Friday, November 17, 2017
The Hollow Mountain hardcover collects the complete Pathfinder: Hollow Mountain (Issues # 1-6). It's the fifth volume of Pathfinder comics and I'm happy to say it's the best one yet. There's a real and noticeable improvement in the artwork from the first couple of volumes, and the story, although not sophisticated, is just a blast. There's excitement, laugh-out-loud moments, twists, and the exploration of a fascinating location in the Golarion campaign setting. The collection includes all of the regular and variant covers of the individual issues (a couple of which are particularly-inspired spoofs of classic superhero comic covers) along with several encounters set in the title location. In addition, stats and backgrounds for some of the company's neutral and evil-aligned Iconic characters that appear in the book are included. It's an excellent purchase, and I'm glad to see how far the Pathfinder comics have come since their beginning.
The entire series takes place in and around Hollow Mountain, a structure from ancient Thassilon that served as the headquarters of the Runelord of Wrath, Alaznist. As well as containing the other end of the Irespan bridge that can also be seen in present-day Magnimar, Hollow Mountain served Alaznist as an armoury, training ground, and well-protected redoubt during the long war with Runelord Karzoug that finished only with the great destruction brought by Earthfall. The "good" Iconics we've come to know and love from previous series (Valeros, Seoni, Ezren, Merisiel, and Kyra) have come to Hollow Mountain following the reports from a previous Pathfinder Society expedition that an entrance has been found leading to the potential of great treasure.
Issue # 1 begins by showing us something we've never seen before: the fall of Thassilon, firsthand! For anyone interested in this ancient empire and the Runelords (I know I am), this is really exciting. Alaznist, seeing the devastation that Earthfall is bringing, knows that she must enter her runewell to wait out the apocalypse, even if thousands of years must pass until she returns. She entrusts Hollow Mountain to her demonic castellan, providing him with a magical key that can command all of the creatures that reside within it along with its portals, traps, and other safeguards. The opening scene includes Xanderghul, Runelord of Pride, and fascinating details on the political situation of the time. I would gladly read a novel set in this time period. And all of that's just in the first few pages! The rest of the issue features the Iconics exploring Hollow Mountain, with a clever montage sequence making it clear that their progress isn't unhindered. The issue ends with a great cliffhanger: the appearance of the "bad" Iconics: Oloch the half-orc warpriest, Meligaster the halfling mesmerist, Damiel the elf alchemist, and Seltyiel, the half-elf magus. It's a great start to the series.
Issue # 2 sees the two groups face-off through both verbal and violent means. It's fun to see a portrayal of some of the less common classes, like the Mesmerist. As with super hero comics, the requisite battle ends with a team-up, and the Iconics reach Hollow Mountain's throne room. The castellan, a kalavarkus demon, attacks and it's clear the Iconics are no match for him (their weapons don't hurt him at all) as he appears to disintegrate four of them!
Issue # 3 reveals that the "disintegrated" Iconics have only been teleported to another part of the fortress. The remaining Iconics fall into a deep pit, separating everyone into two groups of mixed "good" and "bad" Iconics. It's a classic recipe for conflict-based storytelling and works well. There's a lot of nice little moments that provide some insight into each character, and how having different alignments makes a difference in the actions each character takes. The issue ends with one of the groups being confronted by a threat that has persisted since Thassilon: sinspawn!
Issue # 4 is titled "Never Split the Party", as one group confronts a horde of sinspawn and the other runs up against shriezyx (giant, intelligent spiders). It turns, out, however, the shriezyx want the castellan destroyed as well (because he can control them using the key) and is willing to help the second group. The first group negotiates with the sinspawn and seem on the verge of making a deal as well until Oloch cleaves their leader in twain!
Issue # 5 has Oloch becoming "King of the Sinspawn", and the two groups of Iconics travel separately with new-found allies through an area called the Gauntlet of Fury, full of hundreds of traps. Oloch, of course, sends the sinspawn to absorb the brunt of the traps in a funny scene. The separated groups of adventurers reunite at Champion's Crucible, a mystical pool that they can use to enchant their weapons in order to hurt the castellan.
Issue # 6 has the inevitable fight against the castellan. Seeing Damiel drink his mutagen to transform into a bestial creature is great fun. The castellan is overcome, but the story isn't over yet because: betrayal! The "good" Iconics should have seen it coming, and are forced to watch while the "bad" Iconics (holding a hostage at knife point) make their way out of Hollow Mountain with all of the treasure. There's a further little twist that shows the "good" Iconics are smarter than they might seem. The issue, and the whole series, ends with the biggest twist of all: the apparent return of Runelord Alaznist! I can't wait to see what happens next.
After the issues, the hardcover collects the various covers that accompanied the individual issues. Two of them are just perfect: a spoof of Adventure Comics # 247 (the first appearance of the Legion of Super Heroes) and Iron Man # 128 (alcoholic Tony Stark looking in a mirror). As a long-time comics fan, these brought me great joy.
There are several pieces of back-matter:
* A two-page overview of Hollow Mountain;
* "Hidden in Plain Sight" a CR 1-2 encounter against skulks and sinspawn for low-level PCs investigating the ruined city around Hollow Mountain;
* Backgrounds and Level 5 stats for Seltyiel, Oloch, Meligaster, and Damiel. These are surprisingly gripping!
* "Office Assistance", a CR 7 encounter for Hollow Mountain explorers that takes place in the center's archives and holds the promise of discovering still-existent maps of the location (if they overcome a spectre!);
* "Lost and Found", a CR 4 encounter that involves a pack of Jinkins (gremlins) stealing and cursing the PCs' gear. Some groups would bristle, but it sounds fun and different;
* "Breaking the Mold", a CR 5 encounter against strange plant creatures that holds special rewards for alchemists and herbalists;
* "Running Hot and Cold", a CR 5 encounter that forms part of the trap-filled Gauntlet of Fury. This one contains a minor puzzle element;
* "The Last Runelords", paragraph-long descriptions of each of the Runelords. This info has probably been available elsewhere, but it's nice to see it all in one place here.
* "In High Gear", a CR 16-17 encounter against some very nasty traps (such as empowered disintegrate!) and a clockwork dragon.
Last, there's a fold-out map of Hollow Mountain (the same as the one that appears in Dungeons of Golarion, but larger and easier to use).
There's a tremendous amount of detailed and accurate world-lore incorporated into Hollow Mountain, and I really appreciated it. The artwork is clean and clear (unlike the murky work in earlier issues) and the different Iconics have well-established personalities and dialogue that fits. I'm a bit of a fan-boy of Thassilon since I'm running RotRL, but, along with all of the extras, this is a package sure to please.