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DM of the Rings XCIX:
Alliterative Antagonists

By Shamus
on Friday May 11, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Saruon and Saruman are different guys?
The campaign isn’t over.

Just to have a little fun with your players, try switching the names of two characters which start with the same letter and see if they notice.

And by “fun” I mean, “abruptly realize that all your hard work and etymology research is a comical waste of time”.

Comments (141)

1 2 3

  1. Roxysteve says:

    My only question is why didn’t the DM see that coming? Every player character would appear to have three or more ranks in no attention span.


  2. Sewerman says:

    They look so disappointed that it isn’t over:)
    They must be using the Director’s cut rather than the Theatrical version :)

  3. Robbbbbb says:

    Good Mario reference. I like it.

  4. first!

    Another awesome one :D

    I too always thought those two names were just too dang similar, what was Tolkien thinking?!?!

    Keep up the good work!

    • Matrim says:

      He was thinking that in a wide world of characters it’s likely that some of them will have similar names…

    • RandyJJ says:

      If you think Sauron/Saruman is bad, never try reading the Silmarillion. Finwe/Fingolfin/Finarfin/Fingon/Finrod…

      (though in Tolkien’s defense, names really would follow patterns like that in old European families; and for Tolkien, realism–when it came to words–was a pretty high priority)

  5. wISEMAN says:

    Do I win the cookie?

  6. Roxysteve says:

    FYI: I think Gimli swallowed his beard in frame three there Shamus.


  7. Ogreman says:

    Yeah, this was totally what I was expecting for the next comic. I never realized how many sarcastic looks Gimli gives. Great job Shamus.

  8. Fred Kiesche says:

    I have learned not to have liquids in my mouth when reading this comic. Another classic! “Sorry princess” indeed!

  9. blast!
    That’s what I get for not refreshing the page before posting!

  10. Aaron says:

    LOL I wondered when you were going to have them screw up the names. Nice strip Shamus!

  11. Flexstyle says:

    Would a simple “LOL” suffice for this one? ‘Cause I don’t have anything clever to say.

    Loved this one, I was wondering what would happen after Saruman (or was it Sauron?) got erased.

  12. Librain says:

    So, they’ve had their monthly quota of fighting and xp from Helm’s Deep, now there’s a month of just wandering around the countryside and the GM coming up with ways to convince the players to actually try and recruit the ghoul army before the battle at Minas Tirith. I wonder how long it will take them to switch from complaining about not being able to go up more than one level per session to complaining about the lack of xp again?

    “I’m not arrogant, I really am that good.”

    • johanna says:

      “Not that I’m bitter or anything”

      Wow, I can actually feel your idealistic pollyanna attitude leaving for good as a DM: the despair, the disappointment, the bitterness. All while gleeful, greedy, mountain dew guzzling players continue the descent into railroading hell. If you weren’t so powerful, I would feel sorry for you :)

  13. Da Rogue says:

    Sorry Princess but the Wizard is in another castle. Great stuff, really.

    That does remind me of one campaign where the DM had us kill a bugger of a orc wizard for the campaign story. We had been searching for a wizard, so naturally when we killed this one we thought that was it. Nope sorry, the wizard you have to kill is elite lvl and there’s no way you can fight him and win… That’s what rogues and explosive devices are for… No more evil wizard; how can anyone of any lvl survive that much rock falling on their heads after being hit by such a large explosion??

    Take THAT DM!!!!!!

  14. Mikko says:

    You know, this strip makes me glad Tolkien never finished the story he started about new Shadow threatening Gondor after Aragorn’s death. After all, he’s going to marry Arwen, a half-elf, so his son and heir will combine the qualities of Aragorn and elves… and just about the only exemplar of elves we have so far had is Leggy-Lass.

    I feel sorry for the future Gondorians.

  15. Andrew Cory says:

    Fifteenth! It’s mine, all mine, deliciously mine!

  16. Aries says:

    watch carefully and you can actualy see the threads of this very hard working DM’s story unravel….mewhahahaha!!

    personaly i have nothing against DM’s there are needed as much as a story need plot and a PC needs treasure.

    but yea the old name cockup bit….argh

    wonder what there reaction will be when theyrealise that the whole story relys on 2 ‘hobbits’ that are no longer in the game!!

  17. Dean Steinlage says:

    One of the best compliments I ever got was the DM telling me I really could derail his game.

  18. 2.5 cats says:

    Possible typo. Should Gimli be saying “Well, I guess that’s it.” rathat than “Whelp, I guess that’s it,” in panel 3?

    • Joe says:

      2.5 cats, try saying “well” and immediately snapping your mouth shut like you’re really annoyed. That curt word you just said is spelled “welp”, or “whelp” if you say it with an accent.

  19. Tonko says:

    Hahahahah, I started reading the books when I was pretty young, and I had that exact problem. For a few years (I used to read them once a year, it was a thing) I didn’t get at all the difference between Sauron and Saruman.

    Also, I love the punchline.

  20. Marmot says:

    I was waiting for a long time to see this “similarity” used. I have my players confusing even worse things than that so I guess I’m a happy man :)

  21. ZackTheSTGuy says:

    Not to be overly picky, but isn’t the scene in frame 5 from a COMPLETELY different part of the movie? I mean… where the hell did those helmeted guys come from?!?

    Still, great strip. I’ve been reading this comic since before you started updating the older comics to the ‘new style.’ Hilarious stuff!

  22. Sarah says:

    “Anti-climatic” means you’re against the weather.

  23. mom says:

    Ditto on the ” I got those characters confused the first time through too!”
    It has been 40 years since my first reading and I had forgotten about that, so you got a guffaw from me today:)

  24. Shamus says:

    “Whelp” vs “well” – That was on purpose.

    Zack: Yes. It’s from the trip to helm’s deep. This part of the movie is annoying. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas have almost no lines in this part of the movie, and when they do speak it’s usually with a grim expression and looking “up” at Saruman. Those shots don’t work as stills for them speaking to each other.

    I gotta use what Pete Jackson gave me.

  25. brassbaboon says:

    Heh, I think I learned a long time ago that the role of the DM is to provide the players an opportunity to advance their character’s up the level train and give them cool stuff to parade around with.

    Everything else is just atmosphere.

    So that’s pretty much how I run a campaign. Lots of encounters to get the XP up and keep the players in fear for their character’s lives, but fairly simple plot lines and an endless supply of NPCs for them to practice their swordplay on.

    In one of our recent sessions, I had an opportunity for one of them to describe their recent activities to an agent of the king of the country they live in. It went exactly as Shamus describes:

    “Well, we were looking to rescue whatsisname’s brother from something, was it goblins?”
    “My name is Belvin, and yes, we were heading to rescue my brother. I think it was goblins.”
    “That was in that other town, not the one we started in, hey Belvin, what town are you from?”
    “Lemme check my notes…. hang on..”
    “No matter, so we were on our way there when this guy here, this ranger dude comes out of nowhere after we were ambushed by kobolds.”
    “No it was baboons that ambushed us.”
    “No that was first, then it was kobolds.”
    “Whatever, anyway this guy here, he asked us to help clear out some kobolds, so we did.”
    “Yeah, we killed them all.”
    “Oh, and some big nasty bugs too.”
    “Right, we killed a bunch of kobolds and some nasty bugs.”
    “OK, and did you discover any reason for the kobolds being here?”
    “What? I mean they’re kobolds right? They just live here.”

    And on and on. By the time I allowed the King’s agent to be satisfied with the explanation of the party’s activities, it was clear that not only did the players not remember a single name of a single NPC, they did not even remember the names of their own party members. In one case the player did not even remember his own character’s name. Forget about the reason for the kobold invasion, the secret letters they found explaining how the uprising was just a portion of a larger campaign against the humans and elves. All that background story was exactly that… background story.

    What they wanted to do was kill a bunch of kobolds and get a lot of loot.

    Which is what its all about in the long run right? I mean they aren’t going to be running for Mayor or anything. And this is a pretty good group of players we are talking about.

    So my expectations are pretty low when it comes to their following of the plotline. I consider it my job to keep them prodded to go in the right directions to advance the plot, and if they decide not to, oh well, it’s a big world out there. I’ll find something for them to do.

    But they are having fun, and that’s all that matters.

  26. DocTwisted says:

    Yeah, I think we all saw this coming. But that didn’t make it any less funny.

    I especially love when Gimli asks if Sauron is in this tower so they can wrap up the campaign tonight.

  27. Haviland says:

    It confused hell out of me the first time I read the book as well.

    About the same point as well.

  28. Jim in Buffalo says:

    I figured that “Whelp” was an amalgam of “Well” and “Yup.”

    Damn funny one today… the Shadowrun line really got me.

  29. Hanov3r says:

    Panel 7, isn’t the bad guy’s name “Sauron”, not “Saruon”? :-)

  30. Lukelightning says:

    Hah! When I first read the Lord of the Ring series as a kid, I confused Saruman and Sauron as well.

    And I still can’t remember which one is Merry and which one is Pippin.

  31. txknight says:

    Lol! Ironically in my games the players tend to remember the names better that I do!

    “…countryside and the GM coming up with ways to convince the players to actually try and recruit the ghoul army before the battle at Minas Tirith.”


    I’m wondering how the DM is going to convince them not to kill the ghouls for extra XP!

  32. KGrape says:

    Right now, I’m looking ahead to Monday and thinking, “What could he do at this point in the story with something shaped like a giant letter ‘C’?”

  33. Sarah says:

    Either there are 2 people named Sarah or i managed to send a post telepathically from the bakery where i work…hmmm….nope, i was thinking about chicken at 12 o clock, couldn’t have been me, no. oh well.

  34. Scarlet Knight says:

    Let’s see, Arwen is 3/4 elf, Aragorn is human so their son is …hmmm,carry the one….5/4 human , uh, , can’t be right…forgot to divide…

  35. Clyde says:

    Don’t feel bad, Sarah. If we can have a Saruman AND a Sauron, we can certainly have more than one Sarah as well. The more S names, the merrier!

  36. John Ross says:

    I’ve been following this series for a bit, and I just have to add my own good job here.

    Of course, it may just be that is it game’s night and I’ve just heard that half my players can’t come and the other half want the game to go on and I needed to see someone elses game getting derailed in much the same way…

  37. brassbaboon says:


    Pippin is the blonde one.

  38. Aaron says:

    John: It sucks when half the crew can’t come. When I had a regular game going I usually had my full compliment. It made my life soo much easier as a GM for various games.

    Sarah: Have you been playing with the “Shiney Treasure” in the last strip? ;)

  39. Proteus says:

    Yup… another episode shockingly familiar to a real campaign.

    DM: “OK, you found the mystic armor.”
    Us: “Good. We go home.”
    DM: “Wh– why?”
    Us: “We found the armor. Don’t we hand it over to the Emperor and get a reward or something?”
    DM: “NO! You’ll need that to stop the Succubus!”
    Us: “Succubus?”
    DM: “Don’t you remember why you began your quest for that armor? It was only three sessions ago!”
    Us: “Right. And we meet once a month, so that was three months ago. We’ve had finals since then!”
    DM: “Mmmrph!”

  40. George says:

    Aragorns face is perfect in number 5.

    Lol. i remember when i was young reading the books i was confused for the longest time that there was a difference beteween saruman and sauron

  41. Michael says:

    For the record, in tolkien’s universe when an elf and a human have children, the children themselves choose whether they will be elves or humans (not that that makes very much sense, genetically) Although even if they choose to be humans they live a lot longer than normal humans.

  42. Harlequin says:

    “I don’t suppose he’s in this tower?”


  43. That was pretty much my reaction to the books when I read them. I’m terrible with names.

  44. Lisa says:

    Elrond is half-elven, but he obviously chose to be an elf when he married Celebrian and had cute little elf-babies with her. Arwen chose to be human when she married Aragorn, so even though she’s going to live longer than humans, she’s no longer immortal like an elf. Their kids should technically be able to choose to be elves, but I don’t know if it works that far down the line.
    Also, the time of the elves is fading. I know ’cause my Minstrel’s fate is crap (LOTRO reference). Silly elves.

    Been lurking here a while, my GURPS DM linked me, ’cause we play LOTRO together (we also play D&D and Shadowrun together, but that’s not really the point). And yeah, hilarious.. I show each new page to my boyfriend ’cause it makes him laugh :)

  45. Jaquandor says:

    I’ve been watching the movies with my daughter, and I’ve pretty much had to explain the difference between Sauron and Saruman every twenty minutes or so while we’re watching them. Oy.

  46. Oona says:

    Well, I admit, I never had a problem keeping Saruman and Sauron straight. Then again, I didn’t read the books until my early 20’s. Love the bit about the is the wizard in the tower so we can rap this up?! You know, my players don’t even remember each other’s real names sometimes, nevermind the characters’. :/

  47. Fickle says:

    “I don't suppose he's in this tower?”

    Fantastic! I love how pragmatic Gimli is. XD

  48. Alasseo says:

    @Scarlet Knight-34: Arwen is, I believe, closer to 5/6ths elven (Elrond is not (as his title suggests) Half-Elven, but 3/4 (check the genealogies- the both his mother and paternal grandmother were elves, meaning that his father was truly half-elven, so he is 3/4 elven, Arwen 5/6 elven and any of her children would be what, 6/7ths? 7/8ths?)

    • WJS says:

      If Elrond is 3/4 elven and his wife is fully elven, Arwen is 7/8 elven, not 5/6. Her kids with a full human (are Dunedain fully human?) would be 7/16 elven. That is, of course, very close to 1/2 elven.

  49. Bosstone says:

    Trivia I Learned Today:
    When Ralph Bakshi was creating hi version of Lord of the Rings, the studio execs found Sauron and Saruman to be too confusing, so they made Bakshi change Saruman to Aruman.

    This is my first post, so I’ll throw in the obligatory Love The Site comment. Good stuff.

  50. Tanka says:

    Yay, Shadowrun reference! (Even if not even remotely vague.)

    Next up: 6-Sided: GM of the Chrome.


  51. Alasseo says:

    Oops, my bad. Having just checked the genealogies, I find that both of Elrond’s (and Elros’, of course) parents were half-elven. Which means they themselves are half-elven. That means Arwen is 3/4 elven, as you said Scarlet Knight, and her children by Aragormless would be 2/3 elven. I think. However, this means nothing in terms of whether they get the virtual immortality, as the children of Elros (Elrond’s brother and Aragorn’s great-to-the-nth-power grandad*) weren’t given the choice of being elves or men, although they did have ridiculously long lives.

    Anyway, great strip Shamus.

    *Which brings up some weird, vaguely incestuous issues between Arwen and Aragorn, quite apart from the age gap- yes he’s in his nineties, but just how old is she? Several centuries old iirc. Talk about Harold and Maude…

  52. Keldin says:

    The whole name issue realLy burns my butt whenever an author throws about a zillion of them at you. When I was a kid I tried to read an Andre Norton book (Sargasso of Space, IIRC) because everyone told me that OLD Andre rocked the house. Well, three of the characters had names that were about one consonant off of each other, and after 50 pages of flipping back and forth in a vain attempt to remember who was who I bagged it.

    While Tolkien set wonderful precedents in his etymological precision and creativity, he really mucked things up for a lot of readers trying to read the less talented authors he inspired. Although, to be fair, in practical terms even Tolkien can drag on for a little too long with the names and the genealogies (I find it amusing that there are people out there who can recite Tolkien’s genealogies back to the freaking Silmarillion and don’t know the full names of their own flesh and blood Grandparents.)

  53. Keldin says:

    Please pardon the random capitalization, my caps lock was on while I was editing.

  54. James says:

    Ye gods, anyone remember the awful animated movie? Where they re-named Saruman to Aruman to get around the confusion, BUT ONLY CHANGED THE NAME HALF THE TIME.

    So there’s someone called Aruman and someone called Sauron, and then they mention Saruman as well… And anyone who doesn’t know the story has precisely no idea if Saruman is meant to be Aruman, Sauron, or a third bad guy.


  55. eccles says:

    TwiddleStooch, if you think LotR was confusing for names, never read the Silmarillion(sp?). Feanor vs Feanil vs …. oh gods. I’ve never got anywhere near through it.

  56. Joshua says:

    Ah well, someone beat me to the Bakshi reference at the last minute. That’s what I thought of when I read this strip. :)

  57. Cenobite says:

    Aragorn? Arwen? You know what. Too many A’s as well.

    If they had children, what would they be named?

    Astrider? Arevenstar? Astriderstar? Aragoronawen? Arwytheryet?

  58. orcbane says:

    Just imagine play The Hobbit!

    Thorin, à“in, Glóin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fà­li and Kà­li, Dori, Nori, and Ori. Talk about forgetting which NPC is which!

  59. ladyalinor says:

    I loved Shadowrun, there’s nothing like big guns, spells, and cybergeeks all the same time….

  60. elda says:

    33 Sarah Says:

    May 11th, 2007 at 1:12 pm
    Either there are 2 people named Sarah or i managed to send a post telepathically from the bakery where i work…hmmm….nope, i was thinking about chicken at 12 o clock, couldn't have been me, no. oh well.

    actually my true name is sarah. with the h and everything. (stupid teachers never spell it with the h. no matter how many times i say “it has an h” grrr) anyways i generally use a penname. because elda is far less common a name than sarah.

  61. Dan says:


    HAHAHAHA. Are-we-there-yet. HAHAHAHA
    Gotta love it!

  62. Gadelle says:

    I never had trouble with the names, but that may be because my father read the books aloud to me (I was 9). I guess when you hear the name everyday, it sticks more than when you skim over it while reading it to yourself. Though somehow, I don’t think I ever noticed the name changes in the animated LOTR (saw it at the same time I was reading the books, back in the 80s when there was no internet to get my fandom fix) but so little in that movie makes sense that I probably blocked it out. >:D

  63. Kristin says:

    Elrond is not truly half-Elven.
    Earendil’s father was pure human, his mother was pure Elf.
    Elwing’s mother was Nimloth, a pure Elf, but her father was Dior, who was the son of Beren (pure human) and Luthien, whose father was Thingol (pure Elf) and mother was Melian (pure Maia). Interestingly in early versions of the tale of Beren and Luthien, Beren was a Noldor Elf.
    So Elrond works out to something like 9/16 Elven, 3/8 human, and 1/16 Maia.

    While Arwen and Aragorn’s daughters are not ever given names, their son was called Eldarion.

    Yes, I’m a huge geek. I’m proud of it! If the names aren’t confusing enough in LotR and the Sil, try reading History of Middle-earth sometime, where not only do the names change, sometimes one guy takes on an abandoned name of someone else.

  64. Scarlet Knight says:

    “Thorin, à“in, Glóin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fà­li and Kà­li, Dori, Nori, and Ori. Talk about forgetting which NPC is which!”

    Right! Now in real life , when you walk into a classroom ( either as a primary school teacher or as a noun), all the names are totally different. Like: Jimmy, Timmy, Tommy, Ted , Ned, Fred, Ed, Don , Dan, Jan, Jill, Bill & Phil! Piece of cake to someone not familiar to the language…and don’t even get me started on Italian names!

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