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How many times have you thought about getting into a tabletop RPG like Dungeons and Dragons, started to look into it, and then given up because it seems so overwhelming?
This is the problem with a lot of tabletop RPGs. If you constantly feel put off because you have no idea what books to read or where to begin, you’re not alone. I’ve created this list specifically to help budding DMs (dungeon masters) like you who have no idea where to start.
With that in mind, let me show you several of the best DnD books for DMs that I think are excellent places to start. I’ll also explain to you why I picked each one.
Top 7 Best DnD Books for DMs
Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide
The Dungeon Master’s Guide was an easy addition to this list. If you’re only planning on buying one or two books I suggest, then make sure this is one of them.
This is one of the main books in the current edition (5e). It’s specifically filled with information you need to run a campaign, including rules for a variety of situations and character-building tools.
I think it’s great for visual learners, too, or people who like to have things summed up succinctly. There are tons of easy tables in the book that you can reference quickly if a question arises while you’re playing. (Of course, it may also be a good idea for you to grab a DM’s screen like this one so you have basic information right at your fingertips without needing to flip through a book.)
Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual
The Dungeon Master’s Guide, like I said, is a very basic book to have in your arsenal. It will come with just about everything you need to run the game, but you may find that you run out of material to use from it the longer your campaign goes.
If you’ve been running a long campaign and your players are getting tired of running into the same monsters all over again, check out the Monster Manual. It has over 150 monsters for you to test, along with detailed artwork so you can better visualize them.
Like the Dungeon Master’s Guide, it’s a pretty fundamental book to have. If your budget allows for it, consider grabbing this one, as well.
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I know it’s called Player’s Handbook, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it on hand as a DM. The Player’s Handbook is the final book in the core trio that I would call essential.
This one in particular does an excellent job disseminating the system for new players. Furthermore, it will guide you and your players through the character creation process, making it an excellent resource for your group.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters
Are the monsters your favorite part of the game? Then I strongly recommend grabbing Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
It’s more than a simple guide that expands on monster lore, though. On top of getting to learn more about all the creatures that fill the Forgotten Realms, you’ll have access to a new set of playable races for your players to dabble in. Personally, I love the divinely inspired Aasimar – and not just because I played one briefly in a Pathfinder campaign.
As with other Dungeons and Dragons monster-centric guides, this one is also lovingly illustrated. It’s as fun to look at as it is to use for your campaign.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
You’ll have no shortage of books to choose from if you want something that expands the in-game universe for you. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is another great one to pick up if you need more Dungeons & Dragons in your Dungeons & Dragons.
You’ll get a bunch of new sub-classes for your players to branch into, diversifying playstyles. On top of that, you’ll have more spells to play with and even tools to help players come up with a backstory based on qualities chosen at random.
In short, it’s not absolutely necessary to play the game, but it’s nice to have if you’ve been playing for awhile and you’re feeling a bit uninspired.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is an excellent addition to the DnD universe. I love that they keep adding more and more to it, making it so much more expansive than when I first played about a decade ago.
Within the pages of the book, you’ll find tons of material to grow the character-building experience. There are more sub-classes to experiment with, more spells, and even a new mechanic called patrons. (In a nutshell, patrons are connections you have that can benefit you in a myriad of ways – or even be detrimental.)
Of course, there are plenty of useful nuggets for old and new DMs alike here, too. You can find optional rules to implement in your campaign and even puzzles to throw at your players.
Bonus: Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica
I’m taking a bit of creative liberty by including this one on the list, but I couldn’t resist. If you look at the categories of our blog posts – or even the most recent posts on the home page – you’ll see what one of the things we discuss the most is Magic: the Gathering.
DnD and MTG are actually both IPs owned by Wizards of the Coast, so it’s not terribly surprising that they’ve had a few crossovers between them. The Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is an example that provides you and your players with rules for journeying into MTG’s multiverse while you play DnD.
The book includes a handful of new races to play, as well as one pre-made story for you to run if you’re a new DM. Otherwise, I wouldn’t call this one strictly necessary – just one that I would strongly recommend if you’re a fan of both MTG and DnD.
FAQs About Dungeons and Dragons Sourcebooks
What is a DnD sourcebook?
If you spend any amount of time reading about DnD books online, you’ll probably come across the word “sourcebook” quite a bit. Don’t be confused if you see it.
A sourcebook is essentially just the books on this list and other books like it. In other words, it’s a way to refer to a rulebook.
I personally don’t often use the word sourcebook, though. To-may-to, to-mah-to, I guess.
What does a beginner DM need?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, starting to run your own Dungeons and Dragons campaign can put a lot of pressure on you if you’re a new DM. There are tons of products out there marketed towards people like you, and it’s hard not to be tempted to purchase all of them.
Let’s look at the bare minimum you’ll need to start running your own campaign. Here’s what I would recommend:
- The Dungeon Master’s Guide
- The Player’s Handbook (preferably physical copies of both books that you can pass around the table – if not, have digital copies that you can link to your players)
- Character Sheets (enough for each player – you may also want to have some of your own for NPCs)
- Writing utensils
- An assortment of dice (but you can also use apps or random sites online to roll if you don’t have them)
Again, that’s the bare minimum. If you want to get a little fancier with it, you may want to consider adding the following types of items to your DM repertoire:
- Dungeon maps
- Various miniatures that are relevant to the particular campaign/encounter
- Supplemental books (IE, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything)
- A DM’s screen
Please note: all the things I just mentioned are if you’re playing games in person. It’s become even more popular to play games virtually, sourcing players from all over the world. In that case, you can find many programs and applications that can provide you all of the aforementioned items.
One good example is Roll20. You can buy digital copies of the books on the site to keep in your campaign, as well as use maps and visuals to help your players imagine each scenario. You can even add music to a built-in jukebox for some extra atmosphere building.
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How do you become a good DnD DM?
Becoming a good DM in Dungeons and Dragons ultimately takes practice. You’re going to feel awkward and self-conscious in the beginning, even if you’re playing with people you’ve known for years. So, the first thing you should remember is this: don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t feel as if you need to have everything memorized and perfect from the get-go.
Beyond that, work on building up your familiarity with the system so you don’t often find yourself having to stop and dig through a sourcebook for answers. Focus on weaving an immersive atmosphere that your players can lose themselves in by using well-described scenes, maps, minis, and even music. Be responsive to your players and don’t hesitate to ask them for feedback.
Above all, don’t forget to have fun. Running a campaign can indeed be a lot of work, but it’s not something you should ever dread doing.
It really doesn’t take much to run an immersive, fun campaign in Dungeons and Dragons. This roleplaying game has been around for almost 50 years, so there are tons of resources out there to help if you’re new to the world of tabletop RPGs (or just DnD specifically). The books on this list will help you get a good start, but if you’re looking for more info, we can help you. Check out my post on tips for how to start a roleplay conversation so you can make your NPCs really come to life.