Part 1: Kickstarter and the Fans
Part 2: The Comic & Role-Playing Games
Jesse - Hello, this is Geekademia on the Non-Productive Network, my name is Jesse Baruffi...
David - I'm David Lawrence.
Jesse - ...and we're here with another special guest, Rich Burlew, the author and artist of the Order of the Stick! Hello Rich!
Rich - Hey, how's it going?
1B: OOTS Kickstarter Project
Jesse - Pretty good. So, the reason... I think the reason we were able to get you on today is the fact that you're going through a very large donation drive at the moment on the website Kickstarter.
Rich - Yes. Yes, I am.
Jesse - So, to anyone who might not know about this, why don't you tell us a little bit about it?
Rich - Alright, well. For a while I've published my own books, of the Order of the Stick, and because I'm a small one person company, I ran out, essentially, of all the existing books, which isn't just a problem for selling those books, but also for selling any future books, because people like to have things in whole sets, so I was worried about what would happen when I put out my next book if my entire back catalog was unavailable.
So I had heard about Kickstarter, I had followed some projects and I thought "Well, I'll put up a little Kickstarter and we'll try to get..." I get people bugging me all the time to... not bugging, you know... asking all the time when the next reprint would be of one of my books in particular, War and XPs, which is the biggest, fattest, most expensive book to print so far. So I was like... and I absolutely did not have the money for it.
And so I thought "Well, I'll put up a Kickstarter for it, and if it goes well, I get to reprint the book, and if it doesn't go well, I'll have something to say next time somebody asks me [why] isn't War and XPs in print". And I thought that was worth it right there. So I set up this Kickstarter project drive and it's... pretty good so far. We got it funded enough to reprint that book in about... 36 hours I'd say, and it's gone on from there to funding the reprinting of every single book that I have - six - the ones that are regularly in print, and it's been pretty amazing. I had no idea that I'd get this sort of response from my readers. Yeah, it's been a ride, to say the least.
1C: OOTS Fandom & the GiTP Forums
Jesse - As someone who goes on the forums on your website from time to time, it seems you've got some extremely devoted fans.
Rich - Yes, that would be an extremely charitable description. No, it's wonderful, I love my fans, I do have fans that are very dedicated, often more dedicated than I am. You know, they're dedicated to some of the minutiae about the comic that has never crossed my mind, and... but that's great, I mean, I'm happy that they can get that enjoyment from it, even though I don't want to even worry about it. . . [crosstalk] . . .like the number of character appearances or who has the most number of kills in the comic, you know. Good for them. . . [unintelligible]
Jesse - Yeah, you've got bigger things to worry about, like what happens in the story. . .
Rich - Story, yeah.
1D: The OOTS Soundtrack Thread & OOTS Animated
Jesse - One thing I noticed recently on the forum that I thought was kinda interesting is the fact that people have started to. . . sort of making a soundtrack to the series. . .
Rich - I saw the thread title, but I haven't been. . . I haven't been on the forums as much as I should since this started, been having to put up an update almost every single day for the past two weeks, so I haven't actually caught exactly what's going on there, but it's an interesting idea, I mean, I know that Homestuck does similar sorts of things with the fans creating soundtracks and he actually uses them in his animation, which I don't think is gonna happen for the Stick, but it's still a great idea to be able to have something to listen to... I don't know, it's an interesting idea.
1E: OOTS & Social Networking
Jesse - One thing that I really wanted to ask you about, 'cause I think this is kinda fascinating... I've noticed most people in the webcomics... I guess, field? . . . are. . . basically kinda throw themselves on every social networking site there is, whether it's like Facebook or Twitter or Tumbler or any of that stuff.
Rich - And you're saying I'm a backwards Luddite hermit.
Jesse - Well, yes, but I mean it as a compliment.
Rich - I had to download Skype in order to have this conversation.
Jesse - I certainly don't mean that as an insult. It seems to me that it's something we here at Geekademia don't even use a lot of that stuff. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to have a Facebook page for the podcast. But I was just wondering if that was a conscious decision on your part or is that something you're just too busy for.
Rich - Yeah, it's pretty much a conscious decision, I mean, I am a technologically backwards Luddite, that makes it easy . . . but second, I think, if I want people to see my content, I want them to sort of come to my website, instead of maintaining different websites at 15 different social networks. I don't want to have to worry about whether my Facebook page is updated in addition to my website. And some of these I'm just a late arrival to, in the sense that there is an Order of the Stick website that somebody created, a fan created, and it's been out there and everybody's linked to it, and everyone liked it in their profiles or whatever and I don't have control of that, so rather than there being two competing Facebook pages I just sort of let that live it's own life as a fan created thing and I'll concentrate on my own website.
I will probably get dragged into Twitter very soon [N.B. As of 3/15/2012 Rich has a Twitter account for OOTS. -ThePhantasm] but, ah, not yet, haven't crossed that threshold yet, and every thing else, either I'm oblivious to it or I just haven't had the time to learn and figure out whether it works for me.
Jesse - Ok.
Rich - I think I'm also a little bit older than a lot of the other webcomic - I mean, I'm not OLD old, I'm 37, but I think a lot of the webcomic creators out there are college or just there after, and therefore are a lot more 'up' on these technologies than I am. And I use a Mac, which is not always up to speed up until very recently with the iPad explosion coming and such.
Jesse - Gotcha. Well that makes sense and I'm only a little bit younger than you, but yeah, I kinda feel similarly. If I was going to do something creative, I'd focus on that instead of the endless, like, updating of other things, personally.
Rich - Yeah, I have enough trouble keeping my own website updated, so it seems like I would just be adding more work on myself. And I had a fairly large audience before Facebook became "the" thing that everybody had to be on. I started this in 2003, I don't know exactly when Facebook started peaking, but I know that I already had a substantial audience by that point, so I don't know that I saw right away what the benefit would be, and now that I do, it looks like somebody already did a page for me, so. . . I let it be.
2A: On Whether Rich Has Time For Role-Playing
Jesse - Order of the Stick is of course a huge gaming comic so I was wondering if you still had time to do any role-playing these days?
Rich - No, no, I haven't in a while. The last role-playing I did was when I was working on... when I was gonna do Snips, Snails an Dragon Tales, the limited book with the Dragon Magazine strips, I did some 4th Edition role-playing to be sure I knew sort of what I was talking about, which I probably didn't but I can pretend better, and that was over a year ago now.
It just doesn't work, you know, it hasn't really worked out that way, that I had as much time for that as I used to, sort of fallen by the wayside, but not in a way that I'll never go back to it, just in a time way. I think you get busy at a certain point in your life, with your work and your family and your such and such, and whether or not you have time for it is sort of random, sort of up in the air. I mean, I still get a lot of that sort of fix from thinking about it, talking about it and such like that.
But in a certain point, I was always the DM when I played, and at a certain point it just feels like I'm taking that much time to craft a complex story, maybe I should just write it down and someone would pay me for it. I guess that's possibly maybe a little bit of it, because I'm now sort of essentially a professional fantasy writer, that I can't really bring myself to put the same amount of effort I did when I was in college and such and it was the focus of my creative attention.
2B: Will There Ever Be an OOTS World Created for a Gaming System?
Jesse - And along those lines, I realize that doing it at this point would probably be a mountain of effort and give too much away, but I've seen people on the forums asking if some day there would actually be an Order of the Stick world created for any sort of gaming system. Do you think you would do that if you had the time and opportunity?
Rich - Let me tell you, I started working on that a few years ago, and what happened is, I got about 20 or 30 pages in, and WotC announced 4th Edition. And I didn't know what was gonna happen with it, I didn't know whether I was gonna want to make it for that, I didn't know if making it on 3rd Edition would still be possible with the game license, would they find a way to revoke that, it was all up in the air, everything was sort of chaos and I had no idea what was gonna happen. . . so I put it aside, and then have never gone back to it since, really.
It wasn't compatible at all with 4th Edition, so therefore that wasn't going to work, and I don't know, I didn't know whether I would ever really have the direct audience that I thought it should so I think I just sort of let it lie fallow after that.
I cannibalized parts of it, the document I started working on. . . I think the last compilation I put out, Don't Split the Party had some black and white cartoons that were from that project, and I know the map that I did in the back of one of them for Azure City was actually of the Azure City country description, so you know, pieces of it have been seen here and there ever since.
But another problem was that I'd done a write up for Elan's Dashing Swordsman class, and since then I had at least three things I've put into the comic, you know. . . here's this joke about this class that has this ridiculous cliched hero abilities. . . and if I put out that class, I can't really do that any more. Can I then say "Oh, it has this ability too?" 'cause I've already taken people's money to say "This is the class that it is!." So I think it's easier to leave things vague and up in the air and just use them when I want to as humor rather than as concrete game rules.
Part 3: The Comic's Storyline, Part I
Part 4: Modern Fantasy & D&D
3A: The "Darkness" of the Storyline
Jesse - As far as the storyline of the OotS goes, one thing that has definitely happened as time goes on is that, despite continuing to be funny and continuing to be a humor comic on some level, there have been some much darker elements introduced.
Rich - Yes.
Jesse - So what made you decide to take that shift and still remain with the same characters and story?
Rich - I don't know, I think I've always had a draw to that shock reveal. Not shock for the sake of shocking, but that dramatic sudden moment when something happens in the story you absolutely did not see coming and perhaps as an either darker or more impactful moment that you ever thought was possible in a work, in the work you were seeing.
I used to do that as a DM, I used to set up situations where the players thought one thing was happening the entire time, they walk in the door and see a scene that threw all their preconceptions on the ground and stomped down on them. I think I really enjoy that, I think it creates powerful moments in the story, and sometimes that means doing something dark, sometimes that means taking your comedy villain who is bored and having him slaughter a room full of Paladins with a bouncy ball. You know, because it's so perverse, and it's such a violation of their honor and law mindset, where they're these noble Paladins who will defend to the last man, and they just get destroyed like that. The goal is sort of, not offend, but bother the reader. . . it should bother them. You should look at Xykon and say "He's a horrible monster." He can still crack a funny joke, but you shouldn't be sympathetic to him, and if you are, I don't know if I necessarily I want to know about it, because that's a little scary.
And that was one of the problems with SoD, "here's the story of Xykon," but I'm not going to make him even slightly sympathetic, if anything, you're going to think worse of him by the time you're done with this. So, I think I have an affection for writing the villains, because of that ability to sort of make your jaw drop, you know, heroes can't really do that without. . . you know it's going to be. . . no one's gonna gasp when they do something specially heroic or kind. And I really don't want my heroes to be dark, with the exception of Belkar, but that's another story.
I don't want Roy to suddenly do something out of character or shocking, the closest thing I got to that was I had Haley kill off the assassin that had been harassing her, and that was still pretty surprising, and I think a lot of people didn't see it coming, but I also sort of goofed there in the sense that I cut the scene that made it more obvious that Crystal was still actively trying to kill Haley, truce or no truce, so that was something I fixed in the book. . . but it's still, it was a fairly surprising, but again, like I said, I still have to go darker to be surprising like that, so, I think that's where it comes from really.
Jesse - Ok.
3B: On Behind-The-Scenes Story Commentary In Interviews & Books
Rich - You see I'm just as wordy in my interviews as I am in the comic, it all flows naturally from me.
Jesse - Believe me, we'll have you on as long as you want to stay, if you want to just talk for twenty minutes, that's awesome. I will take one bit of fanboyish break from the interview. . . when we started this podcast, I had a couple of people who were sort of my long shot goals of people to get on the show, and you were towards the top of people I didn't think I'd get but I was gonna try anyway. So I thought you might want to know that. Again, we don't mind to listen to you talk.
Rich - Honestly, I was excited at the chance to talk about something other than Kickstarter, because I've done a bunch of interviews and they're all about Kickstarter, sometimes to the point of not even mentioning what my comic is about. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but at a certain point you want people to find out, I mean, the people who already know what my comic is about, already know what my comic is about, so they don't need to get the spiel but I like being able to talk about it, actually about my comic and not how much money I can raise.
Jesse - Sure. As someone who writes as well, not professionally unfortunately, I know it is sort of fun to be able to talk about the creative process, because it one of those things the readers never see, they don't know what's going on in your head while you're doing it.
Rich - Sure, that's why I do the commentary in the books, they're sort of what I would think to talk about, that's not always what someone who is reading would think to talk about or want to know about, so they're not always exactly what people are looking for in terms of behind the scenes.
3C: What Is The Comic About?
Jesse - Ok, I think David wants to ask you a couple of questions. I've been crowding the mic so I'll let him ask a couple of things. . .
David - So, you mentioned nobody asks you what your comic is about... what is your comic about?
Rich - My comic is a comedy adventure fantasy comic. It's about a group of adventurers, heroes or warriors (whatever you want to call them) called the Order of the Stick, as they go about their adventures with minimal competence or knowledge of what they are doing, and eventually sort of stumble into a plan by an undead sorcerer to conquer the world, essentially, and they're out to stop him and conquer their personal problems at the same time. Hopefully not in that order, so they get their personal problems taken care of before the final battle. And it's a comedy.
3D: On The Comic & D&D Rules
Specially in the early parts it has a lot of role-playing games... the whole thing is sort of within the framework of Dungeons and Dragons. The early strips made many explicit references to this, specially for jokes. The later strips just use it as the framework of the world, in terms of deciding what kinds of spells can a sorcerer cast, what kinds of spells can a cleric cast, etc. etc. I don't really worry about "oh, this character doesn't have enough hit bonus to... you know, let me roll the dice", if the story needs him to hit, he hits, if the story needs him to miss, he misses.
There's a certain segment of my fans who think that's grossly unfair. Not that they necessarily believe I should roll the dice, but they believe that the percentages should be accurately represented, so that if somebody swings their sword at someone 20 times, they should hit a number of times equal to their, you know, relative attack bonus blah blah blah. That doesn't happen, that's not something I worry about.
But yeah, it's essentially a fantasy adventure quest story, of a warrior out to avenge his father against a sorcerer, and the sorcerer happens to be trying to conquer the world at the same time. That's a nutshell. And it's stick figures, that needs to be said. If you're picturing that in the most elaborate fantasy artwork, that's not what we're talking about. They're basically really simplistic colorful block characters going about this.
3E: Creating the Character Wall Poster
Jesse - You can't see this, but behind us in the studio is the big double poster of all the characters.
Rich - Hah! That took forever.
Jesse - I can tell.
Rich - What's funny is I had worked on it, and then had to put it aside, and when I got back to it I had introduced like 4 new characters that had to go on. I had to find room for Tarquin and Malack and Kil-Kil over in the corner of the villains poster, and I put Captain Malack's helmet on... not Malack, Tarquin's helmet on. He was still new enough that I thought people who weren't caught up to the story, I didn't want them to see who he was before. . . you know some people only read the books. . . yeah, so, did that at the last minute.
3F: On Fanart & Whether Roy Wears Pants
David - It's funny, I just saw some fanart for Order of the Stick, but it was drawn like Frank Frazetta.
Rich - [Laughs] Yes.
David - Super detailed, very. . .
Rich - Yeah, what I always find interesting is the choices they make for the parts of the characters that are really not be able to tell what's going on because they're sticks. I've seen fanart that was really realistic of Roy fighting except for some reason he had no pants, like he had one armor piece over his torso but his legs were bare. That's why I think at one point I had Haley make a crack about how she's wearing long pants but you can't tell because she's a stick figure. Because I wanted to put a stop of that, I wanted no more pantless Roy. That's a whole other direction that I'm sure is out there on the Internet, but I don't need to see it.
David - Well, that kills my next question. . .
Rich - [Laughs]
3G: Putting an End to the Crack Pairings Thread
David - Once again, on the forum for a while, there was a whole section of people. . .
Rich - Oh, yeah. We had to slay that once people started crossing some lines. Once they crossed the Elan - Nale incest line, we had to put a stop to that. . .
David - As well you should.
Rich - Yeah, exactly.
David - There are some weird people there. . .
Part 5: The Comic's Storyline, Part II
4A: On Keeping Fantasy New and Interesting
David - There's a question though: can Fantasy be taken seriously anymore?
Rich - You mean in the sense that a lot of it is recycled? A lot of it is the same sort of material all over again? I think so. I think there's definitely something to say with fantasy still. Order of the Stick is in many ways sort of a critique I guess, a spoof of a lot of fantasy cliches, but once you see the cliches, you dodge them. I mean, there's plenty of fantasy writers who don't do the same old "warriors on a quest" thing, which I'm doing but by way of sort of turning it on it's head. I think there's plenty of room in fantasy for unique stories.
I think the number one thing people can do to make their fantasy something new and interesting is to not marry it to the same old medieval sort of time period for no apparent reason. I mean, if magic exists in a world, why can't it exist in a different historical setting. I think there's still plenty to say, and I think there's still plenty for me to make fun of, so, you know, hopefully that will keep going on both sides.
4B: TVTropes & Lazy Criticism
David - Question: We have talked about TVTropes, even mentioned the name. . .
Rich - [Laughs] Sorry, what was the question?
David - The thing is, they have sort of these shorthands, like he's the "Chosen One," he'll save us from "the Dragon" or "the Evil Wizard."
Rich - Yeah, like the next thing that happens would have to be the thing that happens 'cause this thing happened because the trope said so.
David - Yes. I mean, do you think it's possible just to divorce completely. . . to walk away and do something else?
Rich - It's hard. There was a point in time a few years back when I felt like every time I put out a strip the number one response to it was "Oh, he's just doing this trope", "he's just doing that trope", you know, and put a link to it, "see, he's just not original at all". And I don't know whether that just became less popular as a way of sort of pigeonholing things, or whether I've actually broken enough of them now that nobody assumes they know what's gonna happen next. But one way or another that doesn't seem to happen as much anymore.
People try to sort of guess what I'm gonna do, and I hopefully kick it in the shins and run away laughing. But I think there's a danger of over simplification of literature, of becoming so wrapped up in these compartments that put every element of the story that you sort of miss the story. It's sort of like a lazy criticism. Criticism in the classic sense of actually doing a critical piece, not in a complaining way. It lets you churn out an analysis of a work without putting much thought into it. I think it's fun to point to the website and see the different ways different works do the same sort of cliches, not in a bad sense, but I do think there's a danger in taking them too seriously as the 'be all, end all' of literary criticism.
D - Yes, indeed. I have read a lot of fantasy, and it's always like "here's the Chosen One, here's the Local, here's the obviously evil sorcerer who betrays everyone. . ."
Rich - Yeah, exactly. I think fantasy is more prone to that than almost any other genre. And that's partly because there have been a few titans of the genre who sort of formed everything that was to come after.
And also honestly because of Dungeons and Dragons. I think people playing D&D has reinforced certain stereotypes in their mind [unintelligible] RPGs that follow the same tropes and all of these sort of things, has reinforced this sort of monolithic fantasy from which few authors deviate and, well, so. . . but there's a lot of the same old same old out there too. So I think fantasy gets probably a lot more of those, those tropes listed, than almost any other genre.
You know, Science Fiction, I'm a huge SF fan, SF is, every story you read is esentially a completely different setting, I'm sure, Space Opera stuff tends to be a lot of the same, whatever, but you can just go off and do something wildly different and still be Science Fiction, and I think less people do that with Fantasy these days.
4C: Public Perception of D&D
David - You mentioned the impact of Dungeons and Dragons. There was a huge backlash against D&D. . .
Rich - Yeah, sure.
David - Do you think we're likely to see something like that again?
Rich - I don't think so. I mean, there's certainly always going to be people who are still going to say the same charges against it, you know, that are still gonna say the things that weren't true then, and still aren't. But I don't think it's wildly circulating. I think because it was new then, people didn't know what was going on, didn't know what this thing was, and then they got a lot of misinformation from various sources, and the media picked it up and ran with it as a media scare. And now it's old news. It's been around for thirty and some odd years, you don't get articles in the media about Dungeons and Dragons making people sacrifice goats [interference] . . . "Dungeons and Dragons is coming out with a new edition, because D&D owner Hasbro has released this information in this press conference, blah blah blah."
So I think that's not gonna resurface. I mean just the fact that it's owned by Hasbro now gives it a legitimacy that I think it probably didn't have back in the day, when it was owned by a bunch of guys in Wisconsin [interference] gives it a "Oh, obviously it has to be OK, it is owned by the company that does Mr. Potato Head." And I don't think it's in Hasbro's interest to let those kind of stories exist.
When you're a big corporation, you kinda get that power in the sense that if they're going to do a story about Dungeons and Dragons, they're going to immediately walk up to your Hasbro or WotC and ask for a quote, and then their sort of media team will take care of it from there. But I think the days of mass hysteria scare about D&D are behind us at this point.
Jesse - I think there are bigger scapegoats now as well.
Rich - Yeah, absolutely, there's the Internet and all of it's glory. Playing D&D seems downright quaint now, you can find people who are in their 50s who've been playing D&D for 30 years, it's not. . . you know, in detriment of the hobby, but it's not something that all teenagers are flocking to these days. When you're 13 you're like "Hey, let's go play D&D tonight!" You have to get those kids into the hobby in a way that isn't really happening right now. I'd say as long as it's not threatening tomorrow's children I think it'll stay on the right side of the public opinion.
4D: Jack Chick & Tom Hanks
David - Speaking of threatening children, what we do on the show... are you familiar with the Jack Chick comic Dark Dungeons?
Rich - I am, vaguely, passingly familiar, as much as any long time D&D player could be.
David - We might have to do a show on Jack Chick.
Rich - I like to think of my comic as a sort of tribute to the great comic that had come before. Could I have done a Dungeons and Dragons themed comic if not, like I said, if not, if the giants of the genre had not put forth that independent comic creation of lore?
Jesse - Dark Dungeons was a very interesting book. I would say it's not even close to the craziest thing Jack Chick has ever done.
Rich - Yeah, not top ten really.
David - No. But the thing I love about his. . .
Rich - [unintelligible] it wasn't as crazy, he's gone really off the [unintelligible] then, then it probably wouldn't have been taken seriously until this day.
David - Well, according to Dark Dungeons, apparently the sourcebook is an actual spell book, from which you can actually, literally just call up the devil and say "hey."
Rich - Spells, yeah, exactly. I've certainly heard that. All I can say is I think the copies I've been using must be defective in some way, either there's a misprint or a page missing because I've been playing the game since I was 11 or 12 and I've yet to actually cast a magic spell, deeply disappointed at that.
David - How about Mazes and Monsters?
Rich - Oh yeah. Tom Hanks has a lot to answer for.
David - Yes he does.
Rich - [unintelligible]
Jesse - He unleashed Forrest Gump upon the world, he has to pay for that. Now we get into Dave's axe grind.
Rich - Personal media vendetta should actually be the title of this podcast.
David - He knows what he did.
Jesse - Where gonna try to get him on the show for a reconciliation. They're gonna hug each other on the air.
Rich - Or just volleyball with him.
Part 6: Outro & Ending
5A: Rich's Favorite Characters to Write Jokes For
Jesse - Back into the Order of the Stick a little bit as far as the characters, to talk a little about the characters. I have my theories on this, but I'm wondering if you have a personal favorite character as far as writing.
Rich - It depends on whether you mean. Writing the jokes or writing the personality and internal conflicts? Jokes is easy: Belkar, with Elan a close second. You've got your sort of. . . either your violence jokes or your bad person gets their comeuppance jokes with Belkar, and then Elan has your dumb jokes, has your silliness, has your kinda child-like comedy, and I like writing both of those.
5B: Rich's Favorite Characters to Write Drama / Character Struggles For
As far as writing a personal sort of inner thoughts on your life, whatever, things (sic) I really like writing Haley a lot. She's got issues, I think she's probably got the most legitimate issues of the people in the Order, and that makes her interesting to write. It's interesting how she's going to react, based on her upbringing and sort of what she's been through in her life to this situation or that situation.
I think that makes it more. . . to you, Elan's pretty straightforward, you know what he's gonna do. You may not know in the sense that it's something completely random and off the wall and pull out a hand puppet and start worshiping it, but you know he's gonna do something weird and silly and ultimately harmless, because he's a good person, and nothing bad is gonna happen to him as a result.
And you know Belkar's gonna do the opposite, he'll take the most awful, irredeeming sort of path that he can find and get away with.
But you don't know what Haley's gonna do in a situation. She wants to be a good person, but she wasn't raised that way, she was raised to be a thief. And so she sort of has to struggle with being a hero, what comes easily to, well, it comes pretty easily to Roy. He'll snap at people, he'll be sort of verbally abusive, but he's not gonna... he's never attempted to do the wrong thing, really.
Jesse - There was the one time, but...
Rich - Yeah. Exactly, and that was a big point of development for him. But really, since then, that was within the first 150 or 160 strips, so for the majority of the comic's lifetime he's been pretty clear on what he should be doing.
5C: Vaarsuvius' Moral Conflict
Jesse - It seems like Vaarsuvius has become a character with a lot of internal moral conflict recently as well.
Rich - That's true, that is correct, and that was a conscious sort of effort on my part, because I felt like Vaarsuvius had been underutilized. . . by the end of the War and XPs book I felt like Vaarsuvius was sort of. . . "and then we have an elf!" Which is a problem I still have with Durkon but I have plans to address as well.
And so I think I crafted almost all of Don't Split the Party around "let's [unintelligible] a better arc". . . some of it I had planned already, some of it I already knew that when I did the first. . . spoiler by the way, if anyone hasn't read this. . . when I did the first small black dragon, that I was gonna have the older one come back and be a villain in some point that would attack Vaarsuvius for what he or she had done. But the sort of sell your soul angle was a little more recent, and more of an attempt to really get at what Vaarsuvius issues were in life. So that sort of dovetailed nicely into one story that I'm really happy with.
5D: The Storyline & the D&D Alignment System
Jesse - That brings - the whole idea of the Black Dragon and the demons - brings up another thing, which is the idea that you seem to play a lot with: the idea of Evil, like, there's a huge variety of villainous characters with motivations all across the spectrum from, you know, and in some ways it seems like the comic tries to deconstruct that. In other ways it plays it straight. . .
Rich - More like, I think both are valid, you know what I mean? Both are ways of looking at the problem, and I think again ,getting back to the history of fantasy literature, I think there are an awful lot of cardboard cutout tackling [unintelligible] villainy out there, and that's a choice to make when you're writing your story, and I sort of want to have it both ways, I want to be able to have villainy villains, and at the same time, not writing a character that doesn't make sense, not writing a character that doesn't have a motivation to what they're doing.
And I think there's a lot of debate among my fans, because they're not necessarily used to seeing that from fantasy villains, especially when it comes to Black Dragons, undead sorcerers, and Goblins who are out to destroy the Gods. You expect those sort of characters to be very straightforward, and I try to make it a little more complex than that, which, I was thinking, readers, in this [unintelligible] open up alternate interpretations, people would swear that 'cause Redcloak thinks what he's doing is the best for the Goblin people, that Redcloak is in fact the good guy, that he is the hero of the story. And that's... an interesting viewpoint. And I'm glad that I provoked that. I'm glad that I wrote a character that is layered enough that some people would say he's absolutely in the right, but yeah, I really like turning it upside down and not assuming that because it's a Dragon it has no emotions. I think D&D appeals to people who are much more Math & Science oriented, that. . . I can sort of surprise them more by delving into the emotional side of things, and they don't see that coming, if they're D&D fans. And people who are generally fiction fans just enjoy it on it's own merits.
Jesse - So, it comes out to not being as simple as the nine simple moral codes that D&D ascribes to.
Rich - Yeah, and I think one of the themes of Order of the Stick is there's this guide alignment system in D&D where it places every single person in one of these nine moral codes, and for the entire history of the game, that I've played it, people have been complaining that that's overly simplistic. "Oh, it's more complicated than that." And it absolutely is more complicated than that, but they're also doing it wrong. They think because they have this alignment they have to act this way, this one specific given way, and I think each one of those categories is so wide open to interpretation.
And that was a lot of what Miko Misayaki was about, was that she's lawful good, but she's a complete bitch, you wouldn't want to spend time with her at all. And I think that was sort of the flip side of the sympathetic villain: the unsympathetic hero. Or at least good guy. So yeah, I definitely like to subvert expectations in that specific way, because I think the alignment system gets a bad rap from people who aren't trying to make it work, and say "that's overly simplistic."
Jesse: Yeah, I certainly enjoy the alignments for the same reason that you do. I agree that it doesn't have to be super simple. I don't know if you've done this, but have you ever sat around talking about characters in stories and what their alignments were, or your friends for that matter?
Rich: Yeah, back in the day. We used to. . . it's usually a good way to try to explain to new players of D&D how it works, you pick the sort of archetypical characters. But one of the problems with that is that those characters will be associated forever in that mind with what that alignment is. And I also think there's some naming flaws with the alignment. I think by calling one of the alignments "lawful" they've created thirty years of people thinking it means you have to obey every last "keep off the grass" sort of law. And that's not really what it's supposed to mean, it's supposed to mean sort of an ordered way of thinking, having a personal code, having a set of tenets that is greater than yourself.
Jesse: I think that may come from Elric, and Michael Moorcock having the whole. . .
Rich: It absolutely comes from Elric. He did Law and Chaos, those were his two. And you know, he didn't have to worry about a billion people trying to interpret what he meant by that, he just needed to present it in the context of his stories. So no negative to him for doing so, but I think it was adopted and has been argued and debated ever since by people playing the game.
5E: On Keeping Plot Twists Secret
Jesse: As someone who works pretty hard at keeping your story twists shocking and such, do you have anyone that you've brainstormed with, or is it just something you keep completely secret until you're ready to do the big reveal?
Rich: I keep a lot of it internal. I write down notes, I think of things, and sometimes I think of things and change them later. Not deeply, I think my main plot points have been the same since I started really thinking about the plot and sort of sketched out things that would happen, but there are certainly minor details that change at the time I'm writing the scripts. Certainly moment by moment actions can change, twist or whatever in a way if I think of something more interesting at the time that I'm writing it than I did five years ago. Then I go with that, but really the big moments have all been pretty close to how I pictured them a long time ago.
Sometimes, some of these things are where I would be, I would write down a note like "and then they go to the desert." And I knew that when they got to the desert, Tarquin would be there, and they would do some desert-ey stuff with him before going back, before finding out what they needed to find and then go back out. But I didn't really get too worried about what happened in his empire until I was starting to plot this story arc, because it didn't really, it affected them personally but it didn't change the plot with Xykon and Redcloak, so I had the sort of freedom to put that on the shelf until I got to it. Now I would think from here we'll sort of flow more from what I just did than it would have previously, sort of work that back in.
Jesse: The current arc seems to be a lot about family.
5F: The Desert Plot Arc & Law vs. Chaos
Jesse: Actually. . . I've bounced this theory around, but I wanted to ask you if this was something you intended or if it's just my imagination. For the most part, a lot of the conflicts in the book have been about good and evil, but I felt like in the current arc, it's been more about conflicts between law and chaos, would you say that was intentional?
Rich: Absolutely intentional. I mean, I think good and evil are easily grasped, and I think it's a little less intuitive for people to really understand law and chaos, as they are - if they exist - as concepts. Because here you have Tarquin, for most of the first part of the story, is evil, is just straight up evil. But he loves his son. He cares about family. He likes his empire running orderly. He doesn't just sort of go around slaughtering people for kicks. He has a plan, he has a goal, which he's sort of executing step by step. He's not Xykon. He's not this sort of crazy force of evil. You can almost picture Tarquin existing in the real world.
So I think yeah, absolutely -- and then Ian, Haley's father Ian, is sort of the opposite. He's a good guy, but he's abrasive, paranoid, a little bit crazy, a little bit off the deep end, not really together because he's sort of so chaotic that he kinda can't detach from that. He can't be not chaotic for a moment and see the way things are really kinda going on around him. So yeah, I think there's definitely that undercurrent.
Jesse: Yeah. And I noticed sort of the idea of Girard Draketooth and his real hatred of Soon Kim, the two of them being very lawful and very chaotic.
Rich: Right, exactly. Where you would, I think most people would immediately go "yeah, but-but Soon Kim was a paladin, he wouldn't do something bad," and you have to see that to Girard's point of view, just the sort of organiz-- that a man doesn't create a secret organization of warriors unless he plans to use it for something. You know what I mean, the sort of. . . expecting-the-worst-in-human-nature-at-all-times pessimism that says that if Soon Kim is gonna make this sort of legion of magical warriors and keep them secret from his populace, that clearly he's up to something.
And there's also, I mean there are certain events that happened in that history between Girard and Soon Kim that have not been revealed that will certainly maybe make him seem a little less paranoid than he does right now, but not not-paranoid. But yeah, there's more there going on with what happened with the Order of the Scribble than has been revealed. But that's all gonna be unwound as the story comes towards its conclusion. There's more to learn, I mean, they had to go find Girard right now, so some pieces will be found then, I'm sure.
5G: The Possibility of an Order of the Scribble Prequel Book
Jesse: Do you think you may do a prequel book about the Order of the Scribble someday, or is that not something you're sure about?
Rich: I wouldn't rule it out, but I don't currently have any plans to and I wouldn't know what I would do with it. I think the main thrust of their story needs to be included in the online strip. You need to know exactly what happened all that time ago that made them so angry at each other in order to understand the main story. So therefore I wouldn't want to shunt it to a side book. When it needs to be told, it needs to be front and center, and then once it's been told, it'll influence what people think about the characters after that.
So I wouldn't want it to be. . . I had told much of the story, much of the things that Redcloak revealed to Tsukiko in the recent strip about how he was tricking Xykon was already known by people who had read Start of Darkness. But it didn't sort of change what was going to happen next for them to have known it separately. But anything about the Order of the Scribble isn't really like that. It's important in a way that would change things, and therefore it can't be let out of the bag early. But by the same token, I wouldn't object to writing a story of them just fighting Baron Pineapple, or something like that. Certainly wouldn't have any problems with that, but I think the main conflict between them is gonna be in the main comic at some point.
5H: The Kickstarter Donor's Choice Stories
Jesse: Okay. Well, speaking of that, I'm gonna take it back to the kickstarter for just one second.
Jesse: Which was that several people bought stories about characters that they wanted you to write about. And I know you said for a while those had not been revealed to you yet. Has that come about yet, do you know who those characters are going to be?
Rich: Three people have bought them, I've only been contacted by two of them so far. I contacted all of them and have only heard back so far from two of them, they both gave me sort of a spectrum answer of, "I like this character and that character but I wouldn't mind if it was this character." So I haven't nailed down the final list for them. I'm waiting for what the final third person says, because if two of them both pick the same character, then I'm definitely gonna do that one, but otherwise I might pick some of the ones that appeal more to me. So far the ones that have been floated are Therkla, the assassin, the half-orc, the Cliffport police department, do a detective-spoof sort of something like that, and the demon roaches. . . [NB: As of 3/16/2012 the stories are Pre-Order Belkar, Therkla, and the Cliffport Police Department - ThePhantasm] which I've no idea what I would do, but maybe I'll come up with some idea and throw that out there and then some other options beyond that. But then again, it's that I still haven't heard from the third person, so that could be something totally in left field still coming our way.
Jesse: Cool, cool, cool.
5I: The Conclusion of the Storyline
David: I know a lot of webcomics authors say, "well I have a very specific end and that's it." Is Order of the Stick actually gonna have a conclusion, or do you just wanna keep on writing it?
Rich: No, no. It has a conclusion. I know exactly how it ends. I think every single plotline that I've introduced has a definitive conclusion to it that will be in the main comic. It's not gonna be ignored or just left hanging forever. There's definitely gonna be a final book of the main storyline.
But that being said, one of the reasons I've been sort of experimenting with some of these side projects is that there's plenty of room for these characters to keep doing stories. I think they're well-defined characters, and I can always go back. That's why I've been doing things like the Stick Tales and. . . which is the characters telling the story of a famous work but using themselves, sort of like what the Muppets used to do. Then things like Julio Scoundrel spinning off sorta into his own crazy land of comic book type of and that kind of stuff will let me create even when I've moved on to what I'm gonna do next in the world, after the Order of the Stick. I can still come back and do an Order of the Stick related project, even though the story, the plot, has reached its proper conclusion and so on. So I guess I'm sort of setting up now for what will happen next.
5J: How Much Story Is Left To Tell
Jesse: And I think I've read in interviews or in things you've written that the comic is more than halfway done at this point?
Rich: Oh yeah, definitely more than. . . well, I say that, but you should take it with a grain of salt because I run long. Things are always longer than I plan them out to be because I always think of things in the middle that need to be addressed, either they're logical concerns or a character moment that needs to happen in order for it to be emotionally realistic. So then there will be an extra strip here, an extra strip there, and it'll add up. So it's definitely more than halfway done in terms of number of books, but the number of strips left, I don't even have a clue what that's gonna end up being. Some people are all "he's gonna plan to end it at strip 1000." Absolutely not. It will go way past strip 1000 because we're already at 833 and we're not done with this book yet, and there's at least two more books left. So yeah. It's to go. If you're not a reader, there's still plenty of time to jump on.
Jesse: I personally have all the books. No big surprise there considering as I've told you I have the poster on my wall. So I think we're gonna wrap it up, but I just wanna ask you, do you have anything else you'd like to add, or anything you'd like to plug or mention?
Rich: Kickstarter's still running at http://www.kickstarter.com
, you can find it by typing in "Order of the Stick." My website's http://www.GiantITP.com
, and so on and so forth.
Jesse: But I wouldn't ask you to spoil the comic even though I want to be like, "what's gonna happen next?" But I understand that would be unfair.
Rich: I am proud of you for not asking me either Vaarsuvius' gender, or what the Monster in the Darkness is, or how Belkar's gonna die. Those three questions everyone asks.
Jesse: Yeah, I figured you keep those things a secret for a reason, and it would be lost if you were to just blab it out. So I tried not to ask those.
Rich: Two of them are really important and one of them is so not important that it doesn't even need to be answered.
Rich: I'll let you figure out which ones are which.
Jesse: Exactly. All right, well then I think that's all the time we have, but I would like to thank Rich Burlew one last time for being on with us.
Rich: Thank you for having me.
Jesse: Of course. I'm Jesse Baruffi.
David: And I'm David Lawrence. And you can reach us at Geekademia@gmail.com
Jesse: And go to our website at http://non-productive.com/geekademia
. And that's it.