In Tales from the Yawning Portal, Wizards of the Coast took seven of the best pre-fifth edition modules and converted and updated them for fifth edition play. Dungeon Masters, did you know you could do that yourself? Conversion guides have been discussed and outlined for years now, and many people have already converted numerous classic modules and made them available online for everyone.
Converting your favorite classic modules and bringing them up to 5th edition speed yourself is not as difficult as it may sound. Doing your own conversions also has advantages over conversions done by someone else. Following are a few conversion sources that will help explain the process, some important factors to keep in mind, and why it’s critical that DMs consider carrying out their own conversions.
The primary conversion source comes from exactly where it should: WotC. The Conversions to 5th Edition D&D document details conversion guidelines for adventures, covering both quick and careful conversions, encounter difficulty, monster stats, spells, and more. The document also accounts for PC conversions, including race, class, ability scores, proficiencies, feats, and others.
It’s important to note that this document also sets the base philosophy for conversions into 5E overall.
“Conversion of D&D material is more art than science. The aim of conversion is to arrive at something that feels like the older-edition version, rather than at an exact replication.”
It may be that all you need to do when converting is simply bring the setting, locations, NPCs, and monsters from the older module into 5E to preserve the feeling of playing the classic in a new system. There won’t always be an exact one-for-one conversion. Don’t expect to get everything in the new version exactly as it is in the old. Instead, work for keeping and enhancing the feeling of it.
Fellow D&D players at Nerdarchy have a video about conversions that’s worth a watch. In Converting D&D Published Adventures to 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Modules; Dave, Ted, and Nate discuss why they think 5E is the easiest version to convert over to, and cover some ways to do so. They also mention the term “bounded accuracy.” Keep reading, especially if this is the first time you’ve heard of it, as there is more about it coming up.
Challenge rating (CR) is one factor you’ll have to consider during the conversion process. Page 82 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide explains CR and how it applies to gauging combat encounter difficulty. In fact, read through the entire “Creating Encounters” section (DMG pgs 81-85). When converting older edition combat encounters into 5E, having a proper CR will help keep the adventure balanced on a level your PCs can handle.
Another Nerdarchy video, D&D 5E Challenge Rating System, explains more about what CR is and how it is used. They also mention XP thresholds and encounter multipliers, which are also covered in the DMG. This is where the math starts to get involved, but it’s necessary to understand how CR works in order to convert combat encounters appropriately.
And now to that term, “bounded accuracy.” Bounded accuracy is the fundamental design philosophy at the core of D&D5E, and involves establishing the limits of how difficult it is to accomplish tasks in game. There is too much to explain fully here, but the more you know about 5th edition design, the better you’ll be at converting previous editions to it. This Dungeon Master Assistance blog post and the Understanding Bounded Accuracy D&D Wiki page explain it much better.
There are obvious reasons why converting modules is a good idea. D&D has a long history, with hundreds of previously-published modules available. Just because your group has played all official D&D5E adventures doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end, when you can take those hundreds of other modules and convert them into 5E.
Official D&D adventures are designed to be played with a party of all the races and classes and skills. They simply are not designed to be played by a specific set of PCs. DMs don’t have to abide by this strict rule, and by all means, shouldn’t. DMs know their groups better than anyone else, which is a strength that can be directly applied into the conversion process. Take those old adventures and mold them to fit your PCs personalities, backgrounds, story arcs, and whatever way is needed to emphasize that these are the adventures of their lives.
As titled, this is but a brief primer about converting older modules into D&D5E, and hopefully gets DMs interested about it. There is much more to learn, and that’s best done by doing. Your players are looking for their next adventure! What’ll it be?
Have you converted any classic modules into 5th edition? Have you played any converted adventures? Tell us your experiences in the Comments!
Header and article images credit: Wizards of the Coast