ION Guard ICONS Edition is a sourcebook for the ICONS RPG put forth by Colin Chapman and Radioactive Ape Designs and covering a section of the supers genre that never seems to get enough support: The cosmic hero subgenre.
Drawing from the obvious inspiration of DC’s Green Lantern Corp (and perhaps Marvel’s Nova Corp, which I prefer), ION Guard is a 59 page PDF running $7.99 at RPGnow. It is fully searchable with copy and paste enabled, as well as featuring clickable bookmarks, so it hits all of my important PDF features. A standard, detailed, table of contents is provided as well, which is always useful.
THE ION GUARD MANUAL
Our first stop in the book is the ION Guard Manual, which is a two page overview of the ION Guard, including the meaning of ION (Intergalactic Ordinance Network). It gives an overview of their role as cosmic policemen, explains the significance of their symbol and talks about the creation of the ION Guard, when the last of the Ancients constructed an artificial world around a singularity and then installed himself into the construct, becoming ION Prime, in what reminds me a bit of Oa and the Xandarian Worldmind. ION Prime created the ION Fists and blasted them into the universe, where they sought out those who have what it takes to wield the ION Fists.
Though the ION Guard has existed for one billion years, the timeline only hits key points from within the last hundred years, such as the emergence of the Sinister Sorcerers of Skathros, Galactus eating Oa (well, it was Infinitus eating Ao, but yeah), the fall, disappearance and reemergence of Manis, an ION Guard gone rogue and now calling himself Maniacus and more. Wisely, the timeline is left wide open, especially later than 75 years or so, in order to give GMs extra flexibility.
The book tells us that there are many laws to the ION Guard, but three core tenets: Protect The Innocent, Apprehend Wrongdoers and Aid The Cause of Peace. There is the caveat that ION Guardsmen sometimes fly under the proverbial radar to get criminals when they are out of their jurisdiction, and a second caveat that, yeah, this is awful vague stuff…just like it is in the source material.
The ION Guard begins with ION Prime. From there, five Guardsmen are selected as The High Guard. There are 50 Guard Commanders and then individual Guardsmen. The book gives the five current High Guard, as well as their areas of expertise. As well, there are 10,000 Guardsmen spread out over 5,000 sectors…meaning there’s not a huge density of Guardsmen.
Essentially, there are two methods of recruitment: You volunteer, at which pointed you are tested and interviewed extensively, and if the High Guard and ION Prime agree to it, you are inducted into the ION Guard, given an ION Fist and begin your training. The other way is when an ION Guardsman falls and the ION Fist detaches from its former owner and seeks out a new Guardsman…if they accept, then that’s that, whether the High Guard cares much for it or not.
ION Guard training is designed to winnow out the weak, so that the Guard is as good and as efficient as it can be…only 10% of those who make it TO the training make it THROUGH the training. After a year of field training with a veteran, then they take The Oath, which makes them a full member:
“With Golden Light I Fight For Right Bear ION Fist Against The Night This I Swear With Spirit Hard Let Evil Fear The ION Guard”
This chapter details the planet itself, with all its features, such as the Training Academy (complete with Training Robots), the Forcells and their Sentries, plus the Hall of Light, which honors the fallen. A sidebar is present discussing The Cosmic Singularity, and providing options for just what it actually is, as well as what exposure to it actually does, as the book ultimately leaves this up to the GM.
Really, this chapter is about the ION Fists, also known as the Golden Gauntlets. The ION Fist channels the power of the Cosmic Singularity, and adjusts itself to fit the hero. The ION Fist absolutely resists removal, generally requiring that massive damage be done to the bearer first…and even then it should be a huge deal. Every ION Fist has a handful of powers that it gives, including Flight, Blast, Life Support and Uniform Creation…however, a section is provided for stunt ideas, such as using the ION Fist in unconventional ways. Also, the ION Fist is vulnerable to Magic.
CREATING AN ION GUARD
The one thing I don’t like about the book is also one I’m not sure how to fix. It specifically demands point based creation and, frankly, the thing I like most about ICONS is the random creation…but doing random creation with the ION Fist and without heavy houseruling is…difficult.
One interesting change is that the ICONS core rules seems to eschew the Origin system if you’re using point buy…but ION Guard specifically uses Origins with the point buy…with everyone having the Unearthly option that combines two origins (Gimmick and one other Origin), complete with applying the modifiers after spending points. You get 30 points and you must have a minimum Awareness 6 (before modifiers), Intellect 3 and Willpower 4. You get the ION Fist, whose powers are set at Rank 8. Common Qualities and Challenges are presented as well, to help ensure that the characters “fit” the ION Guard.
A selection of mini adventure ideas, such as missing planets, world devastating storms and some tips on taking standard supers adventures and making them “cosmic”.
Three sample Guardsmen are provided: Caine Carston, Maug and Tamari. The best part of this chapter, however, is the sidebar in mixing the ION Guard with other, non-ION Guard supers…after all, Nova and (especially) The Green Lantern team up with Earth heroes all the time.
We also get the fallen Guardsman Maniacus, who is kinda like Sinestro without any redeeming qualities. The Sinister Sorcerers of Skathros are statted up here, and are a whole order designed to provide opposition. Infinitus and his thralls are here as well, with Infinitus not given stats, and his four thralls (Asterox, Komett, Nebulea and Starr) taking some cues from Galactus’ Heralds and their focus on the elements, without just being rip-offs.
Finally, the book rounds out with some samples cosmic vehicles, the gravcar, gravtank and starfighters.
A Sketch Gallery, Open Game Content notice and a single teaser for ALIEN EMPIRES caps the book off.
Honestly, this book almost singlehandedly takes ICONS from “looks cool” to “must play”. Removing ads, table of contents, sketches and full page art pieces and there’s maybe 50 pages of content in this book…but MAN are they packed with good stuff. The Author draws VERY clear inspiration from Marvel and DC’s cosmic titles, and manages it in such a way as to make it feel very much like an homage and not a rip-off. Combine that with just how underserved the cosmic supers genre is, and ION GUARD is practically a must-buy product.
The art, provided by Jess Jennings, is in an “animated” style like the ICONS corebook, but cleaner and tighter pretty much across the board, so it feels like it fits the game while also improving on the standards set. Similar things could be said about the writing. ICONS is maddeningly vague in places, while ION GUARD really does provide just enough detail to get you playing, but leaving the big things open for you to do with as you will.
My one complaint is not being sure how to reconcile random generation with the ION Fists.
This book has not only sold me on giving ICONS a go in play, but it also sold me on the BASH version as soon as I’m able to acquire it (BASH is a bit higher on my “must-play” scale than ICONS is). A third party supplement that is basically a step up on the parent game in just about every way.
Just a great product all around.
This review was first published in RPG.net by Tommy Brownell