Redesigning and Converting a Classic
by Chris Doyle
How does one go about converting a classic D&D module to a modern game system? It involves many steps. And on this particular journey, I was not alone. Due to the scope of T1-4, we put together a team to tackle the tasks of converting all 128 pages of the original material.
For my part, the process started in August 2019, a few days after GenCon, and a few months after I wrapped up the conversion for OAR #4: The Lost City. It starts with a re-read of the original module. In this case, I purchase a PDF and load it onto my tablet, so it’s always with me. I had some vacation time in the Florida Keys that month and consumed much of the original modules during that trip. Next, I dig around and look for supporting material. This included the novel of the same name (written by Thomas M. Reid in 2000), the 3E Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (written by Monte Cook), and a review of pertinent sections of Playing at the World (by Jon Peterson). I even checked out YouTube videos on the old “Temple of Elemental Evil” PC game!
During this process, a have a notebook I use to jot down notes. There are no rules here, as it’s just a place to record thoughts, ideas, concepts, and whatever. I use this notebook throughout the whole process and utilize it to assist with the design process, especially when I need to visualize a concept, and make a summary list. Below are several pictures of notebook pages used while designing OAR #6: The Temple of Elemental Evil. (I apologize for the sloppy handwriting.)
The first page is a collection of early notes and concepts I wanted to tackle during this project. For example, I wanted a glossary of “Gygaxian” terms used in this book. T1-4 did not include such a glossary like other classic modules did, but I thought it would be a neat nod to the classics by including one. One of my first tasks for the other team members was to send me their list of “Gygaxian” terms they discovered in their assigned chapters. Next, you can see I wanted to add a rumor list, and have a defined appendix of player handouts. You can also see my two directions for the inspiration of the pre-generated player characters. I ended up using the names and classes from G1-3 (adjusted to 1st level, of course!) since the “supermodule” T1-4 was designed to be the opening of a campaign that culminated in the GDQ series of modules.
The next picture is a two-page spread. On the left is our final few encounters from the Moathouse Dungeon. For balancing purposes, I wanted to list each encounter, the monsters (including CR), and the adjusted XP of the encounter. I also included any notes on the source of the monster in question (the giant crayfish, for example). On the right is my collection of early notes on potential wilderness encounters in the region around the Temple. Note that I didn’t use all of these early concepts (the bugbear lair, for example), but most were used.
The final page is another example of jotting down notes, or even working on a design and then not using it all! In this case, early on I was thinking about adding a 3rd level to the Moathouse Dungeon. This hidden level would have an old wizard lair, another nest of ghouls, and a minor temple dedicated to elemental evil. I was thinking of adding a carrion crawler (a true classic D&D monster), a gelatinous cube, and an imp (or quasit) trapped in a magic bottle. There was to be a puzzle/trap on the steps, and you needed to collect gems from the first two levels of the dungeon (from the original text) to access each element’s sub-temple. A construct guardian in the center room would be able to deal random elemental damage each round. Ultimately, I wasn’t pleased with the design as it was too similar to the Temple itself, and it felt “tacked on” to an already very tightly designed dungeon for inexperienced players. So, it doesn’t appear in OAR #6.
Then come the spreadsheets—two in this case. One was for the overall project, to track assignments, due dates, and word counts. The second was much more robust and included 15 tabs! One of the trickiest parts of doing an official WotC 5E conversion is designing new monster stats. The old classic modules feature many monsters that have not been converted to 5E. Or have they? They might not be in the core Monster Manual, but instead in another official WotC book. If this is the case, we need to faithfully reproduce the WotC stats in full, as we can’t assume the customer owns every 5E book. There is also a chance that Goodman Games might have already converted a classic monster in a previous Original Adventures Reincarnated book. With five previous volumes by two authors, it is becoming an extensive list. But if the monster has not been converted yet, then we need to develop “official” 5E stats for it. Having a spreadsheet that tracks the source of the monsters is essential for the editorial team to hunt them down for review and edits. Luckily, Goodman Games has internally developed a third spreadsheet to track all of these official 5E creatures!
Below is a screenshot of one page of our Critter Roster for OAR #6, depicting the Water Node chapter. We have a separate tab for each chapter. You can see that we list the encounter area, the source, the CR and XP values, and any additional notes on the source or any tweaks we might have done. If the source is listed as New, it means we converted it to 5E for this book. “IoD” indicates the monster was already converted for OAR #2: The Isle of Dread and “FEF3” indicates the monster was converted in Fifth Edition Fantasy #3: The Pillars of Pelagia. If the code “ItB” appeared in a field, that would indicate OAR #1: Into the Borderlands, and so on.
I began converting The Temple of Elemental Evil in late September, 2019. By the end of the year, we had the entire design team (four members) in place, busy with converting and designing new material. In mid-June 2020, and 240,000 converted words later, I submitted the first draft to the editorial team (who shall be called “Tim”). The final few months of the project were a grind, occurring during the initial pandemic lockdowns. But in retrospect, being in lockdown improved my focus on the finishing stretch of the project. If the world was a more normal place, I’m assuming that “real world” distractions would have delayed the first draft at least another few weeks and maybe even a month or two. Of course, that was not the end of the journey: next came playtests, revisions, additional design and redesign, art and cartography requests, layout, checking and rechecking. Roughly seven months later, 732 pages in two volumes were sent to the printer.
The quest was now complete!
Original Adventures Reincarnated #6: The Temple of Elemental Evil is now available everywhere. Check your FLGS for your copy today, or you can order it through the Goodman Games Online Store.