Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Drifting from Looting

I've been thinking a lot about "back to basics" D&D lately and how the traditional adventure structures complement the game's objectives.  Characters advance by gaining experience; the most efficient experience is gained from the recovery of gold while exploring dungeons.  In Moldvay and similar versions of classic D&D, you get about 4-5 times more gold than monster experience when using the suggested dungeon stocking methods; you see this formula loosely followed in the published modules, too.

Hex crawls and multi level mega dungeons are exploratory by nature, and provide plenty of opportunities to recover gold.  Coincidentally, the hex crawl and the mega dungeon are the old school structures that support massive player agency and have gotten the most attention in the OSR as we rediscover these old forms.  They emphasize site-based exploration over combat.

It's a worthy issue to consider, because it raises the question - how closely should your game cleave to the strengths of D&D?  Or put another way - how much of your D&D game should be exploration versus fighting?  And to put a practical application on the question - as I consider something like the wide area sandbox - should the plot hooks and adventures be focused on plundering ancient sites and locations vesus monster hunting or cult bashing?  Here's a note from the boss on the question of drift:

The danger of a mutable system is that you or your players will go too far in some undesirable direction and end up with a short-lived campaign... Similarly, you must avoid the tendency to drift into areas foreign to the game as a whole. Such campaigns become so strange as to be no longer "AD&D". They are isolated and will usually wither. Variation and difference are desirable, but both should be kept within the boundaries of the overall system. Imaginative and creative addition can most certainly be included; that is why nebulous areas have been built into the game. Keep such individuality in perspective by developing a unique and detailed world based on the rules of ADVANCED D8D.
--Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master's Guide (Preface)

There's a steady trajectory across versions of D&D that's moved the game from an exploration model to a fighting model.  If Moldvay and earlier versions put the emphasis on exploration and treasure recovery versus combat, AD&D increased the value of fighting; AD&D 1E literally doubled the amount of experience gained from fighting monsters, compared to BX D&D.  By the mid-80's, we see things like Dragonlance, where XP for story rewards have crept into AD&D's twilight years.  2nd Edition had an alternate XP system as well (my memory is shaky here, but I remember class rewards); 3E focused on the combat encounter and CR (challenge rating) as the basis for XP, and 4E dispensed with XP for treasure entirely - 4E rewards are 80-90% tactical combat, 10-20% recommended for quests, and 0% for treasure.

Drift indeed.


  1. I wonder how much, though, players are actually driven by the inherent rewards in the xp structure.

    In my experience, players are looking to explore; to keep their characters alive; and to have money enough to buy things (where indeed the typical D&D problem is not too little money but a lack of things to buy using the heavy amounts of treasure thrown at them).

    There is value to avoiding combat even if you are getting XP from it and there is value to taking treasure even if you aren't.

  2. "AD&D 1E literally doubled the amount of experience gained from fighting monsters, compared to BX D&D."

    While that may appear to be true simply by comparing B/X and AD&D xp values of common creatures, such a comparison doesn't take into account the fact that acquiring magic items garners xp in AD&D.

  3. Roger, that's a good observation; I'm assuming a back-to-basics approach should reward players for doing what the game is about, and based on the XP rewards, the game should be about exploration and loot more than fighting; players may be primarily motivated by exploration and story.

    Guy: the monster XP is indeed nearly doubled, but (I think) the point you're making is that the mix of treasure and magic item XP is still a much higher ratio of the whole than combat XP; that's still true in AD&D. It could be even higher if groups are selling magic items for gold in order to pay for training.

    Looking at the poll on the right, it's clear so many of AD&D's extra rules added in war gaming complexity and tactical choice, so maybe the higher monster XP was also a nod in that direction. I'm gaining a different appreciation of the system these days.

  4. Sorry for being unclear. Yes, you correctly interpreted what I said.

    The xp from magic items (whether kept or sold, which you alluded can grant different amounts of xp*) may counteract the near-doubling of monster xp, possibly restoring the ratio back to somewhere near the 1/4 or 1/5 ratio of monster xp to the rest of the xp.

    * which gives the players another way to influence the ratio.

    Another thing to keep in mind which can skew things slightly is the different values for some types of coins in AD&D. Silver and copper are worth twice as much xp in B/X than they are in AD&D. This is probably only significant at lower levels.

    "Looking at the poll on the right, it's clear so many of AD&D's extra rules added in war gaming complexity and tactical choice..."

    That's probably too far of a logical leap, given the nature and the size of the poll. "Complexity" is probably one fair descriptor of AD&D relative to B/X, but the rest of your sentence is undermined by lack of specificity.

  5. The point about D&D's extra rules isn't contingent upon the poll *results*; just that some of the finicky bits - weapon vs AC, speed factors, segments, casting times, the rules around helmets and firing into melee, added tactical complexity; whether that means people should be fighting more in AD&D, I'm only guessing, unless somewhere Gary had said 'Hey, I wanted to put more war game stuff back in there'.

  6. Sorry, I'm really have a bad posting clarity day. I probably shouldn't have been trying to post while working.

    My point was that while AD&D indeed adds complexity and detail to combat, it also adds dozens and dozens of pages of complexity and detail to myriad other things: Fields of knowledge known by sages, economy handling, magic items, lycanthropy, insanity, personality of NPCs, herbs (and spices and medicinal veggies!), effects of age, timekeeping, gem characteristics, disease, incorporating boot hill & gamma world, spells, random dungeon generation, player logistics, etc.

    The added "war game stuff" is dwarfed by all the rest of the stuff AD&D adds.

    There are so many facets of the game that are expanded in AD&D (relative to B/X) that I don't think it's reasonable to go down the logical path you took: Complexity was added to various combat rules, so (perhaps) xp was also complexified in order to promote the use of combat.

    All that said, I think the AD&D's higher xp values for monsters probably do have an effect on skilled players who are cognizant of that fact (that is, promoting combat more so than in B/X), especially once PCs get past that 4th-6th level or so and are no longer totally drained of resources due to training costs.

    But I think my assertion stands on its own merits, without needing support from the idea that other parts of the game added detail to combat.