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Pathfinder Volume 2: Of Tooth and Claw Hardcover – August 26, 2014
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Of Tooth and Claw is the second hardcover collection of Pathfinder comics featuring the Iconic heroes (issues # 7-12 plus the "Pathfinder Special 2013" one-shot). The focus is still on Sandpoint and its environs, but the adventurers have something far more than mere goblins to deal with this time around. Let's just say the name of the collection is apt! As standalone comics, I would again rate the dialogue and plotting as average, though increased familiarity with the characters have allowed them to better show their distinctive personalities. The action scenes are exciting and (mostly) easy to follow. The artwork is still rough in spots (with three different artists credited), though I think on the whole it's improved (better, lighter colouring helps dramatically). As with the previous volume, however, it's the extras that really make the comic shine. In addition to the alternative covers (some hilarious, some just plain cool), Pathfinder Creative Director James Jacob has written brief but informative articles and stat blocks for various threats in the Sandpoint hinterlands. It's an invaluable resource for anyone running games set in the area, including Rise of the Runelords or its sequels. Overall, don't come into this expecting to necessarily be blown away by the story and art, but do feel confident you're getting a solid package of material that is better than the sum of its parts.
The overall plot of Of Tooth and Claw is that a priest of the evil goddess Lamashtu (demon mother of monsters) named Thelsikar has vowed revenge on the heroes for the disruption of the cult's plans in Volume 1. Thelsikar is divinely inspired to create a powerful mind-altering potion which he feeds to a young black dragon named Black Fang, causing it to become enraged, bestial, and hungry for hero-flesh! The heroes triumph, of course, and end up leaving Sandpoint behind for greener pastures.
Issue # 7 starts off with a fun duel between Valeros and Merisiel, showcasing their very different (but equally effective) fighting styles. The heroes easily fight off an ambush by ten "bandits", demonstrating how far they've come as a group (in game terms, it's cleared they've leveled up a couple of times since Issue # 1!). What the heroes don't know, however, is that the bandits were really ten cultists of Lamashtu sent by the cult's leader, Thelsikar, for vengeance. And although the ambush has failed, Thelsikar is secretly working on a way to strike back.
Issue # 8 sees the adventurers following the tracks and traces of a dragon that's been killing local livestock. The trail leads to an ancient, abandoned temple that's full of skeletons. Kyra gets to shine in a full-page "moment of awesome" where she channels energy to destroy all of the attackers. Further exploration leads the heroes to what they're looking for: a dragon named Black Fang. Negotiations and threats fail, as they must, and we're left with a classic cliffhanger: dragon fight!
An exciting battle against the dragon (which ends in a cave-in draw) is the ostensible highlight of Issue # 9, but for me the best part is Kyra and Merisiel falling for each other! One of the great things about Paizo is that it's never shied away from depicting queer characters, and the way it's handled here is really good and very sweet. There's a nice twist in the issue as well, as we learn Thelsikar's "civilian identity" is as a member of the Sandpoint town council! When he hears about Black Fang, his ultimate revenge plan crystallizes.
Issue # 10 has Thelsikar, in his councilman guise, tricking the heroes with a mission to visit an abandoned military prison (Raven's Watch) to oust some bandits that have taken up resident there. I bag on the artwork in these comics a lot, but there are some very pretty "moonlit" scenes as the adventurers approach. Little moments here and there are great, such as Valeros realizing Kyra and Merisiel are now a couple. "Uh . . . are you two . . .? Well, alright then . . . " The mission is a trap, of course, and the heroes plummet into a pit trap with a dire rat attack serving as a cliffhanger. It's a fun, exciting issue.
Classic dungeon-crawling (in a sometimes literal sense) occupies the bulk of Issue # 11, with all the tropes (traps, animated statues, etc.). There's a really nice moment where we see why Seoni is the leader and tactician of the group. Later the heroes make their way to Thelsikar's lair, and he explains his thirst for revenge and how he's used a potion to enlarge and enrage Black Fang.
Issue # 12 demands a big battle, and we get it. It's exciting and satisfying, with Ezren and Seoni each getting their due. Having dispatched Thelsikar and Black Fang, and upset over their shabby treatment by Sandpoint's leaders, the group sets off for Magnimar.
Magnimar is the setting for Volume III, but we get an early look at the city in the included Special 2013. The focus is on Kyra and Merisiel as they have a night out on the town. There's some important backstory development for Merisiel as one of her old thieving partners is out for payback. I enjoyed the cool rooftop battle. Be warned: the first page artwork makes Kyra look awful, but fortunately it gets better from that point on.
On to the extras! We get a series of two-page entries on various features and threats in and around Sandpoint along with a two-page stat block of a particular villain or NPC:
* "Trouble on the Road" covers various highwaymen and bandits along the Lost Coast Road. There's also a stat block for Miior Duvanti, an important bandit leader who has some very clever tactics.
* "Dragons of the Sandpoint Hinterlands" plausibly explains that dragons are rarely thought about in connection to the Lost Coast area because the ones that live there are too smart to hunt near their lairs! Three dragons are discussed (Black Fang, Scarhorn, and Tiruvinn), with Scarhorn (an old black dragon) receiving a stat block.
* "The Rusty Dragon" is something I really wish I had when running the first chapter of Rise of the Runelords. It provides a really nice description of the inn, along with details on its lodging, prices, etc. Ameiko Kaijitsu is the featured NPC, and I really appreciate how the entry avoids any spoilers for players.
* "Magic of the Cult of Lamashtu" introduces four new spells. My favorite is something called Teratoid Caress, which causes monstrous deformities in victims. Two stat blocks are provided: "Lamashtan Crusader" (a CR 5 gnoll cleric/rogue) and "Priestess of Lamashtu" (a CR 6 tiefling cleric).
* "Dungeons of the Lost Coast" provides paragraph-long descriptions of Bleaklow Warrens, The Pit, Raven's Watch, and Wisher's Well. There's a ton of great hooks in these pages and they help to fill in the details for any campaign set in the area. The stat block is for a new monster called a Trailgaunt, an undead creature that is gruesome but fun,
* "Instruments of Madness" introduces three new magic items for worshippers of Lamashtu: a bonespur dagger, a jackal's blade, and a mortuary mask. Thelsikar himself gets a full write up as a Level 7 cleric.
* "Gangs of Magnimar" finishes things up, with brief entries on everything from the Cult of Norgorber to Shoanti gangs. Readers should note there's a potentially major spoiler for Chapter II of Rise of the Runelords on page 212. I really like the "Norgorber Cultist" who is statted up, as his specialty isn't murder or violence but destroying people's reputations! A perfect foil for an intrigue-heavy game.
So unlike Volume 1, no encounters are presented in the back matter here. Some will find that disappointing, but the information provided is really well-done and quite useful. I'm not going to complain.
My overall position on this book is simple: if you're a pure-comics fan, you can do better; but if you're a comics and a Pathfinder fan, then this is a good purchase.