DM of the Rings Remaster: Let’s go Shopping!

By Bay Posted Sunday Feb 19, 2023

Filed under: DM of the Rings Remaster 16 comments


Remember, nothing will spice up your campaign quicker than long descriptions of NPC’s doing spectacular stuff while the players sit around and watch.

–  Shamus, Wednesday Sep 20, 2006

I think the trick is to get your players deeply invested in your NPCs and THEN give them spectacular slow-mo shots and action.

And remember, your players will never get attached to your super cool assassin with an impossible-to-pronounce name and impeccable ass. Your players want Grunkle, the goblin warlock you named on the fly, who won’t stop trying to kill them (and also likes shiny rocks).

This weeks French comic can be read here.


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16 thoughts on “DM of the Rings Remaster: Let’s go Shopping!

  1. LizTheWhiz says:

    My favorite example of the Grunkle phenomenon comes from my Pathfinder game, where the players Shanghaied a bandit. Using a random name generator, I accidentally got Payton Smallwood, and now he’s an indispensable member of the team.

    1. Zaxares says:

      Same thing happened in my campaign too, only the NPC in question was a lowly pikeman named Edgar who, when the party said they needed someone to accompany them into the dungeon to hold a torch (it was a VERY low-level adventure), Edgar was the only one who volunteered (and only because when initially no one spoke up, the party paladin went “Oh COME ON! Not even with a- *rolls* 18 Charisma check??” And I went “Fiiiiine, ONE guy says he’ll come with you, if you’ll promise to keep him safe and give him a share of the treasure.”)

      Much to my surprise, the party DID actually do their best to keep Edgar safe and unharmed; he survived his little sojourn into the catacombs, and the party DID let him keep some of the loot. This was enough to earn Edgar’s gratitude and loyalty, and as the campaign progressed, he actually became sort of the party’s mascot whom the PCs cared for almost as much as their own characters. When they finally grew high enough in level that Edgar could no longer accompany them as he would get one-shotted by any of the monsters they went up against, they appointed him major-domo of their party stronghold and let him run the place while they were away. It got quite fun having Edgar report to them whenever they got back from their adventures; sometimes it’d be boring stuff like whether this year’s harvest was good, and sometimes it’d be stuff like “Terrible news, m’lord! Orcish raiders have attacked the village of Eastvale; I’ve already sent troops to reinforce them, but refugees are continuing to stream into the Keep!” which would kick off another adventure for the group.

      1. MrGuy says:

        At its core, the issue here is choice.

        The GM can set up the world any way they want. They can lay out epic quests and thrilling adventures. They can lay out tough moral choices and difficult decisions.

        But it all falls apart if the players aren’t allowed to own their choice of how to interact with it. The players have to own their relationship with the world and its characters. They have to choose who to trust, what to do, and what to care about.

        If they don’t, then you’re just running a combat and loot simulator.

        Which is super hard as the GM, because while you can gesture suggestively at what you want the player to do, if you’ve misgudged things they’ll choose not to do what you want.

        I remember one game where a Duke died with no direct heir. The rightful successor (according to the laws of the kingdom) had been deposed and usurped by his cousin based on some questionable documents. The rightful heir wanted the party to get him back his title.

        The players instead wanted to know if the current Duke was doing a good job, and what the rightful claimant would change. The current Duke wasn’t some moustache twirling monster – just an ambitious young noble with decent ideas and some moral flexibility about how to get power.

        The players decided they just didn’t care. This sort of thing happens all the time in hereditary titles, the people weren’t suffering, and the only person a change at the top would benefit was the claimant. And, hey, feudal title inheritance isn’t exactly the most “just” system for awarding power in the first place.

        I’d counted on their outrage at someone breaking the law to get power to be enough of a plot hook and was disastrously wrong.

        If I’d forced them to side with the claimant, or pulled some BS like suddenly having the usurper start executing civilians for no reason to blackmail them into doing what I wanted, it would have killed the campaign. I could have gotten them to do it, but they’d have stopped caring about the outcome.

        We ended the session early for a furious rewrite that came out mostly ok after a session or two. I actual like the new plot we landed on better than the original.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          My friend had almost the exact same thing happen, except the claimant was already taking active steps to reclaim their heritage, with a side of revenge on the usurper. The initial idea was that the party would start investigating the events on behalf of the usurper, discover “the twist” and possibly side with the claimant. And then they did the exact thing your party did, as in, checked if the usurper did a good job as the ruler and figured they’re a safer bet than the claimant whose only real qualification to rule was birthright (and they didn’t exactly have a stellar moral record during their “reclaiming the throne” operation) so they ended up siding the usurper. The GM did carry the story from there as they hunted the claimant down (and one of them got sorta cursed for their trouble).

  2. Joshua says:

    Ironically enough, D&D seems to be terrible for shopping most of the time (unless you’re playing 3rd or 4th editions, and the latter is more “buy THIS item or fall behind the curve). Magic items are incredibly rare and you won’t necessarily get exactly what you want, and you’ll have all of the mundane items that you need by level 3 or so. 1st and 2nd played around with allowing the player to build fortresses and towers and recruit armies, and in 5th edition your wealth can make ever higher numbers on your sheet.

    1. Zaxares says:

      That is one thing I do dislike about D&D, despite my eternal love for it. A PC’s power is intrinsically and inescapably tied to the variety and power of their magic items; spellcasters are not as notable as non-spellcasters, but it’s still there. This means that inevitably your players will be DRIPPING with magic items, but most other characters in the world, even super-powerful beings like Kings or “The Greatest Wizard in all the Land!” will typically not be able to match the kind of wealth the players are lugging around, which creates a kind of logical dissonance in the game.

      There are other systems that are much more low-magic; one in particular that I like is White Wolf’s Magnamund setting (based off the Lone Wolf gamebooks from the 80’s). Magic (indeed, VERY powerful magic) exists, but magic ITEMS are much rarer and tend to be quite limited in the scope of what they can do. Instead, the game uses a lot of alchemical and masterwork items that fill the void, and it’s quite rare for monsters to explicitly need “magical weapons to hit”; those that do tend to be highly magical or unnatural monsters that typically aren’t found in most locales, and even then, even a standard +1 sword will hit them handily. What’s more, the magic wielded by mortals typically isn’t capable of creating anything more special than basic enchanted weapons or armor. Truly special magic items, like a flaming magical sword that shoots firebolts, are usually highly prized (and guarded) treasures from bygone ages that were created by semi-divine (or demonic) beings. Such power almost always comes with a price for its wielder…

      1. Joshua says:

        The problem I have isn’t necessarily whether it’s low magic (5e tends to be low magic item and put most power in the character’s abilities) or high magic, but rather the wealth system period. The game was more influenced by Conan and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories than LotR, and those stories are ones in which the protagonists are constantly accumulating wealth every episode. On the flip side, those characters seem to mysteriously have their newfound riches vanish just as quickly as it’s blown on carousing, but D&D really doesn’t have this kind of mechanic in it (not for that massive amount of money anyway), nor are players particularly keen on it most of the time. So, you have a situation where PCs gain more and more wealth, and want something to spend it on that impacts the game-play, which tends to be magic items. Back to the 5e being low magic item above, money in 5e can take on a worthless quality past the first few levels because there is so little to spend it on if the DM isn’t going out of their way to come up with creative uses for it.

        1. djw says:

          There was nothing mysterious about it. Fafhrd and Grey Mouser spent all their money on hookers and booze.

          1. MrGuy says:

            I’ll build my own game economy! With hookers! And whiskey! In fact, screw the game economy!

        2. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Yeah, I was never a big fan of the moneycounting aspect of so many tabletop RPGs as it tends to be either tedious or unbalanced (or both). In the ye-olde D&D kind of system as long as the players are just upgrading their gear it’s essentially another progression tracker next to experience but usually as soon as they start interacting with normal economy it becomes absurd, a progression of another +1 to attack bonus may be enough to keep a small town fed and clothed for several years. Again, this makes a degree of sense when we’re escalating the party to be the lords of a realm, or heroes on the level where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, but not for your average dire wolf hunters.

          On the other end is a situation when we’re doing a cool thing about tracking a demonic cult and the story comes to a grinding halt because we have to start scrounging, borrowing and otherwise trying to account for train tickets to get to the next town over. For added context characters were mostly upperclass people with independent income, just the numbers didn’t add up very well between stuff like gear prices (which were meant to be affordable, with saving, to lower class characters) and things like train tickets or fashionable clothing.

          1. MrGuy says:

            One of my least favorite things about this aspect of DND and other table top role playing games is that it found its way so utterly pervasively into every almost every playing video game (and especially MMO’s)

            “Every defeated enemy has loot!” leads to “Carefully loot the bodies after every battle!” leads to ” carry this crap around until I can sell it!” leads to “there have to be rich merchants everywhere to buy your crap” leads to either “why is this perfectly good gear worth crap?” or “why does everything worthwhile cost so much?” Or both.

            Focusing on loot makes every game a vendor trash grind loop.

  3. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    The trick is to not do that at all. The players are the stars. When I have a very strong NPC involved in the battle I just have an equal challenge for him to handle (and not the big boss mind you), and/or have him intervene in a support/healing capacity.

    1. Sartharina says:

      But then you don’t get to show off how awesome your integral-to-the-setting OC is!

  4. MrGuy says:

    I do think this is sort of genius on Shamus’ part as a conceit of the series – Gandalf is an NPC that the GM does literally nothing to make the players care about. It’s more of a direct indictment of the GM than anything else in the series – there’s an overpowered wizard who seems to have “I read the script” level knowledge of where everyone is going to go next, has all the important lines, and who has such incredible plot armor that he literally rises from the dead so the GM can keep his pet.

    I love that the Galdalf of DMoTR is so unsympathetic.

    1. Winfield says:

      Yep. It was an inspired structural decision that drives SO MUCH of the parody. The anti-drama, the players’ seething and barely-contained contempt for the DM, the frequent total suppression of player agency, all come from this one decision. It’s absolute poison for a D&D game. And as DMs, we still kinda understood why the DM of the Rings would do this, because we’ve all had our carefully constructed plots trampled by the players before.

      Shamus had a keen sense of where the storyteller’s goals and the player’s goals diverge, and he used it to great effect in his WoW parody, and in Spoiler Warning – and a half-dozen other projects he did over the years. About the only time I didn’t see it work so well was in Chainmail Bikini, and that was so many of the jokes were repeats and the tone was generally just all over the place.

  5. Acher4 says:

    Always loved that “Gesundheit”.
    Just perfect!

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