Leveling Up in the Dungeon! Boardgame

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

Those familiar with David Megarry's Dungeon! boardgame know that the game wasn't designed with character growth or "leveling up" in mind.  Dungeon! is a simplified representation of an early 1970's dungeon crawl - minus the referee and the role-playing.

Recently I was reminded of an email chain I participated in just over a year ago, and I want to share here and expand on some of my thoughts from that discussion.  

We were talking about the seeming randomness in the OD&D experience point tables, and the point was made that Dave Megarry had put a great deal of thought and effort in determining a balanced number of gold pieces each character type needed to win in the Dungeon! boardgame.  It doesn't take much imagination to see a parallel between gold pieces and points, and winning and leveling up.

So for fun, I looked at the numbers in Dungeon! for each character type to win, and it looks like this:

Elf: 10,000 GP
Hero: 10,000 GP
SuperHero 20,000 GP
Wizard: 30,000 GP

That's a lot of "points" of course and we only see what it takes to go up one level, so to speak.  

However, here is a curiosity that strikes me as an interesting way of looking at Megarry's numbers.  The Beyond This Point be Dragons manuscript has a rule regarding XP from treasure, that the fighter class can use GP on a "10 for one basis" for experience points.  If we apply a similar 10:1 ratio to all the Dungeon! GP goals we get this:

Elf: 1000 XP
Hero: 1000 XP
SuperHero 2000 XP
Wizard: 3000 XP

Remember the discussion (HERE) of Greg Svenson's 1972 game notes with his comment "become super hero if you kill 1000 points of anything"?  

One tenth of the 10,000 XP from treasure for the "Fighter" classes in Megarry's Dungeon! and the 1000 XP from killing things being equal "leveling up" numbers could certainly be coincidental, but it looks less so when we also toss in the XP charts from the original "Guidon" draft of D&D.  In the GD&D draft, 1000 points are what the Fighter and Magic-user originally needed to go from level 1 to level 2.

Sound plausible? Thing is, the numbers I gave are for the published (1975) Dungeon! game.  They are altered by Gary Gygax, and not David Megarry's 1972 originals.  They reflect Gygax's perception of how the numbers ought to be.  Megarry's original numbers from 1972 are:

Elf: 12,000 GP
Hero: 15,000 GP
SuperHero 20,000 GP

Wizard: 25,000 GP

Megarry's numbers are more customized and also not as far apart as Gygax's, otherwise they aren't so very different, suggesting a generally accepted ballpark of what were appropriate goals for each character type. 

So what about the poor Wizard, who, at a 1/10 ratio needed a full either 2500 or 3000 points to level up?  Well the thing to realize is that the Dungeon! Wizard is a more powerful character, not some flunky starting out.  In D&D terms we would call this a "Name Level" character, and needs more points to win (level up), just as the superhero needs more than a hero.

Interestingly, even at this early stage, David Megarry recognized how unequal to the other classes a high powered wizard character would be.

Whether Dungeon! really reflects a 1000 XP to level meme in the pre-D&D era or not is hard to say.  That may not even be the most important thing to note, however.

Megarry's gold coin totals establish something else that translates to the D&D tables, and that is that higher levels require more points - not just a straight 10,000 for everybody.  Thus a superhero "level" character needs twice as many points and a Wizard even more.  It doesn't seem much of a stretch to see the architecture of the D&D XP tables being pioneered in Megarry's Dungeon! goals.


Robert said...

Hello, does the GD&D-draft's level progression mirror one from BTPBD?

howandwhy99 said...

Elf: 12,000 GP
Hero: 15,000 GP
SuperHero 20,000 GP
Wizard: 25,000 GP

Aren't these 10 times the base XP requirements for OD&D? Upping to 12,500 for the thief, so it is exactly half the magic-user. In 1972?

DHBoggs said...

Not quite sure I follow HW99. The Base requirement in printed D&D (1974) for a Magic-user to reach level 1 is 2500 - so yes, that is the same, but the Fighter is 2000, not 1500 and elves don't have a separate chart till much later. If you look at actual level titles the values are even more different, and this is true of the earlier "GD&D" draft also. (Mu 1000, Ftr 500, for level 1)

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