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DM of the Rings LXXXIII:
Ladder Game

By Shamus
on Wednesday Apr 4, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Gimli steals their ladders.
Gimli is cheating.

In D&D, there is no act more reckless and fraught with danger than that of outsmarting the DM.

Comments (146)

1 2 3

  1. Valley says:

    Yeah! A Bomb! Now Gimli can kill as many of the enemy as he wants as they pour into the Keep, overwhelming the defenders, as they hack and slash. Good old fashion fun.

  2. General Ghoul says:

    61 RHJunior Says:

    I dare you to watch that scene with the torchbearing Orc without humming “Chariots of Fire”…

    You sir, have cast mass suggestion.

    Too late now, but we passed the scene where the army pulls all available hands to defend the wall, including teen boys whose head are too small to wear helmets…DM,” They place all available hand on the wall including a 15 year old boy.”

    Aragorn:”Hey I’m just a 17 year old Ranger.”

    DM:”Actually you are 87.”

    Aragorn:”What?!? My character better take a nap before I die of old age.”


  3. Proteus says:

    That last panel was classic. I’ve seen that expression in real life — in fact, I could name names. (Hey Steevr, did you read this post? ;)

  4. sylc says:

    *cracks up laughing* Gimli’s face in the last shot (in all the shots of him for that matter). Oh my… Gimli’s FACE! Thanks, Shamus. Love this one!

  5. Browncoat says:

    Just noticed the new ad on the side for DMotR mechandise at cafepress. Wonder how long it’s been there. Anyway, I see you’re getting bored with the accolades you're receiving for the comic; now you want them for the ads as well. Very well, allow me to be first.

    *great* ad.

  6. Steve says:

    [Tola] (Helms Deep vs Hit and Run Attacks)

    I was refering to the book version of the event, but the point is that they should do neither. They should have sent a token force to Helms Deep, then struck out for Isengard and taken Saruman while his army was elsewhere or taken everyone to Gondor there to join forces with The Father Of The Man With The Pointed Shoes. Given free reign it is even possible Saruman’s excesses would have precipitated an early intervention by Sauron. Also, once out of Saruman’s direct influence, his orcs would likely have begun fighting amongst themselves out of sheer boredom.

    To really get a feel for the scale of this sort of battle you are better off using SPI’s old “Helms Deep” or “War of the Ring” games, super-“accurate” (as best as could be done with made-up creatures at any rate) simulation games rather than D&D or any of the curent tabletop game systems (especially Warhammer, which is a tactical game system and not a very complex one at that).

    Theoden only retreated to Helms Deep because he a) didn’t appreciate the scale of the opposition and refused to believe the intelligence he was getting (compare with Stalin’s actions at the outbreak of Operation Barbarossa) and b) was running on autopilot and relying on his Line’s rich history of defending the people in that fortress. He had never had cause to use the place for real, if memory serves me right. Of course, his forces were primarily cavalry, fundamentally unsuited to and untrained in defending fixed fortifications.

    Funnily enough, one of the first hex-based wargames I ever played was a pocket version of the battle for Helms Deep. I always wanted the SPI boxed set, but could never afford it when it was in print.


  7. Jeff says:

    Well, Gandalf had fireworks, so a bomb is basically the bigger, cruder, less controlled version of a firework.

  8. Tola says:

    Problem: How does he know that striking for Isengard is a good idea? You say he wasn’t trusting his intelligence. I’m assuming no idea of what Saruman has. Which means he may have MORE.(WE know he doesn’t, but…) Worse yet, Isengard is a fairly tight battleground(Deep valley, with onl a few thin paths in, isn’t it? The ‘city’ itself is walled.). Again, their strength is nullified, and with no clue what they’re facing…that doesn’t seem like a great idea. It might be a little better than holing up, but…Maybe its just me.

    Then there’s the Grey Company. They’re going after Aragorn about now to tell him about the Paths of the Dead. If they’d all struck out for Gondor….no Army, no help for Pelargir, and the Corsairs get through to the Pelennor. Would the Rangers be enough to turn the tide? Hmm…(It’s a shame the Grey Company didn’t show up in the film, though. They put in Elves, and throw out Aragorn’s people?)

  9. Philip Cassini says:

    [i]”40 Jindra34 Says:
    April 4th, 2007 at 2:32 pm
    Dire Ladders what are the coots going to think of next? DIre toothpicks?”

    They're called “rapiers.” ^~[/i]

    Walking sticks.

  10. Erin Storts says:

    This is the funniest web comic I have ever read. And then halfway through I finally noticed the comments at the bottom of the pages, and realized it was funnier than I thought!

    Rock on. Can’t wait for the next one. Now I’m yearning for D&D again. *sigh*

  11. Steve says:

    [Tola] He doesn’t. But he doesn’t stop to consider the consequences of what he is doing either. Not only is Theoden reacting to Saruman’s threat rather than moving with a solid counterplan (and therefore allowing Saruman’s forces to set the initiative in the war, always something to be avoided if at all possible) but by crowding into Helms Deep he is removing his own best asset – his cavalry’s mobility.

    He’s doing it for the best of reasons. He wants to hole up until the orcs get fed up and go away (a typical seige result) so that the civilian population doesn’t suffer overmuch but he still doesn’t believe the force coming at him can a) overwhelm the defences and b) retain cohesion for the duration of a long seige and he has allowed the fortress to become unsuitable even for a seige of the style he does envisage.

    Perhaps worst of all, Theoden has no plan B. If the walls of Helms Deep prove inadequate, everyone (civs included) is dead.

    Theoden is also operating in the same information blackout he usually does (I’m extrapolating here – he is used to not having GPS and cell phones), perhaps a little exacerbated by the fact that his kingdom’s infrastructure has come a little unravelled thanks to the Wormtongue episode, but his was an insular society and probably had no formal information gathering organisation to start with. We know he had no active diplomatic channel with Minas Tirith at the time the story takes place.

    Overall his single most telling error is a failure of imagination. He literally cannot get his brain in gear and properly assess the strategic situation, and that is almost the death of his entire nation.

    If he were to share your concerns regarding a move on Isengard he should have dispatched a scouting force there to assess the area. He should certainly have sent scouts at once to determine the invading force strength. Neither of these was done. The sole effort was to get to Helms Deep with no particular idea what they would do once they got there. I don’t blame the players of DMOTR for not being happy.

    Let’s hope the -E-n-t- Treants turn up on schedule with their Portable Forest o’ Death. I’m not sure even Dumbeldore can save them now. If and when he shows he probably won’t have memorised “Fireball”, “Chain Lightning” or “Meteor Swarm” and will doubtless attack with the ever-popular “Continual Light”.

    Those orcs have an awful lot of walking sticks.



  12. Scarlet Knight says:

    Thsi would have been the perfect time for a joke about one of my pet D&D peeves: imagining how you can put arrow after arrow into an opponent , yet he still keeps coming, with the DM smirking : “Nope. He still has plenty of hitpoints left…”

  13. vonKreedon says:

    And another thing…Why did Jackson have Eomer and his gang of horsemen be the ones that Gandalf gets instead of Erkenbrand and the Westfold infantry? Not that that is soo bad, but then he had the calvary ride down on well formed Uruk-Hai pikemen! Criminy, Eomer should have been slaughtered.

    And what was up with the Entmoot? Don’t even get me started on the Entmoot…

  14. Jon says:

    Has no one here seen BoonDock Saints? Rope is ALWAYS necessary.

  15. Telas says:

    Charlie Bronson always had a rope…

  16. Ruth says:

    “Rocks fall everyone dies.”

    “But if you would’ve let me think…”

    “Rocks fall… Everyone dies. The end.”

  17. Hurlbut says:

    “And another thing…Why did Jackson have Eomer and his gang of horsemen be the ones that Gandalf gets instead of Erkenbrand and the Westfold infantry? Not that that is soo bad, but then he had the calvary ride down on well formed Uruk-Hai pikemen! Criminy, Eomer should have been slaughter.”

    He actually made it work by having the sun behind the riders’ backs blind the pikemen right before the initial impact.

    And someone point out that the King wanted to go to Helm even though everyone advised against it. I should point out that in the books he was originally for going on an all out offense but was talked out of it by Gandalf into protecting the people and taking them to Helm’s Deep.

  18. hikari says:

    I would have had them keep attacking the wall until their dead formed a ramp to the top of the wall.


  19. Given the terrain and the facts, were the people better off being slaughtered in the open or slaughtered behind walls? Of course behind walls there was a chance that the super bard could rally a relief force (or two) and that he could crumple the enemy by using a mass area effect demoralize on the pike … which he did.

    Scale is an interesting concept. Generally, a horse people is better off engaging in a running skirmish against ground forces, if they have enough room, if they can move their entire population, *if.* If not, if they are a herd people rather than a true horse people and are in a bounded area, they take what they can take.

  20. Hotaru says:

    hikari:I would have had them keep attacking the wall until their dead formed a ramp to the top of the wall.

    hehe… ramp of people… it would be enviromentally friendly because it’s biodegradable and yet good for population because you killed thousands to make it… it’s a win win ^_^ …though… it would stink after a while… oh well… you can always torch it and use their bones to make a stair case

  21. Tola says:

    perhaps a little exacerbated by the fact that his kingdom's infrastructure has come a little unravelled thanks to the Wormtongue episode

    That’s an understatement. Wormtounge’s been aiding Saruman for…months? Years?

    And someone point out that the King wanted to go to Helm even though everyone advised against it. I should point out that in the books he was originally for going on an all out offense but was talked out of it by Gandalf into protecting the people and taking them to Helm's Deep.

    Hmm. Why was it changed? Perhaps because it made Gandalf look…not-so-perfect? I wonder how things would have gone, now…Assuming the King had his way and went on the attack.

  22. question says:

    Hello i love these!

    1 problem.. your last 2 comics aren’t displaying right for me

    I can make out roughtly 1/2 the comic clearly the other half of the picyures are so blurred i cant even read the captiob boxes..

    in the above comic its the top half thats too blurred to make out
    in your last comic it was the bottom half to blurry

    any idea why this is? ive ready every comic since the beginning and the issue only occurs in your last 2 for me

  23. Steve says:

    Telas Says:
    Charlie Bronson always had a rope…

    And a sock full of coins and Jill St John too.

    It’s good to be Charles Bronson.


  24. Deoxy says:

    All this argument about actions in the movie… when the actions in the book were quite different AND made sense (I won’t rehash it here).

    It’s makes no sense in the movie because the source material was tossed in a blender first – that ANY of it came out making sense is near miraculous (look at all previous attempts at LotR movies, for instance).

    And don’t get met started on how they handled the Ents. I have seen sensible reasons for everything else that really mattered (most of which I disagreed with, mind you), but the handling of the Ents was just plain stupid.

  25. Tola says:

    Go on, start. I’m certain we’d all like to hear it. I have problems with it, as well.

    Why on Earth were the Ents made to be ‘not caring’?

    Dammit, in the book, he was all for dealing with Saruman, once he knew the situation-the problem was rallying everyone ELSE. I realise the Ents don’t know or care much about other races-mainly because they’ve go their own concerns(Racial excintion from lack of females), and other races move too quick, compared to them. Even so, Saruman learned a lot from them, and even if you disregard that, it’s THEIR forest he’s cutting to ribbons. He even cut up a few Huorns.

    So why? For a little speech? Geh. Though one has to wonder what was going on at all with the whole ‘Roar and summon Ents’ thing. What, were they following Treebeard?(That in itself makes one think that the ‘We don’t care’ was a put-on, but that doesn’t strike me as likely.)

  26. Deoxy says:

    “There are now 89 comments. My server weeps for mercy.”

    Bump to 90, because I wonder how high the little witty comments to the number of comments go…

  27. Deoxy says:

    “There are now 90 comments. My server weeps for mercy.”

    Darn, no change… anyone want to gt to 100?

  28. Cam says:

    First panel. It’s not ‘teaming’, it’s ‘teeming.’

    And this was a brilliant strip.

  29. capitain says:

    Brilliant strip.

    Deoxy Says:

    April 6th, 2007 at 12:21 pm
    “There are now 90 comments. My server weeps for mercy.”

    Darn, no change… anyone want to gt to 100?

    Don´t you think aiming for the 100, thus crashing the server, comes very close to outsmarting the DM? This usually leads to… difficulties.

  30. Flexstyle says:

    BRILLIANT placement of the bomb event!

  31. Huckleberry says:

    ” “There are now 89 comments. My server weeps for mercy.”
    Bump to 90, because I wonder how high the little witty comments to the number of comments go… ”

    ” “There are now 90 comments. My server weeps for mercy.”
    Darn, no change… anyone want to gt to 100? ”

    Have a look at comic No 80; There are 103 comments there (at least right now), and the line reads:

    “103? OVER A HUNDRED COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?”

    And I just guess that’s the last of the pre-programmed ones :)

  32. Talitha says:

    I would have had them keep attacking the wall until their dead formed a ramp to the top of the wall.

    Funny you should say that…

  33. Scott says:

    Classic. I’m dying here!

  34. Alex says:

    What happen? Somebody set us up the bomb!

  35. Thilandor says:

    “Name one thing you’re gonna need this stupid fucking rope for.” -Boondock Saints :)

  36. Miral says:

    I agree with Brave Sir Robin (way back in comment #38): Gimli’s plan wouldn’t work unless you got almost all the defenders on the ropes to pull the ladders in (and hence not defending the walls), since the movie showed quite clearly that the ladders were usually pre-loaded with several orcs before they even hit the wall, meaning that you’d have to pull in not just the weight of the ladder itself but also the weight of all those orcs and their armour. That’s pretty heavy.

    PS: 100 comments ;)

  37. Max says:

    Do you know how much each of those ladders would weigh, loaded with orcs all the way up? The DM is right – they don’t have enough leverage. A crew with ropes could lift a ladder a few feet off the ground, but then what? They’ll never get it all the way up. They’d need a full block and tackle anchored solidly to the wall above and behind them at the right height and angle. Then they could get ONE ladder, plus attacks from all the orcs who are riding up on it. They couldn’t get another ladder without taking the block and tackle down and remounting it somewhere else.

  38. Toil3T says:

    What about a levitation-type spell? That’d get the ladder up. Or you could burn them with a Burning Hands spell… I should be writing this down, we have a seige coming up.

    Great comic, by the way.

  39. TheDeepDark says:

    I must refer again to a “campaign” that got its start with a group that so thoroughly went around the GMs plan from the beginning as to get a completely different outcome for the mission. Stuff like that is part of why our GM likes running the game (or so he tells me). He doesn’t have to provide the Whole path, just a general direction – and it makes it as exciting for him to see where it ends up as for the players.

  40. wyrwolf says:

    Ah yes. Outnumbered 100 to 1. The teeming horde milling around the base of the keep. Hours of tactical maneuvering on the part of the DM to bring it about. Hours more to set up the miniatures while the low-level PCs desperately search for an outcome that doesn’t involve final death of the entire party. One neophyte wizard’s web spell lit on fire doing 2 rounds of damage to 80% of the attackers. 1 minute to put it all back in the pack.

  41. nitefly says:

    Classic example of poor gamemastering.

  42. E says:

    I would have NEVER thought of pulling the ladders up….then again, I guess thats why I’m always the fighter type. Brilliant, this is my third time reading through this!!!

  43. JD says:

    This.. BY FAR! Is the best one yet! I’m loving it!

  44. Eric says:

    It’s a matter of leverage. You can’t lift 20 orcs on a ladder. But you can tip it over much more easily. You have several feet of vertical length to help you tip it while the orcs only have a few feet of horizontal length and their wieght to prevent it from tipping. Though if they set it at a good angle, then they got more horizontal and you’re pretty screwed in the tipping department.

    EDIT: Oh wait, if you had 50 men pulling it and some rope… Maybe they brought extra ladders?

  45. Robin says:

    The defenders have just as many people at the top of the ladder as the orcs do at the bottom of the ladder. If the orcs can push it up into position, then the defenders can lift it up out of position.

    (When I first saw the movie, I pointed out that there was no way the orcs could push the orc-loaded ladders *into* place, but if they can move it, so can the defenders.)

    • WJS says:

      Ridiculous. It’s much easier to drag something around than to lift it clean off the ground, and as the DM says, they have no leverage. If you don’t understand the concept of leverage, you are not qualified to state that it’s possible.

  46. Sam-Chan says:

    wow, what an idea…

    but it is true, players love to show their great idea to THE OTHER PLAYERS. they don’t want to insult or depress the dm, I am sure.

    don’t think that bad of your players, they are playing your campaing because of fun!^^


  47. Kasper says:

    I recently did this to an A.
    “A huge rock blocks the entrance, right? We don’t need to finish that golem we might be attacked by afterwards, even if the DM is hinting at it. We take the coal from the boiler room, light up a huge stack on one side of the rock, and take an eight hour rest. Then douse it with water, making it shatter.”

    DM decided my character didn’t have the intelligence to come up with that plan. And the INT 18 character was played by a guy who honestly didn’t understand the concept. Foiled again.

  48. Runolfr says:

    Trying to pull up the ladder wouldn’t work anyway (says a fellow DM). Just how are the two or three people who might be able to get their hands on the ladder going to haul it up with the weight of several orcs on it?

  49. d'Antarel says:

    I love how you allow your DM to contradict himself in this comic. Earlier at the threshold of Moria, you say there are no explosives (with a “duh” added on to it), then here comes this Orc with a bomb. You can’t even say it’s because they had a wizard because Gandalf the Grey was with the party at the gates of Moria. Way. 2. Be.

  50. Bryan says:

    The only time I (as a GM) ever pulled a “that won’t work” on the players was when one of them decided to test a magical girdle they found on nearby animals. I let him try on several animals. My reasoning was that a human-sized belt won’t fit a dog or a pig or a horse. Then the guards came and arrested him. It turns out that the local animal OWNERS didn’t like the mage experimenting on their animals. The mage guild he belonged to was forced to give him a trial, and he was forced to pay for all the animals he experimented with.

    There is nothing a GM can do that is more evil than letting the PCs have their way. Good times!

  51. Damien says:

    Hmm, lets see, players lifting up the ladders. Appart from the fact that 10,000 orcs would come with more than a couple of ladders, and the fact that it’s a siege and the ones at the back can always just make more ladders, there’s also the issue of the orcs ON the ladders. I’d definately have orcs clinging to the ladders as they came up and of course when they get to the top, what are the people closest to them doing? Pulling up ladders! I’d say that would count for a free attack, instant loss of initiative maybe in the next round. It’s hard work lifting ladders and orcs standing on a narrow battlement!

  52. Skippy le Grand Gourou says:

    Well, well, well. I have to comment this one. Not that I have anything to say, but anyway.

    Ok, I admit : this is my favorite so far…

    And, I mean, now I understand why they use bombs in the movie… xD

  53. Serenity Bane says:


  54. DenverT says:

    ticked off my dm when i found the rulebook doesn’t have a really specific limiter on what you can pull from a bag-o-holdin in a minor action… enter me, the caster preist, buying 20 kite sheilds, and throwin them in the bag… soon enough some warlocks started pikin us off from range and i was at 2 health… BOOMPH i curl up in a fetal position(prone = +2 against ranged attacks and a -2 against close range.) and…….Grab all 20 shields from the bag for 100% cover while i slowly used my heals to hp up… :P

    later i used a similer tactic with gunpowder(it had handcannons, emerging weapons.)…gunpowder and more gundowder… and a fire charm. Ah, it seems you have me cornered away from my group. Mr. evil, ridiculously overpowered boss dude… well, looks like im gunna die. my turn? ok, im just gunna pull my little bag here and *BOOMPH* (were both up to necks in explosives)”SEE YOU IN HELL”…oh wait im a priest, so t looks like your gunna be there ALL ALONE”

  55. Erika says:

    HAHA you have no idea how many times I’ve outsmarted the DM! She HATES it!! xD

  56. Rose says:

    XD Gimli is to die for.

  57. Do you accept guest posts? I like the taste how you wrote DM of the Rings LXXXIII:Ladder Game – Twenty Sided, I’m in this topic for ages and I would love to write few stories here in case you agree with me.

  58. readerzzz says:

    Leverage? Heh, Leggylass knows all about that. He taught it to the guy who taught him about parley.

  59. Joe says:

    I used to enjoy being outsmarted…most of the time. Then I got better at developing plotlines and didn’t want to railroad, and suddenly it was frustrating and I had to get used to pushing them back in line. A couple of times Rocks Fell Everybody Died, but I eventually got really good at nudging dice rolls.
    “I get a Reflex save, right?”
    “Yeah, let’s see…uh-oh, a one. That’s critical failure.”
    “There’s critical failure on saving throws?”
    “Yep. You dodge so clumsily that the lightning strikes you twice.”
    “That’s…pretty clumsy.”

  60. PaulR says:

    Hard to imagine you missed this opportunity…

    The very first time I ever saw the movie, the rain starts coming down and Theoden rolls his eyes, all I could hear in my head was:

    “Could be worse–could be raining!”

    (But as you’ve barely introduced Theoden at all, and as an NPC, having him make a smart remark would be [ahem] out of character, I suppose.)

  61. Blas de Lezo says:

    Man! This one rocks!! I’ve had worse DM though! Keep on thinking about that the DM of the Conan or the DM of the Willow I told you! ;P

  62. Nami says:

    My favorite thing about this one was how happy Legolas looked when he was saying he had rope, he’s like I’M CONTRIBUTING! 8D!

  63. I entirely realize every one of the things that you have stated. That is truly helpful details and I feel I’ll be maintaining almost all of it in thoughts.

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