DM of the Rings LXXIII:
Schrödinger’s Familiar

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 9, 2007

Filed under: DM of the Rings 174 comments

Schrà¶dingers familiar.
Die of undetermined value.

I sort of indulged myself with this one. If the joke made no sense, then you can read this. The joke still won’t make sense, but at least you’ll be distracted.

I’ve wanted to make this joke for ages. Long before DM of the Rings, I used to think this way when dice would bounce away and fall in some hidden corner.


From The Archives:

174 thoughts on “DM of the Rings LXXIII:
Schrödinger’s Familiar

  1. Carl the Bold says:

    Wow. First we see Shamus’ hand, now his computer. It’s like A&E’s “An Intimate Portrait”.

    BTW, Schroedinger’s Dwarf. Nice.

  2. -Chipper says:

    Schrodinger! Brilliant! I’d think lots of gamers would get the reference. Am I 1st?

  3. BlueJimmie/Valkaun_Dain says:

    I’ve read all of your strips after my DM, Mortellan, sent me a link. What a hoot. It is almost word for word every Monday and Wednesday that we get together.

  4. -Chipper says:

    OK, being bold helps, even 2 B 1st comment.

  5. Stark says:

    So, since we can know either the position of the particle (the die) or it’s value but not both at once…. oh, no, wait – that’s only at the quatum level of things and that’s a much bigger die than that.

    Schrodingers Cat is interesting thought experiment and I must admit that working it in here was both amusing and wholly unexpected – now, let’s see if you can work the Einstein, Rosen, Podolsky paradox in here too… ;)

  6. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    I don’t have any idea what you guys are talking about, but UNCERTAINTY LICH.
    Shamus that is pure gold my man.

    1. Hidersine says:

      Its a reference to a analogy the noted chemist and physicist Alfred schrodinger made to exemplify a problem in one interpretation of quantum mechanics of physics at that time. The analogy is roughly as follows: if a cat was placed in a box that was both unopenable and also that the contents were unobservable and that there was a random chance that something inside caused the death of the cat (Schrodinger’s example being a volatile poison released by a possible radiactive disintergration) then the cat would be classed as both living and dead under the copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. This is commonly known as “schrodinger’s cat”

  7. Shamus says:

    Working in Einstein:

    The DM just determines everything by fiat without rolling. “God does not play dice.”

  8. Bookworm says:

    Shamus wrote:

    ‘Working in Einstein:

    The DM just determines everything by fiat without rolling. “God does not play dice.”’

    Oh, gads! Good thing I wasn’t eating or drinking anything when I read that.

    As a science nerd, I’m declaring this one my favorite strip to date!

  9. John says:

    Excellent setup, love it! And even educational for those viewers not already familiar with the concept. Yup, I think we’re practically required to get people to read this one.

  10. Congratulations, Shamus. THIS is the funniest one yet. I am SO making stats for an Uncertainty Lich for the next game.


  11. Pancakes Optimus Maximus says:

    Our house rule for dice is, “It’s only valid if it’s on the table.” Dice off the table means a re-roll, and you must roll your dice in view of everyone. Even the DM, which is me (my players hate it when I fudge die rolls to save them, so we don’t do that anymore). If a die is ‘cocked’ which is to say, not resting flat, it must be re-rolled.

    I do very much enjoy D20 D&D, but it’s not a game for epic (meaning large-scale) battles. Once you get past about 14 participants, it turns into a bookkeeping nightmare that can drag on for many hours. I appreciated your set-up joke in the last comic, and I’d like to see you follow that up with a joke about how long it takes to actually run a large-scale battle.

    One of my strongest criticisms of D20 D&D has been that there are no “Battle System” rules as there were for 1st and 2nd Ed. You simply can’t run a combat with thousands, or even dozens of participants.

  12. Sartorius says:

    IMHO, DMs should never roll anything in front of the players. Since it would be very inconvenient for Gimli to die at this point, the DM should have called it a 5 no matter what was rolled :P

  13. -Chipper says:

    So to defeat an uncertainty lich, you have to be certain he’s dead. or alive. or HE has to be certain he’s dead. or alive. you show him a dice roll. or his obituary in the local paper. or send him on a cruise, hoping he’ll have such a good time he will cry out, “now THIS is living!” at which point he won’t be.

  14. Culinte says:

    I nearly fell out of my chair laughing so hard at this one. It would have been difficult to explain to my colleagues… MOST excellent, Shamus!

  15. Doug Brown says:

    I had a similar problem in one game when I spun a d20 and the other d20’s on the table instantly began spinning at the same velocity (but in the opposite direction, if I recall correctly). Of course, because their spin was observed, we no longer knew where they were. We had to share a d20 for the rest of the session.

  16. Steve says:

    As Heisenberg once said, “I’m not sure about this”.

    Steve (maybe).

  17. Takkelmaggot says:

    I love geek inside-jokes. They lend themselves so well to this medium. Come on, everyone- admit it. At least part of the reason we like this is because there a minimum INT to comprend it. Sort of a like a “you must be -this- smart to laugh at the Shamus.”

  18. Carl the Bold says:

    Well, not to laugh *at* Shamus.

    And any idiot can laugh, pretending to understand. Though I would never do that. I get the joke. Really. It’s about Liches and Cats.

    Liches on Broadway! (see? I get it.)

  19. Shamus says:

    Directions for becoming an Uncertainty Lich:

    1. Deal lethal damage to self to within 4HP of death.
    2. Stab self with 1d4 dagger.
    3. When rolling for damage, roll dice into Phylactery and seal shut.
    4. Hide the Phylactery! If someone breaks it open and shows you the die, your state will no longer be uncertain, and you will lose your Lich powers.

    Does not work on Classical Physicists and Theologans.

  20. That sounds very Discworld-ian. Gimli’s lucky that after his trip down the Trousers of Time that he came out the right leg.

    Uncertainty Lich could be a very powerful class.

    Player: “I swing my sword.”

    DM: “A hit, but with no effect; undead Liches are immune to your sword.” (Bear with me, I don’t actually D and D; I presume they’re immune to something.)

    P: “I try to Turn Undead.”

    DM: “Sorry, but why would you want to turn undead on a dwarf?”

    P: “What? You said it was a Lich.”

    DM: “It is. What of it?”

    P: “Then let me turn undead!”

    DM: “Your sword swing has done three points of damage and cut off the dwarfs beard, making him very angry.”

    P: “What?!?”

  21. Kirin says:

    “…or send him on a cruise, hoping he'll have such a good time he will cry out, “now THIS is living!” at which point he won't be.”

    I’d have thought he *would* be living at that point, which would make him cease to be a Lich, thus robbing him of his phenomenal powers. At which point you could either just declare victory or, I suppose, kill him. But with certainty.

  22. Vegedus says:

    I’d say god certanly plays dice… Though he does manipulate the results from time to time :D.
    In a way, it’s kinda funny how often people manage to bodge up a simple die roll and throw it under whatever, but that’s Murphy’s law for ya.

  23. Steve says:

    Takkelmaggot Says:

    At least part of the reason we like this is because there a minimum INT to comprend it. Sort of a like a “you must be -this- smart to laugh at the Shamus.

    I respectfully disagree. I believe that what you need is a good Knowledge (Arcana) skill.

    After all, how many here can understand the math behind what Shrà¶dinger said, rather than just remembering someone else’s telling of the “cat” thing? I can’t and I’ve had to try. The subtle concept of collapsing probability waves and the neat things they say about how the gears of the universe turn was beyond me.

    As for Heisenberg, I’ve heard many versions of his principle expounded recently in various places, all of them questionable interpretations of the version I learned in my QM classes (where I couldn’t understand a good deal of the math either).

    If one can’t figure out the reasoning onesself then one is remembering General Knowledge, not using intelligence per se. Albeit Specialised General Knowledge.

    Gah. I just broke Mr Brain again with the concept of Specialised General Knowledge. This is why I steer clear of abtruse quantum mechanical concepts.

    Where’s the Tylenol?


  24. Adam says:

    I think this is my favorite comic yet. Brilliant, just brilliant.

  25. Bob says:

    ‘So to defeat an uncertainty lich, you have to be certain he's dead. or alive. or HE has to be certain he's dead. or alive’ Not always easily done. Psychiatrist to patient who claims to be dead ‘Do dead people bleed’ ‘No’ Psychiatrist takes scalpel and cuts the patient’s fingertip, drawing blood. Patient says ‘What do you know…..Dead people DO bleed.’

  26. Steve says:

    [Shamus] I see what you did there, throwing the usual death’s door Memorable Last D&D Words into sharp relief.



  27. Here’s a fine rule for those of you who are looking at massive NPC v NPC battles to be massively simplified to implement.

    Roll Percentile.

    It’s a Gamemaster trick my friends used to use when armies were at battle. Their rules and modifications were fairly simple:

    An even battle (similar numbers and levels) is essentially a 50/50 fight. Therefore, the Percentile will indicate not only what army wins but by how much.

    Example: 300 angry orcs charge an open battlefield against 300 armed soldiers, all of 4th level or lower.

    1-10: The human army is crushed, the battalion leaders are slain, all warrior-class party members must face combat with the top warrior level Orcs without aid of magic users (still tending to other areas of the battle). If the heroic warriors slay their attackers one on one, the party may choose to retreat with 10% of the remaining army, otherwise they must surrender or be slain. The players and the army may only choose to retreat or surrender.
    11-25: The humans take heavy casualties. Orcs force is reduced by 20% while the human soldiers lose 50% of their numbers, including key leadership. The party may choose to call for retreat, incurring another 5% troup casualty rate and a swift exit from battle, given a secure retreat location, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers.
    26-50: Both sides take heavy casualties. Orcs force is reduced by 30% while the human soldiers lose 40% of their force, including one key leader. The party may choose to call for a retreat with or without a secure retreat location, incurring 5% troop casualty rate, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers.
    51-75: Both sides take heavy casualties. Orcs force is reduced by 40%including one key leader, while the human soldiers lose 30% of their force. The party may choose to call for an advance, incurring 5% troop casualty rate but reducing the Orcs force by 10%, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers. If they choose to advance, they must continue for one more round of battle.
    75-90: The Orcs take heavy casualties. The Human’s army is reduced by 20% while the Orcs lose 50% of their numbers, including key leadership. On a failed Wisdom check (base 10 modified by 1 for every 5% they are outnumbered), the Orcs will call for retreat, incurring another 5% troup casualty rate. The party may choose to call for an advance, incurring 5% troop casualty rate but reducing the Orcs force by 10%, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers. The party may choose to call for an advance, incurring 5% troop casualty rate but reducing the Orcs force by 10%, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers. If they choose to advance, they must continue for one more round of battle.
    90-100: The Orc army is crushed, the battalion leaders are slain, and the army is in full retreat. All mounted party members may seek out one-on-one combat with the remaining top warrior level Orcs. If the heroic mounted Players slay their Orcs in one on one battle, the party will recieve appropriate treasure for the highest level enemies and heroic recognition from the thankful Human army. The remaining 10% of the Orcs will either scatter or be slain. The players and the army may only choose to retreat or surrender.

    Appropriate modifiers include:
    +10 for fortifications (Siege Weapons each give a -2 penalty to the fortified army and an additional -2 for every round attacking the fortified army until the fortification bonus is nullified)
    +5 High Ground Modifier (can also be used for armies on familiar ground or protecting their villages or homes)
    +1 per 10% Greater Numbers Modifier (If Army A is 30% larger than Army B, Army A gets a +3 roll modifier)
    +1 (per 10 levels) Trained Army Modifier (If Army A has 50 more total levels than Army B, Army A gets a +5 roll modifier.)
    +1 Massive Weapon Bonus (Used for major catapults and other weapons of mass destruction, given until the weapon is neutralized)
    +/-2 Morale Modifier (Handy to use post battle speech, dramatic turns in a battle, every time the Player’s army chooses to advance or retreat, Players choose to make some symbolic roleplaying move that is successful or that fails miserably, etc. Multiply as necessary up to 10 on any given battle round)
    Sprinkle your own modifications in as well. It’s a fun system to get through massive battles quickly.

  28. Fred says:


  29. Parzival says:

    So Feynman and Heisenberg decided to take a road trip together, with Feynman driving and Heisenberg in charge of the map. Every so often Feynman checks with Heisenberg for directions
    “Where are we?”
    “Forty three miles out of Tuscon. Take a left at the next exit.”
    This sort of thing continues for a while, everything’s going well, when suddenly Heisenberg points”” “Look out! Cop car behind the billboard!”
    Feynman glances at the speedometer. “Relax, I’m going 55 miles per hour.”
    “Oh, way to go, bonehead,” says Heisenberg. “Now we’re lost.”

    Thank you. I’ll go get my coat…

  30. neminem says:

    I go to Harvey Mudd, one of the geekiest schools in the country.

    We make jokes like that all the time. One of my favorite quotes: “So really, every time you look at a dead body, you’re killing someone.”

    P.S. Nice joke, Parzival! I hadn’t heard that one before, and I like it.

  31. xargon says:

    I’d play an Uncertainty Lich. I wonder what the ECL would be?

  32. Klaus says:

    And the above is why I love both this strip and the comments they spawn. Priceless!

  33. Woerlan says:

    I was already chuckling when I got to “Uncertainty Lich.” The terminology is so utterly ludicrous, and yet so wonderfully appropriate. Shamus, when you coin a phrase, it’s minted in pure gold. ^_^

    I laughed so hard I was in tears.

  34. fair_n_hite_451 says:

    Ah yes, the eternal “Wisdom vs. Intelligence” debate.

    “Having a low wisdom doesn’t mean my character is stupid”
    “No, it just means he’s not smart”

  35. Hal says:

    That reminds me of my favorite Futurama joke. They’re at a racetrack and it’s a tight finish.

    Announcer: The judges are checking the electron microscope . . . and it’s (horse’s name I cannot recall)! By a quantum finish!

    Professor: No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!

  36. Blindeye says:

    Man, this strip pretty much explains why my group re-rolls every dice that falls off the table.


  37. theonlymegumegu says:

    I totally got the joke. I am also totally swiping the term “Uncertainty Lich” for general usage.

  38. Marlous says:

    I clamped Wiki for help on this Schrà¶dinger Cat business, and even though I now have a bit of an understanding what the experiment is about (emphasis on bit, because I understand the set-up but not the reason).. but I have no clue as to why this is related to gaming. Could anybody let me in on the cat story? Please?

  39. Steve says:

    [Parzival] :oD

    Pauli should have been on that same trip, but he wouldn’t get in the car with the other two.


  40. Steve says:

    [Parzival] Pauli said it was a matter of principal.


  41. Steve says:

    [Marlous] The die determining whether the fatal blow lands or not has not been observed, hence its score could (bogus quantum mechanically speaking) be anything. Gimli exsists in a non-determined state until the DM observes the die (“collapsing the wave function” in QMspeek) and the value is acertained.


  42. Steve says:

    [Hurricane Andrew] A very neat solution to the issue.

    Personally, coming from a simulation wargame background (these things became extinct before some of the people who post here were born) I would make up an “odds table” were the battle to be important enough, so that I could deal with imbalances in the two forces involved too.

    I absolutely agree with anyone who feels that this is taking things a bit far. The players wouldn’t have to know or do anything extra though. It would just be for me and my peace of mind.

    What can I say, except that complex rule things don’t scare me.

    Oh, and that games like the OOTS one and Arkham Horror would be easier to pick up if the rulebooks had been structured like Avalon Hill and SPI used to do them instead of doing them RPG style. And that printing rules on square pages makes the rulebooks difficult to keep in good repair. And that sidebars should be used to clarify rules, not to bring them up for the first and only time in the rulebook.

    Sorry, I forgot this wasn’t the forum pages of GITP or FFG for a minute there. :o)

    Have a very good weekend everyone. I’m off to do some real-life things while I fret over whether the DMotR will really make Aragormless fall off a cliff or not. Don’t forget that Americans switch to DST weeks ahead of everyone else on Sunday. Something to do with saving energy.

    Remember: “Spring up, fall over”.


  43. DMCliffy says:

    to HurricaneAndrew and PancakesOptimusMaximus
    RE: Mass battle system.

    There are two official mass battle systems for 3.5 d&d. Swear. They aren’t in the core rules (why in the hells would they be, exactly?).

    The first is for the number-crunchy wargamer. It’s pretty much WarHammer D&D and it’s found in the Minis Handbook (an incredible book, whether you play the collectible minis game or not). It’s sort of an expansion of the warband-vs-warband rules to make Army-vs-army. It’s okay for strategy gamers, but boring as hell for others.

    The second is a cinematic, high-adventure style system whereby the PCs actions on a small scale can alter the course of the battle. It is found in Heroes of Battle (doh). In it, the outcome of the battle is determined beforehand as if the PCs did nothing. Then, a number of opportunities are outlined, with a reward or penalty assigned, for the PCs to influenmce the battle (in accordance with their level). So, in a situation where the PCs side is hopelessly outmatched, the PCs “victory” might be getting most of the army to a safe retreat, while higher level PCs may be able to disrupt enough of the enemies command structure (i.e. Kill some Named Monsters) to allow a glorious Rally.

    The second system is an incredible system that keeps the focus on the heroes instead of 1000s of crappy level 1 warriors. The PCs still determine the outcome, but on a far more personal level. It even allows battles to be played like adventures (with a flowchart style of paths and opportunities, like a dungeon made of time instead of stone). It beats the hell out of “my 200 dwarf rock throwers bombard your cavalry. Take some Damage. 20 knights dies. your turn” style of wargaming.

  44. Borghal says:

    I really loved this one. Thank you.

  45. Walter says:

    If Shamus gets to invoke Einstein’s quote, I get to invoke Hawking’s reply:
    “Not only does God play dice, he sometimes rolls them where we can’t see them.”

    Sounds just like a DM to me.

  46. Jeffrey says:

    Einstein would roll over in his grave. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded.

  47. ExNavyDoc says:

    So, Heisenberg is driving along, and gets pulled over by a cop.

    He rolls down the window and the cops says, “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”

    Heisenberg replies, “No, but I know exactly where I am!”

    Har, har, har!!!

  48. Kerry says:

    Man, I knew it would be good when I saw the title, but this is…
    Awesome work!

  49. LuckyLefty01 says:

    From the comic: “I rolled the dice and it fell behind my computer.”

    The direct object needs to agree in number with the pronoun that references it in the next clause. (dice/die mix up)

  50. Scarlet Knight says:

    I’ve never heard of Scrodinger, Feynman, or Heisenberg. I thought this comic was about rule anal DM’s…

    I’ll stick with Jimmy Buffett’s “Indecision may or may not be my problem…”

  51. Fuzzy Eric says:

    Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen:

    Arwen has arranged for a group of departed elves to operate an apparatus that streams entangled photons at her and Aragorn. She intends to transmit information directly into his brain by interacting with her photons.

    But he falls off the cliff and so Aragorn’s Id just fills something in instead. Oh well.

  52. Fickle says:

    Hah! So obviously, the cat was alive inside the box. I feel much better now. XD

  53. Andre says:

    Excellent job illustrating the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment, Shamus!

  54. EmeraldTiara says:

    If he’s both alive and dead, does he still have to pay taxes? …Sorry, that came from The Restaurant At the End Of the Universe, when Hotblack was spending a year dead for tax reasons…I’ll shut up now.

    Very funny!

  55. Dirk says:

    “Einstein would roll over in his grave. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded.”

    Zhakharov in Alpha Centauri? Or was there a more original (real-world) quote?

  56. Dirk: Many people have said variants of that. But Zhakharov definitely said it with the most style.

    Man… what a game… I’ll preempt a budding quote thread by linking this.

    Or possible feed it. One or the other.

  57. haashaastaak says:

    I am afraid that, just as Schrodinger’s cat could not leave the box without the question of its life or death being established, Gimli can’t leave his position on the ground until his status is established. Sadly, he can’t leave it even then, because he’s about to be pinned by a warg paperweight. So I think the uncertainty lich is about as useful as a Barrie fairy no one believes in.

  58. Gary's Friend Jim says:

    Okay, time to fire up the press… who wants an “Uncertainty Lich” t-shirt?

    Disclaimer: I don’t have a press. I don’t make t-shirts. I’m just a smart-ass. If I could make t-shirts I’d make some.

    1. smartalek says:

      With Cafépress, everyone owns a t-shirt factory.
      NB: I am not a shill or troll for Cafépress.
      Just sayin’

  59. Golgothus says:

    [steve]Gah. I just broke Mr Brain again with the concept of Specialised General Knowledge. This is why I steer clear of abtruse quantum mechanical concepts.

    LOL… best way I ever heard it put is: “Can’t brain today, I have the dumb.”

    He who lives by the skull will die by the skull

  60. Ishmael says:

    Not only is the comic hilarious, but I get some *superb* advice on how to run massive battles in D&D, which I really needed given that one of my player groups has been indication they want one. How wonderful. ^_^

  61. Ishmael says:

    …indicatING. >.>

  62. Tallain says:

    I would definitely buy a Twenty Sided T-shirt. If I had the money.

    “Help. The dice are trying to kill me.”


  63. gedece says:

    Ummm, we can take this one step further. Put your dice inside a box that requires some strenght to open, so that it will move when opened. Then move the box hard to roll the dice, and you have it.

    A great side effect will be watching your players argue about how to open the box without activating the quantum effect.

  64. Yahzi says:

    Tell this joke in public:

    Q: What is Hawking Radiation?

    A: Selling beta-rays in the street…

    Anybody who laughs is a physicist. :D

  65. Mom says:

    Gimli’s condition reminded me of a story where the writer recounts his experience of living isolated on the early American frontier. He received a letter from a relative telling him of the death of his sister some months before. During the months between her death and the arrival of the letter, he had a live sister for all he knew. When he thought of her she was alive and he could imagine her life and the changes that were occurring in it. He felt some anger toward the letter writer as not only the bearer of the news of her death, but as the agent of her death.

  66. dm_punks says:

    LOL! I first became aware of Schrodinger’s Cat when I started reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in highschool. And I’ve been following this webcomic since I found out about it on early this year.

    Don’t change, Shamus.

  67. Wraithshadow says:

    I find this highly amusing because it illustrates the fact that the great body of knowledge and anecdotal wisdom possessed by the average gamer is more than capable of answering questions that are left as unknowns.

    The question, as posed by the philosopher: “Is he dead, or is he not dead?”

    The answer, as presented by the hordes of heavily armed PCs everywhere: “If you aren’t sure, keep firing.”

  68. Agh, Walter more or less beat me to the paraphrase.

    But I was about to add, IF God plays dice, he rolls them behind the biggest DM’s screen ever.

    Anybody hear thunder?

  69. Shandrunn says:

    Aww, someone beat me to the Schrà¶dinger-gets-pulled-over joke.

    The Feynman/Schrà¶dinger/Pauli one is good, I’m saving it.

  70. Neotacha says:

    LuckyLefty01 says:

    *From the comic: “I rolled the dice and it fell behind my computer.”

    The direct object needs to agree in number with the pronoun that references it in the next clause. (dice/die mix up)*

    Wouldn’t it have been easier just to point out the dice is the plural of die, and he only rolled one?

    Great comic. I’d love to see it in book form one day, when the campaign is finished.

  71. Publish it on demand, cover your expenses and send any proceeds to copyright association’s benevolent fund.

    /Not sure how we can have this happen for real, but I’d gladly kill my printer trying…

  72. “On demand” means every copy is sold before it’s printed, BTW. Very popular with niche market for photographers and other visual artists for quick turn-arounds and lower overheads.

  73. superfluousk says:

    Actually, this is something that bothers me in any number of fantasy settings… Why are there only ever undead humans? Dwarves, hobbits, what have you all die — so why are there never any dwarf zombies or gnome lichs in these situations?

  74. Carl the Bold says:

    I heard someone mention Schodinger’s Cat in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Perhaps that person meant “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”, by the same author, Douglas Adams. If you haven’t read Dirk, visit your local library today!

  75. Dirk Gently is a better story than Hitchhiker’s, as well. Pity that it isn’t better known.

  76. Stephanie says:

    Shamus, marry me a little.

    I swear I will find a way to incorporate this into my next game.

  77. The Old Master says:

    Well, If anyone is a avid gamer they could see what number was ontop by the layout of the numbers displayed on the side.. :)

  78. Dear Shamus –
    You know, a rich idea for your comic might be pirating other images (say, the Ray Harryhausen skeletal warriors from Jason and the Argonauts (and the Golden Fleece), that horrible D&D movie, Gargoyles (70’s horror flick), all the Hammer movies with Christopher Lee) from other DVD sources to juxtapose with the LOTR frames.
    Now that you’ve opened the subject with your PHB insert, I wanted to mention it. Could be lots of fun, used wisely. Very hard to get Bakshi’s original 1970’s LOTR film or the Hobbit on DVD, I’ve heard. Ah, we may let them rot, but they served their purpose…it would be very wierd to see the difference frame to frame, tht’s for darn sure.

    I found a link that talks about the earlyier attempt to give Tolkien a filmic face…–is-the-bakshi-film-really-that-bad.aspx

  79. Oh, I’m a nincompoop (NPC-NCP, CN) – I see you did this already with DM of the Rings XXVII: a little screen capture from The DM Strikes Back (Ahem). Nicely done.

    I’d strike my suggestion if I could. Instead I’ll leave the –83rd! comment. Sorry, Server.

  80. Ardagh says:

    Just re-reading it, still chuckling… and then… “just take your turn, rock jockey”! Great change of ends – DM nullifies epic pc monologue. LXXIII rulz!1!

  81. Walter says:

    This thread needs a stat block for the Uncertainty Lich!

    Second-best comic, behind little walking sticks.

  82. Okay, the comment tag about your server weeping for mercy is hysterical. We definitely need more long comment threads.

  83. Harlock says:

    Just for the record, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that the product of the uncertainties in the position and the _momentum_ of a given particle must be less than some ridiculously small number that I can’t recall off the top of my head. Therefore, decreasing the uncertainty in one beyond a certain point leads to an increase in the uncertainty of the other. When you’re talking about macro-scale “particles” like cars (or even, say, a single drop of water) however, the precision to which you have to measure both the particle’s mass _and_ velocity in order to introduce measurable uncertainty in its position is currently unobtainable. It makes for a nice joke, though. I really should look into getting a bumper sticker that says “I survived P-Chem.” ^_^

    1. WJS says:

      The operative being “particle”, IIRC. Trying to apply Quantum Mechanics to a macroscopic object makes about as much sense as trying to apply Newtonian Mechanics to electrons.

  84. theonlymegumegu says:

    I showed this comic to a friend, and the conversation (online) went like this:

    Friend: But what powers would an Uncertainty Lich actually have?
    Me: They would probably be unknown until observed.
    Friend: But…but…that would mean…

    Me: Behold the power of the Uncertainty Lich.

    An awesome and mighty power indeed.

  85. Alasseo says:

    Not only does God play dice, sometimes he just ignores the result and says it works…

  86. Sureshot05 says:

    Shamus wrote “Directions for becoming and Uncertainty Lich:

    1. Deal lethal damage to self to within 4HP of death.
    2. Stab self with 1d4 dagger.
    3. When rolling for damage, roll dice into Phylactery and seal shut.
    4. Hide the Phylactery! If someone breaks it open and shows you the die, your state will no longer be uncertain, and you will lose your Lich powers.

    Does not work on Classical Physicists and Theologans.”

    This strip and this quote have been the funniest things I’ve read to date (well, thats a lie, the whole strip is brilliant). As Theoretical Physicist this brought me to the verge of tears.

    Genius! Keep them coming Shamus.

  87. Freefall says:

    Quantum litches: …Clever, clever. We will remember that one. You will not steal any of our searvents` again!

  88. AlfaGirl says:

    Okay, so my physisist boyfriend dragged me to this site and yes, thanks to some serious tutoring on his side (and some previous instruction by Mr. Pratchett) I do get the joke, but just to make a point that an English MA CAN add something to this whole discussion: die = dice in that both can be used for the singular, with ‘die’ specified by the OALD as ‘noun, dated’. Which means no typo in the comic.

    So there ;)

  89. Shamus says:

    “Which means no typo in the comic. ”

    Thank you.

    I would also point out that everything in the comic is dialog, even the “narration”. It’s accurate as long as the character in question would really speak like that. It would sound odd if a bunch of guys playing D&D spoke precision English, employing “whom”, shunning contractions, speaking in complete sentences, and avoiding common verbal shortcuts.

    But if you catch me using “who’s instead of “whose”, “their” instead of “the’re”. Then yeah, I messed up.

    Which I is known to do from time to time.

    1. lunjan says:

      my friends and i are just those kind of nerds… we will have a 30 minuyte sub discussion about the etymology of words used in our sessions and debate proper english grammar whenever we want to belittle each other (my grammar in online comments and email notwithstanding)

  90. inara says:

    Yeah, i only got the joke because of that one episode of SG-1 where they first meet the Tollan.

  91. A comment about massed combat in D&D – the DM should already know what he wants the outcome of any such battle to be, and WHY since it is the DM who determines what the composition of forces are on either side of the battle. It is also for the DM to already know how and to what degree PC’s can influence that outcome. It is then again largely up to the DM to decide how best to portray this to the players since D&D is not designed to function or even be sensible on a large scale. It’s a man-to-man system that operates poorly when applied to UNIT level tactics.

  92. Rebecca says:

    I thought it was hilarious that Legolas and the DM’s real-life exchange sounded like they were playing.

    “Just move the computer”

    “There is no way to move the computer without disturbing the die.”

    Which makes me imagine that the DM always talks like this. “Hey, want to go to the movies?” “It is impossible for me to go to the movies and complete my homework.”

  93. Thad says:

    If you can create an Uncertainly Lich by getting to within 1-4HP then dealing 1d4 damage, wouldn’t applying a “cure wounds” of some form counteract the unknown damage? You might not know your exact level of health, but be guaranteed they’d be alive.

    1. WJS says:

      Only if you got the cure before the time that you wouldd pleed out from the potential lethal damage. After that, it would be indeterminate whether healing spells would heal or harm you. Assuming of course that an effect which would distinguish the difference between living and dead as obviously as a cure spell wouldn’t collapse the effect.

  94. cory says:

    There needs to be shirt that says: “If Schroedinger’s Cat were alive, it would be dead by now.”

    P.S. Great Comic.

  95. Lanthanide says:


  96. Kacky Snorgle says:

    Hey, where’d the rest of the comment dice go? I was enjoying the absurdity of nine or ten dice per comment. :)

    (And, while I was looking around the site to see how widespread that change was…)

    Hey, what happened to DMotR I ?!

  97. Scott says:

    We reached the 100 sided die! (Affectionately called the golf ball of death at my Shadowrun gaming sessions after one GM made the rule “Roll it with every other dice roll… a 1 means you die of a heart attack”. He never GMed again.)

  98. scragar says:

    wouldn’t a 1/100 change per action be a really bad way to way to test if someone has a heart attack? After all with all the battles and stuff you’re basically saying that since you’ll wanna role a good number of dice during the adventure that it’s almost certain that someone will die of a heart attack! Doesn’t sound very fair to me.

    Oh, and good joke about the uncertainty leech. Mind if I duplicate the joke?

  99. Jeff says:

    There should be a less than 1% chance of your average shadowrunner dying of a heart attack in the next TEN YEARS.
    I mean, these people are generally pretty healthy.

    …I was about to start calculating odds, but I think I’ll go to bed instead…

  100. MrPyro says:

    Tell this joke in public:

    Q: What is Hawking Radiation?

    A: Selling beta-rays in the street…

    Aren’t betas particles, rather than rays?

    If you can create an Uncertainly Lich by getting to within 1-4HP then dealing 1d4 damage, wouldn't applying a “cure wounds” of some form counteract the unknown damage? You might not know your exact level of health, but be guaranteed they'd be alive.

    No. If the dagger did 4 damage then they’d have died at that point, and cure wounds spells can’t counteract death. Casting ‘Raise dead’ on them might work though; if they’re alive it does nothing, and if they’re dead it brings them back.

    1. Moridin says:

      Aren't betas particles, rather than rays?

      They’re both.

  101. Mark says:

    The Computer, er, DM does not need to JUSTIFY anything. He was just informing the citi-, player why his actions may have been treas,um, difficult.

  102. Teague says:


    was that a quote from the character called AIR-R-GRN?

  103. Furey says:

    I think the massive replies indicate that bringing Quantum mechanics jokes into a D&D strip about the LOTR has mined a previously unheard of level of nerdiness!

    As a physics teacher, I can only applaud you!
    Please keep this up.

  104. MOM says:

    The TITLE of this strip is pretty funny too.

  105. Harlock says:

    “Aren’t betas particles, rather than rays?”

    Well, yes and no. After all, they do have a deBroglie wavelength. ;) Heck, even _alpha_ particles have a deBroglie wavelength. Just a very, very small one.

  106. It’s “the die,” not “the dice.” The singular form of “dice” is “die.” You roll several dice, but only one die.

  107. AkRonin says:

    Absolutely spot on perfect, this strip is.

    Furey hits it on the head. This must set some new Guinness level record for geekdom. It’s got it all, QED, D&D, LOTR…

    I wish I could remember who sent me the link for this strip so very long ago. I would love to be able to thank them.

    Thanks, Shamus!!

  108. Luke says:

    OMFG@ That was so funny! Funniest yet!!!!!!!!!!

    hahahahahah, i’m in pain from laughter. BRILLIANT UNCERTAINTY LICH!!1

  109. Minus says:

    This is easily the best comic yet. If this is what you consider indulging yourself, please, do so more.

  110. Icarus says:

    Y’know, one of these days I’m going to catch up so I can actually post as a part of the conversation rather than just laughing uproariously after they’re done.

    And Shamus, I don’t know if anyone else has ever noted this, but I love the comments based on the number of posts, too.

    Great strip!

  111. StingRay says:

    I’ve been reading from the beginning, and this is the funniest comic you’ve done thus far. All of them are funny, but this one had me laughing a long time! I love it!

  112. Riley says:

    The roguelike game Nethack includes zombies and mummies of dwarves, elves, halflings, etc.; and it features the Quantum Mechanic monster, which sometimes carries a box containing either a live housecat or a housecat corpse.

  113. Maraich says:

    OMG I almost died of laughter. I can barely type due to the tears.

  114. Buggwynn says:

    HAHAHAHA! “I am either alive or dead, based on the state of a die that we cannot observe without altering” Ya’ know, sometimes you just gotta use the basic principles of theological argument to justify a game, or blame fouls on the “dice gnomes”.

  115. JJR says:

    “Twelve sided-die’d! (man, that’s rough)”
    (random H*R quotes–TGS)

  116. TheDeepDark says:

    Judging by the sheer number of comments (soon to be one greater!), I gather that many of us did indeed get the reference. Bua-ha-ha-ha-ha!!! This was awesome (and yes, the “evil” laugh was totally gratuitous. My post just seemed to be …missing something, until I put it there)!

  117. Toil3T says:

    Ow, quantum physics- At least I get the references, even if I don’t fully comprehend them. It’d probably be funnier if I understood quantum mechanics. Don’t bother trying to explain it to me, I’m going into electronics. If I need it I’ll learn it.
    On the other hand, the simple dropped-dice humor is pretty accurate.

  118. C. Dub. says:

    About 15 years ago I actually had something like this happen with my favorite 20 sider. I don’t recall the exact cercumstances behind the roll, but my group was gaming in the garage at my mother’s house. I rolled the die and it went wild, finally landing under some piece of furniture.

    I never did learn what the result was, as I never saw that die again. When I went to retrieve it, my die was nowhere to be seen. In the years between then and now I have yet to find another die that rolls as consistantly high as that gold speckled 20 sider.

  119. Cynder says:

    I have one word for you, and it’s a long one…


    Hope you understand what that meant.

  120. FlameKiller says:


    pure grade A genius

  121. Graymayre says:

    Heizenburg’s Uncertainty Prinicple:

    “One cannot observe something without changing its outcome.”

  122. Mina says:

    LOL! Gimli’s in superposition

  123. sandman says:

    schroedinger’s dwarf!

  124. Morambar says:

    What I’ve found interesting is: Chess.

    Now, when my friends and I play we have certain preferences; one Grandmaster (I want to say Capablanca or Alekhine) once said he could win any game with White by starting with P-K4, and any game as Black by countering that move with P-K4. In our group, everyone wants to concede initiative, play Black, let the White player commit and then exploit the resulting vulnerabilities. The standard way to resolve the problem of both players wanting the same side, of course, is to mix up a pawn from each side, place one in each closed fist and let the opponent pick his side.

    Here’s the thing: You don’t actually need to use both pawns. If you just use the White (or Black) pawn you can place it in one fist and present it along with a closed (and empty) one to your opponent, who then picks. As soon as they do, you KNOW the outcome; it’s a determined event, but for your opponent it remains a 50/50 probability until you open your hand.

    R.I.P. Schrodingers Cat 1935-1990

    Though in all honesty, the Three Card Monte scam works exactly the same way, and so do many DMs: Players commit to a choice before the DM has to allow them to observe the outcome, allowing him to alter that outcome to a “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario.

  125. Cytaen says:

    This comment list cannot become outdated, it must continually be added to, so as to continue increasing the time subsequent readers spend on this page being educated. Absolutely lovely episode!

  126. dyrnwyn says:

    i actually disagree with schrodingeri think the cat would be neither dead nor alive alive not both

  127. hasone says:


    I’m a physicist, and I couldn’t look at that without laughing untill I was blue in the face. Even thinking abo…

    Okay, I’m done gasping.

    Kudos. and


  128. Dangermike says:

    I changed my mind. “Uncertainty Lich” is a MUCH better name for a metal band.

  129. Moridin says:

    Is this the longest comment thread?

  130. TainInfernus says:

    LOL, Schrodinger’s Cat/Quantum Uncertainty jokes are at once the hardest to pull off, and the most rewarding to those on the up-and-up.
    In fact, Schrodinger’s Cat was actually meant as a joke to poke at the idea of quantum uncertainty. So… it’s a double-joke.

  131. Sejemaset says:

    in order to avoid quantum theory is why we have a house rule to re-roll any die roll that doesn’t stay on the table… which goes to say I’m one of the people that didn’t need the link to the uncertainty lich cat…

  132. Burny says:

    I decided long ago that dices roll counts only on the table,odly players are more carfull about dice rolling that way

  133. humanist says:

    Oh my God I had trouble breathing I laughed so hard at this.

    I was just thinking recently of Adam Felber’s book Schrà¶dninger’s Ball (spoiler alert!) where, among other things, the main character accidentally shoots himself in the face in his grandmother’s basement. But, since nobody observes that he’s dead, the probabilities that he’s dead and alive exist side by side for three days before somebody looks in the basement and discovers that he’s dead … by which time, the “alive” probability had gotten around quite a bit and done several unusual things, including impregnating another main character. But, he was dead all along, so is she pregnant or isn’t she? Opposite of an Uncertainty Lich? Probability Zygote.


    Schrà¶dinger’s Cat jokes are so awesome. And so applicable. Technically, from an agnostic standpoint, there’s even Schroedinger’s God: the probability that God exists and the probability that God does not exist … um, exist side-by-side. Only, that situation, it’s God who has to open the box to collapse the waveform and determine whether She exists or not. Except, if there is no God, no one can open the box because there is, in fact, no box to open …

    /System meltdown.

  134. valjean says:

    I had a Champions character once who had quantum powers. He could turn himself into a Feynmann diagram and scatter incoming projectiles.

    You kind of made me think of that.

  135. Moridin says:

    Uncertainty lich(template)
    Requirements of becoming one: Ability to cast Nondetection, Craft wonderous items. The person wishing to become an uncertainty lich must first be brought near death. Then he must cast a nondetection spell on the final die determining whether he is alive or death before it is thrown. The dice must then be thrown to a container which makes it impossible to observe the die without disturbing the die. This container then becomes the phylactery of the uncertainty lich.

    Size and type: The creature’s type changes to undead(uncertainty subtype). The creature’s size remains unchanged.

    Hit dice: Change all to d12

    Armor class: The lich gains uncertainty bonus to armor class: The bonus may not be known before the attack throw. If the attack throw would otherwise hit the lich, it has a 30% chance to miss instead, even if it would have been a critical hit(natural 20 still hits always, but isn’t a critical unless another natural 20 is rolled)

    Attack: A lich retains any attacks it had in life, including the ability to use weapons. It also gains a touch attack causing d8+5 points of damage(will DC 10+1/2HD+CHA modifier half) and confusing the target on a failed save.

    Special attacks: A lich retains any special attacks it had in life and gains the following:

    Uncertainty aura: Anytime someone within 60-feet of the lich would die, it must roll a d100 in without anyone seeing the results of the throw. It then becomes an uncertainty lich until the die is observed. The die must only be observed if the creature in question leaves the area of the aura or is destroyed, killed or resurrected. The die result is irrelevant if the creature is destroyed or killed. Otherwise, if the result is 1-90, the creature is dead and any resurrection spell worked accordingly. on a roll 91-00 the creature is alive and stable, with negative hit points.

    Special qualities:

    Spells: The uncertainty lich retains all spellcasting abilities it had in life.

    Turn immunity: The uncertainty lich cannot be turned or rebuked with turn undead ability.

    Damage reduction: The uncertainty lich has damage reduction 20/bludgeoning and magic

    Immunities: Uncertainty liches have immnity to cold, electricity, mind affecting effects and polymorph(but the lich can still use polymorphing spells to itself, if it has any).

    Abilities: Cha+4, int+4. Being undead, an uncertainty lich has no constitution score.

    Alignment: Uncertainty lich can be of any alignment and they tend toward chaos and neutrality. Lawful uncertainty liches are rare, but if lawful creature becomes uncertainty lich, its alignment remains unchanged. Becoming an uncertainty lich by purpose is an extremely chaotic act.

    Special: An uncertainty lich can be truly destroyed only if its phylactery is broken open and the die inside it is rerolled. Depending on the results, the lich either comes back to life, in full health, or dies instantly. No-one knows what happens if the die is destroyed, so the phylactery is usually well protected against destruction. If an uncertainty lich is brought to 0 hit points it’s body disappears and it reappears near its phylactery after 2 days.

  136. Andrew Jensen says:

    Absolutly brilliant! This comic is one of my favorites because of how much of an LotR and role playing game nerd I am. It makes me really happy to hve my other great interest (quantum mechanics) involved. I love this comic, and other that OotS and possibly a few other short one, this is the only ne I have re-read four times.

  137. Serenity Bane says:

    Lol awesome Shamus! I totally got it hahaha

  138. caradoc says:

    Heisenberg is out for a drive when he’s stopped by a traffic cop. The cop asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Heisenberg proclaims, “No, but I know where I am.”

  139. Tsurugi says:

    Truly a genius double joke. Kinda reminds me of this and this
    Still need to make a game based on those Dresden Codak strips have to work the Uncertainty lich in some where.

  140. Michael says:

    Woot! According to the comment indicator, we really HAVE broken then internets, err, tubes.

    Definately a ROFL, if not ROFLMAO strip. And comments.


    Is the cat alive or dead? With no food or water, and no one cleaning the litter box, he’s dead Jim.

  141. Tachi says:

    Well, at least the dwarf didn’t walk through any walls “just because he didn’t know it’s impossible.”

  142. Ictoagn says:


    This is probably my favourite joke in the whole run. Not that is comment matters, since no one will read it

  143. Lauren says:

    OMG, this had me laughing till I cried. I had to share it on a couple of forums it’s so damn funny.

  144. HB says:

    This has actually happened to me once…. sad but true.

  145. Dr Magister says:

    “10 minutes later: I have now reached the point where the tears are rolling down my face and my nose is running and my diaphragm hurts. Help”

    This is exactly where I am right now.

  146. Elven Fighter Wizard Thief Cleric says:

    Of all the strips so far, this one is my favourite.

    Good job.

  147. SkyWill says:

    As a physics teacher, you can bet I love this one the best! Great job altering the picture for the “Uncertainty Lich”, and I WILL, guaranteed, use this joke in my own gaming group or at a convention. Wonderful piece!

  148. Onsheka says:

    I’m laughing so much I can’t breathe. AIR! Choking! Send help!
    Okay, calm now. I just have to avoid looking at the page. Or thinking about it.

  149. Eggmuffin says:

    I feel it needs to be said that this refers only to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Theory. It was intended, by Schrà¶dinger, to be a spoof. An example of just how ridiculous the Copenhagen Interpretation was.

    I imagine he facepalmed when people started taking it seriously.

  150. Azuron says:

    Haha, that makes Gimli Schrà¶dingers Dwarf

  151. taraswanwing says:

    This is hilarious. I frequently quote this strip at every opportunty, even though such instances are far and few between. Whenever I read this, my bro hears me giggling and reciting the immortal words of Gimli son of Gloin: DO NOT MOCK ME MORTAL! I AM THE MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH!!!

  152. Nylarthotep277 says:

    I’ve re-read this comic 3 times, and this is still my favorite part

  153. Spencer Collins says:

    Looking at the dice collapses the wave form.

  154. Jason Tank says:

    I’ve wanted to make this joke for ages. Long before DM of the Rings, I used to think this way when dice would bounce away and fall in some hidden corner.

    Ever seen that episode of Community?

  155. EvanNave55 says:

    OK, there’s several things I want to say:

    1 I know it’s been three years since the last comment but this is too good not to comment on, besides as someone two or three dozen comments above this said “we must keep these comments current and ever-expanding for new readers” or something like that .

    2 I can’t believe I actually read through all 170 comments before me.

    3 “Q: what is Hawking radiation?
    A: selling beta-rays in the street.”
    Awesome, I’m definitely going to use this one”

    4 the original and most important thing I wanted to say:
    A while ago I heard someone talk about an uncertainty lich, I don’t remember the context but the fact that it’s spread where I who had no idea this comic existed heard of it means this has to be extremely popular. Congratulations.

  156. Elliot Reid says:

    Shrodinger’s Character? Fucking genius!!! How have I not thought of this yet…

  157. Pell says:

    “There is no way to move the computer without disturbing the die” sounds like a response you would get when typing MOVE COMPUTER into a text-adventure game. For that reason, as much as I love the Uncertainty Lich panel, it is only my second-favorite joke in this entire comic.

  158. Iron Baron says:

    I love that you managed to work a quantum physics joke into a Lord of the rings DND satire and I am sitting here laughing about it 14 years later. We live in a strange time.

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