by Mike Shea on 15 June 2009
Note: This article contains spoilers for Pyramid of Shadows. If you plan on playing in this adventure, skip this article.
With Pyramid of Shadows, Mike Mearls and James Wyatt have re-created the Gygaxian dungeon - an illogical matching of beasts whose only purpose was to battle adventurers foolish enough to step within. This extra-dimentional prison, however, draws in all manner of beasts and builds itself around their home environments. It is a senseless dungeon delve, that makes sense. Today we'll look at three tips to run this adventure for your own group.
The Pyramid Itself Is the Main Villain
Good adventures are built from the motivation of the characters, both PCs and the NPCs with whom they interact. For an added layer to your story, consider the Pyramid itself as a sentient NPC. Consider its own motivations and its own actions. For example, how does the pyramid act as the players defeat the prisoners within? How does it react to Karavakos's attempt to breech into the Far Realm? What motivation did the demonic hosts instill in the Pyramid?
In my own adventure, the Pyramid built hollow environments for its prisoners - areas that seemed like home but were instead empty shells. Food never had any taste, the sun never had any warmth, and the treasure never had any gleam. The Pyramid ensured this.
Consider your own motivations for the Pyramid. What is it doing, what is it thinking, what does it see as the players travel through it?
Use Vyrellis's Growth as a Story Arc
Good adventures are stories of growth. In the Pyramid, this story of growth is held by Vyrellis. If handled correctly, her journey begins on the head of a pike and can end as a new great power in the planes. In my own campaign, I had her journey begin as a talking skull and end as a demi-lich. Every one of the recovered gems becomes a new tooth or eye for the demi-lich. As her hatred for her old lover grows stronger, so does her power.
Vyrellis might even strike the last blow, as she did in my own running of the Pyramid, stealing her lover's soul and savoring his taste until the end of her very many days.
At the conclusion of the adventure, Vyrellis could become the new mistress of the Pyramid, making it her home and tomb as her astral projection explores all the known and unknown worlds. Perhaps another venture into the much transformed Pyramid lies in the future.
Place the Pyramid in the Far Realm
The Pyramid travels across both space and time but, perhaps, its real home is in the Far Realm, floating within the unknown, unknowable spaces outside of existence. This could have a couple of effects on the adventure. First, when the players find the twisted Far Realms Abomination, consider adding a breech in the wall of the Pyramid, a crack created by Karavakos's attempt to break free of the prison. Thinking of the Pyramid as a creature itself, the players might clear up this Far Realms infection. When they have defeated the Abomination and left, the Pyramid might seal off that wing as a creature might amputate a badly infected limb.
Second, the Far Realm exists outside of time. In my own campaign. I had the demi-lich Vyrellis, open a gateway from the Pyramid in the Far Realm across the Abyss and the Elemental Chaos until it reached the players homeworld. How well they did in this planar traveling skill challenge determined when they returned home - somewhere between one and six years.
Though the Pyramid of Shadows stands mostly as a stand-alone adventure, there are many ways to tie together the threads of encounters into an overarching story of escape and vengeance. Like any published adventure, make it your own.