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This article is for the adventure. For the location, see Isle of Dread.

The Isle of Dread (ISBN 978-0935696301) is an adventure for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game,[1] and is also the name of the island where most of that adventure takes place. The adventure, which carries the module code X1, was originally published in 1981. Written by David "Zeb" Cook[2] and Tom Moldvay,[3][4] it is among the most widely circulated[5] of all Dungeons & Dragons adventures due to its inclusion as part of the D&D Expert Set[6][7]. The island itself has, at different times, been located in both the World of Greyhawk and Mystara campaign settings.

Plot, theme and setting

The Isle of Dread, like the Expert Rulebook it was usually purchased with, is meant to introduce players and dungeon masters, who had up to that point only been familiar with dungeon crawl-style adventures, to wilderness exploration.[1][8][9] As such, the adventure has only a very simple plot, even by then-current standards.[10] 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, which is reminiscent of the village depicted in King Kong, and after possibly dealing with some troublesome factions in the village, set out from there to explore the interior of the island. In the course of their explorations, they may find a number of other villages of intelligent creatures (though mostly not of familiar species like humans and elves), 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.

Importance in Dungeons & Dragons history

Isle of Dread was the first published adventure for any version of Dungeons & Dragons to focus on wilderness exploration as a major theme.[1] 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.

The adventure came with a fairly detailed (for the time) map of a setting then called the "Known World",[5] showing no less than 15 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.[1] These nations each received a paragraph or so of description near the beginning of the module. This, along with a few pages in the Expert Rulebook on one of these nations, was the first significant information to be made available on the world that was later known as Mystara[7].

Isle of Dread was ranked the 16th greatest Dungeons & Dragons adventure of all time by Dungeon magazine in 2004, on the 30th anniversary of the Dungeons & Dragons game.[11]


Two very different-looking versions of this adventure were printed.[1][12] The 1981 version has a predominantly blue border with cover artwork by Jeff Dee. This version is laid out in the style characteristic of early D&D adventures (for example, 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). This was packaged with the original version of the Expert set, by David "Zeb" Cook, and was also available separately (as was the corresponding version of the Expert Rulebook). It was often sold already three-hole punched. This version actually has several distinguishable printings of its own.

The second version, which first appeared in 1983, was packaged with the revised version of the Expert Set by Frank Mentzer. Its cover featured a red-orange border and cover artwork by Timothy Truman. The revised version used the layout elements that were typical of mid-1980s Dungeons & Dragons adventures (for example, the game's then-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.

Use of the setting in later D&D products

The Isle is also a minor encounter area in the later adventure Lathan's Gold,[13] and receives some further mention in several later D&D products such as the Poor Wizard's Almanac series.

Dungeon magazine

More recently, issue #114 of Dungeon magazine featured an update on the Isle of Dread as a Greyhawk setting, a remake/sequel to Isle of Dread entitled Torrents of Dread,[14] and a poster-style map of the island (and some smaller, surrounding islands).[1]

In this update, the island was located in the Densac Gulf, a region bordered by the Azure Sea to the north, the Pearl Sea to the south, the Amedio Jungle to the west and Hepmonaland to the east. This large expanse of ocean contains several island chains, one of which is the Isle of Dread itself. The update details a kopru plot that destroyed the city of the original Olman settlers through the power of a giant black pearl imbued with the influence of Demogorgon, the demonic god of the kopru. Today, the isle is a mad collection of kopru and other aquatic races, demonic beings, dinosaurs, and savage Olman natives.[15]

In the announcement for Dungeon's Savage Tide Adventure Path, Erik Mona mentioned that the Isle will be prominently featured in Savage Tide. Though most place names and other such references will be to the World of Greyhawk setting, Mona has stated that there will also be a number of Mystara references, in something of a homage to the Isle's roots.

The first Savage Tide adventure set on the Isle of Dread is "Here There Be Monsters", found in Dungeon #142 (January 2007). The Isle of Dread remains the setting for the next three adventures: "Tides of Dread," in issue #143; "The Lightless Depths," in issue #144; and "City of Broken Idols," in issue #145.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 X1 The Isle of Dread / Torrents of Dread / Exploring the Isle of Dread
  2. David "Zeb" Cook ludography
  3. The Isle of Dread, , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  4. Tom Moldvay ludography
  5. 5.0 5.1 Designer Tom Moldvay
  6. D&D Clones, White Dwarf, p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  7. 7.0 7.1
  9. Review: The Isle Of Dread (TSR), Different Worlds, p.48. July, 1981. (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  10. Review: X1: The Isle of Dread, The Space Gamer, p.33. April, 1981. (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  11. The 30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time, Dungeon, p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  12. Expert Series (X1 - X13, XL1, XSOLO, XS2)
  13. Lathan's Gold, , p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  14. Torrents of Dread, Dungeon, p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
  15. Exploring the Isle of Dread, Dungeon, p.. . (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)
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Further reading