The Order of the Stick

The Order of the Stick (first strip) (three updates a week, excessive (stick figure) violence and gore, character death) is another D+D based cartoon, this time from the side of the heroes, and much higher level. The Order of the Stick, apart from being the name of the comic, is the name of a group of adventurers who are questing to defeat Xykon, a powerful lich, and hopefully save the world, get lots of treasure, and earn lots of exp. Character motivations among those three goals may vary across characters. The Order of the Stick is a full page comic, and as previously mentioned, the characters are drawn as stick figures. The artist actually chooses to draw them this way- he has demonstrated that he does actually have reasonable art skills aside from the comic. Some updates have multiple pages associated with them so it’s a little difficult to number things, but there’s been 481 updates.

The Order of the Stick has become near legendary in gamer circles, and for good reason. The writing is snappy, the characters are complex, the plot moves along at a good pace, there’s comic relief all over the place, and the quest is suitably epic. It gets linked to by most gamers I know whenever it has a particularly interesting update (which is most of them), and most review sites claim it’s amazing. It has become the roleplaying comic to beat, and it seems like it’s going to be difficult for anybody to get there.

The Order of the Stick consists of Roy, the leader and fighter of the group, Haley, the rogue, Elan, the bard who tends to spend much of his time being not very competent, Durkon, the dwarven cleric, Belkar, the… not so nice halfling ranger, and Vaarsuvius, the ambigiously-gendered elf wizard. None of these characters are really able to be pegged into just those categories, however. Each of the characters have their goals, and then subgoals and hidden goals, different ethics and beliefs, different attitudes towards partymates, and of course abilities and skills and those other things that are easily unique for being a different D+D character. Then you can add Xykon, Redcloak, the Linear Guild, Miko, the Sapphire Guard… despite being a stick comic and having a huge cast, everybody is immediately distinctive and recognizable.

This leads up to one of the points that you’ll hear repeatedly here and even more if you go looking for other reviews- Rich Burlew’s writing in this strip is amazing. There are plot twists, there’s action, adventure, heroics, failure, success… having read through the archives, I can say while I have a general sense of what’s coming next, I have no idea whether we’ll actually get there. There’s just too many obstacles in the way to be sure of anything going smoothly. The “No plan survives contact with the enemy?” saying? Very appropriate here- there’s enemies all over the place. Most gamers love this strip because these are the sorts of campaigns that we would love to participate in. The characters are around level 12, so they’re getting to the point where they have impressive power, but aren’t quite unstoppable. And both those traits are exercised repeatedly.

Have I mentioned the good writing? To quote Princess Bride- “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” other than the fact that I don’t think we’ve had any flat-out torture yet, and the romance arcs haven’t made any claims to “true” love… The Order of the Stick is doing pretty darn well on that list. None of the sideplots seem rushed or left hanging, and most sideplots don’t get left hanging for long before getting an update or a wrap-up.

One thing to be warned about, though, if you’re intending to read this strip- there’s a lot of reading. The characters are quite wordy, and it actually takes some time to go through each strip and read what’s going on. Also, this isn’t a gag-a-day strip. There’s a good dose of humor sprinkled around, but when the drama and action start, it’ll often go a while before getting back to lighthearted fun.

There’s also a good chunk of D+D jokes. If you’re not familiar with D+D 3.0 or 3.5, many of the jokes are going to slide right by. I suspect it’d still be a good strip, since most of the jokes are related to generic gaming or character situations (and the occasional 4th wall reference), but a lot of the references require knowing things like bardic abilities and whatnot.

If none of that concerns you, however, Order of the Stick is an amazing comic, and you should give it a read.

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