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DM of the Rings LXXIII:
Schrödinger’s Familiar

By Shamus
on Friday Mar 9, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Schrödingers familiar.
Die of undetermined value.

I sort of indulged myself with this one. If the joke made no sense, then you can read this. The joke still won’t make sense, but at least you’ll be distracted.

I’ve wanted to make this joke for ages. Long before DM of the Rings, I used to think this way when dice would bounce away and fall in some hidden corner.

Comments (172)

1 2 3

  1. Carl the Bold says:

    Wow. First we see Shamus’ hand, now his computer. It’s like A&E’s “An Intimate Portrait”.

    BTW, Schroedinger’s Dwarf. Nice.

  2. -Chipper says:

    Schrodinger! Brilliant! I’d think lots of gamers would get the reference. Am I 1st?

  3. BlueJimmie/Valkaun_Dain says:

    I’ve read all of your strips after my DM, Mortellan, sent me a link. What a hoot. It is almost word for word every Monday and Wednesday that we get together.

  4. -Chipper says:

    OK, being bold helps, even 2 B 1st comment.

  5. Stark says:

    So, since we can know either the position of the particle (the die) or it’s value but not both at once…. oh, no, wait – that’s only at the quatum level of things and that’s a much bigger die than that.

    Schrodingers Cat is interesting thought experiment and I must admit that working it in here was both amusing and wholly unexpected – now, let’s see if you can work the Einstein, Rosen, Podolsky paradox in here too… ;)

  6. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    I don’t have any idea what you guys are talking about, but UNCERTAINTY LICH.
    Shamus that is pure gold my man.

    • Hidersine says:

      Its a reference to a analogy the noted chemist and physicist Alfred schrodinger made to exemplify a problem in one interpretation of quantum mechanics of physics at that time. The analogy is roughly as follows: if a cat was placed in a box that was both unopenable and also that the contents were unobservable and that there was a random chance that something inside caused the death of the cat (Schrodinger’s example being a volatile poison released by a possible radiactive disintergration) then the cat would be classed as both living and dead under the copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. This is commonly known as “schrodinger’s cat”

  7. Shamus says:

    Working in Einstein:

    The DM just determines everything by fiat without rolling. “God does not play dice.”

  8. Bookworm says:

    Shamus wrote:

    ‘Working in Einstein:

    The DM just determines everything by fiat without rolling. “God does not play dice.”’

    Oh, gads! Good thing I wasn’t eating or drinking anything when I read that.

    As a science nerd, I’m declaring this one my favorite strip to date!

  9. John says:

    Excellent setup, love it! And even educational for those viewers not already familiar with the concept. Yup, I think we’re practically required to get people to read this one.

  10. Congratulations, Shamus. THIS is the funniest one yet. I am SO making stats for an Uncertainty Lich for the next game.


  11. Pancakes Optimus Maximus says:

    Our house rule for dice is, “It’s only valid if it’s on the table.” Dice off the table means a re-roll, and you must roll your dice in view of everyone. Even the DM, which is me (my players hate it when I fudge die rolls to save them, so we don’t do that anymore). If a die is ‘cocked’ which is to say, not resting flat, it must be re-rolled.

    I do very much enjoy D20 D&D, but it’s not a game for epic (meaning large-scale) battles. Once you get past about 14 participants, it turns into a bookkeeping nightmare that can drag on for many hours. I appreciated your set-up joke in the last comic, and I’d like to see you follow that up with a joke about how long it takes to actually run a large-scale battle.

    One of my strongest criticisms of D20 D&D has been that there are no “Battle System” rules as there were for 1st and 2nd Ed. You simply can’t run a combat with thousands, or even dozens of participants.

  12. Sartorius says:

    IMHO, DMs should never roll anything in front of the players. Since it would be very inconvenient for Gimli to die at this point, the DM should have called it a 5 no matter what was rolled :P

  13. -Chipper says:

    So to defeat an uncertainty lich, you have to be certain he’s dead. or alive. or HE has to be certain he’s dead. or alive. you show him a dice roll. or his obituary in the local paper. or send him on a cruise, hoping he’ll have such a good time he will cry out, “now THIS is living!” at which point he won’t be.

  14. Culinte says:

    I nearly fell out of my chair laughing so hard at this one. It would have been difficult to explain to my colleagues… MOST excellent, Shamus!

  15. Doug Brown says:

    I had a similar problem in one game when I spun a d20 and the other d20’s on the table instantly began spinning at the same velocity (but in the opposite direction, if I recall correctly). Of course, because their spin was observed, we no longer knew where they were. We had to share a d20 for the rest of the session.

  16. Steve says:

    As Heisenberg once said, “I’m not sure about this”.

    Steve (maybe).

  17. Takkelmaggot says:

    I love geek inside-jokes. They lend themselves so well to this medium. Come on, everyone- admit it. At least part of the reason we like this is because there a minimum INT to comprend it. Sort of a like a “you must be -this- smart to laugh at the Shamus.”

  18. Carl the Bold says:

    Well, not to laugh *at* Shamus.

    And any idiot can laugh, pretending to understand. Though I would never do that. I get the joke. Really. It’s about Liches and Cats.

    Liches on Broadway! (see? I get it.)

  19. Shamus says:

    Directions for becoming an Uncertainty Lich:

    1. Deal lethal damage to self to within 4HP of death.
    2. Stab self with 1d4 dagger.
    3. When rolling for damage, roll dice into Phylactery and seal shut.
    4. Hide the Phylactery! If someone breaks it open and shows you the die, your state will no longer be uncertain, and you will lose your Lich powers.

    Does not work on Classical Physicists and Theologans.

  20. That sounds very Discworld-ian. Gimli’s lucky that after his trip down the Trousers of Time that he came out the right leg.

    Uncertainty Lich could be a very powerful class.

    Player: “I swing my sword.”

    DM: “A hit, but with no effect; undead Liches are immune to your sword.” (Bear with me, I don’t actually D and D; I presume they’re immune to something.)

    P: “I try to Turn Undead.”

    DM: “Sorry, but why would you want to turn undead on a dwarf?”

    P: “What? You said it was a Lich.”

    DM: “It is. What of it?”

    P: “Then let me turn undead!”

    DM: “Your sword swing has done three points of damage and cut off the dwarfs beard, making him very angry.”

    P: “What?!?”

  21. Kirin says:

    “…or send him on a cruise, hoping he'll have such a good time he will cry out, “now THIS is living!” at which point he won't be.”

    I’d have thought he *would* be living at that point, which would make him cease to be a Lich, thus robbing him of his phenomenal powers. At which point you could either just declare victory or, I suppose, kill him. But with certainty.

  22. Vegedus says:

    I’d say god certanly plays dice… Though he does manipulate the results from time to time :D.
    In a way, it’s kinda funny how often people manage to bodge up a simple die roll and throw it under whatever, but that’s Murphy’s law for ya.

  23. Steve says:

    Takkelmaggot Says:

    At least part of the reason we like this is because there a minimum INT to comprend it. Sort of a like a “you must be -this- smart to laugh at the Shamus.

    I respectfully disagree. I believe that what you need is a good Knowledge (Arcana) skill.

    After all, how many here can understand the math behind what Shrödinger said, rather than just remembering someone else’s telling of the “cat” thing? I can’t and I’ve had to try. The subtle concept of collapsing probability waves and the neat things they say about how the gears of the universe turn was beyond me.

    As for Heisenberg, I’ve heard many versions of his principle expounded recently in various places, all of them questionable interpretations of the version I learned in my QM classes (where I couldn’t understand a good deal of the math either).

    If one can’t figure out the reasoning onesself then one is remembering General Knowledge, not using intelligence per se. Albeit Specialised General Knowledge.

    Gah. I just broke Mr Brain again with the concept of Specialised General Knowledge. This is why I steer clear of abtruse quantum mechanical concepts.

    Where’s the Tylenol?


  24. Adam says:

    I think this is my favorite comic yet. Brilliant, just brilliant.

  25. Bob says:

    ‘So to defeat an uncertainty lich, you have to be certain he's dead. or alive. or HE has to be certain he's dead. or alive’ Not always easily done. Psychiatrist to patient who claims to be dead ‘Do dead people bleed’ ‘No’ Psychiatrist takes scalpel and cuts the patient’s fingertip, drawing blood. Patient says ‘What do you know…..Dead people DO bleed.’

  26. Steve says:

    [Shamus] I see what you did there, throwing the usual death’s door Memorable Last D&D Words into sharp relief.



  27. Here’s a fine rule for those of you who are looking at massive NPC v NPC battles to be massively simplified to implement.

    Roll Percentile.

    It’s a Gamemaster trick my friends used to use when armies were at battle. Their rules and modifications were fairly simple:

    An even battle (similar numbers and levels) is essentially a 50/50 fight. Therefore, the Percentile will indicate not only what army wins but by how much.

    Example: 300 angry orcs charge an open battlefield against 300 armed soldiers, all of 4th level or lower.

    1-10: The human army is crushed, the battalion leaders are slain, all warrior-class party members must face combat with the top warrior level Orcs without aid of magic users (still tending to other areas of the battle). If the heroic warriors slay their attackers one on one, the party may choose to retreat with 10% of the remaining army, otherwise they must surrender or be slain. The players and the army may only choose to retreat or surrender.
    11-25: The humans take heavy casualties. Orcs force is reduced by 20% while the human soldiers lose 50% of their numbers, including key leadership. The party may choose to call for retreat, incurring another 5% troup casualty rate and a swift exit from battle, given a secure retreat location, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers.
    26-50: Both sides take heavy casualties. Orcs force is reduced by 30% while the human soldiers lose 40% of their force, including one key leader. The party may choose to call for a retreat with or without a secure retreat location, incurring 5% troop casualty rate, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers.
    51-75: Both sides take heavy casualties. Orcs force is reduced by 40%including one key leader, while the human soldiers lose 30% of their force. The party may choose to call for an advance, incurring 5% troop casualty rate but reducing the Orcs force by 10%, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers. If they choose to advance, they must continue for one more round of battle.
    75-90: The Orcs take heavy casualties. The Human’s army is reduced by 20% while the Orcs lose 50% of their numbers, including key leadership. On a failed Wisdom check (base 10 modified by 1 for every 5% they are outnumbered), the Orcs will call for retreat, incurring another 5% troup casualty rate. The party may choose to call for an advance, incurring 5% troop casualty rate but reducing the Orcs force by 10%, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers. The party may choose to call for an advance, incurring 5% troop casualty rate but reducing the Orcs force by 10%, or continue to fight with appropriate modifiers. If they choose to advance, they must continue for one more round of battle.
    90-100: The Orc army is crushed, the battalion leaders are slain, and the army is in full retreat. All mounted party members may seek out one-on-one combat with the remaining top warrior level Orcs. If the heroic mounted Players slay their Orcs in one on one battle, the party will recieve appropriate treasure for the highest level enemies and heroic recognition from the thankful Human army. The remaining 10% of the Orcs will either scatter or be slain. The players and the army may only choose to retreat or surrender.

    Appropriate modifiers include:
    +10 for fortifications (Siege Weapons each give a -2 penalty to the fortified army and an additional -2 for every round attacking the fortified army until the fortification bonus is nullified)
    +5 High Ground Modifier (can also be used for armies on familiar ground or protecting their villages or homes)
    +1 per 10% Greater Numbers Modifier (If Army A is 30% larger than Army B, Army A gets a +3 roll modifier)
    +1 (per 10 levels) Trained Army Modifier (If Army A has 50 more total levels than Army B, Army A gets a +5 roll modifier.)
    +1 Massive Weapon Bonus (Used for major catapults and other weapons of mass destruction, given until the weapon is neutralized)
    +/-2 Morale Modifier (Handy to use post battle speech, dramatic turns in a battle, every time the Player’s army chooses to advance or retreat, Players choose to make some symbolic roleplaying move that is successful or that fails miserably, etc. Multiply as necessary up to 10 on any given battle round)
    Sprinkle your own modifications in as well. It’s a fun system to get through massive battles quickly.

  28. Parzival says:

    So Feynman and Heisenberg decided to take a road trip together, with Feynman driving and Heisenberg in charge of the map. Every so often Feynman checks with Heisenberg for directions
    “Where are we?”
    “Forty three miles out of Tuscon. Take a left at the next exit.”
    This sort of thing continues for a while, everything’s going well, when suddenly Heisenberg points”” “Look out! Cop car behind the billboard!”
    Feynman glances at the speedometer. “Relax, I’m going 55 miles per hour.”
    “Oh, way to go, bonehead,” says Heisenberg. “Now we’re lost.”

    Thank you. I’ll go get my coat…

  29. neminem says:

    I go to Harvey Mudd, one of the geekiest schools in the country.

    We make jokes like that all the time. One of my favorite quotes: “So really, every time you look at a dead body, you’re killing someone.”

    P.S. Nice joke, Parzival! I hadn’t heard that one before, and I like it.

  30. xargon says:

    I’d play an Uncertainty Lich. I wonder what the ECL would be?

  31. Klaus says:

    And the above is why I love both this strip and the comments they spawn. Priceless!

  32. Woerlan says:

    I was already chuckling when I got to “Uncertainty Lich.” The terminology is so utterly ludicrous, and yet so wonderfully appropriate. Shamus, when you coin a phrase, it’s minted in pure gold. ^_^

    I laughed so hard I was in tears.

  33. fair_n_hite_451 says:

    Ah yes, the eternal “Wisdom vs. Intelligence” debate.

    “Having a low wisdom doesn’t mean my character is stupid”
    “No, it just means he’s not smart”

  34. Hal says:

    That reminds me of my favorite Futurama joke. They’re at a racetrack and it’s a tight finish.

    Announcer: The judges are checking the electron microscope . . . and it’s (horse’s name I cannot recall)! By a quantum finish!

    Professor: No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!

  35. Blindeye says:

    Man, this strip pretty much explains why my group re-rolls every dice that falls off the table.


  36. theonlymegumegu says:

    I totally got the joke. I am also totally swiping the term “Uncertainty Lich” for general usage.

  37. Marlous says:

    I clamped Wiki for help on this Schrödinger Cat business, and even though I now have a bit of an understanding what the experiment is about (emphasis on bit, because I understand the set-up but not the reason).. but I have no clue as to why this is related to gaming. Could anybody let me in on the cat story? Please?

  38. Steve says:

    [Parzival] :oD

    Pauli should have been on that same trip, but he wouldn’t get in the car with the other two.


  39. Steve says:

    [Parzival] Pauli said it was a matter of principal.


  40. Steve says:

    [Marlous] The die determining whether the fatal blow lands or not has not been observed, hence its score could (bogus quantum mechanically speaking) be anything. Gimli exsists in a non-determined state until the DM observes the die (“collapsing the wave function” in QMspeek) and the value is acertained.


  41. Steve says:

    [Hurricane Andrew] A very neat solution to the issue.

    Personally, coming from a simulation wargame background (these things became extinct before some of the people who post here were born) I would make up an “odds table” were the battle to be important enough, so that I could deal with imbalances in the two forces involved too.

    I absolutely agree with anyone who feels that this is taking things a bit far. The players wouldn’t have to know or do anything extra though. It would just be for me and my peace of mind.

    What can I say, except that complex rule things don’t scare me.

    Oh, and that games like the OOTS one and Arkham Horror would be easier to pick up if the rulebooks had been structured like Avalon Hill and SPI used to do them instead of doing them RPG style. And that printing rules on square pages makes the rulebooks difficult to keep in good repair. And that sidebars should be used to clarify rules, not to bring them up for the first and only time in the rulebook.

    Sorry, I forgot this wasn’t the forum pages of GITP or FFG for a minute there. :o)

    Have a very good weekend everyone. I’m off to do some real-life things while I fret over whether the DMotR will really make Aragormless fall off a cliff or not. Don’t forget that Americans switch to DST weeks ahead of everyone else on Sunday. Something to do with saving energy.

    Remember: “Spring up, fall over”.


  42. DMCliffy says:

    to HurricaneAndrew and PancakesOptimusMaximus
    RE: Mass battle system.

    There are two official mass battle systems for 3.5 d&d. Swear. They aren’t in the core rules (why in the hells would they be, exactly?).

    The first is for the number-crunchy wargamer. It’s pretty much WarHammer D&D and it’s found in the Minis Handbook (an incredible book, whether you play the collectible minis game or not). It’s sort of an expansion of the warband-vs-warband rules to make Army-vs-army. It’s okay for strategy gamers, but boring as hell for others.

    The second is a cinematic, high-adventure style system whereby the PCs actions on a small scale can alter the course of the battle. It is found in Heroes of Battle (doh). In it, the outcome of the battle is determined beforehand as if the PCs did nothing. Then, a number of opportunities are outlined, with a reward or penalty assigned, for the PCs to influenmce the battle (in accordance with their level). So, in a situation where the PCs side is hopelessly outmatched, the PCs “victory” might be getting most of the army to a safe retreat, while higher level PCs may be able to disrupt enough of the enemies command structure (i.e. Kill some Named Monsters) to allow a glorious Rally.

    The second system is an incredible system that keeps the focus on the heroes instead of 1000s of crappy level 1 warriors. The PCs still determine the outcome, but on a far more personal level. It even allows battles to be played like adventures (with a flowchart style of paths and opportunities, like a dungeon made of time instead of stone). It beats the hell out of “my 200 dwarf rock throwers bombard your cavalry. Take some Damage. 20 knights dies. your turn” style of wargaming.

  43. Borghal says:

    I really loved this one. Thank you.

  44. Walter says:

    If Shamus gets to invoke Einstein’s quote, I get to invoke Hawking’s reply:
    “Not only does God play dice, he sometimes rolls them where we can’t see them.”

    Sounds just like a DM to me.

  45. Jeffrey says:

    Einstein would roll over in his grave. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded.

  46. ExNavyDoc says:

    So, Heisenberg is driving along, and gets pulled over by a cop.

    He rolls down the window and the cops says, “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”

    Heisenberg replies, “No, but I know exactly where I am!”

    Har, har, har!!!

  47. Kerry says:

    Man, I knew it would be good when I saw the title, but this is…
    Awesome work!

  48. LuckyLefty01 says:

    From the comic: “I rolled the dice and it fell behind my computer.”

    The direct object needs to agree in number with the pronoun that references it in the next clause. (dice/die mix up)

  49. Scarlet Knight says:

    I’ve never heard of Scrodinger, Feynman, or Heisenberg. I thought this comic was about rule anal DM’s…

    I’ll stick with Jimmy Buffett’s “Indecision may or may not be my problem…”

  50. Fuzzy Eric says:

    Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen:

    Arwen has arranged for a group of departed elves to operate an apparatus that streams entangled photons at her and Aragorn. She intends to transmit information directly into his brain by interacting with her photons.

    But he falls off the cliff and so Aragorn’s Id just fills something in instead. Oh well.

  51. Fickle says:

    Hah! So obviously, the cat was alive inside the box. I feel much better now. XD

  52. Andre says:

    Excellent job illustrating the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment, Shamus!

  53. EmeraldTiara says:

    If he’s both alive and dead, does he still have to pay taxes? …Sorry, that came from The Restaurant At the End Of the Universe, when Hotblack was spending a year dead for tax reasons…I’ll shut up now.

    Very funny!

  54. Dirk says:

    “Einstein would roll over in his grave. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded.”

    Zhakharov in Alpha Centauri? Or was there a more original (real-world) quote?

  55. […] wonderful comic DM of the Rings’ latest strip contains what must fall among the nerdiest humor I have ever encountered. Tabletop gaming humor + […]

  56. Dirk: Many people have said variants of that. But Zhakharov definitely said it with the most style.

    Man… what a game… I’ll preempt a budding quote thread by linking this.

    Or possible feed it. One or the other.

  57. haashaastaak says:

    I am afraid that, just as Schrodinger’s cat could not leave the box without the question of its life or death being established, Gimli can’t leave his position on the ground until his status is established. Sadly, he can’t leave it even then, because he’s about to be pinned by a warg paperweight. So I think the uncertainty lich is about as useful as a Barrie fairy no one believes in.

  58. Gary's Friend Jim says:

    Okay, time to fire up the press… who wants an “Uncertainty Lich” t-shirt?

    Disclaimer: I don’t have a press. I don’t make t-shirts. I’m just a smart-ass. If I could make t-shirts I’d make some.

  59. Golgothus says:

    [steve]Gah. I just broke Mr Brain again with the concept of Specialised General Knowledge. This is why I steer clear of abtruse quantum mechanical concepts.

    LOL… best way I ever heard it put is: “Can’t brain today, I have the dumb.”

    He who lives by the skull will die by the skull

  60. Ishmael says:

    Not only is the comic hilarious, but I get some *superb* advice on how to run massive battles in D&D, which I really needed given that one of my player groups has been indication they want one. How wonderful. ^_^

  61. Ishmael says:

    …indicatING. >.>

  62. Tallain says:

    I would definitely buy a Twenty Sided T-shirt. If I had the money.

    “Help. The dice are trying to kill me.”


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