Converting Adventures

by Mike Shea on 10 March 2014

With the birth of D&D Classics, we now have access to hundreds of old-school D&D adventures published over the past thirty years. And that's just D&D adventures. There are hundreds of adventures for other game systems as well. Over the past year, we've seen the release of a great variety of new fantasy RPG systems as well. Though written for older editions of D&D, we can convert them to the system of our choice and enjoy them all the more.

In today's article we'll discuss how best to convert and build off of published adventures for our own games.

Classic D&D Adventure Covers

Building Off the Seeds

It's important to begin by considering what published adventures bring us in the first place. While some GMs like to run adventures word for word, consider using an adventure as a seed or scaffold to build your own game. When you think of an adventure as a modular series of components, it becomes a lot easier to use the components that work in your particular system of choice. The story seed, NPCs, adventure locations, and other parts may work fine for you while other things like the stat blocks or encounter descriptions may not.

Ignore the Stat Blocks

The stat blocks for monsters are likely the first thing you'll have to toss out if running an adventure with a different game system. The names of the monsters, however, along with their descriptions, may be all you need. If the adventure is relatively traditional, you might be able to replace monsters directly by using the stat blocks from your favorite monster manual or bestiary. Sometimes the level might not be right so, at a minimum, you might need to increase or decrease levels to fit the level of the adventure.

If the monsters in the adventure are specialized or the level ranges are too far off, use the ancient art of reskinning to take existing monster stat blocks in your chosen system and reflavor them to fit the monsters in the adventure.

If reskinning won't do (and 99% of the time, it should), systems like 4th Edition and 13th Age include charts for quickly building your own monsters. They take a bit more time to make, but they can serve well. These statistics can also work well for traps or other inanimate threats.

If you're using a more open system like Fate Core, Dungeons of Fate, or Dungeon World, you might not need anything more than the name of the monster itself to build an interesting encounter. These lightweight systems make it easy to build monsters right at the table.

Focus on Adventure Locations and NPCs

If you strip out the stat blocks and crunchy math bits and likewise retwist the plot and the story to fit your own idea, what exactly do you get from a published adventure? The best value of published adventures are in interesting adventure locations and interesting NPCs. Good adventure locations can be hard to improvise. It's hard to come up with rich, detailed environments full of fantastic elements. Even when stripped of the story and monster stat blocks, the rooms, chambers, towns, and cities of published adventures can come alive in the adventure we actually run at the table.

The same is true for NPCs. Published adventures can contain numerous interesting NPCs that breathe life into your game. It's up to you to determine which of these NPCs may be interesting to your group but don't force it. Even if a published adventure focuses on a key NPC, if that one simply doesn't end up being very interesting to your group, throw it out and focus on the ones they DO find interesting.

Make it a Living World

With your fantastic adventure locations in hand and your rich NPCs ready to walk the land, it's time to set them in motion. Don't worry about following the plot of the adventure you have word for word. Use the story of a published adventure as a potential guide, an initial motivation, that sets moving parts in motion. Once things are in play, once they are influenced by the actions of the PCs, let things go in whatever direction they head. Feel free to move or restructure adventure locations to suit the paths of the PCs. Make it a living breathing world.

Published Adventures and the Lazy Dungeon Master

For the Lazy Dungeon Master, published adventures do the heavy lifting of building out histories, NPCs, and detailed locations. We lazy DMs can use them as a toolkit to make sure we bring a living breathing detailed world to our PCs every game session without having to hand-write it all ourselves.

Make published adventures your own and use them to build a living breathing world.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master and Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide.

Need some dice? Check out this pack of 105 dice by Easy Roller Dice! Or how about some Flat Plastic Miniatures?

Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.