What books do I need? A guide to 5e for new players

Staring at that shelf is intimidating.

When you’re interested in any RPG, you go to your friendly local game shop and see what they have. Inevitably, you’re looking at a host of hardcovers, adventures, guides, pamphlets, DM screens and tons more.

Sometimes there’s conveniently a “core” book, but often there’s just a bunch of stuff and you don’t know where to start.

Dungeons & Dragons’ 5th edition is the same.

It’s definitely easy to get into, but now that we’re more than two years out from the initial release, that shelf at your FLGS is quite intimidating.

So you’re just getting into 5e? We can help with that.

Update: We’ve updated this post with new books released by Wizards of the Coast and some popular (and excellent) options from third-party publishers. Read the updated version here.

Start here…

Basic Rules. Not sure you want to spend $50 just to try the game? D&D offers the basic rules (the game’s basic classes, races, equipment and combat/role-playing rules) for free online. Even if you’re playing in a friend’s game, you can create a character using just the free rules. You don’t need anything else. Get them here.

The Starter Set. If the game has you interested and you just wanna try it out with some friends without going whole hog, get this box. It has a complete adventure that will take a few sessions to finish, complete character sheets for every player and a book detailing rules for both players and the Dungeon Master. It also has dice. Even if you’ve played D&D before, this will give you a good taste of how the new edition works. Get it.

Player’s Handbook. Decided to jump into the game? Then you need this. This is the game’s core rulebook, even if it says “player” on it. Even DM’s need this because the book lays out the game’s core mechanics. It features the game’s races, classes, equipment, the entire basic spell list, gods, creatures and the game’s rules for adventuring and combat. Get it.

Then maybe check out…

Player’s Companion. If you’re not satisfied with the race options in the Player’s Handbook, go get this. (It’s also free.) It has four extra races and a bunch more spells with an elemental flavor. Get it here.

Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. This book is the game’s first real “player option” sourcebook. Most of the book lays out information about the Sword Coast, the area of the Forgotten Realms where most of the current D&D products take place. This is by no means a necessary book, but it does give extra backgrounds, a few spells and a few extra class options. Get it.

And if you really want some extra options…

Volo’s Guide to Monsters. This is primarily book for Dungeon Masters. But it does have some player content, too, including options to play as monster classes such as goblins. This will give you some crazy options, but check with your DM first to be sure she’s cool with an orc joining the party. Get it.

Pick up some miniatures. At this point, you’ll be aware of whether your gaming group plays with maps and miniatures or not. (5e can be played either way.) If you want a mini for your own character, there are tons of options. First, check out the starter set, which features some of the base character class/race options. Then maybe head somewhere like Miniature Market or CoolMiniOrNot to see if they have something specific for you.

But if you’re going to be the Dungeon Master…

Dungeon Master’s Guide. This is the one you need if you’re a DM. While the Player’s Handbook is really the core book, this is the book DMs need if they’re going to run a game. It really drills into the mechanics and little stuff of the game. It describes what players can do between adventures, lays out a host of treasure options and lets you create your own adventures. But even if you’re running published adventures, I’d still recommend this book. Get it.

Monster Manual. To run almost any adventure, even the official published ones, you’re going to need the monster stats from this book. It’s non-negotiable. It will also get you tons of ideas. Get it.

And when it’s time for an adventure…

There are currently six official hardcover adventure books with a seventh on the way. You’re mileage may vary on everything, but this is what I recommend…

Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The first official 5e adventure is the kind of quintessential D&D adventure. A dragon cult is trying to bring the five-headed dragon goddess Tiamat to the world. This is a great intro adventure that starts at Level 1. Get it.

Curse of Strahd. You like horror? This is the adventure you want. The vampire Strahd has kept his kingdom, Barovia, in a perpetual state of terror. This adventure is a blast and super creepy. Get it.

Storm King’s Thunder. Looking for a more dungeon-crashing, ass-kicking adventure? The giants are messing with the world and they need to be stopped. This is also a fun one. (Let’s be honest, they’re all fun.) Get it.

Tales From the Yawning Portal. Not sure what you want to do? Old-time D&D player that wants the classics? Pick up this book when it comes out in April. It collects Against the Giants, Dead in Thay, Forge of Fury, Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, Sunless Citadel, Tomb of Horrors and White Plume Mountain updated to 5th edition. This gives a lot of options. Pre-order it.

And some more options for DMs…

Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Remember this one? We talked about it from a player’s perspective, but it’s a great book for DMs. It provides a bunch of new monster stats to supplement the Monster Manual. It also gets in-depth about specific monster types, so you can once again make your own dungeons and adventures. This thing is deep. Get it.

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