Disclaimer: The Isle of Dread Gazetteer was written by one of my good friends (Adam Page), and contains art by another of my good friends (Dave Eadie). This might make you think I’m going to be awfully nice and uncritical but think for a minute about how you treat your own friends. Good friendships are born of brutal honesty; after all we are the people who know we can say things no one else would, and know you still love us just the same. If anything, this allows me to be more critical than I would be a total stranger who (for all I know) could secretly be an axe-wielding maniac. I’m pretty sure neither Adam nor Dave are axe-wielding maniacs. I am also credited as one of the proofreaders.
The Isle of Dread Gazetteer is an 86 page perfect bound softcover book available via print-on-demand from the nice people at Lulu. It is currently priced at £3.99 and delivery is satisfyingly fast. As an aside Lulu’s print, paper, binding and cover quality has improved in leaps and bounds since I last used their service (which I’ll admit is a couple of years ago). The overall quality, and particular the reproduction of the artwork (which I’ll come to in a mo’) really is top notch. Gone are the days when POD products are looked down upon as somehow cheap or inferior. This really is an excellent piece of work in terms of print quality, and full kudos to Lulu for that.
What The Isle of Dread Gazetteer provides is, unsurprisingly given the title, a gazetteer of the classic Isle of Dread setting from the original X1 Isle of Dread or its D&D Nextincarnation that came bundled with the playtest packs.
X1 was written back in an age when terseness and precision of words was the order of the day and those dense paragraphs and tables would conjure up truly magical and wonderful places in our minds. X1 is one of the more readable tomes from that era (mainly thanks to David Cook and Tom Moldvay’s wonderful writing style) but it’s still a far cry from the fluff-coated easy-to-use beautifully typeset documents we’re used to nowadays.
This is where The Isle of Dread Gazetteer comes in by providing a full system neutral guide to the island. Adam has done an excellent job of providing a full and well researched history and backstory to the island and its inhabitants. I’m sure he has added elements of his own invention along with information from the island’s documented D&D history but I really can’t see the join. Take that as the high praise it is intended to be.
The book itself begins with the core assumptions about the island (emphasizing that it’s harsh uncharted location and survivslist skills are necessary) before breaking down into three chapters. Chapter 1 covers the island and surrounding sea, giving a thorough overview of the history, terrain, flaura and fauna). Chapter 2 zooms in to look at certain places of interest on the Isle, while Chapter 3 provides further information about the various factions and races on the island. I particularly like that Adam has gone into detail about what the factions think of each other. Adventure ideas and subplots jump off the page!
This is all backed up by Dave’s monochrome internal artwork which perfectly captures the old school feel of the setting. Heck I’d pay the price (and much more!) for the artwork alone. It’s fantastic quality and certainly wouldn’t feel out of place in classic editions of Dragon magazine.
Three questions spring to mind when reading through The Isle of Dread Gazetteer: is it worth it, who is it aimed and and what’s missing. There’s no doubt in my mind that it is well worth £3.99 (for a print edition! not a pdf!) of anyone’s money. In fact I think it’s hugely under-priced and should be closer to £7.99 to reflect the effort, care and attention not to mention the value a role-player will gain from it. At £3.99 it’s a steal.
Which leads us to who it’s aimed at. Folks who have experienced Isle of Dread and want a heavy dose of nostalgia will love this tome, as will anyone with a love for the history of Dungeons & Dragons. If you plan to run Isle of Dread at some point (and every role-player worth their salt should, frankly. It’s a rite of passage) then this is an essential purchase. It’ll improve your understanding and appreciation of the setting a hundredfold.
The Isle of Dread Gazetteer has, sadly, broken the first rule of role-playing tomes; there’s no index. The book is well laid out enough to not absolutely require one, but I would have liked to see an index or table that cross-references the various factions, places of interest and history of the island. I would also like to see a pdf available as an option for those folks who favour screen over print.
Finally, while Adam has stayed very faithful to the original I would also have liked to see a chapter of optional locations, plot ideas and encounters that expand upon the island’s place in D&D history. Perhaps this could be Book Two…..
These really are very minor points though, and certainly don’t detract from the quality or value of the book. Very highly recommended.
Blast you Adam & Dave for giving me nothing of worth to criticize you for.