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.

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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

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
But yes, in general, the deeper in the dungeon, the harder the monsters. That's a lot different than CR.

It's less granular, but that's about it. It played a very similar role to CR in rating the general toughness and danger of a monster - it just wasn't matched up directly to a party and more to a means of populating a set of encounter areas based on how difficult those areas should tend to be.
 

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Sacrosanct

Legend
So the same as 3e then? Except that 3e is explicit that 5% of encounters should be too tough for the party.


I'm having a hard time understanding why you would keep repeating this after I posted the very significant differences more than once already. my initial reaction is that you can't see any of my posts, or you're being deliberately obtuse. I really (sincerely) don't want to ascribe negative motivations for you, so why do you keep making comments like the above quoted portion knowing that it's not true?

For the third time as to why TSR era D&D isn't encounter balancing:

  • 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).
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
It's less granular, but that's about it. It played a very similar role to CR in rating the general toughness and danger of a monster - it just wasn't matched up directly to a party and more to a means of populating a set of encounter areas based on how difficult those areas should tend to be.

No, it's not "just less granular, but that's it." There are completely different systems with huge significant differences.

TSR:
Have the monsters HD be the same level as the dungeon level you're on. Approximately. You make the final call as you see fit. Doesn't matter how many PCs there are, or what total levels are, or how many times they are expected to fight per day, or how monster HD is a really bad metric to judge how tough a monster really is in a fight, or how for giggles your party can still face dragons or lycanthropes at first level. Just go with it.

WoTC:
Monsters are assigned a CR value based on all of their attributes (not just hp like HD is) by following this calculation...
Figure out the party level and number of PCs in a party
Do this calculation to compare monster CR to the total levels of the party
Look on these charts based on the above calculation to find out how many of what CR would be an easy encounter. Repeat for medium, hard, etc
Make sure that the party, based on the above calculations, faces X number of Y types of encounters per day.
Have rules/guidelines on how many resources per battle the party is expected to use for each encounter.

Anyone who says they are the same balancing rules but just different on a bit of granularity makes me question if they even played both versions of the game.
 


Doug McCrae

Legend
I'm having a hard time understanding why you would keep repeating this after I posted the very significant differences more than once already. my initial reaction is that you can't see any of my posts, or you're being deliberately obtuse. I really (sincerely) don't want to ascribe negative motivations for you, so why do you keep making comments like the above quoted portion knowing that it's not true?
Maybe we just don't agree about what's significant and what isn't?
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Maybe we just don't agree about what's significant and what isn't?
It's not that. It's my pointing out the differences, point by point, and you saying they are exactly the same except for a 5% tough encounter frequency. Which is objectively not true at all. Not even close. So I was asking why you'd make that statement knowing it wasn't close to being true.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
It's not that. It's my pointing out the differences, point by point, and you saying they are exactly the same except for a 5% tough encounter frequency. Which is objectively not true at all. Not even close. So I was asking why you'd make that statement knowing it wasn't close to being true.
My comment was in reference to lowkey13 saying 'there was never an assumption that a given combat would be "doable" by the party'. 3e is explicit that 5% of encounters ought not to be doable.
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
I wouldn't go as far as @Sacrosanct (in terms of questioning whether people played the earlier versions of the game) but I very much don't think that the difference between early D&D and WoTC-style "CR" is simply a lack of granularity; it's a completely different approach.

Again- this isn't good or bad, superior or inferior, but it is a difference.

I don't really think it's that different an approach. The primary difference in encounter designing is comparing the APL of the party vs the CR and comparing the riskiness of an area (as in level of dungeon) vs level of monster. But then consider that a DM in 1e may have used those guidelines, knowing their players' PC levels, to populate an adventure with encounters that would match the relative riskiness of a particular dungeon level.

Either way, you're using a general guideline to create encounters of varying danger based on one main index - APL or dungeon level. I suppose you could argue that one was made more for tailored encounters vs status quo ones, but that depends on how exactly you use that main index factor. They may not be 100% interchangeable, but APL and dungeon level seem to track fairly closely together. The lack of granularity of the monster level is going to lead to some broader variation compared to CR, I suppose, but that's what lack of granularity generally gets you.
 


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