You stand before a great throne of lapis lazuli. The massive chamber is also blue, even the air has an indigo quality, perhaps from the strangely convoluted coils of smoke rising from the braziers of azure metal. Encompassed by the great chair is a man whose presence inspires awe, Tenser the Archmage.
High above the City of Greyhawk, somewhere upon the lonely south coast of the Nyr Dyv, you and your associates trekked to answer a summons that could not be taken lightly. You are about to begin a quest to a mysterious island where lies the fabled Crook of Rao. Only the bravest can face the isle's obscure jungles, its most fearsome monsters, and its ultimate secret. Can you survive where even the mighty followers of Tenser have failed?
Isle of the ape is a challenging adventure for high-level play. This adventure, designed for the World of GreyhawkCampaign, is for use with Unearthed Arcana.
An adventure for Character Levels 18 and up.
WG6: "Isle of the Ape" (1985), by Gary Gygax, is the sixth adventure in the World of Greyhawk series. It was published in 1985, probably in the last half of the year.
Sources. Primitive tribes on a jungle island with dinosaurs and a giant ape? There's no doubt that King Kong (1933, 1976) was the source for "Isle of the Ape".
To Save a Company! In 1985, TSR was on the edge of bankruptcy. To combat this, Gygax announced five new publications that would bear his name. The first four are quite well-known: Unearthed Arcana (1985), Zeb Cook's Oriental Adventures (1985), T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), and the first Greyhawk novel, Saga of Old City (1985). WG6: "Isle of the Ape" (1985) is the least known of the set, but it's quite momentous for what it revealed about D&D's first setting.
Revealing Castle Greyhawk. Gygax never detailed his primordial D&D dungeon, Castle Greyhawk, while at TSR. However, he got close twice. This was thanks to the many multidimensional connections found in Gygax's original Castle. From it, players were able to go to Mythic Greece, Michael Moorcock's Melniboné, the setting of Metamorphosis Alpha (1976), the New York subway tunnels, Oz, Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure, and Wonderland. And then there was one particular gate deep in the Dungeon labeled "Monkeying Around", which led to King Kong's Skull Island. (Adjacent passages were labeled "Horsing Around", which was the Greek gate, and "Fooling Around".)
The Wonderland adventure was revealed a few years earlier in EX1: "Dungeonland" (1983) and EX2: "The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror" (1983), and now the Isle of the Ape got its chance as well. Neither adventure maintained its connection to Castle Greyhawk, but both provided insight into the origins of the hobby.
Adventure Tropes. Given the "Isle of the Ape"'s origins in the '70s, it's no surprise that the adventure is a big hack-and-slash. The Isle is a sandbox that players will hex crawl across.
The biggest innovation of the "Isle of the Ape" is its level. The book says that it's for "level 18 and up", but the six pre-generated characters run from 14th-19th level. It was the highest level adventure published for AD&D at the time, surpassing the 10th-14th level span of Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits" (1980), and it was the only time that Gygax ever wrote about such high-level play.
To support this high-level play, Gygax included a "supplemental attack matrix for monsters", which pushed AD&D's to-hit table up to 26 HD, and gave the opportunity for big monsters to do extra damage if they autohit. Beyond that, Gygax included not just big monsters and high-level humans, but also extensive attrition — where the environment of the island could disease characters and destroy their equipment alike. The extremely aggressive nature of the adventure's perils was another interesting insight into the earliest D&D games.
Expanding Greyhawk. For being such a foundational D&D adventure, "Isle of the Ape" doesn't actually reveal a lot about Greyhawk — in large part because the Isle lies in another dimension.
With that said, there are many details that hint at the larger world which underlies the adventure. The PCs meet Tenser and hear of the Circle of Eight. There's also a reference to the witch-queen Iggwilv and a mention of her daughter, who was recently "laid low" — presumably referring to Drelnza, who could be found in WG4: "The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" (1982). The object of the quest, the Crook of Rao, was also an important artifact in the original Greyhawk campaign.
Even the pre-generated characters — Agath of Thrunch, Reynard Yargrove, Franz Lord Torkeep, Rowena of the Silverbrow, Warnes Starcoat, and Rakehell Chert — became important Greyhawk characters, with most reappearing in other sources over the years.
Future History. When the Isle of Dread was brought into the world of Greyhawk through Paizo's Savage Tide adventure path (2006-2007), it was connected to the Isle of the Ape through ancient migrations. Meanwhile, fans finally got to see the portal from Castle Greyhawk to the Isle of the Ape in Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk (2007). The Isle gets about five pages of description in that 3E book.
About the Creators. Gygax was the co-creator of D&D and Castle Greyhawk, but "Isle of the Ape" was sadly his last official module for both the game and the setting.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.