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Order of the Stick: look it up in the monster manual

There are a lot of comics out there that use Dungeons and Dragons as a basis for their jokes.  I think we can safely say at this point that the internet is used largely for either porn or extremely nerdy jokes, so it should come as no surprise that there are quite a few comics inspired by the classic pencil and paper game.

I’ll admit it- I was a casual Dungeons and Dragons player.  A…  social DnDer, if you will, but some of my favorite experiences with the game were when me and my friends would deviate from the standard rules a bit and make something hilarious.  When, for example, one of my friends created a morbidly obese kilt wearing man who failed an agility check in the first thirty seconds of the game and had a massive heart attack, prompting my mage to attempt a sloppy open heart surgery procedure on him, well, those are memories that really stick with you over the years.

I can almost hear our dungeon master now.  “Do you have a proficiency in open heart surgery?”

“Well, uh, no.”

“You slice through a major artery.  He bleeds to death in seconds.”

Uh, wait, what was I talking about again?  Oh right, Order of the Stick. Drawn by “the Giant” Rich Burlew, the comic follows the trials and tribulations of a dysfunctional group of adventurers on their quest to destroy the dread lich Xykon.  As is the case with many webcomics, Order of the Stick was originally created as a medium for jokes, as Roch Burlew wanted a way to poke fun at the Dungeons and Dragons system, from the monster manual to player handbooks.  Over time, however, the story moved away from insider jokes and into a grandly epic story that will have you checking the Giant in the Playground site regularly for the next installment of the story.  There’s no botched open heart surgery attempts (yet), but I think it was the deviation from the normal DnD rules that pulled me in as much as it did.


While the benefits are through the roof, the health plan could use a little work.

The comic centers on Roy, a fighter and rational leader of the group, Vaarsuvius, the pompous and cocky elven mage, Durkon, an introverted dwarf cleric, Haley, a greedy rogue, Elan, the fun loving and not too bright bard, and Belkar, the psychotic halfling ranger.  As you might have guessed from the comic’s name, Order of the Stick is done in stick figures, which is actually better than it sounds.  You’ll be surprised just how much emotion Burlew can milk out of the simple character art.  Each character starts out rather simple, but over the course of the series Burlew flushes out their personalities and histories, adding art and character design upgrades as needed, and foreshadowing new developments.

Actually, Order of the Stick is one of my favorite comics.  The update schedule is pretty rough and you can go weeks at a time without seeing a new comic interspersed with a week of three updates or more.  You’re not going to really know when the comic updates, but for my part I’ve been coming back daily since I found the comic a few years back.  Sometimes the humor doesn’t really meet the buildup, (they can’t all be winners, kid) but my favorite part about the comic is that each and every update you see progresses the story in some way.

Oh, and this part is important.  You don’t need to have a working knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons to enjoy Order of the Stick.  It’d help in some cases, especially in the earlier comics, but Burlew said he is more interested in making a story driven comic than he is on just poking fun at Dungeons and Dragons.  But don’t be surprised if you’re left scratching your heads when Gary Gygax shows up for a quick tribute.

The Order of the Stick (the adventurer group, not the actual comic itself) has a wacky group of rotating villains as well, ranging from the apathetic and easily bored Xykon to Nale, the evil, overly complex twin brother of Elan who seems dedicated to creating a team of “evil opposites” to combat Roy’s group.  At the beginning of the comic I felt like these villains were all just cookie cutter baddies with no real depth, but now I’m as concerned about the fates of Xykon and Redcloak the goblin as I am the main team.

Choose wisely when picking your combat partner!

Also, you have to keep in mind that this comic is very heavy on foreshadowing.  Things you expect to have been throw away jokes have a way of coming back when you least expect it, usually several hundred comics later, and you’ll find yourself searching the archives again and again to remember how it went down.  After this happens to you several dozen times, you’ll begin looking twice at every encounter, every blunder and every joke in the comic, wondering if it might just come back and cause problems someday.

Or maybe I’m just going crazy from reading too many webcomics.  This is possible.

Anyway, some people may have a hard time slogging through the early Order of the Stick comics, where the DnD references are the heaviest.  Plus, those who have never touched a sourcebook might be a little reluctant, since DnD has a pretty strong connotation with being nerdy.  But you, my friend, are reading this on a blog dedicated to books, webcomics and video games, so I think you’ve probably already forsaken your ability to tell others you’re cool.  You’ll love the comic, just trust me.  Once the story picks up and starts rampaging onwards, you’ll have about as much choice in finishing the adventure as Roy, Elan, Vaarsuvius, Durkon, Belkar and Haley.  None.

There’s a lot of other things to see on Giant in the Playground, especially if you’re into the gaming scene.  There are some DnD scenarios, stories, and even the first chapter of Erfworld, written by Rob Balder and currently drawn by Xin Ye, which you might want to take a look at if you’re into the gaming atmosphere as well.  Still, Erfworld is a topic for another time, methinks.

So yeah, check this comic out because finding stick figure comics of this quality is a damn near impossibility.


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