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Due Vigilance- Black Chapter
by Eric D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/01/2012 10:48:45
Black Chapter is a companion book to Vigilance Press' previous book the Oktobermen, but doesn't require you to own both to use this product. This book presents a mystic powered "response team".

It was written by Jack Norris (who contributed to the DC Heroes & Villains books, Emerald City Knights #4, Threat Reports compilation and Threat Reports for Ku Tu the Immortal and the Jade Spider), and was illustrated by Alex Williamson, Jesse Justice, Denise Jones and James Dawsey. It was edited by Nathan Kahler, and the art direction and graphic design was done by Ruben Byrd.

First thing that I noticed was the cover art, which I think is great. The art through out the book is well done, and carries out through out the entire book.

The writing is very well done, and there are many literary "easter eggs" or references presented through out the book (some not as noticeable on the first pass, such as the names of the weapons that the agents provided at the end of the book use, I hadn't noticed them on my first pass through, until they were pointed out to me), with my favorite reference being the quote provided by Tale Spinner!

I have learned that Jack Norris wanted to revisit the idea of the Oktobermen, and attempt to put a different spin on some of the characters in the Oktobermen (one example I can give with certainty is the Literay Magic used by Tale Spinner of the Black Chapter and Book Binder of the Oktobermen). I was surprised (in a good way!) to see that they were both similar in some aspects, but that their main power arrays were very different.

The book is a self-described "building book", meaning that it is easily portable into any existing setting/campaign with minimal effort. The book provides an organization, The Library which is a mystic storage/retrieval organization, which is an specifically labeled as good or evil, so it gives flexibility in using it. It goes on with the history of the organization, and gives some notable examples of "branches" of the Library that can be used as written, or as a model for your own game. To go along with this, features and equipment that a Library member could/would use are also provided.

The next section is the actual team of characters section. This has such information as team dynamics, which is helpful in fleshing out how the members of the Black Chapter actually interact with each other. This is somewhat similar to the flowchart that was in the Oktobermen, but there is no chart for the Black Chapter. This information could provide use to a GM who isn't familiar with the group, but wanted to use them in their own game.

It then goes into team tactics and sub-team make up for the Black Chapter. I really liked this, and the literary inspired names for each sub-team. As stated, it gives different tactics and strategies that each team could use and which members of Black Chapter would be suggested for different missions (i.e., diplomatic missions would have a different team structure than an assault mission). This gives the Black Chapter more uses than just the "bad guy of the week", but allows them to be a recurring ally/enemy, and provides for different usages.

The book also provides several different adventures hook ideas, and even another villain to use. The characters themselves have several different "built-in" hooks that are left intentionally vague so that players and GMs could build off the members of the Black Chapter, either as other characters or adventure plots. Caballero is an example of a "hook" that players could use, as it gives "companion" weapon ideas to his main weapon/power. And the character of Tower, an example of a literary vampire, provides a possible link to using Dracula himself (which would also relate to the Threat Reports pdf if one was interested in using him).

The team itself has a good mixture of power levels, allowing a more versatile use of the Black Chapter as heroes progress in power levels. The team itself also has a good balance of very different power structures and concepts, so none of the members of the Black Chapter feel redundant. The team members have a leader, who is a reincarnating sphinx, a swordsman who wields a magically created sword (and is linked to 6 other similar weapons), a "literal" vampire, a dragon in a human body, a yeti monk (who I like to refer to as the ninja yeti!), an alchemically transformed, psychotic powerhouse, the literary mage, an arachnid inspired infiltrator, and the team's secret weapon, an immortal, crazed monk.


Also provided are some Black Chapter specific standees at the back of the book, and the hero lab .por files are also provided. The only "negative" thing that I personally could find between the book and the hero lab files are that the character portraits and information were not put into the hero lab files, but that's just being picky at this point.

The Black Chapter is also an organization that can be used with the Oktobermen, as the back story of the Black Chapter is linked to some of the Oktobermen, but this does not mandate that you need to use both together.

Overall, Black Chapter is very good stand alone product, but is also a very good companion to the Oktobermen.

I would give the Black Chapter an overall rating of 5 stars. The layout and presentation is superb, the artwork (especially the cover) is great, the character design is excellent (with some being based on literary characters), and the writing is very well done as well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Due Vigilance- Black Chapter
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Field Guide to Superheroes Vol. 4 (ICONS)
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/27/2012 13:31:14
The fourth and presumably final issue of the Field Guide to Superheroes runs only about 2/3 as long as the others in page count, but serves as a worthy conclusion to the series. As with the other issues, Vol. 4 presents a series of superhero archetypes, throughly discussed and then illustrated with a hero who embodies that (and perhaps other) archetypes. Vol. 4 features ten archetypes. This volume also implements a number of significant improvements, most noticeably the new stat block format and the use of typefaces that have lower-case letters (this may account for most of the lower page count). The presentation is very attractive, although there are still some editing issues; for example, the book can’t seem to decide whether “superheroes” is one word (per the cover) or two (as in the footer). Also, at least one of the characters in FG4 shares a name with a character in Adamant’s official products, creating potential confusion. As usual, Dan Houser provides excellent artwork at the rate of two characters per archetype. One appears, unnamed, in connection with the archetype; the second appears with the specific character write-up. If you have the other issues of the Field Guide, you’ll definitely want Vol. 4. If you haven’t checked out the Field Guide yet, be aware that the earlier volumes have some different layout conventions than Vol. 4. Just before I posted this review, Vigilance updated the PDF with bookmarks, a helpful addition.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Field Guide to Superheroes Vol. 4 (ICONS)
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Action Scenes: Museum Mayhem (ICONS)
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:27:32
A lunatic curator has taken hostages in a museum, and wants to transform himself into an Egyptian-inspired demigod. Can the heroes prevent the ritual and save the day—or, if necessary, take down a new demigod once the ritual is complete? That’s the story behind “Museum Mayhem,” the first “Action Scene” product from Vigilance Press. As the singular “scene” implies, the product essentially presents one encounter, although the players’ choices and the heroes’ actions could actually stretch it out to two or three distinct encounters. The authors have taken care to anticipate a variety of possible player responses to the situations presented, and they’ve given the GM several ready-made options for adjusting the encounter on the fly.

A substantial number of new NPCs populate this adventure, from the big bad guy (in both “superheroic” and “demigod” modes) down to his lowliest minions (who include cultists, animated museum mannequins, and mummies). The module also includes stat blocks for three clusters of NPCs—government troopers, robots, and ninjas—that aren’t involved in the actual adventure but that illustrate the possibilities of the new Summon power presented in the module. The Summon power alone is worth the purchase of this product, and I’m sure that the Summon power will find its way into the ICONS campaign world that I share with my sons.

Unfortunately, the copy editor(s) let a number of errors and inconsistencies slip by. Those errors (including subject-verb disagreements, extra or duplicated punctuation marks, missing punctuation marks, missing space between paragraphs, slight capitalization and spelling mistakes, and a single, initially confusing reference to the “Minion” power rather than the “Summon” power) don’t inhibit use of the product for gameplay, but when you’re averaging one to two such errors per page, you need better proofreading. Also, I was perplexed by the positioning of the coat check at the opposite end of the museum from the front entrance. A coat check normally goes near the front entrance; you don’t want patrons traipsing through the museum in soggy raincoats to get to it (never mind the potential for theft). But these are minor annoyance rather than serious problems, and I enthusiastically recommend “Museum Mayhem” for all ICONS GMs, and even players interested in the Summon power.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Action Scenes: Museum Mayhem (ICONS)
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USHER Dossiers (ICONS)
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:18:20
Weighing in at a whopping 137 pages, this sweeping book outlines an entire world history for an Earth populated by metahumans. It’s really the only product of its kind for ICONS. The first part of the book presents a timeline of metahuman activity in the world. It’s a lush, detailed history, although there are some inexplicable (even by comic book logic), such as Menagerie’s use of electronics in 14,000 BCE; this isn’t just an issue of knowledge (which can somewhat be waved away using superpowers) but of manufacturing infrastructure. Even so, the timeline is a fun read and a great background for a superhero campaign set in the players’ present or near future. I especially enjoyed the incorporation of developments on other planets and the way they are drawn into contact with Earth events. Naturally, the timeline incorporates material from Vigilance Press’s “Amazing Stories of World War II” series (but not its Cold War “Wargames” series), and even incorporates Jason Tondro, author of Vigilance Press’s “Field Guide to Superheroes” series, as a character within the storyline. The timeline ends in 2007, two years after the world’s known superheroes have driven off a briefly-successful alien invasion. That timeline, by the way, occupies over half of the entire book.

The second part of the book surveys a number of organizations composed of and/or relevant to metahumans. Naturally, USHER receives the most attention, and is pretty thoroughly explored.

Time travel and parallel dimensions have become standard tropes of superhero comics, and the USHER setting book includes a list and discussion of “known alternate timelines.” This does not, of course, preclude the existence of “unknown alternate timelines” for the GM to create!

The last 25 pages or so present character stats and stories for significant metahumans in the USHER setting. For some reason, this part of the book indulges—quite unnecessarily—in an abundance of profanity. The sudden explosion of expletives in this section really turned me off to the product. I can see no good reason why Old Glory and the Savant, two very important characters in the setting, should drop almost a dozen F-bombs between them over the course of half that many pages. With the turn of a page, the book goes from typical comic book fare to a Lewis Black routine. As the parent of two sons (ages fourteen and eight, as of this writing) who want to take turns GMing ICONS, I wish publishers would put some sort of warning label on products that go this direction, in sort of the same vein as the Marvel/MAX and DC/Vertigo distinctions, or like the voluntary “explicit” labels on music and podcasts. This isn’t enough of an issue to impact the star rating below, but a “heads up” to parents (and prudes) would be helpful.

Occasional glitches mar the production values here and there, or seem to. The note “Pic -- two b/w hero pics (photo style)” on p. 4 (of the PDF; the pages aren’t actually numbered) is confusing, and seems to be an editorial instruction to insert a picture—an instruction that wasn’t actually followed and ended up in the final edition. Such a long work presents many opportunities for grammatical errors and such; sure enough, it’s hard to go a page without encountering a misplaced comma, an appositional phrase lacking its final comma, an adjective used where an adverb is needed, a dangling modifier, inconsistent or incorrect capitalization, an anomalous line break (or missing blank line between paragraphs), an incomplete sentence, misspellings (even of proper nouns unique to the setting), and that sort of thing. Probably the most embarrassing mistake in the book appears in the organizations chapter, where USHER’s name is given in the relevant page title as the “United Headquarters for Emergency Response”—leaving out the “S” for “States.” On the other hand, Dan Houser’s artwork is excellent, as always, and other artists contribute some good material to the book as well.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
USHER Dossiers (ICONS)
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Wargames: Supreme Commissar (ICONS)
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/23/2012 18:27:01
Supreme Commissar is a great villain for the Wargames setting; unlike some of the other villains in the series, he’d be hard to move to a different time period without major reworking of his backstory. In addition to a long narrative about Supreme Commissar’s history and psychology, and of course his stats, this supplement also provides stats for a typical Red Directorate agent and the Red Directorate’s helicarrier, obviously inspired by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s helicarrier. It’s a good thing the Red Directorate helicarrier has a cloaking device, because it’s painted cherry red; unfortunately, the writers can’t seem to decide whether to hyphenate “heli-carrier” (pp. 9, 12) or not (p. 7). Stats are also provided for a military jet fighter and helicopter; the artwork for these two is a completely different style from the rest (either photographs or 3D rendered models). Three long and fairly detailed adventure hooks round out the product. Better attention to proofreading (to eliminate the inconsistencies, mismatched/misplaced punctuation, and other such problems) could have raised the rating by one star.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wargames: Supreme Commissar (ICONS)
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Wargames: Sovi-Ape (ICONS)
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/23/2012 18:26:47
This villain’s origin and backstory are interesting, and author Mike Lafferty provides four fun adventure ideas using him. The writeup includes not only the simian mastermind himself, but also two types of henchmen that can serve as models for others. Sadly, this product seems not to have been proofread/copy-edited at all—or at least not successfully. The most glaring problem, standing head and shoulders above the many punctuation errors, is the product’s indecision about whether the villain’s name is spelled “Sovi-ape” (cover, pp. 2–9) or “Sovie-ape” (p. 1).

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Wargames: Sovi-Ape (ICONS)
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Wargames: Majestic12 (ICONS)
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/23/2012 18:26:35
Majestic-12 is a great twist on the “man in black.” He’s a great fit for the Wargames Cold War setting, but author Mike Lafferty also includes tips for transposing him into a more contemporary setting. As a bonus, the writeup mentions that Majestic-12 has two customary form of dress; the cover shows one, and the “character sheet” shows the other one. The product includes three fun adventure hooks that involve Majestic-12. Despite these strengths, the text needs some additional copy-editing to eliminate grammatical errors. Most importantly, somebody needs to decide whether the character’s name has a hyphen (cover, p. 1, header), a space (p. 2), or nothing (p. 3) between “Majestic” and “12.” That kind of sloppiness gives an otherwise fun product a black eye.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Wargames: Majestic12 (ICONS)
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Wargames: Death Mask (ICONS)
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/23/2012 18:26:19
Death Mask’s look and powers may remind you a bit of Dr. Doom, but this writeup gives him a unique flavor and motivation, both perfectly suited to the Wargames setting. The package also includes three fun adventure hooks and stats for the Red Guard “foot soldiers” in P.H.A.N.T.O.M.’s army.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wargames: Death Mask (ICONS)
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Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen
by Chris P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/28/2012 12:38:17
An average product- i did like the characters and how they interacted with each other, with one notable exception...Spring Heeled Jack himself. The artwork of the character...well he doesn't fit with the feel of the rest of the group and i would think twice before using this product. I'd recommend changing the group up a bit or using them as twisted individuals to add to other villain groups. Having said all that three of the characters presented are genuinely creepy and original.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen
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WatchGuard ICONS- Teen Force Five
by Chris P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/28/2012 12:31:10
A solid product with 5 teen heroes and 5 villains to utilise. I'm starting a teen Champions campaign and needed a few ideas for fellow heroes, but suffice to say i'll be using all the characters provided. It does have a lack of background like the other reviewer said but that didn't bother me- get it for the decent artwork (Jupiter especially...) and the good characterisation.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
WatchGuard ICONS- Teen Force Five
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Battlescenes: Operation Bookbinder
by William W. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/12/2012 10:22:31
A great battlescene in the Amazing Stories of World War II series. This one features an encounter with the giant Mega-Desumasuku and the power armored Sons of Desumasuku, both of which would make great recurring villains in a WWII-based supers RPG.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Battlescenes: Operation Bookbinder
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Moreau-1 Files (ICONS)
by William W. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/12/2012 10:13:22
Moreau is an android who is very skilled at invention and bioengineering. This supplement provides you with his stats, background, adventure hooks, and stats and info for one of his toughest minions. A great villain to drop into your ICONS game, or practically any superhero RPG. The art and layout are very good.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Moreau-1 Files (ICONS)
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Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen (ICONS)
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/07/2012 01:14:49
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Oktobermen is "issue 1" in the Due Vigilance line, fitting in the same universe as the Smoke & Mirrors supplement I reviewed back in January. This is the ICONS version of said product, $5.99 for a 19 page PDF filled with a team of supernatural killers and assassins. Oktobermen is more than just a villain book. I mean, it IS a villain book, but it includes a relationship map for the six members of the Oktobermen, complete with a paragraph on each of the six explaining their viewpoints. The book also includes four common sets of tactics employed by the Oktobermen. The bulk of the book is taken up by the character bios and stats for the six members:

Bookbinder - An escapee from a mysterious organization called The Library, Bookbinder is the most reluctant of the Oktobermen, having joined up when Springheel Jack saved her from The Library. The can use magic in some powerful and freaky ways, like trapping people in stories or summoning literary characters to do her bidding.

The Floating Skull - He is not unlike a D&D Demilich, the floating skull of a powerful sorcerer. He can never use the same spell on a given target more than once. Luckily, he knows 666 of them.

Hexenwulf - Hexenwulf is a werewolf, but not of the common type. No, he's a werewolf of the "wearing wolf skins" type. Heavily resistant to magic, so he's usually the lead man in taking out sorcerers.

L'Enfant Terrible - The prototypical Creepy Kid, born with a soul of evil. Often used to take people by surprised...has a "bodyguard" named Mr. Bear who has a VERY disturbing secret.

Sister Sanguine - A creepy (ex)nun who answers to evil fae and gains powers from drinking blood.

Springheel Jack - A half-demon in charge of The Oktobermen, Springheel Jack is on a quest to consume take a number of souls and become a Lord of Hell. There is even a sidebar explaining how to alter his stats if he succeeds.

Also included are four plot seeds (including two related NPCs) and a set of standees fot the Oktobermen.

WHAT WORKS: Some GREAT character concepts here, as well as some nice tidbits hinting at the larger world (like The Library). I also love the amount of detail as to how the villains operate and treat each other, making this more than just a set of stats.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: My only real complaint is the dramatic art shift from the cover to the interior. I don't think either one is inherently better than the other, though the cover seems to fit the source material better, while the latter fits the ICONS feel better.

CONCLUSION: Another fantastic product by Vigilance Press, providing a slew of baddies that are just downright frightening (in power level as well as concept). At one point, this product wasn't going to be released for ICONS, but I'm glad it ultimately was.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Due Vigilance- The Oktobermen (ICONS)
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People's Revolution: Villains of WWII (ICONS)
by William W. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/03/2012 07:30:16
Another collection of WWII-era superhero source material from Vigilance Press. This time it's a collection of Soviet Supers - Red Hammer, Night Witch, Ice Fang, Trans-Siberian Express, Red Legionnaire, Battle Czar, Sovi-Ape, Revolutionary Fire, and Kastaka (Killer Whale). Each has a great illustration, and full backstory. Great for use with ICONS or any WWII era four-color superhero RPG (after a bit of conversion, of course).

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
People's Revolution: Villains of WWII (ICONS)
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People's Revolution: Villains of WWII (M&M3e)
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/24/2012 19:56:00
People’s Revolution is a resource for Golden Age / World War II superheroic roleplaying giving the GM access to the Soviet Superteam for use as troublesome allies during WW2 or as rivals and enemies for Silver Age games. It is a solid resource for two eras (or more) of superheroic campaigns.

Amazing Stories of World War II: People’s Revolution is a 18-page PDF (15-pages after you remove the cover and OGL pages) for the Mutants & Masterminds (3rd Edition) RPG written by Mike Lafferty and Leon Chang and published by RPGObjects. This is issue 5 of RPGObjects’ Amazing Stories of World War II line.

People’s Revolution has mostly a traditional two columns layout and is fairly easily readable. The art is full color cover and all of the character get their own illustration (Red Hammer, the team leader, gets two) but only the cover is exceptional.

People’s Revolution is Soviet Russia’s Superteam that operated during the Second World War (in an alternate Amazing Stories universe) but many would be suitable for games set during the Cold War. It is given a brief introduction and then moves onto the nine members of the group who range from PL 10 to 12 (though their PLs are not noted and are inferred).

The characters are an interesting mix, a few mutants, a werewolf, an alien, an ape-human hybrid and others. They are all given solid backgrounds and personalities, though there are a few typos in the character write up, which could be a little better organized for readability. What happened to most of them after the war is noted in their description which is useful for silver age (or later) campaigns.

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:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
People's Revolution: Villains of WWII (M&M3e)
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