D&D 5E Updating Older Modules to D&D 5E

Azaar

Explorer
Last night, I got to thinking about what I'd be interested in running as a DM, if I were to actually try and run a game; all while looking through some of my older stuff -- specifically, Sword & Sorcery's 3E Scarred Lands book Hollowfaust: City of Necromancers. The idea of an adventuring party coming together in a place that defies expectations (in Hollowfaust, the necromancers who rule the city are collectively somewhere in the lawful neutral range, rather than your typical run-of-the-mill evil necromancer) sounds like a lot of fun to me, and I think my friends would also be interested.

But (we all knew there was a "but" coming somewhere), I have no clue how best to update a 3E adventure setting/module (or any older adventure setting/module, for that matter) to 5E. I imagine that most of it would be common-sense type of stuff, but any advice people might have for updating older content to 5E would be tremendously appreciated.
 

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Can't say much about 3rd edition conversions, but I've updated 1st edition adventures to 5e, you just work through it replacing monsters and checking the encounter is still balanced (if it isn't either change numbers or find a similar creature that is stronger/weaker), look at the trap damage, decide on a few difficulty classes etc.

The thing to watch for in 1st edition stuff are when there are huge numbers of enemies, on the whole solve this by not converting those adventures!

Another note: It's a good idea to have target level in mind before you start - this might be quite different from the original level.
 

S'mon

Legend
The simplest thing is to replace monsters and NPCs by the 5e versions. Just check that it's not absurd in terms of encounter, but it usually runs out of the box, possibly need to remove a few monsters when there are many.

Yes, that's all you do. Do not do a straight conversion.

If you absolutely have to convert: multiply NPC/monster hit points & damage by 1.5, divide AC by 2 & add 5, divide stats by 2 & add 9, and recalculate attack bonus & spell save DC based on the CR-derived Proficiency Bonus & the attack stat/attribute. Ignore all Feats.
 

S'mon

Legend
The thing to watch for in 1st edition stuff are when there are huge numbers of enemies, on the whole solve this by not converting those adventures!

Another note: It's a good idea to have target level in mind before you start - this might be quite different from the original level.

You can keep the listed number of enemies & just raise the adventure level. OTOH some "300 orcs" 1e encounters just work better as "30 orcs" 5e encounters anyway.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
But (we all knew there was a "but" coming somewhere), I have no clue how best to update a 3E adventure setting/module (or any older adventure setting/module, for that matter) to 5E. I imagine that most of it would be common-sense type of stuff, but any advice people might have for updating older content to 5E would be tremendously appreciated.
Converting 3E adventures.
  • Skill checks, convert to 1/2 + 5. (e.g. DC 25 becomes DC 17). Easy peasy.
  • Wealth, reduce to 10%. Wealth by level in 3E handed out a specific amount of coin to meet advancement needs. No longer necessary.
  • Magic items. Remove. The "Christmas Tree" effect of 3E presumed magic items that boosted numbers were an essential part of the character, so they were everywhere.
  • Monsters. As noted replace with 5E equivalents. The CR ratings are pretty close. A lot of 3E monsters were created from templates or had unique abilities, and you can simply make a note to keep that power for a cooler encounter.
For AD&D, same idea on magic items and wealth. You can make up skill checks in your head using the "easy/hard" ranges. Monsters are the toughest because you'll have to be aware of what's a fair encounter, and a straight swap won't work. You'll be starting from scratch.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
The thing to watch for in 1st edition stuff are when there are huge numbers of enemies, on the whole solve this by not converting those adventures!

Yes, this is probably the most important point, I alluded to it but was not precise enough. Due to bounded accuracy, action economy is really important in 5e especially against many lower CR monsters.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Converting 3E adventures.
  • Skill checks, convert to 1/2 + 5. (e.g. DC 25 becomes DC 17). Easy peasy.

Or just use the 5e guidelines for whatever seems easy/medium/hard.

  • Wealth, reduce to 10%. Wealth by level in 3E handed out a specific amount of coin to meet advancement needs. No longer necessary.
  • Magic items. Remove. The "Christmas Tree" effect of 3E presumed magic items that boosted numbers were an essential part of the character, so they were everywhere.

Very true as well, good advice.

  • Monsters. As noted replace with 5E equivalents. The CR ratings are pretty close. A lot of 3E monsters were created from templates or had unique abilities, and you can simply make a note to keep that power for a cooler encounter.
For AD&D, same idea on magic items and wealth. You can make up skill checks in your head using the "easy/hard" ranges. Monsters are the toughest because you'll have to be aware of what's a fair encounter, and a straight swap won't work. You'll be starting from scratch.

In the end, I indeed find AD&D and BECMI adventures the easiest to convert, as lots of the additional rules in particular about skills were not present and you can use the 5e guidelines out of the box. The toughest to convert is 4e, because the format and the levels mean something else entirely.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I don't think converting adventures to 5E from previous editions is all that hard and it is basically all I do for my campaigns. The biggest thing is swapping out monsters/antagonists for some thing more appropriate in terms of type or number and/or pumping up the levels a little bit.

For example, when I remixed N1 - Against the Cult of the Reptile God, I made it a 3rd to 5th level 5E adventure - but I left most of the combatants the same troglodytes in the same basic numbers. The ones I had to change the most were some of the human NPCs.
 

It requires quite a bit of DM intuitiveness, but overall it's not super hard. If you're familiar with the edition, you can get a much better conversion, since you'll understand the feel of the original better. Ability checks and saving throws should just fall under the usual easy/average/hard type, but when dealing with 3E you have to remember that higher DCs were meant to challenge those who were skilled (take Prof modifier into consideration). I'd redesign each combat based on the 5E encounter design and CR system, but often in earlier editions some combats were deliberately "unfair," meant to be avoided or handled more tactically. Treasure has honestly been the biggest PITA, since earlier editions had completely different economic assumptions, especially when it comes to magic items.
 


Voadam

Legend
Last night, I got to thinking about what I'd be interested in running as a DM, if I were to actually try and run a game; all while looking through some of my older stuff -- specifically, Sword & Sorcery's 3E Scarred Lands book Hollowfaust: City of Necromancers. The idea of an adventuring party coming together in a place that defies expectations (in Hollowfaust, the necromancers who rule the city are collectively somewhere in the lawful neutral range, rather than your typical run-of-the-mill evil necromancer) sounds like a lot of fun to me, and I think my friends would also be interested.

But (we all knew there was a "but" coming somewhere), I have no clue how best to update a 3E adventure setting/module (or any older adventure setting/module, for that matter) to 5E. I imagine that most of it would be common-sense type of stuff, but any advice people might have for updating older content to 5E would be tremendously appreciated.
Hollowfaust is a city setting and not an adventure module so it is mostly a backdrop to your own adventures.

You can just go with core 5e elements, necromancers, skeletons, and zombies for the city's forces. Other undead such as wights and wraiths would be for the Glivid Autel bad guy necromancers' unleashed horrors. For the horse guy monster forces you can just use the stat blocks for minotaurs and describe them appropriately for the Scarred Lands. For city inhabitants just a lot of NPC monster stat blocks used as needed.

I would not worry about recreating the specific magics or heightened undead creations, the core of the setting is the LN necromancers who are in charge and use and only allow mindless not-hungry undead and the city population that has embraced them and their undead army for providing a safe haven in a post-apocalyptic D&D world.

You might want to check out the 5e Scarred Lands Creature Collection for a bunch of setting appropriate monster conversions already done for you.
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
Can't say much about 3rd edition conversions, but I've updated 1st edition adventures to 5e, you just work through it replacing monsters and checking the encounter is still balanced (if it isn't either change numbers or find a similar creature that is stronger/weaker), look at the trap damage, decide on a few difficulty classes etc.

The thing to watch for in 1st edition stuff are when there are huge numbers of enemies, on the whole solve this by not converting those adventures!

Another note: It's a good idea to have target level in mind before you start - this might be quite different from the original level.
You don't even need to check if it's still balanced, to be honest. In fact, is best if it's not perfectly balance if you want to keep the original combat as war feeling.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
You don't even need to check if it's still balanced, to be honest. In fact, is best if it's not perfectly balance if you want to keep the original combat as war feeling.

"War feeling" is something, an automatic TPK is something else. The first encounter in T1 is 6 giant frogs, not too hard for AD&D, but one and a half time the deadly budget for 4 lvl 1 in 5e. If the characters are really optimised, there might be some survivors, but since the frogs attack from hidden places all around the party and very likely by surprise, it would probably end very badly.
 

S'mon

Legend
"War feeling" is something, an automatic TPK is something else. The first encounter in T1 is 6 giant frogs, not too hard for AD&D,

I ran T1 in 1e AD&D and this looked like a TPK to me for first level PCs. AIR I had the frogs in their pool and the PCs crept past on the track to the gate without alerting them. When the frogs did attack during a later expedition the PCs could handle them.

But old D&D adventures are full of likely TPKs within the context of that edition; it's mostly not a conversion issue.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Last night, I got to thinking about what I'd be interested in running as a DM, if I were to actually try and run a game; all while looking through some of my older stuff -- specifically, Sword & Sorcery's 3E Scarred Lands book Hollowfaust: City of Necromancers. The idea of an adventuring party coming together in a place that defies expectations (in Hollowfaust, the necromancers who rule the city are collectively somewhere in the lawful neutral range, rather than your typical run-of-the-mill evil necromancer) sounds like a lot of fun to me, and I think my friends would also be interested.

But (we all knew there was a "but" coming somewhere), I have no clue how best to update a 3E adventure setting/module (or any older adventure setting/module, for that matter) to 5E. I imagine that most of it would be common-sense type of stuff, but any advice people might have for updating older content to 5E would be tremendously appreciated.
I do that all the time with adventures of any edition except 4e.

My approach is as simple as can be:

Monster:
  • use the 5e version as-is if it exists
  • if the monster doesn't exist in 5e, pick a monster of similar general level, size and type, remove its special abilities (unless they already fit the concept) and add 1-2 back if they are essential for capturing that monster feel (steal an appropriate feature from another creature or create it yourself with DMG guidelines)
  • go farther than 2 features only for "boss-type" unique monsters

NPC:
  • use MM generic NPCs as much as possible (and don't even bother for NPCs who are not supposed to be fought in battle)
  • build the NPC using PC rules only for major NPCs, but don't worry about picking every single spell or skill (despite what many people claim, this is MUCH easier and faster than trying to create a MM-style NPC from scratch)

CHALLENGES:
- simply use the tiny DC guidelines table

MAGIC ITEMS:
- actually leave them mostly as-is unless clearly inapplicable

Frankly I do not bother estimating CRs, the encounter difficulty ends up whatever it is.
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
"War feeling" is something, an automatic TPK is something else. The first encounter in T1 is 6 giant frogs, not too hard for AD&D, but one and a half time the deadly budget for 4 lvl 1 in 5e. If the characters are really optimised, there might be some survivors, but since the frogs attack from hidden places all around the party and very likely by surprise, it would probably end very badly.
Automatic TPKs only happen if the party choose to stick around and fight. That's not the default assumption in a combat as war type game.

Also, it's not my job to protect the players from TPKs. The paper shredder is always ready to feed on their character sheets.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Automatic TPKs only happen if the party choose to stick around and fight. That's not the default assumption in a combat as war type game.

I can go with that, and I spent about 2 years 20 years ago creating a very dangerous campaign so that the players at our tables learned again the value of flight, and actually not committing to fights until you are pretty sure that you will win.

But the thing is that, at 1st level, it's almost impossible, because there is very little time between full health and down. It gets better at higher level where fights are longer and you are rarely one-shotted, but at level 1, it's almost impossible.

And especially in an ambush... although I can agree that a surprised party should by default try to flee unless it's impossible or really contradicts the goals.

As an aside, note that I have found that it's notable harder to flee in 5e than in previous editions, combats are very quick, over in a few rounds, so again the window to realise that you are losing and should flee and "down" is smaller than in the two previous editions.

Also, it's not my job to protect the players from TPKs. The paper shredder is always ready to feed on their character sheets.

Well, I can understand that some games are played that way, I did it in the past, I'm not sure that it's the intent of the OP, and I don't think it's the general state of mind these days.

As for our tables, we play long campaigns centering around the characters and their story, so the paper shredder does not get much use... :)
 

S'mon

Legend
5e level 1e PCs are exceptionally vulnerable; I tried giving them a hp buffer which works ok, but now I think just starting at 2nd (for 'trained') or 3rd (for 'experienced') level characters is best.
 

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