Each volume in the “Field Guide to Superheroes” series presents ten superhero archetypes, written up mechanically for ICONS but applicable to any superhero RPG. This first volume introduces the alien hero, android, animal hero, armored wonder, astronaut, avatar, comic relief, creepy hero, dark avenger, and defender. Just from the labels given, it’s evident that author Jason Tondro takes a functional rather than formal approach to superhero archetypes. That is, for Tondro, an archetype is not a power/ability template to be skinned, but a role in a superhero universe. For each archetype, Tondro offers a general description of the archetype, with ideas for typical qualities, challenges, powers, and so forth. This presentation usually occupies one or two pages, and includes an illustration be the, um, iconic ICONS artist, Dan Houser. Tondro then applies his own advice by presenting a specific hero for the Vigilance Press “Worlds of Wonder” setting. For each such hero, Tondro gives ICONS stats plus at least two or three pages of generally enjoyable “fluff.”
Tondro clearly “gets” the free-wheeling, fun-loving ICONS vibe, and this comes through in heroes like Wundermaus and the fabulous Frog-Girl. I consider Prometheus and the Veil to be the most inventive and interesting implementations of their archetypes (the avatar and dark avenger, respectively) in the book. Gigawatt seemed to have a far more tenuous connection with his archetype, the defender.
The character write-ups provide, by example, several great ideas for hero qualities and challenges. Two sidebars also introduce new powers: adaptation and equipment. A “Worlds of Wonder Lexicon” at the end of the book presents, alphabetically, dozens of significant aspects of the setting. It sounds like a fun world in which to set superhero adventures.
Volume 1 of the “Field Guide” exhibits generally high production values, though a few mistakes (such as the misuse of “pouring” for “poring”) did slip through. Also, for example, Tondro’s text tells us that the Eagle has white wings, but Houser’s drawing gives him brown wings. The lexicon entry for “Wonder Stories” doesn’t seem to fit, and the entries for “Wondercare,” “Wonderland,” and “Wonderwear” actually reproduce the definitions for “Tomorrow Man,” “Who Wants to Be a Wonder,” and “Wonder,” respectively. As a PDF, the book could greatly benefit from bookmarks. Also, the use of all capital letters throughout imitates the style of comic book word balloons but isn’t really appropriate for long blocks of text.
I very much enjoyed this product and look forward to volume 2.