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|The Order of the Stick|
|Current status / schedule||Active (no standard update schedule)|
|Launch date||September 29, 2003|
|Publisher(s)||Giant in the Playground|
|Genre(s)||Fantasy, comedy, parody|
|The Order of the Stick|
|Current status / schedule||Active (no standard update schedule)|
|Launch date||September 29, 2003|
|Publisher(s)||Giant in the Playground|
|Genre(s)||Fantasy, comedy, parody|
The Order of the Stick (OOTS) is a comedic webcomic that satirizes tabletop role-playing games and medieval fantasy. The comic is written and drawn by Rich Burlew, who illustrates the comic in a stick figure style.
Taking place in a magical world that loosely operates by the rules of the 3.5 edition of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the comic follows the sometimes farcical exploits of six adventurers as they strive to save the world from an evil lich sorcerer. Much of the comic's humor stems from the characters' awareness of the game rules that affect their lives or from having anachronistic knowledge of modern culture. This in turn is often used by the author to parody various aspects of role-playing games and fantasy fiction. While primarily comedic in nature, The Order of the Stick features a continuing storyline serialized in one- to four-page episodes, with over 900 such episodes released so far.
Although it is principally distributed online through the website Giant in the Playground, seven book collections have been published, including several print-only stories (On the Origin of PCs and Start of Darkness). An alternate version of the strip appeared monthly in Dragon magazine for 22 issues; these strips, among others, are collected in Snips, Snails and Dragon Tales.
The Order of the Stick began its run on September 29, 2003, on what was Rich Burlew's personal site for gaming articles at the time. Burlew initially intended the strip to feature no plot whatsoever—depicting an endless series of gags drawn from the D&D rules instead—but Burlew quickly changed his mind, and began laying down hints of a storyline as early as strip #13. The strip was originally produced to entertain people who came to his website to read articles, but it quickly became the most popular feature, leading Burlew to eventually abandon writing articles almost entirely.
The Order of the Stick began as a twice-weekly comic that debuted new strips on Mondays and Thursdays. When presales of the first OOTS compilation book allowed Burlew to make writing his full-time job, he increased the number to three per week. Since 2007, the comic has been published on an irregular schedule due to the author's ongoing health concerns.
In September 2012, Burlew had an accident in which the tendons in his right hand were severed, resulting in a hiatus until December 31, 2012. At the end of September 2013, Burlew estimated that the story will be finished in "about four years".
The comic is created directly on a computer using the vector-based software Adobe Illustrator, and the art style has been upgraded several times. In strip #103, the curved and crooked panel borders were replaced with straight—though still slanted—black lines. Burlew now questions how he ever thought the initial format was acceptable.[n 1] After he sprained his wrist in 2005, Burlew used some of the time he took off from writing the comic to improve the designs of the main cast, straightening their lines and adding tiny details like the runes stitched along the edge of Vaarsuvius' cloak. These changes were humorously acknowledged by the characters themselves when they premiered.[n 2] Burlew made adjustments to the colors that were required when the material was to appear in print for the first time. The later comics feature more frequent double- and even triple-page strips than in the early days, when longer strips were reserved for special occasions (such as reaching #200). In strip #947 the artwork was upgraded again, adding volume to characters' limbs that were previously drawn as simple stick-figure lines. In addition to these permanent improvements to the art, two variant art styles are used to distinguish the events of certain comics from those taking place in the story's present. Historical events relating to the plot are portrayed in a hand-drawn crayon style both in the online comic and in Start of Darkness,[n 3][n 4] while events in the "prequel" print-exclusive stories are shown in black-and-white.
On September 30, 2005, Burlew announced that The Order of the Stick would begin appearing in Dragon, the long-running official D&D magazine. The strip debuted in the December 2005 issue, on the last page of the magazine. The following issue, OOTS appeared as a four-panel strip in the magazine's interior, but by the February 2006 issue, it had returned to a full-page strip on the last page, a position it would hold until the magazine's last print issue in September 2007.
The Dragon version of OOTS featured the same main cast of six adventurers, but saw them adventuring in an unspecified underground location. None of the villains or supporting characters from the online strip appeared, with the exception of Mr. Jones and Mr. Rodriguez, who appeared together twice.[n 5][n 6] Burlew has stated that the events of the Dragon strips take place in an alternate universe from the online strip, and events in one storyline do not affect the other. This status quo was broken for the sake of a joke, however, when a character in the online strip referred to the July 2006 Dragon strip by claiming that "I told you that in one of the Dragon Magazine comics, so I'm not even sure that's the same continuity."[n 7][n 8]
Starting in January 2013, a new version of the comic has started appearing in Gygax Magazine, a new tabletop gaming magazine published in print and digital formats.
The comic's central protagonists, known collectively as "The Order of the Stick," are a party of adventurers who are questing to destroy an evil lich that is planning to conquer the world. Though they have many allies, the official members of the Order of the Stick are:
The comic's central antagonists include the following:
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2008)|
|This section's subsections describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (June 2011)|
While the online version of The Order of the Stick unfolds continuously, the strips have been broken down into plot arcs for purposes of publication; the plot summary that follows breaks the story down into these arcs for clarity. Burlew notes in the commentary of War and XPs that the strips contained within that volume were the first to be plotted with publication in mind from the very beginning. Several volumes have been released in book-only format: On the Origin of PCs, a prequel to the heroes' adventures; Start of Darkness, a prequel to the villains' escapades; and Snips, Snails and Dragon Tails, a collection of all the Dragon Magazine comics plus 80 pages of new material.
The webcomic begins with the Order fighting goblins and other monsters on their way through the Dungeon of Dorukan (although the first volume of the printed edition later included a preamble showing how the Order finds and enters the Dungeon). They are led by Roy Greenhilt on a quest to destroy a lich sorcerer named Xykon. Roy is motivated by nightly visits from the ghost of his father, from whom he receives a cryptic warning. The Order briefly joins forces with an adventuring party known as the Linear Guild, led by Nale (the evil twin of the Order's happy-go-lucky bard, Elan). The Guild eventually betrays the Order, but the Order prevails due to Roy's sudden understanding of his father's prophecy. The Order goes on to battle Xykon near a mysterious magical gate. Xykon shatters Roy's ancestral sword, but before he can release his ace-in-the-hole (a powerful monster shrouded in darkness), Roy flings him into a deadly mystic rune that protects the gate. Xykon's body is destroyed, but his disembodied soul is ferreted to safety by his lieutenant, Redcloak. The book ends with Elan accidentally destroying the entire dungeon, including the gate, by activating another magic rune. The Order escapes to safety.
The Order travels to Wooden Forest, where they slay a black dragon and loot its hoard in order to retrieve a rare "starmetal" to repair Roy's broken sword. The party is arrested by the paladin Miko Miyazaki for the capital crime of destroying the magical gate in the Dungeon of Dorukan. While stopping at an inn, the party loses the dragon's treasure in an explosion, the shock of which renders Haley unable to speak coherently (rendered as cryptograms in the comic). In Azure City, Miko's liege Lord Shojo informs the Order that the gate they destroyed is one of five gates that reinforce the structure of the universe. Without them, a god-killing abomination known as the Snarl would escape and destroy all of creation. The Order is put on trial, but acquitted with the help of Celia, a sylph they had aided in the Dungeon of Dorukan. Shojo later explains that the trial was a sham to get the Order's assistance in defending the remaining gates. Roy reluctantly agrees once he learns that Xykon has survived and is recruiting a massive army of hobgoblins to seize the remaining gates. As payment for their future aid, each member of the Order receives a boon, one of which is the repair of Roy's sword.
The Order makes a brief diversion to Cliffport to confront the Linear Guild. After Nale frames Elan for the Linear Guild's crimes, Elan escapes from prison and reunites with Haley with the help of a dashing swordsman named Julio Scoundrel. Haley recovers her speech and confesses her love for Elan, who reciprocates. The Order returns to Azure City to ask Lord Shojo for further directions. Miko, who does not know about the plan to find the gates but does know about Xykon's army, overhears the conversation and jumps to the conclusion that both are in league with Xykon. She strikes her master down, and is immediately stripped of her paladin status by her gods and imprisoned. Xykon's hobgoblins attack the city the next day. The Order helps Shojo's heir, Hinjo, hold the city walls. Xykon attempts to circumvent the defenders, but Roy leaps up to the zombified dragon that Xykon is riding, and the two duel once more. Xykon overpowers Roy and sends him falling to his death. Xykon and Redcloak attempt to activate the gate hidden within the castle's throne room, but Miko, having escaped from prison, destroys the gate in an attempt to protect it. In the ensuing explosion, Miko is killed, and Xykon and Redcloak escape. The city falls to the hobgoblins. Haley and Belkar become separated from the party when they go to recover Roy's corpse, while the others sail away with Hinjo and the surviving Azurites.
Roy finds himself in the Afterlife with his father, who cannot rest until Xykon is gone. Roy is found worthy of entrance to paradise, but he returns to his father's side when he learns that almost four months have passed. Looking down, he sees that Haley and Belkar have formed an underground resistance movement in hobgoblin-occupied Azure City. Haley accidentally summons Celia, who convinces her to look for the other half of the party. Their travels take them to Greysky City, where Haley formerly was a member of the Thieves' Guild. Haley is betrayed by one of her old friends, but the Order triumphs over the Guild in the ensuing battle. Meanwhile, Elan, Durkon, and Vaarsuvius stop the nobleman Kubota's plot to assassinate Hinjo, and Vaarsuvius kills Kubota after he's captured. S/he then flies to an isolated island to search for Haley, where s/he is attacked and defeated by the mother of the black dragon whom s/he had killed during No Cure for the Paladin Blues. After the dragon threatens to kill Vaarsuvius' children, Vaarsuvius contracts with fiends to rent out the souls of three evil spellcasters. Vaarsuvius then kills the black dragon and her entire lineage by "renting" an epic Familicide spell. Loath to waste his/her increased arcane power, s/he teleports to Azure City to defeat Xykon, but is knocked out during the battle and loses control of the souls. Witnessing this, the paladin O-Chul escapes from prison, wounds Redcloak, and attempts to destroy Xykon's phylactery, but it falls into a storm drain and is lost. Vaarsuvius and O-Chul are teleported to Hinjo's fleet by Xykon's monster in the darkness, which O-Chul had befriended during his imprisonment. There, the Order regroups and Durkon completes the ritual to resurrect Roy. The story arc ends with the Order sailing towards the next gate and Vaarsuvius apologising to his/her neglected familiar Blackwing, who tells him/her that it saw what appeared to be another world in the rift in space caused by the Snarl.
While Hinjo's fleet sails north to one of the remaining gates, the Order travels to the Western Continent in search of Girard's gate. Their search for information takes them to the Empire of Blood, where Tarquin, the Empress's chief general (and the true power behind the throne), dramatically reveals himself to be Elan's father. Tarquin gives the Order a tip that Girard's distant descendant Orrin Draketooth can be found in Windy Canyon and heroes fly away. Meanwhile Tarquin and the Linear Guild join forces and are plotting to seize the gate for themselves. The action briefly cuts away to Azure City where Redcloak's troops recover Xykon's phylactery and destroy the resistance's base. It is revealed that Redcloak is plotting against Xykon. He gives Xykon a fake phylactery, keeping the real one for himself.
The Order discovers a magically cloaked pyramid in Windy Canyon but once inside finds the entire Draketooth clan dead — an unexpected result of Vaarsuvius's Familicide spell. Vaarsuvius, horrified by the unforeseen consequences of his/her actions, flees into the pyramid. The Linear Guild arrives shortly after in hot pursuit and the two parties battle once again. The Order again triumphs, and Tarquin leaves the group. Belkar and Durkon become separated from the group and encounter Tarquin's cleric Malack, who reveals himself to be a vampire. Malack kills Durkon, turning him into a vampire thrall. Belkar reunites with the Order and they continue deeper into the pyramid, overcoming various traps and illusions along the way. When they discover the gate, Roy decides to destroy it rather than risk it falling into the hands of Evil. Vaarsuvius, trying to prevent this, is temporarily dragged into Hell by the archfiends. With Tarquin gone, Nale takes the opportunity to kill Malack by exposing him to the sun, freeing Durkon who rejoins the Order. Tarquin kills Nale for disobedience and sends a vast army to attack the Order. With the help of Vaarsuvius, who has returned from Hell, and Julio Scoundrel swooping in at the last moment, the Order is triumphant. Tarquin is left in the middle of the desert as the Order flies away on Julio's airship towards the last Gate. It is revealed that the Northern Death God, Hel, has placed a spirit in the vampirized body of Durkon, and plans for the spirit to bring ruin to the Dwarven lands as Durkon helplessly watches trapped in his own body.
The world the characters inhabit is similar to those depicted in Dungeons & Dragons, complete with functional magic and monsters. According to an introductory strip included in Dungeon Crawlin' Fools, the world operates under three sets of laws: Physics, Magic, and Gaming (specifically, paper-and-pencil roleplaying games).[n 19] Though ostensibly medieval in nature, the OOTS world is rife with anachronisms, both social (such as college admissions standards for the Evil Ivy League[n 20]) and technological (such as coffee makers[n 21]). The characters make references to real-life individuals (Michael Jackson[n 22] or Jessica Biel[n 23]), fictional characters from other sources (Green Lantern and Firestorm),[n 24] or pop culture in general. Sometimes, fictional characters (or explicit "third-rate knock-offs" thereof) from other fantasy works cross paths with the main characters, such as the halfling "Frudu Biggins".[n 19][n 25]
Three main areas of the world's geography have been mentioned: a mainland continent consisting of the Northern Lands and the Southern Lands,[n 26] and the separate Western Continent.[n 27] The Northern Lands seem to consist mostly of grassy plains and mountains, which resemble medieval Europe in setting, but with a wider variety of skin colors than was present in medieval Europe. For example, Roy Greenhilt and his family have dark brown skin, and are not referred to as coming from a different area or having a different cultural background than the characters with light skin. Other characters, such as the lawyer Phil Rodriguez, show a third (light brown) skin color. Non-human races, which are often player characters in D&D, such as dwarves and gnomes, have both dark- and light-skinned members as well.
Most of the seen Southern Lands seem to be extremely mountainous, rocky and barren, though what seems to be a more tropical forested nation and a colder region have briefly been seen. The people of the Southern Lands are significantly different ethnically and culturally, with nations roughly analogous to real-world Asian cultures such as China and India, the most prominent of which was Azure City, which greatly resembled feudal Japan (though a few Chinese elements were present). Four separate areas in the South besides Azure city are briefly shown.[n 28]
The Western Continent is split into an Elven forest in the north and an expansive desert in the south, separated from each other by the Goaway Mountains. Due to the continent's fragile political state, a large number of nations cluster around the edges of the desert. The Western Continent includes Vaarsuvius's homeland, and is close to an island with abandoned Elven ruins, where (s)he teleported the Azurite fleet.
Like most of the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, the Order of the Stick universe contains a verifiable afterlife—a series of planes to which dead souls are drawn. The afterlife in the OOTS world resembles the Great Wheel cosmology, with separate planes for the departed of each alignment.[n 29] To enter the afterlife, a planar being must assess whether or not a soul has fulfilled the tenets of their alignment throughout their life.[n 30] Some Dwarves might be exempt from this rule, as those who do not die honorably in battle (or from liver failure due to alcohol poisoning) are sent to the plane of Hel upon death, regardless of alignment.
The Lawful Good afterlife plane has been portrayed in the comic as a mountain with seven plateaus loosely based on Mount Celestia, and the side of the mountain the deceased enter from in depends on their nationality. The first plateau is dedicated to satisfying physical desires, such as for sex and food, while higher levels offer spiritual satisfaction. The seventh level, at the mountain's peak, holds “true perfect enlightenment.”[n 31] Below the mountain is a demi plane of blue skies and clouds, where dead souls, archons, and gods from all of the Good-aligned planes can look down on the mortal world.[n 32]
Much of the humor of The Order of the Stick is based on roleplaying games (particularly the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition ruleset), with characters freely discussing game mechanics, such as experience points, skill sets, and random encounters. The characters know very well that they live in a world controlled by the rules of roleplaying games, but attempt to function normally within it, often with nonsensical results. Characters have been shown browsing through rulebooks for the D&D game to select a certain monster for use,[n 33] or to learn about a new class.[n 34] Common techniques of players and Dungeon Masters are spoofed, such as the weather of the campaign world changing to herald a dramatic encounter, or a player who does not bother to complete the details of his character's backstory. Burlew's satirical humor addresses many of the clichés of the fantasy genre as a whole, often by twisting them in new and different ways.
Burlew occasionally creates characters and situations specifically to highlight what he considers common problems and deficits among roleplayers. The controversial paladin Miko Miyazaki is one such character; Burlew has said that she represents the division among players of the game over whether or not one character should be allowed to "police" the remainder of an adventuring party. He has referred to her as being "one of the WORST ways to play a paladin." Another example is the creation myth of the OOTS world, which shows a group of gods bickering over how to create the world—accidentally creating the world-devouring Snarl through their refusal to compromise. In the commentary for No Cure for the Paladin Blues, Burlew likens this story to the squabbles that might arise in a group of roleplayers, which threaten to destroy the fun that they have created together.
The comic occasionally directly comments on current events in the roleplaying game industry by the inclusion of characters that represent the participants. In the last three comics to appear in Dragon, the OOTS members encounter a green dragon that serves as a self-identified allegorical figure for the magazine itself. The dragon recounts the magazine's long history, complete with representations of its various publishers, including a wizard of the coast and Mr. Potato Head (the signature toy of Wizards of the Coast's corporate parent, Hasbro). In the final issue, the dragon escapes the wizard of the coast's lawyers by flying through a room featuring characters from many of the comics that have appeared in Dragon over the years, such as Wormy, Knights of the Dinner Table, and What's New with Phil & Dixie, before the OOTS characters directly thank the dragon for its long years of service. This theme was employed again when a character in the online strip voiced Burlew's eulogy to D&D co-creator Gary Gygax immediately after his death was announced. The memorial comic was widely cited among websites covering Gygax's death. Burlew created a similar tribute strip for D&D co-creator Dave Arneson after his death.
Due to its reflection of the comical excesses of gaming culture, The Order of the Stick has been hailed as "must reading" for those who play roleplaying games and "the roleplaying comic to beat". Critics sometimes cite the insular nature of in-jokes regarding the D&D rules that crop up regularly (especially in the early part of the comic's run) as a barrier to new readers, noting that without a working knowledge of fantasy roleplaying games, much of the humor may fall flat. However, the comic is just as often seen as being accessible to casual readers without such gaming knowledge due to the strength of the main cast's portrayals and abundance of character-based humor. The comic has been praised for its "shrewd writing" and "increasingly intricate and cleverly scripted adventures", as well as its execution. One webcomic critic has called it "one of the few very simplistically drawn comics that can pull [off] an extensive storyline." Particular praise has been given to the scenes depicting the siege of Azure City, which has been called "a war worthy of Peter Jackson."
The comic's stick figure art has received mixed reviews. Some critics praise its "surprisingly expressive art,", with PvP cartoonist Scott Kurtz adding that the comic would not be as funny or have as much heart if the characters were drawn in any other style. Others denounce its simple geometric characters as "merely functional" or (as fellow webcomic creator Josh Lesnick put it) only "good for someone who isn't really an artist". Burlew has defended his art style several times in public statements, stating he has no lack of proficiency at drawing, but intentionally developed a clean and simple style to help the reader focus on the humor. He has pointed out that the primary goal of comic art is to communicate the actions of the characters, which his style does as well as any other. Burlew has addressed similar criticisms within the comic itself several times, either by contrasting his usual art with more realistic drawings or by simply putting self-deprecating dialogue regarding his style into the mouths of characters.[n 35][n 36]
Surveys of webcomic site traffic held since May 2007 have consistently placed The Order of the Stick as one of the 10 most widely read webcomics in existence. Burlew has estimated that he has about 650,000 dedicated readers and up to one million additional casual readers. Every day, thousands of the comic's readers participate in the comic's official forums, which feature discussion of The Order of the Stick and roleplaying games in general. Many participants are noted for adopting avatars drawn in emulation of Burlew's stick figure style, with some fans even creating additional "fancomics" in that style on the site's message board or their own sites.
The Order of the Stick received two nominations for Britain's 2008 Eagle Awards, for Favourite Web-Based Comic and Favourite Original Graphic Novel (for Start of Darkness). OOTS won the former category, but lost the latter one to Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. In announcing the results on his site, Burlew stated he was pleased that he didn't win the Favourite Original Graphic Novel category, saying, "I don't think I want to live in a world where a parody stick figure comic beats one of the comic industry's top writers." No Cure for the Paladin Blues, the comic's second print compilation, won a 2007 Gold ENnie award. OOTS has been nominated for ten Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards, of which it has won five. It was named Best Long Form Comic in 2008, Best Gaming Comic and Best Long Form Comic in 2007, and Best Fantasy Comic in 2006, and tied for Best Fantasy Comic in 2005.
The Order of the Stick books are published by Giant in the Playground Games, a small press publishing company formed by OOTS creator Rich Burlew. The books are widely distributed to online and brick-and-mortar retailers in the hobby game market, as well as to comic book direct retailers. All four books feature an introduction by the author, as well as a preface written in the voice of one of the characters from the strip. The compilation books feature a number of pages of "bonus material", primarily additional strips inserted into various points in the story. The bonus material for Dungeon Crawlin' Fools, for example, includes a nine-page opening to the story that Burlew felt introduced the characters in a more organic way than the online comic's cast page.
On Jan. 22nd, 2012, Burlew launched a Kickstarter  campaign to get The Order of the Stick: War and XPs back into print, which eventually raised enough money to reprint the whole book series. The drive was the most funded creative work in Kickstarter up to that point, getting more than twenty times the original goal for a total of $1,254,120. During the reprint drive Burlew committed, as rewards for meeting increasing funding goals, to write eight new short stories either about specific characters or in alternative non-canon settings; the characters for three of these stories were chosen by backers as part of the pledge reward.
|Dungeon Crawlin' Fools||2005||978-0-9766580-0-3||1||1–121||120||Full color|
|On the Origin of PCs||2005||978-0-9766580-1-1||0||Print-exclusive prequel||72||Black-and-white|
|No Cure for the Paladin Blues||2006||978-0-9766580-3-8||2||121a-301||244||Full color|
|Start of Darkness||2007||978-0-9766580-4-7||−1||Print-exclusive prequel||96||Black-and-white with color inserts|
|War And XPs||2008||978-0-9766580-5-4||3||302–484||288||Full color|
|Don't Split the Party||2009||978-0-9766580-6-1||4||485–672||272||Full color|
|Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tales||2011||978-0-9766580-7-8||D||Dragon content, plus print-only content||112||Mixed color and black-and-white|
|Blood Runs in the Family||2014||978-0-9766580-8-5||5||673-946||368||Full color|
In partnership with APE Games, Giant in the Playground released the first OOTS game, The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Dungeon of Dorukan. The game, which was released in September 2006, utilizes cards and a board, and has strong influences from games such as Talisman and Dungeon!, as well as the less-known "Kings & Things".
The Dungeon of Dorukan is designed for 2–6 people, aged twelve and older. Each player controls one member of the OOTS team to explore the dungeon and hunt down Xykon. The player is able to train their chosen member with a variety of shtick cards. Each character provides a different gaming experience, and the players have the ability to either aid or harm their team mates.
The game has received two expansion sets. The first one, The Shortening, released in 2011 by APE Games, included new cards and rules to reduce the duration of the game. The second 20 card mini-expansion, Sticky Shticks, was announced as a pledge reward for the 2012 "reprint drive" Kickstarter campaign. It features cards that can be stuck to characters giving them some penalties.
A second, stand-alone game, The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Linear Guild, was set to be released by APE Games in the Fall of 2008, but has not been released. Players would be able to take on the parts of Nale, Thog, Sabine, and other members of the Linear Guild in their own dungeon adventure, or they can combine the materials in the game with those from the Dungeon of Dorukan set for a massive Order of the Stick vs. Linear Guild head-to-head adventure.
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