The work meeting ran late. You have your commute and at best an hour to prep before game time. Your mom needed help over the weekend and your cat’s late night vet trip means that you haven’t even cracked a bestiary. Cancellations have been rough lately and you know Walt might join someone else’s game soon if it keeps happening. Resolving yourself you send out the text..
“Game is on for 6.”
At the parking garage you realize you didn’t even buy that module you wanted to use next. In fact the only thing you have at their new level is this module, which you ran last year for almost the same group.
You remember the module has a basic structure. Raid on the town=>Captured Townies=>Discover Army Massing=>Kill the Commander & Rescue the Villagers=>Reveal for next arc. Its very clean. Classic. 10th level is what you need.
Phases of Module Re-Skins
Phase 1: Identify
Identify Adventure Flow – What are the key events? Find the draws, motives, and general movement throughout the module. Usually this just requires a quick glance over the adventure summary in its first few pages.
In the above: Raid on the town=>Captured Townies=>Discover Army Massing=>Kill the Commander & Rescue the Villagers=>Reveal for next arc
Identifying Identity – Look for the central “identity” of the module. The principle characters and monsters that make up the module are our focus here. Make a list of them as your go through, keep note of the types and subtypes. It is also worth noticing sizes and looking for themes.
In the above: Major Identity – Giants (Stone, Hill, Ettin, Taiga, and Ogres) and Dragons (Red and Wyvern) Lesser Identity – Golems and Lamia, and a selection of “deeply” classed lesser monsters. Most monsters are Large size.
Identifying CRs – Assess your primary identity groups CRs and take note of CRs. If design was done well on the original module the math will hold with relative CRs which is key to the speed of this “panic prep” technique.
In the above: Stone Giants CR 8, Ettins CR 6, Hill Giant CR 7 and so on…
Identity Locations – Note any and all maps relevant to the module. These are often only even illustrated when space is of tactical importance or reprise of location is key. These attributes are likely to need attention in our reskin.
In the above: Mapless intro, Canyon Map, Fortress Map, and Caverns
Phase 2: Alter
Alter Adventure Flow – Diverging an adventure from a “source” module can be as simple as this. Shifting the events from one order to another can refit an adventure entirely. Consider timing and critical phases and repair what you break when you move something. While this technique is powerful it is the mostly likely to be problematic in “panic prep” so avoid it if time is short. If you don’t need to alter it, the general structure of the adventure IS time saving gold.
In the above: You could make it: Rumor of War => Scouting Attack by PCs => Vengeance Raid by Giants => Counterstrike at Commander => Next Adventure Hook
Alter Identity – Assuming you are NOT altering the flow, this is where you get the bang for your prep buck. Take 2-3 of the major identity groups and swap them out. Select groups with similar or broader ranges of monsters and approximate impact.
In the above:Giants and Dragons might shift to Outsiders and Undead. The original creature types are iconic and probably benefit from similar heavy hitters replacing them. Consider shifting size or movement modes and the implications with your identified map.
Alter ALONG CRs – The key here isn’t change the challenge rating, its move laterally along in for creature in your new identity. References like d20pfsrd.com have monsters by CR will allow you to move through groups for similarly challenging options. As you do this you likely see some things not needing a change at all and “rare” creatures should only be considered if at odds with the new creation. Aim to form new cohesive groups.
In the above:
Giants => Outsiders
Stone Giants CR 8 => Denizen of Leng CR 8, Ettins CR 6 => Half-Fiend Minotaur CR 6, Ogre CR 3 = Shadow CR 3, Hill Giant CR 7 => Shoggti Qlippoth CR 7, Taiga Giant CR 10 => Imentesh Protean CR 10
Dragons => Undead
Red Dragon, Young CR 10 => Pale Stranger CR 10, Night Wyvern CR 7 => Dullahan CR 7, Very Young Red Dragon CR 8 => Zombie Storm Giant 8
Alter Locations – We are looking at changing big giants to medium outsiders and should be aware of the size difference. Fortunately, not much is problematic going Large => Medium and it will take very little nuancing. We ARE changing some flying creatures to non-flying and that will impact some of the adventure in ways we need to be aware of. Often adventures expect you to map the encounters for intro fights so this will be very minimal in terms of changes. Complex dungeon maps can be reversed or turned upside down or resequenced to “draw” an new map. Most of the difference will be in your descriptions anyway.
In the above: The raid has no maps to work from so we are free to change it up a lot. The fortress map is pretty basic and makes sense for many fortresses–Mild alterations to its outer appearance render it something else entirely.
Phase 3: Customize
Customize Adventure Flow – Your goal with customization is to make the module specific to your current campaign and PCs. Nothing makes players ignore filed off serial numbers like a personalized challenge. Also make sure any alterations flow through thematically.
In the above: With our substitutions we decide that the Denizens of Leng are trying to co-opt the local area by infecting it with planar chaos and darkness. They have have realized that the PCs are a barrier (magically) to the spiritual corruption of the area and try to take them out with a raid of Denizens and a Pale Stranger sniper. The PCs find clues leading them to the Monastery of the cultists given over to the Denizens. Red Dead Vengeance. Walt is playing a Paladin and we decide to give him a clue to the location of a great holy sword if he beats the leader of the Denizens.
Customize Identity – This is your chance to make it make sense to the PCs. Match motives to established game patterns and push some player buttons to make it feel like the players are the point. Make these replacements a force in your world and you may even find yourself coming back to them time and time again for new stories.
In the above: The leader of the corruption effort is a necromancer Denizen (instead of Stone Giant transmuter) and he has made a number of undead servants to aid his brothers. He sees the PCs as a part of the geometry of magic barring his annexation of this land. The party’s paladin is a particular concern to him. Nothing is going to feel more personal that a strike force against a single party member like that.
Customize ALONG CRs – The modules “off theme” monsters need to be integrated into our new custom story. Some will stay, others will have to go being to close to old groups or unlikely with your new replacements.
In the above: The zombie undead lord fighter can stay after all our necromancer is likely to have made such a creature. The shining child, planar hound and a couple other outsiders are fine to leave. The lamia cleric (CR10) is less likely as is the kobold barbarian (CR 11) and these will need more thematic replacement. We use some more minotaurs and proteans just to up their presence. We leave the cultist monks alone figuring they serve the Denizens willingly.
Customize Locations – We are looking at changing big giants to medium outsiders and should be aware of the size difference. Fortunately, not much is problematic going Large => Medium and it will take very little nuancing. We ARE changing some flying creatures to non-flying and that will impact some of the adventure in ways we need to be aware of. Often adventures expect you to map the encounters for intro fights so this will be very minimal in terms of changes. Complex dungeon maps can be reversed or turned upside down or resequenced to “draw” an new map. Most of the difference will be in your descriptions anyway.
In the above: Most of the maps hold up fine despite size changes. We decide to run the mapless raid deeper in the city to make the Pale Stranger sniping from a watch tower while Denizens try to close for sneak attacks. The canyon map is made for flying wyverns and we decide to switch it to a tunnel leading into the valley from the outside. Our undead are on better footing with the PCs and the action feels more intense instead of leaving them in a big empty bowl. The later Cavern maps are fine but we decide to reverse the final Cavern dungeon because Walt has a pretty good memory but with a few changes even he won’t notice (mostly because he will be too busy saving from Protean warp waves…)
The above becomes “Denizens of Darkkeep” and we are going to have a blast!
Overall with less than 20 minutes on each phase of the Re-Skin, any module can be reborn into something new and relatively solid. While a little fast thinking is required most groups won’t even come close to finishing a re-skinned module before you can retrench your new version in a second session later to fill in all the cracks.
Lack of Prep Time doesn’t have to be the end for you if you effectively learn these techniques.
Do it for the Paladins…
…and soon they’ll be fighting for their lives.