As Lux notes, this one is hard to drop into a campaign, and I can't imagine re-skinning its Meso-American setting. Its far from "accurate." Mayan and Aztec pyramids were places for sacrifices, not burials, and didn't have much of an inside. The Nereid (beautiful naked temptress) is from Greek mythology and feels really foreign to the Meso-American view of life as pain without pretense. Despite this, the illustration booklet is very important to the adventure and everything in it looks Aztec (or Chinese-- but only slightly and it's just one room.) For me, the setting was easy. My players wanted to leave their faux-Asian homeland to sail across an open ocean and discover a new world.
The illustration booklet is great and essential. I very much agree with Lux that rather than try to describe the various trap-ridden rooms, it's great to have a picture to pass around. My copy had no map booklet, but it's easy to find the illustrations online.
In the 70s, everything was foreign and foreign was always a license to weird. Unlike Maztica, which tries, oh so earnestly tries, to respect other cultures (and makes them all sound like hippies), this module's authors have no embarrassment about their ignorance and rely on their imaginations to fill in the gaps. Again, the Nereid makes no sense but provided a lot of laughs, even though none of the PCs wanted to play the straight man and instead went to great lengths to avoid looking at the cavorting nymph. (Shoji revealed that he was asexual.)
The monsters are good, though as Lux notes, PC will easily miss the most interesting ones. This could be fixed by coming up with a quest to retrieve a particular object rather than simply escape the pyramid. He's also correct that all the monsters all seem attack-oriented. (Except the Nereid, I keep coming back to the Nereid.) I'm not sure this is a problem worth fixing. The rooms are self-contained and the residents are so alien that it's believable that they wouldn't have knowledge or interest in other parts of the dungeon. And the aggressiveness kind of fits with Aztec views of the world. On another note, the monsters, while individually tough, are not numerous. My party of 10 (PCs and henchman) was probably too large.
Lux disapproves of the poison gas, but it worked well for me. We have limited time IRL so it was good to have an in-game reason for haste. I didn't track the time closely, but the players had a sense of urgency about them. And they could not take a brute force approach to every problem ("Everyone stands guard and I individually press each block on the south wall. Ok, now the west wall. Ok, let's rest and heal and re-learn spells.") Lux is correct that this feeling of haste creates tension with all the weird objects begging for attention, but I think this helps preserve the wonder. My PCs know they missed some things and are talking about going back.
Lux is correct about the clunky text and clunkier special mechanics. I don't agree, however, that this necessitates hours of preparation. Because the rooms are self-contained and because the residents are combat-oriented, you don't need to think too much about how it all fits together. The adventure kind of runs itself so you can just pause and skim each room while your players look at the illustration.
Here's what I would do to prepare:
- Look at the map. Starting with a cave-in that lands the PCs in room 1 works well and the gas extends through to room 39. Like Google maps, there are three routes that lead to the same destination. The routes cross over each other, so there are probably 7 or 8 combinations that will get PCs through the maze.
- Think about whether you want to move the cover star to a different room where the PCs are more likely to meet him. Or if he has something that will cause them to seek him out.
- Be ready to wing it on things like drowning or dodging boulders. The mechanics are complicated and inconsistent and rather than study them it might make sense to use saving throws. As with the poison gas, the threat of sand filling up a closed room is scary. But the in-play emphasis should be on the atmosphere rather than the mechanics. Rolling dice doesn't really enhance the suspense.