Review: Melior Via – Freshman Handbook (Hope Preparatory School)


Hope Preparatory School: Freshman Handbook
Freshman Handbook is the Hope Preparatory School superhero setting guide for ICONS written by John Dunn and Jennifer Harding and published by Melior Via.
By Aaron T. Huss

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.

CONTENT

Hope Preparatory School’s Freshman Handbook is divided into five basic sections: the school, academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and in-game content. The school sections are an introduction to Hope Preparatory School and a look at its rules and regulations. Right away, you get a view of the side-notes that are contained throughout the book. From a fluff stand-point, the book is supposedly a handbook lost by the owner, found by one person, and then found by another person. Each carrier has placed notes within the margins pertaining to bits and pieces. These are good fluff items that help to represent that High School appeal.

Academics play a big part of Hope Prep, not everything is heroism and crime-fighting. One must be well-rounded before entering the real world should they decide to live a normal life in parallel to their superhero life. Each subject contains a write-up for the teacher with accompanying stats in the in-game content sections near the back.

Athletics are a bit of a comical section to me in how they are altered to embrace the super-powered players. How would you play football and basketball with super-powers? Some of the ideas make me scratch my head and think “that’s cool”. These are fun alterations to sports to create an environment that everyone can play in.

Extracurricular activities are important to a student as well and encompass the social and science aspects of being a student (such as student government and the science club.) These are great role-playing additions to the setting and allow for a lot of social interaction between the PCs and NPCs and add to that school-like appeal.

Wrapping up the Freshman Handbook is the collection of in-game mechanics consisting of the change from superhero teams to school-oriented cliques (found in all high schools) along with stats for the teachers.

OVERALL

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.

RATINGS

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.

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