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White Plume Mountain, penned by Lawrence Schick as an application to work at TSR, became one of the most enduring dungeon crawls in the history of Dungeons & Dragons. The module bears the code S2 and was intended for player characters between levels 5 and 10.
This geographical anomaly has intrigued and daunted those who learn of its storied past. The module, S2 in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, is a venerable piece of the game’s history, offering a distinct blend of combat, exploration, and problem-solving that is as engaging now as it was upon its release.
The adventure takes place in a mysterious, plume-shrouded mountain that rises abruptly from the land around it. The mountain is a dormant volcano, and its interior is a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms filled with traps, monsters, and puzzles. The atmosphere of the adventure is one of high fantasy with a touch of the whimsical and bizarre.
The narrative thrust of the module revolves around three legendary weapons: Wave, a trident; Whelm, a warhammer; and Blackrazor, a greatsword. Each weapon has unique powers and a distinct personality. These weapons were stolen by the enigmatic wizard Keraptis, who disappeared with them into the depths of White Plume Mountain 1,300 years ago. Recently, the weapons have resurfaced, and the heroes are tasked with retrieving them.
More than mere tools of battle, these items are infused with deep lore and personality. Their backgrounds are intertwined with the history of the mountain itself and the mysterious wizard Keraptis, who vanished into its depths. The narrative invites players to ponder the histories of these items as they endeavor to reclaim them, adding layers to the quest that extend beyond the immediate thrill of adventure.
The Adventure Begins
The module starts when the player characters are approached with a riddle-poem that hints at the location of the weapons and the dangers they will face. This poem is crucial as it offers subtle clues to help the players navigate the perils ahead.
The Wizard Keraptis
Keraptis, whose name has become synonymous with the mountain, is as much a part of the dungeon as the traps and creatures that inhabit it. After disappearing with the weapons, the wizard left behind a legacy that has puzzled and tempted adventurers for over a millennium. The quest to retrieve the weapons is also a dive into the mythos of Keraptis, prompting players to wonder: who was this wizard, and what was his ultimate fate?
The interior of White Plume Mountain is characterized by Schick’s whimsical and sometimes bizarre design sensibilities. The dungeon’s traps and puzzles are notorious for requiring creative thinking to bypass. Rooms filled with strange phenomena, like reverse gravity or boiling mud, add to the challenge and the fun.
The architecture of White Plume Mountain is a testament to the imaginative potential of dungeon design. Each chamber and corridor is crafted not just as a physical space but as a cerebral challenge. The dungeon defies the laws of nature and convention, offering a space where the impossible becomes the norm. Rooms like the frictionless chamber or the upside-down room force players to think creatively, using their skills and resources in unconventional ways.
The Adventure’s Structure
White Plume Mountain is structured to allow for multiple paths of progression, ensuring that no two journeys through the dungeon are exactly alike. This design provides a refreshing take on the linear adventures of the time, offering a sandbox feel within the confines of a structured narrative. The multiple paths also allow for a replayability that is uncommon in adventures of its kind, inviting players to return to the mountain to uncover all of its secrets.
Challenges Beyond Combat
The challenges within the mountain are meticulously crafted to test more than just the combat prowess of the adventurers. From riddles that must be solved to traps that require lateral thinking, the adventure is a crucible that forges well-rounded characters. Players must leverage not only their avatars’ abilities but also their own reasoning and problem-solving skills to prevail.
The Role of Humor
Amidst the danger and darkness of the dungeon, Schick infused White Plume Mountain with a light-heartedness that is often a breath of fresh air. The whimsical encounters with creatures like a polite, if deceptive, sphinx or a room of friendly but mischievous gnomes inject moments of levity. This approach balances the tension of the adventure and endears the module to those who appreciate the fantastical elements of D&D.
The Weapons’ Allure
The allure of Wave, Whelm, and Blackrazor extends beyond their power. Each weapon is sentient, with desires and inclinations that can align with or oppose their wielders’ motives. The interaction with these weapons often raises moral and ethical questions for the characters. Their powers are tempting, but they come with the responsibility and potential peril of wielding a living piece of history.
- The Kelpie’s Pool: A creature disguised as a damsel in distress that attempts to drown unwary heroes.
- The Frictionless Room: A chamber where the floor is entirely frictionless, causing characters to slide uncontrollably.
- The Gnome Room: A room filled with machinery operated by gnomes who may be indifferent, hostile, or helpful depending on how they are approached.
- Wave: This trident seeks to fight evil aquatic creatures and has the ability to summon elementals.
- Whelm: The warhammer that prefers to smash goblinoids and has the ability to detect precious metals and gems.
- Blackrazor: Arguably the most famous, this greatsword can consume souls to grant temporary hit points to its wielder.
Legacy and Reception:
White Plume Mountain has been lauded for its originality and replay value. Its design influenced subsequent generations of dungeon modules. It has been reprinted and updated for multiple editions of D&D, including a 3.5 edition revamp in Dungeon magazine and inclusion in the 5th edition anthology “Tales from the Yawning Portal.”
Its longevity can be attributed to its timeless design and the fondness with which the community regards it. Its impact on the design of tabletop RPGs is substantial, illustrating how an adventure can be more than a series of combat encounters. It is a cultural touchstone for the D&D community, often cited as a perfect example of what makes the game enduringly popular.
White Plume Mountain is more than just a site for epic battles; it’s a bizarre, otherworldly locale that tests the mettle, wits, and ingenuity of any adventurer daring enough to step inside. It offers a blend of tactical combat, elaborate traps, and the quintessential D&D humor that has defined the game for decades. It’s a testament to the creativity and enduring legacy of Dungeons & Dragons as a whole.
It endures as a paragon of the D&D experience, a wellspring of creativity that continues to inspire Dungeon Masters and players alike. It is a symbol of the adventure, camaraderie, and the boundless imagination that form the pillars of role-playing games. Whether you’re drawn to the allure of ancient artifacts, the thrill of navigating a deadly labyrinth, or the joy of unraveling the mysteries of a lost wizard, White Plume Mountain promises an experience as unforgettable as the treasures that lie within its misty peak.
Whether you’re an old-school gamer feeling nostalgic or a new player eager to experience a piece of D&D history, White Plume Mountain remains an adventure worth climbing.
The module comes in a variety of flavors, the original (mono cover) and below, orange cover: