Thursday, August 28, 2014

Point Buy systems for Stocking Dungeons

So, we’ve talked a few times about the “protection point” system used in pre D&D Blackmoor.  Aside from historical curiosity, though, the question may be, “what is the utility of exploring this set of procedures further?”.  In other words, is there any advantage to using a point buy method to stock a dungeon verses the monsters by dungeon level matrix tables of OD&D, AD&D and various clones?

Well, all those monsters by dungeon level tables do work as intended; that is, they produce dungeons that get progressively tougher as they go down.  The problem is that the variety of monsters is severely limited.  By the tables, you can’t put a mining colony of 2HD dwarves on level 10 or a troll on level 1, for example, without leaving the table.  Some folks are fine with that and stock their dungeons as they please, only using the tables to “fill in” spots not otherwise predetermined.  However common it may be, this kind of seat-of-the-pants dungeon design defeats the whole purpose of the tables in the first place, which is to produce an underground environment consistent with the growth in player character levels and possessions.

There’s also the issue of monster numbers.  For the monster by dungeon level matrix tables to really work properly, the number of monsters in most encounters should be left undetermined until the party arrives, at which time the DM is supposed to match the number of monsters in the encounter to the strength of the party.  Some DM’s may not want this extra work.

  A point buy system, on the other hand, has neither of these issues.  Dungeons get progressively tougher as they should, because rooms in deeper levels get more points and so you can “buy” bigger and badder monsters, but the numbers in each encounter are determined by the number of points.  In a given location, you may have enough points to buy 1 dragon or 500 dwarves, and that could be true on any level.

The point buy method has the advantage of freedom of choice.

Arneson’s Protection Point method is the prototype point buy approach, of course, but one can’t simply copy “Arneson’s way” because a close look at the FFC shows just how much experimentation he was doing and how many different ways he actually employed.
But lets start with what he tells us in the “Magic” Protectin Points section of the FFC:
“The number of Protection Points to be found in any given room..” (page 30, 1980 print) 

Level
Points x 1d10
1        
5
2
15
3
15
4
25
5
35
6
40
7+    
50


Once a room/area has been determined to be occupied, the number of Protection Points for the room are determined by rolling a 1d10 and multiplying the result times the number in the appropriate column, for the level. So for example, to get the Protection Points for a level 2 room, it would be 1d10 x 15, giving a range of anywhere from 15 to 150.

He also tells us there is a 1/6 chance that the room will have a stronger or weaker creature – which must mean a 1/6 chance a room will have either more or less points to buy with, because he then says he sometimes rerolled points or placed a weakened version of a creature in a room if that is the creature he really wanted and points were insufficient.

Okay, so that is the theoretical method Arneson explains to us.  However, lets go through all the stocking lists found in the FFC and see what he actually did back in the day:  

Location
Point range
Dice to generate



Level  7
150-500
1d10x50 (per table)
Level  8
20-150 (with 5s)
1d10x15
Level  9
15-150 (with 5s)
1d10x15
Level  10
15-900
1d10x15 (chance of additional x 1d6)
Level  Tunnel
10-130
3d6x10
Glendower all Levels
10 -180
3d6x10
Loch Gloomen
90-190
1d20x10
Loch Gloomen
310-370
??

“Dice to Generate” is my best guess at the dice used, considering all the available information.  Notice that level 7 is the only level that conforms to Arneson’s suggested table.  There are a number of indications that the stocking lists given for the various levels of Blackmoor dungeon were done at various times, and indicate changes in rules and methods.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, the tunnels appear to be the oldest, while level 7 appears the youngest. 

So throughout the FFC we see Arneson using at least 3 or 4 methods:
1). The graduated table with more points as levels get deeper
2). 1d10x15 for all levels, +/- 1d6 (multiplied or divided) 16.7% of rooms.
3). 3d6x10 for all levels
4). 1d20x10 for all levels

Note also there is at least one level which appears rather clearly to show the 1/6th greater or weaker principle he mentioned.  Level 10 has a room stocked with 60 ogres.  That’s 900 Protection points and requires two high rolls; first a 10 on a 1d10x15 yielding 150 points, second a 6 on a 1d6, yielding 900 points when multiplied together.  Other instances seem to be divisions, (such as the 20 points on level 8) leaving me to believe that when a “1/6th” chance arose, half of the time he divided the rooms points by 1d6, and half the time he multiplied them.

One could easily write a multipage essay on all this but it’s not my purpose here.  Rather I just want to point out that there are various methods in play and argue that none of them are entirely satisfactory for D&D.

Foremost lets concentrate our interests on the first method – Arneson’s table.  It is apparently his final word on the matter and it is the only one that’s clearly graduated with dungeon depth.  Notice how many points one gets on level 7.  150-500 points per room, plus wildcards of up to 900 points - that is a hell of a lot of powerful monsters.  Some have commented that Arneson’s Temple of the Frog is too tough with it’s barracks of several hundred 0 level soldiers, apparently with out ever having looked closely at the older levels of Blackmoor dungeon.  TotF is a cakewalk by comparison. 

It’s not time to throw the baby out with the bathwater though. 

Arneson’s table is fine to use for shallow, tough dungeons, faced by high level characters.  Maybe that’s what he was going for in 1977, given the kinds of characters people were coming up with.  But for anyone thinking of making the classic campaign megadungeon suitable for characters of all levels, use of Arneson’s table will give you a lot of TPK’s.

Another way to approach the point buy system for D&D is to go back to the old saw that the average monster on any given level should have the same HD as the number of the level.  The average hit points per hit die in OD&D are 3.5.  Average hit points, you may recall from previous posts, are the point cost of any given monster.  So, it then becomes a simple formula: Level x 3.5 = average points.  We can then set the range of points by assuming monsters of HD number equal to the dungeon level will range in numbers appearing relative to equally powerful adventuring groups, in other words a party of level 4 adventurers will typically encounter a party of 4HD monsters and both will range in size from about 1 to ten persons (average 5).  So level x 3.5 x 1d10 = point range of a room.

Location
Point range
Dice to generate
1
3.5-35
2d20
2
7-70
1d10x7
3
10.5-105
1d10x11
4
14-140
1d10x14
5
17.5-175
1d10x18
6
21-210
1d10x21
7
24.5-245
1d10x25
8
28-280
1d10x28
9
31.5-315
1d10x32
10
35-350
1d10x35
11
38.5-385
1d10x39
12
42-420
1d10x42
 
Okay folks, so there is your new and improved Protection Point table.  Using this table will create a dungeon that averages 1 HD greater per level just as it is “supposed” to.  Optionally, one could include Dave Arneosn’s 1/6th variation.  After points are determined for a room, roll a d6.  If a 6 results, roll a 50/50 chance (or flip a coin) for a stronger or weaker encounter.  Roll a 1d6 again.  Multiply the result if the encounter is stronger, or divide the result if the encounter is weaker, to the protection points originally rolled for the room.  The result will be the actual points.  Example, a level 3 room has 100 points, but a d6 roll indicates a 6 and a coin flip indicates divide.  Another d6 roll comes up as 4.  So 100/4=25 points in the room.   

For fun, I looked again at Dave Megarry’s Dungeon of Pasha Cada.  Megarry spent a great deal of time trying to make each level of his dungeon a greater challenge than the one before without being too deadly.  Megarry developed his dungeon game no later than 1972 – so it is obviously one of the earliest attempts at a “balanced” adventure.  The dungeon expects only a party of 1 adventurer, so to get a comparable point range to the previous tables all one has to do is multiply by 1d10.  The point range on the table below is the cost of the weakest and strongest monsters on each of Megarry’s dungeon levels.

Dave Megarry’s Dungeon! (1975)
Location
Point range
Possible Dice to generate
X10




Level  1
1.5 - 4
1d4
15-40
Level  2
4-14
2d6+2
40-140
Level  3
7-17.5
3d6
70-175
Level  4
7-35
6d6
70-350
Level  5
7-35
6d6
70-350
Level  6
28-38.5
1d12+27
280-385

So this table starts off very similarly to the table I presented above but gets a little tougher as it goes so that by 6th level it sits roughly halfway in monster strength between the table I offered and Arneson’s overpowered table from the FFC.  It would be a good model to follow for a 6 level or less dungeon, where the idea is that it gets quite tough in the second half.


Enjoy. 

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