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Subject: Once upon a time... my 33rd birthday rss

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Merric Blackman
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Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
I originally posted this back in December 2005, after I'd turned 33. I was reminded of it by some recent discussions on EN World, and thought it a worthy one-shot session that could be enshrined on RPG Geek. I hope you enjoy it - I certainly did!

Birthday White Plume Mountain

I turned 33 yesterday. As a treat for myself (and possibly my friends), I took them through part of the original 1E White Plume Mountain today, instead of the RPGA (3.5E) game we often play on Friday afternoons.

Beware! This thread contains spoilers for White Plume Mountain! Read on at your own risk!

I wasn't sure how many people were going to turn up - there was the possibilty of eight people - so, I created 8 Pre-gens. I used a mixture of 1e and 3e terminology: AC and attack bonuses were given in 3E format; all else in 1e format. PCs were created using the appendix in the 1E DMG "Creating a party on the spur of the moment" to assign magic items.

Here's a few of the PCs:

Halfling F6/T6; S12, I9, W7, D17, C13, Ch13; AC 18; hp 28
+1 shortsword: +6 (1d6+1)
Shortbow: #AT 2; +7 (1d6)

Half-Elf C5/MU6; S11, I12, W17, D11, C9, Ch11; AC 22; hp 24
Mace: +2 (1d6+1)

Human C7; S12, I9, W16, D8, C11, Ch12; AC 18; hp 33
+1 Mace: +5 (1d6+2)

Human R6; S18/06; I13, W15, D9, C16, Ch15; AC 18, hp 49
+1 longsword: +7 (1d8+4)
+1 longbow: #AT 2; +6 (1d6+1)

The other PCs: A Dwarf F7; Elf F6/MU6; Human F7; Human MU7 (The players took those with them).

Little else was on the character sheets. This was AD&D with no supplements: just the three core books. I flirted with using the 3.5e spells, but soon enough we were using 1e descriptions for all. The unfamiliarity of the players with the older spells would soon cause trouble!

Five players turned up, they took five of the PCs. (F/T, F/MU, MU, R, C/MU). We were away!

You may be asking why I used (a) White Plume Mountain and (b) why AD&D when I like 3e so much?

As for (a), I think White Plume Mountain is a great *fun* adventure. It has a variety of situations, requires the players to think, and isn't too serious. It's always been one of my favourite adventures. No, it doesn't always make sense - but it's enjoyable to run and to play.

And why (b) AD&D? Partly it's to reacquaint myself with the game. When you write articles about 3.5e, it's important to remember the game's roots, and to see where things have changed - where things have improved, and where they have not. Then too, there's a different balance perspective to the game. I'm not talking about PC vs PC here (a key component of 3.5e balance), but rather of 3rd level opponents vs 7th level opponents.

Look at the attack bonuses above for the pregens. A 6th level character has a +7 attack bonus with a good strength and a magic sword! The F7 (no listed) also only had a +7 attack bonus. (A F1 would be +0 without modification, btw).

There's a stretching of AC and attack bonuses in 3e that is not always to the benefit of the game. I found that when running Encounter at Blackwall Keep (Age of Worms #3) last week - the lizardfolk just *couldn't* hit the PCs. 30 lizardfolk vs 6 fifth-level PCs was so lop-sided it wasn't funny... but that would have been challenging in AD&D.

I sometime think the stacking of bonuses in 3e has gone too far - and the chief culprit is the ability score progression...

Into the Dungeon (spoilers ahoy!)

After the obligatory adventure background explanation, the PCs entered the dungeon. Cutting out the boring bits, they soon found themselves trudging through muck, mud and water. (What fun!)

Trick #1: The Sphinx
I love running Sphinxes. I find them so amusing (as do my players). In my games, the Sphinxes know it's daft to keep asking (easily answered?) riddles, but they do it anyway... because it's traditional. Or, as in this case, because some crackpot wizard has geased them to do it. "I'm so bored here. You know the drill. Riddle, answer, yada yada yada... I'll let you through if you get it, otherwise the adventure ends here."

I'm rather pleased that Adam got the riddle within seconds. Of course, it's not a hard riddle - it remains one of my favourites, though. The "Altar of the Lupine Lords" line is great... and the entire thing is evocative. Give me that over hard any day.

Three passages. Which way to go? By now, the players have a great strategy - Adam gets there first and says "Left!" So, off to Blackrazor they squelch.

Trick #2: Heating Elements
What do you do when you find that your metal armour heats up in a corridor? Do you
(a) run through screaming and hope you have enough hit points?
(b) try to find a way to cool it down? or
(c) send the magic-user up ahead on his own to see if there's an "off" switch.

If you're my party, you choose (c).

This is a bit of a problem when there are 8 ghouls waiting up the end for unarmoured people to arrive! I'm a kind DM. Only two ghouls attack. The rest of the party are bemused to see the Wizard running and screaming his way back to them (splash! splash!), followed by two ghouls.

Mat, playing the ranger, rushed into to melee with the ghouls. His armour begins to heat up, but he can take it - for now. Unfortunately, this is the point where he failed his save against paralysis. Oh dear. "Help!" "Shut up you, you can't talk!" *through clenched teeth: Help!*

1E initiative irritates me, but I'm using it now. For those who have forgotten, it works like this:

1) Players declare actions.
2) Both sides roll d6, highest roll wins
3) Sides act in initiative order, unless one side has more attack routines than the other, was charging, firing bows, casting spells, or got simultaneous initiative, in which case other rules apply...

Let's just say that the ghouls died under a hail of magic missiles. One poor ghoul, with only 10 hp, was hit by three magic missile spells in the same round from the three MUs - 10 missiles in all. It was very dead.

Having had this plan not go that well, do you think that dissuaded the PCs? Not at all. Ben the MU went once again, on his own, to the end chamber. That's when I had the other 6 ghouls come out.

The other PCs decide to act. The halfling and ranger charge down towards the MU, despite their armour and the heating elements. Adam (playing the C/MU), decides to cast fireball. Ben hears this, and begins charging back down towards the party, trying desperately to get out of the area of effect.

I point out that 1e fireballs expand to fill the area. Adam doesn't care.

I'm a nice DM. I rule that if the PCs make their saves, they only take 1/4 damage, because there's water for them to shield themselves with. Some PCs make saves. Others don't. Surprisingly, no-one dies in the group - the ghouls are toasted, however.

Eventually, the PCs work out a plan to get their armour through and put it into effect. They're through the room. Where does the next door lead?

Trick #3: Super-Tetanus!
The next room has two pits with rusty razor blades and a frictionless floor. Sarah, suspecting a trick but not this one, quickly jumps over the first pit to find herself sliding into the second. A failed poison saving throw later, and her character is well on the way to death from Super Tetanus!

Mat comes up with a novel idea: get a body of a ghoul from the last chamber, and use it as a "surfboard", jumping off it at the last moment to get across the second pit to safety. It sounds stupid to me, but also fun. Why not?

So, Mat jumps on, slides across the floor, and then it's time to roll dice to see if he jumps off in time. That'll be a Dex check (d20 equal or less than his Dex... of 9). He rolls a 10. He falls into Sarah's pit.

Hmm. Minor damage. Make your save vs poison, Mat - you need an 11. He rolls a 10. There's a theme here somewhere. Two characters expiring from Super Tetanus!

It doesn't take long for the rest of the party to get spooked and fail to rescue their friends - not that they could do anything, anyway.

It's getting late. I can't remember how they got across. I'm sure that Gerard got himself across somehow (maybe he made his save, and then used a rope?) In any case, having exhausted the comic potential of this area, we moved on. Mat and Sarah took new characters, who mysteriously just happened to arrive(!) and the PCs were faced with a new challenging decision:

Left or Right?

Trick #4: The Inverted Ziggurat Room
Andy Collins wondered if anyone ever fought the "dry level" monsters... well, my party sort of did. At least they expended a few spells.

After taking a couple of hits from manticore spikes, Adam tossed a fireball at the manticores. It damaged them and shattered the Sea Lion enclosure. Then he tossed a lightning bolt at the water. Zap! The one manticore that was still alive was quickly killed by the Sea Lions. Then another Fireball took care of the Sea Lions.

Meanwhile, the giant crayfish of the top levels were climbing out and attacking the PCs. Sarah and Mat held them off as the other ran around casting spells and firing arrows.

One point of similarity between 1e and 3e: Monsters can do surprising amounts of damage. A crayfish deals 2d8 damage - a huge deal in a system where the fighter only has 7d10 hp (and this one had no con bonus!) One point of dissimiliarity between 1e and 3e: PC damage doesn't increase that much.

A few sleep and web spells later, the scorpions of level C were bound. The Crayfish were crushed. Then, with the upper level's glass shattered, the scorpions drowned.

Andy: Yes, my players didn't really feel the dry monsters mattered, either!

I'd given one of the PCs a potion of waterbreathing (and another a ring of water walking). So, once again, the party scout... Ben the MU... went on alone to see what he could find. Hmm. A wall of force blocking the lower exit. Drains that would (eventually) get rid of the water. Oh, and a safe. Well, he had a knock spell - and the trap was irrelevant by this time. So, treasure!

That's right... each GP is worth 1 XP, and there's also XP for magic items.

Here's a question: what does a PC do with all that gold? Well, there's training (if you used the rule - I never did). After that? Not that much. Eventually a castle?

There's a purpose for gold in 3e: to buy magic items. It really doesn't have any purpose beyond XP in 1e.

Wandering Monster!
Is it my imagination, or are wandering monsters less used today? They do exist in wilderness travel. (Oh, the boredom of eight straight guaranteed wandering monsters in Encounter at Blackwall Keep as the PCs travelled to the Lizardfolk lair... please, let a 1 in 6 chance return to adventures!)

My party had been hurt quite a bit by the preceding encounters, so they decided that it was a good time to take a rest. In the middle of the dungeon. Right...

I got down to rolling dice. After twelve unsuccessful rolls (the chance was 1 on 1d12, roll every turn), I finally got one. And it was an INVISIBLE STALKER! COOL! I've never run one of those before!

Invisible Stalkers surprise 5 in 6, and Sarah's the only one on watch. This should be good...

I roll for surprise... and get a SIX! DAMN IT!!! Sarah noticed it come in!

What can I say about the resulting combat? That it was short and brutal? That'd be a lie. That it was messy and extremely amusing? That'd be closer to the truth.

Sarah woke the others (1 minute combat rounds... yay), and the party got ready to face the foe. Adam, needing to go to a Christmas Party and not caring too much, threw a fireball at the Stalker. Yes, this is at ground zero. Ben runs the other way very quickly, and is the only one not in the blast area. Result: Everyone is still up... except Adam. Yes, he killed himself with his own fireball. (For unknown reasons, nobody tried to stabilize him!)

If you get the impression that everyone in the group isn't taking this entirely seriously, you'd be right.

Sarah continues to roll poorly to hit the stalker, as does it, although I do get a couple of good hits in.

Ben then decides to even the odds with a haste spell. He's used to how it works in 3e. It looks pretty similar in 1e, doesn't it?

If you want a spell that is obscure in full effect, it's hard to go past the 1e haste spell. The text of the spell notes that it ages those under its effect. The DMG notes that the aging is 1 year. The PHB's Constitution table notes that those who magically age must make a System Shock check or die.

This was something of a surprise to Ben when I explained the effect... and Mat and Blake both failed their System Shock checks. (Ben failed as well, but I'd ruled he wasn't in the area of effect; a mistake I note when looking at the spell description now. It's meant to be centred on the caster. Oh, well).

About ten minutes later, when the laughter had subsided (Ben: "I did what?"), Sarah eventually managed to slay the Slayer. (I just wanted to say that). Ben and Sarah looked around at the bodies, and decided to get out of the dungeon and to a nearby town to rest up and recruit new companions.

Blake took my one remaining PC - a human fighter 7. (24 hp. No stat above 14!)
Mat rolled up a new PC under my instructions - a half-orc cleric/assassin.
Adam went off to his party.

Trick #5: Qesnef
Returning to the dungeon, the PCs penetrated the lair of Qesnef, Ogre Magi extraordinare! As noted in the text, he disguised himself as a halfling. The PCs were taken in. "I've been told to stay here by Keraptis, and I can't leave!"

So, Mat's new PC, the half-orc cleric/assassin, decided to walk over, pick up Qesnef, and take him out of the room. Qesnef quickly cast his cold ray spell...

I should point out that Mat rolled "poorly" for his hit points. He had about 14. He failed his save (this is an ongoing theme) and took the full 8d8 hit points damage. He fell over. (Roll up new stats, Mat!) The rest of us got down to combat.

Ben decided to cast Strength on Sarah. Hmm. "Ben, what's the casting time of that spell?" "1 turn" "Ben, 1 turn is ten minutes" "Huh?" "OK, I'll just say you cast it earlier."

I'd never really used Strength in my previous career as a 1e Magic-User. I got to see how effective it was now. Not that effective, but Sarah's fighter went from having a 16 strength to an 18/20 strength - so from +1 damage to +1 to hit and +3 damage.

What can I say about the combat with Qesnef? They overpowered him quickly? That sums it up. Magic missiles from Ben, good hits from Sarah and Gerard, and an Ogre Mage who couldn't actually hit anything...

Then they got down to the looting. As I've alluded to before, I wasn't bothering with any identify rule. So, a +2 set of platemail, a ring of mirror images, a ring of protection +3, and Blackrazor! A +3 sword. What type of sword? I don't know. Look, it says in the module, "sword".

Gerard grabbed the sword. (He's playing a fighter at this stage. Sarah's playing the dwarf fighter, and Mat's rolling up a druid - he finally got some *very* good rolls. Oh, and Ben is playing a magic-user.)

The party retreat from the dungeon again to rest and recuperate - and Ben becomes an 8th level MU as he finally gets me to calculate XP.

Trick #6: The mid-air stream and Sir Bluto
Returning to the dungeon, the PCs took the other fork in the Blackrazor area. ("What fork?" asked Sarah. "I described it when you were out of the room," I said. "Oh," said Sarah).

As the PCs got into the kayaks and paddled down the stream, ("Why are you doing this?" "Because they're there." "Oh.") Sir Bluto and his merry henchmen got ready to net them.

I wish to point out that there are *no* rules for nets in core AD&D or in White Plume Mountain. I ruled that saving throws versus paralysis were needed. ("Versus Paralysis?" "Yes." "Not Reflex Saves?" "No." "Oh.") Everyone saved except Ben.

Then Sarah got to work, engaging the villains in melee. She was in for a surprise. ("Sarah?" "Yes?" "You know that +2 platemail you're wearing?" "Yes?" "It's actually platemail of vulnerability. You have an AC of 20!" "Oh.")

Meanwhile, Mat was trying to cast spells. I don't know if you've noticed, but druidic and cleric spells take a while to cast in 1e. I was using a slight variation on the 1e initiative rules (my rules make sense!) so that if the difference between the initiative rolls was greater or equal to the spell's casting time in segments (and the PCs had won initiative), the spell got off first.

Mat's spells were taking 4+ segments to cast. He wasn't casting many spells successfully. A bit of a pity, because Summon Insects is such a *nasty* spell. (1d4 damage per round, and the recipient can't act for its duration - no save allowed!)

Ben was making saves against paralysis. Eventually he de-netted himself and started using magic missiles against the foes. (Mainly Sir Bluto). With a 1 segment casting time, it's much more likely to be successfully cast.

And Gerard. Gerard, who was wielding Blackrazor... He killed a minion, and I told him he gained 20 hp and a +4 to attack. He liked that. Blackrazor started singing. "I love the smell of blood in the morning! I love the smell of the blood in the evening!"

Sarah started getting annoyed. "Why do I get platemail of vulnerability while he gets Blackrazor?"

Gerard killed another minion. Now, I could be wrong about this, but from the description in WPM, he gets *another* +4 bonus to attack and 20 hp. (They were F4 minions). Oh dear. At least his damage hasn't increased. He can't miss, but he still takes a little time to kill things. Blackrazor casts haste on Gerard. ("Make a System Shock roll, Gerard!" "Made it!" "Oh.")

Sarah keeps getting hit by Sir Bluto, but Gerard has almost finished the minions... they're finished! And so, Sir Bluto suddenly finds that Blackrazor isn't fun to fight against. Gerard is victorious! (Sarah's still alive, surprisingly).

At this point we ended the session. Gerard and Ben really want to continue this adventure; Sarah isn't so sure. Well, I'll decide after Christmas, as it looks unlikely that we can play again before then.

I had fun. I didn't take it too seriously (just as well), and things rollocked along. I'll mention that all the preceding description occured in one session of slightly under four hours in length. I don't think it was much faster than my 3e games, though - I run combats much faster than most people I know.

An observation on White Plume Mountain (or White Plum Mountain, as it's called in the classics): every encounter is some sort of trick. You don't have simple "it's a pit" or "it's a orc" encounters except for the wandering monsters. At all times, the author is changing the ground rules.

This can get very annoying. Sarah was extremely frustrated by the razor blade traps. She had fly cast on herself already... and fly doesn't work in that room. You get abilities... and then find that you can't use them in areas where they'd actually be useful.

So, will we return to White Plume Mountain? I hope so. It's an interesting glimpse into the past: where men were real men, women were real women, and paranoid half-orc assassins were real paranoid half-orc assassins!

Postscript: AD&D Initiative
I was using a modified version of initiative given in the 1E DMG. (The unmodified version is contradictory and unplayable as written).

* All actions are declared before initiative is rolled
* If a creature has Two attack routines, then it attacks First and Last in the round. (e.g. an archer fires two arrows; they occur first and last).
* If a creature charges, the longer weapon strikes first
* In the case of the preceding rules not applying, then the initiative roll (d6 for each side) breaks the tie. Highest roll wins.
* If the spellcaster loses initiative, then they will always cast their spell last in the round.
* If the spellcaster wins initiative, then their casting time (in segments) is added to the losing die roll; if it is higher than the winning roll, then their spell occurs later in the round.

Just to show how the attack routines work, at one point we had a Gerard's hasted fighter 7, getting 3 attacks a round. Bluto got 2 attacks in a round, and Mat and the Minions were getting 1 attack a round.

If the PCs won initiative, then the order was:
Gerard attack #1
Bluto attack #1
Gerard attack #2 & Mat attack #1
Minion attack #1
Bluto attack #2
Gerard attack #3

If the PCs lost initiative, then the order was:
Gerard attack #1
Bluto attack #1
Minion attack #1
Gerard attack #2 & Mat attack #1
Bluto attack #2
Gerard attack #3
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matt erwin
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White plume is my all time favorite! I also have a custom set-up for the discs of doom. Check out the inverted ziggurat. .
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