Monday 28 January 2013

2kCP? It's 1d8SP that's the problem.

I spent a part of Friday[1] converting U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh[2] for use as an intro game for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I'm still not sure whether I'll invite the players to roll up first level characters, which are pretty powerful compared to classic D&D first levellers, or whether I'll use it as a 'funnel'. A group of townsfolk investigate the haunted house - what could be a better funnel than that? [3] And, never mind the fact that the rest of the U series provides possibilities for future adventure, should the players so choose, U1 itself has the zero-level funnel - The Haunted House - and the first test of the surviving first-level characters - The Sea Ghost.

Converting an [A]D&D adventure to DCC RPG is a piece of cake[4], for the most part. Monsters can be statted up very simply and straightforwardly, and without the 'compulsion' to make every person a properly levelled character so can NPCs, using the examples in the book as a quick rule of thumb. Treasure is not so straightforward. U1, like many AD&D modules, hands out a fair bit of treasure, and more than a few magical items. This runs counter to the intended tone of my game, which,  while it does not adhere entirely to the principles the in DCC RPG that magical items are exceptionally rare and unique and that no-one is lugging tens of thousands of gold coins about the place, does try to keep close to that flavour.

The DCC RPG fanzine Crawl! #2 has a pretty nifty treasure generation system (which pretty much makes magic items an incredibly rare random possibility - but there is nothing to stop you putting one there as a Judge), and Chris Hogan of Vaults of Nagoh has a couple of useful thoughts on treasure [Simplified Corpse Robbing, Corpses as Treasure], and I could always use the random treasure generators from Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e or WFRP1e (yup, there is one), all of which would provide more appropriate loot than the hundreds upon hundreds of GP on offer in U1. Of course, first I would have to scale back the reward from the Saltmarsh Council - 500GP per person is the sort of money that could hire an army of professional soldiers in AD&D. 

Anyway, I did not mean for the big treasures to be the point of this post, but some of the smallest. So, there's some Goblins, see. And they're each carrying 1-8 SP in their coin purses. If you are going to get flustered by Giant Rats and their 2000CP, you damn well ought be annoyed by this. Why? Because Goblins carrying currency that the PCs can spend raises far more (interesting) questions about the way the game world works than does a pile of treasure in a rats' nest. Does the Goblin economy rely on human currency for exchange? In the default AD&D setting, I'd guess not. Do Goblins regularly trade with human settlements? In the default AD&D setting, I'd guess not. Maybe rarely, when a tribal chieftain carries a strong box full of stolen loot down the crossroads at midnight, to trade with an arms dealer (yes, I know where U are going...). So there is a case for coins in a goblin lair, but 1-8 SP of walking around money...? What are they going to spend it on? Now, despite what is written in U1 (and nearly every other [A]D&D module), in which the Goblin's personal treasure is a handful of coins, perhaps, in fact, they have (silver) jewellery worth 1-8 SP. 

Or, perhaps Goblins do engage in inter-humanoid trade a little more regularly than the default AD&D setting suggests. Perhaps the rules imply a setting that is a bit more Blacksand! than Greyhawk?

They might love their job, but they still want to get paid.

Of course - D&D is a game of abstractions, stupid [5]. Don't break the fun! 

[1] The game didn't happen as everything got delayed and delayed until it was too late to begin, so we played a boardgame instead. Kids, eh? This week though...

[2] Eight pound odd for .pdfs of the complete U series is good value. The scans from, however, are far from brilliant - nothing like the quality of the free teaser, B1. The whole thing looks shoddy, not least because there are missing characters down the edge of some of the pages. The characters can be easily inferred, but still, it is far short of what I had been expecting.

[3] Well, actually, I'd actually like to see - maybe I'll write - a zero-level funnel in which the players are the mob, pitchforks and all, storming Frankenstein's castle. That's 'Frankensteen', by the way.

[4] Though, we will still have to see how this cake actually tastes.

[5] I'm not saying that it breaks the fun, but if you want the abstractions to make sense - at least relative to each other - then you can do a lot worse than Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS), which is up there with LotFP as a clean, efficient version of classic D&D.


  1. I never even considered the possibility that goblins weren't trading either with each other or with human (or halforc) merchants.

  2. It's not that, in my reading at least, Goblins (and the like) aren't trading. It is that - at least in the assumed [A]D&D setting - for the most part, they aren't trading as individuals using human currency. There is no need for them to carry cash, except as 'treasure'.

    What can these Goblins buy with their 4SP?

    Like I said, I can imagine the leader of a tribe hauling his chest of coins, accumulated through many deadly encounters with GIANT RATS, to a meeting with a less than scrupulous human trader. But a single Goblin? He can't drop into a tavern and buy a beer, he can't pop to the market for some fresh vegetables. The assumed [A]D&D setting allows little room for much trade or peaceful co-existence.

    In the late 1980s, this would have merited an essay in Dragon, 'On the Economics of the Humanoids; or Advanced Barter & Banking'.

    I would rather go with the option that I see as being 'more fun', that there are Goblins in town - maybe despised, maybe discriminated against (and maybe they deserve it too!), but able to spend their purse of silver in the tavern, at the flophouse, with Esme at the Emporium of Trinkets and Charms. But that's not a vision of fantasy society we get in the standard [A]D&D material.

  3. Another interesting discovery I made about treasure and AD&D this weekend was that Giant Wasps have Treasure Type Q x 20; that's an average of 25 gemstones. Why do wasps collect gemstones? Is their natural prey lapidarists? Are there any other monsters where a little effort can net a party so much stash? I feel another post coming on.

  4. Maybe Giant Wasps MAKE gemstones? Not true gems, but something more like amber, or pearls. Some kind of excretion that crystallises? A by-product of the activity of their venom glands.

    Perhaps they're not used as ornaments. Maybe waspstone is used as a drug? Or something fantastically mundane - like monstrous truffles.

  5. That's an extremely interesting concept, Dr. B. I can see that Waspstone or Wasp Amber (that sounds better) could find a place in a campaign milieu. Expeditions could be mounted to obtain it but they might end up like the colonists from Aliens.

  6. Deliciously dreamy Wasp Amber. What is the special, secret ingredient? TPK.

  7. Disturbingly, I heard that in the voice of the Cadbury's Caramel Bunny. Who was, of course, Miriam Margolyes.

  8. My assumption always was that goblins use human (or dwarven or elven or whatever) coins in trading amongst themselves for the same reasons humans use them...and they are too lazy (or maybe not smart enough) to make their own. If a gobbie wants to buy a weapon from another gobbie, he can either go make something himself, or go steal human shinys that the weapon gobbie might like. Which way do you think the average goblin would go?

  9. On the Giant Wasps issue... real life Ravens have been known to collect all sorts of shiny things in caches (though not in their nests). Rangers in the Grand Tetons have found everything from wedding rings to watches to worthless balls of tin foil.

    1. And, of course, in a world in which personal power (represented by levels) is derived from the accumulation of gold (as in a traditional D&D game), we might assume that shiny things might be even more attractive to fantastical versions of real animals.

      If we're not using a gold for XP system, the requirement that 'monsters' have treasure greatly diminishes...