In August of 2008, Wizards of the Coast released the 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure called The Pyramid of Shadows. The Pyramid of Shadows or H3 as it was coded was authored by Mike Mearls and James Wyatt and was designed to be a premade adventure for a party of adventurers who would be around 7th level and make enough experience to attain 10th or 11th level by its end. This was the third release in the 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure path, showcasing 4th Edition rules and following up on the initial releases of H1, Keep on the Shadowfell, and H2, Thunderspire Labyrinth. The Pyramid of Shadows was the closer in the three part series and was designed to finish out the Heroic Tier for your party (Levels 1 – 10) and transition to the Paragon Tier of adventuring (Level 11 – 20). Although this adventure was number 3 in the H series, it was only loosely connected to the other two adventures and could still be run easily on its own, independent of the other two H adventures. The adventure comes bound in a binder like its predecessors, with two color booklets detailing the encounters in one and the storyline, history, NPC’s, etc, in the other. The adventure also comes with a couple of full color battle maps to use. It is a solid value for the $25 – 30 it costs new.
Pyramid of Shadows was an improvement on the first two adventures in the H series, although, it still had its rough patches and weaknesses in my mind. The overall summary of the adventure had your party of adventurers going to explore a strange and powerful blip of magic in nearby lands. This source of ancient magic would turn out to be a leaking entity named Karavakos, who had been imprisoned within a great planar prison called the Pyramid of Shadows. Karavakos wanted desperately to escape and was close to accomplishing this goal and by tricking some adventurers into coming into the Pyramid of Shadows, he may see his plan blossom. The Pyramid itself was constructed long ago by the gods to house the worst of the worst of evil minions and powers. It was almost a living, breathing hell, which adapted to its prisoners and kept them locked away in the Far Realms or another type of Demi Planar explanation that existed outside of normal realms space.
Following this premise, your adventurers would stumble into this invitation or kidnapping, depending on how the adventurers would see it, and enter the Pyramid of Shadows. The Pyramid had several large spanning dungeon crawling levels that your heroes would crawl through, encountering an eclectic lot of bad guys ranging from Ogres, to Arborian Tree Folk, to Winter Eladrin, to Dragons, to Mercenaries, and many other creatures. The improvement from H1 and H2 begins right here in the monster selection and depth of the monster encounters. I believe your heroes will enjoy encounters with a head collecting Ettin as they enter the prison. This brute is a good tussle and leads into an interesting NPC in Vyrellis, a disembodied Elven woman’s head (more on her in a moment). There were also memorable encounters with mercenaries lead by a Dragonborn leader who had his men barricaded within their area of the dungeon, a camp of Winter Elves or Eladrin paying deity like homage to a White Dragon tyrant in its icy lair, a living forest area that housed strange plant honoring Arborian humanoids, a village of Far Realms tainted pilgrims, a series of perilous gates with riddles to solve to gain access through them, a pit lord Otyugh that collected trash and bodies in his lair, a strange multi leveled room with rising water and spanning bridges to cross, etc. The designers seemed to embrace this adventure as a throw back dungeon crawl and really put some greater thought into the encounters, the faction’s interests and depth, as well as the overall fun factor of the creatures involved. I give them kudos on this as it certainly makes the games and sessions more interesting when faced again with 30 to 40 hours of game time in battle.
As the party goes from encounter to encounter, level to level, they begin through pieces of revelation, dreams and premonitions, or direct interaction with Vyrellis (the elven woman’s head that joins them), the heroes understand they must face Karavakos three times in three different fragmented forms in order to try and escape this prison. They also can collect gems that reenergize Vyrellis and restore some of her past power and memories to her as the party ventures along. This can eventually reveal to the party that Vyrellis was Karavakos’ ex-lover and also that she can aid the heroes in destroying him once and for all as well as escaping the prison. The adventure concludes with a grand battle against the true or restored Karavakos played out on a nicely colorful provided battle map.
I really enjoyed the villainous insanity of Karavakos, which seemed like a fine improvement of a final bad guy that H1 or H2 presented. I thought some of the NPC’s, including Vyrellis, the head of an elven princess, bent on vengeance against her lover who lopped off her head, were interesting, strange, and provided depth to the storyline. This really seemed to be lacking in H1 and H2, which were more generic in its NPC’s presented and their interaction to the heroes and the main story plots. The setting was good, as I found myself seeing this Pyramid of Shadows as a kind of Hellraiser like dimension that people entered, were tormented forever, and never left. The only large hang up I had was the similar issue of H1 and more so in H2 and H3, in that there are so many battles, you end up with hours upon hours, sessions upon sessions, of battles. It seemed like my group of gamers played through this over 7 – 9 weeks of play sessions using our once a week get together with about 6 – 8 hours of playtime in each session as a basis. I would guess about 70% of those played hours were in battle.
All in all, I think The Pyramid of Shadows was a fun play and an improvement over the first two H Series adventures released by Wizards of the Coast for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons play. I give it 4 stars out of 5, mainly for the varying encounters, the demented Villain, and the strange and interesting NPC array, although my true score for this would be closer to a 3.75 instead of a true 4.
You can still find this adventure in some retailers around Denver, I would recommend trying Attactix in Aurora, Black and Read in Arvada, Valhalla Games in Wheat Ridge, The Haunted Game Café up in Ft Collins, The Wizards Chest in Denver, and Enchanted Grounds in Highlands Ranch. Most of these retailers should be able to help you pick up a copy of The Pyramid of Shadows if you are interested.