27
Jul
11

OD&D provides chunky experience rewards

And now a return from the heady thoughts of domain- level campaigns and estimating the cost of the accountant-hirelings you need to manage your riches. Let’s go all the way back to the first level dungeon and wrestle with experience gain in OD&D. Is it too slow? For monthly games it can literally take years for a party to build to mid-levels.

I wondered what the rules-as-written allocation of experience might reveal or confirm about the rate of advancement in dungeons, hoping it would help me decide if slow advancement is a problem (for me) or not. The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures gives guidance on stocking a dungeon on pages 6 – 8. Here is a rough summary:

Thoughtfully place a few important treasures (magical items and large amounts of wealth) in out-of-the-way locations, with or without guardians and traps. Then randomly generate contents of remaining areas. 33% of rooms contain a monster, with half the monsters having treasure. Of the remaining empty spaces, 16% have treasure (likely guarded by a trap or trick).

Let us imagine a dungeon with 100 rooms on the first level. Of the 100 rooms,

  •  X contain non-random, DM-placed treasures and encounters
  • 55 are empty
  • 11 contain treasure
  • 16 contain monsters with no treasure
  • 17 contain monsters with treasure

Expected treasure for a first level encounter is 52 gp with additional 5% chance each for jewelry, gems, and magic [1]. The expected value of each gem is about 233 gp [2]. The expected value of each piece of jewelry is a whopping 3,410 gp [3]. The distribution of treasures should look something like this [4]:

  •  X “important” treasures
  • 1 or 2 treasures with gold and jewelry, expected value 12,005 gp each
  • 1 or 2 treasures with gold and gems, expected value 887 gp each
  • 25 treasures with gold, expected value 52 gp each

This is a key element of the by-the-book DNA shaping am exploration-based game. Your party only levels by finding hoards; you find hoards through exploration and discovering out-of-the-way areas.

The rules promote periods of slow experience gain characterized by exploration, mapping, and retreat, followed by a big payoff when you find the occasional hoard. If your character is not present during the big payoff, you lose out. If this is seen as a problem there are obvious workarounds: make the average treasure bigger and reduce the size of hoards. But consider how else that may effect the feel of the game and behavior of players.

[1] See pg. 7

[2] Ignoring the specified 1-in-6 chance for each gem to be in the next higher category, because.  I am using the gem and jewelry tables from Monsters & Treasure pp.39-40.

[3] Look! We found a Bracelet of Leveling!

[4] This distribution provides about 19,350 experience from treasure, about enough to level a party of 5 to second level (assuming a 50% death rate along the way and other lost exp). If we assume an additional 6,000 exp from monsters (17 encounters plus wandering monsters) the level offers about 25,000 before the DM’s specially-placed important treasures are counted. And this is a 100-room first level; a similar 50-room first level would provide 12,500, etc.


7 Responses to “OD&D provides chunky experience rewards”


  1. July 27, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    See below for a clarification by Daniel Boggs, aka aldarron, about gem categories which I also found hard to understand:

    “Usually, it seems to me, when Gygax reworks something of Arnesons, he improves it, but Gygax often had problems with expressing himself clearly. In this particular case, Arneson’s approach seems better to me, and is certainly easier to grasp. Here’s the quote from his playtest manuscript.
    “Gems:
    For base value of gems roll one die.
    1 = base 1000gp,
    2 = base 500GP,
    and 3- 6 = base 100GP.
    RIoll next for each stone, with all 1’s moving the stone to the next higher category (100’s become 500’s, etc.) Finally,re-roll all 1’s to see if any further increase upward takes place (further die rolls of 1). Do this until there are no more 1’s . Gems increase in levels of 100, 500, 1000, 5000, 10000, 20000, and 50000.”

    Daniel has a great new blog talking about the stuff that’s hinted at in those tantalizing words “playtest manuscript”: http://boggswood.blogspot.com/

  2. 2 James N.
    July 28, 2011 at 3:28 am

    “But consider how else that may effect the feel of the game and behavior of players.”

    One effect of this style of play is to bifurcate the player community. If only one game out of ten matters, and you’re likely going to miss it at your current level of commitment, you either ought to step up your commitment or get out.

    Like continuity-rich superhero comic books, it’s a style that encourages obsessive behavior while making it hard to sustain a casual level of commitment.

    Being obsessive about Dungeons & Dragons is an awesome thing, but it’s not for everybody.

    At the level of the game fiction, this type of thing really rewards divination spells and secret-door-detection. It probably does other things too, but I’m very tired right now.

  3. July 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    One thing I’ve found Red Box play encourages is extremes in exploration. Players who get lucky and hit a hoard on their first or second trip are very likely to write off the rest of the level as not worth it, too dangerous, etc.

    Likewise, players who get unlucky and find nothing but a silver spoon guarded by nine hundred ghouls often decide to go hunting elsewhere. And rightly so!

    Only the players who get a tantalizing trickle of success tend to go back for more–and those guys are the ones who do the stereotypical old school thing, mapping obsessively, looking for “dead” areas on the map that are likely caches hidden behind secret doors, leaving no stone unturned, etc.

    I’d say the biggest issue with the chunky treasure/xp rewards is setting player expectations. Players who cut their teeth on 3e or other games that reward showing up, rather than treasure hunting, are likely to be frustrated or confused when their PCs keep getting ground into hamburger while they doggedly return again and again to the Lost Mine, not realizing that the big hauls have already been made.

    One last thing I’d like to mention is how random treasure distribution can result in some seriously worthless dungeons. I rolled up a tomb guarded by a bunch of poverty stricken undead that was so dangerous compared to the pitiful amount of silver (silver!) they had, after a few disastrous adventures I finally broke down and told the players to cut their losses.

  4. July 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Also @James, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard you talk about how the game disincentivizes casual players like yourself. Do you find your low-level guys severely outclassed by the other PCs? My experience on the player side of the DM screen has been that Red Box characters are so fragile, a couple extra hit dice don’t matter all that much.

    However, that might be because our level disparity isn’t so great. The highest level guys we have are 5th or 6th, and IIRC, there isn’t even a change in fighting ability until level 4!

  5. 5 James N.
    July 29, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Cr0m, I think your first post put it better than I did.

    I am extremely competitive about some things. Dungeons & Dragons, for whatever reason, is one of those things. It KILLS ME KILLS ME KILLS ME that Oban’s magician is higher level and has badder stuff than I do. Of course, Oban has also shown up to, like, 3-4 times more games than I have. So this is justice! But it still makes me gnash my teeth because i keep thinking I can somehow catch up if I’m just lucky enough. But that requires me to attend more sessions, which isn’t always possible.

    (The key to success is to play in a small group with Adrian’s character. For some reason, the dude FINDS GOLD LIKE A FIEND, but only when nobody’s crowding him. But the only time I popped in on one of these things my guy got killed.)

  6. 6 maldoor
    July 29, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    James, you should rejoyce! Arnold is level 6 and reeeealy close to level 7. Xeno is regrettably level 5, although getting close to 6. Maldoor was close to level 7, but I sort of see him as dead. I may try to persuade Tavis to have Maldoor come back as an NPC charging 500gp per item to use his special magic-ID ability.

    > bifurcate the player community

    I think most folks have too much fun simply playing, whether they stumble on treasure or no. I do agree that lack of advancement after a really long time is a drag. I see this more like cr0m’s point about the tantalizing trickle. The example of the dungeon with randomly rolled sucky treasure only highlights the importance of the DM-placed super-treasures. What I did with Ran Lithby was to roll the random stuff and then place special treasures where they were needed. Or where they would feel like a logical reward (after you fight thru) all the bad guys.

    That upends the order recommended though…


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