Sunday, March 27, 2011

We came, We Saw, We Leveled Up

Thoughts on treasure, experience, and rate of advancement in published modules.

One observation I've found myself dropping into my reviews has been the amount of treasure available in the published module.  All of the old school rule sets have kept 1 XP = 1 GP for treasure recovered, and most of a party's experience will come from treasure.  One of the things I notice is whether an adventure is over or under saturated with treasure.  That will determine the party's rate of advancement, and whether I need to tweak it up or down for the campaign.

In a bout of OCD yesterday morning, I started compiling a table of treasure-by-module for most of my favorite TSR era adventure modules, as well as OSR modules I've reviewed and played.  Then I realized it would be even cooler if I circled back and added in some metrics for encounter density.

Okay - take a quick look at this partial chart and I'll post some notes down below.


Treasure:  31,000*
Levels: 2.5
Density: 80% (55)

*Excludes robbing the Keep itself


Treasure:  71,000*
Levels: 3.75
Density: 63% (37)

*Extra 10,000gp if the group overthrows Gorm,
Usamigaras and Madarua


Treasure:  9,500
Levels: .95
Density: 30% (8)


Treasure:  24,000
Levels: .25
Density: 28% (21)


Note how the Keep of the Borderlands has a density of 80%.  Exploring the Caves of Chaos is just fight, fight, fight - very little exploration.  Compare that to the two OSR modules, with density of 30% or lower, and you can see there is a lot more space for exploration and problem solving without the grind.  Moldvay's dungeon stocking tables suggest putting monsters in about 33% of the rooms - Tom didn't follow his own advice when making the Lost City, which comes in at 63%!

So the first thing the table will quickly tell you is whether the adventure is weighted towards exploration or fighting.

For levels, I took the average (fighter experience) needed by a party of 5 for the recommended levels.  This doesn't include monsters - monsters will typically add another 25% or so on to the total.  And no, I won't be going back and calculating monster XP in these modules encounter by encounter.

Going back to the chart:  A party will be almost 3rd level by the time they finish the Keep.  A party will be almost 4th level after finishing the surface levels of the Lost City (especially when you bump it to include some monster XP).  For a combat heavy module like the Keep, monster XP will be even higher than 25% (bump the treasure amount by 33%).  Advancement through the Lost City is fast - the Keep nets you an average of 563 gp per fight, the Lost City 1919 gp per fight.  If you need to run a fast moving campaign with folks that are used to leveling every few weeks (like the 4E crowd), or kids, the Lost City could be a good way to go.

The two OSR modules are a little light on treasure and leveling up, but are also quite a bit shorter - Stargazer only has 8 combat encounters (compared to the Keep's 55).  The number after the density percentage is the number of encounters.

Below is the table I used for determining the rate of advancement.  I assumed a party of five, and a typical party member needs 2,000 XP at first level (fighter experience).  Your game of choice may adjust the XP tables slightly (fighters are different between Moldvay Cook and AD&D 1E for instance) so this is just a guideline.  Henchman will suck away some XP, as will character deaths.

I'll post the rest of the table tonight - it includes the 6 or so OSR modules I've reviewed and my favorite 20+ TSR era modules.

Party Level / Experience Needed

1  10,000
2  10,000
3  20,000
4  40,000
5  80,000
6  160,000
7  320,000
8  640,000
9  1,280,000
10 1,280,000


  1. Interesting stats. Look forward to the others.

  2. Three things to note:

    a. B2 and B4 are Basic modules. You don't get 25% of XP from monsters in Basic, it's way lower. Probably less than 10%.

    b. Attrition in B2/B4 is going to be high, first level characters get slaughtered constantly, especially with crappy starting gear. So a lot of treasure XP will end up being lost as the characters get killed off and replacements are sent in.

    c. All this assumes a full clear, which may or may not be likely, depending on the module

  3. Yeah, this is pretty brilliant and useful information. I'm torn between being thankful and looking forward to more, and wishing I didn't feel so shown up by the work. :-)


  4. Very nice analysis. Bookmarked.

  5. IMO a party of 5 would be on the smallish side for Old School gaming. By the time you add men@arms and a henchman you're normally at a minimum of 8 (and they earn varing amounts of XP and GP, depending).

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  7. BTW I forgot to mention in my earlier comment, excellent analysis - I totally look forward to seeing how other modules break out.

    For my first level dungeon, I'm targeting around 22,000 GP value to get a party of 5 up to 2nd level. Things broke out different in practice, with 5 characters at levels 3/2/1/1/1, and there's still a few thousand in gold floating around the dungeon. Henchmen & attrition eat a bunch of the experience. I'm debating lowering the treasure value, but right now "leave it as is" is winning out.

  8. First off, I agree with Pat & Kiltedyaksman's replies. I've been doing this analysis for modules I've been using in my campaign, and the play result of the modules does not match the potentials due to reasons Pat & Kiltedyaksman already outlined. Some of the raw stats are interesting indicators, but I think the Levels stat goes a step too far, and the Density obscures perhaps a more important stat: Keyed locations. (I'll talk more about this in another reply.)

    "Moldvay's dungeon stocking tables suggest putting monsters in about 33% of the rooms - Tom didn't follow his own advice when making the Lost City"

    Keep in mind that Moldvay's random dungeon stocking guidelines aren't presented as a general recommendation on overall dungeon stocking ratios. It's presented as one possible tool for after the ref has arbitrarily stocked the part of the dungeon that doesn't need random stocking. (And that other portion could be anywhere from none, to some, to most, to all.)

    So The Lost City adheres perfectly to the Moldvay Basic guidelines for dungeon stocking.

    "Note how the Keep of the Borderlands has a density of 80%.  Exploring the Caves of Chaos is just fight, fight, fight - very little exploration." and "So the first thing the table will quickly tell you is whether the adventure is weighted towards exploration or fighting."

    I quibble with this a little bit. Its true that creatures in rooms can play out as all fighting, but in practice this is frequently untrue. The nature of the creatures themselves, the nature of the location, the vagaries of reaction rolls, and the methods & goals of the PCs are all major factors in whether the presence of creatures is likely to result in fighting.

    I admit that for many modules the density is an indicator of fight potential, but for the players in my campaign (who generally try to avoid fights), the presence or lack of creatures mainly changes their focus as to how they try to gain information and move through the adventuring location (i.e., how they explore).

  9. Instead of Density, a more useful stat in reviews is the number of keyed locations, along with the number of keyed locations that include creatures. This gives more information overall about the module. (It's a better indicator of how much stuff the referee gets by purchasing the module.) Admittedly this is just a different presentation of the Density stat, but I think it's a worthwhile change.

    The Levels stat makes too many assumptions and/or creates potentially unintended implications: That the module's suggested range of levels is correct, that the size of the party is a particular number, that there aren't significant additional sources of xp (such as magic items in AD&D, or killed monsters in systems like OD&D where monsters are worth a lot … often even more than monsters in AD&D), that the party will get all the treasure, and so on.

    I get where you're going with with Levels stat. It can be an indication as to how comparatively rich the module is (that is, how fast the PCs might be able to gain levels), or it can be an indication for how much play time the module offers. But the Levels stat conflates those two possibilities almost to the point where the Levels value becomes difficult to use unless you reverse engineer how the Levels value was derived.

    When I gather these stats for a module I make available in my campaign, I calculate the xp available per keyed location, and so far this has been a decent (but not great) indicator of how quickly advancement will occur. Not that I have a ton of data points yet. (B3 green, B3 orange, the first level of Caverns of Thracia, Grakhirt's Lair, The Lichway, The Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, The Shattered Circle, Tomb of the Iron God, and the The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.)

    Also if you feel its important to note the amount of loot in a module as a general statistic, I think it's also important to give a summary of the magic items available -- the number of permanent items, the number of consumable items, etc. In fact, I think the magic item availability (as opposed to gp) is a better indicator of whether a module is too rich. YMMV.

  10. @Guy - I can see your point about Density, especially for wilderness modules. (For dungeons, I do think it gives a sense of the amount of grind vs exploration). When I post the actual tables later I'll include the raw # of keyed encounters.

    I don't use magic item XP and usually change out items anyway, so that wasn't on my radar; when I've been doing modules reviews, I may note if something seems a bit "magic rich", that's about it.

  11. I love this kind of intense analysis. Thanks. I'm guessing your density is empty rooms versus keyed ones?

    You've made me interested in treasure density. I've found in my own modules that I tend to put dribs and drabs of treasure in various rooms but the bulk of the reward is in one room. Because it is a good chance players will keep looking until a big score, but will give up if you expect them to uncover every hidden cache in a dungeon. Maybe I'll go map that.

  12. I've been reading B4 with an eye toward running it and I have definitely felt that it is too crowded for my tastes. If and when I do run it, I will almost certainly edit out some of the monster encounters. The pixies in the Fireworks Storeroom at 5 will be the first to go, followed by either the living statues or the gargoyles in the SW corner of Tier 5 at 47 and 49, respectively, and I will probably invent some sort of Cynidicean hex that allows you to pass the ones that stay--otherwise how to the Brotherhood of Gorm, the Magi of Usamigaras and the Warrior Maidens of Madarua go back and forth between the city and their bases on Tier 3?