Dungeon Survival Handbook is a 160-page supplement—counting the ad in the back—that gives players specialized character options for dungeon-delving, and Dungeon Master's the dungeon-centric resources to kill them anyway.
Chapter 1: Dungeon Delvers is the meatiest, featuring seven themes, racial writups for the goblin, long-awaited kobold, and svirfneblin, and seven organizations (complete with their own powers).
The Character Themes include the bloodsworn, a grim-dark mega-brooder that is dedicated to wiping out a specific type of monster or an organization, kind of like the 3rd Edition ranger's Favored Enemy class feature, and the trapsmith, which can be either the Sherlock Holmes or Iron Man version of Robert Downey Jr., with the ability to quickly create traps, as well as notice and disarm them.
Each of the races gets either an Essentials-style writeup, complete with physical qualities, attitudes and beliefs, communities, adventurers, role-playing tips, racial feats, and racial utilities.
- The goblin is pretty much unchanged from the Monster Manual version, except that they can opt between Wisdom or Charisma for a bonus and Thievery gets swapped out for Bluff.
- Kobolds have already been previewed, but can opt between Dexterity or Charisma, gain darkvision, and lose shifty for shifty maneuver, which lets them and allies within 2 squares shift.
- Svirfneblin—aka deep gnomes—gain a bonus to Wisdom and either Strength or Constitution, can ignore difficult terrain that is stone, can always pick Dungeoneering as a trained skill, and can gain concealment and some temp hps as a racial encounter.
The chapter then wraps up with Dungeon-Themed Powers. These are grouped by organization, each of which have a page or so of flavor content, thematically appropriate themes and classes, and both class-based and skill-based powers.
Chapter 2: Strive to Survive is basically an adventurer's guide to dungeons and the monsters that likely were legitimately squatting there, before you and yours kicked in the door to rob them. It starts out with the five rules of dungeon delving, as well as delving tactics that pertain to climbing, darkness, secret doors, sneaking, clearing rooms, resting, and more.
Dungeon Types focuses on the potential dangers presented by common dungeon settings like caves, crypts, mazes, and mines, as well as some more unconventional backdrops like an ice palace and floating castle. Each type has a section on variations, exploring dangers, inhabitants and rewards.
Where the previous section emphasizes the place, Dungeon Denizens is about the "people", from ankhegs to umber hulks. Each monster gets a paragraph of dialogue from a NPC, followed by a couple paragraphs of flavor text.
Veterans of past editions might get a kick out of Infamous Dungeons, which provides a page or two of information on eight dungeons from past editions, including Castle Ravenloft, The Lost City, and White Plume Mountain. While there is not nearly enough to run the adventures, the information, sidebars, associated backgrounds, quests, and feats might be enough to coerce DM's to pick up the originals to convert (or at least inspiration to make your own).
Almost three-quarters of the way through, Chapter 3: Master of the Dungeon changes gears to the other side of the screen. It starts out giving some pointers on how to run the dungeon. Cold, ruthless, let the dice fall where they may? Cheat in order to help the players win? It is more of the stuff that we have been getting for basically the entire time we have been getting advice on running dungeon crawls, but at least its a solid-and-short repetition.
Like Neverwinter Campaign Setting, this book also has a section on Involving the Characters. It goes beyond simply hooking them by the theme, also providing ideas on how to give the players a "tough choice", drop clues to lead them on, introduce new characters that oppose them, and more. I really like this format, and hope that it continues beyond the edition. There is also just over a page of advice on exploration, choices, mazes, and puzzles.
If you are up for Creating an Underdark Adventure, there is a six-page primer with an overview, the Underdark's "role", ways to get the feel right, developing a plot, building encounters that use cavernous terrain features, a small glossary of underground terms, and "An Underdark Trek" skill challenge. It is kind of like the poor man's Underdark supplement, but it fits and does not take up too much space.
Dungeon Makers goes over a combination of eleven races and organizations that commonly dwell in dungeons, from cultists to kuo-toa to cliche'd wizards. It talks about key locations within the lairs they might build, as well as what they might look like. I particularly like the sidebar on cultists: Ten Trappings of a Cult's Dungeon.
The Power Word Kill and Wish Special Rewards were previewed already, and unfortunately there are only two other scrolls: Mass Heal and Polymorph. Mass Heal restores all hit points, healing surges, grants temp hps equal to your bloodied value, cures all diseases, and renders everyone immune to fear. Polymorph transforms the target into an Elite monster of its level + 2, but only for the encounter. Still kind of neat, though I would have liked to see a ritual or something that lets the player change her race.
|First you get the dragon, then you get the money.|
Appendix 1: Build Your Own Dungeon is four and a half pages of dungeon-building advice. Again, standard stuff; figure out the dungeon's purpose, theme, and location, consider changing up the way "known" monsters look and act, etc.
Appendix 2: Random Dungeons is a collection of sixteen tables that help you determine the maker, dungeon type, location, the reason why the dungeon was built, its defenses and weakness, motifs, and more. If the characters are using the themes from this book, there are a pair of tables to randomly determine how you hook them in.
Even though I enjoyed most of this book, it is kind of a hard sell. Players get the lion's share of content, but have no use for the content on adventure- and dungeon-designing. At only about 40 pages, I can understand DMs not wanting to shell out thirty bucks—or whatever the Amazon discounted price is—for basically a quarter of a book. If you dug Halls of Undermountain, this makes a great companion book, though.