Order of the Stick
|This is a /co/ related article, which we allow because we find it interesting or we can't be bothered to delete it.|
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. However, it quickly grew from a very funny parody of D&D to serious pastiche of fantasy in general (this is known by our friends at TVTropes 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.
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.
|This article contains spoilers! You have been warned.|
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 upgraded to 4e he'd be a warlord. Or a tactician archetype in Pathfinder. Or a battle-master in 5e. Or... let's just say that subsequent editions were much kinder to his archetype than the one he's playing in. 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.
- 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 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 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. Gruff, dutiful and honorable, as all good dwarves should be. Pretty stereotypical and solid in his support of the team. 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. Is now no longer a vampire. Currently dead.
- 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, and his low STR means he mostly has to kill minions with tricky maneuvering) 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. Has a pet cat called Mr. Scruffy, hurting him will cause Belkar to rip you inside out,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. V's primary M.O. is "fireball", if that doesn't work it's "more fireball" (fitting, given its name). 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 mate and (adopted) children from a black dragon. Is currently flipping the fuck out for having killed up to a quarter of all black dragons in existence alongside their direct non-blood related (read: non-dragon) families in order to posthumously spite said dragon.
Team Evil and other antagonists
- Xykon the 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. 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.
- Redcloak the goblin cleric. Xykon's main henchgoblin and ruler of a major goblin tribe, 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.
- 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 necrophiliac necromancer with a crush on Xykon. 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 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:
- 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. Is permanently dead; he was stabbed by his father and was subsequently disintegrated.
- 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.
- Thog, a Half-Orc barbarian who's part of the Dumbass Triumvirate alongside Elan and the Monster in the Darkness. Current whereabouts unknown, likely imprisoned.
- On the four different occasions the teams have clashed the Linear Guild employed a subset of the following people:
- 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. Has not been seen since. Recently reappeared to save the party in the nick of time. 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 and living trap-springer before dying in a horrific accident protecting a cat. Currently dead.
- Fourth Encounter
- The fourth encounter with the Linear Guild included Tarquin and Malack (as below). It also involved Chancellor Kilkil (kobold), who is more a clerk and personal assistant than a combatant, though he is a hyper-competent bureaucrat and a flying (he has wings for some reason) (he's an Urd, a Kobold variant... with wings! Its in the 2nd ed MM) 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.
- 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.
Before You Get Butthurt About Battle Strategies...
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 the author
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 it is level 13, only to immediately use four Wiz6 spells (Mass Bull's Strength, Mass Bear's Endurance, two Disintegrate's) 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.