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Eric: Wait... thumbnailed graphic... parentheses... my God, Eric's SNARKING A WEBCOMIC!

(From Order of the Stick! Click on the thumbnail for full sized portentousness!)

There is a kind of pure joy Rich Burlew takes in the conceit of Order of the Stick. The core concept of the strip has been seen before. "This is a role playing game. The characters live by the absurd rules and conventions of tabletop d20." But Burlew goes absolutely whole hog with it. We're on the one hundred and ninety ninth strip (gosh, you think the next strip might be somehow significant?) and the Funny today is about the innate Pathetic Fallacy of the Campaign World.

"Wait," you say (assuming you haven't studied literature or logic). "Are you calling Order of the Stick pathetic? It most certainly is not, sir! If you are saying Rich Burlew's saga of stick figures and adventure is somehow deserving of pity despite its obvious glories, I shall have to ask you to step outside forthwith for fisticuffs!" Well, calm down, Nigel. We're talking about the Pathetic Fallacy, not pathos. Allow me to explain.

The Pathetic Fallacy is a logical fallacy -- a structural flaw in any argument independent of the merits of the argument -- wherein inanimate objects, animals or the like are ascribed human emotions and motivations. "Information wants to be free" is an example of the Pathetic Fallacy -- information doesn't 'want' anything. Information is incapable of wanting. It's not alive. It's information. The literary application of the Pathetic Fallacy -- where inanimate objects or nonhumans certainly can have emotion and motivation -- is personification. And personification can be applied in many ways. Some of them are foreground to the story -- animals who are preternaturally wise, objects that somehow form bonds with people and the like. And some of them are background -- window dressing, if you will. The weather is the most famous example -- fiction writers through history have loved to bring the rain on during mournful or tense scenes, and bright sunshine during happy ones.

And, of course, Dungeon Masters follow suit in campaigns.

Today's strip does it as well as I've seen -- and like I said, it takes a significant joy in it. It reminds me of old school RPG World (a "why am I reading this again?" strip which I'm clinging to because it's not bad, but there's a lot less joy in the execution these days). And it pretty much nails the execution.

So... Rich Burlew gets a biscuit.

That's right. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

More in a bit. It's good to be back.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at July 6, 2005 10:13 AM


Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 6, 2005 11:55 AM

Sigh... maybe it's just me, but it isn't humorous to me to have a trope pointed out. I mean, I already know they're out there, silly and cheesy and overdone. The humor doesn't come into play unless it's somehow turned inside out, on its ear, or somesuch.

RPG World is actually a great example. Check out this particular comic. It's one thing to have the dramatic choir music right before the grand battle against the main foe. It's used in movies, television, video games (sweet mercy, is it used in video games), even table top RPG games. It's an obvious cliche, one that we're all used to. But to make the cliche into elevator music? Priceless. I'm just imagining people going to work, taking the elevator, and having to listen to final boss music before they get to their cubicles. And that, to me, is making the trope funny.

Of course, I'm the guy who likes to listen to the Theme of Gilgamesh from Final Fantasy 5 done on piano before he goes into work. As with anything on the Internet, YMMV.

Comment from: Alun Clewe posted at July 6, 2005 12:25 PM

Not just you, actually. I didn't really find it funny either, FWIW. (Though admittedly, come to think of it, I've done the same thing in a strip from the second week of my own comic. Eh...all the more reason to dislike my early strips, I guess.)

Comment from: Alun Clewe posted at July 6, 2005 12:53 PM

And now I find myself wishing there were a way to delete comments, because my previous comment was both unnecessary and badly worded. (For the record, when I said "I've done the same thing", I meant to refer only to the very broad "thing" of basing a "joke" around pointing out a genre trope without any attempt at subverting it. I wasn't trying to say my strip bore any similarity beyond that to the OOtS strip Eric snarked.)

Anyway, though, let's just forget I made that comment and move on.

Comment from: Zaq posted at July 6, 2005 12:57 PM

32: The piano version pales in comparison to The Black Mages' version (I believe it's called "Clash On The Big Bridge", as they do have a tendency to rename their songs.). Good stuff, though.

Order of the Stick is a very strange comic for me. I like reading it. I find it genuinely funny, I like the characters, yada yada yada it's well done. Yet, for one reason or another, I can never make myself add it to my personal trawls. I finish reading it with a "well, that's that" feeling more than a "More? More? When can I have more?!" feeling. It's not like I intentionally read it in large bursts (like I do with Soap on a Rope, or SHOULD do with Van Von Hunter but don't.)... it just happens that way.

Oh well. It's still enjoyable.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 6, 2005 12:59 PM

Middle of last month I did the second of two planned Every Webcomic Uses This Punchline Once gags. The first one was of course a dialog balloon reading, "Khaaan!!" The second was a caption reading, "Cue ominous music here!"

Regular readers of the present blog will recall the latter as an element of the You Had Me And You Lost Me essay for General Protection Fault. Yet I distinctly recall, when I saw Darlington use it, that I thought, "That's at least twice;" but I have never been able to recall where else I saw it.

Then I read the Narbonic archives. I'd never read them before because, like many, each of us for our own reasons, I've never subscribed to Modern Tales. And there's a fourth panel in there somewhere in which Helen the sweetheart of Websnark says, "Where's that ominous music coming from?"

It's all in the delivery, folks.

Comment from: Joshua posted at July 6, 2005 1:23 PM

I liked this strip because it's not just pointing out the Pathetic Fallacy (which isn't a fallacy at all in the gameworld), but because it's a character strip. See, Elan is an idiot in almost every respect, but he's a bard, and as such he knows drama. So in this case Elan is right, and for the right reasons, which hardly ever happens. And Durkin agrees with him, and offers a logical in-world reason for him to be right, even without the reification of genre conventions that the strip is based on. And Roy, who is definitely not an idiot most of the time, doesn't buy it, because on the subject of Elan he is bit of an idiot.

Plus he failed his Spot check.

Comment from: kirabug posted at July 6, 2005 1:34 PM

arrgh. curse my corporate firewall, i can't even read the thing!

32 and zaq - i prefer the Black Mages theme from FFIX, personally... I've got the soundtracks to 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 loaded into the iPod and listen to them while at work.

Comment from: Phil Kahn posted at July 6, 2005 1:54 PM

I don't think this strip was as funny as its great execution. That's what I think Eric's trying to say here, guys.

Comment from: Aerin posted at July 6, 2005 4:05 PM

I really should have a sporadically checked trawl for comics that update infrequently like RPG World and Instant Classic. The problem is that I get bored easily and tend to obsessively check their sites for updates, even if I know there won't be anything new. Hell, I'll probably be checking Green: Wicked, Wicked Ways fairly often, and the next episode's not due until September. I agree that RPG World doesn't feel as fun as it used to, but I really think it would benefit from being read in large chunks.

Also, Websnark Browncoats: keep an eye on http://www.cantstopthesignal.com tonight. It's very likely that tickets for the next screening of Serenity will be going on sale at midnight EST. (I'm not 100% sure of this, since all anyone knows is rumor and speculation right now, but it can't hurt to watch.)

Comment from: Wednesday posted at July 6, 2005 4:29 PM

I actually skipped a Boston Serenity screening last month that I could have gone to (at least in theory) -- I loved Firefly to death, don't get me wrong, and I'm hell of eager for the film, but the screenings don't really sound like my social bag. (Plus, I want the effects to be all done the first time I see it.)

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 6, 2005 4:32 PM

Phil, a bad joke rendered well is still a bad joke. And whether it was rendered well is a different debatable point (given that the cliche is just trotted out and deliberately mentioned as a cliche and it's just expected to be funny on its own, I argue it wasn't).

As for video game music... don't get me wrong, I love The Black Mages. But for quite a few tracks, Gilgamesh's theme included, I feel the piano suites bring out the best in the tunes. Of course, I do prefer the Black Mages versions of One Winged Angel and Battle With The Four Fiends.

And I'll spare people a recounting of my collection. It's frightening in its breadth and concentration.

As for frequently checked... I still check Elf Only Inn for updates frequently, and that hasn't updated in nearly a year. It was so good that I feel it deserves it.

Comment from: Tangent posted at July 6, 2005 4:46 PM

Ooookay... am I alone in rolling a d8 for weather and another d8 for wind? With the result of a 1 being sunny, 4 being cloudy, and 8 being downpour? (and likewise, 1 is dead calm while 8 is almost gale-force winds?)

I mean, the way I see it, weather is fairly random, though I will mediate the dice sometimes (like not going from sunshine to downpour in one day, but allowing clouds to gether and so forth), the only thing I as GM truly control is the seasons and general temperature. Besides, if it's raining, it affects archery and ranged combat.

It's a poor GM who doesn't factor in the weather for a game.

Though I will admit this... in the one novel I've finished so far, I do have rainy weather and the use of thunderstorms on a mountainside to help accent dramatic situations. Well, that and one of the characters has a tendency to "encourage" lightning if he's stressed out or scared. *grin* But heck, I have a thunderstorm going on with a girl skinnydipping (and no, she doesn't die horribly). I suppose it's a change from seeing the girl in pale full moonlight emerging from the waters... :D

Robert A. Howard


Comment from: Zaq posted at July 6, 2005 4:58 PM

...The Black Mages did a version of One Winged Angel? News to me... I've only heard the stuff on their first two CDs ("The Black Mages" and "The Skies Above").

And while orchestrated or piano versions certainly have their place (Hell, I just went to the Dear Friends concert last weekend, after all), when it comes to battle themes like Clash on the Big Bridge, you can't beat wailing guitars, drums, and synth (but mostly guitars).

...Unless you're Noriyuki Iwadare, of course. My KINGDOM for a Grandia concert...

Comment from: Aerin posted at July 6, 2005 5:01 PM

Wednesday: I saw the Vegas screening in the round before last, and it was sort of hard to tell which effects weren't totally finished. Or maybe I was so completely wrapped up in the story (which is by far the most intense thing I've ever seen in theatres) that I just didn't care. There were only two things I noticed effects-wise that really bugged me: the Serenity logo is bright and shiny on the side of the ship, and there's sound in space.

And the screening crowd wasn't rabidly fanatic, at least in Vegas. There were lots of people dressed up, to be sure, but we just sat around playing cards and watching the DVDs.

But yeah, I can totally understand wanting to wait for a finished product. It's worth the wait.

Comment from: abb3w posted at July 6, 2005 6:47 PM

For those trying to understand the strip archives, who have not been playing D20 the last few years, I found this site a useful companion when searching for explanation of some of the jokes.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 6, 2005 7:46 PM

Technically, Eric, logical fallacies are all about the merits of an argument. They're errors in reasoning. It's the merits of the conclusion that are independent.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at July 6, 2005 8:01 PM

Weather, music and location is our usual mechanisms of presenting the "larger than life" element of conflicts, emotions and resolutions(In the case of comics, dramatic panel shapes/positions too). I think this is because we realize that human affairs by themselves are usually rather petty, in relation to the world around us. But look! He's so angry and they're so important that there's lava everywhere and an orchestra and everything (not that I'm complaining, I'm just saying)

abb3w: I have never played D&D or any other roleplaying game in my life, and had no problem getting the jokes. OOTS rocks even if you're not an RPG nerd.

Welcome back Eric!

Comment from: Bad Idea posted at July 6, 2005 8:50 PM

I think it's really intended to be more self-referential, in that while the strip makes fun of using weather to build tension, he's actually still using weather to build tension, successfully (well, "successfully" if you care at all about the ongoing plot of the strip). That shadowy figure has been stalking them since 80 strips ago, and the main point of this strip is obviously to be a cliffhanger leading into #200, not to provoke a laugh-out-loud response at the last panel. Given that, the fact that it is still ALSO a swipe at pedantic Dungeon Mastering is amusing.

Comment from: larksilver posted at July 6, 2005 11:27 PM

Huh. I found it hysterical, and not because of the Trope. I often find Mr. Burlew's vision of the limitations of the RPG world amusing, because they're the thing I most enjoying playing off of in my own tabletop gaming days (eons ago).

However.. the humor in that for me was, as someone waaaaaay up there pointed out, in the characters. Because Elan is an idiot, always, it's often funny on the rare occasion when he's right (though still an idiot). OOTS is one of my favorite comics because of the characters, and the humor is top-notch.

It's funny that Eric snarked this one, though. I thought for sure he would point out the strip which was the first place I ever saw the word "evil-gasm." I mean, c'mon, EVIL-GASM.

But then, if I recall correctly, Madame W was in town at the time, and I believe we can all forgive him for bein' a bit preoccupied.

Evil-gasm. It's just.. wow. Okay, so I'm stuck on that word. If only I could find a way to use it in some RL circumstance...

Comment from: miyaa posted at July 7, 2005 1:53 AM

Yeah, I thought the evilgasm comment was funnier than this one. So was the comic before this one where Elan decided that he'll take some ranks in Perform (kazoo). And if you know anything about D&D bards, they needs some kind of musical instruments to do any kind of singing. So the idea that a kazoo gives a party a +1 bonus for anythign is pretty funny. Actually a kazoo is pretty funny on it's own.

I do agree that there are better D&D/Fantasy comics out there. Nodwick and Pewfell are two that comes to mind.

Comment from: Ununnilium posted at July 7, 2005 3:22 AM

Wow. I didn't expect my opinion to be so far from the average. >>; IMHO, this strip rocked, as does OOTS in general. It balances out Character, Funny, and Story with that seeming ease that's only achieved by being very, very good at what you do.

Comment from: Aerin posted at July 7, 2005 4:50 AM

Somewhat ironically, I think Bad Idea has the right idea. This is really a strip more about the Story than the Funny. We're coming up on the 200th strip, which Burlew has promised will be double, perhaps even triple-length to make up for the spraining. Not only that, but we're getting to see the heroes in action for the first time in (what feels like) a long damn time. And it's a storytelling technique I admire, bringing us back to the main arc after a lengthy but enjoyable evil subplot, then giving us only two strips of breather before throwing us headlong into a boss fight. (My background is video game RPGs, not table-top, so that tends to be the way I think of certain story elements. It's still funny as hell even if some jokes are a bit beyond me.) Despite its failings, OotS is one of the few strips that I check with real excitement and anticipation rather than just out of force of habit, and I'm excited as hell for Friday's strip.

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer posted at July 8, 2005 11:53 PM

Did you see the 200th episode? Made fun of the Paladins are massive moronic jerks. I loved it!

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