These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Malack. Exactly how evil he really is has been up for debate since the very beginning. How much he cared for his children, how much he does or does not genuinely respects Durkon, and a lot of other parts of his personality are up for debate. It was partly settled when Malack was revealed to be a vampire who planned an endless campaign of human sacrifice when he took over the kingdom, perhaps employing a special chamber.
Does Tarquin really care for Elan as his son, or does he just think of him as a plot device? Given how dedicated Tarquin is to narrative tropes, a possible answer is both.
The Snarl, as a result of Epileptic Trees, has several. One notable one is that the planet within its realm is its effort to create life and an orderly world, unlike the chaotic nonsense which lead to its formation.
Arc Fatigue: Started to set in for some fans towards the end of the desert plotline as Tarquin obsessively pursues the Order attempting to force Elan to follow the "correct" narrative structure. From his reappearance in comic #910, coming after the destruction of the Gate and a pointless battle with a monster summoned by Redcloak, there were a further 26 strips of this, released over 4 and a bit months, before they finally managed to shake him off.
Archive Panic: Over 900 strips — and the "strips" are at least an A4 page's worth each, and sometimes more than one. In dead tree format, there are five books in print (not counting prequels) with another one nearly completed which will be longer than any of them.
Miko is a... polarizing character to say the least. Fans of the comic generally either love Miko or hate her. They started arguing about her back after being revealed at comic #200, and it's now over seven hundred strips later — and she's been dead since #464 — and no end in sight. (The author is not entirely happy about this.) And then there's those who Take a Third Option and love her as a character because they dislike her so much.
Word of the Giant states that Tarquin is not necessarily a Magnificent Bastard, and is more of a high-functioning / extremely lucky Big Bad Wannabe, is this to some. Specifically the Giant's claim that we only had Tarquin's word for how awesome Tarquin was and Genre Savvy fans would have picked up on this... except, other characters, such as Haley's dad and Malack, had also attested to how dangerous Tarquin was (such as confirming that it took half a continent to defeat him the first time he tried being a conqueror), and all of Tarquin's accomplishments and conquests are legitimate, even if he exaggerates his importance slightly (eg. he is not the leader of his team, as he claimed to be; on the other hand, the long-con they are pulling on the empires on the Western Continent really was his idea). He is also quite clearly shown to be a genuine Badass, or at least a high-level fighter who outclasses the entire Order sans V combined. The other issue was that Tarquin is not so much a military or political genius as merely Genre Savvy and he just lives in a world where that happens to work well for him... leading to much debating as to whether that constitutes Tarquin actually being wrong, if the world he lives in really does run on Genre (especially since, in practice, he is merely Wrong Genre Savvy about his role in the story, not that he's actually living in a story). Overall the idea that Tarquin was not the hypercompetent mastermind he appeared to be just rubbed people the wrong way, since they felt it spoilt one of the stories' coolest bad guys; some welcomed this, however, since they felt that Tarquin had started to look too much like a Villain Sue by that point when the Giant revealed his true thoughts on the character. This however can also cause problems since it's entirely possible that The Giant had written himself into a corner at that point and couldn't think of a way to have Tarquin lose without rapidly degrading him into aSmug Snake. The fact that the Tarquin arc was suffering from Arc Fatigue also lends credence to this theory as it's entirely possible that The Giant wanted to end it as quickly as possible and ended up with a rushed result.
Sadly, like most stories of sufficiently lengthy length, The Order of the Stick has succumbed to this, with fans unsure whether they prefer the series pre-Cerebus Syndrome or post. Fortunately, most seem to be civil about this, but it has resulted in a few engaging in minor acts of Fan Dumb.
Cargo Ship: Elan×Banjo Puppet, Haley×Sack of Gold and possibly Roy×His Sword.
Complete Monster: Xykon is funny, charming, easily bored, and probably the sickest character in the comic. As a young boy, his dog dies, but in a deliberate subversion of a Freudian Excuse, he accidentally raises it as a zombie and exults as it kills and eats a bird. As a teenager, he keeps his zombified grandmother in his closet, kills and zombifies a man who offers to train him as a sorcerer, then kills and zombifies his own parents for letting the man in. As a would-be Evil Overlord, he chooses actions solely on the basis of their potential to amuse him versus the effort required. At one point he comes right out and accuses Redcloak of being a wimp because of his principled stance, declaring that the true measure of one's evil is the willingness to utterly debase oneself to achieve one's goals. When Redcloak first began working with Xykon, he was joined by his brother, Right-Eye. When Xykon's evil and callousness with the lives of his goblin underlings grew too great for Right-Eye's liking, Right-Eye tried to assassinate Xykon with a special dagger. Redcloak, unwilling to let the sacrifices he already made be for nothing, regretfully killed his own brother to save Xykon's life. It was then that Xykon revealed both that he knew about the assassination attempt, and had a means of preventing it, but he knowingly allowed Redcloak to kill Right-Eye just to permanently bind Redcloak to Xykon's service. He then forced Redcloak to raise his brother as a zombie. He also trapped the souls of two mages, Lirian and Dorukan, in a gem in order to make them suffer forever.note Xykon fails to understand that keeping the souls of two lovers together for eternity isn't particularly torturous. In the present story Xykon seeks to capture the gates that would allow him to command the Snarl, and has been going to any measure to do so. He sacked Azure City to claim their gate, and, for his own enjoymentmade the entire Sapphire Guard kill each other with a Symbol of Insanity. Xykon's ultimate plan is to unleash the Snarl so he can control it and use it against his enemies, uncaring that the monster is what everyone believes to be an evil, god-murdering abomination which has the power to destroy the world.
As with all "good" things, some idiot came and overdid it (by posting a pedo/incest story). As a result, the Crack Fic thread was shut down. Now, we have to find them off site here,here,here, and here.
Belkar. Thanks to his "fake character development", some insist he's Chaotic Neutral, despite Word of the Giant. Note that an early strip strongly implies that his constant anger and aggressivness is a consequence of his low Wisdom, being temporary wiser turns him into a non-violent nice guy.
Around the time Tarquin burned thirty escaped slaves alive as a present to Elan and some people argued he wasn't evil, and the person morally responsible for this was Haley for freeing them and "forcing" Tarquin to do this, it became apparent that Tarquin has a pair of pants so tight he had been sewn into them. Possibly because he looks like Elan.
Thog. Being lovably dim doesn't eliminate the fact that he's a brute and a bully who works with the bad guys.
After the reveal, Malack has gotten this. Despite the fact that he openly plans to sacrifice a thousand people per day to his god.
In-Universe example. The misspelling "Zykon the sorcerer" remains a bone of contention not just for the forums, but for the dread lich himself, who can even spot his name being mangled in a speech bubble.
Other (traditional) examples in the forums: Hailie/Hayley/etc. for Haley, and Shinjo (portmanteau of Shojo and Hinjo).
There's also an early strip where Durkon demonstrates the typical cleric reaction to the slightest hint that there may be any undead about. 860 strips later Durkon disliking the undead becomes a lot less funny.
In this strip V asks what the problem with binding someone's souls with dark magic is. Cut to a few hundred strips later, and a certain angry dragon...
When V describes his/her happy marriage, considering that It has now fallen apart.
In On the Origin of PCs, one of the party members he tries to recruit is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As it turns out, one of their foes does turn out to be a vampire... and he ends up being slain by another blond.
When Roy's dad is mocking him in the afterlife, he says, "Ooooo, yes! And while your friends collect the seven magic spheres to wish you back to life, you can train with the secret martial arts master who lives here in the afterlife!" — but even if this is a Dragon Ball Z reference, it doesn't change the fact that Roy learns a new feat from his grandfather while training with him in the afterlife.
Strips #823 to #830: The "Team Evil getting ready to leave Gobbotopia" arc. It includes (within seven strips) the recovery of the phylactery by the resistance, the summary total annihilation of the resistance (save one member) and recovery of the phylactery by Team Evil, the outing of Redcloak's plan by Tsukiko and Tsukiko's subsequent (gruesome) death at Redcloak's hands. Holy Shit.
How about strips #868 through #879? Belkar meets Malack! Malack easily beats Belkar! Malack is a vampireand he just bit Belkar, intending to make more "children"! Oh wait, Durkon's here and he's actually fighing Malack on even terms — oh crap, Malack has a workaround for Mass Death Ward! And now he's bitten Durkon! Durkon's dead! And now Durkon is a vampire! The HSQ was raised dramatically by many of these strips being posted on subsequent days.
#899 to #916: Xykon arrives just in time for the entire pyramid to explode, the Order glimpses the mysterious world through the broken gate, the Monster in the Darkness saves the Order from a premature final boss fight, a few strips to rest, then (in rapid fire) Malack's death, Durkon is no longer a Thrall, Zz'dtri's death, Durkon is working with the Order again, Redcloak's elemental is destroyed, Tarquin has brought one colossal army to the party and THEN, when everyone thought the shit had stopped hitting the fan, Tarquin kills Nale.THEN, as Tarquin seems hellbent on piling the HSQ on, he decides to order Elan's party dead on the spot to force him to become the main protagonist.
For a good time, mention Miko Miyazaki on the forums — or on This Very Wiki. This, despite how she's been dead for two thirds of the run of the comic. Reportedly, the Giant is disgusted.
Fans also began developing a hatedom for Haley's father Ian for his inaccurate assumptions on the Order of the Stick and his daughter's role in it.
Jerkass Dissonance: You could argue that Therkla was treated very sympathetically considering her actions. This is obviously meant as an example of Love Redeems, but she didn't exactly know Elan to any depth and on a closer reading it comes across more like "Unrequited Lust Somehow Redeems". She was happy to kill other Azurites or members of the Order unless he asked her not to, out of loyalty for an ambitious and clearly evil aristocrat. Wanting Elan to leave Haley to be with her wasn't a particularly noble motivation; one wonders if her attraction would be seen as more romantic or creepy if the genders were reversed.
Nale spent most of the comic as an unrepentant mass-murderer. But the we get to met his father, and realises what sort of childhood he must have had and how it formed him to the man he became, placing him in this trope.
Miko Miyazaki is everything wrong with a paladin, but one of the bonus strips shows her trying to socialize with other paladins to celebrate New Year's only for her own Knight Templar tendencies to alienate them forcing her to celebrate New Year's alone with only Windstalker. It is implied this occurs every year. Miko's own zealousness causes her to be alone.
The Oracle plan his resurrection spells in advance.
The three IFCC fiends play a longer game than anyone else on this list. For example, Deal with the Devil they offer V is so persuasive and tempting that V falls for it despite the existence of an alternative solution that didn't involve hellish dealing. They make use of it to great effect.
General Tarquin, who along with his confederates rules three desert empires from the shadows, playing them all against each other (and every group not aligned with their empires) with their patsies none the wiser. He is also Dangerously Genre Savvy and thus is perfectly and explicitly aware of the costs and consequences of the role he has chosen to play in "the story" — he simply weighed the pros and cons, and saw that by his definition, he will "win" no matter what happens. Except not really. In truth, he's a deranged psychopath who has an overinflated ego, and as the Giant points out in the forum, his tactical brilliance and role as a Big Bad are all just exaggerated claims he made. All of this is highlighted when we see his adventuring buddies, and they treat him more like Elan is treated by the Order than the Magnificent Bastard he claims to be.
Xykon may be immature and unfocused, but he can be this. The best example is in Start of Darkness, when he manipulates Redcloak into murdering and reanimating his own brother (and thereby removing any hope of the goblins being free from him in the process), all to protect Xykon from an attack he was aware of and immune to anyway, and then delivers what may be the best "The Reason You Suck" Speech in webcomic history to explain that now he has guaranteed that Redcloak will loyally serve him forever, protect his phylactery, and perform any atrocious deed he commands. Because otherwise his sacrifice would be for nothing.
As of Strip #830, Redcloak solidified himself as this, by revealing that he's been manipulating Xykon for as long as he's been in "service" to him, revealed spectacularly with the following lines.
Redcloak:See, the undead are tools. Powerful, dangerous tools. From the lowliest zombie to Xykon himself, the undead are just complex weapons that we make and aim at other people. All that differs is how direct or subtle our control of them is... for our so-called master, more creative strategies are required. Tsukiko:You don't control Xykon, he controls you! Redcloak: Like I said: subtle.
Disturbingly, the times Xykon crosses it tend to be Moments of Awesome in that they are so evil you can't help but be impressed with which the style he pulls them off, even as you are appalled.
Miko crosses this when she takes the law into her own hands and kills Lord Shojo and the gods themselves take notice. By contrast, ''Start of Darkness' goes out of its way to demonstrate that there was never really a point where Xykon was not balls-out evil.
Nale crosses the line in the first story arc when he stabbed his brother Elan through the back simply for refusing to be part of his group (literally).
While under the effects of the soul-splice, Vaarsuvius brutally dispatches an Ancient Black Dragon threatening his/her family. Then s/he reanimates her head and, in order to protect his/her family, casts Familicide - an epic level spell that wipes out the targets entire family line. Vaarsuvius offhandedly mentions that s/he probably killed 1/4 of the black dragon population as a result. This is considered an extremely questionable act, despite the fact that black dragons are Always Chaotic Evil(maybe). This moral quandary is definitively answered here and here.
The end of Start of Darkness for Redcloak. Engineered by Xykon, who happily explains that he can now trust Redcloak to do any despicable action Xykon asks of Redcloak because otherwise he'd have to face that he crossed the horizon for nothing.
Xykon: You'll obey me forever now, because I give you an excuse for your inexcusable behavior.
Malack crosses it when he states his plans to continue Tarquin's empire... and kill 1000 people every day. And if that didn't convince you, he follows this up by killing Durkon and turning him into one of his children (though he states he will see him as a brother). Not to mention when he reveals that he killed his own seven brothers in the past.
Although his villainy was always horrific, it was generally played with some kind of humor, or at least some reader respect. However, Tarquin calmly telling Elan that he is going to murder Haley, then murder everyone else on the Mechane, then top it off by cuttingoff Elan's hand with a completely calm, straight face cements him as a monster at worst, and extremely frightening at best.
Almost everything Malack said or did in the Empire of Blood arc comes back hard in the Girard's Gate arc, making re-reads way more shudder-inducing.
Ron the Death Eater: Directed at Lord Shojo. Some of Miko's more die-hard fans claimed that executing him could be justified at first. The comic went on to show that no, it could not, and this went away rather quickly.
Tarquin's banquet serves phoenix pâté. Since phoenixes explode when they die, the liver has to be cut out while the bird is alive.
As revenge for Yukyuk hurting Mr Scruffy (and to continue with his theme of utilizing kobolds' heads for various purposes), Belkar has Mr Scruffy use Yukyuk's mouth as a litterbox. While he's still alive. Bonus points for mentioning that "dairy just is NOT good for a cat's digestion".
Unpopular Popular Character: Despite being a fan favorite, Belkar is disliked by 99% of the cast note The remaining one percent is composted of Lord Shojo, Mr. Scruffy and a female Greysky Rogue he seduced.. The fact that he's a Heroic Comedic Sociopath explains both reactions.