TSR 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.

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.


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.

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Jim Ward

Jim Ward

Drawmij the Wizard


For people quoting Ad&D 1e, are there such rules in b/x or becmi?

Nope. B/X basically says the same thing as the 1e DMG:

"No. Appearing gives the suggest number of that monster type which will appear when encountered on the same dungeon level as that monster's hit dice. EXAMPLE: if a monster has 3+1 hit dice and the No. Appearing is 1-6, then 1d6 of those monsters may commonly encountered on the 3rd dungeon level. When the same monster is met on levels greater than the monster's level, more monsters should be encountered or when encountered on levels less than the monster's level, fewer monsters should be found. The exact number is left to the DM's choice."

on pg b60 it talks about balance, but only that a DM should try to maintain "balance of play" by trying to keep treasure balanced by danger, and if PCs keep dying, to tone back the monsters they find. No actual rules though.

Either way, TSR era D&D did not have encounter building rules like what you think of. Just a vague guideline/suggestion. Saying "monster HD should match the dungeon level" isn't a rule for encounter balancing because:

  • it doesn't take into effect the # or level of the PCs in that dungeon level (the same 1d6 creatures would be there if there were 2 PCs or 5 PCs).
  • monster HD in TSR D&D was not the best metric for determining a monster's combat effectiveness anyway (It's why CR came along)
  • even by going by those tables, a 1st level party could end up fighting a dragon or lycanthrope (how is that balanced?)
  • there is no metric or rule about how many encounters a party should face per adventuring day
  • those tables are for random encounters anyway, not encounter design in the actual adventurer (those books did give advice on what monsters to use in your adventure, but it was literally just "make them make sense for that area.". nothing on balancing mechanically)
  • there was no rules around what defines an easy, medium, etc encounter

Which all goes back to the original point made in the OP that was I was referencing to. Back then, you had no idea as a player if any given encounter was going to be a TPK if you just went in all arena style. You had to do a risk assessment, often flee, come up with a plan, and then execute that plan later even if that meant gaining levels and bringing more henchmen. When actual encounter balancing rules came into play, people started assuming that at any given time with any given party, they could beat the encounter in pure vanilla combat because said encounter rules kept all encounters as a beatable (even if super tough) scenario. There was an assumed style of play that started that the DMs were all keeping encounters within the encounter building guideline (and if a DM didn't, they were accused of bad DMing and being unfair).

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Rotten DM
People keep assuming that, but actually there are tons of vague suggestions in the DMG*. The part he/she quoted that I responded to is one. Saying "try to keep low level PCs fighting lower level monsters." is incredibly vague. It doesn't say how one goes about doing that.


Compared to actual encounter building rules, that's pretty vague, and the two cannot be compared

RULES. RULES. WE DON'T need no s.... Jasper trips over the guidelines set at ankle level. Falls into the guidelines set at chest level and chokes to death. .....
Yes DMG suggestions and using the modules were the only 'Rules' we could find back then. Of course this lead to many of a dark alley and choo choo train running over us.

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