Since the “Dungeons & Dragons” comics of the ’80s, comics based on tabletop roleplaying games have traditionally included game statistics for their characters and situations, and “Pathfinder Goblins!” #1 is no exception. Before that, though, there are two short stories based in the world of Pathfinder, a popular tabletop RPG that spun off from the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Both of them center, as expected, around goblins, who have become something of a mascot for the Pathfinder line. Both are written with gamers in mind, though one succeeds and the other fails.
“The One-Eyed Goblin is King,” written by Adam Warren and drawn by Carlos Gomez, falls flat as a story. It relies too heavily on being a nudge-nudge-wink-wink reference to the Eye of Vecna, a notorious “Dungeons & Dragons” artifact that causes strife among adventurers as they vie for its powers by cutting out their own eyes to replace them with Vecna’s. The problem is that Warren and Gomez’s story shows this happen, page after page, without much else. Again and again, goblins kill each other and steal the “Other Eye of the Arch-Lich Kalzaroth,” as it’s called because Vecna is probably a copyright of Wizards of the Coast. Aside from the clever idea of goblins ambushing adventurers as they leave the dungeon all beaten and broken, there’s really nothing else to the story, so unless you really get a kick out of this particular one-note joke the story is pretty forgettable.
“Prize Pupil,” written by Erik Mona and drawn by Shane White, is much better all around. The story is entertaining with a series of unexpected moments that keep it lively to the very end. The characters, both human and goblin, are appealingly wicked, and perfectly capture the treachery that man and monster share in common. And yes, it’s also more gameable — it sets up a scenario that would be a blast to play out at the Pathfinder table.
One thing both stories have in common is excellent art. Carlos Gomez’s art is more traditional, and his goblins are very particularly drawn in the style of the Pathfinder mascot. This fits the more blood-and-guts vibe of “The One-Eyed Goblin is King.” Shane White, on the other hand, has a real knack for hilariously expressive faces and postures, which he puts to good use in every frame of “Prize Pupil.” His goblins don’t have the Pathfinder “look” — White draws them much more human. Conversely, his humans are far less heroic and more preposterous. It’s a perfect fit for a tale of monsters rising above their station, to the surprise of those who thought they had a premium on civilization.
If you’re a tabletop gamer or a fantasy fan, “Pathfinder Goblins!” #1 is worth picking up. The art is excellent throughout — always a relief in a media tie-in comic, which have notoriously low standards — and one of the stories is really quite good. If you don’t cross the streams your fandom and you’re a comics fan but not into fantasy, $3.99 might be a steep price for one good story and a bunch of game stats. Nevertheless, this inaugural issue bodes well for the “Pathfinder Goblins!” comic, as long as its writers keep stretching themselves to come up with interesting, challenging situations for its little green protagonists.