Friday, May 8, 2015

Keep on the Borderlands 5e conversion Part 1: Introduction

It's been a while since I used this blog so figured I would dust it off and start using it again. While I have another blog over at that is about a campaign I am building, I wanted to have a space for doing some old school module conversion to the 5e rule set. I have decided to start with Keep on the Borderlands because out of every module I have ever played in or run this i the one that I always think of first when I think of old school gaming. There is just something about this module that gives me a happy gaming buzz whenever I look at it and I know many other gamers feel the same way. While I plan to make my way through almost every module printed for first ed and maybe dabble with updating the many 2nd ed settings, this is a good place to start.

Considerations on the Conversion

Before I even really get started on the "crunch" of converting this module, I have to consider a few factors. If I go in blindly and just decide to replace all monsters and encounters with little thought I am likely tor ruin the balance of the 5e game. This means I have to really look at the difference between the Basic DnD rules Keep on the Borderlands was written for and the current 5e rules. While I don't expect to many things to require that much work there are a few things I have already noticed.

Different Rules for Races and Classes

As I already mentioned, Keep on the Borderlands was written for the Basic DnD rule set. This means things like Elf being both a race and a class, Armor Class differences, Combat differences and a lot more. Basic DnD was a super simplistic set of rules that were designed to be easy to play "right out of the box" so to speak. While  the 5e rules represent this spirit a bit, the fact is the rules are a lot more complex now than they were back then specially  in regards to race and class.

Experience Curve

Experience points is probably going to be another bugaboo. In Basic DnD all the classes advanced at a different rate of experience. In 5e they all advance at the same pace. Not only that but experience rewards are a little different. Since I want to capture both the feel and spirit of this module, I have to make sure that the encounters keep the characters on a pace similar to the original work.

Because this entire module was designed for character levels 1-3 to gain several levels during their explorations of the Caves of the Unknown and the environs around the keep I have to make sure that the same happens for 5e characters. This might actually mean a bit of slow progression for players and that is something I am okay with. Back in the day it took a while to gain levels and it always felt really good when you got to add a level. This is part of the experience I want my conversion to reflect.

Encounter Balance

Another thing I will have to juggle is making sure that the encounter balance is fair and even. While Basic DnD gave some thought to encounter balance, it wasn't quite the consideration it is today. I think almost every old school gamer has stories of working up multiple characters during an adventure because staying alive was hard in those days. I lost count of the characters I have had die in this module with the basic rules. While yes, that is part of the appeal of old school gaming, I feel a conversation to a new rule set has to consider the ideas of the new rule set.

I am sure I will create a fairly normal monster progression of kobold<Goblin<Orc<Ogre etc because that was in Basic DnD but this adventure also has one of the most notorious owlbears of all time hiding out and those things have only gotten even more beastly in time (not to mention the Medusa you encounter in the temple complex) so I might have to make some changes to 5e monster stats or just put different monsters in  some areas to preserve the balance.


Out of all the things I am going to have to figure out, I think formatting is going to be the thing I spend the most time on at first. However, while I will spend a lot of time on it upfront once I have it figured out that will make future conversions a lot easier. While I am sure some people would love for me to simply re write the entire module and post it here, that is not going to happen. Instead I am going to create a bit of a "cheat sheet" that will allow DM's to use 5e stats while they work with the original module.

In the end I am sure I will have fun with this project and I hope you the reader are happy with the result. If ever you feel like I should do something different or you have a better way of handling a situation I run into feel free to let me know. While I won't promise to stick to any particular schedule with updating, I am planning to have a new part of the module converted about every other day. If this experiment goes well, I will decide which one to tackle next so feel free to suggest any old school modules you would like to see updated. Until next time, may that damn owlbear not kill your wizard with 1 hit point in the first round...


  1. In converting the module, be aware of the very different expectation of *party size*. B2 was designed for 6-9 players of 1st level who are supposed to be accompanied by a handful of men-at-arms (more if they aren't the most cautious group). That's basically equivalent of 12-15 adventurers of L1 (depending on how you view men at arms).

    That probably goes a long way to explain why you can foray against larger numbers of humanoids in the caves with some chance of surviving or at least getting out when things start getting dodgy.

    Note this is reminiscent of the original AD&D PHB cover painting. Look how many adventurers, followers and hirelings are in that painting.... I think there are 9 or more people in that party.

    Nowadays, at least in 3e-4e, they seemed to aim more at a default party of 4. So, when you redesign, keep in mind the size of force the caves were designed for and decide if you will beef up a smaller 5E party (assuming that's what you've got, like most of us) with a bunch of NPC adventurers or with men at arms and make your encounter designs reflect those assumptions.