DM of the Rings LXXII:
A Truly Thrilling Encounter

By Shamus
on Mar 7, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings

Combat is boring.

Aragorn falls asleep.

Nothing kills the excitement of battle like starting one.

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  1. Thastygliax says:

    Dang, someone else already made the obvious Cliff’s Notes joke…

    I’m firmly in the “LEGO minis” camp, having been using them for years and converted a few of my fellow GMs to the idea. (See link if you actually want to read more about it. I won’t bore you here.)

    Anyway, I’ve been plugging this comic to my gamer friends ever since I first heard about it…and so ends my first comment here.

  2. Tola says:

    As for the movies, I like to pretend the whole bit between leaving the Golden Hall and arriving at Helm’s Deep never happened. Of course Mr T likes it because of Liv’s see through dress, so we can’t FF through the *whole* thing.

    I dunno. The raid on the peasants makes sense, especially since Saruman’s been a friend to Rohan beforehand and thus knows what they’ll DO. It’s the dropping off the cliff that’s suspect.

  3. Jperk says:

    wasn’t the march to helms deep a forced march? It’s not like it showed them camping out overnight or anything or taking lunch breaks. And did it show the scouts they had out? Most of the pheasents disappeared pretty fast too. You don’t see anyone but warrior types on horses getting munched on. I am going to have to start watching the section of LOTR that Shamus is doing just so I remember what Jackson had happen.

  4. gwen says:

    I’m officially old. My first thought reading this was “Miniatures? In my day, we didn’t play with dolls!” I’ll be doddering off somewhere now.

    That must have been a local thing for you, because originally D&D was born out of miniatures wargaming.

  5. Steve says:

    Yeah, but we didn’t use miniatures when we played the old White Box edition. We were getting away from the need for counters, miniatures, maps and boards for the first time ever in the gaming hobby.

    It was a new paradigm thing. You wouldn’t understand.


  6. Steve says:

    Shamus, I forgot to say that the grab of Aragormless zoning out in panel five is a touch of genius.

    Was this a lucky find or were you specifically looking for that expression when you found the frame?


  7. Shamus says:

    In that scene, I had a half-dozen funny faces for him, so I just had to pick the right one.

  8. Marlous says:

    “It’s not like it showed them camping out overnight or anything or taking lunch breaks.”

    Well, but on film they also don’t show characters going to the bathroom. Well, usually not, anyway. If it’s not added to the story, then it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You just didn’t get to see it.

    On another note, good going on the cliff note. I never understood why they felt the need to put that scene in (being a bit of a purist concerning the books, I’m afraid) and this feels a bit like revenge. Lol.

  9. Nik the Pirate says:
    Try it. It’s great.
    Also, what edition PHB is that? Mine dosen’t look like that one.
    (I think I have edition two. It’s thirty years old. Literally, coz my uncle gave it to me)
    Also, update faster, or encounter the mighty wrath of my piratyness!!

  10. Four random tips:

    1. Have your players roll their initiatives at the end of combat. Use this initiative for the NEXT combat. (Initiative scores essentially never change, so it doesn’t really matter when you roll the check. When it looks like the PCs are about to encounter something, roll for its initiative and slot it into the order. If they don’t encounter it for some reason, no big deal. By the time combat actually starts, initiative is already completely resolved and you’re ready to leap out of the starting gate.)

    2. Work your set-up into the presentation of the battle. (“Suddenly you hear the mournful baying of wolves and the battle horns of orcs!” “Over the top of the ridge you suddenly a dozen warg riders!” “Aragorn, you’re first: What are you doing?”) The point is that putting out the enemy figures (even if they’re not dramatically painted figurines) can be a dramatic moment in and of itself, if you make it the moment of revelation. On more than one occasion I’ve had players murmur “oh shit” or “how many of them are ARE there?” as the number of miniatures come out onto the table.

    3. Buy some of those glass beads that people use as counters for CCGs and the like. For $10-15 you can pick up more than a hundred beads in five or six different colors. (I used to use dice, but the problem is that there are dice flying all over the table when people make rolls. The counters are easily distinguishable and they aren’t designed to roll if bumped.)

    4. Get an erasable battlemap and use it more often than not. Even if the players aren’t going to be fighting in a room, the visual reference isn’t going to kill anybody. And that way, when a fight does happen, you don’t have to stop, clear the battlemap off, and take time to draw the whole area. (Also, don’t worry about getting the measurements precise. If you’re off by 5 feet, your players are never going to know.)

    I’ve been known to start epic combats against a horde of mooks by literally pouring a handful of counters out on the edge of the map (“Suddenly, on the far side of the cavern, a horde of goblins — hooting and gibbering in their barbaric tongue — leaps up from their hiding places!”) and then rapidly shifting them to make sure they’re all in different spaces.

    And there’s really nothing more dramatic at the table than reaching down in a drawer and declaring, “Suddenly, out of the black abyss, a black dragon emerges!” As you pull the miniature out and, with a dramatic swoop, place it on the battlemap.

  11. IMAGinES says:

    Action! Thrills! Stunts! Modifiers!…

    Here’s the latest DM of the Rings, with a very, very true commentary on RPG combats. If there’s one thing I always worry about as a GM, it’s making combats interesting, and it’s probably my prime worry with the somewhat……

  12. Shamus says:

    Nik the Pirate: 3.5 Edition. It’s a little over a year old.

    I read OOTS all the time. It really is fantastic. I could list all the ways Rich Burlew’s comic is better than mine, but I don’t want to go all Fred Gallagher on you.

    Justin Alexander: Those are great tips. If I ever get a game going again, I’m going to do that for sure.

  13. Strykkre says:

    The only thing that could make this any better was if you guys were playing HackMaster . . .

  14. Steve says:

    [gwen] The “you wouldn’t understand” was a paraphrase of a popular tee-shirt slogan often seen in New York, and was an attempt at self-deprecation rather than a dig at your good self. I re-read it. It didn’t work the way I meant it to.



  15. Da Rogue says:

    Yes precious, OFF THE CLIFFSES!!; then we takes his fancie swords we do!!
    Yes, fancie swords for ME!!

    -you mean us…

    Yes, I meant us ;)

  16. Juice says:

    Panel 7, Gimli “I mean eventually…” = Brilliant screen cap.

  17. Sarah says:

    34 adam. Says:
    March 7th, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    paperclips? bah. We use dice.

    –Hah, us, too. we got us a Pound o dice and it searves us well ;3

    as for paperclips? that’s our Besm game. white clips are auto-crits, red clips are auto-botch, and blue clips are Add a d20 to any roll. you earn them through your roleplaying. white are excellent rollplaying, red are out-of-characterness, and blue are “appropriate, but not fantasticlly creative”.

  18. Nicki-Joe says:

    This just keeps getting better and better!
    Great job!

  19. SteveZilla says:

    So would that make them “Cliff Notes”? :D

  20. Drakkenmensch says:

    I remember vividly the day when large scale D&D battles meant waiting an hour before the DM was ready to do anything, and each of the hundreds of people present all had their own individual initiative.

    I’ve pulled an Aragorn more than a few times at those times!


  21. splorp! says:

    Sarah says:
    –Hah, us, too. we got us a Pound o dice and it searves us well ;3

    Chessex rocks! They made dice for my wedding! If you want to pay for it, they could make dice with text like Orc, Goblin or whatever on them. (I don’t work for them, just a satisfied customer, like you, Sarah).

  22. Logan says:

    This comic is why I don’t use grids and minis. Pretty well sums it up!

    Great comics.

    Three options with Heroic Cthulhu:

    MP3’s of tabletop roleplaying (Heroic Cthulhu)
    You can either get individual game MP3’s here:
    or subscribe to the podcast here:
    Yes, it is free.

    If you are able to attend a tabletop gaming session (RPG) in Hoffman Estates, IL, e-mail me at logan9a[AT]

    The Heroic Cthulhu boards can be found at:



  23. JJR says:

    up in comment #30:
    “…remember a war in ‘Knights of the Dinner Table’ where the PCs found themselves outflanked because (1) some players had forgotten which markers were their own troops and which were the enemies, and (2) some players had forgotten which markers were troops and which were snacks. The hazards of using M&M’s as chits… :d”

    Meh…”Fog of War”, happens in real life, too; friendly fire, etc.

  24. Toil3T says:

    “paperclips? bah. We use dice.”
    Us too, when we don’t have the right minis. Our DM has a lot of d6’s. We use lego sometimes, too. And we’ve used all sorts of random objects, including my (Casio) pocket calculator once.

  25. Cynder says:

    Fabulous, just fabulous. Loving the DM’s POV pics!

  26. Mina says:

    lol, I never understood the cliff thing, either, but I suspect it was to bring Arwen back into the story (at least they canceled her fighting at Helms Deep), to show that Aragorn’s elf magic worked on the horse Bregel who in turn rescued him, and to show that Aragorn scouted out some, oh, say, 10,000 Uruk-Hai and ran back like a baby to Helm’s Deep to warn Theoden. And, of course, to cause some kind of drama with Eowyn whom also wasn’t supposed to be there. Speaking OF the cliff thing, there also wasn’t a warg attack to begin with, either. Kind of a different take from the book, huh?

  27. nitefly says:

    I find this comic a bit weird. D&D is propably the most streamlined and easy game system ever. Just have all players know the rules for their class by heart and use a simple projector coupled with a laptop as your gaming screen and you’re set to go.

    If players can’t look up spells beforehand, their characters sit the round over until next round. All Characters have 25 seconds to describe their action for a round, if you speak when it’s not your turn you forfeit your round. Same rules for GM NPCs, think when it’s not your turn, pay attention.

    This is COMBAT! If it isn’t fast and furious it is pointless rollplaying that benefits no-one. Sometimes I feel people knock D&D because they are poor players (and even worse GMs).

  28. JD says:

    Another good rule: Make sure the Players know the rules and are prepared to do their own math. It runs SO much faster and better that way.

  29. Morambar says:

    Steves comment on players treating the Monstrous Compendium as “light reading” is dead on as far as I’m concerned. I mean, you can’t stop people going out and spending their own money on their own copies, then memorizing it (though I never understood what made that “fun” but I guess it’s part and parcel of the mind set that wants to “win” RPGs…. ) You can forbid those caught doing so from playing in your group, naturally there are limits. That said, I do think it should be strongly discouraged, as my old DM did (he was a vet, so his Compendium was always lying around, an since I was an unemployed college kid we had several “what part of ‘no you can’t read it’ don’t you understand…?” discussions…. ) I mean, the AD&D 2nd ed. Compendium (or, once again, Compendia) were pretty thick; if you can literally quote chapter and verse from memory… well, HS/college kids who spend all their free time reading thick reference tomes for fun need to meet more women (or men, as the case may be…. )

    But then, it’s a fine example of why I stopped being an AD&D 2nd ed. player and became a GURPS player; you don’t have to worry much about over-emphasis on combat there because, outside of cinematic stuff like Supers (which I didn’t play for precisely that reason; “cinematic realism” is a contradiction in terms… ) players who love constant combat are a self correcting problem. They may be annoying at first, but when a single blow can cost you your next action, and cause a skill penalty equal to the damage regardless, when the “average” character has <=12 HT and an average character with an average weapon can easily inflict a third of that in one swipe... well, while he's building his next character he won't be picking any more fights.... Bottom line is really the same as any game: Kill the challenge, kill the fun. Sidebar: Making the Uncrowned King of Gondor, the flower of Elder Days Edain returned in its full glory, fall over a cliff and nearly drown because of a single freakin' Warg is another example of a seemingly minor Jackson plot change that made me nuts. It was just a lame excuse to give Liv Tyler some more screen time, so the adolescent boys had fodder for a very DIFFERENT kind of "fantasy" and the adolescent girls could swoon over their undying Love (and never mind Jackson had already changed the plot so Aragorn spends most of the second film leading Eowyn on because there's really no reason for Arwen to make an appearance prior to Aragorns coronation, and many for her not to do so. )

  30. Robin says:

    The problem isn’t how much information is in the books; the problem is how much you give the players by identifying the monsters. “You see a bunch of vaguely man-shaped forms coming at you.” If these characters haven’t seen these monsters before, then they won’t know the difference between kobolds, orcs, goblins, or, say, umber hulks. Even if they have, will they recognize them as the same race? (If they’ve only met Europeans, will they assume that the Africans attacking them have the same race and characteristics? Are there white orcs and black orcs?) They also can’t tell zombies from men at a distance, and might not be able to tell a wight from a man. They certainly don’t know the difference between wights, wraiths, or ghasts until they’ve experienced them. And they can’t tell a bat from a vampire until it changes shape. Furthermore, all dragons looks reddish by torchlight and silverish by moonlight.

    Of course, I reject the notion that dragons should be color-coded for the convenience of adventurers. I recommend changing a few characteristics. The books tell them what they learned growing up, so they show what people believe about these monsters. But has the character spoken to anybody who has actually met a gold dragon? How do they know what its alignment is?

    Get creative. The books don’t tell you that the smell of coffee beans drives hippogriffs into a rage, or that the orcs in one valley have a treaty with the nearby village.

    The books didn’t give away all those secrets. Your instant identification of the monsters and use of the books as perfect information gives away all those secrets.

  31. WeaselButter says:

    Shamus, I only just began reading the archives a few days ago, and my stomach hurts from laughing so hard! Wonderful comic-take on LoTR, I’m loving it! (I much preferred the books to the movies, anyway.)
    What I find strange is that nobody’s commented on the fact that this is the first time you “break the 4th wall” to actually show the DM (well, sort of), ala David Morgan-Marr’s Irregular Webcomic:

    Thank you for this comic! :)

  32. ERROR says:

    I guess Staragorn is about to become the same as the end to today’s comic: A cliffhanger.

  33. Serenity Bane says:

    Every time an epic battle is about to commence in my group, it takes at least 5 mintues if our DM is even slightly prepared xD

  34. […] cynical comments under the strip are often as funny as the strips and, sadly, too true. This one defines too many D&D games I’ve had in the past. When a fight starts, there’s […]

  35. Bobby Newmark says:

    (I don’t know how old this post id, but I’ll post anyways…)

    So this is what separates a good RPG system from a bad one. D&D is clearly a _bad_ system, it’s too complicated, it has too many rules, too many exceptions, it’s too hard to handle, and it’s way too slow.

    With all its historical merits, and with all those nostalgic memories, _it_is_a_bad_system_.

  36. JohnDoe says:

    I only posted this so there would be 100 comments. Everyone wins!

  37. Kuro says:

    Ah, the nightmare of complicated battle systems… All hail hack’n slash!

  38. joesolo says:

    run for your lives! paper clip calvalry!

  39. Hellion says:

    I just found these recenctly and they ROCK!

    I’ve been playing and DM’ing D&D for almost 30 years and can honestly say I’ve encountered just about all of these situations. The fricken’ comments are as much a joy as the series.

    Shamus, thanks for all the hours of entertainment you are truely talented. I just wish I’d have found this site when you created it so i could ‘ve commented “live”. :)


  40. […] Young’s blog is provoking me to all kinds of random thoughts. Then I had similar thoughts over at Giant in the Playground. So […]

  41. […] the encounters, but whatever, I still don’t know the strats, I am too busy reading webcomics (for which I am not going to provide links either) to know what really […]

  42. […] the latest DM of the Rings, with a very, very true commentary on RPG […]

  43. Izandai says:

    Anyone else notice that the book isn’t actually open to mounted combat?
    Thought so.

  44. Anon3636 says:

    Does the message change? XD

  45. Ari says:

    I particularly appreciate that the entire punchline of this strip is the plot. I had a lot of lulz.

  46. OMG, this one had me crying. Make Aragorn fall off a cliff…bwhahah.

1 2

5 Trackbacks

  1. By IMAGinES on Thu Mar 8, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    Action! Thrills! Stunts! Modifiers!…

    Here’s the latest DM of the Rings, with a very, very true commentary on RPG combats. If there’s one thing I always worry about as a GM, it’s making combats interesting, and it’s probably my prime worry with the somewhat……

  2. […] cynical comments under the strip are often as funny as the strips and, sadly, too true. This one defines too many D&D games I’ve had in the past. When a fight starts, there’s […]

  3. […] Young’s blog is provoking me to all kinds of random thoughts. Then I had similar thoughts over at Giant in the Playground. So […]

  4. […] the encounters, but whatever, I still don’t know the strats, I am too busy reading webcomics (for which I am not going to provide links either) to know what really […]

  5. […] the latest DM of the Rings, with a very, very true commentary on RPG […]

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