This module is designed especially for the DM who want to sharpen his interactive skills."
DDA1: "Arena of Thyatis" (1990), by John Nephew is one of those modules that puts the PC's at the far end of Thayatis. For Mystara Thyatis a major player think late & early Roman empire with lots of decadence & dark issues. There is a solid Wiki entry that fills in some of the gaps; "Thyatis (the city) is the capital of the Empire and the largest city on Mystara. It is on the southeastern coast of the continent of Brun, situated between the trade lanes of the Sea of Dread to the south and the Sea of Dawn to the east, alongside a canal ("Vanya's Girdle").
Conceptually, Thyatis is a mixture of different parts of the various historical Roman empires. It is governed by an Emperor and an Imperial Senate as per the classical Roman Empire, but enfranchises a feudal noble class similar to that of the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor himself is akin to that of the Byzantines (as is the capital city's placement on a major strait). The Imperial Bureaucracy as described in Dawn of the Emperors is clearly inspired by that of the British Empire, as is, at least in name, one branch of the Thyatian Armed Forces, the "Retebius Air Corps" (RAF), which consists of cavalry on flying mounts (Pegasi, Hippogriffs, Griffons, Sphinxs, Rocs, and Dragons).
Karameikos is ruled by a Thyatian nobility, but the Empire's territories consist of the western half of the Isle of Dawn, the island realms of Ochalea and the Pearl Islands, and the Thyatian Hinterlands on the southern continent of Davania, in addition to its mainland territories on Brun, which are the smallest of the Empire's territories by geographic size, but the most heavily populated and developed of them. The total land area of the Empire is approximately 800,000 square miles (2,100,000 km2). Because of its political geography, Thyatis can best be described as a thalassocracy."
This module isn't going to put the PC's center stage instead its going to put the PC's on the edges of the empire with the themes of "political corruption & drug abuse taking center stage." There is a Spartacus feel to the adventure. Survival is dependant on being clever & cagey in the backdrop of this corner of the empire. Yesterday's blog post put the PC's square in the middle of the Mystara urban kingdoms. But what happens if you want to bring the action on the outskirts of civilization? The PC's are going to have to navigate NPC's, opportunities, & a refinement of the rake class. Indeed many of the advantages of DDA1: "Arena of Thyatis" (1990), is that it takes full advantage of Mentzer's Dungeons & Dragons Basic.
Helenites Osteropolus, a Thyatian senator, is the pig that makes makes life for the PC's utter Hell. DDA1 is worth the price of admission because of the extensive details on the gladiators of Thyatis. They can play an important role in the PC's lives in the days of the campaign yet to come. DDA1: "Arena of Thyatis" (1990) is one of the key modules for Mystara's Hollow World. The ancient caverns beneath the collusium directly tie into the Hollow World itself. In fact in recent years I've had these tunnel systems & ancient lava tubes connect with 'The Milenian Empire' book's setting by Anthony Herring from 1992. This gives the material a nice sly but contemporary connection between these two very different empires with common ground.
The NPC's of DDA1: "Arena of Thyatis" (1990) are well thought out & clever to cause the NPC's trouble. This is literally their reason for being & keeping an eye or two on the issues plaguing the PC's is a fantastic idea.