Excerpts Archive | 5/3/2012
Article Header Image
Dungeon Survival Handbook Excerpt
Bart Carroll

In today's preview of the Dungeon Survival Handbook: Into the Unknown, we look at the reasons why adventurers risk life and limb to explore the game's dungeons in the first place—the promise of untold riches!

Black passageways stretch out in all directions. The still, stifling air swirls gently with each cautious step forward. The clank of armor and the crunch of footsteps on gravel are the only sounds in the deep chambers, but their soft echoes seem deafening.

Around the next corner, faint lights are visible down the corridor. With no way to gauge distance in the darkness, they could be anything: far-off torches, nearby glowing fungi, or the eyes of a lurking beast reflecting the flame. After sharing a glance with the others, the party leader lifts the shutter of the bull's-eye lantern to reveal what lies ahead. . . .

Special Rewards

The deepest and most heavily fortified dungeons could well contain magical treasures that surpass anything known in the surface world. This section presents scrolls of power, magic items that provide godlike power to those who wield them.

It also contains stories and statistics for a quartet of dungeon companions—secondary characters that can enhance an adventure story and fill useful roles in a party at the same time.

Scrolls of Power

A scroll of power is a specially prepared magic item that contains an unusually rare spell, prayer, evocation, discipline, or hex. Created by gods, exarchs, and archwizards, these scrolls are among the mightiest and rarest of all magic items.

A scroll of power can be used by any character as a standard action. Once it is used, the magic of the scroll dissipates and cannot be brought forth again.

Item Descriptions

Each scroll of power description has three elements.

Tier: Like artifacts, scrolls of power are designed for a given tier of play.

Benefit: The effect created by the activation of the scroll.

Award: The sort of adventure or campaign style the scroll might benefit.

Power Word Kill

For six days, Emirikol the Chaotic had battled the storm titan Volturnus. The renegade wizard used every spell he knew, calling down elemental fury against the monstrous foe. He summoned demons to rend the titan's flesh and blasted its mind with raw arcane power. Though battered and bloodied, Volturnus yet came on. With the titan's fury raining down on him, Emirikol climbed a rocky spur where the battle would conclude face to face. Volturnus thundered out a booming laugh, thinking the wizard would soon be dead. Yet there on the storm-swept rocks, Emirikol shouted out the word of undoing. Volturnus shrieked. The winds howled. Lightning raked the clouds. Then the titan fell dead, a threat no more.

For the first wizards, all the world's languages were insufficient for commanding arcane energy. Lacking the ability and vocabulary to voice the esoteric concepts behind their spellcraft, they created an arcane lexicon—a language of magic—from which the first power words were created.

Every wizard spell contains words of power, without which its magic would not take effect. Most are harmless on their own, manifesting magic only when shaped by a caster. A few, however, embody enough potential that merely speaking the words aloud is enough to draw that magic forth.

These most potent arcane effects—Power Word Stun, Power Word Blind, and the dreadful Power Word Kill—proved exceedingly dangerous when loosed on the world. Many archmages took it upon themselves to purge these words of power from the arcane lexicon, destroying spellbooks and revising history. The power words were lost, or so they hoped. As it happened, not every wizard was willing to part with such awesome arcane might.

Tier: Paragon.

Benefit: One mortal creature that the user can see dies. The creature must be of the same level as the user or lower. The user then drops to 0 hit points.

Award: The few copies of Power Word Kill that were preserved by the ancient wizards have been lost or hidden for centuries. Adventurers might uncover one of these scrolls in an ancient arcane laboratory, buried in a vault deep in the Underdark, or in a forgotten library of some dead civilization such as the tiefling empire Bael Turath or the serpent kingdom of Zannad. Wizards who hold copies of Power Word Kill guard them closely, fearing that the scrolls will be used against them.


The dying god sat on the throne of his crumbling fortress, contemplating the end of all that was. His children had bested him, and now the magic that was his lifeblood was failing. Time and the world would change as they always did, but he would no longer be a part of that.

With the last of his immortal might, he began the process of scribing a set of scrolls of power as an eternal testament to his strength and will. The scroll of Wish would be a final gift to his lost followers—the power of the gods themselves bestowed on mortal hands.

While casting the scrolls down into the world, he knew that mortals would one day find them buried deep in the tombs and dungeons of the past. He would not live to see the day that they were discovered. But as his life faded, he was content to know that his prowess would once more reshape the world.

When the world was young and the Dawn War raged across all lands, gods and primordials alike coveted the loyalty and assistance of the mortals who would heed their call. Each side did what they could to entice followers to their cause. Some gave gifts of arms, armor, and artifacts. Others offered access to forbidden lore—the most potent of which was the ability to reshape the nature of time and reality.

In time, the use of the wish spell grew out of control. The mortals who had knowledge of it began to dream about challenging the masters of the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos. During the last days of the Dawn War, the gods and the primordials fought to erase all knowledge of it from mortal memory.

This most potent magic still lingers in the world, however, trapped in scrolls of power whose creation has been lost to time. Those who have heard the rumors of the Wish scrolls constantly seek out their resting places. Agents of the gods and the primordials are likewise keen to discover these lost scrolls, knowing that one employed by the wrong hands might enable the servants of imprisoned primordials to break their masters' chains.

Tier: Epic.

Benefit: The user of this scroll can make one request of a powerful entity. Some examples of valid wishes include: personal improvement (+4 to one ability score of the user's choice), a single uncommon or rare magic item, a clue to the secret name of a primordial, or the last known whereabouts of an artifact. The user must perform a service for the entity in recompense. Failure to complete the service has dire consequences.

Award: A Wish scroll might be granted as a reward for performing a service for an exarch, or might be uncovered in the tomb of a legendary hero. Rumors exist that some demon lords protect copies of this scroll, as do the scribes of the world's most prestigious library. No one can confirm these rumors, however, since revealing that one possesses such a scroll would likely cause mass hysteria and draw the attention of those who covet it.

Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.
Follow Us
Find a place to get together with friends or gear up for adventure at a store near you
Please enter a city or zip code