Friday, February 12, 2010

Die-roll Dungeons

Most people in this hobby have a favorite chart. As strange as it might sound to non-gamers, some of us simply enjoy certain little collections of numbers and results such as the Harlot sub-table (“Oh no, it’s a Sly Pimp!”), the Potion Miscibility Table (“DISCOVERY!”), or Rolemaster’s crazy-ass critical tables (“Reduced to a gelatinous pulp. Try a spatula”). I’m no exception.

As cool as the ones quoted above might be, my favorite is a much more pedestrian albeit useful one. It’s the Stock the Dungeon table from Moldvay Basic, a table that I’ve put into use more times than I could count over the last twenty-some years. So often have I employed it that I no longer need to consult the actual table to use it.

The “Stock the Dungeon” table, much like Moldvay’s morale rules, is one of the bits of genius that came out of that rulebook, making referees around the world wonder why it took so long for such a simple and useful tool to make its way into the pages of Dungeons & Dragons. Earlier books gave advice as to how the referee should stock his dungeons with monsters and treasure, but the quality of these suggestions varied. Underworld & Wilderness Adventures gives us the 33% rule of monsters (a 2 in 6 chance of monsters occupying any given dungeon room) as well as determining that treasure is found half the time in room with monsters and 17% of the time in empty rooms. Holmes Basic repeats the 33% rule of monsters but omits any reference to unguarded treasure. The Monster & Treasure Assortment instructs us that “a dungeon level should have monsters in only 20% or so of the available rooms and chambers, about 20% of monsters should have no treasure whatsoever.”

Tom Moldvay, however, assembled all these bits into one comprehensive table and added two missing dungeon features—traps & “specials.” He also provided a simple sub-chart for determining the presence of treasure in each room, guarded or not. The end result was a table that was simple to use and remember, while remaining true to the original philosophy of how often something is found in the dungeon.

I’m a proponent of the randomly stocked dungeon. I follow Gary’s advice to determine where the important monsters and treasures are found, then dice to see what else is down there. For me, this is half of fun of designing the dungeon in the first place. Random determination of contents often gives me results I hadn’t anticipated, challenging me to come up with offbeat solutions or interesting backstory to justify the presence of an object. And, as I’ve stated in the past, the ability to creatively interpret the unforeseen results of a die roll is one of the overlooked skills of a great referee, so it pays to develop and constantly hone this ability.

Still more interesting for me as a referee is that, by using a random method to stock the dungeon, the dungeon itself sometimes informs me of what it wants to become rather than what I had in store for it. My most recent dungeon has done exactly this. I started with the intent to make it a delve suitable for 1st level PCs, but, as a result of several dice rolls, the challenges awaiting the players have made it more suitable for 2nd and even 3rd level characters. And I think it’s a much richer adventuring site because of this. A few of the specials found within it have also added to the history of the campaign world and the background events of the sandbox setting. None of this would have come about if I had gone about deliberately inserting each element into the dungeon and worried about maintain a certain level of difficulty.

So here’s to Moldvay’s Stock the Dungeon table, a bit of underappreciated genius in the history of our hobby. A table full of possibilities for fun, adventure, danger, and excitement all gathered into a few simple columns. May your Treasure? rolls always come up ones.

12 comments:

Nick said...

Thanks for the heads up on that table. Being a newcomer to older versions, I hadn't even seen it yet. Do you have any recommendations on random furnishings/features tables? I like the concept, but the only one I know is the 3.5, which never seems to give me the right feel.

Youseph said...

Where can one find a copy of Stock the Dungeon table from Moldvay?

Michael Curtis said...

The 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide is the go-to source for things like dungeon furnishings, weird objects, and evil smells. Most of those tables have been reproduced in OSRIC and, more recently, in the Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord

Michael Curtis said...

Where can one find a copy of Stock the Dungeon table from Moldvay?

Outside of tracking down a copy of the Moldvay rulebook, you can consult the Labyrinth Lord rulebook. The Moldvay Stock the Dungeon table is somewhat reproduced in that book, but uses d% instead of my prefered d6 method. It's close enough to Moldvay and free.

Jay said...

Michael, this is great stuff--I have Moldvay, but it's in storage. Thanks for posting about the AEC. I found the tables starting on page 147 of the no-art version.

Cheers!

Lord Kilgore said...

I believe that this is based on the Moldvay tables, though I'm not 100%:

http://www.peccable.com/roleplaying/moldvay.php

Lord Kilgore said...

Sorry: Here's a real link:

http://www.peccable.com/roleplaying/moldvay.php

brady said...

Robert Doyel's Engineering Dungeons is a good one, too. Extremely robust. Officially, it's for Castles & Crusades, but of course can be used with just about any system. I've been using it for a while, but am considering switching back to Moldvay due to some overly generous treasure rooms.

Michael Curtis said...

I believe that this is based on the Moldvay tables, though I'm not 100%

Wow is that application a little wonky. It looks to be a faithful reproduction of the Moldvay method, but it's perhaps a little too generous when it comes to the treasure tables. It came up with an encounter with 8 kolbolds with 13,000 copper pieces each and an encounter with 4 orcs with 4,000 gold piece each! Ka-Ching!

Lord Kilgore said...

8 kolbolds with 13,000 copper pieces each and an encounter with 4 orcs with 4,000 gold piece each! Ka-Ching!

As a player I don't see a problem with that. LOL!

Running it repeatedly, it seems like most fit the expected results. (I don't have my book available to compare right this minute.) Then suddenly you've got a room of 7 sprites with 3,000 gp each. Zowie.

P_Armstrong said...

Amen!
A while ago I put it to use stocking a dungeon level on my blog...
http://ode2bd.blogspot.com/2009/03/section-e-stock-dungeon.html

Michael Curtis said...

I just realized that Mentzer-era Basic also uses the Moldvay table, but it switches the results around a little. The premise is the same, however, so if you have a copy of Mentzer basic, you've got the same mechanic to work with.