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DM of the Rings LXXII:
A Truly Thrilling Encounter

By Shamus
on Wednesday Mar 7, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Combat is boring.

Aragorn falls asleep.

Nothing kills the excitement of battle like starting one.

Comments (114)

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  1. Browncoat says:

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

  2. I’m officially old. My first thought reading this was “Miniatures? In my day, we didn’t play with dolls!” I’ll be doddering off somewhere now.

    • StarSword says:

      We use whatever we have to. Generic mooks are usually pennies; flip ’em tails up when they’re dead. The boss is usually a nickel.

      Though I did go on ebay and get a nice set of miniatures for our player characters once. I even managed to find a spear-wielding dragonwrought kobold.

  3. 2.5 cats says:

    “Nothing kills the excitement of battle like starting one.”

    Too true.

    And the higher level you get, the more tedious the combat mechanics become. “I cast XXX.” “Oh? What does that do?” “One sec. Let me look it up…”

  4. Mom says:

    Great, now I’m terrifieed of paper clips. These battles are so realistic!

  5. Steve says:

    Sixth level paperclips. They’re nasty, they are.


  6. gedece says:

    What kind of paper clips? plain metal? Plastic? Colored metal? Metal covered with plastic? Magnetic? Arghhh, wish someone had put all those clips under the same entry in the monstruous compendium, so that I don’t have to look all those up.

  7. Brad says:

    “Make Aragorn fall off cliff.”


  8. Joan (laughing) says:

    CLIFF HIM! Yeah!

  9. KarenB says:

    This is why I prefer computer RPG’s. The computer does all the handywork for you. :P

    I always wondered why Aragon had to fall over that cliff, and I always knew there was a good reason behind it.

  10. Proteus says:

    And when Aragorn wakes up, he sees the floating head of his girlfriend, who inquires innocently about his new rash…

  11. Rebecca says:

    OMG I can see part of Shamus’s hand!

  12. Mojak says:

    Classic! Make Aragorn fall off a cliff. hahaha

  13. Ravs says:

    Your best after the ‘walking sticks’ panels! Inspired!
    Thank you for all your work on the strip, Shamus, it really is appreciated and is often the only ray of light during a cr*p day in the office.

    Many thanks


  14. Fred says:

    OMG, an army of Clippys. Now THAT’s scary. :)

  15. Mom says:

    “OMG I can see part of Shamus's hand!”

    Seeee. I told you that you should put the DM’s picture on a mug.( His mug on a mug-get it?)

  16. Joey the Lemur says:

    “It looks like you’re trying to reach Helm’s Deep. What would you like to do? ( ) Fight ( ) Run (X) Die screaming”

  17. -Chipper says:

    Don’t worry ’bout the paper clips – I have BINDER clips!

  18. Roger the Schrubber says:

    No, not binder clips!! They pinch something awful.

    Talk about your killer cliff-notes.

    Wonderful stuff Shamus. I have sent links to all my friends, and they all love it.

  19. Steve says:

    [gedece] Well, you could just look up the paperclip template and wing it from there, but in all probability, if you are looking one of these things up then you are already dead.

    Anyway, I don’t think players should be looking up the monsters, no matter what color wire they’re bent from. That’s for the DM to know and the players to bleed out while on a voyage of (violent) discovery.

    Tsk! Youth of today can’t go into combat without three volumes of the Monster Manual in front of ’em. In my day it was “grab yer crossbow an’ look lively”! None of this pansy “combat librarian” nonsense. Why, fully three fifths of the players I used to game with couldn’t read the tiny print anyway! We left that to the DM. And don’t get me started on the people who can’t swing a sword or chant a spell without ten minutes checking how it’s supposed to work in the six or seven supplimental rulebooks they minmaxed their cheesy characters from! In the old days, only a pansy would be caught looking for a copy of “Blackmoor” in the heat of battle. etc etc rant etc more rant more etc.


    • Bryan says:

      Tsk! Youth of today can't go into combat without three volumes of the Monster Manual in front of “˜em.

      And the 50 year old marine I play with can’t either, unless they are the volumes he’s already rote-memorized over the last 30 years…

  20. Corwin says:

    That final panel is now my all time favorite!

  21. Jeremiah says:

    Paper clips?! Ha! It’s usually more like:

    “Well, I don’t actually have any wargs, so these skeletons are wargs, but I’ve only got 10 of those, so these 5 gnolls will be the remaining wargs. If any orcs actually get off their wargs, I’ve only got 3 orc miniatures, so I’ll have to use these goblins for any others…”

  22. Steve says:

    Rebecca Says:

    OMG I can see part of Shamus's hand!

    Actually, I think you’ll find that that’s Shamus’s stunt double’s hand.


  23. John says:

    “Make Aragorn fall off cliff.”

    The precise moment when the movie trilogy took its downturn.

  24. John says:

    At least they weren’t paperclips with the Microsoft (aka “undead”) template. Those things force Will SV or die every minute.

    Gotta agree here. The solution is lots of prep ahead of time by the GM to have the battle info lined up. But if the GM ever does that, the players either:
    a) avoid the entire combat by launching off on a tangential hare-brained idea
    b) immediately use a tactic / spell / power that immediately makes the entire setup of the combat changed or irrelevant.

    Or just do the whole combat freeform in terms of placement, which works as long as the players aren’t too combat-mechanics-geeked up, but requires good, consistent description.

    Hmm… I wonder if Aragorn will go off to play Star Wars d20 with the halflings once falling off the cliff (thinking he’s been killed). Maybe the failure of that campaign will be how the hobbits return to the story…

  25. Yeah Shamus, we can see your speckled dice. They’re very pretty.

    Seriously though, great comic. Came here a few days ago from PointlessWasteOfTime.com and immediately added you to my Bookmarks.

  26. Jurrubin says:

    What?!? Am I the only one who uses torn-up sticky note paper for markers? Tear into half-inch pieces only the paper sections with glue backing, stick them to the battlemap, then write “W” for Warg and “O” for orc using a water-based pen on each half-inch piece.

    The DM can watch the worried expressions grow on the players’ faces as more and more pieces are added to the battlemap. To make things _really_ interesting, leave some of them blank and tell the players they can’t tell yet what the markers represent because the players are too far away/busy with nearby opponents/etc.

    Don’t want to take the time to write? Just use different colored sticky note paper. Either way, a small army can be ready to rock and roll on the PCs in less then 5 minutes.

    This tip brought to you by GOFGA, the Gnarly Old Farts of Gaming Association.

  27. Don’t y’all play anything besides RPGs? Most boardgames have stuff you can use for combat. My favorite was dumping out the 100 plastic minis from Zombies!!! on the board. :D

  28. damien walder says:

    Oh, that’s perfect.

    Makes me wonder about the reasons for someone dying recently on BSG, but that’s off-topic.

    I’m printing this one for my DM. Our games’ on sunday. I bought her some xtra miniatures so she doesn’t run out of monsters…

    Thanks again.

  29. Tess says:

    Our DM uses lego men to represent bandits, orcs, evil mages, whatever nasties our party comes across.

  30. Rolld20 says:

    I remember a war in ‘Knights of the Dinner Table’ where the PCs found themselves outflanked because (1) some players had forgotten which markers were their own troops and which were the enemies, and (2) some players had forgotten which markers were troops and which were snacks. The hazards of using M&M’s as chits… :d

    As far as the comic goes, very funny, although I don’t find transferring from RP to combat mode as disruptive as *the arrival of the food*:
    “As the dying woman accepts your gift, there are tears of gratitude in her eyes. In a harsh croak she whispers…”
    “All right! Pizza’s here!”

  31. Clyde says:

    That punch line had me rolling on the floor. Classic!

  32. phlux says:

    Can’t believe nobody mentioned the Risk pieces!

    DM: Ok guys, the cavalry guys are orcs on wargs.
    Players: So if they’re risk pieces does that mean each cavalry guy represents five warg riders?
    DM: No just one.
    Players: What about the different colors. Do they have significance? Do these orcs have difference allegiances? Maybe they could be, like, for different levels.
    DM: OK fine, the black cavalry guys are normal warg riding orcs, and this red cavalry guy is an Orc leader. It’s only one guy, but he’s five times tougher than a regular orc.
    Players: Whoa five times tougher?! That’s too much!
    DM: Ok, here, your side has one of these cannons. It does 1d12+4 damage and has a range of five grid squares.

    I could keep going and going…I’m really amusing myself with this.

  33. Vegedus says:

    Ah, yes, this is a classic. DM rule number 2, have that shit done with before or be prepared enough to be able to do set it up quick. It is a very effective way of killing all tension and excitement, which in turn may drag the entire battle down to the level of “I hit that guy, 5 damage. Your turn.”

    For when you’re done starting the battle, the exciting stuff starts to happen! … Well, not necessarily. That’s why I hate hack-and-slash DnD. If done by a bad DM or by uninterested players, combat can be just as unexciting as everything else. Attack someone. Roll the dice. Tell some numbers. It isn’t really that fun on it’s own. The fun comes when you can actually see yourself fighting. When it feels like your interacting in LOTR or whatever.

  34. adam. says:

    paperclips? bah. We use dice.

  35. Not wishing to start a “system war,” but this is one of the reasons I really like Savage Worlds. You can -do- those epic battles with lots of allies and enemies, and it (a) doesn’t take forever to get started and (b) runs very fast and very cinematicaly.

    One of the reasons I use SW for Shaintar: Immortal Legends is so that I can have an LOTR experience at the game table.

    Today’s strip just nails the point home with a sledgehammer. We all know D&D, and it’s the “standard,” but that doesn’t make it the best choice for all types of gaming.

    Thanks again, Shamus. This one’s particularly gratifying for me…

  36. eccles says:

    I don't find transferring from RP to combat mode as disruptive as *the arrival of the food*:

  37. eccles says:

    I don't find transferring from RP to combat mode as disruptive as *the arrival of the food*:

    We don’t start any more until everyone’s eaten. Means shorter sessions, but less pizza grease on books.

  38. Mrs T says:

    The worst to get going is a Champions game. *shudder*

    As for the movies, I like to pretend the whole bit between leaving the Golden Hall and arriving at Helm’s Deep never happened. Of course Mr T likes it because of Liv’s see through dress, so we can’t FF through the *whole* thing. ;)

  39. Steve says:

    [Woulda Coulda Shoulda department]

    I just thought how neat it would have been to cut from sleeping Aragormless to sleeping Hicks in “Aliens”, do a page of Aliens – the roleplaying game with the players in the dropship eagerly talking about about how great this game is gonna be then have “somebody wake up Hicks” only for him to discover the awful truth – The combat still hasn’t started.

    Meh. The World’s a Critic.


  40. Osvaldo Mandias says:

    First comment!

  41. Pink Fuzzy Bunny says:

    If you are planning to have an epic battle and you find yourself clearing space, setting up a mat and digging for figures, then you’ve already failed. At the start of the session you should have had your miniatures selected and hidden off to the side, the mat out and in place, initiative pre-rolled for everyone but the players, and ready to go! It should have gone: “Your ravenous foes…ride to battle! Okay, give me your initiative rolls. Aragon, looks like you are first.” 5 minutes of prep work before the session will save 5 days of regret looking back at how you spoiled the moment by breaking the game to clean up and lay down your equipment.

    I’m not saying what you demonstrate is not the most common case. But it can be easily avoided, especially if the DM is of the plan-everything-that-will-happen-to-the-characters type.

  42. Rickster says:

    This comic strip gets better and better! I can recall in my youth how many times the poor DM had to ensure the attention of his players wasn’t straying off as he was trying to set up the battleground. Aragon sleeping while the battle started was exactly what happened to me. Funny enough, I got lucky like Aragon that eventhough my enemy fighter was award automatic initiative as punishment for my inattention, he missed and I removed his head with a flukey critical roll! The DM wasn’t happy that All his plans to punish me backfired!

  43. Stiehle says:

    So THAT’S why Aragorn fell from the cliff!! I always wondered… I’m starting to wonder if perhaps Shamus has the notes of a game GM’d by Peter Jackson and played by the actors in the movie. That might explain a few things…

  44. Woerlan says:

    Of course, with a battle of that scale, there’s no way the players will range to every opponent, so you might as well just run it without a map. Each of the players will be fighting single opponents anyway. If you want to play map battles, play Classic Battletech or Warhammer. Leave maps out of the roleplaying environment. It really kills the fun.

    On a second note: Aragorn falling off the cliff in the non-extended movie was apparently a GM hate crime. Heh. In the extended version, I concluded it was because he was poisoned a few hours before by Eowyn. Anyone who saw the extended version knows about the scene where Aragorn (being a REAL MAN), eats the foul-tasting stewed garbage that Eowyn cooked up for him. Anyone would weaken after eating that. Heck, GIMLI, who probably has dwarven Constitution in the upper levels, refused the stuff. ^_^

  45. melchar says:

    I also vouch for the bag o zombies [and zombie dogs]. They can be numbered easily and then you have 100/each of bipeds and quadrupeds for any need. [so sayeth the person who has been reffing since 1973]

  46. Jim in Buffalo says:

    At the risk of sounding like a drooling fanboy, I turn forty this year and this is some of the funniest stuff I have ever read. I haven’t laughed out loud at a comic this much since reading Matt Groening’s classic Life in Hell books back in the mid-80s.

  47. Jiggily says:

    Yeah using dice instead of paperclips works much better… We just turn them all to different numbers to represent each different bad guy.

  48. EmeraldTiara says:

    Heh. Then again, Aragorn might not take that as revenge. He may think you decided to make it up to him by adding some excitement.

  49. annaestel says:

    Pennys. LOTS of pennys with stickers on them numbered one to whatever. I love the look on my players faces when I throw out a handful of them. Classic!

  50. Robert says:

    Paper clips? We always just ripped the corners off our character sheet to represent where we were. We didn’t have enough dice to do that.

  51. Nogard_Codesmith says:

    Great work Shamus! This one ranks as 3rd best yet in the series. (after New Dimensions in Storage and Riddle Me This).

    Personally im an old school gamer so usinging minis in an RPG seems odd (minis are for tabletop strat games damnit!), but i can certainly feel the pain of not having enough/the right miniatures to use (“ok, i dont actually HAVE a Madcat, so we can use this urbanmech to represent it”).

    This was also the subject of a recent Order of the Stick.
    (Note: if you dont actaully read OotS already, don’t continue on from that point, go back to the start or you will spoil it)

  52. Web Goddess says:

    It’s only funny because it’s so painfully true…

  53. poppalee says:


    Personally, I think all those &%$@ rules come out because the Players are trying to be their Characters. You made an elvan bowmaster… let him do it. You can’t because your NOT AN ELVAN BOWMASTER!

    ME: (dramatically) The hidious creatures crest the peak with their evil riders spurring them forward… Initiative.
    Leggie: Am I able to hit any off them with an arrow?
    Me: You have struck many an opponant at far greator distances.
    Leggie: I shoot an arrow at the first creature of the advancing horde.

    The player doesn’t need to know the actual details because he trusts that his Character does.

  54. AGGGH! A co-worker told me about this site a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve been reading a few a day, enjoying myself, never realizing that one day I would come to the LAST installment, and have to wait for more… As I moved to the last page, and realized that there was no “next” link, my breath left my body as through a bugbear had smote me with a Mace of Ouching…

    You must do 10000 more of these TONIGHT so I can keep reading… I am begging here…

  55. Jacob says:

    Make ARAGORN fall off a cliff



  56. Osric says:

    Titanium paperclip elementals!? :o)

    “Make Aragorn fall off cliff” is fantastic!
    It so fits, since Jackson & co. did appear to make that up for the film for no good reason. Now we know the real reason it happened!

    And the introduction of scenes from the real world: the PHB and the note to self… I was surprised by them, but they actually do add to the strip, given that it’s ‘all about’ the clash between the triviality at the gaming-table and the epic deeds the game claims/attempts/hopes to portray.

    You are mining a really good vein of material with this strip.
    (Does that make it strip-mining? Arf arf.)

  57. Openjars says:

    man, last I’ve played tabletop D&D was 15 yrs ago and reading these comics are awesome, every page I’d go, “hey! that happened to us!”. It’s great to get to experience those pieces of truth on every turn of the page! keep it up man, coming from all the way here in the Philippines! Id send this link to my old party mates, wherever they are now:D

  58. Clare says:

    I ran a game once where I failed to have any miniatures for the combat, so I used dried beans. Kidney beans, navy beans etc. Became a running joke for the whole 13 week adventure even though I only used them one night.

    I find that people who try to run combat without using a hex map tend to forget to tell the players everything, and I suddently find myself 2 feet away from a troll (or whatever big bad monster there is) with no idea how I got that close without noticing it.

  59. Medium Dave says:

    If you want to fight the wargs, turn to page 73.

    If you want to run like little girls, turn to page 104.

    if you want to negotiate with the Orcs, close this book.

  60. Steve says:

    [melchar] Once again I am left breathless by the sloppy, slipshod, half-arsed approach to everything by today’s youth. How are we supposed to follow your advice if you leave us without vital information?

    Should we buy a Bag O’ Glow-in-the-dark Zombies!!! (or Undead dogs) or should we go for a Bag O’ Un-glow-in-the-dark Zombies!!! (or Undead dogs)?



    PS :o)

  61. Steve says:

    poppalee Says:

    The player doesn't need to know the actual details because he trusts that his Character does.

    There’s a lot to be said for this approach. However, as the player characters become more complex it throws much of the decision-making onto the shoulders of the DM. Not only that, I’ve found that in confused combat situations, more time is lost due to players whining about something they feel is unfair than is spent on actual combat. This almost always resolves into a difference in perception between the DM and the player as to what the tactical situation is.

    I had a problem some years ago (before meny of you guys were playing) with a Traveller campaign in which the players spent an inordinate amount of time in combat (not recommended in Traveller) and the whine factor became so large I eventually made all characters play combats as a “Snapshot” scenario. Snapshot was a game played on plans printed with a square grid (sound familiar?), that used a simplified Traveller character scheme and a completely Traveller compatable weapon system.

    At first all I heard were moans about the loss of simutaneous action. After two combats, the players found that the simutaneous action was worth giving up to get a clear, unified picture of what was going on that everyone could share, and that confused actions could be sorted out equitably on the grid with none of the cheesy “I know an NPC can’t do this but I should be able to” thinking that was bogging down the game. The plans also added a visually interesting element, as did representing everyone with (15mm) figures.

    That experience taught me a valuable lesson, and I would never suggest doing away with the D&D grid for anything less than a single combat situation or an overwhelming odds tidal wave o’ death. Anything in between goes on the grid.


  62. Rick says:

    Heh. That’s not the mounted combat section of the PHB. ;-)

  63. Shamus says:

    “Heh. That's not the mounted combat section of the PHB.”

    I can’t believe it took 62 comments before someone pointed that out. I thought for sure that would appear in the first 5.

  64. Heather says:

    Since everyone is offering the DM advice on how better to do this bit may I add that after one battle like this we designed a double sided wipe off board from foamcore, some old gaming grid maps I found at the thrift shop, and contact paper. We then got some wipe off pens and used letters and x’s to represent the opponents while the players each used their actual miniatures. He also has a giant wipe off board on the wall to show what rooms and other areas look like. It works beautifully because to move all you have to do is wipe off the previous x and and move write it in the next spot.

    And we make sure food is available throughout so there is no “food break”.

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