Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0904
Backers of my Demonplague Kickstarter are asking how to convert their setting to mine and vice versa. Here’s my recipe on how to convert an adventure to just about any setting.
I’m making one assumption here: we’re staying within genre.
Also, my recipe is mostly geared towards fantasy settings converting to other fantasy settings.
What’s the personality of each world? I like to start here because tone and theme are created on purpose in well-designed worlds.
The noir of Eberron versus the factions and politics of Greyhawk versus the cultural depth and diversity of Tékumel, for example.
World builders will go to great lengths to make setting elements jive together for this distinct experience.
So you want to identify tone of the destination world and ensure it’s maintained in materials you bring over from the source world.
Look for meta-level mechanics, features, and quirks of a setting to help figure this out.
For example, sky ships, lightning rail, and dragonmarks combo to make noir and faction play visceral in Eberron.
A quick way to do this is describe tone of the destination world in three words or phrases.
The Demonplague default world is post-apocalypse, sword and sorcery, and social/community factions.
Every world has common elements. At minimum you’ll want to convert these over in name. You might also need to port over or translate related mechanics.
For example, the gods. File off the names and change over. However, look a bit deeper to see how cleric PCs, certain cultures, and magic items might need tweaking.
Here’s a quick list of tent pole world elements to at least convert names for:
- Names of continents, the planet, the world
- Gods and notable divine servants
- Calendar: years, month, weeks, days, holidays, special dates
- Countries, kingdoms, regions
- Currencies with possible conversion rate tables
In The Demonplague we have sidebars with conversion notes where applicable.
We’ve also kept things simple. Gold pieces are called gold pieces, for example. And the valley is standalone with a frontier style culture, and can be dropped into any map.
Our core mission here is to translate the world embedded in an adventure to your world.
So we want to look at the regions and geography important to the adventure and find a good spot in your world that matches.
We first want to identify geography essential to adventure sites. These are often difficult to change (new maps required, backstory often affected, etc.) so it’s best to find an apple to apples zone in your world.
For example, if a volcano houses the key dungeon, chances are many foes and locations are fire-themed. You can spare yourself conversion time if you can find a good place for a volcano in your world.
Geography affects climate and weather. In general, we care more about the latter. Adventures often take only weeks of in-game time to finish. So we don’t worry about long-term trends.
We only care about ensuring rivers flow in the right direction, we don’t put forests in deserts, and seasonal weather meshes.
We also want to match monster territory with what makes sense with your game system.
The Demonplague is a self-contained valley for this purpose. It’s a microcosm, making it easy to plunk onto your map. It needs a bit of coastline (large river, lake, or ocean will work), mountains on two sides, and a forest (desert, swamp, or other difficult terrain) on the fourth side.
The Icetongue glacier was magical. Bringing it back is also a magical option successful heroes will have. So you don’t need to worry about a cold clime.
You can make Luna Valley a “lost world”, a remote location, or just hard to get to ala the mountains and forest boundaries. This is needed so you get the local post-apocalypse theme to work.
The rest of your world can be suffering, thriving, war-torn, or lush without affecting the adventure.
Here we get into it depends territory.
If cultural diversity plays an important role in setting tone and play, then you’ll want to put some time into this area.
If you can simply scrape off kingdom names and replace with yours, then do so and you’re done.
I made a handy tool to create cultures on-the-fly. You can use this as a good translator if you need to convert one or more societies important in the adventure to your setting.
Check out the 3 Line Culture tool. [RPT#599 3 Line Cultures: How To Inject Races and Factions With Flavour]
The Demonplague references five cultures (abstracted, they are elves, dwarves, humanoids, aberrations, and imperial humans). However, they are all historical and given light treatment with minimal 5E rules impact.
Conversion is quick. Either make these cultures local to the valley, use them as-is, make them “lost” historical races, or rename them to match your world’s equivalents.
I should also define culture here. For the purposes of adventure setting conversion, a culture is any group of people, beings, or sentient critters with its own identity, world view, and goals.
My definition would therefore encompass races, guilds, cults, social classes, economic classes, religions, regional communities, clans, and so on. Ideally, any group that will affect gameplay in a unique way.
The Demonplague gives a lot of treatment to Tomar’s Crossing and the factions within it, all of which are portable. For example, the noble’s faction from the ruined city of Safeharbor is self-entitled and believe in strict social hierarchies. The nobles are not feudal, capitalist, evil, or religious out of the box. You can skin them any way you like.
Movers & Shakers
Are there powerful groups, NPCs, or conflicts central to your world or the adventure region?
If so, you’ll want to overlay these onto the adventure you’re converting.
Gods are an easy thing to spot. But other situations might require careful reading.
For example, perhaps two races in your world are brutal enemies. However, in encounter #XYZ, NPC prisoners from each race are listed as happy allies. You’d want to decide if this is a weird exception, change the relationship to enmity, or rationalize a temporary but frigid truce.
Likewise, if there’s war on the doorstep but the villages, towns, and cities are not in a war stance, you’ll want to modify that. All the smiths are making swords instead of ploughs. Patrols are alert and closer to borders. The capitol is busy levying taxes and troops. And the peasants are fearful and headed to relatives deeper in safe territory.
Another example is your powerful NPCs. If mighty wizards and necromancers play important roles in your setting, and the adventure seems to have too much or too little magic, you’ll want to explain why or adjust.
A quick list of movers and shakers that might affect the adventure’s backstory, plot line, and encounter situations:
- Meddling gods, religions and their dogmas
- Rulers and their policies and laws
- Major race relations
- Faction goals, tactics, and conflicts
- Monster type themes and exclusions
- Commerce, trade, and supply of goods
A key category we should shine a spotlight on here is villains. My favourite!
Can the villains of the adventure be tied back to villains in your world? Do that where possible.
Look at the adventure’s factions and draw a solid or dotted line back to your favourite villains as an easy way to extend villainous tendrils and purposes.
In The Demonplague it’s all self-contained.
The people-factions are based on people living in the Luna Valley and trying to preserve their old values while adapting to the post-deluge reality.
The big monster factions are humanoids (goblins, giants, etc.), demons (guests of the GM), and minions of the villain Ralekai.
At this point you’ve done a significant translation of the adventure’s world to your world.
As you move or change elements ensure you update thematic elements to your world’s tone.
Your world might also contain game-changing outlier elements not on the usual checklist. I’d identify these first and decide if you have to deal with these first in your adventure conversion or later on in the checklist.
For example, if your world is made up of an archipelago of small islands floating in the sky, you will want to hit that immediately. Does the adventure require travel? Do you need to space adventure sites across more than one island? Does mode of travel and speed affect the adventure timeline or constraints?
We believe we’ve made The Demonplague suitable for most fantasy settings. If you have a unique element in your setting that you are worried might not suit the adventure, just give us a shout with the details.