Book of the Dead

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+ Papyrus spellbook.png
Name Book of the Dead
Appearance papyrus spellbook
Base price 10000 zm
Weight 20

The Book of the Dead is one of the three unique items needed for the invocation in NetHack. It appears as a papyrus spellbook when unidentified.

The following information pertains to an upcoming version (NetHack 3.7.0). If this version is now released, please verify that it is still accurate, then update the page to incorporate this information.

As of commit ed6b78e2, the Book of the Dead weighs 50 aum instead of 20.


The Wizard of Yendor is always generated with the Book of the Dead on his square in the Wizard's Tower.

There is code that indicates the Book should always be generated cursed when given to a monster; since the Book is generated on the Wizard's square rather than directly in his inventory, this code is never actually executed.[1]


The Book of the Dead's effects depend on whether you are standing on the vibrating square, and reading the Book will auto-identify it in either case.[2][3] It takes 2 actions to read, which is the minimum for all spellbooks - one to actually read, and the second where the check to see if you've finished is applied; the Book's source code data technically designates it as taking 0 actions to read.

The Book of the Dead can be read even if you are blind, to ensure those attempting the zen conduct can progress.


If you read the Book of the Dead while performing the invocation and standing on the vibrating square, and you lack the Bell of Opening or the Candelabrum of Invocation, or else any of the artifacts are cursed, nothing happens; depending on the circumstances, you will receive an additional message hinting at the source of the interference.[4][5][6] If the Bell has not been rung recently enough, or the Candelabrum is not fully lit, you instead raise the dead;[7][8] otherwise, if you have correctly prepared all the invocation items, you perform the invocation ritual.

Normal effects

While not on the vibrating square, the Book of the Dead has the following effects based on beatitude:

Raising the dead

If you fail to prepare the invocation items, or read a cursed Book of the Dead when not on the vibrating square, you will raise the dead. This has the following effects:[8]

  • A number of undead creatures will be created around you.
    • If zombies can not be created, normal monsters will be summoned instead.
    • There is a 13 chance of summoning a hostile master lich, or a nalfeshnee if master liches cannot be created.
  • Corpses in your main inventory will be revived and eggs are rejuvenated, as with a wand of undead turning.
  • The level becomes a graveyard level, meaning that undead are less likely to leave corpses.


Raising the dead is a viable strategy to farm wraith corpses.

Note that for taming undead with the blessed Book, skeletons, shades, and shapeshifted vampires (in fog cloud, vampire bat, or wolf form) are the only non-chaotic undead.


In NetHack 3.4.3, earlier versions and some variants based on these versions, the Book of the Dead could actually be destroyed by stepping into lava without fire resistance and wearing an amulet of life saving while carrying it. This was fixed in NetHack 3.6.0.[11][12]


The motif of "Bell, Book and Candle" originated as a Catholic ritual of excommunication by anathema, although some media portrays it in connection with exorcism (e.g., the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman novel Good Omens).

The "Book of the Dead" is the name given to a loose collection of ancient Egyptian funerary texts - they were generally written in hieroglyphic or hieratic script on a papyrus scroll, and were often illustrated with vignettes depicting the deceased and their journey into the afterlife. They were used from the beginning of the New Kingdom (around 1550 BCE) to around 50 BCE. The original Egyptian name for the text is translated as "Book of Coming Forth by Day" or "Book of Emerging Forth into the Light"; Karl Richard Lepsius gave them the German name Todtenbuch (modern spelling Totenbuch), translated to English as Book of the Dead. They have a Library of Congress entry in the United States.

The texts were written by many priests over a period of about 1,000 years, and consist of a number of magic spells intended to assist a dead person's journey through the Duat, or underworld, and into the afterlife. There was no "canon" to these texts, and so they vary considerably in their illustration; some copies seem to have been commissioned specifically to reflect the spells the buyer thought most vital in their future progression to the afterlife. They were placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased, as part of a tradition of funerary texts - this includes the earlier Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts, which were painted onto objects, and some of the spells included were drawn from these older works, while others were composed later in Egyptian history.


The runes appear scrambled. You can't read them!
You read a cursed Book of the Dead while on the vibrating square.[4]
A chill runs down your spine.
You read the non-cursed Book of the Dead while on the vibrating square, but you are missing one of the other items, with the following two messages depending on the missing item(s):[5]
You hear a faint chime...
You do not have the Bell of Opening.
Vlad's doppelganger is amused.
You do not have the Candelabrum of Invocation.
The invocation fails!
At least one of your artifacts is cursed...
You attempted the invocation, but one of the other artifacts is cursed.[6]
You have a feeling that something is amiss...
You raised the dead!
You attempted the invocation and waited too long to read the Book after applying the other items.[7]
Your ancestors are annoyed with you!
The headstones in the cemetery begin to move!
Oh my! Your name appears in the book!
You read the uncursed Book of the Dead while not on the vibrating square, which has no effect.[10]
You raised the dead!
You read the cursed Book of the Dead while not on the vibrating square.[8]



In SLASH'EM, the cursed Book of the Dead can be much more useful if you know the command undead spell, as it allows you to call large amounts of undead to tame. Be careful with the master lich that may be summoned as well, though.

Encyclopaedia entry

Faustus: Come on Mephistopheles. What shall we do?
Mephistopheles: Nay, I know not. We shall be cursed with bell,
book, and candle.
Faustus: How? Bell, book, and candle, candle, book, and bell,
Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell.
Anon you shall hear a hog grunt, a calf bleat, and an ass bray,
Because it is Saint Peter's holy day.
(Enter all the Friars to sing the dirge)

[ Doctor Faustus and Other Plays, by Christopher Marlowe ]