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DM of the Rings CXXII:
Xtreme Moves

By Shamus
on Monday Jul 9, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


The players fight a Mumak.
Legolas tries to spice things up.

The players go back to stabbing the Mumak in the feet.

(I don’t have the sourcebooks handy, so I’m sure someone will jump in and explain how Animal Empathy doesn’t work that way.)

This really does seem to be how you’re supposed to fight huge epic foes: Stand underneath them and jab their toes until they die. Sure, you could use a bunch of feats to climb up onto the thing, Shadow of the Colossus style, but there wouldn’t be any advantage to do so. It would be hard, you’d have to roll the dice a dozen times, and in the end you’d just be doing the exact same damage, only higher off the ground.

Comments (193)

1 2 3

  1. SteveZilla says:

    In post 50, Dev Null Said:

    “At the request of a frustrated GM I once wrote a quick computer program to calculate the odds of every combination up to about 15 dice and put them in order of likelihood for him; he took one look at the result and switched us to a percentile system straight away.”

    Dev Null, I’d be very interested in that program, if you wouldn’t mind sharing. Is that a UNIX-ish flavor to your name I see?

  2. ItaiG says:

    Actually, if a player succeeded in like 5 grapple checks and climb checks and got all the way to the top of the gigantic creature, I would probably let him do something other then just “deal the same amound of damage, only higher”, like give the creature -2 to attack because he was distracted or something.

  3. Shell says:

    The rules for climbing on things that are 5X your size in DnD Are annoying, I made a specialist character who did it once but then it was mostly all he could do and it was to spite a gm who continuoustly gave us Colossal things to fight…

    When I run games I have a Hero Point System, they basically mean Ignore the rules and tell me what happens… They make this kind of situation possible without bogging people down in dice rolls and rules.. works wonders =D

  4. ash says:

    Roxysteve: the Oliphaunt is indeed also a Mûmak in the books. I refer thee to the 7th and 6th paragraphs from the end of ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’ in which the following quotations are written:

    “‘Ware! Ware!’ cried Damrod to his companion. ‘May the Valar turn him aside! Mûmak! Mûmak!'”

    “Fear and wonder, maybe, enlarged him in the hobbit’s eyes, but the Mûmak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth…”

    this is followed by a description of the beast, and its actions, and then “Sam drew a deep breath. ‘An Oliphaunt it was!’ he said”.

    So they are indeed the same animal. ‘Oliphaunt’ is the Hobbit name for them, and the Men of Gondor use the name ‘Mûmak’.

  5. brassbaboon says:

    It is conceivable that the term “Mûmak” in the book is actually meant as a proper noun and that this particular Oliphaunt was named “Mûmak.” In fact so famous was this Oliphaunt, that it was known as “The Mûmak”.

    Back to the single arrow and the dragon. The arrow in question was not described as an “arrow of slaying.” I was described as a favored arrow repeatedly recovered which never missed. Not as an arrow which could kill Galactus if fired. The arrow killed the dragon not because it hit a spot with no scales which had been injured, but because it hit a spot of only natural under-belly scales which was not encrusted with gold and gems. It is no less fantastic to believe that a single arrow could “disappear entirely” into the dragon’s chest, fired by a standard bow (Bard the Bowman had no Galadriel-created bow), than that Legalos’s magic bow, magic arrows and elvish knowledge could kill an Oliphaunt with a well-placed set of three arrows. So those who accuse Peter Jackson of absurd hyperbole have to accept that Legalos’s heroics were not more fantastic than that of the mere human, Bard, which was pure Tolkien.

    It’s fantasy folks. It’s not meant to be real.

    Is this any more fantastic than the idea that Luke Skywalker could fire a magnetic cable at the underbelly of the giant walker, zip up to the belly and slice it open with the lightsaber at just the right position to place a grenade and take it down?

    Oh, Luke had the Force on his side… Well, Tolkien makes it clear that Frodo and his friends were not alone in their battles either, and that their efforts were guided and aided by divine forces when needed.

    It just amazes me that people go to watch a movie with walking, talking trees, undead armies, a magic ring that can control the world, a demi-god villain who has no physical form, magic swords that sense the presence of goblins, and a wizard who returns from the dead, and they say “man, that elf-oliphaunt scene was just too far out to believe.”

    Back to the whole point to this post, that being that the movie is being done as a D&D campaign, I have to say that any DM who would not allow and encourage such epic behavior has no business being a DM. That’s why it’s a fantasy game, so that you can BE superheros. That’s the whole point of the endeavor. Be the elf. Be the rogue. Be the wizard. Take the risk, and if you pull it off, the bards will immortalize you. If you fail, then so what? You end up in the dust at the foot of the beast whacking it’s toes anyway.

    As I have said before, if we pretend this is a real game with will players and a real DM, I again side strongly with the player. Let me play my character, if I have the skills and can pull off climbing up the side of a moving giant elephant, then that’s my call, not the DM’s. Set the DC, I’ll roll the dice. We’ll see what happens. That’s what the game is all about.

  6. ArchU says:

    Mixing just a bit of common sense into fantasy games is useful but too much bogs it down in rules. That’s fantastic to include in the comic.

    A player recently surprised me when he wanted his human monk character to attack a giant serpentine creature flying about 30 feet above him. He leaped from the ground, activated an immovable rod at the height of his jump, and acrobatically flipped from the rod and onto the creature’s back.

    A jump check, a tumble check and a balance check later and it was done. Spectacularly so. It seems that monks are like that…

  7. Salen says:

    *snickers* That was awesome. But I don’t think he’d have to grapple it, just take a massive penalty to his Jump and Climb skills. But hey, thats just my thoughts.

  8. sexyskank says:

    You know, when i was fighting the huge elephant in our previous session.. it never occured to me taht was exactly what i was doing..

  9. Roxysteve says:

    Never mind this puny “trunk attack”.

    I want to see what happens when the mûmaking Oliphaunt rages and deals our fearless dimwit of an elf 10d20 + 847 points of trample damage.


  10. Peter says:

    Spelling thing: “in its side”, not “in it’s side”.


    Love the comic!

  11. Shamus says:

    “its” vs “it’s” fixed.

  12. Isoyami says:

    Sorry, I just couldn’t pass this one up.

    #133 Brassbaboon said: “…Is this any more fantastic than the idea that Luke Skywalker could fire a magnetic cable at the underbelly of the giant walker, zip up to the belly and slice it open with the lightsaber at just the right position to place a grenade and take it down?

    I don’t mean to be pedantic, but as I recall from the novel, it was a mine, not a grenade. (A magnetic mine, I believe).

    As far as I know, mines are somewhat more powerful than grenades.

    But I totally agree with your main point, that it’s a fantasy for crying out loud. People (and the other assorted races) are SUPPOSED to do impossible, fantastic things.

    Defying the laws of physics is what makes it fun. ;)

    And ArchU (#134), that’s a pretty sweet use of an Immovable Rod. Did the monk get bonus points for it? :D

  13. Isoyami says:

    Gah, forgot to close the italics tag in my last post.

    Whoops, sorry.

  14. Dugald the Lexicographer says:

    We have one DM in our group that runs fights very mechanically. Everyone pairs up with a foe, and we all take turns rolling dice. It’s like a line of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots all duking it out until someone falls.

    I try to be more descriptive during combat, even if it’s just to give a location of hits and relative damage, like, “Your sword rips through his shoulder, staggering the burly orc.”

    As for unusual tactics, I encourage that in my players at all times. Anyone who wants to envision a daring maneuver to gain an advantage, even if it seems a little ridiculous, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. It leads to much more creative roleplaying from the players.

    For example … you’re fighting a gargoyle, but don’t have a magic weapon, so can’t penetrate his hide. Give up and stand by the sidelines until your comrades take him out? Or … whip off your cloak and try to tangle it around his head, giving your party a momentary advantage to exploit!

    If you never reward players for the creative ideas, they’ll dutifully become the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots for you.

  15. ArchU says:

    Isoyami (#140): I don’t recall! (It was only a fortnight ago – my memory is seriously that bad!). I’ll ask him – subtly – because I should have awarded it.

    Thankfully 3rd edition rules have a nicer version of the haste spell so he was able to activate the rod between two moves within the same combat round. I haven’t yet moved “up” to 3.5 edition. If I do I’ll be using only the core rulebooks because the expansions break the game rather efficiently.

  16. Dave says:

    I’m so thrilled… it’s fixed. It’s not its usual quality when its its are off.

  17. Laithoron says:

    65 Kerry Says:
    What was the name of the big o? I can't ever remember, but didn't it begin with an “m?”

    85 Deacon Blues Says:
    The Big O was a Megadeuce. Not sure how that relates here…

    Haha, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Ye not guilty!

  18. McSwiggan says:

    Standing on top of a colossal head with no means for the creature to affect him, to me it would not be unreasonable to grant Coup de Grace damage for the attacker.

  19. Obfuscato says:

    Mûmak, paddywhack, shot in the headbone,
    Leggo Lass goes walking home.


  20. M says:

    Didn’t seem all that impossible in the d20 system for Legolas to go elephant-climbing; a few Climb checks with penalties, take out the mobs riding on its back, Sunder the ropes holding the giant saddle on it, then take his time and get a nice Coup de Grace right at the back of the thing’s neck. (Not quite sure how Manyshot works with that, though.)

  21. M says:

    Ah, and sorry to double-post, but: vertebrates have a hole at the back of their head for the spinal cord to enter the skull. THAT’s where Legolas shot the arrows. You can feel yours yourself – that soft bit right under the curve of the back of your head, where your neck starts.

  22. mocking bird says:

    You have got to be kidding me – when did Legolas take his ‘anatomy of the mamaluk’ class?

    Not to mention, are arrows really strong enough to hold an elf’s weight? Quite a few breakage rolls there as well. This scene ranks up there on the ridiculuous scale with his sheild surfing stunt and his shoulder dislocation horse mounting maneuver. Bah – I hate elves.

  23. Logan says:

    That was good “I’ll just stab it like everyone else………Retarded!” Great job Man!

  24. Dragoonmac says:

    One time our DM threw a giant zombified tyrannosaur at us. Instead of just standing and stabbing toes, we had the barbarian make a break check on its leg. Yeah, that thing dropped quick to a raging barbarian with a bludgeoning weapon

  25. MD says:

    Er, not sure if anyone already mentioned it in the insane amount of posts but I can think of one clear advantage in climbing the Oliphant – it can’t step on you. In fact if you can keep your balance up there (which its probably safe to assume legolas can) you’d be pretty dam safe indeed.

  26. Seve says:

    Actually climbing on big monsters is more commonplace than one would expect as all big monsters have some sweet kill spots high up there. All it takes is one good climber and some other chars to distract that monster for few turns as one guy climbs upwards.

    Now that I type this it seems even more ridiculous than what it was when we have played that scenario many times over. Dumb gm’s.

  27. Ceredig says:

    Just wanted to say that my dwarven fighter did this to a huge ogre. Climbed up, whacked its head and stayed on as it crashed forward.

  28. daHammer says:

    Easy solution: when a player does something awesome- (such as VOLUNTEER to pay for pizza) they can earn 1 cool point- useable for something in game that requires a lot of die rolling but doesn’t affect the game- other than making the player look cool. Sure it the same as bribing the DM but it works- especially for the DM.

  29. T.K says:

    My homebrew system is meant for modern, human-scale combat, so it wouldn’t bend to this kind of encounter. GURPS, however, would. In fact, it would even make sense to try this sort of thing if you’re not encumbered, have an excellent Climb skill, Combat Reflexes and an unnaturally high Move. The skull hit location has a Damage Reduction value of at least 2 (for humans), with Mûmakil it’s probably more. However, if you aim at the base, you could bypass it and enjoy the gravy x4 wounding modifier and extra nastiness given to all skull hits that bypass DR.

  30. dyrnwyn says:

    I know someone who wanted to do that. He wanted to climb on top of a behir so it would be eisier to cut off it’s legs.

  31. skeevetheimpossible says:

    Actually Shamus if I was DMing I would award (secretly) the players pluses to hit and bonus damage if they were successful in mounting a large enemy in that way. The dice may say IF they hit but you as the DM decide where and how crucial that blow is. They rolled a 8 for dmg but if you said the attack was taken in the head I would not hesitate in adding at least 15 more points in dmg. Dont forget that as DM you are god

  32. MrRandom says:

    Yeah, when our party was fighting a massive squid thing, the rogues climbed up onto its eyes (which were apparently about as big as the table) and started stabbing them repeatedly. The DM decided that they got Sneak Attack damage, given that eyes are, y’know, vital points. Except that one of them rolled a natural 1 and not only missed the surface he was STANDING ON, but dropped his scimitar.

    Another slightly related issue is how creatures that big get Reflex saves. I mean, really…it dodges 50ft. to the side, or the whatever it is is going to hit some part of its body. Oh well =p

  33. Blackfox says:

    LOL Maybe it’s because he had to roll a 15 on a d20 to get the animal emptahy check XD LOL!!!!!

  34. Krogzar says:

    This comic made me hit a hill giant in his toe on purpose… I scored a critical so the GM told me I managed to miss his toe but incidently I chopped off the hill giants foot, hitting the main blood vessel of his leg and hence bleeding the giant to death.

    Yep a killing blow to his big toe with a critical. The GM felt he had to talk around it because of the improbability of killing something by chopping it’s toe off

  35. ERROR says:

    As a note, “Animal Empathy” is a skill, not a power. So, in Panel 2, please change “power” to “skill.”

    And, yes, I know I’m being nitpicky. I have 20+ levels in Nitpicker.

  36. Andrew Jensen says:

    I am also being nitpicky, but against Peter Jackson… A grown elephant could survive a bullet shot to the back of the head, thats how tough their skin and skull is. A mumak however would have such durrable skin that it could probably survive something like a shotgun shot to the head. Legolas’s arrows woud not kill the mumak, not even hinder it. It’s like shooting a rubber band into the back of a human, it might sting a small amount, but itreally would not effect you.

  37. Clinto says:

    You have been playing in games run by terrible DM’s my friend. When a person takes the risk to get into a position, one from which they can attack more critical/sensitive areas, then only a terrible DM would adhere to the same damage rolls. You poor guy.

  38. Wafflebob says:

    Actually I’ve done very well grappling and climbing large monsters. The trick is doing unusual things once you are up there. You don’t climb up them and then just chunk at them with your axe. Usually I use grapple/pin maneuvers. I once climbed onto a dragon and pinned one of its wings. Crashed the thing headfirst into a wall.

  39. MIDREALMDM70 says:

    The simplest thing –
    For each check required to complete the task add a bonus die to damage, as if the character had scored a hit.

    Assume the arrow normally does 1d8.
    Then if it required a jump check, two climb check, and a grapple check – then the character should do 5d8 (minimum).

    Maybe even an extra bonus die because the character is placing themselves at a lot more risk than just standing back and firing arrows at it.

    A DM should be willing to allow a character to be creative and use other skills in place of attacks on occasion.

    For Example: A character with Knowledge of Architecture might be able to bring down a support cullumn hitting an area with a huge amount of damage (requires Knowledge check and Strength Check)

  40. DenverT says:

    threw a gnome OC as a fight onto a dragon once… he was a theif so he had constant backstabz and also i got 1d6 improvised thrown weapon damage :P

  41. silver Harloe says:

    So, the book doesn’t describe Leggy-lass as doing amazing acrobatics, but the whole of Tolkien’s works basically lay out that elves are really old and really, really badass magical creatures. How do you translate such impressiveness to film, where you can’t simply say “he’s badass” but have to show him doing badass stuff?

    Hey, here’s an idea: do it by showing him doing really badass stuff. Far out crazy stuff that only someone with centuries of practice and magical powers could pull off.

    Imagine if humans retained their “25 year old bodies” for hundreds upon HUNDREDs of years? Think about how practice turns thought into reflex. It would be like the scene where Inigo, blind-drunk, was reflexively deflecting attacks he was barely aware of. Except 100x that. Once you’ve fully integrated some moves, you can build upon them as givens, teaching yourself new moves that no one would think of trying to learn without knowing everything before – like algebra becoming the basis for calculus. Leggy-lass has been at this stuff for so long, even the acrobatic equivalent of differential equations are a distant reflex he’s been building upon for longer than many European nations have existed.

    People are used to the D&D characterization of elves as spending centuries at level 1 unless they bother to go adventuring… reinforced by the Highlander stereotype of “well, he’s been around forever, so he’s a ‘little’ better,” but an immortal that keeps learning, that is nearly as old as all of recorded history should be able to pull of stuff like that practically as reflex. And that’s not even taking into account the magical nature of Tolkien’s elves.

  42. Sauron's toothache says:

    I figure the battle from the perspective of the giant creature.

    “Ack! Damn mosquitoes” *Fwap* Plotch!

  43. Squigley says:

    It was actually this comic strip in particular that got my friends and I to make permanent changes to our D&D rules. Now we incorporate targeted combat in which players (and enemies) can choose a limb to target rather than make a standard torso attack. Targeted attacks take a -2 to attack rolls, but if it hits, there’s a special effect attached. In general, attacking a humanoid creature in the arm will disarm them, in the leg will slow their movement speed, and in the head for extra d10 damage. It’s a great system. So, thanks for making D&D fun again for us!

  44. theSnark says:

    Actually, that’s how my band defeated a four-headed, lazer-shooting hydra.
    My friend decided to jump on the hydra’s back, a’la Kingdom Hearts. I figured he needed at least a sporting chance to not die horribly, so I rolled for assist and distracted the hydra’s attention. He succeeded in his jump, I succeded in distracting the hydra, then he rolled a critical. Dead hydra, and awed silence from the rest of the group. It was epic.
    Moral: Sometimes the DM is so impressed, he’ll let your crazy plan work for the sake of awesome.

  45. Techan says:

    I actually created some house rules for things like that. In the RPG Deadlands there is a called shot system which I modified for DnD. If you try to hit someone in the head or neck it’s a -4 to hit but it does 50% more damage, aiming for the arms? -2 to hit but if the enemy uses its arms to attack, it will take a -1 to hit for every 10% of its hp you take out that way up to a maximum of -5. (i.e. an orc with 10 hp takes 1 damage to the arm he’s at a -1 to hit, a wight with 50 hp takes 5 damage to the arm he’s at -1 to hit, etc.) Hit someone in the legs it’s a -2 to hit and for every 10% of their hp you take out this way it’s a -10% to their movement speed. It sounds like a lot of math, but when you get used to it, it makes battles and strategy a lot more fun sometimes.
    I once had an epic level barbarian wielding barbed chains climb the Tarrasque’s back, use the Two Weapon Rend feat with 4 called shots to its head, critical on one of them, hit with all of them, it was enough to decapitate it. (it had sustained significant damage before hand, but still it was pretty epic).

  46. Thom says:

    You’re just a tad bit off. Sure the elf could try all those acrobatic feats of agility, but by the time he got up there, killed one or two riders, cut the howdah loose and moved to shoot the mumak in the head, the two fighters below will have done *just* enough damage to take the thing down, thus making all the really heroic stuff a moot point. Nice try, and good effort though Mr. Elf, you get a bonus 25 xp for all that stuff…..

  47. Wilxy-x says:

    Since i skipped most of the posts, i don’t know if it has been mentioned yet:
    Animal empathy takes more than 1 combat rounds, 20 to be exact. thus it won’t work in combat.
    it also provokes AOO (if not, i house rule it in, just to keep players from talking to the enemy for 20 rounds, while they get chopped to pieces)

  48. Grom says:

    First off… Shamus, Great stuff! Late finding this, but have love it all the way through!

    Second…. Man, I feel sorry for most of you, you had to have some pretty bad DM’s and players. D&D… 1st; 2nd; or even 3rd… you can do pretty much anything you can think up. As long as you can explane it so the DM or players understand what your doing. I don’t understand the whole “It’s a fantasy role-playing game!” and then try to make real world rules govern how ya play. Man, no matter what system you play, if ya can think it up and explaine it good enough, then give it a shot. Worst that can happen is a “1”.

  49. TKDB says:

    I’m sure at least one person’s pointed this out already, but I don’t feel like digging through the comments to find it. So I’ll just say it anyway, redundancy be damned.

    I’m pretty sure those would be Climb and Balance checks to get up on the mumak, not grapple checks. Granted, you’d still need to make a lot, and they’d still be at a steep penalty, but…yeah.
    Though I guess it’s pretty well established that neither the DM nor the players in this comic are terribly “good”, per se…so it’s not terribly out of character for the DM to get this wrong.

  50. Nami says:

    I never got past the first movie, so I don’t know how he did it in the movie, but I will say something for Legolas’ plan, at least it was cool.
    However, he has to stab it in the toe like everyone else.
    With his 1D4 dagger…
    Would that even break the skin?

    (Wait, unless this comic WAS how he killed in the movie, in which case, AWESOME! I mean, yea it’s ridiculous, but I feel like Legolas was beyond help when he started shield grinding down stair cases while shooting people)

  51. WJS says:

    I would totally allow a player to try that. Mind you, it’s not going to be easy. Tumble to move into it’s space, a high DC climb check to get up a pitching, moving surface with poor handholds, a balance check to move to the head, and once he’s in position another balance check to keep his footing while he Coup-de-Graces it – standing on top of it like that, it can do nothing to stop him and counts as helpless. Naturally, failing any of the checks to get into position will cause him to fall, taking falling and trample damage.

  52. Bitz says:

    see if my players get creative like this, Ill give em bonuses to dmg n such because them doing stuff like this shows they are engaged in whats happening and thus, invested. plus you get kudos every time they tell the story of their kills for being a good dm

  53. […] who love to plan every single tactical detail of a combat and people who just want to do some legolas-style action without having to spend two hours throwing dice. I love both systems and I still play both D&D […]

  54. Edu the unaware says:

    I just discovered there is a coment section to this. I guess i{ve miss a lot of spot checks. Well, when fighting epic monsters a good dm would understend that some rules need to be bend. I have my Called shot system that leads to a more epic and realistic battle. Every part of the monter boddy has its own hitpoints and it drains a % from the total hp. Lets say an eye is the 1 % of the body, in a monster like that an arrow would not kill the beast. but the 1% of 1000hp is 10. 2 arrows well shot could blind a mumak. Naturally the monters can do the same thing. So if my players chose to use the epic combat rules they risk dying… like that guy that crit fail an alchemist fire toss and burn his best friend to death in about 2 rounds… cuz he failed putting out the fire. Good times lots of laugh-

  55. Sharnuo says:

    The ol’ toe stab is certainly how you fought Mumaks in the godawful “Third Age” video game. (The one for X-Box, not for Gameboy. The gameboy one was good.) Think Final Fantasy, but makes even less sense, has no interesting choices and is bastardizing a great literary work. Then think of something even less enjoyable and you have “The Third Age”.

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