Saturday, November 14, 2015

Retro Review & Commentary On Adventure Module X1 Isle of Dread From TSR For The D&D Expert Set

Last night after work and the news out of Paris ( my thoughts & prayers go out to the victims and families of this terrible tragedy. Viva La France!), I decided to turn my thoughts to an adventure that taught me everything and is the primary one that I've recently been discussing with friends. I'm talking about one that you've probably got in your collections. I'm speaking of Isle of Dread which is one of the seminal adventures of  written by David "Zeb" Cook,[2] and Tom Moldvay   way back in 1981. The PC's are sent to a lost world island and meet a number of non human races on a quest for lost treasure. You can get a whole history and back story on the module on Wiki Hell, it kicks off the entire 'X' series of modules from TSR. 
So what makes the Isle of Dread so damn usable? The modular nature of the plot, the encounters, the isle's environs, and the adventure elements all work together and this allows the dungeon master to modify, add in, swap out as necessary. Wiki's plot overview gives a good taste of what you will find in Isle of Dread;
"The characters somehow find a fragment from a ship's log, describing a mysterious island on which many treasures can be found, and set out to explore it. Typically, the characters will first make landfall near the more or less friendly village of Tanaroa and after possibly dealing with some troublesome factions in the village, set out to explore the interior of the island. In the course of their explorations, they may find a number of other villages of unfamiliar intelligent creatures, numerous hostile monsters and the treasures they guard, and a band of pirates. Many prehistoric creatures, including dinosaurs, are prominently featured, especially in the original printing of the adventure. Near the center of the island is a hidden temple inhabited by monstrous, mind-bending creatures known as kopru; the characters may stumble across it or learn that it is a source of problems for the other inhabitants of the isle, and the climax of the adventure typically consists of the characters exploring this temple, battling its inhabitants, and uncovering its secrets."

Using all of the above time after time, a DM will be familiar with all of the adventure element toys that they fold, spin, and mutilate to fit this adventure to their own vision that will work for they're campaign world. That at its heart is one of the things that makes Isle of Dread so iconic and usable. The customization factor is very high and that in my opinion is part of the appeal for the adventure. The other one is that given the pulpy nature of the material in the Isle of Dread. This is both a fun and yet deadly module in the hands of the right DM.

There is page after page after entry on using this module. So here's my take on this module, this is one of the most iconic & modifiable modules out there because its made to be so. This adventure ticks off so many buttons. You've got the lost world aspect, the pulp adventure, the Robinson Crusoe style of adventure, and it can be easily incorporated into your own campaign world with no tears. This module draws from the deep wells of Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Haggard, and even King Kong's landscape can be recognized in the Isle. This is a fantasy module with dinosaurs in it, this for a young kid really cutting into another version of D&D was a revelation at the time.
The encounters can be switched around, the material used for other games like Call of Cthulhu and more.  I even ran a party of Star Frontier adventurers through it years and years back. Of course I added in the

Most recently last year I ran a group of novice players through the module with Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules and it worked out quite well with a dimensional portal to Carcosa being at the center to center of a city of serpent men. This review of I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City  from Dragon's Foot was the inspiration for that decision.
A more recent decision while playing around with the Isle's environs was the idea of including a dimension gate or tunnel system down into the Hallow World. This system would allow dinosaurs to have a clear way back to the surface to replenish after the PC's and others slaughtered them.

This also brings me back to another issue that I've had with the Hallow World, the fact that because its so beloved by D&D enthuisists I don't want to get hamstrung by the plot elements of this box set. The Isle of Dread is very modular and open for a DM. I'm not going to lie, I love pulp adventure elements and the pulp eras. Lost worlds, dinosaurs, aliens, space gods, magick, sci fi, science fantasy comic book elements all of that is my bread and butter. But by God, I love black powder weapons in my fantasy and often times I've used the Isle of Dread as my gateway into Pellucidar time and again. But that's another blog entry for another time.

A friend of mine was suggesting the free module from Basic Fantasy Monkey Island as possible go to adventure to run along side Isle of Dread. After carefully examining the adventure I have to conclude that this would be an excellent mash up!
So do I think that after all this time that Isle of Dread is still relevant? I can honestly say that I think so!

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