I’ve mentioned a few times why In Search of the Unknown is my favourite classic module… but I rarely take the time to go on about my second favourite adventure – X1 The Isle of Dread. I was reminded of my love of this adventure by Chuck Thorin’s post about it to his blog, The Geek Life Project.
The adventure has a much larger scope than the adventures I had read up to that point, and was really a great big sandbox with some expected standardized points of reference (the first village and the final encounter at the temple). It features dinosaurs, zombie masters, lurking wyverns, scurvy pirates, and more. It also handles this all in a way that works well for a party of levels 4-5 without coddling them too much, nor throwing them into too many encounters that they just can’t possibly win.
It’s also stuffed full of role-playing opportunities. A couple of months ago I was advising someone who felt the module was just a series of hack-and-slash encounters because there isn’t a lot of setting material that specifically describes how to roleplay encounters with the various factions on the island.
In my experience, there are so many native groups on the island that there are a metric shit-tonne of RP opportunities on the Isle of Dread.
- The Village of Tanaroa is full of great opportunities to create trade, to make friends and enemies, and to learn about the rest of the island from the natives. The mix of naive and experienced natives, the zombie masters that quietly run the place, the tar pits inside the jungle that they go to to acquire the tar they use in daily living… It’s all great RP potential. And that’s without getting into the interplay between Tanaroa, Kirikura, Dawa, Mora, Panitube, Burowao and Usi. There’s the potential for a huge amount of political roleplaying with such a decentralized population.
- The Pirates are always a threat to the villagers, but to a party shipwrecked on the island with the… appropriate… moral fiber, the pirates could be an opportunity instead of a threat. The pirates would also become aware of the party sooner or later if they remain near / with the villagers, and will want to get rid of them in one manner or another (and recruitment is easier and less painful than open conflict).
- The Rakasta Nomads are a GREAT source of information if you can cope with a bunch of nomads who spend more time grooming themselves than dealing with you.
- The Phanatons are also a good source of information, although their low morale means that they run away from conflict a lot more than stand and fight, so they may overestimate the various dangers of the isle. They are also cute as heck and having a Phanaton or two attach themselves to the party will probably make at least one of your players WAY overprotective of these little guys.
- The Aranea are very intelligent, and if they encounter very powerful opposition, they are more likely to try diplomacy over violence.
- There are Treants on the island… We’ve all read or seen LotR. Need more be said?
- The Village of Mantru is an expected roleplayed interlude to aim the party at the central temple. Not a lot to be gained here, but a nice interlude if the party hasn’t been roleplaying much through the rest of the dinosaur-infested jungles. And sooner or later someone is going to discover the high priest is called Umlat and many metal jokes will be made.
Aside from all the roleplaying and exploration, the mini-setting gives us a bunch of new sentient races that can (and in my games did) recur in later games and other campaigns unrelated to the Isle – As soon as I got the weapon mastery rules in the BECMI master’s set I had created rules for the Rakasta’s war claws, and the Rakasta and Phanatons were turned into playable races… The aranea were not made into player races, but turned up all over the place, sneakily injecting their way into thieves’ guilds, politics and even wizard’s towers.
When Paizo publishing revisited the Isle of Dread for one of their adventure paths, but prior to that they issued a new Isle of Dread map in issue 114 of Dungeon which they were giving away at GenCon in 2004 as part of the GenCon loot bags. Which means of course that I have something like a dozen copies of this map – in turn explaining why there’s been one on the wall of every apartment I’ve had in the last 10 years.
All this said, I know what adventure I’ll be breaking out for my next campaign.