Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Retrospective: Monster & Treasure Assortment

The cover to the left is from the 1980 edition of the Monster & Treasure Assortment, which is in fact a compilation of three earlier sets published by TSR between 1977 and 1978. Taken together, these sets provide 100 monsters and 100 treasures scaled for dungeon levels 1 through 9, the idea being that a referee could roll percentile dice in order to randomly stock his dungeon. While this might sound like an uninteresting product, it's actually a rather fascinating one, at least from a historical perspective.

One of the reasons I find it so fascinating is that the 1980 edition, which is the one I own, doesn't just compile the contents of the three sets from which it's made; it revises -- selectively. Consider that, when it was first released in 1977, there was OD&D, the AD&D Monster Manual, and the Holmes Basic Set. While there's a high degree of compatibility between these three variations on D&D, they're not identical to one another. By 1978, when the later installments of this series was released, the AD&D Players Handbook was available, adding yet another possible source of rules variations. The 1980 compilation predates the release of the Moldvay Basic Rules, but, looking through the monster and treasure listings, you'll see entries that seem to reflect the contents of Moldvay. In the end, it the Monster & Treasure Assortment seems to use a hodgepodge of rules sets rather than any single one.

This jumbled character is apparent too when you look at, for example, the format used in the monster entries. Each of the monsters has an abbreviation of "AL" followed by a number. According to the book's introduction, "AL" is attack level and it's THAC9, that is, the number needed by the monster in question to hit an unarmored opponent in OD&D and its descendant games (but not post-PHB AD&D). Saving throw entries are clearly Moldvay-derived, as there are references to racial classes. But then there are also references to monsters like Type I and Type III demons, multiclass halflings, and Will o' Wisps that once again make it clear that the Monster & Treasure Assortment was never fully updated in 1980 to a single, consistent rules set, instead being a mixture of elements from several different games.

Now, I don't think this hampers the utility of the product at all. I've gotten lots of use out of this book in my Dwimmermount campaign and I used it for years beforehand. Still, it makes one wonder what TSR was thinking when they released it. My suspicion is that the growing popularity of D&D demanded that the company release product -- any product -- at a prodigious rate in order to keep up with demand. This resulted in some earlier materials being re-released under new covers since there simply weren't enough new materials to sell at this stage. Three decades later, we sometimes forget how big D&D was and I have little doubt TSR was caught as flatfooted by this turn of events as anyone.

When I first bought this product, I honestly didn't notice that the book didn't line up consistently with any single version of D&D. I spoke many "dialects" of the game and could freely translate between them. Indeed, my own campaigns used a mixture of rules from Holmes, AD&D, and Moldvay. We (largely) didn't see them as hugely different from one another mechanically and freely used products intended for one with the others. Nowadays, I actually find the quirkiness of the Monster & Treasure Assortment charming. I also think it's a testament to just how similar all these descendants of the LBBs really were -- much like the clones of today.

7 comments:

  1. My post on M&TA from early last year is over here. I do find the product to be more crippled for my purposes, because the stats critically leave out the Hit Dice (and less keenly, damage) scores. This means I can't roll my own hit points (really necessary if number appearing changes), look up to-hit or saves tables, or compute XP awards.

    You can sort deduce it from the saving throw stat, but still, this pains me. So close to being very useful.

    Also, my post today is coincidentally related.

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  2. The 1977-78 M&TAs are straight OD&D with no Holmes or AD&D references (except, oddly, a single entry for Otyughs in the Level 6 list in Vol. II) -- it does, however, contain monsters from Supplements I-III, various SR and TD issues, and even troglodytes from "Lost Caverns of Tsojconth," as well as a bunch of giant animal-types that weren't previously statted out (and whose stats don't necessarily match what eventually appeared in the AD&D MM).

    Another noteworthy thing about these tables is how generous they are with the magic items -- even the low-level treasure lists contain some pretty significant items (Manual of Puissant Skill at Arms, potion of cloud giant strength both on the level 1 list), and the items are really piled on in the higher level lists, with as many as 5 & 6 items in a single hoard (and powerful stuff too - mace of disruption, 2 swords with wishes, 2 decks of many things). The 1980 version backed away from a lot of that (and, at least IMO, killed some of the flavor -- plus they took out some of the art, which is an even bigger sin since the M&TA was illustrated by my Big Three of TSR artists - Tramp, Sutherland, and Tom Wham).

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  3. (Just to say that I think your blog should emulate the look of the document in the illustration...)

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  4. Sounds like a really cool product. I'll have to keep my eyes open for that one.

    Also, why doesn't the spammer ever leave me with such cryptic remarks?

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  5. Delta,

    Serendipity is an odd thing! It's even weirder because I almost considered writing about the dungeon geomorphs instead but decided not to because I no longer own a copy of the product.

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  6. Yeah, the Monster and Treasure Assortment is a quirky product.

    I guess the Attack Level, as described in the book, is almost like THACO.

    Overall, it seems to me that the book is a weird hybrid product.

    OR TSR didn't know either AD&D or D&D would succeed?

    Or was it just plain bad editing?

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  7. Or was it just plain bad editing?

    Hasty editing in any event. As I guessed in my post, I think TSR just pushed the compilation out the door so they could have some "new" product and the result is somewhat slapdash from a mechanical point of view.

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