The Best of Comic Genesis: Nahast: Lands of Strife

Nahast: Lands of Strife calls itself a d20 compatible webcomic.

Now then, exactly what does that mean? For those not in the know,  the d20 system is what is used as the rules basis for Dungeons and Dragons, as well as many other roleplaying games. From this, one might expect a comic like Commissioned (Fantasy RPG Arc) or Order of the Stick, with a plot in a fantasy world where you can clearly see the game mechanics functioning behind the scenes.

But for Nahast… no, not so much. Oh, you can see the influence of gaming in the details and development of the strip – but Nahast isn’t a world defined by rules as much as defined by story. Sure, the site has an entire page devoted to translating the world into rules one can use for gaming in that setting – but the rules are defined by the tale being told, and not the other way around.

What it draws from the gaming background is an intense attention to detail – it is a setting with a fully fledged mythology, and a fantastic wealth of creatures and gods, countries and politics. Tons of information laid out on the website to help familiarize readers with the world – and a supremely important cast page. Each person met has their own unique story, whether great or small – and everyone has the potential to be a hero in their own right.

Nahast is a world in full, and we can feel the weight of that with every page of the story.

The main story itself updates approximately once a week, with nicely drawn full color pages. Occasionally something else will work its way in – a retelling of the most important myth of the land, in a different but surprisingly effective style. Or a map of the entirety of Nahast. Or occasionally a written story itself, giving us the background of characters in a fashion that won’t take months upon months to reveal.

Like I said, this guy is all about the world-building, and occasionally busts out everything but the kitchen sink.

Now, I won’t claim the comic is perfect. The art is consistently solid… but there are moments of shakiness. For a story set in a fantasy environment – and one featuring characters who do often speak in a formal manner – it can be disorienting to have characters abruptly saying “my bad,” or to come across similarly out of place language. The website has a ton of nice features, but also seems curiously neglected in the last few years, with the archives featuring a great breakdown by scenes and storyline… that was last updated several years ago. And with updates to the story itself only coming once a week, the plot can be exceptionally slow-moving.

On the other hand, I’ve been reading the comic for several years now, with it consistently being one of my favorites regardless of all the above, so that might say something too.

Now, I appreciate the lush environment of a fully fleshed-out world, and the stability it gives the story itself. I enjoy the story the seems to be coming together in the background, and the skill with which things seem to be woven together. The art has moments where it works, in every way, absolutely perfectly. But what really draws me in time after time… is the characterization.

The main protaganists are what I tend to think of as ideal heroes for a story such as this – each of them exceptionally capable, possessed of unique powers and abilities, and important enough to stand on their own despite needing to come together as a team for the usual reasons – fulfill prophecies, stop evil, save the world.

The secondary characters that have been stealing the show away from that crew are the Hawk Maidens – a pack of young girls training to be warriors and scholars, who each have their own tales to tell. Stubbornly individual – both in appearance and personality – we haven’t even been thoroughly introduced to all of them, and each one manages to be as interesting a character as the last.

And of course, we have the main focus of the comic itself, which the story can’t seem to escape no matter how hard it tries – Derrexi Tzelan. Derrexi is… not very good at calligraphy. She is, however, quite capable when needed. Despite the philosophy of her thoughts, and the formality she is capable of in the setting requiring it, she clearly has a soul of mischief within.

I need to remember to mention this comic as an example whenever people are looking for strips with strong female leads, as she is as perfect an example as I can think of. Capable and self-reliant while remaining deeply human in her thoughts, she’s one of the strongest characters in webcomics period.

Nahast has politics and schemes that span an empire, prophecies and hidden dragons from the dawn of time, action-packed fights with demonspawn serving nefarious purposes, and the tales of a band of young women growing up and learning to walk their own paths in life.

If that doesn’t sell you on it, nothing will.

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