The fourth hardcover collection of the Pathfinder comic collects issues number 1-6 of the "Pathfinder: Origins" series. It also includes the usual array of special features we've come to expect: variant covers, background entries on some of the places or monsters glimpsed in the story, and short encounters for use when actually playing the game. As the subtitle indicates, the focus here is on the origins of the Iconics that have appeared in past issues. The stories are cleverly linked together with a framing sequence and each also has another Iconic as a sort of guest star with a brief origin--a two-for-one special each issue! Overall, this is one of my favourite collections, and I think Paizo has really hit its groove now with the comics.
Issue # 1 ("Valeros: The Crimson Eye") begins with the framing sequence. The six Iconics we know and love (Valeros, Seoni, Kyra, Harsk, Ezren, and Merisiel) have followed up with Sheila Heidmarch, Magnimar's Venture-Captain for the Pathfinder Society, after the events of the previous volume. They've come to see if Heidmarch will give them access to the Society's storehouse of maps and scrolls in order to gather clues about the mysterious shapechangers and the veiled master who has been manipulating events in the city. Heidmarch, however, is reluctant to give them access, saying that Ezren's only been a member for less than a month, and his friends have rather . . . mixed reputations. This leads each of the heroes to tell their story in order to get Heidmarch to trust them. Valeros goes first. His tale starts in Crowstump, a small village in Nirmathas, when he takes a job as a caravan guard through Bloodsworn Vale to Varisia. Amiri, the Iconic Barbarian, is another guard and her introduction is amazing as she *literally* cuts a cultist in half--lengthwise! The caravan is actually escorting a creepy idol called the Sycorian Stone which contains within it a mind-possessing demon! In some awesome sequences, Valeros and Amiri manage to get the idol to its destination (the Jeggare Museum in Korvosa)--but in a cliffhanger, we realize Amiri has been possessed by the demonic entity known as the Crimson Eye! It's a really fun issue, and we even get a glimpse of Amiri's origin (with a great conflict between her narration and what actually happened).
Issue # 2 ("Kyra: Rat Killers") starts in a small town in Qadira. As Kyra, the Iconic Cleric tells it, she was an arrogant and judgmental woman at the start of her career. When a ratfolk named Vint burst in and told a tale of woe involving vampires attacking his village (Khurbresh), Kyra tried to gather allies but found no one willing to assist except a Paladin of Iomedae: Seelah! One of the things I love about the Iconic Paladin is that she's witty and compassionate--exactly the opposite of how many people think Paladins have to be. Seelah arranges for two convicted murderers to assist her and Kyra (much to the latter's disgust), with a promise that if they fulfill their end of the bargain, she'll get their sentences commuted and take them north to the crusades. When they reach Khurbresh, it turns out that the "vampires" are really chupacabras! The artwork is great in this issue, bloody and scary. The tale is really about the possibilities of redemption, and how even a "good" person like Kyra needs to learn lessons of humility and forgiveness sometimes. It was also nice to see ratfolk (ysoki), a race rarely seen in Pathfinder fiction.
Seoni's up next in Issue # 3 ("Seoni: Marked"). As a Varisian, Seoni is often distrusted in prejudiced cities like Korvosa. In exchange for clues as to the meaning of the mysterious tattoos that mark her body, Seoni makes a deal with Mercival Jeggare to help stop thieves that have been raiding his museum. Among the other hired guards is a certain Seltyiel (the rarely seen Iconic multiclassed PC/Magus) and a pair of Hellknights. The museum is raided and it becomes clear that the thieves are there to steal the same Sycorian Stone idol that Valeros and Amiri brought to the museum in Issue # 1. In a good twist, Seltyiel turns on Seoni and makes off with the idol (or at least its red gem eyes) himself, revealing he was hired by the cult to infiltrate the museum! The issue has a good demonstration as to why Seoni is the leader of the group, as she manages to rally the Hellknights and keep everyone alive.
Merisiel is in jail at the start of her tale in Issue # 4 ("Merisiel: Blood Trails"). She's locked in Nidal, the infamous country where most of the populace worships Zon-Kuthon, the God of Darkness and Pain! Merisiel is rescued by the Iconic Monk, Sajan, and gets paid to help find records about what happened to his enslaved sister. The pair break into a noble's manor and there's some great, gory action against a twisted Beholder-like creature called a kyton. The story offers a bit of insight into why Merisiel makes her living as a thief, and sets up a good plot thread to follow up on the future for a reunion between she and Sajan.
Harsk gets his turn in Issue # 5 ("Harsk: Heartwood") as the story returns to Sandpoint. Fans of the APs that involve the town will enjoy seeing the Rusty Dragon, Ameiko, and Shalelu, as the latter explains that she's been hired by the town leaders to find out why fey in the Tickwood have been pulling pranks all over the region. Harsk, sitting at the bar nearby, is completely uninterested in helping out until one of the fey messes with his favourite teapot! It's a really fun scene. Harsk, Shalelu, and a few other residents of Sandpoint (including Daviren Hosk) head into the Tickwood to try to find out what's happening. The fey think one of their own has been kidnapped, and a murderous bunch of psychotic fey (Redcaps) attack, but the Iconic Druid (Lini) steps in to save the day. The story ends with a fun sequence where the heroes have to solve the problem by stealing a body from a funeral. There's no ties to the demon idol metaplot and there's not really an "origin story" for Harsk, but it's a fun look at Sandpoint.
Ezren gets the last spot, in Issue # 6 ("Ezren: Certain Sacrifices"). This story is truly an origin story, as we follow Ezren from his youth as the son of a merchant in Absalom, through to his father's arrest for heresy (he was part of a cartel of slaves and devil worshippers), Ezren's being effectively disowned from the family by his evil brother, and onto his own quest to become a wizard so he could confront his family. With the help of the Iconic Bard, Lem, Ezren returns to Absalom and tries to take on his brother only to fail and narrowly escape with his life. Lem tells Ezren he needs to stop learning from books and learn in the field, and this sparks Ezren's desire to join the Pathfinder Society. After the background story, we're back in the "present" as Heidmarch agrees to show the group the manor's trophy room (a cool two-page spread); but within it is the Sycorian Stone with a possessed Amiri! They have to kill her in order to save her (don't worry, it all works out okay).
After the comics, the hardcover collection has 24 pages of the variant covers that graced various issues of the "floppies." There are some great ones this time around, with homages/parodies of many classic super hero comic covers as well as just some cool shots of the different Iconics. My absolute favourite is a spoof on the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow issue from the 1970s where Speedy is addicted to drugs. It's hilarious, and I would buy a poster of it if I could.
BACKGROUND & ENCOUNTERS
For each issue of the comic, back matter consisted of a two-page background entry on some aspect of the story and then a two-page encounter. Here's what we get:
* Information on "The Cult of the Crimson Eye", a demon cult with a statue holding its spirit-god. The associated encounter takes place in Bloodsworn Vale, and involves the PCs interrupting a summoning ceremony. It's a nice little encounter appropriate for Level 1 or Level 2 characters.
* A quick-and-dirty overview of Khurbresh, a ratfolk community in eastern Qadira. The entry makes use of the comic issue as backstory, which is clever. The encounter puts the PCs up against a manticore and a ghost in an abandoned temple to Sarenrae, and it's a good little encounter for mid-level groups (CR 6 or so).
* A broad introduction to the Jeggare Museum in Korvosa. It's a really good entry, useful in a variety of campaigns. The associated encounter could make a very fast CR 2 side-trek during something like Curse of the Crimson Throne.
* I really liked the brief introduction to Nidal that covers the Joyful Things, Shadowcallers, and Silent Enforcers. It sums up a lot of the flavour of the country in just a couple of quick pages. The encounter involves rescuing someone from a business specializing in sadism, and is appropriate for CR 8 or 9 I'd say.
* The fey around Sandpoint are given a brief overview, and there's a stat block for a creepy CR 8 redcap named Grustmier. The encounter puts the PCs up against Grustmier and his kin to rescue a dryad in Tickwood. It's an interesting little encounter.
* Last up is a two-page overview of slavery in Absalom, which I didn't even realize was a thing! The encounter is a clever rooftop ambush that makes good use of 3-d space.
Great stories, memorable variant covers, and solid background entries and encounters. You can't really ask for much more, as Volume 4 has the entire package and comes highly recommended.