Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fantasy Islands: The Excellence of X1

Though I didn’t get anything accomplished creatively over the weekend while vacationing, I did bring along my copy of TSR’s X1: The Isle of Dread. I’d been thinking about it lately because of its inclusion of dinosaurs and because of the island setting generally. Way back at Cavecon, I shared that I’d like to see and had been considering writing up an S&W based game or oceanic setting, not quite Ruins & Ronin but something like Polynesia meets Fantasy. Fantesia? Maybe seeing Grégory’s tank and dinosaur hybrids brought it up for me again.

X1 is jam packed with mini-adventures. Among many other things, it gives a nod to Haiti and zombie masters, has a roof-top village that reminds me of the wookie home planet or the moon of Endor, and has a partially flooded dungeon beneath a temple. Its dinosaurs brought to mind the Land of the Lost as a kid, but also King Kong. And of course, it has pirates. The need for the art of diplomacy might suddenly seem obvious to your players in an island setting like this, especially if it’s something they’ve never cultivated before.

As great as the module is in different ways, above all I think both as player and DM it brought to my attention just how compelling islands are as adventure settings. There you have the unknown in every way - do the natives speak our language? Are they friendly and what gods do they worship or magic know? What strange never before seen creatures or dangers may lurk there… Has civilization as we know it even reached it yet?

From a DM’s point of view, each island can be a campaign itself - their self-contained nature lends themselves to this. There’s no naturalistic urge to link one island to another in quite the same way as with mainland cultures, races, or otherwise. Like the potentially unique character of a dungeon, the island stands apart. Here we can find strange variations on the familiar, like giant creatures long since extinct on the mainland, or perhaps we’ll find a portal to another time, or alien technology or aliens themselves. Islands are like planets that way, just floating in space waiting to be explored.


Bob Reed said...

This module is one of the best ever! It's also one of the few I've actually run.

Island setting are great .Most attractive to me is how they provide a sandbox feeling, but can still be manageable for a busy/lazy DM (like me).

christian said...

I've always wanted to play in or run that adventure. If memory serves, WotC dusted off X1 and built a heck of an Adventure Path around it. For a while I was tracking an Actual Play thread on RPG.net that described a group's exploits along the path. They seemed to be having a heck of a good time.

Paul said...

This reminds me of Telecanter's idea for (if I understood him correctly) a one page dungeon contest where everyone would contribute an island. DM's could then pick-and-choose islands, and run a island hopping campaign.

I don't think Telecanter followed up on the the idea, but I'd like to see such a thing.

ze bulette said...

@Cyc: I would go so far as to say that there seems to be a Mythical Island in the popular psyche or collective unconsciousness nearly as much as there is a Mythical Underworld.
@Christian: I didn't know that about W0t¢, I'll have to look that up and see what they did with it.
@Paul: Thanks, I might have missed that post of Telecanter's - I remember him seeing islands similarly when we talked about them at the caves. Enlisting the blogosphere hivemind is a lot of fun.

Dennis Laffey said...

There's definitely a 'mythical island' that can and should be used in D&D. I was hoping to capture some of that magic in my unfortunately short lived Maritime Campaign.

From Homer to Sindbad to St. Brendan all the way up to Captain Nemo, King Kong and shows like LOST, we do, as you say, think of islands as a mysterious place, separate from the mainland and so potentially a whole new world.

Tom said...

The Isle of Dread reboot was featured in the 'Savage Tide' Adventure path by Paizo. Check out Dragon 348-359 (with 351 being the go-to issue for IoD) and Dungeon #139-150 for the chant of Demogorgon, Demogorgon, Demogorgon!

You can also download the 'Player's Guide' for free off Paizo's website, for some hints of what is to come and the flavour of the Campaign.

Aos said...

My last Metal Earth campaign took place entirely on an island. I'll probably do it again sometime.

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