Tuesday, November 9, 2010

And Now…Wave (P. 3)

[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]

DM Notes:

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.

; )


  1. I need to get a copy of White Plume Mountain. It seems like a fun module.

  2. You have a great way of retelling these sessions! They seem like a lot of fun.

    Zanazaz: there's always the revised 3.5-version: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/oa/20051207a

  3. When I played this module back in '81 the DM failed to inform us that the walls and dome of the crab room were a membrane. With one swing of my 2-handed sword i wiped out the whole party.

  4. Alster cast "locate object" on the bag of holding. I assumed it wouldn't work on black razor because it's in another dimension (inside the bag).

    The players didn't complain about being surprised by wights, just me. And I didn't really complain, I said I didn't understand how that encounter started because of room noise. Never doubted you followed some rules.

    The halfling gets all of the loot because he has the bag of holding. I don't think it's any more complicated than that.

    The deaths seem more like DM fiat to me because there's no battle map, no definitive marker of where everyone is. Often it doesn't matter, but when you get a room like this where life or death is determined by where you're standing, it can be frustrating. Like I thought Borgnine was near the entrance shooting his crossbow, so I'm not sure how he didn't make it out. But Alster was across the room at the chest and he made it out.

    Same thing happened to the magic user I rolled up for the B2 game. He got surprised stabbed to death by some kobolds and it made sense because of where he was standing when the encounter began according to the DM, but as a player I never wanted to move to that spot or even thought I had until it was too late.

    I get that there are trade-offs in deciding whether you use minis and battle maps or not. The speed of not using that stuff is great for most of our encounters, just sucks when you die from positioning and you don't have control over positioning.

  5. @Fumers, There are some advantages to using a battlemat, or at least having a map to point out their relative locations. On the other hand, as long as the DM is being clear, it is doable without one.

    @JB, I never really had any interest in White Plume Mountain before, but your reports really make me want to go find a copy. Would it be worth hunting down the original, or is the 3rd edition version good enough. Oh, and have you heard about the 4e version they're doing?

  6. @ Josh: You didn't really ink your dead character did you?!

    @ Fumers: Actually, the whole "run for the door" thing WAS based on where the characters were standing.

    Borgnine's running movement is (was) 60' per round (he was one of the few party members NOT wearing magic armor). From just inside the bubble to the the third set of doors is 60'. Having to slog through a couple feet of water slowed him just enough that he couldn't make it.

    The final melee with the crab was near the entrance (remember the crab attacked you right as you entered) was about 20' inside the chamber. Characters with magic armor had a run of 90' per round...enough to get you all inside the first set of portals (just barely), but not past the second. The "just barely" part is the reason why Gustav, splashing around to recover his war hammer, didn't make it.

    For some reason, Alster was over with the guys in the melee...you'd already left the chest to join the fight or heal someone, leaving Bryan to loot the thing. The chest was on the opposite side of the chamber (about 50' from the entrance)...Bryan would NEVER have made it back in time, and Wave was the only thing that could have saved him.

    I realize the lack of "battle maps" and minis can make things seem chaotic, but I AM trying to keep things juggled...and I am willing to sketch out where everything is when asked. You folks were pretty fortunate to escape with as many lives as you did!

    [and RE B2: marching order, marching order, marching order]
    ; )

    @ David: It really depends on which version of D&D you're playing. I uploaded a B/X conversion of the module to mediafire (links available on the blog), that works just fine with the free D20 download. If you play D20/Pathfinder, you'll probably want to at least look at the WotC version with its DCs and CRs and such, but I think it gets a little pansy at times with its attempt to "balance encounters" (on the other hand, it offers a couple new riddles for the sphinx).

    I have not heard about the 4E version but it doesn't surprise me. There is a complete dearth of imagination at Hasbro apparently as they continue to milk the TSR cash cow rather than come up with something original.

  7. @JB, I liked Borgy, but not THAT much... :)

    (That is a pretty badass tattoo, though.)

  8. @JB~ Sorry, I was just pulling your leg about the 4e version. :-)

  9. @fumers: I'm one of those people who hates minis...makes me feel like I'm playing Monopoly or something and sort of kills the imagination aspect. In situations like this, I can see your point, though.

    In the past, we've always resolved it just by sketching tricky situations on scratch paper and it worked fine. That said, I think our group is pretty chaotic, and not very specific about stating their actions, so it's partly on us. Also: beer.

  10. @Iron Goat, I'd be happy with more sketching (which is basically using miniatures but being a cheapskate about it) at least for encounters where position is critical.

    I get the Monopoly feel with 4E myself where the game terms are actually in squares and you can't play without creatures and terrain being perfectly aligned with a grid. Something like BX though, where you're just trying to show where everyone is at the moment doesn't feel boardgame-y to me.

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition has a very good fast system of abstract distance in encounters. You never measure things, creatures are engaged, close, medium, long etc. When you move, you for example go from medium to close, no numeric movement rates.