DMs Guild Review – The Curse of Skull Island

Transform your session zero into a mini-adventure of character creation with a fun pirate theme.

dms guild review

A review copy of “The Curse of Skull Island” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Anthony Joyce (w/ Nautical Character Options by Jeremy Forbing)

Every DM should know what a session zero is, but just in case: session zero is the recommended way to start a fresh campaign, by gathering up your players to create their characters, discuss the campaign’s setting and themes, and go over any house rules, questions, and concerns, before starting your first official adventuring session together.

The Curse of Skull Island” is a mini-adventure designed to slot right into a “zero-th” session of a campaign. The brief adventure is specifically designed to kickstart a Ghosts of Saltmarsh or other nautical-themed campaign while letting players create their characters and introducing them to tabletop roleplaying, Dungeons & Dragons, or the specific Dungeon Master’s GM style (or all of the above).

I immediately thought of the classic LucasArts adventure game series upon seeing the title and artwork, but I’m sorry to say this is not a full blown piratical adventure. Yet “The Curse of Skull Island” is quite funny, fitting the theme and style of a more light-hearted beer and pretzels D&D game than a tense, emotionally-wracked epic tale (I personally veer toward the former, but appreciate the latter).

After a brief explanation on what a session zero does and why it’s critically important to the success of any tabletop game, the adventure dumps the player characters on a mysterious island.

By design they’re not meant to know anything about their characters. Instead their job is to create them over the course of the story, which is a neat idea and a great way to introduce the very concept of a tabletop RPG and its three main pillars of combat, exploration, and role-playing.

dms guild review

Actual character creation isn’t quite as cleverly baked in as I was hoping. The amnesiac PCs meet a friendly ghostly pirate captain who tasks them with retrieving his eyeball from a cursed chest in a nearby skull-shaped cave. Normal pirate stuff.

At this point they can choose their race, for no real reason other than it’s the first thing players should choose (maybe they just wash up on the beach and look at each other and say “oh, I’m an elf!” or “you’re a dragonborn!”).

Next stop is a group of cannibal goblins who hilariously believe themselves to be fish who eat other fish. Thus the PCs have nothing to worry about as they have tea with the tribal elder and remember their background, class, and ability scores, which at least makes a bit more sense.

On their final step to character creation is the Mermaid Cove, where yet another helpful NPC will guide them through their starting equipment options. It’s also an opportunity to discuss how loot will work in the campaign, such as encumbrance rules, equal shares, and the rarity of magic items.

The actual skull cave is a tiny dungeon crawl designed to provide a tiny slice of exploration and combat. I was hoping for a bit more involvement, such as a trap or hidden room. Instead it mostly amounts to climbing a staircase and fighting a solitary zombie.

The 3/4 Dyson Logos map is neat-looking but can’t be used as a player map, nor as an effective player handout.

dms guild review

Included as a bonus section is a new dragonborn variant, the Sea Dragonborn (with steam breath and swim speed) and two new subclasses, the Barbarian Path of the Ravager and the Ranger Mariner Conclave. All three seem well-balanced with other races and classes and would fit very well within a swashbuckling adventure.

Pros:

  • Turning character creation (aka Session Zero) into a mini-adventure is an excellent concept.
  • The layout, formatting, and artwork are professional and lovely.
  • Excellent tips and and reminders for DMs in the questions they should ask and topics they should cover for session zero.

Cons:

  • Even for a simple level 1 dungeon the skull cave is disappointingly boring and empty.
  • Lacks player-friendly battle map of the dungeon.

The Verdict: “The Curse of SKull Island” transforms character creation and session zero into a mini-adventure,  a perfect start to any nautical adventure.

A review copy of “The Curse of Skull Island” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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