Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Order of the Stick gets serious

"The Order of the Stick", by Rich Burlew, is a consistently funny webcomic that rises far above its humble origins as a Dungeons & Dragons-themed comic. I mean, I hesitate to even mention that it has a gaming premise, since I feel like that prejudices it. It's so much more than that.

Oh, yeah, it uses stick figures for the graphics. That works out a lot better than it sounds, too. Something about stick-figure character fighting stick-figure monsters works out great. You wind up anticipating the next crazy monster to be rendered in stick form.

Yes, gaming conventions are played for laughs. But that's often just an excuse to break the fourth wall.

Interestingly, when the D&D ruleset changed recently, the author decided not to make that an issue in his comic, recognizing that it's not tied too closely to a specific ruleset. I mean, it ought to have been obvious that it didn't matter, but I guess if you're going to write a gaming comic you feel obliged to cater to a few rules lawyers.

One of the things that sets this comic apart is its long run and well-developed characters. It's a long-format comic: each episode is about the size of a comic book page, and has many panels; and every episode has its own gag. But together they aggregate to an ongoing story that just gets better and better.

The episode that made me want to post today is one from earlier this month, episode 642, has one character, an elf named Vaarsuvius, racing home to save family -- I'd say his family, but actually a running gag is that the character's gender is never made clear, so the children refer to their parents merely as "Parent" and "Other Parent".

We learn he's been gone for six years on his adventures with the other characters of the story. Suddenly the idea of someone going off on lengthy adventures is taken in a different direction: what about the people left behind? A character who has often been on top of the world is now forced to make terrible choices. It's good stuff, but if you're a new reader, you'll want to go back to the early days to get started. I recommend the Wikipedia page for a guide to where to begin if you don't want to go all the way back to the beginning....but I also can't see why you wouldn't do just that. That's what's great about webcomic archives, you can go back to the very beginning.

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