The Origin of Monty Haul

The time is 1975. I'm a substitute teacher and I've learned how to play D&D at Gary Gygax's house. He and his family are wonderful hosts. Every Saturday in warm weather we are playing on his side porch. The group is Gary's son Ernie in 9th grade; some of Ernie's friends, and some of Gary's adult friends including Brian Blume, Gary's partner in TSR.

treasure-chest-619868_960_720.jpg

Playing in Gary's game was just like walking into a fantasy movie. He made his Greyhawk city come alive in our minds as we walked its streets. His Greyhawk dungeon; I have to say I have seen literally thousands of dungeons; Gary's beat them all for interesting encounters and fun puzzles. He never consulted his rules, while running a game, except for handing out experience points. The monsters and their powers were written in his dungeon text. I don't know why he didn't write down their experience points as well.

Playing in Gary's game was a primer in learning what not to do by any style of character, in any situation. I burnt my party several times with my incautiously cast fireball. I accidentally bounced a lightning bolt spell and fried Gary's son Ernie. We all made mistakes, but as we played we made less and less mistakes.

Gary's Castle Greyhawk was divided into three parts. There was a dwarf controlled part. That one was always packed with surprising amounts of gold. There was the elf controlled part. That section had shiny new magic items Gary wanted to play test to see if they would break the game. Then there was the middle section. It was deep, dangerous, and we loved going there when we were way too inexperienced. All the best battles happened down there and I can remember every one of them as if they were yesterday.

We all tried lots of ideas during the game. I didn't find out until years later that Terry Kuntz set up a flunky hiring building in Greyhawk. Characters were constantly looking for flunkies to help in the battles. I hired one of those myself in a dwarf and raised him up to sixth level. Later I found out Terry's characters were hired by others and went back and told Terry about places in the dungeon that were worth raiding.

In those early versions of the game there was no thought of story line or major villains to be over come. It was all fight the monsters, defeat the monsters, and grab their treasures. In these sessions Gary learned to hide treasures in unusual places. He learned to do grand things with his dungeon corridors. He was a great one for teleporting players from one level to another and back again. I can remember one time we were searching for a treasure map and we knew where it was hidden. We searched that place from top to bottom and never found it. We came to find out, years later, that the map was written on a shield.

I have a very fond memory of going down with the group into the middle dungeon. We came upon some really warm sections. At one huge iron door we Knocked it open. Gary spent the next ten minutes describing the huge chamber on the other side of the door. We heard about a large red dragon and two small red dragons, there was a fire giant king and several fire giants, there were hell hounds, and in the middle of the area there was a giant fire elemental. Naturally, we slammed the door shut and ran for our lives. However, for the next two game years we talked about that chamber and what it would need in the way of equipment to take it. Years later we walked in that area. We had fire resistant rings on, we used fire resistant scrolls we had researched, we had two dragon kill arrows; we had learned cold spells of several kinds; we had a brazier to control fire elementals, and I had a wondrous staff of power. I'm happy to report we all survived that battle with a big win and the memory is crystal clear to me 40 years later.

In that year I discovered something very interesting. An hour or so before Gary ran his game at his house, his son Ernie and others would run their own dungeons. It is my firm belief that anyone with a bit of creativity soon wants to change roles and become the Dungeon Master. One of those was definitely me.

Eventually I started coming earlier to play in the short games before Gary's game. It wasn't long before I proudly offered to run my dungeon. I freely admit my first effort was poor. I graph papered a couple of dungeon levels much like Gary's. I threw in monsters with no thought of game balance. However, I was wise enough to figure out for low level players they needed to fight low level monsters.

My biggest battle on the first level was with three Bugbears. This was before the Blackmoor supplement came out. Although most of the magical treasures of my dungeon were mostly what Gary had invented I came up with special sashes that gave the wearer martial arts powers. I think I also sprinkled one or two ioun stones in the dungeon. I had just won one of those and learned about others and thought they were grand things.

Anyway, Ernie picked up one of the sashes and an ioun stone and proceeded as a low level character to beat up the Bugbears. After the battle was done and I handed out experience Gary critiqued it by calling me a PRICE IS RIGHT Monty Haul style DM. I gave out too much treasure for the effort.

Slowly, over the next couple of years the term Monty Haul DM became known as not being a good style of play. It was thought if a DM gave out too much treasure the game would quickly become unbalanced.

I wore the name as a badge of honor. I liked the expression on the faces of my players when they found great treasures. As they became quickly powerful, I had no trouble up scaling my dungeons to suit my player's power levels.

What is really funny was that Gary Gygax was clearly a Monty Haul style referee. In his case he had to test the value and danger of his magic items in his game. Things that proved too powerful had to be scaled down.

In this day and age the term Monty Haul referee is unpopular among the larger game companies. I have written products for many of those companies. I have purposely put unusually large treasures in those products because I like the Monty Haul style. I don't get complaints.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Jim Ward

Comments

EthanSental

Explorer
Thanks Jim, fun to read gaming stories As many games apparently have vivid memories of game sessions we played 30 years ago,
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
As a DM I usually give out more treasure than normal, even at lower levels. Mostly just to see what my players will do with it. I can honestly say they rarely disappoint and it usually leads to some very unexpected and interesting outcomes. I was considering in my current campaign to trick my players into a game of poker with a deck of many things. That should be fun.
 

dave2008

Hero
I'm usually very stingy with magic items. After reading this I just might have to give Monty Haul a bit of try.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Reading this reminded me of how playstyles have changed over the generations. I started in 1981, where we still played like he explained: if you find an encounter way out of your league, you retreat, plan, and return when you think you're ready.

contrast that to today, where it seems there's an attitude that if your PCs face an encounter, then you're expected to beat it as is, in the moment of how your party is currently prepared. that whole aspect of the game that James describes doesn't seem to exist anymore. And IMO, I think that's a loss for the game. To me, the game feels bland, and less interesting when you know that you can beat pretty much anything you'd find in an adventure. Our infatuation with balance has hurt the excitement of the game. IMO anyway,
 

dave2008

Hero
Reading this reminded me of how playstyles have changed over the generations. I started in 1981, where we still played like he explained: if you find an encounter way out of your league, you retreat, plan, and return when you think you're ready.

contrast that to today, where it seems there's an attitude that if your PCs face an encounter, then you're expected to beat it as is, in the moment of how your party is currently prepared. that whole aspect of the game that James describes doesn't seem to exist anymore. And IMO, I think that's a loss for the game. To me, the game feels bland, and less interesting when you know that you can beat pretty much anything you'd find in an adventure. Our infatuation with balance has hurt the excitement of the game. IMO anyway,
I generally agree with your sentiment, but since I also started DMing in that era, I pretty much still DM that way. My 5e groups know they need to retreat if they come up on something they can't handle (and they can generally recognize when they can't handle something).
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Reading this reminded me of how playstyles have changed over the generations. I started in 1981, where we still played like he explained: if you find an encounter way out of your league, you retreat, plan, and return when you think you're ready.

contrast that to today, where it seems there's an attitude that if your PCs face an encounter, then you're expected to beat it as is, in the moment of how your party is currently prepared. that whole aspect of the game that James describes doesn't seem to exist anymore. And IMO, I think that's a loss for the game. To me, the game feels bland, and less interesting when you know that you can beat pretty much anything you'd find in an adventure. Our infatuation with balance has hurt the excitement of the game. IMO anyway,
As with @dave2008 I also keep the fear of the unknown with my players. They are all experienced gamers, and have a rough idea of the various power levels of things. They also know I'm very old school and have given me the reputation of a "killer DM." These keep the players on their toes, and ready to retreat the moment they feel something isn't quite right.

One of my best moments was when running a one-shot for players new to 5E (most were from 3E, one from 4E, and one brand new player) using the Starter Set. They decided to try to take on the dragon at level 2, because the 4E player said "the adventure wouldn't have it there if we couldn't kill it." Needless to say, they all died horrible deaths, and I informed them this was a valuable lesson: the game doesn't assume you can or should try to kill everything just because it's there.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I generally agree with your sentiment, but since I also started DMing in that era, I pretty much still DM that way. My 5e groups know they need to retreat if they come up on something they can't handle (and they can generally recognize when they can't handle something).
As with @dave2008 I also keep the fear of the unknown with my players. They are all experienced gamers, and have a rough idea of the various power levels of things. They also know I'm very old school and have given me the reputation of a "killer DM." These keep the players on their toes, and ready to retreat the moment they feel something isn't quite right.

One of my best moments was when running a one-shot for players new to 5E (most were from 3E, one from 4E, and one brand new player) using the Starter Set. They decided to try to take on the dragon at level 2, because the 4E player said "the adventure wouldn't have it there if we couldn't kill it." Needless to say, they all died horrible deaths, and I informed them this was a valuable lesson: the game doesn't assume you can or should try to kill everything just because it's there.
Oh, I DM the same way as well. I'm just saying that as a whole, it appears that that style of DMing is the minority, if not gone almost completely. I think it started with the idea and codification of balanced encounters. When you create a rule around that, all the sudden everyone assumes all encounters should fall within that guideline, however that edition handles it.

How many times do we see people complain if their party make up, with current resources, can't beat any given encounter they run into? the first thing to be blamed are the designers. Which is a shame, IMO.
 

Ian Danton

Explorer
When I started playing we still used 10 foot poles. It took us about an hour to explore a 20 foot by 20 foot room. I would have missed the map on the shield as well! Darn it.

Great article Jim, thanks for sharing!
 
Reading this reminded me of how playstyles have changed over the generations. I started in 1981, where we still played like he explained: if you find an encounter way out of your league, you retreat, plan, and return when you think you're ready.
James Ward said:
I was wise enough to figure out for low level players they needed to fight low level monsters.
James Ward said:
As they became quickly powerful, I had no trouble up scaling my dungeons to suit my player's power levels.
 
I think it started with the idea and codification of balanced encounters. When you create a rule around that, all the sudden everyone assumes all encounters should fall within that guideline, however that edition handles it.
AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide (1979):

The testing grounds for novice adventurers must be kept to a difficulty factor which encourages rather than discourages players...
Creatures inhabiting the place must be of strength and in numbers not excessive compared to the adventurers’ wherewithal to deal with them...
The general idea is to develop a dungeon of multiple levels, and the deeper adventurers go, the more difficult the challenges become — fiercer monsters, more deadly traps, more confusing mazes, and so forth. This same concept applies to areas outdoors as well, with more and terrible monsters occurring more frequently the further one goes away from civilization.​
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide (1979):

The testing grounds for novice adventurers must be kept to a difficulty factor which encourages rather than discourages players...​
Creatures inhabiting the place must be of strength and in numbers not excessive compared to the adventurers’ wherewithal to deal with them...​
The general idea is to develop a dungeon of multiple levels, and the deeper adventurers go, the more difficult the challenges become — fiercer monsters, more deadly traps, more confusing mazes, and so forth. This same concept applies to areas outdoors as well, with more and terrible monsters occurring more frequently the further one goes away from civilization.​
Yeah, but that wasn’t a rule. It was a vague guideline. I’m talking about an actual rule like balancing CRs and actual rules on balancing encounters mechanically.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I would say they are also just guidelines.
There's a world of difference in the 1e DMG saying "try to put lower level monsters for low level PCs"

and

"Each monster is assigned a CR value. Encounters are calculated as thus for easy, medium, hard, etc. PCs should expect X, Y, and Z encounters on a given adventuring day based on the calculation above."

One is a vague suggestion, the other is a clearly defined rule and mechanic. And as with many other rules that 3e brought in, it changed the game philosophy from "if it's not expressly forbidden, it's permissible" to "if you don't have it on the character sheet or there's no rule for it, you can't do it." It's not a coincidence that we saw that change in game style right at that time. Which makes sense, because people tend to follow rules if there is a hard rule for something that exists.

Anyone who argues there's no real significant difference between encounter balancing in 1e compared to WoTC D&D, is either being deliberately obtuse, or isn't familiar at all with the rules of either TSR or WoTC D&D (one or the other).
 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top