Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

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Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby Angel Tarragon » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:51 am

Okay, who has it? What is in it and how useful is it? How easy is it to use outside of Mystara?

And please, if you are able, tell me about your experiences in using it.
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby NPCDave » Tue Mar 07, 2017 1:33 am

You are in luck, as part of the RPGNet Let's Read Mystara thread, I did a thorough write up of the product. Here you go...

1995 - Dungeon Master Survival Kit

Contents include-
A 16 page booklet
An "Campaign Log" which is a blank notebook with art around the borders
24 pages of handouts
A deck of 54 cards detailing magic items and an artifact

Some of the booklet provides general DM advice and some of the handouts pages are designed for the DM to fill in as either in game handouts(scrolls, a wanted poster, a royal proclamation) or blank hex maps or character sheets or forms to fill out to prepare for an adventure, like a blank Monstrous Compendium entry, blank random encounter tables and a blank table for entering encounter statistics.

The relevant Mystara material is primarily found in the fifty-four cards as well as the supporting information in the booklet. Twenty four of the cards detail unique magic items which exist in the setting, with artwork depicting the item on one side and its description, true history and rumored history(sometimes several contradictory rumors) provided on the back.

Most of these items have ties to Glantri or Karameikos.

The bronze Sword of Halav manifests in the hands of a follower of Halav when the need is great, and it can take on the traits of any magical sword in the DMG, disappearing when the battle ends. It has appeared only once in the past 300 years; in the hands of Uidar the Swift, a Traladaran duke. The Torcs of Dengar were made in Rockhome and act as bracers of defense(AC 0) while also boosting Strength and Constitution. The Staff of the Infernal Arcana acts as a staff of the magi only in the hands of an evil wizard, and was recently stolen from the School of Magecraft in Karameikos, the thief killing seven apprentices during his escape.

The undead Glantrian wizard Kahlark has two items, his ebon cloak which functions as a cloak of the bat(and is rumored to be an enslaved scamille) and a whip made from a rope of entanglement which Kahlark calls the Viper and is his preferred weapon. Kahlark and other mentioned NPCs are not detailed, just the items. These histories sometimes fill in new details. For example, Duke Stefan had a wizard adviser named Krollan who was found strangled to death in 991 AC by someone after his magic hood. And centuries before Halav's mortal existence a King Tahrek the Bright ruled central Traladara and wore a bronze crown called the Diadem of the Sun which is a helm of brilliance.

There are a few mistakes in the entries. One erroneously refers to the Duchy of Machetos as being part of Karameikos instead of Thyatis and the magic item Ixion's Wrath, which is an axe of hurling that also has the abilities of a flame tongue, starts out telling the story of the Traladaran hero Tytham that wielded it only to start referring to the hero as Ixion later in the paragraph.

Two liches are linked to a couple of magic items, one unnamed lich created the Radiant Eye in the Broken Lands and was destroyed 200 years ago by a Glantrian wizard that is said to be a d'Ambreville scion. The second is Oirtulev, a wizard adviser to King Halav before the king became an Immortal. Oirtulev is rumored to be a lich now in the Altan Tepes Mountains.

The last magic item is actually an artifact, and it is the Deck of the Spheres. This is Mystara's version of a Deck of Many Things, and it comprises the last thirty cards from the deck included with this product. Each card depicts the actual card from the deck, with an image on one side and five symbols representing each one of the Immortals that supposedly helped create the deck. A PC follower of one of those Immortals would perceive that Immortal's symbol as most prominent when looking at the cards.

The concept of the Deck of the Spheres is pretty good, each Immortal sphere is tied to six cards of the deck. The powers of the cards are what you would expect from the deck of many things, some overpowered goodies mixed in with a very high chance of wrecking your PC and/or your campaign. It doesn't definitively state who the creators of the deck were, but a song found in an old tomb in Ylaruam names the likely candidates...Khoronus(Time), the Great One(Matter), Razud(Energy), Diulanna(Thought), and Masauwu(Entropy). One of the cards is The Dragon and all the metallic dragons(Brass, Bronze, Copper, Silver and Gold) are assumed to be on Mystara in the card description.

Before I continue, a brief aside from Blacky who informed me of the following...

There's precedent for an artifact requiring multiple Immortals to make them in the WotI set.

One of the artifact powers listed in that set is "De-Power". When used on an Immortal, this drains 100 power points per round from them permanently. It's apparently used as a punishment for Immortals who commit such crimes as killing the mortal agents of their enemies on the prime plane.

It says in the description that to make (or use) an artifact that has this power takes a Hierarch of each of the five Spheres working together.


The first six handouts have maps for a sample tavern and inn, a temple, a monster lair, a wizard tower, a castle and keep, and a village. The back of these handouts has the description key for each location, and in an excellent bit of design planning, the description side for each map is not on the back of the same page as the map itself. If you use the map of the tavern on page 1, you can refer to its text which is on the back of page 6. That way you don't have to keep flipping the map over as you describe the place. While most of these maps remind me of maps from previous modules and supplements in this thread, doing some checking I find that these maps appear to be new with just some general similarities to previous maps.

The last bit in the book discusses languages of Mystara. It asserts that the vast majority of common people can read and write(acknowledging this is not the case in the real Middle Ages) and the typical nation like Karameikos has 70-80% literacy rates. Glantri is the only country in the Known World with over a 90% literacy rate(in at least one language). There are over 20 human dialects in the Known World, many of which derive from Thyatian which is the Common language.

There is then some description of the dwarf language(Dengar), the Elvish language, and magescript. This last one states that each wizard uses their own personalized alphabet which is why you have to use read magic when reading someone else's spellbook or scrolls. Magescript also has little to no punctuation.

These three languages get some further support with two pages of the handouts that actually give you the alphabet key and numerical symbols for Dengar, Elvish and one example magescript. Elvish and the magescript have forty-five alphabetic symbols to cover different sounds, while Dengar only uses twenty-four to twenty-six sounds. This gives the DM the ability to write messages and text in all three languages, although I would never want to have to do math equations with their numerics. The last side of the second handout page has a blank alphabet key for the DM to create their own language if so inclined.
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby Angel Tarragon » Tue Mar 07, 2017 4:13 am

Wow, a lot of fluff went into this product...that is fantastic!!

But what of the utility of this product? What makes it worthy of being called a Survival Kit?
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby Angel Tarragon » Wed Mar 08, 2017 10:53 am

Anyone? Bueller?
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby Havard » Wed Mar 08, 2017 11:59 am

Thanks for this great summary NPCDave!

I guess I never examined the deck closely enough. The details revealed about new legendary magical items and even current and historical NPCs is fascinating!

Has the fan community picked up on these characters such as the unknown Traladaran King? If so, I have probably overlooked the source for that.

Angel Tarragon wrote:Wow, a lot of fluff went into this product...that is fantastic!!

But what of the utility of this product? What makes it worthy of being called a Survival Kit?


Patience grasshopper :)

I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with both the Mystara Dungeon Master's Survival Kit and its companion product the Mystara Player's Survival Kit. I find the illustrations subpar. The Campaign Log, booklet and handouts were of limited use. So unless you are a hard core Mystara fan (like me), the only reason to pick up this product would be to get the deck of cards.

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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby Sturm » Wed Mar 08, 2017 12:13 pm

Havard wrote:Has the fan community picked up on these characters such as the unknown Traladaran King? If so, I have probably overlooked the source for that.


Agathokles in his extensive work on Karameikos and Specularum (too many links, see here: http://pandius.com/karameik.html) certainly used some informations taken from the cards.
Same did Simone Neri in his History of Karameikos in Threshold issue #1 (and also stored here: http://pandius.com/karhstry.html)
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby NPCDave » Wed Mar 08, 2017 10:52 pm

Angel Tarragon wrote:But what of the utility of this product? What makes it worthy of being called a Survival Kit?


Technically, with the Internet today, nothing is essential in this kit. Some of the handouts and maps could be considered useful for DMs who were caught unprepared 22 years ago and need a quick floorplan and map description... but today with an Internet connection you can quickly find a map and a blank proclamation poster online should you need one. Pencil, dice, blank paper and the Internet are your modern DM survival gear, everything else is gravy. If you want the cards or you are a DM that likes to create handouts using cryptic alphabets then this product has some use.
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby Kilr Kowalski » Sun Mar 12, 2017 12:38 am

I tried to make a font for the dwarven script but because of the rules about vowels and placing dots near each of the consonants this was very difficult. Essentially if you want ot use that script you have to hand write it.

It is good flavour but not very usable. What party would not have a dwarven speaker or at least someone they could go to and get this transcribed? In the end the DM should know what the PCs can speak and rather than spend 25 minutes making a handout for them to decipher before the game say "there's something that looks like dwarven".

I found the Magic items too OP icluding the deck for many of my games but helpful WRT the overall lore.

I have used the maps with PCs as I am the biggest Mystara nerd in my group they don't know the world that much.

Whilsty I have been pretty good at keeping my mystara stuff in their sets this is one where I think I have lost the cards because they were loose. The DM's Kit was packaged much like a module: loose outer cover, staple bound small booklet, handout pages plus cards (initially on cardstock sheets until you seperate them: fun to unbox but hard to keep together.

There wasn't enough in this for a Boxed set and I wonder if the PC Survivalkit and DM survival kit were initally parts of a Mystara boxed set which never got made
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby alanshutko » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:17 am

Kilr Kowalski wrote:I tried to make a font for the dwarven script but because of the rules about vowels and placing dots near each of the consonants this was very difficult. Essentially if you want ot use that script you have to hand write it.


That sounds like a fun challenge... There has to be a way with ligatures to make it happen....
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Re: Tell me about the Dungeon Master's Survival Kit

Postby Robin » Sun Mar 12, 2017 9:30 pm

the kit is NOT a treu survival kit, unlike the older AD&D1 Dungeon and Wilderness survival books.
however, a lot in it is vwry useful for a clever dm
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