As the Pathfinder plunge into the history and mysteries below Kaer Maga-the no-holds-barred 'City of Strangers'-Valeros plunges far deeper into the great beyond, defending his immortal soul in the courts of the dead! From Pathfinder author Crystal Frasier comes this scintillating tale of life, death, and what lingers when we're gone. Bonus materials: include twenty pages of character sheets, encounters, and world detail for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, plus an exclusive poster map.
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As of this writing, Spiral of Bones contains the last Pathfinder comics to be published. Fortunately, the series ends on a high note, with a really fun, funny, occasionally moving, and useful (to GMs) story. This review is formally of the “Paizo Exclusive” hardcover edition, which is exactly the same as the regular collected edition except for the cover art. The hardcover collects all five issues of Spiral of Bones and includes back matter like lore entries, variant covers, and a removable poster map. I’ll go through the back matter in this “No Spoilers” section, and then move on to the stories in the “Spoilers!” section below.
The first part of the back matter is a set of 12 issue covers. I don’t find any of them as fun as some of the spoof covers in previous collections, but the one chosen as the cover to the Paizo Exclusive hardcover isn’t the best of the lot by far. As an aside, there’s one with Valeros and Imrijka that’s pretty naughty!
Most of the back matter is taken up with a series of four-page-long entries on something from Pathfinder lore, such as a location, a race, a type of monster, etc. Each entry contains a concise but interesting and informative summary about the topic, a half-page encounter map and vaguely suggested adversaries (still much worse than the true, fleshed-out encounters from previous series), and some sort of new gameplay element like magic items, an archetype, etc. Here are the entries in order:
• Kaer Maga: This entry covers the history, districts, and factions of the City of Strangers (my personal choice for the most original location in all of Golarion). The map is of Augur’s Row, where prophetic trolls read the future in their own entrails . . .
• The Boneyard: This entry has a great little explanation of how the afterlife works in Golarion, and then talks a bit about priests of Pharasma. The map is of a Waiting Hall in the Boneyard.
• Caulborn: These are creepy thought-eaters living under Kaer Maga, but they have a complex culture and are not necessarily evil. Three new “Psychovore” style feats are introduced for monks (but, frankly, they’re not that useful). The map is of an underground fungus garden.
• Forlorn Elves: Good description of elves who have chosen to live among the short-lived races, suffering the consequences of seeing friends die over and over. Two new archetypes are presented: the “elegist” (for skalds) is a sort of spiritualist that gets a phantom instead of rage. I like it. The other is the “sorrowblade” for maguses, but it has pretty minor effects. The map is of a subterranean stone bridge crossing a chasm in the Halfling Path up to Kaer Maga.
• The Soul Trade: Really interesting! Also includes four new magic items made from fragments of soul gems, each themed to a different Horseman of the Apocalypse. The apollyon clasp is really good. However, the map of a Soul Market looks exactly like *any* mundane market.
The hardcover also includes a removable poster map. It’s worth noting that it’s a pretty small poster (equivalent to two pages of the book). On one side is artwork of Merisiel and Kyra fighting some kind of demon (a bit odd since Kyra isn’t in the book), while the other side is a neat vertical representation of the layers of caverns under Kaer Maga.
Issue # 1 starts off with a bang, with Valeros fighting one of the troll augurs of Kaer Maga over a prophecy that didn’t happen as promised. But the fight is broken up by the sudden appearance of Imrijka (the Iconic Inquisitor), who turns out to be an old friend (and lover) of Valeros! She accompanies Valeros back to a local inn along with Seoni and Merisiel (Kyra is off on a pilgrimage, apparently). Meanwhile, Ezren and Harsk are doing some research nearby and one thing leads to another and they find themselves trapped in a catacomb under the city. Fortunately, those topside get a magical distress call from Ezren and head down after them. But along the way, Valeros spots a mysterious black orb, touches it, and . . . dies!
Issue # 2 starts with a flashback to Valeros’ life as a child, and is revealing about why he grew up as the man he is today. In the Boneyard (the realm of the dead, where all souls go to be judged by Pharasma or her agents), Valeros finds himself in the hands of a night hag who plans to sell him at a soul market. But a psychopomp (a birdlike agent of Pharasma) rescues him. But in a twist, everyone in the Boneyard thinks that Valeros is an ancient warlord named Zeladar the Animator, and it looks like Valeros is going to receive a final destination that he doesn’t deserve! It’s really funny.
Issue # 3 starts with Valeros being judged by a yamaraj(?) called Yindaal. Back on Golarion, the other adventurers are dealing with a “Valeros” whose body is inhabited by the soul of Zeladar; they figure it out *just* as the real Valeros makes it back to his body. It’s a comedy of errors, of course, but handled well. There are also some poignant moments with Merisiel knowing her time with her companions is a lifetime to them but fleeting to her.
Issue # 4 has Valeros and Zeladar sharing a body as the group continue the search for Harsk and Ezren. The issue has some exciting battles against caulborn
In Issue # 5, Harsk and Ezren are rescued, and Valeros figures out how to defeat Zeladar by getting really drunk (he’s more used to holding to liquor than the warlord). The book ends with a tender moment between Imrijka and Valeros that’s really sweet.
The dialogue in these issues is genuinely great, causing me to laugh out loud multiple times. I really love how a random bunch of pre-generated gaming characters have been brought together into the comics and formed into a real group that you care about. This particular run is also great for anyone who wants to get a better feel for Kaer Maga or the Boneyard.
When I started reading the Pathfinder comics, I wasn’t very impressed—poor artwork and mediocre stories. But things have really improved since then, and I’m going to miss reading stories about Varisia’s best. I hope, somehow, we get some more stories in the future.