Posts Tagged ‘treasure


Gold pieces are absurdly huge: do you like it that way?

Each of these coin sandwiches is the size of a single D&D gold piece; shown next to a US penny and nickel for comparison. Click picture for link to waysoftheearth's explanation.

Do you prefer a silver standard for your fantasy economy, such that gold pieces are more valuable and the weight-to-value ratio of a treasure hoard is much reduced? Or do you like the situation in OD&D where gold pieces are huge and encumbering, and hauling a valuable treasure out of the dungeon is a difficult endeavor?

richardjohnguy, aka richardthinks, has a characteristically funny and erudite blog post about historical coins, some of which are almost as big as 1/10ths of a pound, some of which are even larger. But it’s clear that most coinage in the real world is nowhere near as outsized; here we’ll let the equally erudite and analytical Delta’s D&D hotspot give the rundown.

As part of thinking about Adventurer Conqueror King, I’m trying to decide which is more important: historical versimilitude or fidelity to the game’s legacy. Here is a comparison of what each implies:

Implied Setting

  • Historical: Common people and ordinary commercial transactions use silver pieces similar in size to most modern or ancient coinage
  • Legacy: The ahistorical practice of coins being minted in huge discs reflects a fantastic world with premises like “Lawful societies follow the god’s standard for coinage, and coins are huge because the gods made them for their own hands”



  • Historical:  95% of the adventures written for fantasy roleplaying games will require some degree of conversion – at least changing gold pieces to silver pieces, and also increasing the proportion of low-value coins if it is desired to make the treasure hoard as difficult to carry as would originally have been the case. (Castle Zagyg is an exception written for the silver standard, I know, and I bet Harn is too.)
  • Legacy: No conversion is necessary, and the designer’s intent need not be considered – although after playing Jim Ward’s “The Pharoah’s Tomb” adventure whose summary is linked above I am certain that making huge treasures difficult to move is a deliberate design feature, it’s one I’m not usually aware of.

Continue reading ‘Gold pieces are absurdly huge: do you like it that way?’


pillaging by the numbers pt 2

Following up on Part I of the discussion, here’s a draft Mean Profit per Challenge Rating chart for the Moldvay Basic rules, showing gold per hit-die in a lair.  As a player, I want to know who to kill and what stuff I should take.

Avoiding any monsters which can murder you just by thinking about it, the juiciest targets are Dwarves (by a huge margin!), Troglodytes, Gnolls, and Hobgoblins.

Explanatory notes are at the very bottom of this post.  Expert Set monsters are a little harder to gauge, so I’ll do them later.

dragon white 6 12 2.5 0 30 H 50000 1666.67
dragon black 7 14 2.5 0 35 H 50000 1428.57
dragon green 8 16 2.5 0 40 H 50000 1250
dragon blue 9 18 2.5 0 45 H 50000 1111.11
dragon red 10 20 2.5 0 50 H 50000 1000
dragon gold 11 22 2.5 0 55 H 50000 909.09
dwarf 1 1 22.5 5.5 28 G 25000 892.86
troglodyte 2 3 22.5
67.5 A 17000 251.85
medusa 4 8 2.5
20 F 5000 250
shadow 2 4 6.5
26 F 5000 192.31
gnoll 2 2 10.5
21 D 4000 190.48
bandit 1 1 82.5 9 91.5 A 17000 185.79
hobgoblin 1 1 14 15 29 D 4000 137.93
giant rat 0.5 0.5 16.5
8.25 C 1000 121.21
Doppelganger 4 6 3.5
21 E 2500 119.05
carrion crawler 3 5 2
10 C 1000 100
orc 1 1 35 5 40 D 4000 100
lizard man 2 2 21
42 D 4000 95.24
wight 3 5 4.5
22.5 B 2000 88.89
owl bear 5 5 2.5
12.5 C 1000 80
ghoul 2 3 9
27 B 2000 74.07
rat 0.13 0.13 27.5
3.44 L 250 72.73
ogre 4 4 7
28 C+ 2000 71.43
elf 1 2 13 9 35 E 2500 71.43
halfling 2 2 12.5 4.5 29.5 B 2000 67.8
Were-tiger 5 8 2.5
20 C 1000 50
Were-bear 6 9 2.5
22.5 C 1000 44.44
harpy 3 5 5
25 C 1000 40
minotaur 6 6 4.5
27 C 1000 37.04
gargoyle 4 6 5
30 C 1000 33.33
thoul 3 6 5.5
33 C 1000 30.3
Were-boar 4 7 5
35 C 1000 28.57
bugbear 3 3 12.5
37.5 C 1000 26.67
gnome 1 1 22.5 15 37.5 C 1000 26.67
Were-wolf 4 6 7
42 C 1000 23.81
Were-rat 3 5 9
45 C 1000 22.22
goblin 1 1 33 17 50 C 1000 20
driver ant 4 6 14
84 (N/A) 1650 19.64
berserker 1 1.5 82.5
123.75 B 2000 16.16
neanderthal 2 2 25 12 62 C 1000 16.13
stirge 1 2 19.5
39 L 250 6.41
kobold 0.5 0.5 33 5.5 22 J 25 1.14

Couple observations:

  • Holy moly, Dwarves.  They really, really said bad things about your momma. Let’s get ’em.
  • Also: Giant Rats. Who knew?
  • Bandits have good treasure, but it’s only found in the wilderness, so the mean Number Appearing shoots sky high. They’re still pretty good targets though.  Leaders is an estimate only.
  • For similar reasons, Berserkers are a huge headache. According to the Mentzer challenge calculations, Berserkers have the most dangerous lair of all. Which probably points to the weakness of Mentzer’s approach, but hell: everyone feared the Reavers, now we know why.
  • The Halfling monster entry seems to suggest that most of the people in their village are non-combatants, so I’m only looking at the 2 HD militia members and their leader.
  • For the most part, the Treasure Tables as-written are for chumps.  If you want to get ahead in this game, the DM or the module has to hand you heaping spoonfuls of gold.

Explanatory notes:

  • Everything here is the mean average.
  • “Modified Hit Dice” reflects the Mentzer method described in this post.
  • “Number” is Number Appearing.
  • “Leaders” reflects any Hit Dice of leaders listed in the monster description.
  • “Lair Toughness” reflects (Number Appearing * Modified Hit Dice) + Leaders.
  • “Profitability” is the mean Treasure value divided by Lair Toughness
  • In Moldvay, wilderness lairs have five times the Number Appearing.
  • Your Dungeon Master’s mileage may vary.

the challenge of challenge ratings?

I must be a higher-level blogger than you to be using these rules

May 11, 2010: James finds Masters Set useful for first time in 25 years

In trying to figure out the most profitable monsters to raid, I got the bright idea to index the mean treasure values against the expected “difficulty” of the raid.  I made a stab at doing this, and have bogged down.  How do you determine how tough a bunch of monsters are?

Obviously this will depend hugely on the Dungeon Master, there aren’t really any rules in Dungeons & Dragons, there’s no such thing as an average party, etc. etc.  But from a player’s point of view, sizing up your opponents is a problem of immediate application, especially in a West Marches style game where players can zip all over the landscape looking for (or hoping to avoid) certain enemies.

Aside from the de rigeur objections, there’s a ton of data about how hard monsters are to fight, at least in comparison to each other.  We’ve got zillions of pages about various monsters, their hit dice and number appearing, their likely combat tactics, their special abilities and special defenses, and in some cases the conditions of their lairs.

My initial thought was to multiply average hit dice per average number appearing.  It’s simple and sensible enough for “normal” monsters, and even kind of informative.  For example, it suggests that a decent-sized lair of Orcs (35 @ 1 HD, plus about 5 HD of leaders; average gold per hit-dice of 100 gp) is considerably more trouble than a typical lair of Ogres (7 @ 4 HD; average gold per hit-dice of 71 gp), but more profitable too.*

Obviously the trouble would be how to account for special abilities.  A Dragon Turtle (1 @ 30 HD) in its lair is certainly far tougher than a gang of Neanderthals (25 @ 2 HD, plus some leaders) in theirs.

I’m tempted to use XP values (conveniently listed for each monster in Mentzer BECMI) as a measure of toughness, which is somewhat better but still less than ideal as there are all kinds of weird results in Mentzer.  For example, a 10 HD Red Dragon (AC -1, fire breath, three melee attacks, spells, flight) is worth 2300 XP, the same as a 13 HD Cyclops (AC 5, throw rocks, one melee attack, no depth perception).

Mentzer adopts a more convoluted approach in the Master Dungeon Master Guide, page 9, which I’ll simplify somewhat – feel free to seek out the source for fiddly details:

  1. Total up all the levels in the party.
  2. Total up all the monsters’ hit-dice. For each asterisk, add half the hit-dice.  So a Red Dragon (10 HD**) would be worth 20 points.
  3. Compare the total levels. If the monsters’ total comes to less than 30% of the players’, then the encounter’s a distraction which mainly bleeds a few resources.  If the monsters’ total is about 50% of the players’ levels, then the encounter is a decent fight.  If it’s 70% of the players’ levels, then the encounter will be quite challenging, requiring good play and some luck to overcome.  Up to 90% and it’s probably a climactic encounter which might skrag a character or two.  Much higher than that, the encounter may prove totally overwhelming.

For reference to any Red Boxers reading this, the Grey Company in Tavis’s White Sandbox game typically fields at least eight PC’s, probably average level 4.  This implies that we should be able to defeat that Red Dragon if we’re sharp.   I have my doubts about that, but we should be able to kick a lone Cyclops’s ass without much trouble, and that sounds right to me.

I’ll fiddle with the numbers and see if anything ends up making an acceptable amount of sense.

Anyway, in the meantime: what’s the best way to determine how hard a fight should be?

* I’m tempted to rate all profitability in “Orc-loads,” referring to the approximately 100 gp per lair-hit-die as a standard unit of measurement.  A single Kobold is 0.0114 Orc-loads.


pillaging by the numbers pt 1

They are excited because they found the perfect gift for Mom

Rather than spend time with my mom, I have gone through the B/X monster roster and cross-referenced with the treasure tables.  Tom Moldvay helpfully estimates the expected value of each treasure type (B45), which I’ll reproduce here.

Table Expected Value Critters
A 17000 (magic!) Centaur, Men (Expert set), Mermen, Bandit, Troglodyte
B 2000 Caelica, Hydra, Nixie, Berserker, Bugbear, Carrion Crawler, Ghoul, Halfling, Wight
C 1000 Blink Dog, Devil Swine, Hellhound, Treant, Gargoyle, Gnome, Goblin, Harpy, Lycanthrope (any), Minotaur, Neanderthal, Ogre (+1000 gold), Owl Bear, Giant Rat, Thoul
D 4000 Cockatrice, Displacer Beast, Dryad, Manticore, Mummy, Purple Worm, Troll, Gnoll, Hobgoblin, Orc
E 2500 (magic!) Cyclops (+5000 gold), Giants (any, +5000 gold), Gorgon, Griffon, Spectre, Wraith, Wyvern, Doppelganger, Elf
F 5000 (magic!) Basilisk, Chimera, Salamander, Vampire, Medusa, Shadow
G 25000 (magic!) Dwarf
H 50000 Dragon (any), Dragon Turtle, Sea Dragon
I 800 Roc
J 25 Kobold
K 125
L 250 Rat, Stirge
M 15000
N 0 (magic!)
O 0 (magic!)

Some caveats:

  • I’m only considering the “lair” treasure types
  • This chart only lists the expected value of by-the-book treasure.  YMMV.
  • The chart only mentions magic items if odds are more than 15%.
  • I also have calculated treasure-per-hit-dice-of-encounter, but I’m not sure how to present the data as there are several “special cases.”  Maybe later.

Anyway, with those cautions in mind, here are some points of interest:

  1. So . . . Dwarves, eh?  I hear they said bad things about your parents.  Let’s get ’em!
  2. Men have great treasure, but in the Expert set it’s usually found in heavily defended wilderness camps.
  3. Giants too have pretty good loot but, dang, they are Giants and their lairs have zillions of beasts.
  4. Of the usual suspects Troglodytes have the best treasure by far.
  5. A lot of dangerous monsters – Djinn, Efreet – have no treasure in B/X.  In fact, treasure is generally better among the Basic monsters than in the Expert set.
  6. Treasure Type C is a headache.  Either the critters have lots of Hit Dice or enjoy significant special abilities, or the pushover critters are extremely numerous.  Either way it’s a fair amount of work for pretty meager reward.
  7. Treasure Type F seems to be largely reserved for critters that can one-shot your sorry ass; even Chimeras and Salamanders are pretty tough.
  8. Several of the sea monsters have pretty good treasure, but how are you going to collect it?
  9. A lair of regular ol’ Rats has, on average, 10 times more treasure than a lair of Kobolds.

Trinkets Ahoy!

Of course, all treasure is not in precious metals or rare or finely made substances. Is not a suit of armor of great value? What of a supply of oil? a vial of holy water? weapons? provisions? animals? The upper levels of a dungeon need not be stuffed like a piggy bank to provide meaningful treasures to the clever player character.

—Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide

Old-school adventures are full of junk. Treasure troves don’t just contain precious metals in thousand-coin increments! There’s all sorts of other valuables: furs, furniture, jewelry, silverware, casks of wine, wheels of cheese, and any number of other knick-knacks, many of questionable value.

This smorgasbord of variably-valued valuables serves two functions. The obvious one is verisimilitude; an interesting array of treasure helps make clear where the dungeon came from and gives a sense that the treasure is there for a reason. But many old-school play groups aren’t concerned with simulating a living world! So why should they bother?

Such groups can get mileage out of the other reason, which is that unusual treasure poses a challenge for the players. Any dunce of an adventurer knows to take the gold coins and leave the copper ones. But which is more valuable, the silver-chased coffer or the mahogany chair? The fancy porcelain serving dish or the collection of scrimshaw? You can only carry so much, so what do you take and what do you leave to be despoiled by the dungeon’s other denizens?

More importantly, unless the DM adds a selection of minor valuables, the major ones shine forth as blatantly as diamonds on black velvet. If every trove contains nothing but gold, gems and jewelry, the moment the PCs find a carpet, censer, girdle, horn or mirror, they’ll know it’s some sort of miscellaneous magic item. Don’t just give the show away with such transparency. Make them use precious spell slots to prepare detect magic!

Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2023

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