#53 Finale Part 2

By Shamus Posted Friday Aug 30, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 32 comments

And here it is. The end of the tale. Note that during this series, I’ve been reposting everything verbatim, typos and all. For these last entries I’ve fixed a few errors and messed around with the formatting. I haven’t changed the events, cut any text, or altered any of the dialog. I just wanted to make the text a little more readable and combine everything so the finale wasn’t spread out over too many entries.

ACT III: It Ends Badly

Scene One:We have reached the Necropolis. We get the character’s dumbfounded reactions as Casey describes it: It’s a place of white clouds and rainbow bridges. Birds. Flowers. Butterflies.

We cut back to the table and see that Casey is sick, and out of his mind on cough medicine. (This was written before we came up with the earlier strip where Casey gets sick. Maybe this would have been too much, to have him get sick twice like this.) This setup is a nod to a classic – perhaps even legendary – Fear the Boot gaming story. FtB host Luke actually did this once, and he’s still teased about it today.

At the Necropolis Casey tries a few of the World’s Most Obvious Quest Hooks, which the players sidestep or ignore. They don’t want any sidequests. They want to head right for the Black Obelisk. Casey tries to force them, and Chuck puts his foot down.

Chuck insists that players MUST have the freedom to play the game as they see fit. They want to be free to act and deal with the consequences, without the GM helping or punishing them based on his preferences.

On hearing this, Casey becomes suddenly insidious. “Oh REALLY?” He stops trying to railroad them and lets them head north for the Obelisk.

Before leaving town, Josh buys a grapple hook and a mile of rope.

Scene Two:

I think this would actually be a good spot to have the players remember the pigs they were carrying. Shawn and I were trying to work this joke in at various times since the attack on Calm Meadows. Casey tries to pressure them in the blackened wilderness on the way to the Obelisk, threatening them with starvation. Having never said they got rid of the pigs, but also not mentioning them for the last several game sessions, the players manage to swindle Casey and convince him they still have the pigs, which they eat.

There is another encounter with something absurd and seemingly overpowering. Josh kills it in a single round with his Rulebook-Fu.

Scene Three:

The party reaches the Obelisk. Casey very nearly talks them to death with his breathless description of the evil of the place. Josh has some convoluted plan he’s working on with the ropes, but the players ignore him and head inside.

There is a massive spiral staircase leading up the inside of the tower. Topaz gets blasted by a magical trap as soon as she steps on the first step. They very quickly realize the there are thousands and thousands of steps going upwards, and Casey has most likely trapped them all.

Josh calls them back outside. He hands Topaz the grapple hook and rope and tells her to levitate up the side of the tower and hang the hook from the topmost window, which was the first thing readers were shown in the very first comic. (Marcus, never one to pay attention to game mechanics, didn’t even know he COULD levitate.) Casey is irritated, having just seen them route around a lot of his hard work, but he’s still being smug and cryptic. He’s planning something.

(Childish punchline panel: Topaz is flying up the tower. Lucretia looks bored, arms folded. The guys are Looking Up at their miniskirt-wearing mage levitating above them. )

The players climb the rope and pile into the topmost room, having circumvented everything below it. They find themselves in the “Throne Room” of Deuse Baaj, who has been waiting for them.

Scene Four:

The party is now face-to-face with their vaguely defined and poorly conceived nemesis. Deuse (Casey) begins what promises to be a very long bit of exposition. It is revealed that he is not a Necromancer: He’s a LICH.

Everyone is outraged. (Except for Marcus, who doesn’t know any better.) A Lich is way, way out of their league. They protest. Casey points out that there were sidequests available which would have let them to seek out the “seven parts of the Ageless Armor” and the “Twelve Shards of the Champion”, an armor and sword which would have given them the power to defeat Deus Baaj.

It’s obvious his plan for this campaign was for them to go on a long series of fetch quests, so at the end Casey’s Super Weapon could defeat Casey’s Super Villain. Luther the Gnome had the information needed to get the armor, and the sidequests in the Necropolis would have led them to the sword.

Casey is smug. He’s obviously trying to teach them a lesson about resisting his railroad plot, and he’s decided that a Total Party Kill is the best way to drive that lesson home.

Deuse resumes his Big Speech. Josh announces a sneak attack. He runs at Deuse. It turns out Deus has some artifact that puts people under his sway if they come within thirty feet of him.

Josh: No problem. My saving throw is…

Casey (Evil grin.): This one is charisma based.

Josh: Oh crap.

Josh has been undone by his own min-maxing and falls under the sway of the Lich, who tells him to jump out the window. Out he goes.

Josh argues that he SHOULD be able to grab the rope on the way down and save himself. Casey relents, and lets Josh do so, at the cost of taking 8d6 “rope burn damage”. Josh is now at the bottom and out of the fight. (We would have established earlier that it takes a long, long time to climb the tower. There is no way for Josh to get back into the battle in time.)

Chuck reminds Casey that he still has the spear of insta-killing undead. Casey had forgotten about this. They all laugh at Casey, because this campaign is about to be undone by his super-weapon from an earlier campaign.

Ramgar THROWS the spear to avoid entering the radius where he would fall under Douchbag’s control. Chuck rolls a one. The spear goes out the window and lands point-down, right beside Josh. (This is another nod to a classic FtB gaming story.) The players go back to being screwed.

Marcus sees that things are about to end badly. Having died so many times already, he really wants to escape this one alive. He decides to run for it, climbs out the window and begins climbing down the rope.

Lich’s turn now. Casey is being vindictive. Rather than fighting one of the two remaining players, he’s more concerned with making sure that nobody escapes alive. He spends his turn going over to the window and kicking the grapple hook loose, letting Topaz fall to her death.

Marcus tries to cast levitate. Casey overrules him, saying he can’t cast while falling. This is NOT in the rulebooks, and seems to be an ad-hoc house rule. They argue, but Casey comes up with very flimsy justifications for it and moves on.

(I’m thinking that MAYBE Josh saves her in some way I haven’t devised yet, or maybe she just pancakes at the bottom. Either way, she’s out of the fight. I’ve noticed readers have been getting upset at Marcus’ bad fortune. His deaths have been viewed as “mean” instead of “absurd”, and that’s not what I was going for. I might have used the “death” of Jade to help me gauge which way I should write this.)

Only two players left. Ramgar is unarmed and Lucretia doesn’t have any magic that can hurt this guy.

It’s now Lucretia’s turn. She walks over to Douchebag and stops one step short of his magical mind-control radius. She takes out the potion of “bring anyone, ANYONE back to life, anytime” – which I hope the reader has forgotten about until now – and chucks it at the Bad Guy with a simple underhand toss. It shatters and splashes him.

Casey tries to protest. But if this potion could bring back someone chopped into paste by a trap (see Act I) then it should certainly work on this guy. The players think this should destroy him (like throwing a Pheonix Down on an undead in Final Fantasy) but Casey isn’t ready to accept defeat just yet. Instead, he announces that Deuse Baaj is now… alive again? So they’re just fighting a Wizard instead of an undead Lich? He doesn’t even know how to handle this. He consults the rulebook.

It comes around to Ramgar’s turn again. Ramgar runs and delivers a flying leap-kick to Douchebag, who, if you remember, is still standing at the window from when he sent Topaz falling. Ramgar entering his sway doesn’t cause a problem, since he’s just a very heavy projectile at this point. His boot sends Douchebag out the window. Casey tries to react:

Casey: As he falls, Deuse casts feather fall-

Everyone: YOU CAN’T CAST WHILE FALLING.

Deuse plummets to his death where he lands on the spear at the bottom.

There is a pause where Josh stares at the impaled Deuse. Then, just for good measure, he gives the guy a halfhearted and disappointed poke with his knife.

I haven’t written a denouement, so our tale ends here. I hope this helps close the tale for you. I do thank everyone for reading.

-Fin-

That’s how it ended. Hope you enjoyed it. Also, thanks to Shawn for getting the great re-posting project rolling. It really is nice knowing the comic has a proper home again and wasn’t lost to the bit bucket.

There’s one last bonus comic coming, and then this series will be done for good.

 


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32 thoughts on “#53 Finale Part 2

  1. Mousazz says:

    I just wanted wanted to make the text a little more readable and combine everything so the finale wasn’t spread out over too many entries.

    A repeated word there, Shamus.

    1. GargamelLenoir says:

      He REALLY wanted it!

  2. Kai Durbin says:

    You don’t need the whole thing on the front page, man.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Tradition suggests otherwise.

      1. Kai Durbin says:

        Actually, I guess tradition suggests that for the first ten minutes of the post going live, he saves you some time by making sure you don’t have to click on the link to go to the post’s page to see the whole post (like a pointless version of pre-order bonuses, I guess).

        1. krellen says:

          He can’t put a page break in a scheduled post, so if he makes a post ahead of time, he has to wait for it to post, then edit in a page break. And I’m pretty sure Shamus makes 99.99% of posts ahead of time.

          1. Shamus says:

            To be clear:
            You CAN put a page break in a scheduled post, provided you’re not me. I’m inexplicably unable to remember to add the break, even though I’ve been making this same mistake for years.

            1. Sartharina says:

              Clearly forgetting the break is habit at this point

            2. ngthagg says:

              Next time you do a post on your site statistics, I would love to see the numbers on how often this happens.

  3. Kathryn says:

    The inset text doesn’t resize on mobile. Possibly not a solvable problem, but thought I’d let you know in case it is.

    There was definitely potential for humor in this storyline. Too bad it didn’t work out.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Came here to say the same. I’ll read it when I get on a desktop somewhere with access to gaming blogs…

  4. GargamelLenoir says:

    Wow, Casey went true douchebag there, it felt like reading something from /r/rpghorrorstories for a while, but it made Lucretia’s idea even better, like a fist pumping moment. It’s just missing a bit of a coda like the “just find better material” scene at the end of DM of the Rings, but otherwise it’s a satisfying end!

    1. Hector says:

      I like it. This is a hilariously apt recounting of a contest of wills between players and DM’s.

    2. Matthew Downie says:

      I’m almost certain I saw someone on some kind of “rpg horror stories” thread pretending that this ending had actually happened to him in a real campaign. I should have called him out for plagiarism…

  5. Joshua says:

    I like the payoffs to some of the Chekov’s Guns set up earlier, and I think it’s funny that Josh ends up out of the fight, especially as a result of his min-maxing ways. The potion of resurrection is a nice twist, and I like that it didn’t end up just as an FF Phoenix Down. I think you’re right in that Marcus’s deaths seem more mean-spirited than absurd, although I think there’s a nod to Kenny from South Park in there somewhere.

    However, as I’ve mentioned before, the references to Casey “railroading the players” are just awful, especially if they are the basis for a comeuppance to Casey. He is not railroading the players at all.

    “Chuck insists that players MUST have the freedom to play the game as they see fit, without the GM helping or punishing them based on his preferences..” Yeah, exactly how has Casey thwarted the players’ choices or freedom in this game? For the most part, they haven’t even tried to make any choices for him to thwart, they mostly just screwed around and been dicks to each other. He also hasn’t negated the consequences of any of their choices, just forgotten to apply them at times. When the PCs did absurd things with the goblins, he went with it. When the wrong character ended up interacting with the traps in the goblins’ lair, he didn’t retcon the traps because they were meant for Josh. When Marcus plays the gnome and leaps into the beast’s mouth out of some insane reason (creepy OOC reasons), Casey lets it happen despite plot consequences. I think there was a reference to the NPC in the swamp being happy to give directions as a form of railroading, but this only applies if you view any form of narrative structure in the game at all as “railroading”.

    Casey’s flaws are being ill-prepared and a pushover, not that he’s constantly trying to ignore or subvert PC actions in favor of his preferred story.

    1. evileeyore says:

      “Casey’s flaws are being ill-prepared and a pushover, not that he’s constantly trying to ignore or subvert PC actions in favor of his preferred story.”

      His flaws are being in-appropriately prepared* and an ‘old skool, that’s the way it was written’** style GM. He wouldn’t be a bad GM if the Players were onboard with sticking to the rails. He probably even be a great “West Marches/megadungeon”*** GM if he were to sit down and completely write out the entirety of every hex of wilderness/square of the dungeon in advance…

      * As in, he has incredibly detailed campaign notes and lore and such, but the PCs want to immediately head off into the undrawn sections of the game map. And as noted below, Casey isn’t good at improv.

      ** Casey sticks to the way he wrote things and can’t think fast. He’s a meticulous planner and lacks the flexibility to replan on the fly when the PCs inevitably go off the script he’s written in his head for them.

      *** The only difference between a West marches and megadungeon campaign is the height/color of the ceiling and the width of the rooms…

      1. Joshua says:

        I’m good with “ill-prepared”.

        I think it’s not a good idea to prepare so much for a game, as it can be wasted effort and over-preparing can make the DM more likely to railroad, but we don’t really see that in this strip. He presents them with plot hooks and set-up, they make their choices, and then he tends to accommodate the storyline to match their choices, albeit badly because he’s bad at improv as we all agree.

        Interestingly, I think there’s a part in strip #3 where one of the players should have called him out on his preplanning each of the steps of their quest because that sets up the possibility of railroading, but the complaint is actually about the distance they’ll be traveling, not that the quest steps are set in stone. I think that’s the closest to “head off into undrawn sections of the game map”. Speaking of which, players who deliberately want to go into “undrawn sections” are almost certainly just partaking in dickery as opposed to avoiding railroading. Sure enough, the “Chuck Commentary” for that strip indicates that feeling:

        “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.”

        Regardless, his problems with reacting to PC actions on the fly is a GM weakness, not a social behavior issue like “rail-roading” implies because the GM is making the game all about them and ignoring PC actions in place of a set story.

        1. evileeyore says:

          “Speaking of which, players who deliberately want to go into “undrawn sections” are almost certainly just partaking in dickery as opposed to avoiding railroading.”

          I would even argue they are engaging in worse behavior than the railroad GM. If you know your GM is a railroader, and you sign on for their campaign…

          1. Joshua says:

            That was another thought I had as well. According to the first strip, the players all know Casey has been working on this campaign for several months, and they also know what his campaigns are like. Compared to his months of work, they’ve spent maybe an hour on their characters.

            They rightfully point out that the issue with this campaign is its similarly to the last one, but there’s never any other indication of wanting to do something else specifically.

            Any player that’s pointing to the unfilled section of the map as where they’re wanting to go is an indicator that they have no respect for the work done so far, and are probably just wanting to pull off weird shenanigans and see how the DM reacts to them on the spot.

            My last gaming group was pretty good with going with whatever I had prepared, with the understanding that I wasn’t going to run anything that they’d have an issue with (only one time they did, and it was with a published adventure where they had an issue I hadn’t foreseen with the NPC hiring them, and I agreed with their reaction because it was done in good faith). Sometimes they’d joke about turning around and going the other way when they’d enter a room in a dungeon and I would spend several minutes drawing it out and describing it, but that’s because it was a joke pointing out how rude it is to deliberately ignore something because the DM put work into it.

            1. evileeyore says:

              Exactly. When I ran a hex crawl, the Players explicitly signed on tot he hex crawl format, so if I said “You set off to the west” they didn’t immediately try to go any other direction. Likewise, when I run a “dungeon or wilderness centered” campaign, they know not to make city-folks who can’t hack it in the campaigns medium.

              And likewise, if they say “Hey, we’re tired X, Y, and Z” then X, Y, Z make no, or at worst, very limited appearances.

              But that’s down to good communication and the theme of this webcomic was ‘lack of good communication”.

            2. Sleeping Dragon says:

              Ah yes, reminds me of one of my characters, who was a streetsmart kid in the employ of another PC, who would always keep dropping things like “Signora, why do we follow the crazy priest?” or “Signora, the crazy priest will get us all killed!” about the main NPC questgiver. I believe everyone at the table understood it was in character and he would sigh and follow the party.

        2. Joshua says:

          Whoops, I meant to say I was good with “inappropriately prepared”. Didn’t mean to come off like a jerk.

          1. evileeyore says:

            /thumbsup.jpg

  6. Lino says:

    I enjoyed the comic as a whole, and I really appreciate the closure these two final posts bring, but I think in DM of the Rings you managed to do so much more using far less. On its own, Chainmail Bikini was a nice read with some funny moments, while DMoTR was funny throughout, to the point where I don’t remember a single boring strip (and I say this as someone who recently reread it).

    I’m not 100% sure why DMoTR worked for me while CB didn’t. I think the main reason is that you just didn’t develop CB’s characters well enough. Part of what made DMoTR so funny was that it was using some of the best-established characters in fiction, and looked at them through a very different lens which flipped the entire setting on its head.

    Also, the fact that you were dealing with established characters let you play somewhat loose with the characterisation of the “players” – sometimes they agreed and acted in unison, sometimes they displayed their differences, and in both cases hilarity ensued. E.g. Gimli was a very serious role-player the first time we saw him, but that aspect only ever came into play again toward the end of the comic. In general, the characters’ traits were never the focal point – the focus was always the players vs the GM.

    Here, however, you had to juggle between developing five (!) characters, establishing the world Casey had built, AND telling jokes. You just didn’t give yourself any leeway. As a result, the comic as a whole felt kind of directionless to me, at least compared to DMoTR. I always had the feeling the players were just dicking around, and if it weren’t for your commentary, I never would have considered Casey’s actoins as railroading.

    Another aspect in which DMoTR is superior is just the sheer absurdity of the situations in which the characters get into and the absurd conversations they have with each other – something we never got to see in CB.

    But as a whole, I liked this comic, and given the increased complexity you had to deal with, I think you did a very good job. I’d be really happy if you decided to write another one, using the lessons you learned here.

    1. Retsam says:

      I’m probably in the minority, but I prefer CB over DMotR.

      I think a lot of the appeal of DMotR is that it’s derived from Lord of the Rings, while I’d argue CB actually stands better on its own merits. I like LoTR, but I just don’t generally get the inherent enjoyment from derived works that other people seem to get. I know I’ve read most of DMotR, but the only joke I can really cite off-hand is the “uncertainty lich” bit (and I guess “a specific level of X”, but that’s more through secondary references).

      I know Shamus struggled with the tighter format (not being able to just put arbitrary amounts of text over movie screenshots), but I personally think it made for better comedy – more focused jokes, rather DMotR’s shotgun spread of humor scattered through sometimes 20 lines of dialogue.

      And the visual helped, too. Josh’s “Half ogre, human, and dark elf” background is a decent joke on its own, but the illustration really sells it for me. DMotR obviously couldn’t do very much visual humor.

  7. BlueHorus says:

    [Casey’s] plan for this campaign was for them to go on a long series of fetch quests, so at the end Casey’s Super Weapon could defeat Casey’s Super Villain.

    Ugh. I’ve played that kind of campign, in LRP. The GM would turn up peroidically and stride invincibly around the camp as his Big Bad, killing players with massive damage, and a large part of the event would be finding the One Weapon That Could Harm Him in time for the final fight in which he’d finally allow the NPC to show weakness.

    Though, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with letting players die by choosing to go up against impossible odds. Especially when there’s a way to even up those odds that they’re ignoring.
    For sure, Casey’s series of Fetch Quests is a lame way of doing that, but if the players really insist on doing something stupid, there should be consequences…

  8. Jeff says:

    Absurd by definition is “wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate”.

    In the real world we can have “absurd” without “mean”, because we recognize that reality is an objective adjudicator. We know that while something may seem absurd, it is in fact a reasonable, logical, appropriate consequence of something. It seems absurd to us because we are ignorant, not because reality is mean.

    That is very different from a tabletop campaign, where the world controlled by a GM. A negative event that is “absurd” is almost certain to be “mean” because the GM is doing something unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate to bring about negative effects upon a player.

  9. Mr. Wolf says:

    So, the evil necromancer lord is a lich. I don’t know why the players are so surprised, Douche-Bag is such a cliché that I couldn’t imagine him being anything else.

  10. ccesarano says:

    This is the… fourth time I’ve read through all this and for some reason it’s only now that Casey’s intentions for the players and their frustration at it all is reminding me of how I feel the closer I get to a bunch of open-world games, or JRPGs that insist on being 80 hours long. You feel like the story is so close to a natural conclusion, the final boss is right in sight, but for the sake of padding the time clock in order to assuage old-fashioned concerns over “value”, you add unnecessarily lengthy side quests that turn out to be mandatory.

    Oddly enough, it’s actually one of the reasons I appreciate Final Fantasy XV going full-blown linear at a point “Okay, the story got real, makes no sense for the characters to just wander around. Let’s push ’em to the rest of the story”. Of course, it’s clear in FFXV the original plan was two continents, but a Hellish development forced them into a linear back “half”. Nevertheless, I think it worked out for the better, and believe all open-world games should try and structure their narratives in a fashion that, once you want the story to heat up and beg urgency, you just make it linear. Get rid of distractions. Make it about the story at that point.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      As long as there’s warning that that’s going to happen, sure.

      I’ve played many a game that’s caused me to miss stuff I wanted to do because it didn’t warn me that I was passing the Point Of No Return for that particular thing.

      1. ccesarano says:

        Ah, very good point. Such things should be a necessity in any game that gives you a point-of-no-return, even if it’s a temporary one. I’ve played some games that say “Hey, you’re gonna be gone from the open world for a while, make sure you do everything you want to do before doing this”.

        I believe FFXV makes it clear when you’re hitting a point of no return? I know there’s a warning when you “get on the boat”, but I don’t recall if there’s a warning before you accept the mission that really is the point of no return.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          FFXV has the time travel mechanic at save points as well as a robust New Game + option. It didn’t really need such a warning, though I think it had one anyway.

          Shadowrun Dragonfall and Hong Kong did a decent job of justifying this given the mission structure; if you choose a dialog option that leads to the endgame, your fixer says something to the point of “So you’re ready to start this one? If you do I’m going to cancel all your side gigs because you won’t have the time.”

          Dishonorable mention goes to Fable 3, which skips like 100 days to lock you into the final battle without a warning of any kind.

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