Thursday, May 11, 2017
Dark Waters Rising is the title for the compilation of the first six issues of the Pathfinder comic series. The story is set in and around the small town of Sandpoint in the western Varisia region of the campaign setting of Golarion and features six of the game's "Iconics" adventuring together (with a cameo appearance by a seventh). I'm a big comic book fan, and I would rate these issues as about average. The dialogue is quite good and each of the Iconics is given a distinct personality, but the plotting is unremarkable and the artwork is (apart from some of the covers) uniformly ugly and dark. I really appreciated the attention to detail and faithful continuity with the source material (in terms of geography, monster behavior, etc.).
The hardcover edition (I'm not sure about the softcover) does contain several extras which make a more attractive purchase. First, there's an exclusive story, "The Last Mosswood Goblin" which is cute (though slight). Second, over 30 variant covers are included in a gallery, and some of them are fantastic and clever. Third, there's a removable poster-map of either Sandpoint or the hinterlands around it (I've already pulled it out, and can't remember which!). Fourth, and best, there's over 40 pages of additional material in the form of encounters (complete with grid maps and stat blocks), an introductory gazetteer of Sandpoint, and more. My conclusion is that, as a pure comic, Dark Waters Rising is okay--but all of the extras bring it up substantially if you're not just a reader but also a Pathfinder player or GM.
The plot of Dark Waters Rising concern the adventurers stumbling on to a plot by a priestess of the demon-goddess Lamashtu drawing power from local goblin tribes by having them drink a magical potion. The adventurers, in true RPG fashion, slay loads of goblins before narrowly escaping a trap set by the priestess and then fighting off the massive demon she's given birth to (yuck, but fun!). In a bit more detail:
Issue 1: Valeros (the Iconic Fighter), Seoni (the Iconic Sorceress), Meriesiel (the Iconic Rogue), and Ezren (the Iconic Wizard) are an established adventuring party who are planning to merely pass through Sandpoint. After encountering strange, deformed goblins, they realize something unusual is going on and find allies in the form of Harsk (the Iconic Ranger) and Kyra (the Iconic Cleric).
Issue 2: After a battle against goblin raiders, the adventurers are hired by Sandpoint's leaders to investigate. With Harsk's help, they follow the goblins' trail back to Shank's Wood where they find a foul cult of Lamashtu working its evil on the local goblins and bugbears. The adventurers attack and break up the cult.
Issue # 3: Harsk tracks the cultists through Paupers' Graves, a long-abandoned cemetery full of ghouls! Although the artwork is uniformly ugly, ugly works well for monsters and I have to give it some credit here. Harsk continues leading the adventurers on the cultists' trail, and they reach Mosswood only to find themselves surrounded by giant spiders.
Issue # 4: The adventurers are rescued by the intervention of Lini (the Iconic Druid). When the adventurers reach the goblin/cultist main encampment, however, all of them except Merisiel are captured.
Issue # 5: The captured adventurers are forced to drink a foul potion that makes them relive some of the worst times of their lives; the flashback/dream scenes add some nice insight into each character and were well done. The main villain is fully introduced: Mistress Etainia, a priestess of Lamashtu heavily pregnant with demonic spawn. Although Merisiel sneaks into the camp and frees her companions, Mistress Etainia gives birth to an enormous, tentacled demon!
Issue # 6: There's a huge battle, of course, and the good guys win. They return to Sandpoint and celebrate.
"The Last Mosswood Goblin": This story is from the perspective of a goblin who arrives just after the adventurers have slain the rest of his tribe; he stalks the group and launches his plan to kill them, but, as a goblin, his efforts end in certain disaster. It's played for laughs.
Cover Gallery: Many of these are clever "spoof" covers placing the Pathfinder Iconics in something like the Ghostbusters movie poster or a goblin as the shark in Jaws, but others are more serious and some are downright beautiful.
The Sandpoint Gazetteer is six pages long (including a full-page map of the town) that summarizes some of the major places and personalities that PCs are likely to encounter. It provides stat blocks for Sheriff Hemlock and Father Zantus, both things I found quite useful as a GM running Rise of the Runelords. There are also some adventure hooks that a GM could develop.
There are six(!) fully-developed encounters (presumably, one of these appeared in each of the original issues). Each encounter has hooks, a mini-map, monster stat-blocks, etc. My only fault with the maps is that they show where the monster tokens are, which means they can't be photocopied and enlarged to be used at the gaming table. The encounters are: 1. Junk Beach (goblins scavenging for junk near Sandpoint); 2. Shank's Wood (a faceless stalker has been imitating a notorious highwayman); 3. Paupers' Graves (ghouls have infested a disused cemetery near Sandpoint); 4. The Spider Stones (an ancient shrine to Gozreh has been overrun by moss spiders and an ettercap); 5. The Bloodfang Goblins (a goblin tribe affiliated with the Cult of Lamashtu); and 6. Issandra's Shrine (a CR 14 devotee of Lamashtu has established a hidden shrine in the Sandpoint hinterlands). What makes these encounters so good is that they draw upon existing elements of the setting and they each have really interesting, well-written backstories. I've personally incorporated "Junk Beach", "Shank's Wood", and "The Bloodfang Goblins" into my Rise of the Runelords campaign with good success. They're perfect when a GM needs a little something extra to flesh out a session or story arc.
Mixed into the encounter section are full-page stat blocks (at Level 1) and illustrations of the Iconics that appear in the comic. It's true that these can also be found on-line, but they're quite attractively presented here so I didn't mind.
So all in all, what I said above holds: if you're strictly a comics fan, you can find better stories and artwork elsewhere; but if you're also a Pathfinder fan, Dark Water Rising is a solid purchase.