Friday, May 14, 2021

S**t Stocking

A little Friday "fun rant" for my faithful readers...God bless you all!

This is an interesting take. I've seen lots of people talk about just using the dungeons from the DL modules and dumping all the surrounding story and Dragonlance setting stuff. You're the first person I've seen decide that one of the dungeons had to be modified this extensively.
You can read my (rather long) reply, but the gist of it was: there's really nothing else I can do. Using the dungeon withOUT the setting material (and overall story arc) is complete and ridiculous nonsense because the adventure site isn't stocked correctly for its scale/size, nor for the edition for which it was (ostensibly) designed...that edition being AD&D (1E).

Let's assume, just for "funsies," that you decide you LOVE the dungeon of Xak Tsaroth (sunken cities and black dragons are great!), but HATE the Dragonlance setting (steel pieces! kender!), not to mention the whole railroad story arc/plot thing. If you take the dungeon AS WRITTEN and drop it into your campaign world, let me tell you what the party can expect to find as a reward for exploring its depths:


There are exactly NINE encounter areas with "treasure" and only SEVEN that have value outside of the DL setting (because a setting that uses steel as a currency of exchange values big slabs of steel). Here they are, in order (and, no, this isn't "spoiling" anything, because this adventure has been rotten as 1E fare since its inception):

#1 Doors at the entrance (first encounter area of the dungeon!): two sets of golden double doors weighing 2500 pounds each. In the DL setting, they're fairly worthless, but you can haul them to a city where gold is valued at an exchange rate of 10 to 1 steel. As such, they are worth 10,000 x.p. for all five tons of door. Since this is the first encounter area, a group of low level PCs could do well knocking them off their hinges. Hauling them through the swamp and back to occupied Dragon Lands (where they have value) might be a bit "problematic."

#2 Magic scroll: a single spell scroll with lightning bolt. Guarded by three hobgoblins, er, draconians that fight to the death. 300 x.p.

#3 Small box of five gems, sitting on the floor at the edge of a 30' wide pit (don't fall in!). Each is worth 1000 gold...which means a total value of 500 steel pieces if exchanged in the right place (I guess gems aren't valued either). Since PCs earn 1 x.p. per steel piece, the designers wanted to place a treasure worth 500 x.p.

#4 Six magic swords in a crypt. Each sword +1 is in a stone sarcophagus containing the body of a deceased king. Kind of awesome, but also kind of not (the pre-gens are already armed with +2 and +3 weapons). 2,400 x.p.

#5 Pair of steel doors (located on the 3rd level): each of these weigh 150# and each is worth 15,000 gold (or 1,500 steel other words, they're worth their weight in steel). 3,000 x.p. though trying to get these out of the dungeon will be a real pain in the ass (they'll need to be hauled by the cauldron/elevator, as they probably won't fit in the sewer pipe that leads to this level).

#6 Weapons cache (on 5th level, beyond several rooms housing the bulk of the draconians): three steel long swords of superior craftsmanship (equivalent of +2), an elven bow, and a quiver of 12 +1 arrows. 2,420 x.p. plus whatever value you give an "elven bow."

#7 Palace treasury! 30,00 clay "Culli" tablets (worthless), three throwing daggers +3, gauntlets of climbing (but not swimming?), a shield +1, and a spell book containing wizard lock, knock, and invisibility.  Total value: 2,550 x.p.

#8 More steel doors! Behind them is the dragon's lair, so removing them in a stealthy fashion is likely to be a "challenge." Each weighs 50 pounds, and the adventure doesn't bother to list their value...probably because the designers expect PCs to one-shot the dragon and bring the dungeon crashing down on their heads. However, based on the earlier entry we can calculate their worth 500 steel coins each. 1,000 x.p.

#9 Dragon's hoard! This is it: the big payoff for the adventure. The huge, ancient, spell-using black dragon has the following treasure: the Disks of Mishakal (priceless), 56 gems (200 gold each), a cloak of invisibility, and 1,000 platinum pieces. The dragon wears a ring of darkness (no value given) which will most likely be disintegrated when the PC wielding the blue crystal staff one-shots the monster. Total value depends on whether you're exchanging the platinum in Seeker lands (in which case they're worth 2,000 steel) or Dragon lands (5,000 steel). Since the gems only have value in Dragon lands (where 10gp = 1 steel), we'll fence our loot there: 7,120 x.p. (counting the cloak as the elven variety, and giving no experience for the ring or Disks...they are, after all, an artifact).

SO...for those keeping score at home, that adds up to approximately 29,290 x.p. in potential treasure given the intentional stocking (and exchange rates) provided by the writers. The pre-generated party consists of eight characters, most of whom are levels 4-6 (the suggested level range of the adventure)...and since their survival is almost certainly assured by the weak sauce encounters, that works out to a bit more than 4,000 x.p. apiece (all the PCs have high enough prime requisites to earn the 10% bonus). 

Screw you, Hickman.
Since even the 3rd level magic-user (the only character under 4th) requires 5,000 experience to advance, this is a slap in the face after the time it's going to take to plumb the depths of a five level, 84 room dungeon. A normal black dragon would be expected to have about 50,000 x.p. worth of monetary treasure in its hoard (treasure type H)...there's not that amount of treasure in the entire dungeon! That is bullshit.

UNLESS (big caveat there) you're running the Dragonlance saga in the manner intended.

You see, that's the crux: regardless of whether or not you like riding down the DL railroad, it works (and only works) in that capacity. PCs level up as required by the story, not as 1E adventurers. It's pretty dumb that the designers even bother writing the bit about 1 steel piece earning 1 experience point. Who cares? I'll just use the plot armored pre-gens at whatever level each adventure is designed to be used. It's the ONLY way these modules function.

Which is why any DM choosing to "drop this into their campaign" UN-modified is hopelessly out of their mind! Any reasonable player would lynch their DM after playing this thing for six weeks and coming away with a couple thousand gold and a +1 sword (always assuming they find a way to loot those doors!). That is shitty dungeon stocking. My kid wouldn't even do that (frankly, he's more likely to overstock, with regard to both monster strength and treasure). I would not stand for it as a player...I will not stand for it as a DM. 

I do have a heart, after all!

SO...when I was writing yesterday that I wanted to up the treasure to 200K-300K, I wasn't exaggerating. Even using a "normal" D&D economy (with gold having value and experience being awarded based on that value), the treasure in this adventure only works out to 129,870 x.p. worth of treasure...and 100,000 of that comes from the four golden doors at the entrance to the dungeon! Nope. Just...garbage.

In a normal B/X type dungeon, it would be reasonable to find treasure in roughly one-third of all encounter areas; that's what I shoot for when stocking dungeons. For something the size of Xak Tsaroth, I'd need at least 28 of the 84 encounter areas to hold something of value, with the best loot being deeper in the dungeon. Of course, the largest and most valuable cache of treasure would be in the hoard of the ancient black dragon. The monetary value of such a creature's hoard in B/X would be about 40,000 g.p. (average treasure for type H, doubled, and divided by 2.5, the average number of dragons in a lair). That's 40K without magic items...and there's going to have to be more than a damned elven cloak to entice a party into a dragon's lair!

[yes, yes...I know this is an adventure for AD&D, not B/X. They're close enough...add 15-20% to the values and you get a good approximation]

All right, that's it. Back to work on my teardown-rebuild. Hope everyone has a great weekend!
: )


  1. Got your back bro:

    The Dragon injested the great diamond, so it will go unnoticed unless the PCs think to slice open the dragon.

    1. Still not enough, Sean, but thanks for the laugh.
      ; )

      [I’d think a dragon could pass a stone that size. Though why would an intelligent creature in jest one in the first place? It’s not like she’s a giant lizard]

  2. Well, these posts got me to read over my conversion notes for the module (I'd already changed a few things since I run Classic D&D, not AD&D). And you're right, definitely not enough treasure. So I've been modifying, increasing the challenge of some of the monsters since I originally thought 3rd to 4th level PCs would explore the ruins but now they're mostly 5th to 6th, and also adding in a LOT more treasure. Also, since (as I think I mentioned) my group's PCs are already packing a lot of magical weaponry, I've been switching many of those for other magic items, or at least changing swords to more varied weapons.

    1. For what it's worth, I think OD&D or any "basic D&D" edition (which is what I assume you mean by "Classic") would work great for running Dragonlance, simply re-skinning halflings as kender. Many times, in researching the DL stuff, it's felt like someone's home OD&D campaign...a campaign in which the DM stopped collecting rulebooks after "Greyhawk" (supplement I).

      I also think that the lower x.p. need and power level of "classic" editions works well with scope and feel of the DL world. Personally, I could probably get on-board running a "true DL campaign" (using steel pieces and draconians and missing gods, etc.) if the DM was committed to running it with OD&D...the game is open-ended enough that the whimsical nature of the setting doesn't grate nearly as bad as trying to run an Oh So Serious "advanced" campaign.
      : )

    2. Yeah, "Classic" is shorthand (in some corners of the internet) for BX/BECMI, since they're 99% compatible. I think some people include Holmes as Classic as well, and my house rules take what I consider the best bits of all three of those, plus some AD&D and WotC D&D bits that I like. But under the hood, it's the system I learned from Mentzer back in the 80s.

  3. It is posts like this and the situations that said posts describe that make come back again and again and fascinate me beyond measure.

    The reason: It's like another language. It's like someone speaking English in a combination regional accent and slang terminology that renders it impossible for me to understand while being fully aware that I too speak the same base language.

    None of this makes any sense to me but it is so well thought out and reasoned that I have to assume it is brilliant.

    1. @ BA:

      Ha! I grok you completely! I am so “up in it” regarding this stuff that I have no awareness of just how jargon-laden and opaque my scribbling are.

      I don’t know if it’s “brilliant” (or even “well thought out”) but I’m definitely speaking to a very specific branch of the hobby. I am SURE that the bulk that f players/GMs give absolutely NO SHITS about this stuff...but it’s where my head’s out recently. I really appreciate you (and everyone else) taking the time to read these truly insane posts.
      : )

    2. ...and, man, that’s a lot of typos for one quick comment. I hate answering these things on a cell phone.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks. I'm just glad it still fits!
      ; )