Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Counting Coins (Part 2)

[continued from here; while the pertinent rules will be presented in this post, you might be interested in the motivation and basis for it (described in Part 1). Then again, maybe you aren't!]

Just to pick up where we left off, we had our three containers: the small sack, the backpack, and the large sack (yes, yes...we'll get to Jeff's treasure chests, too. Just not yet). In B/X terms they hold 200 coins, 400 coins, and 600 coins respectively. Since, in B/X:

10 coins of weight = 1 pound

we can happily convert these containers to units of "poundage:" 20 pounds for the small sack, 40 pounds for the backpack, and 60 pounds for the large sack.

It might be helpful to imagine exactly what these look like. A small sack is something that can be carried in one-hand, even by a spindly adventurer (when I was a fairly scrawny teenager working a summer gig at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I was routinely asked to carry 20# sacks of flour under each arm). The space age, ultra-light backpacks you find at REI these days have capacities up to 80 liters or so (180 pounds of water weight)...but they can measure liters because your back is likely to give out long before you put enough "weight" in to burst its frame and fabric. The primitive pack of D&D was probably based on something that looked like my father's (circa 1950's) wood frame and cloth, Boy Scout pack. Small, clunky, and painful compared to the ergonomic camping gear of the last 20-30 years. It's designed to be worn on the back (hence the name).

The 60# large sack (leather? burlap?) is designed to be carried over the shoulder, probably using two-hands. I picture something like this (or probably half-again as big):

Getting lighter every minute.
Anyway, these are our basic containers for carrying treasure. You can see that they break down into an easy ratio of 1-2-3. And it is from here we ( extrapolate our basic unit of measurement: the treasure unit. For my purposes:

20# of treasure = 1 treasure unit

So, a small sack holds one treasure unit, the backpack holds two, and the large sack holds three.

What exactly IS a treasure unit (besides its weight)? What's it's value? Well, I give it the same value as a small sack full of gold coins. No, not 200 gold coins...I've really gotten over the 10 coins to the pound thing (this happens when you do a bunch of research into silver marks and gold dihrams and other ancient currencies). No, I mean a sack of coins of the basic currency (whatever that is for your game world)...remember its all relative. For my purposes, I think Alexis's 7g Roman-era coins are perfectly reasonable. At 64 coins to the pound, that means one small sack (i.e. one "treasure unit") consists of 1280 coins. And if each of these "gold pieces" is worth 1 x.p. to your intrepid treasure-seeking adventurer, than you can say:

1 treasure unit = 1280 XP

"But JB," you cry, "This is madness! Are you saying a sack of gold is equal to a sack of silver is equal to a sack of gemstones?" Yes...with caveats. But let me come back to that in a moment. You're interrupting my train of thought!

The advancement scheme for your normal fighter class looks a bit like this:

Level 2: 2000 XP needed
Level 3: 4000 XP needed
Level 4: 8000 XP needed
Level 5: 16,000 XP needed
Level 6: 32,000 XP needed
Level 7: 64,000 XP needed

If we divide that up by 1280 XP we can find the number of treasure units needed to advance the character...oh, and here I'll be rounding UP when we have remainders (no fractions of treasure units!):

Level 2: 2 treasure units needed
Level 3: 4 treasure units needed
Level 4: 7 treasure units needed
Level 5: 13 treasure units needed
Level 6: 25 treasure units needed
Level 7: 50 treasure units needed
Level 8: 100 treasure units needed (if you double 64K, you get 128K, yeah? Look how easy that is!)

My game only goes up to 8th level because there aren't any domains being awarded to "name level" characters in my game...however, if you wanted to extrapolate, you could just add an extra 50 units per level after eight.

100 treasure units...2000 pounds (1 ton) of treasure. It can take you a long time to move that much wealth...especially if you multiply it by the number of characters in the adventuring party. Pulling that much treasure out of the ground can give you a nice, long campaign with plenty of adventure. And if you do "earn your ton," I can't see how your character could find herself wanting to do anything but retire and enjoy the fabulous life of luxury she's earned for herself and her descendants.

Now, back to your question: isn't some treasure "worth more" than others? Sure...but we're talking about convertible, spendable wealth. A bag of jewels will go farther (with a lot less effort) than one big jewel. And who's to say small or fragile items aren't likely to get misplaced, broken, and pilfered between their dungeon resting place and "wherever-it-is" that you want to take your items to convert it. And who's to say you'll get "fair market value" even should your cartage go off without a hitch?

Plus, consider this: adventurers in a dirty, dimly lit, and hazardous subterranean environment...fearful of being beset by monstrous foes at any moment...aren't going to get terribly caught up in sorting the dross from the treasure hoard. I picture much more of a "dump-your-rations-and-rake-in-as-much-as-your-pack-will-carry" approach to treasure gathering, not a careful sifting for platinum coins among the silver. Call the treasure unit an "average" of what is found and carted off.

HOWEVER: I would allow for some treasure units being more or less valuable. Just not on the scale of your usual D&D campaign; simply a "double value" treasure unit, or a "half value" treasure unit. I would also allow the occasional worn piece of jewelry or pocketed gemstone to be considered a half treasure unit (or even a "full" treasure unit for an extremely rare and valuable piece...think the Eye of the Serpent in the film Conan). BUT as a basic rule, if it's not portable, it ain't spendable.

Worth a full treasure unit...though hard to split up.
You found a golden throne that took 12 guys to carry out of the dungeon? Who cares? Unless you know of a shop that deals in giant, golden thrones, you're not going to get anything out of it until you break it up, melt it down, pry out the gemstones, and/or otherwise reduce it to a portable form...a standard treasure unit form. Bags of cash, in other words.

Hey, it's what the conquistadors did.

Now as for how much one can carry...well that brings us back to the encumbrance question. In Holmes Basic, a character is considered "heavily loaded" (with a halved movement rate) when carrying 60# of treasure in addition to their normal adventuring equipment (including armor). AD&D is more specific (and granular) giving a reduced movement for up to 70# (all equipment and treasure) or halved movement at 105# (again, for everything). However, AD&D gives a bonus for high strength (up to +75# for 18, the highest possible for non-fighter characters).

Moldvay Basic is a bit more generous and more granular going up to 160# for everyone (high strength is not considered). However, anything over 80# of combined treasure and equipment QUARTERS movement, effectively slowing the character to a crawl...maybe a stagger.

All three systems give a range of unencumbered movement of 30# to 40# (30# being for Holmes Basic which doesn't count the PC's "standard gear"...30# of treasure weight in other words). Personally, I like the Holmes bit about PCs being used to their own adventuring gear and only worrying about treasure...however, I also like Gygaxian "strong backs carry more treasure" thing. As such, here's how I factor encumbrance:

Normal gear +1 treasure unit = Unencumbered (12" or "normal" movement)
Gear +2 treasure units = Light Load (9")
Gear +3 treasure units = Heavy Load (6" or half movement)
Gear +6 treasure units = Staggering Load (3" or quarter-movement)

For every point of Strength over 12, add +1 to treasure units that can be carried. A character can dump their normal gear (though still retaining armor and maybe a weapon or two) to carry one extra treasure unit.

Characters can combine their treasure allowance to carry really heavy items, like Jeff's treasure chests. Just to sum up these, here's how they measure out in my game:

Small coffer/strong box = small sack (1 treasure unit), though more durable
Medium chest = 10 treasure units. Such a container can be carried by two individuals working together, or by one (fairly strong) individual.
Large chest = 20 treasure units. These are really a four-man job (like carrying something the size of a coffin).

Note that since treasure units can be converted to weight (in 20# increments) it's easy to figure how hard it is to carry, say, a fallen comrade or other bulky, non-standard item.

Last note (since this is running long again): lest you think your iron-thewed, 1st level barbarian is going to come out of the dungeon with two large sacks and a backpack full of treasure and advance to  4th level, keep in mind the following limitations:

  • There's still a limit to how much treasure is found at an adventure site (as determined by the DM).
  • Treasure units found must still be divided between the characters (and if a bag of treasure is divided too far between henchmen, there may not be enough for advancement).
  • Characters are still limited to a maximum level gain of one per adventure (standard B/X rule) regardless of how much treasure is brought out at once. 

Even so, a dragon hoard (average treasure valued at 50,000gp in standard B/X), could be worth a staggering 39-40 treasure units. That's a big haul to divide amongst such a bold group of adventurers.

All right...that really is enough for now.

[oh, wait - one more thing! some folks might be wondering how to figure XP for defeating monsters if you're measuring advancement in "treasure units" recovered instead of individual points? Short answer: you don't. I've decided XP will only be gained from treasure recovery. More on this later!]


  1. Treasure units is a good start, the issue of it being reductive doesn't really bother me much, but how it plays in with encumberance and a dependence on container size as the metric for treasure collection does.

    I am for more simplification as, at least in my games, player facing complexity always gets discarded or handwaved to save time, and treasure collection is often an end of session event. I stick with my simple significant item system,which works in a setting where wheels of copper wire and hardwood chairs are good treasure scores.

    One of the most fun thongs for me in tabletop is describing treasure or finding evocative treasure, and not knowing the value immediately. Which bulky treasure to take should be a decision, and another reason to have crrtain kinds of characters in the party ( thieves should know treasure value).

    Now with units based on size this minigame is potentially lost, and I'm not seeing a radical enough rediction in rules to get past my players sense of boredom or hurry.

    Of course these may be Gus problems. From a GM facing prospective treasure packets have advantages - nodal tables of treasure become easier to use as value os determined by location or dungeon level - the packet could be worth 'opposition level x 200 gp' for example and tables ofcdescriptions broken down by environment or monster type (e.g. fungus forest or himanoid lair treasure). Likewise some simplification is provided for encumberance, which is good.

    1. @ GusL:

      I hear what you're saying (thanks for commenting by the way...was wondering if anyone was bothering to read these posts!). I am a big believer in making treasure descriptions mouthwateringly desirable to the players, and not just from an XP perspective. It's part of the fun of the game!

      That being said, I am less interested in having them carry off carved oak chairs and pulling the brass springs out of ancient machines...I mean, for THIS particular project, that's not the feel of the game I'm going for. While the "how am I going to peel the gold leaf off this thing" might be an effective challenge to pose to players, its not the one *I* want to pose...nor do I want orcs being looted for their battered chain mail and rewarding them for the value of "scrap" they bring back.

      I'm currently working up a setting with treasure aplenty for the taking...just treasure that's heavily and dangerously guarded (which is why it's still available despite not being down) as well as being in remote/hidden locations. I hope to talk about this more in the coming week, too.

      (blogging on weekends is a bit tough for me)

      As for thieves knowing the value of treasure...not sure that matches my view of the character archetype.
      ; )

  2. Yeah setting makes a huge difference - both ASE and Apollyon (what I run) are very gritty settings ultimately that reward scavenging/meth head robber style of treasure acquisition. In a high fantasy setting I can see the treasure packet thing working better, and syncing well to a steady advancement system.

    On thieves - I don't assume they all know the value of treasure (though in a vanilla style game I would - what with them being loveable scoundrels and all), I make 'Acumen' an X in 6 skill that some types of thieves - the smarter more civilized types - have. It not only can identify treasure value but includes knowledge of business and law. In our last session it was used (sadly ineffectively) to try to find letters of credit, deeds and industrial espionage worthy information in a scriveners office (after a nasty fight with some inquisitors/maniacs).

    1. @ GusL:

      Sounds like fun!

      I'll be interested to hear what you think of my "skills." Hopefully I'll have that up in a couple days.