Epic battles, devious plots, romance, adventure, comedy, tragedy -- all with stick figures! The Order of the Stick: War and XPs is a collection of the webstrip about D&D-style adventurers, and this collection impresses on numerous levels.

The central focus of this series is the band of adventurers known as the Order of the Stick. Roy Greenhilt, the leader, is a fighter on a quest to defeat the lich Xyklon -- and who has to put up with the antics of his teammates. Elan the Bard is happy, idiotic, and thinks Roy is his best friend. Haley Starshine is the thief, second in command, and in love with Elan. Durkon is a dwarven cleric (with thick Scottish accent). Vaarsuvius is an elven magic user whose gender is still a mystery (easy to pull off with stick figures) and who is quite verbose. And Belkar Bitterleaf is a ranger who's homicidal, greedy, and willing to stab his teammates in the back (sometimes literally).

The main threat comes from Xyklon, who wants to control the mystical gates that will release the Snarl, a primal force (shown as crayon drawings). Xylkon has a goblin cleric Redcloak, an army of goblins and hobgoblins, numerous undead (often made when Xyklon slays his goblins and hobgoblins), the Monster in the Shadows (never seen, and so far never used), and demon roaches that are always underfoot. In War and XPs Xyklon and company are about to match on Azure City for its gate.

There are other threats. There's the Linear Guild, an evil group with Elan's evil twin Nale, his girlfriend demon-or-succubus Sabine, and the tough-but-dumb half-orc Thog. There's also Miko, a paladin so holier-than-thou she's convinced the Order of the Stick are evil and actually working with Xyklon.

The Order of the Stick: War and XPs is put together brilliantly. This is primarily a comedy strip, and there are laughs to be found in every page. The third wall here is shattered on a regular basis, with characters talking about making skill checks and D&D rules, talking about the comic strip, and referencing everything from the Justice League to Pokemon. There are lots of visual gags (see the pic below) and verbal ones: "Wait a minute. Is that a dwarven battle challenge, or are those just Led Zeppelin lyrics?" "Both. It turns out that Led Zeppelin lyrics ARE a valid dwarven battle challenge."

There's more here than cheap laughs (or even rich laughs). Politics and plans impact almost all the events of this story. Several cliches of the adventure tale are both parodies and thrown out, resulting in quite a few surprises. And the final siege on Azure City is as impressive as the battle in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

The Order of the Stick is a webcomic, but there's plenty here for folks who have been keeping up with the story online. Not only are there plenty of bonus strips, but also writer-artist Rich Burlew provides commentaries for each section. You'll find out about the motivations for almost all the characters, the problems arising from Haley's garbled speech (and the translations of what she said), and how The Seven Samurai helped him illustrate the climactic siege. There's even a summary of the events from the previous strips/collections (though I recommend getting and reading those too).
The Order of the Stick: War and XPs is a wonderful illustration of how comedy, action, and planning can all meet and work together. Every gamer should pick up this book, as should anyone who enjoys laughing or adventure.

Overall grade: A+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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