Running your first campaign as a dungeon master can be incredibly intimidating. You’re creating an entire world for your players to explore while helping them develop their characters and fabricating their nemesis and other perils of the world they explore. Every dungeon master relies on a stockpile of great books to assist them in doing this.
The following list is what I believe to be the books to get a new Dungeon Master running games of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons and running them well right from the start.
1. Dungeon Master’s Guide – Duh!
The name says it all. The first book any new dungeon master should own is the essential corebook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide. This book will give any DM the tools they need to run a successful game of Dungeons & Dragons. The DMG will cover everything from storyline inspiration and worldbuilding tips to rules and mechanics for heated combat or in-depth roleplaying sessions. Wanting to build your first dungeon? Not only will this book be able to walk you through the process but it even has a random dungeon generator to help you build one on the fly with little effort. Want to spice up your dungeon once it’s built? Just flip to the section on traps and hazards to throw at your players and then go through the plethora of magic items to find them a fitting reward for their survival. The Dungeon Master’s guide is an absolute must to get you started on your way to becoming a DM.
2. Monster Manual
Many of the most memorable moments of playing D&D can be due to the feeling of victory shared amongst everyone at the table after slaying an epic monster during an intense battle. No one forgets the first time they came face-to-face with an ancient dragon and prevented the total destruction of a city! That’s why any new Dungeon Master needs to have a copy of the Monster Manual. Another one of the corebooks, this one will give you the info you need to run the most classic of D&D enemies. From Beholders to Trolls and animals to humanoid NPCs. Not only does this book provide you with the stat blocks needed to run each of the monsters in a game, but it also provides you with tasty background and lore on each monster to help you give it a rightful place in your story. This book is also great for new DMs because it explains how to use the monsters and breaks down their different types, abilities, and uses. Once you have built your dungeon, the Monster Manual will give you the baddies you need to put your players to the test.
3. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
The main thing a Dungeon Master should be trying to accomplish is making sure that everyone at the table is having fun. This means paying attention to your players’ wants and needs. Sometimes a player will have an idea for a character that they really want to play but they can’t find what they’re looking for in the Player’s Handbook. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything will provide you with a slew of additional character options for your players to choose from and also give you a number of great resources to help you run your games as well. Players can choose from the additional character options including sub-classes, spells, and racial feats. They can also take advantage of the additional background customization help with tables for determining a character’s origin, life events, and even name. As a Dungeon Master you will gain valuable resources with tables for random encounters, additional uses and rules for building your own traps, additional information on using downtime activities, crafting, and much more. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, is no doubt a great addition to any Dungeon Master’s arsenal.
4. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
This book, in my opinion, is absolutely an essential read to any Dungeon Master running games in the official Dungeons & Dragons setting, Forgotten Realms. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is packed full of juicy lore spanning the gambit of the Forgotten Realms. It will take you on a deep dive into the history of the Blood War, an endless war fought between demons and devils, the creation of the elves and the drow, and the tensions between the dwarves and the duergar. The book also contains quite a sizable bestiary full of unique monsters and enemies to wreak havoc amongst your games. It focuses heavily on monsters from the outer planes with sections on both demons and devils, the Sorrowsworn, and Star Spawn. The monsters in this book are a great way to add that sense of otherworldly terror that your players don’t see coming. Whether you are looking to enrich your knowledge of the Forgotten Realms or just get your hands on some nasty bad guys to torture your players with, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is well worth picking up.
5. Volo’s Guide to Monsters
There is one thing that a dungeon master is always going to need more of, I hope the title of this book doesn’t give it away. That’s right, more monsters! Volo’s guide to Monsters gives you just that. This book expands upon the beasties in the Monster Manual with a butt load of new monsters as well as some additions to classic monster races like new beholders, gnolls, mind flayers, and orcs. Not only does this book boast a badass bestiary, but it also comes with a rather healthy lore dump on a number of the different monstrous races and even includes maps for some of their lairs. This release is also a must have tool for any Dungeon Master as it is equipped with new playable races for characters as well. It introduces races such as Goliath, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi and more. Packed full of valuable knowledge any DM can use about running monsters, this is a worthy addition to your line-up.