Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 45


The treasure section is very long, and would be quite unwieldy to try and cover in a single blog. As such, I think I'm going to split it up into several sections. Some will undoubtedly be much shorter than others, but for organization's sake, I think it's the best approach.

We'll start with the treasure tables. "Wait!" you're saying, "What is there to be gleaned from a bunch of tables?" It's a valid question, and I myself was surprised at some of the things that occurred to me while I was reading over them. We'll break it down bit by bit.

This is the first thing--and it's how the treasure tables start. We tend to forget that in AD&D, treasure wasn't always found after defeating monsters. The core idea was that in some cases, you'd instead find a map to the monster's treasure. These maps were a core assumption of the game, as they offered greater opportunities for adventure down the road. Of course, Gygax also takes the time to point out that it's quite possible any map found is simply false, and will lead the characters on a wild goose chase.

It occurs to me more and more as I read this that while our "modern" conception of RPGs assumes that the DM will certainly challenge the players, the idea is to tell a shared story where the DM and players cooperate to spin tales of grand adventure. In the old days, while this was certainly a part of the game, there was also a much more competitive aspect. The DM was expected, in many ways (and if you'll excuse the French) to be a lot more dick-ish towards the players. He was supposed to screw them over at every other turn.

This wasn't just permitted. It was fully expected and encouraged, as part of the challenge of play. We'll get to more specific examples of this a bit later.

There are several tables in the map section--one for the kind of map, one to determine where (in a general sense) the map leads, one to determine the kind of trasure (monetary, magic, or a mix) that would be find, and then tables for each of the three varieties of treasure. The DM is cautioned at several intervals that treasure will almsot certainly be guarded when found (meaning the heroes could need to defeat a guardian to get the map, and then another guardian to get the actual treasure. You had to work for it in AD&D.

As I was reading this section, I couldn't help but summon a scenario to mind, wherein the players defeat a bunch of brigands, and discover a map to a supposedly vast buried treasure, but upon following the map, they find themselves in the middle of a major metropolis, and it occurs to them that the treasure is somewhere under the city. This leads to a sewer- or catacomb-based dungeon crawl, probably featuring wererats or giant alligators (or both), leading to some sort of ancient magical sword in what was once a shrine to an ancient deity--maybe a Holy Avenger or maybe something darker--a soul drinker like Blackrazor or something.

I dunno. It's not all that original, but it just lit up in my brain. The real takeaway is that AD&D has the ability to be evocative just in its presentation of simple tables, and that's something that a lot of other games have lost.

In any case, the game points out that treasures which feature a combination of magic items and coin should be the rarest hoards to find. It's also worth noting that these tables to not supersede those in the Monster Manual; they are used in conjunction with those tables. The final column in the treasure tables in the Monster Manual indicates "Maps and Magic." That column, then, redirects one to these tables ("If the treasure in a monster's lair indicates that maps or magic are there, you will then have to determine which are present by random number generation with percentile dice." (DMG, p. 120)

Tables and Game Balance
There's a lot of attention paid in this section to game balance. The monetary treasure table states that it is weighted heavily towards tons of coin which should be impossible to carry away all at once, or, in Gygax's own words, "large quantities of coin which will require a train to remove--or must be left entirely if foreplanning is not observed."

The magic table is also weighted towards game balance issues--there are more potions, scrolls, arms and armor than there are rings, rods, and miscellaneous magic. The idea here is that a lot of the misc. magic and such is usable by magic users only, and would result in magic users dominating the game (an issue we've discussed in a different context, in an earlier post).

Treasure and XP Value
There is also some space dedicated to XP values of treasure. In general: you only get XP for magic items if you keep them, and if you can use them. Scrolls, for example, grant 100 XP per spell level, and only casters that can use them get the XP.

Rough guidelines for GP value based on XP value are given (Scrolls are worth 3 times XP value in gold on the open market, and protection versions have a value of five times XP in gold). It does get a bit confusing in places, wehre there are listed GP sale values, which differ from the XP-value-determined GP value. The idea is that not everything sells for what it's technically worth. An item might be worth 500 gp, but the merchant you're dealing with only offers you 400 gp. At least, that's how I read it.

Remember, too, that characters in AD&D are assumed to gain experience points for gold. Thus, characters who don't keep a magic item can still get XP from selling it, based on the gold they receive for the item.

Potions and Wands
Here's an interesting distinguisher of first edition from other editions. In later editions of D&D (starting roughly with 3.x), potions and wands are pretty much spells put into disposable form. You'd have a wand or potion of [insert spell here]. Certainly exceptions did exist, but that was the general rule. Instead of a potion of healing or potion of extra healing, for example, you had a potion of cure light wounds, a potion of cure moderate wounds, etc.

In first edition, potions and wands were more mysterious--they had specific functions that bolstered the users, but didn't always directly mimic spells. There was a wand of magic missiles, but there were wands of fire, wands of frost, wands of illumination, wands of illusion, etc., and while there were potions of clairvoyance, there were also potions of human control, potions of delusion, potions of dragon control, potions of fire resistance, etc.

Footnotes and Fighters
Further, each table has important footnotes, pointing out things like the necessity to limit very powerful rings with limited charges before they are depleted. It behooves any DM to carefully consult these charts and footnotes before placing treasure in their milieu. Finally, many tables are very clear in their indications of which classes can use which magic items. AD&D was far more restrictive in the determination of which items could be used by which classes than later editions are.

In addition, some of these footnotes speak directly back to what I mentioned earlier: the DM being encouraged to screw over the PCs. Things like cursed scrolls and potions of poison are footnoted to state that the DM absolutely must do everything he can to convince the players to use the items as soon as possible. Personally, as a DM, I've never been a fan of cursed items anyway, but there you have it. Clearly the intended relationsip between DM and players was more adversarial in older editions than in later and current ones.

That Cartoon
Finally, there's this!

That's all for this section! Next up: Explanations and Descriptions of Magic Items (Potions)


  1. Jason---

    Good stuff! If you're curious, I did some work to revamp and expand the Maps tables in our mega-dungeons design zine, _The Twisting Stair_. Specifically in issues 1 and 2:

    - "Combined Hoards as Adventure Hooks: Treasure Maps in the Mega-Dungeon (Part 1 of 2)" in issue #1 @
    - "Treasure Maps: From Traditional to Enigmatic" (Part 2 of 2) in issue #2 @

    I think maps are a very under-utilized resources in both day-to-day game play and in overall campaign planning and management, and the articles help to show the value of including them in a campaign.


    1. Very nice! Yeah, I'm surprised at how much woefully underutilized stuff is in the DMG.


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