VII: Oldskull Workshop: Level 1 Dungeon Treasures

Welcome to the Game Master’s Sanctum. Save vs. Madness.

All art on this web page was created by Bob Greyvenstein.

Artwork © Grim Press, used with permission. All rights reserved.

Hello everyone …

Keeping in mind that everyone’s favorite old TSR RPG is actually a game as well as a fascinating history topic, we’re taking a break from the history posts to dig into one of the classic old school dungeon design topics. Namely, treasure guarded by monsters in the Advanced First Edition game!

So – unless you want to totally guess and plunk down something that “feels good” on instinct – how much treasure exactly should monsters possess? The answer to that conundrum is far more complex and unreachable than you might think.

Let’s solve the riddle here.

Swing and a Miss: The first logical answer would be to open up the 1977 hardcover bestiary, as written by E. Gary Gygax and crew, to point out all of the Treasure Types for each monster species. And you would be wrong.

Why? Because page 5 tells us flat out, “The use of treasure type to determine the treasure guarded by a creature in a dungeon is not generally recommended.” *

* Game Master Tip: It says “not generally” recommended, but it doesn’t say “not recommended at all”. Therefore, you can probably use the Treasure Types when either (a) the number of monsters appearing falls within the No. Appearing range as listed within the 1977 bestiary, or (b) the monster is unique (only one can appear at most), or (c) the monster is described as only being found in dungeons (meaning there are no wilderness lairs for that species).

As an example of (a), you can use the Treasure Types for dragon lairs, and it appears that the rules (in the general dragon overview section) intend that you do so.

As an example of (b), consider Orcus.

As an example of (c), spectres are specified as lairing in tombs and dungeons.

The 1977 Hardcover System: Reading pg. 5 in more detail, it turns out that each monster’s Treasure Type is only intended for (a) treasure in wilderness lairs, along with some instances of (b) treasure carried by individuals (for example, for meager types J through N).

So if you have a dungeon room with 10 orc guards and you’re looking at the “Treasure Type: C, O, Q (x10), S in lair” notation under the Orc heading, that’s wrong. That’s actually for the 30-300 orcs – plus females, young, leader types, and potentially ogres – who are shacked up in a fortified village up in the hills. Sadly, while the book tells us not to use the Treasure Types for dungeons, it doesn’t tell us where to go for more information.

It helps to realize, however, that starting back in December 1977 the Advanced hardcovers were replacing the Original softcovers on a per-book, per-subject basis. So until 1979, for example, you were expected to fall back on your 1974-1976 Original books for the correct answers whenever the hardcover failed you. And for treasure specifically, there was a handy accessory published earlier in 1977 which we will get to in just a bit.

The 1979 Hardcover System: Moving on, when we open up Gygax’s 1979 Game Master’s Guide, pg. 91, Placement of Monetary Treasure, we find … advice. But we don’t find any rules or tables or actual numbers which correspond to the number of monsters appearing in any one dungeon chamber, or any really solid treasure numbers at all.

Delving and tunneling further over to pg. 171, at last! We discover Table V.G. Treasure (With Monster), which finally gives us a bit of somewhat usable Advanced data. (This system by the way comes from an earlier random dungeon system which Gary and George Lord premiered in The Strategic Review.)

Sadly, while useful, this system is a bit lacking because the data values are fixed and monsters always have two treasures types … no more, no less. Perhaps these monsters are pets of the Sith, always two there are, a master and an apprentice?

If we look at dungeon level 1, for example, the treasure-guarding monsters therein will always possess 2 of the following menu items: 1,100 copper pieces (exactly), 1,100 silver pieces, 825 electrum pieces, 275 gold pieces, 110 platinum pieces, 1.1 to 4.4 gems or 1 to 4 gems rolled at +10% (don’t ask), 1.1 pieces of jewelry or 1 piece rolled at +10% (sigh), or 1.1 magic items (again, don’t ask). Players are sure to notice that these oddly fixed and repeating values are a bit suspicious, if the GM can even get them to work.

So how do we sort all of this out into a working and cohesive random dungeon treasure system? We need to dig into the rarer game accessories a bit to find some more very useful Gygaxian sage advice.

So let’s perform a little divination …

The 1977 Accessory System: Acknowledging the Original game (1974-1976) and the Holmes Basic game (1977-1979) as direct ancestor-precedents of the Advanced game elements (1979-1985) that were not yet fully replaced, we can go back into Monster Assortment 1 (1977) to dig around for more usable values, as Gary recommended two years prior.

We need to step a bit lightly while doing so, being mindful of a few traps: [1] The Monster Assortments are Original edition products, where copper pieces and silver pieces have different (higher) values. And, [2] The Original edition didn’t have gold piece values spelled out for magic items, which means you could find a vorpal sword on level 1 guarded by rats if the dice said that you should do so. (I recommend that you overrule such things, unless you love crazy times in dungeon town!)

Unfortunately, Gary didn’t spell out his secret treasure tables in the Monster Assortments. And he never quite remembered what the intended values were later on; he just had his son Ernie (c. 1976-1977) use the information to roll up 100 results per level, and these results were printed and published … leaving us high and dry as we struggle – not in vain – to understand.

But luckily, with data analysis skills we can determine that (a) there was indeed a method behind the madness, and (b) the system can be reverse engineered after we account for errors and aberrations. So let’s get to work!

*cracks knuckles*

Dungeon Treasure Data from 1977: Due to the amount of data crunching involved, this blog post will strictly deal with monsters and treasures found on dungeon level 1 (bandits, kobolds, orcs, and so forth). We are not going deeper than that at this time. Get ready for a fun journey in search of the Unknown, aka how my brain actually works!

There are 100 listed Treasure Assortment treasures for level 1, and we learn that they are laid out as follows:

  • Copper Pieces: 28% of treasures listed, 100-1,200 coins in total. Keeping in mind that Original cp are worth 0.02 gp (“two cents” basically) and Advanced cp are worth 0.005 gp (“half a penny”), for an Advanced game the number of copper pieces found on dungeon level 1 should actually range from 400 to 4,800.
  • Silver Pieces: 28% of treasures listed, 100-1,100 coins in total. Putting our thinking caps on, we realize that since copper pieces were 1D12x100, silver pieces were probably 1D12x100 too, but a 12 was never rolled when the level 1 Treasure Assortment treasures were rolled up. So 100-1,200 is the proper amount to use. Then, we remember that Original sp are worth 0.1 gp (“a dime” basically) and Advanced sp are worth 0.05 gp (“a nickel”), for an Advanced game the number of silver pieces found on dungeon level 1 should range from 200 to 2,400.
  • Electrum Pieces: 11% of treasures listed, 150 to 800 coins in total, in increments of 50, with listed data amounts averaging 472.73. My best guess here is that Gygax’s system allowed for 100 to 1,000 ep in increments of 50, so that’s what I will use here.
  • Gold Pieces: 11% of treasures listed, 150 to 450 coins in total, in increments of 50. My best guess here is that Gygax’s system allowed for 50 to 500 gp in increments of 50. This seems right because it halves the values listed for electrum pieces, and gold pieces are worth twice as much.
  • Platinum Pieces: 7% of treasures listed, 30 to 110 coins total, in increments of 10. There is not much data here to extrapolate from, but it looks like Gygax’s system might have allowed for 20 to 120 platinum pieces.
  • Gems: 4% of treasures listed, 1 to 3 gems found. This is limited yet usable data as is!
  • Jewelry: 3% of treasures listed, 1 piece found. Again, this is limited but usable data.
  • Magic Items: 8% of treasures listed, 1 item found (if we count a clutch of several magic arrows as 1 item, as Gary did in his systems).

Dungeon Treasure Data from 1979: Moving further, we can also clean up the Game Master’s Guide V.G. table values with some variance to make them usable. We do this by using the fixed amounts as averages within a decent range. For example:

  • Copper Pieces: 25% of treasures found. Instead of using the fixed value of 1,100 cp, we can instead use 500 to 1,700 cp, which averages out to 1,100 cp within the 500-1,700 range.
  • Silver Pieces: 25% of treasures found. Again, instead of using the fixed value of 1,100 sp, we can instead use 500 to 1,700 sp.
  • Electrum Pieces: 15% of treasures found. Instead of using the fixed value of 825 ep, we can instead use 200 to 1,450 ep, which is close enough. (I’ll show you the math in the table.)
  • Gold Pieces: 15% of treasures found. Instead of using the fixed value of 275 gp, we can instead use 100 to 450 gp in increments of 50.
  • Platinum Pieces: 10% of treasures found. Instead of using the fixed value of 110 pp, we can instead use 20 to 200 pp in increments of 10.
  • Gems: 4% of treasures found. Instead of using the 1.1 to 4.4 headache math, we can simply use 1D4, with a +10 to the roll on the gem value table, but with a maximum value of 1,000 gp each as recommended in the Original rules.
  • Jewelry: 3% of treasures found. Instead of using the 1.1 math, we can simply say 1 piece, with a +10 to the roll on the jewelry value table, but with a maximum value of 3,000 gp as recommended prior.
  • Magic Items: 3% of treasures found, 1 item, and no +10 to the item type roll because the items are sorted by type (potion, scroll, etc.), not by value.

Merging the Two Approaches for Maximum Workable Variability: Now, we can say that half of the time we will use the Game Master’s Guide system (1979, two treasures), and half of the time we will use the Treasure Assortment system (1977, one treasure). That gives us the following new Oldskull tables improving upon both systems, which we can later plug into the OGL and offer as newly created content by yours truly:

Treasure Determination for Level 1 Dungeon Monsters

01-30 | No Treasure **

31-65 | Use Table 1A (singular treasure, roll once) (1977 treasure system)

66-00 | Use Table 1B (paired treasure, roll twice) (1979 treasure system)

** Treasure Assortment 1 (1977) tells us that 20% of monsters should have no treasure. Table V.F (1979) tells us that 40% of monsters should have no treasure. Averaging these two recommendations, we come up with 30% as a workable compromise. And then we split the remainder so that we use 1977 system half of the time, and 1979 the other half of the time.

Note that even if a monster is listed in the hardcover bestiary as Treasure Type: Nil, it can still have treasure in a dungeon encounter. This likely represents older treasure that is hidden (that the monsters are unaware of / do not care for), or newer treasure that was formerly owned by slain victims (yum). We see unintelligent monsters guarding treasure in dungeon modules all the time.

Table 1A: Singular Treasure Type Guarded by Level 1 Dungeon Monsters

(Roll Once on This Table)

01-28 | 400 to 4,800 copper pieces (4D12 x 100) ***

29-56 | 200 to 2,400 silver pieces (2D12 x 100)

57-67 | 100 to 1,000 electrum pieces (2D10 x 50)

68-78 | 50 to 500 gold pieces (1D10 x 50)

79-85 | 20 to 120 platinum pieces (2D6 x 10)

86-89 | 1 to 3 gems (1D3), of 10 to 1,000 gp value each (Original Book II, pg. 40)

90-92 | 1 piece of jewelry, of 300 to 10,000 gp value (Original Book II, pg. 40) with a recommended value of 300 to 3,000 gp (3D10 x 100) to keep it in line with gem value, above.

93-00 | 1 magic item, of random type (Game Master’s Guide, pg. 121) of power level appropriate for level 1 or 2 characters. (For guidance refer to Game Master’s Guide, pg. 176, Table I.) ****

*** (If you don’t like the artificiality of coin values that land directly on 100, you can mix it up by adding or +1D100 extra coins.)

**** (Whenever a too-powerful magic item is rolled, substitute a Potion of Healing instead.)

Table 1B: Paired Treasure Types Guarded by Level 1 Dungeon Monsters

(Roll Twice on This Table)

01-25 | 500 to 1,700 copper pieces ([4D4+1] x 100)

26-50 | 500 to 1,700 silver pieces ([4D4+1] x 100)

51-65 | 200 to 1,450 electrum pieces ([5D6-1] x 50)

66-80 | 100 to 450 gold pieces ([1D8+1] x 50)

81-90 | 20 to 200 platinum pieces (2D10 x 10)

91-94 | 1 to 4 gems (value 10 gp to 1,000 gp each); refer to Game Master’s Guide, pg. 25, and add 10 to the roll, but with a maximum possible gem value of 1,000 gp per stone.

95-97 | 1 piece of jewelry (value 100 to 3,000 gp); refer to Game Master’s Guide, pg. 26, and add 10 to the roll, but with a maximum possible jewelry value of 3,000 gp.

98-00 | 1 magic item, of random type (Game Master’s Guide, pg. 121) of power level appropriate for level 1 or 2 characters. (For guidance refer to Game Master’s Guide, pg. 176, Table I.) ****

And, cleaning up a few other related level 1 treasure matters:


Currency Values

10 copper pieces = 1 silver piece

10 silver pieces = 1 electrum piece

2 electrum pieces = 1 gold piece

1 gold piece = 1/5 platinum piece

5 gold pieces = 1 platinum piece


Currency Conversion Guide

Spare Change: 100 cp = 10 sp = 1 ep = 0.5 gp = 0.1 pp

Pocket Change: 200 cp = 20 sp = 2 ep = 1 gp = 0.2 pp

Spending Money: 1,000 cp = 100 sp = 10 ep = 5 gp = 1 pp

Small Stash: 2,000 cp = 200 sp = 20 ep = 10 gp = 2 pp

Big Stash: 10,000 cp = 1,000 sp = 100 ep = 50 gp = 10 pp

Young Adult Adventurer’s Savings: 20,000 cp = 2,000 sp = 200 ep = 100 gp = 20 pp


Rough KDK Currency Approximation (2022 Inflation Edition)

1 copper piece ~ $0.10

1 silver piece ~ $1.00

1 electrum piece ~ $10.00

1 gold piece ~ $20.00

1 platinum piece ~ $100.00


And there you have it! Happy dungeon stocking.

Oh, you want to know the Gygaxian monster types that appear on dungeon level 1, and in what numbers? That’s an entirely separate blog subject with its own traps and deadfalls along the path …

Stay tuned.

2 responses to “VII: Oldskull Workshop: Level 1 Dungeon Treasures”

  1. A great piece! Excellent analysis. I might suggest that instead of simply substituting a potion of healing for a too-powerful item, that one either place a potion or a level 1 or 2 spell scroll, or both. IME placing more scrolls is a good way to make the lives of low level magic users more worthwhile.

    1. Hi Shimrod, glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes I place archives, scroll crypts, or collector stashes in dungeons so that low-level casters can risk their lives if they want to repeatedly dig for spells.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: