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Adventurous Locations I - The Broken Tower
Adventurous Locations I - The Broken Tower
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Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen
by Jared R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2012 20:32:13
This is a great product. A team of (varying degrees) evil mercenaries with magical powers, the group is pretty useful anywhere you run a supers game that does, indeed, have magical powers as any part of the game. I have two magical characters in my campaign, I as I read the entries, I could pretty easily start coming up with scenarios where at least one of them would run afoul of this group.

What I like even more is that they work as a team, but using any of the characters individually isn't a bad option either. They are a bit on the Vertigo side of squickiness scale, but the degree to which you push the issue is obviously up to you.

For even more fun, there is a chart that tracks the relationships between the characters, so that you get a better feel for how to run them as a team and how they would react to one another as well as the PCs. That's a nice addition to the mix.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen
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Devilish Duos: Strange Attractors
by Jared R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/04/2012 20:26:41
If you are interested in this product because of previous offerings from Vigilance Press, such as the Oktobermen, and you want some interesting villains to throw in your campaign, this isn't what you are looking for. But you still want this.

Why? Okay, if you never, ever have any kind of romantic interactions in your campaign, maybe you don't want this. But if you do, there is a lot of really nice information in the product. There is some pretty sound general advice about romance in supers campaigns, new advantages and features for Mutants and Masterminds that have to do with romantic interaction, and there is even a subsystem for determining romantic progress, as well as details on what happens when heroes get a broken heart.

Now, I've heard people say, across various game systems, that you don't need rules to roleplay. I agree, but having good rules that aren't overly intrusive and reinforce roleplaying certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to nudging someone that might not take time to woo an NPC to do so.

The actual NPCs are fun as well, but not really villains, and barely heroes. They are a nice addition to the campaign if you have a game where you explore superhuman celebrities that are not strictly the crusading type, and they have a few nice, subtle applications of the rules detailed in the supplement applied to them.

The unsung hero of the piece is the poor guy that gets the least details on him. Just the bit about Serval's rogues gallery makes me want to see him get his own write up, and I have a feeling that his rogues gallery, further fleshed out, would make Flash's rouges look like the League of Assassins by comparison.

The art is very nice, definitely on par with the upper tiers of RPG publishing, and the layout and look of the stat blocks is very sharp. I can't recommend this if you really don't have any romantic notions of any sort in your campaigns, but if you do, or you want to explore adding it, or you just want to see how mechanics that reinforce roleplaying interpersonal relationships could look like in Mutants and Masterminds, I don't think you could do better than this.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Devilish Duos: Strange Attractors
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Devilish Duos: Strange Attractors
by Joseph C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/28/2012 13:22:52
Lovely art, thoughtful genre and rules coverage, and an offering of interesting characters make this a should-buy for anyone who enjoys adding the element of romance to their M&M role-playing experience. The writing is both clear and eloquent throughout, and the art made me wish that wallpapers had been included. The new rules and advantages flow naturally from both the letter and the spirit of M&M's mechanics. Indeed, this product was easily worth the introductory discounted price of $2.99 by page 7 and worth paying full price by page 11 - and you're just then getting to the character section. The characters themselves aren't so much villains as walking complications. Plot hooks are included, but the characters are complex enough that they easily suggest all kinds of story ideas beyond those already provided. It's an excellent supplement all the way around.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Devilish Duos: Strange Attractors
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/26/2012 07:27:00
The second product in the Devilish Duos product line comes out taking a swing at Valentine's Day with 18 pages of romance-themed content. The product greets the reader with a stellar cover by Denise Jones and colored by James Dawsey. If you saw this on a bookshelf at your FLGS you'd know what it was about even without reading the title. As customary the artwork is reprinted on the second page without the titles and branding.

The credits page has an "Obligatory Introduction About Romance, Sex, and Squid-Men…" which had me laughing, and readies the reader for what's to come; all with tongue planted in cheek. Going into the meat of the book things start out with a discussion about romance and comics; a history lesson, and a reminder that though it may get overlooked romance is a part of even superhero comics. Segueing from history into a lite discussion of the way that super powers dovetail into romance introduces the reader to the four "C"s of superpowers and romance.

The rules section takes up a massive seven pages. Starting with a discussion on Advantages, both those in the core rule set, as well as some new ones, it moves on to talk about Features and Skills, before getting into a rules system. The system is fairly low impact, calling for rolls only at major milestones (first impressions, dates, and eventually break ups) while also encouraging role-play not only to help set the stage and tone of the romance but also as a means for the GM to provide bonuses or penalties based on that same role-playing. Extensive examples are provided and are both entertainingly engaging, and very well written to showcase the rules, as well as the various ways that powers, Advantages, and skills interact within the system they have created.

Lastly, but not least, are the Devilish Duo themselves; Amp and Rail are a pair of super powered characters who used to be an item, but have recently taken a trip to Splitsville. While not villains as such they are both deep in the throes of post-breakup recovery. Three adventure/plot hooks are provided, and show how each character can be used, either as a foil for PC-NPC romance, or as a potential thorn in the side of the other NPC. A third character is given a brief write-up as well, as part of one of the hooks. The characters are interesting, with believable backgrounds, and Amp in particular has a very interesting and original power-set.

Closing Thoughts:
With two complete characters (plus a 3rd with stats but limited background), 7 pages of optional rules, and a page of discussion, Strange Attractors is jam packed with content. Everything within is written to a high standard, and the rules and discussion present a well put together way to add some mechanical crunch to the soft and squishy side of love. I've never once wanted rulesy crunch in my RPed romances, but the rules presented here all service the story while still giving "roll-players" something to chew on.

There's nothing to be found in these 18 pages that doesn't work on one level or another. I can't even find a nit to pick.

Rating: 100% - Vigilance Press really knocked it out the park with this one. At the current sale price of $3 this product is a steal when compared to Green Ronin's own Threat Report and Power Profiles lines.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Devilish Duos: Smoke and Mirrors ICONS Edition
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/03/2012 23:21:21
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The first in a new set of ICONS products (Mutants & Masterminds version also available) by Vigilance Press, Smoke & Mirrors features a pair of supernatural villains for your ICONS game. Written by Jack Norris and featuring art by Jack Dawsey, and only 99 cents in PDF format, Smoke & Mirrors is only ten pages, (closer to six when you remove covers and OGL
information), but that's still more than enough to detail a pair of characters. Smoke and Mirrors are lesbian lovers and vicious murderers, and each have unique twists: Smoke is a ghost who can touch things in the real world, while Mirrors is perpetually invisible, and can only be seen in mirrors. Smoke is a spirit of vengeance who has a hard time keeping her rage focused entirely on those who deserve it, while Mirrors is a psychotic killer who murders on behalf of The Unseen Gods.

WHAT WORKS: Each villain has some unique twists, and have backstories open enough that they could be used in a variety of settings. A few general plot seeds are included, in case you just really have no idea how to use them. Also, the PDF includes printable stand-ups of Smoke and Mirrors, if that's your preference.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: One plot seed includes a sidebar for using the Oktobermen from Due Vigilance #1, a Mutants & Masterminds only supplement that, last time I checked, isn't planned for an ICONS release. Smoke's powers indicate that she can become "hard to see", but I'm not sure how that's reflected mechanically, unless it's meant to be part of the Blinding stunt off of her Mental Attack power.

COncLUSION: Strong art by James Dawsey combined with interesting writing by Jack Norris and an "impulse purchase" price point make this a winner, unless you only like to use ICONS for "animated series" type games, then these two are going to be a tad too dark for that sort of thing. Impressive product.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Devilish Duos: Smoke and Mirrors ICONS Edition
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WatchGuard ICONS- Teen Force Five
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/03/2012 23:19:21
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Teen Force 5 is a PDF release by Vigilance Press and Xion Studios for the WatchGuard universe, featuring five heroes (Teen Force 5) and five villains (Dark Faction). Each character is given an extensive bio (Marvel Handbook style, almost to a "T"), stat block, character portrait and printable standee. The PDF is 26 pages (including cover, OGL information, standees and so on), and costs $10.99, which admittedly, makes it stand out like a sore thumb among the rest of the Vigilance catalogue. Teen Force 5 is Bluechip (who reminds me a bit of Triatholon from Avengers, except his enhanced Traits are boosted and not always "on"),
Jupiter (the female "brick" of the team"), Soundwave (a DJ with sonic/auditory powers), Tempest (a moody weather controller) and Vignette (a Goth mind controller). Dark Faction consists of Braindamage (a Telekinetic with ADHD), Bulldog (the team's brick), HardKnox (son of a luchador, with Osmium Steel Knuckles bearing "Hard" and "Knox" on them), Vespa (scientist turned thief in
powered armor) and Zero (who can "halt molecular motion", making him REALLY hard to hit if he's aware of the attack).

WHAT WORKS: Zero is one of the better power concepts I've seen in a while. HardKnox having his name printed backwards on his Knuckles threw me at first, until I realized this way they would leave a "Hard Knox" impression on anything he hit. Standees are always great. The artist on Jupiter does a nice job of drawing her as an attractive woman with muscles, and not just a regular comic book female who happens to be super strong.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The only background information for the setting is buried in the backstories of the characters, leaving references to things like Summit City and the MHx-trait chromosome pretty meaningless for someone picking this book up (and it is the only Watchguard release for ICONS thus far). Bluechip's bio is (mostly) written in past tense, for no reason that is ever explained. Superhero mind controllers are always really awkward to pull off. The price point versus the content just does not hold up well to other Vigilance releases.

CONCLUSION: At a lower price point, I would have a higher opinion of this product. None of the characters really stand out as anything I haven't seen before, but they also aren't noticeable rip-offs or homages of existing characters, either. Not usable as a starting point for the WatchGuard universe, but certainly mineable for your own games (I'd especially swipe Zero...fun challenge right there).

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
WatchGuard ICONS- Teen Force Five
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Wargames: The Globalist (ICONS)
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/03/2012 23:16:08
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Ah, the Wargames series. GI Joe meets superheroes. The Globalist is a Cobra Commander looking chap who is head of an organization called UNITY, which basically seeks to become a big enough of a terrorist threat that the rest of the world joins forces against it, breaking down the barriers between nations and forging a one world government. Kinda like
what Ozymandius wanted to do in Watchmen, except The Globalist is putting himself in the line of fire. The PDF is only $1 and includes The Globalist's backstory (with a fantastic twist), his stat block and stats for his Peacekeepers.

WHAT WORKS: The Globalist has a CRAZY secret in his backstory that is almost impossible to just guess, and makes him and his Peacekeepers MUCH more dangerous than you would think. He's also a villain of a radically different philosophy than General Venom, providing a "balanced outlook" to the crazies of the Wargames universe.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Oh, the backstory twist may be TOO much for some people. Not in an offensive way, just an oddball way. I, personally, think it's great. Yes, I'm reaching for "complaints" here.

CONCLUSION: I love the Wargames series by Vigilance Press, and this entry continues to impress me with a unique villain who pays homage (in appearance) to another classic Cobra Commander look (mirror face instead of hood), but with a unique backstory and approach all his own.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wargames: The Globalist (ICONS)
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Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest (Mutant Future)
by erik f. t. t. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/05/2011 19:23:36
Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest, is a sandbox style campaign setting for Mutant Future. Mutant Future is the OSR movements re-imaging of Gamma World and other Old School post apocalypse games using the OGL as it's core. There is a link to a free download of Mutant Future on the Free RPG List on the left. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy. Don't worry. I'll wait.

OK, now that you have your rules, we can discuss the setting and what a setting it is. Think Post Apocalypse with classic western overtones, then dial it up.

The combination works better then I would have expected, but then the Firefly TV series showed that sci-fi with strong western overtones can work very well. I give Vigilance Press major props for finding a strong setting concept for Mutant Future that isn't an obvious one, until you read it. It's that good.

Salt Lake, Vegas, Phoenix and other well known locations make the transition to Mutant Future with enough highlights that you'll recognize them, but so much changed that they are totally new.

We are given location write ups, the major factions (and their relation to the different locals), but even more importantly an abundance of adventure hooks. You could easily run a campaign for years using the Nuclear Sunset setting and the adventure hooks supplied. That's a true compliment for a product that is 20 1/2 pages long.

My one complaint is that it is not printer friendly. The nuclear watermark and background art on the text pages will kill your ink. It's not a huge complaint, as I don't plan on printing out a copy (I love my tablets for PDF reading), but I know some of you do like to print your own so I felt this should be pointed out.

Nuclear Sunset is an excellent value at 99 cents. If it's half as much fun to run as it is to read, it's one of the bigger RPG values available.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest (Mutant Future)
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Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen
by Louis D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/12/2011 13:05:25
Just got mine and I love it fantastic job thanks guys, cant wait for more like these:)

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen
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Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/15/2011 15:47:01
Beware, for the Oktobermen haunt the night committing mystical crimes for their own benefit. If a group of occult-themed supervillains fits into your Mutants & Masterminds campaign, the Oktobermen may be just what you need for supernatural scenarios.

Due Vigilance, Issue 1: the Oktobermen is a 21-page PDF (19-pages if you remove the cover and OGL page) for the Mutants & Masterminds (3rd Edition) RPG written by Jack Norris and published by Vigilance Press. This is the first in Vigilance Press’ Due Vigilance line for M&M (3rd).

The layout is primary traditional two columns and the text is a bit tight but not so much as to impede legibility. The art throughout is full color with each of the major characters getting their own illustration. A set of stand-up figures for the team is included as well.

The product begins with the group background and a colorful and useful relationship chart showing what each of the six members of the Oktobermen think of each other. Then it moves into the team members themselves, arranged alphabetically, which means that the team’s leader, Spring-Heeled Jack is the last member detailed (which struck me as strange).

The team’s members range from PL 10 to PL 12 though half of them are tricky and support characters rather than straight up combat characters. Using them to their best advantage will take careful reading and looking and how the characters’ powers interact with each other. That being said, the characters are quite interesting and have a very superhero occult/supernatural horrorish vibe.

Springheel Jack, the leader, is a half-demon alive for centuries who is seeking to gather enough souls to be ‘promoted’ to full demon and has organized the Oktobermen to back his plans to do such. They all have their own agendas as well but are willing to work with Jack . . . for now.

Various plot hooks and discussions thereof are included with the characters along with a short scenario framework that concludes the product.

Disclosure: As a featured reviewer for RPGNow/DriveThroughRPG, I received my copy of this product for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Moreau-1 Files (ICONS)
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/18/2011 14:37:07
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Moreau-1 Files is seemingly unconnected to the USHER setting, the Wargame setting or the world being laid out in the Field Guide to Superheroes, but also seems like it would be very simple to insert in a number of settings. This $1 supplement is basically two full character write-ups: The android Moreau-1, and his creation Erapato. Moreau-1, as his name implies, is all about genetic engineering, tinkering with people and animals. It is laid out in the form of stolen intelligence, setting up the menace of Moreau-1. Erapato is an interesting creation, a type of elephant man designed to be the leader of Moreau-1's new race, though he's not so much a fan of his creator's tactics. Three plot seeds are also provided for using the material within.

WHAT WORKS: Moreau-1 and Erapato both have interesting character hooks, with Moreau-1 serving both as a supervillain arms dealer and a mad scientist, and Erapato perhaps attempting betrayal of Moreau-1 could make for some fun gameplay. As noted, the characters could fit well into a variety of supers settings with little work.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not much, especially for the price.

CONClUSION: Personally, I see a fair amount of potential use just out of this release (the first of three). There seemed to be a weird shift in fonts on the adventure seeds, but nothing to get too excited about. Thumbs up.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Moreau-1 Files (ICONS)
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Action Scenes: Museum Mayhem (ICONS)
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/18/2011 14:36:35
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This Action Scene for ICONS is a little pricier than the Vigilance Press Battlescenes that have been released in the past, but you're also looking at about an additional 10-12 pages this time. The premise is a hostage situation at a museum, in which a sorcerer and his minions are repelling the authorities, so your superheroes get called in to do the deed.

What ensues is a nice set-piece against a sorcerer who has a variety of minions from generic thugs to mystics to mummy wraiths. If the villain's plan succeeds, it provides (intentionally or not) a shot out to the X-Men villain the Living Monolith. The adventure has lots of sidebars and "What Ifs" to help you out in case the whole thing is going too smoothly or two simply.

Two pages of figure flat stand-ups are included, for those who like such things (and I do), as well as a new power: Summon (more commonly used by villains than heroes, but laid out here just the same).

WHAT WORKS: Some VERY nice art here, my favorite piece being an action scene on page 6. A good amount of flexibility is written into the adventure, to help the GM along. The adventure is set in the USHERverse, the "modern day" of Vigilance's WWII setting, but you could easily replace USHER with SHIELD or AEGIS or whoever, if you wanted to move it into a new setting.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: And here we start getting into the problems of open content: Redundancy. Misfit Studios' DOOM filled in the same gap of a missing "Summon" type power, so now we have two third party versions of the power out there...and what happens when Adamant decides to do it themselves? My only other gripe is that I wish Vigilance had handled the new power the way Adamant handles new powers, by providing a "substitution suggestion" for the Summon power, for folks who prefer rolling up characters versus point buy (I hate ICONS point buy).

CONCLUSION: Not surprisingly, this is another great product by Vigilance, with sleek production values, lots of stat blocks you can use for your own stuff, printable stand-ups and more. I believe Vigilance will continue to be a growing force in supers gaming in the future.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Action Scenes: Museum Mayhem (ICONS)
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Wargames: Copperhead Guard (ICONS)
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/18/2011 14:35:51
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: A while back I reviewed WARGAMES: HEROES AND VILLAINS OF THE COLD WAR, which introduced General Venom (who is really kinda cool)...this supplement is The Copperhead Guard, General Venom's elite force of female assassins. Incidentally, the sole character image works, because the women all wear uniforms and tend towards similar hair styles (reddish, what with the copperhead image and all).

WHAT WORKS: Well trained mook stats are always nice. And really, anything without an individual name shouldn't be much more than that.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Qualities and Challenges got swapped, unfortunately. This really just feels like an add-on to General Venom, as they are his bodyguards with nary a real personality to be found.

CONcLUSION: Not bad, but nothing particularly interesting, especially compared to, say, Moreau-1 Files, which is the same price but feels "heftier". It is worth noting that the Copperhead Guard aren't complete pushovers, especially when you factor in their Specialties.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Wargames: Copperhead Guard (ICONS)
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Field Guide to Superheroes Vol. 3 (ICONS)
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/03/2011 23:36:40
Like Vols. 1 and 2 of this series, Vol. 3 presents ten superhero archetypes. For each archetype, author Jason Tondro provides an overview of the archetype and advice for modeling that type of hero in ICONS. An example character demonstrates each archetype in action, with illustrations by ICONS artist extraordinaire Dan Houser. This volume covers the magician, man [sic] of tomorrow, master of the atom, master of the elements, master of the martial arts, minority hero, monstrous hero, mythic hero, occult hero, and psychic hero. The advice given for each archetype is solid, and the sample heroes well illustrate each archetype’s unique qualities.

Commendably, most of the sample heroes have a hook or twist that individualizes them even as they represent their archetypes. You can think of Mona Lisa, who illustrates the magician archetype, as a kind of female mashup of the Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Harry Dresden, and Mata Hari … she’s a ritual magician and occult investigator whose utter focus on her task leaves a trail of emotional pain in her wake. Spectrum, who embodies the man of tomorrow archetype, has an interesting backstory and a cool new power (ultra-power, giving a hero access to a menu of powers one at a time). Dawn, representing the master of the elements archetype, and her partner Dusk combine elements of Frank Miller’s future Batman and Robin with Cloak and Dagger (the latter implicitly acknowledged in the fluff). Dusk and Dawn also amp up the whole “archetypes” theme in a very intriguing way. Giza reminds me of Marvel’s Living Pharaoh; I found iHero just silly. Each character writeup includes some story ideas that could bring heroes in your ICONS game into contact with the heroes presented in the Field Guide. Most of these sound like fun, although a few have blind spots, such as getting a blood transfusion from the Rubberband Man to soften the skin of an invulnerable hero—how are you going to get the Rubberband Man’s blood into the hero if you can’t penetrated the wounded hero‘s skin? The ideas presented about hero teams on p. 59 will be useful even if you don’t want to use the specific teams from the Worlds of Wonder setting, presented on the following pages.

I enjoyed Volume 3 very much, certainly more than Vol. 2 and perhaps as much as Vol. 1, and I think that Vol. 3 provides helpful advice to ICONS players or GMs who have vague ideas about what they want from a character, but don’t quite know how to pull it off. The archetypes help.

Why, then, only three stars? The product exhibits several features that compelled my “rigorous reviewer” aspect.

First, if I’ve transferred the powers to the ICONS Character Folio, the archetypes tend toward the extremes of the ICONS power curve, and sometimes beyond. Of the ten superheroes who represent archetypes described in this book (an eleventh hero, Dusk, appears but relates to an archetype from an earlier volume), only three could be built by players using the 45-point build system: The Rubberband Man at 37 build points, Giza at 40, and Dusk at 45. Two others, the Dragon and the Drifter, are so close that GMs using the build point system would probably let things slide. But then we get into Mona Lisa at 52 points, iHero at 61, Naga at 62, and Watchdog at a whopping 80—according to the ICONS Character Folio’s math. This is important because players seeking to instantiate a particular archetype in their characters may find it quite disappointing that they can’t easily emulate the more powerful characters in this book. Players trying to “reverse-engineering” randomly-generated characters, to associate randomly-generated powers and abilities with specific archetypes as an imagination tool, won’t have as much of a problem here … but since the Field Guides are in some ways “how-to” books, the review must take this into account.

Second, this volume has only half as many illustrations as each of the previous installments. In Vols. 1 and 2, Houser provided an illustration for the archetype writeup itself plus an illustration of the sample character who displays that archetype. In this volume, only the named characters—not the archetypes themselves—are illustrated. Fans of Houser’s art will be disappointed by the quantity of illustrations, but certainly not be the quality, which remains as perfectly suited to ICONS as ever. However, if you’re thinking of sharing this product with children or teens who play ICONS, be aware that the illustration for Naga, the occult hero, is borderline pornographic, about as far as seminude can go without dropping the prefix. To the unwary reader (or parent), this comes as a bit of a shock—never mind the disconnect between Naga’s negligee outfit on the one hand the text’s description of her Buddhism and her “long cloak and hood” on the other.

Third, the minority superhero archetype rubs me the wrong way. I don’t think Tondro has gone far wrong in describing the phenomenon of “blaxploitation” comics and superheroes whose main story roles were to represent their ethnicities. As a straight, white, Christian male, I don’t fit into any minority demographic at all (unless “biblical scholars who play Dungeons & Dragons” qualifies), so I may be speaking out of turn, but I think comics have moved on—or have tried valiantly to move on—from the minority superhero archetype. Luke Cage might have started out as a minority hero, but nowadays his skin color is not the primary thing that identifies his role in the superhero community. He’s more of a “family man” (with an Anglo wife) than “first and foremost a representative of [black Americans],” to use Tondro’s phrase. Ditto with other heroes Tondro tags as minority heroes, like Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes) and Batwoman (Kate Kane). Jaime’s Latino heritage and Kate’s sexual orientation are obviously key parts of their social context and the “soap opera” aspects of their stories, but it’s inaccurate and insulting to real-world people with similar demographics to suggest (as Tondro does by identifying these heroes with the minority hero archetype) that, if forced by circumstances to choose, Blue Beetle would always help a Latino before a non-Latino and Batwoman would always help a lesbian before a heterosexual or even a homosexual man. This wouldn’t bother me so much if the Field Guides didn’t have the “how-to” vibe, but they do. I would have been happier with this volume if the minority superhero archetype had been omitted altogether, or had been discussed as an historical chapter in comics with the advice “don’t make a demographic feature like ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation the central feature of your superhero” instead of guiding readers on how to create such characters.

Fourth, there seems to me a strong undercurrent of sexism in the Field Guides, and it’s rather evident in Volume 3. Just a glance at the front cover will suggest the gender imbalance inside. The cover features the Watchdog, a male hero whose body is completely covered by his battlesuit; Spectrum, a male hero whose costume covers all but his eyes and a small amount of his forehead; and Mona Lisa, a female hero wearing a clingy knee-length skirt, a short-sleeved skintight blouse with a deep V neck, and no mask of any kind. Three female heroes are featured in the book; Mona Lisa has the quality “haunting beauty,” Dawn has the quality “gorgeous,” and Naga is illustrated with practically no clothes on. The only male in the book who has an aspect related to his looks is the Drifter, whose badly scarred face gives him the challenge “hideous appearance.” The frequent use of “man” and “mankind” as generic terms for humanity—even in the writeups for female characters—is awkward at best; note the phrasing “a representative of his … gender” when describing the minority hero, even though males are not generally considered a minority gender (statistically, we just might be a few percentage points behind females in total world population, but the term “minority” isn’t just about mathematics in this context). Elsewhere, Tondro tags Rachel Summers as a hero representing the man [sic] of tomorrow archetype; by contrast, to choose but one example, Catman is not tagged as representing the femme feline archetype in Vol. 2.

Finally, the credits page indicates that the volume was “editied [sic] by: Paula Rice”—not carefully enough, apparently, to prevent the misspelling of “edited," the odd hyphenation of “entertainment” in the middles of two lines in a row, the misspelling of “crucible” as “cruicible”—and that’s just on the credits page! The rate of grammatical and spelling errors is lower than that throughout the rest of the book, although a few errors crop up again and again. “Which” very often appears where “that” is needed; a noticeable number of punctuation marks are placed incorrectly relative to quotation marks (the fact that correct and incorrect positioning sometimes follow each other on adjacent lines of text shows the errors to be true errors, not stylistic choices). Spectrum’s specialties appear actually to be Mona Lisa’s, copied and pasted, instead of his own. There also seems to have been some kind of font embedding oversight or glitch during PDF generation; the sample heroes’ abilities do not appear in the same typeface used in volumes 1 and 2, and the effect of a compressed substitute sans serif font in the midst of all the comic-book lettering (Blambot) fonts is quite noticeable and jarring. Proper use of language matters, especially when you’re selling a product made of words; I would very much like to see Vigilance Press exercise more literary vigilance in future products.

Oh, and the PDF needs bookmarks. After the complaints about Vol. 1’s lack of bookmarks (recently remedied), I’m rather surprised that Vol. 3 doesn’t have any.

By now you may be wondering why I went all the way up to three stars, instead of why I didn’t go higher! I don’t think the volume’s problems should be hand-waved away, but they don’t go so far as to make the volume a bad purchase (as long as you know what you’re getting). The lengthy critiques above stem from my own need to explain as clearly as possible why I gave a mediocre rating to a product that I mostly like and can recommend (to mature readers). I’d rather have the book in my ICONS toolbox than to not have it. There’s a lot of very good content here for readers who approach the book with realistic expectations about what it will deliver. I’m looking forward to Vol. 4, and hope it will exceed expectations.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Field Guide to Superheroes Vol. 3 (ICONS)
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Field Guide to Superheroes Vol. 3 (ICONS)
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/30/2011 14:49:16
A hefty collection of archetypes for the ICONS game. Lots of familiar territory here with some standard comic book archetypes. What I came here for was the Magician, Occult hero and the Psychic.

In all cases an archetype is presented with some explanatory notes on how this character works in the comics and the game. Examples from comics are given and ways to use the character. Then we also get a full write up of a ready to use character, either as an NPC or PC for your own games. Usually 4 pages per archetype.

Very good book for the price and now I want to pick up the first two as well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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