All Just a Dream: One strip featured the characters as ordinary people who happened to be playing a game of D&D with Aaron Williams as the DM. Nodwick's player wanted a new character, but Williams insisted that despite being a Butt Monkey, his role was vital to the party's success. Cue Nodwick waking up and looking confused.
Anachronism Stew: Plenty. References are made to things that are centuries ahead of the apparent technology level, such as one storyline where magic is treated in the same way as a PC system. Other small examples include references to Daylight Savings Time and modern technology like submarines.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A certain Sword in the Stone, which if pulled out too early, will curse the land with fire raining from the sky. It adds additional curses if someone is dumb enough to put it back in... And additional ones if you pull it out again, and so on and so on. These curses get increasingly silly, such as every firstborn child becoming a lawyer, demons building mini-malls, incontinent pelicans, "reagonomics", and market-researched sit-coms.
Curiously, for such an extensively planned curse, it doesn't have any dispensation for what happens when someone gets fed up with the bullshit and breaks the sword.
None that we see. The guys with the book listing the curses are still searching when the party leaves.
And then there are the rumored consequences for circumventing established spellcasting procedures:
Artax: We are sooooo dead. I hear that anyone who even thinks about challenging Liam Geakes meets with an unfortunate "accident," usually involving perforation... decapitation... having your credit rating trashed...
Art Evolution: The artwork and character designs have gradually become more streamlined and exaggerated since the beginning. Given a Lampshade Hanging in one strip, where Artax observes that Nodwick's nose is much larger than it used to be, and Nodwick offers the hypothesis that it's developed as a counterweight for all the treasure he's made to lug around.
Artifact of Doom: Half the group's income derives from hunting for these. Usually with some lying spin doctoring to make them more palatable to Piffany.
Berserk Button: Curse enough around Piffany, and she can apparently kick her way through prison bars to deliver an indignant scolding. Don't suggest giving up and going home when there's evil to be smote, either.
Powers What Is: Leave the cleric alone. If you do anything that keeps her from doing her nice-thoughts-and-fluffy-kittens work, we'll bust you so far down that an army of theological scholars won't be able to find mention of you in a million years! You got that?
Big Bad: Baphuma'al in the print comics, Count Repugsive in many of the shorter strips.
Butt Monkey: Nodwick, whose job description involves carrying extreme weights, suffering abuse, and being completely expendable.
To put this in perspective, Nodwick is hired ostensibly to provide someone who can carry things. However, the less morally constrained members of his party put him to other use:
It was Yeagar who pioneered many of the techniques in henchman use that adventuring parties use today. Far from relying on hirelings as mere human shields, he demonstrated their employ as projectiles, bait, door-jammers, and flotation devices.
... not to count battering ram, trap disarmer (as Artax at one point puts it, "In the same way stick disarms a bear trap.") and an all purpose tool, with the only person with any moral decency at all in the party being too clueless to stop this. Said uses, more often than not, result in his death, only to Piffany to conveniently patch him up with Duct Tape, so that said abuses can be heaped upon him all over again. And all of this takes place on top of the fact that he is frequently expected by his employers to haul several metric tons of "loot." To make matters worse, his guild is manipulated by the Adventurers Guild so that the president is a hamster and his health plan consists of a bottle of poison (The exact type of poison changes periodically). His contract is utterly impossible to get out of and at one point, he finds out that it is cosmically infeasible that he would ever get out of his current situation. This is so bad that when he dies, he is reduced to begging the powers that be to let him stay dead, only to find that he was due for resurrection yet again.
Character Alignment:invoked Not surprisingly, since it's inspired by D&D. They actually have official character sheets (for 2nd Edition) that were published in Dragon Magazine and then later added to the online archive. Then again, the dissonance between their sheets and how they act is a deliberate part of the humor.
For those interested, Piffany and Nodwick are Lawful Good (to no-one's surprise), Yeagar is apparently Chaotic Good, and Artax is Neutral Good (though gods know how, considering how they treat most of their fellow beings — and Nodwick). Or, as the first strip says:
Nodwick: I guess the "Lawful Good" in your want ad was a typo, right?
Yeagar: Our cleric placed the ad; she's a bit of an idealist.
Presumably it's a joke at the expense of those roleplayers who end up playing good alignments as neutral — certainly Artax actsTrue Neutral and Yeagar is textbook Chaotic Neutral.
Chekhov's Hobby: Sort of. The weapon that can kill Baphuma'al is an arrow, but this leaves the heroes with a small problem - none of them are any good with a bow. Fortunately, Rowen (who has just joined them) is an expert with it. She doesn't actually use her archery skills until the Final Battle, but it does come in very handy then.
Chekhov's Gun: In one of the first Nodwick strips, Yeagar remarks that the party really needs a thief; Artax reminds him that their last one is still in therapy. Years later, we discover that Artax and Yeagar are the reason said thief was in therapy...
First of all, the hamster gets superpowers at the end of Last Son of Xenon. No mention is made of them again until the final confrontation with Baphuma'al.
Another example: In an early issue of the print comic (the first appearance of Baphuma'al, in fact) the party breaks the curse of a pixie who is cursed to work as a tooth fairy. Again, this storyline is not mentioned again until Piffany asks for her help before the final battle against Baphuma'al.
The most important one, was a prophecy that Piffany mentions in one episode, how her first kiss will unleash great holy power that can smite the greatest of evils. This is forgotten about until the Final Battle, where Nodwick tricks Elonan into trying to kill her and Yeagar with an unholy version of a wedding, which enables her to unleash this power, defeating Baphuma'al once and for all.
Cosmic Plaything: "The Powers What Is" have stated that Nodwick is a "destiny sponge". If he doesn't suffer, the rest of the world suffers instead. Which makes Nodwick something of a martyr...who comes back to life...I'm gonna stop right there.
Crapsack World: Society has devolved to a feudal system, none of the sentient races get along, the gods argue all the time, and there are far too many carnivorous monsters for Nodwick's tastes.
Then their attempts to help the creation of a perfect world turn out even worse with the creation of a world occupied entirely by absurdly muscular fairies who talk like Piffany, do all-night magic research sessions, and then have to cope with 200 proof water.
It's still a picnic compared to the parallel world in A World Without Piffany. Baphuma'al runs the place.
As well as Expies of their characters in the "Q4orce" side stories, set in the City of Heroes universe.
Atlas makes an appearance in Q4orce as well, and issue 39 of PS238 is a cross-over with Nodwick.
An annual issue of Dragon featured a three-way crossover between the magazine's three comic strips, with each cartoonist taking over another's strip (John Kovalic did Nodwick, Phil Foglio did Dork Tower, and Aaron Williams did What's New?) and inserting in-jokes from his own comic.
Cyanide Pill: The Henchman union's health plan is a vial of poison, the first month it was literally cyanide, another time it was hemlock.
Deadpan Snarker: Nodwick. Arthax takes over the role if Nodwick isn't around, and his Evil Counterpart Ildomir in the print comics gets rather sarcastic when things aren't going his way.
Death Is Cheap: Nodwick has to file a new birth certificate with his union every time he dies. His file holds eight trees worth of paper.
In one issue of the comic book, he dies 10 times on one page, and many many more times in the rest of the issue. He dies so often that the compilations have a "Rest Index Peace," an index of which pages he dies on, and in what manner.
Which itself was discontinued after the second book or so because it just became TOO MUCH to keep track of.
Dumb Is Good: Both played straight with Piffany (good, but naive and either veryselectively oblivious or has a real problem with failing spot checks) and Artax (smart, but utterly amoral), and subverted with Yeagar (dumb as a stump and not very nice) and Nodwick (smart and good, making it a wonder he ever became a henchman in the first place).
It should be noted that Piffany is usually very perceptive when it comes to everything except Arthax and Yeagar's antics.
One of the earlier comics showed that Piffany is intentionally ignoring it.
Dragon Magazine: One of its longest-running comics, going unbroken once introduced all the way to the final print issue.
Early-Bird Cameo: Baphuma'al gets introduced pretty early on. However no one would suspect that it is The head of the Evil Henchman Guild.
Elves VS Dwarves: A brief war ended because A) the Artifact of Doom both sides were looking for would have killed both sides if it was used, and B) they decided the humans needed careful watching, since the stuff in their tavern cellar is clearly an explosive siege weapon - it can't possibly be drinkable (see Gargle Blaster below).
This is subverted with Orville. Apparently, his species is driven by instinct to kill their mothers, and this works to the heroes' advantage at one point. Elonan uses a spell that causes the heroes to perceive her zombies as their parents or former mentors, intending to fool them into being vulnerable to their attacks, and this almost works. However, because Orville regards his mother as an enemy, he becomes enraged and incinerates them.
Fractured Fairy Tale: Hilarity Ensues as the characters start rebelling against their roles and act like themselves instead of the characters they're supposed to be, which epically messes up the fairy tales.
Narrator:Once Upon a Time, there was a beautiful princess. Her beauty was so that it outshone the queen. The queen grew jealous, and exiled the princess to the forest, in the hopes that she would be felled by the beasts living there. The princess was found by a kindly troupe of seven dwarves, five of which were on vacation and one of which had a hyperactive thyroid condition... Yeagar (as Snow White): This is really starting to get old. Nodwick (as dwarf):Wow. If the queen exiledyoufor beingpretty... Yeagar: Can it, Dopey. Artax (as dwarf): Ugly jokes and men in dresses. Two dead horses that can't avoid being beaten...
Fighter, Mage, Thief: Subverted, as the group mirrors the classic D&D party - a cleric, a wizard, a fighter, and a thief — but they don't have a thiefrouge rogue. Instead, Nodwick disarms traps... the way a stick disarms a bear trap.
Foreshadowing: The later Gauntlet of Supremacy and Orb of Omniscience storylines were hinted at during "It's a Wonderful Afterlife."
The items themselves were also used by Yeagar and Artax respectively in A World Without Piffany.
"It's a Wonderful Afterlife" also introduced the Powers What Is, who would later prove instrumental in the final fight against Baphuma'al.
For Want of a Nail: The multi-part "World Without Piffany" storyline features an Alternate Reality which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Without Piffany, Nodwick was Killed Off for Real shortly after Artax and Yeagar hired him, neither of them were able to rid themselves of two Artifacts of Doom that they later found, both became Co-Dragons to Baphuma'al, and he ended up ruling the world. Nodwick witnesses this horrible reality and escapes, and the knowledge he brings back is able to convince Piffany's abby to let her continue her adventuring career.
Friend to All Living Things: Piffany, whose most terrible crime is that she once smooshed a bug. And she did a week's penance just for that!!!
Future Badass: Nodwick, thanks to the power of Save Points. To elaborate, Nodwick touched an artifact that basically engineered a Stable Time Loop - a good thing, as the group was caught up in a quest for the fate of reality shortly afterward. Nodwick's companions being their usual competent selves meant that Nodwick had to go back to the start of the loop repeatedly, eventually deciding to apply himself to the same skills so he could cover for their ineptitude, ending up a Fighter/Mage/Cleric of greater power than any of them.
Both Artax and Yeagar get a very negative version of this in some of their alternate futures. In A world without Piffany and It's A wonderful afterlife, we find out that without Piffany or Nodwick around, Yeagar and Artax get ensnared by (respectively) The Gauntlet of Supremacy and the Orb of Omniscience. In A World Without Piffany they also end up as dual Dragons to Big Bad Baphuma'al.
Gambit Pileup: Played with in this strip and the following ones, in which LITERALLY everyone in the country is trying to take the throne for themselves.
Garage Sale: The party has to hold a yard sale to sell off the excess junk they'd been looting from dungeons when they learn that Nodwick had been forced to build an extension to their house out of looted junk to store the rest of their looted junk.
Gargle Blaster: Skullwhomper Ale. Apparently the stuff is so volatile that the elves and dwarves thought that it was some kind of high explosive (Which can potentially cause a fireball 15 miles across). It was actually invented by a dragon as a doomsday weapon - he was really embarrassed when he learned that humans were drinking the stuff.
Nodwick: Why is this recipe labeled "Liquid of Fiery Vengeance"?
Genre Blind: Most adventurers, villains and non-henchmen.
Genre Savvy: Quite a lot of the characters. Often at the same time as being Genre Blind about a lot of other stuff.
Ghostly Goals: Parodied. Nodwick stays around in ghost form whenever he's killed (until Piffany inevitably resurrects him) because his henchman contract makes him contractually obliged to not pass on as long as there's even a chance of revival at some point.
The party also ends up assisting ghosts with their final requests a few times. One of them needed to return his neighbor's rake.
Goofy Print Underwear: Artax wears blue boxers with gold stars and moons on them. It's an occupational obligation, apparently.
Heel Realization: If you consider Yeagar to be a Heel, then he has a big one during the Final Battle against Baphuma'al. After receiving the power of Piffany's Sacred First Kiss, the Powers That Be give him the ability to reshape the universe any way he wants to, literally. His use of this power - which could have easily been abused if e had gotten it sooner - surprises even the Powers That Be. He asks for one thing for himself, that the wedding he had been forced into be changed so that Rowen was the one marrying him (something she had wanted in the first place). Everything else he requested involved giving himself and his friends the edge they needed to defeat the villains, including giving Rowen the previously-misplaced weapon she needed to slay Baphuma'al.
Heroism Incentive: If Nodwick ever gets too tired to lug around all the junk the party loots, they give him Hench Snax, H-shaped biscuits with "enough amphetamines to make a dead mule do warp seven."
Humans Are Bastards: Played pretty straight most of the time, with the exceptions of Piffany and Nodwick. Artax at one point explains the origins of all the world's ruins as being a result of a human quest for experience points; while Heathwick gleefully sells out to the Adventurer's Guild (themselves rather bastardly) when appointed President by Nodwick after the Hench Games. Within two seconds.
Humiliation Conga: The final fate of Ildomir in the print comic. Unlike all the other villains who get killed, Ildomir survives and ends up doing community service shoveling dung for Krutzing Hollow.
Impossible Thief: The party's ex-thief, Bezzler, who apparently once stole all the tips from a bunch of strippers while they were in the middle of a striptease. During his brief re-stint in the party, he makes off with most of the party's loot and Nodwick's pants.
Informed Attribute: The power of This One Ring. It didn't do anything for the dark sorcerer who made it, it didn't do anything for the king who killed the maker for it, and it didn't provably do anything to the halfling who found it later. Despite this (And Nodwick's attempts to point this out), the party insists that it is an incredibly evil and powerful artifact that must be destroyed.
One time they eliminated a giant demon by getting Piffany to bless an entire lake and splashing the demon with it.
Kleptomaniac Hero: The absurd amount of worthless junk that the party loots during quests and forces Nodwick to carry home has to be seen to be believed.
Knight in Sour Armor: 'Knight' is pushing it, but Nodwick is an altogether nice and loyal person (almost overly so) while at the same time being extremely cynical and resigned to a life of pain as a henchman.
Lad-ette: Rowen. She's basically a gender-flipped (and saner) Yeagar.
"It makes your clothes grow, too?" "This version does. There were some major problems with the first version when-" "THANK YOU! That's enough information."
Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Clergy In Black have a ring that induces this. For some reason it has no effect on Piffany, so she went for years wondering why they make a point of showing her that ring every time they meet.
Let's Get Dangerous: What happens whenever Piffany cries to any males in the area. At one point the very possibility of her crying caused an army of mercenaries that been hired by a Orc Lord to destroy the Orc Army, retake their home lands and rebuild all the destroy villages.... in a week.
Actually hurting Piffany is likely the easiest way to make Yeagar, Artax, AND Nodwick fly into a rage. Nodwick usually gets killed in these situations, naturally, but this is one of the few times where Yeagar and Artax will risk their own lives.
Long Runner: Lasted 10 years. Still isn't 'finished' so much as 'on hiatus' while PS238 gets the limelight.
Love Makes You Evil:/Love Redeems: When Yeager describes his history with Rowen it sounds like he became a jerk because things didn't work out between them. When Rowen describes the past it sounds more like he only acted nice sometimes for her.
Morality Chain: Piffany and Nodwick, albeit unintentionally, turned out to be the only thing able to save Arthax and Yeagar from a life of evil in the print comics.
Morality Pet: Piffany. What's more, she can take on this role for anyone but the most abjectly evil people and gods, not just her own friends. Her cookies are so good that gods will threaten (and then back down from) holy wars over them, and legions of amoral mercenaries will fight evil monsters for free because she might cry if they took the side of evil.
Musical Episode: The print comic story "Phantom of the Way, Way Off-Broadway Musical" (now uploaded). Artax casts a "spell of thespia" on Yeagar without checking its spell description, which turns out to be to turn the adventure into one "until end of production or until first tomato is thrown". The entire rest of the story is spend with both villains and heroes belting out Musical Pastiches of 80ies rock and pop with new lyrics.
My God, What Have I Done?: Yeagar and Artax have this moment when they throw Nodwick into a Dimension Rift in attempt for Piffany to stay with the party. When it said that Nodwick is coming back and Piffany cries they don't take it well.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The villains started a chain of events that eventually led to their final defeat. They created a golem to use in the Hench Games; the golem's actions resulted in the hamster gaining super powers. In turn, the hamster - due to his powers - was instrumental in defeating Baphuma'al. Of course, they could never have forseen this chain of events, but they started it nonetheless.
No Name Given: Utharr, Ildomir and Elonan weren't given names until long after their first appearance. This was even lampshaded by this exchange:
Nodwick: Hey, it's the evil-warrior-guy who used to hang out with the evil-wizard-guy and the evil-cleric-gal!
Piffany: We really need to get their names the next time we see them.
Noodle Incident: A lot all around: There are many references to (mis)adventures the group have been on (and their aftereffects on Nodwick) scattered around the pages. A Running Gag and recurring source of fear for Yeagar in his backstory is something "Suzie Klopman" (we never learn who it is) did to him on his fifth birthday.
One attempt to rescue a Damsel in Distress resulted them accidentally turning the kidnapper's entire family into wereferrets.
Oh Krutz: Things often go to Yeah That Place in a handbasket.
Only Sane Man: Nodwick. Henchmen in general, actually, but especially Nodwick. (Nodwick once told the rest of the party that the reason he didn't become an adventurer was because he was overqualified.)
Out-of-Character Moment: In the Future Badass strip, upon hearing that Nodwick has become a competent, powerful adventurer in his own right as a result of constant time-looping, Yeager expresses the opinion that he's not sure if he likes the idea of Nodwick being better then all three of them, and Artax agrees to wipe his memories of his true power once he gets them out of this mess. Not only do they say this out loud and in front of Piffany, Piffany quite blithely encourages them to do so by telling them to keep an eye out for a spare left hand she can use to replace the hook the Adventurer-Nodwick has.
The July 31st 2001 strip has a dwarf engineer who was "trying to invent a way to have hot tea on the battlefield, and it kinda snowballed". He is shown in a steam engine-assisted suit of superheavy platemail.
Powers That Be: The Powers What Is. (And in this reality, they actually have a sense of humor.)
Power Trio: Yeagar (id), Artax (ego), Piffany (superego). Nodwick is a henchman and gets no say in the matters, but is a superego.
Amongst their evil counterparts in the print version, Utharr (id), Elonan (ego), and Ildomir (superego). Elonan and Utharr end up switching places after Utharr becomes fully sentient as an undead and Elonan goes Ax Crazy.
Reality Warper: They once got an artifact that allowed them to have something happen intantiously while remember what happened. The problem is that is when someone used it to attempt something that would never happen causes damage to reality. They wound up causing all of reality to break.
Reluctant Mad Scientist: Artax. He has a very bad habit of thinking of all the Potential Applications and wanting to try them out, often without fully thinking about the consequences. Generally he's not too bad - apart from repeatedly blowing himself and Nodwick up. However, he can veer very close to Mad Scientist on occasion, and there's an implication that if Piffany and the gang weren't around to stop him from concentrating on ways to blow up his lab, he'd probably end up Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Legion of Princesses. (Most of the time. In the issue where they appeared, however, they had to be rescued, much like other princesses. But even so, they weren't helpless.)
Sacred First Kiss: Piffany, literally. Her first kiss will bestow a major blessing upon whoever she kisses (On the order of rewriting reality to suit the desires of the kissee), so she has made a conscious effort to avoid giving away her first kiss until such time as that blessing is needed, onto a person worthy of that blessing. In the last issue of the print comic she kisses Yeagar, who rewrites reality to give the party a much-needed edge against Baphuma'al's forces.
Sarcasm Failure: It takes a lot to make Nodwick drop the snark. When he does, it's usually a sign that things have gotten really serious.
Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Yeagar starts talking like this after some exposure to the Clue-By-Four. After a few wallops more, he stops (having either evolved beyond 'language' or just realized smart people don't need to use big words to explain things).
Shoulders of Doom: Yeagar's shoulderpads are huge, (and their Spikes of Doom are actually practical!), but even he can be cowed by shoulder pads with blades.
Small Name, Big Ego: Utharr, Ildomir and Elonan, seriosly. No matter how many times the heroes defeated and humiliated them, they refused to ever consider for a minute that they were worthy adversaries. (Baphuma'al was like this too, but this was more of a case of Stupid Evil on his part, seeing as he was someone with a Big Name and a Big Ego)
Spontaneous Choreography: Yeagar asks Artax to cast a spell to make him more charming. The resulting spell makes Yeagar (And anyone around him) spontaneously go into song and dance routines.
Statistically Speaking: Either Inverted or played straight. Nodwick, whose stats say he's weaker than Artax, can lift an impossibly heavy object and move it across the room because somebody decided it would look better there, but if he were to lift it on his own it would surely snap his spine. Rule of Funny at work, which one character even lampshades when he suggests that this distinction between whether or not Nodwick can carry an object indicates something worrying about the universe. Eventually, the print comic published a special Henchman class for 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons that got ridiculous bonuses to Strength only for the purposes of carrying stuff (up to +100 Strength at 20th level).
Strong as They Need to Be: Due to Rule of Funny, the party's power level fluctuates wildly in the stand-alone strips, with the party going hunting for ancient dragons one week and doing interplanar travel and in the next are right back to being chased by a band of goblins. The print comic's Myth Arc makes them (slightly) more consistent, but the comic never directly involves the ruleset in its canon and their exact character levels are unknown outside some (now outdated) character sheets published in Dragon.
Supreme Chef: Piffany, whose cooking skills are so incredible that Nodwick was able to use her brownies and punch as part of a scheme to convince a mercenary army to fight off an orc horde and rebuild every single town destroyed by said horde (this having beaten the orc chief's offer to the mercenaries of allowing them a portion of the loot and their pick of the women of the conquered territory for not trying to stop them). Piffany's cooking was also at one point used to buy off an entire pantheon of deities who were jockeying to get Piffany to sign on as the avatar of one of them. She successfully dissuades them by giving up her COOKIE RECIPE. Heck, her cooking is so good, it's practically an in-universe Meme.
Nodwick's being allowed to be lick the bowl whenever she bakes may be the only perk he gets from his job.
Undignified Death: Well, sure, it happens to Nodwick a lot, but he doesn't really mind. For a couple of other major characters, it was worse. In the finale, Elonan fell into her own vat or necrotic fluid and was dissolved into goo. Not very dignified at all.
Even worse was what happened to Baphuma'al. After he was hit by Rowen's arrow, leaving him powerless, he made an attempt to escape by turning into a fly... But was swallowed by Orville. As if his career up to that point wasn't humiliating enough for a dark god of evil...
Weaksauce Weakness: Ildomir went to a school for wizards called the Heractium Dark Arts Academy, where teachers punished students with a song called "I Write the Spells" (a Song Parody of the pop classic I Write the Songs) which also made them more evil. Unfortunately, this punishment was too much for Ildomir, and ever since, simply hearing the song drove him to the brink of madness.