Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fridge Logic & Dungeons

While we're on the subject of dungeons and treasure, as we were on the last post, I might as well bring up a salient point.

Why would monsters have coins at all?  This is a serious question.  The coins aren't worth anything to them of themselves.  They can't be eaten; they serve no immediate function so long as they retain the shape of coins.  If the monsters were intelligent enough and liked the metal, surely they would have hammered down the gold into shapes of convenience or delight to them, as our very distant ancestors did with the gold nuggets found in streambeds.

Think.  You're an orc, you've got a strong hate on with the world - that depiction of 'evil' we take for granted - and you can recognize that the figure on the coin is that of a HUMAN.  In effect, something that sickens you to look at.  At the very least you would use your hard metal weapon, or two heavy rocks, to pound out an image that disgusts you.  It would be like keeping an image of Hitler or Lady Gaga (obviously the logical reincarnation) in your pocket (if you like, insert anyone who truly, honestly disgusts you).

Now, you might tolerate it if it were worth something.  If you were in Saudi Arabia, say, and still felt sensitive about the destruction of the Two Towers, you might not like the images on the money there ... but you'd go on keeping it because it IS money.  You need it to buy things.  But an orc doesn't need that coin to buy anything.  It can't go to the market ten miles away, plunk down its coin and buy a sack of green leafy food ... the sort it can't get at home.  (Arguably, an orc might be allergic to green leafy food - who knows?)

Once the image is ruined, so too is the coin.  No reputable clerk would take it from you.  The point of the image on a coin is to prove that the item has the value it says it has.  A lump of hammered 'gold' could be anything.  It could be 90% copper.  No one would accept it for trade as a 'coin'!

More to the point, how is it presumed the orc gets the gold coins in the first place?  It steals them.  Yes, that's right, the orc and his buddies roll into the local village, kill a few peasants and guards, plunder the gatehouse and ... march off with 40 lbs. of heavy metal that serves no purpose for them.

Um, logical?  No, not logical.  At the very least, they'd probably be more interested in the copper than the gold, since it serves to make good pots and other kitchen utensils.  But gold?  Well, its pretty, but if it comes down to a sack of gold or a haunch of horsemeat, I think we can figure out what the orcs really want.

It gets even less logical for creatures further down the dungeon scale.  Maybe the orcs might want the gold to pay off a group of local bandits who, in the daytime, roust anyone approaching the dungeon entrance.  But what is the troll four levels down keeping it for?  My best argument might be that the troll uses the money to pay off parties, in the sense of "Take my money, leave me alone."  The strategy has a long history of success with kings and princes.  Apart from that ... we're back to the fact that it would be hammered into shapes unrecognizeable ... pieces of jewelry that the trolls might enjoy but which people back in town probably would not.

Yesterday I made a joke in the comments field, in reference to the many desperate suggestions to explain why wealth would not all be found at the bottom of the dungeon.  I said, why not just assume there are fountains of gold at every level?  I'm stunned that no one jumped in to yell at me that gold and silver mines are exactly fountains of the kind I suggested.

But what reason would any creature have for mining gold and silver, if they had no contact with a trading economy?  The Dwarves of Moria would probably have the option of dealing their gold and gems with the surface cultures of Middle Earth, though they might hate to let go of their gold - which makes no sense, culturally, since the only purpose to having gold in large quantities is to get rid of it for things that keep you alive.  Granted, I have no idea how a dwarf's mind works.  Or a dwarf's biology.  It's a mystery to me that they don't all die of rickets and scurvy long before the arrows get them.

If you're a troll or an ogre, however, or something more fearsome like a beholder ... what the hell is the point in all this coin?  I might grasp a ghost or a lich, keeping this hoard of gold out of a twisted sense of nostalgia ... but for races that just keep the gold out of sheer hatred for the surface creatures, why keep it in pristine fashion, so that without any modification AT ALL the surface people can come pick it up one day and spend it at the Medieval Mall the next?  Does that make any sense?  Wouldn't it be more satisfying to transform all the gold coin into paper thin squares and hammer it onto the walls of the cave, as many religions have done throughout history with gold that actually meant something to them?  Imagine a party being told that yes, there's the gold of 50,000 coins here ... but it is all less than a tenth of a millimeter thick covering all the walls of the gnoll's cave, and it will take several lifetimes to scratch even a third of it off.

There might be some kind of spell that would make it easier.

In short, I'm saying that if you really think about it, even the 'coin' that sinks to the bottom - along with a lot of other treasure, using these same distinctions (what purpose would a beholder have for a gem?), would simply cease to be.

I know that someone's going to say that adventurers would drag their ass into caves, die there and leave behind piles of treasure that could be found by later parties ... since the monsters wouldn't have any reason to disturb it.  Yes, but you see, they would have reason.  If there WERE creatures roaming around in the underworld, eventually all the gold and iron there would have been consumed by the things that eat gold and iron; the gems would be picked up, skipped on ponds and lost; or collected by gooey things that dragged them along for months before pooping them into a crevice or a river; or deliberately smashed by not-so-intelligent but hateful creatures.  Destruction is much more fun than treasuring something, and if you're arguing these creatures are EVIL, then destruction is de rigueur.

Unless they're not evil ... in which case, why wouldn't a trader do business with them, and bring peace to the world?  Come to think of it, even if they ARE evil.  Why wouldn't a trader do business with them?  Have you met a successful trader?

(Please, for the love of heaven, don' t think that justifies monsters keeping coins.  It would only mean that a monster's lair wasn't any more coin-heavy than a peasant's hut).


Konsumterra said...

monsters are not really natural or snsible to me - I like babylonian take - monsters are the bitter venom of the gods here to punish, persecute and prey on humanity. They exist to test us. Smarterer magical monsters are part of a celestial bureaucracy. Gold is valuable in heaven and the underworld. Gods and demons accept gold as sacrifices and payment. In short gold standard is divine and universal.

Alexis said...

The ancients, the ones that actually did sacrifice, sacrificed gold because it was something painful to do, and there's no much point in sacrificing if it doesn't mean you've felt the pain of sacrificing.

The whole thing of the "gods needing gold" was just bullshit to explain why you, the stupid peasant, needed to sacrifice your gold into the hands of the religious class, who of course would "send that gold right along to the gods, promise."

I fully comprehend that you need SOME reason to have there be gold in dungeons. Myself, I don't intend to stop doing it. This is a GAME. But let's recognize that your logic, Konsumterra, was based on the practice of stealing gold from stupid people, not actually satisfying any god's need for anything.

I would like to know if there are trade markets in heaven where the gods buy things they want. Otherwise, what exactly is it the gods do with this stuff? Nothing? Hm.

I wonder why it is the gods just don't take ALL of it, from everywhere on the prime material plane, and reduce the people again to the level of goatherders, when they were too stupid and ignorant to question the importance and existence of gods.

Montagne Quentin said...

My own take on the presence of booty in a dungeon (in fact on the very existence of dungeons) hinges around two principles:

First, most dungeons are in fact derelict places of worship, where pious offerings are kept. This rests upon the fact that - in my setting - transcendent creatures such as gods can only interact with the world through things that are directed specifically toward them. Ans since money, by its very nature is a multi-purpose thing, it somehow retains a trace of what it was used for prior to it being offered to a god (buying a house, paying off a debt or a wager ...) which allows this god an access to all these things. Dungeoneering can then become something of pilgrimage, or an archaeological endeavour, as well as riches-oriented adventure.

On the other hand, dungeon are also often taken over by dark things, unless they were designed for them as prisons or maze. These dark things the, desire the visits of adventurers, because it allows the spread of their influence through the tainted items found within.

Just my two cents.

Alexis said...

It is 2 cents worthy of a PhD, Montagne.

Wall Street is looking for any argument that proposes that money is a Holy Thing.

Peppermint Nightmare said...

I saw a post on io9 about ORBIS and immediately thought of you. If you haven't seen it already, it's worth your time.

Montagne Quentin said...

Well since it would means that the hours I spent earning said money (as well as, say the petty comments of my manager, or the desire to buy medication for my aching head )would then belong to that god - or dark thing, I'm happy that your typical yuppie doesn't read much RPG-related content. Doesn't read much, in fact.

Konsumterra said...

joe said...

As one who plays D&D as a simulation of a fantastic reality, I love these posts.

Shit must make sense or players will be unable to suspend disbelief.

In my campaign settings, players usually only delve into monster lairs in search of the monster, it having already made itself a nuisance. I ignore monster treasure tables.

Tombs, on the other hand...

Giordanisti said...

I whole-heartedly approve of what-if cosmologies, Konsumterra, but I like my what-ifs to go as far as I can possibly take them. It's essentially an impossibility to have an ACTUALLY realistic economy in a DnD, or to create realistic social effects. However, if you're proposing a set of "cosmological axioms", those axioms can be carried a great distance, and lend verisimilitude even to overtly fantastic worlds. If we propose orcs are evil a priori, what does that actually mean? What do orcs do in their free time? What do they eat? What is precious to them? The answers don't have to be realistic. We could say orcs don't have to eat, and in fact survive by being bathed in the blood of other humanoids (that's pretty evil!). But then, what IMPLICATIONS does that have for the rest of the world? Would a clever orc breed chubby, blood-rich halflings as a sort of cattle?

Logic can be applied to ANY axioms you propose. Asking how gold gets into a dungeon is not an really an attempt to point out flaws in the game; it's a way to give the game more depth, draw more connections between world elements, and give the players more tools (and opportunities to use said tools). Run your world with whatever themes and elements you desire. But know that the more you think about the reasons for those elements, the more tactile and REAL your world will feel.

Alexis said...



I did not mean to delete your comment. I was planning on discussing it, I tagged the wrong button and it was deleted. Damn.

I have the comment in full on my email, but I don't have access to it right now. I can get it up again later today.

Giordanisti said...

Oops, my comment was in reference to one that was subsequently deleted. Apologies for any confusion about its context!

Alexis said...


Here is Konsumterra's comment, complete:

"If im playing a game with gods, religion, monsters and magic Im not looking for social or economic or moral realism. It's a game about killing and robbing dumb animals and genocide. The whole trope of races in fantasy fiction and games is rooted in Victorian race theory and nationalistic "epics". I dont really approve of modern economics or religion or royalty or race theory personally but i entertain it as fantasy in a game. DnD isnt about natural realism or ethics for me. Its a playpen for interesting what if cosmologies."

I am, again, VERY sorry.

Konsumterra said...

Well it was a tad cranky.

Someone else did a spreadsheet to calculate how their dungeon per level accumulates over time. I guess i have a very mythic-bronze age empire streak to my games. The universe revolves around humans and everything in the universe is made in relation to humans. Monsters are just withholding cash from humans by divine will. Heroes release it to the people. Some kings take it to the grave and impoverish their people for glory in the next world. Man is the measure of all things. If I run gritty dark age europe RQ it would be every coin has a measurable human history and probably a claimant (a descendant of owners or a king) who demands it back. My next game will be Empire dungeon corps mining pre-human hordes and relics from dungeons across world.

Alexis said...

I am sorry for accidentally deleting your comment, Konsumterra.

I'm not sorry for being kranky about my statement. Your position is absolute bullshit. You don't believe in modern economics? Lovely. You're world does this and does that? Seriously, how is what YOUR relevant to this conversation, except that you feel it needs to be presented in its full idiocy on other blogs?

Giordanisti did a lovely job of demonstrating logically the profound flaw in your "solution" to the problem of the economy you don't believe in. Unfortunately for you, we're not all playing your game, we haven't all bought into your FABULOUS conception of how a world should be and on the whole it hasn't improved any of the discussion at all.

Now, I have no problem with you being an arrogant prick. I am an arrogant prick. But I don't come around to your blog and kick the cocks out of your mouth at 3 a.m., do I?

Alexis said...

Well, that WAS kranky.

A thing I hate about some people who comment is this statement that begins, "WELL, in my world, I do this ..."

No one here is talking about what YOU, the DM, are doing in YOUR world. No one here is talking about the assumptions YOU are making about the game as YOU play it.

The discussion, as I presented it, was in reference to the sort of assumptions being made in the DMG, or the Dragon Magazine, or a hundred other sources including modules and games that are not D&D. Nothing in the above post is about what I do in MY world ... except the statement above that says I intend to go on playing the game with coins underground ANYWAY.

This error on some readers in due to a psychological reaction; people feel that facts, discussion, deconstruction and deliberation CHALLENGE their PERSONAL RIGHT to do something, and they leap in demanding that their personal rights be addressed, and right now!

"WELL," they shout reflexively; "In MY world ..." and so on. It is a lacking of self-confidence. As though no one, anywhere, can discuss something intellectually that makes them appear to be - in their own minds - stupid or in error. This is something they hold neurotically in their own minds, and has nothing to do with thinking. It has everything to do with feeling.

And when I encounter these feelings ... I feel the need to kick just as goddamn hard as I can, so that they understand that their immense fear of being hurt by something I say will be realized in the extreme ... and the only people left on this blog comment roll will be people who do not hold their personal feelings in such terribly high regard.

Konsumterra said...

Ok I apologies if you think i was off track or I if though this was an open discussion on theoretical game economics.

Alexis said...

You didn't present ANY discussion of theoretical game economics.

You discussed what you did in your world, arrogantly. You even included the statement that you didn't BELIEVE in modern economics. And you were called on it.

Don't get sniffy now.

Dani Black said...

Just wanted to note my approval of your Lady Gaggag comment. :)

MCPlanck said...

The DMG makes clear that gold pieces have supernatural power; performing a really hard act of theft that yields little gold does not generate the same XP as performing an easy theft that yields boxes of gold.

Thus we have the following equations:

Gold = XP.
XP = classes, levels, spells, and magic items.
Monsters = magically created things.

Thus, the monsters are collecting that gold so they can spawn by some weird supernatural process.

Gold = experience points. XP = making magic items and spells. Monsters = magic things.

The monsters need gold to advance or spawn. Somehow gold pieces get translated into supernatural power

jbeltman said...

Hi Alexis,

I don't think anyone has suggested this yet but monsters from higher levels could raid the levels below them. It would be like a PC party raiding the level but the money would stay in the dungeon, just moving up levels.

As for why they have money that is something I have never really picked up on before. All the published dungeons I have seen just assume that the dungeon is there for raiding and there is no other contact with it so it would work like you say. Another way would be like in Isengard and Mordor in The Lord of the Rings where there are dark people living outside the dungeon who traffic with those evil creatures of the dungeon. The creatures of the dungeon get money to act as mercenarys and would pay for food and raw materials. So if someone was using a megadungeon in their campaign they may want to think more about how it affects the towns around and who is going to deal peaceably with the inhabitants, like you mention with the merchants. As long as the monsters have a way of purchasing goods they can use raiding as an easy way to get money from the surface and then spend it on the goods they need.

Some other thoughts on why monsters have money:

The dungeon created may be large enough to have an economy inside it so they use money to trade with each other inside the dungeon.

Not every creature has to be evil. Some will be neutral or potentially even good. They could deal easily with the surface inhabitants.

There may be humans/demihumans and others that can pass as humans living in the dungeon. Wizards hiding away like in The Seven Geases, Dwarves and Gnomes, Doppelgangers, evil clerics etc. They could easily have surface dealings. If nearby monsters know the clerics like coins they could save them to trade for the clerics services at a later date. I also love the idea of an ageless wizard sitting in his laboratory for 100 years doing research as monsters from upper levels give him coin for services or a toll to pass through his domain, then one day he walks up through the levels and walks to the nearby town to buy some arcane stuff he needs. He just walks into the same shop he bought them from before, calling the merchant by his great-great-great-great-grandfather's name since that is who he dealt with last time.

Dragons are famouse for their avarice. If you sleep on a dragon's hoard your mind will be filled with greed and will turn into a dragon yourself, like in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader I think. Monsters may save money because they covet it. They may use it to show their status, even though they have no use for it themselves they realise others judge worth and power by how much they have so they take it from victims whenever they can. It could be almost like keeping trophies.

Conan stories are full of races long thought dead, going through the motions of their life as if in a dream. They could be acting on thoughts of how their life used to be, accumulating money because they remember doing it to trade with the next city over, which has been a wasteland for 1000 years.

Finally stupidity, monsters may see others keeping it and take it from their prey, not understanding what it is or what it is for.

One more thing while I am at it, that point you sort of mentioned, that idea of orcs hating the image on the coin so they vandalise it and actually make a mockery of the image on the coin, it would be great giving that to a bunch of PCs and watch them try to spend it.

All the best,


snowlantern said...

According to Tolkien, Smaug collected gold for no particular reason but guarded it furiously. It seems that the only use of gold, and treasure, was to sleep on it, and as a protective layer for the dragon's belly. It was just something dragons do.

Strixy said...

Human meat is food. Gold attracts human meat. More gold is more meat.

Alexis said...

Now THAT is a good argument!

But why do to they keep it hidden in treasure rooms?

David said...

Looking over the world I've cooked up there's gold in "dungeons" because:
-Most humanoid critter are part of the general economy and can buy stuff with their gold. Sure the orcs raid humans but they'll trade with the lizardmen when their caravans roll through (said caravans are well guarded enough that most people don't want to tangle with them) and even some foreign humans who occasionally ally with the orcs against elves.
-The dungeons has the gold put there by people long ago who WERE connected with the economy but they're dead now. The gold is in hidden places because there was lots of gold that wasn't in hidden and well-guarded places but all of that gold was looted centuries ago and only the best-guarded and hidden gold is left because if it wasn't so well-guarded and hidden someone would've taken it already.

fadedearth said...

The monsters are told by their duly selected leader that the shiny discs must be collected in order that a certain percentage can be surrendered to him. Brutal punishments await those who fail to comply, not to mention accusations of a lack of patriotism.

So they either mine and mint them or raid for them, just like everyone else.

It's not the best system. It's just the best system that the monsters have come up with so far.

David Griffey said...

From a complete outsider who stumbled on this rather interesting blog, I think jbeltman hit the nail on the head. If we assume dungeon and monsters here/civilization there, and never the twain shall meet - then yeah, there are some logic issues. But if we blur the lines, and see interconnected races, or species, of monsters at various levels of interaction, then it makes more sense. Anything above animal intelligence is smart enough to know coins are valuable to someone, be it merchant, black market, mercenary, assassin, whatever. And they know to hide these coins since, well, they are as likely hiding them from one another as any outside interloper. These often are evil creatures after all. And if they are in an environment where they must defend what they hope to use for some ultimate benefit, then naturally they'll keep it, protect it, hide it, guard it. So it actually makes sense as jbeltman explained.

ESR said...

I agree with JBeltman's reasoning. Very well put forth, sir. Also, props to Strixy, for thinking like a monster.

Love this post, Alex. It's a good challenge to something all of us kind of take as "standard" even though it makes no sense.

I guess the logical way around the whole thing, within the scope of the game (if this type of thing matters to you as a DM) is to create a reward system for players for things brought back from dungeons (lost artwork, useful bits of monsters, captured damsels, etc), or just for clearing the evil rampaging monsters out of the dungeon itself. Who says the reward has to be INSIDE the dungeon?

Dave said...

The idea that monsters would have to recognize coins as money in order to collect them may be off-base somewhat. Packrats (only mammal I can think of right now) and several species of birds collect shiny objects for their nests and to attract mates... maybe THAT behavior came first for us, too?!

rjschwarz said...

* Trophies to show how good they are at killing surface dwellers.
* A borrowed economy to buy things from other Orc/Goblin tribes as well as for trading amongst themselves (and as mentioned to buy off the bandits from time to time).
* Leftovers discarded with the bones, equipment, and inedible parts inevitably have a purse of money that is unnoticed by trolls and other dumb creatures.

None of these explain a Dragon's love for gold but then St Tolkien said they love the stuff and a million acolytes said Amen, they do, and it was done.