Tabletop/Comic Book Review: Pathfinder #1

Pathfinder #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Cost: $3.99
Release Date: 08/15/2012

On August 11th, 2010, IDW teamed up with writer John Rogers and artist Andrea DeVito to put out what was easily the best comic being put out at the time – Dungeons & Dragons. I know it sounds weird, but it was honestly the best thing being put out by any company. It was basically a fantasy Justice League International and if you missed out, then you need to pick up the two hardcover trades. Unfortunately the series just abruptly stopped with no explanation from the creative team or IDW. It sold well, had a devoted fan base and strong positive reviews, but then…nothing. IDW has tried to do other series since then like The Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore which was mediocre and the currently Forgotten Realms series by Ed Greenwood that was so bad I dropped after the second issue. So what does all that have to do with Pathfinder #1? Well, a lot actually. Bear with me as I explain a little bit about tabletop gaming to those just interested in a comic book.

See, when Wizards of the Coast decided to take the D&D tabletop game in a new (and ultimately very unpopular) direction with Fourth Edition, Paizo Publishing continued the legacy of Third Edition by modifying the rules and giving it a new name Pathfinder. The game has proved to be extremely popular, perhaps more so than Dungeons & Dragons itself. The story appears to have repeated itself in the comics world as, once again where D&D drops the ball, Pathfinder takes it and runs with it.

I should point out at this point that unlike most licensed comics, the Pathfinder series is a blend of both comic book and an RPG supplement. This is no doubt inspired by the John Rogers D&D series where issues had some game stats and you could buy very limited edition adventures based on the adventures which were reprinted in the hardcover trades. What Dynamite has done is given you twenty pages of full color comic followed by twelve pages of RPG supplement. All ad free (except for five page sin the very tail end of the comic) and only for $3.99! That’s an awesome deal in and of itself, but in the words of Ron Popeil, “WAIT! THERE’S MORE!” Pathfinder #1 also comes with a high quality full color glossy map for use with miniatures and/or skirmish games. This alone is worth the cover price as many gamers will attest to. Best of all each issue of Pathfinder will have a map for roleplaying included with it. Even if the comic sucked, this feature alone should be enough for any fan of tabletop gaming to add this series to their pullbox. Thankfully neither the comic nor the supplement sucks, making this easily the best deal in comics right now for your dollar.

Written by Jim Zub and drawn by Andrew Huerta, Pathfinder #1 is definitely trying to follow the same comedy-adventure styling of the John Rogers series. It’s weird if you’ve read that D&D series as you will definitely feel Pathfinder #1 is mimicking it much the way the tabletop game mimics D&D 3.5. The key here is that even though the pacing, dialogue and wittiness isn’t as good as the Rogers/DeVito series, it’s a) still very good and b) much like the tabletop game needs to be able to grow into its own. It’s amazing how much the comic is an unintentional metaphor for the RPG with all of this.

This first issue, entitled “Dark Waters Rising: Chapter 1” revolves around three main characters: Valeros, a human fighter, Seonia , a female evoker, and Merisiel, an elven rogue. There are three other characters that may or may not become part of the main cast; we’ll just have to wait and see. They are Ezren the human wizard, Kyra, a human cleric, and Harsk who appears to be the very refreshing concept of a dwarven ranger (Tabletop fans will instantly get and love the contradiction). All the characters are well defined in this first issue, yet they still cling to various tropes. The warrior is impulsive and acts without thinking. The rogue is selfish and egocentric. The mage values knowledge above all else. So on and so forth. The Dwarven Ranger is the only really outside the box character and that’s simply because having a dwarven woodsman is so anathema to the race. I’m sure as the series goes on the characters will become more fleshed out and less generic.

The story starts off with the characters in the middle of a battle with goblins, then a trip to the most rudimentary of RPG clich├ęs – a tavern where the PCs get the next plot hook (and a scuffle) followed by a meandering trip to fight more goblins. Yes, I know. It all sounds very generic; like something you’d find any low level party dealing with in a tabletop game. However, it’s all in the storytelling and Jim Zub does a fine job of making these all too commonplace fantasy events entertaining and memorable. That’s a hard task to do all things considered.

I will admit the weakest point of the comic itself is the use of gamer terminology. Merisiel actually refers to Valeros as a “fighter” by class at one point and there is something called the “Pathfinder Chronicles” being written as a minor sub-plot in the book. This too me feels tacky and abruptly breaks the suspension of disbelief. It would be similar to someone saying, “Well so and so is LAWFUL GOOD.” It’s kind of a cardinal rule of RPG storytelling and I was sad to see it get broken here.

Aside from that one minor quibble, the comic is quite good. Not only is it the best thing Dynamite has going, but it certainly fills the void left by Rogers/DeVito. While it wasn’t the best comic of the month (I’d have to give that to both Animal Man and Swamp Thing #12), it was definitely in the top five. With some excellent word of mouth by Paizo and some gaming websites to supplement the comic book media, this could be Dynamite’s biggest hit by far.

Now then. We’ve talked about the comic, but there’s still ten pages of RPG supplement to go through. I’m still amazed at how much they packed into this comic. The first six pages are about Sandpoint, the town the characters call home base. You’re given all the necessary information for running the location, a page and a half of background, a full colour map of the town, four adventure hooks and the stat block of two major NPCs within the town. After that you are given a two page adventure to run that uses the fold out map that came with the comic. It’s a very low level skirmish pitting four Level 1 PCs (player characters) against four goblins and a “goblin dog,” which looks like a giant bald rat. It’s short and sweet, but a fun little tactical encounter than long time gamers will find fun as well as a great way to introduce tabletop gaming to those that haven’t but picked up the comic for whatever reason. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else Paizo and Dynamite throw at us for these little encounters. Finally the whole thing wraps up with the stats for four of the main characters in this adventure: Seoni, Valeros, Ezren and Merisiel. It’s a little weird to see these characters at Level 1 (especially the middle aged wizard. How bad do you have to be at magic to still be Level 1 at that age?), but this was obviously done some people could play as the characters in the comic, which is especially nice for younger readers/gamers as they get to be their favorite similar to when you used to pick a super hero as a kid. It also means people can just dive into the adventure instead of having to make their own characters. Of course, you will still need to know how to play Pathfinder (or at least own the core rulebook) to play the game, but that goes without saying. Hmm. Perhaps this supplement should have been in issue #2 and this issue could have had quick start rules instead. Ah well, hindsight is always 20/20.

All in all, Pathfinder #1 is an amazing deal and well worth your $3.99. Even if you just want the gaming supplement bits, you’re still getting your money’s worth and comic fans should be happy with another sword and sorcery comic on the market – especially one with twenty pages of content and no ads. Try and get a subscription from your local comic store or Paizo.com. The latter is definitely a nice way to go as you not only get 20% off the cover price, but you get a 15% discount on all related materials. I generally have my comics mailed to me every two months, but I was definitely thinking about the subscription, especially as you are guaranteed the Paizo.com exclusive cover this way. The downside is that shipping costs more than the comic each month, so I’ll stick to getting my comics the slow but cheap way. You can purchase a direct subscription here.

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