Sunday, August 21, 2011

[Review] AA9 The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep


The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep

Author: Alphonso Warden
Contents: 12 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 10 pages of adventure, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Product Code: XRP6109
Retail Price: £7.00 or $12.00

Overview

An adventure for 4-6 characters of levels 4-7, the Lost Pyramid of Imhotep is an unusual five level dungeon with a tightly integrated theme. The physical product is furnished with a glossy cover stock, durable internal pages, clearly printed text, and well rendered black and white internal maps. Both the front and back cover illustrations are by Jeff Womack, though misattributed to Advanced Adventures stalwart Bradley McDevitt, and each depicts an encounter from the adventure with suitable atmospheric weirdness, complementing the relatively unusual subject matter. Whilst the title page illustration, also by Jeff Womack, is the only interior piece provided, it similarly sends a clear visual signal to the reader to anticipate a conflation of the familiar and the strange. Of the three images, this last is probably the most compelling, perhaps because it contrasts in its exterior enormity with the more claustrophobic and close quarter encounter environments used for the cover pieces. Even though the module is only twelve pages long, it is disappointing for there to be no other interior illustrations, especially when there are none of adventuring parties exploring or interacting with the dungeon and its denizens.

The scenario premise is straightforward, in that the player characters are hired by a magician to investigate recently unearthed evidence of a tomb in the desert. Since the adventure takes ancient Egypt as its thematic inspiration, there are numerous references to the trappings and theology of that culture, and a good deal of concern is given to the need to translate hieroglyphs. Indeed, it is noted that adventurers native to the area will have a much easier time than outsiders, and that holds true for much of the module. Progressing to the lowest dungeon levels requires being able to answer several rather culturally specific questions, and unless the players happen to know or guess correctly the game master will have to decide how to handle the player characters accessing the necessary knowledge. Whilst some of the rooms require clever thinking or intuition to overcome, many of them rely more heavily on the random outcome of the dice with little consideration given to alternative solutions. Although this is not much of an issue in cases of combat with guardians, it is more problematic when characters are left with no option but to make saving throws, as is the case in area fourteen for instance.

Interestingly, there is very little treasure to be had in the tomb complex, and what little there is could easily be missed. As a result the player characters will likely waste plenty of time searching fruitlessly, but in the absence of wandering monsters they can do so at their leisure. There is an item that could conceivably have a similar role, but as soon as the players figure out what is going on they are likely to stow it somewhere safe until needed and thereby obviate any time considerations. Similarly, the compact nature of the dungeon has left little opportunity for the game master to expand on what is provided, which is unusual for traditional style modules. Of the nineteen encounter areas at least seventeen of them must be explored, largely one after the other, in order to reach the final location. Naturally, this makes for rather linear exploration, which may frustrate players and game masters used to more expansive designs, but for tournament purposes is entirely suitable. Moreover, not every dungeon need be cut from the same cloth. Given that the adventurers manage to successfully negotiate all the dangers and puzzles there is a satisfactory denouement as well as a rather unusual, but substantial, reward to be had.

Technicalities and Errors

With regard to grammar and editing there is little of note to complain about. It is rather vexing to see a true minus used early in the text, only for hyphens to be used thereafter, but it is of little consequence. There appears to be a mistake in the ghoul statistic string on page five, insofar as damage is listed as "1-3/1-6/1-6" and it seems obvious that "1-3/1-3/1-6" was intended. As far as design flaws go, encounter area eleven is troublesome, in that failure to roll the right numbers on the dice not only results in an unsuccessful trial of strength, but destroys the means to carry out future attempts and thus the method of passing beyond the chamber. Stumbling blocks of this sort, but of lesser consequence, are typical rather than exceptional and can easily lead to a party being stuck in one area for a prolonged period. In another instance, one player is required to play and win the ancient game of Senet in order to obtain a necessary item, which aside from being quite random excludes the other players from active participation. However, whether any of these potential issues will manifest at a given game table is likely highly subjective, depending on the ability of the players and the skill of the game master.

Conclusion


Conceptually the Lost Pyramid of Imhotep is engaging and innovative, but whilst the design is suitable for a tournament environment, it could bear considerable improvement and expansion. Although redesigning the dungeon might not be a desirable undertaking, there is plenty of room for a wilderness description, random encounters, a settlement, rival treasure seekers, and other augmentations. Several encounter areas could also be improved on so that they are less linear and have several potential solutions. Less emphasis on combat in some instances would also be worthwhile, in particular for the locust and beetle vehicles; the usefulness of the latter in the passage of annihilation already hints at alternative possibilities, rather than simply combating a like opponent. Whatever its design shortcomings for regular campaign use, the adventure is well written and Warden demonstrates a considerable knowledge of the history of ancient Egypt without overwhelming the reader, though anybody expecting a swords & sorcery Stygian theme might well be disappointed. If the implementation of the concept is somewhat pedestrian, it remains an entirely playable and imaginative module that should make for one or two entertaining and challenging sessions.

2 comments:

Sean Wills said...

Interesting, I'd wondered how it compares with AW's free Egyptian themed module, The Last Priest of Sebek:

http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/the-last-priest-of-sebek/15899232

Matthew James Stanham said...

Hey Sean!

Basically, the Last Priest of Sebek is a somewhat simpler adventure, but similar in terms of thematic design. The dungeon is maybe less linear, as is the degree of random deadliness. I suspect that some developmental editing had a hand in the latter, since there are some incongruities in the text that hint at an initially greater preponderance of unavoidable saving throws!