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March 2021

The Deep Halls vs Quasqueton

Before we go on to remedy the dearth of experience points stocked in The Deep Halls, I want to check our work against a Holmes-era published module.

In “One Deadly Dungeon,” we use the probabilities for monsters and treasures on the Flying Dungeon Stocking Table to calculate how much experience might be earned in The Deep Halls Level 1. In 51 encounter areas, we count 4,277 XP from treasures and monsters, including the wandering type.

On his D&D Hotspot, Dan “Delta” Collins treats Dungeon Module B1 In Search of the Unknown with similar scrutiny. In the two-level complex called the Caverns of Quasqueton, Dan counts 4,264 stocked XP in 56 encounter areas. He omits wandering monsters.

Dungeon Module B1 In Search of the Unknown - Mike Carr
Dungeon Module B1 In Search of the Unknown by Mike Carr (TSR Games, 1979) replaced Sets One of Monster & Treasure Assortment and Dungeon Geomorphs in later printings of the Basic D&D boxed set.

So as not to compare daggers to broadswords, we remove wandering monsters (425 XP) from The Deep Halls—3,852 XP.

Comparing Experience Points per Encounter Area

Dungeon Total XP No. of Areas XP per Area
Quasqueton 4,264 56 areas 76.14
The Deep Halls 3,852 51 areas 75.53

Rounding brings the XP per area to the same. This should not be surprising. I derived the Flying Table from guidelines given in Holmes Basic with the two earlier supplements B1 replaced. The correspondence only suggests that, one, module designer Mike Carr used the same guidelines, and two, at least regarding monsters and treasures, the Flying Dungeon Stocking Table hits the mark.

While we’re poking around in Carr’s Quasqueton, let’s look at how the total XP is distributed between treasures and monsters.

Comparing Treasure-to-Monster Ratio

Dungeon XP from Treasure XP from Monsters Ratio
Quasqueton 3,400 864 39:10
The Deep Halls 2,752 1,100 25:10

The same amount of XP is delivered in a different balance. More monsters dwell in The Deep Halls. Quasqueton contains more wealth. There is room yet in our dungeon for at least half again the treasures.


One Deadly Dungeon

“…if the party were second level, or the first level monsters were encountered on the second level of the dungeon, the number of wandering monsters encountered should be doubled. In a like manner, the number of monsters should be tripled for third level adventurers or in the third level of the dungeon if the monsters appearing are first level.” (Holmes, 10)

Other than a hint in the wandering monster table, with more and more powerful monsters found on levels two and three, this allusion to the increasing danger in deeper levels is as close as Holmes1 gets to a standard conceit of old-school dungeons: the strength of the average monster encounter on a given dungeon level matches that of a player party of the same experience level.

That accepted, a dungeon’s deadliness might be expressed as a ratio of the number of experience points in stocked monsters and treasures a given level contains versus the amount necessary for an adventuring party to gain an experience level.

A party of 1st-level characters, for example, exploring the first level of the dungeon, should earn enough experience to gain a level before descending to the second level. For, while the adventurers still have a fighting chance, the dangers below are more likely to overwhelm them.

Scratched with an iron spike on the inside of a neophyte adventurer’s shield is the maxim, “Level up before level down.”

Closed Dungeon

I assume here a “closed” dungeon. That is, one which must be explored without delving elsewhere. Whether due to time constraint or DM fiat, the only experience to be gained is in this dungeon.

An even 1:1 ratio—experience stocked to that necessary—may not be enough to approach a minimum level of survivability. We should consider that some monsters prove too tough and some treasures go undiscovered. Further, attrition extracts earned experience from the pool.

I am not one to scrutinize the numbers. But the dungeon’s limited size prompts me to further examination. I conclude below that any foray into The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth is doomed to failure. This is how I figure.

Reading Map

This is another longish bit. The math is no more complicated than simple probabilities and basic algebra,2 but following each step requires tenacity on the part of the author as well as the reader. I try to move quickly through the calculations and, at the same time, remain coherent.

If you are able to follow the text—and do, then we are exploring The Deep Halls together. Suggested equipment: lantern and ten-foot pole…

Encounter Areas per Level

As an initial measure to ensure some modicum of survivability, I previously merged The Deep Halls’ seven levels into three, thereby increasing the number of encounter areas per level. Counting the areas by color, we get the following numbers, sub-totaled by level.

Level Color Areas
1st UP Red 4
1A Tan 15
1B Light green 32
Sub-total Level 1:   51
2A Dark green 44
2B Blue-green 48
Sub-total Level 2:   92
3A Blue 16
3B Purple 20
Sub-total Level 3:   36

Adventures per Character Level

“As a guideline, it should take a group of players from 6 to 12 adventures before any of their characters are able to gain sufficient experience to attain second level.” (Holmes, 22)

In my experience with both Holmes Basic and B/X, a low-level party, having not unusual luck, can explore about five rooms, before running low on spells and hit points. If by “adventures” the editor intends forays into and out of the dungeon, ten of these would clear the 51 encounter areas on Level 1.

Note that, for the present purpose, we consider only The Deep Halls’ first level. The calculated ratio is specific to that level. It is not applicable to the dungeon’s other levels or to any other dungeon. Though the calculations to derive the ratio could apply.

Experience Necessary to Gain 2nd Level

“The number of wandering monsters appearing should be roughly equal to the strength of the party encountering them. First level adventurers encountering monsters typically found on the first level of a dungeon should be faced with roughly equal numbers, i.e. a party of three would encounter 2-6 orcs, 3-12 giant rats, etc.” (Holmes, 10)

The goal is determine how many experience points to stock on Level 1 so a 1st-level player party might advance one level of experience before going down to the next.

Party Size

Cross-referencing Holmes’s example for balancing encounters with the Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One, we see, on the First Level table, entries for both monsters: “Orcs (2-5)” and “Giant Rats (3-12).”

Averaging the dice rolls for the ranges and dropping halves, a party of three might encounter three 1-HD orcs or seven ½-HD giant rats—a “roughly equal” match for a party of three 1-HD characters.

On M&T’s second level, the party of three, now 6-HD, encounters 3-12 orcs (average 7) or 5-20 giant rats (12). On the third level: 4-24 orcs (14) and 5-30 giant rats (17) versus the party’s 9 HD. Tenuous, but the match holds.

Further examination of the monster tables (not shown) reveals similar correspondence. We conclude that, though the M&T instructions do not say, three is the target number of party members for listed encounters.

Therefore, we use a party of three adventurers to determine a baseline. We can adjust for larger and smaller parties later.

Hereafter, I show the math immediately following the text that refers to it.

Averaging the XP necessary for each class, as a whole the party must earn 2,171 XP per member. (Note that only 4,000 XP are necessary for an elf to advance to 2nd level in the fighting man class.)

2,000 + 2,500 + 1,500 + 1,200 + 2,000 + 2,000 + 4,000 ÷ 7 = 2,171 XP

For our party of three, Level 1 should be stocked with 6,513 XP to arrive at a ratio of 1:1, stocked-to-necessary XP.

2,171 × 3 = 6,513 XP

Magic-users and elves lag—as usual.

Noncontiguous Levels

We needn’t venture far into The Halls before we have an indication of their depths. Level 1 is not contiguous (nor is any level). A 1st-level party is obliged to descend into dark green sections (level 2A) early in the exploration. We keep it in mind for later consideration. By this though, we are warned: The Deep Halls is one deadly dungeon.

Mean Experience per Encounter

Here we calculate the average XP to be gained per encounter from monsters and from treasures. Considering only Level 1, we round to 50 encounter areas for simplicity.

On the Flying Dungeon Stocking Table, monsters entries should be read as one roll on the M&T monsters table. In addition, let’s assume the “double” treasures (first two entries) are accompanied by double monsters—two rolls on the table. Likewise, single and double treasures on the Flying Table are one and two rolls for treasures.

XP from Monsters

Here, where we calculate the average value for XP from monsters, it is for a roll on the M&T tables, not for a single monster. We see on the Flying Table that monsters inhabit 33% of rooms (17), plus 10% of rooms are double monsters (add 5). So, Level 1 might contain 22 monsters.

The mean XP value of a roll on M&T’s First Level monsters table is 50. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Therefore, our party should receive 1,100 XP from monsters for their efforts.

(17 + 5 encounters areas) × 50 XP per monster roll = 1,100 XP

Wandering Monsters

It’s difficult to estimate how quickly a party explores a dungeon. By the Bluebook, we roll for wandering monsters every third turn. Considering an armored adventurer’s 120-foot move rate (Holmes, 9) and the room density on The Deep Halls map, a clever party (see below) might explore one room every three turns. A rough estimate, but it serves.

Therefore, during the party’s exploration, the DM rolls 51 times for wandering monsters, which appear 8.5 times. At 50 per encounter, that gives us 425 XP from the wandering type, which we add to 1,100 for those static, to arrive at a total value of 1,525 XP from monsters.

51 ÷ 6 = 8.5 × 50 = 425
425 + 1,100 = 1,525

A Clever Party

In calculating the ratio, I use, as a baseline, the notion of a “clever party.” An oft-touted characteristic of an old-school game is that player ability is as or more important than character statistics. New players are taught by those more experienced (whether DM or adventuring companion), and so, they learn to navigate the dungeon and overcome its challenges.

As a group, the players test their ability against the dungeon. More clever players may be more successful, thereby advancing somewhat faster in experience levels, while those less clever must learn or ultimately fail.3

Later, I expand on the notion, adding the concept of player ability in three tiers: less clever, clever, and clever indeed.

By a “clever party,” I mean one which counts among its members at least one experienced player of at least average cleverness.

XP from Treasures

From the Flying Table again, we calculate how many encounter areas are likely to have treasure and how much. Where treasures are found with no monster, I extrapolate half the amount of a roll.

Percent of 50 No. of Areas Amount of Treasure
10% 5 Double treasures
16% 8 Single treasure
5% 2.5 Treasure (half treasure)

I don’t find in Holmes any notion of rolling dice, when searching, to discover hidden treasure. He gives no explicit rule. In the sample dungeon, treasure is hidden. If characters take the time to search the hiding place (a layer of refuse, Room G, 43) or perform a certain action (cut open a defeated spider, Room J, 44) they discover the treasure automatically.

The total gold-piece value of treasures, ignoring magic item entries, from M&T’s Level One treasure table is 14,326. Don’t ask me how I know this, either. This makes the average value for a treasure roll on the 100-entry table equal to 143 gold, 2 silver, and 3 copper pieces. Please do let me know if your count differs.

Now, we can calculate how much treasure exists, according to the probabilities of the Flying Table, on The Deep Halls Level 1. I add parentheses around each treasure magnitude—double, single, half—for readability.

Where t equals one roll on the treasure table or 143 g.p.,
(5 areas × 2t) + (8 areas × t) + (2.5 areas × ½t) = 19.25t = 2,752 g.p. and change

A Party of Three Searching for Treasures in The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth - Map by Dyson Logos
A Party of Three, Searching for Treasures, Finds Few in The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth. Map by Dyson Logos.

The Cause for Concern

Adding XP from monsters and treasures, we get 4,277.

1,525 + 2,752 = 4,277 XP

Therefore, the ratio of stocked XP to that necessary is 4,277:6,513 or 66:100—not near 1:1.

Our party of three, if clever indeed, might find all the treasure on Level 1, but still earn only 4,277 XP.

4,277 XP ÷ 3 characters = 1,425 XP per character

Although a thief advances, fighting men lack one-quarter of the XP for 2nd level. Furthermore, we have yet to account for too-tough monsters, undiscovered treasure, and attrition.

So, we see that any expedition to The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth is doomed to failure.

 

DANGEROUS DUNGEON
DO NOT ENTER

 

We don’t heed the warning, of course. We’re adventurers after all.

I proposed earlier a fun solution to the problem: “to throw treasure at it.” Next, we’ll see how much treasure we need to stuff into The Deep Halls to make it survivable.4

The lantern is dim. Let’s take a break while I refill it.


Notes

1 Zach Howard of the Zenopus Archives compares “The Holmes Manuscript” to the published 1977 edition of Basic D&D. From Zach’s analysis, it’s clear that some text of the published version differs from that intended by Eric Holmes. The section on balancing encounters is an example. In this and following articles, unless stated otherwise, when I refer to “Holmes” I mean the edition, not the editor himself.

2 The math isn’t complicated, but there is plenty of room for error. If you notice a miscalculation, please let me know.

3 The cost of failure in the D&D game is to roll-up new characters and, bolstered by the experience, descend again into the murky depths to face anew the challenges therein lurking. We only fail when we give up.

4 Another solution, of course, is to award more than 1 XP per gold piece. Though the practice is not unheard of these days, the first I learned of it was during the early part of the current era, called the Old-School Renaissance, in the 2000s. Whether multiplying treasure or experience for it, read on, for much the same considerations apply. Grognards belch at both.


In Memoriam

Coming, as it does, between the original edition and Advanced D&D, the Basic DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (1977) edition is in many ways curious. Intended to be only an introduction to the game, it lacks much that was already part of OD&D. Modifiers for high and low ability scores, initiative, variable weapon damage—these aspects, which today we consider “basic” to the game, were missed even by players of the era. “Holmes Basic” was never intended to be played as a stand alone game. Yet we do!

ABOUT THE EDITOR

The editor of this booklet, Dr. J. Eric Holmes, is an associate professor of neurology at the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine. In addition, he is a devoted DUNGEONS & DRAGONS player whose background as a writer eminently qualifies him to prepare a work such as this one.

In addition to authoring a college-level textbook in his own field, Dr. Holmes has also completed two novels in the area of fantasy literature. His versatility is further demonstrated by his valuable work on this volume for Basic DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. (Basic D&D, 46)

Editors, like authors, write their own bios. Having written a few, I detect an anomaly in that above. One is generally not so effusive in a bio. Furthermore, “eminently” and “versatility” hint of Gygax. The co-creator praises the editor.

Be that as it may, Dr. Holmes proves his versatility as well as his value to our hobby year after year. It’s in its fifth decade, and we can still examine, interpret, write reams about, debate, house-rule, expand, and play this curious edition of the world’s most fabulous game.

John Eric Holmes
1930-2010


Reusing Magical Arrows

The Bluebook recommends the Dungeon Geomorphs, boxed with early printings of Holmes Basic, to DMs saying they “contain many suggestions and will prove very useful.”

ENCOUNTER KEY EXAMPLE

“5. False door which fires an arrow directly out when it is opened. The arrow is magical (+1), and if it fails to hit it will be usable. After the first magic arrow, it will fire only non-magic ones which will break whether or not they hit.”

Dungeon Geomorphs Set One  ENCOUNTER KEY EXAMPLE  Room 5
Dungeon Geomorphs Set One: Basic Dungeon (TSR Hobbies, 1976).
A precedent for the reuse or not of normal and magical arrows.

Flying Dungeon Stocking Table by the Bluebook

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.

See also “Flying Table by Dungeon Geomorphs Sets.”
Download the Flying Dungeon Stocking Tables for Print or Phone from the Downloads page.

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.

No B/X!

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.”

d100 Result
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: trapdoor in floor, pit “relatively shallow”
55-57 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit 10’ deep
58 Trap: trapdoor in floor, pit 20’ deep
59-78 Interesting variation
79-100 Appears to be empty…
Holmes Basic  Monster and Treasure Assortment  Dungeon Geomorphs on The Deep Halls Map

Sources

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.

Reading Map

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.

Traps

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.

“Interesting Variations”

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 - Michael Curtis (2018)
The Dungeon Alphabet is published by Goodman Games in hardcover and PDF. Cover art by Erol Otus looks great on the game shelf.

Appears Empty

“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!


Notes

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.


“Hack-9”

If the Monster & Treasure Assortments had got more play…

—“What’s your Hack-9?”
—“What’s that?”
—“You know, your attack level—what do you need to Hit Armor Class 9?”

Attack Level - “Hack-9” - Monster & Treasure Assortments

“AL = level of attack by monster as expressed by the monster’s base number to score a hit on an unarmored opponent (armor class 9)”—Monster & Treasure Assortments (TSR Hobbies, 1977)


Random Stocking Dyson’s Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth

“Built by priests of Amon-Gorloth, this dungeon was constructed and adapted from existing caverns following their dreams channeled from Amon-Gorloth itself—making them a twisted and nightmarish version of the convoluted mausoleums under the desert sands where Amon-Gorloth sleeps and dreams.”—Dyson Logos

For a minimum-preparation D&D campaign, use The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth with the rules of your choice and some method to generate monster encounters.

This is one of my favorite maps from the map god mere mortals call Dyson Logos.1 Every time I look at it, a voice in my head screams, “Bluebook D&D!”

Today, I’m doing it.

You might run it as a seven-level dungeon. Without counting encounter areas per color, though, I’m guessing there aren’t enough to stock a whole level of experience points for even a single character to level-up. So I group the colors into “logical” levels of two or three colors each.2

The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth - Dyson Logos
“The Deep Halls of Amon-Gorloth,” Hand-Drawn Map by Dyson Logos.

“To make it a bit easier to navigate, I’ve also provided a pair of colour-coded versions of the maps indicating the depth of each individual level. This is based on the excellent work of Michael Prescott who colourized a photograph of the original map before I had scanned it.”

Applying the “Stone Mountain” nomenclature from Holmes to Prescott’s colors, we get the following three-level dungeon.

Level Color Name
1

Red
Tan
Light Green

1st UP
1A
1B

2 Dark Green
Blue-green
2A
2B
3 Blue
Violet

3A
3B

 

Even at two or three colors each, XP per level will be tight. A fun solution to the problem is to throw treasure at it. See “Monty Haul” below.

Mine is a solo campaign, so I don’t trouble myself with placed encounters. As the PCs explore the dungeon, I roll on the tables in Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One: Levels One-Three. This random generation fits the dungeon’s “dreams of Amon-Gorloth” theme.

I say, “What’s next?” and the voice says, “Three-dee-six in order…”

 

A “Monty Haul” Dungeon

There might be a line between “giving away treasure” and what we used to call a “Monty Haul” dungeon. If the PCs open a door to a ten-by-ten room and see piles of gold and platinum coins counted in the thousands, littered with gems and jewelry, and “one of every magic item in the book,”3 that’s giving away treasure.

To maintain the thrill in treasure-finding, the DM might put constraints on treasure placement by establishing a method. Your “Monty Haul” method might be anything, but keep to it.

My own “Monty Haul” method is simple: triple, quadruple, or quintuple any treasure, guarded and unguarded alike.

See also “The Origin of Monty Haul” by self-professed “Monty Haul” DM Jim Ward.


Notes

1 Dyson Logos has been making the most awesome hand-drawn maps since 2009. He makes them available for free under a Creative Commons license on his blog. He also has a Patreon, where you can support the creator.

2 For a tougher dungeon, make each level only two colors. Violet becomes the fourth level.

3 “…one of every magic item in the book.”—Yours truly, circa 1983.

Holmes Basic  Monster and Treasure Assortment  and Dyson’s Deep Halls Map
Campaign Ready: Holmes Basic, Monster and Treasure Assortment, and Dyson’s Deep Halls Map