Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pyramid of Shadows

While the title of Keep on the Shadowfell was meant to recall memories of the old Keep on the Borderlands module, Pyramid of Shadows actually has more in common with that old module in terms of content. Both KotB and PoS (what an unfortunate acronym) feature sets of vastly different monsters somehow living in close proximity to each other. This formula is a bit of a trope in many older D&D modules. The only real difference between PoS and those older modules is that the writer at least comes up with a more plausible explanation as to why these creatures are living near each other, and how they manage to survive without killing each other off.

One problem with the explanation that the writer comes up with is that it essentially locks the players in the dungeon for the entire adventure. From Level 7 to 10 they will find themselves stuck in the same small area with no opportunities for interaction with the outside world. This is both a strength and a weakness. The strength is that this adventure has to be one of the most portable adventures I've ever seen in regards to the ability to drop it into just about any D&D world with little or no adaptation necessary. The weakness is that if you're dropping it into an existing campaign you're basically putting that campaign on hold for the duration of the adventure since the characters will have no way to interact with the world outside. Not to mention that the the group is entirely on their own.

Death could become a serious issue as the party has no reason to own a Raise Dead ritual prior to starting the adventure. They can find one during the adventure, but it's not guaranteed, and there are only enough components available to perform it once.

Aside from the premise, which I feel was stronger in Thunderspire Labyrinth, this module shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses with its predecessor, if in slightly different proportions. The included battle mat again feels like an afterthought with 90% of the battles occurring in areas not on the mat. The difference is that the locations included are a bit more generic, so you're more likely to be able to reuse the mat in other adventures.

Like with the last module, there's a problem with the paintings meant to represent some of the locations. The difference here is that the problem is much worse. One is described in the text as "brightly lit" but the painting is so dark that it's unclear at first what's being depicted, especially since once you figure out what it's supposed to be showing you realize that it leaves out key tactical terrain features. Another is fairly accurate in showing the three main opponents in the room, the problem being that two of those three are supposed to begin the encounter hidden! Most of the others are also inaccurate in some way, or just plain useless for giving the players a decent image of the setting.

Really, unless you're going to make sure the illustration is useful and accurate, don't even bother. There's certainly room for inaccurate flavor artwork in fantasy roleplaying products, but use them as filler art, not as play aids!

More new monsters are introduced, and this is a strength of the module, but not as big a one as in Thunderspire. Mainly because I found the monsters there more interesting overall than the ones introduced here. Out of all my comments on the module this one is the most subjective, and others may find these entries fascinating and highly useful.

One thing that all three modules in this series are excellent at is serving as a source for sample encounters. While I might have issues with the overall premise, each individual encounter seems well constructed with unique challenges to be overcome.

Overall I feel this is the weakest of the "Heroic Trilogy" of modules. It comes down to the fact that the strength of this module is that it's a classic dungeon crawl, and the weakness of this module is that it's a classic dungeon crawl.


BlackDiamond said...

I'm surprised you got yourself a copy of this adventure. Are you playing?

Fulminata said...

I pre-ordered the H series modules through Amazon when it looked like I might be able to actually run them. That fell through, but I still wanted to see how they were going to do things, so I didn't cancel my orders.

I'm not sure whether or not I'll pick up any of the P series modules, although I am curious as to how they might differ.

I would really like to get into a game, but it just isn't practical right now. I need to get my schedule more stable first. It's looking like that might happen after New Years.

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