I'm running an AD&D campaign for a party of usually-three PCs, who were first level until our most recent session. (As for what they are now, we'll get to that...) I have the 1e DMG (door cover) and Unearthed Arcana, and a Monster Manual that might be older than that, judging by its condition. The players are using the 2e PHB; these are all inherited books, and the previous owner only ever DM'd in 1e and PC'd in 2e.

My issue is with treasure generation-- I've been using the standard dungeon generation tables from the DMG, and it works well except for the outcome of treasure rolls. Specifically, magic items don't seem to be segregated by dungeon level. That first-level party happened upon a Mirror of Mental Prowess, which had some fairly powerful effects but nothing game-breaking, and was worth five thousand experience. Divided among the party, this alone was enough to bring the priest and rogue to second level. Combined with the remainder of the treasure, those two reached level three, and the ranger reached level two.

Now building a dungeon for a later adventure, another magic item roll came up, resulting in... a Ring of Three Wishes. I simply vetoed that and re-rolled, getting something more reasonable this time, but now the question is in my mind of whether this is actually correct.

So, the simple version of the question:
Is there a method in AD&D to limit magic item rolls for treasure based on dungeon level or some other factor, or does this need to be created manually by the DM?

Note that this is not the same question as "What can I do when I accidentally gave out an overpowered item?" This relates purely to the RAW methods for generating magical treasures.


5 Answers 5


The DM controls treasure…

The Dungeon Master's Guide (1979) on Placement of Monetary Treasure says

All monsters would not and should not possess treasure! The treasure types given in the Monster Manual are the optimums and ore meant to consider the maximum number of creatures guarding them. Many of the monsters shown as possessing some form of wealth are quite unlikely to have any at all. This is not a contradiction in the rules, but an admonition to the DM not to give away too much! Any treasure possessed by weak, low-level monsters will be trifling compared to what numbers of stronger monsters might guard. So in distributing wealth amongst the creatures which inhabit the upper levels of dungeons/dungeon-like areas, as well as for petty monsters dwelling in small numbers in the wilderness, assign it accordingly. The bulk of such treasure will be copper pieces and silver. Perhaps there will be a bit of ivory or a cunningly-crafted item worth a few gold pieces. (91-2)

The section then details how the DM places monetary treasure. This is followed by a section describing the placement of magic items (92-3). Neither section encourages slavish adherence to random treasure table rolls and, on the contrary, recommends the DM place (not roll) monetary and magical treasure based on the creatures encountered and the player characters themselves.

So the DM decides what treasure exists not the dice, and if the DM doesn't like a rolled result, the DM rejects that result and either rolls again or just picks something. Even in AD&D, a DM shouldn't feel as though he's, like, cheating by rerolling or even picking what's best for that campaign instead of inserting something the DM knows is bad for campaign.

Thus, while the dice might've dictated that a ring of three wishes is somewhere in the dungeon, that doesn't mean the DM then must put it there or else the DM's doing it wrong. In fact, I suspect that Gygax would likely put forth that DM is doing his players a favor by excluding from the 2nd-level dungeon a ring of three wishes: a treasure like that at low levels skews players' expectations, giving them less to look forward to at higher levels when such treasures can be rightfully earned instead of accidentally rolled.

The Monster Manual (1978) in its description of treasure type further explains that the monster's treasure type entry means that such

treasures are only found in the lairs of monsters[, and] it must be stated that treasure types are based upon the occurrence of a mean number of monsters as indicated by the number appearing and adjustments detailed in the explanatory material particular to the monster in question. Adjustment downwards should always be made for instances where a few monsters are encountered. Similarly, a minor adjustment upwards might be called for if the actual number of monsters encountered is greatly in excess of the mean. The use of treasure type to determine the treasure guarded by a creature in a dungeon is not generally recommended. (5)

So this means the level 1 PCs upon defeating the 1–4 giant ants (see the DMG's Dungeon Random Monster Tables for Monster Level 1 on 175) should not get all or even the bulk of the giant ants' Q×3 and S treasure types but, instead, only a tiny portion—if any!—of that treasure, the Number Appearing entry of giant ants being 1–100, and even that tiny portion of giant anty treasure assuming the PCs defeat the giant ants in their (probably less than expansive) lair.

(If the DM doesn't mind mixing his material with his AD&D material, this DM recommends the Monster & Treasure Assortment: Sets One–Three: Levels One–Nine (1980) for a multitude of examples of reasonable lower-level treasures suitable for a party that's defeated, for example, some not-in-their-lair, less-than-the-listed-mean wandering monsters. The tables, if so desired, can also be used pretty much as-is, needing hardly any conversion.)

…But I understand wanting to roll dice and stick with the results

So you rolled a ring of three wishes and feel like, because it was rolled, it should be in the dungeon, darn it! That's cool. Make the ring almost inaccessible, nearly impossible to find except through great ingenuity, skill, or luck (maybe the ring's surrounded by puzzles and traps as the dungeon's centerpiece or made of glass and at the bottom of an underground lake). Or, perhaps even better, somewhere in the dungeon there's a clue that leads to another dungeon where the ring can be found. Or you can just give the PCs such a ring and see what happens; remember, these are AD&D wishes, after all.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I was aware of these concepts-- I was simply wondering whether a more structured "vanilla" random generation table existed that I had been missing. Judging by your response, it appears the answer is "no." \$\endgroup\$
    – Passage
    Feb 28, 2016 at 20:27
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Passage If you don't mind using Dungeons and Dragons material in your already AD&D / AD&D2E hybrid game, you could look to the Monster & Treasure Assortment: Sets One–Three: Levels One–Nine (1980). The treasure tables in the back need hardly any conversion. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2016 at 20:34

In my experience, if you adhere to the treasure type tables, magical items will be quite rare anyway. Most treasure types don't generate magic items at all, or only in a small percentage of cases. Occasionally you will generate a powerful item fairly early on. As you note, magical items are not segregated by dungeon level. That's ok. It will generally work out in the long run. The party got lucky, and 'yay!' for them. Be hesitant to veto the system before you are very experienced, as it's typical for novice DMs to give out either too much treasure or too much boring and predictable treasure.

Secondly, make sure you are using the treasure types correctly. The treasure indicated is for the maximum number of monsters appearing in the 'number appearing' and when those monsters appear in their lair. If you encounter an orc in the wilderness, he does not have the full treasure type 'A' or what have you. Even if you raid a lair of 30 orcs, if the maximum number appearing is 300 orcs, then only about 10% of the full treasure type 'A' should be available. The chance of the lair containing magic items, gems, jewelry or other rare treasure should be diminished appropriately, while coins should be divided by the appropriate ratio.

Also make sure you have the treasure appropriately placed. Treasure should be distributed about the lair, hidden, concealed, and behind appropriate obstacles. Coins can be freely transformed into other sorts of mundane loot - 300 g.p. might be converted to two ivory tusks that are decorating the wall behind the chieftains throne along with some largely worthless skulls and banners. 300 s.p. might become a bag of valuable coffee or tea leaves, which must then be protected from damp and harm and sold to an appropriate dealer.

I think overall, you rolling a ring of three wishes and a mirror mental prowess early on suggests either really extraordinary luck, or else you must be somehow checking for far too many magic items. The treasure types I'm familiar with generate rather small amounts of treasure and very limited numbers of magic items.

Note also that while I consider the treasure types excellent guidelines, technically when building a dungeon that's considered 'placed' treasure and you aren't expected to rigidly adhere to them. However, they do give you a fairly good idea how much treasure 12 kobolds or 3 ghouls should actually have.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Having run AD&D for ages, I was surprised to read that treasure types found in lairs should be pro-rated by the precise ratio of the present monsters to the maximum number, though perhaps it's a rule I've never used and forgotten existed. A (very quick) look didn't find me where this guidance or rule is written so clearly. Could you provide a citation to this rule so I and other AD&D DMs can look it up themselves? \$\endgroup\$ May 5, 2017 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ The cited rule does sound familiar, though I can't remember the source. As for the rolls, I'm reasonably sure it was just extraordinary luck; I was using the random dungeon tables from the DMG appendices, which put magic items (random) in 3% of treasures. 5% of rooms have one treasure, 20% (15-18 on 1d20) have a monster and two treasures. \$\endgroup\$
    – Passage
    May 5, 2017 at 21:45

You're doing the treasure generation right. Apart from a couple of details, the outcome you describe is actually not far off how the game is supposed to work.

The two things you may have done wrong are:

  1. treasure placement
  2. character level advancement

I'll take these one at a time.

1. Treasure Placement

One of the ways of limiting the treasure generated by the stock tables is placement of the treasure. The tables are tuned (heck, the whole game is) based on the idea that not every treasure (or secret, monster, etc.) will actually be found by the PCs during an adventure or dungeon. The tables generate more wealth and magic than necessary, so that when the PCs inevitably miss the secret doors that lead to treasure caches, avoid the monster that's too nasty to fight just now (and which is carrying some of that treasure), or just turn around and leave the dungeon before exploring much of it, they will still get something of value.

If you've made a linear dungeon, or one with with “secrets” that were easy or guaranteed to be found, or otherwise made the entire treasure generated easy to access, then the PCs are going to get lots of treasure. Finding all the treasure is fine sometimes because PCs do get lucky, but that averages out over time — however if every dungeon and adventure location is designed to be “cleared” with all monsters fought and all treasure found, you'll find that the PCs are getting way, way too much treasure.

So that's one thing that you might have done wrong, which may be giving the impression that the tables should be limited in some more obvious way. The tables aren't limited — but they are tuned to expect that the rest of the game's structures are being used more-or-less as designed, and this is one way that modern DMs often do AD&D dungeons “wrong”, due to modern D&D editions' expectations that if it was made, it must be encountered/found/fought or else it's wasted.

2. Character Level Advancement

XP awards are only given as a lump sum at the end of an adventure when the PCs return to distant safety — when they haul themselves and their treasure back to civilisation or their stronghold. This may seem like an unimportant point, but it matters for the next point.

Characters can't advance more than one level at a time.

When all the monsters (encountered) are slain, the treasure counted, and the magic items looted, they still don't get experience points. The DM tallies it all as the adventure progresses, but the DM doesn't award it yet. They still need to get themselves home before earning experience.

And when they do, they have to contend with the 1-level increase cap. In stock AD&D this limit is based on being able to train only a single level at a time, per the training rules (DMG, p. 86). In a game that is not using training times (which in my experience is not uncommon to do), the typical house rule used is that if a PC would earn enough XP to advance them more than one level, they earn instead enough to increase a single level, plus enough XP to put them 1 XP short of the next level. (This is the rule in original D&D and is similar to the rule in AD&D 2nd edition.) Either way, a PC can't advance two levels at once.

In Conclusion

Taken together these two things makes a 5,000 XP windfall from finding a Mirror of Mental Prowess unlikely to mess up the game.

First, they're not supposed to be guaranteed to find it, so it shouldn't happen every adventure, even when your dice have amazing luck and you're generating Mirrors and Rings of Wishes left and right. Striking it rich like this is something to be expected on occasion, but averages out — some adventures have poor luck and never find that hidden room with the Ring. Some adventure will end with disappointing treasure hauls. This is a normal part of the ebb and flow of the luck of an adventurer's life.

Limiting level advancement to one at a time (either by training or “extra” XP being lost) is an important rule, and ensures the occasional big bump in treasure found doesn't foul up character advancement. It has a bunch of other purposes that are beyond the scope of this Q&A, but it's an important feature of the game, let us just say. In this case, it would have meant that everyone would have advanced to 2nd level, and the ranger would have had enough XP to nearly at 3rd, but everyone (ranger included) would have had to go through an entire other dangerous, life-risking adventure before being allowed to get up to 3rd level.

Assuming that the game isn't a Monty Haul campaign with all treasure generated just obvious for the taking, this would have been one nice payday, but not a DMing tragedy. After all, the life of an AD&D adventurer is dangerous and each level brings very few real increases in power. They need those levels that they earn, and even then may lose their lives in a random foulup an adventure or two later.

What do you do now?

You don't take anything away. So yeah, the ranger is a bit higher level than intended, but that's not going to break anything if it's allowed to ride just this once.

What you do need to do is inform the players that you messed up the XP awarding a little bit, and explain how the level-up limit is there. If you assigned XP on-the-fly during the adventure, also explain that you won't be doing that anymore, and they'll earn it as a lump post-adventure.

Do these things, and the little bit of turbulence from doing it a bit wrong just this once won't have any significant negative impact on the rest of the campaign.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It was my understanding that upon returning to civilization with all the loot that magical loot could either be kept for the listed XP or sold for the gp value and that gp amount also gained as XP. If I'm remembering this rule correctly, this yields a vastly higher XP windfall than the 5,000 XP that's earned if the mirror is kept. (But, seriously, who the heck sells a mirror of mental prowess?! Good heavens!) \$\endgroup\$ May 7, 2017 at 13:43

From the DMG:

Initial placement of magic items in dungeon and wilderness is a crucial beginning for the campaign. In all such places you must NEVER allow random determination to dictate the inclusion of ANY meaningful magic items. Where beginning/low-level player characters are concerned, this stricture also applies to the placement of any item of magic." (93-1)

As the DM, you shouldn't use random generation for magic items in the first place, early on. This applies to beginning characters, but the following paragraphs warn strongly against using random magic item generation later in the campaign, either. There is a provision for using random item generation for the treasure belonging to randomly encountered monsters where the players manage to locate a lair that has not been previously designed by the DM. Even then, the paragraph encourages overriding the results if anything "too powerful" results from the roll.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Using the term RAW with AD&D 1E or 2E is a kind of category error. So I edited that out. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 16, 2019 at 1:43

Yes there is and you found it yourself: the DM veto.

Also, I'm pretty sure my rusty memory tells me that you can't gain more than 1 level per "adventure"; if you get enough XP to gain 2 levels you end up 1 XP short.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Dale, that's OD&D. Ad&D 1e is a bit stricter. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2016 at 21:13

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