DM of the Rings XIX:
A Pinata of Stone

By Shamus Posted Friday Oct 20, 2006

Filed under: DM of the Rings 52 comments

Tomb of Balin, Chamber of Marzubal, Loot, Gimli, Pointy-hat, Large Chamber.

Never provide a dungeon without treasure. The longer they search and find nothing, the more your players will be convinced that the treasure is bountiful and exceptionally well-hidden. If left unchecked, they will eventually dismantle and excavate the entire site in their search for loot.


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52 thoughts on “DM of the Rings XIX:
A Pinata of Stone

  1. Crusader Corim says:

    I remember a campaign I was on where we had just gotten through dissecting a loot-free tomb, guided by a wise spirit who was possesing a suit of full-plate armor. At the end, our cleric was so frustrated that he decided to just turn the spirit out of the armor and take it for himself. That caused some interesting storyline adjustments.

  2. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Oh oh! Don’t forget about the items that are tossed in there that aren’t really loot, but decietful lies by the DM attempting to trick his players into taking it because its mysterious therefore has to be worth something. You know things like powder in a skull. We were never allowed to touch anything…

    1. Kordag the Barbarian says:

      Oh boy… Never tell a player in my group that something isn’t allowed – It won’t take more than 5 minutes and somebody is bound to do it.

      Reminds me of my character who went bathing in a magical and holy spring – Just for the experience of it! (Well… Going into as a gnome bard and coming out as a albino gnome oracle was fun anyways)

  3. Heather says:

    Yes, I seem to rememember some white powder and a skull which a certain member tried to take with him, after almost killing the whole crowd with it.

  4. I remember a mission for a pseudo-futuristic RPG I DMed where my players were all behind a corner to a very long hallway – and at the end of the hallway, there was a robotic intruder-detector. What this thing does is – when it sees a player, it launches itself forward, all spinning blades and everything.

    the first person steps out of the corner, sees it coming, and dodges back behind the corner.

    they hear a big crash. the thing had falled down a hidden pit trap that I put there for a laugh.

  5. Rachel says:

    Aack! A friend sent me a link to this without telling me it was an unfinished serial!


  6. Clyde says:

    Well, Rachel, it gives you something to look forward to, right? :-)

  7. Crusader Corim says:

    I just can’t wait until the rest of the party discovers that Frodo picked up some phat loots in Rivendell, and has been horribly boggarting the loot away from all the rest of the party.

    That ought to spark some entertaining stuff.

  8. Evil Otto says:

    Crusader is right! The DM is obviously playing favorites. I mean, Frodo gets a magic ring of invisibilty, a magic sword, and mithril armor just *handed* to him at 1st level. What does everyone else get? Squat.

  9. I LOVE that expression on Aragorns face.

    1. ERROR says:

      My favorite is Sam’s expression. Where on Earth does one get an eye-rolling screenshot from a movie like this?

  10. Shamus says:

    That shot of Aragorn is actually the result of photoshopping. He never smiled in that scene.

    Up until recently I’ve been using shots right from the movie, but now I’m starting to muck about with them. Sometimes I can get the right expression if I get a shot of them while talking – that’s how I got the “Back that Legolas up” expression for Aragorn. But in scenes like this with no dialog I can’t do that.

    Glad someone noticed. :)

  11. mjspawn says:

    You have to be careful describing a room as a DM. I once described a whole room for my PCs once, and they went about searching it, not finding anything in all the places they searched. But I forgot that I had placed the dead body of an NPC (named Kelrescent) they had met just outside an open door to the room. They spent about a half hour searching through the room and its various chests and cupboards when I finally remembered the dead NPC. Now whenever I forget a detail or am late bringing up a plot point the first thing I get shouted at me is “Kelrescent’s dead! Kelrescent’s dead!”. PCs never let anything go…

  12. JDTanstaafl says:

    I’m currently DMing a group in an old Dragon magazine module that I’ve converted to 3.5. There is no rogue in the party, yet they insist on searching for traps (which usually have a Search DC higher than 20, so they can’t find the ones that are there) everywhere. They were in a cave with natural tunnels leading over 400 feet into the mountain with dead ends (and no secret doors; it was just a tunnel). The paranoid minotaur decides to check every 20 feet for either a secret door or a trap, of which there are none, so I keep making him roll his checks. When he gets to the end of the tunnel, he turns around, moves back down the tunnel 10 feet, and begins searching again, stopping every 20 feet, so he has now searched every 10 feet in this corridor. What are the other three party members doing? Two of them are actually making backup checks behind the minotaur, while the female is just following, probably wondering why men don’t ask directions or take a hint. Although I’m the DM, I feel the party’s pain in this episode…

    1. StarSword says:

      Note to players: Never build a party without a dedicated trapmonkey of some kind.

  13. Nicki-Joe says:

    I love how you’ve captured just the right still to suit the player’s words.

  14. peter says:

    let has legols as someone who is gay and frodo to be ill and galdaf to have one arm becuase a troll ate the other one.

    1. StarSword says:

      In English please.

  15. peter says:

    i think some text is a bit small to read so make all the text the same size or i come up and shot you up the ass or i will just have to kill you and burn you bloody website to ground and make the dog eat and then i put his poo is strong acid

    1. Sydney says:

      This is amazing.

  16. Dzurlady says:

    I remember this one dungen where there was nothing to be found. And the players looked everywhere. In the end they killed everything and went back to town to hinre a team of grunts and started a professional excavation with grid squares and everything…

  17. EmeraldTiara says:

    I have to say, Aragorn looks a bit posessed in the 10th panel.

  18. warren says:

    There are treasure here. Dwarven steel, is worth some money, plus skulls, plus material components. Beats starving.

  19. Sewicked says:

    Take their boots, cast mending & sell ’em for a few coppers each. Get enough & you’re talking real money.

  20. Enrico Palazzo says:

    “Come on Uncle Bally!”
    “Yeah he’s not really your unc–”
    “I hope you left something nice for your nephew Gimli!”

    That had me laughing for 6 minutes straight.

    1. M1nd3nd3r says:

      Funny thing is Balin is Gimlis cousin I think.

  21. Halfelven says:

    I once built a dungeon with quirky magical doors. The players stole the doors. :)

  22. Frankly, finding treasure won’t stop me from searching for more treasure. Other interesting things do, but if I have the time, it’s maximal efficiency. Some dwarven bones might be useful to deal with wild animals, as props, etc. Broken and rusty weapons have all sorts of uses.

    The big mistakes DMs make is looting ENEMIES. Even if the DM is realistic and doesn’t have the Black Pudding have any treasure (or be guarding anything of value), they forget how quickly one can get value by killing fifteen gnolls armed with morning stars, chainmail, a side weapon and having a few copper pieces and adventuring items. It’s even better in non-fantasy continuities: Your superpowered team gets that much stronger when every enemy they’re fighting and beating/killing has shotguns, rocket launchers, C4 and assault rifles. And in Rifts, one of my favorite ways of making money is to blow off the head of or expose the cockpit of enemy power armor suits, then haul them into the group’s vehicle and sell them on the Black Market. Sure, the head does take some of the price off, but resale means 10-40% of the original item’s worth, but when the items in question are worth 1-20 million credits…

  23. My older brother pointed me out to this with the comment, “if you’re a gamer,you WILL laugh.”


    @ thread

    I remember doing this especially in Shadowrun (2nd Ed). I’d Manaball the gangers strafing my team which would leave anything material relatively undamaged (unlike with a Powerball). Can you imagine how much Nuyen those guns, blades, body armor and assorted electronics will resell for?

    And, oh, did I mention the cybernetics…?

    1. Tachi says:

      Always buy a Tamanous contact at chargen.

  24. Jimbo says:

    OMG! My son found this site and told me about it. I have laughed at many of the pages so far, being a DM and Player since 1978 I have seen many things…but this page…with the party asking all the “loot” questions and then the hobbit saying “this is a sacred dwarven burial chamber….lso the dwarf should loot it”…I laughed SOOO hard I cried and almost fell off my chair which was only made worse by the last panel!!!!

  25. James says:

    I was a player in a game about a year ago where the DM was a little stingy with the loot for the first few levels. Fortunately we had a reckless player with us. His character would die about ever other game and the rest of the party would split his stuff. At 4th level about half the party wealth was probably due to selling his characters’ stuff…

  26. Jvenn says:

    Our DM likes to keep the treasure light. I think we’re supposed to play for, um, personal satisfaction in a job well done.

  27. cheesebunny says:

    I wish DM would give us treasure, stingyness is not what gets you the home-made herbal brownies in our snack-times

  28. ERROR says:

    Peter, Peter, Peter…

    If only your mother were here!

  29. Maladjester says:

    Be prepared to spend way too much time on at least one thing per session. It’s more or less random what that thing will be.

    The first encounter of the first session of the first game I ever ran (14 years later and I still remember it vividly) was with a single harmless six-foot snake. It barely even qualified as an encounter. It was just supposed to provide flavor and make people nervous as it slithered away. The group spent forty-five minutes with the darned thing: How big is it again? Gee, that’s not even as big as us! It’s as big as the halfling, maybe it’ll attack him! Is it attacking us? I attack the snake! Dude, it was going away, why are you attacking it? Is it venomous? It must be, he said there were bones around it! No, dude, tiny rodent bones is what he said, it’s harmless! How do you know it’s harmless, you don’t have nature lore! Can I see if the snake is guarding something? There must be a secret door! And so forth.

    The learning curve is pretty steep when you start GMing.

    1. StarSword says:

      The Law of Conservation of Detail in action, my friend. If you describe something, it’s usually important.

  30. brouz says:

    We had once a VHL adventure. around the beginning we found the dungeon up a peak mountain. The druid char decided to loot it all without entering. Transmut rock to mud, on a thin diag plane of the peak. Storm spell to have the castle slide down and crush to the floor. summon earth elemental to dig out whats left that could be valuable. 1h. disgruntled GM

  31. Wafflebob says:

    I’ve actually started telling my players when they’ve cleaned out a place, otherwise they really will dismantle every single location nail by nail and brick by brick in search of more treasure. If you give too little loot, they think they haven’t found it yet. If you give a lot of loot, they think there has to be more.

  32. BillionSix says:

    There was actually a Knights of the Dinner Table strip where that actually happened. There was no treasure, except for a book that said the greatest treasure was knowledge. So the players crunched some numbers, stole all the furniture and fixtures and worked out that they could be millionaires by selling it all.

  33. Gardick says:

    when you look up ‘adventurer’ in the dictionary it must give a description like ‘looter, plunderer, he who shames at nothing to earn money’. Or at least, that is how my gaming group years back used to play..

    We are now in the business of collecting scrap metal and monster heads as the metal is in short supply in this area and there is a bonus for monster skulls in the border zone witht he wilds where we are operating. We take the smell of decaying bloody heads as just part of the business…

    And to Brouz, nice try but transmute rock to mud cannot be spread otu in a thin layer, it comes in 10 by 10 by 10 ft cubes..Nowhere in the spell description doe sit say you can half the height to double the width etc.

  34. Kid says:

    I encourage players tearing apart dungeons from limb to limb. In later levels they have much larger matters to deal with so they might as well attempt to get everything they can from dungeons at early level.

  35. dr pepper says:

    I once put a 7 foot bottle in a corner of a corridor. I described it as “clear glss with something red inside. There’s a bright yellow cap on top. The party spent half an hour working out how to approach it, checking for traps, etc, etc. Finall the thief shinnied up it, and manged to get the cap off. The thief took a sniff. “Tomato, vinager, and spices” i told them.

  36. eljacko says:

    After about an hour and a half of putting up with one of my player’s greedy efforts to find loot I snapped. He had been poking around a small altar where my players had just finished an encounter with a minor necromancer. One of them, bemoaning a lack of loot, began to attack the altar with almost angry determination. He took 20, searching it relentlessly for some kind of hidden device, implausibly convinced that the altar was the gateway to a bounteous treasure. And so I decided it was. Oh, I gave him the treasure all right. I had the altar sink into the floor and a great rumbling was heard. Suddenly his character was crushed under five tons of gold. His character was killed by a mixture of suffocation and crushing and everyone else walked away much happier and richer due to his greed.

  37. Techan says:

    I once had a party doing a quest for the ghost of a dead king. Long story short, they were literally climbing over the piles of gold and treasure in his tomb when they came to speak with him. They nearly had heart attacks, when he only allowed them each to take one thing as a reward. The fighter rolled a search check for, and I quote, “the most ballah shit ever” and he rolled a natural 20. We cracked up so hard, I ended up having him find a silk bag labeled “The Bag of Wonderous Things Crudely Alluded to as Slang for Excrement.” It was full of curious little odds and ends, my favorite of which was what I called “the rapier of burning truth”. Basically it was just a regular rapier, except that when someone within 10 feet of it tells a lie it bursts into flames. They ended up using it once as an interogation tool, shoved it down a thief’s pants while they questioned him… it was a bad day for that thief’s future children.

    1. Jason says:

      I’m suprised they didn’t try to take ‘the treasure’ ‘the room’ or ‘glue everything togther so it’s one thing’ e.t.c. e.t.c.

  38. Dragonauthor says:

    I remember my first campaign, tromping along an old mine taken over by kobolds I think. Looking for the source of a disease in the nearby town. After much exploring, and abysmal loot (Some metals and small gems) we found a store room. We thought we’d found the motherload, it was pretty heavily guarded comparatively. So we went to work searching all the barrels and boxes and sacks. Nothing but food and drink, all of which tainted by disease. So when we get to the barrels rats come out, and there’s still nothing good inside. So my comrades angrily threw the last barrel in the nearby fireplace, killing off the rats inside and burning whatever foodstuffs were in it. Later, after we’d solved the adventure we were complaining about not finding any treasure. The DM smirks and goes, “Remember that last barrel?” Apparently 90% of the adventure’s treasure was in that one barrel we burnt in the fire.

  39. Aztook says:

    wassnt there something in some other fantasy movie/book that most dwarfs where someone all related by blood in one way or another. maybe wrong, this part of the comic made me think that, i thought i read that somewhere in some fantasy book =\

  40. Supah_Ewok says:

    I know this is 4 years too late but…

    Gimli. Son of Groin. With an Uncle Bally. *Snicker*

  41. Heather says:

    I’m amazed at the patience of the GM in this tale; my husband as GM is much less tolerant of constant PC backtalk and smart-assery. The man loves to watch us squirm under his mighty smiting hand, methinks.

  42. John Giannakouris says:

    Well Evil Otto Aragorn’s player gets a mighty 6000 years+ sword at level 1 and said sword also serves as a symbol of power whether broken or not

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