Revisiting the Isle of Dread

I have been running a group using the Rules Cyclopedia (with various tweaks) for about 6 months now. While it started as an experiment, it has become a fun endeavor. Up to this point, I’ve put them through their paces in “The Tower of Zenopus”, “Caves of Chaos”, and various homegrown one-shots.

Going into our holiday hiatus, the group consensus is that they would like to continue. I’ve spent the past week deciding where to take them next. Having enjoyed our previous romps through classic adventures I’ve decided to continue retracing the steps of my youth and chart a course for The Isle of Dread.

My stab at the classic Isle of Dread map. Made using the Campaign Cartographer annual Spectrum overland style.

If you are reading this, it’s quite likely that you are well-versed with the module already. Released in 1981, I received my first copy of the David “Zeb” Cook & Tom Moldvay adventure inside the Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set.

D&D Expert Set rulebook from 1981.

As the adventure is largely a wilderness exploration, this will be a perfect opportunity to shift my game a bit. Some of our other friends have been eager to join, while a couple of my current players are going through a hectic period at work. Exploring The Isle of Dread will allow me to take more of an episodic approach to my game, with somewhat of a West Marches style.

After making contact with a group of islanders on the southeastern peninsula, the party will establish a base camp. My sessions will then start as one-shots, with different groups of PCs striking out each week to explore the mysteries of the island. This will hopefully keep us nimble and allow us to get through the winter without any cancelled sessions due to the lack of players. As we progress a bit, it’s likely that the group will find another location suitable for a forward base deeper within the island.

Hex version of my map. Click for full image.

These days I derive as much fun from making maps as I do from running the games themselves. This practice seems to fill the void created when I stopped painting minis years ago. While the original hex style map for The Isle of Dread will always be dear to my heart, I wanted to make my own version. I settled on the Annual Spectrum style for Campaign Cartographer and took a stab at it.

While I have a lot of fond memories of The Isle of Dread, the adventure as written does not really lend itself to the story I am looking to tell. I will still introduce the island as a location by allowing the party to discover a secret page from a ship’s log and partial map (I created a new version of this as well). However, aside from these details I’ll be changing quite a bit.

Ideally, I would like to hit my players with a number of stand-alone adventures, while also sprinkling some bread crumbs of an overarching story. To do this, I plan to steal liberally from a couple old guilty pleasures of mine.

Inspiration

The Lost World promo shot.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World was a syndicated television series, very loosely based on the 1912 novel. The book itself was likely an inspiration for The Isle of Dread in the first place. It premiered in 1999 and ran for three seasons. The show follows a diverse group of early 20th century adventurers after their hot air balloon crashes on an uncharted plateau where prehistoric creatures still exist.

It was a cheesy production; I suspect owing much to the previous successes of shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys & Xena: Warrior Princess. Like these predecessors, each episode loosely followed a “problem of the week” format, while also occasionally touching on the larger story of who the characters were and how they might get off the plateau.

I am not here to claim that this was great television. However, it crossed my path at a time in my life when I was about as far removed from the hobby as I had ever been. I suspect this is why it stuck with me. Something about turning on the TV and seeing these silly stories play out really stoked my imagination. It brought back memories of my youth and playing D&D with my friends. I started to daydream about a time in my life when I might have the time to start gaming again.

The entire 66-episode run is currently available for Amazon Prime subscribers. I have been binging it while I doodle on my maps and making notes. Despite the fluff and gratuitous cleavage shots, I am mining a number of good ideas for one-shot adventures.

The other source that I will be looting for ideas is The Land of the Lost. To be clear, I am not referring to the Will Ferrell movie but rather the 1974 children’s adventure television series by Sid and Marty Krofft.

Land of the Lost title card.

The show’s 3 seasons tell the tale of the Marshall family, who while on a river rafting trip, end up in an alternate universe. Rick Marshall and his children Will and Holly become trapped in a land that time forgot, a place inhabited by dinosaurs and other strange creatures.

The Land of the Lost was every bit as cheesy as the Lost World and was clearly aimed at young children. However, despite all of this there are some elements that I think would make compelling additions to my revised Isle of Dread.

The Sleestak were a race of reptilian bipedal humanoids native to the Land of the Lost. Covered mostly in green scales, they have claws on their feet and hands which can function as pincers. Typically armed with crossbows and nets these unique creatures captured my imagination as a child and will make for great reoccurring villains.

Scheming Sleestak

The remnants of a dying race, the Sleestak reside in a Lost City with subterranean tunnels built by their ancestors. All of this sounds like a great fit for the caldera location in the center of the Isle of Dread.

Finally, scattered about throughout the Land of the Lost are numerous pylons. These futuristic constructs contain matrix tables filled with crystals, each serving as the power source to control different aspects such as the weather or passage of time. The World of Warcraft paid homage to the pylons & crystals in the Un’Goro crater zone, and I think they will be a fun addition to my game as well.

Final Thoughts

That is my plan. Do you ever go in and add your own touches to classic adventures? If so, please share in the comments. I would love to hear what has inspired you and what sources you use for inspiration. I would also like to hear from anyone else who may have been inspired by either of these properties in the past.

That’s all for now. Have a great week and thank you for stopping by!

My version of the incomplete map found by the characters.

The Isle of Dread is owned by Wizards of the Coast. All of my work on this post is strictly non-commercial, on a voluntary basis as unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Wizards Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

The Final Rest of Grondo-Ri

Our group has been running using the Rules Cyclopedia with a few tweaks for the past year. The party has been doing quite a bit of river travel lately. I’m not big on completely random encounters but sometimes I need an interesting little drop-in to keep everyone entertained. This was the case with The Final Rest of Grondo-Ri.

The name of the titular character comes from my dear friend Mike’s Fantasy Hero campaign from the early 1990s. As was often the case with that game, certain elements have stuck with me over the years.

At the end of last session, the PCs completed an objective. I’m not entirely sure where they will head off to. However, I’m fairly certain that they’ll be traveling by riverboat. I also know that wherever they head will be a journey of at least a couple of days. Rather than just handwave the travel, I decided to have something interesting for them to encounter.

Hard to say whether they take the bait or not. It’s possibly that they will pass right on by. That said, I’ve found that if I keep a few encounters like this on hand, I tend to be more prepared for things coming at me out of the blue.

As I have mentioned previously, my intention for this blog is to provide GMs bite-sized source material. Hopefully some of you will find something that you can plug into your game and run with. These will likely never be full scenarios, just enough to get the juices flowing and set you on the path to adventure.

Grondo-Ri

Grondo-Ri was an orc shaman who lived roughly 100 years ago. He was cruel, even by orc standards, and lead his tribe with an iron fist. The brute was infamous for leading raids against the dwarves of Khared Draz and even successfully moved his people into some former dwarven territories.

Grondo-Ri. Art by Bartek Blaszczec

It’s unlikely that the PCs will have ever heard of this fellow prior to this encounter. However, he was fairly notorious in the region. It should be relatively easy to dig up lore about him after the fact.  

While historical accounts of Grondo-Ri exist. There is no mention of whatever became of him or his tribe. Lost to the sands of time is the fact that the orc was killed by his own people.

The tribe had taken up residence in an abandoned dwarven outpost near Dhag Ladur. Intoxicated by frequent victories, most of the tribe followed the shaman blindly. However, there were some among them who felt that a change was needed. Tribal elders disagreed with the acts of cruelty they had witnessed and felt that the spirits of their ancestors demanded a change.

Following a skirmish with a band of mercenaries from the human settlement of Sarburg, Grondo-Ri received minor wounds. Seeing this as their opportunity, the elders poisoned the poultices used to treat the shaman and allowed him to die.

The mummified body of the tyrant was entombed in the southwestern corner of the complex. They then completed their coup by convincing the rest of the tribe that they could communicate with the shaman from beyond the grave. Holding elaborate rituals around a large brazier, the elders would claim to receive direction from the fallen leader. They had succeeded in wresting control of the tribe.

However, something unforeseen happened. One day, whether by pure coincidence or spurred on by the restless soul of the shaman, the earth shook. Despite having been expertly crafted by dwarves, the subterranean complex started to collapse. Pillars crumbled and ceilings failed, until the entirety of the orcish tribe lay dead and buried. There, in the dust and rubble, the mummified body of Grondo-Ri awoke.

Map Locations

1.      The Shore

The shore is indeed muddy here. PCs will have difficulty walking anywhere on the beach proper and until they make their way into one of the cavern passages.

Various bits of junk have washed up along this stretch and you should tell the players that they can make out the shape of items just under the mud. For any characters wishing to dig through the mud to investigate, roll a d10 and consult the following table to tell them what they’ve found:

1.       A Bottle of Rum

2.       Purse with d10 gold coins

3.       Broken Necklace

4.       A Lone Sock

5.       Table Leg

6.       Candle

7.       Piece of Chalk

8.       Broken Lute

9.       10’ Pole

10.     Oar

Stock Art by Jacob E. Blackmon. commissionprodigyduck@gmail.com

A giant freshwater crab has been using the stretch of beach to hunt and is lurking in the water nearby. If the party spends more than 5 minutes on the beach, the creature will attack. Adjust the crab’s difficulty (or possibly add other crabs) as you see fit, depending on your party and their capabilities. Due to the mud, the beach area should be considered difficult terrain for the PCs to move around in. The crab will experience no such hindrance.

Should the party defeat the crab, close inspection of its carcass with reveal a silver dagger with a pearled handle that had been buried in its shell during some previous encounter.

2.      Pool Cavern

This pool is fed by a freshwater stream and is considerably more clear than the water back in the river. It is roughly 20’ deep.

The item in the pool is actually a jewel encrusted goblet that once belonged to a dwarven clan leader. It was looted by the orcs under the leadership of Grondo-Ri and came to rest at the bottom of the pool after the collapse of the complex.

The goblet is worth a substantial amount of money but would require someone to strip down and fetch it unless the PCs can come up with another means of retrieval.

3.      Mushroom Cavern

There is nothing of note in the cavern aside from the mushrooms. Despite the odor, they are edible and tasty. If harvested, the large mushrooms will effectively produce the same amount of light as a single torch.

Once removed from the cavern, the mushrooms will lose their glow and edible properties within 1 day.

4.      Meeting Room

Before the collapse, the orcish tribal elders would use this room as a secret meeting place. After concluding their ceremonies in the shrine, they would access this room via the hallway and secret door (location #5). The bones in the room are actually the remains of two of the elders who happened to be here at the time of the collapse.

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Since the water level dropped, two carrion crawlers have been exploring the caverns. Hearing the approach of the party, they have retreated to area #5. However, they are hungry and will immediately attack any party member who comes within 5’ of the fallen door.

If thoroughly searched, the room will yield the following items.

  • 2d20 gold coins
  • 1d10 silver coins
  • An antique bullseye lantern
  • 4 assorted gemstone

5.      Hallway

The entrance to this hallway was nearly blocked off by the collapse. However, if party members can squeeze through the first 5 feet, the remainder of the hall is in relatively good shape.

It should be clear to PCs that unlike the caverns, this passageway has been dug intentionally. Characters who would have such knowledge will recognize this as dwarven construction.

A set of stairs leads downward for 10’, before coming to an apparent dead end. The secret door leading into area #6 should be quite easy to find, as it was intended only to be a secret to those who were inside area #6.

6.      The Shrine of Grondo-Ri

This is the room were Grondo-Ri was buried. The elders would perform their pseudo rituals here in order to convince the rest of the tribe that they were receiving guidance from their departed leader.

The jars and pots in the room contains all manner of herbs and concoctions. All of these are long past their usefulness. The bits of the shaman that were removed during the mummification process were also stored in these containers. However, they have long since turned to putrefied liquid and evaporated.

The sarcophagus is indeed lacking its inhabitant. However, an ornately designed staff is held within. The Staff of Grondo-Riis a roughly 6” tall iron-shod oak staff. It is topped off with the head of a horned beast. The staff will radiate magic if any party members happen to attempt to detect such things.

The exact properties of the staff are up to you and what would work for your game. However, I will give you some further lore about the item to help you make your decision.

  • The shaman was quite charismatic and was never without his staff. One might speculate that they was something about the staff that made him seem larger than life to his followers.
  • He was said to have wielded elemental magics; this was thought to be an ability imparted to him by the spirits of his ancestors but it’s certainly possible that some of this came from the staff.
  • It is also possible that the staff itself was cursed. This could account for his turn to cruelty and brutality.
Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved. dean-spencer@live.co.uk

Grondo-Ri’s undead corpse has aimlessly wandered rooms #6 & #7 for decades. It is currently in room #7 and will attack in 1d4 rounds after the PCs enter room #6.

I’ve mentioned that Grondo-Ri was mummified after his death and I have also mentioned that he awakened in undeath after the collapse. All of that aside, it’s entirely up to you to decide what exactly he has become.

Since I’ve put this together without knowledge of what system you are playing or what power level your players possess, it’s impossible for me to fully define this encounter. In my game, I’m running this as a fairly low-level one-shot, though I think you could scale things up easily enough.

My suggestion would be to make him be a unique creature, so as to best keep your PCs on their toes. He cannot speak but he will approach the party with unbridled rage and make horrible guttural sounds as he attacks.

If you need to flesh things out a bit, I suppose you could mention the lifeless skeletons of some of the departed elders lying about the room. Then, at a certain point in the combat, Grondo-Ri could cause them to rise and fight. Whatever you like. Just have fun with it.

7.      Antechamber

The contents of the coffers, sack, and books I will also leave up to you. My suggestion would be to make these rewards commiserate with the level of difficulty of the Grondo-Ri fight. One thought would be to have one of the books contain a couple spells that would be useful for one of the party members. The other could be a history book pertaining to something in your campaign setting, thereby setting you up for more adventures down the road.

Beyond the double doors to the north, the hallway is completely caved in. No amount of digging by the PCs will allow them to continue further.

Plot Hooks

How you use this is entirely up to you. I am merely trying to plant some interesting seeds for you to run with.

  • Straight: You could run this as a straight random one-shot with no ties to any other part of your story. In this case, the party stumbles onto the cave complex, explores it and ultimately deals with the undead version of Grondo-Ri. Making their way out with whatever treasure they find; the party never looks back.
  •  Research: Perhaps the party was quested by some interested party to uncover whatever became of Grondo-Ri.
  • Find the MacGuffin: Someone wants something located within the complex. It could be the Staff of Grondo-Ri, the jewel encrusted goblet in the pool, or some other item that you have decided to place there.
  • Knowledge is Power: If word gets out of the party’s discovery after the fact, it could open doors to other adventure threads. A mysterious sage may wish to investigate the complex and uncover the embalming methods used on the orc shaman. Dwarves may travel to reclaim the lost settlement. A superstitious young orc leader may seek to reclaim the remains of Grondo-Ri, as a manner of ascending to power within his tribe.
  • Cursed!: Rather than a straight fight, perhaps the undead orc places a terrible curse on the party, requiring them to go on yet another adventure in order to cleanse it.

The End

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and read. If you find any use in all of this, please take a minute, and drop me a note. Until the next post. Good Gaming!

The Chapel of St. Sigmund & the Grotto of Mareen

For hundreds of years, the residents of the northern shores of the Sea of Harne have been followers of the cult of Mareen. These simple seafaring people regularly sacrificed a portion of their catch to the brooding queen of the seas, in hopes of fair weather and bountiful waters.

As the Graun Empire’s influence spread over the land, the church of Aunul grew in power. Sailors spread word to the seaside communities that the emperor and his ever-present religious advisors did not view worship of the elder gods as acceptable.

Statue of Mareen under the chapel of St. Sigmund. Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

Fearful that inquisitors would arrive one day and brand them as heretics, the residents of Hammondsport acted. A new chapel for the church of Aunul was constructed over the underground grotto that housed their shrine to Mareen. In a comical twist, the chapel was named after a St. Sigmund, a devout follower of Aunul who drowned while trying to spread the faith.

The community goes through the motions of having shifted to the faith of Aunul. However, it is largely a show for outsiders. On all of the old holy days, townsfolk don their robes and meet, well after dark. Slipping through the secret door located in the office, they make their way down into the grotto. There they gather at the altar and make their sacrifices to Mareen as they have for generations.