“I could but tell them how I had just emerged from dungeon and jacket in the morning, and without rhyme or reason, so far as I could discover, had been put back in the dungeon after being out only several hours.”
— Jack London, The Star Rover
The only problem with dungeon crawls is there aren’t enough of them. I don’t mean that in a lived-experience sense, or even in a per-game sense. I mean, when you’re running a 13th Age game, as I have been for a good while now, there just aren’t enough dungeon crawls available that fit: a) your party’s level; and b) the general parameter of where the campaign sits at the moment. To say nothing of the paucity of dungeon crawls set in the Hellenistic-era Seleucid Empire, but I admit I’ve pretty much made my own bed in that particular case.
Don’t get me wrong: the dungeon crawls we do have are great! If your characters are ready for them, go right ahead and toss them into the maw of a living dungeon and wait for the chewing to commence! But any given dungeon, no matter how great, might not be right for your campaign, or at least not right now. For more impromptu encounters, I have put the Battle Scenes books to good use everywhere from a volcano in Sicily to Mt. Hermon in Coele-Syria to a dusty provincial capital in Parthia, but they’re necessarily somewhat open-ended and thus require a bit of chivvying the PCs that a good old “march down there and kill ’em” dungeon doesn’t.
Fortunately, there are approximately eight billion other dungeon adventures available for Those Other F20 RPGs, and after a bit of skeptical poking I have become a total convert to totally converting them to 13th Age. And by “totally converting,” I mean, “doing just enough.” (If you want to see Whoa Plenty Converting the other direction, allow me to point you at Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s 5e conversion of Eyes of the Stone Thief.) Let me provide you guidance on such enough-ness, by way of three examples from my own campaign.
For the first dungeon, the characters were 4th level, in Ephesus in Asia Minor. I knew I wanted a drowned city, as Lysimachus drowned Old Ephesus by re-routing a river in 292 BC. (In my history, it was a siege; in our history, it was exuberant urban renewal.) On the advice of Will Hindmarch, I converted Dragons of Despair, an AD&D 2e adventure (Levels 4-6) by Tracy Hickman (the first of the Dragonlance series) to the city of Old Ephesus. For the second dungeon, I needed a fire temple, as my players (by now 6th level) were headed to the Zoroastrian shrine Adur Gushnasp to recover their occultist and the Ark of the Covenant, which the duplicitous Persian magus Gaspar had stolen with a dimension door. At Dark Side Comics & Games in Sarasota I thumbed through all the Pathfinder adventures (on the grounds that a fire temple should be jam packed with Stuff) until Legacy of the Impossible Eye (for 11th level PCs) fell into my hands. At ChupacabraCon in Austin, meanwhile, I had picked up a pretty cheap copy of the original AD&D 1e Against the Giants compilation, and I confess to planting the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (for Levels 8-12) deliberately in the (7th level) characters’ path on Mount Kaukasos. So, how did I do it, and how can you? Easy, that’s how.
Step One in dungeon conversion: Find a module that fits where your characters are already going. This might just be “a dungeon,” if they’re that kind of wandering monster-killers, but in my case it needed to be a drowned city and a fire temple. I just held on to the glacial rift until the PCs decided to go gather Prometheus’ blood from the top of Mount Kaukasos, and turned it into the “front door” of the mountain.
Step Two in dungeon conversion: Convert or replace the monsters. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. First, most dungeons only use a few monsters, and many of them already have direct 13th Age versions. Second, 13th Age monsters are very easy to shift up or down the scale if need be. As it was, for example, I took the Dragonmen and Gully Dwarves from Dragons of Despair and made them Drakonae (blackscale kroma dragonics) and Khudi (my Greekified name for c.h.u.d.s, but using kobold stats). Frost giants are pretty much frost giants, so no swapping required. I did swap Indian giants, or Daitvas (re-skinned ogre magi), in for the fire giant ambassadors in the original G2, mostly because we’d just had a lot of fire giants in Legacy. Swap (or stat) out as many as you think the players will encounter that session, or do it all at once if you’re fancy. I didn’t change numbers appearing, treasure (except to cut back on permanent items in favor of gold or healing etc. potions), or traps, because a dungeon is supposed to be pretty grueling. Well, I lie; I added a garrison to the fire temple in Legacy, since it was supposed to be active not abandoned, but I left everything else in place, just changing “former council chamber” to “council chamber” and the like.
Step Three in dungeon conversion: Find the “special thing” in the dungeon and replace it with whatever your PCs are looking for. In Dragons, it’s the Disks of Mishkal; they became the Tablets of Cadmus, the first writing. Also I put the mummified Queen Thalestris of the Amazons (and her Sword) in an otherwise empty chamber because the Amazon PC needed something special, and Ephesus has always been an Amazon city so an ancient queen mummy fits in. The temple in Legacy came with a prison (for the occultist) and a treasury (for the Ark instead of the Eye), so that was easy. The giants are just there to man the killing gauntlet in G2, and the exit is the special thing, so it became the passage to Prometheus’ cave.
And that, can you believe it, is literally it. If you’ve ever run dungeons before, you’ll find all the old reflexes coming back: add wandering monsters, tangle with the PCs like the inhabitants would under attack, use the terrain tactically, make the players work for those empty rooms where they can get a little rest. You don’t even have to sweat levels if you don’t want to: 13th Age characters are insanely robust compared to D&D hobos, so even twice the level isn’t really stretching it. Remember, monster conversion has already done most of the work up-gunning the dungeon, and traps aren’t supposed to be a thing in 13th Age. So delve into those used module bins, and escalate without fear.
13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.