Everyone loves jetpacks, right? And, with that given, what could be cooler than pirates wearing jetpacks? That’s the central conceit of the Against the Sky Pirates, an ICONS adventure by Fainting Goat Games.
It’s clear the designers (Mike Lafferty, Jason Tondro, Bryanna Hitchcock) are fans of comics, not just from their obvious passion for the subject but also from the Easter eggs keen-eyed readers will find throughout their adventure (the heroes’ contact, by way of example, is Colonel Steven Romita, honoring legendary father and son comic artists John Romita Sr. and Jr.). Their text is fun and lively, written in a casual style that makes it easy and enjoyable to read the adventure.
This in an adventure in three scenes. The premise is simple: a gang of modern-day buccaneers, the jetpack wearing Sky Pirates, need to be brought to justice, and our eagle-scout-evil-fighters are tapped with the task. A tip that suggests the thieves will next be targeting a swanky outdoor fundraising event sees the characters going undercover as wait staff. The resulting fight likely leads to an exciting aerial chase (cause, what’s cooler than strapping on a jetpack and throwing punches midflight?) that culminates aboard the pirates’ plane. The adventure does an excellent job of suggesting ways of raising the drama and enriching the scene while flying and fighting through the city. In Scene Two, the heroes infiltrate the pirates’ Aerie, an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The final (optional) scene sees the heroes infiltrating or attacking (the choice is theirs) the Sky Pirates’ island headquarters.
The majority of the villainy are jetpack bearing Sky Pirates and their leadership, Captain Bloodhawk (a former spec ops soldier who chews scenery and channels the pirates of yore with a full-on beard, cutlass and hook hand, naturally) and the gunslinging Commander Kraken. That said, other villains appear to spice up the proceedings, including Doctor Radium, a criminal mastermind since the 1880s that uses Martian technology from the 1898 Martian invasion of Earth (as seen in War of the Worlds), and The Well-Read Baron, a Batman-style themed villain - and potential unlikely ally for the PCs – with a raffish green who steals literary-related treasures (the writers recommend he be played like a cross between Catwoman and Diane Chambers of Cheers).
The designers have also seen fit to include a full roster of sample PCs: the bowman Ballistic, the armour-wearing playboy-genius-industrialist Blue Knight, heroes-in-miniature Hornet and Shrinker, patriotic super-solder The Veteran, and former Russan spy Red Shadow. Clearly pastiches of the Avengers, they are nonetheless well-designed with interesting backgrounds.
The appendix includes a very useful sky pirate generator (name, nickname, signature weapon, accent, catch phrase, etc.) allowing you to quickly roll up an individual on the fly. And what if the heroes are somehow captured by Dr. Radium? Where does the villain take them? Roll up a headquarters using a random generator. It’s a neat touch that helps harried GMs, and of course is a resource that can be used over and over again.
The artwork is overwhelmingly excellent, from the evocative cover to the character portraits. Maps have been provided for every scene (the casino garden party, and the Sky Pirate’s jet and island fortress) and all are excellently rendered. Another nod to the designers’ love of comic books is found at the end of the adventure in the form of a cartoon like the old Twinkie ads found in Marvel comics of the 70s and early 80s.
Against the Sky Pirates is a near perfect superhero adventure, with exciting set-piece scenes, cool villains, and plenty of colour. I can sum of Against the Sky Pirates in one word: Excelsior!