Thursday, February 26, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Character Conversion

Character conversion is the part my players were most concerned.  I only played in the Lost Mine of Phandelver, and had no other 5th edition experience.  I read through at least once the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master's Guide.  I did not take me long to come to the conclusion there was no pragmatic way to convert characters.  Instead, we would rebuild characters.

Rebuilding has the added benefit of the players reading through the rules enough to make decisions about their character.  Based on feedback so far, this is working as intended.  There are lots of questions.  Not just rules questions, but questions about how it matches up with how their characters were meant to be played.

Characters will be based on the default array - 15, 14, 13, 12, 20, 8.  This is primarily due to my limited experience with 5th edition and my suspicion that taking the original rolls from the other game (4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired - reroll if you get a loser) would be over powered and make it challenging for me to design encounters.  Also this has the benefit of making the players think hard on the decision to up ability scores versus taking a feat.

The basic instructions was this: Rebuild your character from first level attempting as best you can to model it after your character, as initially intended, from the earlier game.  Therefore, I am not worried if they were a multiclass and whether or not the class split was the same.  Does you character feel similar enough to make you happy?  Let us avoid having to retcon how you managed to do all sorts of things previously that you cannot seem to do now.

If backgrounds in the Player's Handbook do not fit the character concept, I have told them it is easy enough for us to create another back ground.  As I read them, they are fairly easy to develop and keep within the limits of fairness.

There are a few places where the rebuild is a little more challenging.

  • Clerics: previously they had two domains, and now they will have only one.  We are just going to have to suck this one up.  The single domains are too powerful for me to be handing out additional domain powers.  Most NPC clerics really focused on one domain over the other - so the feel should not suffer much.  I only had one player character cleric, and she may not be coming back, so the character impact may be low/none.
  • Paladin/Sorcerer multi-class character: one player used this build focusing on the Sorcerer buffs to his Paladin.  With the concentration mechanic, that is significantly different.  I think it still will be a viable character, however I gave the player the out to have an 'accident' happend to his character.  He has decided to stick with the character so we will see how it works out.
  • Sorcerer blood line fluff:  neither I nor the player liked the sorcerer dragon blood line bit about scales, or the AC with no armor feature.  It was easy enough to house rule some variation.  I replaced AC feature with draconic senses - proficiency in perception, or expertise in perception if proficiency already existed.
  • Some spells are missing: I will be creating some new 5th edition spells to give them the same capability.  That should not be too hard.
  • Magic & Masterwork item inventory:  There are just too many items in their possession to work as the 5th edition game is designed.  Masterwork items become 'nice' items worth money but having no mechanical benefit in combat.  I am going over each magic item in their possession and making rulings.  They are 8th level, so they will have some items.  All weapons with a plus greater than 1 are now +1 weapons.  Same for armor.  Other items where I feel they are overpowered will be turned into items with charges that do something similar, but not the same.  This will include every item which gives an ability bonus.  If there is interest, I would post about the magic items conversions.
Whatever money they had, they can have.  I don't see too little or too much money giving me a headache in the new edition.  I had some custom armors in the game that I will have to dial back.  I see it as important to not get carried away with high AC values or the bounded accuracy will break.  They can have their custom armor, it will just have some other benefits related to small amount of damage reduction or other useful properties.

Lastly, even those these are experienced characters with lots of role playing behind them (they are 8th level), I have asked them to fill out the character description section: traits, ideals, bonds, flaws.  I think it is good to get in the spirit of 5th edition, plus summarizing those points will help them get back into role player as we have had a several year hiatus on this game.

That is it.  I have made it sound way more simple that it was to get to this point.  So far I have one player completed his character rebuild, and others in various places in the process.  I hope to have a rebuild & restart session to get everyone up to speed soon.

The dice never lie.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: What Happens To Previous House Rules?

Addressing old house rules is an area where my conversion priorities could have come into conflict.  To recap they are:
  1. Keep the game fun, do not overwhelm with rules or required details.
  2. World over rules. There will be no retcon to force the world to conform to the rules.
  3. History over rules. See above. If necessary, there will be a minimally invasive explanation regarding anything in the rules which makes history inconsistent.
  4. Minimize house rules vs 5E RAW.
  5. The guiding principles are in order of priority.
My intent would be to make as many of the house rules go away as possible, and start our 5E experience as RAW as possible.  Fortunately, I am finding the conversion to 5E is making many of our house rules obsolete because the spirit of the rule, if not the rule itself, is in 5E.  

Below is a listing of house rules with comments on how I am going to address the rule in conversion.  Green indicates a 5E covers it well and there is no need.  Yellow indicates I am not certain but will go with 5E RAW.  Red means we still need a house rule to play the way we want to play.
  • Arcane Spell Failure for Armor: If you were proficient in armor, you could cast in armor.  Now standard in 5E.
  • Area of Effect Attack: Player attacker rolls dice instead of defending monsters.  This is a variation of players roll all the dice.  We may reconsider this again in the future, but its nice it is discussed in the DM guide.
  • Building NPCs Building Characters, Monsters & NPCs: Build these as the DM needs for encounters, not holding to the standard character generating rules.
  • Cleric Energy Blast turning replacement: Instead of the swingy turn table, and undead who stood around and took range damage until they were destroyed, clerics did damage to undead in the blast.  I am not sure we will stay with the new 5E way on this but adding they stay back until attacked at least solves part of the problem.  I am too new to the game to know if the turn results are as swingy as before.
  • Creating Magic Items: Was a revised formula for creating magic items cost vs. time options which did NOT include XP costs.  I am fine to try the RAW in 5E because there are no XP costs.
  • Critical Hits: Removed the broad exemption on undead and constructs being immune to critical hits.  Some creatures, like oozes, would be immune, but it was fewer, and if you could make a case for a critical, your 20 would give you one.
  • Death Dying and Negative HPs: Instead of dying at -10, you died if your negative was 1/3 your total original hit points, reducing the chance for higher level characters to die on one hit when they were in single digit hit points.  Also had death saving throws each turn when below 0 hit points with three failures meaning death, and a 20 meaning you stabilize.  Healing brought you to 0 hit points and then added healing to that number.  I like the 5E system as is so far.
  • Defensive Disengage: Codified what was already in the rules, but made the language more clear for our game.  Like that 5E has disengage action.
  • Effective Caster Level: Multi class characters could add levels in other classes to their overall caster level.  Other caster classes as a full level, none caster classes as a half level.
  • Flanking Rules: Made flanking easier to calculate and expanded what counted as flanking slightly.  We will play without flanking for now and see how it balances out.  We may find we do not miss it.
  • Massive Damage: We put this in place to make falling more dangerous, and to offset the fact we instituted a higher starting hit point rule.  We will play RAW for now and see if we want to use the optional massive damage rule as time goes on.
  • Paladin Smite Enemy: Ruled that Paladins could smite more than just 'evil' creatures.  Allowed that Paladins were wise enough to use their smite power against enemies appropriately.  5E seems to have this covered nicely.  
  • Shrug Off Damage: Fighters could take a standard action once per encounter and get a hit point benefit very close to Second Wind.
  • Sorcerer Character Changes: Changed Sorcerer hit dice from d4 to d6, and gave them some other unique abilities to further differentiate them from wizards, including a metamagic feat at first level.
  • Spell Acquisition Arcane & Divine: I'll skip the long complicated rule text and just say we used spell slots.
  • Spell Limits Zero Level: Casters could cast unlimited cantrips.
  • Starting HPs: Added constitution total to starting hit points.  With the change to bounded accuracy, I am much happier with how starting and later hit points balance against challenge.
  • Unified DC for Spellcasters: All spells for all levels used the same DC based on character ability score and level.  I am fine with how the proficiency bonus works with this instead of using pure level.
Notice there is no Red?  I had not reviewed each house rule in this context prior to writing up the list and assume I would have at least one thing red.  What surprised me most is how many of our house rules are now just rules, either exactly or in spirit.  This is why we are finding 5E very comfortable for us.

The dice never lie.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Divine Domains

When I first created my home brew world, one of the things I created was a pantheon of gods.  Back in 1E there were no real crunch elements gained by selecting a god, most of it was fluff/flavor.  Sometimes I would grant some rule breaking element to a cleric of a particular god, say allowing a cleric of the god of war to wield a sword (a 1E heresy - sharp weapon!) I thought having a pantheon of gods pulling strings in the mortal world was key to the flavor I wanted to have the pantheon.

The humanoid civilizations in my world tend to be polytheist - you might have a favored god, but might also pay respects to the god of travel before a long journey, or the god of healing if you were sick.  The gods might work together or jockey for power against each other.  I like the meddlesome or antagonistic stories of Greek and Norse mythology.

I created around 15 deities and fleshed them out with some details about their scope of control, who they married or who was their parent god, favored weapon (after all, this is D&D), colors, and how their priests dressed.  Gods worried about the sun, earth, sea, fire, war, travel, agriculture, vengeance, knowledge, magic, and the like.  At one point I considered stating them out like in the Deities and Demi-gods book, but reconsidered.  I was NEVER going to run a campaign where the players slew gods.  They were gods for... um... well... gods sake.

One thing I did differently though was instead of creating pantheons for each humanoid race, I decided they would all worship the same gods.  The avatars for those gods they favored might be different from what other humanoids might perceive, and they would certainly give them their own names and in some cases aspects.  As an example, I have a god of fire, vengeance, and lust known by humans as Drakka, but the Orcs know him as Gruumsh.  Drakka's human aspect has two eyes, his orcish aspect has one.  In both aspects he hates elves.

I also leave the door open to demi-gods which can be added if I need a cult for a player character or a specific adventure.

When we converted to 3/3.5E I was fortunate to find I had created a pantheon which was very close to the domains as released in the core handbooks.  Distributing the domains among my gods was relatively painless, and there was a decent distribution so that there were a fair mix of good and evil, lawful and chaotic gods and choices withing those for many of the domains.  I did not expand the domains using any additional publications beyond the three core rule books; I did not see the need and did not want to spend the time on rewrites and determining if they balanced.

Now I am at it again, trying to match the domains in the core books to my pantheon.  There will be no new gods, and no gods will be disappearing - I found a way to make everything work.  It was immediately obvious there were not going to be enough domains to cover the pantheon I desired.  So before we tackle that problem, we work with the domains provided:

  • Death - no change (from DM guide)
  • Knowledge - no change
  • Life - convert former Healing
  • Light - convert former Sun
  • Nature - convert/combine Plant & Animal
  • Tempest - convert Water
  • Trickery - no change
  • War - no change
The only one that really gave me trouble was Tempest.  I like the new domain flavor, and I really think it is superior to the old four element domains in terms of historical comparison.  However, it did make me make minor changes to the way I approached the rest of my domain conversions.  Here are the new domains for my world:

  • Earth
  • Inferno - converted from fire and flavored by Tempest thinking
  • Luck
  • Magic
  • Passion
  • Protection
  • Travel
  • Vengeance - converted from Destruction
The last part of the change was dropping the Good/Evil, Law/Chaos, and Strength domains.  Given the new outlook for domains they did not really fit, and where necessary they could easily be covered (hand waved) to another domain.

Next step was balancing/spreading around the domains among the pantheon.  In a few cases it caused a narrowing of focus for the god in question.  I many cases, it really did help me bring the flavor of the god back to my original intent.  Tempest is much more evocative than Water, and Inferno paints a different picture than Fire.  I also really like moving Destruction to Vengeance; I think the game opportunities are really expanded with that.

Major gods have three domains.  Minor gods typically have two or three domains.  Cult or demi-gods may have only a single domain.  However that is not a rigid rule, I had one demi-goddess whose scope of control was best described as a blend of Luck, Protection and Vengeance.  No god receives more than three domains.

I find that I can have a god focus on a subset of a domain without having to write 'rules'.  I just do it in role play and color.  As an example, there is a major god whose domains are Protection, Vengeance, and War.  He is concerned with war in a big way - battle fields, armies, huge sweeping events.  There is a Demi-god whose only domain is War.  He is concerned with person to person combat, usually in war time.  Rather than create special domains for the difference, I just make sure that NPCs of those two different gods behave appropriately and select the powers from that domain which are appropriate to their concerns.  Another example is the gods who are concerned with Passion.  One is the goddess of love, wine & song and is concerned with passion in that sense.  The other is the god of fires, both real and in the heart, vengeance, and the darker side of passion.  They can easily both use the same domain, but use it differently for their ends.

When the campaign restarts, I hope the players will not feel any real difference in the
pantheons.  I believe I kept to the intended feel.  The only challenge will be for Cleric characters as they must choose a single domain instead of the two allowed by 3/3.5E.  But character conversion is another post.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Character Races Allowed

Fortunately for me, the standard races in the Player's Handbook align fairly closely to what we have been using.  For the most part I will be able to transition without much fuss.  Of the nine 'races' in the book, I only consider six of them to be races with large groups, geographic homes and culture.  Dragon Born, Half-orcs, and Tieflings are playable 'races' but are rare offspring who must live within the other existing cultures.


The world is Human-centric, that is the Human civilization is where the play is focused and the Humans are the majority.  That is not to say that character to character Humans are superior, they are not.  It is just in this time in history the Human civilization is on the rise, and the other races play important parts but are not the central focus.

I would allow a player to use the variant Human trait.  I do not see exchanging four ability point increases for a skill proficiency and a feat as unbalancing.


There were no Dwarven sub-races in the world, but having Hill and Mountain Dwarves will fit nicely with the different geographic cultures I did already have.


Gray and Sylvan (Grugach) elves existed in the campaign, so High and Wood elves stats work fine and I will keep my names.  Drow are in the game but not offered as playable races.  (nobody in the group read any Drizzt books, thank the Lords of Literature).  We never played 4E in this world, so I have no Eladrin stuff to worry about.

Oh, and Elves have pupils in my world.  None of this pool of color stuff for me.


The Haflings are my gypsy sort of race, living in small communities near other races or as groups of nomads.  There were no sub-races, but I do not see the harm in allowing that.  I will be letting the Lightfoot and Stout groups live together in those groups and perhaps have some friendly and less than friendly bias between the two.

Dragonblood (Dragonborn)

Dragonborn are the race with which I have the most trouble.  It just does not fit in my campaign history, and world.  There were some very rare individuals wandering around who had dragon blood mixed in their DNA, and I have decided these will be my 'dragonborn'.  I can use most of the stats as is, but I am not sure I am going to keep the breath weapon.  I might keep it as one option and create some others.  Since I have no Dragonblood player characters at the moment I have some breathing room to finalize it.

For now I am going with the following; mechanically, Dragonblood are the same in the Players Handbook with the following exceptions:
  • Age: Dragonblood grow to maturity like the race they are part of, but can live up to twice as long
  • Size: Dragonblood are the same size as the race they are part of.
Descriptively, Dragonblood in my campaign are those who have dragon blood in their veins from a mating with a dragon at some time in their lineage. With enough time, the dragon blood might thin out and a Dragonblood parent might have a human child. How many generations is unclear, and may have to do with the potency of the dragon parent.

All Dragonblood have slightly elongated faces, though that is not necessarily a sign someone is Dragonblood. The colors of Dragonblood pupils are the color of the parent dragon type, and their hair has a tint of the same color. Skin tones run the range of human tones.

Of course, if a Dragonblood used a breath weapon, that would be a bit of a give away.


Gnomes are fine, we always had them as a playable race.  Again, we never did 4E, so we never 'lost' them.  I always envision them as chubby or stout, more like in 1E, but I am happy to let players decide if they want to be a Gnome.

Half Elf

Half elves sort of function as geographic location races, and with one off children.  I do not see a problem with stats as provided, and see no need to differentiate if the elven parent was Gray (High) or Sylvan (Wood).  Because my Sylvan elves tend towards xenophobia, there would not be very many Sylvan/Human mixes.


As presented, the Half-orc works fine for my campaign.  There are no communities of Half-orcs, you find a place to live as best you can fit in or not.


Mechanically, a Tiefling will be the same as in the Players Handbook.  Descriptively, as presented in the book they do not fit at all.  So instead, we will use the following.

Descriptively, Tieflings in the campaign are those who have devil blood in their veins from a mating with a devil at some time in their lineage. With enough time, the devil blood might thin out and a Tiefling parent might have a human child. How many generations is unclear, and may have to do with the potency of the devil parent.

All Teiflings have horns, but the size and shape can vary tremendously. All Teiflings have tails, again the size, thickness, length and other attributes of that tail can vary tremendously. Their teeth tend towards being extra sharp, and the colors of their pupils can be black, red, white, silver or gold. Skin tones can run the range of human tones plus red, however the colors tend to be more extreme. (darker darks, paler pales, etc). Tiefling hair is always dark, but the colors range from blacks, browns, red, blue or purple.

Even if a Tiefling looks almost human, there is always something different or unsettling about them around normal humans.

That is it for now.  The dice never lie.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Converting My Home Brew World/Campaign To 5E D&D

Our exercising of the D&D 5E rules via the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure turned out as a success.  The success we were interested in was not whether we triumphed in the challenges of the module, but did we enjoy and want to use the new 5E D&D rules going forward as our default game system.  The team concensus was yes - this was the D&D we wanted to play.

I was interested in restarting a campaign that left off four years ago, and four of the six players have so far expressed interest in returning.  There were a number of life-gets-in-the-way reasons for the DM and players to put that game on hiatus, which I am sure is a struggle for most long term games.  For me as a DM, there was another reason.  The players had reached 8th level and I was not enjoying the math complications of 3.5E.  Although we have not played that level yet with 5E, I have enough game experience to read the rules and project that 5E will be more fun to run at mid level than 3.5E could be for us.

Before I restart the campaign, I need to update the critical areas of the world, house rules, and campaign for 5E.  My intent is to share my experience doing so here on the blog.  Please feel free to comment along the way, it may help me resolved issues or use new good ideas.

This home brew world is an ongoing creation activity for 35 years.  This campaign alone is 80 sessions long. The world began in 1E, was converted for 3/3.5E, and will now be updated for 5E.  Although it seems like a gargantuan task, I do not believe it will be that bad.  The world was initiated using 1E, so I think the 1E DNA which is evident in 5E will make it somewhat easier to convert.  I will use the same philosophy regarding world conversion as I did with world building; it will not be built unless they are likely to encounter it soon.  So no, I will not be automatically converting every NPC in print.

There are some logistics I need to resolve.  We previously used Yahoo Groups for communication, file sharing and other campaign management.  However, some changes in Yahoo Groups over time and more importantly the lack of changes has pushed me to create a new site.  So I am going to use Google tools - Google Sites, Calendar, and Groups.  I am using groups for communcation and permission for the Calendar & Site.  Calendar is for game scheduling, and the Site will be an interactive place for campaign info, adventure logs, in and our of character posts, and all other sorts of files.  I find Google groups weak, and for some Calendar is confusing, but the capability in Sites is outstanding.  I will share some of that in the future.

The items on the top of my list for conversion include:

  • Character conversion
  • Races allowed
  • House rule conversions/eliminations
  • 5E rule 'patching'
  • Clerical Domains Missing
  • Changes to spell effects/results which may impact the world

My guiding principles in the conversion will be:
  1. Keep the game fun, do not overwhelm with rules or required details.
  2. World over rules.  There will be no retcon to force the world to conform to the rules.
  3. History over rules.  See above.  If necessary, there will be a minimally invasive explantaion regarding anything in the rules which makes history inconsistant.
  4. Minimize house rules vs 5E RAW.
  5. The guiding principles are in order of priority.

Sharing to commence soon.  The dice never lie.
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