Tabletop RPG fans that also enjoy following fantasy fiction whenever they get a chance are in luck this August, as Paizo, the company behind the award-winning Pathfinder fiction line and RPG series, and Dynamite Entertainment have teamed up to create a new Pathfinder comic book series.
Helming the project starting with Issue #1 (JUN121005, $3.99) is Jim Zubkavich, best known as the creator and writer of the witty, comedic fantasy series Skullkickers from Image Comics. Zubkavich recently talked with Dynamite’s Michael Ullmeyer for a PREVIEWS interview focusing on how he’s approaching bringing the world of Pathfinder to comics.
For anyone not familiar with Pathfinder, can you briefly describe what it is and how the comic relates to it?
In short: Pathfinder is classic fantasy done right.
The setting is a huge fantasy world packed with amazing locales, memorable characters and adventure galore. Although it began as a tabletop role-playing game, it’s now grown into a popular setting for novels and been embraced by thousands of dedicated fans around the world.
Pathfinder has always been very cutting edge, from its open play test development to the various online resources available to players and Game Masters. What excited you the most about bringing that history into yet another media as a comic book?
Pathfinder has tons of potential. The Paizo gang have built such an incredibly varied setting that feels new and exciting while drawing upon classic sword & sorcery roots. Having such an immense and well thought out playground to base these stories in is intimidating and exciting at the same time. The fact that I also get to help define and expand the iconic characters that have come to represent Pathfinder visually over the years makes it even better.
The world of Pathfinder is very extensive and well known to the fans, how involved have the game design team been with the creation of this book?
They’ve been deeply involved in all the right ways. My focus has been on creating memorable characters and a great storyline to grab new readers and long time fans alike. Although I’ve done a lot of research on Pathfinder and the specific aspects of the world covered in the comic, the design team has been incredibly helpful at suggesting details and making sure everything rings true to the setting without taking away from my core writing process. It’s been a great balance of character building mixed with placing the scenes properly in the overall setting so that everyone’s happy.
What unique challenges does that present to you as a writer?
I’ve done work with licensed characters and properties before, but working on Pathfinder has been quite unique because the main characters haven’t been defined in detail. They’re incredibly well known by the fans and visually brand every Pathfinder product, but their stories have never been told until now.
The main characters you are using should be familiar to Pathfinder gamers from the various source materials. How do you approach writing established characters like these?
In fiction and in gaming having memorable and engaging characters is key. The comic is no different, so characters come first.
Although each character had a personality/history “brief”, there wasn’t much about how they interact as a group or the broader goals that drive them. Getting that figured out by creating an interesting group dynamic was my first goal. I want readers to instantly understand who these people are and to bond with them as individuals and as a group. As intimidating as it is to be establishing these iconic characters, I’ve done all I can to stay focused on making them approachable and appealing rather than psyching myself out by trying to do too much all at once.
Fans of Pathfinder have been told that Valeros doesn’t follow orders or that Merisiel lives life to the fullest, but I get to specifically show those things and build upon that base to create an entertaining story.
Due to the source material, these characters even have established looks. How are you collaborating with the art team to bring the characters to life and share your joint vision of their world?
Having such a wealth of art reference already established helps generate all kinds of visual ideas that work well with the comic medium. How characters move, what abilities they have, all the crunchy gaming rules and art reference helps me write something interesting and push away from generic “so and so swings a sword” kind of stuff.
What new things can readers expect to learn about these characters in the coming stories?
The first few issues push ahead with plot and lots of great action. Once that momentum is well established we’ll give readers a chance to catch their breath a bit and also start defining a bit of each character’s past – their fears, their goals, their desires.
Do readers need to know the game to enjoy the comic?
Nope. Not even a bit and I’m very proud of that.
When I pitched my take on Pathfinder to Paizo and Dynamite that was an absolute for me – new readers need to be able to enjoy this series on its own merits, discovering the characters for the first time and growing attached to them above and beyond any of the title’s gaming roots. It’s a great fantasy story with compelling characters first and a licensed tie-in product second.
Any hidden surprises for readers that DO play the game?
Lots of little details, cameos and phrases are right from the sourcebooks, absolutely. New reader friendly doesn’t mean that we’re ignoring the loyal fan base who know this world inside out. They’ll find all sorts of great stuff tucked in there that plays to the bigger picture.
Did you play the game before getting the offer to write Pathfinder comics?
You betcha. I’m an old school gamer who has been playing tabletop games since I was 8 years old. My crazy work schedule keeps me from playing in long running RPG campaigns any more but my heart is still d20-shaped, I assure you.
What material are you drawing inspiration from outside the Pathfinder world?
Classic fantasy novels, both pulp stuff and more modern, and ensemble character stories that have engaging relationships like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I want readers to bond with this group and follow along as they confront challenges, grow and change.
Do you plan to follow any of the existing Adventure Paths or will these adventures be all new?
The stories we have planned are brand new, though there may be cameos or references to existing Adventure Paths. We didn’t want Pathfinder fans to know where the stories were headed but we’re also making sure the stories don’t wreck any material that’s been established.
The land of Golarion is vast with a huge amount of history and variety, any plans to take the characters to other areas like Ustalav?
The first story takes place in Sandpoint and the surrounding area, but there are plans to have the group travel farther as things progress in future issues. I’m hopeful we’ll send them on many journeys far and wide. Once that core group is well established it’ll be exciting placing them in new areas and seeing how they react.
What can readers expect from future issues of the Pathfinder comic?
Action, wit and swashbuckling joy told through an engaging and entertaining character cast. It’s a tall order, but I think I’m the Game Master up to the task.