This one is a little trickier to explain/judge than Adversaries or Menagerie. It's less a big book of stuff and more of a wide-ranging general supplement for the game. I know it was a set of individual supplements presented over time, one letter at a time, which helps explain the ... diversity ... of the book. But what is it? I'm going to take the obvious way out here:
- A is Aliens - definitely a topic worthy of some attention in a superhero game
- B is for Battles - in this case large-scale battles with some mechanics and which addresses how superheroes can affect those big battles. not something you see in a lot of superhero rpg rules.
- C is for Cosmic - scaling, considerations for being in space a lot, and some campaign notes
- D is for Demons - another topic worthy of consideration for a supers campaign. Maybe a notch down from Aliens but they do show up fairly often.
- E is for Environments - underwater, underground, etc. It's nice to have a bit more detail here.
- F is for Fear - fear in a superhero game, intimidation, fear-related powers ... it's an interesting examination of things because you don't see it mechanically addressed all that much in these RPGs.
- G is for Golden Age - good campaign notes for running this type of game.
- H is for Headquarters - a decent look at the options in ICONS - Qualities, Devices, or Installations
- I is for Interaction - Ok this one is a little more abstract but it is a more detailed look at social skills, effectively. This is nice stuff to have and would be worth including in the main book a long ways down the road in a theoretical and currently unnecessary new edition.
- J is for Justice - investigations, trials, prison - you know, the fun stuff! That said it could easily come up in a campaign.
- K is for Knacks - this is a new concept for the game and involves sort of a permanent stunt arrangement. One example is the ability to use Strength instead of Willpower for intimidation. I'm not as sure about this one as this is the kind of thing I might let a player do for free given sufficient justification. yes, I run ICONS loose enough that this is kind of past my threshold for needed mechanics. I can see the point, but it costs a permanent point of Determination, which I think is a really high cost for this option. Regardless this is not a bad option and some of the examples speak to me more than others - I expect most players would feel the same.
- L is for Lost Worlds - well yes! A discussion of origins, types, and some random tables for encounters ... this is a nice thing to have if you're going to include one in your game - and you are aren't you?
- M is for Magic - magic is covered quite a bit in other ICONS books but the material included here adds some nice structure. General power levels, schools of magic, magic devices, the astral plane, some creature profiles - this does add to a game where magic plays a significant role and is useful even if it's just the focus for an adventure or three.
- N is for Narrative Abilities - another more abstract entry. This is basically an alternate rules option where the numbers come out of the game. There's a way to do it just for stats, a way to do it just for damage, or for the whole system. it looks a lot like FATE to me at that point but it's nice to have an official version within the game system if you're interested in the option.
- O is for Organizations - they are likely to come up in every campaign so the utility is obvious: agents, qualities, stats. This covers ways to rate organizations and their personnel in different ways and it is 100% useful.
- P is for Pets - If someone in your campaign has an animal companion (it's not just for Rangers!) then this chapter will come into play. it covers different way to handle pets in the game - qualities, characters, sidekicks ... there are options. Useful if it comes up.
- Q is for Qualities - This is a solid discussion of qualities in the game and if anyone is fuzzy about how they work or the role they play in the system this chapter is damn handy. This is another one that I think would be a strong candidate to include in the rulebook.
- R is for Rescue - This is an examination of core superhero stuff right here: disasters! innocent bystanders! building collapses! medical emergencies! if you ever wonder what heroes are supposed to do besides punch bad guys this is an excellent start. Plus it's not just abstract - it covers what heroes need to do mechanically to stop bad things from happening for a variety of situations. Solid solid solid.
- S is for Support - HQ staff, other specialists (No Capes!), the law, the media, villain options - its useful campaign support.
- T is for Teams - a more detailed treatment of teams from typical roles in and around a team to mechanical options for team members like qualities and shared Determination. Likely useful in every campaign.
- U is for Universe - an expanded discussion of creating a superhero universe for your campaign. The main book covers this pretty well but this material does give a GM more to consider when working on one.
- V is for Variants - this is a small set of rules options - different ways to handle stats, damage, and alternate die-rolling methods. There's nothing terrible here but it's different from a lot of the other chapters. It "replaces" rather than "adds to" the existing rules.
- W is for Wealth - some expanded mechanics for handling resources. I mean there's always at least one billionaire playboy character right?
- X is for X-Factors - Random tables! Events, people ... this is certainly useful for a lot of campaigns and really any "you're on patrol when ..." type sessions. Solid.
- Y is for Youth - Ah my personal nemesis but undoubtedly useful to some this is the "teen heroes" chapter and it is solid. From alternate origins to how to handle school this covers what you need to run this type of game.
- Z is for Zombies - of course! The closer of the Aliens/Demons/Zombies trilogy of "things that can invade your campaign world"! Different types of zombies, different powers, and how they propagate are all covered here, plus more.
Whew that is a lot of material! Each section is 5-6 pages long which for ICONS is generally enough depending on the type of article here.
- If I was going to run a long term Golden Age or Teen campaign I would still go read through the sourcebooks for those available for M&M or Champions to really get into the feel and mood and background on those.
- Some of these chapters are straight-up optional or variant rules modules and are inherently sufficient for what they do.
- Some of it is just generally useful campaign material - Bases, Rescues, Support options, Teams, the universe ... it goes on.
- A lot of these chapters really are expansions/examinations of specialized elements of a supers campaign that will come up on a now and then or per-adventure basis.
- Aliens are invading! Look over the Aliens chapter! And maybe the Battles chapter!
- We're going to Atlantis! Look over Environments!
- Captain Calamity is going on trial - let's look at the Justice Chapter!
- The spirit world is in turmoil as demons from the outer dark are trying to break in to this world - let's look at Magic, Demons, and possibly Battles!
I actually like this approach as these say multi-adventure story arc complications get a 5-6 page discussion with some rules notes. Not an entire book. Not some pre-written adventure. Just concepts and rules considerations that cover a well-known comic book superhero trope or event. The Quality and Team chapters will be useful in every campaign but you don't really need to worry about underwater stuff until someone goes underwater.
So where does this fall in the hierarchy of ICONS resources? Well I'd say get the main book and get a campaign going .. .and then, well Origins (to be reviewed) is damn handy and Great Power is good if your players really want to dig into their powers. I'd probably put it after those two as I think it's more useful once your campaign is going and insert "monster book" wherever you feel it's needed.