The Isle of Dread

The Isle of Dread

The Isle of Dread is an adventure for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The adventure, module code X1, was originally published in 1981. Written by David “Zeb” Cook and Tom Moldvay, it is among the most widely circulated of all Dungeons & Dragons adventures due to its inclusion as part of the D&D Expert Set. In the adventure, the player characters search for a lost treasure, journey to the prehistoric Isle of Dread, and there meet new nonhuman races.

The Isle of Dread is meant to introduce players and Dungeon Masters familiar with only dungeon crawl-style adventures to wilderness exploration. As such, the adventure has only a very simple plot, even by the standards of its time. The module has been described as a medium to high level scenario, which takes place on a mysterious tropical island divided by an ancient stone wall.

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.

The Isle of Dread was the first published adventure for any version of Dungeons & Dragons to focus on wilderness exploration as a major theme. This would go on to be an important element in many other adventures, including most of the rest of the X-series. It also introduced numerous creatures to the game for the first time, including the kopru and aranea, both of which went on to find a place in the Third Edition Monster Manual; the rakasta and phanaton, both of which would later appear as playable races in other Dungeons & Dragons products set in Mystara; and many others, including several types of dinosaurs.

This product marks the first appearance of the D&D world continent that includes places such as Darokin, Karameikos, Ylaruam, and Thyatis.

The adventure was loosely based on King Kong, and came with a fairly detailed (for its time) map of a setting then called the Known World, showing at least fifteen distinct nations on the mainland to the north, as well as much of the Sea of Dread in which the Isle of Dread could be found. These nations each received a paragraph or so of description near the beginning of the module.

Two very different-looking versions of this adventure were printed. The first edition was printed in 1981, and the second edition in 1983; both were thirty two page books in an outer folder which featured cover artwork by Jeff Dee. The Isle of Dread was included in every copy of the 1981 version of the D&D Expert Set as an example of an outdoor adventure and setting. This version is laid out in the style characteristic of early D&D adventures: it had no Dungeons & Dragons logo, a diagonal strip in the top left corner indicated which edition of the game it was for, and the back cover featured an illustration and a list of other D&D products of the time. It was available on its own and packaged with the original version of the Expert Set by David “Zeb” Cook. It was often sold already three-hole punched, and had several distinguishable printings of its own.

The Isle of Dread was developed by Paul Reiche III, and edited by Jon Pickens with assistance from Harold Johnson, Patrick L. Price, Edward G. Sollers, Steve Sullivan, and David Cook. The module features art by Jeff Dee, David S. LaForce, Erol Otus, David C. Sutherland III, and Bill Willingham.

The second version, which first appeared in 1983, was packaged with the revised version of the Expert Set by Frank Mentzer, and featured cover art by Timothy Truman. Its cover featured a red-orange border. The revised version used the layout elements that were typical of mid-1980s Dungeons & Dragons adventures: the game’s current logo was prominently featured on the cover, the diagonal strip was replaced with a horizontal one across the top, and the back cover featured no illustration but did have a text description of the adventure. There are a few minor differences besides appearance between this and the earlier version, including the replacement of a few monsters, and a mapping error that makes part of the final temple appear to be completely inaccessible.

The Isle of Dread is ISBN 978-0-935696-30-1.

In December 2018, Goodman Games published Original Adventures Reincarnated #2: The Isle of Dread under license from Wizards of the Coast. This three-hundred and twenty-eight page hardback contains reprints of the 1981 and 1983 editions, an interview with “Zeb” Cook, and a 5th edition conversion of the adventure.