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Monday, July 5, 2021

Treasure Types, or Treasure Codes?

The treasure types table in OD&D’s Monsters & Treasure booklet has slightly obscure design goals, which carry over into B/X, BECM, and AD&D. As a result, it gets tweaked or completely replaced in most retroclones and many house rules. It’s tricky to figure out which type to assign to completely new monsters, or which old monsters can have their types swapped, since it’s not entirely clearly what the differences between most of the types really are.

But there are a couple distinctions worth noting:

  • Most treasure types have all three coin varieties, but a few have no copper or silver, and one has no coins at all.
  • The max number of gems is the same as the max number of jewelry items in all but two cases.
  • Most types can have any kind of magic item or map, but three of them limit this to one variety, while some other have 2 to 4 items of any type plus one potion or scroll (or both,) guaranteed.

Having coins, gems, jewelry, magic items, and maps all specified for any given treasure type confuses the design and reduces usefulness. What we could do instead is use treasure codes made from more than one letter. Something like:

Code Treasure Type
B Basic Treasure
C Common Coins (sack)
Cr Rare Coins (sack)
Cl Low Value Coins (sack)
G Gems
J Jewelry
L Loose Coins
M Maps
P Potions
S Scrolls
W Weapons and Armor
X Other Magic Items

Coins are separated into Common, Rare, and Low Value, corresponding to your standard coin used for prices in your campaign, a rarer coin, and a “junk” coin that’s less convenient to haul out of the dungeon. By default, these are in the proportion 1 rare : 10 common : 100 low-value, but you can change this to fit your campaign. The way you’d most likely use these codes in a monster description is to assume every treasure type is potentially present in standard quantities at standard chances, then specify anything that’s different. (That’s what Basic Treasure is for: a catch-all for any treasure type not otherwise specified, so that you can note a monster has ten times normal gold, no silver, and everything else is standard.)

Quantities for coins are assumed to be measured in “sacks” (300 coins each.) Other items like Gems and Jewelry are counted individually. This base number is multiplied by a dice roll, which we could choose to link to vowel codes like this:

Code Size Modifier
a Abundant (5d6x10)
e Extra (3d6x10)
o Ordinary (2d6x5)
i Individual (1d6)
u Undefined

So that we can specify treasure types like:

CaBo no S

Which would mean “this monster has abundant common coins like gold, ordinary quantities of other treasure types, but no scrolls.”

Undefined by default means “unique” (only one of this item,) but can also be redefined each time it is used.

Additional notes:

  • Coins are broken down the way they are because you might want to set standard chances for each type, like “25% chance for common coins, 10% chance each for low-value and rare coins”.
  • Magic items are broken down the way they are partly because that’s the way they are broken down in the original treasure type table, but mostly because those types have special restrictions: armor and weapons probably won’t be in an evil wizard’s lair, potions and scrolls won’t be underwater.
  • If you want to specify absolute coin type instead of relative coin type, for example because you don’t want lycanthropes to have silver coins, you can follow the vowel with a lowercase letter (Cos = silver coins, Cog = gold coins.) This is especially useful for the “loose coins” type.
  • You can do the same for other treasure types, like magic items (Wis = magic shields, Sic = cursed scrolls.) Some of these might wind up pretty cryptic, though, so adding an actual word after the code (Si (cursed)) might be a better choice.
  • You can also use the “rare”/“low-value” modifier to breakdown gems into different values, for example, or to show that a magic item is fancier than normal or appears like a cheap common tool or weapon. (Gri = rare gems, Wlow = wooden magic weapon.)

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  1. I think I am getting this, but I propose a post or three with examples of this system compared to the "traditional" treasure types. Exemplifying how it would be converted from any of the old monster manuals we have lying around.

    1. Wait, are you proposing that you will do this, or asking me to do it?

    2. I meant that to suggest you would if you please, but don't feel obligated by any means. I don't have a blog (yet!) but fast getting there.

      Sorry if I misspoke. I do really like the article and was just wanting to clearly visualize it in my head better.

    3. No worries, I just wasn't sure whether you were asking permission to write about it or asking for more info.

      Treasure type conversions might take a week or two to prepare. I could do an article in the meantime, but I'm not sure what else I could say. Do you have any questions in particular?

  2. I know there is some help with treasure types in the BECMI Basic book. It has a table listing average values for each treasure type (although I've tried to reverse engineer the values, and some of them seem off). It helps when trying to decide what treasure type(s) to give to new monsters.

    I remember years ago reading someone's blog post analyzing what types of monsters were likely to get what type of treasure, but I have long forgotten whose blog it was on. It may be time to go look that up. There does seem to be some sort of pattern -- at least in BX/BECMI, OD&D and AD&D do have different tables.

    1. That blog might have been mine. I still have an ancient post or three on here where I sorted the monster lists in M&M, Greyhawk, and Blackmoor by treasure type, and I think I did a follow-up sorting by hit dice or something like that.

      I believe Delta did some more mathematically-inclined posts about treasure types, too.

    2. Check out today's post for links to my old posts and Delta's treasure posts. Any of those look familiar?