2020-01-19 Not designing for level gain

When I read A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX by robdalexander I wondered: why don’t I ever think about these things?

Procedures to calculate how much treasure to place in adventures in order to guarantee level-up at opportune times is something product designers might have to keep in mind. Designing an adventure such that a certain amount of levelling up happens per timespan played... I don’t know. That is complicated, error prone, and I don’t think that this is how I want to play as a player.

Sure, I’ve been in groups where the players complain when no great treasure is found session after session as we are pushed back by infected goblins and tough fire giants. But to me, that is great: it tells me that we haven’t tried hard enough, or that we bit off a chunk to big to chew. We lacked preparation, scouting, grit, or suicidal tendencies. I like it.

Conversely, in my own games, people advance slowly, clawing their way up to level three, and then suddenly – BAM! – there is a golden barge worth 50,000 gold, or they defeat a dragon that happens to have around 90,000 gold in gems and jewels. It happens. To me, this is the variable reinforcement schedule with a proven track record in slot machines and other games of luck: it’s more exciting, it makes you want to come back. The joy of hitting Jackpot is sweet because the dry spell is desolation.

Anyway, back to the blog post: I do think that the criticism about modules lacking enough treasure can be handled without taking the hours played into account. The buyer of a product only wants to know for what level range the product is, and how many levels could be gained by exploring it. That gives you the total treasure to distribute in your product (plus a 50% margin or so). They can be quick or slow about it, but you as the designer have figured out that the treasure can be recovered by a party of the appropriate level and you’ve placed enough treasure to make sure that they will gain the expected levels. All the requirements of consumerism have been fulfilled. 🙈 😁

Courtney has some good posts on treasure and all that. The following two come to mind, for example:

There’s plenty more: check out the index, and the treasure tag.

Personally, I think I’m still going to roll on those random tables:

A simple way to do this is to follow the rules regarding dungeon levels, monsters encountered and the treasure types they have. As for myself, I’ve been tinkering with the monster descriptions, the numbers encountered, the treasure types, and I don’t usually have big dungeons – but that just means that I need to telegraph potential risks and rewards by other means: describe the landscape such that players now that they’re in dire straits; describe the monsters such that the players know whether they’re going to be pushovers or not; describe the signs of wealth or poverty before players rush in...

Then again, I do like reading how other people prep their games. And robdalexander is absolutely right when saying in Why bother having prep procedures?:

Related to that, explicit prep methods make it easier to teach good prep. If every new GM (or new-to-BX GM) has to feel their way to good treasure placement, then that’s a lot of learning work. If they can use a method to do it, at least initially while they’re finding their feet, they can spare their learning effort for something we can’t mechanise (e.g. making good rulings in a BX context).

I totally agree with that. It just happens that I don’t like crunching the numbers and doubt that a game that basically works is easier refined in play than redesigned. Tinkering with the elements of the game the way I did it was the way I enjoyed tinkering: at the table, informed by the events at the table. But I can only speak for myself when it comes to that.



I think pacing treasure/xp should be talked about more, because whenever there’s something experienced referees “just know” that others might not the game is prone to devolve in response to a misunderstood problem.

I like xp for gold. And I would bet that the reason modern games tend to use other systems even when they suffer for it (like incentivizing killing everything) is because there are better guidelines for number of encounters etc than for treasures.

Olav 2020-01-19 22:55 UTC

Yes, we definitely should talk more about treasure and XP. If we spell things out, we make it easier for others to accept or reject the conclusions, or tinker with them.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-01-20 07:39 UTC

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