The history of the Isle of Dread
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The Isle of Dread is an iconic D&D location, with its roots in classic adventure stories. It is also one of the most widely published modules ever written, and the birthplace of the Mystara setting.

Over the years it has been referenced in various publications and appeared in multiple game settings.

This GeekList is part of a series: The history of selected RPG adventures.

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1. RPG Item: X1: The Isle of Dread [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:440]
RPG Item: X1: The Isle of Dread
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This 1980 module for Basic Dungeons & Dragons was the first in the X series, aimed at characters beyond the beginning levels. This specific adventure recommended levels 3 to 7.

The X series also focused on bringing the story out of the dungeon crawls (that had been presented to beginner players and DMs) and instead encouraged exploration of wilderness areas. As such, this adventure details a vast region: a large island with surrounding smaller landmasses, roughly 100 by 200 miles in length.

Within a mere 32 pages, dozens of encounters are detailed for locations around the island, sixteen new monsters, and loads of maps. Further, the adventure hook includes an awesome handout that gives the players a starting map: a hex grid that shows the outline of the island, for the players to fill in as they explore.

And that's not all! X1 is also the very birthplace of the Mystara setting. A one-page description summarises the principal countries of the Known World. Accompanying this is a two-page map showing the locations of these nations in relation to the Isle of Dread itself. Before this publication, none of these had been detailed anywhere before. Following this, Mystara became the default setting for all of basic D&D. So X1 is a hugely important piece of work for that RPG.

The adventure itself owes a great deal of inspiration to story of King Kong (less the giant gorilla) and the Isle of Dread is based therefore on Skull Island. Note the villagers behind their huge wooden palisade, protecting against a savage landscape of dinosaurs. The central plateau is further reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel The Lost World (and was itself the inspiration for King Kong). And of course I should also mention Jules Verne's 1864 novel Voyage au centre de la Terre which started the whole lost-world-with-dinosaurs genre.
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2. RPG Item: Dungeons & Dragons Set 2: Expert Rules [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:131]
RPG Item: Dungeons & Dragons Set 2: Expert Rules
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RPG Item: X1: The Isle of Dread
1983 cover of X1
Published in 1983, this boxed set was the sequel to Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules, anecdotally the highest-selling RPG product of all time. The Expert Rules covered character levels 4 to 14, and further detailed aspects of the Mystara (concentrating on Karameikos as a starting nation for player characters).

Of all the BECMI boxed sets, this was the only one to include a separate adventure module. The others did include adventures in the DM books, but mostly as overviews or hooks with details to be fleshed out by the DM. But the Expert Rules were different, and it should come as no surprise that X1 was chosen as the star adventure to be included.

Including X1 in such a high profile release gave the module a massive amount of coverage in the market. That, combined with its high quality content, makes it one of a handful of iconic D&D adventures.
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3. RPG Item: XSOLO: Lathan's Gold [Average Rating:5.78 Overall Rank:7374]
RPG Item: XSOLO: Lathan's Gold
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This 1984 module is a solitaire adventure set in the Sea of Dread. There is action in Karameikos, Thyatis, the Kingdom of Ierendi, the Minrothad Guilds, and various additional islands in the Sea of Dread. This includes the Isle of Dread itself, which appears in entries E11 and E26.

It's not a major appearance as the island isn't described in particular detail, but it is the target for a quest. The module works with pre-generated characters, each with a personal quest. You start by playing Lathan Lance-hand (level 4 elf), but if he dies then you go on to Elrem Nessumsar (level 6 dwarf, whose name is the reverse of this module's author's name):

Page 11 wrote:
Elrem's quest: Your people are not a sea-faring race, but they do have foresight. Because of other races' rapid population growth, Rockhome's borders are shrinking. Your elders realize that your people may one day need more land.

It is rumored that the Isle of Dread is a large, mountainous, and unpopulated. You are a scout being sent to locate the infamous island.

You have been given 1,000 gp for your expedition. Your quest is to explore the Isle of Dread and return to Specularum in 35 days. If you do not return, another scout will be sent out and you will be disgraced.
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4. RPG Item: PC3: The Sea People [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:3323]
RPG Item: PC3: The Sea People
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This 1990 rules supplement, the third in the Creature Crucible series, gave rules for characters and adventures under the waves. Amongst the classes (and noting that in Basic D&D race is class) was the kopru race, which first appeared as monsters in X1. Here they are more entrepreneurial, allowing them to integrate with the societies of other races, and be suitable as player characters.

The Undersea setting is known to surface dwellers as the Sea of Dread, and while the Isle of Dread is not further detailed here, the area of ocean surrounding it is, and the island is prominently marked on the rulebook's map.
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Issue: Dungeon (Issue 114 - Sep 2004)
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Mystara as a setting was mothballed in 1996, which would naturally end this GeekList. But this 2004 issue of Dungeon included the article Isle of Dread: Exploring the Isle of Dread. It presented the highlights of the island without a great deal of detail, but relocated it to Greyhawk (the default D&D setting of the time) making the Isle of Dread usable in canon publications again.

Pages 40-41 wrote:
The Isle of Dread is an adventure setting that takes the player characters to a primeval world across the waters, far from the lands of their birth. Armed only with pages from the long lost diary of a dead explorer, their wits, and the equipment they brought on their voyage, the adventurers confront the denizens of a dark and mysterious tropical island without succor and little respite. They are not alone in their quest to conquer the secrets of this eerie isle, for it was once home to a mighty civilization and has attracted the attention of many adversaries. The potential rewards are great, for the isle hides both untold riches and wondrous magic. Adventurers must merely survive long enough to claim them, but on the Isle of Dread, survival is by no means guaranteed.
This was then followed by the Isle of Dread: Torrents of Dread adventure (designed for four 6th-level characters) set on the island, in which an unnatural storm draws the party into horrific events culminating in a ritual sacrifice.
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Issue: Dungeon (Issue 139 - Oct 2006)
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The Savage Tide Adventure Path starts here. Published by Paizo in the pages of Dungeon (along with supporting articles in the corresponding issues of Dragon), this campaign is primarily based on the Isle of Dread. The adventures use the (then-current) Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition) rules and build on issue #114's articles by again using the Greyhawk setting.

While this first adventure (There Is No Honor) doesn't itself include the Isle of Dread, it sets out that the island will be the focus for adventure. And indeed a map of the island is used as a watermark for the pages of all the Dungeon adventures in this series.

Page 15 wrote:
The first savage tide has already touched the mortal world, yet none who live today recall this time of red ruin. Unleashed from the cruel heart of a fell seed known as a shadow pearl, this savage tide swept over an ancient city perched atop the crown of a remote island. The tide transformed beggar and noble, merchant and thief, resident and visitor into feral, ravenous fiends. The fruits of centuries of labor came crumbling down in a matter of days, and when the survivors tried to stem the tide by destroying the pearl, the resulting blast of power sunk their city into a boiling lake of death. Through it all, the Abyssal architect of the savage tide watched, taking pride in the ruin. When the tide's final ripple had faded, what was left became known as the Isle of Dread.

Now, after a thousand years, the true masters of the Isle of Dread look upon new targets, new cities beyond the horizon, compelled by the hateful will of their demonic lord Demogorgon to prepare for the coming glory. This time, the doom will not be limited to one hapless city. This time, all of civilization waits unknowing on the shore, blissfully ignorant of what the incoming tide brings in.
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Issue: Dungeon (Issue 141 - Dec 2006)
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The Sea Wyvern's Wake is adventure 3 of 12 in the Savage Tide Adventure Path (aimed at character levels 1 to 5). This chapter of the story ends with the player party getting shipwrecked on the northern shore of the Isle of Dread.

Page 17 wrote:
All ocean voyages are fraught with peril, yet a voyage to the infamous Isle of Dread might seem to some old salts to be a deliberate goading of the gods of the sea. Many of those who have attempted the voyage before and managed to return to civilisation often choose not to speak of the trials they experienced on the dangerous route, yet those whose lips can be loosened by a draught of grog whisper amazing stories... tales of pirates, sea monsters, terrifying storms, and perhaps most harrowing of all, of a strange and sinister land without land, a floating graveyard of dead ships mired in a sargasso the size of an island. This place has many names, but its most well-known may be its most apt - Journey's End.
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Issue: Dragon (Issue 350 - Dec 2006)
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The article Savage Tidings - Journey to the Isle of Dread complements this month's Dungeon adventure. It gives details of some possible encounters along the sea route to the Isle of Dread, and ways in which new characters maybe brought into the party to replacement any that have been lost (as well as a handful of relevant regional character options).
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Issue: Dungeon (Issue 142 - Jan 2007)
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Here There Be Monsters is adventure 4 of 12 in the Savage Tide Adventure Path (aimed at 7th-level characters). The player party begins the explore the Isle of Dread (travelling down the east coast to Tanaroa), so there is good descriptive information about the island here, and plenty of encounters.

Page 33 wrote:
A long, perilous ocean journey behind them, the crew of the Sea Wyvern finds itself shipwrecked on the Isle of Dread. Their destination lies well over 150 miles to the south, miles heavy with the threat of the island's terrible inhabitants. Yet the unknown enemies are far more sinister, for more than just dinosaurs hunt the vast jungles. Before long, a cunning fiend picks up their trail, and its duplicitous master demands their sacrifice.
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Issue: Dragon (Issue 351 - Jan 2007)
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There was a double-bill of relevant articles in this issue.

The Ecology of the Isle of Dread gives an in-character record of some of the island's flora and fauna, including the phanaton, loco weed, terror bird, tyrannosaurus rex, masher, greenvise, and aranea.

Savage Tidings - Dread on the Isle offers several rumours to give to players, along with rules for local animal companions, familiars, and mounts. There is also a discussion on sources for new player characters from the island's inhabitants.

The issue also included a fold-out map of the island in an artistic style, with a very low level of detail. It's suitable to use as a player handout.
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Issue: Dungeon (Issue 143 - Feb 2007)
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Tides of Dread is adventure 5 of 12 in the Savage Tide Adventure Path (aimed at 9th-level characters). Farshore is located off the south coast of the island proper. Using this a base, the player party stage missions into the interior of the Isle of Dread, exploring its unforgiving terrain and its vicious inhabitants.

Page 29 wrote:
The colony of Farshore has survived on its own for years, a secluded and struggling hamlet perched on the western shore of the tiny island of Temute. An island dwarfed by the savage landscape across a narrow channel to the north, a landscape of rugged mountains, tangled jungles, and trackless swamps. This is the Isle of Dread, and its resources and hidden treasures are matched only by its peril. Yet for all these dangers, what may bring doom to Farshore is not an invasion of inhuman monsters from the mainland, but an invasion of all-too-human monsters from across the sea.
An accompanying 12-page companion article in the same issue, Backdrop: Farshore, gives more detail on the colony (locations and inhabitants).
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Issue: Dragon (Issue 352 - Feb 2007)
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Complementing this month's Dungeon adventure, Savage Tidings - Braving the Isle of Dread goes into more detail on the native Olman tribe. Specifics include creating new player characters form the tribesmen, and the defences of the Farshore colony.

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Issue: Dungeon (Issue 144 - Mar 2007)
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The Lightless Depths is adventure 6 of 12 in the Savage Tide Adventure Path (aimed at 11th-level characters). In this episode, the player party finds out about and investigates a hidden subterranean city filled with ancient and alien secrets.

Page 29 wrote:
Deep beneath the Isle of Dread, in a place forgotten by the world of light, an ancient, unfathomable evil festers. Within the desiccated ruin known as Golismorga, the debased kopru servants of Demogorgon work foul rites, steeping immature shadow pearls in pits of liquid insanity. None from the world above have yet fathomed what terrors lurk beneath the Isle of Dread, nor what mad scheme roils to profane life deep within the city's gangrenous corpse.
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Issue: Dragon (Issue 353 - Mar 2007)
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Savage Tidings - Advancing the Wyvern, this month's complementary article, focused mainly on upgrading the player character party's ship. But there was also one column on rumours regarding what lies beneath the Isle of Dread.
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Issue: Dungeon (Issue 145 - Apr 2007)
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City of Broken Idols is adventure 7 of 12 in the Savage Tide Adventure Path (aimed at 13th-level characters). The player characters reach the island's central plateau where they find and confront a terrible evil on the lake's Taboo Island.

Page 55 wrote:
Atop the crown of the Isle of Dread, a hateful monster broods. Spawned by the Prince of Demons, the architect of the shadow pearls dwells deep under the ruins of ancient Thanaclan. As long as this vile monster lives, the threat of the savage tide remains, looming dark on the horizon.
This episode ends the direct involvement of the Isle of Dread in the storyline. Further episodes have their action placed elsewhere.
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Issue: Dragon (Issue 354 - Apr 2007)
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Savage Tidings - Heart of Darkness complements this month's Dungeon adventure. It adds the Totemic Demonslayer prestige class for local Olman characters. Also there are some additional rumours on the Isle of Dread's plateau.

It is also worth mentioning that this issue includes the article Ecology of the Kopru. While this is not necessarily directly related to the Isle of Dread, kopru were first introduced in the X1 module. Here they have been cast as worshippers of Demogorgon, in line with the Savage Tide story.
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17. RPG Item: Manual of the Planes [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:1130]
RPG Item: Manual of the Planes
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In June 2008, Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) was officially launched. Published in December of the same year, this supplement covered a variety of locations from other planes of existence. 4E referred to the realm of faeries as the Feywild, and this book placed the Isle of Dread within that plane. This allowed its existence in both Mystara and Greyhawk to be explained, along with the chronologically incongruent dinosaurs.

Pages 43-44 wrote:
The Isle of Dread is a vast tropical island of volcanic origin set amid stormy seas. Jagged reefs guard the approach to black sand beaches. If a boat does somehow make it to the shore in one piece, its passengers then face a solid, lush green wall of tropical vines and trees. Great knifelike peaks of obsidian rise beyond the treeline. Travelers venture into that jungle at their peril. Of all the savage and secret places of the Feywild, the Isle of Dread is the most mysterious.

The entire Isle of Dread worldfalls constantly and unpredictably from the Feywild to the mortal realm - and it shifts to even stranger planes at times. Some sages argue it is everywhere at once, and some argue it is nowhere at all times. As a result of its constant travel, the Isle is populated by all manner of savage beasts. It also hosts several tiny camps of shipwrecked sentient beings. The Isle is steaming hot. Reptilian beings fare better at exploring its secrets due to the climate.

Those secrets appear to be endless. An ancient yuan-ti temple is at the center of the jungle. North of the temple, several primitive races live in splendid stone ziggurats of unknown origin. Eagle-eyed explorers can just barely make out a thin tower, a needle of phosphorescent crystal, rising from the peak of one of the central mountains. On the southern coast several bands of stranded mortals have found each other - and discovered, to their shock, they all originate from wildly different moments in history. Some have reported sighting giant, terrible lizards racing on two legs through the jungle.

Even a short sojourn to the Isle of Dread makes one thing clear: Getting to the Isle is not as difficult as one might believe. Getting off the Isle is the challenge.
Note how the island's kopru are replaced here by the more well-known yuan-ti (avoiding the need for new monster stats).
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18. RPG Item: Season 3: Attack of the Tyrantclaw [Average Rating:6.33 Unranked]
RPG Item: Season 3: Attack of the Tyrantclaw
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This Lair Assault adventure, written in 2011 and published in 2012, is also linked to the Isle of Dread. This is an adventure for 6th-level characters, and used the Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) rules. In keeping with the edition of the rules, the island itself is still located in the Feywild.

Page 3 wrote:
A dryad druid named Hyacinth has recently learned of a ruined village called Tanaroa on the shores of the mysterious Isle of Dread. Now she hopes to land there and delve into the ruins of this long-ago society. She has chartered a ship to the island and hired adventurers to protect her. The job won't be easy, for a savage clan of orcs called the Tyrantclaw dwells on the island, along with great reptilian beasts.
The structure of the Lair Assault is simple: gameplay stars in media res with the module consisting of a single combat encounter, and awards are listed in a form popularised by computer gaming achievements. So it's a bit of fun rather than something that expands the setting's background in any significant way.

Still, from the small amount of background given we can see that this is set long after the events of X1 and the Savage Tide: at this stage Tanaroa is a ruin and has been so for a long time.

Page 4 wrote:
Many legends surround the fabled Isle of Dread, and what information has returned to civilization is largely confounded with lies. The majority of those who have reached the island do so by no fault of their own. Ravaging storms and chaotic seas sunder any ship that nears a shifting ley line that bridges the natural world to the Feywild. Those who survive usually find themselves on the isle's sandy beaches, unaware that they have traveled between planes.

Although the Isle of Dread is typically reached through the Feywild, the place serves as a nexus between multiple planes of existence. The island was once part of the kingdom of the kopru, an ancient race of heat-loving amphibians of great intelligence and power. The kopru kingdom eventually crumbled as the result of a native rebellion.

The natives have long since abandoned the village of Tanaroa, and the kopru, if legend can be believed, have disappeared. The secrets of these ancient societies are believed to be locked away in several obelisks around the island, one of which lies within ruined Tanaroa. Hyacinth hopes that by deciphering one of these obelisks, she can learn how the matriarchs of Tanaroa were able to alter their forms into - yes - dinosaurs.
That also gives us some reason why the Manual of Planes mentioned yuan-ti and not kopru: the latter have long since died out from the island.
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19. RPG Item: Public Playtest Package (2012-10-29) [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
From gallery of Stelio
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As part of the playtesting for Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition), regular packs of PDFs were sent out to participants that included rules to try out and adventures on which to try them. The package for 29 Oct 2012 included a 44-page document with the title "Dungeon Adventure X1: The Isle of Dread".

This was a straight update of the original X1 module, aimed at characters of levels 3 to 7. Tanaroa is alive again, and so are the Kopru, and there are no links to Demogorgon and its demons. This is the old school adventure with updated rules. The adventure hooks were nicely expanded with good advice on how to run the story too. It even included scans of the original maps.

And it didn't mention the Feywild once.
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20. Board Game Designer: Jason Thompson
RPG Designer: Jason Thompson
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With the renewed active interest in the Isle of Dread as a result of the previous year's playtest material, in 2013 artist Jason Thompson produced a wonderfully illustrated walkthrough of the X1 module for Wizards of the Coast. It's a humorous look at how Jason's play through the module went, noting the death of each party member along the way.

You can see the published product here:
http://archive.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/toon/IsleD...

Of particular note to DMs is that this webpage also includes two downloadable versions of the same map ready for use as player handouts: the interior of the island is blanked out. One version has an overlaid hex grid, and the other has no grid.

Prints are available of this and other walkthrough maps from Jason Thompson's website:
http://store.mockman.com/collections/walkthrough-map-prints

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21. RPG Item: Dungeon Master's Guide (D&D 5e) [Average Rating:8.19 Overall Rank:13]
RPG Item: Dungeon Master's Guide (D&D 5e)
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2014 saw the publication of the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. References to nearly all of the old D&D settings are peppered amongst the rules as touches of flavour for the nostalgic old guard of fans. At the start of Chapter 8 of the player rules, for example, is this snippet:

[thing=162994 wrote:
PHB[/thing] page 181 / Basic Rules page 63"]Delving into the ancient Tomb of Horrors, slipping through the back alleys of Waterdeep, hacking a fresh trail through the thick jungles on the Isle of Dread - these are the things that Dungeons & Dragons adventures are made of. Your character in the game might explore forgotten ruins and uncharted lands, uncover dark secrets and sinister plots, and slay foul monsters. And if all goes well, your character will survive to claim rich rewards before embarking on a new adventure.
From gallery of Stelio
Artistic map from page 57
This was then more explicitly codified in the third and final core rulebook to be released: the Dungeon Master's Guide. Here, the Isle of Dread was specifically placed in the generic Plane of Water instead, with a plot mechanism that allows for its appearance in any D&D setting:

Pages 56-57 wrote:
The Plane of Water is an endless sea, called the Sea of Worlds, dotted here and there with atolls and islands that rise up from enormous coral reefs that seem to stretch forever into the depths. The storms that move across the sea sometimes create temporary portals to the Material Plane and draw ships into the Plane of Water. Surviving vessels from countless worlds and navies ply these waters with little hope of ever returning home.

The weather on the plane is a lesson in extremes. If the sea isn't calm, it is battered by storms. On rare occasions, a tremor in the planar firmament sends a rogue wave sweeping across the plane, swamping entire islands and driving ships down to the reefs.
[...]
Any land that rises above the surface of the sea is hotly contested by the few air-breathers that live on the plane. Fleets of rafts and ships lashed together serve as solid ground where nothing else is available. Most natives of the plane never break the surface of the sea and thus ignore these habitations.

One of the few actual islands on the plane is the Isle of Dread. The island is connected to the Material Plane by means of a regular storm that sweeps over the island. Travelers who know the strange tides and currents of the plane can travel between worlds freely, but the storms also wreck ships from the Material Plane on the island's shore.
So again the island is unlinked from Mystara, and given a new home that allows it to be reached from other settings. It's essentially equivalent to placing it in the Feywild, although with a different feel to what may be encountered there.
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