Order of the Stick

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"Holy shit, this is still ongoing?!"

– Every anon, at some point

Order of the Stick (also known as WORDSWORDSWORDS), written and drawn by Rich Burlew, is by far one of the most popular /tg/-related webcomics in existence. Essentially, it's about a party of classic Dungeons & Dragons-style adventurers on an epic, high fantasy adventure, except they are well aware they're actually in a game AND in a comic (meaning they break the fourth wall all the time, and also casually discuss things like saving throws and to-hit bonuses as though they were common knowledge). However, it quickly grew from a very funny parody of D&D to serious pastiche of fantasy in general (a lesser form of the condition what TVTropes calls as Cerebus Syndrome), gaining a complicated-yet-interesting plot, a host of characters from all sides of the Alignment table, while retaining the humourous tone the comic is known for.

This has caused OotS to devolve into a skub topic, at least on /tg/. Half of /tg/ thinks the comic has shit pacing, poor jokes, and an army of sycophants who refuse to see that everything has gone wrong, whereas the other half of /tg/ believes that the comic is just as funny as it always was, and with better plotlines than most fantasy novels to boot. Many fa/tg/uys also complain that the comic is "too simplistic" art-wise, given it has a strict stick-figure aesthetic. Burlew has proven his drawing chops on many occasions and notes in the FAQ that the stick-figures "bring the right air of humor to the strip," not to mention the fact that the style, for better or worse, has become the comic's hallmark and can't be changed now. Also, compared to Servants of the Imperium, the later OotS strips are pure gold. That being said, Burlew is a fan of the "wall of text" method of comic design, and frequently seems like he'd be much happier just writing a book.

In other words, standard skub stuff, and has given rise to the fa/tg/uy project thog edits, redos of the comic to eliminate the words and in the process twist the dialogue into something dirty.

Spared no expense on the art budget for this climax

Rich Burlew's only other claim to fame is coming in second place (or, as he likes to call it, "first loser") in Wizards of the Coast's "design a campaign setting" contest. He lost to Keith Baker's Eberron. This is either a great thing or a terrible thing, depending on how you feel about Eberron. Unfortunately, WotC kept all rights to the setting and put the designers under NDA, so we'll never actually see his entry, as it seems they locked it in a darkened room and forgot about it.

The comic has been put into a number of printed volumes, with the latest volumes funded via Kickstarter.

The Cast[edit]

Of course a D&D story would be nothing without PCs, BBEGs and a supporting cast of NPCs. They are on all sides of the spectrum between skub tier and god tier.

Spoiler.gifThis article contains spoilers! You have been warned.

The Party[edit]

The titular Order of the Stick, named first for the artstyle, then retconned into a nearby object. All of their builds are purposely terrible (on Burlew's part) to both A) make the fight scenes last longer than two panels, and to B) emphasize reliance on clever tactics and teamwork to win. The exception, impossibly enough, being Elan.

  • Roy Greenhilt, the party's fighter and leader. Despite avoiding the whole "INT is a fighter's dump stat" thing, he still spends most of his time hitting things with his green-hilted (get it?) greatsword, putting up with the party's bullshit and, for a good chunk of the comic, being dead. Comes up with the plans and gives out the orders too, if they'd transitioned to 4e he'd be a warlord. Or a tactician archetype in Pathfinder. Or a battle-master in 5e. Or... well, let's just say that he's playing in the worst edition possible. There was a gag about him not going for warblade, a class he'd probably excel at, because his bitter old wizard father didn't want to shell out for a doctorate from Fighter College. Late in the story he starts taking levels in a homebrew prestige class that lets him unlock new powers from his ancestral weapon.
  • Haley Starshine, the party's rogue and second in command. Will steal everything that isn't bolted down, then steal the bolts, followed by stealing the thing that was bolted down. Has an actual reason to do so: to pay off her father's life-sentence in prison. Then, when she met him he wanted nothing to do with her because she was snackin' on the rapier of the son of the man who put him there. Welp. Wields a bow and is comfortable with fighting as dirty as possible to win. Despite her greed and cynicism she is a loyal party member, and manages to stay "Chaotic Good-ish." Dating Elan after a messy incident involving her being unable to speak for about a hundred comics and him meeting a Final Fantasy character.
  • Elan, the party's bard. He is the living embodiment of every derpy character you ever rolled up just to screw with your friends. He's as thick as a loaf of fine meatbread, sucks at barding duties (often resulting in "wacky" hijinks) and has a homebrew prestige class that forces him to make bad puns as he fights. As the story goes on, he starts to suck less, and it helps that he's the ONLY member of the team with an optimized build. (Maxed CHA for everything bard-related, plus that prestige class adds it to his attack and damage, meaning that he doesn't suffer from MAD as much as a typical bard.) Apparently, if Haley can be trusted, that maxed CHA is also worth a good deal "under the hood." As a bard consciously aware that he exists in a fantasy story, Elan is the character most, "narratively equipped," to deal with the environment and is often able to use rules of traditional storytelling to predict, even manipulate events. In other words, he's a metagamer.
  • Durkon Thundershield, the dwarfen cleric of Thor. Gruff, dutiful and honorable, as all good dwarves should be. Pretty stereotypical and solid in his support of the team. Has an accent so thick that it affects the way his dialouge is spelled, despite no other dwarf family in the comic talking like him. His clan had a vision that his return would herald a great cataclysm, so they sent him away and told him they'd tell him when he could come back and never did, because no one in fantasy stories has ever read a fantasy story. Was turned into a vampire for 200 strips until he got staked, died, got resurrected, died again 30 seconds later after an ill-advised marriage proposal, then got resurrected for real. Received a hell of a plot dump from Thor while dead, and was tasked with convincing Redcloak and his dark god to betray Xykon, lend their aid, and save the world(s). Also now wields a powerful lightning hammer which Thor told him where to find.
  • Belkar Bitterleaf, the chaotic evil halfling multiclassed ranger-barbarian. A hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-fucking killing machine, Belkar is one of the best characters in the comic. He kills what he can't fuck and he fucks what he can't kill, sometimes fucking things before he kills them (but not the other way around, ew). His style of fighting involves stabbing as many dudes as possible with as many knives as possible. Despite being able to steamroll regular enemies, his low Will means that any spellcasters he faces will kick his ass, and his effed-up build (barbarian-ranger is an unhappy marriage where XP is concerned, his low STR means he mostly has to kill minions with tricky maneuvering, and his low WIS makes him useless at casting Ranger spells) means that bigger people (like Roy) can still kick his ass. Still, he is murderously awesome and the PC with the biggest body count thus far (or would be if it wasn't for the time a powered up Vaarsuvius cast an evil epic spell that unintentionally caused a far bigger genocide than they intended). Has a pet cat called Mr. Scruffy, hurting him will cause Belkar to rip you inside out and feed them to you, and vice versa. Also has a motherfucking allosaurus (currently polymorphed into a small lizard).
  • Vaarsuvius, the elven wizard. V's undescribed gender is something of a running joke - emphasis on "something"- in the series, which makes you wonder what their voice must sound like for it to be of no help in the matter. They have a spouse at home who is also of unknown gender, and it isn't even clear if they are the same or different sexes; both are likely a play on elven androgyny. V's primary M.O. is "use fireball", and if that doesn't work, "use more fireball" (fitting, given their name). They also like to prank people with the Explosive Runes spell, and other forms of blaster magic may or may not be prominent. The fact that this is probably the worst way to play a wizard in no way diminishes the fact that V is easily the most powerful member of the Order by a country-mile, able to turn the tide of entire battles unless some convenient dramatic device takes them out of the action for a while, which it often has. While they used to possess an ego befitting both an elf and a wizard, V was recently taken down a notch when they were forced to sell their soul to a demon, devil and daemon (all at the same time) to save their spouse and (adopted) children from a black dragon. They eventually flipped the fuck out and killed up to a quarter of all black dragons in existence through a nasty 'Familicide' custom spell alongside their direct non-blood related (read: non-dragon) families in order to posthumously spite said dragon. They are horrified when they realized the unintended consequences of this caused the deaths of countless innocent people with black dragon ancestry or even with no dragon ancestry who had relations to those people.
  • Minrah Elle Shaleshoe: A female Dwarf Cleric/Fighter multiclass who joins the party much later in the story. She first joins with them to stop an attack on the dwarven lands by vampires lead by vampire Durkon, but at the end of that arc decides to join up with them permanently after learning about the threat of the Snarl while she and Durkon were both dead. Hasn't had as much of a chance to show off her stuff as everyone else, but she's apparently Durkon's cohort and a fighter/cleric multiclass.


The Snarl[edit]

Backstory time. In the beginning of the universe, four pantheons of gods came together to create a world, but they had disagreements with each other over what the world should be like and the threads of creation became tangled together and created a god killing monster that attacked and completely wiped out one of the pantheons. The remaining gods created a new world to act a prison for the snarl, but the prison was flawed and rifts in space time began to open leading to the snarl. A group of heroes sealed the rifts away with magical gates. But then, a goblinoid known as the Dark One ascended to godhood and was outraged when he learned that goblins and been created just to be a source of exp for low level characters and came up with a plan to take control of the snarl using the gates. That is Team Evil's goal (Or at least Redcloak's).

Team Evil[edit]

  • Xykon the formerly human lich. An epic level sorcerer, Xykon is bored out of his skull and as such toys around with holes in reality that serve as gates to a dimension containing a world-eating snarl. Used to be Redcloak's pawn and henchman as the magical equivalent of a stupid brute, until the intelligence and wisdom boosts from being lich-i-fied gave him the brains to snap any kind of controls his former master could put on him, (or at least thinks that he has). Doesn't like wizards because they were condescending to him during his life, and likes beating the shit out of them with his ability to cast spells over and over again (like Energy Drain). He is wholly and unapologetically evil, and kind of a dick, but he's still kind of funny because his charisma is through the fucking roof. In fact, the author purposefully avoided giving him a sympathetic backstory in the prequel book so that readers wouldn't see him as any less evil, unlike Redcloak who does a sympathetic motivation for evil.
  • Redcloak the goblin cleric and high priest of the Dark One. Xykon's main henchgoblin and ruler of a major goblin tribe and later also the leader of a much larger hobgoblin army, Redcloak is the guy who's told to "get it done". And hoo boy, does he get it done. He murders the resistance to his people's occupation of a major city, has another of Xykon's servants eaten by her own wights and reveals that he was using Xykon from the beginning for the good of his people, all in the span of a half dozen pages. Has a lot of backstory in the prequel comic, but you have to pay for it so f*#$ that noise. During the comic, he grows out of his racism towards hobgoblins, and is generally the cool, logical, rules-nerd left brain to his boss's impulsive, screwball right brain. He gets his name from the crimson mantle he wears, which is an artifact created by the Dark One that grants the goblin that wears it knowledge of the plan to take control of the Snarl, as well as an extended lifespan. He has never revealed his original name because Xykon hates long names.
  • The Monster in the Darkness is a creature of many mysteries and few truths. All we know that it has two yellow eyes and acts even stupider than Elan. It also is stupidly powerful: it can punch people so far they are launched into the sky; it stomping on the ground is powerful enough to cause localized earthquakes; and it can teleport people with but a word and a thought. Has the personality of a child (a non-evil one). After extended contact with O-Chul, has begun to think for himself, discovering, to his own surprise, that he is actually extremely intelligent and doesn't want Team Evil to win, and so has begun subtly undermining their efforts from within, something that has been enormously successful because none of his teammates see it coming or expect him to do anything smart. If you think you've got the brains, feel free to jump on the ride that never ends and try to follow the breadcrumbs and figure out what he is. We'll wait. Remember to only pick ones with Trenchant Political Analysis as a listed special attack!
  • Tsukiko, a mystic theurge. A necrophile necromancer with a crush on Xykon and also a parody of the Mary Sue archetype. She was in charge of the wight brigade until she discovered Redcloak's plan to double-cross Xykon, which got her eaten by her own wights for her troubles.

The Linear Guild[edit]

  • Started out as evil counterparts of the PCs (which was deliberately done by their leader, Elan's twin brother Nale (get it? Nale is Elan backwards!)). The Guild consists of three core members plus two other slots that keep having replacements due to death or quitting:
    • Nale, a Fighter-Rogue-Sorcerer multiclass specializing in enchantment, which is, if you didn't notice, basically a bard only more complicated and capable of being Lawful Evil. This tells you a great deal about Nale's personality. Is permanently dead; he was stabbed by his father and was subsequently disintegrated for murdering Malack and rejecting his father's attempt to reconcile.
    • Sabine, a succubus and Nale's lover with whom she shares a deep and fulfilling relationship based on human sacrifice. Is currently stuck somewhere in the Lower Planes, trying to get revenge on her boyfriend's murderer, and since Thog is also probably dead she the last member not to die or quit.
    • Thog, a Half-Orc barbarian who's part of the Dumbass Triumvirate alongside Elan and the Monster in the Darkness. He talks like the Incredible Hulk. Although unconfirmed, he likely is dead after Roy tricked him into collapsing a ceiling on himself, burying him under a ton of rubble.
  • On the four different occasions the teams have clashed the Linear Guild employed a subset of the following people:
  • First Encounter
    • Zz'Dtri, the drow wizard. An obvious copy of Drizzt, he was hauled off by the lawyers of Wizards of the Coast for being an obvious Drizzt copy. Yes, that happened. Later returned (because he was a parody, not a copy, protected speech bitches!) and clashed with V using all the interim levels to tailor his build just to fighting the wizard. This did him no good against Durkon, the party cleric, particularly with that vampire strength boost. Currently dead
    • Hilgya Firehelm, a dwarven cleric of Loki who fucked, fought and fled from Durkon during the Guild's first encounter with the Order, in that approximate order. Reappeared after over 1000 strips to save the party from a vampire horde in the nick of time. Has a self-serving memory, believing everyone around her is selfish when she's one of the most selfish beings on the planet. Brought Durkon's baby into the battle like a true dorf.
    • Yikyik the kobold ranger. Was beheaded by Belkar and turned into a hat. Currently dead.
  • Second Encounter
    • Pompey the half-elf wizard (get it? Pompey and Vaarsuvius are named after Pompeii and Vesuvius! We're clever). Had a crush on Roy's sister and teamed up with the Linear Guild so that he could have her, but he was defeated, imprisoned, and then escaped, signing on with Leeky. Has not been seen since.
    • Leeky Windstaff the gnome druid. Turned into a giant monster and rampaged through a city (get it? CoDzilla!) before being defeated by Durkon and escaping alongside Pompey.
    • Yokyok, son of Yikyik. A parody of Inigo Montoya who attacked Belkar for... oh do I even have to say it? Belkar was under a curse preventing him from killing, so he set a tavern full of adventurers loose on Yokyok, then turned his head into a nacho repository. Currently dead.
  • Third Encounter
    • Yukyuk. Yet another kobold: this one was dominated (the status effect, mind you) by V and got used as a litter box ( without being decapitate first!) and living trap-springer before dying in a horrific accident protecting a cat.
  • Fourth Encounter
  • The fourth encounter with the Linear Guild included Tarquin and Malack (as below). It also involved Chancellor Kilkil (Urd, a Kobold variant... with wings! Its in the 2nd ed MM), who is more a clerk and personal assistant than a combatant, though he is a hyper-competent bureaucrat and a flying calculator.
    • General Tarquin, a human warlord, general of the Empress of Blood and de facto ruler of the Empire of Blood. Despite the suggestion of him being aligned to Khorne this is far from the truth: he is a friendly and cheerful person like his son Elan, but at the same time is outright ruthless and has the evil smarts like his other son, Nale. He is the ultimate in Lawful Evil: he understands that his rule is not eternal, but his legacy can be. As such he is forging an entire continent into his empire: even when he is defeated (which he holds as being inevitable) he gets to be a legend. Though he's not very keen on the "being stabbed by a hero" part, it would mean he gets to live like a god for who-knows-how-long, and only the last few minutes sucked. The man himself explains it best. On the other hand, given his Lawful obsession with forcing the messy chaos of reality to conform to the outline of a neat little story, refusing to conform to the character archetype he expects you to fill (e.g. playing a bard when he thinks you're the protagonist) causes him to quickly fly into a fit of butthurt rage to put That Guy to shame and start railroading. On joining the Linear Guild he disguised himself as Thog.
    • Minister Malack is a lizardfolk (possibly yuan-ti) cleric of Nergal and serves as adviser to the Empress of Blood and Tarquin. Is actually a vampire and has just turned Durkon into one. Like his former adventuring companion Tarquin, Malack is an affable and well-spoken person and is the heir to the Empire of Blood after Tarquin's death. When he does become the next Emperor he plans to sacrifice a thousand people to his god per day in rooms that serve as gas chambers/abattoirs, the sacrifices generated by a continent's worth of people living and dying for the glory of Nergal (although the writer later stated he means meat packing rooms as he plans to use the thousand sacrifices to feed to himself and his vampiric spawn, who'll be running the empire). Like I said, real nice guy. Has a beef with Nale for killing three of his "children", but set aside his grudge at Tarquin's behest. Even then he is a honorable person: when he promises not to kill someone despite it serving his goals, he does so. A very different sort of Lawful Evil, but still fits. Perma-dead, having been killed by Nale with sunlight, which has a disintegration effect on vampires.

Other Characters[edit]

  • Eugene Greenhilt, Roy's deceased father who occasionally visits him as a ghost and the one who originally sent Roy on the quest to kill Xykon. Although his alignment supposedly is lawful good, he is extremely arrogant and an emotionally abusive jerk. He is very proud of being a wizard and resents his son for not also becoming a wizard. When he was younger, he swore a blood oath to kill Xykon for the murder of his master (beating him to death with his own whizzy award), but eventually got tired of this quest and decided to raise a family. His former wife describes him as a man who is very passionate about his interests, but doesn't stay interested in things forever. He was a good father and husband for a while but eventually got tired of it. Because he gave up on fulfilling his blood oath, he is banned from entering Celestia until one of his descendants fulfils the oath for him, and he is very frustrated with having to rely on his non-wizard son for this. Roy eventually gets so sick of Eugene's behavior that he makes Eugene agree to never contact any member of his family again once he is allowed into Celestia.
  • Miko Miyazaki, an absolutely and fanatically Lawful Stupid Paladin. None of the other paladins like her so they send her on far away missions as much as possible. She is sent to capture the Order of the Stick after they destroy one of the gates containing the Snarl and though Roy initially is attracted to her he later realizes that she really is a horrible unlikeable person. She is so convinced that she is a good person who does everything right due to being a servant of the gods that she becomes increasingly detached from reality as the evidences stacks up that she is doing wrong. After losing her paladin powers by killing a wacky old dude, she tries to redeem herself by sacrificing herself to save the day, but the only thing she accomplished was making the situation worse.
  • O-Chul. The Lawful Awesome Paladin. He is everything that a paladin should be and everything that Miko isn't. He is reasonable and a nice guy. While captured by Team Evil, he is put through all kinds of tortures both for Xykon's amusement and Redcloak trying to get information and survives all of them, never giving up defying them. During his time as a prisoner he manages to befriend The Monster in the Darkness and convince him that Xykon and Redcloak are not his friends. He is another poorly optimized character. He used to be a normal Fighter so his charisma score is terrible, and thus is bad at casting his paladin spells, but has an insanely high constitution that lets him tank godly amounts of damage (he has a hit point total on par with young adult dragons).

Before You Get Butthurt About Battle Strategies...[edit]

"Here's the thing: No matter what I draw in any battle scene, within ten minutes of posting it someone chimes in about how the characters are stupid for not executing this, that, or the other tactic. Never mind that said tactic would likely end the fight in one panel when it is my job to provide you with an entertaining battle scene. Never mind that said tactic may result in the person winning whom the plot does not need to win. Never mind that the fight may not be over yet. No, all that matters is that these characters are not living up to someone's imagined D&D tactical mastery.

Well, I don't give a damn anymore. The characters fight the way they fight to make an interesting page. They may make subpar decisions, I don't care. I don't spend enough time with the D&D rules anymore to eke out all of these Ultimate Killer Strategies anyway, so we're really running up against the limits of my knowledge and ability. The characters can't be better strategists than I am, and I care more about other aspects. Such strategies are usually boring to read and visually bland to look at anyway. There aren't going to be a lot of invisible save-or-die effects thrown around, because there are only so many ways I can draw characters succeeding at Fortitude saves (and then I still have to verbally explain what just happened). You should stop expecting them, because I'm not going to use them.

My job is to entertain, not to showcase perfect D&D tactics. If you can't be entertained by anything BUT perfect D&D tactics, that's on you."

– A quote from Burlew on the matter

It helps that Burlew has never revealed what anyone's level is, specifically so he can fudge the rules. To pull a random example, Vaar snags 13 people in Mass Enlarge Person, implying they're level 13, only to immediately use four Wiz6 spells (Mass Bull's Strength, Mass Bear's Endurance, two Disintegrates) in less than two minutes -- level 13 Wizards should only be able use two Wiz6 spells per day.

In spite of this, however, fans have speculated extensively on the levels, abilities, and feats of various characters, and have managed to create a fairly comprehensive list of these, usually accurate to 1-2 levels.