S2: White Plume Mountain

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White Plume Mountain is an adventure module written for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Written by Lawrence Schick, it was released by TSR in 1979. It is set in the Greyhawk campaign setting. The hook of the story is that three legendary weapons were stolen by a madder-than-usual wizard named Keraptis. We know this because the wizard left a note at each crime scene shitposting about his escapades in poetic verse. The audacity! The wizard boasts that he has taken the artifacts to reside with him in White Plume Mountain, an active goddamn volcano that he spelunked into 1,300 years ago with a cadre of gnomes, and now it is up to you to go in after him and retrieve these artifact weapons for their owners.

White Plume Mountain is generally very favorably remembered by neckbeards, usually ranking somewhere in the Top 10 list of the best D&D dungeons. While it does not have sheer FUCK YOU nature of the Tomb of Horrors, it is chock full of fun and memorable encounters and puzzles.

That said, the module is not without criticism, with Schick himself being one of the most vocal. By his own admission, the excuse plot of "mad wizard lures you into a wacky dungeon, what do?" was old hat even at the time, he was hoping to get a job and basically just crammed together every cool idea he'd ever had from every other dungeon he'd ever made rather than tried to make them holistically fit together, the ending sucks, and one of the treasures just rips the black sword right off Elric's pasty white hand because YOLO. Schick still thinks of it a fun dungeon crawl with cool setpieces, but he doesn't think of it as truly great anymore.

A sequel, Return to White Plume Mountain, was released in 1999 for D&D's silver anniversary, which takes place twenty years after the original. Having been presumably slain in the original WPM, Keraptis may have returned as his mocking face has appeared in the eponymous plume of smoke which exudes from the volcano which was once his lair. Does this herald the mad wizard's return, or is something even more nefarious afoot? No one knows, but it sure was complicated.

A 5e remake of the original module was included in Tales from the Yawning Portal, among many other classic modules, ported over more-or-less faithfully.

Novelization[edit]

Paul Kidd wrote a Greyhawk Classics novel adaptation of the module in 1999, featuring the characters of the Justicar, Cinders, Polt, and Escalla the fairie. Which will be recurring in future Kidd-GC stories.

Distinguishes itself from a lot of the other licensed novel adaptations through creativity (a party composed of a ranger, a flayed-but-living hellhound skin, a fairy wizard, and a bizarrely-indestructible teamster is at least a creative spin on the usual elf-human-halfling-dwarf fighter-rogue-mage-cleric du jour), good scene-setting writing, and the clever idea of making it a sequel to the original module, where the dungeon of Keraptis has fallen into disrepair and the villains are trying to renovate it. It also has a decent sense of humor (mocking some of the weirder or most obvious potential problems with the original module, and the main character escapes the usual label given to an edgy badass in black armor who chose his own name by dint of a writer who isn't so in love with him that he's unwilling to make him the butt of many jokes), and, while not perhaps tightly plotted, it at least manages to work all the subplots together such that none of the side adventures feel like diversions or wastes of time with nothing to do with the main quest.

It also expands on the motivations of Keraptis, not only inventing an unusual and distinctive appearance for the wizard (white on one side and black on the other, like that one Star Trek alien in the episode about racism), but giving him a motivation for his silly dungeon where the challenges are meant to only get the strongest, most clever adventurers to the end, so they can be absorbed into him and become part of him through a magical process the main villain is keen on poaching for himself. It also establishes Keraptis is long dead at the start of the story, further making it infuriating that the module proper cheats the players out of a proper boss fight.

Downsides include Escalla, who is about 50/50 on endearing and annoying, a potential ten-little-Indians subplot that is totally squandered on a group that's almost entirely there to die, like Security teams in Star Trek, and taking more than half the novel to even start travelling to the titular dungeon.

Also, an interesting erinyes sub-villain, after spending most of the novel being a fairly competent and intimidating threat, throws it all away in the sub-climax by, in order, using Blackrazor during her boss fight when it had been a plot point for most of the novel that she couldn't with a bizarre and flimsy excuse, doing the anime character thing where you run around someone in a circle while spawning doppelgangers (through magic rather than super-speed), and then literally shouting "I'll get you Justicar! And your little dog too!"

Kidd's book is also, for better or worse, very much a creature of From the Ashes Greyhawk, where the cataclysmic war with Iuz has filled the countryside with desperate refugees and the frontier with dead villages and roving monsters and bandits. The worst excesses of that setting are not front and center: by 1999, Wizards had wrested command of the sinking TSR ship, and already had Erik Mona and Sean Reynolds working on the "Living Greyhawk" project to clean up Carl Sargent's grimderp. As a result in Kidd's officially-licenced novel, the highest authorities are generally competent and reasonable. But, the authorities are, still, dealing with an underbelly of corruption and vice. The main character and all the major players were touched by the conflict and are either motivated by it or taking advantage of the chaos left in its wake.

Perhaps this difference in tone is best exemplified by the character of Polt, the loud-mouthed happy-go-lucky teamster who keeps on complaining that the Justicar is insufficiently "heroic" (read: acting like a classic D&D adventurer), has a weak will for both magic and liquor, and is very much a comic relief figure; yet he never gets killed off (indeed, his improbable survival through situations that should have offed him becomes a running gag right up until the end where he kills an evil wizard's disciple with a shove attack) and many of his ideas actually turn out to have some merit to them, like spiking dungeon doors open so they can't shut and seal the team inside, or bringing along the 10 foot pole everyone mocks until they desperately need it.

Saw a sequel in the novelization of Descent Into the Depths.