My references are old and I feel old. This one is worth knowing anyway.

The “Monty Haul” problem is a play on  Monty Hall‘s name. If you’re unfamiliar, that’s the host of the long-running game show Let’s Make a Deal. And if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “I’ll take what’s behind curtain number one!” then you know the show. While I’d encourage you to read through this excellent article from the D&D Lore Wiki, the TLDR of Monty Haul is simple. Whenever you hand out too much reward for too little effort, you risk turning off player motivation. Overpowered PCs running roughshod over a game world is a symptom. And often, the only solution is to restart the campaign. If you’ve heard me complain about the difficulty of managing complexity in high-level play or nostalgia for first level, the Monty Haul problem figures into it.

The most on-the-nose example I can think of from my own gaming career is not from the tabletop, but from my singular LARPing experience. I’m petty sure I saw the light of fantasy die in a young boy’s eyes. It was I who killed it.

You see, I’d been recruited by Plot for NPC work. Most of my first night was spent in the form of a mountain lion. You could tell I was a mountain lion because, if you put your fist on top of your head and shouted, “What do I see?” I would dutifully shout back, “A large feline creature with yellowish fur.” My voice got hoarse from screaming “two normal damage” every time I struck a fellow nerd with a foam bat. It was… not for me.

The next morning was better though. Instead of a wandering puddy tat, I got to be a wandering ice imp. This time I shouted “five ice damage,” and my bat was blue instead of red. That turned out to be a lot more effective. Me and my fellow ice imps lurked outside campers’ adventurers’ cabins, ambushing them as they foolishly split their parties to prepare their morning spells. We actually managed to KO some kids before a bunch of brave heroes banned together to put us down.

For the first time that weekend, I was feeling pleased with myself. It had been a bracing bit of cardio in the cool mountain air. I’d actually managed to have fun. And so, once the battle was over, I picked myself up off the dirt, wiped down my ice-blue tabard, and trotted over to the victors. With a smile on my face I said, “Here’s your treasure,” holding out a little slip of paper with the words “shard of true ice” on it.

“Such a peculiar creature,” said someone’s dad, not wanting to break character. “I’ve never seen a beast rise from death only to hand over its treasure.”

It Was At This Moment.exe

Apparently I was supposed to play dead until somebody nudged me with a boot and said, “I search the bodies.” Instead, I’d given treasure to one of the kids who’d been KO’d. I don’t know what kind of social convention I violated, but that kid was close to tears. He knew he hadn’t earned that shard of true ice. The world was suddenly a little cheaper for him, the dream of immersion a little farther away.

Powerful treasure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all dream of rolling hot on the random loot table and coming away with the big score. But if you’ve ever found 5,000 gp on a dead goblin or a wolf inexplicably carrying the Deck of Many Things in its coin purse, you understand how offputting this biz can be.

You’ve heard my tale, but what about the rest of you guys? Have you ever given too much loot too quickly? Did it unbalance your game and undermine your world? Or did you have the opposite experience, and discover that your players enjoyed hitting the jackpot early in the campaign? Whatever your take on Monty Haul, tell us what’s behind the Door #1 down in the comments!


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