Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Treasure by Monster, or Treasure by Dungeon Level?

D&D and Rolemaster, the systems I'm most familiar with, place treasure by monster type. The various retroclones I have seen either copy the system exactly, or rename it and move its bits around ("Hoard Class" in Labyrinth Lord, for example).

The basic idea is, certain monsters have certain types of treasure, regardless of where you find them. But generally, the really powerful monsters are found deeper down in the dungeon. So you go deeper, fight tougher monsters, and get rich if you survive. But what the monster is, and how wealthy it is, is more important than where it is. A dragon on level one is still going to have "H" type treasure.

Video games, even pretty early ones, tend to tie rewards to location more closely. You find more money and more powerful magic items in the final dungeon than the first one, or deeper in the big dungeon, or closer to the end of the story.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy
doesn't have a treasure system per se. It has a whole random treasure generation system, but not one that decided how much is where, or what monsters have what treasure. It is left up to the GM, although it does provide some guidelines on what giving a PC a certain amount of treasure can mean, in terms of real in-game power.

So as the GM, with my own ideas of how my game should go, I pretty much had to decide how to hand out treasure myself.

Instead of deciding what monster gets what treasure, I simply decided the deeper you go, the more treasure there is.

The deeper you go the tougher monsters get, too, but it's the level of the dungeon (either in a literal, physical sense or just as a definition of danger and reward) that determines what you get. Deep in the dungeon, there is more money. Near the surface and easy access points, less.

I've given bonuses and penalties based on the strength of monsters - a boss-level monster will likely be wealthier than fodder. I've also set the dungeon level both literally (level 3) and figuratively (this one should be tough, I'll up it by +2)

Once I figure out how much money they have, I can set the type of wealth based on the creature - gargoyles with gems, dwarves with gold, etc.

My system isn't ready for prime time yet - it's still in alpha testing with my own game.

It's worked out with both good and bad points.

The Good Points

- it's compatible with DF8, because all you need for that is a total to build up to.

- the deeper you go, the richer you get. Not only do monsters get tougher the deeper down you go, but the treasure gets more valuable. Not automatically - a bad roll can mean a poor find even pretty deep - but generally. Plus big hordes go from outliers on the bell curve to pretty common occurrences.

- you must go deep, and risk a long journey home, to get rich.

- it's easy to adjudicate. It doesn't matter what the monster is, just where it is and how tough it is.

Bad Things

- it's hard to be a rich guy living on level one. If you're close to the surface, you are unlikely to be wealthy. This means you can assume a tough target on level one somehow is a weaker version, hasn't had a chance to accumulate a horde, or has been mugged on the way down or something.

- It's easy to be a poor dragon. The lack of a direct tie to monster type means a dragon on an upper level of a dungeon is more likely to be poor than one on a lower level.

I deal with the reverse by scaling up monsters by level, so while a goblin down on level 10 would indeed be rich, it's impossible to roll up a goblin on level 10 anyway, so it's a non-issue. But it's not impossible to get easy foes with extreme wealth or nightmarishly tough foes with little or no wealth.

But as a basic approach to placement, it hasn't worked out badly at all. Go deep, fight tough monsters, and get rich.


  1. AD&D also places treasure by dungeon level, and since that's how I was introduced to D&D it's how I've always done it. It hasn't steered me wrong yet. Generally I work out the approximate total amount of treasure on a level before stocking, and then assign treasures and hoards to monsters as I go, but there are also some random tables for it in the DMG if you're looking for inspiration.

    1. The only AD&D tables I'm aware of that set treasure by level is part of the random dungeon generation system - table V.G. on page 171. Is there another for determining the amount found?

      Which is odd, really, because in typical AD&D fashion there is a whole system of treasure type by monster (A, B, C, etc.) which is specifically noted to be not used in dungeons. But I'd bet most people were like me, and used the treasure types. Moldvay D&D tells you outright to use the treasure types, and that's where I learned to play so we carried that right over to AD&D.

    2. Apparently not. I could have sworn there was a cool multi-table treasure generation system in there, but I can't find it again and I have no clue where else I might have seen it. Sorry.

  2. That's an interesting and sensible approach, especially when combined with Peter's note from a previous post that adventurers sometimes "miss stuff."

    Figure out what a total clean-out of a level would net in an ideal world, increase it a bit to allow for missed stuff, and then divvy up the loot to the various rooms, challenges, etc. If there's no monster in a room, guess it'll have to be a fiendishly clever trap.

    1. That's a bit too much work for me - I'd rather not calculate the ideal. I'm not sure what the ideal is, really, and how many rooms that's supposed to be for, how tough of monsters. I just went with "Is there a monster? Is there a treasure? Both?" and roll, with modifiers depending on how tough the monster is.

      Besides, "clean out" doesn't work in a megadungeon. You can't clean out my dungeon levels in one trip. Level one has something like 75+ rooms, and some of them have multiple keyed areas within them. There is easily over a hundred places to look. Other levels are bigger, others are smaller.

      Too much of "X players will search Y rooms and net Z treasure" as a base calculation seems like setting the results before the play.

    2. It's not very exact. In D&D, the ideal is enough treasure for the players to level up. You don't want the players to have to explore the whole level first, but you also don't want to have to write too much stuff that the players will never see. In play it all gets very unpredictable what with character deaths, hidden treasures, profitless expeditions, forays to lower levels and so on, so there's no real danger of setting the results before the play. It's just a useful benchmark.

      I don't know how GURPS DF works; if PC progression isn't tied to treasure the way it is in D&D then that method might not make sense.

    3. DF doesn't prescribe any specific way to determine XP; I use a "profitable trip" mechanic based on a method suggested in one of the DF books. But that's just me. So as long as the PCs are making a profit, it doesn't matter how much of a profit they make to increase their character power.

  3. I did some work on making a program to roll through Labyrinth Lord tables and see what sort of magic items and treasure an adventurer would make along the way. You can check it out on my blog.
    Ironically, I never use treasure tables in my games. I just eyeball it.

  4. DF doesn't have the concept of "levels" built in, of course, but it strikes me that it might do something similar by borrowing and expanding on BAD from the Action line. In addition to serving as a generic modifier as it does in Action, it could be a factor in a formula for how much treasure a given monster has. Going with BAD rather than "level" also makes it sound a bit less silly when talking about outdoor adventuring.

    There's still more work to do if there were to be a treasure system rather than just an item generation mechanic, of course. Maybe when that cybertank gets out of the way...

    1. I like the idea of that. Once the ogre moves out of the way, let's compare notes!

  5. Why would an orc on level 10 have more treasure than an orc on level 1? It would seem to me that if an orc was on level 10 then the level 10 monsters would steal his loot and he would likely have no treasure. On level 1 an orc would have a fighting chance to keep his treasure IMO.

    1. I address that: "so while a goblin down on level 10 would indeed be rich, it's impossible to roll up a goblin on level 10 anyway, so it's a non-issue."

      You just can't get a weak, rich creature on a deep level if both monsters and wealth scale up by level.


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