DM of the Rings Remaster XXXVI: Hates the Dice! Hates Them Forever!

By Bay Posted Sunday Sep 10, 2023

Filed under: DM of the Rings Remaster 12 comments

The most terrifying part of any campaign is when the players at last wiggle free of your grasp and escape the railroad plot you’ve devised.

This marks the first time our hapless group has broken from the plot as set down by Tolkien himself. What does this mean? Is the whole thing going off the rails now? Has our hapless DM finally lost control? Will he cheat in order to stick to his predetermined script?

Beats me.

–  Shamus, Friday Dec 1, 2006

Can’t lose the plot if you never planned one in the first place. One of my players, months after a campaign ended, found my ‘DM notes’ binder in a stack of books I had. I referenced it constantly when we played. ‘Give me a minute to find that graph.” “Hold on, I have a roll table for that.” “Roll and see what you get from the box.” “Let me check my notes.”

The book was empty except for the occasional number or single-word, such as ‘boat’ or ‘magic coin’ or the name of an NPC with no other info. The player who found it was my brother, I will never get over his mixture of bafflement and rage.

“I will never get over discovering the fantastical adventure full of twists, turns, and wonderful memorable characters we were on was pulled directly out of my beloved sibling’s rear end. – Peter’s note


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12 thoughts on “DM of the Rings Remaster XXXVI: Hates the Dice! Hates Them Forever!

  1. RFS-81 says:

    With this character’s death, the thread of prophecy is severed.

  2. JR says:

    Seat-of-the-pants DM-ing. I’ve always found it difficult, and frequently impossible. I’m wary of those who choose to do it, but I take my hat off to those who can do it well.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I think there’s a middle way to be found…intstead of a story, make a load of NPCs with goals, and come up with short-term plans.

      *The druids want to cure the disease that’s infecting the trees, but they don’t yet know what’s causing it. They’ll eventually figure out that it’s the dwarves’ new mining runoff, but by then the disease will be impossible to counter without destroying swathes of the forest to stop it spreading.*
      *Meanwhile, the dwarves will continue with the mining, unaware that their clan leader has turned to Abbathor. He knows about the runoff and doesn’t care. If no-one exposes him – the dwarves currently WOULD take issue with this – he’ll start spreading the faith and his clan will get more and more selfish…*

      Betweens sessions you can just just think about how each faction reacts the the party’s actions. Ideally, the players will care/do enough to solve the problem…
      …or they might just leave, and a bit later there’ll hear about a war going on between dwarves and druids back where they came from. Who knows how that happened?

      It’s the way I run my game, anyway. Kind of seat-of-the-pants, but also not really.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Absolutely this and this works on almost literally every scale. To be clear, there may be situations when you get stumped with the immediate adventure because the players rolled particularly well or poorly, or approached their current problem in a way you didn’t think about. But as long as your world is consistent and you can think in terms of character motivations and reactions even if players decide to go perpendicular to what you intended you can probably improvise or at the very least overall campaign derailment shouldn’t happen.

        This applies to players and their characters as well, unless you have trolls or utterly lol-random players, which personally I advise against playing with, in a consistent world their characters will also be consistent. Yes, they may interpret a situation differently than you wanted them to, and yes you may have different interpretations of specifics of a character even if you get the overall broad strokes but knowing character motivations, backstories and personalities both as they were set up and as they developed during gameplay. Heck, even in DMotR players and characters remain largely consistent (even if mostly in their faults), like, in the boat scene two strips ago the argument “would you rather give us the boats or kill us and deal with the ring yourself” argument could totally be made in character leaning in towards the elven king after which he loudly proclaims that he’s granting the party the boats like he does in the strip.

  3. LizTheWhiz says:

    This was actually the first DM of the Rings I ever read.

  4. evileeyore says:

    I have a Player in my group who reigns in his… less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards my seat-of-the-pants flying, mostly because a) I’ve never hid it from them, and b) according to them I run a good consistent game.

    I think that second part is important, my Players generally feel like everything was pre-planned, like my NPCs have plans (they do, you know what I mean) and they follow those plans, and when they juke to adjust to the PCs out-of-left-field shenanigans, the juke looks like it was a hasty adjustment. No Thrawn/Zanatos nonsense of “I knew you would do that and am twelve steps ahead” which I’m told plagues so many other seat-of-the-pants GMing. No Quantum Ogres, no Zanatos Speedchess Gambits. The world feels “realized” and the PCs feel like they can make impacts that cause ripples.

    I am sometimes a few steps ahead, and what my Players don’t often see is where I reduce that, or switch tracks with the NPCs so they don’t come across as “all knowing” (unless they are deities who encompass omniscience as a trait).

  5. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I once had my players investigating an entire underground city. One of them decided to avoid the main gate like the plague, they used rope and magic to scale the wall next to it and find a window. She teased me about the terrible traps they surely avoided and I congratulated her while moving on to the next encounter I had planned from the start. There was nothing special about that door but if she wanted to own the GM I wasn’t raining on that parade.

    1. MrGuy says:

      Wait. It’s an underground city, with a wall, with windows in it?

      When I think underground city, I’m imagining something like Dwarf Fortress. Or Kazad-dum. Something carved out of a mountain. I can imagine there being an entrance, and maybe it’s a gate. But a wall doesn’t make sense to me.

      Unless the entire city is a normal-ish city, but it’s sitting in some kind of massive underground cavern? A city-sized cavern. One that can accommodate a city wall that’s apparently high enough to require magic to scale, but doesn’t reach all the way up (because then it’s not a wall, it’s just, y’know, solid rock?)

      And the city in this cavern is big enough to build a wall around, but so small relative to the cavern as a whole that it makes more sense to put a wall in mid-cavern instead of just sealing up the (presumably) relatively small number of entrances to the cavern instead?

      Also, the city wall has a window in it? Seems insecure, for precisely this reason. Sure some medieval walls had arrow loops and such, but they were designed to not be big enough for someone to fit through.

      I have clearly overthought your underground city.

      1. Syal says:

        If it doesn’t have walls or windows it’s not a city, it’s a hive. Or possibly a lair.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        First time in the Underdark I see?

  6. MrGuy says:

    I liken this to the debate over the AI Director in Left 4 Dead. Valve did something revolutionary with it, and drew the curtain from in front of the wizard and did it openly.

    Some players hated the idea that the world wasn’t “objective” and would get harder if you got better. It felt like the game was “cheating” somehow.

    On the other hand, the director system made the game “fair” in a lot of other ways. The game would always be challenging but not unreasonably difficult. You were never completely safe, but also never unfairly overmatched. Unlike the stupid hack of “level scaling” the enemies didn’t get individually harder – they were just in larger groups, more organized, or had higher level foes. Your “reward” for being skilled was more interesting fights with more challenging fights that felt really good to win.

    I think the thing that gets lost in the bebate about whether this is “fair” is the more important question “is this fun to play?” And many people (me included) would tell you L4D is VERY fun to play. The tension is always high. It feels good to win a fight. When you lose you usually can reasonably attribute it to something the team did wrong, not the game being unfair.

    And if it’s fun, who cares? If the world never FEELS fake, then it truly doesn’t matter what’s in the notebook.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      RimWorld does a similar thing with it’s AI “storytellers”, which cause random events to happen based on how things are going and how well you’re doing. (Except for Randy Random, who’s just…well, random.) Since it’s moddable people have come out with various other storytellers, allowing people to pick how they want to play. Which I think is a good way to do it, personally. Sometimes it’s fun (and makes a great) story to have “and then three catastrophes happened AT THE SAME TIME and wiped out my colony”, sometimes you want them spaced out with a reasonable interval between to recover and rebuild.

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