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DM of the Rings LVI:
He’s Going to Tell

By Shamus
on Friday Jan 26, 2007
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Gandalf not dead. Long boring tale about the fight with the Balrog.

Players usually get their quests from very powerful NPCs. If the NPCs weren’t powerful, then players might just be tempted to save themselves some trouble by killing the NPC and taking the reward. Besides, who wants to work for some weakling nobody?

But since quest-dispensing NPCs are powerful, it naturally leads the players to ask them, “If you’re such a badass, why don’t you go do it yourself?

Good question, really.

Comments (100)

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  1. Gahaz says:

    “Don’t call it a comeback!”

    Gandalf’s opening line says “I have come though fire…”

    Perhaps its “through fire…”

  2. James "Dairyllama" says:

    I know the feeling. We once had a level 17 wizard send us on a level one campaign to clear a small house of magical creatures. Very odd. I always try to get rich weak people with BIG bodyguads to give them quests, or make some excuse for someone needing something done but, politically, not allowing people to know it was them who had it done. However this always leads to my players trying to blackmail them for keeping quiet. Sigh, why do most of my players take evil characters?

  3. Moridin says:

    @#54: You’re dead wrong about Vetinari. He may not appear to be physically powerful, but he is a trained assassin. As has been shown in the books, assassins are among the best trained fighters in the Discworld.

    • WJS says:

      Actually the books are inconsistent on that point. Some portray the assassins as master swordsmen, but some make the point that one doesn’t need to be a swordmaster to sneak into someone’s room while they’re asleep and stab them. A rogue, for example, only has second-tier attack bonuses and low hit dice, yet make far better assassins than fighters.

  4. Andrew Jensen says:

    My players end up usually managing to kill all the NPCs I have to help them, even if they are immensly powerful and necisary to the quest. They usually find other uses for the NPCs, like using their corpses to detect traps in corridors… sick PCs…

  5. Llasnad says:

    Powerful people are always countered by other powerful people. The greatest wizard in Forgotten Realms, Elminster, has equally powerful enemies watching his every move. If he moves to do something directly, they will be there to counter, and strike at his back. That is why they send the low level PCs to do low level work, they arent being watched by the other lvl 20 NPCs.

  6. Maladjester says:

    I have plans for a 4th edition campaign where the PCs do nothing but clean up after the exploits of the world’s mightiest band of adventurers. Sure, these ubermenschen slew the elder dragon in the mountain to the north, but fear of the dragon was the only thing holding the goblin tribes back from overrunning the valley, so now the rookie PCs have to stop them. Thanks to their comically powerful magic items, the ubermenschen also managed to take every last molecule of the uncounted thousands of pounds of wealth out of the dragon’s lair. Now there are greedy treasure hunters swarming the hills and towns. They are finding nothing, and getting angry about it, so the PCs get to defuse that, too. When the PCs get to the next city, someone assumes THEY are the ubermenschen who killed the dragon, bringing all manner of complication and hardship. And so forth.

  7. DogXogMog says:

    I have used the solution of “Oh yeah well I would but since I’m so powerful I have even greater matters to deal with so I’m recruiting you to take care of this other badass (but easy for me) quest while I do”

  8. Robin says:

    Actually, the best answer a powerful NPC can give to the question is, “Do you want the gold or not?”

  9. peruses says:

    Methinks a lot of us here miss the point, as a GM when I want to railroad I don’t bother with subtlety.

    gm: a chasm opens under your feet as you are having breakfast with your pals.

    players: don’t we get saving throws?

    gm: of course

    player1: i fall
    player2: Ifall
    Player3: I leap to saftey
    player4: I fall

    gm to player three: you hear player one exclaiming what a huge pile of gold he landed on

    player1: I didn’t say that

    gm: your right and shuddap your out of the frame right now

    player3: allright being a gready bastid I jump in th hole

    gm: very well you find yourselfs in a dark passage suronded by rats two of the rats have pushed a chesboard into the small patch of light and are setting up peicescarrying them one by one from some dark corner in their mouths

    players: WTF??

    from this point there are multiple exit stategies that will work if my players work at it a bit and a couple ways to die, but they are going to have to face the pshyionic rats who want to play chess with them.

    like anyone who writes fantasy understands nothing is too unlikely to make a great story the trick is to suck you PC’s into a position where they have to respond then handing them their freedom back, in a framework where you can wing it with any off plot stuff they throw at you.

    of course new players do tend to end up going through a few sheets of paper with me before they get the point that I don’t mind killing PC’s, and that starting fights is not a survival trait

  10. Serrith says:

    Huh. I was always given the reason that I got more XP and loot from doing the quest then from just killing the NPC and looting them.

  11. Robin says:

    “I want you to go to the black swamps of Telgar to investigate why people are disappearing there.”

    “Don't you have a squad of extremely powerful ninjas rumored to be the best in the world at that sort of spying?”

    “Yes. I'm sending you in to investigate what happened to them.”


    In a Flashing Blades campaign, I had Richelieu invent a series of missions that took the party all over Europe because, while their success rate was excellent, the collateral damage was too high (chateaus set on fire to erase clues, riots begun to distract the authorities, etc.). Richelieu finally concluded that he wanted that level of chaos and destruction to take place elsewhere than France.


    I have had good success with the following:

    The characters are hired by a Great White Wizard to sneak into the Black Mage's castle to steal the Ruby of Power in his throne that is the source of his power. After they go through the traps, monsters and other dangers outside, they have to make their way through the guards and castle traps, finally arriving at the throne room, to find the Great White Wizard calmly sitting and holding the ruby.

    PC: “If you were coming here, why did you hire us?”

    GWW: “To take all the risks, of course. Once the Black Mage's full attention was bent on killing you, I had no trouble slipping in.”

    PC: “Why didn't you at least tell us?”

    GWW: “Because the Black Mage can read lower-level minds. Why do you think you wound up facing every minion he had?”


    Actually, the best answer a powerful NPC can give to the question is,
    “Do you want the gold or not?”

  12. Reket says:

    First of all, not all NPCs giving quests must be powerful. A mayor of a city, a rich merchant or a important politician – all of these are people who would by willing to hire PCs, and not to go on a mission themselves. Even evil PCs probably wont kill them if they dont want to be outlaws for the rest of their lives.

    Second thing: sending a powerful NPC with the PCs is usualy a bad idea. He’s not going to be helping them, but doing everything for them. Why? Because anything they encounter is going to be on their experiance level or on his. They can’t possibly fight his enemies, but he has no problem with theirs. I’v been on a few sessions like that – very bad sessions.

  13. Joe says:

    I’ve always used quests in the “job” form. The game becomes pointless if the only objective is “I don’t know, kill stuff?” So I’ll have some merchant who wants us to protect his caravan, or a wizard who wants us to get rid of a devil he summoned, or a king who wants us to steal something from an “ally”…you get the idea. Or sometimes it’s just a matter of “You’ve heard rumors of a great treasure, guarded by devious traps, terrible monsters and at least one locked door so Gary can feel special.” “Woo! I get to PICK LOCKS!!!!!” “Yes, Gary, we know. Rogues do that.”
    Why don’t the players just kill the quest giver? First, because if the quest giver has any sense at all they don’t just walk around carrying a pile of money. Second, Rule of Law. We may be high-level fighters, but so’s the city guard, let alone the royal guard. Third, which unless they’re all Chaotic Evil rogues most competent players aren’t even going to try. They’ll play by the social rules because otherwise the game is just plain stupid.

  14. Joe says:

    I don’t know why I said “which unless.” It made little sense.

  15. Trae says:

    In the game I play in, our primary “employer” of sorts is the king and queen of the country in which we live. They are epic level, and used to be adventurers themselves. The reason they don’t go out and do the jobs is because they do have a country to run. They haven’t even directly rewarded us for our efforts, other than naming us Knight Protectors of the Realm and letting us have a discount in the markets. Everything we have kept for ourselves was taken from our enemies or purchased.

    In fact, most of the horde of the only dragon we’ve met (and subsequently slayed) was actually given to the kingdom and spread among our allies. Even then we had to be careful about that so it didn’t destabilize the economy.

  16. Connorchap says:

    I guess the best way to handle this problem is to take into account the different types of “power”. An NPC can hold a LOT of power without having a single magic item, or even a base attack bonus, so long as they’re some aristocrat who owns a castle and a bazillion gold pieces. That’s the perfect person to hire out the PCs: a powerful politician or noble who won’t get his hands dirty, but could totally get the PCs arrested if they tried to cross him. It’s worked for me so far; players seem to be just fine with that, and love weaseling their way into getting paid more for their work.

    I’ve tried the high-level wizard employer, too. It … didn’t work. Just a stupid idea, really. Don’t go that route.

    PS. The descriptions at the bottom of each comic are just as good as the comic itself! You’ve doubled the awesome by taking advantage of the medium! YOU ROCK!!

  17. joesolo says:

    lol, so true the last panel

  18. Mr Gask says:

    Whenever a player asks why the badass NPC is not doing the quest themselves, you can always reply with the tried and true “because he is so excellent, Lord Norris has better things to do, and leaves the easy/mundane/this quest to you.” It explains the situation, with the added bonus of hopefully letting the players know how little they actually matter in the grand scheme of things.

  19. Matt says:

    The solution is always some caveat prophecy or curse.

    Or that the questgiver is lazy as all get out and can’t be bothered when he can pay others to do it for his amusement. I’m gonna go with that one.

  20. WJS says:

    You could always go the Sarda from 8-bit theatre route. Sure, the Uber High-Level Wizard could do the job himself, but that would be boring. Bullying or bribing a bunch of low level schmucks into doing it for him, on the other hand, gets him hours upon hours of entertainment in front of the scrying pool. If your players are the kind that would seriously consider killing a questgiver for the loot, give them an UHLW as twisted as they are.

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  22. Tom says:

    It is will not fortitude against sleep ;)

  23. Lucy says:

    Haha this is brilliant! Miss these comics!

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