Dungeons & Dragons: How To Update First Edition Monsters to 5e

Out with the new, in with the old.

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Update First Edition Monsters to 5e

Dungeons & Dragons has been around for half a century, and in that time several editions have been released with updated rules and mechanics. Often this is for the best, but not everything from older editions gets updated for the next edition immediately, and some monsters, mechanics, races, and classes are never imported before the next edition comes out. So what can you do as a DM when you stumble across a cool monster First Edition that you want to use in your Fifth Edition campaign?

You can't just pull a monster directly into newer editions because the way stats and mechanics work changes over time. For example, 18 Armor Class (AC) was only decent in 3rd edition but can feel impenetrable in 5th. That's why you need to both import and scale your monsters. So listen up, Dungeon Master, and we'll guide you on how to modernize your favorite monsters!

Why Update Monsters?

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Update First Edition Monsters to 5e

The Monster Manual gives you plenty of monsters to work with for a basic campaign, and additional supplements have additional monsters. But they aren't exhaustive. What if your story hinges on the party encountering a steel dragon, but there are no contemporary stat blocks? What if you find an obscure monster in an old Dungeon magazine at a flea market, one that your players would love, but it's never been used outside that forty-year-old magazine?

You could always homebrew a monster with a similar theme, but it's reasonably simple to convert an existing stat block. That way you won't need to worry about accidentally making your monster far too weak or strong for your party to handle. Fortunately, first and second edition monsters are relatively simple to update as long as you aren't trying to do a full conversion.

Updating Your Monster

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Update First Edition Monsters to 5e

Armor Class

To convert your vintage monster's armor class, take the provided AC and subtract it from 19. If you happen to find a monster with negative AC to convert, follow the same formula, but don't allow the converted AC to exceed 22.

5th Edition AC = 19 — 1st Edition AC

Hit Points

In First Edition, eight-sided dice were used for monster hit points, and all monster entries include Hit Dice (HD), the number of d8s to roll to determine their HP. This makes calculating HP simple: Just take the listed HD and multiply by 4.5.

5th Edition HP = HD × 4.5

Speed

To calculate movement speed, multiply the given speed by five. Do this for each speed category, except for web speed. If a monster has a web speed, give it the Web Walker ability found on creatures such as the Giant Spider.

5th Edition Speed = Speed × 5

Attack Roll Modifiers

Rather than using both ability and proficiency modifiers, calculate a flat attack roll modifier using the HD. Divide HD by two, and add two for a maximum of +12.

5th Edition Attack Modifier = 2 + HD/2

Saving Throw DCs

Monsters with attacks, spells, or abilities that require a save should have their save DC calculated based on hit dice. Simply divide HD by two and add eight.

5th Edition DC = 8 + HD/2

Saving Throws

Monster saves can be classified as good, bad, and neutral. Use your best judgment as to what kind of saves a monster should be good at, and for those rolls, apply a modifier of half the hit dice plus two (2 + HD/2). For neutral saves, use no modifier, and for saves that the monster should struggle with, use a negative modifier up to -4.

Stats

Stats are the trickiest thing to update, because none of the contemporary stats were used in the earliest editions except intelligence, which is only described as a range, not numerically. For intelligence, use the following conversion table:

1st Ed. Description

5th Ed. INT Value

Nonintelligent or not ratable

0

Animal intelligence

1

Semi-intelligent

2–4

Low intelligence

5–7

Average (human) intelligence

8–10

Very intelligent

11–12

Highly intelligent

13–14

Exceptionally intelligent

15–16

Genius

17–18

Supra-genius

19-20

Godlike intelligence

21+

For other stats, try to find the most similar monster in 5th edition and use that creature's stats, adjusting as necessary.

Spells And Abilities

If the legacy monster has any spells or abilities, the easiest way to update them is to look for the nearest analogs on a contemporary monster or sourcebook and copy them directly. If a devil can throw a fireball, give it the Fireball spell as an ability. If it attacks with claws, copy the Rake attack from a lion or tiger in the Monster Manual.

Many monsters have additional abilities described in their text box rather than in a stat box. Be sure to read through the full text to pick out all relevant abilities!

Groups And Treasure

1st Edition monsters tended to come in larger groups and carry more treasure than in later editions. As a rule, decrease the number of monsters in a group if it exceeds five in 1st Edition, and normalize treasure to your current adventure.

Sample Monster

Dungeons & Dragons: How To Update First Edition Monsters to 5e

To demonstrate how effective this method is, let's apply it to a classic monster from the 1979 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual and then compare the results to the same monster in the 5th Edition Monster Manual. For this demonstration, we'll use everyone's favorite miniature dragons: kobolds.

Here's the kobold stat block from the AD&D Monster Manual:

KOBOLD

FREQUENCY:

Uncommon

NO. APPEARING:

40-400

ARMOR CLASS:

7

MOVE:

6

HIT DICE:

1-4 Hit points

% IN LAIR:

40%

TREASURE TYPE:

Individuals J, O, or Q (×5) in lair

NO. OF ATTACKS:

1

DAMAGE/ATTACK:

1-4 or by weapon

SPECIAL ATTACKS:

Nil

SPECIAL DEFENSES:

Nil

MAGIC RESISTANCE:

Standard

INTELLIGENCE:

Average (low)

ALIGNMENT:

Lawful evil

SIZE:

S (3' tall)

PSIONIC ABILITY:

Nil

Attack/Defense Modes:

Nil

The society of these creatures is tribal with war bands based on gens. The stronger tribes rule weaker ones, Kobolds are usually found in dank, dArk places such as dismal overgrown forests or subterranean settings. They hate bright sunlight, not being able to see well in it, but their night vision is excellent, and they have infra-red vision which operates well up to 60'. If they are in bright sunlight they have a lesser chance to fight well (-1 from dice rolls to hit opponents).

For every 40 kobolds encountered there will be a leader and two guards who are equal to goblins, each having 4 hit points, armor class 6, and doing 1-6 points of damage. If 200 or more kobolds are encountered in their lair there will be the following additional creatures there: 5-20 guards (as bodyguards above), females equal to 50% of the total number, young equal to 10% of the total number, and 30–300 eggs. There will always be a chief and his bodyguard in the kobold lair. It is also probable (65%) that there will be from 2-5 wild boars (70%) or 1-4 giant weasels (30%) in a kobold lair; the animals will serve as guards.

A force of kobolds is typically equipped as follows:

short sword and javelin

5%

short sword and spear

10%

short sword

10%

axe

20%

spiked wooden club

30%

javelins (2-3)

15%

spear

10%

Chief and guard types always have the best available weapons. All kobold shields are of wood or wickerwork.

Kobolds hate most other life, delighting in killing and torture. They particularly hate such creatures as brownies, pixies, sprites and gnomes. They war continually with the latter, and will attack them on sight.

In addition to the tongues of lawful evil and kobolds, these monsters can usually (75%) speak goblin and orcish.

Description: The hide of kobolds runs from very dark rusty brown to a rusty black. They have no hair. Their eyes are reddish and their small horns are tan to white. They favor red or orange garb. Kobolds live for up to 135 years.

While this gives you some good information, it isn't terribly useful in the 5th Edition system. In fact, a lot of it isn't used in 5th edition, and can be ignored. Converting as described above, and using the stat block of goblins as the similar humanoid monster for stats, gives the following result:

Kobold

Small humanoid, Lawful Evil

Armor Class

12

Hit Points

4

Speed

30 ft.

STR

DEX

CON

INT

WIS

CHA

8 (-1)

14 (+2)

10 (+0)

8 (-1)

8 (-1)

8 (-1)

Senses Darkvision 60 Ft., passive Perception 9

Languages Common, Draconic, Goblin, Orc

Sunlight Sensitivity. While in sunlight, the kobold has disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Actions

Club. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d4) bludgeoning damage

This gives you a much more useful stat block, which can be immediately used for your 5th edition campaign. These kobolds are weak enough to take out with a single hit, just like you'd expect from an early-game threat.

Compare this to the stat block from the 5th Edition Monster Manual:

Kobold

Small humanoid (kobold), Lawful Evil

Armor Class

12

Hit Points

5 (2d6-2)

Speed

30 ft.

STR

DEX

CON

INT

WIS

CHA

7 (-2)

15 (+2)

9 (-1)

8 (-1)

7 (-2)

8 (-1)

Senses Darkvision 60 Ft., passive Perception 8

Languages Common, Draconic

Sunlight Sensitivity. While in sunlight, the kobold has disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Pack Tactics. The kobold has advantage on an attack roll against a creature if at least one of the kobold's allies is within 5 ft. of the creature and the ally isn't incapacitated.

Actions

Dagger. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (1d4 + 2) piercing damage.

Sling. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: (1d4 + 2) bludgeoning damage.

The converted kobold was only off by one point in four stats and one HP when compared to the official version, and had two more languages. The only other changes were the addition of Pack Tactics in 5th Edition and a change of weapons, with kobolds trading their clubs and short swords for daggers and slings.

The addition of Pack Tactics should remind you that monsters tended to come in much larger groups in older editions. Kobolds were listed as grouping from 40-400 individuals, which would be a nightmare to run as a DM. This new ability allows you to significantly reduce the group while maintaining the threat of a kobold war party.

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