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!
The Isle of Dread is the first in a series of adventures for use with the D&D Expert rules. The module is designed as an instructional aid to help novice Dungeon Masters design their own wilderness adventures. For character levels 3 to 7.
Included in the module are 13 maps of the isle, 16 new monsters, and suggestions for further adventures on the Isle of Dread. A special continent map, complete with background information, is also included.
The Isle awaits! Will you be able to find the lost plateau and discover the secrets of the Isle of Dread?
X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1981), by David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay, was the first "expert" level adventure for Basic D&D. It was released in January 1981 - both as a standalone module and packaged with the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Rules (1981).
Two Editions. Adventures B1 to B4 (1980-82) and X1 to X2 were all produced using TSR's original full-color trade dress, with its flat-color background and its diagonal logo. Of them, only "Isle" was revamped and reprinted with the more professional trade dress that TSR began using in 1983 - which featured gradient backgrounds and a horizontal logo. The Acaeum reports this fourth printing of "Isle" was bundled with Frank Mentzer's BECMI edition of the Expert Rules (1983).
Origins. Parts of the outer island were adapted by Moldvay from things he'd run pre-TSR, possibly as part of the Known World campaign that he'd GMed in Ohio with Lawrence Schick. Cook created the interior of the island from "whole cloth."
Pulp Inspirations. 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.
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).
Enter the Wilderness. D&D was also moving away from the dungeons in another way, thanks to the D&D Expert Rules, which introduced the idea of a wilderness "hex crawl" to D&D. Here, players traversed a hex-delineated wilderness area rather than a dungeon. "Isle" was the first D&D adventure to use this innovation. It even included a hex map for the players to fill in, which showed only the outlines of the Isle of Dread.
As a wide-open hex map, "Isle" was also one of the earlier sandboxes for D&D; it offered a wide array of places for players to explore as they saw fit. Hex crawls were common in the expert-level D&D adventures that followed, but somewhat rarer in AD&D; sandboxes were almost unknown.
L1: "The Secret of Bone Hill" (1981) had a substantially smaller scale for its hex crawl, but maintained X1's sandbox nature. Gary Gygax's S4: "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" (1982) and WG4: "The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun" (1982) were theoretically hex crawls, but they focused on finding a specific locale. More frequently when AD&D went into the wilderness, it instead focused on railroaded outdoor travels centered on sequential encounters. Like Gygax's two Greyhawk adventures, this resulted in adventures which were definitely not sandboxes.
Expanding the Known World. "Isle" worked hand-in-hand with the D&D Expert Rules, which had introduced the Known World. However, "Isle" considerably expands what was found in the rules, which focused only on the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. "Isle" not only shows (and describes) nearby lands as far away as Glantri, Thyatis, and Ylaruam, but it also maps out the whole Sea of Dread - as well as the Isle itself, of course.
If the Expert Rules introduced the Known World, then it was "Isle of Dread" that expanded it into the full form that would be used for years thereafter.
New Monsters. "Isle" contains almost three pages of new monsters - many of them dinosaurs that hadn't previously been seen in Basic D&D. Cook also introduced the monstrous kopru amphibians - which he described as part of his "cthonian/pulp phase" that also resulted in the aboleth appearing in I1: "Dwellers of the Forbidden City."
Moldvay also created the racoon-like phanaton and the cat-like rakasta.
Future History. Paizo Publishing moved the Isle of Dread to Greyhawk with the publication of Dungeon #114 (September 2004), which included setting info, a poster map, and a 3.5e D&D adventure "Torrents of Dread," by Greg A. Vaughan. They later built a whole adventure path around the Isle of Dread: the "Savage Tide" ran from Dungeon #139 to Dungeon #150 (October 2006 - September 2007), making it Dungeon magazine's great swan song. Issue #139 (October 2006) featured a reimagining of the original cover to "Isle", while issues #142 (January 2007) through #145 (April 2007) depicted the actual Isle.
More recently, the 4e Manual of the Planes (2008) named-checked the Isle of Dread as a Feywild location that sometimes "falls" into various worlds.
About the Creators. Moldvay and Cook wrote "Isle" at the same time they were revamping the entirety of the Basic D&D game. Moldvay wrote the new Basic Rules (1981) and Cook wrote the new Expert Rules. The two had previously teamed up (sort of) to produce two of the four adventures in the A ("Slavers") series - which also included contributions by Harold Johnson, Allen Hammack, and Lawrence Schick.
"Isle" would be Moldvay & Cook's last joint work.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.