In a dark cell, Rollo Bargamnn, merchant of Thyatis, turns away in disgust from his evil, green-skinned prisoner; capturing this wretch cost a ship and sixty gallant men. Then his heart hardens once more, and he resumes the interrogation. Here, perhaps, he may find an answer to the question that haunts him.
What new evil is casting its shadow over the storm-swept eastern reaches of the Sea of Dread?
The trading routes are no longer safe. The attacks of the green-skinned "Orcs-of-the-Sea" and the mysterious "Ship-bane" now go unchecked. Once their raids were random, but the influence of some unseen master has made them into an organized menace.
Soon the questioning will be over; Rollo will know enough to track the threat to its lair. Then he will need a band of hardy adventurers brave enough to take on the task.
Drums on Fire Mountain is a module for 5 to 8 characters levels 5-8.
X8: "Drums on Fire Mountain" (1984), by Graeme Morris and Tom Kirby, is the eighth adventure in the Expert Series for Basic D&D. It was published in October 1984.
Origins: It Came from the UK. Beginning in 1983, the TSR UK branch of TSR published a series of well-regarded "UK" adventures (1983-1986), which were cutting edge for their time thanks to their focus on plot and story and their superior graphic design. The fourth of these adventures, UK4: "When a Star Falls" (1984), included a Union Jack flag logo on its cover. The reason for this soon became apparent: the TSR UK crew was moving outside of their traditional "UK" stomping grounds, and would soon be producing supplements for TSR's other product lines. The Union Jack identified these more scattered releases. The first of them was X8: "Drums on Fire Mountain", which would be one of a few Basic D&D books produced by the TSR UK crew. More would appear in 1985-1986.
Graphic Tropes. The graphic design of "Drums of Fire Mountain" was quite innovative for the Basic D&D line, probably thanks to its TSR UK origins. Graphic and text are better integrated than in the typical TSR products of the time. That comes across mainly through attractive chapter heads, but also through a variety of player handouts — both textual journals and drawings of temple carvings.
The maps in "Drums on Fire Mountain" are also notable because they depict a network of connected dungeons spanning an entire island(!). The only other person producing innovative dungeon floorplans of this sort was Tracy Hickman, in books such as I6: "Ravenloft" (1983) and the Dragonlance (1984-1986) series.
Genre Tropes: Pulp Inspirations. The UK adventures tended to be heavily story-oriented. Though "Drums on Fire Mountain" isn't as plot-focused as its predecessors in the "UK" line, it trends in that direction through its depiction of an evocative and unusual sort of adventure: "Drums on Fire Mountain" is pure pulp, full of damp jungles, angry natives, and fiery volcanos.
Adventure Tropes (I): Not Necessarily a Railroad. To keep players on their toes, "Drums on Fire Mountain" features an ever-present timer: the drums, counting down the clock on the natives' ceremony. Remarkably, this doesn't create a railroad. Instead the adventure is a fine example of organic design: however the players land on the island, they'll eventually be drawn into the caverns beneath … but through their own decisions.
Adventure Tropes (II): Not Necessarily a Wilderness Adventure. The "Expert" adventures tended to focus on wilderness adventuring, but that's just barely the case for "Drums on Fire Mountain". There is a small hex crawl at the start of the adventure, but it accounts for just five pagese. The rest of the adventure is focused on the island's carefully interconnected caverns and dungeons, resulting in an (innovative) dungeon crawl.
"Drums on Fire Mountain" is also notable for being the fourth(!) ocean-related adventure published for the "Expert" line in 1984, with the others being XSOLO1: "Lathan's Gold" (1984), X6: "Quagmire!" (1984), and X7: "The War Rafts of Kron" (1984). Unlike some of the earlier modules, there's no actual maritime adventuring in "Drums on Fire Mountain", but it is entirely island-based.
Exploring the Known World. "Drums on Fire Mountain" begins in the port of Thyatis, the grand empire of the Known World that was occasionally mentioned in the first decade of Basic D&D publications but little visited. And, there's not much here, as the players quickly depart. Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia (1989) still lay five years in the future.
The majority of "Drums on Fire Mountain" takes place on Teki-Nura-Ria, a teeny island in the Sea of Dread. Though the island is new, the adventure as a whole is nice expansion of a well-known geography in the Known World which was previously featured in X1: "Isle of Dread" (1981) and X7: "The War Rafts of Kron" (1984).
Known World cultures were often based on real world cultures, and that's the case here: the orcs of Teki-Nura-Ria have a Polynesian like civilization.
Monsters of Note. There are several new monsters in "Drums on Fire Mountain", the most notable of which are the kara-kara, a race of tribal island orcs. This was their only appearance in D&D, other than reprints in the later Creature Catalogs (1986, 1993). "Drums on Fire Mountain" also makes central use of the devil swine who debuted in Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set (1981). Though they'd appeared on a few random encounter tables previously, "Drums on Fire Mountain" was the only adventure to truly focus on one of these unique Known World lycanthropes. (They also appear as NPCs in a few of the later Gazetteers.)
About the Creators. Morris contributed to the first five UK adventure modules, making him one of TSR UK's most prolific writers. This was one of just two adventures that Kirby worked on for TSR UK, the other being UK1: "Beyond the Crystal Cave" (1983).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.