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Xykon is a Chaotic Evil lich who also happens to have some serious style and a rich sense of humor.
General Tarquin and Minister Malack are both Lawful Evil and power-hungry (and Tarquin will get revenge for any perceived insult), but they're also enjoyable company and very gracious hosts. Malack implied to Durkon that he's actually True Neutral, though this could've just been a lie to put the very Lawful Good Durkon more at ease with him.
Thog is so cheerful and friendly, it's easy to forget that he'll kill hundreds of innocent NPCs for little (if any) reason.
Aggressive Negotiations: Start of Darkness spoilers: This is how The Dark One ultimately met his end -- he was murdered while attempting to negotiate a peace settlement with the humans kings. Rather than ending the war, it made things far worse, as the goblins swarmed upon their enemies inflicting huge losses in vengeance for their fallen warlord.
Roy and Belkar are sentenced to life in prison for not having paperwork; the reptilian bounty hunters soon suffer the same fate even though they have their paperwork, because the chancellor was ordered to lose it after they attempted to blackmail General Tarquin.
A few strips later, while Durkon is in a library, a sign is posted that says the Dewey Decimal System is strictly enforced. (One can only imagine.)
Thog was thrown into prison for public urination, even though he was already wanted for treason at the time.
most orcs talk like this. It seems to be related to the INT score. Lampshaded in the last panel of this page.
Eric Greenhilt too, as he's quite young.
All There in the Manual: How did the Order of the Stick team up? Why do they suffer Belkar's presence? How and why did Redcloak align himself with Xykon? Just what did happen to that first Gate? To find out, you have to buy the prequel books, most of which are available via Ookoodook.
Ambiguous Gender: Vaarsuvius, and now his/her mate too... and their kids.... and his/her master... ah screw it: with a few exceptions, elves in general. Word of the Giant is that any gender identification of Vaarsuvius (and other ambiguous elves) is strictly their own perception. And V's children are adopted. Make no assumptions; for all we know they could be a same-sex couple.
Amplifier Artifact: Most common magic items are of this kind, like Roy's Belt of Giant Strength, Elan's Belt of Charisma or V's Ring of Wizardry. Lampshaded by Haley with a Potion of Glibness: she takes it from Elan to use herself, because while it would make him a good liar, she's already a good liar so it will make her an utterly amazing liar.
Ancestral Weapon: Roy's greatsword is handed down from his grandfather (though it skipped his father). The family is actually named after its green hilt, and now that it was reforged with starmetal it glows green when slaying undead, and so qualifies as a pretty Cool Sword too.
And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt: The hobgoblin horde gets shirts that say "I killed a PC and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!" when they kill the illusion of the Order of the Stick and Hinjo.
And Your Reward Is Clothes: Played with. After slaying the evil black dragon, Elan says that he got a new clasp for his cloak, and Roy got snazzy new boots. (But it was actually an art upgrade, and they were supposed to pretend they were always drawn that way).
Angels Pose: Used in "Roy's Angels". Note that Haley is the only one of the three who we know to be really a woman -- Roy was temporarily female at the time due to a Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity, and Vaarsuvius' gender is unclear at best.
Anticlimax Cut: "The Test of the Heart": After having passed the Tests of the Body and Mind, one guarded by a hydra and the other a riddle, the Order finds themselves face-to-face with the guardian of the final Test of the Heart.
"Pray to what gods you serve that you will be deemed worthy of this rare honor! Find your reserves of courage, warriors, for the Test of the Heart begins -- NOW!!"
(cut to: Roy in a chair at a doctor's clinic, a stethoscope over his heart)
"Pulse rate is 60... blood pressure is 85 over 60... You pass. Next!"
(Planetary/Physical Annihilation): At the dawn of time, the Snarl unmade the creation of the planet and destroyed a whole pantheon of gods.
(close to Planetary/Species Extinction): A single epic-level necromantic spell seems to have caused the extinction of a large extended family. Since the victim is a dragon, and dragons don't breed much, this one spell killed a quarter of all the black dragons in the world.
During the battle of Azure City, Xykon slaughters all the paladins defending the throne room... only to watch them rise up and oppose him as spirits, led by the spirit of legendary paladin Soon, no less.
Not to mention that he led an Army of the Dead against Azure City in the first place. Undead Dragon and all.
Turns out the gladiatorial champion of the Empire of Blood, who is built up as some kind of insane monster who mercilessly slaughtered dozens of fighters and guards, was originally locked up for peeing on the sidewalk. And then it turns out that that's because he's none other than Thog.
Awesome but Impractical: Many of Nale's plans. His draft plan to kill Elan in Cliffport involved Sabine flying over carrying an anvil on a string. And Thog on rocket skates. Their final plan kept the rocket skates.
Back for the Dead: Julio Scoundrél sincerely hopes never to cross paths with Elan again for precisely this reason.
Badass Normal: Many characters who kick ass without any intrinsic magical ability. This includes Roy, Haley, Thog, Kazumi, Daigo and more. Belkar as well, despite the fact that as a ranger he could use spells. Theoretically. If he didn't have a Wisdom score normally reserved for lemmings.
Belkar has a habit of doing this with the heads of kobolds he killed, though he never keeps them for long.
Roy takes Xykon's crown and wears it on a string around his neck after "setting him back a bit". This turns out to be a problem when the residual evil on it causes Miko to try and smite him. Xykon takes it back in their next encounter.
Later, Gannji concocts a plan that requires his partner Enor to kill him, cut of his tail, and keep it so that Gannji can be resurrected later. He tells Enor:
Gannji: Tell the guards it's a trophy of your victory. They won't question it 'cause you're part ogre. They do stuff like that all the time.
Durkon is too level-headed to really go "berserk", but showing disrespect or making fun of godly worship (like by worshipping a hand puppet, or converting to Thor on the spot when convenient) and he will threaten you with violence, and even had to be physically restrained in some cases.
Better to Die Than Be Killed: Destroying the gates, which are the only things holding back the Snarl, is considered better than allowing their power to fall into evil hands. The implication being that the world would be better off destroyed and remade than falling into the hands of the forces of darkness with the focused power of the Snarl at their disposal. Either that, or a gate would grant great power to anyone willing and able to harness it, especially an Evil person, but a destroyed gate could simply be remade somehow.
Xykon is the human-scale bad guy and the one really driving the main story, but the most powerful evil presence in the comic is the Snarl, hands down. Though Blackwing's vision of the inside of the rift shows that things may be a little more complicated...
The IFCC is somewhere above Xykon and below the Snarl.
Big "Never!": Vaarsuvius when asked to renounce his/her chosen god, and then repeats it when a bribe is insufficient.
Black Comedy: Since the comic has an overall humorous tone, the various atrocities committed by Belkar, Xykon, Nale, Tarquin/The Empire of Blood, and other villains tend to be depicted this way, including some jokes in these scenes, but not downplaying the cruelty being displayed.
Black Dude Dies First: Roy is the first main character to actually die. He got ressurected though, even if it did take 206strips before Durkon could start casting Resurrection.
Blood Oath: Eugene Greenhilt swearing one against Xykon on a drunken night, for the murder of his mentor Fyron Pucebuckle, is what start the whole vendetta against the lich sorcerer, and pretty much motivate Roy to found the Order of the Stick. The rest is history. It is also what keeps Eugene from being admitted into the Afterlife (though not Roy, because Roy's death occured while trying to fulfill that oath).
In "The Path to Victory", as the Order goes through a secret tunnel, they pass through The Hall of Mysterious Runes, The Cavern of Very Easy Encounters, The Room With All the Spikes, The Chasm of Unnecessary Cliffs, The Tunnel With the Sort of Reddish Floor, The Passageway of Horrible Death for Other People... and The Corridor of Very Toxic Sulfur Fumes. (Which the team shakes off, anyway.)
In Start of Darkness, Xykon delivers one to Dorukan all while he Energy Drains the wizard to death.
Shortly followed by one for Redcloak at the very end of Start of Darkness.
Redcloak to Miko in the main comic.
Later, Redcloak to O-Chul.
O-Chul then tries a heroic version on the Monster in the Darkness.
Xykon delivers an awesome one to V in "Second Chance". It has opposite the intended effect; Xykon tells Vaarsuvius exactly what the elf needs to hear at that moment to cause a moment of redemption -- that power is not only found in spells, and that Vaarsuvius can still oppose Xykon despite not having any spells that could help. During all that talking, V decides to nab some healing potions and patch up the paladin O'Chul.
Breaking the Fellowship: Following the battle of Azure City, the party is split, and one is dead. They finally reunite over a hundred chapters (and several in-universe months) later.
When searching for the starmetal to get Roy's sword reforged, V gets polymorphed into a purple lizard, which V's familiar tries to catch. Blackwing (V's familiar) figures it out in strip #714, more than 500 strips later. The strip title implies that it was intentional.
Early in the comic Vaarsuvius tells Elan that since s/he's an elf s/he only needs to take bathroom breaks every few weeks or so and Elan, being Elan, interprets that as V being a camel. It's referenced again, about 600 strips later.
Attempted in Start of Darkness when Lirian inflicts Xykon and his minions with a disease that robs them of their magic abilities. Unfortunately for her, Redcloak is immune thanks to the effects of the Crimson Mantle, and has just enough resources to transform Xykon in an undead, disease-immune lich.
A more temporary instance of this trope occurs when a dragon uses an anti-magic field against Vaarsuvius, turning him/her from a wizard into what the former describes as "a fragile, pointy-eared monkey" while the dragon is "... still a dragon."
Brown Note: Certain magical spells are perfectly capable of this -- for example, Xykon used a "Symbol of Insanity" (on a super-bouncy ball) to turn an entire squad of paladin warriors against each other.
From #766 to #90 ("I've got a 4!") and to #130 with the "elveny boots".
One would be a sort of Call Forward, since it shows up in a prequel book. In this comic, Roy makes a throwaway comment about only getting a C- in his Attacks of Opportunity class. In On the Origin of PCs, that's the class Roy is studying for when his dad shows up to tell him about the Blood Oath against Xykon.
From #779 to #202. Watch out for what the people with the lead sheet say!
The comic tops itself yet again as of #789 to #43, with the return of Zz'dtri.
#478 has V teaching Elan to create illusions of celestial creatures. In #805, Elan demonstrates what he's learned with an illusionary celestial tree sloth.
A shorter one, but in #727, Roy's hunch back in #691 pays off...
Redcloak's confrontation with Tsukiko in #830 is similar to Xykon's confrontation with Dorukan in Start of Darkness, with a one character exploiting a seemingly powerful one's weaknesses, giving a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to them, and then killing them ignominiously.
As a corollary, The only thing you have to say when you cast a spell is the name of the spell, leading to the incantation for Resurrection, which has a ten-minute casting time, being the word "resurrection!" repeated over and over for ten minutes.
Rule of thumb: if a prison is shown, someone will break out of it.
In a more literal example, most of the time while in Azure City, the Monster in the Darkness is seen within a prison cell, literally made from a cardboard box with a small window (with bars) cut into one side.
Cargo Cult: The orcs on the island worship... uh, Elan's hand-puppet, Banjo the Clown. And so does he. Also apparently one worshiper is enough for a said worshipper to request the ability to shoot out a small bolt of lightning to smite heathens (Elan does it to Roy; it does absolutely nothing). Though they later worship Giggles the Clown, Banjo's equally fictional brother and God of Slapstick. This leads to the refugee fleet, as "Champions of Banjo", and the new worshippers of Giggles having a pie-eating contest, the "traditional" challenge that must be enacted between followers of the two hand-puppet gods. Of course, given how deific ascension works in the world (which is why Elan came up with Banjo in the first place), then there very likely is an actual (if very weak) Giggles the Clown deity now.
In the cast page, Belkar is introduced as "the world's best tracker under four feet tall." As the strip moved on, his Stupid Evil nature was played up to the point where it turns out that he is a completely incompetent tracker, having spent all his skill points and feats on combat abilities (and gourmet cooking). Changing his alignment from Stupid Evil to Chaotic Evil also caused an enormous amount of Fan Dumb, as many believe the two to be the same.
The Monster in the Darkness started out as evil (just not very good at it), but has evolved into a good (or at least neutral) character being tricked and manipulated by his evil "friends."
Redcloak in his first couple of appearances was basically just a regular goblin with a fancy cloak, who kowtowed endlessly to Xykon and whose unlevel eyes didn't exactly scream intelligence. Fast forward a few hundred strips, and Redcloak is the quintessential Dragon with an Agenda, as well as the resident Only Sane Employee and Hypercompetent Sidekick, who claims to have been expertly manipulating Xykon from the beginning.
Charm Person: It's a D&D-based trope, so of course this is here.
Striking general example is Nale hypnotizing Belkar; he can't make Belkar kill the Order and give their magic items to him, but Nale is able to make Belkar try to kill the Order and keep their magic items for himself... while singing showtunes...
The pendant Celia gives to Roy. Double Subverted: it first appears to be a Red Herring, but it turned out to be a Chekhov's Gun for Celia's appearance in the fourth arc.
Vaarsuvius' familiar. A curious example where a pre-existing character and Running Gag is intentionally shelved to give his future reappearance more impact.
Not to mention the Boots of Elvenkind and the Bag of Tricks.
From the same series, but even more plot-important than the boots or the bag, Belkar's Ring of Jumping +20. It helps him escape from Azure City prison and indirectly causes Roy's death.
And Xykon's headband allowing him to Cloister Azure City.
The Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity that Elan takes from a defeated ogre.
The Ylang-Ylang moisturizer Haley purchased earlier from Aton helps Belkar lead Roy to her kidnapper. The moment of purchase might also qualify as an Innocuously Important Episode due to leading Roy, Belkar, and Durkon to Elan's relative, and possibly Draketooth.
The Monster in the Darkness, which enjoys Power Rangers, tea parties and eating adventurers whole.
Thog, a half-orc barbarian with low intelligence who helps Elan's Evil Twin Nale murder innocents by the dozens -- but loves nothing in life more than ice cream, rocket skates, and puppies. Probably because of this, he and Elan get along really well.
Also Odin, the leader of the Northern Pantheon.
Thor shows this occasionally as well, though mainly when he is drunk or about to. Which is about everytime we see him.
Lampshaded in regards to dragons; also the Trope Namer.
Everything related to Azure City. The city itself is completely blue, including most of the buildings, the town wall and even the ships in the port. The regulars in the army wear silver and blue armor, and the paladins, white and blue. Many characters, e.g. Hinjo, even have blue hair. And anything related to Kubota is purple.
It's to the point where if a paladin falls from grace, his or her clothes immediately change color from blue to brown, due to them being magical items that lose power when not on a paladin in good standing.
Additionally, all spellcasters have a distinctive colored aura when casting spells:
Vaarsuvius -- pink;
Durkon -- white;
Elan -- blue;
Redcloak -- dark red;
Xykon -- dark grey;
Nale -- yellow;
Zz'dtri -- green;
Hilgya -- orange;
Leeky -- brown;
Pompey -- violet;
Eugene -- pale green;
Samantha -- purple;
Tsukiko -- indigo and blue (due to her being able to, as a Mystic Theurge, cast both arcane and divine spells);
Sapphire Guard members and Azurite clerics -- standardized light blue;
Malack -- grey.
It's implied (particularly in Start of Darkness) that the hierarchal ranks of the Dark One's clerics are indicated by cloak color. For instance, white cloaks are issued to the newly-ordained.
Combat Pragmatist: Haley has no issues with ambushing and killing her arch-enemy Crystal, the assassin, while she's in the shower, unarmed and not wearing any armor or magic items. Followed, naturally, by looting all of said equipment. This scene comes off a lot less cold-blooded if you have read the prequel On the Origin of the PCs and the supplemental pages in Don't Split the Party that were cut out of the online comic for reasons of pacing but put back in for the printed edition. The extra strips in Don't Split the Party reveal that Crystal was more than eager to hurt and kill Haley, and she and Bozzok were still planning to secretly murder Haley, despite the truce.
Compelling Voice: Haley gets this when she consumes a potion a glibness, giving her already huge bluff score an extra +30. She tells a guard that he's actually a yellow-footed rock wallaby, and he immediately hops off to find a wizard to polymorph him "back".
The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Tarquin's ninth wife died of "mysterious circumstances". Which turns out to be a subversion -- Tarquin really has no idea how she died, although he's confident she was murdered by somebody.
Roy delivers several of these to goblins V put to sleep with an overly long and boring incantationboast about how s/he was much more powerful than anything they could imagine. It was so long and boring that it put Elan and Belkar to sleep as well.
Crystal attempts to do one to an unconscious Haley, but she's interrupted.
Covers Always Lie: The cover for Start of Darkness shows Xykon as a lich killing a paladin before his first encounter with Redcloak -- while in the story proper, he wasn't yet undead when this happened. Lampshaded on the last page of the book:
MitD: Wait-- The scene on the cover didn't happen that way.
At one point, Belkar beheads Yikyik the kobold and wears his head as a hat. He later uses the head of Yokyok, the son of the first kobold, as a tortilla bowl.
Gannji the lizardfolk mentions that keeping a Creepy Souvenir is common amongst ogres. So, when his friend Enor (an ogre/blue dragon hybrid) is forced to kill him, Gannji suggest he'd keep his tail as trophy in order to resurrect him later.
Also, Malack tells Elan he would pay handsomely for Nale's skull to adorn his study.
Tsukiko's death. Life-drained by her own wights, followed by being eaten, bones and all by those same wights. They then eat eachother in order of creation, and the last one incinerate itself.Killed Off for Real indeed.
Crying Wolf: Inverted and parodied in "The Elf Who Cried Raven" -- when V finally remembers his/her familiar and claims that Blackwing was "there all along" in their past adventures, none of the others believe it. Despite previously being the ones who had to remind V of its existence.
What started as a killing of a young adult black dragon escalated when the black dragon's parent tried to torture Vaarsuvius' family to death, which led directly to V killing one quarter of the world's population of black dragons, which seems to have irked Tiamat (the Goddess of chromatic dragons).
Also, the ongoing war between humans and goblins. As stated in the third book's commentary (partial paraphrase), "Each side only remembers their last defeat at the hands of the other."
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