RICH INTERVIEWS: Crystal Frasier Writer for “Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones”

First Comics News: You have been working on Pathfinder for almost a decade, what is the biggest impact it has had on your life?

Crystal Frasier: Working on Pathfinder introduced me to a lot of great folks in the tabletop industry, like my fellow Pathfinder comic writers Wes Schneider and Erik Mona who offered me this opportunity to write for Dynamite. A lot of these people have gone on to become good friends, or even feel like family—family who actually understand what I do for a living, a topic that still confuses my parents. I think most importantly, it’s given me the chance to be a public face for other queer women who want to work in gaming; I had to deal with a lot of bullshit when I was younger about not belonging in gaming communities, and I don’t think there’s any place for that anymore. I’m happy to do my small part to condemn that attitude to the annals of history.

1st: What is the basic storyline of “Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones”?

Crystal: It loosely picks up where Runescars left off, with our core team of Pathfinders—Seoni, Valeros, Merisiel, Harsk, and Ezren—growing more concerned about the rising magic from the ancient empire of Thassilon and traveling to the city of Kaer Maga. As a city without laws, Kaer Maga is one of the few places an honest adventurer can still buy books of forbidden knowledge. And I don’t want to say that a city devoid of laws is a dangerous place but, spoiler alert, Valeros dies.

Luckily, it’s a fantasy universe, so it probably won’t stick, but the whole situation ends up far weirder than he thought death would be. There’s a lot more going on in the background; I used the opportunity to look a little bit more at death in the Pathfinder universe from a few different perspectives. Also, I added half-orc smooching, because I feel the Pathfinder comics have been lax in that critical field.

1st: What differences did you notice from writing a role-playing game to writing a comic book?

Crystal: I’d been writing comics before I ever started with Paizo, so going back to it, in the more professional format Dynamite uses, was refreshing. In a roleplaying game adventure, you really only need to write half the story: Explain what the villains are doing—and then the players provide the other half by playing the heroes. In comics, you still get to consider the big fun set pieces, themes, and characters involved, but you have to write responses from the heroes, and then responses to those responses. It’s easy to let the characters grow and run in your head and take the story somewhere unexpected. If being an RPG writer is like being an administrator—keeping things carefully organized and the math running just right—being a comic writer is more like being a kindergarten teacher.

1st: Will we be seeing any mythological creatures in the pages of “Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones”?

Crystal: Oh yes. The preview pages for issue #1 features Valeros fighting a troll fortuneteller who, sadly, does not reappear (but probably deserves his own spinoff series about the turmoil of being a 9 to 5 soothsayer in a consumer-driven economy). Most of the story introduces us to Golarion’s psychopomps: the administrators of death who keep the courts of the afterlife churning away. Wes Schneider and I argue a lot over whose babies they are—we joined forces on their creation and both love the creepy, weird little goons dearly—and it was a lot of fun to breath the extra bit of life into them. Even beyond the psychopomps, we got to show off other beings from the Pathfinder afterlife. The comics have shown devils before, but this is the first time we’ve gotten to include an angel or an inevitable—a mechanical race who exist to enforce the laws of creation.

1st: Who is Valeros and who are a few of the other characters in “Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones”?

Crystal: Valeros is the iconic fighter of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game; he brings a good heart, sharp blades, and a strong liver to the table. He’s a sweet guy who likes a good time, loves his friends, and usually feels like he’s way in over his head. He’s also spent the last few story arcs with a growing sense of inferiority—he travels with a wizard, a cleric, and a sorcerer who are all capable of incredible feats of magic, while his other friends include a dwarf who will live five lifetimes longer than he will and an elf who will live ten. He’s worried he’ll die and will never really have mattered. I think a lot of us can relate to that.

The rest of the usual Pathfinder team is here aside from Kyra the cleric, who is away on pilgrimage. Her absence lets me play with two things in this storyline: her relationship with the elf Merisiel, who isn’t used to getting attached, and the introduction of a fan-favorite iconic character from the roleplaying game: the half-orc inquisitor Imrijka. Imrijka fills the role of religious-type and conscience, and because she serves the goddess of death and judgment, her moral compass is a bit more stark than Kyra’s kind and nurturing ways.

1st: How would you describe Tom Garcia’s art on “Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones”?

Crystal: Evocative. Tom really captures the mood beautifully and includes all kinds of fun details and personality in his art. I loved his work in Pathfinder: Hollow Mountain and specifically asked to work with him, and I’m really glad he said yet. Seeing what he adds to my script and how he brings it to life has been the most exciting part of the whole creative process.

1st: What is the City of Strangers and why or why not would one want to go there?

Crystal: The City of Strangers is Kaer Maga, and it gets its nickname because it’s an entire city made up of monsters, outcasts, vagabonds, travellers, heretics, and bandits, who all occupy the same ancient ruined city and have learned to cohabitate well enough that they don’t kill each other nearly as much as you’d expect. It’s a whole community without laws or enforcement except for whatever gang you can throw together. It’s a dangerous place to visit because nothing is illegal there, but it can also be a fun place to visit because, again, nothing is illegal there. It’s a really fascinating location to explore and I’m a little sad we can’t stay in it longer.

1st: Why do you think people are drawn to Pathfinder?

Crystal: As far as the roleplaying game: We try to make space for everyone in the Pathfinder world. There’s a place to have your courtly intrigue and another place to have your bold explorers taming the wild frontier and another place with pirate kings and queens, and yet another place where gunslingers duke it out with mutants. We do weird very well, using a roleplaying game that offers a lot of control and options for the character you want to be.

I feel like the comic captures a lot of that weirdness and spirit of adventure, even though we limit ourselves to one corner of the map. What we lose in breadth we gain in depth; the fans get to know specific characters and cities and customs much better and see them in action in ways you just don’t have the time to depict in a roleplaying game product.

1st: You are also an artist, do you have fun doing commissions?

Crystal: I do. Sadly my writing work is what’s been in demand the past few years and I’ve had less and less time for illustration work. I think that experience gives me an edge in describing scenes or monsters for other artists, though; I’ve received enough bad art orders in the past that I know at least a few bad habits to avoid.

1st: What is next in your career?

Crystal: I have a follow-up story arc for Pathfinder I’d like to pitch and see if it flies with Paizo and Dynamite, so we’ll see if they let me play in the sandbox again after Spiral of Bones. I’ve been heading up development on the new War for the Crown Adventure Path for Pathfinder that will be launching in a few weeks, as well as a new comic pitch I’d like to shop to publishers. When you’re a professional creative, your desk and hard drive are museums of half-finished projects you want to get back to, so I’ve got a lot to keep me busy.

1st: How does your wife feel about your work, is she supportive?

Crystal: My wife introduced me to Paizo and Pathfinder in the first place; she’s an even bigger gamer than I am, and she loves that I work in the industry. She claims she’s my biggest fan, but if we’re being perfectly honest, most of my good ideas actually come from her. She’ll never admit it, though. She’s shy.

1st: Do you enjoy coloring your hair?

Crystal: I do, but it’s time-intensive and kind of expensive. The last few years I’ve just gotten lazy and stopped dying it brown and now you can see the natural pink that marks me as a protagonist.

1st: What would you like to say to your many fans?

Crystal: Gaming and comics are both great mediums for immersive storytelling, and they’re both within your reach. I got my start in both industries just creating for the web, and those were some of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever contributed to, even if I got better later. You’ve got excuse anymore.

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