Order of the Stick

By Rich Burlew
LINK | Updates Erratically

Ah, so the Time has Come. From the moment I thought about the idea for this blog, I knew that someday I’d have to face writing about the Order of the Stick. How do you sum up a comic in which individual strips might contain more words than this entire post? Which has one of the most epic and captivating stories I know, spanning several continents, cultures and planes of existence?
Well, only one way to find out, reader. Let’s do this together. I believe in us.

If you go and read the first strip of the comic right now, you’ll have no idea what I’m on about. The characters are, as the outdated cast page points out, walking and talking tropes, and the punchline is so obscure that the first two Google results for it are related to OOTS. Surely, there are enough silly comics for D&D nerds in the internet.

But if you read on for just a while, you’ll start to notice something. Through and around those cliché characters and silly (but funny) jokes, a world starts to build itself. The characters flesh out and branch out. The story becomes more than “adventurers in a dungeon”: first just a bit more, and then a whole lot more, somewhere around the part where the different planes of existence come into play. “Epic” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days – e.g., by me in the first paragraph – but this time it really fits.

It soon seems as though Rich Burlew already wrote the entire thing, with plot hooks and hints and jokes resolving hundreds of strips after they’re mentioned. The characters are complex and constantly evolving, through individual character arcs which are sometimes more detailed and nuanced than the entire narrative of other stories.

And as new characters are introduced by the dozens – the relevant category in the OOTS wiki has 172 pages – the story keeps its focus, and it’s always clear who the PCs are here, and who are NPCs. Almost a thousand strips in, the story is always the Order’s story. That doesn’t mean that no effort was put into the supporting cast; the villains, for example, are some of the best I’ve ever read, with detailed and thought out personalities, back stories, and character arcs (plus, their own book). But they’re still not The Gang, and this, usually, isn’t their story.

From OOTS #376

And, just as important – the jokes are always there as well. They also take part in the general evolution of the comic, using more intelligent and witty humor and enjoying the richer context while never losing sight of the punny D&D jokes that are in the comedic heart of all this. And here’s the really impressive thing – they always land. This is one of the funniest comics I know, in general and definitely in longform. And since there are some really, really dark things throughout this tale, it’s good to know a good laugh is always around the corner.

Even the art is great – sure, they’re stick figures, but the range and precision of emotion Rich conveys through these few lines that represent a face is staggering. And in case you were worried, as has been made clear by now, cartoonish style doesn’t contradict with serious and emotional moments: just think of Pixar, or Futurama, or some xkcd[1] strips.

So far, so good, right? Great plot, great characters, great humor, cool art. The main hurdle to cross in OOTS is walls of text. Even without Vaarsuvius and his/her loquacious rants, strips tend to contain a lot of text. And to top it off, there are almost 1000 strips. Oh, and some of them have multiple pages. This means that starting from strip one and catching up to the current page isn’t something you do in an idle Saturday afternoon. It’ll take a while. It definitely helps if you have my particular brand of insanity – I recently re-read the entire thing in five days – but either way, it’s an undertaking.

From OOTS #20

However, it’s worth it, trust me. Despite initial appearances, this is an extremely intelligent, exciting and fun story. Its update schedule can be a bit all over the place, and there have occasionally been months-long breaks; which is especially disheartening in a comic where I impatiently look forward to every new strip. But there’s no question about it – this one’s worth it all. It’s one of The Greats. Go read it.

1. Most of you probably know xkcd, but if not, don’t worry, we’ll get to it. [Back to post]

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