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DM of the Rings LXXXVII:
Hack, and Also Slash

By Shamus
on Friday Apr 13, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Aragorn takes his turn.
Aragorn takes his turn.. eventually.

Being a turn-based game, D&D allows the player to ponder their every move and the ramifications thereof for as long as they need to, provided they have the real-life charisima to convince everyone else to wait. Studying possible moves is one of the most fun parts of the game (when you’re doing it) but also one of the most annoying and tiresome (when other people are doing it) and so care must be taken by the DM to ensure that in-game combat does not produce actual, real-life combat.

Side note: Boy, the JPG-ing was brutal to the ASCII characters in the Nethack frame. The blue mishmash really is supposed to be “O” (living orcs) and “%” (dead ones). I fussed around with it but couldn’t get it to look right without re-cutting the whole page to make the characters fill more of the frame. Bah.

Ah well. Close enough. People that can get the joke will still get it, and those that can’t get the joke aren’t going to be helped by clear ASCII art.

Comments (132)

1 2 3

  1. Libresse says:

    Aieee… I get to comment first… what should I say? Something clever about Nethack? or perhaps D&D round sequence? Can I take a hold action and see what others are planning to do? Waaait, I’m not ready yet…

  2. Roger says:

    I am going to delay for Libresse to make a comment.

  3. Rehtul says:

    YES! Finally we know Aragorn’s stats! At long last!

  4. Karten says:

    Oh crap if Liresee is delaying, I move the the front and ready to say something really witty when they do.

  5. Steve says:

    “How many hit points does he have?”

    Make a reflex save

    “What? Why?”

    You just got stabbed at while checking out the opposition.

    “This is horseshirt! Speaking is a free action!”

    You weren’t speaking. You were assessing the tactical situation.

    “You can’t do that!”

    You don’t want to make a reflex save?

    “No, and…”

    Fine. Take eight points of stabby damage.

    This is why I can’t run games any more.


  6. Felagund says:

    Now imagine this player with an animal companion or a familiar…

    It’s painful, trust me.

  7. SongCoyote says:

    I ready an action to interrupt whatever it is that Libresse is contemplating. I get a… [rolls] 18 on Spellcraft, [rolls] 21 on Knowledge: Geography and [rolls] …11 on Spot. Crap. She’s so going to Sneak Attack me….

  8. George says:

    in my campaign the DM tries to not let us have more time then our character would to make a descion,

    which is hard for someone like me when i have so many spells i can cast and easy for others who just run up and smash stuff… although aragorn appears to deny that portion of my theory entirely…

  9. Nick_Soapdish says:

    The obvious solution to Aragorn’s problem is for someone to cast deathwatch and call out targets for him. Now where is mister pointy hat when you really need him.

  10. Browncoat says:

    Someone wake me up when Libresse has said something and it’s my turn.

  11. The Pancakes says:

    I like Steve’s method. I’m a bit less harsh:

    Player: How many hit points does he have?
    DM: He looks strong for an orc. (rolls dice) Maybe 10 or so.
    Player: I attack him!
    DM: You can’t. You spent your action assessing the orc.
    Player: WTF?!
    DM: You can make a single move, if you like.
    Player: This game sucks!
    DM: I’ll tell Monte and Skip the next time I see them. Are you going to move or shall we just advance to the next initiative tick?

  12. trousercuit says:

    Regarding JPG compression: it undersamples blue, because human eyes have fewer blue cones than red or green. If you can get your JPG compressor to not do that, you could fix it without munging with the quality. Alternatively, you could use a gray-on-black terminal or version of Nethack for the screenshot.

  13. Rolld20 says:

    Humph, back when I played Hack, we didn’t have any of these fancy ‘colors’ the kids like to use. We had tripe, and sometimes we didn’t even have that! But we played it anyway, because that’s what you did, back in the day…
    Man, I hated that stupid dog. He was always eating my leprechaun corpses. Now I have an urge to wander through a store, picking up things until I collapse from the weight of my load. ;)

    Gaming incidents like this strip usualy call for one of the actually useful MP qoutes: “Get *ON* with it!!”

  14. vonKreedon says:

    Back in the day, I’d give players a quick assessment for free:
    “The Uruk-Hai are all big and well armored, the one to your right has an arrow lodged in him, you can’t tell if it’s in flesh or armor.”

    If the player then wanted more information they had take the time, and potential damage, to get that information as I’d then defer their action by some amount of my choosing while they did a more rigorous assessment of the opposition. Generally they would not take me up on this option and just go for the orc with the arrow.

  15. vonKreedon says:

    Ooh, you had tripe did you! We would have loved some nice tripe not and then. We had to play Rogue on 8 inch green and white screens using keyboards that didn’t even have arrow keys when I was young, and let me tell you we enjoyed it! Not like the kids these days with their fancy mice and big screen projection screens let me tell you.

    But you try and tell the young people today that… and they won’t believe ya’.

  16. Jindra34 says:

    If Libresse doesn’t speak soon i’m going to cast silence on this area…

  17. Kemayo says:

    Regarding compression, the thing to do would be to have the nethack panel be a PNG all on its lonesome. The difficulty, of course, would be recutting the “you really need to…” dialog box in such a way that there was no visible gap between the two.

  18. Mike says:

    Thanks Shamus. Now I want to play Moria all over again.

  19. SongCoyote says:

    Darnit Libresse – do something! I’m going to lose my action!

    Awh… now I have to wait for next round :/

  20. MOM says:

    I knew what the last screen was all about!

  21. Deoxy says:

    I liked NetHack’s underlying mchanic (the random dungeon, with random descriptions on potions, etc), but I always thought it was just stupidly deadly – that is, you really had to get lucky to get started. Once you got started (and knew about many undocumented features), you could go on quite well, but you might start and die shortly 12 times (or more) before you could get going.

    Yes, yes, it was a more authentic feel, but my, was it annoying (and usually boring) at the beginning. Some kind of base of operations (that is, like a town at the top, or SOMETHING) would have made for a much less annoying start.

    Nice NetHack-erization of the battle, by the way… but wis: 12?!? Try -12…

  22. Rolld20 says:

    “Ooh, you had tripe did you! We would have loved some nice tripe not and then. We had to play Rogue on 8 inch green and white screens using keyboards that didn't even have arrow keys when I was young, and let me tell you we enjoyed it!”

    See, what I meant was, we had tripe *instead* of a screen.
    No keyboard either, it was just me saying what I wanted to do. When my brother got bored of me saying “I search for secret doors! And then I search again!”, he’d smack me around until I shut up. And that was the original ‘full system reboot’, my friends, not this little blinking screen they have these days.

  23. trousercuit says:

    Well, in my day, we didn’t have no screen neither, and we had to play Nethack inside a wet paper bag in the middle of the freeway. You kids think dying by starvation is tough, why back then, you might get hit by a Model T screaming past at 15 MPH!

  24. vonKreedon says:

    Right. I had to get up three hours before I went to bed to build a computer out of highway rubbish so that me and my 45 brothers and sisters could play Rogue. We could never afford the plaid potions and when we died we really died and our Dad would dance around on our graves singing “Hallelujah!”

  25. Scarlet Knight says:

    You had graves? Luxury! Me Mum would sell our lifeless corpses as extras for the “Sean of the Dead” set. But we were happy back then….

  26. Stark says:

    Oooo.. Model_T’s, how *fancy*. In my day we would have loved to have been run-down by a Model-T. All we had was lousy punters riding around in their bleedin’ chariots. These weren’t even nice chariots mind you – they hadn’t yet perfect’d the circle so the wheels was square they was! You don’t know being run down ’till you’ve been run down by a square wheeled chariot! Bah, and we had t’ fight real orcs too… ok, so they were Welshman but it’s hard to tell the difference!

    Please note, I’m of Welsh descent and I have trouble telling some of my family members from orcs at times… well, I imagine orcs probably have better table manners…

  27. Steve Lytton/Deathblade_Penguin says:

    I’m going to refrain from the Monty Ptyhon reference and just ask:-

    is Nethack the same as ADOM? as that last screen looked like ADOM to me..

    although Kids these days, they just wont believe you….

    (sorry i could not resist)

  28. Steve says:

    We had to play Rogue on 8 inch green and white screens using keyboards that didn't even have arrow keys when I was young, and let me tell you we enjoyed it

    Dons flat cap:

    Course, we ‘ad it ‘ard. They ‘adn’t invented nethack OR the colour white back then so we ‘ad t’ play tic-tac-toe on an old ex-Military 9″ green-on-green radar scope. It were difficult, what wi’ screen refresh bein’ polar and the microwave radiation leakage an’ so on, not to mention bein’ periodically dive-bombed by ‘itler’s Stukas in mid-game.

    By gum, them were the days.


  29. Tola says:

    Cha of 5? That’s….literally impossible. Isn’t it?

    And what’s with the horrid AC? -3?! Isn’t the starting AC 10? What HAPPENED to him out there?

  30. Carl the Bold says:

    You had Chariots? Lucky git!

    In my day, we didn’t have these fancy chariots with their fancy geometric wheels. We got run over by wolly mammoths, only they weren’t wolly at all on account of the mange! And the tusks they ran you through with weren’t fancy regularly shaped geometric polygons–they were irregular! So when one went through yer chest it might just take out your appendix on the way, but that’s the way we did appendectomies back then! And we were grateful for it!

  31. Liz says:

    “And what's with the horrid AC? -3?! Isn't the starting AC 10? What HAPPENED to him out there?”

    NetHack doesn’t use the same AC system as Dungeons and Dragons. Rangers generally start out with AC around 7 and then the more armor and protection you have the lower your AC gets. So in NetHack, an AC of 10 would be reeeeeally bad, whereas -3 is rather good.

    And gorramit, this is making me want to play a game as Aragorn the Human Ranger. Wait, too late, I already am…

  32. Tola says:

    Wait. That sounds similar to that senseless THACO thing from the Balder’s Gate games, which were based off Second Edition. I don’t understand it there, and I still don’t.

  33. ladyalinor says:

    So am I the only one who regularly escapes downstairs ASAP while leaving the annoying cat/dog to croak?

  34. Kenny says:

    “NetHack doesn't use the same AC system as Dungeons and Dragons.”
    Yes it does. Or did. D&D changed to a new AC system, some time later.

  35. WWWWolf says:

    The orcs are lower case o’s in Nethack. It’s been a while since I played, so I can’t remember what colour the Uruk-Hai are supposed to be. =)

    Nethack is based on what *seems* to be a mish-mash of various (A)D&D-inspired and creatively applied rules, including Classic D&D and (pre-3rd Ed) AD&D. It’s not an exact recreation (and I don’t know *exactly* how much it rips previous AD&D editions since I don’t have the rulebooks) and uses a few things that are quite different from D&D.

  36. Fred's Friend John's Friend Gary's Friend Mike's Friend Jim says:

    I’ve found my DM really appreciates decisive action and will reward it. He likes a player to say, “I’m gonna cut this motherf–ker’s head off, right here. I’m cuttin’ it clean off. Here I go. Rolling NOW.”

    If a player’s going to ask a question, my DM wants it to be something like, “Am I in range to hit this one?” or “Can I get you another beer from the fridge?”

  37. houser2112 says:

    WWWWolf: “The orcs are lower case o's in Nethack. It's been a while since I played, so I can't remember what colour the Uruk-Hai are supposed to be.”

    If memory serves, Uruk-Hai were purple, and Moria orcs were yellow.

  38. Mordaedil says:

    Aragorn has really shitty stats. I think I might allow him to reroll at my table. His stats are just above what the DMG allows, which is pretty hard to play as.

  39. Matt says:

    Nethack unnecessarily deadly? What about those good old text based adventures?

    You are in a cave. There are exits to the East and South.

    Go South.

    You have stumbled into a Pit Trap of Arbitrary Doom. You have died.

  40. Matt says:


    you’re supposed to plan your actions while the guy to your left takes his turn. Don’t tell me you people pay attention to what the other players are doing?

  41. Neotacha says:

    Am I the only person who isn’t seeing the comic at all? I see none of them anymore. What happened?

  42. baf says:

    “is Nethack the same as ADOM? as that last screen looked like ADOM to me..”

    Nethack is not the same as ADOM, but they are related. They’re both ultimately based on Rogue, the original ASCII dungeon crawl, and are sometimes referred to as “roguelike” games, a genre that also includes such games as Moria and Angband, which seem like they’d be a better fit to the present work. This is definitely a Nethack screenshot, though: the status bar is exactly right for Nethack, except for the fact that “Helm’s Deep” is not an actual part of the nethack dungeon.

  43. Rich says:

    “Am I the only person who isn't seeing the comic at all? I see none of them anymore. What happened?”

    I dont see any comics at all, either.

  44. Rich says:

    Not working for me in Firefox as well as IE 6.

  45. SiliconScout says:

    Yeah tried FF and IE and get nothing through either.

  46. Yaverot says:

    After refreshing multiple times, disabling noscript & ad blocker it took about 5 minutes for the comic to load. Not having the comic come up quickly (like today, unlike the last month or so I’ve been following) is a good way to have all your bandwidth stolen to people hitting refresh-refresh-refresh-refresh. I’d see what my ISP had done, because it has screwed up the old comics too.

  47. SiliconScout says:

    yeah just went back and tried to see some of the older ones and they are not showing up either.

    Very strange, looks like he’s got a bug in there somewhere

  48. Lanthanide says:

    All of the comics are hosted on mu.nu, which has recently moved servers, so all of the old DNS records are pointing at the old IP address which is no longer working.

    If Shamus were to find out the new IP address from the mu.nu guy, he could give us a temporary link we could use to view the comic.

  49. Huckleberry says:

    Same prob. I’m on withdrawal. Make haste ;)

  50. Robert says:

    One reason I like using miniatures is that it cuts down on the time needed to describe a setting.

    As well, as a player I have a hard time visualizing positions from a description, and would end up dropping out of a game where I was penalized for asking about something my character could easily see. (Which actually happened in one campaign: “You see an orc in front of you” “Does he have a weapon ready?” “He attacks — you lost initiative when you spent a round observing him.”)

  51. Cosmofur says:

    Oh Hack….I have such a love hate relationship with that game.

    Have been playing it forever (and rogue)

    Jay Fenlason’s wife was a bridesmaid at my wedding, we used to go out for Dim Sum at chinatown.

    And no, he no longer has the original source.

  52. Heather says:

    Man, I wasted days and days playing Nethack. Then I discovered that changing the date to the full moon gave you all the luck you could want. And then I discovered a hack to save. Woot! And then my brotherr would come in and fight me for my computer so HE could play.

  53. Stormfeather says:

    WOOHOO! I was actually thinking of posting a comment last time along the lines of “you know, if you’re gonna do a third video-game based comic, a Nethack one would be really fitting!” But I didn’t, since I figured the games would already be picked out. Turns out I didn’t have to, anyhow!

    And *sniff* how could you leave your poor kitten or puppy behind to starve to death? Besides, then what are you gonna turn into a Master Lich or Black Dragon or something once you get a wand of polymorph? (Okay okay, the answer is one of the 254 other pets you have a chance to tame on your way down, but feh, it’s not the same!)

    Oh, and THAC0 is the One True Way of dealing with armor class for D&D. ;)

  54. Nogard_Codesmith says:

    The roguelike ref just made my day Shamus!

    Personally im an Angband man, but i have a special place in my heart for all things ascii.

    anoyne up for some TOMEnet? multiplayer, realtime, Tolkienian based, ascii fun for one and all!


  55. Liz says:

    “So am I the only one who regularly escapes downstairs ASAP while leaving the annoying cat/dog to croak?”

    I didn’t like my cat/dog at first either. Until I started leaving it alone and then I’d come back and it had managed to polymorph into some sort of demon or dragon. Then I was very much HELLS YEAH! However, I still don’t like horses as I can never keep them alive. Either I get food or they do. But yeah, seriously, an awsome strategy is taming as many crappy pets as possible and then polymorphing the hell out of them until you come up with something useful. Throw in a magical whistle, and you have your own personal army at your beck and call.

  56. wrg says:

    So nowadays there are people who read a D&D comic but don’t know about negative AC and THAC0? I feel even older now than when I realized that most of my students were toddlers, if that, when Monkey Island was released.

    Anyway, in the AD&D days default AC was 10 before modifiers, such as armour and dexterity. The difference is that bonuses would reduce AC, so that your typical armoured fighter would be in the low single digits, while someone with good dex and some magic equipment could have negative AC, which was a good thing. Although the system was counterintuitive, it became sufficiently familiar that I knew some players who became suspicious when they heard 3rd Edition would change it.

    Now, you might ask, how did we use those AC figures to compute combat results? That’s where the abstraction of THAC0 proved very useful. It stood for “To Hit Armor Class 0” and was the roll a character would need to do just that. (This might not strictly be true, since a sufficiently penalized character might have a THAC0 over 20 even though a 20 would be an automatic hit.) Most 1st level characters would have THAC0 of 20 before bonuses, which would decrease as you gained levels, stat bonuses, proficiency bonuses, etc.

    In combat, you would simply add your THAC0 to your opponent’s AC to find how high you’d need to roll to hit. Even though players find the systems oriented opposite to their expectations at first, the computation was pretty convenient. In 3rd Edition, you subtract your attack bonus from your opponent’s AC to determine the required roll, which isn’t too bad either, but some might prefer addition to subtraction. Still, the new system’s “big numbers are good” philosophy tends to seem more natural.

    Sorry, Tola, but if you read this I hope you won’t get to say you don’t understand THAC0 any more. You certainly may say you don’t like it, though. And the system of decreasing AC isn’t exactly the same thing as computing THAC0, because I used a version of D&D back when that didn’t say a word about THAC0 but had the traditional AC. However, THAC0 is an excellent way to make computations with that AC system decent, once you get over the learning bump.

    P.S. I didn’t spend all that much time with AD&D per se, mostly old D&D and some 3rd Edition nowadays (Get your 3.5 off my lawn, you kids!), so I may have mangled some details. Correction is welcome.

  57. Pixy Misa says:

    All of the comics are hosted on mu.nu, which has recently moved servers, so all of the old DNS records are pointing at the old IP address which is no longer working.

    We haven’t moved – the Apache server on the machine where Shamus has the comic files decided to lock up today for no apparent reason. I reset it and all is well. Why none of the automatic processes either (a) restarted Apache like they should or (b) alerted me like they should is still unclear. :(

    Pixy, the mu.nu guy. :)

  58. Pixy Misa says:

    The new server cluster I’m setting up does load balancing and automatic failover, albeit in software rather than hardware because I’m on a budget. So I’m hoping that hiccups like that will become less common. We’ve been mostly good the last six months, after a couple of bad patches last year with DDoS attacks and network problems at our old hosting company.

  59. Harlock says:

    Umm…no, you did not add your opponent’s AC to your ThAC0 to figure out how high you needed to roll: that would give the result that negative ACs were a _bad_ thing. Subtracting your opponent’s AC from your ThAC0, _that_ was the ticket. Or rolling the d20 and subtracting your ThAC0 to see what AC you hit. Personally, I prefer the 3ed system of roll the d20, add your bonus, and tell the DM “I hit AC 27, did I hit?”

  60. Tom Zunder says:

    I take my opportunity attack and pounce..

    I always count down from ten when this happens, and if they do not choose their character dithers. It makes for a much more exciting game.

    ..and miss..

  61. Steve Lytton/Deathblade_Penguin says:

    is it wrong that my friends and I still play Ad&D with Thaco… we just love the i guess now “old” system… although we have modifed some of the rules…

    and in reference to Harlock’s comment, I hit AC27, did I hit… love it.. although we use to havea player who would say , nearly every battle.. I rolled a 14.. did i hit?

  62. Danzaemon says:

    Long time reader, first comment.

    The main problem I had with THAC0 and negative AC was that while a low AC was good, and a low THAC0 was good, a _high_ hit roll was good. If you’d had to roll _under_ your THAC0 to hit, I would’ve understood. And, of course, you wanted the highest damage roll possible as well.

    With 3rd ed. and above, high everything is good, and low anything is not so good. Much more intuitive, so it’s a lot easier for new players to wrap their heads around.

    Anyway, love the comic, keep up the great work.


  63. Stormfeather says:

    Oh, and to add a comment I originally meant to make (and think needs to be said)…

    With THAT charisma, no wonder Aragorn’s so desperate to score, and fails so often.

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