The Minor Islands of the Sea of Dread
by Simone Neri (Zendrolion)
The Sea of Dread is the wide expanse of water found south of the Known World. It is surrounded by the Known World and the southern coast of the Great Waste to the north, and by the Serpent Peninsula to the west, but geographers and navigators don’t agree on which its other limits are. In its larger definition, the Sea of Dread stretches up to the northern coast of Davania and the island of Ochalea to the south, and up to the western coast of the Isle of Dawn to the east, ending on the ideal line connecting Cape Gabrionius (Province of Septentriona, on the Isle of Dawn) to the town of Dawnpoint (Tel Akbir Peninsula, Thyatis), giving way to the Western Sea of Dawn to the north. In its smaller definition, the Sea of Dread is limited to the south by the Western and Eastern Thanegioth Archipelagos – giving way south of them to the Davanian Shallows – and to the east by a line connecting the Verdant Isles, the Burning Mountain, and the easternmost island of the Eastern Thanegioth Archipelago – east of which the Western Sea of Dawn begins.
According to the legends, the inauspicious name of this sea was given to it by the Thyatian, Kerendan, and Hattian peoples who migrated to the Known World in BC 600. Their migration turned to be a dreadful passage through waters as stormy as they never remembered to have seen; many of their numbers died, but when Protius’ wrath was appeased, they reached the northern land, thanking the Immortals and assigning the enemy sea the name it deserved. While this is the most commonly accepted origin of the Sea of Dread’s name, fact is that the elves of Alfeisle, in Minrothad, tell that their ancestors began calling it “Sea of Dread” in their language much before the Thyatians arrived in the Known World, during the age of seismic upheavals before BC 1700 which ravaged and changed the whole southern coast of the mainland (even if some theories give the name a more sinister origin – take a look to Darkness Beneath, by F. Defferrari, in this issue of Threshold, to know more).
Whatever the origins of its name, the Sea of Dread is filled with a vast number of large, small, and tiny islands. The educated common man only knows the largest or more important islands and archipelagos – the Ierendi and Minrothad chains, the great island of Hattias and the Thyatian islands east of its, the faraway and savage Thanegioth Archipelago. Only a few people, apart from most experienced seamen, will be able to name even one of the minor islands, but neither they could keep count of all the lonely atolls, keys, and islets scattered through the sea.
Well, if you are not an ever-travelling seawolf, and more akin to watch the sea through the window of your home, or through the pages of a book, then follow us and we will bring you in a short tour of the smaller islands of the Sea of Dread.
Unfurl the topsails!
See map here:
This article will shortly describe a number of minor islands which dot the Sea of Dread – basically the ones included between the Ierendi and Minrothad chains and the Eastern Thanegioth Archipelago – leaving out the larger and already known ones. Among them one archipelago, that of the Verdant Isles, is usually recognized. The others are treated individually.1
The archipelago of tiny islands known as the Verdant Isles owes its name to the lush vegetation and jungles which cover the greater part of these five islands – East Key, Magedoom Isle, Green Reavers’ Island, Sea Demon’s Fang, and Zephyr’s Curse. Despite their plentiful resources, the archipelago’s islands are very dangerous places for a number of reasons.
The first is represented by the dreaded “ship-bane”, a vicious mist which ravages ships passing nearby these islands (actually the mist is generated by baleful creatures of the Elemental Plane of Air, called “kal-murus” by the kara-kara).
The second is the fact that the islands are inhabited by a race of aggressive, green-skinned, orc-like humanoids, called “kara-kara”. The kara-kara have their own unique culture, centered on the worship of a “pig-god” (likely Orcus), rule by “manwu-papas” (witch-doctors), and sailing on large canoes. They survive through hunting, fishing, and raiding of small ships and nearby nations’ coasts, which they perform swiftly, retreating in their islands afterwards. Sometimes their canoes are encountered at sea, even at some distance from the Verdant Isles.
Despite their fierceness and the fact that the Verdant Isles are accessible only with difficulty, the kara-kara have been occasionally known to trade with merchants landing in their archipelago, being more than happy to put their hands of foreign metal weapons and tools.
This subtropical island is plain and partially covered by vegetation and jungle, with abundant freshwater. It is inhabited by only a few tribes of kara-kara, who came from the Green Reapers’ Island, to the northeast. Moreover, the “ship-bane” is rarely found there. The island’s plentiful resources make it an advantageous stop for ships braving the Sea of Dread, good enough even to risk attacks by the kara-kara natives. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold.
This small, jungle-covered island ages ago hosted some sort of ancient and advanced civilization, as ruins and archeological remains testify. Nothing is left of the ancient dwellers of this place, as since a long time the island is the home of the kara-kara, whose presence here is greater than in nearby islands. The kara-kara call this island “Teki-nura-ria”, which means “mountain of death” in their tongue. Besides the aggressive kara-kara, the island is made dangerous by the stormy waters around it, and by the ever present “ship-bane” mist. Source: X8 Drums of Fire Mountain.
These three tiny islands complete the Verdant Isle archipelago. They are all covered in thick jungle, inhabited by tribes of kara-kara, and infested by the “ship-bane” mist, just like the Green Reapers’ Island. Magedoom is known among wizards because the island harbor a vast number of plant species useful for alchemical and arcane procedures; wizards from Sclaras and elsewhere occasionally foray there – unfortunately, not all of them came back alive from those tours in the kara-kara territory. Sea Demon’s Fang and Zephyr’s Curse are more like the tops of two submerged mountains; the former has a rocky peak at its center, while the latter’s top is rounder, but the coasts of both are rugged and filled with creeks and shallow reefs. Sources: X8 Drums on Fire Mountain (featured on general area map; the islands’ names were created by the author).
This group included all other islands of the Sea of Dread which do not form archipelagos or island chains. Some of these islands are indeed uninhabited, some other are simply the barren top of underwater mountains and volcanoes; some other, instead, are large and pleasant enough to have become the home – already in ancient times – of Makai and Tanagoro tribesmen, coming from the Davanian coast or from the Serpent Peninsula. Where still present today, these natives continue to lead a simple lifestyle based on fishing and gathering.
This series of five small islands is found south of a vast and dangerous area of shallow reefs known as the Aleea Reefs, which only the few Makai natives living in the keys know how to navigate. The islands, from northwest to southeast, are known by their Makai names as Miwoa, Natula, Tiruka, Lawana, and Okea. The islands offer few in terms of resources, but the area around them is quite good for fishing, especially mollusks dwelling in the shallows. Source: PC3 The Sea People (featured on the poster map; the islands’ names were invented by the author).
A couple of islands which owe their name to an elven legend in which the Immortal Calitha mourns one of her beloved mortal champions, shedding tears which come up from the sea bed and formed these islands when they arrived in contact with the air of the surface. Be it for Calitha’s blessing or not, the two islets are noted for the beautiful and unusual fields of white, yellow, and pink-colored flowers which grow on them. Enterprising elven lovers sometimes bring their would-be spouses there to utter their love declarations. Touristic guides from Ierendi have been known to organize visits on this island. Source: PC3 The Sea People (featured on the poster map; the island’s name was invented by the author).
The main feature of this island is a tall volcanic mountain found in its middle, which releases poisonous gases. Because of the toxic substances which come out from the volcanic openings, the island’s uplands are barren – nothing grows here. The surrounding area, instead, is covered by lush tropical vegetation and is inhabited by Makai tribes. Navigation in the vicinities of the island is made dangerous by the sudden changes in wind direction, which may move in an unpredictable way the vapors coming out of the volcano. Occasionally, the lava flows expelled by the volcano carry large quantities of melted gold, which then solidifies into large lumps – a phenomenon that has fed the legends about the “gold mountain”. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold.
A rocky and barren island which was discovered when a Thyatian seaman, Rutilius Clesius, was found near-mad and starving there, two years after the Battle of Midpoint (AC 713) in which the Ierendian navy destroyed a Thyatian fleet. Clesius was missing since the battle and believed dead at sea; no one figured out how he could have survived two years alone on this island. Back in Thyatis, he lived another three years in a religious hospice before dying. Source: PC3 The Sea People (featured on the poster map; the island’s name was invented by the author).
According to the legend, this small island (and the two tiny reefs northeast of it) was the first land sighted by the Thyatian, Kerendan, and Hattian ships which had taken the long journey through the Sea of Dread to migrate from Davania to the Known World. Thyatians landed on the island and sacrificed to the Immortals, thanking them for their benevolence. The island is plain and pleasant, covered in vegetation and small copses. Thyatian faithful occasionally make pilgrimages there, and Thyatian priests have built a small altar and statue to honor the Immortals in the location of the coast in which it is believed that the Thyatians first landed. Source: PC3 The Sea People (featured on the poster map; the island’s name was invented by the author).
A subtropical island covered in forests and vegetation, with few Makai natives. The islands has plenty of water and food, and would be a great stop for ships – if it was not for the fact that hundreds of species of insects (especially beetles) and worms haunt it. The Makai natives even use some of these vermins as food, but sometimes they have problems with them. It is likely that any type of supply brought on board of a ship from the island’s interior is filled with the eggs and tiny larvae of the vermins which infest it; if this is the case, the food and water will be spoiled soon, once the eggs hatch. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold.
A plain island inhabited by a scattering of Makai natives, owes its name to an ancient legend of a Traldadaran princess who had been left here awaiting the return of her hero, which however died tragically and never came back to her. The legend says that the princess’ ghost still haunts the beach, longing for the return of her beloved one. Of course, the local Makai have never seen such a spirit. Source: PC3 The Sea People (featured on the poster map; the island’s name was invented by the author).
This flat island is little more than a large cay, with some water but where very few edible plants grow. Much time ago this island was recorded as being inhabited by Makai natives, but today it is uninhabited, and while in the past it was occasionally used as a haven by pirates, today it is not anymore. It is unknown to the Known World folk that this island is actually a shark-kin sacred ground; they call it the “Island of Dried Skins” and are the reason for which even the pirates keep at bay from it. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold (the island featured in the adventure has been identified with the “Island of Dried Skins” from PC3 The Sea People, whose location was not indicated in the module).
This inhospitable island has very few resources and offers nothing in terms of supplies; no one has really a reason to dock here – and this is why a lot of pirate crews used to bury their loot and treasures in this island. In old times, the island was inhabited by Tanagoro natives, most of whom have been carried away as slaves during the course of the centuries; only a very few of them remain. Even pirates do not seem to be a stable presence in this area anymore – at least, this is what most Known World folks believe – in truth, the island is a quite alive spot of the Sea of Dread, inhabited by some ancient cultures and races, still a major pirate hideout, and within the reach of the powerful Twaelar Kingdom from the southern waters. It is worth noting that due to past and present pirate activity on the island, various chests filled with gold still await to be digged out of the earth, their owners executed by the law of the civilized countries or gone missing after sea storms. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold. [A much deeper insight about Pirate Rock will be included in the Three Starflowers adventure by F. Defferrari, which you will find in the upcoming issue #4 of Threshold.]
This tiny island (and the smaller just north of it) is just a barren crag protruding out of the sea, rocky and barren, with only sparse vegetation and often surrounded by mists. The larger islands is actually the cone of a dormant volcano. Rocs are known to nest on these islands. Source: PC3 The Sea People, and X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield (the island is featured on PC3 poster map, and has been identified with the island of the same name mentioned, but not given a position, in X10).
Both of these islands have a shape which remembers a couple of jagged lumps, with many crags, reefs, and cliffs. The top and center of the islands are covered in low vegetation. The name of these islands come from the traces of gold veins exposed by water erosion on the islands’ cliffs. However, before claiming the islands to mine them, the Ierendian and Minrothaddan governments – both of which covet the Nuggets – have still to figure out how to dispose of the greater sea serpents which dwell in the islands’ underwater caves. Source: PC3 The Sea People (featured on the poster map; the island’s name was invented by the author).
This island is found just west of a long coral reef running in northwest-southeast direction from this key to the Three Sisters Keys to the northwest, called the Dragon’s Teeth Reefs. In the past this isle was inhabited by Tanagoro tribes, but then it became a battlefield in the Aquapopulus War between humans and merrows (see the sidebar), one of the most tragic battles of which was fought on this island. The few natives died in that occasion or migrated away afterwards. Today, the heart of the island is covered with the bones and the weapons of the soldiers who died fighting in that grim day. No one has settled this island since then. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold.
This southern island is partially forested, and is inhabited by some tribes of Tanagoro ethnicity. Rumors hold that at the heart of the island is found the so-called Lost Temple of Araknee, an ancient stone building with a spider-shaped plan. Known World archaeologists speculate that the temple may have been built in ancient times by the Tanagoro to honor their spider-like Immortal, Korotiku, during the golden age of the human cultures of the Thanegioth Archipelago. Still today, missionaries from Thyatis and the Pearl Islands set on voyages toward this island to find this lost relic of their Immortal patron. Actually, the Lost Temple could be even more ancient than that, its original builders having been the aranea – some of which may actually still hide in disguise among the island’s human population, Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold.
A lonely island inhabited by friendly Makai tribes, who are usually willing to resupply ships from the Known World which stop there in exchange for tools and trinkets. Its names is due to the voracious giant salt-water termites which infest the sea around the island, attacking all ships trying to dock near it. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold.
This small archipelago of three tiny islets is separated from the eastern Sea of Dread by the Dragon’s Teeth Reefs, a long coral reef running in northwest-southeast direction, which crosses the sea just east of the Three Sisters Keys and the southern Skeleton Key. These islands centuries ago were inhabited by Tanagoro tribesmen, but the humans have slowly disappeared and the keys have become the residence of the three Sisters of the Sea – Silera, Krimera, and Desimera, who give the three islands’ their names. These mysterious beings – each of whom is supposed to dwell on one of the three keys – have never been seen; they make their presence known by taking control of other creatures and speaking through them. The Sisters are known to seamen since a long time; they don’t like prolonged stays in their islands, and have been known to offer teleport anywhere else on Mystara to seamen who were victims of shipwrecks near the keys – a reward for the sacrifice of their ship against the Dragon’s Teeth Reefs. No one knows what kind of beings the Three Sisters might be – unusual sea fairies, benevolent sirens, elemental beings, reclusive sorceresses, or what else. It may even be that the islands are much more inhabited by fairy occupants than mortal eyes could tell. Source: XSOLO Lathan’s Gold (the names of the three islands were invented by the author).
This wide volcanic islet has been avoided by sailors since some decades ago because of the dangerous typhoons and hurricanes which often hit the waters around it; any ship unfortunate enough to meet one of these phenomena is likely to sink below the waves. It’s a pity that the island is found on the very route used by Minrothaddan ships to reach the Thanegioth Archipelago. No one has ever landed on the island and came back to tell what is found in the volcano’s forested slopes. The truth is that the island’s interior is inhabited by several cyclops and it’s also the home of Jord, a powerful storm giant. Source: AC10 Bestiary of Dragons and Giants (the island’s location was not exactly given in the module).
A few islands are actually volcanic cones or mouths which emerge to some extent from the sea. These places are barren and uninhabited without exception – unless you take into account some fire creature dwelling into the volcanic cone. Examples of these islands are Devil’s Glow and Dragon’s Glare, south of the Ierendi Islands, and Coral Fire and Fireswell, south of Utter Island and Fortress Island, respectively. Source: PC3 The Sea People.
Since a long time ago, the Sea of Dread has been the crossroads of trade and migrations of people, through which cultures have come in contact, blended and clashed. From the Known World to Davania, from Ochalea and the Isle of Dawn to the Serpent Peninsula – passing through the Eastern Thanegioth Archipelago and the other smaller, scattered islands – despite its name the Sea of Dread has always been a bridge between different places and cultures. A role it continues to play today.
After the Thyatian migration toward Brun and the fall of Nithia (BC 600-500), the greater expanse of the Sea of Dread, which had seen many migrations passing through it in the preceeding centuries, temporarily ceased to be crossed by ships, merchants, and explorers. For some centuries, shipping was limited to the northern archipelagos of Ierendi and the Colony Islands, to the Thyatian mainland and isles, and to the western Isle of Dawn down to Ochalea.
Apart from attempts to consolidate a Thyatian trading empire in the western Sea of Dread (see the previous sidebar “A Little Known Story: Thyatian Westward Expansion”), the emerging sea powers of Minrothad and Ierendi, still in the 9th century AC, continued to favor the route along the Great Waste’s and the Serpent Peninsula’s coasts to reach the Gulf of Hule or the Davanian Green Coast. The many islands which dotted the Sea of Dread continued to be unknown, unexplored, or uninteresting for them, as it was the Eastern Thanegioth Archipelago, whose seas were dominated by the proud and territorial Twaelar Kingdom of the merrows.
The latter half of the 10th century AC, however, saw a renewed interest in the Sea of Dread. Between 960 and 970 AC the Eastern Thanegioth Archipelago was again reached by Known World’s ships, and its islands were gradually charted. The main explorer of this age was indeed the Ierendian Rory Barbarosa, who was the first to map the coastlines of the Isle of Dread. In fact, the Thanegioth islands were already known to be rich in exploitable resources – like precious gems and metals in possession of the natives or to be mined, unique spices, and other valuable goods. Trade in the archipelago had always been difficult due to resistance from the Twaelar Kingdom, but opposition from the merrows was lower in those decades; quite the contrary, the merrows took the opportunity to trade with Known World explorers and merchants, while keeping an eye on the increase of the northern realms presence into the region they controlled, and barring any incursion in the Davanian Shallows to the south.
Nevertheless, in the last three decades, the Eastern Thanegioth saw an increasing presence of merchantmen – and, consequently, of pirate ships – in the archipelago. Most ships came from Ierendi and Minrothad, but ships from other sea countries were not unknown. The two island realm, however, managed to monopolize the two main trade routes – from Ierendi Island and from Trader’s Isle straight south to two different point of the archipelago – and quickly discouraged all ships of other countries to trade along them.
The only other power who managed to penetrate the archipelago was the Thyatian Empire, which at the same time was initiating the conquest of the Davanian Hinterlands. Thyatians came to Thanegioth from a route going south from Hattias and passing from the Burning Mountain, or from one going northwest from Ochalea. The Twaelar merrows did not take any immediate action against the Thyatian expansion into northern Davania, perhaps because they felt the area was to the southeast of their kingdom proper, or because they did not feel threatened at all by Thyatian land grabbing.
Small outposts and coastal forts may also have been – and are being – built by these three sea powers in the most strategic locations of the archipelago, to ensure for themselves control of trade routes and resources. The Known World powers have also begun to value the strategic position of some of the minor islands of the Sea of Dread, and may soon claim possession of some of them.
In AC 1000, the archipelago is an important trade hub, with still many interior areas unexplored, where ships from Ierendi, Minrothad, and Thyatis trade and compete, where pirate havens are increasingly numerous, where the humans meet with the Twaelar merrows to trade, where the clash of interests could soon lead to a war among the powers of the Known World to decide who will keep control of the archipelago’s resources, or between them and the Twaelar Kingdom, which may again be persuaded that the human presence in the archipelago is becoming too thorough and dangerous.
David Cook and Tom Moldvay, X1 The Isle of Dread, TSR, 1981
Tom Moldvay, B4 The Lost City, TSR 1982
Bruce Nesmith, X7 The War Rafts of Kron, TSR, 1984
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Michael S. Dobson, X10 Red Arrow, Black Steel, TSR 1985
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1 On the accompanying map, several islands’ names come from canon sources (GAZ4, GAZ8, GAZ9, GAZ14, DotE, PC3, TM1, TM2, X1, X8, XSOLO). Some names were borrowed from fan works (in particular those of F. Defferrari, A. Francolini, and G. Gander), while names for some of the islets surrounding the Isle of Dread were borrowed from the Savage Tide adventure path (found in Paizo’s “Dungeon Magazine” nos. from 139 to 150). All others were created by the author.