DM of the Rings CXVI:
But They Don’t Fit in My Backpack!

By Shamus Posted Friday Jun 22, 2007

Filed under: DM of the Rings 127 comments

Aragorn orders the boats destroyed.
What could he possibly use boats for?

What can you do when your players are about to do something astoundingly dumb because they aren’t thinking things through? There are many possible solutions.

  1. Use an NPC to nudge the players in the right direction.
  2. Give the players hints out-of-character.
  3. Allow them to do the stupid thing, then laugh at them later.
  4. Find smarter players.

#4 is obviously the wrong answer. Having players smart enough to outwit you is a tremendous pain in the backside. Don’t make that mistake.


From The Archives:

127 thoughts on “DM of the Rings CXVI:
But They Don’t Fit in My Backpack!

  1. Susano says:

    Time for the king of the undead to bring up a certain Holy Grail line about kingship being conferred based only on being lucky enough to get such-such sword at the right time.

  2. txknight says:

    In my group, the players usually know they are about to do something incredibly stupid when the DM uses the famous words “Are you sure?” :-)

  3. Librain says:

    Hmm, maybe we could initiate a vote of no confidence in Aragorm, and put someone who has a clue on the throne?

  4. No Monty Python references!

  5. Browncoat says:

    5. Rocks fall. Everyone dies.

    What do you do when your readers keep posting the same jokes?

    1. Use and NPC to nudge them in the right direction?
    No good. I am an NPC. We’ve covered that.
    2. Give them hints out of character.
    Nope. I’m always a character.
    3. Allow them to say the stupid thing, and shake your head later.
    Seems to be the popular choice.
    4. Find more clever readers.

  6. Rawn says:

    Awesome. I’ve had situations like that pop up in my campaigns all the time. I generally go with #3.

  7. NeedsToHeal says:

    So funny. Aragorn, the king, is annoying the heck out of the undead.

  8. txknight says:

    ” 1 Susano Says:

    June 22nd, 2007 at 11:03 am
    Time for the king of the undead to bring up a certain Holy Grail line about kingship being conferred based only on being lucky enough to get such-such sword at the right time.

    Lol! That is appropriate!

  9. Librain says:

    Heh, the famous “are you sure?”

    My response to that was to think long and hard and say to the GM “I think you’re bluffing. Yes I’m sure.” Oh boy did I regret that one.

  10. JoystickHero says:

    Heh… Captain Cadaver…

    In other news… d10, bishies!

  11. JoystickHero says:

    Or not…

  12. Mike says:

    I fear that I have a batch of players who are, in fact, smarter than me…

  13. Susano says:

    I’m reminded of a line from our Shadows Angeus campaign ( “Use my preferred method — ask the GM and do what he says.”

  14. Telas says:

    “You’re new at this King thing, aren’t you? Because a smart king would kill the crew, take over the ships, and use them to sail to Minas Tirith.”

    1. Bluesophia says:

      I really pity the fact that we don’t get a scene where they try to keep the corsairs too.

    2. Bryan says:

      Telas, the problem with that logic, Staragorn will answer, “How am I going to sail a bunch of dead people?”

  15. Thenodrin says:

    I’ll never forget the time with a friend of mine called for seriousness at the gaming table by pointing out that there were “only five of us, and we’ve got to outsmart (the DM).”

    Personally, when I’m the DM, I let the players do whatever they want. Sometimes “the dumb thing” is because the character has an Int 8, sometimes it is because the player has an Int 8, sometimes it is because I’ve got a Wis 8 and don’t realize that what they are doing works better than what I anticipated them doing.


  16. brassbaboon says:

    I always struggle with the “DM hints” thing. In general I am philosophically opposed to directing the course of the campaign through any overt means. In general I allow the players to do stupid things if they want to. Usually I view that as my not having communicated something properly.

    In our current campaign I did actually once intervene in the campaign through a direct God to Cleric directive, but it was at the cleric’s request and so I felt it was consistent with the milieu and was not “DM interference” as such. Usually all it takes to get the players to do what I want is a comment like “Your rogue spots faint footprints leading off the road to the southwest, they appear to be heading into some low hills.” Or “A close inspection of the chest has revealed a hidden compartment which contains a map.”

    Now, if my players were about to do something really stupid like destroy a fleet of ships needed to win back their kingdom… would I intervene?

    I dunno. I typically don’t have things so tightly scripted that such an event would destroy the campaign. I try not to assume that I now what my characters would want to do with their characters anyway.

    I have yet to have any player express any desire to role play becoming a king or noble of any kind. In general they want to get rich and have a lot of stuff, but the responsibility of running a kingdom or a fiefdom is usually not high on their list of role-playing goals.

    DM: “Your monthly court meeting with your subjects is today.”
    Aragorn: “My what?”
    DM: “You have to meet with representatives of your kingdom to settle disputes, clarify laws or reward specific acts of heroism today.”
    Aragorn: “I don’t want to do that.”
    DM: “If you don’t, your subjects will get restless and may start plotting a revolt.”
    Aragorn: “I never wanted to be king anyway… I just want to go find cool stuff and kill evil critters in some dark dungeon…”
    DM: “You have to be the king, or else the world of men will fail and Orcs will rule instead.”
    Aragorn: “I hate this campaign…”

  17. Alexis says:

    #2 would be my preference. Like “damn, I thought you’d like being captain of a ghost pirate ship”. Or “you realise gold sinks?”

  18. Eorl de Jonge says:

    Players are peolpe, they will always find things wich the DM didn’t suspect. You can allways make the undead fail to destroy the ships, make the undead king to ask aragorn to try it homself and sail away once he is on board…

  19. Evrae says:

    I’m always a stickler for “the are you sure?” question normally my mistake as they normally go “Yup” and then laugh as i have to figure out what to do now that they burned all of there bridges “occasionaly litraly”

  20. Dev Null says:

    I don’t know about _stupid_ per se; I think hes got a point. He just seems to have summoned the dead king out of nowhere, so _they_ don’t need ships, and how are the 3 of them supposed to sail a ship, much less a fleet?

    But thats half of what makes Aragorn so funny in these strips. He often – usually mistakenly, in a bumbling search for treasure and/or booty – points out perfectly reasonable objections to the plot hes being railroaded into.

  21. Kris says:

    It’s good to be king, baby.

  22. Jon says:

    King Aragorn: I am your king.
    Woman: Well I didn’t vote for you.
    King Aragorn: You don’t vote for kings.
    Woman: Well how’d you become king then?
    King Aragorn: The Lady of Eldron, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Anduril from the bosom of his daughter, signifying by divine providence that I, Aragorn, was to carry Anduril. THAT is why I am your king.
    Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin’ in elf citys distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical elven ceremony.
    Dennis: Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some elven tart threw a sword at you.
    Dennis: Oh but if I went ’round sayin’ I was Emperor, just because some bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.

  23. brassbaboon says:

    “Are you sure” is one thing I try very, very hard not to say, but on occasion I do. As a player I tend to ignore the “are you sure” comment because I assume my character doesn’t hear the DM unless the DM puts something into the actual campaign for them to react to.

    Case in point, my elf-dryad druid, who is very susceptible to fire (takes 1 extra point of damage per die of damage) was engaged in a battle with a plane of fire denizen. The critter was healing by perching on a flaming torch on the top of a ten foot pole. So my druid decided to knock down the pole so that the critter couldn’t heal out of our reach anymore.

    The DM’s “are you sure?” hung in the air like a death-knell. Of course I’m sure, that’s what she would do in this situation. Of course the pole was solid metal apparently and set in a few feet of solid rock, so she simply bounced off, and was then blasted by a fire attack that very nearly killed her outright. Luckily the rogue decided to stabilize me before I died, and they managed to kill the critter without me.

    So I guess I should have listened to the DM, but the logic of my character doing something because of something the DM tells the player still escapes me…

  24. Breklor says:

    How about, “We’re noncorporeal, stupid. We can totally gank the living, but we can’t break solid objects. Hello, did you not just see us float through the gorram rock wall?”

  25. Susano says:

    Actually, I think “Eorl de Jonge” has a point. The undead army can kill the living, but can’t do much against things like walls and ships.

  26. AJ says:

    My favorite moments come from when the players do something that flies utterly in the face of everything I have planned, but being a simulationist, I let him. Then, much as I try to get them back on the dramatically appropriate path, the deviate to some unknown region of the world or story.

    The part that always makes me shake my head is when it turns out, after finally seeing what they were up to, their idea was much neater than mine to begin with, so all my energy to prevent them was making the overall story worse. Fairly humbling those moments are.

  27. Mattingly says:

    Great capture for panel four. It’s not easy for a ghost to look annoyed, but you found just the right frame.

  28. Clint Memo says:

    If the players are about to do something stupid or are missing something obvious or are making a decision without remembering something important, I have them all roll a wisdom check. I set the DC based on how bad I want them to realize whatever it is they are missing. Someone almost always makes it.
    DM: “It occurs to Legolas that if they take the ships, they could sail to Gondor instead of walking.”

  29. superfluousk says:

    “In my group, the players usually know they are about to do something incredibly stupid when the DM uses the famous words “Are you sure?”

    I do that to my students all the time. “You mean that you’re feeling ‘skanky’ today? Really? Are you SURE?”

  30. alsafi says:

    Librain @ 3-

    Woohoo! Gimli for King!

  31. jperk31260 says:

    I think I see a long sequence where Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli are running running running. I can see the dramtic apprach to Minas Tirth now… speces in the distance… blurry shape… three figures… them stopping and panting a lot saying next time lets take the ship. LMAO

  32. john says:

    “Look, are you undead or retarded?”

    My favorite line.

    Funny how the dead king is trying to steer the party to make the “right” decision.

  33. Vanykrye says:

    You know…I just had my party take a portal back to their home world…and said portal was provided by a pit fiend. Due to a deadline, they had to cross a country on foot, get the info, and get back to the pit fiend (long story), all within 3 of their days.

    Being a kind DM and knowing that they couldn’t possibly pull this off, I had a gang of bandits on horseback ambush them.

    All of my players, collectively, and nearly simultaneously: “Kill the horses.”

  34. Senalishia says:

    The characters in our group DID something stupid a few weeks back; our GM was very kind but he just couldn’t save us from ourselves. Since it was obvious that’s what he was trying to do, now we have to play every week knowing that our characters are missing a rather important piece of information…

  35. Carl the Bold says:

    RE: the title.

    Did it not occur to His Highness that he could put the ships into his Royal Invisible Leather TARDIS?

  36. Shamgar says:

    DM: “If you don't, your subjects will get restless and may start plotting a revolt.”
    Aragorn: “I never wanted to be king anyway…

    I wanted to be a…a…a LUMBERJACK!!!!

  37. Jochi says:

    Yeah, I’ve been here on both sides of the screen.
    This time, I’m thinking Gimli’ll come through without a GM’s nudge:
    “Are ye SURE, Lad? Have ye not thought what we could SELL those ships for?”

  38. Tola says:

    …It’s the DM’s fault again, for saying ‘Corsairs are ships’. They think the ships are the target, not the crew.

    The strip’s funny, but I can’t call it ‘player stupidity’.

    …How many Dead are there, anyway? COULD they run the ships, even if they wanted to?

  39. oldschoolGM says:

    Funny Stuff!

    I’m not above the occasional “Are you sure?” Just to keep things interesting, though, sometimes I throw out an “Are you sure?” when the action the characters are about to take is perfectly harmless. That really freaks them out because when/if they proceed with the action, and nothing obviously bad happens, they spend the rest of the session waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Man, I love being a GM, it’s like a license to mess with peoples heads. :)

  40. Miguelito says:

    >> In my group, the players usually know they are about to
    >> do something incredibly stupid when the DM uses the famous
    >> words “Are you sure?”

    Sadly, my group continues to think “Are you sure?” is fine.
    They have only learned that “Ooookay” means they’ve just
    DONE something stupid.

  41. Locri says:

    Actually, there is a bit of a point here that most people aren’t noticing: They never really explained how in the world a small group of living people managed to somehow sail 3 very large ships to Minas Tirith.

    And now looking up I realize that Dev Null said the same thing ^_^

  42. txknight says:

    “Locri Says:
    June 22nd, 2007 at 3:39 pm
    Actually, there is a bit of a point here that most people aren't noticing: They never really explained how in the world a small group of living people managed to somehow sail 3 very large ships to Minas Tirith.”

    I just assume they either shanghaied the original crew or the dead can become corporeal.

  43. Tsanian says:

    My players react to “Are your sure”. (luckily) i think i will try to use the AYS in an unharmfull Situation. I even now know that i will love their faces ^^

    But the best line ever is (in town).
    “You wanna do that? Ok. The guards come, arrest you and you will be executed next month”

  44. DamoJO says:

    Is the DM here a masochist? in all the games I’ve been in this sort of stupidity leads to the DM going for a party kill and drawing up a new campaign or allowing us to reroll new characters and continue (at a penalty of a level). Mind sometimes I’ve had a DM who just got bored with his own campaign cos we were sensible (Runequest, we have a farm, make farm work, help village, earn prestige, live well. Not get killed in insane encounter. So the DM PK’d us)

  45. Lee says:

    Come to think of it, why would an army of incorporeal undead need ships to cross the sea anyway? They can float through mountains, but not above water? Aragorn is totally right about why would the three of them need a whole fleet, hehe…

  46. Vinchenze says:

    why doesn’t the DM just say “Look, kill the crew and saild the ships to the city, “

  47. Vinchenze says:

    sorry about the typo

  48. jpetoh says:

    Captain Cadaver? I thought he was a vampire…

    I hope Bill Willingham doesn’t sue you. :)

  49. Vinchenze says:

    this also reminds me of a song, here’s the link.

  50. oldschoolGM says:

    Oh, and IIRC, in the books Aragorn recruited a bunch of people from the southern part of Gondor (who had been cut off from coming to the aid of Minas Tirith by the Witch King’s troops) to help man the Black Ships. I think Aragorn might have picked up some of his Rangers to help out too. I don’t have my books with me right now or I’d confirm it. In any case, I know Tolkien mentioned how they sailed the ships somewhere. Unlike the movies, the Dead left after taking the ships and didn’t go to the Battle of Pelennor Fields, as depicted in the movie.

  51. Lady of Light says:

    For those of you wondering how they took the fleet, it was mostly a fear effect, much like the Ringwraiths’ but to a lesser degree. Most of the Corsairs jumped ship.

    As for why, it makes much more sense in the book than the movie: The ghosts did NOT come to Minas Tirith. Instead, they fought the battle at the ships and were freed from their oath. At which point they disappeared, and the captives of the Corsairs (galley-slaves, etc) manned the ships willingly.

    Also, Our Heroes gathered an army of those who had not marched to the city earlier because of the now-neutralized threat of the Corsairs. It was these men who helped turn the tide of the battle.

    No “scrubbing ghosty bubbles” in the books!

  52. Lady of Light says:

    gah! Ninjaed!

  53. comicshorse says:

    That’s one of the things I didn’t like about the movie. When the undead just turn up at Gondor and slaughter everything it makes all the sacrifices the Rohirim made totally pointless. It was better in the books where the dead drove off the Corsairs and then Arragon recruited those forces that had stayed behind to defend their lands against the Corsairs.
    Oh and how exactly do incorporeal undead sail a fleet of ships anyway ?

  54. Dan says:

    In my group of friends, the DM (we take turns based on the system we’re playing) usually has a PC, as well as running all the NPC’s. When we’re stuck for what to do next, we ask the DM’s character. It always seems to work out favorably. :-)

  55. Vinchenze says:

    by who?

  56. Inane Fedaykin says:

    One option is of course to let the PCS figure it out for themselves without DM intervention.

    I’m reminded of a campaign my friend told me about. D&D based mystery that ran for a few sessions. Once they reached the end and had all the clues the DM told them to sit down and figure it out. He refused to give them anything after that. I think I’d kill any DM that tried to do that to me though.

  57. depot says:

    I just realized the significance of this title. Hehehe.

  58. Dave says:

    As always .. good stuff.. .. and how “old school” can you be if you call yourself a GM?? old school doesn’t fall for the renaming of the DM.. the DM is the DM.. he’s not the “storyteller”.. the “GM” the “shadow weaver”.. he’s the DM… damnit.

  59. Jindra34 says:

    Dave: DM is almost exclusively used for DnD other games use other titles… GM is also excepted as a correct title no matter what game you play.

  60. bugsysservant says:

    [derisive snort]: the only thing to do when your players are leaning with a lit match over the kindling of your precious campaign is to throw on some gasoline, piss of the player and give him a good hard shove.

    [Player]:Destroy the ships!!!

    [DM]:It is at this time that the ghosts reveal their hidden loyalty to Sauron, wiping out all of you.

    [Players]: WHAT!!!

    [DM]:Just joking, but seriously, you’re all screwed. I suppose that this wouldn’t be the time to remind you of the rumors you heard way back in Bree, that I forgot to mention of the fabulous treasures of the “Undying Lands”, which are barely defended. And that, oh, the Ghosts neglected to destroy one small craft that would be easily manned by, I don’t know, say three people?

  61. oldschoolGM says:

    Although I run a DnD campaign, and it’s what I cut my teeth on back in the day (I’ve been gaming since the 70s), I have played run a LOT of other systems over the years, even one I designed myself. Hence, I use GM as a generic term.

  62. brassbaboon says:

    I’m also going from memory, but I seem to recall that the corsairs were in league with Sauron and were tearing up the coast, which had tied up the forces along the coast so that they did not respond to Gondor’s call for aid since they were protecting their own lands. Among these, I thought, was a prince who joined Aragorn and brought his forces to Minas Tirith after the corsairs were defeated. Also joining Aragorn at that time was a large contingent of his kin, the rangers. So he not only found people to man the ships, he actually brought another army with him, and his army and Eomer’s cavalry eventually met in the middle of Pelinor Fields fulfilling Aragorn’s promise to meet Eomer “though all the forces of Mordor should be between us.” Something poetic like that. It was a classic pincer move that cut Sauron’s forces in two, breaking the seige and routing the orcs. Or at least that’s what I recall of the battle.

  63. As always, great screen shots, especially in frame 2 and the last frame.

    Keep the gold flow’n! :D

  64. Darin says:

    WFT?! Another comic I JUST found and it too turns out to be INCOMPLETE?! First Goblins, now this! *sigh* My week sucks. :P

  65. Parzival says:

    Find smarter players.
    #4 is obviously the wrong answer. Having players smart enough to outwit you is a tremendous pain in the backside. Don't make that mistake.

    But in this case, the players have outwitted the DM by being dumb. And that’s a lot more embarrassing. :-)

  66. suzene says:

    The cure for smart players is to put a lever in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Attach it to any horrible insta-death trap you can dream up. They will ALWAYS pull the lever, because adventurers are teh dumb.

  67. Luke (Thrythlind) says:

    Brother’s Mage-Thief: I check for traps on the door.

    Me: *emphasis* On *close emphasis* the door?

    Brother’s Mage-Thief: Yes.

    Me: *doesn’t bother rolling* You find a trap…on the way to the door.

  68. Luke (Thrythlind) says:

    ooo, better one:

    Me: The robot you’ve just defeated has started making a beeping noise that is getting faster and louder with each moment.

    Player: I’m going to go salvage the robot now.

  69. Zaxares says:

    Heh, I have to admit I’ve pulled the “Are you sure?” card a few times as a DM too. Mostly because I know that if I go ahead and let them do it, the party is either going to die or get SERIOUSLY injured (as in losing limbs/magic items, getting incarcerated AND losing all their magic items etc.) and then they’re going to bitch at me for the next several hours about how I’m “out to get them.”

    Then again, I’ve known some DMs to use “Are you sure?” as a means of getting the players to adhere to his planned adventure. Sooo, it’s kinda hard to tell if the phrase either means the DM’s trying to save your party from a major screwup, or because you’re treading into territory that he’s not prepared to deal with.

  70. Mik says:

    The other thing with ‘are you sure?’ is that sometimes the players are about to do something that wouldn’t really make sense to the characters if the players were standing in their shoes. Sometimes it’s a chance to make sure you have explained everything clearly to the players before they make their decision. Here the players haven’t nessecarily remembered that they are in the middle of nowhere without transport.

  71. Zorrin Cthan says:

    “Yo Captain Cadaver!”
    ABSOLUTE CLASSIC!! Definately my faveourite line after “YO HOBBITS!” from the fangorn strip

  72. Poptart-Mini says:

    I may be mistaken, but didn’t the undead help to take back Osgiliath in the book?

  73. Dan Hemmens says:

    Once again, I find myself firmly on the side of the players. It’s not reasonable to assume that three guys and a bunch of ghosts could sail a fleet of ships: it’s much, much more sensible to find a port and get a boat from there.

    Player “stupidity” is usually evidence of the enormous gulf between the perspectives of player and GM.

    Quite simply, the GM knows what he’ll let the players get away with, and the players don’t. If you didn’t know in advance that the players were supposed to capture these ships, you could just as easily have argued that trying to sail them by themselves was the “stupid move”.

    A lot of the time, RPGs wind up being a complicated guessing game, in which the players try and work out what the GM expects them to do, and the GM laughs at them for not having worked it out already.

  74. Of course, if you insist that the undead can’t “destroy” the ships, even while they can destroy the living aboard them, then they can’t very well sail the ships either, which leaves the king and queen and jester having to crew several vessels alone. Speaking of which, if the undead din’t crew those ships – who did?

  75. Fickle says:

    I’m waiting for Legolass/Will Turner to come into his own here. C’mon, there has GOT to be some sort of crossover joke coming up!

  76. empty_other says:

    (quoted)The cure for smart players is to put a lever in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Attach it to any horrible insta-death trap you can dream up. They will ALWAYS pull the lever, because adventurers are teh dumb.(/quoted)

    Not really. They are just human. Curious people. If YOU once came over a lever in the middle of an otherwise empty room… And didnt pull it… For how many years would you regret it? Wondering what would have happened HAD you pulled the lever.

    I know what my choice would have been. :)

  77. Lynx says:

    suzene Says:
    June 23rd, 2007 at 2:30 am

    The cure for smart players is to put a lever in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Attach it to any horrible insta-death trap you can dream up. They will ALWAYS pull the lever, because adventurers are teh dumb.

    Alternatively, the way to really mess with smart players is to put a lever in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Attach it to absolutely nothing. Sit back and watch as the players try in vain to defuse the totally imaginary death-dealing device….

  78. Jindra34 says:

    LYnx: The lever in said room should at least cause a click…

  79. Zippy Wonderdog says:

    “Are you sure?”
    A good DM shouldn’t have to use this, a good DM would throw something at the players to distract them, a Random Encounter, a NPC rocking up on a horse and imparting some vital information, whatever.
    “Are you sure?” is like marking the page in a choose your own adventure book so you can go back if you get eaten by a grue… or a gazebo for that matter.

  80. Dave says:

    Yup.. me too.. DM’d.. GM’d .. etc so forth.. my first RPG was Metamorphasis Alpha.. did the three booklets.. etc so forth.. (that means the 70s).. DM’s a DM.. it doesn’t really mean Dungeon Master.. it means The DM… I hold to my feelings that GM and it’s spin-offs are just that.. spin-offs.. Referee.. whatever.. it’s a DM. (I duck behind my desk).

  81. CyberGorth says:

    I dunno why everyone’s saying Aragorn’s decision is dumb, he’s just missing info. He doesn’t know about any time limits on them getting to Minas Tirith, the PC’s have walked/ridden to pretty much everywhere else and they’ve still got horses back with their army…Why WOULD he think they need the ships?

  82. Zaghadka says:

    Curious party member pulls the lever. Everyone winds up on the astral plane.


    (I’m reminded of that hole in Tomb of Horrors that was actually some sort of “sphere of annihilation.” Man, that sort of thing is why 3.5 has so many rules. Protection from DM 10′ radius. That’s why.)

  83. Telas says:

    Good memory. It was exactly a Sphere of Annihilation.

    And yeah, the rules have taken a lot of control/power from the GM/DM/etc. Not necessarily with good results, either… Think “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”.


  84. Scarlet Knight says:

    I like the Will Turner /Legolas morph idea! True, I like the Gilbert & Sullivan “Pirate King” idea, too, but I think the characters aren’t smart enough to tell Gibert & Sullivan from John L. Sullivan.

  85. Ed Dunphy says:

    jpetoh Says:
    Captain Cadaver? I thought he was a vampire…

    I hope Bill Willingham doesn't sue you.

    Yay! Somebody else who remembers The Elementals!

  86. damien walder says:

    In my experience, even if you think you’ve outsmarted, are sure that you’re going to outsmart or could possibly _fool_ the DM, you NEVER (jamais!) let on that that’s what you think to the DM. A crude analogy, if I may –

    “Listen, you may be my tour guide AND the local with doctor or god, but I am going in that volcano and that’s that.”

    Now, what could possibly go wrong if you did that for real?

    Ultimately D & D is a attempt at collaboration of interested parties trying to make the story better. Your Level, your story doesn’t mean much outside of the game, despite the industry that’s grown around it, but it’s more than a diversion.

    But the DM will still put a cap in your PC’s ass if you’re going off on them about how smart you are.

    Keeping it funny Shamus, well done again!

  87. damien walder says:

    Reads: WITCH doctor, heh!

  88. brassbaboon says:

    As an “old” DM who has run campaigns from the original “Advanced D&D” days, I can’t say that the current 3.5 rules feel like they remove the DM’s options. I sort of like most of the rule changes, even some that other people rail against. In many cases I feel the new rules help to avoid arguments, especially in terms of movement, placement and melee combat. Every now and then I feel a need to overrule a particular rule just because the situation feels like it needs it (last session, for example, I allowed two players to inhabit the same square for a round during combat because it made sense to do so). But overall put me down as one who appreciates the clarity the new rules provide in many cases.

  89. ChristianTheDane says:

    *snort* Captain Kadaver XD

  90. Den Store Frelser says:

    suzene Says:
    June 23rd, 2007 at 2:30 am

    The cure for smart players is to put a lever in the middle of an otherwise empty room. Attach it to any horrible insta-death trap you can dream up. They will ALWAYS pull the lever, because adventurers are teh dumb.

    Really? I would’ve tried to get everyone out of the room and have the most gullible PC pull the lever. Failing that, summoning a wimpy creature should do the trick. Levers in empty rooms are NEVER good (Helpful, maybe, but not good.). Normally they will cause great harm by opening sikrit dà¸à¸rz with monstarz, or opening sikrit trà¦pdà¸à¸rs with bà¶iling lavaz. Leaving the room might not be enough to save your characters (unmarked blakc hole/detth wawe genretator ofc lolz !!), but at least they’ll die knowing they at least tried to sacrifice someone else for their own safety.

  91. andy says:

    That was awesome. What more can I say?

  92. brad_nm says:

    Are you going to include flashes of the hobbits in their side quest? As if they’re rolelplaying on a different day to the main group?

  93. inq101 says:

    In a situation like this ask the player wether HE would prefer to walk the 100 or so miles to the city, or relax on a ship, enjoying the sun while other people do all the work.

    Or you can train your players. Mine can now tell the difference between my ‘I have an evil plan that you have just fallen into’ grin and my ‘you are just about to do something stupid so I have just come up with a new evil plan to punish you’ grin and also pay for the pizza.

  94. Paul says:

    I was having a flick through the Book of Vile Darkness yesterday, and I realised these guys arent stupid, the are Evil. Look it up some time, and you will see they are motivated by the Clasic Evil discriptions (Greed, lust etc. No thought of “Is this the right thing?”)

  95. roxysteve says:

    Lee Says:
    Come to think of it, why would an army of incorporeal undead need ships to cross the sea anyway? They can float through mountains, but not above water? Aragorn is totally right about why would the three of them need a whole fleet, hehe…

    The problem lies not in the getting rid of the ships, but the totally out-of-character order to destroy them before they had been searched thouroughly for numbers 1 through 19. Aragormless might be dimmer than a 7-watt light bulb in a brownout but he would never in a bajillion years forget he primary goal of the campaign: Ye Dyscoverie And Lyberation of Ye Loot.

    Whoops. That was Worm Ouroborousspeek, not Tolkientork. My bad.

    Shamus seems to be operating with a -2 circumstance penalty against his “remember plot” skill.


  96. Jindra34 says:

    Steve: Utterly Comical statement…

  97. brassbaboon says:

    FWIW, as a player my standard practice for levers found in the middle of the room is to rig up some sort of remote, time-delay, or both system to pull the lever without any player needing to be in the room. This has been known to backfire when the DM has inexplicably set this up to be some sort of beneficial effect, but in general my characters don’t believe in standing on a spot marked “X” and pulling a lever to see what happens. A typical time-delay technique is to tie a rope to the lever, pound a piton in a wall, run the rope around the piton to a heavy weight, then tie the weight to another piton and put a candle under it to burn the second rope through. When it burns through the weight falls and trips the lever. This usually gives the characters enough time to move to a sufficiently remote location to see what happens, and doesn’t leave a tell-tale rope behind to lead the lever-summoned pit fiend to the surprised party.

  98. Luke (Thrythlind) says:

    Poptart mini: Since no one answered you:

    No, the undead army was seen by a few peasants as it followed Aragorn to a specific hill where you bound them by their oath. (The implication was that he and his band of followers had to get there within a certain time frame without spending to much effort watching the ghost army…which would have driven them insane, I think)

    Once he bound them by the ancient oath, he took them to attack the black ships and obliterated the corsairs.

    At this point he called the oath fulfilled (though earlier he’d said that the oath would be fulfilled when the entire region was emptied of Sauron’s following…he was being nice, I guess, or just felt uncomfortable about using such power more than once).

    He filled the black ships with the Grey Company (100 Dunedain rangers + Elrond’s sons + Legolas + Gimli) and men from one of the southern regions of Gondor. There may or may not have been elves since there WAS an elf haven on the coastline in the area.

    Back at Gondor, at this time, the army of Sauron had just managed to destroy the gate, and the Witch-Lord had just started into the city to lead the attack when he was confronted by Gandalf.

    The battle of magic and power fizzles before it can begin, however. Both wizard and nazghul make their boasts and then are individually distracted.

    The nazghul turns aside when a cock crows, announcing that dawn was coming despite his master’s efforts to drive away the day, and because a Rohirrim horn is heard so after.

    Gandalf is unable to chase the nazghul, because Pippin brings word of Denethor’s madness and he has to attend that.

    The biggest opportunity in the entire story for a duel of magical power puffs out like smoke.

    Anyway, the Rohirrim, despite having much fewer men than they wanted, have come through the surrounding countryside without being noticed by the other Mordor forces in the area and proceeds to wreak havoc on the much larger, predominantly infantry, forces.

    King Theoden himself destroys the captain of the Southerlings after cutting through a multitude of that guy’s bodyguard.

    Soon after the nazghul attacks Theoden and Merry and Eowen together destroy it. Eomer sees the dead body of his uncle and the senseless body of his sister and then enters what is called a “fey” mood. In this case, fey implies “dangerous” or “obsessed with death”.

    Eomer begins what is essentially a one-man assault on the forces of mordor. His followers trail behind him but have trouble keeping up.

    The forces of mordor are reeling in confusion with their assault of the city stymied by the fact that the Black Captain left the gate and then was killed, of all things. They receive a momentary reprieve of hope and relief when they see the black ships.

    But then the black ships start pouring out Dundedain rangers each with 50 to 60 years of more or less war experience, two half-elves with centuries of age on them (Elrond’s sons) and loads upon loads of Dol Amroth men and elves. All with Aragorn at the point.

    Aragorn begins his own killing spree and starts heading straight through. As look would have it, he meets Eomer in the middle and the two then combine forces, Aragorn managing to calm Eomer’s recklessness down slightly, and proceed to remove the remaining forces from the areas about Minas Tirith.

  99. Luke (Thrythlind) says:

    and yes, the mordor army broke Minas Tirith’s gates…but never put significant forces through the gap since they had to deal with the Rohirrim at the same time…

    Also, I forgot that several of the Minas Tirith guards, though no captain of name or note led them, forayed OUT of the city to join the general massacre of orcs and southerlings out in the open field.

  100. Lynx says:

    Ah, for the heck of it… 100th!

  101. Jindra34 says:

    W00T! we are over 100… again… shows how much debating this comic causes.

  102. Scarlet Knight says:

    I keep waiting for Gimli to say, “Wait, lad! In the old books , these ship are worth 5- 25 THOUSAND gp each!”

  103. capitain says:

    Nice one! “…look, are you undead or retarded?”

    By the way this “lever”-thing is probably worth its own discussion…
    Just like the “Are you sure?”. Add different kinds of grinning and you´re entertained for the rest of the evening.

    Any player worth his salt will set up his own little subquest in pulling the lever in a safe way. And the safety measures will expand with every widening of the GM/DM´s grin. If the DM/GM won´t stop the players they will try for the rest of the short night from friday to sunday.

  104. Carl the Bold says:

    Sorry to be a stickler, but this is the first episode with a title written in Sentence case, rather than Title Case.

    If you care. . .

  105. Paulus says:

    “Luke (Thrythlind) Says:

    June 23rd, 2007 at 3:47 am
    Brother's Mage-Thief: I check for traps on the door.

    Me: *emphasis* On *close emphasis* the door?

    Brother's Mage-Thief: Yes.

    Me: *doesn't bother rolling* You find a trap…on the way to the door.”

    Urm… Doors are often traped. Door handles or the Door itself coverd in a contact poisen are two of my favorits. Works well with PC’s who go jumping in feet first.

  106. Telas says:

    Luke: Awesome post. I forgot how good the plotting actually was in the books.

    There’s a reason Gandalf and the Black Captain didn’t go mano a mano. One of the points of the story is that common men (and uncommon men, and not-quite men both common and uncommon) can overcome great evil, if they will find the courage to act.


  107. Zack says:

    I was not able to see the comic until I opened a new browser and manually navigated to the image links.

    For some reason refreshing the image and page did not work. I had the issue on a couple pages here today. Never had an issue before though.

  108. brassbaboon says:


    I guess my much more concise telling of the events surrounding Aragorn’s trip to Minas Tirith were less awesome… Although pretty much the same in essence. And I too left out the sortie from Minas Tirith, but did so purposefully feeling that there was already too much going on and that would just confuse things. Besides, I couldn’t remember who led the sortie since Faramir was on a funeral pyre at the time.

    I do admit though that Luke’s retelling is much more poetic. Although he left out the foreshadowing of the event of Aragorn and Eomer meeting after fighting through the forces of Mordor…

  109. Thenodrin says:

    I’ve always considered the DM advice of “are you sure” as being that voice in your head that warns you just before you do something dumb.

    If there are any wrestling fans here, take a look at the main event at WrestleMania XX for what I mean. Here, Brock Lesnar goes to do a finishing move that he used frequently in development, but hasn’t done since he moved up to TV. Just before he leaps, you can see his eyes go, “Bad Idea” and he crashes and burns.

    I think that was the DM warning him that even though his backstory had the acrobatics to do the move, since becoming a PC he hadn’t invested enough ranks of Tumble to reliably do the move.


  110. Marcus says:

    I think #3 is the best solution…LOL

  111. Phlodur says:

    Congratz Shamus!! Absolutly ingenious work!!
    I lmao about “Yo! Captain Cadaver!”.. great one..
    and btw my players seem to be totally immune against me asking “are you sure?”

  112. Ben says:

    well i pick #4 and # 3 they are good choices and with that comment then they only need one ship anyway for the 3 of them for the undead can walk on water

  113. nitefly says:

    In my experience there are three kind of table-top games being run by various GMs:

    Rollplaying; Focus on game mechanics with lots of statistics, characteristics and dice rolling. D&D is the optimum game for this kind of playing unless you’re masochistic enough to play Rolemaster or something like that.

    Railplaying; GM is focusing on a pre-determined story and is at least modest enough to know that their story isn’t worth putting down on paper. Players are marginalised and their input is largely ignored or changed in such a fashion that they aren’t really needed. No roleplaying game ever was made for this poor Gamemastering but it is a scourge that has ravished the hobby since it started out.

    Roleplaying; Inclusion into world of make-believe populated with reasonably realistic and living people giving the player characters all opportunities to do whatever they want with a strict sense of causality; actions have reactions, also the exclusion of certain actions when a dire situation arises. Game Mechanics support the game instead of taking center stage, NPCs are involving and interesting, GM is interacting in-character instead of via a script or a predetermined outcome. Any game system can accomodate this although I find that game systems that mechanics wise encourage this behaviour works the best (Deadlands, Exalted, Shadowrun, Ars Magica and others come to mind).

  114. Shorgoth says:

    Find smarter players is always the best option in my oppinion. Not that I want to brag or anything but my gaming group is prety much the top in brain. Wits is a warfare and sometime the dm get it in the teeth and sometim the players get it in the ass… dming us is a pain for sure but it make prety nice games with some nice rebounds sometime.

  115. Clinto says:

    No! You let them make the mistake, and let the game go into an unexpected direction! This is what makes it fun!

  116. Maladjester says:

    “Are you sure?”

    “………………………………………………………………..Well, dammit, I *WAS*!”

  117. Robin says:

    In my current game, we have three GMs who take turns, with special rules for the DMPC.

    I hereby commit that the next time I’m tempted to say, “Are you sure?” in the DM’s voice, I will instead use my DMPC’s voice to say, “Conan’s Copper Codpiece! What are you people doing??”

  118. Rose says:

    I play with one gm who you know your in trouble if he gets really excited, you know youre doing something stupid if he says “really, your going to do that, awesome.”

  119. Anonymous n00b says:

    Aragorn: “Destroy those ships!”

    King of the Dead: “The blades of the Dead strike their enemies’ souls, but ships do not have souls.”

    Also, NOT FIRST!

  120. Tachi says:

    My players know that they need to stop and reconsider the entire situation if I raise one eyebrow or if I ask, “Are you sure?” Of course, sometimes I do it just to mess with them, but they don’t know that; they just think they missed something. The one thing they do know, is that I absolutely WILL let them do something stupid enough to kill them. It makes them much more cautious.

    Rereading this whole strip from beginning to end for the fourth time. You’re the man Shamus.

  121. Warwick35 says:

    Are you undead or retarded? Classic!

  122. TheStevest says:

    After a hundred and some pages of reading this on my smartphone I finally realised that there is text hidden if you hold your thumb long enough on the picture.
    Going back to all the other pages and checking for the texts feels like backtracking. I won’t do it right now.
    Compliment from me from the future, present or past for all this.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.