DM of the Rings XVI:

By Shamus
on Oct 11, 2006
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Lord of the Rings, Grapple rolls, Tentacle monster.

Welcome to this special edition of DM of the Rings with special behind-the-scenes director’s commentary…

An alternate joke I wanted to use here was that the other players were not afraid of the monster per se, but afraid of getting involved in a battle which would require knowledge of the grapple system as well as the byzantine system of attacks of opportunity, and they were terrified of trying to wrap their heads around all of this while fighting a many-tentacled creature.

The gist was that they were fearful of spending the next four hours leafing through the rulebook trying to figure out how to wrestle with this thing. There is some truth (and thus humor) in this idea, but I couldn’t figure out how to deliver the comedic payload.

So instead you got this.

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20206Feeling chatty? There are 46 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. the grapple/attacks of oportunity system must have come after Second Edition. I’m totally clueless here.

    But I remember similar “gaming the system” approaches – both as a DM, and as a player – with respect to the psionics stuff that they introduced with Dark Sun. While I cant recall hte specifics I remember that part of the fun was deliberately annoying the DM by our attention to detail and taking teh rules over-seriously.

    How about a refresh of this with most of the players engaging in attacks of opportunity system optimization, with the DM clearly getting annoyed because he wanted them to just roll and attack. Added tension: Frodo’s player gets annoyed because the DM keeps increasing te threat to his character to get the others in line, whereas the others are having fun watch frodo guy twist in the wind.

    Bonus: have one player be like me, who has never used the attacks system before, and have the others decide to use this as a teaching opportunity.

    • StarSword says:

      I don’t know why people hate A of O. That’s easy, though the Player’s Handbook explains it too formally for it to be clear.

      — If the character/NPC/whatever is in melee range of a hostile and he moves out of melee range, the hostile gets a free attack roll. This is an Attack of Opportunity, or A of O.

      — If somebody tries to cast a spell while in melee range of a hostile, the hostile gets an A of O. If it hits the spellcaster, he/she/it makes a Concentration check (I forget the DC) to see whether the spell fails. The spellcaster may also cast the spell defensively, which means the hostile does not get an A of O, but the spellcaster has to make a Concentration check for spell failure.

      — Characters can use a Tumble check to avoid A of O.

      — Any given hostile only gets one A of O per round.

      Grappling, on the other hand, that’s hard. Parodied brilliantly by Darths & Droids.

      • sofawall says:

        3 years late, but you’ve actually got the AoO rules slightly wrong, at least for 3.5.

        Among the other smaller mistakes made, you appear to have made the most common AoO mistake I see. It’s not leaving melee range that provokes an AoO, it’s leaving any square that it threatens. Moving in a circle around an enemy while staying in melee range will still provoke, despite never leaving his range.

  2. Flambeaux says:

    Not where I thought you were headed, but very funny all the same.

    My problem, as a DM over the last 20 years, is that players inevitably decide to run away from the encounters they should fight, and fight the encounters from which they should run.

    I’ve been enjoying this immensely.


    • Veneficus says:

      Gawd, ain’t that the truth?

    • Techan says:

      As a long time DM, part-time player, I think I can shed some light on why this happens. You have your big, bad, 15th level lich wizard who is the arch-nemesis of your entire campaign, then your group of 5 or 6 shambling dread wights carrying a key or clue to the next adventure hook, and a party of four 8th level characters. When the party encounters the wights they think “oh crap, they can level drain, they got no loot, and they’re not worth much experience, screw it.” Often they won’t stop to think that they might be minions carrying important plot materials. Meanwhile, they meet the lich, this crumbly old looking guy, the apex of the campaign and their ultimate goal. You intend it to be a dramatic escape scene and to let them get away, maybe it was just to scare them a bit or insert a plot piece, but the players think “sweet deal, he’s right here, he’s got all kinds of shinies, and he looks pretty weak, let’s take him now.” Ultimately, the promise of reward vast outweighs narrative in the eyes of most players, regardless of how their character would likely react.

      • Cronalin says:

        The worst is when, as a DM, you have the aforementioned lich about to kick their silly rea end and one of them pulls some wild idea out of nowhere, I.E. I’ll just throw this dagger of “insert useless name here” down it’s throat, that’ll kill it. You laugh because he needs to roll 3 nat 20’s and make a near impossible save to accomplish it. Then the bastard does it. There goes the story and the game. They congratulate each other while you have to sit there and figure out what to do because you hadn’t preplanned the outcome. Stupid players, always finding a way to ruin a DM’s plans.

        • aevan says:

          Staff of Life (1 charge)…just enough for one Heal spell.

          One interrupted villain monologue, one pouty DM and one cut short evening.

          Worse than a DM having his plans derailed, is a DM following a module and having the module derailed. Got to learn to Player-proof your modules..they’re worse than children :P

    • StarSword says:

      So Malcolm Reynolds is a player character, then?

  3. Ubu Roi says:

    Heh. It could also be the first of several attempts by a clearly annoyed GM to kill off the party and end the campaign. I mean, look at what’s up next: the horde’o goblins, the falling stairway of DOOM, the balrog…

  4. David V.S. says:

    Alternately, you could make a less sophisticated joke that was not rules-specific to a particular game; include complaints that highlight the lack of realism in many game systems: “What! Why doesn’t armor protect me against grapple attacks from giant tentacles?”, “What to-hit penalty? The thing’s defensive rating shouldn’t depend upon how fast I’m moving!”, “I can’t talk to it? I’m a ranger!”

    • StarSword says:

      To the last one, the correct response by the DM in this situation is, “You’re a woodland ranger. You’re trained to communicate with woodland creatures, not demonic space squids from Cthulhu-land.”

  5. David V.S. says:

    Changing the subject, I liked the falling stairway scene in the movie.

    That scene (and the earlier horseback chase) would have been impossible to make exciting in a book, but worked well on screen. Sure, the story was changed from Tolkien’s novel. But to me it seemed done in a way that Tolkien might have considered had he been using film as his medium. Similarly, the scenes that were dropped are some of my favorites (i.e., the Old Forest and Bombadill) but those are clearly more book-friendly than film-friendly, so it was easy to forgive the absences.

    This relates to Shamus’s work too. Part of why we find this series so entertaining is that he has done such a good job selecting which scenes to use in his parodies.

  6. greywulf says:

    OK. I’m hooked. Utterly, utterly, /utterly/ spot on :)

    Toss in a few more utterlies. It’s a good word.

    And don’t mention the grapple rules. They’re horrific.

  7. Cold Spike says:

    What are grapple rules?

  8. Telas says:

    So there’s a guy in blue pants and a yellow hat, singing at the tree? Right. That’ll work on film.

    Back to the original issue:
    “Everyone, help Dave’s character, Frito.”
    “What, and get AoO’d? Do you see the reach on that thing?”
    “Yeah, I bet it’s got Improved Grab.”
    “It’d be easier just to res him.”
    “Maybe if we just step five feet at a time…”

  9. Etown_Fan says:

    Telas … your dialogue would have been great! I have had players basically say exactly what you just did!

  10. Etown_Fan says:

    Oh and by the way …

    This is phenomenal! Keep up the great work!!!

  11. doolz says:

    There was grappling in First Edition, we just never. ever. bothered with it. Instead we used Martial Arts from the Oriental Adventures book, which were pretty cool and mostly worked like normal attacks.

  12. Morrinn says:

    I’d love to have seen an alternate version where the DM railroads the unwilling players on into Moria by having a giant tentacle monster suddenly appear behind them, threatening to do all kinds of nasty stuff if the players dont follow the storyline.

  13. Bobniborg says:

    Well, to go with your alternative… after you have the creature grab Frodo, he complains that the DM faked the roll. Then the DM tries to explain the grapple system (I bowed out at 2nd ed also but something like, DM: No I rolled a 12, see, its right here, I havent touched the dice. Frodo: But I am wearing mitheral armor, that gives me +1 so you actually missed. DM: No, as listed on page 85 paragraph 3 sentence 2 “an unaware character shall not apply Dexterity bonuses on any grappling attempt). Then everyone else questions eachother on who knows wtf about grapling, then, they all wish Frodo luck with the grappling system (could be very similar to your current last frame with a few text changes).

    That being said… totally love this thing. Brings back the good ol’ days.

  14. Nicki-Joe says:

    Shoulda gave him XPs! I get them for bringing pop and chips!

  15. Marty says:

    We totally just had that grapple situation this weekend…

    “They use their bite (pincers) to grapple…”
    “Does that mean they use regular AC or Touch AC?”
    “Touch AC I think…”
    “But if they hit, they do no damage…?”
    “Ummm… Right, I guess, unless they make a successful grapple check and try to sting.”
    “I thought the Touch Attack was the grapple.”
    “No, the Touch Attack is just a grab. Then they have to hold. That’s the grapple check.”
    “And then they sting automatically?”
    “No, after the grapple check they need to make another successful attack at +4 to sting.”
    “So they have to roll 3 time just to do any damage?”
    “Ummm… yeah, that doesn’t sound right to me either.”

  16. Amazon_Warrior says:

    I had a fighter/bard character that *specialised* in grapple. He used it mainly to subdue another PC who was a pita a lot.

    Does this make me a pervert? Happy days! :D

  17. Kay Shapero says:

    Whew – just as glad I was off playing Runequest by the time they came up with Basic (and Advanced) D&D. I’m reminded of why our Chivalry and Sorcery group went far, far out of our way to keep out of fights (especially those involving magic) because the combat system was so awkward.

  18. spiderade says:

    never put a tentacle monster in your game if you have a hentai fan in your group. its not pretty

    and no i will not elaborate

  19. Browncoat says:

    Shamus says: “I couldn’t figure out how to deliver the comedic payload. So instead you got this.”

    Boy, I’ve tried something like that on my wife once: “I didn’t know what to get you for your birthday, so I got you a 18.0V Cordless Drill!”

    She received it with much less enthusiasm than I did this comic.

  20. Mother Yadarra says:

    OMG, Spids…
    Call of Cthuhlhu…

    Let’s all roll for sanity. shall we?

  21. Joe says:

    Hm. So you’re probably the only guy who really knows the grapple system… I looked at it, but playing a bard that does not like to get into melee, I’d rather not use it. I’ll just try to convince the DM that my sight on these things is correct (rather like “proof by confusion”). Oh, and just in case someone wonders: I know DMotR, I just saw the movies yesterday (again) and had to refresh my memory of “what really happened” in the campaign…

  22. nosenerd says:

    oh my god, your altrernate idea is so amusing, and so disturbingly true. The grapple thing adds hours to combat. . .

  23. JD says:

    LOL.. this reminds me of the time I was played as a wizard, and ran for dear life when my entire party was being attacked by high-level creatures… I was the only one who survived. XD

  24. silentounce says:

    I never understood what people thought was so hard about the grapple system. It’s never added hours to our combat, and we have a character that loves to use it. Especially, after my PC casts Enlarge Person on him.

  25. Xzeno says:

    As a DM I have run into the problem of grapple rules myself. One group would run from any thing they thought might have improved grab.

  26. cheesebunny says:

    the thing I say about things that dont work properly is threaten them very loudly untill somone else fixes it
    and voila! problem solved
    @spiderade yes, hentai is an issue for our group as well, mainly me who does it though ^x^

  27. Pif says:

    The Grapple rules fear is brilliant. It would be hard to really nail in a few frames but if you could get it right… damn that would be good. You should do an alternate page if you ever really nail it. very very clever.

  28. ThaneofFife says:

    Darths & Droids linked here today, so I’ll just say “First!” from today to post here :-)

  29. Spit Fyre says:

    I once did that to one of my party members in DnD.

  30. brouz says:

    If I were to have the grapple rules story I d do like that:

    -End the previous episode with the DM getting annoyed a the players avoiding the riddle. So Tim ;) reveals the secret word and no one gains XP for guessing it And has a wrath of god revenge with the Cthulluh Thing bashing the players.

    – And for this note, alternate images of the team having the argument about fighting or not, browsing thru the grapple rules and images of Dave in more and more critical state, asking for help, asking who s going to ride him home if his characters dies so early… Last couple of images: Merry says to the DM “Come on, time cant be counting, we re on a ruling issue!”. And last: Frodo back to the first (not too critical) image.


  31. Chris says:

    Man, you are a freaking genius! I haven’t laughed this hard at something online for a while now! Loving it so far.

  32. Tergar says:

    Okay, for the guys that said Grapple rules don’t take forever, obviously you use revised, compacted grapple rules. Grapple is a dang book. You have to take in Size, height, weight, what you’re wearing, what their wearing, terrian, what limb you grappling, what limb you use to grapple… the list goes on and theres not even a decent algorithim for it.

  33. Bob says:

    Believe it or not, grapple rules in recent (3.0 and 3.5) editions are a veritable model of simplicity compared to the truly byzantine original AD&D rules for grappling/pummeling/overbearing. I distinctly recall several instances when I was in high school where we somehow wound up in a combat situation without our weapons, and the DM would wind up looking at the grapple rules and scratching his head for about ten minutes before finally saying “ok, so you guys don’t actually have your weapons on you, but you notice some daggers laying on the ground over in the corner.”

    • Techan says:

      He speaks the truth. I only played 2nd ed. a couple time when I was really young so I don’t remember the rules well, but I’ve been playing 3.0 and 3.5 for years and the grapple system is ridiculously simple. Literally there are three factors: your size (+4 for each size category above medium, -4 for each category below), your strength modifier, and miscellaneous modifiers from feats or abilities. Add those all up and you have your grapple modifier. From there it’s as simple as rolling a d20 and adding your mod. Higher one wins the grapple. Cut and dry

  34. John Giannakouris says:

    I have created a home brewed system where the grappling rules are simple you roll the dice and if you have a good enough die you grapple the enemy and he misses one turn

  35. Thaddaeus says:

    I *love* the 3.5 grapple rules! It took me a while to get my head around them but once I did I made a whole character that was just a grappler. Improved Unarmed Strike, Improved Grapple, Weapon Focus: Grapple, Weapon Specialization: Armor Spikes, etc., etc.

    I’d just run up and jump on the Bad Guy and then I get basically free hits on him while he couldn’t do any actions except deal with me. Also, I was the only one at the table who even pretended to understand the Grapple rules, so I’d be like, “Yeah, and I do THIS! For 2d6 damage!” and the DM would be like, “You get to do that?” and I’m like, “It’s right there in the Grapple rules, look for yourself bitchaazzzz!”

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