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2E How to Convert High-Level 2e Spellcasters to 5e?

L R Ballard

Explorer
Hey everyone,

Thanks for the replies so far. I know that there's an unwritten rule in forumland that prompt replies are courteous replies. However, during the summer, I freelance edit for academics and am quoting a book manuscript edit today. So, please bear with me.

The replies are helping me to walk through some of the design choices I've made, so I'd like to reply to them in detail. I appreciate everyone's reply and am happy to see some frequent posters weighing in. Again, that's helpful and appreciated.
 

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Ilbranteloth

Explorer
Let me preface this reply by noting that this conversion refers to the revised edition of the 2nd edition Player’s Handbook. The revision, published in 1995, wasn’t something I ran or played anything in; the next session that I ran was in the 3rd edition.

The revised 2nd edition seems to make several substantive changes to the mechanics of the original 2nd edition. Some things seem harder to do than they were.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the original 2nd edition books with me to compare. However, I remember the following technique for maxing out hit points:

Read a Manual of Bodily Health (DMG 2e rev. 231)

Wish up the Constitution score (DMG 2e rev. 16)

Thus, raise the Constitution score retroactively for the levels that permit the Con. bonus (PHB 2e rev. 21)

That was standard practice for our high-level characters.
Nope. The "revised" books change nothing other than incorporating errata and altering the presentation of the books. At one point many moons ago I had gone through to find what changed, but I certainly can't remember now. It wasn't significant, and that's noted in the books themselves. I think there was a table or two that were reorganized, and some clarifications to spells were the main things if I recall.

But my point is just that 5e will give your wizards substantially more hit points.

They use d6 instead of d4.
They aren't capped at a +2 bonus for Constitution
They aren't capped at 10 HD (in 1st ed. they were capped at 11 HD), then only gain 1 hp per level (+ Constitution bonus, still capped at +2)

Your method will raise the Constitution score, but not the cap on Constitution bonus for hp for a non-fighter, so it's pointless past 17 for a wizard.

Assuming a 20th level wizard with a Constitution bonus of +5:
In 1e the max was 129.
In 2e the max was 126.
In 3e the max was 180.
In 5e the max is 220, if using the 6 hp at 1st and 4 at each subsequent level, you'd have 182. Note that if you only have a Constitution modifier of +2, then the "standard" 5e wizard has the maximum hp of the 1e/2e versions.

In 1e and 2e, each additional level above 20th could give you a maximum of +3 hp, or an additional 18 hp for a 26th level wizard, so a maximum of 147 or 144, still considerably less than the 5e version.
In 3e the max was a maximum of 54 more hp by that time. This would exceed the 5e limit with 234.

Suffice to say, always recalculate hp with 5e rules.
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
My overall preference would be to design important NPCs using the same rules as PCs, but you can choose to design them as ad-hoc characters in a way similar to the NPCs in the monster manual.
Initially, my preference was to convert the NPCs using the same rules as those for PCs.

Eventually, I decided to use the methods described in the Monster Manual.

The modules are based on FR novels, and each module includes stats for the main characters. One of the pregenerated characters is the chosen of Mystra and must accompany the party. She can be run by a player or DM. I plan to offer both a PC and an NPC version of each. The PC versions are already in first-draft form, and I’ll probably use them for any playtesting that I personally do.

Either way, for spellcasters the important things are to (a) stay faithful to their original set of spells and (b) replicate possible unique features they had in the previous edition.
(a) Done. I used the information in the modules, then referred to the source texts like Hall of Heroes for more detail when needed.

(b) No unique features have leapt out at me, though some spells are unique to powerful spellcasters. Those will make the conversion if they are given in the module’s spell list for the NPC.

(a) Spells in 5e are not the same as in 2e, but it shouldn't be a problem. If a 2e spell doesn't exist in 5e, try to see if there is another spell close enough to it. Also, you can probably ignore the issue entirely if it's related to low-level spells.
That’s been my practice.

(b) If the original NPC had something special, I'd definitely want to carry it over to 5e, and I would probably just port it straight away in most cases. The exceptions that need some tinkering are abilities that break bounded accuracy (e.g. huge boosts to spells DCs or spell attacks will need to be toned down) or stuff that just doesn't apply to the current rules.
Last summer, I asked the EN World forum whether I should convert a rod of cancellation.

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?558516-Is-This-Magic-Item-Overpowered-for-5e

To my knowledge, the rod of cancellation does not appear in anything official and final for 5e. Mostly, the special things are magic items that haven’t made it into 5e. The trilogy introduces, or refers to, several new magic items. Those have been the most time-consuming things to convert. Every magic item in the first module is at least in first-draft form. Half the items are probably as good as I can write and edit them.

I haven’t seen any huge boosts to spell DCs or spell attacks. However, I haven’t explained how the avatar of Azuth has a -5 armor class with an 18 Dex. and no listed armor.
 
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Ilbranteloth

Explorer
Initially, my preference was to convert the NPCs using the same rules as those for PCs.

Eventually, I decided to use the methods described in the Monster Manual.

The modules are based on FR novels, and each module includes stats for the main characters. One of the pregenerated characters is the chosen of Mystra and must accompany the party. She can be run by a player or DM. I plan to offer both a PC and an NPC version of each. The PC versions are already in first-draft form, and I’ll probably use them for any playtesting that I personally do.



(a) Done. I used the information in the modules, then referred to the source texts like Hall of Heroes for more detail when needed.

(b) No unique features have leapt out at me, though some spells are unique to powerful spellcasters. Those will make the conversion if they are given in the module’s spell list for the NPC.



That’s been my practice.



Last summer, I asked the EN World forum whether I should convert a rod of cancellation.

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?558516-Is-This-Magic-Item-Overpowered-for-5e

To my knowledge, the rod of cancellation does not appear in anything official and final for 5e. Mostly, the special things are magic items that haven’t made it into 5e. The trilogy introduces, or refers to, several new magic items. Those have been the most time-consuming things to convert. Every magic item in the first module is at least in first-draft form. Half the items are probably as good as I can write and edit them.

I haven’t seen any huge boosts to spell DCs or spell attacks. However, I haven’t explained how the avatar of Azuth has a -5 armor class with an 18 Dex. and no listed armor.
Unless there’s a real compelling need to alter a magic item from 1e/2e, I just use them as is. There are a few minor things, like saving throws and DCs, and I’d probably knock a +5 down to a +3, unless it was against one creature. Even the Rod of Cancellation is fine. If there’s a really powerful magic item that it important to keep, them make a quest to restore it.

Actually, I often change a lot of the 5e items back. And I do have out a fair amount of magic items, but most are consumable. And things with charges have a fixed number of charges, most don’t regain them every night.

They’ve worked for me for 35+ years, why change them?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
The 5e way is distinctly different from the 3e way.

Not only does the edition "reset" NPC levels to maybe 5-10 levels lower than the 3e inflation, it considerably simplifies them.

If and only if the NPC is intended as a combat target is it appropriate to create unique stats. Even then, just drop 75% to 90% of the 3e character's abilities.

Otherwise "Archmage" will do just fine. (In actual combat, an Archmage will easily die in the first round of combat even to heroes 5-10 levels lower, so it makes for a poor combat stat line). Even the specialist (school) wizards of Volo's are better and more inspired than the dull Archmage block of the MM.

If the named NPC is to face the heroes in combat, I think the best course of action is to create a unique stat block; and invent two or three cool powers it and nobody else has. Look to end bosses in existing modules for guidance - Strahd and Ras Nsi are not off-the-counter stats blocks. One gets bonus hp, the other gets bonus AC.

If the NPC is meant to face the whole party alone you need a Solo, and then you don't need just to bend the 5e framework, you need to break it.
 

AmerginLiath

Explorer
Not a broad comment (as others have covered it), but one thought on the HP issue: having substantially more hit points for such major Wizard NPCs shouldn’t be a problem in terms of the fiction if you consider part of those to reflect the previous edition’s array of magical and divine protections. If a given character has more HP in a conversion than would be expected but otherwise has various defenses, simply handwave those extra HP as part of those defenses (the classic Gygaxian “high level HP as partly luck and blessings”).
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
NPC monster stat blocks is the way to go. This way you can add cool powers that the classed PCs do not have access to and you can make them as powerful as you need to.
Yup. I’ve been using the NPC monster stat blocks as reference monsters whenever possible. Then I modify the stat blocks according to the NPC creation tables and guidelines in the MM and DMG.

Just make up powers to get the right feel for what you want/need. Need more HP, Great Health gives them d12 instead of d8 for HD. Need more spells, Signature Spell lets them cast something every round as a bonus spell. Etc..
How about my using the epic boons previously mentioned?

“Boon of Fortitude: Your hit point maximum increases by 40” (DMG 5e 232).

“Boon of Quick Casting: Choose one of your spells of 1st through 3rd level that has a casting time of 1 action. That spell’s casting time is now 1 bonus action for you” (DMG 5e 232).

Players may call foul, but that is the way the world runs and all the NPCs have these powers.
Epic boons are defensible to players who object because those boons are described in the 5e DMG. I just need to make sure that I can determine how a given epic boon affects an NPC’s CR. The Monster Features Table may have some analogues (DMG 5e 280-81).

By using the MM stat blocks, I’m also opening the door to giving NPCs legendary actions.

I think it mostly makes them easier to play and not caught up in design like in 3e days when you tried to add a few levels of a class to the monster.
I have written an almost 200,000-line Autohotkey script to automate the NPC creation process. It’s mostly phrase-activated string replaces, but it dramatically simplifies things.

My biggest criticism of 3e is that the proliferation of sources leads to new rules and other complexities that make design too time consuming.
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
I converted Elminster here: 5e Epic Monster Updates: Humanoids

I converted his 3e stats from the Epic Level Handbook. To make him an epic level NPC I gave him the ability to multi-class past 20th level total (but not higher than that in one class), + epic boons, +epic equipment. I'm fairly happy with it.
Thanks for the link. I like the build. If I may ask--you're, of course, under no obligation to reply--how long did it take to convert Elminster from 3e?
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
But my point is just that 5e will give your wizards substantially more hit points.
I don’t dispute the claim. My remark was probably a non sequitur given the context of the discussion. It wasn’t a statement that 2e wizards had greater hit point maximums than wizard builds from subsequent editions.

Our group played 2e regularly for five years. We understood the limitations of the wizard class within the context of that system. Only one person in our group played a 2e wizard, and I assigned an NPC to protect her. We always thought the d4 hit die made the wizard class weak.

In 2e, any time I could make a rules-based decision to increase hit points for one of my characters, I did. For that reason, I played dual-class characters like fighter-thieves and never played a wizard.
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
Unless there’s a real compelling need to alter a magic item from 1e/2e, I just use them as is. There are a few minor things, like saving throws and DCs, and I’d probably knock a +5 down to a +3, unless it was against one creature. Even the Rod of Cancellation is fine. If there’s a really powerful magic item that it important to keep, them make a quest to restore it.

Actually, I often change a lot of the 5e items back. And I do have out a fair amount of magic items, but most are consumable. And things with charges have a fixed number of charges, most don’t regain them every night.
They’ve worked for me for 35+ years, why change them?
For this conversion, I make mostly phrasing and formatting changes to 2e magic items. I made a checklist to use when editing and formatting the 2e magic items. It’s a work in progress: please feel free to critique.

Please note: I am unable to use small capitals with the forum tools. The example magic item is the Trident of Fish Command (DMG 5e 209).

MAGIC ITEM CREATION CHECKLIST

1. Name the item using small capitals.

Example: TRIDENT OF FISH COMMAND

2. Underneath the name, define the item type: armor, potion, ring, rod, scroll, staff, wand, weapon, or wondrous item (DMG 5e 139-40).

3. Indicate the rarity of the item: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Very rare, or Legendary (DMG 5e 135).

If the item requires attunement, state so in parentheses. Italicize the whole line, including parentheses.

Example: Weapon (trident), uncommon (requires attunement)

4. Briefly describe the item. If the item has charges, list the number of charges.

Example: The trident is a magic weapon. It has 3 charges.

5. Use the second-person pronoun "you" to describe how to use, or otherwise activate, the item.

Example: While you carry it, you can use an action and expend 1 charge to cast dominate beast (DC 15) from it on a beast that has an innate swimming speed.

6. Italicize the names of spells, and include their difficulty classes or saving throws.

Use the DCs for spells cast from scrolls, or specify that the caster can use its own DC or that a predetermined DC applies.

7. Use the final sentence to state how the item regains charges, if applicable.

The trident regains 1d3 expended charges daily at dawn.
 
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dave2008

Legend
Thanks for the link. I like the build. If I may ask--you're, of course, under no obligation to reply--how long did it take to convert Elminster from 3e?
I don't remember explicitly, but it takes me longer to make a PC type NPC than a typical monster, and spell casters longer still. I start by finding any previous stat blocks (I try to get one from every edition) and build form there. So general guess: research 1-2 hrs, then 1-2 hours to draft it, and .5-1hr to finalize and check the math + maybe another 1-2 hrs to make unique equipment. Now, I already head a template for epic level spell caster NPCs when I did Elminster, so I think it took about 50-75% longer the first time I made an epic NPC caster (to pick feats, features, etc.)
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
The 5e way is distinctly different from the 3e way.
Not only does the edition "reset" NPC levels to maybe 5-10 levels lower than the 3e inflation, it considerably simplifies them.
Agreed. My goal has been to learn the 5e way by doing the conversion. The 5e NPCs are simpler builds than the 3e NPC builds. The simplicity of 5e makes it easier for people to start designing and playing, which has probably contributed to the success of the fifth edition.

If and only if the NPC is intended as a combat target is it appropriate to create unique stats. Even then, just drop 75% to 90% of the 3e character's abilities..
That’s a reasonable approach. The avatars serve as combatants for the adventurers. Their stats appear in the 3e Faiths and Pantheons, so I can look for abilities there.

Otherwise "Archmage" will do just fine. (In actual combat, an Archmage will easily die in the first round of combat even to heroes 5-10 levels lower, so it makes for a poor combat stat line).
I use an Excel calculator to see the challenge rating for various encounters. An archmage is a “hard” encounter for a party of five 8th-level adventurers, deadly for a party of four. My sense is that, with a few rounds for the archmage to prepare, the challenge rating is accurate. In practice, though, a well-prepared and coordinated party that gets initiative can drop an archmage in a round.

Even the specialist (school) wizards of Volo's are better and more inspired than the dull Archmage block of the MM.
Yes, and, after picking up Volo’s, I started to use the specialist wizard templates as the bases for NPC wizard builds in FRE2. The illusionist and the evoker have been used so far, though I’m taking care that the spells Greenwood lists for a wizard NPC indeed recommend using a specialist template of a given kind.

If the named NPC is to face the heroes in combat, I think the best course of action is to create a unique stat block; and invent two or three cool powers it and nobody else has. Look to end bosses in existing modules for guidance - Strahd and Ras Nsi are not off-the-counter stats blocks. One gets bonus hp, the other gets bonus AC.

If the NPC is meant to face the whole party alone you need a Solo, and then you don't need just to bend the 5e framework, you need to break it.
It may be too early in the conversion for me to build the end bosses, then. The Excel CR calculator I wrote is almost done, but it has not been tested for exactness. All the CRs of 240-plus NPCs need calculating or recalculating. I also need a better idea of how much XP an average group will have when facing a given end boss. That will tell me how to write a unique stat block so that the NPC presents a well-balanced challenge. It appears that giving the end boss unique powers will add mystery and authenticity to the final combat. It’s a question of where to set the CR. But to do that well, I first need to test the Excel CR calculator. . . .

Before returning to high-level NPC end-boss drafts, I’ll have a look at Strahd and Ras Nsi.

Thanks for the insights.
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
Not a broad comment (as others have covered it), but one thought on the HP issue: having substantially more hit points for such major Wizard NPCs shouldn’t be a problem in terms of the fiction if you consider part of those to reflect the previous edition’s array of magical and divine protections. If a given character has more HP in a conversion than would be expected but otherwise has various defenses, simply handwave those extra HP as part of those defenses (the classic Gygaxian “high level HP as partly luck and blessings”).
Thanks for the comment. I'm satisfied with the way the wizard NPCs will stat out. The conversion of Elminster linked to by dave2008 is agreeable to me. As I wrote earlier, I'm all for NPC builds of powerful NPCs that evoke respect, and even some healthy fear, from the players.
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
I don't remember explicitly, but it takes me longer to make a PC type NPC than a typical monster, and spell casters longer still. I start by finding any previous stat blocks (I try to get one from every edition) and build form there. So general guess: research 1-2 hrs, then 1-2 hours to draft it, and .5-1hr to finalize and check the math + maybe another 1-2 hrs to make unique equipment. Now, I already head a template for epic level spell caster NPCs when I did Elminster, so I think it took about 50-75% longer the first time I made an epic NPC caster (to pick feats, features, etc.)
Those estimates sound reasonable enough for me to consider undertaking analogous builds for Elminster, Khelben, the Simbul, and a few others. I'll prioritize unique builds for the end bosses before returning to the potentially friendly NPCs. There is no deadline for this version of the conversion, so it's simply a matter of my scheduling the builds.
 
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L R Ballard

Explorer
Otherwise "Archmage" will do just fine. (In actual combat, an Archmage will easily die in the first round of combat even to heroes 5-10 levels lower, so it makes for a poor combat stat line). Even the specialist (school) wizards of Volo's are better and more inspired than the dull Archmage block of the MM.
While we're on the subject, clerics and priests are also spellcasters. The Avatar Trilogy has bunches of clerics and priests. The official, final 5e stuff appears not yet to have improved cleric NPCs builds as they have for wizard NPCs in Volo's. Any suggestions on where to look for inspired cleric builds?

This question is, of course, open to all respondents.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
While we're on the subject, clerics and priests are also spellcasters. The Avatar Trilogy has bunches of clerics and priests. The official, final 5e stuff appears not yet to have improved cleric NPCs builds as they have for wizard NPCs in Volo's. Any suggestions on where to look for inspired cleric builds?

This question is, of course, open to all respondents.
Can't recall off-hand any NPC with a clerical bend in official adventures, but it is among unique NPCs (statted up as a one-off monster rather than referring to a NPC stat block like priest or knight) I would start looking.
 

L R Ballard

Explorer
Can't recall off-hand any NPC with a clerical bend in official adventures . . . .
Of the few 5e adventures that I own, only Erky Timbers from The Sunless Citadel comes to mind. But his build is low level and generic.

"But it is among unique NPCs (statted up as a one-off monster rather than referring to a NPC stat block like priest or knight) I would start looking.
Thanks. I'll keep looking as I acquire sources. The specialist wizard builds from Volo's sometimes borrow abilities from the various specializations described in the PHB (PHB 5e 115-19). The NPC priest builds could be modified similarly, by selecting domain powers (PHB 5e 59-63) for them. The prestige classes from Faiths and Pantheons can provide ideas for Forgotten Realms-specific class features (FaP 182-213).
 
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