What Do I Know About Reviews? Keys from the Golden Vault, Part Eight (D&D 5e)

330500_AXE FROM THE GRAVE—CHAPTER START MANDOLIN HEIST_ Art by Kai CarpenterWhat are we going to steal this time around? In Axe from the Grave, an adventure for 6th-level characters, the item that we’re trying to “reacquire” is Canaith mandolin called the Golden Axe.

Spoiler Warning

As with all of the other examinations of the adventures included in this anthology, we’re going to peer deeply enough into the adventure to get a feel for it, which may be more information than you want to have if you are going to play through it. Now is the time to read another page, until you’ve played through this.

The Hook

Froderick “Frody” Dartwild was a local bard who died, and was buried with his greatest treasure, the Golden Axe, a Canaith mandolin. When the mandolin was stolen from his grave, his body got restless, and he is once again dwelling in the land of the living.

The people of Toadhop would like their beloved local bard to go back to the rest of the grave, and they want the crew to speak with Fordy’s corpse to see what they can do to get him to return to his dirt nap. He, understandably, just wants his mandolin back.

If the PCs are working for the Golden Vault, they receive a message that directs them to go to Toadhop, where they will then be directed to the former bard, to help him return to the choir invisible.

The Setting

This adventure takes place in the town of Toadhop, where the restless undead bard is located, a little shack down by the river, and the Skalderang Academy, a musical conservatory for wealthy musical prodigies.

Heist Tropes

There are a pair of halflings that performed the actual theft that are willing to flip on their former employer. In addition to the classic unfaithful criminal employees, the PCs have several options for getting inside the Academy to determine where the instrument is being kept. They can attempt to convince Sythian Skalderang that they are students looking for a teacher, they can leverage the fact that they know he is in debt to convince him that they are debt collectors, or they can use the knowledge of his illegal activities and demon worship to blackmail him into giving up the instrument.


This adventure paints some vivid pictures with the naming conventions it utilizes, especially in the town of Toadhop itself. It’s not the picture I would have painted, but it definitely sets a certain tone.

We get details for what the Conservatory schedule is, as well as some information about all of the students that attend the Conservatory. We find out the secrets of Sythian’s muse, Joster Mareet, and the secret shrine to Graz’zt in the Conservatory, as well as learn of some of the long-term staff.


As with many of these adventures, there are lots of humanoids to interact with. Thanks to Sythian’s association with Joster Mareet (an incubus) there are also several quasits and a chasme demon that haunt the grounds of the Conservatory, unbeknownst to the students.

After Action

Unless you are working for the Golden Vault, this is pretty much a pro bono job. You might pick up some treasure in the Conservatory, but there really isn’t any formal payment from any interested party in Toadhop. The Golden Vault pays in its customary magic item, in this case, a rare magic item.


This was a roller coaster ride for me. I’m just going to say upfront, I don’t expect everyone to have the same threshold for silly names or a more casual tone. I like comedic beats, but there sure were a lot of them right up front in this adventure. Especially when you consider one of the reasons the town wants Frody laid back to rest is because “he’s stinking up the place.”

Toadhop, as a town, really plays with the backwater, funny name, and eccentric small-town tropes. People are writing messages on pigs, you have halfling thieves named Mackerel and Trout. Honestly, your mileage may vary, but it was just about too much for me to enjoy.

However, I really like the adventure once it hits the Conservatory. I like that this is another heist that gives the PCs the opportunity to take multiple routes to completion. I like the decadent cultist angle, and the ability to blackmail Sythian if that’s the direction the group wants to go. I also like that the final confrontation with the chasme can give the PCs a fight for those marital-minded PCs, even if the rest of the heist goes well.

If I run this adventure, though, I may excise some of the local “color” and just have the PCs return the mandolin to someone at the inn to put Frody’s ghost to rest.