Based in Southern Oregon, Fiddleback is a blog and portfolio by Brian Casey. His posts explore tabletop gaming and other topics through examination of RPGs, boardgames, and more. He is a freelance tabletop game editor and writer, and podcaster.

Fiddleback vs. White Plume Mountain

Fiddleback vs. White Plume Mountain

Before you stands White Plume Mountain, home of the mad wizard Keraptis. Inside lay three weapons of ancient power, stolen from their owners. The PC’s job: Recover the weapons. Simple enough. Will they emerge victorious, weapons in hand? Or will they be lucky to emerge at all?

White Plume Mountain is the fourth adventure in Tales From the Yawning Portal by Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.  This article will encompass all of White Plume Mountain, the shortest adventure in Yawning Portal.

From a historical perspective, White Plume Mountain comes from the same era as The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, but represents a slightly different style of adventure. Where Tamoachan challenged the player of D&D only, White Plume Mountain makes a go at challenging both the player and character. White Plume’s release in the very early days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, as one of the only modules available at the time, meant that a majority of gamers using officially released material would have been likely to play it at some point.

Still, it was not a mainstream D&D adventure. Labelled Module S2, it represented the second of the Special series of modules, modules generally intended to offer a unique experience unavailable in the more regular modules. Other releases in the S-series included The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and the venerable Tomb of Horrors, which we will encounter later in Yawning Portal.

Initially a stand-alone module, unconnected to any other adventures or storylines, a sequel, called Return to White Plume Mountain, was produced in 1999 for 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. White Plume Mountain itself was reprinted in 2005 for the 3.5 Edition rules, making the version in Yawning Portal the third set of rules in which it has appeared.

As originally written, White Plume Mountain was intended for four to ten characters between levels 5 and 10. That is a very broad level range and number of characters to plan for in a traditional dungeon crawl, reinforcing just how non-traditional and ‘Special’ it is. Fortunately, the Yawning Portal version is adjusted and intended for four 8th level PCs.

Running the Adventure – Page 95

DMs will do well to heed the warnings in this section. If you regularly run adventures for players who enjoy hack-and-slash gaming without worrying about solving puzzles or negotiating or other such niceties, White Plume Mountain is not for them. While there are some opportunities for combat, by far the main focus of White Plume is puzzle-solving. You will present situations and information and the players will be expected to use their brains and their PCs to solve those puzzles. Equally, if you have a group that has trouble coordinating their actions and playing well together, it is probably best not to run it for them, either. Any ability to advance and successfully reach the conclusion of the adventure relies on solving the puzzles by coordinating, working together, and thinking around the obstacles. It’s not a giant trap, like Tamoachan was, but it is as much a challenge to the players as it is to the characters.

Maps

Unusually for this book, the maps for White Plume Mountain are readable and useful throughout the adventure. Enjoy it while you can.

Dungeon: General Features – Page 96

Do not forget: About half of this adventure is under a foot of water at all times unless specified otherwise and complicates everything the PCs are likely to do. Any time someone waves a sword around or tries to move beyond walking speed, the muddy, slippery floor should be taken into account. Is it enough to impose disadvantage on attack rolls due to poor footing? Probably not, but it is enough for everything to count as difficult terrain and to potentially raise the DCs needed for moves like dodge. Keep it in mind at all times. The map does a good job of showing where the water is.

Random Encounters – Page 96

“Well, if it’s mostly just puzzles and stuff, why is it considered so deadly?”

Because the GM checks for wandering monsters every ten minutes and none of them are even vaguely cute and cuddly, for one thing. Admittedly, it’s only a one in twelve chance, but ten minutes goes by quickly and you’ll be checking often. Don’t forget and don’t be shy about it.

2 Riddling Guardian – Page 98

This is a pretty easy riddle to work out. That said, this is the first attempt of the adventure to gauge the players and it will tell you a lot about how the rest of this is going to go. If your PCs poke at it for a bit and then give up in frustration and decide to attack, it’s going to be a bad time for them. If, on the other hand, they stick with it and eventually get the right answer, they might make it. Because, the thing is, there is no penalty for guessing wrong or taking multiple attempts. You see? As long as they don’t attack the Sphinx or attempt to break the barrier on their own, nothing happens. The sphinx stares at them, they stare at it, everyone’s fine. It’s only when they give up, get impatient, or get frustrated that bad things happen. A lesson to the party, if they pay attention.

3 Hidden Slime – Page 98

There are a number of ways to get rid of green slime that don’t involve losing weapons, gear, or body parts. But how many of them work on slime that is underwater? Hmmm?

4 Glass Globes – Page 98

First, this room only works the way it does because the door stops following door rules. If someone stays in the hallway, once everyone else is in all they have to do is open the door from outside and folks can just walk out.

Second, it all seems very straightforward, once the PCs understand that the globes are there to be broken. They’ll probably work out that it is better to catch the items as they fall out of the globe instead of raking around in the water and muck searching for them, but a really bad idea if what falls out of them happens to be gray ooze, for instance.

The question I ask myself, though, is what happens if the PCs release the air elemental and still have a bunch of globes left to do? Nothing suggests the globes remain stationary if interacted with, just that their wires are unbreakable. So, air elementals are famously made out of air and presumably blow around causing at least a breeze and the globes are rather fragile. I can just imagine a situation where the globes knock into each other and break, not only dropping their contents into the muck, but releasing several other things which are bad news, all at once.

The ring is here to do exactly what the adventure says, cause trouble in the party. Like I said, make sure you run this for the right group. Unless you really enjoy seeing people suffer.

I’ll bet no one works out that the ring does nothing until someone uses it to try to fly, soon.

5 Numbered Golems – Page 99

Well there you go. A little buddy to pal around with the party. That’ll come in handy, I expect.

It would be hard to mess this up, provided your players are all old enough to know about prime numbers. If they get sidetracked, it’s probably because no two flesh golems look alike. Not that I needed to tell you that, but I bet the PCs will be able to spot any number of differences between all the golems.

Berserk golems are no fun to anybody, regardless of whose side they are on.

6 Turnstile – Page 99

See? Handy.

7 Geyser and Chains – Page 100

This room is pretty much entirely bad news. Someone is going to get hurt somewhere in here. Fortunately, a 40’ length of rope should prevent fatalities from falling. And I’d probably want to swing the disks across to one another and step off to prevent a screw up trying to jump one to the next. And learning the timing of the geysers should help. Most of the PCs ought to survive that way. Really though, this is just an industrial accident waiting to happen.

I have no idea how they are going to get the flesh golem across. They don’t react well to fire damage. Has the party named it yet?  That’s too bad.

No one tried to fly here, did they? Pity…

8 Coffin – Page 101

Yes, seriously, a fight with a vampire. In the dark. I mean, you’ll have fun as the GM, but don’t expect the players to thank you. Especially fun if the PCs are just swinging wildly, no telling who they could hit then. Play it for all you’re worth.

Probably best for them to back this fight out onto the ledge in the last room. If they can find it. Sure, it limits their mobility, but at least they can see what’s going on. Either that or dispel the darkness like the encounter says.

Also note, defeating the vampire doesn’t clear the darkness. That will make finding and looting the thing they came here for much more fun.

Speaking of… Take note of Whelm’s properties in the DMG. There’s a lot it can do and some of it might even be helpful in this adventure. The thing you should note though is that it makes the wielder afraid to be in the outdoors. They probably won’t notice that until they leave the mountain. Which will be fun, if you remember.

Now all they have to do is go back the way they came.

9 Pool and Drain – Page 101

I think it’s safe to say that anyone going into the Indoctrination Center forfeits the game. There’s no real description given of what goes on in there or what the chances of survival are. It’s like falling off the map in a video game.

10 Deceptively Deep Room – Page 101

If you look very carefully at the map, you can just see the doorway they are talking about here.

11, 12 Spinning Cylinder and Burket’s Guardpost – Page 101

The best course of action with these two linked encounters is to wait. Someone will go in the cylinder, of course, and trigger the whole thing off, but after that everyone just waits. The Party waits, Burket and Snarla wait. Everything just waiting.

When the PCs have had a long enough rest break, someone will get the nerve up to try breaching the door. Then we can all see how a spell casting werewolf plays. You’d certainly expect her to cast haste on herself as soon as the PCs get to the door. Followed by mirror image. Then web as they open the door. After that, well…  It won’t be pretty, will it?

Who names a werewolf Snarla? Certainly not kind and loving parents.

17 The Boiling Bubble – Page 103

After your impressive description of the lake itself, and what I am sure is a not at all lethal fight with the giant crab—

Okay. After they get blown out of the mountain and walk back around to the entrance...

Remember you get to play these intelligent weapons they are collecting. I’m sure Wave wouldn’t be any more than normally annoying trying to get someone to convert to a sea god so it can attune with them. Of course, after that, there’s the rest of the party to convert as well. And any NPCs. I’m equally sure that wouldn’t go on nearly constantly. Regardless of what else the PCs are trying to do. Be reasonable, though. Wave has a 14 INT, it probably knows better.

Now all they have to do is backtrack.

19, 20 Metal-Heating Corridor and Ghoul Ambushers – Page 104

Of course, the whole point of this area is to get people out of their armor and to let go of their weapons. Why?

Because 20 has ghouls and it takes time to put armor back on (pg 146, PHB). Time the PCs will not have before the ghouls jump them at the end of the corridor. So, for this encounter to work properly, you have to actually enforce this rule that practically no one pays attention to. And you haven’t been, up to now, have you? So, your players are going to holler about the screw job you just performed on them with this sudden enforcement of the armor donning rules.

Tough.

Also note: Most every armor except padded and hide armor has metal holding it together somewhere.

22 Frictionless Trap – Page 104

I mean, c’mon. Super-Tetanus?

23 - 25 Floating Stream, Sir Bluto’s Guardpost, and Magical Secret Doors – Page 104 - 105

This is amusing and a treat to watch PCs figure out, but there is no real reason to go to these areas except thoroughness of exploration. They can complete things without anything in these rooms.

Unless they want a kayak.

26 Transparent Aquarium – Page 105

Best course for the PCs?

There isn’t one. They’re pretty screwed here. Keep in mind, the manticore’s tail spikes have a 100’ range. It’s reasonable to say they open fire as long as they can see the PCs in the room and not protected by a tank wall. The sea lions can make a 25 jump with a 10’ run up, so breaking their glass merely sets them loose on the PCs in a round or two. They might be able to break the glass in the crayfish tank and drown the scorpions, but that’s still everything else to deal with and now there’s a barrier over the door they need and a bunch of still angry manticores.

Except, this is the trick. The setup looks like it needs a complicated, thinky solution, but it doesn’t. If the party has done things in the right order, they have Wave. You know, the thing that can act as a cube of force? And a trident of fish command?

Cake walk. Just go carefully so as not to break any glass.

All someone has to do is attune to it. Who’s your favorite sea god?

If they’re really stuck, I bet something could be done with those 15’ long kayaks back in 23.

Worse comes to worse, they can just fight their way down tier by tier being careful not to break the glass. Wave and Whelm should be mostly helpful as they go. Climbing out of the various levels could be tricky.

Regarding the safe in the wall, it’d be nice to know what the DC for disabling it is, wouldn’t it? Your guess is as good as mine.

27 Luxurious Prison – Page 107

Pretty straightforward here.

Now all they have to do is backtrack.

Yes, they actually have to leave by the front door. You can’t just hand wave it.

Fortunately, the party should now have three legendary weapons. Easy-peasy. Probably.

Escaping the Dungeon – Page 107

Good luck!

To the PCs, not the DM.

At least they’ll definitely get to try out their fancy new weapons here.

Anyone else feel dirty about this final encounter? No? Just me? Okay then.

Presuming they prevail, White Plume Mountain has been conquered.

Or did they just go quietly?

Summary

White Plume Mountain is the sort of adventure you run when everyone needs a break from the regular campaign. It’s too much goofy fun to be part of a campaign itself, unless you are, somehow, running all the Special series modules on purpose for Dungeons & Dragons 5e. It’s mix of player-focused and character-focused encounters makes it stick out like a sore thumb in more serious minded games and would throw the overall tone of a campaign with more connected adventures out of whack.

And it is goofy fun. Make no mistake, at some point everyone will have laughed at everyone else, players and DMs both. While it is seriously challenging to a party, too much of it is just a laugh as you watch PCs struggle to get through it. Spring it on the wrong kind of players, those who believe things should make sense at all times for instance, and you can expect some negative reactions.

Well prepared groups at an appropriate level should do reasonably well, although some of the puzzles will seem arbitrary and capricious, and therefore become frustrating; while the combat encounters are, in some cases, heavily loaded against the group and can feel unfair in the extreme. Especially as the group has their nth encounter with wandering monsters on top of other difficulties. Generous and kind DMs will allow their PCs to leave White Plume Mountain to rest and recover between each leg and take the pressure off.

Much like The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, White Plume Mountain is less a story to tell and more a series of activities to perform. Players aren’t going to learn much about the wizard behind it all or develop new bits of lore or information. They’re here to get through it by testing themselves against its moving bits. Players who enjoy learning new things as they adventure may be disappointed.

White Plume Mountain is definitely a deadly adventure. There is enough ‘gotcha’ stuff inside to wipe out an incautious party that would rather fight than think, and for parties that enjoy thinking more than fighting the opposite is also true. Knowing when to do which will affect their ability to complete it successfully.

If you have the right sort of players and need a break from your regular adventuring, you should give White Plume Mountain a try, if for no other reason than to say you have done so. I wouldn’t make a special point of it, especially not to interrupt a campaign in good flow, but if the opportunity presents itself, you might as well. Like Tamoachan, roll up some special characters just to do this and give it a whirl. It’ll be good for some laughs.

Next time we will tackle Dead in Thay.

Fiddleback vs. Dead in Thay

Fiddleback vs. Dead in Thay

Fiddleback vs. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachin

Fiddleback vs. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachin