Converting D&D Adventures to Ars Magica

Some people, even much admired members of this august community, have claimed that an adventure is an adventure is an adventure, that you could use a D&D supplement in an Ars Magica game with only a small effort.

I beg to differ. I see several pitfalls along the way.

To place it all in context, I'll be talking about how I think a particular supplement can be converted to Ars Magica - The Shackled City Adventure Path. The SCAP is a full fledged D&D campaign, stretching levels 1 to 20. It begins [SPOILERS!] with the PCs finding and releasing kidnapped kids from an underground hobgoblin slave trader. It is set at a city built on top of a volcano

  1. The Implications of Combat
    Combat in D&D is a fairly brisk thing, and recovery too is fast and furious. D&D adventures often are, or include, "dungeoncrawls" - hacking your way through a dungeon.

The PCs in my game spent days hacking their way through the gnomish enclave below the city. They slept in the dungeon, recovering their wounds and being fresh in the morning. All this combat would have left ArM PCs terribly wounded, unable to proceed for months. And very likely dead.

I think the amount of combat definitely needs to be lessened. This actually is the least of the concerns. The plotline wouldn't have been seriously hampered if the resistance was lesser.

  1. The World Assumptions
    The world D&D adventures assume is different from Mythic Europe in many ways. Many times adventures depend on such world elements, and including them requires twisting or abandoning Mythic Europe completely.

The hobgoblins kidnapped the children to sell them as slaves in the underdark reached through caves below the city, using nearly-invisible critters that stalked the streets at night. The opposition included a half-fiend dwarf with a demonic hound, hobgoblin mercaneries, a strange underground "client", a guest appearance of a beholder, "skulks" and "dark creepers" which are stealthy little humanoids living underground. Further underdark denziens (powerful races such as drow - dark elves) were intimated. Further adventures will involve alternate planes of existence (hell, for one), the eruption of the volcano the city sits in, independent wizards (many involved heavily in local politics), retired adventurers, powerful clerics of many faiths (several of whom live in the city), a vast area under demonic control (Infernal aura), and more...

Generally speaking, I think it's best to downplay the D&D elements. Take the plot, but put it in the ArM context. I think it creates a far better game.

For the SCAP, I would do the following: have the city not be on top of a known volcano, but rather near a long-dead one (plenty of those on earth). The enclave below the city would be a faerie-land, an area of Faerie aura once populated by gnomes/dwarfs [as in the original D&D version] but now overrun but darker faeries. The kidnapped children would be "sold" to even darker beings in Arcadia, as part of a deal by the place's ruler [the "half-fiend" dwarf] to satisfy the faeries' desire for human interaction in deep dark reaches of Arcadia.

Further plots will likewise be modified. For example, at one point a cleric of the good deity is assasinated when traveling from a city carrying wands of control water to be used in controlling flooding. It's just not reasonable that a cleric in ArM will go to purchase (magic!) wands in the big city. Some other ploy might be used instead, however. Perhaps he was returning with a relic when he and his entrouge were attacked. [By were-baboons... lot's of conversion needed!]

The most difficult part of this is are the basic assumptions. The Order - there simply isn't one in D&D. Nor is there a unified Church, nor is the party (or its leaders) largely shun by the populace (the Gift). Nor are there adventurers in ArM. This is very difficult to accomodate - just how can the magi involve themselves in the politics of the city, as the SCAP assumes they do? How can they develop the positive reputations they are assumed to have? How will the Order react to it? How is the Church related to the various polytheistic "churches" in the city?

  1. Rate of Advancement
    Another big issue is the rate of advancement. In D&D, the rate is very very fast in game-time. The entire SCAP takes places within a few months at most, and yet the characters begin by facing minor threats (level 1) but end up facing powerful demon lords and archwizards! This rate is just untennable for an Ars Magica game.

There are only two ways to resolve the issue. One is to abandon ArM's slow advancaement and focus on adventure XP and allowing quick-learning of spells. This I think does great disservice to the setting and game.

The other option is to slow down the rate of the plot advancement. This is sometimes problematic. Again, the entire SCAP is supposed to take place within a few months and some elements of the plot can't reasonably be delayed. For the most-part, I think the SCAP in particular can be slowed down, at least the initial stages thereof. (The last few stages are better connected and cannot be unduly seperated.) Even so, the plot could run only across a few years at most.

This leads to a problem in adopting D&D adventures that span many levels. Adventures that span only a few levels are much better in this respect. An adventure that spans 20 levels, like SCAP, is almost impossible to convert.

Specifically, for the SCAP, I would significantly lower the power-level of most of the main-players, making them not very powerful actually. This won't work for some of the NPCs, that can't possibly be weak while preserving the plot. I'll either skip or cricumvent their defeat or introduce a mcguffin to let the PCs prevail (a "true name" and Hermetic Synthemeta to let the PCs ignore Might, for example).

Thanks for that break-down, it makes sense, and i agree that trying to convert a twenty-level D&D adventure to Ars sounds difficult. So difficult, in fact, that you might as well play D&D.

Now, if you wanted to convert a shorter adventure, i think that would be possible, but again, you have the elements of highly fantastical creatures in the relatively normal world of mythic Europe. Unless you wanted to dispense with that setting and temporarily indulge your covenant in the setting of the adventure you are adopting.

As an example for discussion, let me introduce "The Red Hand of Doom" which is arguably one of the best adventures made for the 3rd edition D&D. It takes players from 5th-10th level, a much smaller curve than the 1-20 of Shackled City. But the premise of the adventure is that your group is staving off the invasion of a humanoid army, and that army is being bolstered by dragons and dragon-like adversaries. The difficulty factor quickly ratchets up (as in typical D&D fashion), even faster really, because you are on a rough timeline where certain enemy objectives will be reached unless you can thwart them. The whole thing takes place maybe over a month or two, although someone could draw it out.

The scale is better for an Ars Magica adaptation, but the "feel" of it is still not right. It is extremely combat heavy, although this could be toned down without much trouble. Having not played Ars myself, i'm not sure what kind of fantastic beasties are normally encountered in a campaign arc. I'm thinking that meeting a dragon would be like meeting Smaug in the hobbit, the ultimate culmination of a year long quest.

Reposting my answer to the other threasd here

You might have noted that I did not mention D&D in my list of adventures. this is because I have a pair of D&D supplements, and they are mostly hack & slash, something I find dull and boring. However, supplements that mix up combat with politics, interaction with NPC (real interaction, not going to X to have the NPC tell them the fixed Y insert in the adventure) and some action are good for me. Call of Chrtulhu and Cyberpunk work well in that area, and LOTR woerk fairly well as well (for the more roleplaying.-oriented adventures. I have never tried D&D since tthe supplements I have never interested me. So my statement might be a little bit too broad, but I think it is workable. I think that your example of infernal corruption would work :slight_smile: Also, remember thatn orcs are not much different from your enemy covenant's grogs/infernalist minions/bandits backed up by a hedgie in 99% of the situations you might encounter :slight_smile:

I will try to break down your planned adventure later, but my conclusions are likely to be similar to yours: take the plot and adventure and downplay gthe high fantasy element. Still, those sound like dark faeries captu8ring changelings for diverse fae communities out there. Fae bounty hunters.... I like it! :wink:



Interesting stuff.

I see three immense differences between AM and D&D.

  1. AM advancement is based primarily on time, where D&D advancement is based on achieving challenging adventure objectives.

  2. AM rewards magi who avoid challenges and adventures with more experience points and fewer botches. Such characters in D&D are retired from play.

  3. D&D healing is common and cheap, where AM healing is rare and expensive. A character can easily come back from severe injury or even death.

Thus, D&D adventures involve and support furious, continual and perhaps gratuitous action. AM does not allow this. Power escalation in D&D is virtually independent of objective time, but is specifically calibrated to the development of PC abilities. D&D characters are ready for the next encounter within days, perhaps minutes of the previous encounter. AM characters might take months to recover completely, if at all.

Were I to convert D&D adventures into AM adventures, I would follow a model something like "The Lensmen" series. This work of science fiction is dated, but popular and influential in its day, filled with lots of action and cardboard characters, sort of like D&D, except...

  1. The campaign spans a lifetime, with lots of downtime between major events. This downtime is used in Lensmen to build bigger, Bigger and BIGGER fleets, with STUPENDOUSLY POWERFUL technology that was discovered during the last adventure or developed for it. This downtime is also used to give the villains time to react as well. This kind of pacing suits an AM campaign, allowing years between "books" or maybe a season for the covenant to come together for some "quick" labwork to handle the impending problem.

  2. No gratuitous major encounters. There is likely to be a lot of action even when a D&D adventure is shorn of its excess violence.

  3. Escalation in spurts. Lensmen handles this fabulously. Power escalates steadily in each book, with a quantum leap at the dramatically appropriate time, setting the stage for the next book which operates at a completely different level of power from what had come before.

  4. Emphasis on group cooperation. While one Lensman, er, magus goes off on adventure, his sodalis is handling another, related adventure and he's got a team at the covenant developing something he'll need for the next one. The parallel adventure doesn't work that well for troupe play because the GM is the limiting resource, and perhaps players, but the idea that the PCs are more than just an adventuring band still holds. A D&D adventure is designed for a group that knows never to split up; AM adventures assume that the covenant will split up!

In the end, I suspect that the plot arc, some of the clever traps and better NPCs can be salvaged from the D&D adventure, but creating an AM campaign or adventure from it is likely to be less a conversion and more of a "work inspired by."