OOTS time for some dungeon crawlin’

Filed in Comedy, Graphic Novel by on March 2, 2013 2 Comments

Order of the Stick - Dungeon Crawlin' Fools

I can hear my parents now. ‘Webcomic? Stupid dice?.. you’re not seriously going to review a cartoon, are you?’ Well don’t be fooled – Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick (OOTS) is much more than just a bunch of stick figures.

If you love role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and you haven’t seen the OOTS webcomic before, than I’ve got a treat for you. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then read on safe in the knowledge that the rampant geekism in this review isn’t infectious.

So break out the junk food, stock up on Coke, order in pizza and warm up your d20– you’re about to become a nerd*.

OOTS hearkens back to those halcyon student days at university when you’d brave bad dice rolls, late nights, Lord of the Rings soundtracks, terrible jokes and even worse body odour just for the chance to battle dragons, skeletons and increasingly powerful bosses alongside your pimpled, unshaven, undergrad compatriots (and those were just the girls).

Order of the Stick: Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools is the first in a series of (so far) six books based on the online comic strip you can also find (for free!) at www.giantitp.com. In OOTS Burlew has managed to create a world which is both exceptionally shallow and exceedingly deep, populated by characters who display naivety, insight, stupidity and compassion – often in the same sentence.

The series has a simple premise. A party of six characters of varying alignments and motives team up in the quest for truth, justice and experience points. Well, mainly the experience points.

Order of the Stick - OOTS - Dungeon Crawlin' FoolsIt’s the characters who are the real heart of Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools – and it is through his characterisation that Burlew really shines. (Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising considering that OOTS is based on a ‘role-playing’ game, but if you’ve ever seen a party of power-gamers suck the life from a beautifully-constructed group of characters in their quest for loot then you’ll understand where I’m coming from. But, I digress).

One of the appealing elements of the OOTS cast are the contradictions inherent in each character. Common sense dictates that a wizard character concept who is so verbose that they can barely finish a spell before the end of the adventure should not work… but it’s these very contradictions which makes the OOTS so memorable.

Party leader Roy is the ‘intelligent fighter’, who despite being extremely smart is constantly regarded as a nothing more than a walking sword. Durkon (the party’s cleric) uses magic to heal the worst injuries yet has no idea how to salve his own wounded pride. Elan the Bard pulls more females than Brad Pitt on a good day, yet barely has two neurons to rub together.

Order of the Stick - OOTS - Dungeon Crawlin' FoolsBut for me it is the halfling Belkar Bitterleaf who brings it home. A ranger with no ability to track and no knowledge of the wilderness, Belkar’s combination of innocence and cunning (mixed with a healthy dash of sociopathic homicidal rage) provides endless gag material.

A close second is the resident bad guy – an undead skeleton sorcerer named Xykon. Burlew uses him (at least I think Xykon is a guy) not only to voice the zingers which deflate the other characters, but to ridicule the very game system (and the very gamers) whose imaginations brought him and his ilk to life.

I want the monsters distributed evenly over the entire dungeon. The weakest monsters should go on the first level, and then they should get tougher as you descend. And don’t go clumping all the weaker minions in one group. Two or three in one room will do just fine“. (Xykon)

While Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools is little more a collection of one-off jokes lampooning the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset rather than a story tied together with a common theme, don’t just write it off. The book’s simplicity (both in plot and art style) is actually one of its strengths. One of things I like best about OOTS is how quickly you become attached to the simple stick figure character models. Burlew does an amazing job of illustrating the action and bringing the world to life with a few deft strokes. His strips aren’t overly heavy on text or exposition – he successfully keeps explanations to a minimum in a bid to up the yuk factor.

Burlew’s art style has evolved into a meme of its own right. It’s not for everyone, but I love it because I can’t draw worth a damn. For me, Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools demonstrates the emotional range of the simple eyebrow – Burlew’s eyebrows are often the sole indicator of moods, jokes or anger (especially if he reads this review), and yet for all of their simplicity they work a treat.

Make more with the funny

But let’s not fool ourselves – OOTS is about the jokes, and in this regard Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools hits the right note from the first page. Make no bones about it – it pokes fun at the ridiculous. While the personal hygiene habits of the traditional gamer are an easy target, Burlew avoids this low-hanging fruit and instead skewers the game itself – one which uses pencils, gridded paper and little plastic cubes to help nerds kill imaginary monsters.

Order of the Stick - OOTS - Dungeon Crawlin' FoolsJokes about sneak attacks, conflicting game rules, dungeon masters, copyright violations and the problems associated with being able to jump further than you can move abound. OOTS encourages you to laugh at yourself for spending endless hours deciding on the colour of your half-elf barbarian’s hat – but I‘m sure we’ve all been there.

As I mentioned, OOTS is actually available online at www.giantitp.com, but I couldn’t resist the hardcopy versions. For me there is something satisfying about the weight of the pages, the high quality printing etc. In addition you get bonuses such as Burlew’s chapter commentaries. They are a nice touch, but if this is your first time reading OOTS then read them last – many spoilers lurk within.

OOTS makes no bones about favouring the ‘pen and paper’ generation – those obsolete gamers which even World of Warcraft fans look down upon. And with all due respect to WoW, that’s just fine with me.

*A confession – I still play Dungeons and Dragons with my mates to this day. While we’ve upgraded to 4th edition, my heart will forever be with 3.5. You all know what I mean.

Rich Burlew
Order of the Stick: Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools

Order of the Stick: Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools

Genres: Comedy, Graphic novel

I can hear my parents now. ‘Webcomic? Stupid dice?.. you’re not seriously going to review a cartoon, are you?’ Well don’t be fooled – Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick (OOTS) is much more than just a bunch of stick figures.

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About the Author ()

Nick Buchan is currently writing his first novel ‘Leopard Tree’, available 2015. “A burnt-out police detective becomes embroiled in a child murder investigation while on African safari. Will this case send Detective Duffy over the edge?” Follow ‘Leopard Tree’ online at www.leopardtreenovel.com or https://www.facebook.com/NickBuchanAuthor

Comments (2)

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  1. Heidi Angell says:

    Nice review! I recently got into playing Munchkin and the guy who introduced me to it (my first geeky table top game!) showed me OOTZ because all the other players kept cracking jokes about D & D and I was clueless! It is a cute series! I’m a geek, but this is a new level of geekiness for me!

    • Nick Buchan says:

      Hi Heidi,

      I loved Munchkin! It’s funny how once you dip your toe into the water with something like D&D a whole new subculture opens up – OOTS, RPG card games… even *gasp* computer RPGs. I’m halfway through my first play-through of Baldurs Gate (PC) version at the moment… Minsc seems like he’d fit right into Order of the Stick!

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