What I think about The Isle of Dread Gazetteer

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.

isle of dreadThe 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.

Go buy it!




4 Comments on “What I think about The Isle of Dread Gazetteer”

    1. I was expecting it to be a similar price to the uk one, taking into account the exchange rate, so £3.99 ~ $6.40.

      But like I say, if I log into Lulu and configure my account for the USA store, it tells me that the base printing cost is something like $6.84, so more than the UK full price, and then Lulu leverage a fee on top, and then theres shipping,

      so you’re looking at nearly $12 in the end, which is more than a paizo book, which to me seems crazy and somewhat embarassing

  1. Thanks for the review Robin

    X1 The Isle of Dread is a very special product for me, without it, I doubt I would be interested in D&D at all.
    My whole introduction to D&D and the thing that gripped me about it was nagging my brother to be let into his room to play on the Megadrive while him and his mates were exploring the troglodyte caves. The descriptions they gave and the freedom to do anything they wanted, compared to just rolling a blue fast hedgehog down a ramp really got the attention of a 10 year old me, and has hooked me ever since.

    My intention when doing this book was to give the Isle of Dread a modern makeover for 4e, in a similar style to the Neverwinter book. I knew I had to look at the islands history, its locations and its factions, and one thing I loved about the Neverwinter book was the interactions between the factions, From there, I was going to add player options, information about exploring the island, including weather and disease, and some sample encounters. Unfortunately, I wrote incredibly slowly and 4e fell out of favour…
    Not only do I wrote slowly, I only wrote this book during my lunch breaks – I work with computers from 8am to 5pm (and often later), so to get a break from technology, I generally don’t use them at home. It means that almost all of the book was written during breaks in work. Maybe if I had worked at home, the book would have included the things you commented upon!

    The index comment is particularly poignant, as I’m often one of the first on Twitter to point out rpg books (like the SLA Industries softcover form 1993) need a decent index. If I do another revision, I will add one,

    Regarding optional locations, theres a few new locations in Chapter 2, but most of what I did was expand the information presented on the existing location. If I wrote faster and had the budget to get decent maps done, the sample encounters would have featured more indepth and new locations.

    I agree with your comments about Lulu’s quality improving, though as an author via it, I have serious concerns – the £3.99 cost basically covers the print cost for the book, and Lulu’s fees for hosting/seo/financial transactions etc. They then sting you on shipping… The USA cost on the other hand, the base print cost is higher than the final UK cost, so by the time they add their fees, its nearly $9, which I think is too much. I would love to give the PDF away with sales of the book as a thank you, but if its possible via Lulu, I can’t find the option to do so…

    1. have you considered selling the PDF via DTRPG/RPGNow? it might make you a bit more, cutting the printing and shipping costs out of the equation.

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