have back at home. 

That Jupiter is "in his visible form" means that people from Jupiter are naturally invisible. This does not conform to the alien race available to players...but then, we never see him invisible, so perhaps this is just flavor text.


It's hard to blame this passerby for being suspicious. For one thing, your name being the same as the planet you're from is just plain weird, like being an Earth magician called Earth. Weirder still are those antennae that look like tiny pencils on his forehead.

---

Jupiter appears to be using a Telekinesis spell to move about 400 tons of railroad cars -- which is way, way beyond what the Telekinesis spell can currently move in Hideouts & Hoodlums. We might need some new variations of Telekinesis, like:

Telekinesis I (1st-level spell): Can move 30 lbs.

Telekinesis II: (2nd-level spell): Can move 300 lbs. 

Telekinesis III (3rd-level spell): Can move 1 ton.

Telekinesis IV: Can move 6 tons.

Telekinesis V: Can move 50 tons.

Telekinesis VI: Can move 400 tons.

This goes a long way towards balancing out spells to powers, with powers currently being much more powerful. However...I'm not comfortable enough with this yet to make it official.

Of course, this also means Jupiter has a whopping 11 brevet ranks.

The super-fast flying that takes place between panels 3 and 4 could just be Teleport.

Jupiter either has a Crystal Ball as a magic item, or this is flavor text accompanying the use of a Clairvoyance spell.

As uncomfortable as I am with Telekinesis being as powerful as I made it above, I'm about equally uncomfortable with the caster not needing line-of-sight with what he's mentally moving.
*Sigh* Am I going to need a new spell called Crack Mountain? Actually, the 7th level spell Earthquake might account for this geological behavior, but that still puts Jupiter in Stardust territory for being ridiculously overpowered.

It amazes me that a mob boss can hear that Jupiter split a mountain in half, and then is ballsy enough to think siccing three hit men on Jupiter is going to be sufficient to deal with him. I'm not saying Golden Age mobsters are all dumb, but they are incredibly naive about the risks they are dealing with.
How to determine when torture is effective? Jim Johnson could get a save vs. science to resist the pain of the foot toasting, but if he's supporting cast and no Hero is present, I would probably just wing the results.

This time, Jupiter seems to be scrying through a real Crystal Ball, as the Clairvoyance spell would not let him find a person far away like that.
There's so much wrong with this -- is Jupiter sure he has the right address? Is he sure no innocents live -- lived -- in that building?

Mechanics-wise, he's either cast Earthquake again, or...perhaps like Stardust, Jupiter needs to be statted as a Magic-User/Superhero and has used wrecking things on the building.

So, when someone says invisible in this story, what they really mean is intangible. This makes me think we should stat Jupiter as a ghost instead of an alien.








Wall of Steel isn't a far cry from the 5th level spell we already have, Wall of Iron.

That is one strange-looking emergency chute -- is it lined with copper wire? Also, where was it? Behind a secret door?


Jupiter makes some cryptic comments about Jim being able to learn magic someday. The H&H rules deal with sharing XP with your Supporting Cast when they have a Hero class, but what if they don't? The rules don't deal with how long it takes to become a classed character, and this is entirely left to the discretion of the Editor. Unless future issues actually show Jim learning magic, we don't even have an example of this yet to emulate with the rules. 





It's completely unclear what spell Jupiter casts that makes them lose control of their car. What is clear is that Jupiter can casts spells through the Crystal Ball, making that one very powerful Crystal Ball.

Lastly, for today, we're going to take a peek at the next story, Jaxon of the Jungle, by Tarpe Mills.

Let's discuss what a "portable wireless set" would be in 1940. It looks pretty clear from the picture that it is a wireless telegraph, and that tech has been around since 1830. Wireless radio has been around since 1900. 

It's interesting reverse psychology to have a non-Hero character try to stop your Heroes from pursuing the scenario at gunpoint. It might make them all the more determined to finish the scenario -- or they might just beat up this first guy and think they're done!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Friday, September 27, 2019

Prize Comics #1 - pt. 2

We rejoin Power Nelson in the "future" of 1982. Here he faces a rhino in the arena and defeats it in one blow -- because pacing is really tight in these early stories and nobody spent a lot of time on depicting combats. The Hideouts & Hoodlums do not emulate this, because playing out combats is too integral to the nature of a RPG -- even if it is not the sole focus of H&H as it is so many other games.

There are three ways we can explain this, in-game. One, we could say this rhino simply had low hit points, perhaps due to age or illness, or random rolling without any rationalizing. Two, we could reduce the Hit Dice of big animal mobstertypes, if we wanted to, to make combats against them go quicker like we see here. Three, Power might be using Super Punch, though that is a high level power, and means that Power is not a 1st-level superhero, but one with at least five brevet ranks.
To sum up the tiger fight, Nelson uses Raise Car to lift the rhino, combined with Extend Missile Range to turn the rhino into a missile weapon.

---

Platoons must be smaller in the future; this platoon appears to consist of just seven men.

---
It's bizarre that the Mongols were so sporting as to give Nelson a net so large that it could ensnare seven men at once, a net at least 30' x 30'. If explained by powers instead, Nelson has expended three Hold Person powers, which seems almost as unlikely.
Now we're in the middle of the second feature, Ted O'Neil the Barnstormer. There is some crazy aerial acrobatics in this feature, most of which I have trouble believing would be possible

One, there's holding on to the edge of a plane's wing by your knees. I would make the aviator burn a stunt for doing this at normal altitude, and then two more to hold on during the dive! I wouldn't even allow skill checks for something this crazy.

And that handkerchief snatch? I'd make Ted roll to hit AC 0, or maybe even lower, to hit the handkerchief wile passing at that speed, plus a save vs. science to avoid taking ramming damage if he connects with the ground.
Climbing a shaking rope to climb up to a plane might be an expert skill, or could be another stunt. Holding onto Ogden in mid-air is a grappling attack, so no stunts can be used on that.
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Aviator's helmets and bags of silver are more clues to add to murder scenes, and the next time I put together a random table of clues (I did one in The Trophy Case years ago).

Who keeps bags of silver around their home?

A plane's cowling is the removable hood over its engine.

Ogden may be the first villain in comics so cheap that he has to hitchhike to get around.
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Normally I say that stunts cannot be used in combat, but here the gripping the wing of the plane is mostly independent of the grappling attack, and I might begrudgingly allow it.

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Mobs in 1940 are awfully trusting of confessions that are beaten out of someone. Doesn't it occur to them that Ogden might be lying now to make the beating stop?



(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)