Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How Many Times Have You Offered 1,000,000gp Treasures?

Hammers of the God has a gem worth far more than that. It's kind of a dare, as there really isn't a way for the low level characters the adventure is designed for (2-4) to get it (and woe to those that make the attempt...), and it's very unlikely (but fully possible) they'll even be aware of it. The players that ran through this never discovered its existence, but I've since added a clue in the library about it...

Death Ferox Doom hands a treasure worth that to the PCs that they are free to take. My players, quite recently, didn't walk away with it, even though they had it in their hands.

I figure such mega-treasures, even if recovered and XP granted for them, aren't a game-breaker. It's a free level, if using the gp=xp rules as all good and proper games do, but other than that, it's nothing but complication. Keeping the treasure, hiding it away, that would prevent further complication, but once such an item becomes known (surely you're not just going to try to sell it down at the market), even good and noble nations will go to war for such a thing. Certainly adventuring types for which such a treasure would be level-appropriate will come a-knocking, and far more quickly than a nation could mobilize for war...!

So even if I try to engineer that these treasures never leave their dungeons, players always find a way, and I don't think it's such a big deal. (unless you allow the purchase of magic items in your game, but that's rather insane, isn't it?)

(Hammers of the God, out late July... Death Ferox Doom, later in the year...)

I can't wait to see what people make of Hammers of the God... it's nothing more than a hole in the ground, "here's a dungeon" adventure with no more of a suggested hook than sticking a map to its location in a previous treasure... but between the grand locations, the backstory which will only be known by basically stopping the adventure for a good long time and reading everything in the library (not that the players need to care, but the studious will find much to learn, and I expect conflict in groups that have more action oriented people and those who want to read all the books!), and the treasures available for such low-level characters - and the guardians of those treasures - I expect some to love and some to hate and hardly any to have a middling opinion.

Death Ferox Doom I hope to just be a complete punch in the gut, but that's aways off yet. After the box set and Hammers are out I want to get Insect Shrine, the Sanitarium adventure, and Death Ferox Doom all out this year. That's a very ambitious schedule, but this seems to be the year for that.

We shall see.


  1. This makes me curious. Would you award full xp for the treasure ...

    * if the party never had it appraised?
    * if they had it appraised at 10k gp and decided to keep it?
    * if they had it appraised at 10k gp and decided to sell it?
    * if they had it correctly appraised at a million gp but couldn't find a buyer?
    * if they had it correctly appraised at a million gp but sold it for 100k to a buyer who could only get that amount together?

    This is one of those tricky cases to me, where the xp=gp mechanism breaks down.

  2. I until recently was using the "must spend gold to get the XP," which was pretty clear-cut.

    But these days, just getting the treasure back to safe haven is enough to award the full value in XP, no matter how much money the PCs get for it, if they even sell it.

    However, since only one level can be gained per adventure, the excess XP would be lost...

  3. Tthis reminds me of that Simpsons episode with the trillion dollar bill... I think it would be very interesting if the players had to try and convert it into usable currency. It would involve dealing with the richest, most powerful NPC's in the campaign and anyone else who got wind of it...

  4. I don't understand the love for the "gp=xp" rule in some of the OSR blogs, particularly as the rule according some of the oldest editions of the game should really be stated "gp=xp except insofar as it's not".

    It's explicitly stated in both the Holmes rules and the 1e PHB that "gp=xp" doesn't apply if the PCs don't overcome an equivalent challenge in acquiring the treasure. A 1,000,000 gp gem guarded by a lonely kobold is *not* worth 1,000,000 xp, no matter what. According to both Holmes and the 1e PHB, the "gp=xp" rule is intended to indicate that players should be rewarded for the risk undertaken in obtaining treasure, not for its mere acquisition. It certainly, IMHO, shouldn't be taken to mean that the game is about "exploration" as some have suggested. One needs to kill a monster, solve a puzzle, disarm a trap, or deal in some way with something that can kill the PCs.

    Under the treasure rules in Holmes: "The [treasure] tables are
    designed to maintain some sort of balance between the
    value of the dungeon's treasures and the risks involved
    in obtaining it."

    and in the 1e PHB Experience rules: "Experience points awarded for treasure gained - monetary or magical - are modified downward if the guardian of the treasure (whether a monster, device, or obstacle, such as a secret door or maze) was generally weaker than the character who overcame it. A 4th level character versus a single orc is an overmatch, and only about 10% of the treasure value gained count towards the experience points; but if nine or ten orcs were involved, the experience points awarded would generally be on the one for one basis."

    That last part, of course, also indicates that it is supposed that xp for greater challenges will be "modified downward" in disproportinate cases as well (such as, say, 1,000,000 gp gems).

    As I see it, the "gp=xp" rule arose from D&D's wargaming roots and only really makes sense when treasure is viewed as some kind of scorekeeping device more reminiscent of a boardgame than the rpg which eventually emerged from the early experiments but for some reason held on to this device for far too long.

  5. >>treasure is viewed as some kind of scorekeeping device

    When you have XP required to gain levels, you do need some sort of objective standard by which to award XP.

  6. >>When you have XP required to gain levels, you do need some sort of objective standard by which to award XP.

    I agree that one would like an objective standard, but no such beast can exist. If you take the "xp=gp" rule without qualification, xp granted becomes essentially DM fiat based on treasure placement. If you take the qualified "risk-adjusted xp=gp" rule, it is still DM fiat now based on the DMs assessment of risk (although it is possible to at least objectively approach this, i.e. one can estimate the mathematical probability of PC death, but I suspect almost no one even tries, aside from whether they should). Bottom line is, as a practical matter, PCs advance as fast as the DM decides they do.

  7. >>PCs advance as fast as the DM decides they do.

    Yes and no.

    There's the hexcrawling, random encounter, randomly rolled treasure method (% in lair becomes crucial here), but I'll have to leave that argument to someone else because I don't use it.

    Now with my adventures, I place the encounters and treasure, so I certainly am deciding an upper limit on their advancement in one adventure, but it's certainly not guaranteed that a party is going to get all of it.

    Fiat on potential, not actual, XP.

    I've run Grinding Gear twice, in regular campaign play before even thinking about publishing it, where the party didn't find the treasure at the end. They lost out on the potential XP sitting there.

    In my run-through of Tower of the Stargazer, the party was literally looking right at the treasure but after some shenanigans was unable to reach it... so they missed out on the lion's share of the XP available in the adventure.

    In both adventures there are various other things that are valuable that can be (and were!) taken, so the adventures weren't total losses, but not what they could have been.

    Death Frost Doom allows a party to just CLEAN UP, with essentially no risk at all, if they're just patient and not itching for action... but nobody leaves it at that. Hell, if the players have caught wind of what the module is about, they fear this free gold and XP (needlessly!).

    Other factors, such as PCs dying (XP only for survivors!), not knowing how many players are showing up for any particular session, and having henchmen which further divides XP shares, prevents any sort of accurate prophecy of how much XP will actually be awarded for an adventure, even with a completely preplanned list of monsters and treasure.

  8. Most times it is the treasure amount itself that should be adjusted to the challenges faced. Rules should be a last-chance backstop, not a regular cover-up, for poor GM judgment.

    If you have a million GP item, part of the challenge must lie in getting to it, and this in turn may include the player-skill feat of recognizing it for what it is (as Jim implies for his adventures).

    Of course, players have a way of smashing your best "million-dollar" puzzles, in Gordian style or otherwise. This is fine; it's part of GM surprise. Nevertheless, it would be comforting to have some sort of hard cap, justified either by the one-level rule, or the risk-adjustment rule.

    I would give everyone a level once they had both recognized the treasure for what it was and got to safety - no giving away clues by telling everyone "Level up, never mind why." Like Jim, I would then proceed to demonstrate the wisdom of the great sage of Brooklyn: "Mo' money, mo' problems."

  9. Jaquays' Night of the Walking Wet says "At the base of the god's pedestal is a pile of gems (100) that is equal in value to 1,000,000 gold pieces." No one has ever gotten that treasure in either of the times I've run it. This could because it was convention play, or because you more or less have to fight a god to get 'em.

    >> I don't understand the love for the "gp=xp" rule in some of the OSR blogs

    The reasons I love it are laid out here by my fellow-Mule, James.
    - Tavis

  10. >>Fiat on potential, not actual, XP.

    My argument doesn't hinge on determinism. The DM decides what treasure is available and how difficult it is to acquire, and thereby also must decide how much xp it is worth, whether by "xp=gp" or something else. These are all decisions solely in the hands of the DM.

    It must be pointed out that it is a fine and noble thing, IMHO, to put players in a "risk assessment" situation and reward them for correctly perceiving the situation even when there is no "actual" risk at all. By letter of the law, it's a twist on the old rules, but I certainly think it lies in the spirit of the idea. "Do we take the gold idol, or is it going to kill us?"

    Also,based on some of your examples, it sounds as if you like to design adventures such that there is essentially a "puzzle" in acquiring the treasure; one doesn't simply take it after killing the monster. The xp then becomes the PC reward for solving that puzzle, as opposed to defeating the monster. I'm guessing you value player insight more than overcoming risky obstacles. I'm on your side, if so, but this isn't the nature of the xp for treasure rules as I read them, it is a departure.

  11. Two items:

    1. If I was going to give PCs a 1E6 gp treasure, I'd give it to them in gp. This is far more fungible than giving them a giant gem, but just them figuring out how to get it all out of the place would be worth a million xp.

    2. How big must a 1E6 gp gem actually be? The Hope Diamond, valued at ~$300 million, is 45 carats. Since gold is about $1150 per ounce, the Hope diamond is worth about 260,000 troy ounces of gold, or 18000 avoirdupois pounds. Since 1 gp is 1/10 of a pound, the Hope diamond would be worth about 180,000 g.p. on the open market. This means, if make the unreasonable assumption that value scales linearly with weight, that a 1 million xp gem would be a little more than five times larger: roughly 250 kt, 0.1 pound or 50g. Given the density of diamond to be around 3.5 g per cubic cm, the volume of such a stone would be 175 cubic cm, which is equivalent to a sphere with radius 3.5 cm (1.4 inches). Actually, that's really small.

  12. Yes, masses of gems worth a million GP will be easy to carry out.

    I'd rather put the "treasure" in the walls of a cave in the dungeon so that it must be mined out with some labor or else magic and ingenuity.

    Or in the form of silver coins. If 1 GP = 10 SP, and 10 coins = 1 pound, then the haul would be 1,000,000 pounds. Getting that out of the dungeon is almost as much labor as mining out 300 gems from the walls and having them cut.

    That said, let's assume they haul the treasure out. In my game the PC gets 1 XP per GP squandered (like Conan, or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser would). But they can't just throw the gem into a hole in the ground, they'd have to spend it on ale and dancers and musicians and just a huge party. OR they could donate it to a temple or something, to accomodate the stodgy adventurers like Clerics, Paladins, and Monks.

    And therein lies my particular pickle. They could harvest the 1,000,000 XP by donating it.

    In any other case, holding on to the gem would be a problem. And selling or trading it away would be virtually impossible, unless you took a lot less value for it. And if you only got 100k GP for the gem, then that's all I'd count it as worth in terms of XP.

    I had a DM who had us come across truly enormous diamonds on the Elemental Plane of Earth. I ended up using them to make spherical diamond-golems rather than trying to sell them.

    I think the issue here isn't giving an appropriate award, but giving an inappropriate one just to screw with the players. If putting a Vorpal Sword into the campaign will cause problems, then don't put it in. If you roll randomly for everything, then just let the sword in - after all, if you let the dice fall where they may, that sword is bound to fail a save against a Fireball at some point.

    In this case the module says there is a million-GP gem, which is just churlish to include if the PCs don't have a chance to get it. Might as well include a gallery of identified magic items behind impenetrable glass.

  13. In answer to your original question: the last time I had a million gps of treasure in a dungeon, I was about 11 or 12 years old...

    Now that you remind me, I'm kind of itching to do it again!
    : )

  14. I had a hoard of a gazillion silvers, and a mithril mailshirt, in my first adventure as a GM. Yes, my first.

    It took me ages to be able to play a game where monetary reward was a player hook.

    For many years I didn't knew you could do it that way.