How to convert D&D 5th edition to other systems



Every month, we publish adventures in Dungeon Crate.

In case you didn’t know, they’re compatible with D&D’s 5th edition. We use the latest edition as a base for crafting adventures including monsters, NPCs, checks and overall balance. 

We use 5th edition for a variety of reasons, not least of which because we like it and it’s the most popular RPG format.

But what about the others? What about Pathfinder and Fate and AD&D and Dungeon World? 

Those are all great systems in their own ways, and we know you run those systems, too. So, if you’re running GURPS or D&D 4e or Pathfinder, how should you convert our 5th edition adventures to your preferred ruleset?

We have some ideas that can help.

Remember it’s more an art than a science. As RPG gamers, we like charts and tables that help us do these kinds of things, but there’s no infallible index to help you figure out these conversions.

Drop the specifics and go off the flavor text. Say an adventure says, “Seven skeletons will spring out of the ground and attack, but a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check will reveal the location of an artifact hidden in the rubble that will cause the skeletons to do the bidding of whoever holds it.” Don’t worry so much about figuring out the check and converting all those skeletons over to your system. Ask yourself how monsters being controlled by a magic item would work in your particular game and then set it up. How many undead monsters would be appropriate for your party? What kind of undead monster? How would a character locate the magic item?

Convert it first and worry about balance later. When you flip over a feat or a spell or other more nuanced element, it can be tough to get it just right. So what? If it’s not perfect, fix it or adjust on the fly. Maybe that fireball spell does way too much damage in the ruleset you’re using. Drop it down to something that feels more appropriate next time. (Hopefully your fellow players give you a little leeway.)

When converting specific adventure encounters, first decide how difficult the encounter should be. Encounter difficulty varies from edition to edition and ruleset to ruleset, so go with what feels right. Then start from the ground up and rebuild the encounter with the appropriate monsters. The number of monsters matters a lot less than the feel of the encounter.

Don’t feel like you need to use every detail. If an area has way too many elements or monsters, leave a few of them off. Only keep what seems most important to you or what would be most interesting to your players.

What if there’s no equivalent monster? There might not be stats available for every monster, but that’s OK. Surely, the game you’re using has guidelines for creating monsters, and you can use those. Alternately, find a similar monster and then alter its abilities slightly to fit what you need. Your players will have no idea you didn’t create it from scratch.

Most adventures don’t need much conversion work, especially if you’re just running different editions of D&D. If you’ve never looked closely, 5th edition is close to 3.5 and Pathfinder. Converting from one D&D edition to another means you can usually find the same spell or monster in the other edition without too much work. Just sub things out and roll.

Be wary of treasure. If you didn’t know, previous D&D editions were built so that magic items were necessary for characters to remain balanced as they leveled up. In 5e, those kinds of treasures are more rare, so be mindful of what your players need. Too much treasure and they may become very powerful, but too little and they might not be powerful enough.