Something to note here is that nowhere in the games rulebook does it state that this game is a Roleplaying Game. Not a single mention, and I think that's important to know this going into this guide. I will touch more on this later on.
The main rulebook itself contains random tables that you roll upon to determine the size and shape of the dungeons rooms, then another table to determine the contents : Treasure/Traps/Enemies/Dragons/Bosses/NPCs and so on....
I love Kobolds as enemies, I think they're so much cooler than goblins, but everyone seems to always fill their dungeons with goblins and orcs. (bloody LOTR tainting everyone's minds)
I would highly suggest getting the main rulebook and Caves of the Kobold Slave-Masters. And play them! Play them a lot before you start exploring this hybrid system. Get a good feel for the game and the mechanics as this is going to be the foundation of converting this DnD modules.
Now this is where things started to fall into place for me, while playing Caves of the Kobold Slave-Masters I came across the first pre-planned dungeon map. This was an odd concept as the bulk of the original book had been rolling random dungeons and drawing them in as you go. Each area had a number associated with it, and in the back of the books there was an entry with the same number telling you what was present in that room.
My first initial thought while playing this was "I could use this book as a DnD adventure" but I'm not a DM and my group are deep into a campaign at the moment so throwing in a new mini dungeon would just upset the flow of the game. Then I thought, what about using DnD adventure supplements as 4AD expansions!
Now before I get into the how to side of things, I want to bring up that point again about 4AD not being an RPG as such.While it shares a lot of similarities and systems with some RPGs on the market, there's actually very little role playing involved in running a 4AD adventure and its important that you know this going into my guide.
You are not going to be playing the full DnD experience solo here, you are playing the DnD adventure inside 4AD. By all means you can tweak this as much as you like, throw in extra systems such as Mythic GME for some randomness if you want to, the choice is entirely yours as you are in control!!
So lets dive in, to start with I want to point out that for this guide, the 4AD manual is actually the 3 core DnD rulebooks rolled into one. I know that may sound hard to believe, but everything you need out of the Dungeon Masters Guide, Player's Handbook & Monster Manual is all found within the pages of the standard Four Against Darkness rulebook.
So that's a great starting point! You dont NEED to buy these 3 huge gamebooks that cost quite a lot of money to start playing. All you need is the 4AD book that about the same price as a coffee and a sandwich! And not to mention how small it is in comparison, I take this little manual wherever I go but carrying around 3 hefty books? no thanks.
The published book I will be using as an example is the DnD 5e Adventure Compendium "Tales from the Yawning Portal" but more specifically, my personal favorite adventure that's contained within called "The Sunless Citadel"
This would be a great book to get you started as it contains 7 easy to run adventures all for low level characters in a really nicely presented hardback book that wont break the bank! So you could have everything you need to start playing from scratch, for around £30-35 which is the same price (at the moment) as the DnD 5e Monster Manual alone.
Now that you have your supplies ready we can begin.
1. Create a party just as you would in a standard 4AD game. follow all of the same rules as before, kit them out with the starting gear provided, name them and so on, get to the point where you would normally start rolling for your entrance room. Don't worry about anything you've heard about standard DnD character creation (remember we're playing 4AD not DnD!)
Here's a really quick party I conjured up over the weekend.
2. Select a start time for your adventure. Sometime's the book will tell you its dawn or dusk, maybe even midnight at the start of your adventure but if it doesn't, make a best guess or just pick a time you think your adventurers would get up ready to leave for an adventure. You'll want to make a note of the time before every entry that you undertake.
In the 4AD Manual, it states that it takes 10 minutes for you to enter a room, resolve combat, search, activate any traps, converse with NPCs etc. so make sure you update your current time before each numbered entry you wish to proceed with. I would also use the 10 minute rule when referencing any random wandering monster encounters too.
If the adventure references a long distance that needs to be travelled, most of the time it will say "its half a days walk from here" etc. If it doesnt state a length of time, use your best judgement. For my party as we have a dwarf with stumpy legs, I always say it takes a little longer than normal to get to where we need to go. Most importantly, note the time down!
In this example I'm going to say that my party are up at 07:00 AM, ready to head out on an adventure.
3. Start reading. Open up your chosen Adventure Module and read away. Don't be worried about reading things the book tells you is only for the DM's eyes. Read all the way up until the point where the adventure actually begins. More often than not you will start in a tavern or town somewhere learning about rumors of a dungeon, missing person or a haunted keep etc. Its fine to read all of this info, even if it mentions you need to roll for a persuasion check or an investigation/intuition check just IGNORE them. Forget any DC checks when its related to information the players should know.
You and your party are in town and you've been told all of this info by the locals over some ale and it could be true, or it could all be rubbish. It doesn't matter as its all just more content to flesh out the story.
4. Make a quest log. Start picking out the rumors you have just read and sort them all out into a simple quest list that you can refer to when you are in the dungeon. Could be that someone lost an old sword in there and you may come across a special blade that could be the one. Make a note of any rewards for these tasks too if they state that in the book. This quest log will change throughout the adventure, you may even come across NPC's in the dungeon that can offer you tasks so make sure you leave some room for changes.
keep reading and noting down potential quests until you get to a point where the book instructs you as a DM to read out the first adventure passage to the party members. In the Sunless Citadel, its a few pages in and is located in its own colored text box as shown here:
4. Choose your marching order. As the adventure is about to begin, its a good idea to get your marching order ready. Bear in mind you can change this between encounters, but you need to be ready for that first encounter (whatever it may be?). Once you have decided, keep reading on until you reach the numbered entries section
5. Start at entry 1. Nearly every DnD adventure I have seen comes with a map and some numbered entries that inform the reader of whats in the room/area and what actions are available for the players to take.
Here is the map we will be using for the fist part of the adventure, don't worry about what you can see on here, try not to focus too much on whats coming up in the future, just focus on the number you are on and read its description
In the Sunless Citadel entry #1 tells us about the "Ledge"
6. Encounters! As you can see by reading entry #1 we are about to witness our first encounter. Here's where things take a much simpler turn that you might think. We first need to establish what type of encounter this is and what type of creature we are encountering. In this example it's 3 Giant Rats. If you'd played 4AD previously you'd know that rats are part of the Vermin family of creatures.
What we then need to do is look up the rats on the vermin table in the 4AD rulebook:
Even in DnD rats aren't considered a might foe so its perfectly acceptable to substitute the 3x DnD Giant Rats for 3 Level 1 4AD Rats. I would also look at the encounter description for context about who gets to attack first.
In my example the rats are ready to pounce on the first party member to enter the area. That would be my #1 in the marching order, meaning my Barbarian will take 3 attacks before the rest of the party join in and it becomes a normal round of combat. If we had entered a room and the rats were just in there, then we would start it as a standard combat encounter.
If the guide doesn't tell you who has "advantage" then just assume its a standard encounter and we go first! Simple right!
Now these rats have no treasure according to 4AD and in the DnD adventure book it doesn't tell us about there being any treasure drops from these guys so we would proceed as normal onto the next area. Also make note of the extra wound damage modifier, make sure you use any of those if they are listed under a creature type.
Make sure you make a note of the time too! Now proceed onto the next section. At this moment in time and due to our location, the only possible options we have are to move onto entry #2 or go back to the entrance.
7. Keep Going! We've done great so far, already taken on our first encounter in a DnD adventure and its not been any different to a normal 4AD encounter. That's the beauty of this system. It's similar enough that you can work out pretty much what you should be doing using the 4AD rules without much trouble.
As we move on to entry #2, its just an empty area with a description of the ruins we are about to enter. Now is this area actually empty? that's upto you to decide. You could roll upon the Room search table in the 4AD manual if you wish?
My only amendments to this rule would be that if you roll a 5-6 and decide to take a secret door as the reward, it isnt going to be much use using the door to go into a room that doesn't exist in the pre-gen adventure is it? I would suggest that you always assume that a secret door on a room search roll can lead you straight out of the dungeon in an emergency.
Any other roll you make, sure take some treasure or roll for a wandering monster.
On a side note, this adventure has a table for wandering monsters, so if you like you could roll on this table and then find the corresponding creature in the 4AD gamebook for its statistics, life, attacks etc.
Unfortunately for me I rolled up some rats again! No treasure for my party. On to the next one...
Something worth noting is that the DnD adventure will probably be a lot tougher than a standard 4AD adventure, so you have a choice when you come across an empty room in the adventure guide. You could roll on the standard room contents table and risk fighting a boss midway through the quest. I would highly suggest just sticking to the empty room search. If the adventure module says its empty, I treat it as empty!
Again making note of how much time has passed!. 20 minutes in and we've killed a bunch of bad-ass rats, go us!!
And this is how the game will continue on from here.
8. Traps & Locked/Secret Doors! So as I continue on through the Sunless Citadel, I reach entry #3. The party are in good shape only taking a few very minor wounds from some rats along the way. We come across our first trap.
In 4AD you roll to determine if a trap is in a room or not, I believe in this instance, when we can clearly see a Trap icon on the map we are using from the DnD book, we have to assume the party is not aware.
I like the rule from the 4AD manual that if a rogue is leading the party and enters a room with a trap, he or she gets an attempt to disarm the trap and warn the rest of the party about it. As you already know whats coming up I feel like a much fairer rule would be to allow you to roll at an attempt to discover and disarm the trap as long as you have a rogue in your party! so no matter their position in the marching order, they can still call out to the guys ahead and say "don't step on that!!"
Now we still want there to be an element of surprise here so still roll for the detection and if you fail use the 4AD traps table to pick the closest trap to the one in the adventure book. make any saving or defensive throws that you are allowed to in 4AD rules and continue.
I changed my mind on the marching order rule as I thought you would just change the marching order anyway if you could clearly see a trap on the map coming up.
I also keep the optional rule for locked doors from the 4AD manual. Ignore the first roll to determine if the door is locked or not, the adventure guide will tell you when a door is locked or trapped. Roll a d6 to determine the locked doors level and then decide how to proceed. If a rogue is present in the party, they can take one roll to try and pick the lock, they need to match or beat the door level roll . failing that you can bash down the door using a strength character or a magical spell if you have one. The guidelines for this are on page 60 of the 4AD rulebook.
Bear in mind that if you destroy the door, you will not be able to close it again which will come in handy in the next section.
Secret doors are a bit trickier, Sometimes on the DnD map a secret door will be visible with a little "S" icon to show you its indeed a secret. For now I am using the idea that the party can roll as if it were an empty room search to detect the door, meaning a 5-6 needs to be rolled in order to discover the door and proceed. This is under the impression that you have already cleared the room from monsters and traps.
If the secret door is trapped, then treat that as a standard trap roll too.
If you roll a 1 or 2-4 then its up to you if you want to roll for the respective tables. It could be a pain if you keep getting caught by wandering monsters!! Remember you are the boss!
9. Resting. This is something that has been mentioned in the Fiendish Foes supplement for 4AD. I suggest picking up a copy as it does have a load of new monster tables that would be really useful when converting DnD encounters!
You can rest in an empty/cleared room that has doors you can close. There's an optional rule that you can buy a bag of nails at the beginning of the adventure to allow you to barricade up the room. While resting you regain spells and lost life points but you do have to roll to see if wandering monsters discover you while you are sleeping. If they do, you still get your life refilled and your spells back but you do have to fight.
If you used the nails to secure the room, you get to attack first as you obviously heard them breaking in and were able to get ready, if you do not barricade the doors then they get a surprise attack on you and strike first!!
If you destroyed the doors to the room you are in then you cannot rest there and will have to carry on or risk backtracking to an earlier room, and obviously risking more wandering monsters on the way!! See Fiendish Foes for more info.
No one said this would be easy!
10. Sneaking. On occasion in DnD you may be able to sneak up on an enemy or group of enemies to gain "advantage". We ignore this rule in 4AD as you always get the first attack in a standard encounter, however if it's really required for the party to sneak at any point, I would suggest changing the marching order so that the rogue is in #1 and is instructing the others on how to be quiet and follow his lead.
That way an extra element of suspense is added as you're putting a weaker character in the lead position.
11. Items and Weapons. To be perfectly honest most items in DnD are similar to those in 4AD, weapons are weapons at the end of the day, and if you pick one up that's not listed in the 4AD book, compare it to something else thats close enough and use those stats. If it's a magical weapon add the +1 ability that you get from a magical weapon in 4AD's magical item table. Bear in mind the weight restrictions of carrying too many weapons.
If there are any quest related or strange items you want to pick up like a stone tablet, or a sacred idol, go for it, add it to you inventory sheet and carry on. You may need it later on for a puzzle or a quest! Just be mindful that any items you gather that give you bonuses, you may need to find the closest item in the 4AD books and use those stats in order to not become too overpowered or too weak.
12. Monsters & Bosses. This was by far the hardest part of DnD to "convert" to work with 4AD and it's still not perfect. I think that personally, you want to be having fun when you play, not messing around doing complicated maths equations trying to find out if this particular enemy has converted correctly.
I like to use a really simple element of comparison. If for instance we came up against some "Twig Blights" in this adventure, I would look roughly at their stats, to make sure they are not listed as a boss/mini boss monster and then look at what's the closest creature in the 4AD books to use instead. On this occasion it would probably be Fungi Folk. Both creatures with similar attacks and poison abilities, both simple minions that work in groups, and they're both types of creatures that come from a sort of plant based background.
So 6x Twig Blights would look something like this on paper:
And yes! if you wanted to you could roll for reactions, remember we are still playing Four Against Darkness here!
The same goes for bosses, Luckily 4AD has loads of bosses already and various dragons and weird monsters we can use, plus there's always new content coming out from the creator.
The more 4AD modules you own, the more creatures you can compare to.
So just compare and adapt, Wyverns are like Dragons, Ogres are like Trolls who are like Golems who are like Giants. Zombies are like Undead who are like Skeletons. You get the idea.
Hopefully one day there will be a full Monster Manual created for 4AD and this part will be slightly easier to accomplish.
AND THAT'S IT FOR NOW!
The main bulk of converting a published DnD adventure is here, and yes there will be some things that crop up that are not covered here. The best thing you can do is pick something from the 4AD gamebooks that is as close as possible and work from that.
Try and keep to as many of the 4AD house rules as you can, its an awesome system and all of the sections do work really well together. If you want to change things up a little then feel free to use those random tables, that's what they are there for!
I've tried this out on a few adventure modules and it works fantastically well, even some that weren't DnD such as "Adventures in Middle Earth RPG" a cool DnD 5e style LOTR game. Im sure this system would work for any party based dungeon crawling game that has numbered entries. Get out there and try some, but most importantly! Have Fun!
I'm sure this will get updated a million times before I'm finally happy with this, and at some point in the future I may create a free ebook guide that you can print off to make it a little easier to follow.
For now I shall leave you to play some DnD 4AD Style! (or 4AD DnD style!)
Drop me a comment below on your thoughts!