Monday, May 29, 2017

Old School Sword & Sorcery Commentary On X1 The Isle of Dread For Your Old School Campaigns

"Hundreds of miles from the mainland, surrounded by dangerous waters, lies an island known only as the Isle of Dread. Dark jungles and treacherous swamps await those who are brave enough to travel inland in search of the lost plateau, where the ruins of a once mighty civilization hold many treasures - and many secrets!"
If there's an adventure module that seems to be ever elastic & adaptable its X1 The Isle of Dread. This module seems to be one of the most easily adaptable of many old school modules. Recently I've been on a bit of a science fantasy kick & some friends suggested X1 for adapting to this campaign/thought exercise.

X1 has all of the makings of an experimentation or staging area of some ancient's laboratory. Many dungeon masters have added in science fantasy elements and much of it seems very reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Who along with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World books seems to be a major influences on Isle of Dread. As the official Wizards of the Coast entry on the adventure describes,' Historically, we think of the 70s and early 80s as a time of dungeon crawls, but Cook and Moldvay both frequently pushed another aesthetic: pulp adventure.' This is one of the strengths of X1 Isle of Dread in that it frequently seems to get pulled into may folks 'lost world' adventure locations.

"Cook specifically describes "Isle" as having a "Lost World/Skull Island feel." It was one of two pulpy adventures he wrote at the time, the other being I1: "Dwellers of the Forbidden City" (1981), which centered on a lost city in the jungle. He'd later author two pulpy RPGs for TSR: The Adventures of Indiana Jones RPG (1984) and the Conan Role-Playing Game (1985).
Moldvay also had plenty of other pulpy experience. James Maliszewski thus identifies "Isle" as the first book in Tom Moldvay's Pulp Fantasy Trilogy. It's a pretty apt name, as "Isle" contains a dinosaur-filled island, X2: "Castle Amber" (1981) directly references the pulp writings of Clark Ashton Smith, and B4: "The Lost City" (1982) features a city beneath the desert sands.
The adventure's "Skull Island feel" means that it also also owed something to King Kong (1933). TSR would even more explicitly return to this inspiration with WG6: "Isle of the Ape" (1985)."

This brings up the point that while fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons placed the Island of Dread on the plane of Water, does this make the island a stable point as a planar nexus? I believe answer is yes because the entire island is an artificial ecology put in place long ago. The multi dimensional dimensional nature of the island is perfect link to the plane of water making this a great & highly abundant resource. This makes it perfect fodder for one of the original Lovecraftian races 'The Elder Things'. None of the monster combinations really makes sense except in a Moldvay/Cook ecological nice way. Making this a perfect adventure location for ancient ruins of the 'Elder Things' in a Dungeons & Dragons setting.

The Kopru, dreaming the restoration of their lost Empire might have been one of the ancient enemies of the 'Things' left behind after the destruction of their own empire. Dinosaurs & worse prehistoric monsters could be food stock let loose on the island having now established their own ecological niches. The various other races of the island could be simply castaways now having carved out their own factions.

But why has X1 been placed on the Plane of Water? Well there's a great article on On the placement of the Isle of Dread  Posted by Stelio  which actually has quite a few useful ideas for adventure fodder.  There's also the 
The history of the Isle of Dread  for a few ideas about old school referencing and more for X1. Threshold issue #3 Sea of Dread contains a boat load of  adventure & campaign ideas for incorporating the Seas of Dread into an old school campaign. The Sea of Dread articles in issue four of Threshold magazine concentrate on traders and those navigating the horrid waters which surround the Isle and its environs. This was the former empire of the Kopru and now the waters are home to a myriad of underwater ruins of these horrors. There could still be many super science artifacts & relics there making this a very useful resource to an Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea dungeon master.  Threshold issue four is available right over here

A mid-Expert campaign in the Sea of Dread by Giampaolo Agosta has some great ideas for a sword & sorcery style adventure campaign. These are great for a mid level group of players and PC's because they should keep things moving right along during table top play. X1 The Isle of Dread is balanced for Expert Dungeons & Dragons making this adventure perfect for mid tier retroclones such as Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea or Adventurer, Conqueror, King, Labyrinth Lord or even Swords & Wizardry.

Monsters, lost treasure,etc from a thousand planes are liable to have been washed up on the shores of X1. This makes it perfect for DYIing in your own twist on this classic module. In fact this makes X1 The Isle of Dread a perfect counter point to AS&SH's Forgotten Fane of the Coiled Goddess.  The island could be another dimensional remanent that has been lost to the far future that caused the events of 'Old Earth. An idea toyed with ages ago making X1 a meet up point where the PC's are washed a shore by the dimensional tides. 

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