DM of the Rings XV:
Riddle me This

By Shamus Posted Monday Oct 9, 2006

Filed under: DM of the Rings 58 comments

Lord of the Rings, Moria, Mellon, Magic Door, Battering Ram, Riddle.

No matter how difficult or absurd you make a puzzle, your players will find an even more impossible and preposterous way of solving it.


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58 thoughts on “DM of the Rings XV:
Riddle me This

  1. HC says:

    The unadulterated truth, that is.

  2. -Chipper says:

    I hope you aren’t getting tired of writing those. I’m certainly not tired of reading them!

  3. Irishspongie says:

    Oh, I’m -so- guilty of having done this as a player, too… :D

  4. Greg says:

    Must be a group of engineers. Riddle? Bah! Get a lever and a place to stand, and here we go. Keep up the good work!

    1. (The Texan) Fat Tony says:

      Buildin’ a Sentreh!

  5. Don says:

    Are you sure they’re hobbits and not gnomes?

  6. Raven says:

    Are you sure you dont mean Tinker Gnomes?

    Of course with the wanting for looting I would think Kender would fit better!!

    Good work on the comics!

    1. ComicallyMacabre says:

      I realize how old this comment is, but I absolutely love the DragonLance reference. ; w;

    2. JET73L says:

      Kender don’t steal! They just pick up unconsidered trifles that might happen to be in their teammates’ knapsacks, in small boxes or bindings with locks and the occasional ward on it. And “Do not touch! Millicent, this means YOU!” written on the front. It’s a perfectly legitimate hobby. Not like the filthy, unshod hobbitses.


  7. Nupanick says:

    are you kidding? These were my favorite part of the game before I ran out of people to play with and discovered I had no idea how battle works.

  8. Antiquated Tory says:

    Spot on.

  9. Milton says:

    No matter how many options the GM plans for, the players will invariably come up with the one he didn’t think of.

    1. StarSword says:

      One time we had a group of zombies coming up a flight of stairs. Our warlock/wizard proceeded to pour oil down the stairs and set the staircase on fire.

      And the stairs were made of wood.

      Long story short, three of the zombies got through, the rest were flattened when the staircase collapsed. We got down to the next floor by rope.

  10. Bobniborg says:

    Ah, the NPC bails out the PCs on a riddle… sometimes the easiest riddle ruins the best laid plans.

  11. hayball says:

    This is the truth in many sessions I’ve ran. I make a hard puzzle the group fails to solve it. I make an easy puzzle the group disregards all easy solutions because “It can’t be that easy”.

  12. Pauwel says:

    It missed the part about the player wanting to roll dice to see if their character can come up with the solution.

  13. Nicki-Joe says:

    Been there, done that.

  14. Jeffrey says:


    Every new GM needs to read this strip just so they know what they are getting themselves into.

  15. Kay Shapero says:

    Ah yes, as Wayne Shaw once commented, a party given the way to go right or left, forward or back, will dig straight down… this is SO true!

  16. Otto says:

    You are the most awesome person ever and I want to marry you and have your babies.

    . . . also, despite the name, I am a girl and so that was not quite as creepy as it may have sounded.

  17. Randallw says:

    I made a puzzle once and the group just basically said “We can’t do puzzles, can’t we just, you know, say we worked on it till we figured it out”.

  18. AMRAAM says:

    PCs always come up with different idea for a puzzle or situation than the DM has though of, even if the DM has prepared 20 something differnet solutions. I always thought that a DM running two different groups could just use the ideas of one against the other, and would never need to come up with anything on their own, other than the first situation to start the first group off with.

  19. Daniel says:

    This reminded me of every single dnd game I’ve ever been involved in, I actually cried a bit I was laughing so hard. Awesome comic.

  20. Viktor says:

    One session ended with us at the end of a hallway, a door to our right and a courtyard ahead of us. The DM planned to have us rescue a new PC from inside the locked room the next session, but the guy didn’t show up. So the DM says, you walk into the courtyard. We reply, wait a minute, there was a door here. Over an hour later, he says, YOU WALK INTO THE COURTYARD, NOW DO IT!!!

  21. Efe says:

    ”No matter how difficult or absurd you make a puzzle, your players will find an even more impossible and preposterous way of solving it.” :-) Like saying mellon to doors which won’t open immediately. And if that doesn’t work, say things to the door until the door starts to look funny at you. Having a philosopher instead of an engineer definitely can be funny.

  22. Rehd says:

    Haha this perfectly describes our party, our DM keeps using storyline type excuses for us not to be able to do things. Eg. corridor full of traps and we have to work out the way through by making knowlege checks to read the magic markings on the floor to disarm the traps… we go out of the dungeon and come back with a tree trunk split down the middle and run through the traps like maniancs :) while the log is obliterated (:S would that classify as metagame?)

    Fantastic webcomic btw.

  23. JD says:

    This happens to everyone, in any campaign.

  24. Balorn says:

    Some years ago I was playing in a campaign that had a series of rooms with puzzles. We could go freely between them, as each held part of the solution for getting past the last door. Each incorrect guess at a puzzle made a wraith appear (we were around levels 4-6 at the time).

    One room had a chest with a bunch of keys hanging from the ceiling. As the GM later told us, we were supposed to just move the chest, as instructions to find the correct key were written on the floor beneath it.

    The entry to the dungeon in the side of an ocean cliff and could only be accessed at low tide. At one point they talked my character into going and checking the tide… as it turns out, because they knew I wouldn’t have let them use their “solution” for the puzzle.

    They cast Knock on the chest, forcing it open.

    The GM blinked, sighed, and tried to figure out how many wraith-spawning traps would have been set up for failed attempts, because they all went off at once.

  25. cheesebunny says:


  26. Crowbar says:

    I had a moment like this while running my last Shadowrun session. Anyone played the On The Run campaign? There’s a set piece in which the team have to infiltrate a rock concert. A couple of the characters bribed their way in, and then noticed that the passage backstage was blocked by a couple of guards.

    The fuckers proceeded to take a metric eternity to formulate an intricate plan to get past these guards, involving vampire abilities, flash packs, numerous forms of distraction and invisibility spells. All this to get past a few guards and a curtain.

    Halfway through their finalizing of the plan, I informed them that their NPC ally had made a couple of Charisma tests to flirt her way the guards. Mission fucking accomplished.

    1. Tachi says:

      When I played that crappily written railroading Run; we came in from the skylight, shimmied along the rafters, and rappeled in backstage. Then those trog guards were lured inside where they ended up dead, hanging from their heels, painted purple, and wearing plastic elf ears … But hey, that’s just us, and we were trying to start a gang war between the Ancients and one of the trog gangs in addition to the Run.

      BTW, this is my fourth read through the DM of the Rings. Love it, again.

  27. Phantom Dennis says:

    For those who haven’t read “Fellowship of the Ring”, the key here is “Mellon” is actually Elvish for “friend”. It actually takes awhile for Gandalf to figure it out. So this is truer to the book than most of the incidents. Still your band of players seems more likely to know Klingon than Elvish, so were they supposed to figure this one out.

  28. ERROR says:

    Best one yet.

  29. Michael says:

    I just imagine someone trying to go through Tomb of Horrors with unorthodox approaches to traps …

  30. Trick says:

    Wow. I don’t DM myself, but this reminds me of one campaign I was in – my first, actually.

    We had just made our way through the first level of a dungeon, fought past a gazillion monsters… and found ourselves facing a needle trap on a door. We’ve got a druid called Harry, a warmage called Malfoy, and a sorceress (me) called Hermione in the party. (We had a ninja for a day at one point, called Ron. ‘Course, none of these were our real or character names, but… well, our DM’s were Voldemort and Dumbledore. Who were best friends. Anyway.)
    So the druid… has a greataxe. Which he is obsessed with. And… he decides to disarm the needle trap with his greataxe. Result? Failed check, tumbles THROUGH the door. We all just follow him.
    DM: The door swings shut behind you!
    Us: …?
    DM: Oh. Right. Erm… The door TRIES to swing shut behind you, resulting in the hinges going eert, eert

    That campaign has to have been the funniest I’ve ever been in… Never been in one like it since.

  31. Spit Fyre says:

    I remember the password to Moria was the elven word for friend.

  32. Vaxjo says:

    For what it’s worth, Frodo eventually asks Gandalf what the Elvish word for “friend” is. Gandalf easily recalls that the word is “maru” (not “mellon” – I don’t know where you got that from) and the door opens.

    1. StarSword says:

      It was “mellon” in the movie. And as I recall, it was “mellon” in the book, too.

  33. Math says:

    Well I may be late off the mark but I just gotta say you totally crack me up mellon

  34. Leyomi the Parodier says:

    I can so relate……

  35. Lucian says:

    I don’t know where Vaxjo got ‘maru’ from – possibly the films?- but the word is definitly ‘mellon’ in the book.

    These are briliant!

  36. Will says:

    “Look, guys, just TRY to solve the riddle, its not that hard.”

    PCs: “NEVER!”

  37. Grindstone says:

    Reminds me of an “All Flesh Must Be Eaten” game where we were a SWAT team that had to resque the presidents daughter or some such. Anyway, boss zombie comes round and we ended up booby-trapping a stair case with a claymore and 4lbs of C4. Blew it up while we ran in the opposite direction and got the hell outta dodge. Hehe

  38. Bob says:

    I’ve looked at a screen capture of the gates in the movie, and the word is definitely “mellon” (pronounced mel-LAWN). Even if you can’t read the tengwar script, the inscription is in “full writing” mode so it’s pretty obvious that the word has six letters rather than four.

    Of all the instances in the book/movie, this particular bit is probably the closest to what happens at a normal D&D session: Gandalf reads this whole involved inscription on the doors about whose doors they are, and who made them, and who drew the inscription, and of course the “Speak, friend, and enter” bit to which Sam says, basically: “Huh. Cool. So what’s all that mean then?” It’s eventually the Big G who winds up coming up with the answer, so all told this was pretty faithful to the source.

  39. Veneficus says:

    OK, now this one really is no-shit from one of my campaigns, back in about 1993 when the only LOTR movie was the Ralph Bakshi one. I used the same gimmick where I had a riddle derived straight from this scene and the party COULD. NOT. GET IT. Instead of “speak friend” it was “a word of caution.” And when I came up with it, I thought, “this is so easy it’s pathetic.” Then I found out nobody in the party had ever read LOTR.

    1. StarSword says:

      Moral of the story, if you’re playing D&D, you need to read fantasy literature.

  40. Nekropancser says:

    Well… if storytelling is on the table, then let me tell you one of my earlier sessions. My only player was my sister, with her blacksmith character. He walked a labyrinth to save his wife, and at the end of a corridor, he found a small place, a kind of mini-chamber, following an arched passage. My sister realized fast, that holes were cut into the arch, so she suspected a trap, but curious about the chamber, she kept asking things. I only could say to her, that she hears poufing sounds in the distance, everytime Norg puts his axes through the archway, but couldn’t find out what happens. After my story ended, and Norg fought his way through numerous REAL traps and some riddles, fought undead to reach his destination, could I tell her: it was a teleportational chamber to the upper levels, Norg was heading to, and the holes were part of the sensormechanisms… like an infraray.
    The other story is shorter, since I don’t remember clearly, but we had our ‘party-geek’ as a DM, and he showed us a riddle, upon which, our characters life depended upon. After we spent nearly an hour or more, trying to find out, then abandoned the whole game, he told us, how could we solve it. Then he started explaining. A lot. And we still couldn’t understand. No one in our vicinity could. Nor his girlfriend. Or my father. It seems, that he was right, and the riddle was ‘a piece of cake’ and we all were just stupid to comprehend its workings.
    A lot depends on who is making the riddles…

  41. Nekropancser says:

    Oh… and one more thing, a little off topic:
    Ban XP from the game, twitch the rules a bit, and you’ll enjoy a more realistic D’n’D. (My gamers fight only, when it is necessary, they think more with their characters heads…) Thus the story improves.

  42. MrGBH says:

    I think every GM has encountered this problem before. So here’s my own anecdote to add.
    I had the party be lead to a door by a captured Goblin. At no point had the party done anything to ensure he was leading them in the right direction (He wasn’t). Once at the door he told them to open it and walk through.
    They killed him and sent the person with the second lowest AC and HP through first.
    After barely surviving the massive pendulum blade they sat around and discussed the trap. Noticing statues nearby they inspected them, but rolled badly and didn’t find anything (The one with the highest search didn’t even bother searching) so they smashed it, revealing a mechanism.
    After nearly an hour I practically had to shout at them to try jamming the mechanism. They had tried a rather impressive variety of ways to smash it, but hadn’t thought of jamming it. At no point did they even consider going another way around.
    The mechanism? An “On/Off” switch.

  43. Kyman201 says:

    This may never been seen, and it’s unlikely people will comment on it, but whatever.

    I was running a Scion game, so my party of Godspawn is running around and trying to avert (Or minimize) Ragnarok. While this is going on, they have to reach an oil rig in the North Seas, but given that there’s a war going on, this is tricky.

    Then one of my players mentions that since he’s a special agent for the Norwegian Government (Which I had OK’d) he’d call up a buddy and get access to a sub, rather than getting a rickity old boat or something. Whatever, I still had an ocean encounter planned.

    So they’re in this sub, and then sonar picks up something rushing towards them. I figured I’d toss a 200 foot Kraken at them, see how they liked a squid.

    The Special Agent used his magical Illusion powers to do two things. First, he hid the sub, and then made an image of the sub about fifty yards ahead of them. The illusion was in fact fully tactile and encompassed all the senses, so the kraken started wrestling with the fake sub.

    Cue the party telling the NPC sub operators to fire torpedoes. Which did JUST enough damage to kill the squid. Normally DMs are supposed to be annoyed when threats are circumvented, but I actually gave them bonus XP for creativity.

  44. Daniel B says:

    “Still your band of players seems more likely to know Klingon than Elvish, so were they supposed to figure this one out”

    I think if they had said “ah, maybe we just say the word friend” then the GM would have gladly given it to them.

  45. Lord Fancypants says:

    I remember this. My party once spent an hour calculating the ballistics to fire a flaming arrow over a mile so that we could clear the very flammable-looking dungeon without giving the DM the satisfaction of validating any of his efforts. Good times.

  46. Bitz says:

    Or you come up with what seems to be an impossible riddle, and the players immediate answer is so absurdly, perfectly ridiculous that you would feel remiss to not let them in on their sheer audacity.

  47. Technetium says:

    This reminds me of a recent D&D session in which our group was trying to open a locked door. Rogue tries and fails to pick the lock, Fighter axes the door and gets shot through a crack in it, and Ranger (INT 8) yells, “BRREEEEAAAAKKKKK!!!! …I saw that in a play once.”

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