L's Guide to Adventure Conversion
As the more experienced DM of our group, I thought I’d offer a peek into my process for converting Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures into Dungeoneers adventures in the form of a guide for those that might appreciate the info.
In adventure conversion I have 3 rules that I try to filter my decisions through:
Rule 1: challenge the characters and players alike
Rule 2: reward ingenuity and imagination
Rule 3: favor a classic party composition of cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief
I think the best way to explain my process is to simply have you go through it with me. Grab Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure #29 “The Adventure Begins” and turn to The Well of the Worm on p. 66.
STEP 1: Read the Adventure
This doesn’t have to be a detailed, memorize everything kind of read… just enough to get a feel for the theme of the adventure and how it flows from one encounter to another.
STEP 2: Create a Master Encounter Design Table
Based on the information for designing encounters that can be found on this link: Gamemastering, the Master Encounter Design Table is a frequent reference that helps me determine an “xp budget” for how much I can spend on creatures, traps, hazards, or skill challenges for any given encounter.
Starting characters in Dungeoneers are Novice Level or “0-level characters” which makes them APL 0 (Average Party Level 0). Using Rule #1 above, all encounters receive a +1 to difficulty. Here is the resulting Master Encounter Design Table (in Pathfinder, 0 level is CR 1/2):
STEP 3: Create a 1st Draft Adventure Encounter Table
DCC adventures have a great convention of placing a table of all the encounters throughout the adventure right on the first page. I recreate this table, substituting CR for EL and writing the corresponding xp.
Immediately, I notice a problem with the printed adventure: encounters with multiple threats have their EL listed separately for each threat rather than combined as a total for the encounter – that can be very misleading as to the difficulty of the encounter. For ease on this first draft, I simply combine the EL.
After creating the table, the first things to jump out at me are the CR 3 and CR 5 encounters. I’ll take a closer look at those when I start working with the individual encounters, but I know the CR 5 encounter will HAVE to be modified. Additionally, I notice the higher CR encounters are towards the beginning and middle of the adventure… I like to follow the convention that the deeper into a dungeon you go, the harder you can expect the encounters to become, so I expect to probably modify that as well.
STEP 4: Prioritize the Work
The adventure conversion doesn’t have to be 100% completed to start running the adventure. Usually keeping ahead of the party by 2-3 encounters is enough… and in my opinion, playing a couple encounters a session is a better option to not playing while a DM continues to “prepare.” Something really important for me is to run the encounters through in my head a few times before running it in real life… I really think of the party and how they’ll react, of the location description and items in the room, of the creature reactions, and of how everything will interact in real time.
The Well of the Worm is a pretty linear adventure so it makes prioritizing the work easy… the party will experience locations 1, 2, and 3 no matter what. So I’ll start with them. Locations 4 and 5 follow with some options as to what order, so that’ll be my next grouping. Then finally, locations 6, 7, and 8 (which includes the “boss fight” and the adventure conclusion).
STEP 5: Convert the Adventure
I REALLY don’t like location 1 as described… there’s no system for rewarding ingenuity (Rule #2), there’s really NO WAY to prevent or even respond to the attacks (Rule #1), and it sets up basically as an automatic damage and “save or die” situation (1d4 worms attack at +10 to hit while the characters are climbing – which in my opinion constitutes an “automatic hit” – prompting Reflex saves or fall 60 ft. or less into 20 ft. of poisoned water. No win situations are a formula for frustration and simply just not fun.
So I modify the location…
FALLING WORM LARVA HAZARD (CR 1/2)
XP 200 (only earned if hazard eliminated or prevented from activating)
I consult Traps, Hazards, & Special Terrains to get an idea how to construct the trap and decide to make it a hazard instead. Trap DCs are usually 20 or higher, but I want to allow a chance if players think to inspect the well (Rule #2). So I make it DC 15 to detect and reduce the CR from 1 to 1/2 (reducing the xp award in kind). DC 15 Dungeoneering (the worms are aberrations), Engineering, or Perception to detect the hazard (multiple types of checks in skills typical of different classes again contributes to Rules #1 and #2) earned by PCs specifically investigating the well structure. 1d4 worm larva. Ranged attack bonus reduced to +1 rather than +10. Damage still 1 point. Reflex save changed to a single DC 10 + total damage taken Climb check to avoid falling. Remove poisoned water and change dagger to non-magical masterwork with same history.
I end up with a first encounter for novice characters that can possibly be overcome by players thinking to inspect the well structure before descending, that once activated has a chance of inflicting only minor injury or peril thus warning the players to the dangers of proceeding without caution, and has multiple opportunities for the players to minimize their risk if they simply meet the challenge in their thinking, preparation, and imagination.
This location I like! It really has a creepy factor to it that sets the mood for the entire adventure and I want to drive it home. So I expand the flavor text a little by adding more sensory information beyond just sight and smell – the air feels humid, the sound of moisture dripping echoes in the distance, the ground feels slippery, the space is tight and claustrophobic, etc. This also has the benefit of creating tension for the players as they strive to consider what clues are important – the ground is not slick enough to be a hazard, but they don’t know that, etc. Finally, I find a good illustration of a slimy, alien-looking cavern as a prop for the finishing touch.
Additionally, I decide to change how the “signature monster” – the war worm zombie – operates. I’ve always been partial to zombies that grab and bite their victims once they’re unable to escape, so to get to a version of that concept I research a number of CR 1/2 or lower monsters that have the qualities I’m looking for: zombie, void zombie, giant botfly, and stirge to create an undead horror that grabs its victims and attempts to implant war worm larvae in them through its “tongue.”
WAR WORM ZOMBIE (CR 1/2: 200 xp)
This walking corpse shambles forward in relentless determination with arms outstretched, but even more disturbing is the purple-black, mucous-covered tongue that extends from its misshapen skull.
The void zombie is my biggest inspiration for the war worm zombie, but since it doesn’t capture exactly what I’m looking for and is more powerful than what I want at this stage, I use zombie as the base monster instead and make the following changes: I swap out the Toughness feat for Improved Grapple (waiving the prerequisites) and drop the slam +4 attack in favor of grapple +6. I give it a tongue attack that requires an enemy to be pinned before being used and base it off a combination of the stirge blood drain and the giant botfly sting plus infestation. I also use the illustration of the void zombie I found online.
The printed adventure calls for 3 war worm zombies in this location and since my version of the monster is CR 1/2 (xp 200) that brings me to 600 xp for the encounter – a solid CR 2. That works great!
I fine tune the rest of the encounter…
- Requiring checks within 10 ft. of the walls to determine there are corpses in the walls and a DC 15 Perception or Religion (see DC’s by Level) to avoid surprise when the war worm zombies attack. Knowing that the war worm zombies are staggered, I determine that they will charge from their positions unless already adjacent to a PC.
- Use Pathfinder rules for grapple and suffocation
- Allow DC 15 Strength or Escape Artist checks to break free if trapped in mucus
- Allow the trap door to be found with an earned DC 15 Dungeoneering or Perception and allow falling damage to be avoided with a DC 15 Acrobatics check rather than a Reflex save
This is the most straight-forward conversion so far… I simply update the Search check to a Perception check, keep all the listed DCs and swap out the camouflaged pit trap (which in PF is CR 3) for a collapsing floor (CR 1) that drops characters into a Worm Larva Pit hazard on the level below rather than causing damage.
Locations 4 to 8
The processes illustrated in this guide so far pretty much describe my approach to the rest of the adventure…
- Location 4: I determine that the point indicated for the portcullis trap on the map is the trap trigger but that the portcullis actually drops 10 ft. back. Since portcullis trap is CR 4 in PF I consult falling rocks trap CR 2 to reduce the portcullis trap to CR 2 with DCs lowered by 5 and the damage reduced to 3d6 and call it “rusty portcullis trap.” For the bugbear war worm zombie monster I simply give a war worm zombie the simple template: advanced making it CR 1: 400 xp. This makes the entire location CR 4: 1,000 xp and represents that it is an intentionally designed death trap set by the boss!
- Location 5: I convert the war worm to PF using abyssal larva as a guide. They’re only a danger if a PC is in the pit (since they can’t escape on their own) and getting out of the pit requires a DC 10 Climb check so I don’t assign an xp value to them. However, the PCs may earn a 400 xp story award if they destroy all of the war worms in all of the pits. Additonally, I don’t like the idea of the war worm zombies using tools with strategy so I continue their grapple tactics from the previous encounter but add the goal of moving their victims into the closest pit. Also, the war worm zombies are simply patrolling the room rather than stirring the pits.
- Location 6: This is the start of the “boss fight.” I see now that this encounter is more complicated than I first thought as the boss runs into multiple rooms triggering the creatures there. The boss is a level 3 dwarf which in PF makes him CR 2 (600 xp). Since this is the start of the finale and the boss leaves the encounter after the first round , I’m okay with leaving the 2 war worm zombies (400 xp) there and having the encounter go up to Epic difficulty (CR 4: 1,000) . I do however remove the tunnel trap.
- Location 7: I’m not interested in feral elves so I convert them all to dead elves and leave the room as an area to simply explore. I use the constrictor snake stats for the cave snake.
- Location 8: I use the war worm queen exactly as written (CR 2: 600 xp) and for the ogre war worm zombie monster I simply give a war worm zombie the simple template: giant and add reach 10 ft. (CR 2: 600).
The running nature of the finale can quickly add up to a CR 6 encounter, which is what should be expected when an ENTIRE dungeon is allowed to be triggered… the key word being “allowed.” It does not start out like this and the PCs have opportunities to prevent it from happening and, failing that, options to use strategies and tactics that reduce their risk since the ogre war worm zombie is attacking blindly and the boss is trying to escape. Multiple levels of success are available and winning doesn’t always mean every threat is eliminated.
STEP 6: Create a Final Adventure Encounter Table
Creating this table allows me to confirm the CR and xp totals for the locations and set up a final overview of the adventure.
STEP BY STEP CONVERSION
Step 1: Read the Adventure
Step 2: Create a Master Encounter Design Table
Step 3: Create a 1st Draft Adventure Encounter Table
Step 4: Prioritize the Work
Step 5: Convert the Adventure
Step 6: Create a Final Adventure Encounter Table
It’s my hope that this guide was useful… I know I learned even more just putting this whole thing down in writing.