Friday, September 4, 2015

Stocking Per Moldvay (Part 2)

[continued from here] a little distracted with other posts this week. Plus, perhaps, I'm a little hesitant to "pull back the curtain"on how I do stuff. It's like a magician revealing the secret of his tricks, or a coach revealing his game plan...or, more accurately, a nerd revealing his spreadsheet.

Ah, well. Here goes:

The pertinent section for me is found in Moldvay on page B52, section E: Stock The Dungeon. Obvious, no? Maybe, maybe not. Here's the text:
To "stock" a dungeon means to fill in the general details, such as encounters, treasure, and traps. Special monsters should be first placed in the appropriate rooms along with special treasures. The remaining rooms can be stocked as the DM wishes. If there is no preference as to how certain rooms are stocked, the following system may be used. Roll 1d6 for CONTENTS, and then roll on the second table for TREASURE according to the result of the first roll. A "Yes" result means tat Treasure is there along with whatever is indicated by the first roll.
This method of stocking a dungeon is Moldvay's adaptation of the system given in OD&D Volume 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (see pages 6 and 7 of that book). It's cleaned up and codified from the original book, and is followed by an easy-to-use table that cross-references the CONTENTS roll with the TREASURE? roll. Here's what you get:

Contents: 1-2 Monster, 3 Trap, 5 Special, 5-6 Empty

Monsters have treasure on 1-3 dice roll (50% of the time), Traps have treasure on a 1-2 dice roll (33%), and Empty rooms have treasure on dice roll of 1 (16% of the time). A Special is "anything not exactly a trap, but placed for special reasons." It could include the equivalent of a monster (the examples have both things with which to interact and things with which to fight) or a trap, but in general it just means an unusual feature of the dungeon...the equivalent of a fancy "empty" result.

Now, personally, I don't want to roll dice for every encounter area on the map; I've always been of the "stock as the DM wishes" mindset. At the same time, I do want a decent spread when it comes to the distribution of dungeon attributes for my adventure site, and I need some model with which to work. And I find the percentages in Moldvay's "random chance" method to be quite fair...lazily, I can use it as my model simply by running with it and the law of averages.

FOR EXAMPLE, in a map with 36 encounter areas we'll find:

12 encounters with monsters (6 of which have treasure).
6 encounters with traps (2 of which have treasure).
6 encounters with special features (1 of which has treasure, assuming they are non-dangerous).
12 encounters that are empty (2 of which still have treasure).

I then adjust this proportionately based on the actual number of encounter areas my map uses; for example, if there are only 18 encounter areas, then there will only be six monsters (three with treasure) and only three traps (one with treasure).

I thus tend to work in factors of six when it comes to setting encounter areas for an adventure site (6, 12, 18, 24, 36, etc.) as that's the easiest way to keep the proportions right. The exact contents of an encounter area (please note, an "encounter area" is not always "a room" on a could be a corridor, an intersection, an exit, stairway, etc.), the exact contents are determined in "the usual way," i.e. monsters and traps appropriate for both the site setting and the level of character for which the site is intended. If the encounters are divided up over a number of layers, then the tougher encounters are farther removed from surface exit (up or down, depending) and the greater rewards likewise more distant.

After all, if the big score was in the first room encountered, chances are someone would have already claimed it, yeah?

Now as to the treasure...recall from my last post that my intention was to provide enough treasure for a party equal to the number of PCs at my table to level up within three to four sessions. With regard to B/X, I've found that an party can expect to get through roughly nine encounter areas in per session...maybe one encounter per 20 minutes of play on average with minimal distractions. Even rooms that are empty are likely to be searched, or at least discussed and approached with caution, whereas combat is often "short and sweet" compared to games of the 3rd and later editions.

Nine encounters. Savvy players that don't mess around (or that get lucky with their dice rolls) might get through more, especially if breaks (for drinks or whatnot) are kept short. Extraordinarily cautious players might get through less. My average game session is probably three to three-and-a-half hours of play, and I don't expect players to search out every nook-and-cranny of an adventure site. A 12 encounter dungeon is good for about a single night's play. 18 and you're talking a couple sessions with time for "upkeep" issues (going to town, stocking expended resources, looking for new adventure leads). 24 to 36 (about as most as I ever go...I don't really do "mega-dungeons") are enough to last three to four game sessions, as the site is going to be big enough that occasional retreat for rest and replenishment will probably be needed. So how do I divide up the treasure?

Welp, some folks will have already noted that that this scheme of dungeon stocking results in a treasure score in nearly one-third of all encounter areas (11 out of 36). Personally, I usually just go with a 1-to-3 ratio (upping the number of dangerous "special" encounters to justify the extra loot)...and that seems enough to keep the players' interest. Even if the initial scores found are small, it's enough to drive the PCs further in, looking for the next bit of bling.

The amount of treasure used depends on the number of encounters...anything in the 24+ range generally gets the full "level up" amount, and anything less generally uses 50% of the total I'd expect. I don't expect players to find every last scrap of treasure squirreled away, but monster encounters also yield XP, and most players use characters whose prime requisites provide XP bonuses. Thus knowing the total treasure yield (based on intended party level and total number of encounters) and total number of "treasure areas" (one-third of all encounters), I can go about my distribution. Most often I use that old 50-of-50-of-50 rule.

[that's not the name. It has a name. I can never remember it, so that's what I call it in my head]

50% of the treasure yield goes into a single encounter area. This could be a secret treasure room, the hoard of the dungeon's largest monster, or some massive (and nigh unmovable) monument of gold and crusted gems. 50% of the remaining yield into the next biggest treasure area, 50% of the remaining into the 3rd treasure areas, etc. The last two encounter areas with treasure will yield the same value.


My player group consists of six players with an average character level of 3rd. The total value of treasure to earn 4th level is around 44,400 gold pieces worth (6 PCs X 7,400xp...the amount being the average between the thief (low) and the magic-user (high) for the party). In an adventure site ("dungeon") with 30 encounter areas, we'd expect the treasure yield to be in 10 (one-third) of those areas. A single area would yield a massive haul of 22,200gp worth of treasure. The remaining nine treasure areas together would total a like amount, divided as follows:

#2 total 11,100gp
#3 total 5,550gp
#4 total 2,775gp
#5 total 1,388gp
#6 total 694gp
#7 total 347gp
#8 total 174 gp
#9 total 86 gp
#10 total 86 gp

These are my rough figures that I use as my guide. Perhaps area #10 has a single 100gp gem (tied in a leather thong around the orc chief's neck), while area #9 is a strong box of 720 silver pieces (reduced in value because of the upped value of #10). Perhaps, I don't want area #2 to yield over 10k in gold, so I add #2 and #3 together and split 'em down the middle (a twinned pair of jade idols worth 8,325 gp each, lost in different parts of the overgrown temple).

As I said, the exact yield of the treasure at an encounter location determines how difficult it is to far it is from the dungeon entrance, whether or not it's concealed, whether it has a guardian or trap protecting it. Those types of questions are best answered with experience, of best to challenge the players, how much risk goes with how much reward. Figuring out those answers are part of the "art" of being a DM. But establishing a baseline distribution method like this goes a long way towards making my job easier.

All thanks to Moldvay.
: )

Yeah, my secrets are all out now.


  1. there's not much time left for the annual preseason bloodbowl post. :)

  2. @ Shlomo:

    Oh, I've got a couple days.
    : )

  3. I used this method on one of my larger dungeon maps using the Monsters & Treasure book, with certain rooms set aside for my own specific encounters and it worked out serendipitously.

  4. Nice post! I wish the Expert books had more guidance on wilderness design. I get quite confuse on what the rules are expecting from a Wilderness, since every X-module author seems to develop wilderness scenarios in a different way