DDAL 4-8 The Broken One


The Broken One – from the Tarokka Deck accessory by Gale Force Nine

By the time I’ve gotten around to writing this post DDEX4-8 The Broken One has made it to Electrum best seller on the DMs guild. Neat!

I had a lot of fun writing for the Ravenloft setting. I particularly liked exploring the Dark Powers as a kind of meta-narrative device delivering judgments of good and evil directly into the mechanics of the game. I was also able work more closely with the AL writing team to help one adventure flow into the next and keep the setting consistent. Some folks on the team were kind enough to share their original drafts so I could see how they approached the work.

The adventure also works as a one-off horror & mystery story that can be set in any village so if you are interested in checking it out the module is available here. https://www.dmsguild.com/product/182771/DDAL48-The-Broken-One-5e?

As always if anyone has run the module and wants to offer criticism I’m happy to hear it here in the comments.

More thoughts, advice & spoilers:

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DDEX3-2 Shackles of Blood

By now my humble contribution to the D&D universe has seen a successful reception at Gen-Con, and has been released on the DMs Guild for anyone to purchase and play at home. I am pretty stoked about this.

DDEX3-2 Shackles of Blood 

I’m humbled by the positive reception I’ve seen, in particular I got a great review from The Tome Show. There have also been some critical forum posts out there in the universe that have offered some food for thought.

If you want to use this adventure in your home campaign. Here are a few thoughts and notes on how to modify the adventure to better accomidate whatever style of play suits your campaign.

Oh yeah, Spoilers…

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Chapter 1: Our Most Unwelcome Guests

UPDATED 4/19: Yeah this campaign arc has been abandoned. I’ve decided to focus on freelance work for the Adventure’s League and DM’s Guild going forward.

They say every published novelist has one or two complete drafts sitting in a shelf somewhere that will never see the light of day. I think of my work on this now-shelved Byzantium based campaign to be a very thorough self-training exercise in writing adventures. I’m glad I spent a year doing encounter push ups and memorizing challenge rating tables because I was ready to hit the ground running when I found open calls for work.

I plan to slice out the most succulent pieces to present as one-off adventures through the DM’s guild. Stay tuned.


Hello remember me?

The 1st chapter of Shadow of the Axe is ready to download and play! This is a great jumping off point for any campaign as it throws the characters into a goblin ambush and leads them into a confrontation with a dangerous gang of enforces in the imperial capital. All you need to run this is the 5th edition basic rules set.

Here it is:  Chapter 1- Unwelcome Guests

Update: File has been updated on 6/25. Work is covered by a creative commons non-attribution licence.

Rescue at BoneBridge

POST UPDATE: I’ve been accepted to the freelance design team for the Adventurer’s League. WAAAAHAAHHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!

Here is a little two page dungeon and encounter module I wrote as part of my Adventure’s League application. It was designed for five 3rd level players but can easily be scaled up or down as needed. You can also just take the map and dump in your own monsters. There’s also a bit of a puzzle and lots of opportunities to fall from a great height.


If you want to watch your players dodge arrows and cockatrice spines while climbing a bridge made of skeletons then this is the perfect encounter for you.

You’ll need the Monsters Manual for all the monster stats.


You should be listening to The Adventure Zone

Of all the DnD podcasts out there I don’t think there is one more entertaining or enlightening one that The Adventure Zone.

There’s a lot a player or DM could learn from the show. First and foremost the Brothers McElroy (and their Dad) are setting out to make an entertaining podcast, not podcast their game. This has the benefit of placing story and character first, but might frustrate a listener when the players choose comedic bits over hit points.

The DM starts with the Mines of Phandelver book, but truncates it to skip to the end and launch his own home brew campaign which is in two words: bonkers fun.  The transition is seamless unless you know the original book.

A few things any player or DM can take away from listening:

  • Improv: The four players all have legit improvisation chops and use them to their advantage, both in creating memorable NPCs via a little voice acting, and in devising tactical or role playing solutions to the encounters they face. The golden rule of improv is Say Yes to any suggestion and it’s used to great effect in this game.
  • The Tactical Fighter: If your fighter only stands in the middle of the room and whacks things with the biggest weapon then you are doing it wrong. The Fighter Magnus uses the terrain to his advantage, attacks in clever ways (like ripping a gear golumn’s arms off) and supports the other players. If you think playing a standard fighter is boring, there
  • A Player’s Journey: What started as a joke about the wizard Taako inventing Tacos has now become a compelling, if silly, character story arc in it’s own right. This is an example of a DM saying yes to what might seem like a goofy suggestion, and allowing the group as a whole develop the idea into a story line that’s fun and unique. When will he discover tortillas? how? It’s very fun.

Anyway who cares what I think you should just go listen.


Maps are Hard

I don’t know about the other amateur game designers out there do it but I’ve been making maps with the draw tools in Mac Pages. Originally I thought I’d hire a freelance illustrator for the regional and city maps and maybe some character sketches, but as the size of the campaign grew relative to my budget, and I learned more about the world of freelance illustration it became clear that I have three options.

  1. Try to exploit some struggling illustrator with crappy rates.
  2. Pay fairly for very few black & white illustrations that would clash with the rest of the campaign.
  3. Do it myself.

I need to have a map in front of me to be able to create a dungeon, I just can’t picture it any other way. I’m also obsessed with a realistic layouts and worry about things like latrines and proper ventilation.

How can you have a realistic dungeon if you don’t know where the dragon men take their shits? 

So I’ve always been making super crappy maps as an outline for each adventure. As I’ve spent more time with Mac Pages and I’ve learned a few tricks I’ve been able to develop map at a level of quality I find acceptable for a free campaign. Here are a couple of examples.


Here is an excavation site in the city sewers where Duergar Sappers are working to bring down the city walls from within. All the line textures are default options with Mac Pages and I pulled the graph paper background from Incompetech.com

Regional Map

Here is the regional map I’m working with. The mountain texture is by somebody called Jirtan on Deviant Art and was a great find. I deleted all the whitespace and put it on a transparent background. The other textures were found just by googling around.

All in all I’d say I spend about 30 to 90 minutes per map, but that could just be because I can’t decide the best location for the breakfast nook.

A New Push

As anyone who has built an audience from nothing would tell you, become a content creator requires a certain amount of shouting into the darkness until somebody wanders by and finds you.

I’ve made a couple decisions with what I want to do with this campaign i’ve been writing:

1 – I’m going to give it all away for free.

2 – It’s going to happen very very slowly.

I started writing Doom of Ninehands in August of 2014 and am now at the point where the first three fifths of the game can be play tested, but I find myself going back and adding in hooks and clues that relate to the 4th and 5th acts. Call it Checkoff’s Crossbow if you will.

Campaigns have a rhythm and it would be foolish to expect anyone to pick up the threads of this adventure and stutter along as I map the next encounter.

So in the meantime i’ll try to post interesting nuggets of content here, mostly link to people doing interesting things elsewhere, and when I can extract a few pages from my campaign that can stand alone, I’ll put them in the Free Downloads page.

Please follow @shadowoftheaxe on twitter to stay updated!

The Tower of Kraxxus

The dark wizard’s tower rises above this small hamlet like a withered fist raised in defiance against the bucolic skyline. 

The Tower of Kraxxus is a puzzle and combat encounter that uncovers a long-dead wizard’s treasure vault. Dungeon Masters are welcome to use this module in any way you would like. 

This short module was written using the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition rules but can be modified for any fantasy system. It is designed to challenge a party of 3 to 5 characters between 4th and 6th level. It can be modified to accommodate a party of lower or higher level. However a party where all the characters have the ability to fly or levitate might find this scenario too easy.

I plan to update this encounter to include rules for the Pathfinder RPG system.

I welcome all feedback in the comments.

Download the Tower Of Kraxxus