by Mike Shea on 7 February 2009
This review is intended for Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters. It will contain spoilers. If you plan on playing through this adventure, stop now and go read some Penny Arcade instead.
Pyramid of Shadows is the third published adventure by Wizards of the Coast for the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It is also the third adventure in my current campaign. I will save you some time by skipping over the vital statistics of the adventure which you can find from almost any other review. Instead I will tell you what my group and I thought of the adventure.
I also recognize that sharing stories of someone else's D&D game is the nerd equivalent of sharing baby poop stories with other parents. You only REALLY care about your own baby poop story, so you suffer through another's poop story just so you can get out your own. I will skip the details of our own poop story - or our own travel through the Pyramid - and skip to what I believe to be useful information to run your own poop story...I mean Pyramid of Shadows adventure.
In short, Pyramid of Shadows is an excellent, entertaining, and balanced adventure. It is well worth the $17 from Amazon. The players' primary complaint was the lack of any sort of town where they could rest and buy and sell gear. This is sort of the point, however, so one cannot hold too much against it for that.
From a DM perspective, the Pyramid is an excellent throw back to the Gygaxian dungeons that made no ecological sense. Why on earth would three orcs be in a room right next to two umber hulks? What do they eat? Why have they not killed each other? How did they get past that huge spiked pit trap?
The adventure explains this by describing the Pyramid as a living changing structure. The walls, floors, and entire environments begin to morph and shift into a museum-display version of the habitat the inhabitant is used to. The white dragon has his own icy lair and the plant Arboreans have their own jungle habitat.
I took this part of the adventure a step further by describing, later in the game, that the pyramid itself is a living entity. It is a hellish construction, stuck out floating in the Far Realm, that twists and morphs itself around those living inside. For example, the bandit lord and his minions ended up in some strange bar or inn with fake mannequin-style barmaids and beer, neither of which brought real satisfaction to the hungry and randy bandits.
I made a few other modifications to the adventure that I thought built it out a bit better for our group. For one, in the Far Realm rooms later on in the adventure, I had an actual rift in the wall of the pyramid in room T5. It would seem the splinter of Karavakos within this section actually managed to tear open a wound in the pyramid but the terrible nightmarish void of the Far Realm warped him into the Far Realm Abomination. When the party killed him and left, the pyramid shut off this whole section, like cutting off a rotting hand.
I also made some major changes to Vyrellis. First, I had an actual physical skull I bought at a party store after Halloween. As the players found Vyrellis's gems, I put balls of construction paper into the eyes and teeth. Little did the party know that, all along, they were slowly building her out as a demi-lich. In the final battle, as the real Karavakos fell, she used her drain soul power to suck his soul into her tooth. Should the party had decided to battle her, I was prepared to use the Acererak Construct from the newly released and totally awesome Open Grave sourcebook for her stats. Alas, the party accepted her offer to leave the pyramid so she could float freely within her new tomb deep within the Far Realm while her astral projection explored all the planes had to offer.
The pyramid has many memorable encounters including a battle against an ettin head-taker, a white dragon, a battle against a powerful solo Otyugh called the Charnal Lord, a beast the pyramid uses as a huge garbage collector, and even a super mario style room of water and pipes. Overall my gaming group enjoyed the encounters. Again, their only complaint was the lack of any real place to stay.
The Wizards published adventures have only a couple of real disadvantages. One, they only come with two to four encounter maps. The Pyramid came with three. Given the huge number of rooms, it is unreasonable to assume they would include them all, but worse, Wizards own Dungeon Tiles don't work well to build out the other rooms. Why Wizards would not capitalize on their own products makes little sense. This same problem exists with the minis. Enough D&D miniatures have been released to this point that just about any creature in an adventure has a mini available, but it runs about $40 to $50 on the secondary market to buy all the minis required for an adventure. This gets really bad when the adventure calls for multiple rare minis such as three Skeletal Tomb Guardians (which run $8 a piece). Why Wizards is unable to coordinate their own products better is beyond me. Still, this is a minor complaint.
Overall, given the cost and the hours of entertainment for you and your group, the Pyramid of Shadows is an excellent adventure. The story is good, the encounters are fun, and the quality is high. My group enjoyed it one evening a week for ten weeks. I highly recommend it.
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