DM of the Rings Remaster XVI: Teamwork

By Bay Posted Sunday Apr 23, 2023

Filed under: DM of the Rings Remaster 22 comments

Welcome to this special edition of DM of the Rings with special behind-the-scenes director’s commentary…

An alternate joke I wanted to use here was that the other players were not afraid of the monster per se, but afraid of getting involved in a battle which would require knowledge of the grapple system as well as the byzantine system of attacks of opportunity, and they were terrified of trying to wrap their heads around all of this while fighting a many-tentacled creature.

The gist was that they were fearful of spending the next four hours leafing through the rulebook trying to figure out how to wrestle with this thing. There is some truth (and thus humor) in this idea, but I couldn’t figure out how to deliver the comedic payload.

So instead you got this.

–  Shamus, Wednesday Oct 11, 2006

Interestingly, missing that punchline has made the comic age ‘better’. Not that having a joke about an old system would have been actually bad, there’s pros and cons to both, but as it is I understand it far better than I might have (as a younger D&D player) if it had been a joke about a system I never used.

Well…almost never used.

It might look like a stormtrooper and a child in a bike helmet are playing some sort of war game here, but in reality those toys are marking out towns on a map in the first game I ever DMed. I’m the kid in the stormtrooper helmet, Peter’s bike helmet kid, and Issac is presumably under the table (There is a spot for him at the table, I can see that. Maybe he got bored?). I have no idea what those markings I’ve got in front of me are, maybe some attempt to show initiative and whose turn it is? And why are the only dice I can see six-sided? The world will never know.

I did read the handbook, I remember that, but I’m sure every single thing we did in that campaign was laughably wrong.


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22 thoughts on “DM of the Rings Remaster XVI: Teamwork

  1. unit3000-21 says:

    Yeah, I don’t know how Shamus would’ve delivered the joke, but I think it would be stronger if it was about grapple system which famously was a pain in the ass.
    Right now we just have players running from a monster which in my experience is probably the opposite of what a party like this would do :)

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I swear I heard a “fresh” joke about grapple rules like this month during a podcast. This stuff is legendary.

    2. Syal says:

      …well I like it as is. They’re not even running, they’re just watching. Reminds me of most of my play sessions where I annoy the table and they start using me as shock fodder.

      Although I’m now imagining a version of this where they’re trying to get the giant squid in an arm bar and make it tap out.

    3. MrGuy says:

      I did read the handbook, I remember that, but I’m sure every single thing we did in that campaign was laughably wrong.

      If everyone had fun, it wasn’t wrong. Who cares what’s standard?

      I think it’s kind of amazing that you’re running a game while not old enough to draw a reasonably straight line across a page…

  2. Abnaxis says:

    There’s more 4 different DnD comics I read (Order of the Stock is actually how I found DMotR) and ONE of them had this exact setup for lampooning the grapple rules, though IIRC they took out a hit in the attack of opportunity rules too.

    I don’t remember which one, but whoever it was they faked me out for this comic because I remember it having a joke about grappling in it and was surprised to not see one.

  3. beleester says:

    Darths and Droids went there (even giving a shout-out to this comic), although since that comic uses a fictional system they can make the grappling rules even more complicated than they were in D&D.

    1. Galad_t says:

      Holy shit, Darths and Droids is still going, how are there so many Star wars movies, aaaaaa!

      1. Alberek says:

        I’m equally shocked… I thought it ended around Attack of the Clones… this is really wild

  4. evileeyore says:

    Grapple rules jokes will always be fresh because games will always have weird grapple rules… because game designers are bad at grappling with them.

    1. Kincajou says:

      I’m not sure I grasp what you did there

    2. Joshua says:

      The 3.X Grapple rules were interesting in that you can see what they were attempting to represent: cinematic fights where the combatants were rolling around on the ground, one of them trying to stab the other with a dagger, the other holding their arm back, etc. It also gave reasons for adventurers to carry small weapons like daggers and have spells that could be used without somatic components, or conversely, wrestling a caster so they couldn’t cast any spells that had somatic components.

      It’s just a detailed system that players discovered they didn’t want after all and was a little too simulationist. More importantly, players quickly discovered that enemies that were larger than Medium or had high Strength (a good number of them) were going to easily outdo PCs who even tried to specialize in grappling, much less those who didn’t. My first 3.0 character (a Fighter/Rogue) actually died to grappling because he had something like a +6 to Grapple vs. a Giant Ape’s +12 or something. He was fully buffed, and with Stoneskin had the equivalent of about 150 HP or so but I could do nothing but just watch my character get squeezed to death after about half a dozen rounds or so.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I have a strong suspicion that someone in the system creation circle thought they’ve found a way to break the game and argued that if they roll for attack and declare they grab someone they should be able to just plain immobilize them if the attack succeeds and thus the target can’t do anything (or has to spend their action freeing themselves, then the attacker repeats and so on) and there was a big argument about it and they’ve decided this needs to be codified.

        That, or an overly simulationist GM got a hold of that bit of the mechanics. I have one like that, he runs cool games but really has to be kept in check once he starts to fiddle with the mechanics. At one point in a system that was all about swashbuckling adventures we came to a point in homebrewing when “doing the sex succesfully” required two separate rolls and one specialised skill. I did eventually point out that if having sex was this complicated human race would have died out.

        1. Moridin says:

          If you look at AD&D 2e rules for “Attacking without killing”, it seems more likely that they just took what they had and standardized/streamlined the rules.

      2. Abnaxis says:

        I think describing grapple rules as “cinematic” hits the nail on the head. In a lot of ways, the scenes where you see combatants rolling round trying to stab each other with a dagger is nonsensical. So are giant beasts and/or humanoid that burst onto a scene in a fantasy world, only instead of immediately squashing the smaller things like ants they pick them up and fling them around.
        Take the scene in the comic for example–if the tentacle beast had just swing its tentacle into the ground instead of flailing around in the sky for no reason, Dave Frodo would be a red paste on the ground before anyone got a chance to save him, and the beast would have a meal. Instead it just dangles him in the air like it want hims to get rescue because reasons.
        The same goes for a fight where one guy has a knife and the other doesn’t. It’s utterly implausible the unarmed combatant gets close enough to wrassle without earning a grave injury for their trouble, but these scenes happen all the time in movies because they ratchet up tension and drama.
        Against that backdrop, you have game systems that both want to enable DMs to tap into those well-worn tropes but also want the world to make sense AND want the systems of the game to be engaging. Meeting all three of those demands for grappling in particular requires a bunch of exceptions and special mechanics, otherwise you have to let one of the goals sit by the wayside. Either the DM can’t do the classic grappling encounter tropes because hitting things with weapons works way better than grappling and size advantage is an auto-win even if you do manage a grab, OR the zombie drops out of hammer-space on the guy with the sword and grabs them because the DM says so, OR you have so many rules and exceptions to allow people to reasonably grapple in a fight without grapple auto-winning that the rules are byzantine and unengaging.

        1. Joshua says:

          There’s also the “What’s good for the Goose is good for the Gander” problems with rules like these. Players get outraged that they can’t just do certain actions like “I want my burly Fighter to just Full Nelson the evil Necromancer so he can’t cast”, but then get upset when an enemy Ogre does that to their own Wizard. For a few players in one of my 5E groups, I occasionally hear gripes about the system not having a Flanking rule like 3.X/PF/4th, but when I offer to introduce one as long as it’s universal for the NPCs as well (who typically outnumber the PCs), they usually decide they don’t want that rule after all.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            Isn’t there a 5e rule for assisting an ally to provide a bonus or something? I read the rules years ago but I haven’t actually had a chance to play them so they’re very fuzzy.

            The few times I’ve tried to use the tactical grid in a game I’ve regretted it due to the way it slows everything down, so I almost never use one. In lieu of thing like flanking my usual house-rule is that if two people want to coordinate their actions they get +1 a worth of circumstance bonus per person to split between them however they want along with whatever other benefits of flanking they might get, but everyone involved has to delay their action until the last person gets their turn. So if three people work together, they can each get +1 or give +3 to one player or split it +0/+1/+2.

            On top of making it so we don’t have to arse with 1-inch grids, this has an added benefit of giving players who are in some way disabled during an encounter (e.g. a silenced wizard or something) a thing that they can do to contribute. Plus, in 3.x it means rogues who wield bows can actually sneak attack stuff.

            On top of that I’m pretty generous about giving the odd bonus to players to get creative with how they execute actions, so if the same silenced wizard spends an action to pick up a feather duster to help him interfere with the bugbear I’ll make it a -2 AC and flanked vs everyone instead of a +2 attack bonus for the fighter.

        2. Lino says:

          Yup. There’s a reason traditional martial arts don’t involve a lot of on-the-ground grappling – they assume the opponent:
          A. Has a knife they can pull out at any time. Or:
          B. Has friends who can stomp your head in while you’re wrestling on the ground with their friend

          And even if they do have grappling, it’s either stand-up or at worst, it has you standing on one knee and constantly monitoring your opponent’s other hand on the off chance that they pull a knife.

          Originally, weapons-based martial arts didn’t have that many unarmed techniques, because the idea was that if you’ve lost your weapon, then something’s gone terribly, terribly wrong…

  5. Dinsdale says:

    Actually, that’s a clone trooper helmet. My kids had one when they were little and I periodically borrowed it as a second face covering during the height of the pandemic.

  6. Randy says:

    And why are the only dice I can see six-sided? The world will never know.

    Maybe you were playing Shadowrun? Or… Hmm… You mentioned town markers, which isn’t very Shadowrun… Maybe a combo of D&D and Shadowrun? Like a homebrew Spelljammer?

  7. MelTorefas says:

    That’s fantastic! I especially love the maps and the various random toys you’re using. Brings back memories…

    I dm’d my first game when I was about 14, using my collection of LEGO figures for miniatures. I didn’t own any of the books (my older brothers did, they’re the ones who got me into it, but they weren’t letting 14 year old me borrow them), but I *did* have the manual for the Pool of Radiance (or Curse of the Azure bonds) CRPG for our Commodore 64. It was sorely lacking in actual stats for the monsters, so I basically made everything up.

    The thing I most vividly remember was a monster called a “shrieker”, which I naturally assumed was some sort of banshee thing and ran it accordingly. Much later, when my brothers went to college and gave me their books, I discovered it was actually a type of fungus that grows in the underdark and makes a shrieking noise if anyone gets near, potentially drawing in nearby hostiles. The thing itself has basically no HP and no attacks… so, definitely not a banshee.

  8. Mr. Wolf says:

    I had the same aeroplane toys but they never went on epic quests. Improvisation is the key to miniatures though.

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