Islands of Terror
Authors: Colin McComb & Scott Bennie
Notes: Colin McComb wrote the bulk of the book: Nidala, Nosos, Pharazia, Saragoss, Scaena, Staunton Bluffs, Timor and the appendix monsters. Scott Bennie wrote the Wildlands and the I'Cath domains.
Published one year after Darklords, while this book is not nearly as interesting, some domains are well made and cool. The book describe 8 new islands, and expands the Black Box description of Staunton Bluffs.
Nidala, with Elena Faithhold is good stuff, playing on a paladin thinking it is doing good is in fact doing evil actions for the sake of good. Ignorance can be so wrong! This is a domain that I'd like annexed to the Core, it would be better like that then as an island.
The map accompanying it is great (but doesn't include Nosos ?)
3.5 on 5.
David "Jester" Gibson
When I first purchased this books I immediately compared it to the earlier Darklords and often unfavourably. Darklords had 6 more characters in the same space of pages and some interesting domains, plus there were still large sections of the Core without detail or long descriptions. So what purpose did a book solely on a few useless Islands serve? There were already too many flavour-of-the-week Domains. Lands that were more adventure settings than campaign settings. However, my opinion has grown greatly over the years with rereading and a mild change of perspective. This book was a step in the right direction.
The smaller selection of domains provides for a larger amount of detail on each land. Most domains in this book receive some nice attention paid to the land and the people that live there. The Darklords do not want for back-stories either; they are all given loving attention and laden with origins. And surprisingly there are many islands here than can be used for small campaigns that do not simply revolve around the killing of a Darklord and escaping from Ravenloft.
The books starts with Nidala, a popular land ruled by a lord that fans love to hate. This Domain has even been ‘promoted’ to be part of a Cluster as of Domains of Dread. This section features a Darklord with an interesting history that is not tied to any classic myth but still fits the archetype of tragedy and darkness. It even ties into a previous product, Darklords, providing a nice tidbit of canon. Ravenloft is developing its own mythos beyond stealing from the Big Bads of established worlds. Included here is a map of the Faith Hold castle as well as a fair description of both the land and its people. The land may be a tad medieval for some people’s tastes and the rumours of a dragon are better left as myth or altered to be some other destructive force.
The Wildlands are an odd Domain that stands out from every other Domain. There are no people and instead talking semi-intelligent animals populates it. It appears to be inspired by The Jungle Book more than standard Gothic classics. It makes for an interesting contrast and it works well at placing players in a place where they are completely out of their element. It is a Domain where survival becomes a challenge and the greatest enemies are not always men. The author seemed to realise that this was an oddity of a Domain and thankfully its page-count is kept to a minimum. It is useful as a change of scenery or as an excellent Domain to punish regular city-dwellers with. A nice place to visit but I would not want my players to live there.
Scaena follows and although it is small and seems much like the standard ‘confront the lord and escape’ island it is remarkably different. This pocket Domain has become incredibly popular due to its sheer diversity and the possibilities inherent in it and the originality of the land. The lord is recognisable and sympathetic for any Dungeon Master, as most know the frustration inherent in writing for an audience and the humiliation of your best-planned drama and horror being reduced to accidental comedy. While not a Domain to be used as the main location of a Campaign it is great for adventures and stories of all shapes and sizes. Definitely a fun place to throw at the players and an undeniably great addition to Ravenloft. Pity that following the fun Scaena is one of the most useless Domains of all time…
…I’Cath. The lord is evil beyond all words, almost to the point of cartoony evil for evil’s sake. Events such as chopping up and burning people who annoy her and building a building from the bones of her daughters’ suitors are tossed into the text almost casually. Her sins are at a magnitude beyond most other Darklords but she herself seems to only be mildly motivated. She has no real personality or cause of her darkness other than the insatiable lust of power over all creation. A tiny domain with no monsters or threats other than the lord and the related creatures tied to the investigation on how to destroy her. Which, given that she is a 20th level wizard is no simple feat to accomplish. Adding to the frustration is that the Kara-tur Monsters Compendium Appendix is all but required to use this land. This Domain is simply laughable.
Saragoss is a Domain I am torn on. It is a Domain based around escape, but one does not need to confront the Darklord to do this. It is also almost alien and strange given the water-shoes and large mass of lichen. At the same time it is a lovely place of isolation and desperation and forced survival where players and people are confronted with people pushed to their limits. Many interesting adventures could occur here that would tempt heroes while dangling hope just out of reach. Additionally the hazardous environment itself proves a challenge; threats can come from unexpected places and sources. An oddly handy locale to send the plays to put them at a disadvantage. Like the Wildlands it is a place where the players are out of their element and a good place for a visit but not a long-term campaign.
Timor has undergone some changes since it appeared here, most for the best. The Domain, while interesting, bears much resemblance to Paridon, which us undoubtedly why they were paired in Domains of Dread. The dying Domain is given some good description and the folk are likewise described nicely. The Darklord however is sadly lacking in detail her, she has no motivation or plans other than continuing and maintaining her power and slaughtering the entire population above the city. Furthering a cold war between monstrous groups, much like a gang war, does not lend itself well as a personality. One interesting change is the fact that monsters in this land feed on fear instead of blood and flesh that fits with the theme of it as land of terrorised people huddled in horror. Although if the doppelgangers and various undead do not directly have to kill to feed it does not explain why the population has been dropping so rapidly. Another interesting quirk added is the curse on humans that cause fear. This is not expanded on enough and seems like a single act can turn a person into a monster, which is a tad excessive. Instead it should have been used like Dark Power Checks system.
Pharazia follows and is yet another desert domain populated with mummies and oasis complete with nomads. The main differences comes as this land is less based on Egypt but more on Arabia and Islam. This sadly lends the chapter an air of racism upon modern readings. The Domain is obviously meant to be a stylised reflection on the myth and stereotypes of the peoples, much as the Vistani, Barovians and Lamordians are in no way meant to be accurate portrayals of the Rom, Transylvanians or Danes. However, Pharazia just seems to take this one step further. An individual that claims to have received a vision from his god then unites his people and attacks the rest around him. When he is ‘rewarded’ by the Dark Powers and turned from a dark skinned into a fair haired and white skinned angel. It is worth noting that the Islamic interpretation of angels are different from the Christian stereotype. This is unintentional but seems as inappropriate as making a Domain on Black cannibal tribes with only Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as source material. Aside from this it is a workable Domain and works well with the other deserted lands and a place where people are repressed by their head religious figure and divine leader does make for a tortured land.
Staunton Bluffs feels derivative. There is nothing really special about it. The atmosphere feels too similar to Mordent to be unique and would work well as a Pocket Domain there or as a small Island off the coast in the Sea of Sorrows. The problem with that is having it near any other lands removes the isolation of the inhabitants. Also the Darklord is not overly cursed, he is mildly tortured by the existence of hated invaders on his family’s land but does nothing to drive them away. Although he cannot confront them at the moment there is a way he can although it never says this is a goal of his. Instead he just sits around his castle and kills anyone that disturbs him. Staunton Bluffs was included in the Black Box so it is nice that it received some description while other islands faded away after the Grand Conjunction (Farelle, Vechor and Sanguinia although most have made a comeback since 3E was published). There is a nice map of Castle Stonecrest included along with a detailed key. Of course this is done with a very high page count almost twice the size of every other Domain in the book. This chapter could have easily been trimmed a bit to make room for more detail on other lands. Overall not a very striking Domain but with some changes or tweaking it could be very useful and quite enjoyable. And given the ease of life, the uninvolved lord and safe environment this land makes a good starting place for low-level adventures and stories. Definitely worthy of a future update.
The final Domain of the book is the vile Nosos. The only land in the book not graced with a poster map. I’m fond of this place despite the one-trick-pony feel of the land. It is simply a city filled with an unrealistic amount of garbage and crawling with disease. Hardly a diverse locale. Plus there are some confusing additions such as the mention of coal using factories which seem inappropriately advanced for even Renaissance level Domains. And following the theme of this book the Darklord has no real curse and is not tormented in any real way. It also seemed that this land suffered from limited information, that less was written on it compared to other lands in the book. This chapter does have a small map of the lords home though.
A much more useful book than Darklords and with all the Lords ruling islands it will be a while before they are all updated and republished. The move towards greater detail and focus away from just the Darklords is a nice touch. Even then many of the maps included of castles and keeps are nice. And with the detail provided the book makes it worthwhile even if you own other books on the Domains such as Domains of Dread. There are problems, mostly the strange and unusual nature of several of the lands and the lack of good curses for many of the lords.
Four severed digits out of five.
Asbjørn "Malken/Ezekiel" Hammervik
The Islands of Terror accessory was actually one of my first brushes with Ravenloft. Not that it actually was the first I bought, or even read, but it was the first to catch my eye. The cover looks suitably creepy, with a host of vhost descending on a caped hero. Unfortunately, the cover apparently has nothing to do with what's inside. I couldn't find anything that resembles the scenario on the outside.
Either way, Islands of Terror is an OK accessory, but slightly dated now. Still, it introduces some domains that have gone on to become classics, and details domains that never have received that kind of attention afterwards. Among the most interesting and useful are Nidala, Scaena and Nosos, although Pharazia and Timor can also be of use. This supplement also introduced one of the most disputed domains in Ravenloft's history: I'Cath. Next to Kalidnay, it is probably the one domain that most people will confess to never using. Like many domains from the early days, it's only good for a one-shot adventure, and in many people's opinion, not even a good one-shot.
One of the best features of this accessory is the maps. Both the book and the huge poster that came with it is filled with maps, both of important buildings, like Elena's Faith Hold and Malus' estate, and of the domains themselves. The poster displays the domains in full color, but sadly, Nosos is not presented on the map.
One of the best features of this accessory is the maps. Both the book and the huge poster that came with it is filled with maps, both of important buildings, like Elena's Faith Hold and Malus' estate, and of the domains themselves. The poster displays the domains in full color, but sadly, Nosos is not presented on the map. All in all, Island of Terror is useful, but not essential if you plan to run an adventure in any of the domains presented. Most of the info will probably be superseded when the Gazetteers finally cover them.
In summary: 3 out of 5 screams of terror.
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