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The Order of the Stick, also known as the OOTS, is a series of comics about a group of fantasy adventurers, based on role playing games, particularly Dungeons and Dragons. I should say that I don't play RPGs. Pretty much all I know about D&D comes from The Order of the Stick.
Dungeon Crawlin' Fools follows the adventures of The Order of the Stick as they fight Xykon, an evil undead skeleton.
~~~ Comic Style ~~~
The style of the comic is quite simple. The figures are stickmen, but with bodies, hair and other distinguishing features. The legs and arms are definitely stickish, but the bodies of the characters are clothed uniquely, female characters have definite bosom, and they are clearly characterised.
It's amazing how much personality and expression can be given to a face that's basically a circle with a mouth, eyes and occasionally eyebrows. A whole range of emotions can be shown by the characters, despite the simplistic style.
The comics are all drawn by Rich Burlew. He has actually studied drawing. One comic (a later one than this book) has someone draw a more 'realistic' drawing of a human and an orc, and the characters comment about how bad it is, because it looks nothing like the characters.
The style does nothing to detract from the humour, and probably help Burlew in drawing so many. They're never going to win an art trophy, but you should read these strips for laughs, not just pictures.
The idea behind the comics is to follow the player characters of a Dungeons and Dragons game. However, instead of just being the characters, they frequently acknowledge the fact they're in a game. They talk about 'spot checks' and 'XP', which is D&D jargon. A spot check is when a player rolls a dice to see if they see an enemy (I think, as I said, I learned about D&D from this comic) so the characters will make comments about having failed a spot check while standing in front of an enemy they can't see. Although most of the humour is aimed at D&D players, it doesn't stop it being funny to a complete novice in this area.
~~~ The Characters ~~~
~ Roy Greenhilt ~
Roy is a human fighter and the leader of the group. He's really the straight man of the comic, the one the others play off to make the jokes work. He doesn't just go around killing monsters, but thinks his way past problems as well. He's drawn as a tall, black man with blue armour and a huge sword (with a green hilt).
~ Durkon Thundershield ~
Durkon is a dwarven cleric who worships the god Thor. He starts off with little personality, other than a strange accent, but soon develops to become the most reliable member of the team. His presence in the strips allows for plenty of Thor jokes, which are usually very funny.
~ Haley Starshine ~
Haley is a thief with an obsession for finding gold. She's very likeable and really the heart of the group. She may be a greedy rogue, but there's more to her story than meets the eye…
~ Belkar Bitterleaf (also spelt Balkar at one point) ~
Belkar has serious psychological problems. To be more accurate, he's a sociopath. He's a very funny character, whose main joy in life is killing things. The main implausibility of OOTS (considering it's a fantasy story based in a role-playing world where the rules don't quite mesh with reality) is why Belkar would have stuck around with a team of heroes. Still, never let common sense get in the way of comedy.
~ Vaarsuvius ~
Vassrsuvius is an elven wizard, and a know-it-all. He/she has a tendency to ramble on. Like Durkon, he/she started of with little personality, just a couple of jokes about the stereotype, but became a more rounded character as the comics went on. A few comments in a forum about whether the elf in the background was male or female has led to a long-running joke, which is still funny. Even the characters don't know what gender Vaarsuvius is.
~ Elan ~
Elan is a human bard and my favourite character. He's very stupid, but also very nice. He's the sort of person who is very annoying, but doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He has some running gags, some one-liners and whole plotlines. He was the first character Burlew created and is still funny.
~ Others ~
There are plenty of other recurring characters, including Nale, Elan's twin brother, Xykon, an evil skeleton, Red Cloak, a goblin with a red cloak, and Thog, a brilliantly funny barbarian. Some characters turned up in a few strips and stayed because they were popular, others were intended to be recurring from the start.
~~~ The Website ~~~
I encountered the OOTS because a friend recommended I look at the website, http://www.giantitp.com/cgi-bin/GiantITP/ootscript. There are over three hundred comic strips there, following TOOTS on several adventures.
There are also forums and articles on gaming, but the reason I keep going back is for the comics and I think the same can be said for an awful lot of people.
The comics update about three times a week. Theoretically on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but this means they're readable the next day. They don't always update on time, which is annoying, but Burlew is fairly usually pretty regular about it. They update schedule can change. Just because it's three days a week at the moment doesn't mean it will be next month.
If you think the comic sounds interesting, I would recommend going to the website. The link I've quoted above will take you to the latest comic. From there you can go back to the beginning, or you can click on a link to take you to the archive. I would definitely recommend looking at the website before you even think about buying this book.
One annoying thing is that the site will occasionally go down for no apparent reason, but it's usually up and running again the next day.
~~~ Dungeon Crawlin' Fools ~~~
This book contains the first 121 strips of the OOTS saga. It also contains some new strips, scattered throughout the storyline, and a nine page introduction to the characters and storyline.
The book is split into five parts, or rounds to carry on the gaming metaphor, at the start of each is an introduction by Burlew about why he wrote that section the way he did. I would suggest reading the strips before you read the introductions, as there are spoilers. These are quite interesting to read once, but not so thrilling that I'd want to go back to them again.
The start of the book also has an introduction by James Wyatt and one supposedly written by Belkar. Again, these are quite interesting to read once but do contain spoilers for the storyline.
To be honest, there's not a great deal you get from this book that you can't get from the website. Yes, it's nice to have the comics all in a printed form, but since the majority are available on line for free, there's not much point in buying the book. the price on the back says $24.95, which is a lot for about fifteen new strips and some introductions.
~~~ Where to Get the Book ~~~
The book is available from the OOTS website, as is another book On the Origin of the PCs, which is the backstory of the characters. Coming soon is another book, No Cure for the Paladin Blues, which contains the next strips from the series and carries on where Dungeon Crawlin' Fools leaves off.
Dungeon Crawlin' Fools has an entry on Amazon.com, but there's no price so I think it's not currently in stock. It's not available from the UK Amazon site. It can also be bought from paizo.com.
~~~ My Recommendation ~~~
I think the OOTS is great. It's brilliantly funny, it's varied and it has a strong on-going plotline.
However, I don't think it's worth buying this book. Because almost everything in it is available for free, there's no point handing over quite a lot of money for what little new stuff you get.
If, on the other hand, you are a big OOTS fan and would like to read more, I would recommend On the Origin of the PCs, which is cheaper ($13.95) and is entirely new.
If you're not sure, go take a look at the website. There are a lot of great strips, and it won't take long to decide if you like them or not. Try the website first. It doesn't cost anything to look.