Dynamite has sent us a new Writer's Commentary, this time with writer James Sutter talking about Pathfinder: Runescars #2 with a cover by Jonathan Lau with interiors by Ediano Silva.
Valeros being a badass, as usual. One of my favorite things about writing the Pathfinder comics is the sort of jaded snark that experienced adventurers can have in the middle of life-and-death combat, and I have a personal policy of never writing a fight scene without a liberal dose of it.
Little known fact: Seoni's "voks" are the most carefully edited part of any Pathfinder comics script. See, each of those sound effects represents its own magic missile, and since the number of magic missiles you get is directly tied to your level as a sorcerer, we know that our most experienced fans will be able to deduce her level from the other spells she's casting, and thus immediately notice if there's too many or two few missiles. These are the sorts of details that keep us up at night.
I'm really fond of that second row of panels, for a variety of reasons. I like how the action flows, I like how we get to showcase Merisiel's acrobatics (and that snark I was mentioning earlier), and I really like getting to point out the problems with putting giant handlebar horns on your helmet. (There's a reason real viking helmets don't look like Hagar the Horrible's!)
Also, while it's only barely mentioned in this issue, I really adore Quinn's love affair with his coat. In some ways, this was probably a subconscious homage to another famous jacket-obsessed detective named Radovan in Dave Gross's Pathfinder novels. But it's also just seemed natural for someone as stylish as Quinn.
Valeros isn't much for pickup lines—I assume he normally just walks into a bar and flexes. Clearly that isn't going to work with Tanin, who could probably out-flex him anyway. (All that plate armor is heavy!)
This exchange between the two of them was extremely fun to write, and one I'd been eagerly looking forward to. When we were first conceiving of the series, Wes and I were considering having Valeros and Tanin fall for each other straight out, then decided that was too cliche and that it would be way more fun to have her shut him down. I especially love how she calls him "Braids"—a reference to his Madmartigan haircut—and points out how terrible he smells. The way I see it, unless you've got a wizard who can cast prestidigitation every day to clean you up, most adventuring parties are probably chronically filthy. (And you thought they kept Ezren around for his lectures on ancient civilizations!)
(To the tune of Mel Brooks's "Inquisition") The exposition, what a show… the exposition, here we go…
It's important to trust your reader, but sometimes you need someone to walk through the clues with you, especially when it may have been a month since the last issue. That's where detective characters like Quinn come in handy. Hopefully this grounded everybody while still moving things along. I also really love Merisiel's dialogue here. I like it when characters are a little awkward—it makes them feel more fun and realistic than if everything they say is a perfectly rehearsed monologue.
Seoni would like to interrupt this comic for a quick message about prejudice! Seriously, though—while Wes and I ultimately backed away somewhat from making this series about the racism ethnic Varisians face from Korvosa's Chelaxian residents, it's still very much entrenched in the culture, and something I wanted to at least give a nod to. For the record, Tiro isn't wrong—Varisians often have a rough time in Korvosa, and probably get hassled by authority figures of all sorts. When all your experiences with cops have been negative, who cares what color their uniform is?
Also, I really enjoy the page-turn here. When outlining an issue, I often go and nail down as many page-turns as I can in advance, the better to make sure the issue flows and the reader always has a reason to turn one more page.
Originally, I had Seoni knocking out Dalghad and his friend with a sleep spell, until Wes and some other Paizo folks (James Jacobs and Erik Mona) pointed out that sleep wouldn't work very well on characters of that high a level. After going round and round about alternate spells, we ultimately fell back on the ol' "hit 'em with a bag full of trail rations" trick, which works just fine. I think there's a lesson there about not relying overmuch on magic when there are simpler solutions. Or maybe just that there aren't many problems that can't be solved by hitting someone with a sack of dried meat.
I think I'm with Valeros on this one—sneaking into a Hellknight citadel is one of the messier forms of suicide. Also, it should be noted that Seoni could have altered her outfit with magic as well. Did she elect not to because she knows that wearing Dalghad's actual armor will make her deception harder to detect than if it were all illusory? Or did she just really want to see what Mr. Muscles would look like in her dress? Either way, I don't think things are finished between those two…
This seems like a good time to note that this whole series is set during the same time period as the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path—the Gray Maidens (Tanin's unit) have just been founded as the queen's new royal guard, hence the Hellknight's comment. You learn more about Curse of the Crimson Throne in the backmatter of Issue #1. In this issue's backmatter, you learn all about the Order of the Nail (the Hellknight order our heroes are currently infiltrating).
In case you're wondering, that totally gross devil down at the bottom of the page is a lemure—one of the less powerful devils, but still totally capable of messing you up. The kid on the left is an armiger, the Hellknight equivalent of a squire. Hellknights take what I think of as the Conan approach to their apprentices: only the strongest survive.
Sometimes the simplest plan is the best one. Especially if you've got a charm spell to back it up.
Pages 12 & 13
The decorations in this room are all part of the Evil Sorceress collection from Bloodbath & Beyond.
Also, why does she have a framed picture of a devil on her wall? Is it her minion? Her boyfriend? Her favorite gladiator from Hell's fighting pits? I like to think it's an autographed headshot of the latter. "To Lazku—thanks for all the sacrifices! XOXO Gorbrox the Disembowler."
Panel 4 makes me want to read Merisiel's diary. (Okay, and maybe Panel 3 as well. Fifty Shades of Golarion, anyone?)
Panel 1 is basically every RPG I've ever played, boiled down into a single panel.
I really tried to make sure that there were some fun things going on in the background while Seoni does the equivalent of cramming for a history test. Unfortunately for Valeros, him getting in over his head always strikes me as inherently comical.
Fun Fact: The Pillars of Mundatei are one of the oldest locations in the Pathfinder setting, as I invented them for Pathfinder Adventure Path #3 almost 10 years ago. Much like Gatefoot, it's remained mysterious and unexplored for a decade. One of the things Wes and I really wanted to do with this series was revisit some of the game's roots and give people some new information on some old favorites, and fill in gaps that we'd intentionally left blank until now.
Did you know that Bone Devils can cast wall of ice at will? It's true! They use it to help them corral their victims in their roles as the chief interrogators and torturers of Hell. (Cue "The More You Know" music.)
Here we see Quinn showing off the value of placing ranks in Knowledge skills, while Merisiel discovers the grossest aspect of bearded devils.
At this point, we've been in combat for 5 pages now—and let me tell you, that's a lot of fight scene to try and keep interesting. Epic battles can obviously be a lot of fun in comics, but they can also get stale really quickly if you're not careful. When writing a long one like this, here's my process:
1) First, I carefully block out all the panels I know I need for major story beats (such as when Seoni finishes reading the book, when the wall of ice blocks them in, when Quinn gets stabbed, etc.), as well as a number of blank panels on each page to help me figure out the pacing.
2) Then I go through and assign panels to different heroes and foes, to make sure everyone's getting a decent amount of screen time and that there's not one character dominating or being left out.
3) Once that's done, I try to make sure every panel either a) showcases a unique and interesting character ability, b) uses the environment in an interesting way, or c) has a witty quip of some sort. If not, I sit and stare at the computer screen until it fulfills at least one of the criteria, if not multiple. In my experience, these are the elements that make a fight scene memorable—two guys punching each other is bland, but if they're fighting in a Chinese restaurant and one of them picks up some chopsticks and stabs the other one with them, that's interesting!
I really like that first panel. I'm a sucker for action movie one-liners, and what's the worst thing you could do to a bearded devil? Shave it, of course!
Since I knew where things had to end in order to set up for Wes's script in Issue 3, this panel was actually the first thing I wrote. I like to block out my scripts page by page, write up the major plot beats first, then work on arranging everything and filling in the cracks. That means I'll often write out of order—it can be a little tricky, but I find it useful for making sure that your tense moments always hit on a page turn, and for making sure that the most important moments in the issue get as much space as they need.
And that's my commentary! Stay tuned for the return of author Wes Schneider in Issue #3!
For more on Pathfinder: Runescars #2, click here.