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At my public library, I have ready access to resource books from older editions of D&D (only 5e are in heavy demand). Most of the books at the library are 4e. I am interested in converting some of the adventures and/or campaign settings for use with the 5e group I DM.

How can I convert these 4e adventures to 5e?

My background is a few years playing and DMing AD&D back in the 80s, then nothing for 35 years. I fiddled with the 4e beginner's set and now play 5e.

I have no experience converting. Currently my group is playing HotDQ. They enjoy it, but I find it a little railroad-y and want to expand the world.

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The general principle of conversion is to keep the general sense of the original, but be prepared to throw out all the numbers and game mechanics which will not apply in the new edition.

Adventures

Many things can be used as-is. Dungeon maps, overland maps, plot hooks, general storylines, and so on, can be used with little or no changes.

When it comes to monsters, you basically need to create new encounters based on 5th edition monsters and encounter building guidelines, using the 4th edition encounters as inspiration. 4th edition encounters are too different: 5th edition has no equivalents of elites or minions, and its monsters may be different level to their 4e counterparts.

Give out treasure based on the D&D 5th edition expectations of gold and items, rather than the 4th edition standards. 4th edition had the assumption that you could buy items with gold, and that edition's treasure system was different in general. You probably want to insert similar items to the original where possible.

In general, you want to adhere to 5th edition sensibilities and design, forcing the 4e material to change to adapt to that, rather than the other way around.

Another thing to note is that 4th edition goes up to level 30, whereas 5th caps out at level 20. It's somewhat arbitrary how to translate the level difference, and you'll want to adapt the adventure to your party's level anyway.

Settings

Most of settings books can be used without modification. They're full of rules-neutral material like maps, history, politics and setting lore. All the basic concepts are still there, like fighters, wizards, characters who increase in level, and so on.

Some of the free 5th edition Unearthed Arcana material includes statistics for setting-specific material, such as the warforged and shifter races for Eberron.

Remember, also, that it's your world, and you're free to invent new things and fill in the blanks as you wish. A lot of world things don't actually require game statistics unless you're going to be fighting them.

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In addition to Quadratic Wizard's answer, there is a document published by WotC, Conversions to 5th Edition D&D, version 1.01, that gives guidelines for converting previous edition material to 5e. The guide states that it is difficult to do a 'quick conversion' of 4e adventures during play (page 4), but goes on to offer some tips to do conversions. When doing so, selecting an appropriate level of adventure is important.

Characters of a level in the middle of a suggested level range are likely to find the most challenge with the least overt risk of excessively difficult encounters. In any case, adventures along the lower and middle parts of the level spectrum work better with quick conversion.

The document also offers guidance on 'Careful Conversion' of adventures, and conversion of Player Characters, Monsters, and Treasure.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "4e adventures may be given a 'quick conversion' during play (page 4)" : it states "The fifth edition of D&D is fairly compatible with ad-ventures from the first, second, and third editions of the game—enough so that quick conversions of adventures from such editions are possible", so no quick conversion from 4e to 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – Raton-Laveur Aug 11 '20 at 9:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Raton-Laveur The document literally states "Fourth edition adventures are usually amenable to quick conversion," at the end of the first paragraph under the "Quick Conversion" section. The document then procedes to decribe how that can be accomplished. The portion I quoted in my answer is from the third paragraph in that section. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Aug 12 '20 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, the original version had a typo, the version 1.01 of this document from 2016 corrects it and does state Fourth edition adventures aren't usually amenable to quick conversion \$\endgroup\$ – Katamari Nov 22 '20 at 4:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Katamari Thanks! I have revised my answer accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Nov 23 '20 at 17:25

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