Thursday, May 30, 2019

Science Comics #1 - pt. 3

Still plowing through the inaugural issue of Science Comics and...boy, this is becoming a tougher and tougher read! I think Electro was the best thing they had ready and quickly whipped up a bunch of sci fi filler to go around it.

Case in point, Cosmic Carson, with its near empty rooms on this page, and its almost entirely empty three panels on the last page.

That said, I do like the symmetry of that last wide panel on this page, and an empty entrance hall with a single guard manning a machine gun...well, it has merits for hideout design.
 ...As does this "acid well." I'm not sure what you would use an acid well for, but it's an interesting detail, and could make for a potent trap too.
Here we have another interplanetary adventure taking place in the future of the year 2000. It's adorable how confident we used to be in the march of progress.

The Interplanetary Transport Company reminds me of Futurama. But what, do you suppose, does it mean by "air routes?" Surely this author doesn't think there's air in space? If you can call fighters "space fighters" (which is what the class Fighter should be called in a sci-fi campaign, by the way!), then you should be able to figure out to call them "space routes."
Although the slavers are an intergalactic threat, with a base on Saturn, they look disappointingly like ordinary humans.

But there's something much fisher going on here -- if Payne is going from Earth to the Moon to refuel, how on Earth (*ahem*) does the slave ship get to the Moon just minutes later? Distances make no sense in these early comics. I'm not sure how to emulate that in Hideouts & Hoodlums, but I'm also not sure I care to.
Marga the Panther Woman is a weird one. At times looking like a Sheena rip-off, Marga is a woman in the future endowed with panther-like fighting ability by a mad scientist. After the scientist kills himself, Marga escapes and goes on this little mini-rampage, killing that poor little tiger with her claws.

A long time ago, a suggested race for H&H was the beastman, but I never had good examples of them in comic books. Marga is the perfect example, though, and we see how beastmen would have a short list of mutations to choose from, like how she gets claws.
"Protective current" isn't clearly defined here, but probably means an electric forcefield that either greatly enhances Armor Class or buffs the ship with a defensive power, as if it was a superhero.

Although these look like spaceships, their portholes and glass cockpits and holes in the walls serving as gun ports suggest these planes fly around at lower altitudes than would require pressurization.
Now this is Dr. Doom -- but neither the Fantastic Four villain nor the International Spy we've seen reprinted in earlier comic books. This Dr. Doom is an old man/mad scientist with assistants (finally found some art for that mobstertype I can use!) and they live on some kind of colony world where there are some other humans, but so few that the assistants have to go looking for them.

Jan Swift (descendant of Tom Swift?) and Wanda are explorers in the D&D sense -- they just seem to be randomly wandering and looking for experience, instead of working for someone or towards some specific goal.

One of the two assistants has a paralysis raygun that turns the tide for them.
I believe it was Dragon magazine #111 that had a great article statting real world microscopic monsters that you could either enlarge to giant size, or shrink the characters down to microscopic size so they can encounter them.

You can see Dr. Doom's shrink ray is slow enough that Jan can be picked up with tweezers while still 2 inches tall.
It would be interesting to research how many microscopic organisms were identified before 1940 -- probably not many, admittedly, as this was a few years before the electron microscope was invented. This artist didn't do any research on that, but just made up some bizarre bird-fish, regular fish, and a "giant ameoba" (amoeba) that looks more like a donut-headed snake.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Monday, May 27, 2019

Science Comics #1 - pt. 2

It's likely that Electro is expending the new power, Light, again. The light generated by the power can be set motionless and does not need to follow the superhero. Plus, in rest turns, the light spell will likely last for many hours.

Restoring power to the power plant, though...that might be a different power entirely. The 5th-level power Control Electricity (from Supplement I: National) might be able to cause this effect, at the Editor's discretion. Or maybe it's some lower level power, like "Recharge."

Then he hits five spies with a lightning bolt. Note the lightning bolt does not appear to need to emerge in a straight line from him, but strikes in a straight line perpendicular to him, passing through the conveniently lined up spies.
There's that Recharge power again? We also need a power that duplicates the effect of those rayguns we keep seeing that stall all mechanical engines. Maybe Stall Motor can affect one plane per level of the superhero?
It should come as no shock that there is no town of Summerville within 20 miles of Washington, D.C., though there is a Springfield, Virginia, and a Silver Spring, Maryland, both representing a close season.


Electro uses wrecking things on the door. He does not need to use the Wreck at Range power to shoot electricity at the door; since there would be nothing stopping him from stepping up to the door, the ray emanating from his forehead is pure flavor text.
Since it is unlikely that a "little cottage" has a "huge, central hall" in it, it seems to be implied that Electro is exploring an underground hideout, which is very much in keeping with our game.

I'm not sure how this switch is going to cripple five dams in different locations all at the same time. Maybe it will signal saboteurs in each area?

Electro uses Hold Person and then Protection from Missiles, followed by what appears to be a higher-level version of Hold Person (Hold Person II?) that can paralyze up to six people -- although, since he's able to compel them to answer questions, this is more like the spell Hypnotic Pattern.

And here Electro seems to be casting Cure Light Wounds -- Electro is actually a Magic-User/Superhero (which explains how he had Light prepared before).
This power was something I already needed to work on for my upcoming high-level campaign, because Green Lantern also uses this Mass Flight power (by 1950, anyway). Bonus content follows:

Seventh Level
Mass Flight: The magic-user can move in any direction through the air at a movement speed of 192 (93 through water), and can by the same power move up to 1,100 lbs. of cargo with at the same speed, or up to six other people if they remain motionless (either willingly or forced into motionless, say by a Hold Person spell). Anyone else can try to opt out of being transported by making a saving throw vs. spells, but any modified saving roll still less than 20 results in the victim being moved 10-40’ per number of the result below 20 (falling damage may ensue). Duration: 1 turn per 2 levels. Examples: Science Comics #1, All-Star Comics #52.

So now the last issue is, how many brevet ranks is Electro boosted? Because he's clearly not a 1st level Hero. He must be an 8th level Superhero/15th level Magic-User (that's some lop-sided XP distribution!).  So, not as ridiculously powerful as Stardust, but still brokenly powerful, and not one campaign friendly.


Moving on quickly now, we check in on the next feature, Cosmic Carson.

And I share this page, not because the idea of aliens populating our solar system is that new -- and definitely not because "Fang Men of Jupiter" are so new they deserve statting -- but I did want to point out another staple of the early science fiction genre, that imagined there would be unique elements on other
worlds -- unique elements which can serve as treasure, or power trophy devices.

Although visually exciting to see rocket ships blasting out of the roof of a building, one has to wonder about the grasp of science that would lead someone to think this would not blast the whole building into scrap.

Coupled with this is either the inability or the patience to deal with the vast size of space. Even if the ship traveling from Mars to Earth was passing by at the upper edge of the atmosphere, it would take these rocket ships so long to reach it that it would probably pass them by -- unless we imagine some fantasy propellant that is not only non-destructive, but faster than any modern mode of travel known to us.

And I haven't even brought up yet -- where is this pirate base?
surely not on Jupiter, or it wouldn't be anywhere near the shipping lane between Earth and Mars. Maybe it's based on an asteroid...?

I share this page mainly for the overhead map showing us the layout of the pirate base, as well as demonstrating the VTOL capabilities of the pirate rockets.

Also, that these reinforcements are able to reach the battle in the span of combat turns just reinforces how fantastically fast they must be.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Science Comics #1 - pt. 1

This is an exciting day for me; in the past, I have been reading comic books where I was familiar with at least one character from every issue, but now we finally reach Fox's Science Comics, I title I have never sampled before, with forgotten heroes I've never read and, in some cases, never even seen pictures of before!

But, I think I will ultimately wind up feeling disappointed instead of feeling like I've found hidden gems. Because we're starting with the Eagle, a character whose artificial wings make him look more like a hummingbird than an eagle.

Game mechanics: The Eagle's player will not need to keep a running tally of how much anti-gravitation fluid he has left, as I suspect this is just flavor text explaining how his flight powers work.
As I showed an example of a Supporting Cast Member being used well yesterday (emergency evacuation from a hideout), today we have another good use of one, as a plot hook collector/dispenser.
Here is a clear example of a wandering encounter; something uncommon in normally tightly plotted eight-page adventures. I can't even say that's an example of a drunken hoodlum in the car; the situation as a whole, more so than the occupant, is what the Hero can choose to deal with.
Here the Eagle makes an unusual choice. He could have tried just following the car from the air -- unless his flight power is so slow that he cannot keep up with a car in city traffic. Instead, he decides to target just one mobster and force information out of him. Now, perhaps he chooses this method just to get a feel for the opposition first. If the hoodlum blows his morale save immediately, chances are the Eagle is going to be facing some very low Hit Die mobsters. This could be especially important in a "sandbox" campaign setting where the hideouts of various challenge levels are all preset and the players won't know which are which.

I included this page, not to ridicule it (though it may be deserving), but to discuss old school maps and the scale of hideouts. Bear in mind that, to keep the aesthetic of old school D&D maps, many rooms in the hideout are going to be 20' x 20' at the smallest, and many 30' x 30' or even 40' x 40'. These larger rooms give you a lot more leeway to stage encounters in -- as you see here -- even though the room dimensions are not realistic.

And now we move on already to the second feature, Electro! This superhero is tied with Timely Comics' robot Electro, who also debuts this same month, and waayy before the Spider-Man villain. 

Here we quickly get his origin story -- Jim Andrews is electrocuted, but instead of killing him he gets superpowers. Right off the bat, he's lifting heavy machinery that looks heavier than a car -- Raise Elephant power?
And he can do the Light spell too, unless we make a power for that.


Here we find an interesting rationale for why superheroes wear distinctive uniforms -- because they can't live as normal humans anymore, they don't want to dress like them. Doesn't explain why so many maintain secret identities, though.

Of all the fake names for Germany I've seen, Moronia is still my favorite, but Gerlandia might be my second favorite.

Although you don't often hear about FDR's children, Franklin Roosevelt did have a then-33-year-old daughter, Anna. He also had four sons, so it's more than a bit sexist to ignore them and go after the one daughter.


Here Electro is shown how he flies by riding on electric beams -- not that it makes any sense, but hey, you can explain your powers anyway you want as long as you filled one of your power slots with it.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pep Comics #2 - pt. 3

We're still watching Sergeant Boyle's one-man war against the Nazis -- not fictional stand-ins either, mind you, but real deal Nazis. By 1940, more and more comic book creators are going to take a more direct position on the War in Europe.


Game mechanics discussion: I'm less interested in how black eyes are achieved (flavor text) or how Boyle rips down that telephone line pole (wrecking things), but by the double agent's sudden recovery from failing a morale save. I never addressed this before, but should morale results have a random duration? Or did he just get a new morale save when the circumstances changed?
That's a fairly impressive rendering of a battle scene, but it's all flavor text if the Hero is not involved in it. Or is it? Hideouts & Hoodlums does not emulate this sort of large-scale battle well -- I can't think of any RPGs that do -- but what if the game was set aside at this point and the referee and player switched to wargaming to resolve the scenario?

Boyle has until June 14, 1940 to enjoy tranquility in Paris.

Wowee, look at that Mort Meskin half-splash page! You know, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were still a year away from the iconic work they are best known for, so at this early stage it may be Mort who comes in second behind Eisner for most dynamic page layouts!

Although we aren't given an exact time frame, it seems clear that Press Guardian has been undercover with the bund for some time, possibly weeks.

"Moronia" is a great fictionalized name for Nazi Germany.

Although this page superficially looks pretty good, the combat is confusing and hard to follow. Press Guardian was shot on the previous page but is fine now. Was he buffed with a defensive power? Wearing a bulletproof vest? Just took minimal damage and shrugged off the hit point loss?

When he's knocked down, is Press Guardian just playing possum until Von Leo turns around, or was PG really stunned?

PG's leap seems like something a normal person could attempt with a skill check.

Calling in the valet who also happens to be a pilot is an excellent use of Supporting Cast.

This is Manly Wade Wellman's Fu Chang. The art by Lin Streeter is amateurish and the story is not much better, though I am intrigued both by the summoning spell, which seems to require a magic potion...
...but more importantly, the tiger-devil. A tiger-devil has a gaze attack that paralyzes...

...and I think we see here that it can also turn to gaseous form. I'm inclined to give tiger-devils 8 Hit Dice, making them on par with vampires.
Although this fight is said to take seconds in length, in H&H terms it is three turns long, or 90 seconds (in 2nd edition, 180 seconds in 1st edition).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Pep Comics #2 - pt. 2

Next up is Jack Cole's second installment of The Comet. The Comet is on the trail of a master criminal who appears to have magical powers -- he can make his face appear in the clouds at giant size, and he can make armored cars leap into the air and disappear. Spoiler -- all this is going to be explained by the end, as he's actually just another mad scientist.

The adventure takes place in the Everglades -- coincidentally where RT2 Adventures in Fun World, the third published Hideouts & Hoodlums adventure, takes place.

If the armored car companies are keeping the disappearances a secret, then how does The Comet know where each of the cars disappeared, accurately enough to put on a map...?

Usually, when you see 11 x's on a map, you can triangulate to some central point, or see some other pattern involved. In this case, The Comet still has to spend a whole two weeks flying around, just hoping to spot a clue from above.

A phone booth concealed in a tree is a pretty good clue. Wireless communication would have made it a lot harder to follow this clue. Also, had The Comet just kept flying instead of using the boat, he would have missed the hideout altogether. Maybe it's because the duration ran out on his fly power...?

It's unclear if The Comet was hurt and stunned by the whirlpool, or if the two thugs succeeded in winning the initiative and getting their grappling attacks in first.

Noiseless electronic motors might count as a mad science invention by 1940 standards.

Here we get the explanation for the giant face in the sky. I've written before about how much more convincing two-dimensional projections must be in a comic book universe (metaphysical commentary on the two-dimensional nature of their universe?). Projecting onto clouds would fool no one in the real world.

The Comet has a much different idea of what "success" is than I do; I would be much less cavalier about nearly smashing my own eye to a pulp. Just looking at that panel makes me a little woozy!

Oh, one last spoiler -- the armored cars are being lifted into the sky via magnets on cables that no one sees because it's dark.
So now we're moving on to the next feature, which is Rocket and the Queen of Diamonds. Rocket is a Flash Gordon clone, although one who never seems to think it's appropriate to put on a shirt or pants. Maybe he thinks that's okay because his bad guys wear midriffs, cutoffs, and starfish on their heads.

This was written by prolific author Manly Wade Wellman, who will go on to do better things.


A few game mechanics points here: the guy with the baby rattle delivering a knockout headblow just by outflanking Rocket, which I am not comfortable with. I'm going to keep the headblow to just surprise attacks.

I can imagine there are some positions one could chain someone
up in that would limit their ability to use leverage; this doesn't look like one of them. Since Rocket can just push against the floor to break his bonds, I might even give him a bonus in this case.

I don't show you the page where the drugged Rocket attacks the queen because he doesn't know what he's doing, but the injected drug reminds me a lot of the Confusion spell.

Rocket rather cleverly creates a crowbar for himself using his wrecking things, and I could see rewarding that ingenuity with a +1 bonus to his wrecking things roll (and this time he'll need it to get through a stone wall).

Giant water bugs belong in the Mobster Manual, though they do pop apart awfully easy. They look pretty fierce, though...maybe 1+1 Hit Dice?  

I think panel 1 clearly shows giant water-bugs being encountered in a group of eight.

False walls are found the same as secret doors.

This is supposedly by Charles Biro, but if he drew this, it had to be a rush job and far from his best work.


Snipers are statted as assassins in the Mobster Manual.

Here and on the next page we get a rare example -- outside the cowboy genre, anyway -- of using fire to trigger a morale save.

I can't say I ever sympathized with a Nazi guard in a comic book before, but this poor guy who doesn't know how he wound up this way, but just wants to pet a kitten, this guy I wish had at least gotten a fair fight against Boyle.

As per the rules for guards in all fiction, the stolen uniform has to be exactly the right size to fit.

That is a terrible secret code. However, if you want your players to feel like they're deciphering a code, without having to put any real work into it, this might be the code for you.

I like the compass! We almost never get a sense of direction in our comic book panels.

Boyle demonstrates the save vs. missiles and how that applies to guns here.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Pep Comics #2 - pt. 1

We're back to MLJ and my second favorite MLJ superhero, The Shield!

As you can see here, today's adventure is going to take place in (and en route to) "Porto Rico."  Now, this may seem on the face of it to be one of those times where the comic book writers fictionalized a country name by changing it slightly, but it actually was called Porto Rico from 1898 to 1931! (Our author here, Harry Shorten, may have been just nine years behind the times...)
I understand the cabin doors on a boat are pretty thick, so maybe it makes sense that the Shield needs a special device to listen at one. It might make even more sense when you consider that the Shield is wearing a mask with extra ear covering on it. Yet, I am hesitant to introduce too many negative modifiers to skill checks. I would especially hate to penalize someone for coming up with an inventive, but impractical, superhero costume.

Instead of referring to the villains outright as Germans, they are just called "Nordics" here.
We've been seeing superheroes jumping out of planes in movies a lot lately, but the Shield might have been the first. He lands safely, partly because he's landing in water and water landings are almost always safe in comic books...but, just in case, it might help to have a Feather Landing power activated.
I'm sharing this page, not so much because it informs us, so much as because it confuses me. In panel 5, a man yells, "A hit!" but we don't actually see the shell connect. Does the man just think it was a hit, but is mistaken? What does it mean that the Shield "escaped?" Did he dodge, or did the shell bounce off him?

I'm going to have to toss out here now that I'm not really a fan of the earliest Shield stories, and I can't wait for Irv Novick's art to improve (it does, later).
The Shield has the Super-Tough Skin power activated, or his armor grants him the Super-Tough Skin power. We also have examples of Wrecking Things being used (door category, mainly), and possibly a stacking of Extend Missile Range I and Multi-Attack to get that throw that knocks over multiple crew members (should be no more than three, though).
"Done Went McGinty" is a 1889 song written by Joseph Flynn; this is its comic book debut, and possibly only appearance of the song.

Shield is likely protected by one of the higher level defensive buffing powers, at least Imperviousness, to shrug off grenades like that.
I'm not really sure what the Shield's plan is here...but I suspect he buffed himself with Resist Fire, and then figured if he had flaming kerosene all over his body...he would set the enemy ship ablaze and sink it? It seems like it would be a lot easier just to land on the other ship and start wrecking it, but I have to admit this is pretty visually interesting.
That paralysis raygun sure came out of nowhere -- but that's very appropriate for Hideouts & Hoodlums, a game where you might not even know what trophy items are going to come into play until you roll up the encounter. Or, to look at it from the other direction, golden age comic books like this are perfectly emulated through randomness. 

The sharks are encountered in a group of at least four.
Being moist protects you from rays? I'd have an easier time believing that he just made his saving throw this time.

Panel 4 shows off the awkwardness of the Shield's thong-back costume.

Speaking of his costume, where do you suppose the pocket is located where he kept that shield-shaped calling card?

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)