#3 Have Heroes, Won’t Travel

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 1, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 41 comments

The GM will often present you with obvious, obtainable goals. Under no circumstances should you attempt to complete these goals. He’s planned ahead, and he knows you’re coming. Make every effort to be as random and as unpredictable as possible. The relentless chaos will ensure that the GM is just as in the dark as you are.

And then, it’s just you vs. the dice.


Shawn Says:

I loved making Casey’s map. I lost the larger version of the file during the Great Shawn’s Computer Blew Up of ‘08, so if anyone saved a copy you absolutely should share it. I’m fairly sure I have the original line art somewhere, but finding it, scanning it again, and tweaking the graphics aren’t high on my To Do list right now.

Fun Fact: the comic was originally in Black & White. After a week or so, we went back and reposted the first few strips in color and went on to do the rest of the comic in full color. There’s a story and a moral there, but I think it will wait for another day.

Fun Fact #2: once the comic archive has run through it’s entirety, you’ll be able to play the Chainmail Bikini Drinking Game. Start with the first comic, and a case of beer. Take a sip of beer every time I drew someone talking with their mouth closed. It’s a bad habit I try to avoid now, and when I look back at these strips it’s just glaringly bad how no one ever opens their mouth to talk.

As a total aside, maybe Friday I’ll ramble about the fonts a bit. I still think they were a good idea for the most part, but they were certainly a dividing factor in the original audience.

Shamus Says:

Yeah. “Smart ones”. What a punchline. I was still stuck in the mode where panel 3 felt like the end of the set-up for the joke. Actually, I still feel like that pretty often.

EDIT 2019: Yeah, this punchline still doesn’t work for me. But I like the rest of the comic. I can’t believe we lost Shawn’s map. I remember it had lots of cool little details on it.

EDIT A FEW DAYS LATER: The map has been found! You can see it here in all its “huge by the standards of 2007” glory. Thanks so much to Mariusz Pociask for digging it up.


From The Archives:

41 thoughts on “#3 Have Heroes, Won’t Travel

  1. CrimsonCutz says:

    Ah, Dire Plains. You see a lot of spooky forests, nasty swamps, infuriating ice levels, malicious mountains and the like, but the plains are usually a pretty safe place. Nice to see that even friendly, open fields can be a hellish nightmare in the right hands.

    1. Geebs says:

      They’re right next to the Meadow of Excruciation.

      1. Droid says:

        Why does all of that make me think of Dwarf Fortress?

  2. decius says:

    I like the concept of using fonts to characterize characters and voices, but I feel like the fonts used didn’t do that very well. At least, I don’t get any characterization synergy from those font choices, which seem to have been selected simply for being different, and not reinforcing the rest of character development.

  3. BlueHorus says:

    I’m curious: what do you actually do, in this situation? You’ve written a campaign and the players just want to do something else. Just get out one of the generic example adventures from the book?

    I’d be tempted to say ‘The king’s offering an enormous reward for Deuse Bajj’s head’ or ‘But Deuse Bajj killed your father!’ Etc, but that might not work…

    Also, are we skipping ZOMGRAPEGATE!!!!!, or is that coming up soon? We appear to have missed out charater generation, which from my experience is what players spend the most time doing.

    1. Chris says:

      put your notes aside, let them decide where they walk to, make up stuff on the spot, make sure they have fun and youre not railroading them, and just wing it. At the end you can either have the world suddenly end because the big bad wasnt interrupted in his ritual to destroy the world. Or you start another campaign and use your material there.

      What I usually do is that I just make a very vague end goal and focus on making small modules. If they resist going somewhere I want, I just drop it. Maybe loop them around later. I had this setup where in a town there was a church which was kinda spooky. They refused to go in and deal with the threat inside so I let them leave. Then later they came across a village haunted by ghosts and skeletons with an eery church in the middle. I just upgraded the monsters from cultists to skeletons.

    2. Jack V says:

      This is the perennial question of roleplaying.

      One half of the question is, don’t prep a plot. We already have books. Prep enemies, locations, hooks, etc. Have some big goals drawing the players and likely set-pieces like the inevitable showdown with the dark lord’s lieutenant. Build the adventure out of the things that catch the players’ interest, and as long as they’re there, they’ll run into those locations or opponents one way or another, whereas if you prepped a plot unfolding in order, it will just never happen.

      The other half is, play a game everyone actually wants to play. Some people like a story. Some people like exploring a world. Some people want a path already written to follow, like a computer game. Some people want to test their tactical prowess. Some people don’t know what they want until they start playing.

      But ideally, you make sure GM and players are on the same page before you start at least with “do you accept this quest”, and the GM is clear what’s a “here’s an opportunity if you like” and what’s “this is what I prepped, just go ahead and accept it or there’s no game to play”.

      Of course, this group didn’t do ANY of this, because it’s funnier when they’re inexperienced or dysfunctional :)

    3. Joshua says:

      We always seemed to have an unspoken understanding. I don’t come up with an unreasonable premise for a quest, and they don’t fart around trying to do anything else but what I have prepared for them.

      Only issues are when I’d run a prewritten module, and I’d occasionally get someone to point out an issue. For example, I was running one where the PCs saw a man crying in an Inn, and he wanted to hire them to try to find his sister, who was missing. My wife’s character jumped all on him for hiring us to do the work as opposed to hiring us to protect him while *he* looked for his sister.

      1. William Beasley says:

        Might have been a fun roleplay moment to have said character slowly rise from the table clutching a gnarled cane to compensate for his missing leg and lament how he wished he could.

        1. Joshua says:

          Eh, the players would probably view that as a cheat for not being able to see it for themselves nor have the NPC mention it for why he can’t do it himself. It’s one thing for the audience not to realize that John Locke is handicapped due to strategic camera shots, but pulling the same trick on characters who are right there just to say “Boy, now don’t YOU feel like a jerk now?” isn’t going to go over well.

          1. Jbc31187 says:

            I don’t know, I think it’s a common enough comedy trope to be funny instead of insulting.

          2. William Beasley says:

            Sitting at a table with legs underneath would make it hard to see such a thing. But the point of that is that they are being a jerk by demanding for the NPC to not only wanting money but also wanting the NPC to temporarily join the party.

            The purpose is to give the player a reason that the NPC is not doing so in a method to hopefully engage in roleplay. Other methods can work such as having him be a massive coward or otherwise unsuitable to take to the field as you are just trying to engage them while moving the book forward in a painless method. While having players be unreasonably aggressive in social encounters can work, it normally doesn’t work out long term in groups.

            In any matter, I was attempting to make the point that there typically aren’t issues, just opportunities. Hopefully opportunities to further the plot, make connections, or just further engagement.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Sure, but this is by no means a dealbreaker and can in fact be a great boon. For example depending on how well the character you wife was playing was defined this could be a sign of a character trait that was hitherto not established (like a belief that one should risk everything for their family) but that may enhance further roleplaying. As far as the quest is concerned the NPC may be incapable of doing that for some reason (as people have suggested), he might not have even thought about it as an option and may embrace the offer (and the party has just roped themselves into additional escort quest on top of search and possibly rescue), he may be trying to appear more distraught than he actually is (could there maybe be more to this quest? could it be a trap? could his sister not be missing at all and something else is going on?), for that matter what are his tracking (or combat) skills and would his presence contribute anything to the search (or rescue) effort or just lead into further complications (not necessarily a bad thing from gameplay perspective).

    4. William Beasley says:

      I tend to have an end goal in mind for the campaign and various scenes that will progress the actual plot, but I do not typically start by giving them a huge task to overcome. It is better to start with smaller modules and character-centric adventures where you start building up the endgame. Take character choices and backstory in mind to help flesh out the path to that location. Until the player sees it, it doesn’t technically exist so things can be moved around and modified to better fit the game you’re actually playing and not the game you want to play.

      As for character creation, I typically have a bunch of tables for backstory creation for players that don’t want to put a ton of effort into it. The backstory game where they roll up random points about there backstory is a surprisingly good time with a group for a first meeting. Though people that insist on amnesia still get one, I just do it by myself secretly and they have to agree to that for them to take amnesia.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        The backstory game where they roll up random points about there backstory is a surprisingly good time with a group for a first meeting.

        That’s a great idea, since in my experience at least some of players write characters that are just statlines. You can weave exposition for the campaign into the characters.

        Also just the potential of:
        ‘So *rolls dice*. You had a traumatic experience as a child which was…*roll*…orc…*roll* …traders….*roll*…sold your family a ponzi scheme…*roll*…that caused your parents to…*roll*…become palace guards. This experience has left you with a hatred of, um, conmen, I guess, and…*roll*…a fear of…*roll*…chickens.’

        1. William Beasley says:

          Potential? It’s almost a guarantee.

          Chicken phobia is a great bit of roleplay fun.

          1. Philadelphus says:


            “What?! Where??” *looks around franctically*

            “No, I was calling you a…wait, what?”

    5. Shamus says:

      The controversy begins at #6.

      Note to all: Let’s at least wait until then to discuss it.

      1. Joshua says:

        I’ll wait until then. Shamus, have you seen the following video? Thought you’d find it pretty interesting compared to DM of the Rings.


    6. Narkis says:

      Well, nowadays I let them do what they want, make some stuff on the spot and rework some of what I had prepared behind the scenes so that they match the new circumstances. My players can never tell the difference and they think I’m prepared for everything they might do.

      Back in the olden days, when I was a wee lad and didn’t have the confidence to pull the above off, I would just tell them OOC: “Look guys, this is all I have. Work with me here and we can all have some fun” and they would usually too. Some people would vehemently object to the rails and refuse, but then I would no longer play with those people and we’d all be happier apart.

    7. Viktor says:

      “A group of men burst through the door with crossbows! Roll initiative.”
      You have encounters ready, you have locations, figure out what the players want and then repurpose your work to fit. And don’t be afraid to call for a break when the players go completely off the rails.

      It helps to ask the players what they want beforehand and build your campaign to fit. If the players want story, get their backstories and work with them to build in questhooks. If they want big setpiece battles, dangle a dragon in the distance and put the plot between them and it. They want skillful combat? War has been declared, the army is getting pushed back, you’re all loyal citizens now trapped behind enemy lines, try to survive. Build the campaign to fit the group*.

      Personally, I tend to find a way to force the players to join up and to establish the threat early(they’re all in the same town when it gets attacked and the NPC guards go down early, all players wake up in a slave caravan and need to work together to escape, etc) to give the players justification to work together, but that’s mostly preference. You can do the tavern opening, but be warned that players don’t want to be bored. If you don’t give them something they find interesting fast, they’ll find their own fun, and it probably won’t be what you wanted them to find.

      *The DM is part of the group, make sure you enjoy running it, but you can’t be the only one having fun. Write a book if that’s all you care about.

    8. Moridin says:

      Honestly, I’d argue that trying to write the entire campaign in advance is a bad idea. When the game starts, you generally don’t even know whether it’s going to last that long! And your players are practically guaranteed to throw at least a few curveballs at you sooner or later, messing up all your carefully laid plans and forcing you to rework significant portions of the campaign.

      It’s much better to have a general outline for the campaign(or even just a goal) and enough prep for a couple sessions in advance. That way you won’t end up throwing away 20 pages of backstory and character notes for an NPC the PCs decide to kill 5 minutes after meeting him.

      1. Joshua says:

        I believe this was the message of the Lazy Dungeon Master, saying that you shouldn’t be prepping more than 30 minutes a session, although I’d disagree if you were pretty certain what was going to be happening. For example, the party was already on their way to a dungeon, or had established definite plans of what they were going to do. Part of that theory was that the more time you spent prepping for a session, the less flexible you would be to adjust to player inclinations, which is a bad thing.

    9. Sartharina says:

      Have Deuse Bajj’s minions, or people aware of him, be present on what they want to do. There’s a reason that Diablo 2 starts with, “Hey, there’s a den full of monsters nearby. Go clean it out, and help the Rogues with their monster and corruption problems”, and a whole bunch of other quests that lead you through the game, not “Trek across the map to Mount Arreat to stop Baal from Corrupting the Worldstone”

    10. Zak McKracken says:

      One thing that strikes me as a mistake from Casey is that he tells the players exactly where they need to go and how etc..
      This is something that in all games I ever played, the player characters had to work out in-game. Also, there wouldn’t be a big old lore dump, but just enough to understand where they are and how the world works, and then the evil would manifest itself in some way, and they’d work out what’s going on and what they can do about it, in-game, then decide on which route to take (although that would often be an obvious decision). If the road will be long, having intermediate goals along the way is also a bonus.

    11. decius says:

      Throw together a town and dungeon centered around what they want, and put a hook to your plot at the bottom of the dungeon.

      If they don’t want to follow that hook, put another thing they want together, and put the next railroad tie in the bottom of that dungeon.

      Take chapter one of Neverwinter Nights: If the player says “I want to capture the criminals who escaped from the gaol!” they get to do that, and then they fight the boss of that dungeon, and it drops the plot coupon that they were intended to want to collect all along.

      If you can be more subtle about it, that can also work.

  4. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I’ve been listening to the amazing DnD podcast “Not another dnd podcast”, by College Humor comedians. Murph, the GM, never presented them with a nebulous end goal, each quests they underwent was a logical progression depending on the problems they unearthed during their adventures. It feels very organic and like as the audience we’ve been waiting impatiently for each new locale.

    1. tremor3258 says:

      That implies a bit more responsiveness and self-awareness from the GM then these poor schmucks have.

  5. Jbc31187 says:

    I found a Corto Maltese comic in the bargain bin, and no one opens their mouths to talk- in fact, most faces are pretty static. It doesn’t detract from the comic, but gives it a certain presence. It helps that the characters are pretty broad.

  6. Jack V says:

    I do love these characters! The comic definitely veered around in how well it worked, but the basic set-up of this dysfunctional roleplaying group was GREAT.

  7. Mr. Wolf says:

    Dire Plains, Howling Swampland, River of Tears, Mountains of Torment, etc. all sound horrible. My first thought: “Then we go around.”

    1. BlueHorus says:

      ‘Seriously, the River of Tears? Who in their right mind goes through somewhere called the River of Tears? We’re going around.’

      ‘…but I have a massive fight planned with the dreaded Were-Goldfish that lives there!’

      ‘Well, exactly! If you know there’s a horrible monster there, why would you go? We’ll kill the Were-Goldfish another day.’

      1. Sartharina says:

        … It’s an epic fight with a lot of XP and Treasure if you win. Stop being a wusses, because I’m not gonna let you settle for a safe job.

        1. Syal says:

          “As you begin to go around, the River of Tears suddenly alters course and crashes straight into your party! What a horrible time for such an unprecedented geological phenomenon!”

          1. Philadelphus says:

            In this fantasy world, you don’t ford the river, the river fords you.

  8. shoeboxjeddy says:

    Run things like Konosuba where no matter how idiotic and useless the hero party is, they make progress on saving the world despite their best efforts.

  9. Mariusz Pociask says:

    – Hey, I’ve found Casey’s map! What do I win? :-)
    I am so glad you are posting “Chainmail Bikini” again! :-) <3

    1. Shamus says:

      That’s it!

      Thanks so much.

      1. Mariusz Pociask says:

        You’re welcome! :-) Damn – there was so much fun stuff on that old site. I will have to dig through those Wayback snapshots some more.

        P.S. Hmm. The site engine (?) recompressed the map. It probably didn’t like the width not being mod16. Somewhat noticeable, but not extremely so.

    2. Christopher Wolf says:

      I am questioning the viability of human and demi-human life, having read the names on that map. In addition, the players are right. Go five feet in any direction and you are facing pure evil. Might as well clean up around you before trying to trudge through all the other evil crap.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Ah, that map was just made by the infamous cartographer Silias the Hysterically Morbid.

        It’s all perfectly safe, honest.

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