Return to Dread

My first experience with Dungeons & Dragons was with what is now known as the Moldvay-Cook Basic and Expert Sets 1. The rules were light, the game was designed to be fast, and the design was simple. Sure there were design choices I didn’t understand back then, and still don’t today 2, but the those two sets stoked my imagination in a way few other things ever have.

The Expert Set came with the first published, that I know of, “hex crawl.” David Cook wanted to take D&D role playing out into to the wilderness in a way that hadn’t been explored in previous D&D publications, and thought a King Kong style adventure would be enjoyable. Players were brought to the eponymous “Isle of Dread,” acquire a map of the island with only the coastal hexes filled in, and sent off to find their fortunes as they fill in the map–hex by hex.

I never got to play The Isle of Dread when I was a kid. The idea of doing a solo adventure didn’t occur to me back then, and I never found a core group of folks who ever wanted to play D&D with me. But I read this module over and over and over and imagined what moving through the map must have been like for parties. So when I discovered Goodman Games had released a D&D fifth edition conversion of this module my eyes lit up! I did have some sticker shock when I saw the price of the converted module, but when I manage to see what was in the book I knew I had to have it.

The Goodman Games conversions 3, are high quality books. The binding is stitched, rather than glued, so it will last for years and the more the binding is broken in the better the book will lay flat on the table. There is a book ribbon stitched into the volume to mark one’s place, which is a nice touch. The volume opens with several essays on the creation of the module, including one by David Cook himself, and these offer some wonderful insights for people interested in the history of the game. And, aside from the 5e conversion of The Isle of Dread, both the original Expert Set printings of the module 4. This means I can run the adventure with my 5e party, and then turn around and run the same adventure with my group that is playing Basic Fantasy RPG without needing to do any modifications.

I reviewed this reincarnated Isle of Dread over on DM Tales this week. Though I keep calling Frank Mentzer “Metzger,” which is rather embarrassing.


  1. Moldvay created the Basic set, and Cook the Expert. 
  2. Like race as class, why a halfling couldn’t be a thief or a cleric made no sense to me. 
  3. There’s a whole series entitled “Original Adventures Reincarnated.” 
  4. The Expert set had the original David Cook box, and then the Mentzer box a couple of years later. Isle of Dread was included in both, with minimal changes except to styling.