White Plume Mountain, which has been reprinted as part of Tales from the Yawning Portal, is one of my all-time favourite Dungeons & Dragons adventures.
It’s not an adventure you can take too seriously. It’s got stuff in it like a turnstile, a magic ring that talks to people and tries to convince them it’s the best thing ever (and should be fought over), and a sphinx who is forced to ask questions but really hates doing so. Oh, and super-tetanus.
If you’re running a campaign that is very serious, stay clear of this adventure. It does horrible things for your suspension of disbelief. It’s the epitome of “a mad wizard built this”. However, the unbridled creativity in it makes it a lot of fun to play if you’re not taking the game too seriously.
Here’s a few notes on some of the encounters and how I run them.
The Bedraggled Sphinx. Found as the characters enter the dungeon, the sphinx is sitting in about a foot of water and she hates being wet and forced to serve Keraptis. When I role-play her, I moan a lot about how this is the worst job ever, and she’d be ever so grateful if the characters would just answer her riddle and go and kill the wizard. (She’s magically forced to aid Keraptis, she’s not forced to enjoy it).
In 5E, it’s most likely the characters aren’t going to defeat the challenges of the dungeon in one go. Thus, they’ll go out (“You’re leaving? Please say you’re not abandoning me! Keraptis must be destroyed!”) and return – each time she asks a different riddle. If you can’t think of a new riddle, go online and find one.
I like this one: “Inside the Green House is a White House. Inside the White House is a Red House. Inside the Red House are lots of babies. What am I?” That gave my players a few minutes of cogitation.
Two things: Riddles are meant to be fun, not impossible. I’m happy to give clues if I think the players are (a) absolutely stuck or (b) on the right track but needing a little push along. Alternatively, the characters can just destroy the wall of force and fight the sphinx. At that point, the sphinx will unleash extra sarcasm on them.
Green Slime Under Water. If there’s ever a trap that wants the players to use 10 foot poles, it’s the slime. Green slime isn’t hard to get rid of, but it can kill characters if they don’t deal with it quickly. The last time I ran this, I had a party using 10 foot poles. Which became 9 foot poles, and then 8 foot poles before the slime was destroyed.
On another occasion, a character blithely walked through the slime, then walked back through the slime before he realised what had happened. In the meantime, it ate his slippers of spider-climbing…
The Magic Ring. This is an artefact from an older version of D&D, where players competed strongly for treasure. (Under one reading of the rules, you gained XP for the treasure your character ended up with.) This ring? If it works as advertised, it’s incredible. The original version stated its abilities in the form of the game stats, which made sense within that way of playing the game. I’d like to think that people can resolve their differences peacefully these days and the ring won’t start a fight, but people will be people. (Except in the Adventurers League, where you’ll have to dice for it).
Geysers and Chains. This is an encounter that is really challenging to run well. Draw this one out and use miniatures or tokens to represent where the characters are. If you like, use Strength (Athletics) and Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks to jump from one to the other, but I wouldn’t worry too much about those checks: it’s hard enough as it is.
The tension here comes from the players trying to get the rhythm right of their movement. If only one character is on a platform as a time, can they move across in time?
The original D&D game used 1 minute rounds, which means characters weren’t moving as far. In 5E, characters move a bit too fast across this – if you slow down the movement speeds (because the discs are swinging, etc.) this works a lot better.
The Giant Crab. Any missile shot that misses (arrow, spell or bolt) is going to puncture the forcefield. The bubble is also quite low, so large weapons (pike, two-handed sword) might also do so – I’d have them do so on a miss, or possibly only a natural 1 if I’m feeling kind. Fireball and lighting bolt spells? Oh dear!
Really Hot Armour. This is a situation where the players can be very inventive. If a scheme sounds crazy enough, let it work. It’s best when the players come up with interesting solutions to these problems, rather than just using the prosaic; however, the best way to stop invention is to keep saying “No”. You don’t have to approve every idea they come up with, but if it sounds good, let it work.
The Frictionless Room. The crazy idea one group came up with was to slide the bodies of the dead (fireballed) ghouls over the floor and thus have a cushion on the far side. Another group suggested using a mattress from a different room (unfortunately, they couldn’t work out how to get it over the water back to here). This room is likely a lot easier if the group have Wave.
It should be noted that in the original text, a character falling into the blades instantly contracted super-tetanus and died in 2-5 rounds, no saving throw, with only magic able to save him or her! Brutal!
Like the corridor of Very Hot Armour, this encounter requires the players to think, and the DM not to shoot reasonable suggestions down. (Just uninventive ones that don’t have a chance of working). If you think something sounds reasonable but you’re not sure if it’d work, have them make an ability check against DC 15 or something similar to see if it succeeds. If you very much like the idea? Just have it work!
Sir Bluto, Mass Murderer. I almost completely TPKed my party when they entered this room. I was extremely harsh (and they didn’t have their wizard with them), and the next thing I knew they were almost all dead. I actually reset this encounter and ran it again – this time with the wizard and without having the enemy gain surprise and make everyone entangled and prone before they could act…
Even with a fairer set-up, this is an absolutely brutal fight. The enemy are really tough even without their nets.
The way I ended up running it is by rolling initiative, and with each kayak entering the chamber on a consecutive round. So, one kayak in round 1, the next in round 2, etc. The Kayak enters at the beginning of the round (say initiative count 30) and so if the players roll well, they have a chance to act before the opponents. Then the nets are thrown – if the net succeeds (I allowed the characters to block them with oars), the kayak and the characters within become prone – and it requires a Dash action to extricate oneself from the kayak. (They’re not made for easy egress!)
Be careful with this room – it well could be beyond your players’ capabilities.
Ziggurat Zoo. There are a lot of ways this could be played, but I run it as four separate encounters – each layer being its own encounter. The one difference is that the manticores might get a shot against the characters when they enter – the line-of-sight only really exists at the long end of the chamber.
Smashing the glass makes it into fewer encounters. I don’t think regular scorpions can swim. Can Giant Scorpions? Is it more interesting if they can?
Show the picture of this to the players, and draw out a cross-section of it as well so the players can get the distances right in their heads; it’s a little tricky to visualise correctly, especially with the glass walls.
Master Qesnef. Qesnef is your chance to have a lot of fun role-playing. An urbane character, he can explain to the adventurers everything they missed, the true purpose of the maze, and he is the one trustworthy character here. Really.
It’s nice to end the adventure on a positive note, surely?