X8: Drums on Fire Mountain (1984)

I honestly thought a long time about just skipping this one. This is X8: Drums on Fire Mountain (1984). It is pretty gross.

Once again, PCs are called on to investigate an uptick in shipping raids. This time, it is the natives of Teki-nura-ria, a volcanic island of dire reputation. The natives are island orcs, green-skinned and possessing something resembling a mix of Polynesian and African cultures. Usually, they mind their own business, but recently a white guy who is smarter than them arrived on the island and has taken over, using them as a weapon against the merchant guilds that wronged him. Once the PCs arrive, they find that everything on the island is hostile. Despite the fact that the orcs are being manipulated, the only way players can interact with them is through violence or by manipulating their primitive superstitions.

There is no part of this module where the Polynesian and African cultural elements are shown in a positive light – the kara-kara orcs are portrayed roundly as stupid, savage brutes. They aren’t even much of a threat to the PCs, with their wood and bone weapons – they’re cannon fodder for the smart white guy (who, in fairness, is literally a swine).

The thing that really gets me about this one is how ignorantly casual it all is. I honestly don’t think there was any malice in this – I think a series of decisions were made to make the island adventure feel increasingly “pulpy” and it just got more racist without anyone noticing. And then they slapped that cover illustration on it and actually went to print. That casualness almost makes it worse; its stuff like this that people of color are thinking about when they talk about needing diversity on creative teams.  

There is a good wilderness and dungeon design here, but everything about this module is so wrapped up in racism and appropriation that you’d be hard pressed to ever cut the good parts out cleanly. Entirely tainted. Let this one rot.

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