While the Monster & Treasure Assortment gives us the particulars of the dungeon’s inhabitants and their wealth, it and Holmes Basic provide only guidelines on when to roll for them. To stock as we explore The Deep Halls, we need an easy method to determine room contents.
I am fond of Moldvay’s tables for stocking room contents and treasure. Outside of “special monsters to be used,” I depend on those two tables to determine what’s behind the door and what’s hidden under the loose floor stone. They provide quick answers to the immediate questions, while allowing leeway for creativity to intercede.
For The Deep Halls, though, we’re using Holmes Basic. Nothing stops us from using the B/X tables except a curiosity to play the game as we might have done in the late 70s. So, perusing the Bluebook, I put together the text about stocking a dungeon and compiled a single d100 table.
Keeping with the Holmes spirit, in this article I try to avoid any assumptions based on Moldvay’s tables and, indeed, any B/X-isms whatsoever. If you spot one, call me out. Punishment is to be thrown into the Pit behind the Great Stone Skull.
Flying Dungeon Stocking Table
All table entries—“double” and “single” treasures, the various traps, for examples—are derived from Holmes Basic plus supplements Monster & Treasure Assortments and Dungeon Geomorphs. I discuss below, at some length, how I arrived at the entries and their percentages.
You can use the table to generate general random room contents, either while stocking the dungeon before a session or on the fly. Using it in the later case, I call it “flying.”
|1-5||Monsters, double treasures (special)|
|6-10||Monsters, double treasures (selected)|
|11-18||Monsters, single treasure (selected)|
|19-26||Monsters, single treasure (random)|
|27-33||Monsters, no treasure|
|34-38||Treasure (hidden, trapped; room appears empty)|
|39||Trap: transports to deeper level|
|40-43||Trap: scything melee weapon|
|44-45||Trap: falling block|
|46-49||Trap: spring-loaded missile|
|50-54||Trap: trap door in floor, pit “relatively shallow”|
|55-57||Trap: trap door in floor, pit 10’ deep|
|58||Trap: trap door in floor, pit 20’ deep|
|79-100||Appears to be empty…|
Bluebook editor Dr. J. Eric Holmes affords us the bulk of his guidance on stocking dungeons in a half dozen paragraphs on pages 22 and 40. In addition, he recommends guidelines in the Monster & Treasure Assortments. He also mentions the Dungeon Geomorphs. We don’t need geomorphs for The Deep Halls, but some guidance therein helps to resolve a dilemma, which we’ll get to shortly.
Though I refrain from minute detail, this article far exceeds the comfortable reading length of the average reader, old school or otherwise. To guide you, the remainder of the article is divided into the following sections:
Monsters and Treasures
Balancing Challenge and Reward
In the MONSTERS section of the Bluebook, the editor warns:
“Determination of exactly how much treasure any monster has can be a difficult matter.”
He goes on to explain that too little treasure “dampens enthusiasm,” and the PCs don’t live long enough to gain a level. Too much treasure “turns the game into a give away show.”1 The players don’t learn how to play well, and the lack of challenge reduces interest in play.
A note about the notes: As standard practice, I include the context in each footnote, so the reader may comfortably follow the narrative and read the notes afterward, using—if necessary—the superscript numbers for reference.
“Single” and “Double,” “Special” and “Selected”
Under the heading SAMPLE FLOOR PLAN, PART OF FIRST LEVEL, Holmes advises:
“Place a few special items first, then randomly assign treasure and monsters to the other rooms using the selection provided in the game or appropriate tables.” (40)
Turning to the Monster & Treasure Assortments (hereafter M&T), we see reiterated the suggestion to “prepare several special monsters—along with whatever treasure each such monster guards.” M&T continues:
“Thereafter, … move to the list of randomly generated monsters and select which should be in proximity to the specially placed monsters.”
After this selection, random determination from the enclosed tables is the method advised.
Note that each of the three Monster & Treasure Assortment Sets contain identical instructions for stocking dungeons. But we’ll see below a difference between sets in the Dungeon Geomorphs instructions.
In reference to treasures, M&T urges “that the DM selectively place as many treasures as possible, doubling up in some cases.”
The point of the Flying Table is to make a random determination, and frankly, the listed treasures are not terribly exciting. I avoid having to chose between 300 gold pieces and 500 electrum by rolling for it. Maybe I’ll get a Manual of Puissant Skill of Arms.
However, I retain the notions of “special” and “selected” in the flying table—not “as many as possible” though. I group the treasures with like monsters. And—you start to know me—I keep the idea of “doubling up” treasures.
Treasures, Hidden, Trapped
Whether accompanied by a monster or not, treasures should be hidden and trapped. They are often in some container. This is where M&T shines. Three tables, TREASURE IS CONTAINED IN, GUARDED BY, and HIDDEN BY/IN, improve a treasure’s allure.
Exploring a room, we find a large stone jar. Runes are carved around its neck. It is filled with incense. As we approach we can smell it. Further inspection shows it to be only a thin layer of incense, beneath which we discover a cache of gold coins before the runes explode.
How Often Monsters?
“A roll of 1 or 2 [on a d6] indicates some monster is there.” (Holmes, 40)
Here, in the probability of monsters appearing, we arrive at our dilemma. Where Holmes gives 33% (1 or 2 out of 6, above), M&T states: “a dungeon level should have monsters in only 20% or so of the available rooms and chambers.”
I lean toward 33%, because it’s in OD&D, not to mention B/X. But I want to justify it somehow. I found the justification in the Dungeon Geomorphs.
Brief instructions below the ENCOUNTER KEY EXAMPLE in Set One: Basic Dungeons gives “Approximately 25%” as the monster probability.
Adding a different percentage seems only to aggravate the problem. But, while the instructions in Set Three: Lower Dungeons are the same, those in Set Two differ in one respect: In Caves and Caverns, we encounter a monster in half the rooms.
Implied Setting: More Monsters in Caves
A greater monster probability in natural subterranean environments is news to me. It changes, if only slightly, how I imagine D&D’s implied setting.
The average between the differing probabilities, 25 and 50, is 37.5%, which I’ll take as close enough to 33% and align with Holmes.2
So, we are settled on a 33% monster probability. Now, we discuss some details about monsters and treasures before going on to address, briefly, traps, “interesting variations,” and empty rooms.
“Where Amon-Gorloth sleeps and dreams”
Author-cartographer Dyson Logos tells us the dreaming priests adapted The Deep Halls from existing caverns. Built-out dungeon rooms as well as caves, natural and rough-hewn, are depicted on the map.
To adhere strictly to the differing Dungeon Geomorphs instructions, I’m working out two modified tables, one for each environment: 25% monster probability in dungeon levels and 50% in caves and caverns.
“Twisted and nightmarish,” indeed.
Monsters, No Treasures
M&T adds, “about 20% of the monsters should have no treasure whatsoever.” The rationale for broke monsters, according to the supplement, is that players will not know if treasure is present or not. Whereas, if every monster had treasure, they would search until they found it.
By my reading of Holmes, other than jellies, slimes, and puddings, which are placed randomly in halls between rooms, all monsters have treasure. As he is mute on the wealth wandering monsters might carry, we assume none.3
Treasures, No Monsters
While M&T makes a good case for monsters without treasures, the converse is not mentioned. Nowhere in the cited sources do I find explicit instructions to include treasures where there are no monsters.
The only evidence for this necessary phenomenon, not rare in other editions, is general references to “treasure,” not indicating whether a monster is present.
Why Treasures Without Monsters?
A dungeon without a few treasures not guarded by monsters is a dungeon little explored. In such a world, neophyte adventurers are taught the simple maxim: “No monster, no treasure.”
If the room is empty, which “many” are (Holmes, 40), adventurers move to open the opposite door. Why search a room where, at best, you might find a trap? At worst, you’ll find a trap, and while searching, a monster will wander through the door.
The DM, then, loses a valuable information-delivery platform. All those clues—for example, to the origin of the dungeon, the story of its builder, and how to defeat him or her—go unsought and undiscovered.
In spite of the omission, I add to the table a 5% chance for treasures without monsters.
How many Manuals of Puissant Skill of Arms?
If you get a duplicate result of a magic item, M&T gives you license to replace it with a like item, e.g. a potion for a potion. You can roll for it on the appropriate table. For more excitement, you can roll on the Magic Items table (Holmes, 36), or roll first to see if it’s a map (Maps and Magic Categories, 34), as I do. Careful though, rolling on the Magic Items table opens up the possibility to get a more powerful item than M&T intended. Wear your “Monty Haul” badge with pride.
This is adorable. Holmes on traps:
“Falling into a relatively shallow pit would do damage only on a roll of 5 or 6 (1-6 hit points at most) but will delay the party while they get the trapped character out.”
Apart from explaining damage for more profound pits and admonishing us against “the ‘Zap! You’re dead!’ variety,” Holmes has no further advice on traps.
Dungeon Geomorphs provides the proportion: “For every five [rooms and large spaces] there should be approximately one trap” or 20%.
Geomorphs goes on to give us the idea to transport explorers to lower levels:
“Slanting passages, teleportation areas, slides, and the like should be added sparingly thereafter—one or two such items per level is a fair guideline.”
By way of a series of thought experiments using the geomorphs and mathematical calculations to take into account the implied number of encounter areas per level, I derived 1% as the “sparing” chance for transportation to deeper levels.
The 39 Steps
It was through mysterious coincidence that the entry for transportation to deeper levels falls at 39 on the table.
Maybe the shadowy organization of Hitchcock’s 1935 film is not involved. It cannot be that within the 39% entry is hidden a coded message, planted by an insidious enemy, giving the time and place for a clandestine rendezvous, as in John Buchan’s 1915 novel. Yet, it may be that both are true, for “The 39 Steps” delivers explorers to deeper levels…
In a Set Three example, Dungeon Geomorphs gives us poison spikes at the bottom of a pit trap. It doesn’t describe damage, but one would assume a minimum d6 from a spike (there are six in the pit) in addition to falling damage, plus at least one save vs. Poison—“Zap! You’re Dead!” Let’s save dripping, sharp objects on pit bottoms for a Lower Dungeons campaign.
For more variety in things that go “Zap!” I add spring-loaded missiles and scything melee weapons, which usually guard treasures in M&T.
Also present, Holmes notes, are “hidden rooms, movable walls, teleportation devices, illusion rooms, dead ends, etc.,” which he calls “interesting variations” (40). Let’s assume the percentage is equal to that of traps.
This is where the creative DM exercises his or her genius: A lever controls an elevator room. Water from a clear pool, when imbibed, increases an ability score. Crystal spheres hang in the air; when one is broken, treasure or a monster falls out. Walking through an archway, the adventurer is teleported to a dragon’s lair—under the monster’s foot! The rest of us tell stories about them, and these interesting variations become legends.
I generally lack this genius. I depend on the legends to dress up my dungeons with such variations. Thankfully, an old school gamer collected many of the best ones into a book of random tables.
The Dungeon Alphabet
Although it was published three decades after Holmes, I have to recommend The Dungeon Alphabet: An A-to-Z Reference for Classic Dungeon Design by Michael Curtis for devising interesting variations. When it doesn’t add something wild and cool, it adds flavor to the dungeon and its culture.
It has controlling levers, teleportation devices, magic pools, mysterious events, and lots more. Use an entry straight from the book or peruse and be inspired to invent your own.
The earliest publication is 2009, but be sure to get the “Expanded Fourth Printing” of 2018—it has a few additional interesting variations.
The Dungeon Alphabet is published by Goodman Games in hardcover and PDF.
“Many rooms should be empty.” (Holmes, 40)
The remaining 22% on the table goes to empty rooms, keeping in mind that rooms containing treasures without monsters (5%, above) also appear empty… until we turn up some nice treasures!
1 “…turns the game into a give away show.” I have to think Holmes here alludes directly to Let’s Make a Deal, the television game show originally hosted by Monty Hall, from which the derogatory “Monty Haul” is derived.
2 For more monsters and more treasures on a single table, align with the 37.5% average of the Dungeon Geomorphs instructions by adjusting the table, adding 4% or 5% to the chance to encounter monsters (for a total of 37% or 38% monster probability). To do so, add 1 to the range for each Monsters entry with treasure (for 37%) and 1 to the Treasures only entry (for 38%). Adjust the table down the line, keeping the same chance for Traps and Interesting variations, and remove 4% or 5%, as appropriate, from the chance for an empty room.
3 Because they carry no treasure, wandering monsters only drain the party’s resources. This heightens the tension during exploration. Aware that the passing of time brings danger without reward, clever adventurers don’t doddle.