DM of the Rings XCIX:
Alliterative Antagonists

 By Shamus May 11, 2007 141 comments

Saruon and Saruman are different guys?
The campaign isn't over.

Just to have a little fun with your players, try switching the names of two characters which start with the same letter and see if they notice.

And by “fun” I mean, “abruptly realize that all your hard work and etymology research is a comical waste of time”.

A Hundred!20201We've got 141 comments. But one more probably won't hurt.


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  1. Rick says:

    Someone beat me to the Aruman comment and the anti-climatic comment. I really need to work less.

  2. Dirty Dan says:

    “So Elrond works out to something like 9/16 Elven, 3/8 human, and 1/16 Maia.”

    That’s all well and good, but the next step is to compute the number of generations that led to Aragorn in order to determine precisely how diluted those bloodlines are. And then do Arwen’s. From there, the only thing left is to figure out the exact degree of relation between the two and pinpoint the blood content of their kids.

    And no, I will not do that, even though I assume it would be possible using just RotK (w/appendices) and the Silmarillion.

  3. Kristin says:

    Arwen’s easy.

    Celebrian was pure Elf.

    Therefore Arwen, daughter of Elrond and Celebrian, would be 1/32 Maia, 3/16 human, and 25/32 Elf.

    Aragorn’s a little harder since we don’t know the direct line of descent from Elros to Elendil, but from Elendil it was 40 generations to Aragorn. Assuming there were an equal number of generations from Elros to Elendil and Elros to Ar-Pharazon, there were 24 generations. (Not necessarily true but the margin of error wouldn’t be too much.)

    So as that line would be completely human aside from Elros, whose blood percentages would match Elrond’s since he’s Elrond’s twin brother, Aragorn would be 1/2^69 Maia, 6/2^69 Elven, and (2^69-7)/2^69 human. (69 derived from each generation representing an additional power of 2, 64 generations, and 32=2^5.)

    Aragorn and Arwen are first cousins 64 times removed.

  4. Kristin says:

    Sources: RotK appendix A and the Silmarillion.

    Forgot to do Eldarion and his sisters:
    1/64+1/2^70 Maia, 3/32+6/2^70 Elven, and 25/32+(2^70-7)/2^70 human. Clearly, they wouldn’t be too much more Elven or Maia than any other pureblood Dunedain.

  5. Kristin says:

    …Except that I did the Elf and human backwards. I also neglected to double the denominator of Arwen’s Elven blood.

    25/64+6/2^70 Elven, and 3/32+(2^70-7)/2^70 human. Oops. So a significant increase in the Elven blood.

  6. Richard says:

    25/64 + 3/32 is 31/64. What’s the rest — spam? :)

  7. hikari says:

    I’m reminded that in the abortive 1978 animated LoTR they changed Saruman’s name half way through making it, because they thought people would get confused. They changed Saruman to Aruman, as I recall.

    Mind you they went under before they finished it, so half the voice dialogue had his name as Saruman and half had it as Aruman.

    Shame they never got to make “Return of the King” for that animation really; they only got “Fellowship…” and “The Two Towers” done before they went under. The rotoscoping was funky.

  8. Joshua says:

    Hikari, you should probably read other peoples’ posts before posting, as that has been mentioned at least four times prior to yours.

  9. Margaret says:

    I can’t wait until they find out that they don’t actually get to kill Sauron…….

  10. Snowolf says:

    Best.. punchline… ever.

  11. Kristin says:

    The missing 1 to get it up to 32/64 is Maia. The other half of the equation is what he gets from Aragorn’s blood.

    Given this comic… spam would be better. :)

  12. orcbane says:

    Wow… I know Tolkien’s mythology is cool and everything, but its sad when you know more about a fictional character’s lineage than you do your own.

  13. Kristin says:

    Why?

    It’s a heck of a lot easier to go to two books, look at lists of kings/rangers/cool people, and have a list 40 generations long given to you than to sort through records kept (or not) in several different countries, that may or may not have been made in the first place, dealing with alternate versions of spelling, incomplete information, or downright lies made up.

    Believe me, I’m interested in my own family tree, but realistically I don’t think I’ll ever be able to know anything about my ancestors from 70 generations ago…

  14. Scarlet Knight says:

    So we have elf and spam; elf spam, human, spam; elf, spam, maia , spam , spam & human; spam, spam , spam , spam , spam , & spam; and or Lobster Turambar with a Mordor sauce served in a Pukil manner with spam.

  15. Isoyami says:

    @Scarlet Knight (#78): Then where are the big Viking guys with the funny helmets singing about “Wonderful, Loverly SPAM”?

    *Ducks* Sorry, but when you’re handed a straight line like that…. ;)

    For me, I didn’t really mix up Sauron and Saruman.

    Sauron is the big evil guy with the BIG, EVIL mace, and that crazy helmet that looks like the skull of a dead horse. I can just imagine Elrond (in that one battle where Isildur cut the Ring off Sauron’s finger) taking one look at Sauron and going: “Hey, why the long face??”

    Saruman, on the other hand, is the old wizard who lives in a tower in the river basin, breeds orcs, and gets his butt kicked by the big trees.
    I can always picture that orc he bred (the mini-boss fight that Aragorn has in Fellowship) hissing: “SAAAAA-ru-MAAAAAAAN!”

    See? Easy.

    Or maybe its just I have a prodigious memory for useless, silly trivia.
    I can quote MP at the drop of a hat, and I have memorized Pi to 2,000 digits. It’s 1. (*wink wink, nudge nudge*)

  16. Ethan says:

    I just wanted to be #80 and get 4 20′s. Great comic :)

  17. Dave says:

    Damn.. that’ll teach me.. man.. you guys are fast!

  18. Tola says:

    He should have used the symbol ‘nicknames’.

    Saruman=The White Hand.
    Sauron=The Great Eye.

    Then again, even the heroes were initially confused in the book. Gimli had thought that Saruman’s orcs were Saurons:

    Gimli:”S for Sauron. That seems to make sense.”

    Aragorn: “No, Sauron never goes by his proper name. He’s usually referred to by ‘The Eye’ by his troops. And they have an odd mark…a white hand.”

    Something like that.

  19. Rick says:

    “Shame they never got to make “Return of the King” for that animation really; they only got “Fellowship…” and “The Two Towers” done before they went under. The rotoscoping was funky.”

    Heh. My personal favorite observation on Bakshi’s LotR is this: his movie corresponds pretty well to Peter Jackson’s first two. Let’s put that another way: he crammed into two and a half hours what Jackson took six hours (over seven with the extended editions) to tell. Given that, it’s hardly any wonder his movie is hard to follow even if you’ve read the books.

  20. Tom Simon says:

    I’ve never quite understood the capacity of some people to mix up any two names that happen to begin with the same letter. If people can’t tell Saruman from Sauron, heaven help them when they figure out that Sam also begins with an S!

    (Cue ‘The Meaning of Life”: ‘Did you know that Saruman was a wizard? Yup, he’s the one that begins with an S!’)

    And if Saruman is too much like Sauron, where does that leave Aruman and Aragorn? Same first AND last letters, same number of syllables. What kind of drugs must Bakshi have been on not to notice that the cure was worse than the disease?

  21. jabberwocky says:

    “brassbaboon Says: it was clear that not only did the players not remember a single name of a single NPC, they did not even remember the names of their own party members. In one case the player did not even remember his own character’s name.”

    In my party we remember the names but get the people they go with confused, just like in the comic, except for one fanatic who remembers the plot word for word and can spell the NPC’s names. Worst of all however is the dm, when we ask the name of an insignificant person he gives them ridiculous names like “Dick Rench” and then promptly forgets, so that the next time we ask he has another terrible name.

  22. Richard says:

    Please don’t mock the disabled. I also have this problem. When two names start with the same syllable, I tend to mix them up. In some cases this can be life-threatening, such as when mixing up Star Wars and Star Trek at a convention.

    It’s not really a matter of confusing them, it’s just that when I speak, my forebrain seems to give rather vague directions (“that one that starts with Star, you know the one I mean’) to whatever parts of me that do the speaking. It doesn’t surprise me if some people have this problem on the ears -> forebrain route.

    I find it amusing that while the DM was in despair about the PCs randomly killing a key NPC, the PCs thought they were completing the campaign :)

    I’d still have killed Saruman even if I knew who he was, though. Go Legolass. Some people are just too dangerous to leave alive behind you. Of course that category usually includes the PCs, which explains why they have so many enemies.

    One thing I’ve noticed about players is that they’re either in “kill mode” or “shop mode”. If you want them to actually talk to an NPC, you have to flip that switch before they meet him.

  23. Jon says:

    Gah. A while back I dug myself into the worst GMing pit of alliterative names ever when I decided to name a recurring NPC “Cormac MacConnell.” The good part is the players sort of remembered the name, the bad part is they spent the entire campaign trying to remember what iteration of C___ MacC____ his name was. (Cormac MacConnell? Colin MacCormac? Connall MacCullough?)

    And I seriously love the way Gimli is itching to play anything not D&D for a while – as a character detail, it fits with the way he was tempted to leave for Frodo’s d20 Star Wars game.

  24. brassbaboon says:

    My worst problem as a DM isn’t names so much, I have character sheets for any NPC that has any real purpose in the campaign, and I have “monster sheets” for most of the random encounters, and those usually also have names (thanks to some really helpful online random NPC generation utilities.

    What I have trouble with is the items my players find.

    Paladin: “Hey guys, I’m pretty banged up here and need to heal before we go on.”
    Rogue: “We still have some of those yellow potions, right?”
    Wizard: “I think so, what does the yellow do now? Was that cure disease? Or was it minor healing?”
    Cleric: “I’m not sure, I’m still lugging around this chain mail armor that won’t fit me and I don’t have room for any of that stuff in my backpack. Just give me one and I’ll drink it and we’ll see what happens.”
    Rogue: “Right, I’ve got a couple of blue ones, here you go, try this.”
    Paladin: “OK, I drink the small bottle with the blue liquid in it, what happens?”
    DM: “…… [frantically checking notes for blue potion in half-sized bottle]…. hang on….. [mental note to actually quantify and organize all loot given out to players for the twentieth time]…. hang on…”

    So, for shorthand I’ve decided the following:

    yellow potions are healing.
    blue potions are cure poison.
    red potions are alchemist fire.
    green potions are cure disease.

    But that doesn’t help with the other stuff…. What was that wand again? How many rings did I give them? Thank god identify requires a crushed 100gp pearl to cast….. I’ve still got some time to figure out exactly what it was I gave them….

  25. Keldin says:

    The issues with Sauron and Saruman are that 1: Both are evil (or turn that way) 2: Both are magicians (or arcanists of some sort, I expect that I’ll catch a lot of flack from LOTR purists) 3: Both use Orcs as troops 4: It’s not often we see either of them firsthand — they are both threats that Tolkien keeps in reserve in the books (though of course in the movies we see quite a bit of Saruman.) Come to think of it, in the trilogy, we NEVER see Sauron because he is disembodied. 5: Both names start with “S”, both end with “N” and both have an “R” in the middle. This muddies the waters for those reading the books for the first time, especially if said reader is a 12 year old who is statistically not as strong a reader as someone older. Admittedly, for a strong or experienced reader it’s not that tough to keep names in order, but even then it can lead to a “screw this, there’s billions of books out there that I don’t have to have a frigging concordance to read” sort of attitude.

  26. Woerlan says:

    Note to GMs: Always spoonfeed the bad guy pecking order to players. They’ll thank you for it and it’ll save you a headache later on. Besides, clearly defined bad guys is what defines cinematic epic fantasy.

  27. brassbaboon says:

    Woerlan:

    True enough, in most cases, unless the purpose of the quest is to discover the pecking order of bad guys in the first place.

    What I like to do is to have the pecking order defined for the level that the players can actually hope to deal with, while leaving higher levels in the hierarchy undefined so that as the players get more powerful, they constantly have new challenges to keep them interested.

  28. superfluousk says:

    My only question is, was Sauron actually the big villain all along, or did the DM just now make that up in revenge for them killing off Saruman? ;)

  29. Dez says:

    First Panel – Funny
    Last Panel – Hilarious

    Keep up the good work!!

    D!

    Is this the first post to reach 100 comments?

  30. Alasseo says:

    Not quite yet, by my count we’re up to 95 (including this one), and it is now 00:50 GMT leaving x hours and z minutes before the next comic goes up and Shamus give us something new to laugh at and distract us.

    @Kristin: Thanks for doing that working out- I’ve never really got the hang of family trees and degrees of relation, which is a pity because whenever my family has a reunion, we have to wear a rather large nametag-type thing with a copy of our family tree and an “I am here” point, just so we don’t spend three hours trying to figure out who the other person is

  31. Alasseo says:

    Dang- forgot to mention: it be monday morning

    I really shouldn’t be up this late…

  32. Wubbzy says:

    It’s stiiiiill Sunday here.

    Sauron really should’ve been named Lord Ralph. I bet Lego Lass would’ve remembered THAT one.

  33. aren3 says:

    Ah, the good ‘ol name confusion. I have this problem sometimes, although I’ve never had much trouble with Sauron/Saruman.

    In my last campaign, we had identical twins named Asanis and Arasian who were both played by the same person. We never could keep them straight. In fact, we avoided the issue most of the time by referring to them as “The A-team.” This didn’t work so well for me, since my character had a crush on one of them and I never could remember which one it was. Although, we had problems with names in general. I recall that we spent most of the campaign referring to our cleric, “Lord Nelturn” as “Lord Voltron,” much to the annoyance of the DM.

  34. dr. duck says:

    I am not a player in the D&D world/universe/realm, but this is a work of genius and hilarity. I tell my friends. Their loss if they don’t follow up on it …

    don’t … ever … stop!!

  35. Nogard_Codesmith says:

    100th!!
    (sorry had to be done)

  36. Tess says:

    I admit the first time I read LOTR Saruman/Sauron got me confused, but if you think Tolkien is bad you should try SHAKESPEARE! In one play, “Taming of the Shrew” there’s Petruchio, Lucentio, Vincentio, Litio, Cambio, Hortensio, Tranio, Biondello, Grumio, AND Gremio. GAH!

  37. Tom says:

    Hah!! 102! Very Funny!!

  38. Juice says:

    Best comic to date.

    Hearing Gimli saying “Anyone in the mood for a little Shadowrun” in my head made me laugh.

    “Oh yeah I can’t imagine how we could have confused those two names” ah so many times when I first read the books…

    And “I don’t suppose he’s in this tower” which would work in some games I’ve played.

    Nice one Shamus.

  39. Cenobite says:

    @ Jon:

    “Gah. A while back I dug myself into the worst GMing pit of alliterative names ever when I decided to name a recurring NPC “Cormac MacConnell.” The good part is the players sort of remembered the name, the bad part is they spent the entire campaign trying to remember what iteration of C___ MacC____ his name was. (Cormac MacConnell? Colin MacCormac? Connall MacCullough?)”

    You sure that it was really multiple NPCs, and not a Highlander? :)

  40. Scarlet Knight says:

    Tess: See what I meant about the Italians!

    Cavaliere di Scarlatto

  41. Ravenswood says:

    I accidentally put myself into this situation once. In designing the game, I had characters named Zorakson and Vraxin. It never occured to me that when said aloud, those two names almost exactly the same!

  42. M says:

    “Saruon” in the seventh panel…

  43. Thteve Perry says:

    Did you mean for Aragorn to say “anti-climatic”? If so, I don’t get the joke. Is the weather supposed to be the opposite now that they’ve killed Saruman?

  44. Rick says:

    I first listened to LoTR on audiobook (BBC edition) while driving cross country. So hopelessly confused the entire time…

  45. Exclamation says:

    A slightly less than legal version of Two Towers I’ve seen has some very amusing subtitles. Most of the time, they bear little resemblance to what’s being said. Both Sauron and Saruman were frequently referred to as Solomon. Aragorn was Aragorn son of Alfred and Gimli was Gimlet son of Groin.

  46. Toil3T says:

    Eleventy one!

    Great work!

  47. Arawn says:

    I usually thought of “Saruman” as a “man of Sauron”. Kinda helped keep them separate and in the right pecking order.

  48. dyrnwyn says:

    argh i used to always mix those names up

  49. dyrnwyn says:

    and it looks like i’m last again

  50. Aragorn says:

    yay im 115 and last RAH RAH RAH good comic ive read it like 5 times and im still laughing! ;)

  51. Kami says:

    On the other hand, try being in a campaign with a guy with Eidetic memory, and two linguists. You’d be surprised how much that changes things. Although, when one of the linguists has no memory…
    So while Matt remembers every name, I’ll grasp some background to it…and then promptly forget it. Case in point:
    “Na’amah, huh? From the Hebrew ‘Naim’ meaning pleasant?”
    “Wow, exactly right.”
    *Five minutes later*
    “Um…what was your name again?”

    Oh, also relating to names: In one club, we regularly have Nat, Nat, Matt, Matt, and Mac. Also, Josh and Josh. And Josh. And Shannon and Sharone. And more recently, Chad and Chaz. And yes, I do mean all of these at once.

  52. Moridin says:

    Eh, I know four Nikos from same group of people.

  53. Some random guy says:

    I remember when I first read the books when a was a newbie 7 year old, I didn’t mix-up Sauron and Saruman, but I did mix-up Arwen and Eowin (or how ever that Ronanian persons name is spelled).

  54. [...] Mario reference. Related PostsConan spins his ringI really hope the writer’s strike ends soon. In the mean time, I must endure watching Conan spin …War of the RingThe War of the Ring is a fairly popular strategic board game set in the land of Middle Earth. Two pl…Third Party CandidateKeep your eyes peeled for the possibility of a new entrant into the presidential race. It is rumore…Solitaire necklaceFellowship of the Ring: Board Game Share This Popularity: 1% Posted by Admin / Filed under:Board Games and Books and Geekery and Movies and Obscurity and Randomness and Web [...]

  55. You know, at least in the campaigns that my extended group of friends runs, most of the time plot details and NPC names are remembered pretty well. I also have to point out that in the real world people forget NPCs (e.g. other people) who only mention their names a few times. Thinking back to D&D campaigns, I rarely remember the names of other party members if they don’t introduce the name in an interesting manner, and while I remember NPC personalities I sometimes forget names if the names weren’t important.

    Also: Sauron and Saruman, as well as Gandalf, are all essentially celestial beings, angels in effect. Sauron is of the same class as Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, etc., but of a much higher strength. So, yeah, Sauron is a wizard.

  56. Yrael says:

    121, wow. just too many. maybe I can break the internets.

  57. ERROR says:

    Sometimes I confuse the two.

    “Oh, yeah, I can’t imagine how we could have confused THOSE two.” :)

  58. Aragorn says:

    Hiya. You probably don’t read these anymore,Shamus, but panel 8 has a misspell.

    Saruon=Sauron. :)

  59. caradoc says:

    I don’t think there were 9/16 elves and such. If I may speculate, the ‘elf’ genes are on one chromosome. If you have a pair of elf chromosomes, you are an elf. If you have two human chromosomes, you are human. If you have one each you are a half-elf.

  60. Nenvolk says:

    Super Mario Quote! Classic! :-)

    (and yes, *I am one of those who confused Sauron and Saruman the first time i read it…)

  61. Rob says:

    Awesome! I’ve always wondered what Tolkien was thinking making the names so similar, even if you know them well it can be hard to tell which they’re talking about in the movie…

    I love how he’s like, “If we can just get him out on the balcony…” completely diminishing Sauron as the scary antagonist. He’s going to destroy the world as we know it? Just snipe him and we’ll be done. We’ve all been in games where it happened, too.

  62. Spike says:

    I love how in all the screen shots of Aragorn he is always half asleep, rolling his eyes, or making funny faces! Good work Shamus.

  63. [...] long and confusing in an effort to make them sound fantastique, and 2) it's easy to succumb to the Saruman-Sauron Syndrome. Which, by the way, can also happen with modern names. Just think about how many female names [...]

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4 Trackbacks

  1. By DM of the Ring | ovrnite.com presents on December 11, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    [...] Mario reference. Related PostsConan spins his ringI really hope the writer’s strike ends soon. In the mean time, I must endure watching Conan spin …War of the RingThe War of the Ring is a fairly popular strategic board game set in the land of Middle Earth. Two pl…Third Party CandidateKeep your eyes peeled for the possibility of a new entrant into the presidential race. It is rumore…Solitaire necklaceFellowship of the Ring: Board Game Share This Popularity: 1% Posted by Admin / Filed under:Board Games and Books and Geekery and Movies and Obscurity and Randomness and Web [...]

  2. [...] long and confusing in an effort to make them sound fantastique, and 2) it's easy to succumb to the Saruman-Sauron Syndrome. Which, by the way, can also happen with modern names. Just think about how many female names [...]

  3. [...] try to keep the names of NPCs the players will actually encounter fairly distinct too, otherwise this happens.  I also tried to include at least one fork in the longest bloodlines, and farm off a couple of [...]

  4. [...] in one glaring, well-known way where the wizard Saruman occasionally becomes “Aruman.” Possibly the producers feared audiences would confuse Sauron and Saruman, and forced the name change. At that point, either they just did a rotten job of replacing [...]

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