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D&D General Converting pre-published adventures to a homebrew setting

Mercurius

Legend
Even though, in my middle age and with most of my creative energy and time going to other activities (writing), I can't seem to let go of homebrewing, so in terms of time-saving prep, I'm using pre-published adventures but adapting them to my homebrew setting. The bottom line is that I love world-building, from the big stuff--cosmology, gods, mytho-history--down to the nitty-gritty details like NPCs, taverns, local landscapes, unusual sites, etc. I've had moments of temptation where it would just be a lot easier to use a pre-published setting, but that would be taking out an intrinsic part of the joy of D&D for me.

But given that my current setting is only loosely based upon the setting I used for my last extended campaign that I ran in 2008-14, it needs a fair amount of work, which I enjoy, but have decided to only sketch out of the broad strokes and focus on "bottom-up" world-building. Meaning, start with a small region and build from there, although still provide an overall sketch of the bigger picture.

One thing I'm finding a bit tedious is converting adventures to my homebrew. Most of it is just names, but it still takes a bit of work--more than I expected. Last session, I found myself struggling to come up with alternate versions of FR names on the fly, so am going to better prepare for next time.

I'm curious what methods others use that take a similar approach. For instance, I just started running "Lost Mine of Phandelver." After two short sessions, one of which was mostly making characters, the PCs are still going through the goblin hideout. But next session (in a couple weeks) they'll reach Phandalin, which will require me to go through the town and figure out what I want to change.

Now I don't need to radically change the Forgotten Realms lore, as the region the PCs are in is vaguely similar to the North of Faerun, if a bit wilder. For example, it isn't hard to adapt the basic backstory of the Wave Echo cave: there are dwarves, gnomes, and orcs, etc, in my world - even if they are all somewhat different than the Realms versions. But there's a lot I need to adapt: For instance, there's no Zhentarim in my world, no Tymora, no Lord's Alliance, etc.

I'm trying to take a pro-active approach, though, and use the FR stuff as inspiration to build my world. So while the FR organizations and gods don't exist, they give me the opportunity to use them as seed ideas. For example, there's no Tymora, but there are gods, so I'm thinking, what sort of deity would fit instead? No Zhentarim, but perhaps there's a somewhat similar cabal...what are there motives? Where are they from? And so on.

Any thoughts on this process? What does your process involve, in terms of adapting pre-published material to your own homebrew? How do you go about this? Any tips and tricks?
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
From the sound of it you seem to be trying to do the adaptation and conversion almost on the fly rather than get it all in place ahead of time i.e. before starting play.

Deities* for example are something I nail down pre-play; after which I've always found it very easy to slot in something from the setting to replace whatever deity a module might ask for. So in this case if the module asks for Tymora and they're in my Greek-like lands, in goes Aphrodite instead.

* - and Zhentarim-like cabals if I knew I was going to need them; though here I might just change nothing except the name. :) Which is almost what I'd suggest in your case for the deities: if you're looking for a pseudo-FR feel only without all the FR baggage, just use the exact same pantheon but change all the names. Tymora might become Artima, for example.
 

Mercurius

Legend
From the sound of it you seem to be trying to do the adaptation and conversion almost on the fly rather than get it all in place ahead of time i.e. before starting play.

Deities* for example are something I nail down pre-play; after which I've always found it very easy to slot in something from the setting to replace whatever deity a module might ask for. So in this case if the module asks for Tymora and they're in my Greek-like lands, in goes Aphrodite instead.

* - and Zhentarim-like cabals if I knew I was going to need them; though here I might just change nothing except the name. :) Which is almost what I'd suggest in your case for the deities: if you're looking for a pseudo-FR feel only without all the FR baggage, just use the exact same pantheon but change all the names. Tymora might become Artima, for example.
Yeah, I have some overdue preliminary worldbuilding to nail down, that I should have done before starting the campaign, but we were all anxious to get started.

I think a lot of my "problems" will be solved once I nail down some basics of the world, which I usually summarize in a player primer.
 

I do this pretty regularly since I pretty much play in one homebrew setting and have done so for decades. I think the key is knowing your world back-to-front. Having very good knowledge of your setting allows you to pretty much swap names on the fly (Lathander is a FR sun god, what's the closest equivalent in my world, etc).

I have copious notes written up mostly in the form of html files I've assembled over the years. I have this open during sessions for quick reference and use text search to find the relevant "fact".
 

AtomicPope

Adventurer
I'm a diehard Greyhawker, so I'm always returning to Greyhawk for my homebrew. My conversions go like this:
1. Campaign Theme - What do I plan on running? What do we want to play? That's going to tell me what modules and source material I should be converting. House Rules are always added here to enforce the theme. It's important to make it known to the players before character creation.
2. Player Characters - When I have an idea of what will be in the party, then I can focus on world building details. No sense in making an elaborate thieves' guild if there are no Rogues. Gods are less useful without divine casters.
3. Metaplot - When I'm able to focus on the details of the campaign I work on a metaplot, but keep it loose. There's no sense in creating a BEEG when the PCs won't see them for a year or more. Start local and work your way out.
4. Modules and Supplements - Now I can cherry pick or outright steal other peoples' work. Usually I add NPCs and swap monsters to better fit the theme. I sprinkle in metaplot clues to keep the campaign flowing.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 ad infinitum.

Gods, cultures, legends, a lot of that can be sorted out later with a little prep work. I think it's better to keep a rough outline of things, keep it loose. This saves time and lets you focus on the immediate and near future. Rough outlines adapt to PC asshattery much easier. NPCs or monsters who are quickly killed can be "demoted" if it would derail the plot. With a loose outline it's seemless.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I keep changes minimal.

My campaign world is 12 times the size of Earth, with a Dyson sphere type underdark surface nearly as large. There are also many other planets in the setting, some of which are inhabited.

When I get the urge to run a prepublished module, I usually only feel the need to change the Gods. Almost everything else can just be plugged in somewhere in my universe. If it is a multi-planar module, it usually cannot be converted so easily to my world due to my cosmology.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I don't even bother changing the names sometimes. . maybe even often.

For me, making a patchwork of published adventures (esp. old modules and stuff from 80s/90s Dungeon mag) is homebrewing.

I am running Ghosts of Saltmarsh in a homebrew. There is a Saltmarsh, there is a Scarlet Brotherhood, there is a Dunwater river, etc. . . There is a Solmor family and the Owelands. And so on. . .

My players don't really know and those that would know don't care. For other things I do change the names (or more often the species - I run human dominated worlds) but it really depends more on if the name has some pre-existing weight (not gonna have the wizard they run into be named Elminster) or just too silly (no Mathblaster the Evoker).

As others have suggested, changing gods is the easiest if you have the pantheon established. My homebrew is specifically designed to not have established pantheons, so sometimes I have to think a little longer if I need to replace a god - but often, even that god's name will do.
 

aco175

Legend
I make a lot of homebrew adventures, but I also found it easier to just keep the FR shell. My players do not care if I make a new set of gods or classes or whatnot. It would just satisfy me- which may be fine. I tend to spend my free time with new adventure and recycle the NPCs and Phandalin that has been presented, mostly since the players are not as invested as me.

I have my 3rd campaign based in Phandalin started right now and each one I updated the map and added more shops to the town. The players find it ok that it has grown more as time went on, but they would just play it normal if that was it as well.

If I was going to convert something like this to a homebrew world, I may just change the town name and some of the gods/factions but try to leave as much untouched. Names like Sildar or Gungren can be fine in my homebrews. You may have a different flavor and need to change more.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Some really good ideas in this thread, thanks folks--just what I was hoping for. I few further thoughts and responses...

I do this pretty regularly since I pretty much play in one homebrew setting and have done so for decades. I think the key is knowing your world back-to-front. Having very good knowledge of your setting allows you to pretty much swap names on the fly (Lathander is a FR sun god, what's the closest equivalent in my world, etc).

I have copious notes written up mostly in the form of html files I've assembled over the years. I have this open during sessions for quick reference and use text search to find the relevant "fact".
Yeah, this is where I oopsy-daisyed...didn't do enough of the preliminary world-building. Thankfully we only play every 2-3 weeks, so I can play catch-up, especially considering that I'm taking the "start local" approach.
I'm a diehard Greyhawker, so I'm always returning to Greyhawk for my homebrew. My conversions go like this:
1. Campaign Theme - What do I plan on running? What do we want to play? That's going to tell me what modules and source material I should be converting. House Rules are always added here to enforce the theme. It's important to make it known to the players before character creation.
2. Player Characters - When I have an idea of what will be in the party, then I can focus on world building details. No sense in making an elaborate thieves' guild if there are no Rogues. Gods are less useful without divine casters.
3. Metaplot - When I'm able to focus on the details of the campaign I work on a metaplot, but keep it loose. There's no sense in creating a BEEG when the PCs won't see them for a year or more. Start local and work your way out.
4. Modules and Supplements - Now I can cherry pick or outright steal other peoples' work. Usually I add NPCs and swap monsters to better fit the theme. I sprinkle in metaplot clues to keep the campaign flowing.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 ad infinitum.

Gods, cultures, legends, a lot of that can be sorted out later with a little prep work. I think it's better to keep a rough outline of things, keep it loose. This saves time and lets you focus on the immediate and near future. Rough outlines adapt to PC asshattery much easier. NPCs or monsters who are quickly killed can be "demoted" if it would derail the plot. With a loose outline it's seemless.
This is good advice and very useful, and pretty much what I have in mind. The difference, I think, is that I'm not drawing from a specific setting (Greyhawk), but using my own as a basis. Thus the need for a bit more world-building early on to establish a basis. But yeah, I'm following your basic structure, so it is good to see the resonance.
I keep changes minimal.

My campaign world is 12 times the size of Earth, with a Dyson sphere type underdark surface nearly as large. There are also many other planets in the setting, some of which are inhabited.

When I get the urge to run a prepublished module, I usually only feel the need to change the Gods. Almost everything else can just be plugged in somewhere in my universe. If it is a multi-planar module, it usually cannot be converted so easily to my world due to my cosmology.
Ooh, nice. Out of curiosity, do you have a world map? Or do you just expand and add things on as needed?
I don't even bother changing the names sometimes. . maybe even often.

For me, making a patchwork of published adventures (esp. old modules and stuff from 80s/90s Dungeon mag) is homebrewing.

I am running Ghosts of Saltmarsh in a homebrew. There is a Saltmarsh, there is a Scarlet Brotherhood, there is a Dunwater river, etc. . . There is a Solmor family and the Owelands. And so on. . .

My players don't really know and those that would know don't care. For other things I do change the names (or more often the species - I run human dominated worlds) but it really depends more on if the name has some pre-existing weight (not gonna have the wizard they run into be named Elminster) or just too silly (no Mathblaster the Evoker).

As others have suggested, changing gods is the easiest if you have the pantheon established. My homebrew is specifically designed to not have established pantheons, so sometimes I have to think a little longer if I need to replace a god - but often, even that god's name will do.
Yeah, I use some of the names, mainly if it doesn't matter all that much. And I don't mind porting over entire towns, and thought of placing Saltmarsh on the map somewhere, as well as other locations (e.g. I'm going to drop Rappan-Athuk in somewhere).

I make a lot of homebrew adventures, but I also found it easier to just keep the FR shell. My players do not care if I make a new set of gods or classes or whatnot. It would just satisfy me- which may be fine. I tend to spend my free time with new adventure and recycle the NPCs and Phandalin that has been presented, mostly since the players are not as invested as me.

I have my 3rd campaign based in Phandalin started right now and each one I updated the map and added more shops to the town. The players find it ok that it has grown more as time went on, but they would just play it normal if that was it as well.

If I was going to convert something like this to a homebrew world, I may just change the town name and some of the gods/factions but try to leave as much untouched. Names like Sildar or Gungren can be fine in my homebrews. You may have a different flavor and need to change more.
This follows on what el-remmen said. In some cases I'll use the names if I like it or am neutral on it (e.g. Sildar), but in others I'll change it (e.g. Phandalin, which I don't really like).
 

Voadam

Legend
I generally use modules and since about 2000 have been either adapting them to a homebrew mashup setting or to an existing one with strong themes.

Since you are at an initial stage you have a few options.

1 detail your world then adapt the module to it. Define your cosmology and kingdoms and organizations and such and change the ones in the module to suit.

2 Use the modules' stuff but change the names to be original so the Zhentarim become the Entari. Use the module to world build so the world makes sense with their adventures.

3 Use the modules' stuff pretty much as is and use that as world building. If you mishmash FR Phandelver and GH Saltmarsh you get an interesting mix of deities and place names that are evocative of D&D classics but unique to your campaign. This can require some tricky synchretization. Perhaps mix in planned module references into earlier modules and callbacks into the later ones.

4 Open it up to player input, build off their suggestions and work them into the game and modules as you go.
 

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