The Isle of Dread

X1: The Isle of Dread… not quite as iconic as B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, but most players who started playing with B/X or BECMI are familiar with it. Like The Keep on the Borderlands, it was included in the Expert set boxes and was intended to show DMs how to run wilderness adventures.

As a sandbox, it doesn’t have much of a plot, per se. It’s an environment. Oh, there are hooks to get the PCs there, and most PCs, especially back in the days when treasure gave you XP, didn’t need much of a reason beyond “There’s treasure over there!” to go adventuring. Rory Barbarosa’s letter speaking of a great black pearl was all most groups needed to explore the Isle of Dread.

Goodman Games has re-printed this classic wilderness adventure in a hardbound tome containing three versions of the adventure: the first printing, the fourth printing, and a 5E update.

The differences between the 1st and 4th printings are less subtle than those in The Keep on the Borderlands. Mostly, some encounters have been replaced to make them more sensible. When I read that, the first thing I did was flip to the most infamous encounter to my home group: the flooded temple on Taboo Island. In it, several members fell prey to albino mako sharks. Saltwater fish, in a flooded temple on top of a mile-high plateau several hundred miles from the coast. That encounter has been changed (I had no idea there were multiple versions I ran it; I don’t think I have a first printing, but my copy is from the first three printings before the encounters were updated). Losing two characters to WTF sharks?? so demoralized the party, they retreated back to a village where one of the surviving PCs retired completely and it more-or-less rang the death knell for that campaign.

The meat of the module is unchanged between the three copies. There are still several unique tribes of creatures on the isle, from the arachnid Aranea, to the monkey-raccoon Phanatons, to the Lovecraftian Kopru, and more. Whether or not these tribes are friendly, hostile, or indifferent is up to the PCs’ approach and the DM (except the Kopru, those dudes are evil… but don’t let that stop you from joining the cult of an Elder God and taking over the world). There are dinosaurs, random encounters of the “OH CRAP, RUN!” variety (which kills many PCs because running is anathema to many players), environmental hazards, and mysteries.

Goodman’s 5E update preserves all of these, and provides more guidelines for use of the random encounters. For many groups back in the day (especially us young, self-taught groups), a random encounter was synonymous with random combat. So, if that die roll indicated a Wild Black Dragon appeared, then you were fighting a black dragon, even if you were woefully under leveled. If the DM was nice, they might let you run away. A lot of DMs weren’t nice (hence the reputation of Old School play for being adversarial Player vs. DM).

One thing I should point out, and this holds true for Into the Borderlands, too, is that while the original versions of these adventures printed in these books are cleaned up scans of the original (nicely cleaned up, in fact–that’s a lot of work), the 5E updates have good-sized print and are easy to read. My aging eyes really appreciate that.

Next month, at Gary Con, it’s expected Goodman Games will announce the next volume in their Original Adventures Reincarnated line. I’m having trouble thinking of any more BECMI adventures that are as iconic as B1, B2, and X1, but I look forward to the announcement (even though I won’t be there myself to hear it). Personally, I would LOVE to see an update of the AD&D adventures EX1: Dungeonland and EX2: The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (actually, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to work on that, because adore the Alice in Wonderland stories and wrote several papers on them in school, and I LOVE those adventures; I’ve worked one or both of them into campaigns I’ve run for just about every group of my adult life; and yes, that’s a hint if anyone from Goodman Games reads this :p).

I have one more Goodman Game’s reprint to showcase here: Metamorphosis Alpha. I’ll be reading that next, then… who knows? Something fun, something classic, something cool.

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