Monster Manual vs. Dungeon Master’s Guide: What’s the Diff?

The Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide are two essential pieces of playing DnD. While the Player’s Handbook covers most of the rules and is all a player will need, anyone interested in running the game should invest in these two books. One common question those new to the hobby will ask is what the differences are between the two sourcebooks.

So, what is the difference between the monster manual and the dungeon master’s guide? The Monster Manual is a bestiary of the different enemies a Dungeon Master can throw at their players. The Dungeon Master’s Guide has lots of tips and tricks for running the game well, in addition to some niche rules. 

While it is technically possible to play DnD 5e without either of them, they serve as the perfect next steps for someone new to the hobby who wants to expand their information.

*Please note that the links in this post are affiliate links and Halfling Hobbies does receive a commission on the sales of these items. Thanks for supporting us with your purchases!*

Benefits of the DM’s Guide

The Dungeon Master’s Guide, or the DM’s guide, is perfect for new Dungeon Masters that want help on any facet of running the game. There is advice on the three pillars of play, crafting encounters, creating stories for campaigns, magical items, and a whole host of other useful information. 

The main benefit of the DM’s guide is helpful advice and extra rules for running the game. A normal player will get very little help from the book beyond a select few sections, whereas a dungeon master can benefit from the whole manuscript. 

The main three sections that almost every dungeon master will find helpful are:

  1. Treasure
  2. Running the Game
  3. Creating Nonplayer Characters

Each of these is vital for keeping players engaged and forming a memorable and fun Dungeons & Dragons session. 


The section in the DM’s guide about treasure is an enormous list of recommended rewards for quests and activities. Here, there are charts for giving out random treasure at all levels of play, an enormous list of magical items that are sure to delight your players, and even tips for creating your own treasure and powerful items for your players. 

Treasure is one of the most direct ways to reward players for a job well done. While most players will appreciate thanks, gold and items to help with the next problem trumps all. Depending on how your players enjoy the game, they may be treasure hungry or not at all.

However, you have to be careful when giving out gold as a reward, as it can quickly get out of control. To make sure your party’s bank roll stays in check, make sure to read my post on How Much is Too Much? Where I give lots of helpful tips on how to manage how much gold you give your party.

If your players are not traditionally interested in gold and gems, fear not. This section still holds a host of magical items that every player is sure to enjoy. Here, items that provide a variety of boons to players and other creatures in the campaign can be found across all sorts of levels. 

Magical items include basics such as potions of healing, all the way up to incredible artifacts like the hand of Vecna, one of the most powerful entities in the entire DnD multiverse. 

While deciding on what magical items to give your players, remember that the power scale of the game can get out of whack quickly with too many. What may seem like a basic item can change the flow of your game forever, so be careful!

Be sure to give my article, Giving Magic Items WITHOUT Breaking your Game a read, or check out my YouTube video below BEFORE you start handing out magic items to make sure you keep the balance of your game intact.

Running The Game

The running the game section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is essential reading for any dungeon master. While not diving into most specific rules, as those can be found in the player’s handbook, this is a large number of tips and questions to consider about running the game for your own group.

One of the most important pieces of this section is establishing table rules. These are rules outside of play that relate to how players interact with each other, rather than how their characters interact with the world. Such examples include:

  • Respecting other players
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Establishing rules around table talk

Deciding on rules as a group that relates to this can help ensure games are run smoothly and everyone has a great time. 

The other key component of this “running the game” section is information on setting difficulty class (DC) and saving throws for a Dungeon Master. These are more detailed descriptions of what each ability should be used for and how hard normal tasks should be. Following these generally will allow for consistency within the game so that players know what they are getting themselves into.

Creating Nonplayer Characters

Nonplayer characters are every person in the game that players will interact with who is not controlled by another player. This includes enemies, allies, kings, and beggars. If the Dungeon Master is controlling them, they are a nonplayer character, or NPC for short.

NPCs are a vital aspect of Dungeons and Dragons. Often, interactions with NPCs is how players will engage with the world and learn information. Making these interactions memorable and exciting is sure to keep players engaged and interested.

This section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides tips and tricks on creating interesting NPCs that have goals and ambitions. A key facet of this advice is creating details for NPCs that can help the dungeon master guide them in play. Some of these details include:

  • Occupation
  • Appearance
  • History
  • Abilities
  • Goal
  • Ideal
  • Flaw or secret

Really, any detail that you consider to be important in driving the NPC forward is useful to think through. This section helps with that in great ways!

This section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide also provides valuable advice on creating villains and enemies. This includes: establishing their objective and how they plan to achieve it, among other things. It is a perfect help in creating your big bad evil guy.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide is nearly essential for DMs looking to create their own world (often called a “Homebrew”). It is a great resource that I use often and highly recommend.

Where to Get a Dungeon Master’s Guide

If you don’t have one yet and are thinking about picking it up, make sure to check out your local game stores first! Local stores are the heart of communities and too many are going out of business because of online sales.

If you don’t have a local store, consider purchasing from a local store that sells online, like Noble Knights Games. We choose to partner with Noble Knights (a brick-and-mortar store located in Wisconsin) instead of online sellers like Amazon because we believe in helping our community as much as possible.

Your purchase at Noble Knights not only supports an awesome local store, but you also get $10 off the retail price AND it helps us here at Halfling Hobbies too! Triple win! You can pick up a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide at Noble Knights along with anything else you might need for your game!

Benefits of the Monster’s Manual

While the Dungeon Master’s guide can help dramatically in making your campaign’s villains and monsters have goals and be a part of the world, it does not provide a wide range of monsters for combat. That is where the Monster Manual comes in.

At its core, the Monster Manual is a compendium of monsters and their stat blocks that exist in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. These enemies are meant to be used in combat, and most of the abilities they have relate to that.

If you are looking for Monster Lore that you can use in your world, you will want to pick up a copy of Volo’s Guide to Monsters which includes the lore of many monsters and includes even MORE monsters you can use. Again, this is avaiable at Noble Knight…you get the idea 🙂

The monsters in the Monster Manual range across all levels of play, so that fresh level one characters can be thrown a threat just as much as level 20 characters with incredible magical items.

Choosing The Perfect Monster

Choosing the perfect monster to throw at your group can be difficult, especially at higher levels of play. One of the greatest benefits of the monster manual is the ability to flip open to just about any page and find a fantasy creature that can inspire fear, love, or astonishment almost immediately.

The enormous number of monsters listed in the book makes it impossible to not find one that fits your needs. Even if you find a monster that is under or overpowered, it is a simple enough task to adjust them to provide the perfect threat level. 

Simply put, this book is essential for providing enemies to your players. Otherwise, the select few enemies provided in the basic rules will grow stale and your players will get into the same fights over and over.

Any Dungeon Master looking to craft their own adventures or encounters can find exactly what they need here.

If you don’t have a copy of The Monster Manual yet, it is another one I would highly recommend you pick up. It is so much fun to look at monsters and it makes create combat encounters and breeze! Buy it here for $10 off retail price!

Inspiration For Your World

If you know what sort of monster you are looking for, the table of contents is easy to parse so you can quickly get where you need to. Often, however, one of the best uses for the book is as an inspiration. One of the best ways to make your world feel alive and unique is by populating it with incredible monsters.

If ever you are stuck and unsure of what sort of monster would be cool in a scenario, flipping through the monster manual is a great way to gain inspiration. 

In addition, once you come across a monster that strikes your fancy, the book provides a stat block so you can immediately throw them in the game. For more popular or particularly powerful monsters such as vampires, they also provide lore and reasons for existing so that you can naturally tie them into the world. 

Both of these books are incredible resources for Dungeon Masters and I use them both extensively. They are well worth the investment as they add so many options to the game.

Trust me, you want both.

Until next time, my friends,

May your game have advantage!

-Halfling Hannah

Halfling Hannah

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