A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

Review: X1: Isle of Dread

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on September 22, 2012

Tagged: d&d expert module

I bought a copy of Isle of Dread from Dueling Grounds several weeks ago. (They have a good selection of overpriced beat up old modules and books.) My main reason for buying the book was to support the store, since they host the Encounters game I participate in. That said, I had been thinking about picking up this module for some time. Isle of Dread was the first Expert Edition D&D module put out by TSR–the infamous X1.

Isle of Dread is less an adventure in the traditional sense and more of a mini-campaign setting. There isn’t anything in particular the adventurers are tasked to do on the island. There is no real beginning or end to the module. The book simply describes a small island (full of dread). X1 opens with an overview of a small campaign world, featuring said island. This is then followed by a hex map of the Isle of Dread with keyed areas to aid a DM in running adventures on the island–what people refer to has a hex crawl.

The book is a good introduction to structuring and creating wilderness adventures. It was originally packaged with the expert edition box sets, which introduced these rules, so this makes sense.

The module describes a few hexes on the island, but much of them are left for the DM to populate–either through their own prep work or via random encounters. A small village exists for the PCs to set up shop within. The center of the island is detailed with another hex map. This area also features a more traditional dungeon, Taboo Island, which the PCs can explore in the hopes of treasure and glory. Even this set piece has been designed so it can be easily extended by a DM.

X1 is well worth getting if you are looking for a mini-campaign setting. There is enough stuff in the module that you could play games on the island for a good while. Modules can be instructive: they help teach by example, and provide insight into what sorts of adventures and experiences the game designers expect their customers to have. As a template for designing your own hex crawls X1 succeeds quite well. X1 shows that you don’t need an overwhelming amount of information to create a rich world for your players to destroy: all you need are some random tables and a little imagination.

When I started playing role-playing games 2nd Edition was the current iteration of D&D. Modules from this time could best be described as little novels your players could walk through. In many ways modules were an extension of the actual novels TSR was published to go along with their D&D campaign settings. At the time I wasn’t particularly interested in reading adventure modules, but my feelings have since changed. I’ve been reading lots of modules recently, sometimes with an eye to running a game, but more often than not simply to enjoy reading something about RPGs.

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