Treasure in Classic D&D

This is part of my ongoing series dissecting early Dungeons & Dragons, and building the retroclone Dungeon Raiders out of it.

'Pirate treasure chest' by mags20_eb on Flickr
'Pirate treasure chest' by mags20_eb on Flickr

Treasure’s a very important element of early D&D.

In OD&D, as your character leveled up, you rolled for extra HP, and if you played a spellcaster, you got to choose new spells. That was it. No new abilities. No extra attack bonus or damage.

This means that the difference between a first-level and a tenth-level fighter was primarily equipment.

So, treasure must be made available, and it must be reasonably useful.

Treasure can be neatly divided into two types: magical and non-magical.

Non-Magical Treasure

Monsters carry a certain amount of treasure, which is grouped into categories by letter. Weak monsters–lizardfolk, oozes, and zombies–carry type A treasure, while dragons carry type D. Because old D&D loved its random tables, we’ll construct a Treasure Table. Roll a 1d20 to determine the type of treasure found:

Type Gold Gems Equipment Potions
A 1-15: 1d10 16-17: 1d6 18-19: 1d4 20: 1 potion
B 1-10: 2d10 11-15: 2d6 16-18: 1d6 19-20: 2 potions
C 1-10: 3d10 11-14: 3d6 15-18: 1d10 19-20: 2 potions
D 1-8: 4d12 9-14: 4d8 15-19: 2d6 20: 1d4 potions

If you roll Equipment, the DM decides what to hand out. The DM can either choose weapons from the list of weapons described in the previous article (with a +1 or +2 if appropriate), or select a magical item below.

Magical Treasure

Early D&D lists plenty of magical items. For copyright reasons, I wasn’t about to duplicate names, but the effects are useful.

All magical items have “charges,” which indicate how often they can be used. This allows the DM to scale the impact of magical items; a low-level party can discover a staff of healing with only two charges left, but ten levels later they may find one with thirty charges.

Here are a few neat items:

  • Wand of Magic Power – When a charge is used, all enchanted or otherwise magical objects glow for the next 5 minutes.
  • Staff of Healing – Touch this staff to any creature to heal 1d6+1 damage. This will only work its effect once per day per creature, but can be performed on up to ten different creatures each day.
  • Staff of Telepathy – Once per day, the holder of the staff may send mental messages to any ally within 100 feet. Also, once per day, the holder may attempt to read the surface thoughts of any creature within 50 feet; the creature gets a saving throw (vs. wands).
  • Potions are listed on their own 1d20 table. Early D&D listed many potions with odd effects and no listed durations or limitations, so I’ve decided to include a representative sample, and leave their limitations up to the DM.
    • 1-8 Cure Minor Wounds (recover 1d6+1 HP)
    • 9-10 Cure Medium Wounds (recover 2d6+2 HP)
    • 11-12 Cure Serious Wounds (3recover d6+3 HP)
    • 13 Invisibility
    • 14 Flying
    • 15 Speed (doubled)
    • 16 Polymorph
    • 17 Resistance to Elements
    • 18 Undead Control
    • 19 Giant Control
    • 20 Dragon Control

Note that all measurements and durations are game-world equivalents, so players don’t have to convert from inches to feet or rounds to minutes.

Interestingly, magical weapons typically provided extra damage against a certain type of creature, such as lycanthropes or undead. So, we’ll make this simple and say that magical weapons typically provide 1d4 damage against a creature type of the DM’s choosing. Similarly, magical armor absorbs damage from a particular creature type. This type may be specific (e.g., lycanthropes) or general (e.g., all magical attacks).

This is all quite loosey-goosey. Does a polymorph potion allow the drinker to change size? Are the clothes changed along with the body? How long does it last? Does it affect only visual appearance, but also distinct odors (an important consideration when facing, say, lycanthropes)?

Early D&D leaves this up to the DM, and I like it that way. Why not leave it up to the DM, to decide as the situation warrants?

Only one more article remains: An analysis of class dungeon design.

4 thoughts on “Treasure in Classic D&D

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  1. “In OD&D, as your character leveled up, you rolled for extra HP, and if you played a spellcaster, you got to choose new spells. That was it. No new abilities. No extra attack bonus or damage.”

    Is this a put-on?

    “No extra attack bonus.”

    EVERY class gets progressively better at hitting things. From their introduction, thieves got better at thief-abilities per level. Saving throws get better. At higher levels, fortresses can be built and men at arms attracted (again, every class).

    So I’m a little puzzled, even after having read your post.


  2. Again, Brent, I’m afraid OD&D does have benefits as characters increase.

    Grabbing my OD&D books here…

    Page 19:


    Armor Description Level 1-3 4-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16 & +
    2 Plate Armor & Shield 17 15 12 10 8 5
    3 Plate Armor 16 14 11 9 7 4
    4 ChainMail & Shield 15 13 10 8 6 3

    Fighting-Men: Magic-Users advance in steps based on five levels/group (1-5, 6-10 etc.), and Clerics in steps basd on four levels/group (1-4, 5-8, etc.). Normal men equal 1st level fighters.

    Per Supplement I: Greyhawk, at 3rd level, thieves have an 80% chance to know any language read. At 10th, they can read magic scrolls. Every four levels, an OD&D thief increases his or her damage multiplier – levels 1-4 it’s x2. Levels 5-8, it’s x3. Thief abilities for climbing, lockpicking and removing traps are not conveniently arranged in a matrix in Supplement I, but fortunately they are there under relevant sections and they do increase as the character’s level increases. It’s spelled out that they do. Meanwhile, as noted above, fighters from the beginning get an increasing chance to-hit, whether using Chainmail or the “Alternate combat system” (which became the standard combat system).

    That’s straight out of Men & Magic and Supplement I: Greyhawk.


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