The Dragon’s Hoard

I want all of my dragon-in-her-lair fights to be the Hobbit’s Smaug scene or Aladdin’s Jafar fight. I want the terrain to be coins, so many coins.

There’s this size-Gargantuan 20×20 dragon, right? And so an interesting fight against it happens in a lair with enough room to move around. If it were a 5×5 orc, you’d want a 20×20 room for the fight to stretch out in — 4 times bigger along each dimension, so let’s say an 80×80 lair. That’s 6400 square feet. That seems appropriately cavernous.

Some clever soul says a silver coin is about an inch across. So a lattice one layer deep and one square foot across is 144 coins — let’s call it 150 coins.

So a layer one-coin-deep in this dragon’s lair is 960,000 coins. That’s about on track for the value of the legendary hoards we expect this dragon to have, since it gets some multiple number of hoards per the rules. But it’s one coin deep. Isn’t that unsatisfying? I want it to be hundreds of times greater than that; great piles of wealth.

Oh, sure: the dragon could be sleeping on pennies. You know that’s not good enough; it’s gotta have the glint of gold. So our only real option is to cheat; to say that the pile is one hundred times, one thousand times deeper than that single-coin stack, but that the heroes don’t get to keep it.

Perhaps there’s a tax on dragon gold in these parts. But really, a 99% tax? A 99.99% tax? That induces most PCs into outlawry.

Perhaps dragon-gold really is toxic to mind or to spirit; keeping or spending that wealth renders one rapacious, sickened, or cursed. I think that’s the least gameable answer, though, because the PCs killed a dragon; of course they want the hoard. And they have expert saints and wizards and suchlike in the party, so they can reverse most curses. And they’re played by smart folks, engineers and economists and such; even if the curse is unbreakable, they’ll figure out some system of catspaws to defeat that. So it’s definitely an option, but not the best.

Perhaps dragon-gold is mostly shadow-stuff — the hoard does contain coins, but they evaporate once away from the dragon for an hour or a day. You can still get some money out, but at dissatisfying one-in-a-thousand coin rate.

Perhaps dragons destructive powers wreck their hoards, melting and corroding coins. This has the downside that if clever players can kill the dragon away from the baubles, they get a vastly oversized payout.

How vast is that payout? Let’s say our dragon had a conservative 100 million gp in her hoard. Then that’s 2 million pounds of gp — 1% of the world’s gold supply. The current world’s gold supply. A more realistic medieval estimate puts that figure at 300% of the then-world’s gold supply.

So: it’s gotta be “Elemental Plane of Gold”-level fantastical.


Travel Montage

D&D 5e has a problem, and it’s long-distance traveling.

In most campaigns I’ve run, I don’t say “you explore the Tulgey Wood for another day, getting one-twentieth closer to the Tulgey Ruins”. I say “You explore the Tulgey Wood for 20 days, and then come across the Tulgey Ruins”.

Period, not Frequency

At a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour pace, I want responsive rules that tell me when to roll for The Bad Stuff. Player choice makes a huge difference here, after all.

But to montage, I know time is going to pass; I really want to know how frequently interesting things might happen, and I definitely don’t want it to be on the “hourly” range. The 5e DMG advice is a 3-out-of-20 chance checked once per hour, per 4-8 hours, or once during the day and once during a long rest, depending on “whatever makes the most sense based on how active the area is”. For montage rules, that sounds an awful lot like a 1-in-6 checked 2-24 times per day — so even the sparsest region the rules gesture at has a random encounter occur every 3 days.

So I’d be fine with saying an encounter definitely occurs every 1d6 days. Maybe 1d4 days in a dense region, maybe 1d12 days in a sparse one. Let day vs night grow out of the actual random encounter table itself.

Resource & Exhaustion Abstraction

Anyone untrained in survival at exhaustion 0 has to make a DC 10 constitution saving throw at the end of their first night or else be unable to sleep, acquiring 1 level of exhaustion.

All characters (regardless of exhaustion or training) must repeat this saving throw at the end of each week of travel.

Any sort of discomfort (no fire, no shelter, etc) or rationing raises the DC by +2 to +5. Starvation automatically inflicts an additional level of exhaustion.

Characters traveling by vehicle make this check per month, not per week.

Sing Ho! For the bath at the close of the day

At the end of this, we have two systems which, combined, let us skim over the costs of travel: a way to resolve random encounters, and a way to represent road weariness.

Nonstandard Prices for Uncommon Items

Continuing a theme from here and from a thread on enworld. Must be something in the water.

Like a poster there, I rigged up some evidence of diseased thinking; while I’m reasonably happy with the results they don’t actually indicate much. Still, I thought I’d share them.

Assumption 1: The frequency on the treasure tables factors into cost

There’s no reason this would be true, but I went with it. The DMG has some assumptions about how often over the lifetime of an adventurer they’ll find each broad challenge-band of hoard, and of course has tables for treasure table conditional on hoard and item conditional on treasure table. With that, I could figure out the notional average number of each item an adventurer would receive over their career or, even more valuably, the notional average number of each item a society of a mix of adventurers would receive over their careers.

Some items show up on more than one treasure table, of course (second level scrolls, I’m looking at you) and I further made some 3e-style the-rules-are-the-simulation-of-the-world assumptions, modeling the relative ratios in society of adventurers at each tier (so that I could have many, many more adventurers at the lowest levels than the highest levels). This makes sense, because without that, the wealth generated in the mid tiers produces a weird bulge where low level items are, in fact, rarer than mid level items because an adventurer is given more mid-level items over their career.

You can see the assumptions in the spreadsheet, but basically I assumed 500 tier 1 adventurers, 50 tier 2, 5 tier 3, and 1 tier 4.

Assumption 2: Pleasing curves about the log of the frequency of the items

Our society of adventurers gets an awful lot of healing potions over their career, and very few Apparatus of Kwalish drops. I normalized the items back into levels with fun curve fitting — this log base, that baseline, that curve. Even with that, potions of healing are STILL encountered in sufficient numbers to break the curve. But I assigned each item a “level” that tracks to their frequency in this assumption-laden global item ranking — rarer pulls are higher level.

This is not a good assumption. Level should, in D&D, mean power level, basically, challenge rating. The sovereign glue is just not that cool. And yet, based on only rarity and not better utility functions, my made-up-math shows it at level 20, along with the portable hole — because that’s the frequency you encounter them.

Assumption 3: The DMG pricing tiers are correct (with a proxy)

I gave up on data entry past a certain point, so I mapped the levels back to the hoard tiers, and called those rarity. That’s totally cheating, but basically I said that any item which, based on my magic order-preserving function from global frequency to “level”, was level 1-4 was uncommon, level 5-9 rare, level 10-16 very rare, 17-25 legendary, and 25+ artifact. And that each tier’s cost was 10* the previous cost. And that it was reasonable to price an item linearly between the low and high range for its tier.

I don’t feel too much shame over that, because my version of “common” is absolute; I might have classified some items on the wrong side of that divide, but any items which inverted (a designated-more-common item rarer than a designated-less-common item) are, on average and at the table, de facto more or less common than indicated*. So whatever, mine has made up stats behind it.

* Unless my “use the rules to simulate the world” thing comes back to bite me. When would that happen?!

I’m not sure I’ll use this thing as is; it still assumes permanent items are only twice the cost of consumables, and I have no idea how realistic its cost curves are. It’s possible the *right* thing to do is to map these item levels into challenge ratings and use a function of monster exp for cost, to reflect D&D’s love of exponential curves.

But even if my costs are crazy, surely an interesting fine-grained rarity-as-proxy-for-power system has some use? Wouldn’t you love to know which items are actually just-slightly-rarer than which other items? Now you can.

Standard Prices for some Common Magic Items

Okay, not a real economy. But a surprising number of useful rules are hidden across the books in strange corners. And in self-contradictory ways.

For instance, XGtE has pricing (at last!) for generically buying magical items as well as the adventurer’s league guidelines for specific adventurer scrolls and potions (p130, p174); the two strongly conflict:

Potion of…

  • Healing: 50gp
  • Climbing: 75gp
  • Animal friendship: 100gp
  • Greater healing: 100gp
  • Water breathing: 100gp
  • Superior healing: 500gp
  • Supreme healing: 5000gp
  • Invisibility: 5000gp

Scroll of spell level…

  • Cantrip: 25gp
  • 1st: 75gp
  • 2nd: 150gp
  • 3rd: 300gp
  • 4th: 500gp
  • 5th: 1000gp

For good measure, a one-time casting of spell level…

  • Cantrip: 1gp + materials
  • 1st: 10gp + materials
  • 2nd: 40gp + materials
  • 3rd: 90gp + materials
  • 4th: 160gp + materials
  • 5th: 250gp + materials

with “materials” = 2* consumed materials + 0.1 * non-consumed materials.

And, of course…

  • Mithral: 100gp + item cost
  • Adamantine: 500gp + item cost
  • Orium: 1000gp + item cost

Discussion: XGtE has generic rules for magical items, as well as specific rules for scrolls and potions of healing. And even with that, they don’t play well with the AL standard.

5e weapon damage types & thoughts

As previously discussed, in my current campaign I removed the “non-magical” from most monsters’ damage reductions. I did this mostly so I could hand out magical weapons like candy while leaving the campaign foes at their intended difficulty. I regret nothing.

The way DR is spelled is weird.

And by the way, how annoying is the standard damage resistance litany?

Resistances: Piercing and slashing from nonmagical weapons that aren’t adamantine. (Xorn)

Doesn’t that just make you sad? A convoluted exercise in syntax mapping? How much nicer would it have been to spell the rule:

Resistances: Weapon damage (Pierced by: magic, adamantine, or bludgeoning)

At the very least, the line should make parsing it easier; the three different spellings for exceptions are frequently mistaken by readers to be cases which must ALL apply, not ANY apply. Yes, the rules would have to change to support this phrasing (what is “weapon” damage? What does “magic” mean here?!), but wouldn’t that be better?

Of course, the text in question got errata’d with the third printing of the MM — it refers now to “nonmagical attacks” instead of “nonmagical weapons”, so that for instance damage from falling or from the hail in an ice storm is unresisted. And is a smite a magical attack covering the whole of the attack? It’s even less clear to me than ever.

So it’s a giant mess, is my point.

Every weapon has a damage type that never matters.

Moving on from the magic/nonmagic and snarled syntax, what about that exception for bludgeoning? Every weapon has a specific damage type, and they make no sense and make no difference to 99% of the game. I am not the first to have this thought.

Magic and Silver aren’t damage types but are everywhere in the MM; slashing doesn’t need to be a damage type. If you just unified it all to “weapon damage”, example adjustments to monsters:

  • Damage Vulnerability: Heavy weapons, versatile weapons. Example creature: Skeletons, Ice mephits.
  • Damage Vulnerability: Finesse or ranged weapons wielded by good creatures. Example creature: Rakshasa.
  • Damage Immunity: Weapons (pierced by: light or ranged weapons). Example creatures: Oozes, trolls’ loathsome limbs.
  • Damage Resistance: Weapons (pierced by: Axes). Example creature: Treant. They’re trees. No swords, yes axes.
  • Damage Resistance: Weapons (pierced by: Adamantine, Hammers or Picks). Example creature: Xorn. They’re boulders.

Further discussion:

Representing fragility (skeleton, ice mephit) is interesting. I ended up looking at it as a “gimmee” to the party, rewarding those who focus on weapons. To keep the flavor, though, you don’t want to give this handout to the rogue — they want a soft target, not a fragile one — and so it’s everyone EXCEPT for finesse/ranged keyword attacks. Contrast that with the blessed crossbow bolts of rakshasa slaying — perfect hit. I’d do the same for vampires with wooden stakes, by the by.

The treant vs the xorn is an interesting case. They’re both animated objects, in a way. So why doesn’t adamantine hurt treants? Because the rules didn’t think of it. Why does a greatsword harm a tree to the same degree as a greataxe? Because the rules gave them both slashing damage.

The ooze/troll thing is, I admit, a big weakness. I’m literally changing the rules. It used to be that they reacted to getting cut up, and I’m changing it to reactions to widespread mechanical failure. And yet, is it so bad? I have the visual of a maul knocking a trolls arm off and I love it. I have no way to imagine a spear splitting an ooze, but (unless they’re just sacs of ooze) I can’t imagine them harming an ooze much either. So: Attack them with small weapons and conquer, or big weapons and give them the chance to divide.

Leader stats/Mook stats

I wasn’t really using my old version of this very consistently at the table, and they don’t REALLY match the by-the-book stats. So in the spirit of retreading old ground…

If I need to toughen up a monster, I can estimate its CR+2 version by taking its stats and:

Leader Stats
CR +2
HP +40
Damage/Round + 15
d20 Rolls (including DCs, AC): +1

This tracks the monster manual averages which are easier to present as a chart than to outline the rules of thumb, to whit: surfarcher’s excellent work here.

It doesn’t work for low-CR monsters; they get specialized blocks as follows:

CR 0’s Leader (CR 1/4) — but… why…
HP +5
Damage/Round +1d4
d20 rolls +1

CR 1/8’s Leader (CR 1/2) (tough guard) 
HP +7
Damage/Round +1d4
d20 rolls +0

CR 1/4’s Leader (CR 1) (tough goblin or zombie)
HP +15
Damage/Round +1d6
d20 rolls +0

CR 1/2’s Leader (CR 2) (tough scout or orc)
HP +30
Damage/Round +2d6
d20 rolls +1

After advancing the base creature up to a “real” CR, you can apply the normal rule thereafter.




Bearded Devils, Swords of Wounding, Venoms

The bearded devil is a magical item.

The sword of wounding is a rare magical item that is weaker than a CR 3 creature.

Consider: After a round of combat with the bearded devil, you’ve made two DC 12 constitution saves; failing both, you’re poisoned for 1 minute and while poisoned cannot heal, save ends; you’re taking ongoing 5 untyped damage (stacking), which can be ended with a successful check as an action or magical healing (see previous point).

Consider: After a round of combat with a sword of wounding, you cannot heal its damage, are taking 1d4 necrotic damage (stacking), and get a DC 15 saving throw to end all such wounds, or a successful check as an action (but not magical healing).

They’re very very similar, except the sword of wounding gives more chances for the effect to end early — and the way magical healing is complex between the two, but both touch on it.

You could re-cast both damage types as a wounding-claw/bleeding-bite iterative attack.

You could raid the barbed devil for parts and pull it apart:

Bottled Imp

It would be completely reasonable to have a poison do the bearded devil’s effects, to whit:

Devil’s Beard (Injury, 200gp). Made from a tangled red moss with a bitter smell, this ointment inhibits healing. A creature wounded with a weapon coated in this poison must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 minute. While poisoned in this way, the target can’t regain hit points. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Wounding, as a property, would fit with the description of the barbed devil pretty well. Give them a variant polearm that does wounding, and you’ve recreated the barbed devil (for my purposes!) more than well enough.

The CR ~3 fiend slot can be occupied by the hell hound, nightmare, succubus (at 4), spined devil (at 2)…