First: a disclaimer. This is not a review – it’s a preview. Although I derive no direct commercial benefit from the book in question, I am connected with the company which produces Hideouts & Hoodlums, and I’ve written a published adventure module for the game (see sidebar on the right of this page).
As I’ve mentioned many times before, Hideouts & Hoodlums is a tabletop roleplaying game based on superhero comics of the Golden Age (1938 to the early 1950′s) with a secondary, rather unique, conceit. Back in the 1970′s, when Gygax and Arneson created the First Fantasy Roleplaying Game Which Was Totally New, Unique, Awesome, And Changed The Gaming Universe Forever™ (I hope that satisfies the trademark lawyers), what if they’d been fans of old school comics instead of fantasy literature? What would their trailblazer roleplaying game have looked like?
Although Hideouts & Hoodlums is technically based on Swords and Wizardry, its publication structure follows the same organization as that First Fantasy Roleplaying Game Which Was Totally New, Unique, Awesome, And Changed The Gaming Universe Forever™ (hereafter referred to as FFRGWWTNUAACTGUF…and that reminds me of a question. Which is more disturbing: the thought of a happy lawyer or a sad lawyer? I say we just flip a coin and move on). The three basic H&H rulebooks are topically organized in a very similar manner to those three original FRPG rulebooks, and even the supplementary H&H rulebooks somewhat mirror the contents of the FFRGWWTNUAACTGUF supplements. Some of us are old enough to remember that the fourth supplement offered a veritable encyclopedia of mythological characters: gods, heroes, and monsters derived from a variety of global pantheons as well as several fictional ones (those of us who were Robert E. Howard fans could instantly subvert the Tolkienesque slant of the original rulebooks to the more realistic feel of Howard’s Hyborean Age).
The brand new fourth supplement for Hideouts & Hoodlums follows the same pattern as that old fourth FRPG module. While originally intending the book to be a single volume of Golden Age heroes adapted for H&H, author Scott Casper was forced to split Hideouts & Hoodlums Supplement IV: Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men into multiple volumes due to the overwhelming magnitude of the source material – there were a lot of comic books and cool characters during the Golden Age of Comics. Part One of Supplement IV contains heroes and villains from Ace Comics, the Better/Standard/Nedor line, Centaur (everyone’s favorite “underdog” comic publisher), Chesler, Columbia, Dell, Detective Comics (the earliest version of what is now DC), Eastern, Fawcett (home of Captain Marvel and his family), Fiction House, and Fox (but without a Kooba Cola in sight). You’ll find nearly fifty heroes and villains in this volume, who are all set to take part in your own Hideouts & Hoodlums campaign.
Scott Casper did a staggering amount of work on this volume. He had to read every comic book appearance of each character through December 1941 (Scott’s self-imposed cutoff; otherwise he’d never have been finished), then stat out the character. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also written a biography of each character; these consist of just a paragraph in most cases, but some of them run many pages for the more famous and important characters (Captain Marvel’s bio, for instance, covers more than fifteen pages).
That workload is the reason why only the most important characters are fully statted. Many characters are featured with just the bare bones you’ll need to add them to your H&H campaign: Armor Class, Level, Character Class, Hit points, movement rate, and alignment. For the more important heroes, we’re treated to a complete character sheet, with all of the character’s attributes fully statted, along with recommended powers, trophies, and equipment to round out the hero or villain.
There are some real heavy hitters in Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men: you’ll find complete character sheets for Batman, Robin, Captain Marvel, Superman, The Flash (YES!), Dr. Fate, and many more, plus villains like Lex Luthor, The Joker, the Ultra-Humanite, and Dr. Sivana. Let’s not forget stalwart Golden Agers like Blue Beetle (pictured on the supplement’s cover), The Clock, Black Terror, Magno, Samson, and Sheena (Queen of the Jungle), too. Dozens of additional characters get the “short form” stat treatment, including The Owl, The Voice, The Eagle, The Flame, and a generous dollop of early DC characters like The Spectre, Sandman, Green Lantern, and Star-Spangled Kid. Just as in the original FRPG supplement, the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle is organized by “pantheon” (in this case, by comic book publisher).
One can always quibble with the character choices in a volume such as this. For example, Scott included a very minor, albeit cool, character in Kay McKay, Air Hostess (previously featured in this blog), but omitted Fox Publication’s U.S. Jones (who was introduced just before the Dec. 1941 cutoff and would have made a great 2nd Level character). I’d have loved to see the Golden Age Green Lantern and The Flame each receive a full character sheet. But these are, as I said, just quibbles – the book represents a truly mindblowing amount of research and writing work, and is well worth the $4 cover price (less expensive, in fact, than the current Shadow Special #1 comic). And it would certainly be a fun project to do the reading and research required to fully stat out the “short form” characters included in this supplement.
Even if you’re not a Hideouts & Hoodlums player, the book is worth the price just as an introduction to some cool Golden Age characters which you might otherwise overlook. I’ve already had my interest piqued by Scott’s descriptions of several characters which I’d not previously encountered. It’s easy to spot an unfamiliar public domain character in Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men, look him up in the Keltner Index to find out which comics and issues he appeared in, download the requisite books from the Digital Comic Museum, and start reading right away. (That’s the reason, in fact, that I purchased the entire Public Domain Supers series from another publisher – I don’t play enough of the Supers RPG to make the stats worthwhile, but the series’ character selection introduced me to several Golden Age heroes I’d otherwise have overlooked.)
So whether you’re an H&H Editor who wants to add an authentic Golden Age character to your campaign as a cameo NPC, a player who wants to play his favorite pre-war character in an H&H campaign, or a Golden Age comic reader who is looking for some additional characters to follow, Hideouts & Hoodlums Supplement IV: Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men will be right up your alley, a real bargain as a low cost addition to your game world or as an intro to some classic Golden Age characters.
Hideouts & Hoodlums Supplement IV: Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men is available for $4 as a PDF download from RPG Now, along with all of the other Hideouts & Hoodlums RPG books.
Have fun! — Steve
Copyright 2013, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.