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Monday 13 September 2021

Friday Fantasy: Isle of the Damned

Isle of the Damned is as straightforward a fantasy roleplaying scenario as a Game Master might want. Designed and published by Scott Malthouse—responsible for Romance of the Perilous Land published by Osprey Games and Merry Outlaws from his Trollish Delver Games—it is a one-page, First Level adventure for Heartseeker and other Old School Renaissance Roleplaying games. Heartseeker is a very simple retroclone, just two pages in length, but its name echoes that of the term, ‘Fantasy Heartbreaker’, which back in the Golden Age of the hobby would have been a designer’s answer to everything that he wanted to change about Dungeons & Dragons. Without Heartseeker, a Game Master could easily run Isle of the Damned using Old School Essentials, Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, or Labyrinth Lord, for example, or even adapt it to the rules and setting of her choice. One such might be Symbaroum, but other fantasy roleplaying games would work too. Whichever rules set the Game Master decides to use, she can pick up a copy of Isle of the Damned, read through it in five minutes—or less, and bring it to the table. In fact, an experienced Game Master could even run it with no preparation!

The setting for the scenario is the eponymous Isle of the Damned, rumoured to be a former Elven colony forsaken by their gods. The Player Characters are tasked with travelling to the isle and recovering three Sacred Chalices. These, it has been determined, will together save the life of Prince Markus, who is dying. With their instructions, the Player Characters must journey over the Grey Sea and once on the island, search its six locations to locate the three Sacred Chalices. These include a Dead Courtyard and the Broken Shrine, venture into the depths of Moaning Forest, and perhaps out of the other side.

Isle of the Damned is a simple, straightforward seven point crawl. It comes as a four page, full colour pamphlet. The inside shows the point crawl and provides two tables, one of rumours and one of encounters in the Moaning Forest, all against an atmospheric painting by Arnold Böcklin. The back page lists all of the encounters and the stats, all of which are non-standard monsters, so that Isle of the Damned is very much a standalone scenario. Each of the seven locations is given a simple paragraph-long entry that is just sufficient for the Game Master to work from and develop further in terms of details if she wishes.

Of course, finding the three chalices is not simple. There are riddles to be answered, aid to be sought and tasks to be fulfilled, and puzzles to be solved. None of it too complex or lengthy, but all enough to provide a session of play, perhaps two at the very most. The empty nature of the isle and ruins and the strangeness of the encounters gives it a slightly eerie feel, which a good Game Master could easily develop and expand with other encounters and locations should she want to.

Overall, Isle of the Damned is quick and easy to prepare and then run. It would easily slot into many fantasy settings or campaigns, especially ones with a sense of the weird and the lost, or perhaps it could just be run as a one-shot.

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