Saturday, March 26, 2022

Gary Con XIV

Gary Con XIV is being held this weekend, the first in-person physical con since Gary Con XII was canceled back in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Promotional art for Gary Con XIV (March 24-27, 2022)

I made the pilgrimage to Lake Geneva along with my son, taking the opportunity to roll some dice with old friends, as well as make some new ones.

Winter War IV (1977):

I ran "Tower of Ulission" on Thursday morning, the first round of the D&D tournament at Winter War IV, held back in 1977, and am running "Sword of Hope" this morning, the second round.

Both adventures were published by Judges Guild, although a planned, third instalment was never released.  (See my recent reviews, posted on Dragonsfoot, here and here).


Native Britons ambush a force of Roman legionnaires in "Fury of the Celts"

My son played in "Fury of the Celts" using the relatively obscure "Classic Warfare" rules, by Gary Gygax.  Sadly, the Celts didn't stand much of a chance against Roman legionnaires.

On Friday, he also got a chance to play "Siege of Bodenburg", run by Paul Stormberg, the miniatures game which so impressed Gygax at Gen Con I, back in 1968.


I participated in Bill Hoyt's Empire of the Petal Throne game "Jakala, City of the Dead", which was overshadowed by the recent controversy surrounding M.A.R. Barker.

Bill did a good job sharing his vision of Barker's setting, so different from other fantasy worlds.  (Our group survived an encounter with the "Shunned Ones", and made it out alive.)


A group of us had a fantastic time playing Zach Howard's "Expedition to Skull Stack Crater", successfully defeating an ancient evil and retrieving the Spear of Decree!

I used Zach's Holmesian name generator to come up with a name for my 3rd level cleric, resulting in the perfectly fitting "Ithzefxor".

Call of Cthulhu:

Cover to Weird Tales vol. 22, no. 4 (October, 1933), with stories by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H. P. Lovecraft

Playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario "Save Weird Tales!" has been another highlight of the con.  (I played a lot of Call of Cthulhu, back in the day.)

I got to role-play Clark Ashton Smith and Otis Adelbert Kline, along with the Appendix N Bookclub podcast's Jeff Goad, who played H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth!


I had the pleasure of participating in David Wesely's "Braunstein I", a fascinating experience, interwoven with plenty of historical anecdotes.

Meanwhile, my son signed up for Bill Hoyt's "Medieval Braunstein", (rounding out his education into the roots of the hobby).


I'm looking forward to Griffith Morgan's "Arneson's D&D Battle in the Skies 1973" later this evening, another glimpse into the original Blackmoor campaign.*

*check out this post over at Delta's D&D Hotspot (August 17, 2020)

Knights of Camelot:

"Knights of Camelot" trophy, presented to the winner of the Sunday morning game, at Gary Con XIV

On Sunday morning, I'm signed up to play the "Knights of Camelot Fantasy Boardgame" using a gorgeous, oversized map of the board.

All in all, another fantastic trip to Lake Geneva, after three long years!

Sunday, March 20, 2022

X1: Sequels of Dread

Following publication of the revised, orange-cover version of "The Isle of Dread" (1983), additional material was released, further detailing the forboding Sea of Dread.

The Sea of Dread:

XSOLO "Lathan's Gold" by Merle M. Rasmussen includes a parchment map of the Sea of Dread, as well as six solo adventures (one of which involves an expedition to the Isle of Dread).

Parchment map of the Sea of Dread, from XSOLO "Lathan's Gold" (1984) depicting coastal trade routes.

Module X6 "Quagmire!" (1984), also by Rasmussen, includes the village of Tanaroa as a possible starting point, and is similar in some ways to X1 "The Isle of Dread".*

*one of the major differences is the scale of the hex maps (24 miles/hex for "The Wild Lands" of module X6, compared to 6 miles/hex for the Isle of Dread) which translates into major differences in pacing, (see X6/I1 Quagmire/Dwellers of the Forbidden City mash-up for a potential fix)

The Sea of Dread "Underwater Map", from module X7 "The War Rafts of Kron" (1984) by Bruce Nesmith.

Module X7 "The War Rafts of Kron" (1984) by Bruce Nesmith describes encounters both upon and far beneath the surface of the Sea of Dread.

CC3 "The Sea People" (1990) by Jim Bambra provides additional rules for underwater adventures, as well as playable races (including the kopru!)

Finally, one should check out Threshold #3 "The Sea of Dread" (March, 2014) and Threshold #4 "Return to Dread" (June, 2014).

Return to the Isle of Dread:

For the past several years, David Cook, co-author of the original module X1 "The Isle of Dread", has run a "Return to the Isle of Dread" scenario at various cons:

Days ago a note arrived imploring you to join a voyage to the Isle of Dread. It’s been over 30 years since you last saw the shores of that made your reputation as an adventurer of note. You would have ignored it but for the sender’s name — Rory Barbarossa. The old piratical soul painted of picture of terror and regret, one last chance to set wrongs right. So now you’ve come out of retirement for one last adventure—and a return to the Isle of Dread. Of course, you've not come alone—your brave companions and a loyal crew stand by your side!

David "Zeb" Cook "Return to the Isle of Dread"

I was actually signed up to play in Cook's game at Gary Con XII, shoulder-to-shoulder with none other than Joe Manganiello, when Covid-19 resulted in the cancellation of the physical con.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

X1: Derivative Works

X1 "The Isle of Dread" has been revisited multiple times in recent years, resulting in a wealth of new material for those running a campaign (including two poster-sized maps).


Torrents of Dread:

Cover to Dungeon #114 (September, 2004).  Illustration by Wayne Reynolds.

"Torrents of Dread" is a 3.5e adventure for mid-level characters (ideally, four 6th level characters), by Greg A. Vaughn, published in Dungeon #114 (September, 2004).

The adventure takes place in the village of Mora, one of the native villages on the southeastern peninsula, and is based on the "Destroy the Zombie Master" scenario, from suggestions for further adventures in the original module.

The island was transplanted to the Greyhawk setting, specifically the Densac Gulf, bordered by the Azure Sea to the north and the Pearl Sea to the south.

Poster map of the Isle of Dread, from Dungeon #114, also distributed at GenCon in 2004.  Cartography by Christopher Trevas.

Dungeon #114 also contains the article "Exploring the Isle of Dread" by Gary Holian, one of the co-authors of the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.

The article includes an updated excerpt from Rory Barbarossa's ship's log, various legends, and a mini-gazetteer of the Isle of Dread, complete with updated wandering monster tables.

Savage Tide:

Cover to Dungeon #139 (October, 2006).  Illustration by Dan Scott, a homage to the original cover to module X1: The Isle of Dread.

The "Savage Tide" adventure path involved a series of 12 interconnected adventures, published from Dungeon #139 (October, 2006) to Dungeon #150 (September 2007).*

*a seven-page preview of all 12 parts of the Savage Tide adventure path was published in Dungeon #138 (September, 2006)

The PCs begin as 1st level characters, and can rise as high as 20th level by the campaign's conclusion.  (Parts 3-7 involve the Isle of Dread.)

Although set in the World of Greyhawk, see also Adapting the Savage Tide Adventure Path for Mystara, published in Threshold #4.

Poster-sized player's map of The Isle of Dread, from Dragon #351, a supplement to the article "Ecology of the Isle of Dread".

A series of supporting articles for the Savage Tide adventure path "Savage Tidings" were published from Dragon #348 (October, 2006) to Dragon #359 (September, 2007).

Dragon #351 also contained an article for players "Ecology of the Isle of Dread: The Journal of Larissa Vanderboren" by Jacob Frazier, together with a poster-sized player's map.

Attack of the Tyrantclaw:

Cover to "Attack of the Tyrantclaw" (2011) by Matt James and Greg Bilsland.  Illustration by McLean Kendree.

The D&D 4e Manual of the Planes (2008) situated the Isle of Dread within "the Feywild", the realm of faeries, from which the island "worldfalls" to other planes (pg 43-44).

"Attack of the Tyrantclaw" is set among the ruins of Tanaroa, and was designed for five 6th level characters, as part of the spring 2012 installment of the D&D 4e Lair Assault program.

Original Adventures Reincarnated #2:

Cover to OAR #2 "The Isle of Dread" (2018).  Illustration by Jeff Dee.

A repackaging of the original versions of module X1, with a new frontispiece by Erol Otus, introductory retrospectives, and a detailed conversion to 5e,* by Chris Doyle and Tim Wadzinski.

*the D&D 5e Dungeon Master's Guide (2014) relocated the Isle of Dread once again, this time, to the Plane of Water (pg 56-57)

In addition, there are 20 new encounter areas on the island, seven new encounter areas on the central plateau, and an expansion of the dungeons beneath the temple on Taboo Island.

There are also some additional suggestions for new adventures, incorporating new material, as well as information on Elemental Gates.

Additional works:

The Kopru Ruins (2006) by Darrin Drader.

The X1 "Isle of Dread" D&D Next Playtest (2012).

Jason B. Thompson's walkthrough map (2013).

The Y’ruvex Swamps (Dyson's Dodecahedron, Apr 4, 2019)

Sunday, March 13, 2022

X1: Cover Art and Artists

The cover to module X1 "The Isle of Dread" depicts two natives battling a huge monster, as two adventurers approach in their boat, one of whom has already entered the water.

"Blue" cover to module X1 "The Isle of Dread" (1981) by David Cook and Tom Moldvay.  Illustration by Jeff Dee.

Jeff Dee described the monster as "Sort of a T-Rex, by way of Godzilla" in this Facebook post.  A striped coral snake is pictured in the foreground.

One of the adventurers appears to be albino (a homage to Elric of Melniboné, perhaps?)

"Orange" cover to module X1 "The Isle of Dread" (1983) by David Cook and Tom Moldvay.  Illustration by Timothy Truman.

The module was heavily revised in 1983, along with the Expert rulebook, as part of the new Expert Set.  Contents were re-organized, with new interior art.*

*the revised version includes names for the villages on the map, and replaces monsters omitted from the revised Expert rulebook

Saturday, March 12, 2022

X1: The Isle of Dread

Module X1 "The Isle of Dread" by David Cook and Tom Moldvay was released together with the D&D Expert rulebook as part of the D&D Expert Set (1981).

While the D&D Expert rulebook contains most of the information necessary to design wilderness adventures, this module is another tool.  It is a graphic example of what a wilderness adventure may be.  It allows the DM to learn by experience about wilderness design and supplements the rules given in the D&D Expert and Basic Sets.

The Isle of Dread (1981), pg 2

Much of the module describes the Isle of Dread, although a two-page continental map and key were also included, with capsule descriptions for the setting, which eventually became known as Mystara (to be covered in a future post).

Players Map for the Isle of Dread.  Note similarities to the map from the Source of the Nile board game (Avalon Hill, 1979).

As with module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands", Wizards of the Coast used "The Isle of Dread" as part of the D&D Next Playtest in 2012, introducing several new plot hooks.

David Cook discussed his collaboration with Tom Moldvay to create the adventure in this interview on Grogtalk (June 20, 2020) from 1:07:54 to 1:11:24.

Moldvay was primarily responsible for encounters involving the outer part of the island, while Cook was responsible for the central plateau and taboo island.


The PCs discover a partial map and part of a ship's log describing the island, in addition to tales concerning a great black pearl of "the gods".*

*a giant black pearl with magical properties is described in OD&D Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (negates all wind and earth turbulence in a 1 mile radius)

The party must obtain a ship to cross the Sea of Dread (if beginning in Specularum, the first part of module XSOLO "Lathan's Gold" can be used to commission a ship).

The Isle of Dread:

Moldvay drew inspiration for his portion of the Isle of Dread from the classic film "King Kong" (released in 1933, remade in 1976).

There is a 50' high stone wall outside the village of Tanaroa, stretching for two miles across the isthmus joining the southeastern peninsula to the main island.

The King Kong Brontosaur, the likely inspiration for encounter #22 "Plesiosaur Menace"

While there is no huge ape on the Isle of Dread, stats for gargantuan apes are presented in module WG6: "Isle of the Ape" (1985) by Gary Gygax, (also based on "King Kong").

*a connection between "The Isle of Dread" and "Isle of the Ape is mentioned in "Tides of Dread", published in Dungeon #143 (February, 2007).

Moldvay created the Rakasta, likely inspired by Larry Niven's Kzinti,* which featured in Moldvay and Lawrence Schick's "Known World", while Cook created the Phanaton (similar in ways to his Tasloi from module I1 "Dwellers of the Forbidden City"

*see Dragon #50 for an article about the Kzinti, by Robert Plamondon

In his essay "The Deranged Ankylosaur - That Was Me at My Best" in Goodman Games' OAR#2 "The Isle of Dread", Paul Reiche III describes his contributions to "The Isle of Dread".

Central Plateau:

The plateau in "The Lost World" (1912) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cook has acknowledged "The Lost World" (1912) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a source of inspiration for the Isle of Dread.

Doyle's novel features a high plateau with a central lake, as well as dinosaurs, including pterodactyls (the possible inspiration for encounter #15 "Pteranodon Terror").

The central plateau on the Isle of Dread also contains a lake within the crater of a dormant volcano, with a small, native village on its shore.*

*the tribal cleric worships Oloron, Lord of the Skies (a reference to Ọlọrun, ruler of the Heavens, in the Yoruba pantheon)

Taboo Island:

A mysterious island within the lake hides the ancient secret of the Isle of Dread.

Kopru, illustration by Erol Otus

Cook's conclusion to the adventure bears many similarities to module I1 "Dwellers of the Forbidden City", including the theme of a sinister, lost race:

This island was once the center of the kingdom of the Kopru, until native rebellion destroyed their power... The rocky island is now dotted with small ruins, statues, and broken terraces.

The Isle of Dread (1981), pg 23

In an interview published in OAR #2 "The Isle of Dread", Cook states "the kopru were modeled after various pulp horrors of the Burroughs/Lovecraft/Howard vein, especially the Mahar of Pellucidar".

New Monsters:

Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Aranea, Brontosaurus, Dimetrodon, Elk (Giant), Grangeri, Kopru, Megatherium, Native, Phanaton, Phororhacos ("Sword Beak"), Plesiosaurus, Rakasta, Trachodon

Inspirational Viewing:

In the decades since I ran "The Isle of Dread" there have been films and TV series that bring me back to the island, and serve as great sources of inspiration:

Jurassic Park (1993)
King Kong (2005)

Lost TV series (2004-2010)

The "Lost" TV  series in particular is packed with great ideas that would make a "Lost on the Isle of Dread" campaign a lot of fun.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

B/X Karameikos

The "Sample Wilderness Key and Maps" in the D&D Expert rulebook depicts the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.  A single page of text provides a brief description of the Grand Duchy, along with two pages of maps.

The Grand Duchy is a large tract of wilderness and unsettled land claimed by Duke Stefan Karameikos the Third.  Subsequent material expanded significantly on the setting, although generated inconsistencies.

Annotated map of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, from the D&D Expert rulebook (1981).

The map was updated to include various trails in the revised Expect Set rulebook (1983), although in the example of organizing a party given on page X19, it's stated "There is no road that goes directly to Specularum".

This implies that the Grand Duchy as conceived in the 1981 rulebook largely involved coastal settlements, and that overland travel was hazardous (with bugbears in between the Black Eagle Barony and Specularum, for example).

This concept of a wilder, more dangerous Grand Duchy of Karameikos has been explored in various threads on the forums, such as in [B/X] Original history of Karameikos (April, 2010) on Dragonsfoot, and elsewhere.

A. Specularum

Originally a trading port founded when the Grand Duchy was first explored, a map was included in module B6 "The Veiled Society" (1984) by David Cook.

Overview of the port city of Specularum, from module B6 "The Veiled Society" (1984) by David Cook.

Walled on the landward side, the city is also protected by two breakwaters that extend into the harbor, restricting passage to a narrow entrance.  Overlooking the harbor is the Duke's castle, providing ample defense.

More detailed map of the port city of Specularum, from module B6 "The Veiled Society" (1984) by David Cook.

Module B6 includes a city-based adventure, which begins during the Festival of Lucor* (a legendary, local cleric).

*the term "lucor" might be Latin for "brilliance" (denoting a Lawful saint), but alternately Middle English for avarice

XSOLO "Lathan's Gold" (1984) by Merle M. Rassmussen begins in Specularum, and appears to use the map from B6 as a template.

(The map of Specularum was completely revised in GAZ 1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos" (1987) by Aaron Allston.)

Note that Krakatos is a fortress, and could serve as the location for the eponymous Keep in module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands".

B. Black Eagle Barony

I've often wondered whether the name Baron von Hendriks is a veiled reference to Kevin Hendryx, involved in the editing of the D&D Expert rulebook.

Module DDA3 "Eye of Traldar" (1991) by Carl Sargent contains a map of the Baron's fortress, in addition to the dungeons beneath it.

(A map of Fort Doom appeared in the article "Karameikos, Ho!" by Jeff Grubb, published in Dragon #206 (June, 1994), although with a different fortress layout.)

C. Luln

"Composed primarily of persons who have fled Black Eagle Barony, merchants who have come to trade with the Baron, and some non-humans who have left the wilderness"

"Non-humans" is presumably a reference to gnomes, or possibly elves and dwarves, as opposed to humanoid monsters, although Luln is "somewhat lawless and open".

Also mentioned as a base town for adventurers exploring the Haunted Keep.

D. Haunted Keep

See earlier blog post The Haunted Keep (January 22, 2022) as well as The Haunted Keep: Expanded Version (January 23, 2022).

E. Gnomes

A map and description of the gnome lair is provided.

F. Ruins of Lavv

I've drafted an adventure in which the PCs must explore the ruins of Lavv, in advance of the establishment of the village of Kelven, which eventually becomes the city of Kelvin in GAZ 1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos".

G. Goblins

Module DDA4 "The Dymrak Dread" (1991) by John Nephew is situated here.

H. The Lost Valley

Described in detail in module B10 "Night's Dark Terror" (1986) by Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallagher.

I previously regarded this valley as a "lost world" area, harboring the many types of prehistoric creatures described in the Monsters section.

I. Treasure of the Hideous One

This area was further developed in the mini-adventure AC2 "The Treasure of the Hideous One" (1984) by David Cook.

Although stating "This map does not exactly match any map in the Expert rules" in AC2, the fork in the river depicted in the suggested wilderness map (left) corresponds to the river system in the map of the Grand Duchy (right). 

J. Wereskalot

See discussion in [B/X] Wereskalot! (January 14, 2010) on Dragonsfoot.

I currently recommend using the adventure "The Lone Tower" in JG 113: The Book of Treasure Maps (1979) by Jennell Jacquays.

K. Blizzard Pass

Blizzard Pass is described as "the treacherous path that winds over the Cruth Mountains between the Five Shires and Darokin" in module M1 "Blizzard Pass" (1983) by David Cook.

Makes reference to Stodos, Master of the Icy Wastes (depicted as a white, toad-like creature).

L. Dwarves

Proposed location for module XS2 "Thunderdelve Mountain" (1985) by William Carlson.*

*see my article "The Dwarves of Thunderdelve" from Threshold #2.

M. Temple of Poseidon

Proposed location for "The Temple of Poseidon" by Paul Reiche III.