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DM of the Rings XCIV:
For The Shorties

By Shamus
on Monday Apr 30, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Merry & Pippin are back.
Merry & Pippin are NPCs.

(As some people noted, it would not have made sense to re-introduce Merry & Pip as players. Each of them goes off on his own. It would have made a three-way party split, which is confusing enough. Worse, most of the humor comes from the players ignoring NPCs and talking to each other – something the Hobbits wouldn’t be able to do. I could have made them players, but I couldn’t make them funny.)

NPCs do enjoy such an odd status as second-class beings. Players will talk amongst themselves as if the NPC wasn’t there. Players will walk away in the middle of a conversation if they realize an NPC is of no use to them. Players expect NPCs to be available at their whim to provide information and dispense rewards. This applies even if the players are nobodies and the NPC in question is a King. In fact, if NPCs ever turned the tables and treated players as they treated others, it would most likely lead to violence.

This is as it should be. Imagine how tedious a story would be if every extra and minor character you encountered tried to shove out in front and make themselves into a main character.

Nobody wants that much realism.

Comments (101)

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  1. Tian says:

    I read the thoughts on Return of the king being based on Sam, Frodo and Gollum and thought what better way to get Aragon, Gimli and Legolas into the last part than to kill them all off at the black gates and get them to reroll their characters as the hobbits and gollum. Serves them right for something doesn’t it.

  2. Tian says:

    Oh wait. Legolas already killed gollum ;)

  3. Shamus says:

    Scarlet: It’s actually tricky for me to use jokes from other people. Often they don’t fit within the plot I’ve come up with, or there aren’t screenshots available to make them work. If you have an idea, feel free to put it here in the comments. If I don’t use it, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. It might just mean I couldn’t make it work.

  4. Habenath says:


    “If you have an idea, feel free to put it here in the comments. If I don't use it, it doesn't mean I didn't like it. It might just mean I couldn't make it work.”

    Here’s hoping – for the best reasons imaginable, that this doesn’t happen too often. For one thing, the resulting ‘competition’ could kill the reply board here with the weight of contributions – a chance to contribute to the plot? It’s the new ‘First!’.

    And for another (purely selfish reason), I’d really prefer to be surprised. Having punters blurt out what should happen a few episodes down the track seems to me like sitting in a movie theatre with members of the audience shouting out dialogue a second before it’s voiced onscreen.

    That said, there have been some great suggestions on here :)

  5. woodwalker says:

    i agree with Roxysteve. his points are valid, and, as the saying goes, ‘they can’t all be zingers’. it is hard to advance the plot of a story and make jokes fit in to it at the same time.

  6. Nogard_Codesmith says:

    so i just gotta know Shamus, was the title of this comic a reference to ATHF?

  7. Roxysteve says:

    Scarlet Knight Says:

    Because Haradrim don't know how to Pack-a-derm?

    Close. So close I am totally stealing that as an alternate answer.

    The answer I was looking for was “Have you ever tried ironing one?

    How do you know if you have a Mûmak in bed with you?

    (Sorry about the late response; I took yesterday off to have root canal surgery.)


  8. Shamus says:

    Nogard_Codesmith just won this thread.

  9. Wraithshadow says:

    I’m solidly of the opinion that for this series to embody the standard lifecycle of a D&D game, the question of ‘how will he handle the loss of Gollum?’ should not be answered. Why? Because that’s basically the end of the game, and in my experience, almost no campaign ever actually reaches the end. It dies out long before then, regardless of how long or how short it may be, and much like Fox TV series, you move on to something else that’s likely less developed, and less interesting than the grand story that was planned originally.

    What? Me? Bitter?

  10. Bugz says:

    “How do you know if you have a Mûmak in bed with you?”

    You find peanut shells in the sheets.

  11. Roxysteve says:

    Bugz Says:
    You find peanut shells in the sheets.

    Nope. By the “M” on its pajamas.

    By Jove, the old humour content of my posts is coming up nicely.

    How do you get four Mûmaks in a Mini Cooper?


  12. Alasseo says:

    Two in the front, two in the back.

    Back to comic- The way to beat that sort of behaviour (PCs ignoring NPCs) is to use a lethal system, and treat everything they say as in character. That way, when they blurt out their entire plan in front of an NPC who happens to be on the Other Side(tm), the DM can have a well-planned counter to it, and parry the nigh-inevitable claims of cheating (“If you’re gonna discuss your top-secret schemes in front of the bad guys then of course they’re gonna be able tostop it”)

  13. James says:

    You know, I really thought you were gonna reintroduce these guys by their coming back saying the Star Wars d20 game run by Frodo’s player sucked hard.

    Ah well. ;)

  14. Roxysteve says:

    Alasseo Says:
    Two in the front, two in the back.

    Indeed so. How do you get two whales in a Mini Cooper?


  15. Scarlet Knight says:

    You know , I once shot a Mumak in my pajamas. How he ever fit in my pajamas I’ll never know…

  16. Keekooceeaou says:

    RoxySteve: You don’t. The Mumaks are already there.

    PS. Long time reader, first time poster (Boring text. Can someone write something else, please?). Great comic. I don’t know what I’ll do when I get to the last strip and will have to wait for next.

  17. Kanosereg of Zilthor says:

    Say, that’s an interesting hobbit pose in the second to last frame. Looks like a particular hobbit is smoking his pipeweed doobie style. :-)

  18. Khyran Storm says:

    Ahh, the abuse of NPCs is another time honored tradition of most rpgs. From cohorts and hirelings to kings and All-Powerful Wizards, they all get treated with about as much respect as a kobald encounter. Unless the DM does something about the PCs attitudes, the disreguard for such necessary story elements typically continues unabated. As a DM, you begin to wonder why you bother. Little wonder people were talking about just giving out generic names (or even numbers) to NPCs in a previous thread.
    – Mer, uh, Mergandledore? was that his name? ah who cares…that wizard guy…-


    As for the whole ‘I think I’m an NPC’ comments above got me thinking. I need a t-shirt that says ‘NPC’ in big letters. Maybe even ‘Just ignore me’ under that in smaller letters. That would be kinda funny. :)

  19. Toil3T says:

    Everyone loves the XP you get for killing a high level wizard! And it looks like they’ve given up on what passes as treasure in Middle Earth.

  20. TheDeepDark says:

    I gotta comment on the abuse of NPCs here. I guess this is just what I get for playing a Paladin, and actually caring that I play him like a Paladin (too many times playing like a Munchkin showed me it just wasn’t as much fun); but either way mis-treating NPCs is unfortunately rather Un-Paladin like. So while my Paladin’s Charisma is a Lot better than mine, I gotta try to come up with how he’d tactfully deal with these people… Yikes. Maybe I shoulda stuck w/ a barbarian

  21. Cynder says:

    Yaaay! welcome back Merry and Pippin! even if you are NPCs!! :D

  22. Andimac says:

    My First Post. As I am reading all the comics before I go back and read ALL the comments I might have missed something. So I have to ask, what is ATHF?
    I am a roleplayer and a Tolkien fan and I love this strip, added to my essential comics favourites list along with OOTS and Dork Tower!
    Also, humour is VERY subjective, just because you didnt find it funny doesnt mean that I didnt fall off my chair laughing.

    Thanks, Shamus


  23. Escher says:

    Andimac- ATHF= Aqua Teen Hunger Force. ‘Tis a TV show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim (and the movie version was behind a certain hilarious Bostonian freak-out over Light Brites… ^_^)

  24. Andrew Jensen says:

    You manage to accurately capture the arrogance of players yet again. My players once ignored the assassin NPCs holding them at (poisoned) knife point in order to decide who should make the diplomacy check (in game). At least they didn’t attack Merry and Pippin…

  25. Clinto says:

    You’re operating under a false premise sir; The NPC’s are just people too. They have their own motives and personalities. The false premise you go off of is that the NPC want’s the limelight. A good DM doesn’t seek limelight, and stays in character if the Players ‘walk away’ or ignore the NPC. You’re either in the game or you’re not; a good DM stays in the game, and reacts accordingly.

  26. Leyomi the Parodier says:

    I dunno… I’m wondering what would have happened with Merry and Pippin if they hadn’t left the campaign. I mean, how they would have reacted to that whole ‘days of being dragged helplessly across Rohan by Orcs’ thing…. I once had this character who was for a long time trapped in this… thing…. without aid of a material body, and it was one of the best gaming sessions I’ve ever played(I eventually escaped), but somehow I doubt those two would have the patience.

  27. Trae says:

    My current game has 3 PCs and 2 NPCs. I happen to listen to what they have to say, particularly since one of them happens to be our main healer.

  28. zay says:

    “Players expect NPCs to be available at their whim to provide information and dispense rewards.”

    I ran a hack-and-slash zombie apocalypse campaign – all rollplay – so, when the players went to town, I allowed them to shout “I need an NPC!”, and I’d have someone walk up and respond, “Yes? How may I help you?”

    Wouldn’t recommend this for games with any emphasis on roleplay.

  29. Techan says:

    I have to disagree on this point. While the players should not be constantly outshined by NPCs, and NPCs shouldn’t become main characters, there’s nothing wrong with a prominent NPC supporting character who acts as he should.
    I expect my PCs to treat the king like the king, he doesn’t need to be the spotlight of the scene or campaign, afterall the heroes are the heroes. But if you don’t show respect to an NPC in a higher position of authority or power than you, you’ll regret it. Doing otherwise, in my opinion, detracts from the realism of the game world. They shouldn’t be butting into PCs conversations constantly and trying to be the center of attention, but if the PCs don’t even try to treat them as actual living breathing characters, there are consequences. If you’re going to have conversations disregarding an NPC, just do it out of character.

  30. Mr Gask says:

    I get incredible kicks out of playing NPCs like PCs in any game I run. For some reason nobody wants me to GM anymore. I wonder if the two are related?

  31. Noble says:

    There iis certainly a lot to know about this issue. I love all of the points you’ve made.

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