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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. sithkhan says:

    This one is in 1080p!!! Woo-hoo! Well, it’s page 1080 on the website … *sigh*

  2. Ace says:

    In my campaign, when a player asks what the Orc’s/Uruk Hai’s HP is, I usually answer the same way “You can’t tell, but since you stabbed your sword through his chest four times already, he doesn’t look quite well. On the other hand, the other orcs all seem very able to you.”

    I usually don’t fuss too much on people taking their time for their turns. As a DM who barely ever prepares any campaign but just wings it, I usually don’t really know what my encounters can do either so I usually take time rolling things myself.

    I always encourage my indecisive players to roll a d# to randomly hit an enemy. I usually give them about 20 seconds to decide an action, then remind them that their characters wouldn’t even have this much time. I give them another 20 seconds, then force an action. If no action is forthcoming, then the initiative round passes on.

  3. Luke says:

    Shamus, have you ever considered publishing the comics in PNG format? Can your software output them as PNG? If you do, make sure you try something like PNGOUT.exe (http://advsys.net/ken/utils.htm). The other day I took a large 865 KB image and shaved it down to 520 KB just by running it through the app. It almost cut the image size in half – and the compression was completely lossless without loosing any sharpness in the image.

  4. Alasseo says:

    Aragorn really isn’t thinking properly- cleaving through from the left means that when the bigger Uruk attacks, he’ll already be in the best position to fend it off. The archers have probably begun their withdrawal from that area of the wall because it’s obvious the gatehouse is gonna fall pretty soon, no matter what miracles Aragorn and Gimli can pull off, eventually they’ll get pulled down, especially if the DM starts introducing fatigue modifiers. And as for throwing his knife- forget it, the balance is wrong, and he’d just be giving up his backup weapon for when the sword breaks- plus IIRC, drawing a weapon counts as a move-equivalent action.

    I’d say something witty about nethack as well, but I’ve never played it.

  5. Stranger says:

    I played with THAC0 rules. Confusing to learn, non-intuitive to run with, but if you spent the time to learn it, you could move along with it well enough. The new system is a little easier to teach, and more people can understand it.

    Also the way of the dodo . . . the “Saving Throw” tables which were really quite stupid to work with.

  6. Stranger says:

    Also, your anti-spam word is often broken and will not accept the word . . . I had to refresh four times in order to get it to post :(

  7. kenderweasel says:

    Great comic – I’m just about old enough to remember Nethack, and some of the crappy text based games too.

    It took me ages to figure out how THACO worked (usually just asked one of the guys what I had to roll)- then they went & changed to 3rd ed.
    It confuses me sometimes as NWN uses 3rd ed rules where AC gets bigger, and BG uses old AC rules where AC gets lower.
    Why they had to do that I don’t know.

  8. Animayhem says:

    My good this is a funny coincidence, last night our DM picked up an egg timer just for this reason, some of our players take up to ten minutes to come up with their action. (High level game) It's not really our fault that the player just before your turn killed all the guys that you were planning to…

  9. Valley says:

    By the time Aragorn picks what actions to do the orcs should be napping. Can’t he just push them off the ramp?

  10. Patrick says:


  11. wrg says:

    Sorry, thanks for the corrections. I reckon part of my reaction is envy that reecnt players won’t have to deal with a system that makes it easy to say some foolish as I did above. I’d about agree with Danzaemon’s opinion.

    Indeed, although I took a bit learning the new saves, I’m just glad I can actually compute save bonuses without a table. I’ve got some old books with hit tables, too, for various character level and class vs. various AC, as well as various monster HD vs. AC. THAC0 is pretty convenient compared to that. I’m not quite sure where I have them, though, so I can’t check to see whether the books just have THAC0 computations wrapped up in a table or if they’re a bit different.

  12. the old master says:

    As a GM. I write the turns down on a time chart. The time it takes for me to write their declared action…is the time they get to complete their action. (rolls, Dmg ,etc.).If they can’t talk faster than I can write(non script), then they are forced to hold their action till next turn, then the next,and the next. Until they feel ready to say what they wnat.. It’s mean but, it also has trained our players to be quick and that generates excitement.

  13. Carl the Bold says:

    Okay. Libresse still hasn’t made his comment. I vote we kick him out of our game and move on to the next guy. Or, we could just make him buy the pizza tonight.

  14. Pixy Misa says:

    Aargh. And now all but one of my servers are down. Apparently a 2500 amp breaker blew at my hosting company, and I went offline. Splat.

  15. Juice says:

    I think the Wisdom and Charisma stats must be the wrong way around.

  16. Libresse says:

    Sorry, I had to answer the phone. What did I miss? Is it still my turn?

  17. Otters34 says:

    I suppose the title is a reference to ReBoot’s Hack and Slash.Or is it simply a variant of hack-and-slash?

  18. Doom Chicken says:

    Great comic.

  19. Prawninator says:

    One thing: I absolutely LOVE the Anti-spam word I was given.
    I have an addiction to Icosahedra.

    Next; this is the best comic EVER. But Aragorn can’t have a CHA of 5! He’s not THAT less handsome (or pretty) than Legolas! Viggo = t3h hotness.

    Keep the work up, waiting for you to upload the next one. I’m refreshing the page…

  20. !n00b says:

    THAC0? Wimps. An Attack Matrix is the One True Way. Page 74-75, the real DMG. Opponent AC down the left, character level across the top, check the spot on the table for the number you need to roll. For example, for a fighter of levels 1-2:

    AC Roll
    -10 25
    -9 24
    -8 23
    -7 22
    -6 21
    -5 20
    -4 20
    -3 20
    -2 20
    -1 20
    0 20
    1 19
    2 18
    3 17
    4 16
    5 15
    6 14
    7 13
    8 12
    9 11
    10 10

  21. Auke says:

    First, let me give jubilation and praise for a great webcomic.

    Next, I seem to be an exception as a DM, in that I always allow my players ample time to think of an action. Not that I especially like the endless pauses, but it’s so much fun to wait patiently for my players to think of the best action possible, and then carefully and deliberately show why it was such a bad idea.
    Then again, I have players who think that when your car has just head-on crashed into a car containing villains, the best course of action is to blow up said car with a grenade…
    Well, at least the villains died…

    Besides, in my experience, ‘hacking of the orc’s head’ is only the start of an agonizing, time-consuming process, at least when you’re playing in a high-level campaign. “OK, I have a +2 bonus of my magic sword, a +1 from the cleric’s blessing, another +1 from the bard’s song, but the orc shaman has cast a spell on this orc, so that’s a -2… What were the rules on racial enemies again?”

  22. Telas says:

    In D&D (v3.5), a round is six seconds long. I normally give the players five times that to make a decision or delay; I’d like to cut that to six seconds.

    As DM, I have to run a bunch of critters, make on-the-fly rules interpretations, remember everything about the encounter, and use a lot of “color text” to describe everything. The players just have one character to worry about, so they shouldn’t gripe too much, should they?

    (Yes, that was rhetorical.)

    And Shamus, I’m stealing that for a user icon elsewhere…

  23. Deoxy says:

    “my server weaps for mercy” – heh.

    Only on more comment:

    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.

    Actually, while you can do that, the system was designed such that you add your roll to your bonus and see if that is equal to (or large than) your opponent’s AC – still addition, and, as you said, MUCH MUCH more newbie friendly.

    Let me say that one more time:

  24. superfluousk says:

    This is why DMs should encourage players to ponder their actions while other players are taking their turns. Then play the “Jeopardy” music at increasing volume when their own turn comes. :)

  25. Marty says:

    You said it! AD&D1 in the hiz-ouse. We didn’t have no steenkin’ THAC0 back in the day. Anyone remember the “Combat Wheel” from a REALLY old Dragon Magazine (somewhere around #50) that had the AC/Level/To Hit numbers before THAC0 was invented?

    It makes one long for the days when your hardbacks had a giant demon-efreet dude holding some chick like Faye Raye in King Kong.

    Speaking of THAC0… I have a long standing argument with my girlfriend about the pronunciation (yes, girlfried — I got a gamer girl; you know I’m hanging on to this one).

    Anyway, she say “thack-Oh”, like “hack”… I say “Thay-kOh” like “hay”. My reasoning is that “AC” is pronounced “Ay See” so THAC0 should be a long A.

    How do you all pronounce it?

  26. Deoxy says:

    like “hack”. “AC” is just a listing of the letters “A” and “C”. “THAC0” is a full-fledged acronym, and thus gets pronounced as a word. If AC were treated as an acronym, it would be “ack”, not “ache”.

  27. Parzival says:

    THAC0, schmacko. I started playing D&D from the blue box with [i]chits[/i], boys and girls. We had no problem at all understanding that low AC was good and high AC was bad. We just read it, said “Well, that’s odd, but okay,” looked at the charts, pulled the stupid chits from the cup and determined whether we hit or not. And regardless of weapon, we rolled a d6 for damage, ’cause the stupid box rules treated a dagger same as a longsword. [i]And[/i] if a character died (which happened three times in the first dang hallway of our first dungeon), another character came running down the hall to join the party and off we went on our merry way, not caring if it made any *bleep* sense or not. We also fought nearly every dang monster in the book in that dungeon, from kobolds (who kept killing us in the hallway) to a red dragon. All at first level, ’cause what we [i]didn’t[/i] grasp that first time around was the difference between character level and dungeon level. And we [i]liked[/i] it!

  28. Erin Storts says:

    Marty Says:

    Speaking of THAC0… I have a long standing argument with my girlfriend about the pronunciation (yes, girlfried “” I got a gamer girl; you know I'm hanging on to this one).

    Nothin’ wrong with gamer girls, I am one.

    Anyway, she say “thack-Oh”, like “hack”… I say “Thay-kOh” like “hay”. My reasoning is that “AC” is pronounced “Ay See” so THAC0 should be a long A.
    How do you all pronounce it?

    I’ve always said “thack-oh”. I could ask my mom, she’s a D&D gamer from way back when.

  29. Bugsysservant says:

    “[THAC0] stood for “To Hit Armor Class 0″³ 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.)”

    Maybe they changed it in a later edition, but I don’t believe 20 was always a hit.

    -“Hit Rolls exceeding 20 require the presence of some bonus to the Hit Roll. A natural 20 without bunuses will not hit creatures that require a Hit Roll of greater than 20” -D&D Expert Rulebook 1983

    This means that a 3 level fighter with no additional bonuses would need a natural 20 to hit Aragorn, and a natural 21 to hit someone with an AC of -6.

  30. Lev Lafayette says:

    Excellent, this is still going. w00t!

    Steve at comment $6. I’d have you as a GM anyday. Make those turn-based single-unit wargaming grognards cry. Also, if you get a chance, have a read of Paranoia 1st ed combat rules. It will make you laugh with joy.

  31. Drawing your knife is a free action only if you have the quickdraw feat, Aragorn

  32. bobniborg says:

    Man, you should get some google ads on this thing. It is so great you should be making a bit off of it (copyright my ass) :)

  33. Max says:

    Right about frame three, the DM should just say, “Okay, you spend your turn contemplating your options. Next.”

  34. MH says:

    Just a comment, when you’re posting pictures of characters (nethack, a mud or whatever), you should go for PNGs. They’re occasionally smaller with characters and don’t mishmash.

  35. Sam says:

    Whooooooooooooot. Nethack rules! Also, awesome comic!

  36. Thomas B says:

    “I've always said “thack-oh”. I could ask my mom, she's a D&D gamer from way back when.”

    I think that’s one of the most entrancing comments I’ve read in years!

    I’m still feeling young, but I don’t have Fast Heal 3 anymore. It’s nice to see my friends (and obviously other folks like this young lady’s parents) raising their kids and the kids getting into the same sorts of games their parents enjoyed when they were younger (and still do).

    Makes me think maybe it won’t all be a fad that fades and is killed by MMOs or VR. There is still something to be said for the F2F gaming experience you get at a table with your friends. I’ve been GMing one campaign now for 19 years (and a for around 35 or so players in that time). I do Skype games sometimes nowadays, but nothing beats sitting down at the same table as any of my 3 gaming groups (university friends in another town, old work friends, new work friends).

    And to be vaguely OT, I have to say this webcomic has been the highlight of my day and has already been shared around with a goodly few other gamers as a result. Outstanding work!

  37. Ed the Higg says:

    *grows slightly annoyed with all the “I can’t see the comic” posts. Shamus is a (damn good) webcomic creator, not your computer brand’s tech support office*

    Sheesh…Aragorn’s Charisma is only a 5? Good thing rangers base their spellcasting on Wisdom instead of Charisma, huh? Not that Wisdom 12 will get him TOO far with the ranger spells…. :-P

    And I used to play Rogue on my old Color Computer. It was kind of like Nethack, except there weren’t any fancy colors; Everything was either white or kinda-orange, IIRC. And the jabberwocks, ur-viles and griffins used to have me for lunch EVERY frickin’ time! Man, I feel old all of a sudden. :-(

  38. Toil3T says:

    This is why we all decide what we’re going to do at the beginning of each round of combat, without much discussion between players, which makes it slightly more realistic. We can, of course, change what we said we’re going to do as opportunities arise, (like the hobgoblin you were going to attack gets killed by someone else, so you attack a different hobgoblin instead), but mainly we do what we say we’ll do. That way, when it gets to someone’s turn they don’t spend ten minutes deciding what they’re doing.

  39. Toil3T says:

    Also, while I know how Thac0 works, I prefer the d20 system’s way of rolling to hit. And in response to post # 69 by Stranger, I also dislike the older saving throw system. I prefer d20 there, too- so simple.

  40. TheDeepDark says:

    Not as an insult or anything, but I’m actually kinda surprised I even know what THAC0 is. Like Erin (though not female, but you know what I mean) I was raised as a gamer, by gamers. My Dad has been my longest running GM…

    But in that vein – I’m currently in Manhattan, and my family (and gaming group) are all in Utah. Where can I go around here? Anyone?

  41. Gray says:

    Just a small nitpick – -3 is not per se a good AC in nethack. Depends on the level you are on. On deeper dungeons an AC of -20 or -30 cannot hurt. Now, numbers ‘more negative’ than -30, that I would call a rather good nethack AC :)

  42. Morambar says:

    Yeah, I’m with those who take the position “you can’t have an hour long investigation of the battle site and all its contents while your character draws his sword. ” Since all the kids like to do their RPGs with keyboards now, think how that works in real time strategy games. I’ve only just NOW managed the hardware for Battle for Middle-Earth, and already lost track of how many times I’ve been screwed because I needed to be on opposite sides of the screen at once, before we even consider the whole “let’s take time to FIGURE OUT how to play this…. ”

    Oh, and I’m still convinced gamer girls are a myth made up by posters here to taunt me; I’d never heard of them till I came here. Hmmm, never encountered an illusion where I needed a save to BELIEVE….

  43. Elock says:


  44. Sam-Chan says:

    the ascii-picture reminds me of a seating plan of a cinema. omg, a cinema filled with orcs – what a mess! I wonder wich movie an armee orcs would choose?ó.O


  45. Moonleaf says:

    Thank God 4th edition solved all the ‘how many hp does he have’ questions

    “He’s bloodied”

    “He’s not bloodied”

    Best thing they did in 4th edition!

  46. Trick says:

    Yeah Nethack!

    Hey, has anyone here actually BEATEN the game? I use Explore mode, and I STILL keep ending up reduced to level one by a vampire, or something!

  47. Elijah Meeks says:

    113 comments and I’m the first one to point out that orcs are ‘o’ not ‘O’. Obviously Aragorn is up against a host of ogre lords.

  48. ripjack says:

    Yeah, beaten the game a few times. The Staff of Aesculapius is a nice thing to wish for :)

    Really like this webcomic!

  49. caradoc says:

    The wonderful thing about nethack is the way all the objects take on different functions when enchanted/cursed/etc. And there is a perverse logic behind it all. Add in polymorphing, wishing, and shops and you have something really special.

    Killed by an acid blob on level 1

  50. Friedenmann says:

    Oh really? We play with a stop watch. You get 20 seconds to make up your mind. It’s a damn battle, you don’t have time to sit around and predict all possible movements.

  51. smk says:

    Please, use PNG format for higher-quality images :)

  52. Michael says:

    Loud LoL!

    Ahem, yes, I know Nethack. In far too many variants/versions over far too many years.

    Lets see. I actually was a usenet user when the first modified version of Hack came out. Yep, back when the source to Rogue wasn’t available, and Hack was an attempt to create it, and someone came out with a mod to Hack called Nethack.

    Egads, if you think I’m dating myself, I can name things older. If I see a “warp” screen in there, well, lets just say that some “enterprising” person will be setting up a base in a field …

    (Don’t worry if you don’t get that, it’s not really that good of a joke. But some of the heavy starfields that your starbases would wind up in, and the amazing fact that the Enterprise never starts next to the starbase and often gets destroyed before it can reach the base, …)

  53. HeroOfHyla says:

    Waiting for one’s turn in D&D can be a total pain. In the final encounter of a 4th Edition session I had last week, it took several minutes to go through the turn order.
    The rounds would go like this:
    The Ranger (who got a natural 20 on initiative + 4 from dex) took a long time to position his character in order to get all the good stuff like prime shot. Then he agonized over whether to use careful attack or a standard attack. Then he walked the DM through why he was getting a +7 on his attack roll (proficiency + dex bonus + prime shot) and doing 1d8 + 1d10 + 4 damage (lethal hunter + hunter’s quarry + longbow + dex bonus).

    Then all the enemies got their turn, usually they managed to bring the ranger (who was way to close to the middle of the action) down to about 25% HP.

    Then the paladin would use lay on hands to heal the ranger, usually with some careful maneuvering to get close without provoking an opportunity attack.

    Then the warlord would spend a couple minutes trying to decide which of his not-so-useful abilities to use, while we complained that he didn’t learn the ability (name escapes me at the moment) that allows him to cause a different player to attack instead of him.

    Then I would use magic missile and miss.

    And then we’d repeat

  54. silver Harloe says:

    > Then I would use magic missile and miss.

    Hrm. I haven’t played or read any source material since 2e, but I recall MM being described as always hitting.

  55. […] a library with wrappers available for numerous programming languages which aids in the creation of roguelike games. I happen to be using the Python […]

  56. Toaadam says:

    Finally! Nethack! What game are you going to do next?!

  57. Der Ami says:

    My first though was actually Dwarf Fortress, in which case the only solution would be to find the nearest pool of lava and flood the place.

  58. Gamerdude says:

    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).
    the JPG format was designed for photographs and other graphics with thousands of colors and lots of shading/gradients/etc. With large areas of one solid color it leaves a ‘ghost’ where two sections of solid color meet.

    Try GIF or PNG next time. I know GIF will do the job just perfectly but haven’t worked much with PNG.

  59. Aeseihtur says:

    “Losing is fun” that is the dwarf fortress motto and that last strip is a picture of it, its hard to survive 2 years without having crazy dwarfs, and thats before the enemies come, i very long without food over there (there is a screw this trick to get supplies from dwarf traders for free, other traders you get stuff but they get ticked), i wonder how Boatsmurdered did it.

  60. o0princessluna0o says:

    How the heck does a ranger have Wis12 and Cha5?!

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