I really didn’t intend to write about Order of the Stick so soon.
It is one of those comics that I feel like I talk about all the damn time, and I always feel slightly guilty about this. I’m not even entirely sure why - I don’t want to bore people with discussion of the same material day after day, but a strip like the Order of the Stick is anything but boring.
Especially right now.
Prepare for spoilers, by the way, if for some reason you aren’t all caught up on life with Rich Burlew’s merry band of adventurers.
What amazes me about the Order of the Stick – or at least one of the things that does – is Rich’s ability to keep the story moving. It doesn’t feel too fast – if anything, sometimes I am only too eager for seeing what is coming next – but he manages to work an amazing amount of story progression into the strip.
This is due to Rich having a damn good grasp of pacing, and knowing exactly how much screen time to give a scene for maximum impact. It is even more insane when one recognizes how well he is able to split the focus between all the different characters.
You see, the strip doesn’t follow a single, linear plot thread. There are moments, yes, when our heroes are all together in a group and going about a single task. This was much more true in the early days of the strip – that is essentially what a dungeon crawl is. Even then, however, we would flash back and forth between scenes of the heroes and Xykon, the great nemesis, plotting from his lair with his minions and allies.
We really saw the split storytelling manifest with the appearance of the Linear Guild, at which point the party goes off on three seperate tracks. The (first) Linear Guild saga concludes with Durkon seperated from the rest of the party, and a heartbreaking tale of dwarven romance.
(This, just as a note, is where the strip really starts to shift focus from gaming in-jokes set in a fantasy world, to a full-fledged story that happens to have a fair share of jokes.)
(Speaking of which, it’s a damn shame Dragon magazine is going away, as the OotS strips featured within were quality pieces of work. Seriously, the comic in its current state is fantastic, and blows me away with every update, but it does miss out on the pure level of humor from the first few strips. Those are the strips quoted around one d&d table after another, and those are the ones that really established his presence. The Dragon magazine strips were the same deal – simple one-shots to make you laugh, and I’ll miss them.)
(That’s not to say the jokes have left the main strip – far from it! Rich has a great grasp of comedy, and is adept at balancing action with humor. He even had an entire full page strip that was nothing but one long penis joke.)
(No pun intended.)
Anyway, where were we?
Right, right, lots of characters, storylines, etc. Here we have a strip with a half-dozen main characters, each with their own story. We also have their evil twins, who get plenty of screen time, as well as the main villain and his own merry band of misfits. Finally, the self-righteous paladin whose own personal conflicts have been a focus of many recent arcs. Each of them gets their moment in the sun, which normally I would expect to result in the action slowing down to a crawl – but somehow it feels even more in motion.
Even in battle, which previously would just have the group fighting as a team, now seems designed to give everyone a shot at glory. During the most recent showdown with the Linear Guild, the party basically paired off with the villains one on one. During the current massive battle, each characters has their place and their chance to shine, and each time it is simply freakin’ awesome.
And Roy got the chance to go toe to toe with Xykon. To finally find out exactly what was the first step that led down the path to this confrontation. To demonstrate exactly how far his own skills have come. He had the means and the power to end Xykon once and for all…
…and he blew it. Oh, Xykon doesn’t get away unharmed. Roy landed a few solid blows, enough to give Xykon pause. Roy deprived him of his mount, which isn’t insignificant. But it wasn’t enough. We can’t even really hold Roy accountable – Xykon is leagues more powerful than him, as far as Roy has come. Sure, he came out on top in their first encounter, what with grappling and surprise and ancient magical gates at hand.
But this time, Roy lost.
And now he’s dead.
It’s a pretty big event. I mean – bam, most central character of the storyline, dead. Yet somehow, his fall doesn’t even feel as momentous as Miko’s.
Maybe it’s because adventurers do weasel their way out of trouble all the time… even death. I mean, there are plenty of ways for them to bring Roy back in the D&D world, and we’ve seen first hand they have the means to do so. Assuming the heroes win the battle. Assuming the clerics make it out alive. Assuming they recover Roy’s body.
That’s the thing – there are enough different directions this could go in that I can’t speculate as to what will happen next. On the one hand, I can’t believe Rich would take Roy out of the picture for good, given how central he has been to the entire story. At the same time, I can’t believe he would kill him off and then cheapen the death by easily bringing him back.
I’m not even sure if he was killed off in spite of being the main character… or because of it.
Roy is the leader of the group. That’s a given. Not only does he give them direction, but he is really the bond that keeps them as a team, that manages Durkon’s standoffishness and Vaarsuvius’s thirst for power, Haley’s greed, Elan’s innocence, Belkar’s hatred of all living things. They wouldn’t even be here if Roy hadn’t brought them together for his own quest to go after Xykon. Most of them certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with each other without his stabilizing presence.
They are all important, that goes without saying. They have all developed into central figures in this grand tapestry. But Roy brought them together, Roy forged them into a team, and Roy is the single reason they have come down this long and winding path.
Maybe that’s why we need to see what will happen without him.
I don’t think this is the end for Roy Greenhilt. This death – it is dramatic, it is momentous, but it’s not a good death. Roy didn’t die succeeding in his goals, he died failing them.
He failed to fulfill his father’s blood oath.
He failed to stop Xykon in his quest to conquer the world.
He failed to even weasel his way out of one simple fall.
I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him. I don’t think Rich would consign a character to such an ending, especially not a character as pivotal as Roy. Not a character with such distinct a voice - even more than the guy who drove the story along, he was the perfect straight man for so many of the jokes. Sure, V or Durkon might be able to fill in that role, but can the comic really go on without him?
I guess all we can do is keep reading, and find out.
I didn’t intend to write about OotS, but this really is a scene that can’t be denied. Regardless of what happens next, this moment will have an impact, on everything. (Not just’s Roy’s skull.) Roy was their chance to stop Xykon from getting to the throne room and setting his plans in motion, and he couldn’t cut it. The others are engaged in all manner of difficulties, and even if Xykon wasn’t in the picture, they are up against potentially overwhelming odds.
And Rich has shown he isn’t afraid to pull punches. If he can kill off Roy, then anything goes. We don’t have the slightest idea what is going to happen next.
But I’m damn well going to be there to find out.