Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Stocking a Dungeon

Holmes famously wrote this piece of advice:
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.
If we add up all of the available XP in the Sample Dungeon in Holmes by totaling all of the treasure and non-wandering monsters found in encounter areas, we arrive at a number somewhere around 5500 (some treasure and encounters are variable), with approximately 4600 of that coming from treasure.

When describing wandering monsters and advising on what numbers to use, Holmes says this:
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 rots, etc.
Intriguingly, the numbers Holmes uses for his example Wandering Monster Table fall into this given range for a party of three! This is important because the number of monsters found in the encounter areas of the Sample Dungeon roughly fall into this range as well (for example, 4 pirates or 2d4 giant rats). In other words, the expected party size for the Sample Dungeon is approximately three PCs.

The Sample Dungeon, however, has enough available XP to allow at least some of those hypothetical PCs to get to second level. This means that, on average, about four new rooms are going to be explored per expedition into the dungeon (if you accept that it will take 6 expeditions by a party of three to explore the whole dungeon and therefore earn enough XP for many in the party to gain second level).

Whether or not you or I think that this is a realistic ratio is irrelevant (for now), because the reason I am doing all of this geeky math is to arrive at an XP per room ratio based on Holmes' Sample Dungeon. I am interested in trying to find a baseline for how much treasure a Holmesian dungeon has for the purposes of stocking my own version of the Chateau des Faussesflammes. Whereas Holmes does an excellent job of following his own advice for the number of encounter areas and encounter strength, he doesn't really give much advice for placing treasure, other than point to the random treasure tables.

There is only one problem with that. Take a look at the list of monsters he has stocked his Sample Dungeon with:

  • Skeletons*
  • Fighter, 2nd level
  • Magic-user, 4th level
  • Giant Rats*
  • "Enormous" Spider (6HD!)
  • Giant Crab
  • Pirates
  • Skeleton (with 7hp, meaning it is at least 1HD rather than the normal 1/2HD)
  • Octopus
  • Giant Snake
  • Ghouls*
  • Ape

Only those marked with an asterisk are listed in the Monster section. [Note: I am operating with the version of the rules I own, which is an early edition.]

I take two things out of this:

  1. Holmes seems to be encouraging DMs to make up their own monsters.
  2. I have to do all this crazy math in order to figure out what an appropriate amount of treasure is.

To that end, I have two approaches:

  1. Gold pieces per room: This works out be be approximately 100gp per character. (Of course this is a ratio and the actual treasure will not be found in every room — especially since a third of all rooms are specifically empty.)
  2. Gold pieces per HD of monster: This works out to be about 150gp per HD. (Likewise, not every monster will have treasure.)

I am currently working on a dungeon level with about 38 rooms and approximately 65HD worth of monsters (using the example Wandering Monster table, which assumes a party of three). Using the first method, I arrive at 11,400gp (38 rooms x 100gp x 3 characters). Using the second method, I get 9,750gp (65HD x 150 gp).

This produces a nice range, and provides me with a reasonable "stingy" number as well as a reasonable "generous" number that falls within the range of XP per room of Holmes' Sample Dungeon.


  1. One thing I'd throw out for consideration - it affects level 1 - is that PC death will drain XP from the pool, so the first level or two needs to have more than enough to account for a few replacement guys.

  2. @Beedo
    There is another thing that this method does not take into consideration: wandering monsters. Personally, I think this XP source will roughly balance out the XP drain from PC death.