#41 The Forces of Stuff I Found in my Desk

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 19, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 39 comments


I came from a comic where I had lots and lots of panels, and that was where I cut my teeth, comics-wise. I always wanted more panels. At the same time, Shawn was putting a lot of work and many hours into the comic, and was already doing far more work than I was. The work load was already out of balance, and the stuff I wanted to write would have made it much moreso.

Solution: Shawn draws the pictures, and I do the layouts, bubbles, lettering, etc.

My plan was to request just 3 images for each comic. I’d drop those into the layout, but I’d also add them to my depot of images that could be re-used later. In a subsequent strip, maybe I’d recycle one of these images. The idea was to increase the panel count without increasing Shawn’s workload. (And since I was doing the layouts, even reducing his work a bit.) You can see in this comic that panel 3 is just a different crop of panel 2.

This created a bit of unexpected tension. I was zooming and cropping his art, which was great for giving me panels but bad because it wasn’t very flattering to his work. The comics flowed better, but Shawn wasn’t getting as much satisfaction from the final result. He didn’t enjoy the new system, which was really important to the ongoing health of the thing. Since the comic wasn’t paying anything, the only reason to keep doing it was because we loved the project. He never said as much, and it never occurred to me at the time, but this change to the process transformed him from contributing artist to image mill.

Any idea that turned it from a hobby into a job should have been dismissed on the spot. It wasn’t until we abandoned this system that I really understood why it wasn’t working for him.

Shawn Says:

I kind of think of this strip as the beginning of the end. (Dun Dun DUH) As mentioned, we’d switched up the workflow. This sadly did not have the positive effects desired. When I put together Clockworks or the earlier Chainmail Bikini strips, I tend to think about things like how word bubbles are centered, how the entire thing comes together as a composition, etc. I can’t help it. So the new CB strips looked very odd to me. All I could see were things I’d have done differently. Now, enough time has passed that I can happily look at comics like this one and enjoy them as they are. But at the time I could not.

Now, all that said I do enjoy this strip. I think the central gag is great and the panels of the gaming mat were a lot of fun to draw. Plus, you’ll note Chuck’s immaculately painted barbarian miniature. which was referenced in the now nonexistent cast pages. Also, Marcus singing Depeche Mode still amuses me. I love the idea that all of Jade’s bardic songs were either Depeche Mode, The Cure, or The Smiths. (Originally, I wanted them all to be Dashboard Confessional songs. But I don’t actually know the words to any Dashboard Confessional songs and I wasn’t about to subject myself to them to find ones to use.)

I’ve always been envious of Rich Burlew of Order of the Stick fame. He’s always been able to do meta-jokes without getting caught in a bunch of nitpicky “That’s not how D&D works” type jokes.

I want to make a joke to the effect of “Isn’t it funny how players will haggle over the minutiae of esoteric rules during an intense battle?”. But then I do the joke and instead of laughing at the common experience, a lot of readers try to “solve” the exchange.

“That’s not how that rule works! You wouldn’t use it here!”

“Alex is interpreting the rules incorrectly. Bob is in the right. This joke is dumb.”

“This rule is dumb anyway.”

We’re supposed to be laughing at the general idea of rules lawyering, but instead we get sidetracked into the details of one specific rule.

I invented the fictional D&D&D system to attempt to head this off, but then people ask questions like, “How is Chuck using a character and weapon from another setting?” It’s nitpicks all the way down, and I don’t know how you solve it. If it was just one or two people I would assume they were just spoilsports who don’t get the joke, but this happens often enough and comes from a diverse enough group of people that it might be an inescapable drawback of the form. I think, to a certain extent, that any story attempting to straddle the real-world and the game world like this is going to run into this problem.

 


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39 thoughts on “#41 The Forces of Stuff I Found in my Desk

  1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I don’t think you shouldn’t mind the nitpicks so much, this is how we have our own fun in the comments. For example when I asked if Chuck’s weapon was from a New Game Plus feature I was just having some fun with the setting, it didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the strip (I did).

    1. BlueHorus says:

      This. Some people just enjoy delving into rules and working them out. Or debating/arguing about rules. Though:

      We’re supposed to be laughing at the general idea of rules lawyering, but instead we get sidetracked into the details of one specific rule

      AKA Rules Lawyering?
      I chuckled.

      1. Lino says:

        I think it comes from the fact that the majority of the readers here have some sort of Engineering background (or at least an interest in those subjects), so it’s natural dor most of them to like discussing systems, rules and the like.

    2. Rack says:

      Order of the Stick is RIFE with nitpicks. It’s just part of the territory. They clearly get to him too as comics will occasionally have a panel or two just heading off some nitpick or another.

  2. MrPyro says:

    I’ve always been envious of Rich Burlew of Order of the Stick fame. He’s always been able to do meta-jokes without getting caught in a bunch of nitpicky “That’s not how D&D works” type jokes.

    If you read the forums, you get (or at least used to) a LOT of people complaining that D&D doesn’t work that way about the events in the comics. I think he just decided a long time ago to ignore them.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      ah, ninja’ed

    2. Thomas says:

      The comments aren’t representative of your readers. I think that’s true the world over. That’s why I think places have to be very intelligent to how they respond to their commenters.

      I love Robot Wars, and then one day I decided to check out the sub reddit and it was like a different world. They had developed ideas of what was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ robot fighting. They talked about production issues, and internal drama and history. They were always coming up with ways the producers could do it better.

      I followed for a few weeks, but I hated it. Eventually I stopped reading it and went back to enjoying robots blowing each other up. It was a lot more fun.


      On the other side of the coin, Magic the Gathering designer Mark Rosewater, does a _ton_ of community interaction
      https://markrosewater.tumblr.com/

      He says its great for giving him feedback and collected ideas. But he is also very firm that the people who interact with him are a skewed part of his audience. They’re more hardcore and tend to ask the game to be more intricate and complicated and listening to them all the time would drive away the new players quickly.

      —-

      Plus when people nitpick, half the time they’re just having fun and don’t really mean it

      1. Mousazz says:

        Did you hate that the Robot Wars forum was involving itself in all these nitpicky arguments, or did you just dislike the conclusions they came up with?

        1. Thomas says:

          I just personally didn’t like being aware of that way of thinking when watching the show the show. I liked just being able to enjoy it without all the meta narrative.

          Obviously the people in the sub reddit were getting satisfaction themselves – there’s nothing wrong with having that kind of community. It’s just an example of how being in a community for a show can be very different experience than just watching that show.

          Being in a fandom is fun, but not all the time

      2. I feel that response. Not with Robot Wars myself, but with different hobbies and games.

        Nothing quite like being perfectly content with your media, deciding to dip your toes into the pool of folks who are also into that media!… then getting assaulted with screeds about why some specific action was “invalid”, or a setup was “cheap”, or how the Powers That Be were “incorrect” in handling a scene a certain way. Sometimes I’d just much rather go with “The Idiot Game Show is assuredly dumb on many fronts, but still entertaining!” or “this version of Punch Guy lets me punch people in a super cool way!” without hearing folks deconstruct and over-analyze and quibble over every last morsel and facet.

        Props to those who can integrate the whims of their most hardcore fans into their works, without aliening anyone who’s more of a center-of-mass fan! That’s totally an often-covert but seemingly important-as-hell skill.

    3. Algeh says:

      I still read the Order of the Stick forums, and every time there’s something particularly rules mechanical in the comic, there are pages and pages of rules minutia in the main comic thread. This is despite of the comic author going on record as far back at least 2011 that he’s not trying to use the rules with moment-to-moment fidelity ( http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?211840-Slight-Confusion&p=11664910#post11664910 ). (How did I find that so quickly? There’s also a thread devoted to indexing every relevant public or in-forum statement the author has ever made about the comic.)

      There are also entire, ongoing threads devoted to figuring out the stats of each character, and to elaborate rules-arguing about one specific “mystery” creature that a subset of fans are treating as a “puzzle” and digging out assorted rulesbooks to try to figure out. They have elaborate tests they use for determining which creatures are mechanically likely to fit each scene they’ve determined is key to the mystery, and have an elaborate voting procedure for which particular mechanical cut-points for who is more likely to fit their model, and pages and pages of arguments about assorted creatures. (It seems to have devolved into puns again at the moment as that character hasn’t appeared in the comic in many strips so there is no new data and no one happens to have made any new proposals using the existing evidence. It could be kicked back over to pages of detailed arguing at any time.)

      My general opinion about specific-thing fan-forums like that is that I enjoy them more when talking about anything else using the fact that the other people there are also fans as a filter for who else is there discussing the other thing. The Order of the Stick forum is full of fun people to talk about SF tv shows with, for example. Trying to discuss the actual comic there is exhausting because there are too many people doing so and the forum-specific theories, references, in-jokes, and weird baggage run deep.

      Back to talking about the comic this post is actually about, I feel that the real punchline is “Spicy nacho flavor. Have some.” in panel 3. It briefly occurred to me to wonder if they counted as non-diagetic nachos, which is also my new band name. (I am not convinced that “non-diagetic” is really the appropriate term here at all, but the phrase “non-diagetic nachos” flows really well and will probably amuse me all day.)

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        I am not convinced that “non-diagetic” is really the appropriate term here at all

        Unlikely; “diagetic” isn’t a word. Diegetic is. Remember, you aren’t sticking a dia- on a gesis, you’re sticking a di- on an egesis.

  3. Sleeping Dragon says:

    So I don’t engage with that aspect of the comic but my housemate visits the Order of the Stick forums and from what I’ve heard from her there are very, very long and very, very detailed discussions (occasionaly descending into fights) of how most character actions, particularly spells, work within the given D&D ruleset. Interestingly enough they sometimes arrive at correct conclusions and can occasionally predict what’s going to happen based on that.

  4. Mr. Wolf says:

    Snacks on the game space?! Utter barbarism! The only thing worse than spicy nacho dust on your miniatures is spicy nacho dust on your rulebooks.

    Assuming you have either.

  5. BlueHorus says:

    Heh, We have this problem in my D&D campaign: we’re always being attacked by armies of dice since the DM has no minis. It can get…confusing.

    ‘Wait, what were the d4s again?’
    ‘Zombies.’
    ‘No, that was the d6s.’
    ‘You sure?’
    ‘I think so. Unless Turn Undead works on Hellhounds?’
    ‘Oh, right.’

    (PS: one of the people in this exchange was the DM)

    1. Hoitash says:

      This is why I’m grateful for Pathfinder pawns and people who buy them so I don’t have to.

      1. Matthew Downie says:

        I own a couple of boxes of Pathfinder pawns, but I mostly end up printing my own. It’s not too time consuming once I got a system established: I find art on the internet, re-scale it so that average human height is 350 pixels, copy-paste it on my blank template page, paste an upside-down duplicate above it, cram a bunch of upcoming creatures that might come up this week onto the same page, print on to blank cardboard, cut out, fold, write numbers on, stick in little bases…. OK, maybe it’s a bit time consuming.

    2. Adam says:

      The best solution to this I’ve seen is the “monster for every season” ebooks by Rich Burlew – essentially, print-and-fold miniatures in the clear Order Of The Stick style. If I had time, space, and/or people in my life to play tabletop RPGs, I would definitely be using those. But alas, I don’t so I am reduced to simply recommending them to others!

    3. Scampi says:

      “What about that translucent D6?”
      “Gelatinous Cube.”

      1. Nimrandir says:

        If a GM isn’t using Chessex dice boxes for gelatinous cubes, something has gone horribly wrong.

  6. Dev Null says:

    It’s nitpicks all the way down, and I don’t know how you solve it.

    I actually think this is just a bit built-in to the idea of making jokes about RPGs. 90% of RPG players seem to be passionate about whatever system they are currently using (while still being willing to near-endlessly kibitz about the bits they would change to make it better…) Because they’ve sunk a ton of money into buying the books and the peripherals etc. etc. and humans like to justify their purchases by telling you how wonderful they are. It’s just part of how we work. And yet the most obvious fact to any outsider after witnessing any role-playing experience is that the system is totally irrelevant; get a good GM and a good group and it won’t matter whether you have rules at all; miss out on either of those two things and it won’t matter how cleverly you encapsulated a competitive challenge system for rolling dice to determine how much cooler your tweet references were than mine.

    I have played some marvelous games in some amazing worlds with some profoundly stupid rules systems. Shadowrun, 1st ed, comes to mind. I would have fought to defend it at one point, but it was just plain dumb. I have never played a great game with a bad GM / group / story but a great system of rules.

    1. Hector says:

      I disagree on Shadowrun. I think it was a pretty solid system. 1st edition had some rough spots, sure, but it was a solid game. It wasn’t supposed to be “balanced”or run as a hackslasher game though.

  7. Hal says:

    When I first started running D&D (when this comic was contemporary, oddly enough) I did the improv-minis thing. It helps having a veritable mountain of inherited d6s; having lots of color variations means you can have a lot of different types of “monsters” out there.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      And stack them on top of each other for the big monsters!

      1. Hal says:

        Bigger monsters were poker chips or coasters.

  8. Joshua says:

    Warning, I’ll be a little bit critical here. The reason people nitpick on some of the rules is that this kind of humor is poking fun at the game as most of us experience it, and nitpicks are saying that “I’m not getting the humor because we don’t have that experience at my table: you’re either just not understanding the game or you’re really reaching/being lazy to make that joke”.

    I referenced the Gamers movies previously, although you can probably use Order of the Stick or similar gaming humor media. In the first film, which was a “D20-based not explicitly D&D for copyright reasons but close enough”, you had humor that poked fun at stuff that’s true to D&D and probably some other systems as well. For example, you had the Natural 20 which is an auto-success despite the almost impossible chance of it working (it shows an arrow shot after a fleeing villain acting as a homing missile following that guy around trees and even pausing in mid-air), and how silly it looks to have an Elven Ranger with a Strength of 6 successfully make a Strength check on something the 19 Strength Barbarian failed.

    On the other hand, the sequel got licensing rights to use D&D 3.5 but then still makes up its own rules to make a joke, which doesn’t quite work as well and feels forced. For example, Joanna (the Munchkin’s ex-Girlfriend and complete Newbie), ends up making an “Outside-the-box” Fighter that’s ludicrously more powerful than the other characters. While an awesome idea for a joke, the humor for me was slightly lessened because she does so in a way that’s so blatantly not officially D&D through taking Feats that would be a Munchkin’s wet dream and should therefore be obvious to the other players, or at least Cass. It just seems like a failed opportunity because I’m sure there’s plenty of ways they could have pulled this off by asking veterans for some of the existing OP concepts that were true to the rules, but they didn’t feel like putting in the effort.

    Regarding DMotR, so much of the humor was spot-on to issues that pop up at the table. I think Grapple came up a few times and is plenty ripe for humor (a brilliant system that attempts to be both Cinematic and Realistic yet failed so hard because A. Not being remotely worth the effort for PCs, B. Most situations it came up in was against monsters with way higher bonuses than the PCs), yet the one time I can recall there being any nitpicking in DMotR was because Shamus decided to poke fun at Attacks of Opportunity (now called Opportunity Attacks). I think there’s plenty of room for humor at their expense, because the original 3.0 incarnation was a classic case of Feature Creep where absolutely everything was triggering AoO and every subsequent edition pared them back further and further. However, the humor didn’t work as well because the joke was explained as “Attacks of Opportunity, what’s the point of them amirite?” When people attempted to explain them (admittedly not the best), Shamus doubled down on the joke and rather rudely said “Ha, you all can’t explain them either, see they are pointless!”. That’s the only rules nitpicking I remember from the original strip, anyway.

  9. Hector says:

    Watch out! I think the Pepsi can is the town Gazebo, the most deadly of foes. Don’t antagonize it, lest ye pay a terrible price!

    Also I think they’re immune to ranged weapons, even up to Arrows of Slaying.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Nah, it’s worse than that – if you deal any piercing damage to it at all, it leaks sugar water all over your minis and playing space!

    2. Nixorbo says:

      I call out to the gazebo.

      1. Hector says:

        The Gazebo does not respond…

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Uh-oh. I shoot it. What does it do?

    3. Abnaxis says:

      This is Josh we’re taking about. OF COURSE he has a fire weapon for just such a foe…

  10. Abnaxis says:

    The way Rich Burlew does it, is he has a forum topic dedicated to comic reactions that he NEVER reads. He insulates himself from the element that bugs him.

    In his case, he hates reading people’s predictions of what will happen in the comic because he can’t keep them out of his head while writing, so he puts all those people in a contained place and has a different moderator cover it. On my phone now so I can’t check, but IIRC there’s actually a forum rule that says posts that making predictions that aren’t flagged or in a “safe” area incurs an infraction

  11. Decius says:

    The only way to prevent nitpicks is to get the rules right, or to not reference the rules. OOTS does that mostly by not referencing the rules, and when they do, referencing them as vaguely as possible while still delivering the joke.

    The “I can’t remember the grapple rules” line didn’t talk about a touch attack and calculating grapple modifiers, it just talked about the grapple rules being complicated. Haley’s “That’s not a core spell” scene used the rules properly, but never in enough detail to get a nitpick wrong. (Some commenters disagreed and nitpicked anyway, but that’s because people will nitpick even when they can’t)

  12. Kyrillos says:

    I really would like to point out the irony: Shamus complains about how OOTS gets away with no nitpickers, everyone nitpicks about how OOTS does not, in fact, get away with no nitpickers.

  13. =David says:

    D&D&D sourcebook when?

    (Haha JK! Unless…?)

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Ah, just homebrew it.
      But post what you come up with; I want to fight a Mindflayer with ADHD…

  14. Ramsus says:

    I would assume the amount of nitpciking and questioning you get is because those things are part of the theme here. Stands to reason people who enjoy seeing you do so would enjoy doing so themselves. *shrug*

  15. Ravens Cry says:

    I’m on the forums for Order of the Stick and have been for over a decade. People do get all nitpicky, but mostly just in the forum thread for that update.

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