TTRPG Module Review: The Isle of Darksmoke - D20 Collective - Divinations form the Collective
Divinations from the Collective

TTRPG Module Review: The Isle of Darksmoke

The back cover of the Isle of Darksmoke module book. It depicts a skeletal wizard, holding a staff with a mask, and a paragraph summary of the oneshot. Designed and Written by Larry DiTilio, The Isle of Darksmoke, Part 1: The Nameless Isle and the Dome Level was published in 1984 to be played with the 5th edition of Tunnels and Trolls (which cranked out editions much faster than Dungeons and Dragons managed to, it seems). In actuality, I altered the module for play as a high-level 5e D&D oneshot without too much problem, and the bare bones of the adventure is usable for most fantasy games and systems with just a little bit of elbow grease to alter the mechanics. 

The story is fairly simple - an unusual Island is home to “The Dome”, a mysterious mountain dungeon that its builder (Darksmoke, an eccentric but powerful mage) invites adventurers to attempt to traverse. The lone village on the island is sad and decrepit, the woods around The Dome cursed, and the dungeon itself filled to the brim with tricks and traps. Just about the usual tourist trap, you know?


It runs like a flat dungeon-crawl, but implies that the promised Part 2: The Lower Level will include more intrigue and investigation. Unfortunately, Part 2 does not seem to have ever been released. 

 

If you’re planning on buying yourself a copy of this module, I’d recommend avoiding Amazon. This was the price the first time I went looking for Part 2. 

The price seems to have been corrected now, but fluctuation that wild is odd, and you can get a copy for around $15 on RPGGeek or other tabletop websites. 



Module Set-Up: The Nameless Isle

A drawing of a map from the module "Isle of Darksmoke". A simple grid with trees, a compass rose, and numbered buildings showing where players can go. The Nameless Isle (which, funnily enough, is named by the title of module) sets the tone for the game - its moody, its strange, and every single NPC has something weird going on with them. The shops, tavern, and other set dressing is all centered around The Dome, which would normally seem a little short-sighted or limited in design to me. However, since it has been established that this little village centers completely around Darksmoke and his dungeon, it end up working pretty well. 


The most interesting place your players will want to go is The Tavern of the Seven Curses, a pub run by Pookas the Accursed. While Pookas himself is not, despite his belief, actually cursed, his ale is. Players can spend a while here chatting with various emissaries to Darksmoke, or listening in on some of the shell-shocked adventurers to get a few clues as to the contents of The Dome. 


You’ll probably want to be careful with the cursed ale. The module has it permanently lowering IQ points, which is functional in the T&T system. For D&D, however, you probably want to stick to giving your players disadvantage until Greater Restoration or Remove Curse can be cast (even if they’re normally immune to drunkenness). 


The rest of the town includes a couple of merchants, a scribe, and three different aids for travelling to the Dome. And your players will need an aid, since the woods are enchanted. The good news is that all of the aid NPCs are pretty fun, and your players have the potential for quite a good time meeting them all (or not) before they decide. 

Personally, The Horse-Renter is my favorite, and not only because he’s probably the most reliable option. There’s just something about a man of understated ability. 



Module Focus: The Dome Level

A map from the module "Isle of Darksmoke". The map depicts a round dungeon with may numbered rooms and hallways, with a key for different types of shading below the main image. Once your players have traversed the woods, they can arrive at The Dome proper. If you’re adjusting this module for a different system, this is where you’ve really got your work cut out for you. 

The Dome is Darksmoke’s home, which he has turned into a massive dungeon willed with traps, curses, and monsters for reasons unknown to anyone but himself. There’s plenty of gold, so long as your players are respectful of the items that he actually treasures (tapestries, princess’ corpses, etc) and his dragon friend. 

I don’t want to go into too much detail (this is the central feature of this module, after all), but the set up and layout for the Dome is pretty good. There are a variety of encounters to run, from standard wall-and-floor traps, to insane wizards and human sacrifice, to magical riddles and puzzles. 


The biggest difficulty for most of the dungeon is the frequency with which things are poisoned or cursed - the module has the DM permanently remove state points, which is difficult for D&D, so I altered the mechanic slightly when I ran it.

Each time a player was cursed, I rolled a d6, and had the curses affect a Stat assigned to the number. First they got disadvantage, and if they were unlucky enough to be cursed on the same stat afterwards, then I started taking away stat points (but only temporarily). 

The module does provide several protections for these curses - in the form of Curse Cancel scrolls, rods, and spells, as well as an antidote called “Darksmoke’s Gift”. Its a good idea to encourage your players to really stock up on these when they can, especially if they don’t have a cleric in the party. 

There are also a couple of timed encounters - events which the module directs the DM to allow only 30 seconds to 2 minutes of real time for players to react or solve things. Often, the result of failing this time limit is immediate and permanent death, which I found a little overkill. Death by enemies in combat is one thing, but death by ‘player didn’t quite figure out what to do at the drop of a hat’ is just going to make your players hate you. 



Beyond The Dome (fitting this module into a larger campaign)

Fitting Darksmoke into almost any campaign wouldn’t be too hard. Here are some brief plot hooks that I brainstormed when prepping:

  • The party must deliver a message/ask a favor of Darksmoke for a benefactor
  • The party is hired to steal something from Darksmoke (possibly one of his ‘treasured’ items)
  • A king, whose daughter recently died and her body stolen, has hired the party to track her down so she can be properly buried. Darksmoke, they’ve heard, collects the bodies of princesses
  • A party member’s friend is rumored to be planning an attempt on the dungeon, and they might want to help or warn them off
  • Darksmoke was the original creator of a curse that has affected the party, and they need his help or his research to undo it
  • An amateur adventurer attempted the Dome and hasn’t returned, and the party is tasked with tracking him down

If you have the party looking for, or attempting to interact with, Darksmoke himself, you’ve got plenty of room to play with. Darksmoke’s home (the lower level) was never actually published, so its fully up to you what it looks like, what Darksmoke does, and how he ties into the plot. Maybe Darksmoke can be a dangerous enemy, or a morally questionable ally. 

You don’t necessarily have to include the lower level, either. You can keep it a mystery, or provide the players their goal before they actually come to it, or turn it into a magical entrance to another plane of reality altogether. 


The setup for The Isle of Darksmoke is fairly broad, so working this oneshot into whatever plotline you’re running overall wouldn’t be too tricky. The way that you play the NPCs can also change the tone of the module drastically, so it can work for both the epic adventurers as well as goofier, more casual groups.

 

An image from the module "Isle of Darksmoke". There are several images of characters, which can be used as paper miniatures when playing through the oneshot. There is also a dragon, to be used as an NPC.

 


Overall Thoughts

The Isle of Darksmoke is a fun and interesting module, but it heavily relies on the ability of the Dungeon Master to make the NPCs truly engaging. If your group is into dungeon crawling and various riddles and puzzles, then it won’t take too much effort to get them into this oneshot. Its still usable for groups more interested in political intrigue and roleplaying, but you’ll have to put in a lot more work and additional aspects, especially since there is not Part 2. 

Said lack of a follow-up works both to the module’s advantage and detriment. On one hand, it makes the module feel a great deal more versatile, and Darksmoke a bit more mysterious, but on the other it leaves a few things unconcluded and unfinished. It also puts a little bit more onus on the DM to figure out where everything should fall into place. 

 

I certainly think that this works better as a high level module than its recommended level, even if you aren’t moving it from T&T to D&D. The frequent possibility for permanent stat decreases, and even a couple instant-death opportunities would be nearly crippling for low-level characters, and your players may simply walk away if the curses and poisons prove too intimidating for them.

 

To sum it up, if you’re looking for a simple and versatile module, and don’t mind putting in a little extra work, The Isle of Darksmoke is a great option to look into. 

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