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I'm getting ready to DM a 5e campaign after having been away from D&D for about a decade (back when 3.0 was still kinda new.) Back then I bought a whole bunch of Forgotten Realms reference books (like Faiths and Pantheons and Races of Faerûn).

I know there are some difference in how character stats work (skills especially), but are there any other pitfalls I might want to look out for? Perhaps balance issues related to some of the ideas, characters and situations listed in the Forgotten Realm books?

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    \$\begingroup\$ No, that's fair, but I expect it'll be a lot of work to address in a lone answer Forgotten Realms mechanical changes and setting changes from 3E to 5E; the former makes 5E borderline gibberish to a seasoned 3E vet and, to the latter, changes made by 4E alone baffle longtime Realms scholars. Nonetheless, I look forward to an answer by anyone brave enough to take it on. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 16 '16 at 5:21
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5E Mechanics are not compatible with 3.5E mechanics

While some of the same words might be used, and you could port monsters if you have a strong understanding of both systems, a lot of people would have trouble doing so. I hesitate to use 'experience' as a hallmark of ability to do so - some people play for 10 years and would have no ability to do so, some people could do so innately using other skills they have learned or developed in other circumstances.

But that doesn't mean you can't use those books in your game

The lore of Forgotten Realms is similar from 3.5e to 5e. Some changes have been made, but the general theme of the setting is the same. If you substitute the npcs' stats for 5e classes and the monsters for 5e monsters, there is no reason you couldn't even use published 3.5e adventures set in the forgotten realms.

However, due to there being some differences between the settings, deciding one will be your 'primary' source for lore would likely make things a bit simpler. I suggest 3.5e, as there's more material for it (and you already own a lot of it).

Forgotten Realms power level and 5e

A lot of forgotten realms characters, ideas, and adventures are beyond the statted mechanical options for 5e characters. That said.. so are some of the characters and ideas from the 5e books. Even for 3.5e, characters like elminster had specific powers or abilities that were not simply player class abilities but rather special 'gifts bestowed on them by gods' or some such. Ergo, there being stupidly powerful npcs that the rules don't really cover is true in both 3.5e and 5e (although to a greater degree in 5e). To that extent, the logistical challenges of running a FR game (in that there are all these random npcs with stupid powers and you have to keep track of them so you know that when the party goes to somethingport there's a super powerful ranger or whatever there who the party should try not to piss off) remain roughly the same in 3.5e or 5e, although my usual advice is to try to downplay those aspects of the FR setting as much as possible (unless you have a fan of those characters in your audience), as it takes spotlight away from the PCs and makes 'go tell elminster' the answer to a lot of otherwise interesting plot developments.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you elaborate a bit on how you would go about replacing monsters/npcs properly to maintain the balance of encounters? I mean, I am offering a lot of points, I think I can demand at least a little bit of specific detail ;). \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Carr Mar 19 '16 at 17:36
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If you follow the 5E rules and simply pull monsters (or use the monster creation rules in the DMG to recreate monsters from the 3.5E source books), magic items, and other things from the 5E books, and pull the lore (fluff) from the 3.5E source books you'll end up fine.

If you use the monster, magic items, and other stats from the 3.5E source books, it will be a disaster.

Fluff; (Noun) 1. Descriptions, lore, or non-rules information.

Crunch; (Noun) 1. Rules, statistics, or numbers.

A more detailed look:

  • You will have to recreate any encounters by using the DMG encounter building rules.
  • You will probably have to redistribute treasure and magical items using the 5e rules in the DMG.
  • You will have to use the 5e monster statistics or recreate monsters using the DMG monster creation rules.
  • You will have to adjust skill checks to use 5e skills and DCs.

Example - There is a room that has a pit to Athletics[jump] (DC 25) and 12 Orcs with short bows on the other side, one of which has a magical +3 compound short bow of strength 14 and all of this is for a party of five level 3 characters. You will have to change the jump check to Strength (Athletics) DC 15, the 12 orcs will turn into 3 orcs (or you can create orc youths that are CR 1/8 and have 5-6). The magical short bow would not exist or would be reduced to a short bow +1.

The fluff of the encounter is that there is a pit with orcs on the other side with bows one of which is magical. The crunch is DC 25 jump check, 12 orcs, and compound short bow +3.

TLDR; Earlier edition fluff = good. Earlier edition crunch = bad.

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