Generating Hoards by the Cards, Groundwork

A couple days ago, in response to a question Jeff Rients asked on Google+, I described a method of Looting Hoards by the Cards.

Jeff seemed to like the idea and linked to it, and one of the comments sparked another idea… that I’m not going to explore yet, because when I started to, I ran into a problem.

Treasure generation, in D&D 3.x at least, is really, really dumb.

Every treasure is constructed in much the same fashion:

  • Percentage chance of some number of coins of some type.
  • Percentage chance of some number of gems or some number of art objects.
  • Percentage chance of some number of mundane items, some number of minor magic items, some number of medium magic items, or some number of major magic items.

The number of items can vary wildly.  You might get one (or one thousand), you might get twelve (or twelve thousand).

Various creatures may have nonstandard treasure (‘double standard’, ‘half coins’, etc.), which might lead to multiple rolls on these tables.

I don’t like it.

What if there’s another way?

I looked over the treasure average values table from the Revised System Resource Document found that the average treasure value is close to being a curve such that the average value triples every four levels.

Well, well, well.  Tiers in Echelon are four levels, too, and effects (whether powers or spells or whatever) are generally appropriate within the tier.  That is, an ‘Expert item’ is appropriate as a primary item for an Expert character (level 5-8, D&D 3.x level 1-4, more or less).  They might be a little weak for a Heroic (level 9-12, D&D 3.x level 5-8) character’s primary item but makes a decent secondary item.

This might have just gotten easy.

What if?

This might get a little weird, but it makes sense to me so far.  What if the following are true?

  • Each tier has ‘tier-appropriate’ treasure packets.
  • Each packet is worth an amount appropriate to the tier, more or less (probably within mean/sqrt(3)..mean*sqrt(3)).
  • There are eight packet categories (because I have cards with red backs and cards with blue backs).
  • There is a table that outlines appropriate treasure types and approximate value for each card (red/blue back, rank and suit… though you probably could have a d100 table as easily).

Take two decks of cards with backs of different colors.  Shuffle them together.  Draw cards as needed (see below) until you have enough packets. I think lower-value cards might indicate generally lower-value items, especially among the number cards.  As written so far, face cards continue this.  The cards are figured ‘Ace low’, with Three being the nominal lowest-value within a tier and Jack being nominal highest value (because it makes the math reasonably simple, for some value of ‘reasonably’.  Aces and Twos extend into the next lower tier, Queens and Kings extend into the next higher tier.

Treasure Types

For treasure types, I see:

  • coins
  • gems and jewelry
  • ‘art objects’
  • armor
  • weapons
  • potions and oils
  • rods
  • wands
  • staffs
  • scrolls
  • wondrous items

This is a bit of a mess.  Let’s group things up a little.

  • coins
  • gems, jewelry, and related magic items (rings, amulets, circlets, eyes/goggles, etc.)
  • armor and related wondrous items such as magic gloves, boots, bracers, and helmets.  Perhaps cloaks too.
  • weapons
  • rods, staffs, wands (generally different price points; they’ll likely be at different tiers)
  • readables (scrolls, spell books and tomes)
  • potions (and alchemical stuff, and probably ‘elixirs’ for higher-value potions)
  • other stuff

Given the eight treasure types, let’s group them as shown below:

Suit Red Back Cards Blue Back Cards
Spades Weapons Armor and Related
Hearts Potions Scrolls, Books, Tomes
Diamonds Coins Gems, Jewelry, Related
Clubs Rods, Staffs, Wands Other Stuff

Tier Values

Given the behavior shown above, and the aggregate treasure totals, we get the following package values.

Echelon Tier D&D CR Echelon Level D&D Mean New Mean
Basic 1/6 1 50 150
Basic 1/4 2 75 225
Basic 1/3 3 100 300
Basic 1/2 4 150 375
Expert 1 5 300 450
Expert 2 6 600 675
Expert 3 7 900 900
Expert 4 8 1,200 1,125
Heroic 5 9 1,600 1,350
Heroic 6 10 2,000 2,025
Heroic 7 11 2,600 2,700
Heroic 8 12 3,400 3,375
Master 9 13 4,500 4,050
Master 10 14 5,800 6,075
Master 11 15 7,500 8,100
Master 12 16 9,800 10,125
Champion 13 17 13,000 12,150
Champion 14 18 17,000 18,225
Champion 15 19 22,000 24,300
Champion 16 20 28,000 30,375
Legendary 17 21 36,000 36,450
Legendary 18 22 47,000 54,675
Legendary 19 23 61,000 72,900
Legendary 20 24 80,000 91,125
  • Echelon Tier identifies the Echelon Tier indicated by the level
  • D&D CR is the D&D 3.x Challenge Rating of the encounter (‘treasure level’)
  • Echelon Level is the equivalent Echelon level
  • D&D Mean is the average treasure value identified for each level
  • New Mean is the nominal average treasure value for each level under this new scheme (it is actually a little higher when you consider the ‘lucky’ — good luck and bad luck — cards that take you to another tier; if you multiply the mean by 17/15 it’ll be closer… but I don’t consider it terribly important in this preliminary analysis).

Packet Values

Echelon Tier D&D CR Range
Echelon Level Range
Packet Value Packet Low Value Packet High Value Lucky Low Value Lucky High Value
Basic 1/6-1/2 1 75 43 130 33 171
Expert 1-4 5-8 225 130 390 99 513
Heroic 5-8 9-12 675 390 1,170 296 1,539
Master 9-12 13-16 2,025 1,170 3,507 888 4,616
Champion 13-16 17-20 6,075 3,507 10,522 2,665 13,848
Legendary 17-20 21-24 18,225 10,522 31,567 7,995 41,544
Epic 21-24 25-28 54,675 31,567 94,700 23,985 124,632
Epic+ 25-28 29-32 164,025 94,700 284,100 71,956 373,896E
Epic++ 29-32 33-36 495,075 284,100 852,299 215,869 1,121,688
  • Echelon Tier identifies the Echelon Tier indicated by the level range
  • D&D CR Range is the range of CRs that would be found in the tier
  • Echelon Level Range is the range of levels that would be found in the tier
  • Packet Value is the nominal package value, tripling at each tier
  • Packet Low Value is the lower end of the packet values for the tier (when you draw an Ace – Ace is low here), equal to nominal average/sqrt(3)
  • Packet High Value is the higher end of the packet values for the tier (when you draw a Nine – Tens and face cards are ‘Lucky’ and draw from the next tier up)
  • Lucky Value is the maximum possible (when you draw a King – 10 is equivalent to an Ace of the next tier, Jack is equivalent to a Two of the next tier, Queen is equivalent to a Three of the next tier, King is equivalent to a Four of the next tier).

The nominal aggregate totals show similar curves (see below), despite how big the numerical differences look (11,125 gold pieces at 20th level).  They’re generally within one-eighth of the RAW value.

Treasure Curve, D&D 3.x and new model
Treasure aggregate value curve. The blue line is D&D 3.x rules as written, the red line is the value under the new system.

However, I do see a potential problem — the packet values don’t allow for the magic items that can be rolled in D&D 3.x.  Even the luckiest Legendary (levels 17-20 in D&D 3.x) draw, a King, cannot reach the 50,000 gold pieces needed to cover the value of a +5 longsword.

On the face of it, this might be a problem.  However, on retrospect I think it might not be a problem here, but in the base material.  We’re looking at hoards here, not necessarily special goals and treasures.  I don’t necessarily want the possibility of a +5 vorpal longsword (technically possible as early as tenth level if someone gets really lucky) as a random item.  It might be possible to find one, but it is likely to be a specific quest.  I’m going to let this stand as written for now.

It occurs to me that if you want to generate a ‘level-appropriate’ treasure, a major-for-the-tier magic item, you might just look a tier or two higher.  An Epic item might have a value around 100,000 gold pieces if lucky, which is enough for +10-equivalent armor, while Epic+ stands a decent chance of being the the 200,000 gold piece range (+10-equivalent weapon).  At the same time, an Expert who finds a Master-tier ‘hoard item’ might have something worth up to 4,600 gold pieces — a suit of +2 armor (but not +2 full plate) or a pair of +2 gauntlets of strength.

Closing Comments

This has most of the groundwork laid out.  I’ll flesh out the details tomorrow.

So far, though, I think I’ve roughly approximated the treasure value curve and established fairly reasonable random treasure value ranges for each level.  I’ve also grouped magic items in a way that makes them fairly easy to work with, thematically similar within each suit (and card backing color).

The next post is where it should all come together.  I’ll show the detailed card value for each tier, which should guide the selection of items to go into the different card types.

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  1. Pingback: Links of the Week: June 25, 2012 | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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