In a Forgotten Era, Shrouded by the Mists of Time...

It was the early 90s: I was but a lad working on an inpatient psychiatric unit as a tech, with my otherwise useless bachelor's degree in psychology, dreaming of writing fantasy fiction and material for Dungeons & Dragons. I designed an adventure in which the players' hapless characters happen upon a lonely keep where a wizard is killed in an ill-advised experiment. Said wizard had previously sold his soul to multiple buyers (the legal framework for such commerce being notorious for its slipshod enforcement, apparently). The player characters then got to deal with the aftermath as the many unhappy parties with contracts for the man's eternal soul showed up to collect. Entitled Sleepless, it was published in issue #28, the March/April 1991 edition of Dungeon Magazine, TSR's premier bimonthly publication for adventures for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons RPG.


Nobody gave a crap.





Refuse to Acknowledge my Genius? I'll Show Them!

So I designed a second adventure, this time drawing on all my bile and ill-will towards my fellow man (not really). The result was a dungeon crawl entitled The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb. It was accepted for publication and saw print in issue #37, the September/October 1992 edition of Dungeon Magazine. The following issue (or perhaps it was a couple months later) had a note from the editor at the time, Wolfgang Baur, stating that they were not interested in any sequels to or adventures along the lines of The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb  (here on out nerdified to MST).  Eternal pessimist that I am, I interpreted this to mean that they felt they had made a dreadful error in publishing the adventure in the first place, just what had they been thinking?  Hanging my head in shame, I entered into a PhD program in clinical psychology, properly chastised and humiliated.


What a jackass.

Turns out, MST was a really well received, popular adventure. Indeed, several years later, a number of industry insiders named it the best adventure in the magazine's history (issue #116).  I am not making this up!  Look for yourself at this clip to the right-----> 


OK, technically it doesn't say "best adventure ever." But it is at the top of the list generated by a group of individuals normally unable to agree on anything other than the fact that the three Star Wars prequels are execrable crimes against humanity.

Wait! It Gets Better!

In 2007, Paizo Publishing, who had taken the helm of Dungeon Magazine in 2002 (for D&D's new overlords, Wizards of the Coast, AKA WotC), published an anniversary issue (September, issue #138) that included The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb, all shiny and new with an update to the then-current 3.5 rule set for Dungeons & Dragons. It was also featured on the issue's cover, with gorgeous artwork.

Paizo's creative director, the ridiculously talented and T-Rex enamored James Jacobs, had attempted to get hold of me for involvement with the project. Alas, as Mike Shel is a pen name, he was unable to locate me.


I found out about all of this three years later when on impulse I went on an internet search to find out if there was anything online about the stuff I had written for Dungeon Magazine back in the day.


You could have knocked me over with a slip of paper on which were listed the selfless acts of Donald Trump.

Mike Returns!

After stumbling upon this delightful discovery, I got in touch with James and asked if I might re-enter the design world, writing freelance for the Pathfinder RPG.  He graciously welcomed me in, along with a number of other gifted developers and designers, who patiently held my hand as they brought me up to speed: Wes Schneider, Rob McCreary, Adam Daigle, Mark Moreland.


Over the next seven years, I wrote lots of stuff for Paizo and the Pathfinder RPG. I credit that work with giving me some of the skills I needed to finally complete my first novel. Thank you, Paizo, for everything.

You've Been Very Patient...

Over the years, The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb has come in for some really lovely praise. Of course, there are others who have been less kind (for instance, the title of a post at Enworld - "The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb: Crappy Adventure, Or CrappiEST Adventure?" Ah, the Internet...providing a soapbox only for those with the most carefully reasoned, subtly nuanced, and well-thought-out criticism.)


WotC used MST as the basis for a playtest of their new 5E rules. That means MST has been revised and published for three different iterations of Dungeons & Dragons! Gary Gygax is the only other person who can claim that trophy. Wil Wheaton also played it with some pals and took the piss out of it. So there's that.



Again, hooray for Mike!


But for you, a small treat. Follow this link to a copy of the original hand-drawn map turnover for The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb.

© 2020 by Mike Shel. Created with