Let’s face it. Books for Dungeons & Dragons are expensive. The Dungeon Master’s Guide is no exception. You might wonder if you can run your games without a DM guide.
So, do you need a Dungeon Master’s Guide? Yes. Almost all DMs will need a Dungeon Master’s Guide. The DM Guide contains indispensable advice and rules for running an adventure or a campaign. But it also gives Dungeon Masters lots of tables needed to run a game. You need a Dungeon Master’s Guide to run your gaming sessions.
Of course, you don’t need to use your Dungeon Master guide all the time. How often you need your DM guide really depends on your game. Here are my personal tips for using your Dungeon Master’s Guide effectively.
Learning How to be a Dungeon Master
Before you plan a grand scale campaign where the universe is at stake, you must first understand the fundamentals. That’s where your greatest weapon comes into play: The Dungeon Master’s Guide.
The DMG provides tips, tricks, and tools to help you Dungeon Master a game. Whether it’s a serious on-going campaign or a goofy one-shot, the DMG is designed to be easily read by all DM’s – be it experience or learning. But there is so much to learn. Where to start?
What Parts of the DM Guide do You Need to Read First?
Start out with the introduction (p.4 – 6). It briefly explains everything about the Dungeon Master’s Guide; from what being a DM actually means to how to use the book itself.
While the DM Guide is an excellent learning tool and resource book. The sequence in which chapters are laid out can be a little confusing.
For instance, the first two chapters (p. 9 – 68) deal with Gods and the multiverse. But they also cover details like dialects. That’s not the first thing you need to know if you’re a beginning DM or just learning about 5th edition D&D. Instead – after reading the introduction – I would skip to (p.25 – 38) which covers creating a campaign, play style, tiers of play, and flavor of fantasy.
Next, I would skip to chapter three: Creating adventures, and just continue from there. You can always come back to parts you skipped later.
No matter your game style, most Dungeon Masters will also need to read through part three of the DMG (Chapter 8, p. 235). It discusses various rules of the game. And dealing with experience points (p. 260) is something you’ll want a firm handle on before your first session.
Need To Build A World? The DMG Has Got You Covered!
Now that you understand the basics of 5e edition Dungeon Mastering, let’s focus on building your world. Your Dungeon Master’s Guide can help with your 42’s – what’s the deeper meaning to your character’s lives, universe, and everything in between?
Especially useful for homebrew worlds, a third of the Dungeon Master’s Guide is dedicated to helping you build your game world. It provides great examples of how to make your world more immersive for you and your players. Now is the time to read those parts you skipped earlier.
Building things like societies and religions are skills all DMs need and the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides them and more! The DMG poses questions that you might forget or overlook when building a game world and highlights the idea of adding depth into your game, be it in the history of a decayed pantheon (From p. 10) or a city ran through Magocracy (From p. 15).
Not everything is covered in the DM guide. If you wish to include Puzzles into your game, read the following article.
Needing the DMG During Your Game
You will need the DM Guide to learn how to DM and to prepare your games. But what about using the book during gaming sessions?
Even though your DM screen will probably contain some useful basic rules, it’s always helpful to have your Dungeon Master’s Guide to hand during gaming sessions – you never know when your players may decide to swan dive off a giant and into a crocodile’s gullet! And they will be looking to you for a ruling.
Bearing three hundred and twenty pages of content, it would be hard for any Dungeon Master to not need the DMG at some point. While the DM Guide has super-useful tables and advice for in-game use, unfortunately, they are irregularly spread throughout the book.
Below is a table of my personal note-worthy page numbers and their ratings (I’ve rated them on how applicable they can be to the average campaign and will change depending on your personal game).
Bored of saying “Enemy X, wielding a spear”? A useful table of alternative weapons to add more flavor to your game! Especially effective if you have a monk in your party and want unique monasteries. Page number 41.
Maybe your campaign isn’t set quite so in the middle ages? Here are some various weapons brought on by technological advancements. Page number 267.
Summaries of the inner planes and their contents. Always handy to have on the fly. Page number 43.
Outer Plane List
Outer Planes. There’s a bunch of them. If you can’t remember or forget about the details of the great wheel cosmology, it’s easy to quickly flick through them during your session. Page number 58.
A must-have for most campaigns. Less useful if you are working with milestones. Still, most DMs will use this every gaming session. Page number 82.
This is a great tool for when your players want to approach a generic NPC instead of the intricately designed, plot important character you spent three days making. I love how easy this is. Page number 90.
It is something we DMs easily forget about and yet, there is always some type of weather. And it will affect things like mood, visibility, choice of clothing and so on. It’s good getting into the habit of describing the weather once or twice each gaming session. Page number 110.
Great for when your players want to go swimming with krakens! And they will, Gods help us they will. Page number 115.
Your players will get tired of traveling by foot, particularly at higher levels – they’ll find a ride soon enough! There is so much untapped potential in just finding the perfect ride. Page number 119.
Your players have got to move right? A great tool for remembering how fast. Page number 242.
It’s not every day you get to DM a siege, some good siege items to add more flavor and action to your world. Page number 255.
It’s A Trap!
Traps are fun. Well, not for the players. Helps build fun death traps when your players like to snoop in places that haven’t been fully designed yet! The rules are so simple you can build most traps on the fly which makes this a great in-game resource. Page number 121.
Got some mischievous magical shenanigans? here are some cool effects! Personally, I love to combine these with the traps. Page number 140.
Everyone likes some shinies! Helps you provide some rewards for your players, without needing much forethought. For most DMs this is the number one reason to buy the Dungeon Master Guide. And not without reason. There are so many great goodies here, besides all the shinies, that is. Page number 137.
Magic Items Descriptions
Great for making your players feel more powerful. Loads of pre-built items, so you don’t have to design them yourself. Page number 150.
Are gems and gold getting old? These pages provide some inspiration to keep rewards fresh. Page number 227.
Poisons & Diseases
Want to give characters a slow and painful death? Here are a few pages on how to do just that. Page number 257.
Want to add more drama to your fights? Maybe an unexpected Natural 20 has been rolled and someone needs a serious injury? Lingering damage could be just what you are looking for! Page number 272.
The First Half Of The Name Of The Game!
Maybe your players have found some ancient tombs that you haven’t yet fleshed out? Use these pages to quickly generate an interesting dungeon. Page number 293.
Monsters By Environment
Has your druid just asked what type of beasties they can find in the local swamp? Here’s a good list for you! Page number 302.
Monsters By CR
Did you forget your session notes and need to pretend you didn’t? Here’s your answer to not throw a random monster and kill them! Or do… It’s you’re game. Page number 306.
Needing A DMG But Don’t Have One?
There are many ways the Dungeon Master’s Guide can enhance your game. And even if you know most of the content by heart, I find that rereading parts reminds me of things I’ve let slip.
In conclusion: The content of the DM Guide is top-notch, really well written, useful, and easy to understand. The way chapters are laid out can make it a bit hard to find tables fast during your game. But the table in this article should take care of that. Just copy the parts you like onto the backside of our free bookmark, stick it in your DM Guide and you’re set!
By Daniel Ball and Paul Camp, (Cover image: WotC)