DM of the Rings CX:
Roleplaying, at Last

By Shamus
on Jun 8, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings

Dwarven Shortcomings.
Gimli and Legolas annoy the DM by roleplaying.

Make your character’s personality vague enough and you can justfy any sort of annoying behavior as “roleplaying”. This is your secret weapon, for it is one which the DM can never take away. Use it as often as possible to wrest the plot from his misguided grasp. When the DM asks you to tone down the roleplaying, you’re doing it right. He may not have a SAN score, but see if you can take a few points off of him anyway.

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  1. Kisahawklin says:

    Awesome. I just found this strip (linked by a friend) and it is hilarious. Great work.

  2. Zaghadka says:

    @60 “Bahnmor,”

    Yup. And you should have seen the look on my player’s faces when they found a “cylindrical can of lembas wafers,” emblazoned with a picture of a mustached elf named “Pringolas.”

    But that kind of “realism” is really only good when you’re running a humor campaign. ;^)

  3. Dee says:

    This strip is hilarious–I keep seeing snippets from every campaign I’ve ever been part of. Plus great dialogue and well-fluffed screen caps. (Sweet smoking Conan!)

    I hope that Frodo and Sam show up again so that we can see what happens to the Ring with Gollum dead. Now, what kind of new players might a DM like that fob off with a Mordor subcampaign?

    Hmmm, doesn’t Gimli’s player have a wife?

  4. Roxysteve says:

    [brassbaboon] Why is it a problem?

    “Lets not bother with any crops. We’ll just get a couple of hundred mid-level clerics to feed everyone forever.”

    (Munging it quickly)Obvious result of the above: No farms, just monolithic cities. No tamed landscape. No need for trade. No need (wait for it) to adventure. You never need to go anywhere because
    1) You have everything you need thanks to clerics and other MUs.
    2) You couldn’t get there if you were mad enough to want to anyway – no trade = no transportation infrastructure (roads, canals, dredging operations or docks).
    4) Only magical character classes available. There’s no chance to advance in any other class.

    Everything in life, even D&D life should involve some sort of trade-off. I can drive or walk. If I drive it will cost me a significant amount of money, which I only have limited amounts of. If I walk it will take orders of magnitude more time to get there and back. That sort of thing. The clericfud should have a downside, even if it is a mere inconvenience.

    The best time I ever had munchkining the game was when I was able to cast Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion. I used it to escape certain doom at the hands of ill-wishers (some of whom were very powerful indeed), and also as a limitless supply of free B&B services. But. I always felt that I should face some more potent reason for not using the spell than having to carve a miniature house (once). It would have made the thing less trivial, and put the magic involved back in the arena of “high art” rather than a metaphorical I-95 rest stop.


  5. Jindra34 says:

    TO steve: The problem is that would you be able to find enough people of the high enough levels who were willing to consistently prepare the same spells day in and day out…

  6. brassbaboon says:


    I’m trying to decide if you are serious…

    Clerics of a high enough level to cast create food and water in massive quantities are quite rare, or they should be. It’s dangerous to try to apply logic to a fantasy world, but let’s try.

    Let’s say your typical big city has five clerics of 20th level or higher. Create food and water is a 3rd level spell, so let’s give these five clerics a wisdom bonus of 1 extra 3rd level spells per cleric, meaning they have a wisdom of 16 or better (they would not get a second 3rd level bonus spell until their wisdom hit 24, which is unlikely for a 20th level cleric). Let’s also be generous and say all five have chosen a domain that allows create food and water to be their domain spell. Each of them could cast create food and water then 7 times per day, for a total of 35 such spells total. The spell description says that the spell will support 3 humans or one horse for 24 hours per level of the casting cleric. Those five 20th level clerics can feed 3500 people for one day. Let’s say that there are sufficient lower level clerics hanging around so that we could triple that, and feed about 10,000 people for one (one single) day if thats ALL THEY DID with their third level spells. A typical city has tens of thousands of people. Who’s going to feed the rest of them? And how long before the clerics’ gods would intervene and say “Hey, stop casting all those create food and water spells, OK?”

    It is feasible that in a specific situation, say a city is under seige for example, this sort of scenario could come to pass for a very short time, but that makes sense. Clerics would be expected to come to the aid of the public in that scenario. But for day to day activities it is simply absurd to suppose that clerics would become the base of the food chain. Besides the obvious hard maximum population they could support, there is obviously a need to support livestock as well. So if you have these clerics supporting people AND livestock, you are probably talking about just a few thousand humans being supported by a city full of clerics. It just doesn’t make sense. That’s assuming we want to apply logic that strenuously to the playing of fantasy games to escape the real world for a few hours at a time.

  7. brassbaboon says:

    OK, I think my math was too high in that last post, which just makes it harder to do what Steve is thinking.

    5 clerics casting 7 CFW which feeds 3 * 20 humans each would be:

    5 * 7 * 3 * 20 humans = 2100 humans. So reduce the maximum by a factor of about 35%.

    On to the rest of Steve’s post.

    Steve, I am about as bad as any DM when it comes to verisimilitude. The cities in my campaigns are usually lit by continual flame spells at night, and the local government hires wizards and clerics for civil engineering type jobs. Spells like stone shape, move earth, etc. are great for quickly completing things like city walls, for example. So there is no doubt that the use of magic would change the economy of such a world pretty drastically. In fact it is easy to explain why such a world would stay medieval if you think about it, since there is very little need to push technology when you can use magic instead.

    If you get too involved in trying to figure out exactly what the impact on the economy of the world would be from the use of magic in large amounts, you start to leave D&D behind and enter the world of fantasy fiction, where you could probably come up with some very clever ideas about what would happen to the world economy if you could actually convert lead to gold.

    Bottom line is, I don’t worry that much about it, and I certainly don’t subject my innocent players to my personal speculation about the outcome of such things.

    If they want to cast goodberries and create food and water instead of going to town and buying supplies, I just go with that. It’s hard enough to come up with fun gaming scenarios without telling players their characters can’t use the magic abilities they have worked so hard to attain.

  8. Shamus says:

    I’m enjoying this exchange about the create food and water spell.

    I’ve always shared RoxySteve’s thinking: The spell could – or perhaps SHOULD – imbalance the world. Who would become a farmer if they could just become a cleric and get just as much food for “free”? You’d end up with a planet full of clerics. In fact, I brought this up WAAAAY back at the very start of my blog, in post #16.

    As Brassbaboon and others pointed out, you can fix this if you apply a few limits: You need exceptional WIS scores to cast the spell, and there might not be enough people in the world with scores that high.

    More importantly, you can limit it with the excuse that the gods didn’t give you these powers so you could take the day off, so they would deny the use of the spell if people started to abuse it this way.

    I dunno. No matter what, fanatasy worlds are really funny if you think about them too much.

  9. brassbaboon says:

    The whole point of the D&D gaming system is that player characters are by definition vastly superior to the average person. Wisdom scores of 18 among the general population would be almost unheard of. Let’s say that Clerics split into thirds in terms of alignment. 1/3 good, 1/3 evil and 1/3 neutral. The evil ones are almost certainly not going to perform altruistic tasks like creating food and water for a population. The neutral ones are going to consider that to be a violation of balance and work against it. So you really only have 1/3 left to support the whole human population, and again, that leaves the livestock out. It’s just absurd, even in a fantasy setting that is absurd by definition. People are simply too self-interested by nature, even “good” people, to agree to go through years of clerical training just to become a drive-through food and water producer.

    So even if they did, they would charge for it. And soon it would be clear to the local folks whose wisdom is below 12, but whose intelligence is above 3, that they can outcompete the clerics just by plowing a few fields and selling the result themselves.

    I put this whole thing in the category of “DM overthinking.” I’d love to hear Gary Gygax’s perspective on this. But the fundamental idea that people would learn to be clerics to cast create food and water for people, and therefore farmers would abandon their fields is simply not realistic, even by fictional fantasy standards.

  10. brassbaboon says:

    This is fun, in a way. Let’s forget clerics and create food and water for a minute and contemplate something like, oh, “sleep.” Let’s assume that in some dark distant past, the first sorcerer realized their power and “sleep” was one of the spells he manifested. Now sleep will affect up to 4HD of creatures, which is easily a couple of deer. Our friendly sorcerer can cast it three times per day. Even if 50% of the deer make their saving throws, which is unlikely, that means that sorcerer is going to put 3 deer to sleep every day, if he can find the deer. Deer aren’t that hard to find folks. Especially in a pre-civilized world. So now you have that first level sorcerer pulling in 20 or 30 deer per week. On days he can’t find deer, he can go after ducks, geese, rabbits, whatever. He’s going to put the hunters in the tribe right out of work.

    In fact, hunting itself will become a thing of the past, because who needs hunters when Mr. SleepyWizard is here? Just get some dogs and drive a bunch of deer through the forest where he is waiting. ZAP! Three times a day, fresh deer meat.

    In fact, it is clear that the “sleep” spell alone is so imbalancing, that all of civilization is unlikely to have arisen in the first place.

    Time to nerf “sleep” man. It’s too, too powerful, especially in the hands of an illiterate, caveman sorcerer.

  11. Zaghadka says:


    In my campaign world, all clerics must petition the four alignment gods for their spells. Each of the four alignment gods pass around spell favors like bargaining chips. Thus the only god who can grant “detect evil” is the god of “evil” (because he knows who’s naughty). Good generalist priests wind up having to pray to an evil god for that spell. Specialty priests who are good can’t even get the spell. If such a boon is used frivolously, the god of their alignment (good) gets “Mighty Pissed.”

    Lots of “Atonements” get cast in my campaigns, which all four gods can grant.

    What this generally means is that, unless the need is dire, the only good use for “Create Food and Water” is to throw a really wild party.

  12. brassbaboon says:


    I guess it’s fine that you want to create your own mythology and rules. Go ahead and do it. But that’s not D&D anymore, it’s something else.

  13. Shamus says:

    brassbaboon: That is pretty much why I run a low magic campaign. Wizards and other casters are about as common as celebrities in our world – it’s a big deal when one shows up. That help with the Sleep spell situation and any others that anyone comes up with.

    In which case an “exploit” becomes a “quest hook” to track down the nutter wizard who’s putting whatever group out of work. The sleep one you came up with sounds like it could be a laugh.

    I like this because it means the players really are remarkable people. They’re kind of superheroes.

  14. brassbaboon says:


    I’ve been playing role playing games way too long. I’m sort of like your Gimli-player in the campaign. I’m too old to be doing this stuff anymore, but I love it too much to quit.

    I remember when it first came out in fact, and the intention of the original designers was very clearly that player characters were, in fact, superheroes compared to the common folk. A single wizard would be rare in most towns. A big city might have a dozen wizards, but only one or two above level 10. A level 20 wizard would be a threat to the entire world.

    In the old days, and perhaps even today, a fairly mid-level fighter would attract significant retainers and build his own castle, effectively becoming landed gentry through the strength of his arms. Clearly there can’t be that many level 15 fighters in the world, or nobody could find room to build their castles.

    My most powerful characters are 12th through 14th level characters, and they are so powerful that I can’t really imagine playing a 25th level character. Thinking of a world overrun with epic-level wizards is just plain frightening.

    So my worlds are pretty magic-poor too, in that sense. But they are pretty poor in all player character regards. My NPC keep commander, for example, is a ninth level fighter, retired from adventuring many years ago. But he is a legend to the local town and his soldiers. The local temple priest is similarly 9th level or so. If you need more powerful clerics than that, you’ll have to take a fifty mile road trip to a bigger city.

    To me it’s more fun that way. I usually create a set of powerful NPCs specifically as foils for the PCs, and they almost always throw an endless supply of minions at the PCs first before the PCs ever actually meet their true enemies. But “powerful” usually means around 10th level. Once the characters get that high (and that usually means MONTHS of play time) the whole plot tends to move to the big cities and starts to involve the kingdom’s (and sometimes planet’s) real movers and shakers. A 10th level wizard is going to attract some serious attention in my worlds.

  15. Bahnmor says:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to spark a debate.
    @ Zaghadka: You’re right, it works best in a humourous campaign. I only try to implement or point out realism to my players when it is amusing. It was intended as a witty retort when one of my players created a magic item that cast Goodberry a couple of times a day and proclaimed it to be a ‘PEZ dispenser’ that would solve their food troubles. I couldn’t let that go without a little jibe of my own.

    On a different note, having a small supply of goodberries are a great way to stabilise bleeding party members if you can’t afford potions at lower character levels.

  16. chester says:

    the idea of the cleric spells ruining the economy or substituting farming is dealt with in the PHB where it clearly states that the player’s character begins above the average person. When you consider then that it will take above an average character to create massive quantities of food or sustenance, it becomes apparent that there are only perhaps a couple of handfuls of people in the game world capable of it.

    Next if you want to consider it in a more IC light. Casting spells in effect uses up favor with that cleric’s god. I highly doubt any clerics would go around squandering their god’s good will on something people could handle perfectly well on their own, unless the person was a v.i.p. as we can assume the group the cleric is with is or will be.

    I have heard the complaint before about how the spells and stuff would change the dynamics of the world, but the underlying rules assume a paucity of people who could actually do it to such a degree that “normal” economies (which is an absurd idea when you’re talking about a fantasy world anyway) would still be dominant.

  17. Shamus says:

    I think the point here is that the “higher” the level of magic in your game, the less sense it is going to make. (That may be just fine, if players don’t care TOO much about this sort of thing.) In those worlds where you’ve got wizards on every corner, extra planar travelers all over the place, and fantastic beasts surround every town, then it becomes more and more difficult to line that up with a realistic world. The more common magic users are, the more common magic is, and the more common magic is, the more it intrudes on “normal life”.

    This is fine, because players who love fantastic settings are probably more interested in exotic places and less interested in over-analyzing the world. Players who who are more focused on versimilitude are probably more comfortable in low-or mid-magic settings.

    (It’s still fun to try to poke holes in the world by thinking about it too much.)

  18. NightDaemon says:

    I have a few ideas on how the DM could convince them…ie, A giant unholy army to do their bidding, which will disappear after the fight and thus steal none of the loot. Of course, they’d probably demolish Sauron’s army, then loot Minas Tirith, and maybe hunt down the Elves for exp and loot… Actually, that sounds fun. GOAL!

  19. fair_n_hite_451 says:

    I think what causes most of the overanalysis of why fantasy economies “shouldn’t work” to fail is that they neglect the balancing component of plain human (or demi-human) greed.

    To take the Create Food & Water example. As has been pointed out, the math doesn’t work really well anyway, but an even greater threat to a horde of clerics handing out free food every day would be the horde of clerics who would actively oppose it.

    A Goddess of Suffering (for example) would definitely focus her priesthood’s efforts on counteracting a cleric-driven food kitchen system. Either through Destroy Food & Water, or more physical opposition to the plan which would force the “good” clerics to concentrate on other spells.

    The “Sleep Hunter” mage who’s out putting the hunters out of business is similarly going to find himself accidentally wearing an arrow shirt one trip (because he can’t be going out with a large party to protect him – or they’d make so much noise they’d never see a deer let alone get within spell range). Oops, he accidentally got shot in the back and with his low hit point total … trouble. He’d soon find safer or more rewarding pursuits to focus his energies on.

    • WJS says:

      I’m pretty sure the “Sleep Hunter” was intended as a satire. So he can bag a few deer each day? So what? A first level ranger can probably do the same or better. The point is that people who claim even a small amount of magic would destroy the economy obviously have no idea how economies work.

      A high level caster is going to be equivalent to a top doctor or lawyer, and his time is not going to be cheap, nor are his limited number of spell slots. Supply and demand, remember?

      Cracking open the rulebook and checking the price of a level 3 spell, it doesn’t matter what level cleric you use. Create Food & Water costs 10gp / person fed, and is specifically stated to create simple, bland food. The book price of a good quality meal is 5sp per day, in contrast, and 10gp / person would buy you a banquet.

      If you set aside the book, fine. The principle of supply and demand will still apply.

  20. brassbaboon says:

    To take this back to LOTR for a moment, it is clear that a little bit of magic goes a long way to disrupt an economy. Consider two simple yet instructive examples. Lothlorian could well be considered to be one of those “economies” that are supported by magic to the point that no elves need burden themselves with actually tending crops. We certainly don’t see any elves tending anything. Elvish cooks, it is strongly implied, simply pluck what they need from the local fauna, which is tended through Galadriel’s magic ring. Thus the elves have no need of menial labor of that sort. Hunting appears to be something the elves do for fun and to train for battle, so that is also not a menial activity. So in the case of Lothlorian, a single elven magic user manages to essentially provide for the entire city of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of elves.

    When Sam releases the dust from the box Galadriel gave him in the Shire, the crops in the Shire were so abundant, and so tasty, that for years afterward people remembered the abundance of that single year, the beer was especially memorable according to Tolkien.

    Also, upon hearing that Frodo and his companions had met with and joined Strider at the Prancing Pony, Gandalf is so pleased that he blesses Butterbur’s ale, and that blessing so improved the quality of the ale at the inn that it became a boon for old Butterbur who found himself waiting on much larger crowds.

    If the world truly were to be infused with magic the way it is in D&D, instead of most spells being adventuring spells such as magic missile and shield, instead the spells that most researching wizards and pious clerics would be working on would be spells to improve crops, reduce disease, make better roads, etc… That’s how things go in the real world. And most wizards would be trained not to go out and join up with parties of questionable reputation, but instead they would be working with construction companies, merchants or bankers. And once in comfortable jobs pulling in a decent wage, most wizards would probably max out at a level just high enough to maintain that pay scale, which would probably be somewhere around 7th level or so. Only a few would push themselves to further improve their skills.

    As fair-n-hite says, normal human and demi-human greed would kick in, but so would normal human and demi-human sloth, complacence and apathy.

    Eventually there would arise large multi-national mega-corporations that employed wizards for purposes potentially nefarious and you would have protesters in the streets demanding unilateral dispelling of all magical abilities…

    So taking too much of a “logical” approach to fantasy, magical worlds pretty much just takes the fun out of them.

  21. Zaghadka says:


    It’s still D&D. “Priests” still pray for spells and if they are generalists, they can get any spell they want that way. I just added a highly interfering pantheon to the world.

    I was joking about the Atonements; I required such things only for 5th level spell offenses or higher (you can cast your own Atonement).

    You need to think of them more as guidelines than as rules. D&D is whatever game you want it to be. You don’t determine what D&D is, and neither does Hasbro. They just publish a bunch of rules so we can have a common basis for gaming.

  22. Roxysteve says:

    brassbaboon Says:
    Steve, I am about as bad as any DM when it comes to verisimilitude. The cities in my campaigns are usually lit by continual flame spells at night, and the local government hires wizards and clerics for civil engineering type jobs. Spells like stone shape, move earth, etc. are great for quickly completing things like city walls, for example. So there is no doubt that the use of magic would change the economy of such a world pretty drastically. In fact it is easy to explain why such a world would stay medieval if you think about it, since there is very little need to push technology when you can use magic instead.

    Granted. But why would anyone think someone versed in magic would have any kind of artisan-like or engineering skills? I could (but won’t) make a good case that the very qualities that make a good magical type actually make for lousy grounding in practicalities. To put it another way: there’s more to making a storm sewer work than shaping stone or diging a hole.

    A perfect analogy in our own world is the guy who can make a comnputer sit up and beg, but can’t change a washer on a faucet if his life depended on it. “Point, click and ship” mentality leads to people who honestly have no idea that someone has to actually do other stuff behind the green curtain for it all to work.

    As for the math: I’l concede that under the 3.5 rules as they stand my original thesis is weak. But I was also assuming that if clerics can make food, they will figure out a better way to do it in time (rulebook term: magical research). In the world I suggested, there’s little else to occupy the mind for a magical type, after all. And there’s no need to be generous. If the population is to be fed centuries after magic has replaced agriculture, the priest hierachies will insist and priest will take the appropriate domains, to the extent that the others will become legendary and drop from the ken of man and like that.

    I disagree about the livestock. One scenario: The cities would be run by the priesthood who would strictly limit breeding rights according to their own political agendas. The people would obeyt because they would starve otherwise. remember, they don’t know that food can be sourced to anything else, let alone how to go about it. It’s been several tens of generations since anyone had a horse or a cow, or saw a plant as anything but decoration. Non magical food might even be declared heretical by such a priesthood.

    Look, I don’t care a jot for “realism” in a D&D world, but the major complaints I hear here and other places is that players cannot “get into the roleplaying vibe”, “don’t seem able to get beyond hack&slash(tm) combat” and “think it’s all about the loot”.

    Well, without some of the ordinary, boring, finnacky details, the same ones that dictate most of our real lives in the real world, there is precious little else to motivate a team to do anything. Where is the sympathy for some maid held in durance vile if your players never give a second thought to sleeping rough rather than in a nice bed in an inn? All they will want to know is how much loot is involved, and who can blame them if they never, ever have to make choices oither than wealth increasing ones?

    Two of the things that are in the rulebook but that I never see played:

    Sleeping in armour causes fatigue the next day. Getting in and out of armour is a noisy and clumsy business. If I were a bandit, the time I would attack is either after the tank has doffed his full plate or after he has slept in it for five nights in a row. I’ve never seen a DM ask about this at beddy-byes time.

    Encumberance. What a joke. DM’s complain mightily about the sheer amounts of garbage parties tote around, but “can’t be bothered with the paperwork” that would fix the problem.

    If I were interested in “realism” I would go for another easy target: Riding a horse. This isn’t something everyone would know how to do, even in an adventurer setting. Yet everyone always seems to know how to buy livestock (a very specialised skill I might add) and how to saddle and ride with no problem. Another “saving” in paperwork.

    I’m a serious in this as I can be, bearing in mind that I know it is all made up in the first place (I moderate a Call of Cthulhu group where we occasionally get the odd -with a capital od – guy who doesn’t know that, by the way). I’m not trolling. I just feel that if the magic (and other inconveniences of life) are glossed over by a DM, then he/she can hardly complain if the players do not stretch to fill a void that isn’t there.

    An idea for the sleep spell that avoids the need to “nerf”: Just make the sleep “not restfull”. In game terms: eight houres of sleep spell doesn’t give you any of the rewards of eight hours of rest. You’ll feel rested but still suffer fatigue penalties. Why? It’s not natural sleep.


  23. brassbaboon says:


    I respectfully disagree. If I can’t get all my needed spells from my personal deity, without going through your “highly interfering pantheon” then it’s not D&D anymore. It’s some sort of hybridized version with heavy reliance on house rules.

    Again, can you accept characters from standard D&D worlds, and if so, how do you explain this sudden limitation that has been placed on their gods?

  24. Roxysteve says:

    chester Says:
    the idea of the cleric spells ruining the economy or substituting farming is dealt with in the PHB where it clearly states that the player’s character begins above the average person. When you consider then that it will take above an average character to create massive quantities of food or sustenance, it becomes apparent that there are only perhaps a couple of handfuls of people in the game world capable of it.

    And yet every mid-leve party has at least one. I wonder what they do when they “retire”?

    The PHB is an interesting document. When people start using the rest of the rules in it I’ll be more interested in regarding it as a bible carved in stone.

    brassbaboon Says:

    So taking too much of a “logical” approach to fantasy, magical worlds pretty much just takes the fun out of them.

    For you. Not for me. A magical world that cannot hold water for a few crucial tests isn’t any fun to begin with in my opinion. I have no interest in forcing that opinion on you, of course. If there are no rules that can be relied upon, then you are just along for the ride with no way of participating in the story. The Harry Dresden novels, while entertaining, are prime examples of this. The rules can and do change on a whim and the villain gets destroyed star trek fashion by the spell/device/demon introduced three pages from the end of the book. Where can the reader participate in this? It is a TV-to-page style, all descriptive passages with little logical structure. Contrast this style with that used in Niven’s novellette”What Good Is A Glass Dagger?” where an astute reader can anticipate plot turns because the magic has to obey the rules all the time.


  25. Zaghadka says:


    Exactly. The way I currently regulate wizards in my campaign is with the backstory. To put it short: Wizards almost destroyed the world. They’re outlawed and form secret societies and are generally not tolerated in the main campaign areas of the world.

    Distrust goes a long way toward regulating arcane magic.

    I don’t run a “low magic” campaign, though. I just run a campaign where low level characters can only survive in a small area that is run like a police state by the priests.

    Once they get past level 7 or so, it’s possible to visit the wide world and go into the areas on the map marked: “Here there be monsters.” And (guess what?) the map is right.

  26. brassbaboon says:


    If you read my comment you’ll see that I say “too much of a logical approach” is what takes the fun out of it. What constitutes “too much” is clearly an individual taste thing. I think your approach comes dangerously close to railroading the players to conform to what you think makes logical sense, when others, themselves included, might have completely different ideas of what makes sense logically. When you start changing the rules to conform to your ideas of what is logical or not, then you are affecting game play, and that is risking reducing the fun of the experience. Especially when you say that characters can’t do what their class description says that they can do because of your own interpretation of what is “logical.”

    I would hazard to guess that most players would agree with me on this. If I can cast “create food and water” to feed my party, and you start making up new rules or limitations to nerf that ability, I’m going to start asking what wizard spells you are going to nerf to compensate for reducing the powers of my character.

    Your comparison to the Harry Dresden books is a complete non-sequitur as far as I’m concerned. How does having a cleric cast “create food and water” constitute some game-ending plot device added at the last minute to defeat the bad guy? How is this not obeying the rules? It IS the rule. It’s the spell description. You have just unilaterally decided that such a spell will disrupt the local economy and made a draconian decision on your own to nerf it. I and others have quite effectively challenged your logical conclusions on this and you remain adamant that you are right. I think your logic is flawed, your conclusion is wrong and your mandate to the players that they cannot play their characters as they are written in the rules is a classic example of a DM railroading a party.

    Just my opinion, of course.

  27. brassbaboon says:


    That’s a compelling backstory, and one that could explain such a serious departure from the rules of D&D. I think that could make for an interesting campaign to play in. But the question is if you have changed the rules enough to say that it’s not really D&D or not. I suppose that’s a gray area, but the reason I think it either is, or comes very close to being so, is because you are interfering with the fundamental mechanism whereby divine spellcasters receive their spells. That’s a major thing.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to fiddle with the rules and do stuff like you are doing here, I just make it clear when I do that it’s a different world than the standard D&D world and that different rules apply. Usually that means that characters have to be rolled and played in this world, unless there is some way to logically introduce some sort of inter-planar rift that moves “standard” players into this new universe. I did that once moving D&D characters into a Gamma World campaign.

    I don’t have a problem with doing it, but at some point when you manipulate the core rules so drastically, you’re not playing the same game anymore. Perhaps you aren’t there yet, but you’re close…

  28. Zaghadka says:

    can you accept characters from standard D&D worlds

    Of course! But they might have to accept limitations on their spellcasting for a some time, especially if they can’t contact the gods of their prime material sphere. Usually, I’ll just limit them to 3rd level or lower from their distant god (as per Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, IIRC), no questions asked, and they’ll have to forge new relationships with the more immediate pantheon if they want better.

    Conversion works too.

    Gods tend to play marbles with the spheres anyway! So my gods talk to their gods and its all good.

    Going somewhere else in the prime requires adjustment. I played a wizard/priest of Mystra in a “no-magic” setting once, and the DM let me have my all my low level spells work because Mystra is a goddess of magic. Of course, everytime I cast one I would generate a magnetic field (magic was magnetism in his world) which increased exponentially by the level of the spell.

    So, Protection from Normal Missiles didn’t work so well. He was a clever bastard! ;^)

    Ever played a Ravensloft or extra-planar game?

    But I think that’s where we differ. I consider D&D a rules set, not a setting. From my point of view, you’re confusing “WoC approved campaign setting” with “D&D.” The only thing that keeps a player out of my campaign is if they’re not willing to put up with me.

  29. Zaghadka says:

    Perhaps you aren’t there yet, but you’re close…

    Oh, perilously close. To be sure. ;^)

    I haven’t run my campaign in years anyway. I started playing this game in 1980, and what I’m discussing was designed to work with 2nd edition D&D.

    I’m not even sure I could make it work with 3rd ed and I probably won’t bother because I dislike 3rd edition anyhow. (I see it as a rules lawyer’s system. I think the “5-foot-step” is utterly silly.)

  30. brassbaboon says:


    With all due respect, I am considerind “Dungeons and Dragons” to be a trademarked set of rules that is owned and overseen by a corporation called “Hasbro.” House rules are always part of the game, but when the house rules get to a certain point, it is fair to ask if you are any longer playing the GAME that is owned and copyrighted by Hasbro. Much like playing Monopoly and creating a new type of rental calld “condominium” that is five times costlier than Hotels. You’re still on the same board, but you’re not playing “Monopoly” anymore.

    And that’s fine, I’m not challenging you doing that. In fact I like it when people exert their own imagination in the ways you describe, like I said, that could be a fun campaign to play in. I’ve created entire new gaming systems and run people through them, with entire new rules (interestingly one of those did use electromagnetism for “magic” and in fact it was “Protection from normal missiles” that first bit the dust because I couldn’t logically figure out how wood and stone objects could be deflected by a magnetic field… but I digress…)

    Steve’s example of create food and water being nerfed to make the food “bland” is not quite the same thing, but I suppose you could create a universe where the economy was being disrupted and have the gods agree to ‘blandify’ their magically created foods to deal with the problem, but that doesn’t make sense when they can just as easily simply refuse to provide the spells in the first place, thus ending the crisis in an instant.

    Zag, I really don’t want to get into an “argument” with you on this because I think it’s really semantic, and I think the milieu you’ve created sounds pretty interesting. I am totally fine with what you’ve done, as far as I understand it, I just think it’s going pretty far afield of the core game design, that’s all. And that can be a GOOD thing when it makes sense.

  31. Zaghadka says:


    No. There’s no argument here. Just an interesting discussion.

    I once visited a game where the native players took me to their spaceship and we looked up the monster on the “Internet.” I was looking for the logic probe, +5 so I could stab myself in the head.

    That wasn’t D&D. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

  32. Roxysteve says:

    [brassbaboon] If you re-read my post you won’t find the Dresden thing nearly as much a non-sequitur. It specifically addresses your comments on analysing fantasy, and has no connection other than the one your are drawing in your head with the question I originally posed concerning the disuation of players on the reliance on magic.

    I went on to indicate why I felt that the various reactions to that question were, in my opinion, fundamental in instilling a “loot obsession” in the venal little hearts of the players. If you don’t complain about this, you’re fine. If you do, I’m telling you that in my opinion you are shouldering the majority of the blame by trivialising everything non-goal oriented to an unspoken footnote.

    This idea has been rejected out of hand by anyone responding. It hasn’t been thoughtfully argued by anyone, which was rather where I was hoping it would go. Never mind.

    For my part, I don’t see any benefit to arguing that someone is or isn’t playing D&D because they’ve followed Gygax and Arneson’s own exhortation to take the game and make of it something new. I also have been playing these things since they were invented, and I’d venture to suggest I’ve tried a few most people have never heard of (Dragonquest, anyone?). If it has alignment and XP levels in it then it’s D&D (unless it uses percentiles for characteristics, in which case it’s ed 1 EPT), just like if it has no polydice, spaceships and mustering-out benefits it’s Traveller, whether or not you play in the Spinward Marches.

    Can it be said that the people who continue playing 3.5 “aren’t playing D&D” when the rumoured 4.0 edition emerges, simply because of a printing inconvenience and a transfer of copyright?


  33. Roxysteve says:

    [brassbaboon] (railroading).

    I don’t understand. If I build the world and run it, the laws of physics are what I’ve built them to be, not what a player thinks they should be. Finding that out can and should be part of the game. This isn’t railroading, it’s world building.

    The players don’t get to dictate how the world works. They can believe what they wish of course, just like thousands of credulous saucer loons do in real life, but just because someone truly believes that they can detect water with a bent wire coat hanger doesn’t mean a well should be sunk on their say-so.

    Players might sit and debate out of game the wisdom of this or that facet of the world, but in game they are indeed stuck with it.

    Lack of consistency is the only sin.


  34. brassbaboon says:

    From your definition there is no such thing as railroading. The DM’s rule is absolute and the players have no say and no recourse when there is a dispute.

    That’s simply not how I play. I try to go by the rules unless there is a specific, game-critical reason to modify them, a reason that is part of the actual campaign. I try not to modify the basic rules too much just based on my own feel for what “makes sense” for a lot of reasons. First and foremost is that I understand that players have invested time and trouble into their characters and they expect to be able to play them as they conceived and created them. Second and nearly as important is that I understand that the rules that Wizards of the Coast has created have undergone years of play testing and game balancing and they are likely more balanced than anything I can come up with in an afternoon of brainstorming how “create food and water” would impact the economy.

    My fundamental rule as a player is “the DM makes the rules.” So if I found myself in a campaign run by you and realized that my cleric’s “create food and water” spell had been nerfed for reasons I found not to be credible, I would not make a big deal out of it during the game. I would just play along. And if it turned out that was a minor deal in an otherwise fun campaign, then great. But if it turned out that this was an indication of a DM who habitually overrules the core rule books on whims that I disagreed with, I probably wouldn’t join any future campaigns.

    So, DM as you see fit. I will too. But as one DM to another, I feel your arbitrary decision to nerf this spell is not supportable upon critical examination and I recommend you drop such micro-management of the core rulebook and focus instead on things that allow the characters to USE their powers, instead of not using them. Just my two cents.

  35. Roxysteve says:

    [Brassbaboon] Recommend away.

    I feel you are too free with the “railroading” term, using it as a swiss-army insult to argue robotic compliance with whatever the current licensee of D&D chooses to print as the “official” rules.

    If I want to play a game where deviation from the published material is unthinkable and verbotten, I’ll play something by Games Wonkshop.

    Never change the rules from those printed? One of the sources of “D&D Ennui” is the ready access to canonical materials by the players. It has been so since the white box edition (I have a Dragon article from the 1970’s that complains about players simply looking up the answers to a troublesome monster in Book II). Altering, even slightly, the published stats of a monster can thwart that very nicely. Tough titty on a player that thinks my monsters are all from the book. I never said they were.

    But that is beside the point.

    I didn’t “nerf” anything, as you will see if you actually switch on your intellect before you re-read the original post. I did not alter the “create food” spell AT ALL. I simply thought about presenting it as a less desirable way of getting one’s three squares if a bit of game or a wayside inn was available. No rule was altered in any way, shape or form.

    It’s hard to take criticism along the lines of “you aren’t following the rules” when the critic can’t follow the jist of the post itself.


  36. brassbaboon says:


    “The best I’ve come up with is that clericfud is bland with a capital blah, and that red-blooded fighting heroes would never eat it when there are alternatives.”

    There is nothing in the Core rules that indicates food created by clerics is any less tasteful than any other food. You decreed that for the purpose of encouraging a certain behavior of your players. Furthermore you told them how to play their “red-blooded fighting heroes” by telling them that they would “never eat it when there are alternatives.”

    How you don’t see that as nerfing a spell and telling your players what to do is simply beyond me man.

  37. brassbaboon says:

    From the spell description:

    “The food that this spell creates is simple fare of your choice—highly nourishing, if rather bland.”

    “rather bland” and “Bland with a capital ‘blah'” are two different things. “Simple fare” to me means meat, potatoes and bread. In one of my campaigns if the players want to have their characters get tired of eating “simple fare, if rather bland” that’s their choice. I’m not going to tell them when they get tired of food. “Bland with a captial ‘blah'” means unseasoned rice, white bread and water.

    Still, this is an inane conversation really, I think the point has been made, if it is worth it. I sort of picked on your example because it was an example of a DM specifically modifying a very basic spell for the purpose of pushing a particular behavior on the players. Perhaps it’s a poor example, but it is an example nonetheless. My whole point is that you should be careful about making such mandates, that’s all.

    That’s why I went on to the “sleep” spell example as one where if you really think about it, could completely destroy an economy. The point was that virtually ANY magic spell as written in the DMs guide has that potential if you think about it, and picking and choosing which ones to nerf in order to encourage behavior is completely arbitrary.

    If your players aren’t doing what you want, there are almost certainly causes more fundamental to the issue than the way “Create Food and Water” works. That’s my point. When my players aren’t doing what I think they should be doing, my first thought is certainly not “how do I modify a spell so that they do what I want…”

    • WJS says:

      You think a simple medieval meal would include meat? I find that doubtful. Maybe a very small amount.

      More to the point, look up appetite fatigue sometime. You eat the same food every day for months, it screws you up in the head. Eventually you’d rather starve than keep eating the same stuff, and I’m talking literally here.

      I’m imagining a will save to put up with the same food every day, DC plus 2 per week. Fail, and your character just can’t stomach the food that day.

  38. Shamus says:

    brassbaboon: I will say that in my view it depends on how Roxy presents this. If he tells the players “you don’t like this food” then he’s intruding on player autonomy. If he’s presenting a cultural norm and allowing players to break it, then he’s not.

    For example, culturally it is often assumed that eating red meat is a “manly” thing to do, and eating vegan is… not as manly. I could create a character which is a big burly chest-thumping fellow, but who is a careful and fussy vegan. That’s actually an interesting little trait, and even better if I have some personal / backstory reason for this quirk.

    The DM is in charge of playing all the NPCs in the world, and if he decides that they all hate a given food, then that’s the way it is in this setting.

  39. Roxysteve says:

    [Brassbaboon] I repeat, I haven’t modified anything in the written description of the spell or its effects.

    The reason for thinking about this (which I assure you I’ve done for more than an afternoon) is that I see many of the “bad player” things people here complain about as deriving directly from such “sanding off of the details” as you apparently feel is appropriate. Why this drives you to be insulting (and you have been for most of this discussion) is beyond me since I will in all likelyhood never run a game in which you will be involved.

    I should add – since you and others seems to feel this is evidence of terrible behaviour on my part – that I’ve not only never had any complaints about my DMing style, no conferences have been called after the game to critique my reffing or any of the other emergency bad ref fixing things that I’ve read of here. On the contrary. I’ve had people asking me to run games for them on the strength of stuff we mothballed years ago and haven’t played since.

    Perhaps, Instead referring me to the rules (then finding them not quite as at-odds with what I said as you thought) you could actually think about the idea in the larger context for a bit. You won’t turn to stone.

    I actively discourage the players from bringing rulebooks to my Call of Cthulhu games, simply because I want them to immerse themselves in the play, not the rulebooks. Bringing a copy of Malleus Monstrorum (Call of Cthulhu Monster Manual equivalent) only means I’ll change stuff anyway, so I save them the cost and me the work by telling them “no”. I provide summaries of all the other player-needed rules and regs, the equivalent of a zero-cost CoC PHB, so no investment in ruilebooks is required. Other than a PHB (or bolt-on equivalent), I can’t see why a player should have any book at the table during a D&D game either.


  40. Roxysteve says:

    [Shamus] I would indeed (were I to actually implement this idea) be strongly persuasive with the players over the issue. I don’t believe that players should have total control over every single inner drive.

    It comes from DMinG Call of Cthulhu all those years I s’pose, in which involuntary drives and motives are occasionally forced on a player character. New players sometimes need strong guidance in these areas or the rules stop working the way they are supposed to. A person that finds shoes repulsive will not wear them to walk over a field of broken glass. The strongly (whateveritis)ophobic character must deal with it. They do not have a voluntary on/off switch they can throw when the burden becomes inconvenient.

    While the issue at hand isn’t perhaps as demanding on a player as the example I just quoted, I feel that putting every facet of a PC under voluntary control has many game-unbalancing downsides.

    The “Better provender” issue: Were a player to not “get it” and refuse to play accordingly (for example, by occasionally stopping on the road at a good inn simply because suddenly they ride around a corner, it is there and he or she hasn’t eaten at a table in weeks) then I might very well ask for saves of some kind. Real people, especially heroes with cash to spend, don’t volutarily turn away from living the occasional facet of the good life simply because they can. There are times you just have to have [insert your favourite pleasure-fix food] and so should the PCs.

    I like my players to make their characters three dimensional if they can. If they genuinely can’t, I don’t penalise them. If they won’t, that’s a different matter. I put a lot of effort and time into crafting a six to eight hour session that everyone will enjoy. I expect the players to stretch a little and meet me partway.

    Perhaps I wouldn’t feel so strongly over this had I not just finished playing in a D&D campaign where the other players whined and b*tched when my character wouldn’t sleep on a cave floor if there was a comfy bed nearby and wanted a bath and some pleasant company between adventures. We even had a Bard in the party for Azathoth’s sake, and even he gave me hell for going to an inn instead of sleeping in a ditch. A Bard. Call that role playing? ‘cos I don’t. Total slavish rule-bound two-dimensionality is what I called it and still do. Worse: it was a total failing of imagination on the part of the players. But boy, could they argue about the rules (at least the ones they cared about). At least thirty minutes minimum lost every session while two or three out of the six argued over open copies the DMG or the PHB. Good times. Not. :o)

    The players may or may not like this or that food, but they shouldn’t have concious control over those things if they matter to the plot. I dislike Italian food, intensely enough to make me heave. For business and social purposes, this being New York, I would prefer to be able to eat it with a smile, but I can’t.

    Magical food is, of course, palatable to all-comers, which is why it needs to be bland. (see, I do think these things out). :o)

    In point of fact, this daft knee-jerking over a fairly inoccuous idea is precisely why I will no longer run D&D games. I can run any other game system with no qualms, but stick the name D&D into the arena and suddenly people lose all perspective.

    The same thing happens regularly with a formerly enjoyable tabletop game I can no longer stomach – Wonkhammer 401k. Two national tournaments was enough to persuade me the game wasn’t worth having to put up with the players.

    And the idea that one can’t alter some facet of the rules without it becoming !D&D is completely off the wall from where I sit, and not worth the work to accomodate.


  41. Roxysteve says:

    Blimey, those were a bit long. Sorry, lads.

  42. brassbaboon says:

    Gee Steve, you’re getting downright brassbaboonish in the length of your posts.

    You know, I do think you are right that I’ve been rude in this. I apologize, I would cite extenuating circumstances, but the truth is that I can just be a jerk sometimes. Sorry you bore the brunt of it.

    Perhaps I should be learning from you instead of lecturing you.

  43. Zaghadka says:


    If you are the DM in my game, I think you are well within your rights to have “Create food and water” create McDonald’s “Happy Meals” if you like. Just so long as it’s food and water.

    BTW, you should check out “Girl Genius” ( You may recognize the artist.

  44. Roxysteve says:

    [Brassbaboon] Well, I’ve been on edge lately too. Let’s agree to disagree on whatever it was when we started it.


  45. Lindberg says:

    I would never roleplay with you or the players from this commic, funny as hell, but I don’t think rpgs is about GM vs the players, as this is:

    “Make your character’s personality vague enough and you can justfy any sort of annoying behavior as “roleplaying”. This is your secret weapon, for it is one which the DM can never take away. Use it as often as possible to wrest the plot from his misguided grasp. When the DM asks you to tone down the roleplaying, you’re doing it right. He may not have a SAN score, but see if you can take a few points off of him anyway.”

  46. sybill says:

    “…the plot from his misguided grasp. When the DM asks you to tone down the roleplaying, you’re doing it right. He may not have a SAN score, but see if you can take a few points off of him anyway.”

    Whats all this “he” business. Not all DM/GM’s are he’s.
    I am not a “he” and I dm’d quite a few games.

  47. Morfedel says:

    “Whats all this “he” business. Not all DM/GM’s are he’s.
    I am not a “he” and I dm’d quite a few games.”

    You know, you need to go read the rules of the english language. The rule basically goes, if you are speaking generically, you assume the masculine. You may dislike it, but its a fact of the rules of the english language.

    My wife is an english teacher too, btw. But you think that is sexist for a language, remember this… these rules were established hundreds of years ago. And the french language is a lot more sexist than english.

    Additionally, recall that regardless, men far outnumber women in this hobby, though that is changing over time.

    And finally: for the love of god, stop being so sensitive! It wasn’t meant as an insult, so don’t take it as one! We aren’t looking to be politically correct, but what do you want us to do, start replacing all gender references to (s)he, or to it perhaps?

    Good lord, political correctness sucks.

  48. “You know, you need to go read the rules of the english language. The rule basically goes, if you are speaking generically, you assume the masculine. You may dislike it, but its a fact of the rules of the english language.”

    People ARE working on that one.

  49. Robin says:

    “Are you really playing D&D?”

    Back in the early eighties, Gygax published an editorial in which he simultaneously maintained that (a) if you’re playing a role-playing game then you are “really” playing his D&D because he invented RPGs (note: Arneson invented RPGs), and that (b) if you change any rules you aren’t “really” playing D&D.

    This was a perfect example of the ridiculous inconsistency in Gygax’s writing, and I canceled my Dragon subscription.

    Also, for several years, TSR maintained that AD&D was a separate game from D&D (so they could cheat Arneson out of his royalties).

    It follows, of course, that if you’re playing any game except the three books in the white box, with maybe the Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry supplements, that you’re not “really” playing D&D. (In fact, I’m starting a campaign of that game this week.)

  50. Robin says:

    One of the problems with D&D is that, since the characters talk to both kings and serfs, people tend to forget the real differences in rank and power.

    Consider two neighboring barons.

    Baron W: “I’m going to make all those dirty people on the outskirts my serfs, and force them grow food for my barony. They have no weapons or armor, and learned how to make food by living on the land farming all their lives. They have farming tools and nothing else.”

    Baron X: “I’m going to make those people in the temple my serfs, and force them to make food for my barony. They have maces and morning-stars and plate armor and shields, and learned how to make food by braving the wilderness and the underworld, slaying high-level monsters, and finding treasure. They have magic items, hirelings, and enough money to hire an army.”

    I suspect that Baron X will soon be an ex-baron, and that baron W’s next conversation will be with his new neighbor, Patriarch Y.

    Powerful beings are not going to do your grunt work, any more than I can hire an arch-bishop, mayor or business executive to mow my lawn.

  51. caradoc says:

    Why bother creating food when you can buy a chicken for a copper piece? (I once spent my starting gold on chickens and got 7500 of them.)

  52. silver Harloe says:

    I think ‘create food’ doesn’t need to be nerfed because it’s a problem that fixes itself: “Cleric! I need a heal!” “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that. I used all those slots for these Food spells.”

    On the other hand: about the food being bland: a character with a Vow of Poverty or even just an “ascetic lifestyle” quirk might prefer that. Also might shun inns as too comfortable/expensive/flamboyant.

    So, I guess “Forgotten Realms,” “Krin” (Dragon Lance), and the “Dark Sun” D&D supplements all fail to be D&D because they all modify class and race choices, spell availability, and other rules. Or is just that these GMs can’t make a world where ‘create food’ creates crapburgers (or have the interesting pantheon with the gods all different from post 75) because only Officially Published GMs get to change the rules to fit their world?

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  54. Nami says:

    If by good-ish you mean: will kill anyone you point him at (and plenty you don’t) then yea, you got Legolas in one.
    It reminds me of a line from 8-bit theater:

    Garland: “And what kind of tactics do you tend to employ?”
    Fighter: “Oh, we usually murder our way to the top and claim victory whilst astride a pile of mangled bodies.”
    Garland: “I see…”
    Fighter: “But we’re heroes so it’s okay when we do that.”

    ^ What Legolas wants to be

  55. Nacata says:

    Yeah, especially if the personality is described as annoying!

  56. me says:

    but the dead aren’t evil.

    dead factions on the other hand almost always are because of the sort of magic it takes to make them. they’re generally litches and zombies and wraiths.

    this particular one is more of the extreme lawful “can’t rest until we fulfill our oath” so the dwarf should be cool with that.
    although the magic aragorn’s ancestor used to trap them in that state is obviously fairly evil and they’re bound to his will to do as he commands like a necromancer’s standard skeleton zombie, its almost worse that they’re still technically free willed just can’t do anything about it

    if anything gimli calling them to fulfill that oath and save the world to earn their freedom and allow them to finally rest should be lawful good right?

  57. Chessmaster says:

    In my first campaign we had a paladin who was so hardcore lawful good that he would interfere any time we tried to do anything. At first, it was understandable, like he’d threaten to beat up our two thieves if they tried to steal loot or not tell anyone they found it in the first place.

    Eventually though, it got so ridiculous that even the cleric was annoyed by him and we started saying he was lawful buzzkill.

  58. Sharnuo says:

    My favorite part of this comic is imagining them saying all these quotes in the Peter Jackson film voices. Hearing Viggo Mortenson (No I am not going to look that up, deal with it) in my head saying all this ridiculous stuff is just classic.

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