What happens when a TTRPG character hits a level cap, and then “retires”? Do they ride off into the sunset? They found their own kingdom? Or, do they open up a pub using their former glory to attract thirsty drinkers? If you would have had your hero become a bartender, then you’re on the same page as the creative from Vault Comics’ Quests Aside.
This five-issue series is more of a “slice-of-life” approach to fantasy. There aren’t epic battles; although, this comic definitely includes mighty warriors. However, the point isn’t action. Face-punching as a means of conflict resolution is pretty much the norm in many fantasy adventure stories. If there’s a problem, “just stab it” is a widely accepted response. Quests Aside acknowledge that this happens, but chooses to focus on gray areas that aren’t as easily killable, like relationships and emotions. Is there a Constitution check to get over an ex that broke your heart?
The key to this whole series is the resolution of problems that arise between the different characters. There’s a couple’s relationship that vacillates between hot and cold. Another character silently carries the pain of having lost someone close to them in the past. Then there is the main thrust of the story, the relationship between the protagonist, Barrow, and an old friend. I personally really enjoyed the exchange between the chef and Barrow about potential changes to the menu. Taken cumulatively, the stories intertwine to create a vibrant mix of personalities and conflicts that give a lot of material readers can empathize with.
It’s worth mentioning as well that the cast of characters is nicely diverse. I don’t mean this with regard to preferences for romantic partners or skin tones, that’s all there. There are also a variety of ages, a great mix of demi-humans, and a number of people that could carry a story like this on their own. The tale focuses on Barrow and his business, but there are several characters that are developed enough that they could be the focal point of a similar tale on their own.
What grabbed me about this was the concept. I like fantasy and I like comics. When I saw this in Previews, I thought, “This looks great! It’s like a D&D sitcom.” There’s a nice interview by members of the creative team with AIPT Comics, which includes some spoiler-free artwork. The insights from the interview are interesting, and it illuminates why the story evolved in the manner in which it did. Not just with the dialogue, but with the art as well. Graphically, the comic is very well done. It’s bright and colourful, and the style fits the tale perfectly.
Perhaps the only real problem I had was wondering why it was limited to five issues. The core problem is resolved nicely, but the supporting cast is large enough to have warranted a slightly slower pacing and deeper exploration. It’s the kind of thing that would justify bringing the creative team behind Quests Aside together again for a second mini-series. If the sales were there, perhaps Vault might consider it.
This was ultimately a really enjoyable series. It wasn’t as developed as it could have been, being limited to five issues will have that effect, but it was great from start to finish. There were plenty of silly moments, situations that were relatable, and a strong sense of camaraderie. Congratulations to the team as well for not letting things spiral into an epic battle at the conclusion. The climax was tidy, and fit perfectly. I love fantasy, but the development of stories like this one shows that the genre is broader than the sword-and-sorcery aesthetic most people would probably associate with it. If you want something different, perhaps a little cozier, a little warmer, then this is for you.
*It might be hard to purchase in physical format, but it should still be available as a digital publication, at least via One Bookshelf’s DriveThruRPG (or DriveThruComics)
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