I recently stumbled across my notes from an Incomparable episode we recorded way back in 2014. I thought I’d pull them together and flesh them out to make a series of blog posts because web comics are cool goshdarnit! And know there are more out there than these. (The other comics we talked about in The Incomparable #220 are just the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure!) Let me know what your favorites are in the comments!
The Order of the Stick
The Order of the Stick is a web comic created by Rich Burlew that lovingly satirizes table-top RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons specifically. The characters are stick figures, as you may have guessed from the title, but they have surprisingly effective and emotive faces. He captures mood and emotion far better than some artists manage with more realistic styles.
“The Order of the Stick” is the name of an adventuring crew made up of the usual suspects—human fighter, rogue, and bard, dwarven paladin, halfling ranger, elven wizard. Only one, the rogue, is female (probably—the elf is gender-unspecified, which I like), but I find it hard to be upset about the lack of female representation in the principals. If the party was gender-balanced, it wouldn’t work so well as satire. There are oodles of other female characters in the world, and they only occasionally conform to traditional gender-roles, which is super-awesome. There’s one great interaction between Haley, the female rogue of the party, and another female character in which they hilariously make mockery of how gender roles typically play out in D&D.*
The cast is racially diverse as well–at least as far as I can tell from stick figures. Their heads are pretty much the only hint to skin color, but it’s clear Roy, at least, is dark-skinned, and he’s the leader of the party, which is a nice subversion of expectations.
This comic is SUPER meta. Seriously. The meta eats its own tail. They’re constantly referring to in-world events and items using D&D game terms. ʺJust what I need, another random encounter…ʺ or “This belt gives you the strength of a giant. — Are we talking a +4-type giant or a +6 kinda giant?” Or they throw all pretense of an enclosed world out the window and comment on the content of the strip itself—referring back to past storylines as “past storylines”.
Much of the comedy is derived from the meta-nature, but there’s plenty of situational humor, and best of all, there’s no shortage of puns. Elan, the bard, uses puns when he attacks. In #684 there are SIX PANELS of puns about Beatles’ songs during a fight scene with a bunch of beetle people.** It is a thing of glory.
Just as the artwork stretches beyond the bounds of the expected, these characters have a surprising amount of life for being stereotypical RPG tropes. As the series progresses, we learn more about each character’s backstory and motivations. This adventuring party is as well-developed as the characters in many a novel, and better than some I could name. Of course, that development never takes us too far from the archetypes they’re representing. That would rob us of the humor at the heart of this delightful comic.
The Order of the Stick is laugh-out-loud fun with well-developed characters and fantastic RPG adventure storylines. What’s not to like? Nothing. That’s what.
*I know there are several of these, but I’m thinking of one in particular. For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly what it was about or where it is in the series. Dammit brain! If anyone has an idea of what I might be referring to, please let me know.
**If you like that sort of humor, we can be friends.