30 January, 2010

Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots.html)

Inside all of us, there is a little bit of gamer nerd. For Rich Burlew, that nerd is two-dimensional and stick-figured. Beginning in 2003 as an aside from Burlew's gaming site, Giant In the Playground, Order of the Stick began as a series of poorly-drawn in-jokes with the Dungeons & Dragons community, but the comic has grown over the last few years in include a wider audience of non-gamers, while keeping its heart and mind set firmly in the universe of where so many outcomes are determined by the Game Master's whim and the multisided die.

Following the travails of your canonical adventuring party, OOTS has grown into a textured world with equally textured characters and storylines of the same quality as one which A Gm lovingly been pieces together for the enjoyment of himself and his players. As necessary for any D&D story, the scale of the adventurer's journey is no less than epic, with the very whole of creation in the scales of balance as the party seeks to defeat the lawful evil Xykon and contain the chaotic wrath of the Snarl. Going well beyond the simple race-class-level descriptors of characters, the comic creates a meta-gaming experience through character backstories, relationships, and theology.

The basis of Order of the Stick's jokes-- as backed-up by lowbrow high fantasy-- has always been based in poking fun at the game as the players so often do (e.g., characters are quite aware of their level, stats, feats, and how well they did or did not do on that last spot-check). Although heavy-handed in the D&D jokes, the strip appeals to non-gamers alike, often setting the atmosphere to interest and invite would-bes to the game itself. Indeed, the poorly-drawn world which the adventurers inhabit, in fact, has become one of the running jokes of the strip, with both the author and characters well-aware of their one-dimensional proportions, taking note of when their creator shifts with any new artistic style or character clothing. As for an artistic critique, the stylization itself has modified somewhat over the last few years, with the cartoonist utilizing differing media for the Creation Story, but has otherwise remained static, keeping to the simplistic roots.

While the update schedule once followed a Monday-Wednesday-Friday series, one can now count on Burlew's updates at least once per week, the scheduling having been on a bit of a sliding scale for the past few years. While this is often a sin in the webcomic community (nonetheless, one which drives me mad), I can give Rich Burlew a pass, as he has been suffering from an undisclosed illness for a few years; in recent months, however, the updates schedule has improved.

Admittedly, I have not yet gotten a chance to take a look at Order of the Stick's related six books (which include many origin tales, and side-stories in addition to the strips), I do look forward to pick them up one of these days to fill-out the remains of the storyline (Although one can do well-without the formulaic romantic subplot). In addition to the usual commentary on the gaming world (great tribute the late Gary Gygax in 2008 as well), the strip has introduced general geek humor, bringing Harry Potter and Dune into the adventure when the time calls for it.

This one speaks to the inner nerd in us, and feeds on the absolute geekiness with no apologies, and congratulates you on that new d20 you bought, and challenges you on the rules and opinions of 4th Edition.

Roll for initiative.

Humor: B
Artwork: C-
Plotline: A+
Characters: B
Schedule: D+
Creativity: A-

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