Let’s see, let’s see…where was I?
Oh, yeah…going soft in my old age.
Sludge, slosh, slosh trudged the party through the heat and humidity of White Plume Mountain’s interior dungeon complex. It wasn’t long past the pit that the players encountered their next challenge.
The length of the corridor was lined with gleaming copper plates, each mounted from just above the waterline nearly to the ceiling. The copper was polished to a highly reflective sheen, reflecting the flickering torchlight many times, lighting the corridor with their gleaming luster.
One party member (Gustav? Maybe) was chosen to sally forth along the length of the corridor. As he slowly advanced, the warm air seemed to become even more oppressive. He found he was sweating. Touching his armor he found it warm to the touch, growing hotter even as he advanced. Tiny sparks flashed around the edges of his metal plate armor. He was becoming decidedly uncomfortable.
Gustav turned back. “Maybe we should send the thief.”
[Sly the thief was the only character NOT wearing metal armor]
Sly advanced farther down the corridor than Gustav, until he started to note the smell of burning cloth and leather…the rivets and buckles of his leather armor were actually starting to radiate heat, and a curl of smoke was rising from the dagger in its scabbard. Sly decided HE better turn back as well.
What to do, what to do…Brian the halfling volunteered to crawl the length of the corridor on his back, underneath the line of the plates, and simply poking his head up for occasional sips of air. Shucking his backpack and magic ring, he prepared to attempt the maneuver.
But Borgnine the dwarf had a better idea. “I have a ring of fire resistance…perhaps it will allow me to cross the hall unscathed!” The party figured this was worth a try and Borgnine plunged ahead, ready to turn back at the first whiff of singed beard.
The party gave a little cheer as the dwarf waved to them from the end of the long hall. “There’s a chamber here!” he called. “And stairs going up to dry ground!” The party talked about how he might string the ring on a rope and pass it back to them for a one-at-a-time crossing. “Let me just make a quick check for secret doors, first!” Okay, the party would wait.
Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. Borgnine (who was very good at analyzing the stonework whenever the party entered a new area), was just being thorough. However, imagine his surprise when a section of the stone wall actually began to swing out from the wall adjacent to where he was searching.
“Huh, I don’t think I did anything to trigger that.” He wondered aloud…as the gibbering horde of filth-crusted, slime-gleaming creatures poured forth, raking the dwarf with blackened nails ands and sharpened teeth.
He never even had a chance to lift his axe before being paralyzed by the ghouls.
Now let’s pause the action for a moment so that I can have a sidebar: ghouls are some scary mother-f**ers, okay? Flesh eating cannibals, sure…that part’s bad enough. But claw-claw-bite attacks? Any one of which will paralyze your ass? It’s a good thing that elves ARE immune to ghoul paralysis (which I always thought was kind of weird), otherwise a pack of ghouls would tear a number of parties to shreds.
Now I don’t know about you, but I generally play that a paralyzed character can be slain immediately by any creature taking a round to do so. In practice, getting paralyzed by ghouls pretty much means you’re destined for the soup pot. There’s precedence for this (I think of the “example adventure” in the DMG), but really it’s kind of left up to the DM how to handle this. Can a “held” or paralyzed individual only be slain by an edged weapon? Do ghouls’ claws and teeth count as “edged weapons?” Yeah, probably.
However (and I can barely believe I’m writing this), at this point in our session I wasn’t ready to outright kill any of the party members. See, contrary to Trollsmyth's opinion, I don’t think death is boring…I’m sure poor Borgnine would have found being eaten alive while unable to scream a fairly UN-boring experience. However, heroism (in my mind) is courage in the face of suffering, and the party hadn’t suffered enough yet to warrant a hero’s death.
Besides Josh was one of the new guys…Jeez, JB, how mean are you?
Actually, Josh was more afraid that he was going to drown from being paralyzed facedown in 12 inches of water. Man, I don’t even need to try…the players are ready with suggestions for offing themselves! I decided that the dwarf had been paralyzed face-up, and the ghouls were taking their time with eating him…cavorting around, ripping at his armor, pulling a tender morsel from here or there…
The party decided it was time to mount a rescue. Brian was already set to go…and started crawling…slowly. Farnsworth started stripping out of all his armor and gear to make a “bundle” he could haul down the corridor with a rope. Gustav asked, “what if we just ran down the length of the corridor as fast as possible?” and decided to try that.
The induction field heats metal as it passes between the copper plates…the farther one travels the hotter metal gets (and the more damage an individual takes). Each 10’ interval beyond 30’ or 40’ does a certain amount of damage, the amount increasing the farther one travels. The module states that anyone running the length of the corridor “takes all the damage” from each 10’ section. Enough damage to flash fry anyone foolish enough to try such a tactic.
I rolled for damage and it was plenty enough to incinerate Gustav…but here again I paused. Certainly, the fighter should be penalized for his folly, but would any sane person push himself past the point of flesh crisping pain and bone melting agony? I decided to allow a saving throw versus Death Magic. Success would indicate the fighter turned back prior to death.
[O the shame of going soft!]
Truly, I thought it silly that anyone could tear through the hallway (in a foot of water and muck!) fast enough to burn to death. Gustav made his save, and I ruled he took 75% of the damage…half what he would have taken before turning back, and one-quarter of the damage on his return trip. Needless to say, he was still in a world of hurt (I believe he was down in the 5-7 point range after being up over 40) and none-too-eager to get into the ghoul fight.
Alstar the cleric cast resist fire on himself and hustled down the corridor (past the halfling) while the others watched. “This is where the cleric gets a chance to shine,” said someone (maybe Josh, maybe Matt #1).
It only took a couple 10 second rounds for the courageous cleric to get past the copper plates, holy symbol brandished, and shield at the ready. “Get thee back to Hell!” (or something) was shouted…at least in my imagination. Luke just said, okay I’ll turn them. Great.
According to the text of White Plume Mountain, the ghouls each wear medallions that make them immune to clerics’ turning attempts.
Now some of you who have been reading the blog lately may recall certain griping I did regarding this very kind of thing…how does one prepare for un-turnable undead? Why would one presume undead would be un-turnable…and thus send your cleric into certain doom? Because that’s what was going to happen in this case…the cleric’s turn attempt would auto-fail and the ghouls would shred him while the rest of the party watched, just as had happened with the dwarf.
I decided to be strict with my interpretation: ghouls could not be TURNED…but a 7th level cleric DESTROYS ghouls and the medallions weren’t strong enough to resist his holy might. The cleric blasted all but two of the ghouls and the players were thrilled even as the remaining ghouls fell upon him, while I hid my secret shame at being so easy on the players…
In the following round, Alstar (All-Star?) blasted another with dispel evil...and then he fell beneath the envenomed claws of the final ghoul.
Meanwhile, Farnsworth was attempting to pull his bundled armor and weapons through the sludge using a rope. The module is pretty specific that this kind of action won’t work; the heated metal burns through any rope or bindings leaving a steaming pile of red-hot metal in the middle of the corridor. Un-deterred, the naked Farnsworth ran back to the party to retrieve the 10’ pole…he was going to push the pile to the end!
Brian the Halfling finally finished his crawl and popped up ready to do battle. However, he was a little beat from his recent submerging and had a difficult time landing a telling blow. Meanwhile, the ghoul clawed and scratched the stout-hearted Leftfoot, but somehow, the halfling’s fiery blood shook off the effects of the creature’s paralyzing attack (love those Halfling saving throws!).
Brian was forced to go toe-to-toe with the remaining ghoul for three or four rounds, both landing blows but neither succumbing. This was the length of time it took Farnsworth to finish prodding the flaming bundle to the end of the hall (his pole was charred down to 8’ or so by this time). Having purposefully left his sword hilt exposed and jutting from the pile, the burly fighter drew and hewed the ghoul from behind, finishing it in one flaming swing. After which, he likely dropped the weapon and cooled his hand in the murky water.
While the party waited for the ghoul’s paralysis to wear off, Brian figured out a way to rig the dwarf’s ring of fire resistance on a rope while Farnsworth joked about tea-bagging his helpless companions.
To be continued…