Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Roleplaying Game Comic Books

Dungeons & Dragons: Frost Giant's Fury #3-5 (IDW, February-April 2017, $3.99)
Dragon Age: Knight Errant #2, 4-5 (Dark Horse, June and August-September 2017, $3.99)
Pathfinder: Runescars #2, 4 (Dynamite, 2017, $4.99)

I haven't read roleplaying game comic books other than Knights of the Dinner Table for some time, and this batch of comics has been in my reading box for longer than I like admitting. All three series might be of interest to people who are already well versed—or active in—playing roleplaying games given their settings, characters, and concepts. Of the three, Dragon Age: Knight Errant might be best suited for someone interested in fantasy broadly, but not RPGs specifically. (That said, people interested in that series of video games might also be interested.) Even if these miniseries are no longer publishing, chances are good that each franchise has a new series going, so check the stands at your local shop.

Dungeons & Dragons: Frost Giant's Fury was intended to dovetail with release of the Storm Kings Thunder adventure module for the tabletop RPG and the related season of organized play in game stores around the world. If I remember correctly, the timing was off, and it was pretty far into the season before the comic shipped. Regardless, it's a fun read. Minsc the ranger and his space hamster Boo from the Baldur's Gate series of video games join several other adventurers—sorceress Delina, rogues Krydle and Shandie, and cleric Nerys—to investigate and thwart the intrigue among and between dragons and giants fighting to control Faerun.

Jim Zub's writing is good, but it's a little too transparent in the game lineage and mechanics. (This is an issue IDW's D&D comics have had from the beginning.) Delina might say something other than "Magic missile!" when casting that spell in #4, eh? Given that much of the comic is character driven, Netho Diaz's art concentrates on the humanoids, but in #3's pages with the white dragon in its cave during the snowstorm, readers get a little bit of the sense of wonder inherent in D&D. "Okay, lockpicker... talk." #5 goes a bit broader in its scale, offering several nice moments featuring the giants, including a two-page spread on pp. 4-5, and a face off between giant and dragon on pp. 12 and 15.

D&D players will be interested in the character sheets offered in each issue for the characters Krydle, Nerys, and Shandie, who are all sixth level, incidentally.

Dragon Age: Knight Errant, while steeped in the legend and lore of the video game—and related RPG—is a licensed comic that doesn't necessarily nod to its gaming roots beyond the use of the name. Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, and drawn by Fernando Heinz Furukawa, the series focuses on roguish elven squire Vaea and her patron Ser Aaron Hawthorne, a heavy drinking knight who's still more than skilled with his sword. "I am a drunk, Vaea. Not an idiot." They uncover some Magister-led Tevinter intrigue in the home of Prince Sebastian.

This series is the strongest in this group review, standing most strongly on its own regardless of its license, and perhaps appealing most broadly beyond the gaming community. Other than the Electronic Arts and BioWare logos on the cover, there's no additional gaming content or context, and fantasy fans would be better off reading this than one of the Game of Thrones-related comics. Well done!

Lastly, Pathfinder: Runescars draws on Paizo's RPG Pathfinder, which debuted as a spinoff of sorts from D&D about a decade ago. The licensed comics tend to focus on iconic characters such as Kyra the cleric, fighter Valeros, and Merisiel the rogue. This miniseries adds a couple of additional characters, and the party is trying to figure out who is killing sorcerers to remove their tattoos, which can be used as a magical key to enter Gatefoot.

James L. Sutter's writing is a little wordy—there's a ton of exposition in parts—and ably captures the style and depth of the Pathfinder world Golarion. Given the comic's focus on iconic characters, there's only so much Sutter can do in terms of character development—as opposed to the Dragon Age comics, say, in which you can have a new cast every miniseries and focus on the world and actions within it—and the comic is largely plot driven. But what a plot! Ediano Silva's artwork is pleasing. Highlights include the Gatefoot on pp. 4-5 of #4, as well as the creatures living within—particularly the "little people." "Never trust a mushroom you didn't pick yourself." The panel-less p. 16 is pretty cool, too.

There's also game content in each edition. These two issues include Pathfinder Chronicles material on the Order of the Nail and the rise and fall of Thassilon, as well as two scenarios—complete with tactical battle maps to use on the tabletop. The maps are useful for any RPG. While previous miniseries included material and scenario related to the story in the comic, that doesn't seem to be the case in these issues. Regardless, the included maps make this comic particularly interesting to gamers.

These three comics series represent three different games and three different publishers. A group reading (devoid of any sales numbers) suggests that for RPG-related comics to appeal more broadly, it could behoove creative teams to move beyond the game origins and concentrate on great stories—even if it's fun to see the game in the comic. I suppose it depends on who your audience is: People who play the game, people you want to play the game, or comics readers more generally. RPG comics could appeal to each group—and others—in different ways.

Availability: Dungeons & Dragons: Frost Giant's Fury has been collected. Dragon Age: Knight Errant has also been collected. The collected Pathfinder: Runescars will be available in March. Until then, you can buy the issues online or check out a previous series collection, Pathfinder: Worldscape.

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