The Order of the Stick
|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 & 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 1100 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, Start of Darkness, and Good Deeds Gone Unpunished). 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.
- 1 History
- 2 Characters
- 3 Plot
- 4 Fictional world
- 5 Commentary on role-playing games
- 6 Reaction
- 7 Publications
- 8 Board game
- 9 Sources
- 10 References
- 11 Story notes
- 12 External links
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".
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 1][n 2] 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 3][n 4]
Starting in January 2013, a new version of the comic appeared in Gygax Magazine, a new tabletop gaming magazine published in print and digital formats.
Evolution of art style
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 5] 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 6] 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 7][n 8] while events in the "prequel" print-exclusive stories are shown in black-and-white.
Representation of minorities
Burlew has said that he includes stances on social topics in his comic because he worries about the impact of his work beyond momentary distractions. He has also written that he is attempting to compensate for past instances of "unintentional sexism and/or insensitivity to gender issues" but, being a straight white male, he finds difficult to talk authoritatively about minorities without the proper knowledge.
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:
- Roy Greenhilt: A 29-year-old lawful good veteran fighter, Roy assembled the Order and acts as party leader. Roy is a counterstereotype of the traditional dumb fighter cliché.
- Haley Starshine: A 24-year-old red-haired chaotic good human rogue. Greedy and obsessed with treasure, Haley is the second-in-command of the team.
- Belkar Bitterleaf: A barefoot chaotic evil halfling ranger, Belkar unrepentantly kills sentient creatures for entertainment.
- Durkon Thundershield: A 55-year-old lawful good dwarf, Durkon is the party's cleric, worshipping Thor as his patron deity.
- Elan: A 21-year-old chaotic good bard. Though not very intelligent, Elan knows a lot about genre conventions and storytelling tropes.
- Vaarsuvius: A true-neutral high-elven wizard, Vaarsuvius' gender is intentionally unclear, which goes as a running joke.
The comic's central antagonists include the following:
- Xykon (Formerly human Lich Sorcerer, Chaotic Evil[n 9]): The archvillain of the story,[n 10] Xykon is engaged in a plot to conquer the world by controlling a world-destroying being known as the Snarl.[n 11] While he has a notoriously short attention span and requires near-constant amusement, he is also capable of truly horrific acts of evil.[n 12]
- Redcloak (Goblin Cleric of the Dark One, Lawful Evil[n 13]): Xykon's main ally, he is a high priest of his deity and commander of the goblinoids that serve as the lich's minions. He is motivated by concern for the goblin people and their poor lot in life, believing that harnessing the power of the Snarl will allow his god to bargain for a better place for all goblins.[n 14] Unlike his boss, Redcloak is a patient planner and a competent leader,[n 15] and has shown an inclination for scientific thought.[n 13]
- The Monster in the Dark: An enigmatic, childlike monster that lurks in darkness under a pink umbrella. Although designated as Xykon's secret weapon, the Monster is terrified of almost everything, including the dark. On the rare occasions he has used force, he demonstrates incredible power. The paladin O-Chul deemed the Monster "a good man" after befriending him.
- Tsukiko: A female human Mystic Theurge imprisoned in Azure City for necromancy. She was released by the Azurites to help them during the battle against Xykon, but betrayed them and joined him instead. She has a necrophiliac attraction to Xykon, who rejects her advances.
- The Linear Guild: An adventuring party comprising "evil opposites" to the Order, led by Elan's literal evil twin, Nale. While the Guild originally sought a powerful magic artefact, its purpose turned solely toward defeating the Order after their first encounter with them. Most members of the guild have been killed.
- Miko Miyazaki (Human Monk/Paladin, Lawful Good): Strongest warrior of the Sapphire Guard,[n 16] Miko is dispatched to apprehend the Order at the request of her liege. Her sanctimonious attitude and her frequent judgment of others on moral grounds[n 17] create conflict with the Order, although both oppose the forces of Evil. Miko broke her Paladin oath by killing Shojo, her liege lord. She was killed during the battle of Azure City.
- General Tarquin: The de facto ruler of the Empire of Blood on the Western Continent and the father of Elan and Nale, General Tarquin is a lawful evil fighter who has schemes within schemes. Much like Elan, Tarquin is genre-savvy and has a flair for the dramatic, and becomes upset when others fail to respect literary convention.
- Minister Malack: A Lawful Evil lizardfolk cleric of Nergal and close friend of Tarquin. He harbors a grudge against Nale for killing his children and befriends Durkon soon after they meet.
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.
Dungeon Crawlin' Fools
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. Durkon Thundershield, the Order's dutiful dwarf cleric of Thor, enjoys a sexual encounter with the Guild's dwarf cleric of Loki Hilgya Firehelm, but they shortly afterwards part in tears. 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 printed book contains strips 1–121, plus extras.
No Cure for the Paladin Blues
The Order travels to Wooden Forest, where Vaarsuvius slays a black dragon and they 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 printed book contains strips 122–301, plus extras.
War and XPs
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. The printed book contains strips 302–484, plus extras.
Don't Split the Party
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 is betrayed by one of her old friends in the Thieves' Guild, 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 capturing him. Vaarsuvius then flies to an isolated island to search for Haley, where Vaarsuvius is attacked and defeated by the mother of the black dragon whom Vaarsuvius 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 this increased arcane power, Vaarsuvius 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 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 resurrects Roy. The story arc ends with the Order sailing towards the next gate and Vaarsuvius apologizing to the neglected familiar Blackwing, who tells Vaarsuvius that it saw what appeared to be another world in the rift in space caused by the Snarl. The printed book contains strips 485–672, plus extras.
Blood Runs in the Family
While O-Chul and Lien travel north to Kraagor's gate, the Order sails to the Western Continent. Their search for Girard's Gate 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 relative Orrin Draketooth can be found in Windy Canyon. However, Tarquin and the Linear Guild join forces and plot to seize the gate for themselves.
Meanwhile, in Azure City, Redcloak's troops recover Xykon's phylactery and destroy the resistance's base. Redcloak, who is plotting against Xykon, gives him a fake phylactery and keeps 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, which causes him/her to flee into the pyramid in horror. The Linear Guild arrives shortly after in hot pursuit. Belkar, Durkon, and Tarquin become separated from their respective groups in the ensuing battle. Belkar and Durkon encounter Tarquin's cleric Malack, who 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, and consequently the entire pyramid, rather than risk it falling into the hands of Evil. Again the Order sees what appears to be another world in the rift.
With Tarquin gone, Nale takes the opportunity to kill Malack, freeing Durkon who rejoins the Order. Tarquin kills Nale for disobedience upon returning and sends a vast army to attack the Order. With the help of Vaarsuvius (who was temporarily dragged into hell by the archfiends so that s/he could not prevent the Order from destroying the Gate), 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.
The final strip reveals 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 struggles trapped in his own body. The printed book contains strips 673–946, plus extras.
Julio's airship gets damaged in a storm, and the Order stop in the steampunk-inspired gnome town of Tinkertown to repair it. Haley deals with her old enemies, while Roy and Durkon search for a cleric who can cure Durkon's vampirism. They encounter Veldrina and Wrecan, who are traveling to the Godsmoot, an interfaith council of clerics. The Order flies the pair to the Godsmoot with the goal of restoring Durkon to life.
At the Godsmoot, they discover that due to the threat of the Snarl, the gods are casting votes (conveyed through their mortal representatives) on whether to destroy the world and start over. Durkon, revealed to be the High Priest of Hel, votes in favor of the destruction, causing a tie. With the swing votes of demigod priests potentially dooming the world, Roy tries to eliminate the High Priest of Hel to negate the vote. They fight to a stand still and the demigod priests vote and also cause a tie – with the priest of Dvalin needing to consult with the Dwarven Council before he can cast a vote. It is then revealed that Durkon has killed and vampirized all the members of the Creed of Stone, who walk into the room. Durkon abdicates his position as High Priest and hands it over to one of the newly formed vampires as he and a few other vampires teleport to the dwarven lands to dominate the dwarven council so they will vote in Hel's favor. Roy regroups with his team and they fly to a dwarven city named Firmament.
After defeating a tribe of giants, the Order gets to the city, where they gain allies (among them Hilgya Firehelm, accompanied by her and Durkon's infant son) and fight newly vampirised dwarves. The Order takes the fight to the High Priest and his vampire minions, but, although they initially prevail, the vampires manage to hypnotize most of the Order, breaking their plans and leaving all of them unconscious. However, in the meantime Durkon (who, throughout the book, has been forced to show the High Priest his memories) tricks the High Priest into absorbing the rest of his memories all at once, effectively turning him into a copy of Durkon, for a time long enough to get their body destroyed by Belkar. Durkon's soul ascends to the afterlife, where he encounters Thor, who reveals information about the nature and history of the Snarl, the Gods and their creations.
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 18] 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 19]) and technological (such as coffee makers[n 20]). The characters make references to real-life individuals (Michael Jackson[n 21] or Jessica Biel[n 22]), fictional characters from other sources (Green Lantern and Firestorm),[n 23] 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 18][n 24]
Three main areas of the world's geography have been mentioned: a mainland continent consisting of the Northern Lands and the Southern Lands,[n 25] and the separate Western Continent.[n 26] 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 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 27]
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 the Azurite fleet landed.
There are three primary polytheistic pantheons worshiped by humans, all based on real-life mythology: the Northern Pantheon (Norse deities led by Odin), the Southern Pantheon (the Twelve Gods of the Chinese zodiac), and the Western Pantheon (Mesopotamian deities like Nergal and Tiamat). Dwarves worship the Northern Pantheon. Lizardfolk worship the Western Pantheon. Elves have their own gods separate from the main pantheons.
There once was a fourth primary pantheon, the Eastern Pantheon, based on the Greek pantheon led by Zeus. These deities were killed by the Snarl and so had no role in the re-creation of the world; only people who are privy to the story of the Snarl have ever even heard of them.
Each pantheon has a deific color: yellow for the North, red for the West, blue for the South (whence "Azure" City), and green for the East.
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 28] 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 29] 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 religion. 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 30] 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 31]
Commentary on role-playing games
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 32] or to learn about a new class.[n 33] 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 34][n 35]
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.
Awards and recognition
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|
|Good Deeds Gone Unpunished||2018||978-0-9766580-9-2||½||Print-exclusive prequel||160||Black-and-white|
|Utterly Dwarfed||2019||TBD||6||947–TBD||352||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 teammates.
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.
- Burlew, Rich (February 2005). The Order of the Stick: Dungeon Crawlin' Fools. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground. ISBN 978-0-9766580-0-9.
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- Burlew, Rich (August 2006). The Order of the Stick: No Cure for the Paladin Blues. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground. ISBN 978-0-9766580-3-0.
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- "Eagle Awards". The Eagle Awards. 2008. Archived from the original on 2012-06-20. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
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- "2007 ENnie Awards Archives". The ENnies. ENWorld. 2007-09-09. Archived from the original on 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
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- "Company Listing for Giant in the Playground". Alliance Game Disrtibutors Online Catalog. Alliance Game Distribution. Archived from the original on 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
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- Diesel Sweeties and Kickstarter — Another Established Webcomic Getting Big Bucks on Kickstarter Archived 2012-02-16 at the Wayback Machine
- Best Webcomics Ever (This Week) 2.5.12 Archived 2012-02-08 at the Wayback Machine
- Rich Burlew on the Record-Breaking Success of the 'Order of the Stick Kickstarter' [Interview]
- Updates: Update #28: End of the Line—All Aboard!
- Updates: Update #25: You Knew This Was Coming
- The $235K (And Counting) Kickstarter Comic at the Wayback Machine (archive index)
- Updates: Update #4: And the Mystery Prize is...
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- Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Shortening (2011)
- GiantITP.com News 3/14/2011
- Updates: Update #19: The Game and More
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- Burlew, Rich (2004). "Teenage Boys Are CR 1". The Order of the Stick. GiantITP.com (#100). Retrieved 2008-04-22.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Order of the Stick|
- Official website
- Giant in the Playground
- "The Order of the Stick Adventure Game". APE Games. Archived from the original on July 13, 2006.
- "The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Dungeon of Dorukan". BoardGameGeek. Deluxe Edition. 2006. 24157.
- "Infinite Canvas: The Art of Webcomics". Exhibit. Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Sep 14, 2007. Archived from the original on Oct 26, 2007.
- "The Order of the Stick". TV Tropes.