Friday, May 21, 2021

Random Roll: DMG, p. 85

On page 85 of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, there's a section entitled "Experience Value of Treasure Taken." Though only four paragraphs long, the section contains a number of interesting details that I think are worthy of examination. To start, the section notes that all metal, gems, and jewelry should converted to  their total value in gold pieces in preparation for determining the amount of experience points gained. This is straightforward and uncontroversial. More intriguing is what follows next.

If the relative value of the monsters(s) or guardian device fought equals or exceeds that of the party which took the treasure, experience is awarded on a 1 for 1 basis. If the guardian(s) was relatively weaker, award experience on a 5 g.p. to 4 x.p., 3 to 2, 2 to 1, 3 to 1, or even 4 or more to 1 basis according to the relative strengths. For example, if a 10th level magic-user takes 1,000 g.p. from 10 kobolds, the relative strengths are about 20 to 1 in favor of the magic-user. (Such strength comparisons are subjective and must be based on the degree of challenge the Dungeon Master had the monster(s) pose the treasure taker.)

I honestly cannot recall ever reading this section of the DMG nor can I recall anyone using it. That said, it's not without precedent. Volume 1 of OD&D includes a very similar guideline and even Moldvay Basic suggests that the DM can lower the number of XP awarded if the encounter poses too little of a challenge. And, of course, the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons expanded on this idea to introduce "challenge ratings" to aid the DM in creating challenges appropriate to the level of the characters. To say that I was surprised to see this section in the Dungeon Masters Guide is an understatement – but then that's the point of this series: to shed some light on the obscure corners of AD&D.

Treasure must be physically taken out of the dungeon or lair and turned into a transportable medium or stored in the player's stronghold to be counted for experience points.

On the other hand, this guidelines is one I've always followed, though I'm not sure I'd ever seen it explicitly stated anywhere. More fascinating is the next paragraph.

All items (including magic) or creatures sold for gold pieces prior to the awarding of experience points for an adventure must be considered as treasure taken, and the gold pieces received for the sale add to the total treasure taken. (Those magic items not sold gain only a relatively small amount of experience points, for their value is in their usage.)

Again, I don't recall this rule and can't remember anyone ever using it back in the day. In retrospect, it makes the experience and sale value columns of the magic items in the DMG make more sense. A quick check of that section reveals that the gold piece value also doubles as the amount of XP gained for selling it. Very interesting! Even at my advanced age, I can still learn something new.

The final paragraph of the section takes the form of an extended note.

Players who balk at equating gold pieces to experience points should be gently but firmly reminded that in a game certain compromises must be made. While it is more "realistic" for clerics to study holy writings, pray, chant, practice self-discipline, etc. to gain experience, it would not make a playable game roll along. Similarly, fighters must be exercising, riding, smiting pelts, tilting at the lists, and engaging in weapons practice of various sorts to gain real expertise (experience); magic-users should be deciphering old scrolls, searching ancient tomes, experimenting alchemically, and so forth; while thieves should spend their off-hours honing their skills, "casing" various buildings, watching potential victims, and carefully planning their next "job". All very realistic but conducive to non-game boredom!

 Well said.

23 comments:

  1. What jumps out at me is "items (including magic) or creatures sold for gold pieces". It has never occurred to me that you could sell a monster and it would count for experience!

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    1. Several of the entries in the Monster Manual include gp value for eggs/fledgelings etc. Blink dog pups springs to mind.

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    2. slavery is profitable and a great way to tempt players into evil

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  2. That XP dilution passage sounds like the beginning of the end of the old-school XP-for-gold standard. In OD&D only monster-killing XP got diluted this way IIRC (or was all XP diluted by dungeon level vs. PC level?). But now, coming up with a clever way to steal the gold without fighting (or taking the gold away from weak monsters, which sounds like a great idea!) doesn't earn XP the way it used to in previous editions. Instead, we see the genesis of the idea that the only "legitimate" way to get XP is from fighting and killing "balanced" monster encounters.

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    1. The example in Men & Magic (OD&D Vol. I,) page 18, makes it clear that both monster and treasure XP should be adjusted in OD&D in much the same way as in AD&D.

      "[. . .] thus an 8th level Magic-User operating on the 5th dungeon level would be awarded 5/8 experience. Let us assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a troll (which is a 7th level monster, as it has over 6 hit dice). Had the monster been only a 5th level one experience would be awarded on a 5/8 basis as already stated, but as the monster guarding the treasure was a 7th level one experience would be awarded on a 7/8 basis thus; 7,000 G.P. + 700 for killing the troll = 7,700 divided by 8 = 962.5 x 7 = 6,037.5."

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  3. I used to convert gp to xp, but, after a while, I found it to be a pain, and I confess to being a DM who "balks" at the reasoning behind equating the two, so I tried a change: XP for defeating opponents as usual (as well as for keeping and learning how to use magic items), but specific XP for class-related actions eg XP for casting spells, using thieving abilities, etc. (and fighter-types get a multiple of the base XP everyone gets for defeating foes). So far, after many years, I haven't seen levels being inflated or deflated; PCs seem to be progressing at about the same speed as before I made the change. Haven't heard complaints from my players either.

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  4. I certainly never used any of this, nor did I play with any GM who did so. Monsters were worth XP when defeated (including being talked into allying with the party, or leaving an area to bother somewhere else), as were challenges like hazards, traps, puzzles. Most GMs (self included) awarded bonus XP for making difficult journeys, roleplaying with NPCs that resulted in the PCs being recognized for their skill or accomplishments, or anything that led to improved reputation. Gold and other treasure was for buying things, and magic items were for using, selling, or offering to NPCs as sweeteners in negotiations. Gygax's whole take on this is just plain alien to my experiences.

    That said, this is fascinating to me:

    "Treasure must be physically taken out of the dungeon or lair and turned into a transportable medium or stored in the player's stronghold to be counted for experience points."

    Imagine extending that so a PC's current experience total is always equal to their assets' cumulative worth. The loss of wealth (to theft, disaster, war, taxes, etc) would reduce your xp and effective level, perhaps after a brief delay (days or weeks or even months, maybe scaling up as level increased) to let you try to frantically recoup your positions. It wouldn't be one bit more abstract and objectively silly than Gygax's take on things, and it would go a long way toward explaining why monsters hoard treasure so aggressively - it's "levelling up" for them, too. No wonder dragons are so greedy and possessive, and so obsessive about recovering anything lifted from their hoard.

    Heck, Council of Wyrms literally did this for draconic PCs back in the day. Extending it to the whole universe would be easy enough.

    I could even argue for it being a realistic way to model the way many historical figures rise and fall repeatedly during their careers. Napoleon came back from Elba just at the time limit before he'd face a massive level down from losing "Emperor of France" status, but the xp he managed to earn back by reclaiming the throne wasn't enough to level him back up to full before Waterloo, and then he lost everything after being stuck on Saint Helena for too long and wound up dying of terminal xp deficiency as the world's best-known 0-level character. :)

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    1. I think this is a really interesting idea, and could be the basis for an interesting economy: jewels provide XP equal to their GP value to whoever is "attuned" to that jewel; it takes a day or so to "attune" a particular jewel. As you suggest stolen jewels result in loss of XP unless the jewel can be recovered before it is "attuned" to a new owner.

      For even more variety (though more work), make it so the jewels have the EFFECT of XP gain: some jewels grant extra HP, some grant extra stat bonuses, some provide bonuses to the caster (makes wizards able to cast a spell level higher, grants fighters an extra attack, make thieves better at hiding in shadows, etc.) This makes it easier to determine the exact effect of "losing a level", since skills / bonuses are tied to specific jewels. :)

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    2. @Dick I think you and Talysman (below) are onto something. Turning the gold won by fight or theft into a fungible form visible by the public is a ritual endowing it with talismanic power. Their belief is what matters!

      One born into high position is prone to being knocked off by the likes of Conan if they don’t prove themselves (they don’t get XP from the gold they grew up with). In the myths, the kings ARE high-level NPCs.

      For a fantasy example of leveling down in the way you suggest, consider what happened to Saruman. If one can lose levels by the touch of an undead, that implies they’re more than just an abstraction of experience as we know it.

      And no wonder royalty goes around with jewelry and adornments of precious metals and gems: the ostentatious display is for garnering the faith/belief of the masses and keeps the wealth needed to maintain one’s level close at hand.

      Did Gygax write anything like our host quoted above with respect to OD&D?

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    3. @Tony I quite like that gemstone idea. Could maybe extend it to other materials or objects as well. Maybe precious metals, etc, are precious because everyone (including monsters) intuitively recognizes their potential to be claimed as XP, but most folks are unaware or incapable of performing the ritual that causes the conversion?

      Whole idea reminds me a little of Glen Cook's fantasy PI novels (starting with Sweet Silver Blues) where the setting's powerful mages need silver to fuel their spells, making it valuable in both magical and mundane ways due to demand.

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  5. I don't remember ever awarding less experience points than the standard amount (i.e. 1 point for every g.p. value PLUS value for monsters). High level characters were generally hitting high level challenges in our games.

    RE Sale of Magic Items for Gold (and X.P.)

    We ALWAYS used this rule back when we ran AD&D exclusively. It was not only convenient, but important for high level play. Characters need so much x.p. after hitting 9th and 10th levels, and by that time you don't need all the +1 and +2 weapons you might find in the hands of lesser opponents. At the end of a session, stuff in the "sale column" would simply disappear from the campaign, gold awarded, and experience tallied. If you play with the AD&D rules (regarding expenses, training needs, tithes and taxes, etc.) that loot is necessary to keep the machine wheels turning. Plus the cost to resurrect dead characters and restore lost energy levels? You NEED that extra treasure as part of the game economy.

    I know it's fashionable to drop cumbersome mechanics but you do so at your own risk. And what's to whine about with the proliferation of laptop computers? We used to do all that with notebook paper and a calculator "back in the day;" these days I just populate a spreadsheet and finish the calcs while the players are grabbing a snack!
    ; )

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  6. Back when I first got the DMG in early 1982, I read through it religiously. Not everything stuck (probably most did not stick, immediately), but this rule was one thing that did stick, and I still stick to it to this day. It only makes sense; whether you defeated or circumvented the monster, the danger involved should be what guides the XP award, just as with the monster-based XP (though I've always given XP whether monsters are slain, captured, or driven off (via Morale or otherwise)), not just for monsters slain.

    But any 10th level adventurers who want to go slumming by slaughtering kobolds just don't deserve full treasure XP, anyway.

    I never got the ratio XP for monsters note, though, until much later, as I started with B/X rather than OD&D.

    Regarding XP for selling monsters, that was a big thing back in the day, and least in games I played. The MM and DMG have a veritable price list of monsters (by hit point), young and eggs. Lots of valuable monsters got the "subdual" treatment, not just dragons. Plus the live young and eggs were very lucrative, if you could get them back to civilization. The trade off in gold and XP almost made up for losing your own griffon or pegasus mount...

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  7. That's a lot of math and it sort of destroys the best part of GP for gold - the objective nature of the system. There's something similar for monster xp too if I recall. GP for gold is great but the vast sums required at high levels makes it pretty hard to have a coherent economic system for your game world especially when medieval period high end items like heavy warhorses and full plate would net you maybe enough to get to 2nd level.

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  8. Most people running AD&D give too little monetary treasure, and too much XP for it. How I find AD&D to work best is when all the treasure that DMs normally give out, that is usually legitimately on a 1:1 challenge/value ratio, remains.

    But then more treasure that isn't all that challenging to obtain is also given out, and there's very little XP awarded for it. But the key is it still spends the same - it can still be used for training, hirelings, spell research, sage fees, ship hiring - whatever.

    Most DMs keep their campaigns too cash-poor because they insist upon 1:1 GP:XP, but then also don't want their campaigns to advance too quickly - so PCs barely have enough money to train, and little left over to create within the spheres of creation left to the players.

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  9. Bet the selling a creature thing is mostly about the rules for subduing dragons.

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    1. The AD&D Monster Manual lists several creatures that can be caught and sold, like gryphons.

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  10. I arrived at the same conclusion as the last paragraph, but via a different route: since characters don't gain XP from practicing their abilities, I interpret XP and levels as being more about how others view their abilities than about what they've learned.

    This makes XP for treasure brought back to town make perfect sense: when the townsfolk see the players flashing a lot of gold, jewelry, gems, and magic items, they are more impressed than if they come home with a handful of silver pieces. And if a wizard comes home and brags about the kobolds he killed, that's a lot less impressive than if he brags about killing a dragon.

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    1. That would tie back in to my (somewhat tongue in cheek) idea about PCs leveling down if they suffered major reverses (financial, political, or social) that damage their reputation.

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    2. I once wrote up rules for temporary level penalties when moving to a new area (because those people have no opinion about the PCs yet.) And rules for bards using song to boost or ruin someone's reputation. But these were all temporary adjustments, not actual level changes.

      On the other hand, I see undead level drain as being an actual reduction in level because the character is shaken by the experience. They need tor regain confidence to function at the level they once had.

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    3. I wonder if anyone's tried explaining undead level draining as them attempting to come back to life instead of just being anathema to it and hating the living? Maybe some of them are desperate and driven to return to life, and if they consume enough life energy (ie levels) they can do so? In a universe with Raise Dead and similar magic it doesn't seem implausible for lingering spirits and the like to do something similar "naturally" without casting spells.

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  11. Loose gems (why so many loose gems in these worlds?), though "uncontroversial" as James says, have often posed a conundrum for me as a DM:

    If I reveal their exact market value in the darkness and grime of the dungeon, that breaks verisimilitude. If I don't, keeping that info to myself, I then must track each find until the PCs are safely back in town ("red gem from room 35, 18gp").

    Once they are safely back to civilization, the PCs will likely wish to keep some of the gems, being far more portable as wealth than piles of platinum. But we must find the market value to assign xp in any case. What happens when the PCs don't (or can't) get these gems appraised? If I hand wave appraisal, what is the use of traveling to a bigger city vs simply resting at the nearest hamlet before plunging back into the dungeon?

    This is all very minor of course ... but I've never been satisfied with the process.

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    1. I have a trick you can use to make it easier. There's no need to track gems, unless they are truly special gems. Gem quantities are linked to dungeon level or monster level, but not gem values. And unless you are using AD&D optional gem tables, they aren't even linked to gem type.

      So, in the dungeon, tell players "You find a bunch of red and blue gems." If they want to take time to count them, you can give them quantities (and maybe an extra wandering monster roll...) Otherwise, just write down how many gems they find.

      When they return and start divvying up loot, assign values then. Only assign values beforehand if a player tries to assess the value and has a reasonable chance of doing so.

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  12. I never found keeping track of XP (or gems) to be much trouble....but I keep a running DM's notebook for the adventure. It's actually kind of fun adding things up and recalling the past few sessions of adventures.

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