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

Sacrosanct

Legend
I referenced this above, but I want to expand on it so it doesn't get lost to anyone who might miss it.

When 1e talks about encounter building, it uses the term "level" for dungeons in the construction sense. Not the party level sense. Dungeon design back then was literally "the first level is full of these monsters, when you go to the second level, these monsters are found, etc." So a level 4 dungeon isn't designed for level 4 characters; it's literally the fourth level down.

Old school D&D was not remotely designed for encounter balance. The level of the party didn't matter. The composition or number of the party didn't matter. How many fights per day didn't matter. The only guideline/rule was that monsters got tougher as the dungeon levels got deeper. It was up to the party to "balance" the game by going as far as they were willing to go. There was zero, ZERO expectation that any encounter at any given time would be beatable. Contrast that to WoTC and suddenly that expectation became codified. The encounter guidelines were right there. Doug even said it himself, how 5% were expected to be deadly. I.e., the players expected that at any given time, they were expected to win 95% of all battles even if done on an arena style with not extra pre-planning needed. As Mr. Ward said in his OP, and as I have said, that simply didn't exist in TSR era D&D.

They are not the same. The differences are not just "a bit granular". Rules for balancing encounters did not exist back then. The rules cited are for dungeon building, and not for balancing encounters. As I said, it's possible (and likely) that there will be dragons and wererats in the first level of a dungeon. And on the 8th level, you can encounter two red dragons (ancient and old) and other equally tough creatures. That is not balanced against party power (because party power isn't even factored). Those are rules supporting only the idea that monsters get tougher as the dungeon levels progress; there's nothing balanced about that at all in the context of what we think of when we talk about encounter balancing. WoTC takes the opposite approach, where monster danger doesn't matter where they are found, but will always be adjusted to the party power instead. There's no way you can make a reasonable argument that there were encounter balancing rules in AD&D when the guidelines in AD&D didn't factor in the party power at all. How can you have balance if you don't even consider what you're balancing against? The only mention is if the players are having a hard time, then you might want to cut back on the monster toughness. That's hardly a rule. It doesn't say by how much, or define mechanics for that at all.

So no, not only are they not similar, they are opposite approaches.

*Edit appears @lowkey13 and I were typing basically the same thing at the same time ;)
 

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I tend to give out few, but very powerful treasures. That said, they are not always useful when found.

For instance, in one campaign that I ran, I believe that the characters were mostly 6th or 7th level when they defeated a regional warlord (job description, not class) who had a very powerful sword. It was a +2 anarchic, axiomatic, flaming, flaming burst, icy, icy burst bastard sword. The biggest problem was that the only character that could even safely pick it up was the Neutral Good wizard, who was not too keen on attempting to use it.

Fun times.
 

Tsuga C

Adventurer
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.

The SWAG is strong with this one.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Something else to keep in mind when comparing 1e and, say, 3e encounter design is that the 1e power curve is much flatter than 3e - low level PCs and-or low level monsters could be a threat to high-level foes and the high level types would have no guarantee of winning; just better odds.

In 3e, neither PCs nor monsters can effectively punch very far above their weight, meaning it's far more important that the DM design encounters with the party level in mind. This, along with 3e's general love of codifying everything it can, leads to the encounter-building guidelines.

Compare: in 1e a party of 7 1st-level characters could face a Hill Giant and have a halfway resaonable chance of - at cost of some lives - taking it down. 7 1st level characters vs a Hill Giant in 3e would be a nigh-guaranteed TPK.

This just means that the encounter guidelines in 1e could be much looser with regrds to party level v monster level - which to me is an excellent feature of that system.
 

KenNYC

Explorer
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.

This bothers me to no end and it is very important! Monty Hall was the host of LET'S MAKE A DEAL. Maybe this whole concept needed to be named for Bob Barker?
 

JohnLynch

Explorer
Interesting article.

For the thread topic: I bet if someone had have given Gary the 3e encounter guidelines pre-written and adapted for AD&D he would have taken them, made some arbitrary changes to make them slightly harder to understand and then thrown them into the DMG.

There were clearly guidelines for balancing encounters as Doug has demonstrated. Just because they were badly balanced and poorly worded doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Plenty of DMs might have ignored them, but they were there.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
Interesting article.

For the thread topic: I bet if someone had have given Gary the 3e encounter guidelines pre-written and adapted for AD&D he would have taken them, made some arbitrary changes to make them slightly harder to understand and then thrown them into the DMG.

There were clearly guidelines for balancing encounters as Doug has demonstrated. Just because they were badly balanced and poorly worded doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Plenty of DMs might have ignored them, but they were there.

What lowkey13 said. But unlike him, I won’t quote myself. I’ll paraphrase myself. Cuz I want to be different:

It’s impossible to have balanced encounter guidelines when the guidelines have nothing you’re balancing against. That’s the difference between dungeon stocking guidelines (which what they were) and encounter balanced guidelines. If the 1e DMG makes no mention of, and makes no consideration of, party level, composition, power, or size, then you’re missing the entire other side of the scale that is required for any type of balancing mechanic.


Also, in my opinion of course, I doubt Gary would have put 3e encounter balancing rules in the 1e DMG because Gary (and most people back then) were big on player skill. Having the players be creative to solve problems. It also is counter to what ADnD was designed as—encounters were to be avoided if possible, it was the treasure you were after. That’s why you got piddly XP for monsters and most from treasure. Encounter balancing rules in 3e run the opposite of how 1e was designed.

So to repeat what I had said earlier, not only were there no encounter balancing rules in 1e, encounter balancing rules was literally the opposite approach that 1e took in design.
 

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