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DM of the Rings CXVIII:
Descriptive Text is Sometimes Important

By Shamus
on Wednesday Jun 27, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Welcome to Minas Tirith!
Did I forget to mention the battle?

A reader wrote in to suggest this one. I admit I’ve made this blunder myself. More than once. It really is easy to goof up and describe a cave in meticulous detail, while forgetting to mention the dragon laying in the middle of the chamber.

Part of this is due to narrator’s vanity: We know that once we mention the dragon the rest of the description is going to be ignored. We want to make sure nothing we’ve written goes to waste, so we mention the most obvious details last.

Comments (98)

1 2

    • Zedolor says:

      Zedolor’s GM notes…
      I always try to consider: what’s the first thing that would draw the onlooker’s eyes, and is it distracting enough to drown out other details? In the case of encountering a dragon in a cavern, I may not even offer further description beyond the dragon unless the players specifically request it.

  1. Fieari says:

    I’ve done that on purpose a number of times. Although, I usually do it to build up dramatic tension, or narrative irony or something like that. Eh, quite frankly, it amuses me to see the shocked looks on their faces when I off-handedly mention the towering 50′ tall demon breathing fire in the middle of the room, chained to the pillars I just described in meticulous detail.

  2. Tuccy says:

    As always… Priceless!

  3. Germelia says:

    *drools on Colin Firth*

    oh, right.

    Gimli’s expression is priceless! Nice one!

  4. Wraithshadow says:

    Ah, see- the secret to avoid missing something like that is foreshadowing. Drop little hints about something else going on, something really interesting, at the beginning and then refer to it now and again in passing as you detail the place.

    Even if you forget this major detail, your players won’t. And in the process, they’ll pay attention.

  5. Kris says:

    So, my RSS Feed just picked up the new comic, and already there were 5 comments. I’m just curious if you have the statistics for how many people sit at your site refreshing every 20 seconds to catch the “Firth” Comment when they should be working?

    Got any numbers for us?

  6. seabsicuit says:

    Whilst very funny, I was hoping for a Pirates / LOTR crossover joke after Monday’s installment.

    But hey, Mr Darcy made up for that

  7. Ninja Raven says:

    note to self: You’ll miss important bits of plot if you cut the DM off short.

  8. Heh! I once had a party search a complete mansion and felt they were missing some clues…

    Then I noticed I forgot to tell them about the dismembered corpses in the hall…

  9. Nanja Kang says:

    As a DM I concur with both statements.

  10. NeedsToHeal says:

    Heh. My bad.

    This cracked me up!!!

  11. Roxysteve says:

    Now I can’t get the picture of Aragormless and the King of all Bones fighting each other “Bridget Jones” style, with each one trying to hit the other while simultaneously keeping as far away from them as possible.


  12. A friend is in the process of setting up a MUD, and I threw together a Wiki to help with some world design.

    I’ve been sketching out a description of a city, and did pretty much exactly that. Lots of detail followed by the dragon in the fountain right at the end. (Although it is trapped in the ice and not much of a threat :D )

    I’m still quite pleased with my concept, so I’ll probably publish it on my blog once I’ve finished polishing it.

  13. arcosh says:

    GM(me): In the corner of the room you see a pair of boots.
    Player: Is there someone in the boots? Hey, with him you have to ask that.

  14. Reverend JIm says:

    Ah, flavor text. I remember taking my group through Ravenloft and reading about “the diaphanous cobwebs” and “ornate candelabras” et cetera and only then mentioning the red-eyed ueber-vampire coming to get them.

    Good times, good times.

  15. Paul says:

    “Firth Post!” Dude! That’s a master stroke. Do you think the silliness will stop now, or are you going to have to do that for every entry?

  16. Jindra34 says:

    The battle is joined agian

  17. Jindra34 says:

    and Paul thats the second time he has done that. so no the madness will not stop.

  18. Thenodrin says:

    My favourite part is, “Even if I had told you about the fighting, you guys would have tried to go shopping anyway.”

    I wonder, when did D&D become a shopping trip? I first noticed it in 2002. But, it does seem to be a widely popular conception.


  19. Da Rogue says:

    this obsession with first post is qetting a little weird now. It’s some of those psychos who date and get married through W.O.W. *shivers*

  20. AngiePen says:

    Da Rogue — my husband and I met playing GemStoneII, which was way before multi-player online roleplaying games got “massive.” Nothing weird about it. Or at least, nothing new about it. ;)


  21. Max says:

    I would do something similar with pre-written adventures. I’d read the given description of the room (which, for some reason, never included monsters…even if they were standing in the middle of the room) and my PCs would begin to choose an exit from the description, and I’d say, “Wait! There’s a monster in here!”

    And they’d moan because I didn’t mention it in the first place.

  22. Breklor says:

    I’m of two minds about the “Oh, by the way, there’s a dragon” approach. On the one hand, it’s funny, sure; but on the other, it’s not at all how we perceive things. In fact, having a big honkin’ dragon flaming all over the place is more likely to distract from, say, the ninja kobold behind the stalactite, or the sinkholes in the corner where your rogue wants to hide in shadows.

  23. Caius says:

    at least they didn’t have to make a spot check to notice the battle. And believe me, more than one person in a group can roll a natural one.

    • WJS says:

      Spot is specifically only rolled if the subject is hiding or otherwise difficult to see.if your DM makes you roll spot checks to see people standing out in the open, rub his nose in the rulebook.

  24. Keldin says:

    Unbelieveably hilarious — I’ve seen this happen far too many times! DMs desperately trying to keep the players’ attention is a cause of much hassle in the game.

  25. brassbaboon says:

    Well, if you are using miniatures, it gets a bit harder to forget to mention the dragon in the room. Unless you forget the miniature, of course. I have begun printing out large maps and uncovering the areas as the players move around. So I have a smaller “map key” sheet which has all the “invisible” things, such as traps or secret doors. Because of the dual activity of removing the covering over the corridors, and checking the current location, there have been a few “oh, before you get there… you fell into a 10 foot pit with spikes sticking up from below…”

    What I need is a computer-operated gaming table with automatic triggering of events as players move around… Yeah… that’s the ticket….

  26. Al Shiney says:


    Shamus, I’m sorry if you were planning this next, but I gotta do it …

    Go get a picture of former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist and inscribe the words “FRIST POST” underneath it for Friday!

    Oh yes, great comic … “The what now?” Classic!

  27. Marmot says:

    I guess that now they know (hehe) that there are shops in Minas Tirith they will be extra motivated to get through those orcs by any means necessary :)

  28. Al Shiney says:

    Wow, 27 is my lucky number … cool!

  29. Shamus says:

    Al: Yup. That’s exactly what you’re getting on Friday.

  30. Ben says:

    I think the screen-caps are once again an excellent indication. The first Minas Tirith is an architechtural marvel, sitting on a pristine plain. This is an excellent depiction of the setting description, assuming you forget about the army!!!

    As a DM, I always described the setting first then went for the bang ending with the monster. This led my group to only pay attention when my tone changed, “Sitting in the middle of the room…”

  31. Al Shiney says:

    Wow Shamus, now I truly am sorry for spoiling the fun. I guess it serves me right that my original post was later moved from 27 to 28.

  32. Nilus says:

    Honestly D&D has always been about shopping. Look back to the early days of the hobby. It wasn’t really about role playing then it was about going to towns, equipping characters and then crawling through a dungeon. And every good party carried a ten foot pole and 50 feet of rope.

    I don’t think D&D even started to be about anything other then shopping and killing until the 80s. Then we started getting campaign worlds that were more coherent and every adventure wasn’t just a dungeon crawl.

  33. -Chipper says:

    “Point taken” – great!

    Re: comment number 1- shouldn’t it be “Firth Potht”?

  34. I enjoy the comic very much. But I loathe Pirates of the Caribbean. First one was awesome, the rest blew.
    So… no more pirates please?

  35. moonglum says:

    Hey at least you eventualy told the players the improtant details…I tended to get bored with long monologs discribing settings…my players quickly learn to pay attention to the Yaddas thats where the improtant stuff hides

    Them: what do you mean we need the enchanted crossbow bolt
    Me: I’m sure I mentioned it, it must have been one of the yaddas

  36. oldschoolGM says:

    I find that this is really only a problem when running published adventures. Some modules will list the room description in a shaded or offset text box, and then put the occupants of the room underneath. First edition modules were especially bad in this regard. I suppose the reason it was done this way is because the monsters in the room could easily have been drawn out of the room by the players actions before the players entered the room. The writers wanted to give a room description that could be read right out of the book regardless of where the monsters had gotten to. The problem is, of course, that when working out of a module, the DM’s natural tendency is to just start reading the highlighted text when the characters enter the area.

    I find its much less of a problem when I write my own stuff. I can lay out my notes and descriptions in the way that I know will let me keep track of what I should be describing first. It still happens on very rare occasion. That situation is on of the very few where I give my players a “do over” when declaring their actions, especially if there is just no way the characters would have acted the way they did if I had described the obvious encounter first.

  37. Rolld20 says:

    They should wade into battle singing BNL’s “Shopping”:

    “It’s never enough,
    till you’ve got all the stuff.
    When the going gets rough,
    just shop with somebody tough!”

  38. MOM says:

    That’s a good picture of you, but you misspelled first

  39. corwin says:

    Nilus: In my day, every /character/ carried a 10′ pole, 50′ of rope, and at least 10 iron spikes…

  40. Dannerman says:

    Actually, I have a house rule which goes something like; “You don’t need to interrupt me, and don’t count on me ever repeating anything.” Whilst I don’t go in for the whole ‘bore your players to tears with overly long descriptions\flavour text’ it gets me quite annoyed when players cut me off mid-description.

    I’ve used lines like; “Ok, the orcs in the chamber let you walk right in the middle of them and then they attack you. I’m gonna rule this as a surprise round for the orcs and yes, you’re flat-footed. Did I mention one of these orcs has some rogue levels?”

    Whilst possibly one of the worst abuses of power a DM can commit (as demonstrated in the comic) it makes damn well sure they listen next time.

    (I have anger issues. My biggest DM-flaw. I’ve ever not killed a character doing this, but I guess it don’t really make it right. Ah well, I’ve got a game on Sunday as well – my first in a while… Hope it goes ok.)

  41. oldschoolGM says:

    corwin Says:In my day, every /character/ carried a 10″² pole, 50″² of rope, and at least 10 iron spikes…

    Heh, that could be the subject of a comic. I’ve had this conversation before:

    DM: You have noticed that the stone of the corridor ahead of you looks different somehow.

    Player: I poke it with my 10 foot pole

    DM: What? Where did you get the 10 foot pole from?

    Player: I bought it with my starting gold, its right here on my sheet.

    DM: You JUST crawled through a twisty tunnel not 4 encounters ago, how could you have brought a 10 foot pole?

    Player: Hey, you’re the one who said we didn’t have to worry about the encumberance rules.

    DM: Only because they are incomprehensible!

    Moral of the story: don’t count on your players to use common sense and spacial logic when it comes to what stuff their players have.

    (actually the group I run right now is pretty good about that, but you get the point)

  42. Telas says:

    Firth of Forth!

    I mean…


  43. Rattastic says:

    “Heh. My bad.”

    All I can say to this is: HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

    I’ve done this soooooooo many times lol :)

    Awesome strip Shamus!


  44. PotatoEngineer says:

    DM: You JUST crawled through a twisty tunnel not 4 encounters ago, how could you have brought a 10 foot pole?

    And this is why 3rd edition has the collapsible 9-foot pole. For best results, though, it really needs a gaff hook on the end for extra poking-and-prodding action.

  45. Rhykker says:

    I was eating while reading this page… almost a big mistake. Once I read the DM’s final words of the comic, my computer was nearly showered with half-chewed food.


  46. Quicksilver says:

    I love it!

    … but I think there’s a minor error in panel four. Shouldn’t that be facing “oSgiliath”, not “oGgiliath”?

  47. Flexstyle says:

    “Point taken.”

    That’s my favorite line of the strip. This is easily one of my favorite strips as of recently, excellent work here!

  48. Cheesemaster says:

    Haha, I’ve made that mistake in describing far too many times.

    You’ve probably never heard of him, but you could use Charles Firth from (Australian satire news shows) CNNNN and The Chaser, he even has a segment called “Firth with the Facts”.

  49. Angela Christine says:

    “I wonder, when did D&D become a shopping trip? I first noticed it in 2002. But, it does seem to be a widely popular conception.”

    It was a gimmick to lure in the female gamer market. *sage nod*

  50. Avaz says:

    53 Angela Christine Says:
    June 27th, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    “I wonder, when did D&D become a shopping trip? I first noticed it in 2002. But, it does seem to be a widely popular conception.”

    It was a gimmick to lure in the female gamer market. *sage nod*

    Truer words have ne’er been spoken.

  51. Attorney At Chaos says:

    Quicksilver –

    That’s just an artifact of the font being used. The letters are so close together that a preceding letter that bulges (like an “O”) often will “fill in the gap” at the lower left of the “S”, making it look like a “G”.

  52. brassbaboon says:

    IDMS, or “Inattentive DM Syndrome” can have many flavors. The campaign I am running right now is a low level campaign, and the players are ultra-cautious. At one point when the came to a room that had a hole in one wall, they tied a rope around the rogue halfling’s waist and held onto it as he carefully crawled into the hole, where he discovered a hidden room. Inside that room were some giant insects and a chest. Soon enough the fight was on and after a short but fierce battle, the insects were dead and the chest was opened.

    On the group goes to the next room, where the rogue fails a trap check, then fails a reflex save check and falls into a hole.

    The paladin suddenly remembers the rope tied around his waist. “Hey we never untied him.”

    DM: “Um… waitaminute, you haven’t been walking around the dungeon trailing fifty feet of rope…”

    Paladin: “Where is the rope then?”

    DM: “Um.. er.. OK, as the rogue falls through the floor, the rope trailing behind him slides in after him.

    Paladin: “I was right behind him, do I see the rope?”

    DM: “Yes.”

    Paladin: “I grab the rope.”

    DM: “OK, roll an agility check (sets DC to 20)”

    Paladin: “A natural 20! Woohoo!”

    DM: “…”

    Paladin: “Did I grab it?”

    DM: “…”

    Rogue: “Yeah, did he grab it?”

    DM: “Um… make a strength check.”

    Paladin: “16, +2”

    DM: “….”

    DM: “OK, as the rogue falls through the floor, you make a wild grab at the rope. Amazingly you succeed in grabbing it. It jerks hard on your hands, giving you some nasty rope burns, but you manage to hang on, and set your feet before you too go over the edge. The rogue is now hanging 15 below the floor, and about the same distance above a floor where he can just make out some movement in the darkness.”

    Paladin: “I pull him back up.”

    DM: “OK.”

    DM: “Are you untying the rope now?”

    Eventually they untied him after I made it clear that now that I REMEMBERED the rope was tied to him and trailing along the floor, it was prone to tripping the party, snagging on things and was a nice handle for beasties who might want a quick halfling snack. But the damage was done, and the trap was avoided. All because I forgot that they had tied a rope to the halfling…

  53. Scarlet Knight says:

    “Doyle, Lord Of Asgard Says:So… no more pirates please?”

    Life without pirates? Why not just take away the wind in our face? The adventure in our heart? The rum in our veins? Nay, I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me port liberty, or give me death!

  54. Jaja says:

    Angel *53 & Avaz *54:

    I am nodding sagely in unison with you, though I must confess, it wasn’t really shopping that got me hooked on RPG’s and tabletop gaming (and thus becoming both my husband’s champion AND sometimes bane of his existence) –


  55. ahh, too good!

    Tis has happened to me ac couple times, but mostly because I wing my descriptions most of the time :D

  56. Dave says:

    What are you guys talking about? Comic?? Ya mean this isn’t just a firth post race?? Hmm.. perhaps I’ll have to read this aforementioned comic.

  57. Dean says:

    More years ago than I’ll admit to, the group I was in was gaming at about 3 or 4 am.
    DM: Do you want to go into the room and kill the 20 orcs?
    US: Yeah, we’ll kill the 20 orcs.
    DM: How’d you know there were 20 orcs?

  58. Jim says:

    I think instead of “Firth Post” it should read “Firth Poth.”

  59. Zorgwest says:

    To brassbaboon above (post 27). I knew I remembered reading about something like you were wishing for. A quick google search and there you go: http://www.penpaperpixel.org/tutorials/tabletopprojection/

  60. Luke (Thrythlind) says:

    Player 1: “I go through the curtain into the room.”

    DM: “You see a 50′ x 50′ room with nothing in it aside from the door at the end of the hall.”

    Player 2: “I go through the curtain into the room.”

    DM: “You see a 50′ x 50′ room with nothing in it aside from a door at the end of the hall.”

    Player 2: “Wait…” *points to Player 1*

    DM: “You see a 50′ x 50…”

    Players: “Everything in this room is invisible, isn’t it?”

    DM: *archs eyebrows innocently*

1 2

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