Tuesday, November 16, 2010

White Plume Mountain – The Final Chapter (Part 2)

[continued from here]

“Does anyone have a fly spell? Scroll? Potion of levitation? Anything?!” The answer was uniformly no…not one of the party members had a magical means of traversing the cavern.

As they stood on the ledge, wondering and contemplating what they were going to do, a geyser of steaming mud exploded from the lake near the far side of the cavern. The force of the geyser was enough to knock the disks swinging wildly, and shower the party with scalding hot mud. Fortunately, they were far enough away that the splatter did minimal (1D4) damage…but it was enough to get them to retreat back from the ledge and into the corridor.

They were still discussing this latest turn of events when the second, nearer geyser blew two minutes later. Being under cover, they received no damage…but to say they were a bit disconcerted would be (I think) an understatement.

What followed would be the longest, and most worked and re-worked, brain storm of the entire adventure.

[the players spent a loooong-ass time trying to figure out a way to conquer this particular challenge…yet another descriptive room with “not-a-lot-o-guidance.” Schick provides the dimensions of the cavern and the disk. He provides the timing of the geysers (the far one blows every 3 minutes, the near one every 5), the damage sustained from erupting geysers (based on proximity to the gusher), as well as the % chance of “hanging on” to a chain when a geyser erupts…again, based on proximity. There’s no discussion of how one might cross, what mechanics a DM might use for leaping from disk-to-disk, no information on damage should one fall into the lake of boiling mud…instant kill?...nor how long it might take to try to cross the disks. All this is left to the DM to “referee” which, while a pain in the ass, is actually pretty cool for two reasons:

1) It provides the DM with leeway to make the crossing as easy/hard, slow/fast as necessary (or appropriate) depending on the needs of a “good adventure.”
2) It prevents the DM from giving the players any “clues” as to how the chasm might be crossed.

I mean, sure, it’s all well and good to say, “you can jump from disk to disk,” but landing on said disk is going to cause the platform to tilt and the chain to carom wildly. Also, how does one jump from one to the next with little to no leverage against which to push off? You’re really left just trying to grab the chain…each chain being approximately 9’ from the next, and slick with moisture and slime. With the amount of damage being dished out by the geysers, the lack of magical flying ability made the cavern a HUGE undertaking for the party!
]

The party made sure time out the geysers, roughly figuring that one was blowing every five minutes while the other was blowing every three minutes. I say, roughly, because folks were hitting the beer pretty hard and there were more than a few cocktails consumed (including several “rum and root beers” – don’t ask) and the counting and calculations weren’t as solid as one might’ve figured. However, they did eventually realize (perhaps because I told them) that the geysers would blow simultaneously every 15 minutes or so, and from this they devised Plan A.

Plan A (my name, not theirs), consisted of casting resist fire on the thief, tying a rope around his waist, and having him try to leapfrog across the disks as best he could. I’m not sure what exactly he was supposed to do once he got to the other side, but that would become a moot point. I decided to have him make a straight Dexterity check to jump, land correctly, and catch hold of the chain for each disk. He failed on the second one.

However, he only missed the roll by one so allowed him a second roll to catch the edge of the platform with his gauntlets of ogre power. This he did, and with a grip of iron, managed to claw his way up to the chain. Making it (I believe that was a Strength roll?) he continued his leaping.

I believe it was the fourth or fifth disk where he missed both the first Dex roll and the second “saving” Dex roll.

Having fed him only enough rope to have slack for his jumps, the length of rope between the party and Sly Jr. was only 30-some feet in length. Falling he swung nearly half the length of the cavern, before crashing into the cave wall thirty feet below the ledge on which stood his friends. Down to four hit points and with a definite sprain or two, Sly refused to try Plan A again.

[actually, Sly was more like Plan B…Plan A was to see if Boner could make it across the cavern, but the party discarded that idea before giving it a shot. Boner just didn’t look like he had it in him…]

The party now considered several different possible options:

- Have the thief “climb walls” around the circumference of the cavern (yeah, right).
- Sexy Kevin didn’t like the idea but thought maybe he could use Wave’s “sphere of invulnerability somehow to get across the boiling mud.
- Fire an arrow to try to rig up some sort of “zip line” or shoot an arrow through one of the chain links on the far side, “threading the needle” (call that the “William Tell” maneuver).

In the end, it was Bryan the Halfling who once again stepped up and volunteered his services; Bryan was so happy that there was another Halfling in the party they could “send down the holes” that he was feeling fairly generous with his life. Well, no not really…it’s just that Matt came up with some weird, convoluted rope insanity plan that he was totally stoked and enthused about.

I say “convoluted” because it took him something like 40 minutes to explain it to me till I understood it, and most of the party STILL didn’t quite get it (though they were all amenable to Bryan braving the cavern). Remember…copious amounts of beer? The general gist (if I’m remembering correctly) is:

- Bryan tied a rope around his waist that was 100’ long, then used a rope and grappling iron to hook and pull disks, still leaping from each to each. The cleric cast resist fire on him and he had his ring of water (mud) walking.
- Sometimes he fell (probably two or three times) but because of the grapple, he was able to climb straight up to the disk from which he’d just dropped. He was thus able to continue making progress across the chasm without taking much damage (though shinnying up the rope cost valuable time off the resist fire duration).
- Once across the cavern (on the opposite ledge), he had the other party members tie the REST of the rope…200’ worth!...onto the end of his rope, which he then pulled across, looped, and allowed them to pull back. The result: three lines crossing the cavern, one of which was taut, the other pair on a kind of “pulley system,” that allowed for swift transport of PCs.

Which was great, because they NEEDED swift transpo. The spell wore off and Bryan started taking damage from geysers, even as Farnsworth hurried across the rope line. The big fighter knocked down the door on the other side and then the two were able to shelter in the corridor beyond, while still helping to “pulley” the characters across.

I was, of course, rolling wandering monsters during this entire time period. The “Predator” monster showed up again

[note to players…this was an Invisible Stalker, Keraptis’s main messenger and gopher guy, providing him on updates of the PCs’ progress]

…but having faced violence from the creature, decided to leave it alone…and it left them alone, again.

[I did make a Reaction roll for the Stalker, but it was a positive “9”]

However, the next monster wasn’t quite so friendly…I believe Sly Jr. was the next across the rope bridge, followed by Alster (who first used his final resist fire spell on himself). Sexy Kevin was still pulling the rope pulley from his end while Dampwick watched their backtrail for wandering monsters. Somehow, the huge (10 HD) black pudding that cleans the dungeon managed to sneak up on them (surprise) and the two were in a fight for their lives!

Dampwick attempted to shatter his lantern on the thing, but missed with a “1;” Kevin smote the slime with Wave, simply dividing it into two! Looking with disgust at Boner (who did nothing, having been left on the ledge with zero instruction from Farnsworth), they decided discretion was the better part of valor. “Hop on my back!” the cleric told the Halfling…then, activating Wave’s “force sphere” ability, the two hopped off the ledge, bouncing lightly along the surface of the mud, before “hamster-balling” across to the other side. From there, the rest of the party was able to haul the pair up via ropes (??)…

[now that I think about it, they were pretty much out of rope at this point…hmmm]

…and thus gathered together, continued on in search of Whelm. Having deciphered the cavern as the place of “water spouts double” from Keraptis’s riddle, they were sure the hammer must be close by!

7 comments:

  1. That sounds like an awesome adventure.

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  2. I love this kind of open-ended problem solving in an adventure ... the author not having worked out a definite solution counts in its favor, for sure.

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  3. @Bluskreem, JB's write up sounds awesome. In play (for me at least) it was really tedious. It took over 2 hours.

    Giving the thief a decent chance to jump across would have given him a chance to shine in a dungeon with no backstabbing or shadows to hide in, but making him do Dex checks on nine discs only gave him about a 5% chance of success.

    About an hour in I was hoping for some DM hand-waving mercy but no luck. Instead we got to listen to the halfling plan and build a Turing-complete compute device out of ropes, chains, discs and grappling hooks. :)

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  4. that's one of the areas I do remember from running/playing this as a kid. I'm sure we were all overstocked with magic and just flew or levitated or something, because I never remember much trouble with it.

    Someone was talking/complaining about this one over at Dragonsfoot or something recently...basically, bemoaning the fact that the author left the DM hanging, with no actual solution to the puzzle, at least not in terms of game mechanics. As Fumers mentioned, the odds on jumping/rolling the dice for each platform are nearly impossible.

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  5. "Someone was talking/complaining about this one over at Dragonsfoot or something recently...basically, bemoaning the fact that the author left the DM hanging, with no actual solution to the puzzle, at least not in terms of game mechanics."

    Eh, that's how I do the tricks and traps in my own dungeons anyway. Nine times out of ten I don't have a definite solution in mind; if the players come up with something that sounds cool, it works. Everybody's happy.

    (For what it's worth, I thought the options spelled out in detail for avoiding the tricks and traps in Tomb of Horrors were far too limited and limiting.)

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  6. @ Fumers: It DID take a long-ass time...much more than I anticipated or than I'd ever seen in the past.

    I don't think I failed to give the thief a chance to "shine;" he had the same chance as the halfling (with the exact same Dex) of crossing via "hopping." Matt/Bryan just had a better plan with the grapple iron. The class is "thief" after all, not "ninja." Even so, he could certainly have used his wall climbing ability to anchor a spike ABOVE the ledge and help with the whole zip-line scheme.

    Vince also had the idea of threading the chain links with an arrow/rope shot, setting up something similar to the grapple idea, but this was ignored/discarded by the party. Talking with Vince afterward, the gripes he had were unrelated to the disk-jumping.
    ; )

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  7. For what it's worth that description of my rope-fu is still not exactly what I was trying to do. For the sake of everyone involved's sanity (not least my own), I'll let that particular sleeping dog lie.

    You were pretty darn close, just leave out the pulleys... maybe I should roleplay that intelligence of 8 a little harder?

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