DM of the Rings Remaster: Small Town Blues

By Bay Posted Sunday Jan 22, 2023

Filed under: DM of the Rings Remaster 22 comments


I think I’ll post these M-W-F until I get tired of them.
–  Shamus, Monday Sep 11, 2006

Man, another reminder that he didn’t intend this to be a completed project. It’s funny, I think. DM of The Rings has been in existence for so long that it just is for me.

I remember it being written, in part, but mostly it just seems innate and inevitable.

Many of you came to read this blog back when it first began, but I didn’t read DM of The Rings until I was easily 15 to 16. My best friend at the time and I stayed up until three in the morning two days in a row, binge-reading it together over Skype. He would read a page, then I would. I remember times when the comic wouldn’t have existed, like being five or six years old, but in my head, it did even then.

It’s kind of like how I thought of the GameCube as an ‘old’ console by the time I got my grubby hands on one. The GameCube came out three years after I was born. To the adults in my life, it was brand new by the time I was playing it, three years after its release. Three years is huge to a child. That shit seemed antique. Man, the last three years though? Uhh…yeah, no. It feels like 2019 still to me. Jeez, what are my kids gonna take for granted…

I guess it’s just amazing to me that something so perfectly ‘there’ in my life was the result of a bored afternoon or a blink-and-you-miss-it-idea. Talk about perspective.

This weeks French comic can be read here.


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22 thoughts on “DM of the Rings Remaster: Small Town Blues

  1. BlueHorus says:


    …hmm, I didn’t the appeal of ‘first’ posts when they were popular, and I don’t now. What did I win?

    1. Heather says:

      I was just thinking about that and how fun it would be to restart the author side of it, just because.

      1. MelTorefas says:

        I will never forget “Primus Postum!”

      2. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Oh yeah. I forgot he used to make a point of being the first commenter on his own posts just to deny “First” posters.

        I guess the reason people don’t do that anymore most places is that the odd ways posts are sorted on items on many sites, a “first” post would simply get buried.

  2. BlueHorus says:

    Hehe, trying to direct players is like trying to herd cats. Sometimes the rails presented by the DM are good, and sometimes they’re not.

    In the game I’m running at the moment, one of my players consistently does the opposite of what I think they will – I sent them a magical dream that would have ended with them gaining both a new ability and a quest hook for their character…and they just said ‘nope’, and ignored it.

    1. Joshua says:

      Hehe, trying to direct players is like trying to herd cats. Sometimes the rails presented by the DM are good, and sometimes they’re not.

      I am much less afraid to railroad during the quest’s beginning than at it’s end (let the players determine how everything gets resolved). It’s like “Guys, this is what I spent a few hours of my increasingly dwindling personal time creating FOR YOU. I’m not going to tell you HOW to complete the adventure, but this is what I have planned for tonight”.

      There are games where everything is improv and off the cuff based upon the whim of the players, but it’s not something I tend to run. I can wing it a little bit, but players acting like the strip above (in my experience, tend to be mostly teens/20s*) saying “Nah, let’s just go somewhere else, *anywhere* else from what you have planned” and I are eventually going to split. That’s why I usually try to poll the players at the end of the session (or mid-week) about where they’re wanting to go/wanting to do next, so they can get agency in the story without just constantly forcing improv.

      *My players are all in their 30-50s, and I really don’t see this “Let’s act contrary to the DM to make them sweat” attitude at all. They’re almost TOO compliant and respectful at times.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen a case of players being contrarians for shits and giggles. Players arriving at wrong conclusions and acting upon them? Yes. Players having a somewhat different interpretation of their character’s motivation or personality than myself and acting upon them? Yes. Players becoming interested in something I didn’t plan to be a thing and pursuing that? Yes. Players coming up with perfectly reasonable and practical solutions I didn’t think of that derail the story? Yes.

        But I’ve never seen players try to derail things on purpose either to spite the GM or in some kind of “so much smarter than thou” one-upmanship, I keep hearing anecdotes of this and I’ve definitely seen that kind of competitive school of “players want to wreck your campaign, here’s how to wreck their characters” promoted in some places but I personally do not subscribe to it. My best guess would be it comes more from the “tactical” D&D style RPGs where the GM would basically design an encounter or a dungeon with the intention of challenging the players* and players would build their characters with the intention of overcoming whatever the GM can throw at them, transplanting it to a more narrative type of game seems problematic. Generally speaking to me it seems only reasonable that on the one hand GM should respect player freedom in how their character interact with the world, on the other the players should trust that the GM is trying to create the most interesting and fun experience for them.

        *And even then just outright going “I’m gonna kill you so hard” sounds just unhealthy to me.

        1. Joshua says:

          I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen a case of players being contrarians for shits and giggles.

          Hehe, it happens several times in the DMotR strip here. I remember one time where the plot is obviously going back towards the Rohirrim, so the players try to every direction BUT towards the plot with the DM saying “Nope, there’s absolutely nothing going on in those directions”.

          Not that common, but I’ve had it happen. As I said, it’s mostly something that’s going to happen with teenagers (who sometimes like to be little shits anyway), and I’m WELL above that age range. I remember back in 2001 playing in a 3.0 Temple of Elemental Evil campaign and we had a player in his late 20s who would act this way, deliberately doing stuff that in no way coincided with the group, actually sided with the monsters in one battle, etc. The only reason we tolerated him was because we were playing in a gaming store and thought we *had* to keep him in our group. Once the store owners clarified that we were allowed to restrict our group however we wanted, he was kicked to the curb. The guy was more than a little strange anyway, somehow approaching 30 and having never worked a job, didn’t shower regularly, talked about wanting to start acting in porn, etc.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Oh in DMotR sure, I meant IRL.

            didn’t shower regularly, talked about wanting to start acting in porn, etc.

            One of those things is generally incompatible with the other, unless we’re talking very particular porn… On a more serious note I generally don’t play with randos so maybe that partially shielded me from trolls.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      Maybe I’ve just been really lucky with players, but I feel like this is something you can pick up in time if you approach GM-ing correctly. Which is to say, I have caught myself in these traps but have had players patient enough to let me sort my shit out.

      My solution to this is that any time I am the DM, I treat myself more as a player than as a master. In particular, any time anything is going to happen *to* a player (like being pulled into a dream world) or I *need* the player to perform an action (like pick up some widget) there needs to be an entity and/or an intelligence that has a logic to it which is making that happen, Then when players do something you don’t expect, you just roleplay your way out of it.

      Player decides to Nope out of you dream sequence? Then the fairy trying to guide him to the MacGuffin of Heroism shows up and tells him off before either giving him another chance or heading off to find some other hero of destiny if he’s being a git about it.

      To me TTRPG is all about actions having consequences. The corollary of that is that anything that happens in the game world should itself BE a consequence, an effect that you can trace back to a cause. If you stick to that, it makes it WAY EASIER to improvise by the seat of your pants.

      That’s not to say you’ll always have a justification ready to fall back on every time players do something you don’t expect, but that way of thinking can get you out of a lot of jams. Even if I hadn’t figured out it ahead of time, my first thought when the player backs out of the dream would be “how did he get there, who was involved, and how would they react to his actions?”

    3. kincajou says:

      Oh boy how incredibly right this is!

      I sort of remember though that Shamus had modeled the DM of the rings around a dysfunctional group (or am i making this up/ mixing with Chainmail Bikini?) and yeah, every time read dmortr it makes me laugh but it also makes me think how everyone involved is just so toxic i wouldnt want them at my table!

      It may be heresy to say but i’ve always clicked more with darths and droids than DMOTR specifically because their gaming group works and they are good friends which build off each other…. On one hand i see a group of friends(?) in an eternal purgatory griefing each other to high hell and having a mostly miserable time, on the other…. good friends having a laugh.

      (seriously why the DMOTR players gather round that table every week is, at times, beyond me)

      1. evileeyore says:

        I think DM of the Rings was more about a dysfunctional, railroady GM, moreso than a dysfunctional group. The Players seem more akin to stereotypes: The Stoner, The Powergamer, The Wargamers, The Roleplayer, etc.

        I know that’s also the tact that Darth and Droids went when it mimicked DM of the Rings, the Stereotype Players (who grow over time) and the pusher-over GM who can’t keep them on the rails (and grows to embrace the seat-of-the-pants improvisational style)

        Chainmail Bikini was deliberately about a hard-core railroad GM and his overblown steroetypical campaign and stereotyped Players.

        1. MrGuy says:

          I viewed it less as a bad GM than a mismatched group.

          The DM is really into telling epic stories, and wants players who will participate and appreciate it. Spent to much time writing his story to let the players miss some of it by having too much agency.

          The Legolas player is sort of into that – pays attention to the story, doesn’t get tired of fighting endless orcs, into his character.

          The Gimli character is a veteran player, for good and Ill. Experienced role player, but will use that to meta game the GM into doing what he wants. Knows the expected rhythm of the game, and will point out where the game doesn’t fit. Constantly comparing the game he’s playing to other games he’s played. Willing to go along with the GM for a ways, but the first to point out how dumb it is if he’s bored.

          Aragorn character wants to hack and slash. He’s here to win fights, get loot, and meet girls. Probably the least well matched with this GM but not a “bad” player. He’s just more looking for Diablo-like loop where he’s constantly fighting enemies and doing simple quests without needing to worry too much about a big story.

          Nobody’s a “bad” player. They just don’t fit well together with what they want out of a game.

          1. kincajou says:

            I appreciate your take on the group which is both less harsh and more insightful than my own.

            Globally i think you’re right, where i disagree is that there aren’t “bad” players involved. And this is a purely personal opinion.

            For me all parties involved (to a degree this includes the DM, but lesser because he is reactive rather than proactive so it’s hard to tell) suffer the cardinal RPG sin of lacking the empathy towards the rest of the gaming group.
            Examples for me of this are :
            – aragorn’s being obsessed with babes (“ha ha keith, it was fin the first three times… now you’re just holding the game up”)
            – The griefing of the legolass player for the legolas name (see above)
            – the utter unwillingness to play along with the DM’s story for even a fraction of a second… (no judgment on the story, it’s rightfully silly and all over the place)

            I never get the feeling these people care about each other beyond “trolling” and griefing… That’s why these people are “bad”players for me, there is no real “fun” around that table just a lot of bullying (mostly an incompetent DM) and messing about…

            As i said, your take is more generous than mine and it’s probably more correct too!

            1. MrGuy says:

              Definitely don’t disagree with your overall take. If these players want to play together and, y’know, ENJOY IT, they all have to get over themselves and find some way to give everyone a bit of what they want. If they’re unwilling to do that, it’s pointless to continue.

              A good DND group that creates a shared adventure together is a magical thing. This…is not that. The problem isn’t any one person specifically, but it is all of them collectively.

        2. Joshua says:

          Chainmail Bikini was deliberately about a hard-core railroad GM and his overblown steroetypical campaign and stereotyped Players.

          I remember that that was the description of him, but he didn’t actually seem to do much railroading to me, although the second part was more accurate with the campaign being pretty cliche. The players would actively work to thwart whatever he had planned, and despite his complaining, the GM actually went along with what they players said, no matter how nonsensical. I don’t recall him ever just “Nope, this happens instead” whenever players interacted with his game, and the accusations of railroading were thrown at him because he occasionally dared (*gasp*) to have an NPC story hook come their way once or twice.

  3. rainbow121 says:

    It was a binge read for me as well! I found the site by way of TV tropes in highschool

  4. MrGuy says:

    Man, this takes me back. I didn’t get into DMoTR until halfway through the run, but this is (to me) really the “first” comic from the players’ perspective – the classic “You have all arrived at an inn” opening. And this is absolutely what a real D&D group would do in that situation.

    edit – Yes, I know the group technically arrived in the inn in the last episode, but this feels more like the one where the DM stops talking and asks (or, perhaps in this case, really SHOULD ask) the One Great Question that defines running a campaign – “What do you want to do now?”

    I love the premise of this whole series so much. Thanks to all involved for bringing it back around for one more moment in the sun. It’s taking a ton of willpower not to go just binge the original from the archive, but I’m trying to let this unfold…

  5. Michael says:

    I like it when the updated comic has a link over to the original.

  6. Zaxares says:

    There’s also the proactive school of DM railroading! ;)

    Players: “We head to the tavern and have a listen for any interesting rumours.”
    DM: “The patrons tell you about a red dragon menacing the surrounding countryside.”
    Players: “Too dangerous. We head over to the Adventurer’s Guild and see if there are any jobs available.”
    DM: “A wealthy nobleman is offering a generous reward for anyone who will rescue his daughter from the clutches of a vile red dragon.”
    Players: “Oh hell no! We leave town and head to the next city.”
    DM: “On your way to the city, you are suddenly ambushed by a red dragon…”

  7. Douglas Porter says:

    So sorry to hear of Shamus’s premature passing. (I know it was premature because I am a fair bit older and not looking to cash in just yet.) This strip almost made me laugh myself to death back in the day and it is/will be a fitting tribute. It is good to see an old friend like DMOTR again… and yes, this whole set-up is so, so relatable.

  8. MelTorefas says:

    I missed the beginning of the comic, but came in pretty early on. It really is weird to think of how long its been.

    Really loving the HD remaster, and your notes and personal perspectives add another whole level of enjoyment. Thanks!

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