Summing up the OOTS Kickstarter

When the book is written and the legacy and history of OOTS is summarized, it will be noted that in early 2012, the comic’s fans took a donation drive with a goal of barely over fifty thousand dollars and raised one and a quarter million dollars by the time it was over. With the improvements to the site and comic likely to come, the demonstrated devotion of the fans, and the increased popularity of the comic both as a result of the Kickstarter itself and with the books restocked on store shelves, I’d argue it’s as big a milestone in the history of the comic as anything that’s occured in the comic itself.

To gain some perspective on just how much OOTS’ fans have done over the past month:

  • The initial goal was broken in barely over twenty-four hours.
  • Within 48 hours, the drive was the highest-earning in the history of the Comics category, a record it has now broken ten times over.
  • By the time the drive was three days old, it had already succeeded beyond Rich’s wildest expectations (he only ever expected two books to be reprinted from the drive).
  • Within nine days, the drive had paid for reprinting every book that needed to be reprinted going in, cracked the top ten drives in Kickstarter history the next day, and reprinted every single book in the series the day after that, with two-thirds of the drive still to go.
  • Thirteen days into the drive, Rich was able to realize a longtime dream to print an OOTS coloring book, a dream he couldn’t make work until the sudden influx of cash caused by the drive.
  • What started as a fairly standard chart for the progress of the drive turned into a 26-part mini-epic, complete with dragon fight, that in many ways was a microcosm of the progress of OOTS itself (which may foreshadow something about how the comic will end).
  • At no point in the drive did its progress really slow down in any substantive way, with the only possible exceptions coming over weekends.
  • With a week left in the drive, Rich had basically paid for everything he could have dreamed of paying for (with most of the money raised in the preceding week going towards paying for additional costs incurred as a result of the drive’s success), and the drive essentially ran on fumes (and Rich’s continuing to put up new goals and rewards regardless) the rest of the way, with much of the remaining money going into a general operating fund, including sprucing up the site and getting new drawing tools. The wild success of the drive will end up giving all OOTS’ fans “more OOTS, better OOTS, and…faster OOTS” for years to come.
  • During the last week, Rich also attempted to put up a new OOTS comic every day for eight days, but wound up late by a missed day. Rich has also committed to another stretch of nine comics in a row later in the year.
  • OOTS is the third drive in Kickstarter history to raise over a million dollars. The drive finishes as the #2 project in Kickstarter history until the Double Fine drive (which just crossed two million) knocks it down a notch in a month or so. The drive raised nearly ten times the initial goal just in the final push.
  • When all was said and done, nearly 15,000 fans raised $1,254,120, for an average of nearly $84 per donor – an average of two books per order. Some fans have taken this high average as a sign of how “devoted” OOTS fans are, to which I ask: are they really more devoted than other fans, or just richer?
  • As the drive became more and more successful, it attracted attention from all over the Internet, not only from the webcomics community, not only from the comics blogosphere, not even only from the halo surrounding Kickstarter, but from sites as high-profile as Boing Boing.
  • For just ten dollars, over 14,000 OOTS fans will receive a book’s worth of new stories in PDF form: a new tale of O-Chul’s past, a new tale of Elan’s past, three prequel or interquel stories on characters decided by fans, two stories following up on tales in a limited-edition book published last year including a parody of Romeo and Juliet, and a parody of a D&D setting, plus four sheets of cut-out monster miniatures drawn in the OOTS style for use in D&D games and a magnet with Roy on it. Only the magnet and O-Chul story were planned at the beginning of the drive.
  • In addition to the above, Yours Truly will be getting the aforementioned limited-edition book (one of over 25,000 books to be sent out as a result of the drive), the aforementioned coloring book, a sheet of stickers with OOTS characters on them, and a notepad primarily for use in D&D games. Others will be receiving an art print with the entire cast on it, a “mini-expansion” for the OOTS Adventure Game (with quite a few getting the game itself), crayon drawings of them and their characters, and commemorative patches.
  • Many rewards won’t be sent to people until possibly as late as June, and a few that became available late in the drive will only be done after the others, so they could arrive at any point in the remainder of the year, meaning this drive will effectively define all of 2012 for OOTS.

It’s all quite astounding, really, and somewhat humbling for me. Although OOTS is one of the most popular webcomics on the Internet, it doesn’t normally get the sort of press as a Penny Arcade, xkcd, or Girl Genius, nor is it the same sort of critical darling within the community as a Questionable Content, Schlock Mercenary, or Gunnerkrigg Court (or the last two of the “gets more press” group, for that matter). It can feel like OOTS is still kind of a niche comic that only me and Robert A. “Tangents” Howard (and a little bit of Eric Burns(-White), back in Websnark’s heyday) are really paying that much attention to. So for a comic that I happen to have as my personal favorite and all of its fans to do something this huge… I mean, it’s kind of hard to put into words.

Best friends ’till the end…

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized lactose intolerance.)

It wasn’t that long ago that Belkar and Vaarsuvius hated each other probably more than any other two members of the Order of the Stick. And by “it wasn’t that long ago”, I mean “back when V’s domination of Yukyuk started“.

It’s one thing for them to suddenly be chumming it out like pals; quite another for this not to be a result of Belkar’s character development. If anything, Vaarsuvius is the one who seems to be backsliding on his own character development and showing decidedly amoral tendencies when the opportunity presents itself.

While I could chalk this up to bad writing, exacerbated by Rich’s pledge to post a strip every day until the pledge drive ends, I prefer to look at it three ways. One, what movement in morality Belkar may be undergoing is still decidedly cat-centered (this particular kobold gag comes in defense of his cat) and doesn’t necessarily indicate a shift in alignment. Anyone hoping for Belkar to become a goody-two-shoes before his death is likely to be sorely disappointed, though I still think what happened in the gladiatorial arena will ultimately prove to be the start of some sort of change in him. Two, this may be as much of a reflection of V’s character development as a contradiction, as he’s allowing himself to be the conduit for someone else’s revenge. As with Belkar, his alignment hasn’t changed, but maybe how that alignment expresses itself has.

Which brings me to the third angle: Belkar and Vaarsuvius were never all that different to begin with.  They are quite likely to be the only two non-Good members of the Order of the Stick, though Haley seems to have flirted with it. Both have shown their priorities to be to use their abilities and the situations they get into for personal gain, and both have been willing to do whatever it takes to get there, V more competently. Perhaps each of them saw a little bit of themselves reflected in the other, and utterly hated them for it. But all it ever needed to take was a slight shift in each of their viewpoints, a recognition of their teammates’ skills and how their own skills fit into that bigger picture, for them to become close, if somewhat warped, pals.

The flip side of that recognition, of course, is that when the OOTS is whole and not blindsided, at the moment they may be, more than at any other point in the comic, a force to be reckoned with.

I have something original and interesting to say about the OOTS Kickstarter for once!

You want to know what the most astounding thing is about the ongoing Order of the Stick Kickstarter? It’s not the sheer amount of money raised – over half a million and still going strong. It’s the fact that this is a reprint drive.

All six of the books being reprinted as part of this drive have seen print before; in fact, two of them weren’t even out of print before this drive spurred a run on copies. Most of the hardcore OOTS fans that would ever want copies of the books likely already got them when they originally came out, so they are likely to gain nothing as a result of this drive. The primary beneficiaries of this drive are probably people like me, who were late enough in coming to OOTS and/or in deciding to get books – perhaps people who hadn’t even heard of the comic, at least before all the attention this drive is getting – that some of those books were out of print by the time they decided to do so.

In my case, I almost wouldn’t have contributed because I’m lacking for money, I wasn’t interested at the start of the drive because I would rather get the second book before I ever get the third that was trying to be reprinted at the start, and (dirty little secret time) most of the books are more expensive if picked up through the drive than if they were just ordered through the Web site. The book I mentioned in my last post is an exception, as that pledge level is roughly equivalent to ordering the book through the Web site plus the $10 to get the PDF stories, and I eventually decided I could spare the expense to get that. If I’d had money a year ago (and I almost did) when about 75 copies of that book were found in the back of a warehouse and sold over 24 hours, I’d have picked up a copy then, then pledged to get the third book now (if I still had money). If I couldn’t get the second book then and had the money now, though, I’d just be pissed that Rich counted that 24-hour period as when the second book went out of print and waited to pledge anything until it was going towards reprinting the second book.

The point is, the majority of OOTS fans weren’t benefiting directly from this drive, and a portion of those who did probably wouldn’t be able to contribute meaningfully if their financial situation had something to do with their lack of the books. So how did Rich get them all on board to get those books back in print in such a way that it stunned even him?

I think an underrated aspect of the drive’s success is that, several weeks before it started, Rich hinted that getting the third book back in print would take “the full support of everyone who wants to have the book in their hands, and maybe even a little bit more than that.” Before anyone even knew what that was, it psyched everyone up to give their support to the drive if it was necessary. That got people who wouldn’t otherwise have cared in the mindset that they might want to contribute to the drive. Beyond that, however, much of the drive’s momentum at first probably didn’t stem from the prospect of getting the books reprinted, but by what else Rich was selling – namely, a brand new canonical story (for the low low price of $10!) starring one of the most memetic characters in the entire strip. Even if I had money but no second book, I might have begrudgingly pledged $10 to get that and hope that third-bookers getting their way would help me get my way. That suggestion is also raised in Rich’s recent interview with ComicAlliance, where Rich also indicates that people with a complete collection still wanted to contribute to the drive, but evidently, only once it started to pick up steam. (And Rich’s advice to comic creators looking to start a Kickstarter almost amounts to “start a webcomic”, which makes it a potentially ideal segue to my Future of Content series.)

Given the circumstances, I’m not sure I agree with whatever point El Santo is trying to make about what this means for webcomic creators trying to make money. He can’t be trying to say that you can simply start up a Kickstarter to get paid to work on your webcomic, because that seems to me to be akin to getting paid to goof off, or no different than setting up a PayPal donation box. If he means setting up a Kickstarter to pay for other merchandise, it’s unlikely he means any sort of merchandise that hasn’t been done by webcomic creators in the past – in fact, selling copies of his first book was what allowed Rich to call himself a full-time cartoonist. But if he means that a popular webcomic creator can fund some sort of project that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to make the numbers work out on before the fact? That’s a lesson I’d already taken to heart before I wrote my last post.

(And I still can’t get over all this happening while the actual comic is reaching a peak in the action, which has now gotten to the point of attracting the renewed attention of Tangents, giving newcomers an ideal jumping-on point to become addicted.)

I think I know what birthday money I get that’s left over after school books will be spent on.

As a relatively recent but what I would still consider “longtime” fan of The Order of the Stick (four years, since a little after the 500th comic), I wish I had something new to say about the astonishing success of Rich’s Kickstarter effort to reprint his compilation and prequel books, which has, within two weeks (with another three still to go), cracked the top ten of all projects in Kickstarter history, and become, by Rich’s reckoning, the most-funded non-tech-gizmo in Kickstarter history, let alone the top-funded comic project (that record was smashed over a week ago), funding the reprinting of every single one of the books, even those that weren’t out of print. (I will say that, while Kickstarter has attracted the attention of the webcomic community in the past for its potential to fund various projects, this drive has really snapped my attention to its potential.)

More than that success (which I’m pretty much numb to at this point), I’m dumbfounded at the level of media attention the whole thing has gotten – catching the attention of freaking Boing Boing, for Pete’s sake! Of course, beyond the added fuel it’s presumably giving the drive itself, it has the added effect of introducing people to the fascinating world of The Order of the Stick; I hope Rich can reward them by producing material on par with that that attracted me to the comic, and the start of the Kickstarter does seem to have coincided with events picking up considerably.

There is one interesting side effect, however. Last year, Rich decided to release a book reprinting the material he created for Dragon magazine back in the day, plus a few bonus side-stories. He announced that it would be a limited print run and would only be available through his online store. Which made sense, since after all, a lot of his longer-standing fans had already read the Dragon strips when they originally came out, and it wasn’t like any of it was canon anyway. Fast forward to now: Some people are clamoring for Rich to commit to reprinting this special book as well, but Rich has shut the door on that, since he did say this was going to be a one-time limited-edition printing, and he’s not going to go back on that promise because of a site that’s all about promises (you don’t want your pledges to be going towards, say, goofing off and working on a blog while blowing off actual schoolwork).

Just one problem: Most of the people who pledge towards the drive will be receiving a follow-up story to one of the new stories in that special book. Along with about five other new stories that will be canon. So, if you’re interested in collecting all of the canonical material, you’re also going to get a story you’d probably like the original context for, which would require picking up this special book.

Not that it’s a big deal, since apparently Rich feels confident there are enough copies to survive this drive and for some time thereafter (which proves the original reasoning right up to this point, though the special book seems to have gotten the short end of the stick in terms of its availability with other books among the pledge rewards), but it’s certainly food for thought.

Rich’s Kickstarter became the most-funded Kickstart in the history of the comics category. In two days.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized perfect crime.)

As with Homestuck, it takes a lot of doing for me to post on the same comic twice, and the previous strip certainly ranks high on the list of OOTS strips that would qualify if any did. In this case, after giving myself a day to think about it, I decided that after how SoD-heavy my last post was, I should write a post oriented more towards readers of the online comic. I also think I may have been too gobsmacked by the comic itself to think clearly about it.

For readers of the online comic, the main development from the previous strip, aside from the end of Tsukiko and the revelation of what the ritual actually does, is the more general revelation of Redcloak as the man behind the man. Honestly, though, even before SoD was published there’s been hints of this in the online comic, from Redcloak convincing Xykon to attack Azure City to his level of involvement in the battle planning there to convincing Xykon to stay in Azure City. In the previous book Redcloak even made clear that he and Xykon were not on the same side and that Xykon was little more than a “valuable ally”, which also backs up my contention in the previous post that Redcloak is more committed to the Plan than to Xykon himself. The previous post also explains why this isn’t quite the revelation it looks like it is (and I’ve had people try to tell me it’s even less of one than that).

Probably more stunning, and coming across as a revelation on the order of the “planet-within-the-planet“, is the revelation that the ritual doesn’t do anything near what Xykon thinks it does, that Redcloak has manipulated things down to the level of Xykon’s motivations and goals. By itself this revelation changes little, since Xykon doesn’t know about it, until the final battle (although one may be excused for wondering if it’s related to the “planet-within-the-planet”), but it does say a lot about Xykon, Redcloak, and the relationship between them, much of which is made apparent either in the strip or my previous post. It recontextualizes every strip with Xykon and Redcloak to know that even success for Xykon would accomplish what Redcloak wants, but not what Xykon wants.

Considering that the ritual in actuality neither destroys the world nor conquers it, it also defangs Team Evil a little as villains, even if their success would still cause some nasty consequences. In fact, this is a theory I’ve had in my head since having SoD spoilered for me, but knowing what the ritual actually does could actually open the door for Xykon and Redcloak to succeed at the final battle. Although Redcloak may not be mired in complete subservience to Xykon, he’s still tightly connected to him, and much of the comic and SoD has raised the possibility of a full split between the two being a fairly major event. Xykon discovering the ritual doesn’t do what he thinks it does, as has already been made clear, would certainly fit the bill, and he inevitably would find out if he were to be “successful”. One wonders if it constantly nags at the back of Redcloak’s mind what reaction Xykon would have to “success” at this point. (One problem with this theory: it turns the main villain from Xykon to the Dark One, however briefly, who I don’t think was even mentioned in the online comic until the third book… but what he doesn’t know about the “Snarl” could hurt him.)

It’s also worth noting the number of characters whose information about the Gates, past and future, comes primarily from Xykon and Redcloak. Nale picked up a lot of information about the Gates from Shojo, but makes clear that he intends to get the ritual out of Xykon or Redcloak somehow. They aren’t going to be any more successful, at least at this gate, but it’ll be interesting to see what the reaction will be out of either one of them if they even get close. Would Redcloak, for example, be more willing to divulge the arcane half of the ritual than we may once have thought he would, in hopes of grooming Nale to potentially replace Xykon?

Meanwhile, we now have some sense of what Redcloak’s plan for the phylactery is: to replace it with a fake. In some sense this actually helps Xykon, and certainly doesn’t help the OOTS, who could conceivably destroy the “phylactery” without actually destroying it. But the fact that Redcloak evidently wants to hide this plan from Xykon suggests he still has some ulterior motives…

Also, contribute to Rich’s Kickstarter drive, and hasten the day I get any collections of the online comics other than the first. If I had money, I’d contribute just to get the bonus story.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized puppet strings.)

This comic would have warranted a post even considering all the knowledge already out there. For someone who hadn’t read the Start of Darkness prequel or any synopses of its events (a group that apparently includes Gary “Fleen” Tyrell)? I’d have to imagine they’d be in a stupor for days.

(There will be more minor SoD spoilers in this post, but I’m dispensing with the jump break because a good number of them are unspoilered in this comic, allowing me to talk around any details that are too spoilery.)

Let’s start with the fact that those who did read SoD might be confused at Redcloak’s effective claim to have always had a spine, which would render my last OOTS post moot. At the end of the previous comic, Tsukiko calls Redcloak “Wrong-Eye”, which is Xykon’s way of reminding him of his great failure at the end of that book that, he believes, effectively keeps him in line and subservient to him in perpetuity, and it seemed to work quite well earlier in this book. But here, Redcloak claims that he only ever allowed Tsukiko to get her way to avoid “upsetting the delicate balance between myself and Xykon”, implying that he has always been in complete control of the situation throughout the online comic. Which raises the question: do we need to reinterpret what happens at the end of SoD?

On one level, Redcloak doesn’t admit to any specific manipulation of Xykon here that wasn’t already covered in SoD, and which dates to the very beginning of their relationship. Not informing Xykon of the ritual’s true purpose has been a sort of passive manipulation; Redcloak could be a complete patsy of Xykon in the here and now, and Xykon’s actions would still be manipulated by Redcloak’s misinformation in the past. The “delicate puppet strings on which ‘Lord Xykon’ unknowingly dances” may well be as simple as Xykon continuing to go after the gates, convinced they will allow him to take over the world, in the first place.

On the other hand, Redcloak implies that it was never the “Wrong-Eye” comment that caused him to acquiesce to Tsukiko’s wishes, but merely maintaining his control over Xykon, letting Tsukiko control him rather than gain too much influence over Xykon. Although he may just be showing some bravado for Tsukiko’s benefit, it still suggests he’s not as broken up over the end of SoD as that ending makes us think.

The thing is, though, while the tragedy presented to us in Start of Darkness may not be the whole story, Redcloak may well still be mired deep within a tragedy of a different sort, one he may never escape from, one of loyalty not to Xykon, but to the Dark One. The Dark One has his plan to better the lives of goblinkind, divulged to non-SoD readers in this comic, but Redcloak has come up with an alternative, one that doesn’t involve the risk of the entire world being destroyed, and one that SoD readers may recognize as an improved version of what the Dark One himself engaged in in his former life, one of goblins seizing a piece of the world for themselves.

Tsukiko essentially warns Redcloak that killing her would lead Xykon to completely obliterate the fruits of that plan (and Redcloak’s life), and Redcloak seems resigned to that eventuality, noting that Xykon’s reaction would likely be the same to Tsukiko tattling on him. At least theoretically, there is an alternative, albeit a difficult one, one of all-out resistance to any attempt of Xykon to commit genocide on Gobbotopia, admittedly difficult considering Xykon’s epic-level status. On one level, that’s not going to happen because it would end the comic or at least Xykon’s (and Redcloak’s) status as its main villain. But on another level, for all that Redcloak may have doubts about the Dark One’s plan, he’s still willing to sacrifice everything for it. It’s especially tragic considering that the forums have speculated in the past that the Dark One hasn’t been completely honest even to his own high priest about the true goal of the Plan.

Perhaps it’s here that Redcloak is still affected by the end of SoD, rendering him unwilling to abandon the Plan under any circumstances lest his guilt for that ending overwhelm him, but unbeknownst to Xykon, still seeing him merely as a means to that end, one that can be replaced if he can find a powerful enough arcane spellcaster that he can control easier. Without getting too spoilery, there’s a bit towards the end of SoD where Redcloak’s brother voices his own concerns over the Dark One’s motives, and whether he really has the best interests of goblinkind at heart. Gobbotopia suggests those words have been nagging at Redcloak; his willingness to throw it away suggests they haven’t been enough to dissuade him.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s here that Redcloak’s recovery of the phylactery really comes into play. If Redcloak can save his life and that of the people of Gobbotopia with the threat of destroying or re-losing the phylactery, he might just be able to continue to have his cake and eat it too. Certainly if Redcloak still sees Xykon as a means to an end, he can at least bluff Xykon into staying in line as a last resort, and certainly it seems unlikely that Xykon would follow through with such a threat, if only because of how integral Redcloak himself is to the strip, although it would make it far easier for Hinjo and company to retake the city. One wonders if it was the recovery of the phylactery, as much as Tsukiko’s threat to unravel (no pun intended) the Plan, that allowed Redcloak to finally take matters into his own hands regarding Tsukiko (sort of).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t cover the end of Tsukiko’s story, as relatively bare-bones as that story was. For someone so delusional about the undead, it’s somewhat fitting for her to meet her end at the hands of the creatures she so adored. I might have preferred for her to become an undead herself, to find out how the other half lives, but Redcloak clearly couldn’t take that risk, as evident in his order for Tsukiko’s former “children” to devour each other. And while Rich presents us with four panels of Redcloak’s expressionless stare while Tsukiko gets slowly drained away, her vain, delusional attempts to appeal to those “children” as her worldview crumbles along with her are far more chilling than any actual depiction of her draining and dismemberment would be. (Although one wonders if having the wights kill her entirely, as opposed to, say, throwing her into the rift, may come back to bite Redcloak in the end if her spirit is still around to blab to any other interested parties…)

Redcloak, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized crushing.)

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for the Order of the Stick prequel Start of Darkness. As such, we’re hiding it behind a jump break. This means the comic image will overflow past the post itself on the main blog page; I can only hope that the miscellaneous stuff at the bottom will keep it from screwing up the page layout too much (although I admit I forgot how huge the comic image can be compared to the text).

Read moreRedcloak, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!

We’re learning far too much about the bad guys’ plans for them to be remotely successful.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized family affair.)

When I predicted that Nale and Tarquin might make up and form one side in the battle for the Gates, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

Although Tarquin seems willing to accept his son’s direction, as at least one person on the forum points out, he’s also equally willing to let someone else hold the official position of leader of the Empire of Blood, so he could be just as willing to try to manipulate Nale similarly. But that might actually turn out to be a far more interesting outcome than if he just let Nale run the show, and not necessarily because Tarquin would be entirely successful.

Tarquin knows a lot, but he’s not omniscient, and so far as we know, Sabine is the only person in that room who knows what the real power behind the Linear Guild is. The IFCC might be willing to put up with Tarquin joining the group and even calling the shots so long as it results in more conflict for Girard’s Gate, but it’s very easy to see a scenario where Tarquin takes the Linear Guild in a direction they don’t want it to go, or raises them beyond the level of “incompetent buffoons”. That could result in much of the comic’s conflict occuring within the Linear Guild, especially between Sabine and Tarquin with Nale caught in the middle. It’s been speculated that Nale might find out about and rebel against the IFCC at some point; we may be seeing the groundwork being laid for that.

At any rate, after spending so long inside the Empire of Blood, the comic is moving everything straight towards what’s shaping up to be an epic, multi-way conflagration at Girard’s Gate, one that’ll make the Linear Guild encounter we just had look like child’s play.

Tarquin, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized negotiations.)

Rich finally proved a forum theory wrong for once… sort of.

Quite a few people speculated that Tarquin knew something about the Gates, and while theories about Tarquin and Nale working in collusion had died down considerably, I myself was still toying with them. Both theories look like they’ve been pretty much shot down… with regard to anything that happened before this strip, that is.

When last we talked about OOTS, Tarquin revealed that he didn’t actually know anything about Girard, but still gave the OOTS a lead toward his gate – a lead his late ex-wife had let slip, and that she was planning to follow up on, shortly before her death. The OOTS figured that her source was likely a disguised Sabine, and that Nale killed her when she was no longer useful – despite the fact that, when speaking of Penelope’s death earlier, Tarquin used phrasing that someone less dense than Elan would figure suggested he himself was the culprit.

If Tarquin did kill her, and if this clue was the reason for that, it might have been the result of jealousy and not wanting her to return to her ex-husband, or it may have been that he sensed the importance of what she said and wanted to keep her from spilling more beans. That means that, in all likelihood, if Tarquin killed her it was likely after he learned that Nale was afoot.

Interestingly, Tarquin implies in this strip that he only knew of Nale’s presence after Penelope let slip her clue, which was only “a few weeks ago”, although it seems apparent that Zz’dtri had been present for longer (his elf-ambassador disguise is shown as being present when Penelope lets slip her clue in the original strip), and Nale had earlier told Elan that he had been here for “months“. I don’t see how Tarquin could have drawn the connection between what Penelope said and Nale’s presence if he knew Nale was there the whole time, which lends more credence to the notion that Nale killed her either when she outlived her usefulness or to keep from tipping off Tarquin to his presence – although the notion that Tarquin only recently learned of Nale’s presence seems more credible to me. (The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course; though it’s unlikely, Tarquin could be telling the truth when he implies that he only learned of Nale’s presence in the last few strips.)

Why did Tarquin keep Elan around through the festival? Partly to make sure they were still around for it, rather than run off the instant they got their information or upon finding out this wasn’t the Draketooth they were looking for, partly to use the festival to draw out Nale, but maybe we should also consider why Tarquin said in the previous strip, “it is in our own best interest that they succeed.” Keep in mind, when he says this he knows nothing about the Gates or about Xykon, but he does know that Nale probably won’t be there when they get there, he knows that they are chasing “some cliched scenery-chewing villain bent on world conquest“, and we can reasonably assume that he has some inkling that he might want to chase off after them (especially since “cliched scenery-chewing villain bent on world conquest” is a pretty good description of Tarquin himself).

Everything Tarquin has done since we’ve first met him, then, has likely been aiming towards several goals: draw out Nale (doubtless engineering “Roy v. Thog” to help with this), weaken the teams of both of his sons, learn enough about the OOTS to properly incorporate them into his plans, send the OOTS on their way with enough time to stop the other cliched villain, find out what he can about what both teams are doing from a source likely to fold when he threatens him (he may have initially thought Elan stood a chance at qualifying until he found out how much of a Pollyanna he is), and maybe some other plots I can’t even fathom because I’m not the diabolical mastermind Tarquin or Rich are. Now that that’s been completed, it seems we have now officially filled in one of the “nine sides” going after the Gates (and Nale, like Xykon, presumably doesn’t know that the Snarl is pretty much worthless for conquest)… although it’s worth leaving open the possibility that Nale and Tarquin will make up and form one side.

Argh, is Elan being sensible when the plot calls for it again?

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized race against time.)

After a year-and-a-half in the Empire of Blood, it’s looking like we’re finally starting to move back to the main plot.

Tarquin just took a single strip to drop most of the knowledge, for what it’s worth, on Girard that he’s promised during that time, and what it basically amounts to is a lead on the location of Girard’s Gate, but very little on Girard himself, other than that the notion that he might be dead by now is once again very plausible (or, perhaps, that he’s used aliases and illusions to keep himself young). That’s enough information, though, that Elan seems to be bringing the Empire of Blood interlude to a rather abrupt halt to chase after that lead – making me once again wonder if this interlude went on far longer than Rich intended.

On the other hand, while it originally looked like Tarquin’s “employment opportunity” for Roy and Belkar was going to be the pretense for putting them back together with the Order, that now looks like it might be rather hard to pull off – unless Tarquin takes a particularly keen interest in the Order’s journey. Adding credence to that, there’s a lot that doesn’t add up here: Elan decides that the Linear Guild pressed Tarquin’s ex-wife for information, then killed her, but Tarquin had previously indicated that he might have killed her himself… leaving open the possibility that Tarquin has his own knowledge of, and interest in, the Gates, one that doesn’t intersect with the Order’s in a friendly way.

Which is not to say it intersects with that of the Linear Guild in a friendly way either; I could easily see a scenario where Tarquin deduced that Penelope was helping Nale and killed her so she’d stop. In any case, it’s starting to look like the fight we just had between the Order and the Linear Guild may soon look like child’s play…