Time, Encumbrance & Light – In defense of Book-keeping

While my game is on a week hiatus, I thought it might be a good idea to cover some topics that I still see a lot of people omit or buzz over. Encumbrance and Light sources are generally treated as bean-counting, bemoaned as tedious and often handwaved altogether. Do I really need to detract 1 cp for every horse every day? Why even bother with random encounters? Here is a passionate plea to use these elements. They are central pillars of the dungeon-crawl and as soon as you neglect one element the entire edifice crumbles and you might as well start playing Dungeon World and raping people with robots.

D&D dungeoncrawling is at its core about momentum, resource management and deliberate boldness. If you run the game as it is written players throwing themselves mindlessly at every encounter will likely find themselves taking casualties before long but one also wants to avoid an interminable slog where players take fucking 1 hour (of session time) to clear a single room, and every square centimeter of the dungeon is searched for traps and secret doors. There is a beautiful built-in rhythm to the game that enforces a natural pace to the game and penalizes players that are too slow, with a natural incentive towards pushing one’s luck if no suitable reward is found.

Random Encounters are by far the most important way of keeping time, as they exercise a toll in resources both replenishable and finite. The central concept is that in dungeon-crawling, almost all actions have a cost associated with them and that cost is time–> gold and perhaps death if one is unfortunate.  If this time-cost is not present, there is no reason not to listen at every door, search every room twice, look for traps and mindlessly hammer away at the walls in search of a chance secret door. It becomes more expedient to assume the PCs will perform all these actions anyway, mostly removing the significance of their existence.
Looking for traps, secret doors, listening at doors or even breaking open doors, these all take time, increasing the chance of an encounter, and thus restricting their use to when the player deems it advantageous.

Encumbrance is the second most important and it is underestimated how well it ties into the dungeon-bashing model. The speed at which you explore if going to directly affect at what rate you suffer depletion from random encounters, how much ground you can cover before you run out of light-sources, how effective it is to run away from monsters during a fight that seems to be going poorly and, to a lesser extent, it enforces either a discerning hand in the exploration equipment one brings, or else a greater expenditure of resources as the excess is carried by either henchmen or beasts of burden, both of which CONSUME RESOURCES and might be disabled by monsters. The idea of treasure that is valuable but hard to carry, requiring significant expenditure of initial resources to cart off, loses all meaning if such measures are not enforced. There is a layer of complexity that is immediately lost if this is brushed over.
I say hammer away: ask your players how much they can carry and where they are going to put things. The same goes with treasure that is carted out of the dungeon and then left to rot after it has given its experience value. Incentivize players to think about how they store and use their wealth. If you are consistent they will soon acclimate themselves.

There are various systems to work around the precise bean-counting that requires judicious use of the eraser or an automated spreadsheet, the most well-known of which simply reduces encumberance to a fixed number of items. This does no great violence to the general concept. As long as the system is linked into the GP value it should suffice.

At higher levels of play, the access to ample wealth to buy donkeys and saddlebags, or even objects like Bags of Holding or Spells like Tenser’s Floating Disk relegates such Encumbrance to a secondary concern, but this is proper, as additional factors and considerations come into play. Wilderness adventures increase in scope, there are tentative feelers put out towards establishing a domain, and manifold magic items and spells must be juggled.

Light-sources are similarly treated as a box to be checked but they are much more vital then they seem. Monsters have dark vision, most characters do not. Light sources are their only way of temporarily surviving a hostile alien world. Light sources determine the maximum duration of any foray but this is not all. Consider the age old trick of gusts of wind extinguishing torches, monsters targeting the single lantern bearer that the PCs have relegated to the lightly armed spellcaster. Never forget bearing a torch or lantern takes up more then mere encumbrance, it takes up a full arm, one that can be used for spellcasting, bearing weapons or shields.

Like many of these earlier considerations, light sources seem to all but vanish as a consideration once the PCs gain access to the Continual Light spell, or various magic items that glow in the dark. By all means let them! Do not forget, (as EOTB, a reader and sage wise in the ways of AD&D pointed out), there are many monsters that have access to the darkness spell, instantly nullifying such an advantage, and woe to the party that does not have a backup.  

Random encounters, light sources and encumbrance will work together to set a pace to your exploration. This pace is only relevant if living costs, retainer fees, rent (?) and ration costs are enforced. If not, there is no benchmark to a proper exploration speed and players can operate in a cowardly fashion, expending replenishable resources on 1-2 encounters and retreating to repeat the process. If, however, living costs are strictly enforced, the expedition has a solid metric by which to glean whether or not an expedition is successful, and an incentive to occasionally push their luck. Consider the use of training cost or down-time because of raise dead or sickness, and how this factors into it.

Bean-counting or keeping track of the upkeep of various animals, retainers, possible property and supplies can be tiresome. My ACKS GM used a variant rule that recognized a concept known as living costs, which abstracted all these variables into a fixed, level dependent monthly fee that had to be paid in order to cover living expenses, supplies, retainer fees (but not shares of treasure!) and so on. There are drawbacks to the method but it might be a worthwhile alternative to anyone who enjoys the idea but lacks the organizational facility for the praxis. As long as there is a natural standard, and a trade-off between protection, speed and resource depletion, the essence is maintained.

In summary: The various resources and restrictions in oldskool D&D exist to assure a cost is attached to actions while exploring, rendering them meaningful, and also provides a natural standard against which to measure progress. Omit them at your own peril.


38 thoughts on “Time, Encumbrance & Light – In defense of Book-keeping

  1. Yeah…what Settembrini said.

    TIME, I think, is the most oft-forgotten resource by DMs running the game. Tough enough to remember everything else (especially while managing players and holding their interest/engagement level), but you really have to drill yourself in the discipline of counting off those little ten foot squares of movement so you know how much time is being expended. I see maps in terms of 60′, 90′, and 120′ pathways…this is the MAIN reason why encumbrance tracking is necessary (i.e. so that you know the party’s movement rate and can calculate the turns expended).

    Even in a dungeon environment that does NOT have wandering monsters (they exist…empty tombs and mine shafts filled with poisonous fumes), time tracking is STILL important: for light sources, sure, but also for food/rations. Everyone has to eat. Six turns equal an hour. How long have your horses/mules been tied up outside the dungeon entrance? Who’s caring for them? Man, when the family and I are away from our HOUSE for too many hours, I start getting anxious to get home to my old dog! And you’re going to leave your mule train unattended in a bugbear-infested wilderness?

    You can’t give players TOO EASY a time of it. D&D is already a game, already designed to allow players to have fun with abstract stuff. No one is worried terribly about their armor needing to be rolled and oiled (to prevent rust/mold) or the inconvenience of chronic diarrhea from drinking out of troll-fouled streams in the Underdark. But when you start hand-waving things like time and movement and encumbrance, you run the risk of your game being little more than a point management exercise (HPs and spells remaining as the “points”) with a tacked on narrative. If that’s all you want, you might as well be playing Texas Hold ‘Em while talking smack to the dealer.

    Mmm. Okay, maybe not. BUT…the joy of D&D comes from the immersion that occurs because of the game’s verisimilitude. NOTE: that’s VERISIMILITUDE, *not* simulation. Verisimilitude is the APPEARANCE of being “real,” not actually being real. When players are in the middle of a life-death struggle of mortal combat, the engagement tends to take care of itself with minimal fuss. But BETWEEN encounters (or puzzles or trick/traps or dialogues with NPCs) you need to keep the verisimilitude going…you need to keep the pressure ON in order to keep the players engaged.

    Neglecting time is the surest way to result in players bitching and moaning about “when are we going to roll dice again?” The bean counting is necessary to measure time.


  2. One thing I struggled with is that once the players start hauling any treasure, the expenses like inns become negligible and turn into an annoyance. For example I have 1500gp (2nd level cleric), I need to spend 2gp for the inn, so I can stay here for 2 years. As a result retreating from the dungeon very frequently becomes a very good tactic, but is (at least from perspective) detrimental to the game play. The risk is minimized and there is a lot of repeated adventuring (going through the same rooms over and over). My only option would be to restock these rooms, but since I don’t have much time and use pre-written modules, that would just mean slapping monsters.

    The solution I took is that repeated adventuring into the dungeon increases the random encounter chance. I start with 15% and slowly increase it over time (I don’t use 1-in-6, but instead use a D20). This might make the dungeon impossible to explore at some point, because the frequency of encounters is too high (the monsters are galvanized and expect incursions, so they are on high alert and seek intruders). I also prefer to use random encounters for monsters, rather than monsters fixed to a room.


    1. Hah! Comment Reinstated!

      I try to keep in mind that the monsters of the dungeon are aware of the intrusion to a greater or lesser degree and will take precautions, or, if there are survivors of previous battles, learn from the tactics the PCs are employing, and prepare something nasty accordingly.

      1 gp (maybe include food costs?) per character does not seem like much but if you take into account henchmen, travelling between locations and possible downtime from penning scrolls, possible raise dead, recruiting new hirelings etc., 40-56 gp per week sets a steady pace and urges PCs to progress, while not being so punishing as to prevent any sort of exploration or possible side ventures.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. This is my problem with encumbrance/expenses in OSR as well since what the post refereed to as “higher levels of play” is actually just level 2.

      And no, 50g per week isn’t worth thinking about unless it takes several weeks to travel between town and dungeon.


      1. See earlier comment; “travelling between locations and possible downtime from penning scrolls, possible raise dead, recruiting new hirelings etc.”

        You can hex-crawl at higher levels, and the adventuring locations one can reach are farther away. I played in an ACKS game for about 2 years where we’d need to charter a ship to get within quick travel distance of the dungeon or we’d have to slog through the wilderness, eat wilderness encounters each day, and then slog back even slower, weighed down with treasure.

        The solution to higher level wealth is not to eliminate upkeep, it is to complicate the logistics by increasing the scale. Adventure sites that are not conveniently located 5 miles from the town are a good start. Hell, have them pay a bunch of laborers to chop a way through the forest and make a temporary camp with supplies. What about a camp stocked with mercenaries so the PCs have a safe place to retreat too and recover? At level 3, bullshit. At level 8? Perfectly legitimate.

        The main costs at higher levels is also going to be Remove Curse, Raise Dead, Restoration (if available?), Stone to Flesh, Cure Disease etc. etc. until you get your cleric in a shape to do it yourself. Don’t forget about costs for sages to identify magic items (100 gp per try) or startup costs for some endeavors (how much is a ship to find a treasure map). And yeah, if everyone has 2000 gp in gemstones in his pocket, you can eat for a year. But there should be ways to spend that money more productively.

        After 9th level the money can be offloaded onto fortresses, magic items, standing armies and other mega-projects but it is quite possible there is a hyper-affluent transitionary period before domain level sets in.


      2. Oh no I got caught up with what I was doing and forgot all about this post.
        “What about a camp stocked with mercenaries so the PCs have a safe place to retreat too and recover? At level 3, bullshit. At level 8? Perfectly legitimate.”

        At the base cost of 1-5gp per month I think it’s feasible to start playing Mountain Blade as soon as you hit lv 2. Fuck the dungeon, we’re going raiding!

        Really my problem with the ye olde dnd economy is that while you CAN have resource intensive adventures and there IS (mostly magical) stuff that requires large sums of gold the basics, i.e. “Encumbrance(In the form of stuff from the Adventuring Gear List) & “Light” become so insignificant after any significant adventure there’s no point in tracking them beyond extracting a fee from the players every now and then or abstracting it into a general “supplies” resource.


      3. R.e mercenaries. It seems cheap. But then there’s the mandatory armorer (90-120 gp/month), the rations everyone must carry (6 gp per month minimum unpreserved), carrying that much is of course an extra 30 pounds so speed will be reduced unless you get a wagon (100ish), and horses to pull them (150 gp), which eat for about 1.5 gp per month. Then there’s equipment for the mercenaries. What about ammunition? Light sources.

        The paradox of encumberance and logistics is that if you don’t apply it, PCs get large amounts of money, making small sums irrelevant, causing them to acquire even more. Encumberance is a LARGER problem at high levels, because PCs have access to a great deal of potions, scrolls, magic items etc. etc. All of which have weight. The number of turns you need to cross a dungeon impacts the number of random encounters you encounter. ?

        TLDR the rules are trivial only if you don’t apply them.


      4. Going by OSE since it has a SRD:
        To reach lv 2, have a decent chance of beating a cat in a 1v1 fight and gain a 5% increase on that awful table Dicknuts the thief needs 1200 gold.
        Your adventure involved some race crimes against orcs and goblins so let’s not hire any of those.

        Let’s just grab a simple warband: 25 archers and 25 heavy footmen plus their armorer will cost DIcknuts 300gp per month. (per the book, food and basic equipment is included in their wage but maybe we’ll spend 125gp on reloads for the archers.)

        We’ll get a wagon and 4 horses for 320gp. The upkeep for horse feed is minimal and we’re gonna need one of those anyway for when we find a jade statue or something.

        So Dicknuts the thief can afford to lead a warband of 50 men for two months, 3 if he gets some extra gold. We’re at early-mid game Mountain Blade Warband numbers and we can reliably defend ourselves from wilderness goblins (hopefully they’ll just back off when faced with even/superior numbers as long as we hide the dwarfs among the crowd).

        If DIcknuts’ pals who he split the treasure with pitch in we can afford a warband of 200 men for 1010gp per month (we’ll eschew extra arrows in favor of volume of fire plus our upkeep goes down thanks to reduced specialist costs via assistant armorers and blacksmiths) for [number of PCs-1 because that one guy will be buying the wagons] months give or take. We’re gonna be desperate to find more treasure and we’re ways off from having enough men to fight France but this is a fine recreation of end-game Mountain Blade and those 6d10 goblins that make up a wilderness encounter are going to eat shit. We’re also level 2 and if we get separated from our army a pack of cats can still be deadly.

        The latter warband is prohibitively expensive with longer travel times but the former seems good enough to guard a stash of 100 torches half mile of rope and barrel of oil (that cost us less than 100gp) and the food pile (somewhere between 100-500 gp for 8~ adventurers per month) for extended periods of time unless we’re using THOSE modules that give you barely any treasure or the DM goes with the 4x encounter rate (at which point you’re either going with as many men as you can afford or sticking to player characters and buying magic stuff)

        At higher levels you can probably afford some sort of mule that goes with you into the dungeon.Also if we’ve been saving our money we can fight France.

        You might have a less wack economy in your game but these are the “popular” values.

        tl;dr No, Mercs and supplies are pretty affordable actually, Please get better at math


      5. @ Swuggery:

        This is the problem of gaming without context…as well as extrapolating long-term campaign play from a “basic” game text. Which is exactly what OSE is (being a re-formatted B/X).

        The mercenary costs which “include upkeep” in their price are taken from OD&D (as is MOST of B/X and, thus, OSE). However, per OD&D, such specialists (including mercenary soldiers) were only meant to be “available to those in positions of power, i.e. with their own strongholds.”

        For ‘Dicknuts’ (or whomever) to hire archers or footmen…presumably to guard his castle/lands…he first had to establish a stronghold. The monthly cost to hire troops to patrol/guard/war for the the erstwhile Lord Dicknuts would thus be ADDITIONAL cost over and above the food and lodging that was already being provided to the soldiers through the bounty of the barony.

        If Dicknuts is just a wandering murder-hobo leading a bandit company, he’s going to need to cover all their costs “out-of-pocket”…generally 5 g.p. per person per week (the cost of a standard rations with a BTB economy). That’s 250 g.p. PER WEEK for Dicknuts’s 50 merry men, over and above the cost of their wages for following orders.

        The Advanced D&D, DMG fails to be as explicit as the OD&D book, but you can see it in the text if you squint hard enough: in the section under Expert Hirelings, Gygax states:

        “Various hirelings of menial nature are assumed to come with the cost of maintaining a stronghold; thus, cooks, lackeys, stableboys, sweepers, and various servants are no concern of the player character. Guards and special hirelings are, however, and such persons must be located and enlisted by the PC, or by his or her henchmen.”

        Gygax than produces a list of costs for various “expert hirelings” including mercenary soldiers. Again, one must infer here: cooks, servants, lackeys, etc. are NOT paid nothing; they are not ‘free of charge.’ They are assumed in the cost of running a stronghold (assuming, once again, that the PC *has* a stronghold…and thus a dominion). The cost to hire mercenary soldiers “includes upkeep” (including food, etc.) because it is assumed the PC has a stronghold and this is part of the upkeep cost.

        The B/X game (and, thus, OSE) fails to mention this crucial bit, leading to confusion…how can a fighting man subsist on but 2 g.p. per month? How is that a living wage in a gold-based economy? It is not, and the system fails if employed in the long term.

        The B/X game *does* do an excellent job of teaching the BASICS of the D&D game to players. But for serious play, a more comprehensive system (like AD&D) is a necessary instructional text.


      6. The poor math jester hath been thoroughly trounced, and then schooled. Perhaps he can redeem himself by figuring out the intricate ballad of upkeep, delving speed, projected gold per delve, downtime etc. and using his newfound math genius (which omitted double cost for wartime duty and foolishly assumed 1200 xp from gold only), to condense that into a basic formula to describe the exact conditions under which upkeep for characters is not or is relevant?


      7. Hah! Further interesting reading r.e. the gold/xp ratio:

        The problem of how much gold characters are expected to have at level 2 is interesting. I am tempted to work with your numbers for army upkeep (provided they are doubled for wartime duty as per B/X – LL), as my Keep PCs have recently come into a considerable sum of money to the point they are considering chartering a large force of men to stage some sort of large scale assault (gentrification?) on the Caves, though doing so would mean the loss of all treasure (and xp) unless they participate in some way in this attack.

        Mr. Becker does well to point out the deficiencies in Basic and its sons, but it is still the quickest way to learn DnD, for its sins.


      8. @Jonathan Becker

        If the NPCs aren’t buying their food from the NPC store (where food is cheap but a suit of plate armor doesn’t cost as much as a large pile of sticks) then the warband would need to be downsized, yes.
        Can we hire 12-20 men to keep our supply wagon relatively safe? 196-260 for wages and 240-400 for food makes us pay 436-660 per month. The other party members will have to chip in if we’re out traveling for too long or if the realm is considered to be at war but it’s still manageable, though we might consider alternate logistical screnarios at this point. Mules are “tenacious” aren’t they? And if we lose one, well as stated in my last post, the supply pile is cheap to replace. We can get the camp defenders a few levels later. We probably will need a stronghold to support our war with France at lv 8, yeah.

        Sure, Mercenary prices vary by game so even a few men might cost too much if it’s LOTFP (which I actually prefer over b/x since fighter isn’t a roleplay class) or something, having to wait until level fucking 8 to get some guards makes more sense in that scenario.
        But I don’t know of an OSR ruleset where you’re going to be spending all that much on torches.

        That blog post is of dubious value given our adventurer survived to lv.2, meaning the party probably didn’t reach a particularly high kill count (assuming every goblin camp isn’t next to an easily sabotaged dam and that the DM won’t let you “farm mobs” with Sleep ambushes.). OSR combat is also a slog if it happens constantly, and that’s the real limiter.

        Also I think you got a bit too excited and forgot what was in the title of your own blog post: “Encumbrance & Light”
        That stuff is still trivialized extremely quickly unless your setting is a barren wasteland devoid of both flammable wood and beasts of burden.


      9. @skull

        So for those keeping score:
        >You claim encumbrance after lvl 1 is nonsense, I point out at higher levels you actually have more stuff in the form of magic items. The main equation, that of balancing speed vs loadout/preparedness in the dungeon still applies and applies about until they get a BoH.
        > You claim expenses are nonsense after lvl 2, once again missing the overall point. There should be a constant stream of expenses that take the form of upkeep (continual low), supplies (low), hazard protection (high but rarer) etc. that should dictate the pace, and upkeep is simply a part of that. You look at it 50 gp per week in isolation, you should look at it as part of a greater system.
        > You start off on a rambling tangent about Mount and Blade, assuming OSE rules, bungle the math, now desperately stretching it into what will either come down to ‘its different in my bowlerized version of DnD’ or ‘if only people pool their wealth AND they don’t make financial decisions they would etc. etc.’
        > You claim light doesn’t matter but provide no reason why not.
        > You miss the point yet again and don’t get the reason for the article. The idea is that a percentage of xp is going to be devoted to monsters so your premise of available resources based on xp is, like everything else, sloppy. You then invoke an irrelevant example, as this is a process that affects the entire game. A single exception is not a valid counterpoint.
        > You invoke the title of the post but that doesn’t actually change anything about the content. Encumbrance and Light clearly matter for quite a while.

        I’m not without pity. You get a third attempt.


      10. That’s a lot of dancing around the main point of “to an adventurer of lv 2 or higher, managing basic supplies is a trivial matter because of how cheap they are how easy it is to overcome encumbrance limits via hirelings/animals (also cheap and no magic required though charmed porters can help)”.

        For example “You claim light doesn’t matter but provide no reason why not.” only requires one to read your own blog post where you say “how much ground you can cover before you run out of light-sources,” Did I really need to explain encumbrance and light sources are tied together? Are you this dense or was your offer of mercy a devilish trap to waste my time? I don’t think you deserve any mercy from me, either way.


      11. Lol yeah I got assmad. I did the check. Basic cost is trivial. If you add the various mechanisms, 100 gp/spell level for wizard shit, spell costs for remove curse/cure disease/raise dead, proper hireling costs for large parties, money changing costs etc. etc. It makes total sense. It makes no sense to do it in a vaccuum.


      12. The 1200 xp = 1200 gold was extra asshurting because it points to the sore spot of B/X (and the motivation for the post). There is next to no emphasis on draining resources in any of the retroclones. The idea that you arrive at the second level with your gains from the 1st all but unimpeded is absolutely foreign to my idea of playing the game but I realize this emphasis is not universal and actually alien to many of the OSR.

        I don’t use training costs but I use almost everything else. Sage costs, Platemail costs 2 weeks to make and isn’t generally for sale in a store, there’s taxes, a cost for rumors etc. etc. Probably Training costs is the answer to preventing the long term wealth from kicking in hard.


      13. @ Swuggery (& Prince):

        Um…there seems to be some sort of argument going on here, but I confess I’ve completely lost it. Or missed it. Or something.

        In aid of “Trying To Be Helpful:”

        RE Encumbrance

        B/X, O&D, and (one assumes) OSE caps weight for “miscellaneous equipment” at 8# (80 coins). There is some precedent for this figure: records of Roman cadres average their non-weapon, non-armor “gear” weight at about 8# a man. However, this also included a baggage mule for every 5 or so soldiers and did NOT account for food weight. After arms and protection, FOOD is the heaviest bit of a warrior’s “kit,” with each man only able to carry enough food to last a few days.

        [here’s a great slide show of a typical British soldier’s kit, from the 11th century till now:


        that’s worth taking a look at. Regarding the food and Roman army stuff, check out this other wonderful blog:


        It has a ton of excellent, game-able knowledge/resources]

        One thing you’ll notice that’s conspicuously absent in these pictures are LIGHT SOURCES (torches, lanterns, oil, etc.). There’s a reason for that: soldiers are expected to march, and fight, and make and break camp in DAYLIGHT. D&D, as a fantasy game, offers this rather interesting premise of delving in underground areas…and humans, being diurnal creatures, require some sort of artificial illumination to explore effectively.

        Because of this…and because D&D adventurers being unique individuals who are picking up and carrying all sorts of useful, interesting, and/or weird objects…I find it more convenient to use a more detailed encumbrance system than the standard B/X version. AD&D works okay, and you’ll find that torches in AD&D are pretty beefy to carry.

        RE Light

        The importance of light probably isn’t emphasized ENOUGH. Humans (the general adventurer type in old school games) can’t operate underground without it. And even in B/X, the Continual Light spell doesn’t become GENERALLY available until 5th level (when clerics can cast it once per day…few magic-users would select it as their spell at 3rd level, when so many other useful 2nd level spells are begging to be taken).

        The darkness of a truly lightless environment is…immense. Words can’t express it. I toured Lewis & Clark Caverns last summer…the stories of folks who’ve lost themselves in darkness (for hours or even days) is insane. Its sensory deprivation on a whole ‘nother level. Folks hallucinate…they cannot move. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. Any human without light on, say, the 2nd level (or deeper) of a dungeon has no ability to orient themselves at all…you’re just done, unable to act, hoping someone, somehow will find you and rescue you.

        [as opposed to find you and eat you]

        And using light sources negates the ability of the party from surprising any encounter. That’s a BAD penalty in a game where combat is as punitive and deadly as D&D’s system.

        I don’t use grid combat in my game, but I use figures to show where folks are and (especially) who’s holding the light source. It affects weapons use. It affects shield use. It affects (depending on position) who can see what, whether or not a foe can be charged, whether or not someone can be targeted in missile combat. What’s the range of your crossbowmen? Not farther than they can see. The more lights you’re carrying the more illumination…but also the more accumulated encumbrance…even if you’re just carrying a sword with a Light spell cast upon it.

        But do you want to stand out ALL THE TIME to every denizen of the dungeon? How do you cover that light source when you’re trying to be stealthy? What does the “scout” use to see by when moving ahead? How does the rear guard see creatures creeping up from behind when he’s at the back of an eight-man train spread out at 5’ intervals and the torch is in the front of the pack?

        Torches can be used to set oil alight. Fire can be used to put fear into wild animals (and animal intelligent creatures). Lanterns can be set on the ground (while picking locks or fighting or casting spells) without going out…though they can be kicked over in a general melee. So many things to consider (regarding light) for players that wish to plumb the depths of the Underworld looking for long forgotten treasures.

        RE Henchmen, Hirelings, and Mercenaries

        There seems to be some general confusion about what these guys will do, how they operate, and their general care & feeding. This is quite understandable given the general confusion and half-assed-ness of the Rules As Written.

        Basic world building (essential for an effective campaign) requires the setting of some initial benchmarks regarding the fantasy economy. What does a copper piece buy? How much does a laborer earn in a day? What is a “ration” of food? How much sustenance is required to maintain a baseline of in-game effectiveness without succumbing to fatigue, starvation, death? How much SURPLUS food does a community of certain size produce? How much available manpower is available in a given region?

        None of these things need to be established a large scale to run your game…but it’s certainly helpful to do so in the locality where the player characters reside (and, presumably, in the vicinity of the nearest dungeons).

        My players have been adventuring in adventure module N1 for the last few weeks. They’ve just about tied it up at this point. The value of actual monetary treasure they’ve acquired to date is a bit more than 12,000 gold pieces. The CURRENT amount of treasure in the party is 3,527 gold (and a few hundred silver). I do NOT require payment for training (though I have in the past). They have NOT had to pay for clerical magic (like resurrection or curse removal). But they DO spend money…including purchasing a small sailing vessel and a ten man crew (a month’s wages in advance). They also have the deed to an inn and the gratitude of a grateful village. However, their five person party (level 3rd and 4th) drain approximate 1,200 gold piece per month in expenses…so far they’ve only had to pay that fee ONCE, but if they don’t find more treasure soon, they WILL run out of money.

        That’s just how it works.

        Not sure if any of that’s helpful to folks (or if it will help solve any disagreements/arguments), but I figured I might as well offer my thoughts.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It does gladden my heart to see other folks walk this same path as I did, and learn the value of all the game elements in the OD&D –> AD&D evolution. As you know, EOTB was my guide as well. Three cheers for the old gaffer!

    The importance of light cannot be over-emphasized. Sure, it’s a resource, but it is such a powerful environmental element. The lack of light triggers all sort of fears—it’s an immensely powerful tool for establishing mood. This is why, I think it’s wise not to treat PC infravision/ultravision as “I can see perfectly fine in a pitch black world”. It’s also one of the main reasons why I think it would really be best if all PC were human. The D&D world should be experienced through the conduit of our common understanding of the senses and their limits…NOT protected by a force-field of the super-human. There is nothing more visceral (and successful) than a party inching forward cautiously with the anticipation of an unknown attack lurching out of the dark unknown eating away at their mental state. That, counter-pointed with moments of awe and wonder, is the Mythic Underworld to me.

    Preach it brother.

    BTW you site is linked on RPG Planet (https://campaignwiki.org/rpg/)


    1. Hah! I don’t mind a character that can see in the dark, it seems like such a vital addition to the game. But giving everyone darkvision should be avoided at all costs it is true.


  4. Would love to play this type of campaign but have been challenges to find players open to the playstyle. But still fun to read about and dream. What is EOTB?


    1. Theoretically there is some part of this in 5e but you have so many abilities there that this entire balance is a bit skewed. Perhaps a gentle introduction can be found in the form of living costs/enc. tracking. The key is that it doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time and it doesn’t have to be boring, but people need to get used to it.

      As for oldschool gamers, there is always the Aaron the Pedantic discord server, which has quite a few people interested in oldschool games, in all experience brackets.


  5. Great post. This subject is always gold.
    I sended to you an e-mail about The Dragon’s Den adventures and the Basic Black Box. Do you received it?


  6. The other spell opponents might drop on the party is dispel magic, and this may have extra payoff if they have the likes of strength and various protection/detection spells running. My preference in play is for the group to have a mixture of continual light and natural sources.
    Another neglected rule is saving throws for (especially magic) items. The second +1 longsword in a concealed trove in your house isn’t useless any more.


    1. Yeah item saving throws are really a neccessity at the rate most magic items are thrown out, though I’ve found my home group used them to bribe retainers into staying (also don’t forget retainers will at some point demand magic items!).


      1. There is also a pretty clear steer from the 1E DM’s guide that you might “sweeten the deal” in negotiations with NPCs who have something you want, by gifting the odd magical item. (I am recalling a discussion about copying spells.) And giving away your third mace +1 makes more sense than a potion any PC could usefully drink.


  7. I read this post after your followup. I think you are mistaken in your thinking. Gold in D&D is not a dungeoncrawling resource. Gold is the score. That’s why we can use it as XP, because it doesn’t actually matter that much to the dungeoning and the dragoning.

    The way to stop players fighting through one or two encounters, retreating, then coming back again is not through miserly restriction on the amount of gold they have to work with. It is through the goblin scout following them back from their retreat, then lighting the inn on fire with them in it and shooting them with crossbows when they run out without their equipment unprepared for combat. It is through the frightened inhabitants of the dungeon clearing out with their treasure for the domain of their More Numerous, Better Prepared and Stronger Cousins. It is through the high priest of the temple, terrified by the incursion of rapacious unbelievers, making a dread pact for his very soul to a demon whose name man was not meant to know, whose evil followers now stalk the land. It is through the dragon, perturbed by the disappearance of some of its minor servants, deciding it is time for one of its punitive excursions.

    You do not fight smart play by petty restrictions on the player’s rewards. You fight it by smart responses to their smart play.

    Don’t get me wrong, the gold DOES matter, and tracking those things matters too. But it’s not so they stay starved, it’s so that the gold matters enough for it to be a meaningful score and the progression in what resources are available to them is genuine. The treasure has to be able to do stuff in the game world for finding it and recovering it to seem meaningful, but a character with several pounds of gold in their pocket shouldn’t be worrying about where their next meal is coming from. They SHOULD be worrying about how they can get even more gold so they can keep up this high life they have begun to become accustomed to.


    1. [Gold]
      You are mistaken. It is objectively a resource for sages, equipment, raise dead spells, packmules etc. etc. Unlimited access to gold removes a gameplay element. Try playing with everything free if you don’t believe me. It is also a reward and those other things you said.

      [Punishing slow play]
      Why can’t we have both? There are plenty of situations when the opposition is not necessarily aware (such as in a Tomb), or is too busy fighting eachother (as in most megadungeons). You agree, maintaining a good pace is good. Why not use both measures.

      [Smart play]
      There are no petty restrictions. You are merely applying rules that exist. Also, you already understand that a certain pace is desirable. If it is ‘smart’ to play slower, then you must alter your procedures, either by doing the above and increasing the dungeon’s preparedness, or by exerting a constant cost.


      They are still going to be scrabbling for resources but the type of resources and the scale sort of changes. Fighter Jack might have 5000 gp in the pocket but he is going to be worrying about affording a raise dead spell, paying for his 6 retainers, what magic items to parse out, affording clothes to appear at the local court for Midvintr, and whether or not he should pay the animal trainer to train the griffons from the eggs he found.


      1. Gold is not an in-dungeon resource, though. In the dungeon itself, treasure is arguably nothing but a drain on your resources. It’s heavy, and you have to carry it out. Gold gets you dungeoncrawling resources. It is not itself a dungeoncrawling resource. All it can do in the dungeon is slow you down and get you killed thereby.

        I concur absolutely with you that it is a gameplay element, and an important one, that needs to remain in-game. Everything being free WOULD negatively impact the game. Even then, I do not think it would be the most important consideration. Infinite gold does not increase the local population. It does not make people willing to enter the dungeon (beyond a certain point). It does not affect what other resources are actually available locally. It does not remove travel time. Being able to afford anything you like does not mean you have the option of actually getting anything you like. And if the local resources could solve the problem of the local dungeon, they probably would have already.

        Even if you completely abstracted the gold out, some simple common sense can still preserve a lot of the restrictions on the players and what resources they can actually bring to bear in the dungeon. Give them the unrestricted help of the local sage – that still doesn’t mean he knows everything, or that they know the right questions to ask. Raise dead spells still impose penalties, as does having to drag a heavy dead body with its equipment out of a dungeon. And presumably journey to get the guy raised. Pack mules are fine…but someone needs to watch them, they need to be trustworthy, and no kobolds need to sneak out of a postern and attack them, killing them and taking the delicious mules for meat.

        To be clear, I think you SHOULD still track all the stuff you are suggesting be tracked (though perhaps at growing levels of abstraction with higher levels). I just don’t think that the reason it should be done is because otherwise it’ll remove the challenge from the game. I think you should do it because expedition planning is a huge component of classic D&D. I also you should do it because otherwise the gold is basically meaningless and the reality and verisimilitude of the game world takes a huge hit. Things that don’t matter well…don’t matter.

        I think you COULD abstract it out in a prudent and sensible fashion and still be playing D&D, though perhaps not old-school D&D. But I also think that’s probably more effort than it’s worth unless you’re bad at math. Especially since old school play is adventuring in the classic sense of the word. As in the kind where Cortez and Drake and Burton were adventurers – go places other people did not go, extract tons of wealth or other such things, change world.


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