Guest Writer: Jason “Flynn” Kemp
Pyramid of the Dragon is a Labyrinth Lord adventure designed for 4-6 characters of 5th-7th level. This adventure is written by Peter C. Spahn, and produced by Small Niche Games. Weighing in at 37 pages, this adventure has a front cover page, a credits page, a page bearing the Open Gaming License, two pages of advertisements, and a back cover page, leaving 31 pages devoted to the actual adventure itself and support material.
The production values are simple and clean, making for an attractive adventure with an “Old School” look and feel. Care is taken on the maps to create a hand-drawn appearance, further adding to the illusion. One of the final touches that I personally appreciated were the advertisements that resembles the style of the “Dragon Magazine” ads from the 70s and 80s. Obviously, Small Niche Games went out of their way to create an “Old School” product, and the effort shows.
At its core, Pyramid of the Dragon is intended to be a multi-location adventure, a “mini-sandbox”, if you will, in which player-characters deal with the various entities that inhabit a swampy region known as the Blood Marsh. It’s hard to provide an in-depth review of a module without giving spoilers, so if you are planning on playing in this adventure, you might want to stop reading now. While I won’t go into significant detail to avoid spoiling your gaming experience, this review does include spoilers.
This adventure begins with the player-characters witnessing an aerial battle between a black dragon and a red dragon. After that, the players can pursue several choices, each of which unfolds another aspect of the overarching storyline. The adventure background provides enough historical context for the mini-setting and introduces the major factions involved in the adventure, as well as an artifact called the Blood Gem of Mir, which becomes the central element of the overall plot of the adventure.
The adventure provides several initial hooks to help the players invest in the storyline, if simply curiosity doesn’t win them over at the very beginning. The primary hook, a massive aerial battle between two dragons, is outlined in some detail, mostly to provide a nice cinematic start to the adventure, although the party can attempt to interfere if they feel capable of doing so. After the battle, however, it’s all about the PCs.
The adventure then flows logically from one potential encounter to the next, as the party meets numerous NPCs in the region. While these events initially proceed along a timeline, they do not feel forced. Indeed, the text offers a few side notes to encompass a number of player-character actions, and some of the NPCs pursue actions that you’d expect only player-characters to take on. This adventure has the standard combat elements you might expect in a Labyrinth Lord adventure, but it also rewards negotiations and exploration.
There are many locations described in this adventure. Each location has one or more active factions (or individuals, in some cases) are can interact with the player-characters, lending themselves toward a climactic final scene. For this adventure, the players can explore the Border Hills, a small frontier village called Holden, a dangerous swamp known as the Blood Marsh, a dense bog called Frog Hollow and the ruins of the ancient city of Hisshal.
In the section describing the Blood Marsh, the author provides twenty random encounters that are generally at least a paragraph long, creating a detailed setting background that is more than just a line of monster stats. I appreciate the flavor these provide, and am tempted to do something similar for my own games in the future.
In the ruins of Hisshal, the adventure provides for multiple points of access into the titular Pyramid of the Dragon. Despite the presence of a powerful and potentially overwhelming observer at the front of the pyramid, these options allow player-characters a diversity of ways to enter and explore the pyramid itself. The presence of the local natives, a frog-like humanoid race aptly called the froggles, adds an element of urgency to the party’s explorations. A multitude of potential interactions are laid out for the enterprising Labyrinth Lord, to help address the actions of even the most creative of players, as they explore the ruins in search of the Blood Gem of Mir. The ruins of Hisshal contain all the common elements you’ve come to expect in a classic dungeon: unintelligent creatures, magical features, powerful guardians, scary undead, giant insects, traps and hazards, and of course treasure, lots and lots of treasure! At first blush, it looks like a lot of Old School fun, even if it ends with a plot twist: the Blood Gem of Mir is missing. However, the party have the means to locate the gem, and so the hunt is on!
The rest of the adventure wraps up quickly after that, as the party tracks down the missing Blood Gem and deals with the cultists that serve the red dragon. As a Labyrinth Lord, I appreciate the level of detail that has gone into the battle strategies listed in some of the encounters, particularly the climactic ending battle. Given the number of possible ending scenarios based on player choices, I found the section on Concluding the Adventure to be good at outlining all the factions involved and what might happen in a regular campaign going forward after the events described in this adventure. All too often, adventures will simply cover one or two ending scenarios. The Pyramid of the Dragon does not, and I like it.
After the adventure is completed, the author provides a four-page section that details the NPCs and Factions of Note from within the adventure itself. Each individual or faction is described with one to three paragraphs, as well as a stat block for use in combat scenes. The descriptions include some basic history, character motivations and sometimes even quirks to help with roleplaying them convincingly.
To wrap up the adventure, an appendix details a new magic-user spell (Comprehend Languages), three new magic items (the Blood Gem Crucible, the Blood Gem of Mir and the Golden Horn of Friendship), and a list of eight new monsters.
All in all, it is a surprisingly concise, yet complete, adventure, which impressed me significantly. While I thoroughly enjoyed the Old School feel of the adventure, I was very impressed with the extent of efforts made to avoid railroading the plotline (as is common in many Old School modules), and to acknowledge different approaches to the challenges presented over the course of the adventure. In addition, I believe this module would be very easy to translate to any other version of the retroclone rules, and possibly even to the latest edition of the World’s Most Popular Fantasy Roleplaying Game. I enjoyed Pyramid of the Dragon, so I will give this module 5 stars out of 5.