Freshman Handbook is the core setting guide to the Hope Preparatory School setting for ICONS. It starts with the characters entering Hope Prep as freshmen before they are anywhere close to a life of superheroics. Freshman Handbook provides a lot of focus on subjects other than super-powers that one may desire in life while working the mundane; not everyone becomes a crime-fighting vigilante. Hope Preparatory School is the setting that looks at what life can be like before you become a superhero.
Few comic books address the life of possessing super-powers before adulthood. Most that do avoid the periods of time spent at school. So what would a school look like if it was filled with students with super abilities? It would look like Hope Preparatory School; the school that prepares you for life and examines avenues outside of superheroics. If you want to explore life before becoming a full-fledged superhero, this is where to start.
Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
Freshman Handbook is a solid, high-quality publication. I wish it had a table of contents (although the PDF is fully bookmarked) and the “side note” text is difficult to read at times due to its color and font (when read on my handheld device). Other than that, the layout and formatting are very professional and the illustrations do a good job of enhancing the content (what few there are). What stands out the most outside of the clean content are the stat blocks in the back, reflecting that ICONS styling.
Mechanics: 10 out of 10
Hope Preparatory School and the Freshman Handbook contain very little mechanical changes to ICONS. These changes come in the form of moving from the concept of superhero teams to the concept of cliques that form throughout the student body. This is an excellent representation of the setting, based within a school and presenting what life is like between students. These are not heroic vigilantes, they’re kids learning the ropes. This change is subtle and fits perfectly.
Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
Freshman Handbook presents users with a complete look at what the Hope Preparatory School is like and what students can expect throughout the time they spend there. It takes the concept of ICONS and moves it to a more juvenile level whereas the superheroes aren’t superheroes yet, but are rather high-school kids learning how they are going to survive once they reach adulthood. It doesn’t quite have the Golden and Silver Age feel that ICONS is essentially designed for, but is generic enough that the setting’s time-line can be moved to an earlier period and much of the content would remain compatible. One could easily use Hope Prep as a precursor to a lengthy campaign as a superhero in any ICONS setting. Additionally, it makes for great stories as there are plenty of opportune moments in a high-school student’s life that is filled with drama and critical decision making.
Overall: 9 out of 10
Hope Preparatory School is a fun setting and Freshman Handbook does a great job of representing its potential. Unless you want to jump straight into a life as a superhero, Hope Prep gives you a good starting point for your life to come. It helps to justify how someone can turn out the way they do (good or evil), what they learn, and maybe even the powers they acquire after finding their true abilities. I think the most appealing part of Hope Prep is the fact that High School is already filled with opportunities to be a hero even without super-powers.