[continued from here…I’ll wrap up and then discuss a bit about this final encounter]
Gustav and Borgnine were thoroughly dead and gone, and the others (with the exception of Bryan and Weas) weren’t out of “hot water” yet. Farnsworth and Sexy Kevin worth both protected from the heat of the water half-filling the 10’ by 10’ chamber in which they were trapped, but Allster did not and suffered a modicum of damage…though I did allow him to then cast resist fire upon himself (I suppose I could have been a hard-ass and said he was unable to “concentrate” while boiling alive, but what about all those prayerful martyrs of ancient times? I assumed his deity would give the cleric a break).
By the time the spells faded in potency, the heat of the water in which they stood had cooled to no more than a warm bath. However, there was enough water still pressed against the doors that the party members were unable to pull them open, freeing themselves.
[I had decided that it would take a combined strength of 45 to open the doors, and the trapped party members had just less than that]
Fortunately, Weasel was still “on the outside.” While the other party members stewed in their watery prison cell, the elf went back to the corridor he had initially fled. Although unable to push the doors by himself, he did have a scroll containing the spell knock. The magic of the scroll was enough to throw open the portal, unleashing a deluge of water that thoroughly soaked the elf’s fine doeskin boots.
Pounding at the second set of doors revealed the elf’s trapped companions behind it, and with Weasel’s help, the party was able to get the second set of doors open, more water emptying into the corridor.
Allster cast locate object, searching for Wave (or maybe even Blackrazor) beyond the 3rd set of doors, but nothing was found within range of the spell. Presuming the weapon had been destroyed (along with all the other treasure! Why had they let the Halfling carry everything?!), they turned dejectedly to leave the dungeon. They did not even attempt to open the third set of doors, knowing the boiling water being held back on the other side.
The party had gathered themselves and slogged as far back as the kelpie room, when they encountered the bobbing lantern of Bryan, gigantic Wave in his free hand. “Hey, guys! I’m still alive!” Thus reunited (the Halfling had run back to the dungeon as fast as his little legs would carry him), the group used the ring of water walking to traverse the kelpie pool and make their way out and down to Dead Gnoll’s Eye Socket, where they could rest and recuperate and recount their experiences.
[this is where we ended for the evening]
If any Old School adventure called for the DM to put on his “referee hat,” White Plume Mountain is it. Descriptions for rooms like the frictionless chamber and the “boiling bubble” are extremely sparse: Schick tells you what’s in the room and how it acts, but after that there’s a lot of judgment calls on the part of the Dragon Master.
In this particular session, the metal doors are as described (the module states they are present to prevent a “bubble breakdown” from flooding the dungeon…kind of an airlock/failsafe mechanism), but no guidance is provided as to how this occurs. Will one set of doors suffice, while the others are their only for “back-up?” How fast does the water flood? How much damage will total immersion do?
The bubble itself is little better: the text states that a slash from an axe or sword will cause the thing to collapse in D6 rounds, though it doesn’t say what happens then. Presumably, being caught in the collapse results in instant death (i.e. “doing an Ali Baba”)…at least that’s how I interpret it based on the text regarding Wave’s ability to save the PCs. But aside from characters being scalded by a jet of water on a “miss” (that’s in the text) there’s no guidance for on-going rounds. Do jets of water continue to cook the party? I’d assume so…and don’t they end up standing in boiling water up to their armored greaves? What’s the on-going damage?
The resist fire spell is pretty clear that it prevents damage from heat and extreme temperature. The ring of fire resistance is pretty clear that it only prevents damage from fire (normal and magical). A kindly DM would probably have allowed the ring to prevent damage from the water, but I wanted to make sure ALL the characters were feeling a bit of danger. In the end, of course, it didn’t matter as Borgnine was drowned…but really the damage caused by the bursting bubble nearly saved him, as he was forced to retreat to the entrance of the chamber (and thus closer to the exit). Unfortunately, he was one of the few party members NOT wearing magical armor, and his movement rate just wasn’t enough to make it to the first set of doors.
There’s a lot of flooding and “water movement” in White Plume Mountain…including the inverted ziggurat…which can result in PCs being slammed and buffeted around the dungeon. However, the module gives no guidance as to what kind of damage or danger might result from this kind of water hazard. While this is cool for a DM…make something up instead of spending time searching for obscure “water buffet” rules…it does make me feel slightly guilty about my own rulings, especially when they result in character death.
Don't get me wrong: as I’ve written often enough, I’m all about killing PCs in a dungeon…that’s half the fun of running a D&D game as a DM (the other half is energy drain…). However, if I’m acting as an “impartial referee” and I make an arbitrary ruling on “how something works” and that ruling gets someone killed…well, it feels a bit like DM fiat and THAT’s a “death attack” for which there is no saving throw.
In the end, I just have to let things go I suppose. The game’s not a perfectly granulated model of reality, and I am not a perfect judge of how best to arbitrate abstract hazards. The players already complain when they get surprised by a pair of wights…and them’s in the rules!...I don’t think there’s a chance in hell I’d be able to satisfy them 100% with my arbitration.
Mainly, I simply strive to make rulings/decisions that make sense in light of the game at hand, while keeping the pacing steady. It doesn’t serve any purpose to strive for “fairness,” as what is fair is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. But I CAN attempt to be consistent, and use the rules already provided in the game. Hopefully, that will be enough to keep me from getting lynched by my players.
Regarding the players: how is it the Halfling ends up with all the loot AND both magic weapons? After all, this IS B/X…we are talking a standard Halfling warrior, not a Halfling Thief. I don’t get it…apparently his beneficent demeanor is above reproach. Pretty crazy though that they keep sending him into dangerous situations (with no thief present, the party wanted to task him with opening the chest and pawing through the loot, or diving underwater looking for Kelpie lairs). Matt has been fairly good about point-blank refusing crazy requests (like going down the lava chute), but I find it all fascinating: does the Halfling seem like the most expendable party member? Or does he seem like the most indestructible party member? And regardless, why are you letting him carry ALL the loot? What happens if he gets disintegrated or something?! Sheesh!
All right, that’s enough blather for one morning. Thursday looks to be Josh’s last week with us due to upcoming parental responsibilities, and Matthew (“Cod Sandwich”) is going to be taking a couple-three weeks off for the holidays starting this week. Just as well, I guess, that both their characters bit the dust. However, I have a bunch of time off myself this week (starting tomorrow!), so I want to be prepped and ready for our game Thursday…hopefully, we’ll be able to finish White Plume Mountain...one way or another.