Saturday, June 6, 2009

White Plume Mountain (Part 1)

For most old school D&D players, the Willingham art in the title bar should be immediately recognizable as the back cover of S2: White Plume Mountain by Lawrence Schick.

In an interview on Grognardia, Mr. Schick explains how this module was created as a writing sample to get hired on at TSR. Personally, I'm not qualified to judge its literary merits, but from a design standpoint I find the adventure is fantastic, perhaps the best of all the Golden Age modules.

For one thing, it combines two very basic elements to create an archetypal adventure: the dungeon crawl and the quest. Plenty of early modules included a dungeon with very little objective (exploration, treasure seeking, monster killing being the de facto motives for entry). White Plume Mountain has strong objectives with a definite "victory condition." Find the magic weapons. You do this and you win.

For another thing, it is both short and self-contained. Unlike the sprawling S3 or S4 modules, it has one simple map and can be completed in one or two sessions no sweat. I've lost count of the number of times I've run this module over the years, but it has so few encounters (less than 30, including the optional one at the end) that it requires very little preparation for me as a DM to familiarize myself with the adventure.

Likewise, as there is no "spill-over" from the adventure, it can be plopped-down in any campaign world, with little affect. White Plume Mountain itself isn't in danger of eruption, the wizard Keraptis isn't plotting to take over the countryside, failing to find the magic weapons doesn't set off Armageddon. It has a nifty little outdoor map that has no bearing on the adventure itself, and can be discarded wholly (unlike the later Return to White Plume Mountain module).

The third thing this module has going for it are its encounters, an excellent mixed bag of monsters, tricks, traps, and treasure. Monsters range from evil humans, to mythological creatures, to 1950's giant monster, to undead. Many of the encounters require cleverness from the players and player inventiveness is well rewarded. Mr. Schick says he borrowed "the best bits" from other adventures, and boy, he sure got the best! To me, it's a great introduction to what D&D is all about.

Finally, the magic weapons themselves feel truly magical in nature. Objective and reward both, they have their own names, purposes, and curses associated with addition to being powerful weapons. I suspect this blog will be discussing each in turn, and the titular Blackrazor especially.

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