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DM of the Rings CXVI:
But They Don’t Fit in My Backpack!

By Shamus
on Friday Jun 22, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Aragorn orders the boats destroyed.
What could he possibly use boats for?

What can you do when your players are about to do something astoundingly dumb because they aren’t thinking things through? There are many possible solutions.

  1. Use an NPC to nudge the players in the right direction.
  2. Give the players hints out-of-character.
  3. Allow them to do the stupid thing, then laugh at them later.
  4. Find smarter players.

#4 is obviously the wrong answer. Having players smart enough to outwit you is a tremendous pain in the backside. Don’t make that mistake.

Comments (127)

1 2

  1. Susano says:

    Time for the king of the undead to bring up a certain Holy Grail line about kingship being conferred based only on being lucky enough to get such-such sword at the right time.

  2. txknight says:

    In my group, the players usually know they are about to do something incredibly stupid when the DM uses the famous words “Are you sure?” :-)

  3. Librain says:

    Hmm, maybe we could initiate a vote of no confidence in Aragorm, and put someone who has a clue on the throne?

  4. Browncoat says:

    5. Rocks fall. Everyone dies.

    What do you do when your readers keep posting the same jokes?

    1. Use and NPC to nudge them in the right direction?
    No good. I am an NPC. We’ve covered that.
    2. Give them hints out of character.
    Nope. I’m always a character.
    3. Allow them to say the stupid thing, and shake your head later.
    Seems to be the popular choice.
    4. Find more clever readers.

  5. Rawn says:

    Awesome. I’ve had situations like that pop up in my campaigns all the time. I generally go with #3.

  6. NeedsToHeal says:

    So funny. Aragorn, the king, is annoying the heck out of the undead.

  7. txknight says:

    ” 1 Susano Says:

    June 22nd, 2007 at 11:03 am
    Time for the king of the undead to bring up a certain Holy Grail line about kingship being conferred based only on being lucky enough to get such-such sword at the right time.

    Lol! That is appropriate!

  8. Librain says:

    Heh, the famous “are you sure?”

    My response to that was to think long and hard and say to the GM “I think you’re bluffing. Yes I’m sure.” Oh boy did I regret that one.

  9. JoystickHero says:

    Heh… Captain Cadaver…

    In other news… d10, bishies!

  10. Mike says:

    I fear that I have a batch of players who are, in fact, smarter than me…

  11. Susano says:

    I’m reminded of a line from our Shadows Angeus campaign (http://surbrook.devermore.net/worldbooks/shadows/shadowsindex.html): “Use my preferred method — ask the GM and do what he says.”

  12. Telas says:

    “You’re new at this King thing, aren’t you? Because a smart king would kill the crew, take over the ships, and use them to sail to Minas Tirith.”

  13. Thenodrin says:

    I’ll never forget the time with a friend of mine called for seriousness at the gaming table by pointing out that there were “only five of us, and we’ve got to outsmart (the DM).”

    Personally, when I’m the DM, I let the players do whatever they want. Sometimes “the dumb thing” is because the character has an Int 8, sometimes it is because the player has an Int 8, sometimes it is because I’ve got a Wis 8 and don’t realize that what they are doing works better than what I anticipated them doing.


  14. brassbaboon says:

    I always struggle with the “DM hints” thing. In general I am philosophically opposed to directing the course of the campaign through any overt means. In general I allow the players to do stupid things if they want to. Usually I view that as my not having communicated something properly.

    In our current campaign I did actually once intervene in the campaign through a direct God to Cleric directive, but it was at the cleric’s request and so I felt it was consistent with the milieu and was not “DM interference” as such. Usually all it takes to get the players to do what I want is a comment like “Your rogue spots faint footprints leading off the road to the southwest, they appear to be heading into some low hills.” Or “A close inspection of the chest has revealed a hidden compartment which contains a map.”

    Now, if my players were about to do something really stupid like destroy a fleet of ships needed to win back their kingdom… would I intervene?

    I dunno. I typically don’t have things so tightly scripted that such an event would destroy the campaign. I try not to assume that I now what my characters would want to do with their characters anyway.

    I have yet to have any player express any desire to role play becoming a king or noble of any kind. In general they want to get rich and have a lot of stuff, but the responsibility of running a kingdom or a fiefdom is usually not high on their list of role-playing goals.

    DM: “Your monthly court meeting with your subjects is today.”
    Aragorn: “My what?”
    DM: “You have to meet with representatives of your kingdom to settle disputes, clarify laws or reward specific acts of heroism today.”
    Aragorn: “I don’t want to do that.”
    DM: “If you don’t, your subjects will get restless and may start plotting a revolt.”
    Aragorn: “I never wanted to be king anyway… I just want to go find cool stuff and kill evil critters in some dark dungeon…”
    DM: “You have to be the king, or else the world of men will fail and Orcs will rule instead.”
    Aragorn: “I hate this campaign…”

  15. Alexis says:

    #2 would be my preference. Like “damn, I thought you’d like being captain of a ghost pirate ship”. Or “you realise gold sinks?”

  16. Eorl de Jonge says:

    Players are peolpe, they will always find things wich the DM didn’t suspect. You can allways make the undead fail to destroy the ships, make the undead king to ask aragorn to try it homself and sail away once he is on board…

  17. Evrae says:

    I’m always a stickler for “the are you sure?” question normally my mistake as they normally go “Yup” and then laugh as i have to figure out what to do now that they burned all of there bridges “occasionaly litraly”

  18. Dev Null says:

    I don’t know about _stupid_ per se; I think hes got a point. He just seems to have summoned the dead king out of nowhere, so _they_ don’t need ships, and how are the 3 of them supposed to sail a ship, much less a fleet?

    But thats half of what makes Aragorn so funny in these strips. He often – usually mistakenly, in a bumbling search for treasure and/or booty – points out perfectly reasonable objections to the plot hes being railroaded into.

  19. Kris says:

    It’s good to be king, baby.

  20. Jon says:

    King Aragorn: I am your king.
    Woman: Well I didn’t vote for you.
    King Aragorn: You don’t vote for kings.
    Woman: Well how’d you become king then?
    King Aragorn: The Lady of Eldron, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Anduril from the bosom of his daughter, signifying by divine providence that I, Aragorn, was to carry Anduril. THAT is why I am your king.
    Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin’ in elf citys distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical elven ceremony.
    Dennis: Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some elven tart threw a sword at you.
    Dennis: Oh but if I went ’round sayin’ I was Emperor, just because some bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.

  21. brassbaboon says:

    “Are you sure” is one thing I try very, very hard not to say, but on occasion I do. As a player I tend to ignore the “are you sure” comment because I assume my character doesn’t hear the DM unless the DM puts something into the actual campaign for them to react to.

    Case in point, my elf-dryad druid, who is very susceptible to fire (takes 1 extra point of damage per die of damage) was engaged in a battle with a plane of fire denizen. The critter was healing by perching on a flaming torch on the top of a ten foot pole. So my druid decided to knock down the pole so that the critter couldn’t heal out of our reach anymore.

    The DM’s “are you sure?” hung in the air like a death-knell. Of course I’m sure, that’s what she would do in this situation. Of course the pole was solid metal apparently and set in a few feet of solid rock, so she simply bounced off, and was then blasted by a fire attack that very nearly killed her outright. Luckily the rogue decided to stabilize me before I died, and they managed to kill the critter without me.

    So I guess I should have listened to the DM, but the logic of my character doing something because of something the DM tells the player still escapes me…

  22. Breklor says:

    How about, “We’re noncorporeal, stupid. We can totally gank the living, but we can’t break solid objects. Hello, did you not just see us float through the gorram rock wall?”

  23. Susano says:

    Actually, I think “Eorl de Jonge” has a point. The undead army can kill the living, but can’t do much against things like walls and ships.

  24. AJ says:

    My favorite moments come from when the players do something that flies utterly in the face of everything I have planned, but being a simulationist, I let him. Then, much as I try to get them back on the dramatically appropriate path, the deviate to some unknown region of the world or story.

    The part that always makes me shake my head is when it turns out, after finally seeing what they were up to, their idea was much neater than mine to begin with, so all my energy to prevent them was making the overall story worse. Fairly humbling those moments are.

  25. Mattingly says:

    Great capture for panel four. It’s not easy for a ghost to look annoyed, but you found just the right frame.

  26. Clint Memo says:

    If the players are about to do something stupid or are missing something obvious or are making a decision without remembering something important, I have them all roll a wisdom check. I set the DC based on how bad I want them to realize whatever it is they are missing. Someone almost always makes it.
    DM: “It occurs to Legolas that if they take the ships, they could sail to Gondor instead of walking.”

  27. superfluousk says:

    “In my group, the players usually know they are about to do something incredibly stupid when the DM uses the famous words “Are you sure?”

    I do that to my students all the time. “You mean that you’re feeling ‘skanky’ today? Really? Are you SURE?”

  28. alsafi says:

    Librain @ 3-

    Woohoo! Gimli for King!

  29. jperk31260 says:

    I think I see a long sequence where Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli are running running running. I can see the dramtic apprach to Minas Tirth now… speces in the distance… blurry shape… three figures… them stopping and panting a lot saying next time lets take the ship. LMAO

  30. john says:

    “Look, are you undead or retarded?”

    My favorite line.

    Funny how the dead king is trying to steer the party to make the “right” decision.

  31. Vanykrye says:

    You know…I just had my party take a portal back to their home world…and said portal was provided by a pit fiend. Due to a deadline, they had to cross a country on foot, get the info, and get back to the pit fiend (long story), all within 3 of their days.

    Being a kind DM and knowing that they couldn’t possibly pull this off, I had a gang of bandits on horseback ambush them.

    All of my players, collectively, and nearly simultaneously: “Kill the horses.”

  32. Senalishia says:

    The characters in our group DID something stupid a few weeks back; our GM was very kind but he just couldn’t save us from ourselves. Since it was obvious that’s what he was trying to do, now we have to play every week knowing that our characters are missing a rather important piece of information…

  33. Carl the Bold says:

    RE: the title.

    Did it not occur to His Highness that he could put the ships into his Royal Invisible Leather TARDIS?

  34. Shamgar says:

    DM: “If you don't, your subjects will get restless and may start plotting a revolt.”
    Aragorn: “I never wanted to be king anyway…

    I wanted to be a…a…a LUMBERJACK!!!!

  35. Jochi says:

    Yeah, I’ve been here on both sides of the screen.
    This time, I’m thinking Gimli’ll come through without a GM’s nudge:
    “Are ye SURE, Lad? Have ye not thought what we could SELL those ships for?”

  36. Tola says:

    …It’s the DM’s fault again, for saying ‘Corsairs are ships’. They think the ships are the target, not the crew.

    The strip’s funny, but I can’t call it ‘player stupidity’.

    …How many Dead are there, anyway? COULD they run the ships, even if they wanted to?

  37. oldschoolGM says:

    Funny Stuff!

    I’m not above the occasional “Are you sure?” Just to keep things interesting, though, sometimes I throw out an “Are you sure?” when the action the characters are about to take is perfectly harmless. That really freaks them out because when/if they proceed with the action, and nothing obviously bad happens, they spend the rest of the session waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Man, I love being a GM, it’s like a license to mess with peoples heads. :)

  38. Miguelito says:

    >> In my group, the players usually know they are about to
    >> do something incredibly stupid when the DM uses the famous
    >> words “Are you sure?”

    Sadly, my group continues to think “Are you sure?” is fine.
    They have only learned that “Ooookay” means they’ve just
    DONE something stupid.

  39. Locri says:

    Actually, there is a bit of a point here that most people aren’t noticing: They never really explained how in the world a small group of living people managed to somehow sail 3 very large ships to Minas Tirith.

    And now looking up I realize that Dev Null said the same thing ^_^

  40. txknight says:

    “Locri Says:
    June 22nd, 2007 at 3:39 pm
    Actually, there is a bit of a point here that most people aren't noticing: They never really explained how in the world a small group of living people managed to somehow sail 3 very large ships to Minas Tirith.”

    I just assume they either shanghaied the original crew or the dead can become corporeal.

  41. Tsanian says:

    My players react to “Are your sure”. (luckily) i think i will try to use the AYS in an unharmfull Situation. I even now know that i will love their faces ^^

    But the best line ever is (in town).
    “You wanna do that? Ok. The guards come, arrest you and you will be executed next month”

  42. DamoJO says:

    Is the DM here a masochist? in all the games I’ve been in this sort of stupidity leads to the DM going for a party kill and drawing up a new campaign or allowing us to reroll new characters and continue (at a penalty of a level). Mind sometimes I’ve had a DM who just got bored with his own campaign cos we were sensible (Runequest, we have a farm, make farm work, help village, earn prestige, live well. Not get killed in insane encounter. So the DM PK’d us)

  43. Lee says:

    Come to think of it, why would an army of incorporeal undead need ships to cross the sea anyway? They can float through mountains, but not above water? Aragorn is totally right about why would the three of them need a whole fleet, hehe…

  44. Vinchenze says:

    why doesn’t the DM just say “Look, kill the crew and saild the ships to the city, “

  45. Vinchenze says:

    sorry about the typo

  46. jpetoh says:

    Captain Cadaver? I thought he was a vampire…

    I hope Bill Willingham doesn’t sue you. :)

  47. Vinchenze says:

    this also reminds me of a song, here’s the link.

  48. oldschoolGM says:

    Oh, and IIRC, in the books Aragorn recruited a bunch of people from the southern part of Gondor (who had been cut off from coming to the aid of Minas Tirith by the Witch King’s troops) to help man the Black Ships. I think Aragorn might have picked up some of his Rangers to help out too. I don’t have my books with me right now or I’d confirm it. In any case, I know Tolkien mentioned how they sailed the ships somewhere. Unlike the movies, the Dead left after taking the ships and didn’t go to the Battle of Pelennor Fields, as depicted in the movie.

  49. Lady of Light says:

    For those of you wondering how they took the fleet, it was mostly a fear effect, much like the Ringwraiths’ but to a lesser degree. Most of the Corsairs jumped ship.

    As for why, it makes much more sense in the book than the movie: The ghosts did NOT come to Minas Tirith. Instead, they fought the battle at the ships and were freed from their oath. At which point they disappeared, and the captives of the Corsairs (galley-slaves, etc) manned the ships willingly.

    Also, Our Heroes gathered an army of those who had not marched to the city earlier because of the now-neutralized threat of the Corsairs. It was these men who helped turn the tide of the battle.

    No “scrubbing ghosty bubbles” in the books!

  50. Lady of Light says:

    gah! Ninjaed!

  51. comicshorse says:

    That’s one of the things I didn’t like about the movie. When the undead just turn up at Gondor and slaughter everything it makes all the sacrifices the Rohirim made totally pointless. It was better in the books where the dead drove off the Corsairs and then Arragon recruited those forces that had stayed behind to defend their lands against the Corsairs.
    Oh and how exactly do incorporeal undead sail a fleet of ships anyway ?

  52. Dan says:

    In my group of friends, the DM (we take turns based on the system we’re playing) usually has a PC, as well as running all the NPC’s. When we’re stuck for what to do next, we ask the DM’s character. It always seems to work out favorably. :-)

  53. Inane Fedaykin says:

    One option is of course to let the PCS figure it out for themselves without DM intervention.

    I’m reminded of a campaign my friend told me about. D&D based mystery that ran for a few sessions. Once they reached the end and had all the clues the DM told them to sit down and figure it out. He refused to give them anything after that. I think I’d kill any DM that tried to do that to me though.

  54. depot says:

    I just realized the significance of this title. Hehehe.

  55. Dave says:

    As always .. good stuff.. .. and how “old school” can you be if you call yourself a GM?? old school doesn’t fall for the renaming of the DM.. the DM is the DM.. he’s not the “storyteller”.. the “GM” the “shadow weaver”.. he’s the DM… damnit.

  56. Jindra34 says:

    Dave: DM is almost exclusively used for DnD other games use other titles… GM is also excepted as a correct title no matter what game you play.

  57. bugsysservant says:

    [derisive snort]: the only thing to do when your players are leaning with a lit match over the kindling of your precious campaign is to throw on some gasoline, piss of the player and give him a good hard shove.

    [Player]:Destroy the ships!!!

    [DM]:It is at this time that the ghosts reveal their hidden loyalty to Sauron, wiping out all of you.

    [Players]: WHAT!!!

    [DM]:Just joking, but seriously, you’re all screwed. I suppose that this wouldn’t be the time to remind you of the rumors you heard way back in Bree, that I forgot to mention of the fabulous treasures of the “Undying Lands”, which are barely defended. And that, oh, the Ghosts neglected to destroy one small craft that would be easily manned by, I don’t know, say three people?

  58. oldschoolGM says:

    Although I run a DnD campaign, and it’s what I cut my teeth on back in the day (I’ve been gaming since the 70s), I have played run a LOT of other systems over the years, even one I designed myself. Hence, I use GM as a generic term.

  59. brassbaboon says:

    I’m also going from memory, but I seem to recall that the corsairs were in league with Sauron and were tearing up the coast, which had tied up the forces along the coast so that they did not respond to Gondor’s call for aid since they were protecting their own lands. Among these, I thought, was a prince who joined Aragorn and brought his forces to Minas Tirith after the corsairs were defeated. Also joining Aragorn at that time was a large contingent of his kin, the rangers. So he not only found people to man the ships, he actually brought another army with him, and his army and Eomer’s cavalry eventually met in the middle of Pelinor Fields fulfilling Aragorn’s promise to meet Eomer “though all the forces of Mordor should be between us.” Something poetic like that. It was a classic pincer move that cut Sauron’s forces in two, breaking the seige and routing the orcs. Or at least that’s what I recall of the battle.

  60. As always, great screen shots, especially in frame 2 and the last frame.

    Keep the gold flow’n! :D

  61. Darin says:

    WFT?! Another comic I JUST found and it too turns out to be INCOMPLETE?! First Goblins, now this! *sigh* My week sucks. :P

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