Must Have Books to Run Your Game
To start running a game of Dungeons & Dragons, there are only 3 books you must have. Below I have linked to Noble Knight Games to give you the largest selection of D&D books at the lowest price.
Of course, I always recommend you check out your local game store first before buying online. But if you don’t have a game store in your town, Noble Knight is the next best option!
*Please note that I am a Noble Knight Games affiliate and earn commission from qualified purchases. Thank you for your support of Halfling Hobbies!*
The Dungeon Master’s Guide, also called a DM Guide, is the most important book you will need as a new DM. This book contains all the rules for running a game, such as basic monsters, details on how to create encounters and campaigns, treasure tables, traps, and so much more. If you want to run a game, this is a requirement.
This book is another requirement if you want to DM. While this is primarily for the players, it includes all the rules for how players interact with the world, which is crucial for you to know. The Player’s Handbook contains the rules for combat, classes, races, equipment, and everything else your players need (and will probably forget, which is why you need one too).
Though this book is highly recommended, it is not immediately necessary. Because the DM’s Guide has some monster listed in it, you can get away without the full Monster Manuel for a while. But just for a while. As soon as you can, this should be the next book you purchase. Just like it sounds, this is a book full of monsters your players could encounter.
It includes lore about the monsters, where they are found, stats, and, of course, all the information you need to create an encounter.
Want to get started in style? Get all three core rule books, a protective sleeve AND a Dungeon Master screen in one bundle!
Alternatively, if you cannot afford to buy all the books right now, Dungeons and Dragons created this great starter set. Costing the same as one of the books above, this set includes the bare bones of the DM’s Guide (Basic Rules), bare bones Players Guide, 5 already completed character sheets, and one set of 6 dice. This is an unbelievably cheap option to get started playing right away!
Optional Books for More Monster, Race and Class Options
There are also plenty of resources if you are looking for additional monsters, classes, races and supplemental rules. Here are some of the ones I use constantly and recommend highly!
Written in universe and chalked full of new and amazing creatures to wipe…I mean…challenge your party, Volo’s Guide is excellent resource if you are looking to freshen up your encounter list. This book lists monsters, stats and gives a brief history of where the monsters are located, but mostly focuses on stats.
Also, check out these fun and useful monster cards for Volo’s Guide!
Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes
Unlike Volo’s Guide, Mordenkainen’s Tome goes into great depths on monsters’ cultures, cities and history’s. Ever wonder how the giants became subdued? Want to know all about the intricacies of Drow culture? This tome, also written in universe, will answer all your questions to give true life and depth to your campaign.
Also check out these cool and useful monster cards for Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes!
Xanathar's Guide to Everything
Written in universe by a beholder named Xanathar, Waterdeep’s most infamous crime lord, this guide really does include everything.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the first major expansion for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, offering new rules and story options:
• Over twenty-five new subclasses for the character classes in the Player’s Handbook, including the Cavalier for the fighter, the Circle of Dreams for the druid, the Horizon Walker for the ranger, and many more
• Dozens of new spells, see the spell cards below to organize them!
– A collection of racial feats, and a system to give your character a randomized backstory
• A variety of tools that provide Dungeon Masters fresh ways to use traps, magic items, downtime activities, and more—all designed to enhance a D&D campaign and push it in new directions
If you are looking to run any adventures on the high seas, you will need this guide. Here’s what you will get in this guide:
- Immersive Adventuring: This campaign sourcebook provides players and Dungeon Masters material for creating vibrant fantasy stories along the Sword Coast.
- New Character Options: The book offers new subclass options, such as the Purple Dragon Knight and the Swashbuckler, for many of the classes presented in the Player’s Handbook, as well as new subraces and backgrounds specific to the Forgotten Realms.
- Adventure in the Forgotten Realms: Discover the current state of the Forgotten Realms and its deities after the Spellplague and the second Sundering. You’ll also get updated maps of this area of the Realms.
- Compatible with Rage of Demons storyline: Make characters for use with the Out of the Abyss adventure and fight back the influence of the demon lords in the Underdark below the Sword Coast.
Optional Books for Adventures
Ok! So you have your books, your dice, your friends…now what are you going to play??
For new DMs, a homebrew campaign (a completely original adventure you create) can be intimidating. Why not try a pre-written adventure?
Dungeons & Dragons creates amazing campaigns complete with NPCs, towns, plots, villians, descriptions and amazing endings. Perfect for your first game or your 15th!
Here are my favorite stories, give one a try!
If city adventures and daring heists are your jam, you will love Dragon Heist.
Set in the city of Waterdeep, a thriving monopolist on the coast (called the shining gem of the north), your group will encounter the Masked Lords, go toe to toe with mysterious villains and pull off the heist of the century. If you are ready for intrigue, mystery and suspense, check out Waterdeep Dragon Heist!
Another adventure set in Waterdeep (can you tell I like this setting?) Dungeon of the Mad Mage is a continuation of Dragon Heist, so you will want to do that one first. It takes your 5th level players all the way to level 20.
Laying quietly in the city of Waterdeep lies a tavern called the Yawning Portal, named for the gaping pit int he middle of the common area. At the bottom of this pit is a dungeon maze into which only the most daring (or mad) would evening think of venturing.
This is the home of Halaster Blackcloack, the mad mage under the mountian. He has been seeding this maze with monster, traps and mysterious, but why? You and your players can find out by exploring subterranean cities and conquering the dungeon, if they can make it that far..
This one isn’t as much as complete story or campaign as it is a collection of the most epic and amazing dungeons ever created in Dungeons & Dragons.
Within this book are seven of the most compelling dungeons from the 40+ year history of Dungeons & Dragons. Some are classics that have hosted an untold number of adventurers, while others are some of the most popular adventures ever printed. My favorite in this book is “The Sunless Citadel” which houses the infamous Gathais Tree. This tree grew from the stake that killed a powerful vampire and it still maintains the will of it’s master..
If you are just looking for some already written and mapped dungeons to add to your campaign, this is an amazing resource!
Want maps to go with each of these great dungeons? Check out Mike Schley and get his Complete Bundle Set for the Tales of the Yawning Portal!
This adventure takes players from level 1 to level 15 as they discover and try to stop the plots of the Elder Elemental Eye. A fantastic adventure full of discovery, this resource also includes a new playable race (Genasi) and new spell options!
Want all the maps for this amazing campaign? Check out Mike Schley and get his Complete Bundle for Princes of the Apocalypse!
Looking for a dark and creepy adventure? This is the one for you.
Set in the Underdark, a subterranean wonderland that is nothing but a vast and twisted labyrinth where fear reigns, your party will face horrific monsters that have never seen the light of day.
This horrible place is home to the dark elf Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Menzoberranzan, who has cast a foul spell meant to ignite a magical energy that suffuses the Underdark, instead it tears open portals to the demonic Abyss.
What steps from that portal surprises even Gromph, and from that moment on, the insanity that pervades the Underdark escalates and threatens to shake the Forgotten Realms to its foundations. Can your party stop the madness before it consumes everything, including them?
Giants. Lots of Giants. Which I LOVE!
Giants have emerged from their strongholds to threaten civilization. Hill giants are stealing all the grain and livestock they can while stone giants have been scouring settlements that have been around forever.
Fire giants are press-ganging the smallfolk into the desert, while frost giant longships have been pillaging along the Sword Coast.
Even the elusive cloud giants have been witnessed, their wondrous floating cities appearing above Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate.
Where is the storm giant King Hekaton, who is tasked with keeping order among the giants?
The humans, dwarves, elves, and other small folk of the Sword Coast will be crushed underfoot from the onslaught of these giant foes. The only chance at survival is for the small folk to work together to investigate this invasion and harness the power of rune magic, the giants’ weapon against their ancient enemy the dragons.
Can your party use the power of the giants against them are restore order? Find out in this adventure of giant proportions!
The first two adventures in the Tyranny of Dragons story, Hoard of the Dragon Queen follows an audacious bid for power by Cult of the Dragon, along with its dragon allies and the Red Wizards of Thay, who seek to bring Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells to Faerun.
To this end, they are sweeping from town to town, laying waste to all those who oppose them and gathering a hoard of riches for their dread queen. The threat of annihilation has become so dire that groups as disparate as the Harpers and Zhentarim are banding together in the fight against the cult. Never before has the need for heroes been so desperate.
This story lets your party feel needed, important and epic. The perfect campaing for those who just want to kill stuff! Like..a BUNCH of stuff!
The second part of the Tyranny of Dragons story, The Cult of the Dragon leads the charge in an unholy crusade to bring Tiamat back to the Realms, and the situation grows more perilous for good people with each passing moment.
The battle becomes increasingly political as opportunities to gather allies and gain advantage present themselves. From Waterdeep to the Sea of Moving Ice to Thay, it is a race against Evil. Succeed or succumb to the oppression of draconic tyranny. Win or lose, things will never be the same again.
If you are looking for a classic Vampire mystery, The Cure of Strahd is a master piece in genre. Count Strahd von Zarovich is an ancient force of evil who waits in his castle for his monstrous plans to unfold. Trapped on the demi-plane of Barovia, imprisoned, Strahd brings an unwitting group of adventures to himself to help these plan unfold.
Just what are these plans? Can your party stop him before it is too late? You an find out in this campaign taking players from level 1 to level 10.
Want all the maps for this awesome campaign? Check out Mike Schley and get his Complete Bundle Set for Curse of Strahd!
Much like Tales from the Yawning Portal, Ghost of the Saltmarsh provides mini adventures on the high seas for your currently campaign. Play the adventures all together for an epic high seas adventure campaign, or break them up and use them whenever your party goes sailing. This resource includes:
- A variety of seafaring adventures which can take your players from level 1 to level 12
- Descriptions and maps of the port town of Saltmarsh
- Rules for ships and sea travel, deck plans for various vessels, an appendix with rules for new and classic monsters, and much more.
Want the maps for this adventure? Check out Mike Schley and get his Complete Bundle for this adventure!
Books and Resources for Campaign Settings
This setting book takes an in-depth look at the history, people, and places of Tal’Dorei, and includes new backgrounds, magic items, and monsters for the Fifth Edition rules. Your campaign can now take place in the same world as Vox Machina (for you fans of Critical Role!) or for you non-critters, this is a beautiful, rich and extensive campaign setting I highly recommend giving a try! We are currently running a campaign in this world and it is incredible!
Mat Mercer’s world comes to life in this world setting guide. You can now run a campaign in the amazing world of Wildemount! This book explains the political structures, cities, religions and regions of Wildemount, the Critical Role campaign 2 setting!
This is the ‘official’ campaign setting for the Oriental Adventures rulebook although it does run on 3e mechanics.
Kara-Tur has everything you need: Two 96-page books describe the places, culture, politics, monsters, magic, people, religions, and more, plus advice on running a long-term Oriental Adventures campaign, bringing characters from other worlds into Kara-Tur, and dimensional travel from Kara-Tur to other worlds. And there are four full-color, two-sided maps.
This book is currently out of print, which means it is a collectors item and a bit pricey to buy a physical copy, but I have found an online PDF download for just 4.99! Click on the picture or heading above to check it out!
If you are looking for a more rules for an Easter adventure, check out Oriental Adventures below.
Proving old can still be good, this book introduces the infinite worlds of fantastic Asia to the Dungeons & Dragons game. In these pages, you’ll find:
- 5 “new” races, including hengeyokai, nezumi, and spirit folk.
- 5 “new” classes, including the samurai, the shugenja, and the wu jen.
- Over 25 “new” prestige classes, including the ninja, the tattooed monk, and the yakuza.
- 100 “new” spells.
- 75 “new” monsters.
And it is FREE. Yep. Absolutely free. Click on the picture or header above to see this free online PDF.