DM of the Rings CXVIII:
Descriptive Text is Sometimes Important

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jun 27, 2007

Filed under: DM of the Rings 98 comments

Welcome to Minas Tirith!
Did I forget to mention the battle?

A reader wrote in to suggest this one. I admit I’ve made this blunder myself. More than once. It really is easy to goof up and describe a cave in meticulous detail, while forgetting to mention the dragon laying in the middle of the chamber.

Part of this is due to narrator’s vanity: We know that once we mention the dragon the rest of the description is going to be ignored. We want to make sure nothing we’ve written goes to waste, so we mention the most obvious details last.


From The Archives:

98 thoughts on “DM of the Rings CXVIII:
Descriptive Text is Sometimes Important

    1. Zedolor says:

      Zedolor’s GM notes…
      I always try to consider: what’s the first thing that would draw the onlooker’s eyes, and is it distracting enough to drown out other details? In the case of encountering a dragon in a cavern, I may not even offer further description beyond the dragon unless the players specifically request it.

  1. Benevolence says:


  2. Fieari says:

    I’ve done that on purpose a number of times. Although, I usually do it to build up dramatic tension, or narrative irony or something like that. Eh, quite frankly, it amuses me to see the shocked looks on their faces when I off-handedly mention the towering 50′ tall demon breathing fire in the middle of the room, chained to the pillars I just described in meticulous detail.

  3. Tuccy says:

    As always… Priceless!

  4. Germelia says:

    *drools on Colin Firth*

    oh, right.

    Gimli’s expression is priceless! Nice one!

  5. Wraithshadow says:

    Ah, see- the secret to avoid missing something like that is foreshadowing. Drop little hints about something else going on, something really interesting, at the beginning and then refer to it now and again in passing as you detail the place.

    Even if you forget this major detail, your players won’t. And in the process, they’ll pay attention.

  6. Kris says:

    So, my RSS Feed just picked up the new comic, and already there were 5 comments. I’m just curious if you have the statistics for how many people sit at your site refreshing every 20 seconds to catch the “Firth” Comment when they should be working?

    Got any numbers for us?

  7. seabsicuit says:

    Whilst very funny, I was hoping for a Pirates / LOTR crossover joke after Monday’s installment.

    But hey, Mr Darcy made up for that

  8. Ninja Raven says:

    note to self: You’ll miss important bits of plot if you cut the DM off short.

  9. Heh! I once had a party search a complete mansion and felt they were missing some clues…

    Then I noticed I forgot to tell them about the dismembered corpses in the hall…

  10. Nanja Kang says:

    As a DM I concur with both statements.

  11. NeedsToHeal says:

    Heh. My bad.

    This cracked me up!!!

  12. Roxysteve says:

    Now I can’t get the picture of Aragormless and the King of all Bones fighting each other “Bridget Jones” style, with each one trying to hit the other while simultaneously keeping as far away from them as possible.


  13. A friend is in the process of setting up a MUD, and I threw together a Wiki to help with some world design.

    I’ve been sketching out a description of a city, and did pretty much exactly that. Lots of detail followed by the dragon in the fountain right at the end. (Although it is trapped in the ice and not much of a threat :D )

    I’m still quite pleased with my concept, so I’ll probably publish it on my blog once I’ve finished polishing it.

  14. arcosh says:

    GM(me): In the corner of the room you see a pair of boots.
    Player: Is there someone in the boots? Hey, with him you have to ask that.

  15. Reverend JIm says:

    Ah, flavor text. I remember taking my group through Ravenloft and reading about “the diaphanous cobwebs” and “ornate candelabras” et cetera and only then mentioning the red-eyed ueber-vampire coming to get them.

    Good times, good times.

  16. Paul says:

    “Firth Post!” Dude! That’s a master stroke. Do you think the silliness will stop now, or are you going to have to do that for every entry?

  17. Jindra34 says:

    The battle is joined agian

  18. Jindra34 says:

    and Paul thats the second time he has done that. so no the madness will not stop.

  19. Thenodrin says:

    My favourite part is, “Even if I had told you about the fighting, you guys would have tried to go shopping anyway.”

    I wonder, when did D&D become a shopping trip? I first noticed it in 2002. But, it does seem to be a widely popular conception.


  20. Da Rogue says:

    this obsession with first post is qetting a little weird now. It’s some of those psychos who date and get married through W.O.W. *shivers*

    1. WJS says:

      I don’t see why it should be considered weirder than any other online romance.

  21. AngiePen says:

    Da Rogue — my husband and I met playing GemStoneII, which was way before multi-player online roleplaying games got “massive.” Nothing weird about it. Or at least, nothing new about it. ;)


  22. Max says:

    I would do something similar with pre-written adventures. I’d read the given description of the room (which, for some reason, never included monsters…even if they were standing in the middle of the room) and my PCs would begin to choose an exit from the description, and I’d say, “Wait! There’s a monster in here!”

    And they’d moan because I didn’t mention it in the first place.

  23. Breklor says:

    I’m of two minds about the “Oh, by the way, there’s a dragon” approach. On the one hand, it’s funny, sure; but on the other, it’s not at all how we perceive things. In fact, having a big honkin’ dragon flaming all over the place is more likely to distract from, say, the ninja kobold behind the stalactite, or the sinkholes in the corner where your rogue wants to hide in shadows.

  24. Caius says:

    at least they didn’t have to make a spot check to notice the battle. And believe me, more than one person in a group can roll a natural one.

    1. WJS says:

      Spot is specifically only rolled if the subject is hiding or otherwise difficult to see.if your DM makes you roll spot checks to see people standing out in the open, rub his nose in the rulebook.

  25. Keldin says:

    Unbelieveably hilarious — I’ve seen this happen far too many times! DMs desperately trying to keep the players’ attention is a cause of much hassle in the game.

  26. brassbaboon says:

    Well, if you are using miniatures, it gets a bit harder to forget to mention the dragon in the room. Unless you forget the miniature, of course. I have begun printing out large maps and uncovering the areas as the players move around. So I have a smaller “map key” sheet which has all the “invisible” things, such as traps or secret doors. Because of the dual activity of removing the covering over the corridors, and checking the current location, there have been a few “oh, before you get there… you fell into a 10 foot pit with spikes sticking up from below…”

    What I need is a computer-operated gaming table with automatic triggering of events as players move around… Yeah… that’s the ticket….

  27. Al Shiney says:


    Shamus, I’m sorry if you were planning this next, but I gotta do it …

    Go get a picture of former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist and inscribe the words “FRIST POST” underneath it for Friday!

    Oh yes, great comic … “The what now?” Classic!

  28. Marmot says:

    I guess that now they know (hehe) that there are shops in Minas Tirith they will be extra motivated to get through those orcs by any means necessary :)

  29. Al Shiney says:

    Wow, 27 is my lucky number … cool!

  30. Shamus says:

    Al: Yup. That’s exactly what you’re getting on Friday.

  31. Ben says:

    I think the screen-caps are once again an excellent indication. The first Minas Tirith is an architechtural marvel, sitting on a pristine plain. This is an excellent depiction of the setting description, assuming you forget about the army!!!

    As a DM, I always described the setting first then went for the bang ending with the monster. This led my group to only pay attention when my tone changed, “Sitting in the middle of the room…”

  32. Al Shiney says:

    Wow Shamus, now I truly am sorry for spoiling the fun. I guess it serves me right that my original post was later moved from 27 to 28.

  33. Nilus says:

    Honestly D&D has always been about shopping. Look back to the early days of the hobby. It wasn’t really about role playing then it was about going to towns, equipping characters and then crawling through a dungeon. And every good party carried a ten foot pole and 50 feet of rope.

    I don’t think D&D even started to be about anything other then shopping and killing until the 80s. Then we started getting campaign worlds that were more coherent and every adventure wasn’t just a dungeon crawl.

  34. -Chipper says:

    “Point taken” – great!

    Re: comment number 1- shouldn’t it be “Firth Potht”?

  35. I enjoy the comic very much. But I loathe Pirates of the Caribbean. First one was awesome, the rest blew.
    So… no more pirates please?

  36. Colin says:

    Firth Pimp!

  37. moonglum says:

    Hey at least you eventualy told the players the improtant details…I tended to get bored with long monologs discribing settings…my players quickly learn to pay attention to the Yaddas thats where the improtant stuff hides

    Them: what do you mean we need the enchanted crossbow bolt
    Me: I’m sure I mentioned it, it must have been one of the yaddas

  38. oldschoolGM says:

    I find that this is really only a problem when running published adventures. Some modules will list the room description in a shaded or offset text box, and then put the occupants of the room underneath. First edition modules were especially bad in this regard. I suppose the reason it was done this way is because the monsters in the room could easily have been drawn out of the room by the players actions before the players entered the room. The writers wanted to give a room description that could be read right out of the book regardless of where the monsters had gotten to. The problem is, of course, that when working out of a module, the DM’s natural tendency is to just start reading the highlighted text when the characters enter the area.

    I find its much less of a problem when I write my own stuff. I can lay out my notes and descriptions in the way that I know will let me keep track of what I should be describing first. It still happens on very rare occasion. That situation is on of the very few where I give my players a “do over” when declaring their actions, especially if there is just no way the characters would have acted the way they did if I had described the obvious encounter first.

  39. Rolld20 says:

    They should wade into battle singing BNL’s “Shopping”:

    “It’s never enough,
    till you’ve got all the stuff.
    When the going gets rough,
    just shop with somebody tough!”

  40. MOM says:

    That’s a good picture of you, but you misspelled first

  41. corwin says:

    Nilus: In my day, every /character/ carried a 10′ pole, 50′ of rope, and at least 10 iron spikes…

  42. Dannerman says:

    Actually, I have a house rule which goes something like; “You don’t need to interrupt me, and don’t count on me ever repeating anything.” Whilst I don’t go in for the whole ‘bore your players to tears with overly long descriptions\flavour text’ it gets me quite annoyed when players cut me off mid-description.

    I’ve used lines like; “Ok, the orcs in the chamber let you walk right in the middle of them and then they attack you. I’m gonna rule this as a surprise round for the orcs and yes, you’re flat-footed. Did I mention one of these orcs has some rogue levels?”

    Whilst possibly one of the worst abuses of power a DM can commit (as demonstrated in the comic) it makes damn well sure they listen next time.

    (I have anger issues. My biggest DM-flaw. I’ve ever not killed a character doing this, but I guess it don’t really make it right. Ah well, I’ve got a game on Sunday as well – my first in a while… Hope it goes ok.)

  43. oldschoolGM says:

    corwin Says:In my day, every /character/ carried a 10″² pole, 50″² of rope, and at least 10 iron spikes…

    Heh, that could be the subject of a comic. I’ve had this conversation before:

    DM: You have noticed that the stone of the corridor ahead of you looks different somehow.

    Player: I poke it with my 10 foot pole

    DM: What? Where did you get the 10 foot pole from?

    Player: I bought it with my starting gold, its right here on my sheet.

    DM: You JUST crawled through a twisty tunnel not 4 encounters ago, how could you have brought a 10 foot pole?

    Player: Hey, you’re the one who said we didn’t have to worry about the encumberance rules.

    DM: Only because they are incomprehensible!

    Moral of the story: don’t count on your players to use common sense and spacial logic when it comes to what stuff their players have.

    (actually the group I run right now is pretty good about that, but you get the point)

  44. Telas says:

    Firth of Forth!

    I mean…


  45. Rattastic says:

    “Heh. My bad.”

    All I can say to this is: HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

    I’ve done this soooooooo many times lol :)

    Awesome strip Shamus!


  46. PotatoEngineer says:

    DM: You JUST crawled through a twisty tunnel not 4 encounters ago, how could you have brought a 10 foot pole?

    And this is why 3rd edition has the collapsible 9-foot pole. For best results, though, it really needs a gaff hook on the end for extra poking-and-prodding action.

  47. Rhykker says:

    I was eating while reading this page… almost a big mistake. Once I read the DM’s final words of the comic, my computer was nearly showered with half-chewed food.


  48. Quicksilver says:

    I love it!

    … but I think there’s a minor error in panel four. Shouldn’t that be facing “oSgiliath”, not “oGgiliath”?

  49. Flexstyle says:

    “Point taken.”

    That’s my favorite line of the strip. This is easily one of my favorite strips as of recently, excellent work here!

  50. Cheesemaster says:

    Haha, I’ve made that mistake in describing far too many times.

    You’ve probably never heard of him, but you could use Charles Firth from (Australian satire news shows) CNNNN and The Chaser, he even has a segment called “Firth with the Facts”.

  51. Angela Christine says:

    “I wonder, when did D&D become a shopping trip? I first noticed it in 2002. But, it does seem to be a widely popular conception.”

    It was a gimmick to lure in the female gamer market. *sage nod*

  52. Avaz says:

    53 Angela Christine Says:
    June 27th, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    “I wonder, when did D&D become a shopping trip? I first noticed it in 2002. But, it does seem to be a widely popular conception.”

    It was a gimmick to lure in the female gamer market. *sage nod*

    Truer words have ne’er been spoken.

  53. Attorney At Chaos says:

    Quicksilver –

    That’s just an artifact of the font being used. The letters are so close together that a preceding letter that bulges (like an “O”) often will “fill in the gap” at the lower left of the “S”, making it look like a “G”.

  54. brassbaboon says:

    IDMS, or “Inattentive DM Syndrome” can have many flavors. The campaign I am running right now is a low level campaign, and the players are ultra-cautious. At one point when the came to a room that had a hole in one wall, they tied a rope around the rogue halfling’s waist and held onto it as he carefully crawled into the hole, where he discovered a hidden room. Inside that room were some giant insects and a chest. Soon enough the fight was on and after a short but fierce battle, the insects were dead and the chest was opened.

    On the group goes to the next room, where the rogue fails a trap check, then fails a reflex save check and falls into a hole.

    The paladin suddenly remembers the rope tied around his waist. “Hey we never untied him.”

    DM: “Um… waitaminute, you haven’t been walking around the dungeon trailing fifty feet of rope…”

    Paladin: “Where is the rope then?”

    DM: “Um.. er.. OK, as the rogue falls through the floor, the rope trailing behind him slides in after him.

    Paladin: “I was right behind him, do I see the rope?”

    DM: “Yes.”

    Paladin: “I grab the rope.”

    DM: “OK, roll an agility check (sets DC to 20)”

    Paladin: “A natural 20! Woohoo!”

    DM: “…”

    Paladin: “Did I grab it?”

    DM: “…”

    Rogue: “Yeah, did he grab it?”

    DM: “Um… make a strength check.”

    Paladin: “16, +2”

    DM: “….”

    DM: “OK, as the rogue falls through the floor, you make a wild grab at the rope. Amazingly you succeed in grabbing it. It jerks hard on your hands, giving you some nasty rope burns, but you manage to hang on, and set your feet before you too go over the edge. The rogue is now hanging 15 below the floor, and about the same distance above a floor where he can just make out some movement in the darkness.”

    Paladin: “I pull him back up.”

    DM: “OK.”

    DM: “Are you untying the rope now?”

    Eventually they untied him after I made it clear that now that I REMEMBERED the rope was tied to him and trailing along the floor, it was prone to tripping the party, snagging on things and was a nice handle for beasties who might want a quick halfling snack. But the damage was done, and the trap was avoided. All because I forgot that they had tied a rope to the halfling…

  55. Scarlet Knight says:

    “Doyle, Lord Of Asgard Says:So… no more pirates please?”

    Life without pirates? Why not just take away the wind in our face? The adventure in our heart? The rum in our veins? Nay, I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me port liberty, or give me death!

  56. Jaja says:

    Angel *53 & Avaz *54:

    I am nodding sagely in unison with you, though I must confess, it wasn’t really shopping that got me hooked on RPG’s and tabletop gaming (and thus becoming both my husband’s champion AND sometimes bane of his existence) –


  57. ahh, too good!

    Tis has happened to me ac couple times, but mostly because I wing my descriptions most of the time :D

  58. Dave says:

    What are you guys talking about? Comic?? Ya mean this isn’t just a firth post race?? Hmm.. perhaps I’ll have to read this aforementioned comic.

  59. Dean says:

    More years ago than I’ll admit to, the group I was in was gaming at about 3 or 4 am.
    DM: Do you want to go into the room and kill the 20 orcs?
    US: Yeah, we’ll kill the 20 orcs.
    DM: How’d you know there were 20 orcs?

  60. Jim says:

    I think instead of “Firth Post” it should read “Firth Poth.”

  61. Zorgwest says:

    To brassbaboon above (post 27). I knew I remembered reading about something like you were wishing for. A quick google search and there you go:

  62. Luke (Thrythlind) says:

    Player 1: “I go through the curtain into the room.”

    DM: “You see a 50′ x 50′ room with nothing in it aside from the door at the end of the hall.”

    Player 2: “I go through the curtain into the room.”

    DM: “You see a 50′ x 50′ room with nothing in it aside from a door at the end of the hall.”

    Player 2: “Wait…” *points to Player 1*

    DM: “You see a 50′ x 50…”

    Players: “Everything in this room is invisible, isn’t it?”

    DM: *archs eyebrows innocently*

  63. Lars says:

    A *very* good DM friend of mine used the principle of describing from most noticable first then with more and more details, interspersed with little pauses, until the players reacted. Gives the players a chance to react in a panic to important things or wait around to hear details if they care to (yes, some players actually care to).

    As for first posts: FOAD.


  64. Mitey Heroes says:

    Interesting, looks like they don’t have the dead guys any more? Maybe the comic is diverging from the film back to the book?

    Or, maybe, the next scene will be the GM realising he’s sent the players into instant death, and being forced to suddenly re-introduce the dead?

  65. Medium Dave says:

    Opposite situation-

    New GM-“You hear a flapping noise out in the hall, sounds like stirges”

    Player 1-“WTH? What is stirge?”

    Player 2″Did you say SOUNDS like stirges?”

    Helpless laughter for five minutes.

  66. Tola says:

    …Is it me, or do Legolas and Aragorn always have their hair either straight(ish) or wind-swept….never in-between or anything?

  67. Shamus says:

    To the person whose comment I just deleted:

    I cannot imagine a more effective way to threadjack than to bring up The War. I’m sure you’re painfully aware that that the things you espoused are not Universally Recognized Truths, and that dissenters are likely to hop in here and spar with you. I can see the point-counterpoint grinding on for a hundred posts or so. No way am I babysitting that sort of mess.

    I keep politics off this site for that very reason.

  68. brassbaboon says:


    Thanks for the link, I’d actually seen that already. I’ve even tried to prototype using a horizontally placed LCD screen as a play area (some of those 22″ models could potentially be workable…). The projectors are unweildy and expensive (the bulbs alone can be hundreds of dollars to replace) so they really only work well when you have a permanent setup, which isn’t realistic for my group, and the LCD monitors are directionally visible, meaning that when you lay one down, from one side you might see a very nice map, but from another side you only see dark gray images with no color.

    And that doesn’t even address the automatic identification of traps, hidden doors, monsters, etc…. So it’s a start, but there’s a long way to go for what I’m dreaming of… Which is probably not practical and there wouldn’t be enough people wanting one to make it marketable anyway… sigh.

    Shamus, I am amazed that people can interrupt the critical and pressing importance of DM of the Rings with such frivolous nonsense as current events. I mean, let’s get real and focus on priorities here! ;)

    One reason I like to play low-level campaigns with relative newcomers is that they don’t have the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio and a dozen special release monsters memorized. I find it a lot more fun when the player is as surprised by a new creature as their character is. Since I enjoy that so much, it is pretty rare that you encounter actual Monster Manual monsters, outside of goblins, kobolds and other things that make sense to be more or less common knowledge. I frequently take the attributes of a level-appropriate creature, describe it completely differently, but play it more or less as the Monster Manual says. It’s interesting how much it will throw off the seasoned player to have them fight a blue-skinned, bug-eyed, dragonfly-winged critter that is really just a standard mephit in disguise.

  69. Mik says:

    I’d have thought it was possible to do something with an interactive whiteboard, and may even have seen it done on the web somewhere. But I think anything that technical needs to be in a devoted room until intelligent paper finally hits the market.

  70. Stacey says:

    This is just getting good. I can’t wait for the rest to come. I hope my friend Rachel is continueing to visit this site, away from!

  71. Alasdair says:

    70.: “I find it a lot more fun when the player is as surprised by a new creature as their character is… I frequently take the attributes of a level-appropriate creature, describe it completely differently, but play it more or less as the Monster Manual says.”

    That’s a much better tactic than the one my old DM used: he simply refused to play with anyone who owned a copy of the Monster Manual (or DM’s Guide)!

    It worked for a while – the other players and I did as he asked, and didn’t buy the books. But then we discovered the whole SRD is online anyway…

  72. Forge says:

    Whiteboard/projector people:

    While it’s not level, any good LCD/plasma TV of size should have computer-ready inputs. Not having the map horizontal can be a minor problem when you realize it’s now 60″ diagonally.

  73. Samir says:

    my favorite..

    you see a 100 by 100 room, a dragon is in the center of the room… 10 ft from you.

    Some players got it immediately.. some did not.

  74. Matthew says:

    Re the brief discussion on Whiteboard/Projector – I reckon you should just wait a few more years – Microsoft (through acquisition) are getting into a new interface paradygm – “Surface Computing”.

    Check out for a demo of it.


  75. JC says:

    Long time reader, first time poster!

    Love the work and look forward to reading it every time!
    I *still* laugh about the ‘and this is my…uuhhh…quiver full of tiny walking sticks’ whenever I’m hanging out with my DM buddy

    noticed someone mention the darkness of Gemstone. I was on board with them during the transition into GSIV…I hope they like the code they never paid me for….anyways, just wanted to give a shout out to a fellow Elanthian.

    peace and love,

  76. Han says:

    I’m glad you liked it!

  77. Shimoda says:

    Heh. The following is one of my favorite lines from any game.
    “As you top the rise, you see a small house…”
    “Great! Let’s loot it!”
    “…wielded by…”
    “Nevermind, we run.

  78. BillionSix says:

    It reminds me of a paragraph from Douglas Adams’ novel, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” where one of the characters discovers a horse in a bathroom. The paragraph did exactly what happened here. It described the bathroom in exacting detail, including the old but servicable fittings, and the quality of the floor tiles and stuff. Then at the end, it said, “There was also a large horse in the room, taking up most of it.”

  79. Alan Kellogg says:

    “Resembling nothing more than a badly done Italian wedding cake.” Henry Beard and Douglas C. Kenney, Bored of the Rings

  80. Seve says:

    I have some not so funny experiences from our first gm who described room really accurately as our characters were peeking from door to make sure we don’t run to ambush. When we entered the room to go check the door leading out of that said room and to check for anything valuable gm tells that we can’t quite do that as there are 15 orcs surrounding us… Talk about teleporting enemies of doom. We all died.

  81. Seve says:

    And no we didn’t even get spot check on them…

  82. Cynder says:

    Gee, I’ve never known men to like shopping so much XD

  83. Joe says:

    I understand that the point of this strip was the GM’s mistake, but I just have to say: Though I love roleplaying and game-mastering, it irks me to know end when players choose not to listen to description and then make a big deal out of how: “if I’d know such and such, I would have done X differently”. Bugs!

  84. Morambar says:

    Um. What was the dragon laying in the dungeon…? A trap…? A plot…? An egg…? And was he lying in the dungeon while he did it, or standing erect…?

  85. Black Eagle says:

    There is an even “better” thing, that can happen to you, if you dont read the description for yourself until reading it aloud:

    You read the description to your players, starting with “The door leads you to the living room…” describe the whole room, including light, furniture, people, doors, windows etc. and end with the words: ” … The door is locked.”

    Happened to me once. Wont happen again.

  86. Stapler says:

    Reminds me of early (level-wise) in our campain.

    DM: “And over here there are beds…”
    Friend: “I loot the beds!”
    DM: “So, while you are looting the beds, the orcs that are standing in the room take notice of you and strike…”

    Okay, so not a spectacularly terrible predicament, but it taught us, “First lesson in entering a room, let the DM finish.”

  87. A bad DM says:

    This happens to me all the time. ALL the time.

  88. Robin says:

    One alternative is to let the only person who listens to you get the major advantage it brings. I once played a thief who had opened a chest. The DM said, “You find 10,000 gold pieces, 50 platinum pieces, two potions and a scroll.” I said, “Hey guys, we just found 10,000 gold pieces, 40 platinum pieces, two potions and a scroll.” Since nobody else listens to the DM when the thief is opening a chest, no other PC ever knew I had just pocketed ten platinum pieces.

    Alternatively, you should stop the interruptions long before the important room.

    The correct answer to somebody who interrupts your description to say “We loot the room!” is to respond with “You don’t do anything until I tell you to roll initiative.” Do this even when there’s no monster, to determine who can pick up the loot first. I like to roll for initiative for every room with monster, treasure or trap, a few other rooms, when there’s a general spot check, and whenever they interrupt me.

    If they always roll initiative, then they stop interrupting you with proposed actions, and better yet, you can have them rolling initiative for a battle before they know there’s a battle coming.

    Ideally, if they are surprised, then the first they hear of the orcs will be “Suddenly, an orc hits Fineous for 7 points of damage, and you all see 20 orcs coming out of the darkness.” Surprise means surprise.

  89. Pat says:

    Actually, if you think about the way humans filter information. You should only talk about the most important things.

    So if the party has fighters in it mention the dragon and not the gold. If it has thieves in it mention the gold and not the dragon :-)

    But think about it: you walk into a party. Do you notice everything about the room and the music? Or do you notice the hot chick (guy)dressed as a cute elf? :-)

    90% of the time — hot chick and hours later you will not remember anything else.

    Of course, part of the reason will be that you will not notice the hot chick’s football-player boyfriend with the jealous temperament and an excellent right hook. :-)

    And that’s my point, we do get fixated on one thing and ignore other details. This is how magicians work.

    So use this to your advantage:

    The “obvious” pit is not obvious if a dragon is breathing on the adventurers.

    The “obvious” skeletons hidden in the shadows are not obvious to the adventurers who are just seeing the pile of gold coins on the altar.

    The poor illusion of gold coins on the altar is not obvious if the adventurers have been asking about treasure — they are seeing what they want to see.

    1. WJS says:

      The rules specify a -5 to spot checks if you’re distracted. Reading “distracted” to mean “in combat” is an unnecessarily narrow reading…

  90. Michael says:

    Heh. One time I ran a module, and read the description. I stopped after it said “GM Note:”, but that of course told me players that there was something special about that last item.

  91. WJS says:

    How about giving only a most basic description of the room until after the party has killed the orcs and, y’know, actually have time to look around without getting whacked on the head? As has been pointed out, if there’s a bloody great lizard towering over them, the adventurers are unlikely to notice much about the room unless they kill it first, at which point they should get a more detailed description.

    1. WJS says:

      Oh hey, I commented on this strip the last time around!

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