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DM of the Rings CIII:
A Brief History of You

By Shamus
on Monday May 21, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Aragorn really ought to read his own backstory.

Only in the context of an RPG is it possible for someone to need the Cliff Notes version of their own biography.

Comments (116)

1 2

  1. Dave says:

    Finally! Do you know how long it takes to wait around and post 65th?!!


    Uh.. I haven’t really read any of these comics.. can you give me the quick version?? I just like to post 65th

  2. Rolld20 says:

    Too right, Harlequin. It’s always dicey to name any PC as the world’s ‘last, best hope’, lest the player suddenly decide to move several time zones away. :p

    Speaking of backstory, I once signed up to play in a very character driven live-action game, and was given the 4-page world history along with my personal 3-page backstory about two weeks before the game. Plenty of time to peruse and ponder, which I did.
    The day of the game, they had a last-minute cancellation, which my husband agreed to fill- only his backstory was 15 (single-spaced) pages, which he first saw about half an hour *after* game start! He spent the next 30 minutes desperately waving away people who wanted to talk to him, since he didn’t yet know who his character was and how he should react to anybody. Eventually, he picked up enough to start interacting, but we laughed at the fact that I had two weeks to prepare for ‘bodyguard’, while he had 30 minutes for ‘Machiavellin merchant who is blackmailing and/or conning most of the characters (see attached)’.

  3. Roxysteve says:

    I’ve often wondered if there was a Babylon 6 – the last mediocre hope for peace or a Babylon 7 – the last really naff hope for peace.

    Presumably Babylon 4 was being marketed as “the last better than best hope for peace” or perhaps “the next-to-last best hope for peace” before it got sucked into the fourth dimension (or whatever unlikely an incomprehensible thing did happen to it).


  4. Harlequin says:

    “Too right, Harlequin. It's always dicey to name any PC as the world's “˜last, best hope', lest the player suddenly decide to move several time zones away. :p”

    It’s the kiss of death. The only time you should promote someone to potentate is as a means of honorable discharge: “Since Bob’s left the game, his character is now Lord Fauntleroy after you saved the last town, bla blah…meanwhile, the adventure continues as you meet an old wizard in a tavern with a job for you…”

  5. Kadea says:

    “33 Melfina the Blue Says:
    I now must bow down to the Scarlet Knight as I have failed my willpower roll. Sigh. Gilbert and Sullivan meet RPGing. Now all we need is a pirate king.”

    Well, Aragon does arrive by pirate ship later, does that count?

  6. Isoyami says:

    @Salen (#57)

    “Why is it the leader the one who's always stabbing folks? Seriously, when does stabbing folks count as good leadership skills? *snicker*”

    Since Thief in 8 bit Theater. ;)

    http://www.nuklearpower.com/daily.php?date=010302 (first page)

    http://www.nuklearpower.com/daily.php?date=010523 (Thief explaining his mad skills)

  7. Scarlet Knight says:

    “Now all we need is a pirate king. …Well, Aragon does arrive by pirate ship later, does that count?”

    Of course it does – if Shamus can pull it off…and/ or if enough songs show up in the comments when the comic reaches the part about the ships!

  8. Louis says:

    Typical PC, it’s always fight, loot, fight, loot.

  9. Dave says:

    ah damn… 73rd… man.. you guys are fast!

  10. ST says:

    LOL I’ve got the link to this site yesterday and read straight through this comic. Good grief! I laughed so hard at times you wouldn’t believe. :D So what about Frodo? Is he going to come back after he got bored of SW?

  11. Scarlet Knight says:

    Louis Says: “Typical PC, it's always fight, loot, fight, loot.”

    Rubbish! Stereotyping PC’s that way! Sometimes we loot first …

  12. Harlequin says:

    “Rubbish! Stereotyping PC's that way! Sometimes we loot first …”

    Hey, remember when thief skill percentages had racial modifiers? And all the rock bands had tons of hairspray? Heh, those were the days… /flashback

  13. ajgrifdog says:

    The campaign I’m in now has 6 PCs.

    We all got to create our own characters, including back story.

    The DM did not limit our back story, nor did he give us history of the world to work with.

    So we started out with 6 separate story lines.

    The DM is actually trying to work ALL of the story lines into the plot.

    He told me once, “Never again.”

  14. Roxysteve says:

    Backstories can be fun. Honestly.

    The best back story experience in face-to-face RPGing for my money has to be “Villains & Vigilantes” (Caption for rulebook illustration reads: Those of you who can’t fly, get to the ‘plane. The rest of you: TAKE TO THE SKIES!”).

    The whole backstory thing is extemporised by the player at the start of the first game the character takes part in. Usually, you have four or more people trying to go one up on the last guy’s effort.

    As a V&V GM I always gave bonus stat points for creative use of certain bullet-point words. Top of the list: “Radioactive”, “Cosmic Rays”, “Laboratory Accident With The Supercollider”.

    Bonus abilities were also handed out for creative choice of Superhero name, proposed mode of operation while in super-persona and so on. Extra credit for hot-button irony: Adding “Justice” to your super-name was always a good move.

    This sort of thing drove the “Golden Legion” players next door nuts, adding even more piquancy to the whole affair.

    Anyone up for a game?

    Steve (aka The Hammer of Justice: +2 Str for that).

  15. Lisa says:

    I’m in a GURPS Infinite Worlds game with 9 or 10 players that show up every week (and more that don’t) and we all made up our own characters & backstories. Most of our backstories are pages long. Luckily we trickled in relatively slowly over the months that the campaign has been running.

  16. Varen Tai says:

    “I've often wondered if there was a Babylon 6 – the last mediocre hope for peace or a Babylon 7 – the last really naff hope for peace.

    Presumably Babylon 4 was being marketed as “the last better than best hope for peace” or perhaps “the next-to-last best hope for peace” before it got sucked into the fourth dimension (or whatever unlikely an incomprehensible thing did happen to it).”

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! OK, that was hilarious. :)

  17. Da Rogue says:

    kudos to Parcival!!

  18. Isoyami says:

    Where’s today’s strip?

    T.T :-*(

  19. Destroy Gundam says:

    I’m sure he’s working on it, Isoyami.

    But as for this comic, I can’t blame him for not wanting the long version. I think my life story would be boring to hear, and I’m not royalty or anything of the sort.

    Either that, or he really [i]is[/i] high on something.

  20. Godfather Punk says:

    Wail! Howl! Whimper…

    (withdrawel effects. :( )

  21. Michael says:

    Well, our Dungeons and Dragons group (we call it a clan) has a rather odd system. we take turns conducting campaigns as DM, and at the same time keep our players (by inventing some sort of a story to explain why they arn’t in the adventuring party at present, such as “After the war, Thairil decided to stay with his people to help rebuild their city”). I have only seen players act this way once, and that was about a year ago. I was playing along with two or three other PCs in this dungeon. One (a particualry bone-headed person) decided to shout (in the middle of an ancient and terror-filled ruin) “SCREW YOU FARMER!”. of course, after escaping from the veritable avalanche of creatures, we told him off (putting it mildly). then, he started taunting the DM. after a while, the DM warned him to stop. He didn’t, of course. then the DM said “you hear a whilstling sound from the darkness. an arrow flys from the staircase and embeds itself in [character name withheld]’s chest, easily piercing his breatsplate.”

    I always have avoided any sort of messing around since then, even when I am the DM. It was a bit draconian, yes, but it certaintly got the message across.

  22. rosignol says:

    If LOTR were a real campaign, Aragorn would quit the game now that it's become obvious he's essential to it.

    That is so very true….


  23. inq101 says:

    ‘If LOTR were a real campaign, Aragorn would quit the game now that it's become obvious he's essential to it.’

    Or become suisidaly brave now its obvious the GM isn’t likly to kill him off.

    I am lucky enough to have most of my players listen for at least 3 minutes befor they get bored with plot. At this point the plot-stick is produced.

  24. Thenodrin says:

    ATC wrote: “Back when TSR set up their RPGA competition dungeons (the same dungeons played in many places, players could win points of some sort for how well they did, etc.) I sampled a few – and then forever after stayed away from them.”

    It was because of situations like this that RPGA did away with the tournaments and voting when WotC bought TSR. Unfortunate, IMO, because the way your judge ran it was incorrect. The tournaments all stated for the judge to leave half an hour after the event for the players to describe their characters backstories so that the players could rate how well they portrayed the chracter provided.

    Of course if you skip that part you end up getting screwed in the judging for having to play the “wrong” character.

    As to the topic at hand, I once was invited to a super hero campaign. The gamemaster let each of us borrow his trade paperback of The Kingdom, which he was using as setting and backstory. He also said he would give extra character creation points if we provided a character backstory to him.

    He offered 50 character points, so I provided a 50 page character story that detailed the backgrounds of three different characters all involved in a “trigger” event that could lead to them joining the campaign. I then asked him to tell me which of the three characters he felt would best fit in his campaign.

    I read the book he loaned me, he read the novella I provided him, and the campaign was a lot of fun. But, since then, I’ve told this story to other people I game with and they just look at me in horror. One person said that if I were to create a 50 page backstory for a character in his campaign, he would kick me out of the group.

    (May I plug my blog, where I am providing this character backstory with “director commentary” at thenodrin.livejournal.com ?)


  25. okay! says:

    Hey where is the next installment? I need my fix! [cracks whip]

  26. Scarlet Knight says:

    Isoyami: Where is today’s comic?

    DM: Well, Shamus had to skip. You know, Busy. Job. School.

    Godfather Punk: You mean he’s writing a Star Wars comic with Dave.

    DM: Probably. Yeah.

  27. Isoyami says:

    “You mean he’s writing a Star Wars comic with Dave.”


    Hey, stuff happens. Job, School, all that good stuff. I know.

    Its alright, Seamus should go and take of whatever he needs to take care of.

    We’ll miss him (already are missing him) and will eagerly await his return, whenever he can get back around to it. :D

  28. Angcuru says:

    Its even worse when you are given the opportunity to write up a very detailed, lengthy character history, and then it all goes to hell because the DM gets lazy and doesn’t bother to touch on it at ANY point in the game.

    Anyway, MORE! A Star Wars comic done like this would be pretty impressive, and much appreciated.

  29. brassbaboon says:

    I dunno about a Star Wars version, but if Shamus wants to do it, I’ll certainly check it out.

    Back to the backstory subject though… I never created much of a backstory for any of my characters, and I actually think of myself as a pretty committed roleplayer. I am usually fine with a very sketchy description of the character before he/she is level 1. I’m usually much more interested in what has happened to them AFTER they are created than before they are. So as a player I am usually fine with “My character was orphaned by an orc raid and has sworn vengeance on all goblin-kind. Left to fend for himself at age 14 he learned to make do in the wild where he befriended a local druid. This led him to pursue a life as a Ranger to protect the lives of others from going through what he went through. After two years of training with a Ranger friend of the druid, he is ready to embark on his own career.”

    Got my sword, got my bow, got some arrows, and got a chip on my shoulder about goblinoids. OK, I’m good to go.

    As a DM I want more detail than that and there are some things that are simply necessary to know (Is it winter? Are we under attack from a neighboring kingdom? Has a rogue cleric begun sending undead minions out to do his evil bidding? etc…)

    The goal of the whole endeaver is for the game to be a joint activity, not something that is 90% done in the DM’s head.

  30. rosignol says:

    Shamus seems to have came down with something. In the meantime, he’s posted this to help us stave off withdrawal…


  31. okay! says:

    I’d like to see a Star Wars comic, because I think Shamus just has the gift, but I’d be surprised if it rises to the level of DM of the Rings. The conceit of this excellent series — modern D&D meets its unrecognizable boring old grandpa — can’t be translated to Star Wars. Not saying he won’t come up with a similarly inspiring conceit, but I can’t think of one for Star Wars.

  32. Mallow says:

    You know the only thing worse than when a player needs the Cliff’s Notes for his own biography? When the *DM* needs the Cliff’s Notes for a player’s *self-made* biography.

    I have one guy like that, and only one. Thirty pages of Celtic mythology in a non-Celtic setting. Then when *he* was DM… Ugh.

  33. Cynder says:

    Poor Aragorn dosen’t even know he’s King of Gondor. I would have thought he’d be jumping for joy at the news. Ah well. Embrace the unpridictability of DMotR. :)

  34. Blah says:

    i’m just commenting so the total comment count will get to 100.

  35. Blah says:

    And again. Finally, a hundred! :D

  36. Gray says:

    Sorry, I just cannot resist:

    I've often wondered if there was a Babylon 6 – the last mediocre hope for peace or a Babylon 7 – the last really naff hope for peace.

    “Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another.” (Cmdr. Susan Ivanova, ‘Sleeping in Light’ (last episode of B5), Epilogue)

  37. ERROR says:

    “HOLY EPIC BACKSTORY! Can we get, like, a Cliff Notes version of this or something?”

    ~Beginning of Ep. #1.

  38. Robin says:

    The crucial part of a character’s back story isn’t the story, but how it affects his actual gameplay. It’s not enough that my new bard was abandoned as a child and has no idea of his parentage or homeland. How does he play this on a day-to-day basis? Unable to be “Gwydion son of Someone” or “Gwydion of Somewhere”, he will be forever making up epithets for himself. “Gwydion the Harpist”, “Gwydion the Wanderer”. As soon as he gets his first kill, he will proclaim himself “Gwydion X-slayer”.

    A character history that only affects the character when the GM works it into the plot isn’t a character description; it’s a quest-hook.

    • WJS says:

      Reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci. Many people don’t know that unlike most people, he didn’t have a surname; “da Vinci” simply means “of Vinci”, the town where he was from. Looking it up it seems he was a bastard rather than an orphan, as I’d thought, but the principle is the same; your name, a fundamental part of who you are, can be more influenced by your origins than people think.

  39. Ross says:

    Scarlet Knight:
    “I'm a leader?”

    Yeah, we're surprised, too.

    “Can't I send a squire or something?”

    Lad's got a point; what good is it to be King if you have do dangerous things yourself?

    i have a feeling that should have been a convo between gimli and aragorn
    with the DM finishing off by going
    “WHATEVER ok aragorn YOU.ARE.A.KING get it?!!?!?!?”
    then he strikes them all for 206 lightning damage

  40. caradoc says:

    Randomly generated backgrounds can be entertaining. I have a big table with a few subtables for major types. Once you have a few traits, the rest is easy enough to invent.

  41. silver Harloe says:

    > I've often wondered if there was a Babylon 6 ““ the last mediocre hope for peace or a Babylon 7 ““ the last really naff hope for peace.

    Describing it as the “last, best hope for peace” was done in retrospect – the whole series is framed as a story being told. It was described that way in chapter one, but by chapter three the important line was added, “it failed.”

  42. Rob #2 says:

    I’m re-watching the trilogy again right now, and laughing every time I remember a scene in this comic. Somehow I’m finding the movie less interesting…

    “The hobbits are going to Isengard!” I had to rewind that part and laugh. I’ve been scarred for life by that damn video and somehow I still find it funny.

  43. Rob #2 says:

    On another note, players WILL listen to some droll stuff if you make them think they are getting epic loot as a result of the information. Just throw in ‘your sword of power’ once in a while and they perk right up and start taking notes.

  44. Milenkov says:

    Man, he was railroading them so hard he even made their backstory for them. :S

    • WJS says:

      I think they were pregenned characters; The DM made the characters. not the players. This isn’t that unusual, although normally the players would then make the characters their own which hasn’t really happened here.

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