Adventures in Adventure Conversion

This year, I’ve signed up to facilitate and/or run at least seven 2-hour time slots for Games on Demand at GenCon.  I’m planning on bringing Hollowpoint, Fiasco, Lady BlackbirdDungeon World, and possibly Durance.

In preparation for Dungeon World, I’m going to bring at least one adventure for a 2 hour time slot.  So this weekend, I began my preparation.

I decided to take this opportunity to review several of my old D&D 1E adventures. For the most part, these are adventures that I have not played in and have only recently acquired – traded for within the last 3 years. I’m likely going to convert one of these adventures.

I thought about going easy, and grabbing MJ Harnish’s conversion of U1 – Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, but decided I do a little work for the community and convert another module.

A1 – Slave Pits of the Undercity

The first adventure I pulled off the shelf was A1 – Slave Pits of the Undercity. It was originally designed for GenCon XIII (1980) tournament play.  I figured that would be a great start for reading.

The first section of the adventure is a very linear dungeon crawl, and felt very inappropriate for Dungeon World.  It was specifically designed for tournament play using D&D; Many of the set pieces were tightly dependent on the D&D rules.

One thing that turned me immediately off was the extremely linear map.  Dungeon World is about playing to find out what happens – exploration.  And plodding through a linear map is the anti-thesis of exploration.

Kingdom of Ghouls – Dungeon Magazine #70

For a brief moment, I flirted with converting this adventure. But quickly realized the scope of the adventure is too grand in scope to properly convey in a 2 hour time slot. That said, I may still consider a micro-conversion.

The challenge for this adventure is that the players are going up against an army of ghouls and need to muster troops to assault the growing plague. With the “War” Kickstarter stretch goal for Dungeon World, I may yet convert this.

T1-T4 Temple of Elemental Evil

I picked this up a month ago, and had yet to read it. I have heard numerous tales of the Moathouse, so I figured I’d give it a read through.

I love it.

It has a narrow-broad-narrow dungeon design, that is to see the front door is easy to find then things open up, but ultimately steer you towards the “exit.” There is room for exploration without loosing site of the final goal.

The random encounters feel very much like the soft moves described in Dungeon World – some are noises in the distances, others are monsters revealed.

There is more than one thing going on within the Moathouse, not quite factions, but certainly a handful of overlapping themes.  Each of the rooms provides

B2 – Keep on the Borderlands

With Wizards of the Coast releasing the Caves of Chaos for the D&D Next playtest, I thought “Well maybe I should spin this through the Dungeon World centrifuge.” For a 2 hour time slot, this looks like there are too many rooms to account for.

Observations

In reading these old modules, it becomes clear that exploration and clever play is at the fore front of earlier incarnations of D&D. The adventures are extremely compact, with little space devoted to each room. D&D 3.5 and 4E adventures change their focus and instead worry about creating “memorable” set pieces – placing monsters and hazards within a room.

Yes those conflicts are memorable, but as a whole can feel disjoint. Contrast this with an older adventure, where the dungeon is the set piece. Implied motion permeates the adventures – random encounters and alerting other areas – and as such the concept of a single room having a combat map is somewhat absurd.

In reading the adventures, it is clear that the adventures reward smart play. If you tip off the monsters that there is a strong force attacking, they flee, taking their treasure with them.  Or if you may choose to carefully explore a tangential place in hopes of grand treasure.  And remember, in older versions of D&D, XP primarily comes from treasure not slain monsters.

Old D&D rewards the “leave no stone unturned, so long as your turn it over carefully” kind of play.  Very different from the slash your way to victory that I have seen in so many later incarnations.

Even the texts of the adventures encourage exploration by the DM. There are subtle environmental cues – a greased door, a barrel of vinegar – that tell a larger story, but only if the DM explores those relations. These old modules have a minimalist approach with subtle flavors and textures.

Postscript

I believe I will be using the “On Set Design” blog post from Hack & Slash’s blog as a template for the conversion.

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in Adventure Conversion

  1. Hi!
    I am very curious to see how Set Design works with Dungeon World. It’s really about maintaining player focus in a room by room dungeon crawl.

    Does it work the same as Dungeon World?

    I just recently ran U1 for my players. It was exciting and covered maybe six sessions. I cannot see how the conversion I saw could produce a similar depth of play. Perhaps you could write a bit on the virtues of Dungeon world?

    Thanks for the link!

    • @nexusphere The sense I got from “Set Design” was to create immediately scannable information for each room. The effect of immediately scannable material is that a GM can quickly summarize the cursory information that a PC “sees” and the GM can also quickly respond to further queries. Ultimately, I believe your assessment is correct, I just wanted to explicitly state the how it happens.

      Having never run U1 in either Dungeon World nor D&D 1E, I’m going to speculate on how the richness emerges in both.

      Consider the principles of Dungeon World:
      https://takeonrules.com/2011/09/05/cribbing-ideas-from-apocalypse-world-and-dungeon-world-for-bloodstone/

      Then consider the interpreted principles of Moldvay D&D:
      http://www.latorra.org/2010/09/28/the-principles-of-moldvay-dd/

      The richness emerges in the interactions between PCs and GM. The questions asked of the environment. In Moldvay D&D, the implicit response required of “The orc charges you and hits for 3 damage” is modified in DW to “The orc charges you. What do you do?”

      Moldvay assumes cautious play on the players part, otherwise they will stumble mercilessly into trouble and require all kinds of potential saving throws (which if memory serves in my conversation with Mentzer, saving throws existed in large part to give your character a chance to avoid something that you as a player may have stupidly/naively done). Contrast this with Dungeon World, where the questions and cadence of soft moves building to hard moves. The players may even have greater control, only in the fact that they are answering questions and responding to threats.

      I believe Moldvay D&D strongly rewards preparation before any encounter. There is a strategic and operational beauty in early editions of D&D that sadly drifts towards the tactical. I believe Dungeon World is not as strategic, though does have some similarities at the operational level.

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