In preparation for my birthday game I spent a lot of time really analyzing Dyson’s Delve. The idea of a mini-mega-dungeon seemed to fit really well into our time-frame of a 3-day D&D marathon. My hope was to find content that would push them through several character levels, so they’d get some sense of character advancement and the weekend would feel almost like a mini campaign.
Dyson says the Delve will cover up to character level 6, but I wasn’t sure if that would definitely line up with my current XP rules. I use the OED silver based economy and give 1 XP per SP in treasure, but it’s very easy for printed material to just divide all treasure values by 10 so this should be the same. For monsters I give 100 XP per HD, which I thought was more likely to throw the curve. So I broke out a spreadsheet and plotted all the possible XP gain through the entire dungeon. Here’s the spreadsheet if you care to see it, and here’s a nice chart that shows total potential XP per dungeon level:
First off, the grand total XP I came up with was 311,802. Granted there’s some fudge factor in there as some encounters have things like “2d6 EP per goblin”, and there’s wandering monsters, and generally I will tune monster numbers as we play. Still, it’s as good an estimate as I could make, and when we divide it by a theoretical party size of 6 we get 51,967 XP per player, which is enough to get to 7th level for most characters (6th for fighters – huh, I hadn’t noticed that XP per level for fighters gets steeper than for magic-users at 6th level).
I felt this was fine – if the players actually made it to that high level I’d be amazed but it certainly would be fun. Realistically I thought getting through enough content to hit level 5 would be a challenge, and so I set that as the party goal, in hopes it would drive them to push lower and see more of the dungeon in their quest for the big scores. I also figured adding in carousing would augment the XP gain so maybe they’d hit that goal. In practice they just reached that goal at the end of the game, though only reaching dungeon level 7. I was very happy with the result.
But out of academic interest, let’s look a little closer at that XP chart above. The giant spike at level 10 is very strange, and largely due to the fact that the big climax encounter is technically on level 10, though you have to go down to level 11 first to get back up to the rooms with that encounter. If we re-interpret that section of rooms as a theoretical 12th level, the chart looks like this:
So, there’s some up and down there, but the general progression is up, and then the giant hockey stick at the end. Of course, XP per character level is geometric so you actually do want to see a similar curve in the XP per dungeon level chart. My players only reached dungeon level 7, so let’s zoom in on that:
We can definitely see an upward slope, though there are odd dips in there. This is not surprising when you consider the design of the dungeon. Level 3 is a buffer level, transitioning from the crypts of the upper levels to the older dungeons below. Level 5, the so called “howling halls” is according to Dyson “basically abandoned” and acts as a buffer between the factions in the upper and middle levels. Dyson says of level 5:
This level was fun to draw but somewhat of a stretch to stock. I knew what I wanted the level to be like (creepy and seemingly abandoned), but I also need to keep the treasure and creature counts high enough that a party will level up appropriately as they progress.
While he got the mood right and I do appreciate that it makes a logical buffer between factions, over-all this level felt a little flat to me. While by the numbers level 3 is a bigger dip in XP rewards, it’s faster to get through between having less total rooms (only 8 rooms rather than the usual 12), and is easy to skip if the players enter via the caves from levels 1 and 2. If I were to run this content again, I might consider completely re-stocking the southern half of level 5, and stash a bit more treasure in there.
Back to the numbers – it so happens that I recorded every XP reward the players got while adventuring on a single piece of paper. I even put break points where the players returned to town, so we can both analyze their XP gain by dungeon level or by trip into the dungeon (they made 8 total trips during the weekend). We can also look at the split between XP for monsters vs. XP for treasure. You can see all this data on the third tab of the linked spreadsheet. Here are two charts that sum it all up:
One small thing to note here is that a bunch of treasure XP from dungeon level 1 got shifted to level 2 during play. The players left a bunch of treasure behind at one point, and while they were gone the monsters reclaimed it and brought it down to level 2, so they didn’t get that XP until they raided the 2nd level. Ultimately it provided a great 2nd trip goal for the party, and I was very happy with how that all played, despite it mucking with the numbers a bit.
In the trip chart we can see a lull in the latter forays which the party was definitely feeling. They were missing a fair bit of the hidden treasures, preferring to raid known lairs of enemies to interacting with confusing traps. Their 7th trip was a tough one for them, and I think they were happy to get out alive, though they were feeling the lack of treasure at that point. This is when they stumbled on the cult the first time and very nearly TPK’ed when 4 out of 6 got hit with a hold person spell and every single one of them failed the save. It was a nice set-up though for giving them insight into the dangers of the cult and allowing them to retreat and properly plan the final raid.
Dungeon level 6 shows very little xp primarily because the party explored very little of it, pushing on rapidly to deal with the cultists on level 7. It’s also another case of Dyson using half the level as a sort of sub-level, only reachable by going down and then back up again. The players had the map to it, but did not realize what it was and frankly didn’t have the time to follow up on it.
The final trip into the cultists den paid out very well as the party managed to not only kill the harpy but also run down the visiting troglodytes and steal the jewels they were trying to escape with. So we got our nice ending hockey-stick XP gain despite not reaching the lower-most levels. The drama and near-TPK of trip 7 was nearly repeated with many players failing to save vs. the harpy song, but this time they were rewarded for pulling success out of the jaws of defeat and walked away with quite a bit of treasure.
Anyway, that’s all the XP data I tracked. Next up we’ll look at the factions in this adventure and how I had to chart that as well to work it out at the table.