One of the original content resources for Dungeons and Dragons, TSR’s Dragon Magazine included a huge variety of articles, reviews, and rules for the DnD and other tabletop games. Issue 205, published in May 1994, focused on the wilds.
For DnD, that meant new nature magic for druids (rangers and other natural spellcasters didn’t exist yet as we know them), advice for survival-style campaigns, and stories focused on strange new worlds and planar travel. One such article was 12 Secrets of Survival, written by Spike Y. Jones.
You can read the entire article here: Dragon Magazine: Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming: Internet Archive
The Ideas and Content of 12 Secrets of Survival
As the article itself points out, most magical items at the time focused on an offensive style of survival. Mainly, “…the ability to kill the monsters before they can kill you”. But for a campaign focused on wilderness survival, a party might appreciate a few items that are more practical than combative.
Jones provides 12 such ‘secrets’ that a DM might like to give their players to make things a little easier for their players. 10 are magical items, and 2 are spell lists (2 mage spells and 1 priest spell).
The current breadth of spellcasters hadn’t been created yet in 1994, and magic was separated into 2 main groups: priest spells and mage spells. These are fairly similar to arcane and divine magic as they are in more recent editions (arcane magic being used by Wizards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Bards, and divine by Clerics, Paladins, Druids, and Rangers). At the time, however, Druids and Rangers would have used mage spells, not priest spells, as recent editions position them.
Is the Article Still Relevant?
This article is absolutely still relevant for current players.
5e simply does not favor survival style gameplay. The simplified mechanics and broadly defined features detract from any struggle to survive outside of immediate combat. Rangers have an ability that outright removes any need for hunting or foraging checks or efforts, for goodness’ sake! You’ll have to do a lot of reworking and homebrewing the rules to get a really engaging survival campaign. This also flows over into the magical items and spells that are available in 5e. They tend to focus on use in combat or roleplay rather than day-to-day utility.
Taking a look at Icewind Dale (a campaign that does include some amount of survival rules, however limited) is a good place to start. And the items and spells included in this article are great to include alongside those survival items that you can manage to scour out of the official 5e books.
How to Use this Content in a Current Campaign
These items and spells are useful for a 5e survival-stye campaign, but they will require some updating for current rules. Luckily, these items are fairly broadly applicable, and don’t need too much work. Below, we’ve included a few examples from the article.
Eye of the Condor
This bronze monocle has a solid black lens, and a frame adorned with feathers from a bird of prey.
Looking through the lens causes you to view their location from above, as though from the viewpoint of a soaring condor. You are able to see up to a 5 mile radius around your location, discerning major land formations, groups of people, and large animals if they are not hidden by foliage or buildings.
Attempting to walk, fight, or take any actions while using this eye causes extreme disorientation to the point of illness. If you take another action while looking through it, you must make a DC 15 saving throw or gain the stunned condition for 1d4 rounds.
This item regains 1d4 uses after a long rest, with a maximum of 4 uses.
This simple grey cloak is well-made and clean looking but produces small clouds of dust and debris when shaken or hit.
As an action, you can pull this cloak around your body and speak a command word, causing you to immediately transform into a strangely shaped (but not humanoid) mound of grey rock. The rock appears normal to all scientific tests and observation, and while a Detect Magic spell will reveal an aura of magic around it, it will not provide the school of magic.
While in rock form, you do not require food, water, or air, and you take no damage unless it is sufficient to crack or damage solid stone. Damage is dealt to your total hit points as normal. You can take no action as a rock, but can think basic thoughts, and generally sense what happens in a 60-foot radius around you.
To return to normal, you must think the command word, or have another person speak the command word while touching the stone. However, spending long amounts of time transformed slows your thoughts and makes remembering it difficult. If you have spent more than a day transformed, you must make a DC 10 Intelligence Saving Throw to remember the word. Each subsequent day that you spend transformed increases the DC by 1.
After using this item’s magical ability, you must take a long rest before it can be used again.
Have you ever tried to run a survival campaign in 5e? How did it go? Will any of the items or spells in this article be useful to you in your game? Let us know in the comments below!