Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 10

The Cover of the 1979 Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax, Illustrated by David C. Sutherland III
No art in this selection, so here’s the cover art by David C. Sutherland III

This is the tenth installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Economics” on page 90, and continues through “Peasants, Serfs, and Slaves” on page 94. My purpose is not to review the DMG, but to go through it as a modern gamer, learning about the roots of Dungeons and Dragons, and making note when I see something surprising or interesting, or something which could be adapted for a modern game.

You can read all posts in this series under the Gary Gygax’s DMG tag.

Economics: According to this section, the prices of items used in the game reflect an economy which has been inflated by the presence of gold-carting adventurers. Reading this was elucidating for me, as I was always curious why a ten foot stick of wood cost a whopping 1 gold piece. (I still think that’s a little extreme)! Being aware of this underlying rationale behind the pricing methodology raises interesting possibilities in my mind of a campaign where prices start out at the much more reasonable ‘handfull of coppers,’ and only gradually do prices begin to rise as the players find greater and greater treasures, inflating whatever local economy they’re operating in.

Even if I never act on that idea (it would probably be a great deal of work for relatively little reward), it’s nice to gain a fuller understanding of why things are the way they are. This is the kind of flavor I wish was more present in Pathfinder.

Duties, Excises, Fees, Tariffs, Taxes, Tithes, and Tolls: Taxes in the game are an idea which have always intrigued me, but I’ve never seriously considered including them. Despite recognizing their worth as a drain on player resources and an impetus to adventure, I’ve never personally found that either of those things is really needed in my games. So I’ve seen no reason to add them. And with the multitude of taxes Gygax describes in this section, I think my players might revolt if I implemented them all. Though I don’t think Gygax actually intends for all to be used at once.

None the less, this subsection makes a compelling case. There are a lot of interesting ways the government might extract money from the player, which might encourage players to be a little more hungry for treasure just so they can maintain a posh style of living. Something as simple as a toll for entering a city, or a magistrate appearing and demanding back taxes on the player’s home, could make for an interesting game obstacle.

Monster Populations and Placement: Like many recent sections, I wish something like this were included in the D&D 3.5 DMG. Having read something like this, I think I would have been better prepared for running a world. As it stands, it took me some time before I determined that random charts of monsters ought to be populated with monsters relevant to an area, rather than forcing planned encounters or using completely random charts. In the past I’ve often made the mistake of assuming a monster population will always be refilled, rather than letting players gradually alter the environment around them by clearing monsters.

I also find it an interesting point of view that the players would see clearing an area of dangers to be a bad thing, because their opportunities for treasure are now lessened. “The frontier moves, and bold adventurers must move with it,” he writes.

Placement of Monetary Treasure: More solid advice on GMing which I wish I had encountered earlier in my GMing career. I particularly like the way Gary explains that part of the challenge of finding treasure is recognizing it when you see it. Anybody can grab a pile of coins or jewels or finely crafted jewelry, and haul it to the surface seeking a reward. But what of something less obvious? Fine clothes, a well crafted chair, or the history of a forgotten royal lineage. Taken together, these parts of the treasure horde may be worth even more than the gold and jewels.

Placement of Magic Items: While it is, ultimately, relevant to the placement of magic items, this section is mostly just a tirade about the dangers of adding too many magic items to a game. There’s some repetition of what was written in the section on placement of treasure as well. Really this section just comes off as unnecessary, or at least its placement is strange. Perhaps a section could have been added a page or so back titled “Balancing Treasure” which covered the issues of over and under rewarding your players, allowing this section to offer advice more specific to magic items.

Territory Development by Player Characters, AND Peasants, Serfs, and Slaves: Many years ago, when I was a wee game master looking for a D&D 3.5 group, I was very interested in the concept of strongholds. I thought this idea was fascinating, but it wasn’t really covered all that much in the D&D 3.5 core rulebooks. Looking for more information, I purchased the D&D 3.0 Stronghold Builder’s Guide. Upon reading it, however, I found myself disappointed. I couldn’t put my finger on why, because the book had a ton of information on building strongholds. Materials costs, and room types which could be purchased, and a litany of special options players could invest in while planning their headquarters. But none the less, I found the product lacking.

I haven’t thought about Strongholds much in the last few years. I still think they’re a wicked awesome thing to spend money on, but since I largely play low level campaigns, players have never really had the money necessary to build one. Now though, reading this section of the DMG, I recognize what the Stronghold Builder’s Guide was missing: challenge. The entire guide is all about how many options players have, and all the marvelous things they can do. But since there’s no obstacles in the way of accomplishing those goals (save the gold piece value for materials and labor) the entire creation feels ultimately meaningless.

It’s alot like another game I played as a youth: “Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings.” It was a real time strategy game where the player was tasked with controlling villagers to expand and advance their medieval fiefdom, while using soldiers to defend it, or to assault the fiefdoms of others. The game provided me with many happy hours, but I always found it frustrating that I never had the time or the resources to construct a truly marvelous city, with double-deep walls, dozens of watch towers, etc. Occasionally, I would enter the game’s map editing mode and work on building my perfect city. Only to quickly grow bored of the task, and go back to playing the game. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the source of my boredom was that the task had no challenge, nor any meaningful reward. And thus all I was doing was creating a make-believe city with no purpose in mind.

These two subsections have given me an important insight into this area of the game.

Favorite Quotes from this Section


What society can exist without revenues? What better means of assuring revenues than taxation, and all of the names used in the title of this section are synonymous with taxes–but if it is called something different perhaps the populace won’t take too much umbrage at having to pay and pay and pay…” -Gygax, DMG, Page 90

“But hold! This is not a signal to begin throwing heaps of treasure at players as if you were some mad Midas hating what he created by his touch.” -Gygax, DMG, Page 92

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4 thoughts on “Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 10”

  1. I’m introducing a bit of money-skimming in my AD&D game. Local churches want a piece of religious characters’ pie, increased prices of saying at inns, taxes for treasure brought into a city, etc. They have far too much money to blow through right now for a game based around treasure-hunting.

  2. The “Placement of Monetary Treasure” is the reason for the Appraise check in Pathfinder and 3.5, and it’s treated, there, as something akin to a knowledge: worth roll (or other similar things, and possible identifying as well).

    That this isn’t written into any modern writings is kinda why I assumed that these books were designed for people who were already DM before GMs were a thing.

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