DM of the Rings LII:
I Specialize in Ranger-ing

 By Shamus Jan 17, 2007 34 comments

Pile of burned orc bodies. Fangorn forest is enchanted. Aragorn finds railroad tracks.

When dealing with railroading DM’s, never waste skill points on the tracking skill. If it’s part of the plot, you’ll find it no matter what you roll. If it’s not part of the plot, then it doesn’t exist anyway.

201434 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. DMDonPablo says:

    And if it is part of the plot but you don’t look for it, it will find you.

    Our group was sent to investigate the disappearance of a farmer in the middle of the savanna. We found the widow… she pleaded with us to either find her missing husband or at least track down the giant jumping, super poisonous spiders that lived somewhere in the acres upon acres of shoulder high grass. Ummm, yeah right… plot device, track, me arse I’m going out in that grass o’ death.

    So we cleared a spot in the grass and waited… and waited… and waited. When it finally became clear to the DM there was no way in Hades we were going to be ambushed, errr track the spiders, they eventually found our camp. In other words, “it” found us.

    Dwarven diplomacy… we eventually found the husband… actually his dried up husk and we returned it/him to the widow in a small leather bag. She was a mess. My dwarf rolled a ’2′ on diplomacy, modified to a ’0′… so he told her, “Look on the bright side. You’ll only need to dig a bucket-sized hole to bury him… that’ll save you time and energy.” [whack]

    With regard to fantasy names… our former DM, to this day, regrets the day he named his captain of the guard Captain Elmo. What was even better, Capt. Elmo was friends with an old female druid… we never could remember her name so we called her “Droopy Boobs”. He DMed two more sessions and then things magically wrapped themselves up.

    • Techan says:

      See if I were your DM and you pulled that kind of stunt, you guys would get this.
      After hours of waiting in the grass you hear a shrill scream of agony coming from the direction you came. Assuming you investigate you’d find that the farm wife apparently decided she wanted to follow you guys so she could help and got massacred by the spiders herself, and due to the horrible circumstances of her death, and her strong will to see the quest through, she has risen again as a crazy vengeful spirit who now blames her death on the PCs. Well there goes your xp and any possible reward she might have given you.
      And if you choose not to investigate the scream, then the spiders gain another ability you were not forewarned of: tunneling. Oh and the spirit still is coming after you.

      Your DM was apparently too nice.

      • Bluesophia says:

        Personally, I would have been a lot nicer although still a bit testy. I would have maybe thrown them a bone like allowing them to get the jump on the spider but when the opportunity came, make it retreat to its lair so that odds are, they were going to need to go their anyway (and if that didn’t help, throw in a lovely trinket).

        If they still don’t grab it, I say screw that and then take the stats I rolled up for the spider and then jack them up so that when they finally get to doing something, they can deal with big n nasty mark 2 at their leisure. If they got out of that, then I’d say they deserved it.

    • TekServer says:

      Yeah, our group of players would probably have set the grasslands on fire. No grasslands = no spiders, or at least no ambush.

      It wouldn’t have occurred to us that the old man might still be alive – at least before our fire – until after the fire was well and truly raging …

      ;)

  2. Richard says:

    These are great keep up the good work :-)…

    I rolled a 1 for tracking and think the Orcs went to the tavern lets go there :-)

  3. Gropos says:

    On the flip side… No matter the character, spot and listen checks seem to ALWAYS be required. Even if there is an Army approaching.

  4. Karaden says:

    DM: Make a listen check
    P1: I rolled a 15
    P2: I rolled a…crap 1
    DM: Ok, P1 you hear an army approaching over the hill, P2… you don’t.

    In game:
    C1: Hey, do you hear that army approaching us?
    C2: No, I can’t hear anything over all that noisy marching.

    Ya, listen and spot are always nessacary, for at least one character. My wizard generaly fails those on purpose and just waits for others to point the stuff out to him (to simulate being deep in thought about wizardy stuff). As long as one person notices it, he can warn the party. Same goes for most skills it seems, if one guy can climb the wall he can drop a rope, if one can talk his way past the guards the whole party follows, if one guy knows the weakness of Gringlesnatches, then it will be common knowladge as soon as it needs to be.

    My question is: How long will it be till we get a one shot comic of the others in starwars (Roll to attack the deathstar: I got a 20!! And a 100 on the Cool Crit Chart, instant death to the target!!)

  5. Proteus says:

    One shot comic of Star Wars? How about a whole ‘Phantom DM’ series? :D

  6. Terry says:

    LOL, reminds me of my first D&D game. Our campaign started with one of our two elves dying horribly to a randomly encountered ogre that they just HAD to attack even though it didn’t see them. Anyway, the rest of us joined together to track said ogre down, which had dragged the corpse into the woods to eat. The surviving elf was a ranger, so the DM told him to make a Tracking roll. He failed horribly, so the DM said, “You fail to find the trail as the monk points out to you the wide blood smear leading into the forest.” We go on a while later. He fails the second roll, so the DM had another character point out the blood smear. :) I don’t think he passed a single Track roll the whole time. :)

  7. Steve says:

    Which is why the DM should ask for all skill rolls to be handed to him on a list before the game starts, and pretend to roll for them in secret while actually just deciding which player gets to spot The Vital Clue Which Will Kill The Game If Not Noticed.

    This sort of DMing is second nature to we Call of Cthulhu keepers.

    Steve.

  8. Joe says:

    With one of our DM’s the Listen and Spot skills are the most used skill in the game. Everyone normally has decent ranks in them both even if it’s a cross class skill. This is due to the fact that most of our gaming group rolls horribly the majority of the time. What really makes things hard is the fact that if we all miss a check the DM’s doesn’t make it happen. We have spent whole games wandering around looking for the plot.

    Plus our DM doesn’t railroad the PC’s he just makes the PC’s lives a lot more difficult if we stray too far. When Drow attack you in the middle of the night at the Inn you are staying at, after your sword was stolen earlier, you might want to consider heading back to the old ruins you passed 5 game sessions ago, lol.

  9. Steve L. says:

    Maybe it’s just us GM/DMs who need to get some sort of petty revenge… One of my players once reminded me that he use to keep a record of the random skills i would make up and ask for… eg does anyone have archeology?… or architecture? so that he could make his character take them in the next game/re-incaration. I think what drew the line was when i once asked for ‘advanced observation’.. I guess that’s akin to spotting the tracks next to the blood smear…

    I still love the challenge of thinking of new skills before the players do!!

    Steve (ex GM)

  10. Steve says:

    What really makes things hard is the fact that if we all miss a check the DM’s doesn’t make it happen. We have spent whole games wandering around looking for the plot.

    I used to run a Traveller campaign like that. The lessons I learned as a result are why I do not run Call of Cthulhu like that. :o)

    Steve.

  11. theonlymegumegu says:

    The old joke in our group was always, “What can I click on?/You can’t click on that.” (ala old Sierra-type adventure games)

  12. Fickle says:


    DM: Make a listen check
    P1: I rolled a 15
    P2: I rolled a…crap 1
    DM: Ok, P1 you hear an army approaching over the hill, P2… you don’t.

    In game:
    C1: Hey, do you hear that army approaching us?
    C2: No, I can’t hear anything over all that noisy marching.

    *cracks up* Oh man, that’s almost as good as Aragon declaring “railroad tracks, I’m sure”. Gotta love snarky players.

  13. Keith says:

    Reminds me of a (twisted) railroading DM from 20 yrs back. He had a tower that guarded a temple – we could never make progress because every playing session it would take us the entire session to clear the guards who came out of the tower – and when we returned the next week the tower was -VOILA- repopulated with fresh guards! This went on for about 4 weeks until we finally (in frustration) burned the tower down after getting it cleared again. His response to our destruction of his plot device was to make the entryway to the temple impossibly tough….

  14. Yama-Arashi says:

    When dealing with railroading DM’s, never waste skill points on the tracking skill.

    Well technically you don’t ever have to waste skill points on tracking. In fact, you have to waste a whole FEAT on tracking and then waste skill points on Survival.

    But hey, those Survival points might not actually be wasted. We all know how many 3e games end with the entire party dead of starvation, dehydration, or exposure from that raging blizzard, right? Happens all the time, it just isn’t widely reported…

  15. Michael says:

    Enchanted… Yeah we know the drill

    LOL That’s exactly why I’ve cut all of my encounter descriptions to “The trail leads into a forest.” If they want to hear a long winded beautiful description they can ask.

    Like Steve I don’t bother with “which player gets to spot The Vital Clue Which Will Kill The Game If Not Noticed” roll. Instead I use tracking, spot, knowledge, ect… rolls to prevent the party from being completely screwed or hand out extra stuff.

    The druid makes his spot… “What? You’re kidding… er… um… While following the orc horde my-railroading-plot-is-forcing-you-to-follow you notice some rare whatever-they’re-named berries beside the path. These will save you 10gp the next time you brew some healing potions…”

    The ranger makes his tracking “You notice that the orcs seem to have split into two groups. The main group with your friends seems to be heading into that box canyon while the second group with the catapults, boiling oil, and limitless supply of arrows is headed for the high ground…”

  16. Thenodrin says:

    Arcanis rules that the monk’s flurry and the two weapon fighting feat were the same feat, and so you couldn’t have both. So, since I knew that I’d never actually be called upon to track anything in the campaign, my “ranger” doesn’t have a single level of ranger. Instead, he is a fighter / monk cross-class who calls himself a ranger.

    What I hate more than the over-use of Spot, Listen, etc. is the non-use of them. We have to make the Listen check to hear the army approaching, but we don’t get a Spot check to see the guy getting ready to ambush us from behind the tree.

    I have found a way to get back at DMs like this, though. Role play the information you find! Last weekend, the woman we’d poisoned suddenly jumped up and tried to run away when the DM realized she was immune to poison. Our party had a guy with max ranks in Heal who had verified she was dead, and I have near-max ranks in Sense Motive so we “knew” that she was really dead. Our wizard confirmed that there were no magical ways for her to suddenly spring back to life like that (and his knowledge arcane and detect magic confirmed that it wasn’t a magical effect.) So, we disceted her to find out how she’d done it. Finally, the DM claimed, “She was never dead, just playing dead.” I pointed out that was impossible, given our skills. We continued cataloguing her organs until he admitted he screwed up, gave us back the resources we’d spent in putting her down the second time, and then we continued with the event.

    Theno

  17. Steve says:

    I see that in addition to his Keen Ranger Senses®, Aragormless has put many points into his Sarcasm skill.

    Brilliant stuff, Shamus. I’ll keep reading and laughing as long as you keep making them.

    Thanks.

    Steve.

  18. Steve says:

    By the way, I am totally stealing “Keen Ranger Senses®”. I consider it fair payment for the two dozen people I have forced at nagpoint to read an installment of DM of the Rings. I never have to force a second time of course.

    Steve.

  19. Andi says:

    Our GM is really good at creating game scenarios on the fly, and our gaming group is really good at wandering off in random directions that have nothing to do with the original plot. So most of our game sessions usually end with me asking the GM, “So, how much of that was preplanned, and how much did you just make up?”

    Our favorite sessions are usually the ones where we wandered off plot five minutes into the game. :-)

  20. Jimmy says:

    Definitely one of the funniest comics on the net!!!

    Getting back to those towers that magically respawn defenders, our group decided to play a pre-made adventure in between campaigns a few months ago.
    It was set in a small village which had a total of ten houses, including of course, a guard house/watch house.
    The whole villag only had a low wooden wall around it about 12 feet high. It did have a wooden gate.
    The gaurd-house was inside the wall and consisted of a sturdy stone house surrounded by a massive stone wall with a huge metal gate round it……
    Very strange….
    But it got worse,

    It turned out that next to the hunters’ house there was actually a hole in the wall where anyone could just walk in. Talk about bad city-planning….

  21. Randallw says:

    Railroad tracks! That is the one thing so far I have to use someday.

  22. spiderade says:

    a frequent NPC i use is mr or mrs P lotdevice. i find it saves time

  23. Cory says:

    Andi: Speaking as an experienced GM I can tell you that being asked that question at the end (“How much did you make up?”) is like being given the Nobel prize for literature. It means your players are actually believing what you’re telling them. :-)

  24. Andrul says:

    ”How much did you make up?”

    The obvious answer is “All of it.”

  25. Murph says:

    @Karaden
    “As long as one person notices it, he can warn the party.”

    Not true with my DM. A successful spot or listen will often get you an action or partial action before an encounter. Or more importantly, avoid getting surprised.

  26. Pat says:

    The rule is that if you are being asked to make a roll… keep rolling until the DM gives up in frustration and just tells you!

  27. MarkR says:

    “It was set in a small village which had a total of ten houses, including of course, a guard house/watch house.”

    But has anybody played in a campaign which started in a forest near a brick building or a field near a white house?

  28. Jack says:

    first, this comic is epic. it captures so much in with so little said.

    second, back in my days of DMing, after several failed railroad-type campaigns i just started winging entire sessions with NPCs like Jorge and Princess Lea (real generic stuff). So that when the players say something like “is there a brothel in this town” or “lets just kill everyone and loot the town” that became the entire plot of the campaign. This made for some wicked bar fights, but often the campaigns boiled down to the characters breaking out of jail and trying to get the over-powered equipment i gave them back.

  29. pirate34 says:

    I have the worst sort of DM of all, the one who has the railroads as a doomsday device and then leaves you with minimal clues and punishes you when you take a different direction

    and then he ended the campaign immediately after! before we could even die!

    I dont care too much if I die and cant reroll, but I like to either end a campaign or get kicked from it.

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