White Plume Mountain in the Realms

I recently ran White Plume Mountain over a weekend D&D bender for my regular play group. It's a very short and brutally designed puzzle dungeon that has a long history in D&D, one of the few modules for the original edition of the game that has been updated for damn near every edition since including 5th edition. The compilation book Tales from the Yawning Portal has seven classic adventures including of course, White Plume Mountain.

While Tales does include gorgeous new art of the mountain and updated traps and monsters it doesn't do much more besides replicate the sparse introductory text used in the original modules to try and give hooks for player characters. When White Plume Mountain was first published stories and cohesive world building wasn't something TSR thought players or DMs cared much about - or if they did they would do that on their own. Fair enough.  Tales itself doesn't bother to give the DM much help bringing the adventure into Faerun, the 'default' setting for 5th edition. In fact it provides exactly one sentence:

Forgotten Realms. The mountain can be placed near Mount Hotenow in the region of Neverwinter.
— Tales from the Yawning Portal, pg. 95

Sounds like a tale from the yaaaaaawning portal amirite?

Being the sort of person who can't be content to not know how and why White Plume Mountain exists in Faerun instead of Greyhawk (where it was first published) I had to explain where Keraptis and his mad lair came from. So let me present to you how I would have written this section of Tales and how I made this mad adventure slot into my personal Faerun campaign.

Step 1) Re-Write the Legend

The module has always come with a "The Legend of Keraptis" page which can be given to the players to provide them with what the general hearsay about this Keraptis character is. Since this adventure is published in Tales from the Yawning Portal and the Yawning Portal is an actual tavern in Waterdeep with a great bar tender I re-wrote the Legend as if he was telling it with some extra Faerunian flavor.

Take a seat by the fire my friends. Mind the well in the center of the floor now, unless ye wish to be facing the Undermountain. But that’s a  tale for another day.

You’re here to listen to my tale of the mountain. White plume mountain.  They say it sits on the land like a boil, somewhere in the mere of dead men south of Neverwinter - ever smoking a white cloud from its peak into the swampy air. It is the lair of the mad wizard Keraptis… or so I’ve been told.

He was once one of the mages of Netheril before it’s fall into ruin. He was known even among the extravagant Netherese magi as a cruel eccentric. He delighted in magically creating new monstrous creatures as well as diabolical magical traps to test them against. But after the collapse of his society, Keraptis had nowhere to indulge his sadistic magical research.

He searched Faerun for a desolate place he would not be disturbed. After a time he retreated into the mere of dead men where he found White Plume Mountain. He burrowed within its rock, accompanied only by his cohort of enslaved gnomes - using them to tunnel out the mountain to his insane desires.

That was over 1800 years ago. Keraptis had long since faded into legend and then into a faint memory, only remembered by the most learned sages of ancient history when the Lord’s of some of the most powerful cities in Faerun received a strange letter recently.

It informed them that one of the most valuable artifacts in each of their royal treasuries had already been stolen. They had been taken into the heart of the mountain and if they wished to have them back they must send a champion - one from each city. The letter wasn’t signed except for a with a large K covered in writhing snakes.

And so each of the lord’s contacted each other and learned of their shared predicament and each in turn elected champions to retrieve their prized possessions. Know that if you too step foot into the mountain in search of those legendary artifacts, you will be merely playing a game devised by a demented 1800 year old wizard for his sick entertainment. Of course if you won, you would be extraordinarily rich… and could maybe pay back your bar tab with a few extra gold dragons for your old friend Durnan.
— Durnan Dryndilstann, Owner of the Yawning Portal

Step 2) Keraptis and the Mountain in Faerun

Next I fleshed out a bit of the historical background for this wizard and where he ended up. He's supposed to be old, even the original adventure has him over a millennia old. In Faerun this lines up pretty well with the fall of Netheril, which happened to be filled with powerful wizards.

Keraptis in the Realms

Keraptis was a Netherese wizard who survived Karsus’ Folly, having already left their floating cities by the time the disaster occurred. Keraptis cared little for the fate of Netheril, only interested in furthering his own magical experimentation. He was particularly fond of magical items, a good number of which “disappeared” when Keraptis left his floating city for good. He fled into the mere of dead men and isolated himself within the lone mountain that rose from the miles of swampland around it.

Keraptis grew sadistic in his isolation. The gnomes he hired to carve the dungeon became it’s first slave denizens. He delights in luring powerful monsters and adventurers into the mountain and trapping them there forever as it’s new protectors.

When Keraptis approached death he undertook the final ritual to become a demi-lich. Keraptis had spent centuries learning every rock and gemstone that made up the interior of the mountain. He placed his soul into those gems, diffuse throughout the mountain making the very earth around his dungeon his body and phylactery. He has absolute dominion over the dungeon and still directs and mentally dominates his minions within it, able to cast spells within at will and even shape new rooms. Keraptis however takes great pride in his current dungeon layout, having used it to sadistically kill and enslave great monsters and heroes alike.

It has been over a millenia since any powerful adventurers have wandered in for Keraptis to play with and he grows bored. So in the year 1493 DR he decided to insight some chaos. He stole 3 magical artifacts, one from each of the largest civilized settlements near him. He took Whelm the Warhammer from Mithral Hall. He stole Wave the Trident from Waterdeep. Blackrazor the Sword was taken from Westgate.

Geography of the Mountain

White Plume Mountain is located deep in the Mere of Dead Men on the Sword Coast, between Neverwinter and Waterdeep.

From Faerun Wiki: “The Mere itself was full of trees, vines, quicksand, and hidden islands, and it was generally covered in fog, making visibility very poor. The bones of fallen creatures were clearly visible throughout the Mere. The water was deep enough that it could be navigated on a flat-bottomed boat, but the dark water and hidden obstructions made that choice dangerous.”

Tales of the mountain and its eternal geyser occasionally make their way out of the Mere by the rare adventurer or lost merchant who goes deeper into the swamp and lives to tell of it. Rumors of a fierce tribe of Bullywug who inhabit the stretches of swampland surrounding the mountain’s base have kept people away - not to mention the will-o-wisps, trolls, giant vermin, lizardfolk, hydras, and doppelgangers that infest the heart of the Mere.

Only the rare sage still know that it houses inside the ancient lair of Keraptis of Netheril.

Step 3) Re-Write the Letter

The final part that I felt needed to be updated was the poetic letter Keraptis sends to taunt the lords he has stolen from. I decided to edit some of the opening stanzas in order to hint at the location of the mountain within the mere of dead men. I have a digital hand out version with a background and a printable version with only text. Printing it on some parchment paper made a great handout at the table. 

So there it is. Hopefully you have a clearer picture of how this dungeon could fit into the Forgotten Realms or maybe it sparked some ideas for how you would do it completely differently. That's the fun of Dungeon Mastering, happy gaming!