So you’ve got this killer adventure. But it’s made for Pathfinder, and your group plays 5e D&D. That problem can be frustrating but isn’t so uncommon. Maybe you love the idea of running the epic vampire adventure Curse of Strahd, but you prefer to play Pathfinder. Or you’ve been eyeballing Skull & Shackles for years but your gaming group runs 5e.
Here’s the thing: A great story is a great story even if it’s written for a system that you don’t prefer, and it’s not too hard to convert from one to the other.
I put together this guide to help you do just that, starting with some general advice and moving into more specific guidelines.
Yeah, you read that right. Rather than going line-by-line through an adventure to adjust every monster, trap and difficulty check, just make little adjustments as you go. Most fantasy RPGs follow a similar enough format that you can simply adjust each piece as you go.
Find someone else’s conversion
If you can find someone else’s conversion, that can save you a lot of stress. It’s always a good bet to read through it a little to see if they got things right. If the converter wasn’t too good with math or encounter building, you may end up with some issues.
Do a full conversion yourself
To be honest, it’s not that hard to convert between Pathfinder’s first edition (which is based on D&D 3.5) and D&D 5e. You can do it. It might take some time, but you can surely pull it off.
Just remember the golden rule: There are no hard and fast rules. If something doesn’t seem quite right, you can change it. This is your conversion after all.
Some general guidelines when making conversions:
Focus on the most important things! You don’t have to change every single line of a module. Focus on monsters, encounter difficulty and anything that requires a difficulty check (perception checks, traps, etc.). If there’s something you don’t think the players will notice or care about, don’t bother converting it.
There is purposefully less treasure in 5th edition than in previous editions. (Pathfinder and 4e, for example, count on each player having magic weapons, magic armor and other powerful items, but 5e does not.) If you’re converting from 5e to Pathfinder, you may want to consider handing out more magic items and gold than is listed.
How to convert from 5e to Pathfinder
Though Pathfinder has loads of rules and monsters while 5e has relatively fewer, they’re actually not too far apart. For example, character levels are roughly equivalent at least through 20th level. (Pathfinder goes up to level 30, which is significantly more powerful.)
As with any conversion, you’ll want to sub out 5e monster stats for Pathfinder monster stats. Be wary of the difference in challenge rating between one set of stats and another. For example, a Pathfinder goblin has a challenge of ⅓ while a 5e goblin has a challenge of ¼, making the Pathfinder goblins a little more dangerous. (Roughly 3 PF goblins are equal to 4 5e goblins.)
That leads to a general rule of thumb: Because of the way the game is designed, Pathfinder monsters, checks and other elements are higher than 5e. In fact, 5e’s numbers tend to be roughly ¾ of their Pathfinder equivalents. For example, an armor class on a monster in 5e might be 12 while its equivalent monster in Pathfinder might have an AC of 16.
Multiply those 5e checks by 1.33 to get its Pathfinder equivalent. (And you still might want to adjust as seems necessary.)
If you don’t make adjustments, the difficulty checks and numbers of monsters listed in a 5e adventure may be a bit too easy for your Pathfinder group. Feel free to adjust them upwards just a little bit.
Also remember in Pathfinder, encounter areas are often more detailed and offer special ways characters can interact with the environment and what kinds of magic are present.
How to convert from Pathfinder to 5e
As you may have read above, Pathfinder and 5th edition are not too far apart.
You can always sub out equivalent monsters, but remember that Pathfinder’s 1st edition has six full bestiaries. That’s a lot of monsters. You might have to get a little creative (or consult 3rd party monster books) to find the right 5e-compatible monster. Don’t be afraid to take a 5e monster that has an equivalent challenge rating and simply call it by the name of the Pathfinder monster. (Your players will never know anyway.)
And as above, 5e’s checks (including traps, monster AC, lockpicking and others) are about ¾ of those in Pathfinder. So if the perception check to discover a trap in your Pathfinder adventure is 17, it should be 15 in your 5e conversion.
You may also want to eliminate some magic items, possibly converting them to their cash equivalent, and reduce the amount of treasure by half.
What about Pathfinder 2?
Paizo recently released the 2nd edition of Pathfinder, so it’s all relatively new. Until the system gets more time out in the wild, it’s hard to say how you’d convert 5e to Pathfinder 2.
But you’re in luck! Paizo released an official conversion guide to get things P2 ready. It’s available for free here. So with that in mind, you might be able to figure something out.
Kevin Coffey is a writer and editor — he operates the tabletop blog Crit For Brains — as well as a husband, dad, comic nerd, Mets fan and part-time Dungeon Master.
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