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.

5 thoughts on “Revisiting the Isle of Dread

  1. Pingback: The Emerald Eye of Aramjapur | Talaraska

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