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Setting Up Your First D&D Game Part 1 – The Books

Alright, so you want to start a D&D campaign with friends, but you don’t know where to start. This is completely normal and honestly it’s become one of the weirdest barriers to entry to D&D. We are going to base this article on 2 assumptions.

1. You plan to play D&D in person (online will be covered in another article)

2. You planning to play the 5e(newest) version of the game.

The Dungeons and Dragons books are the #1 resource for any Dungeon Master (DM) and his players. They will guide you through everything from setting up your world to level progression to monster scaling. The purchase you want to make first is the D&D Starter Set

I. Your First Adventure Book – you absolutely do not want to start off your DM career trying to create your own world.

II. A rule book for playing characters 1-5 – This is important because while D&D is a very open RPG, the rules keep things within a somewhat reasonable realm.

III. 6 Dice – A full dice set. It’s easier when everyone has their own set of dice and I recommend you get them sooner rather than later, but this will get you started.

IV: 5 Pre-build characters – Arguably the best part of playing D&D is creating your own character with it’s specific and unique backstory. However, the first time you play it is easier to use one of these until you get the hang of how everything works.

The starter set will get the ball rolling. It is designed to be used with 4-6 players, so I would recommend staying in that range for the time being. The included first adventure also means no need for self designed worlds/monsters/etc. during your first play through.

Now that you have the starter set, and your initial characters in order you can start looking at optional items.

The first of these is the 5th edition DM Screen

I recommend you pick up the DM screen for 2 reasons. The first is that hiding your notes/dice rolls from players adds to the role playing aspect of the game. The second is that the inside is populated with wonderful tools such as lists of magical items, optional game rules, and more. These tools come in handy when something unexpected happens in the game, or you decide to throw a bone to a player with an item drop. For the $15 that it costs it adds that much in value in just a few adventures.

Aside from the DM screen and the Starter Set Wizard of the Coast (D&D’s founders) offer a plethora of other books to augment your experience. Note: These books are best purchased after your initial adventure, when you plan to take a deeper dive into the D&D universe. They allow for things like character and world creation, monster design, level scaling, bosses, additional rules and guidelines, and more. The 3 additional books are as follows, in order of importance.

1. The Players Handbook


The players handbook is kind of like bumpers for character design. It will outline the different classes/races, it will also help you to understand character’s specific strengths and weaknesses. It provides nitty gritty information on things like traits and sub-classes, and delves into skill allotment. I would say this book stands as the hands down most important core text outside the starter set. The book should be kept at the table at all times when playing as a reference for the DM and players alike. In terms of building your own characters the PHB is essential for getting the most out of your designs.

2. Monster Manual

This is your bible when it comes to putting together encounters in your first few adventures outside of the pre-scripted modules. If you are not planning to create your own worlds and populate them, this can be pushed to #3. If you are planning to try your hand at world creation though this book is a dictionary of potential monsters. The beautiful part of this book is that it also provides lore for monsters as well. The added lore makes role playing the monsters and creating a rich story line much easier. If you are very creative and understand balance quite well you may be able to get away without this one, but I don’t recommend it.

3. Dungeon Masters Manual

The Dungeon Master’s Manual is the book you will want on your shelf when you want to nail down a new world. This book is arguably of the same importance as the MM in this regard. The book will give you access to the following:

I. Optional game rules and guidelines. – These are perfect for adding an interesting twist, or personalizing your world. They allow you to guide players into certain decisions and challenge them to figure out the secrets to the world they are in.

II. A list of magical items – These are great for giving drops based on percentage dice rolls. Maybe you want to give your players a chance to find something very valuable with a little RNG. This book will give you the ability to do those kinds of things.

III. Tips and Tricks directly from WOTC on how to build dungeons and engineer the right experience. The designers that created D&D are a great resource to learn from, and they pass along a lot of sage knowledge in this book.

Optional Books/Resources

While the above are going to be the core of every D&D adventure for the most part, there are still other books and resources that might be valuable to you.

Dungeon Masters Guild
A collection of fan inspired worlds, monsters, adventures, and more. This site is run directly by WOTC, and items range in price from free to quite expensive. This is a great resource if you get stuck trying to flesh out a certain part of your world, or just want a unique encounter. The community for this site is very strong and growing, and you can expect new content on a consistent basis.

Pre-Designed Campaigns

If you are like many DMs and simply don’t have the time to sit down and create an entire world from the ground up then these modules are your best bet. Each one comes with everything you will need to get your players immersed into a brand new adventure. They range in time and difficulty so be sure to read a little into them before purchasing.

Tales From the Yawning Portal
Storm Kings Thunder
Curse of Strahd
Out of the Abyss
Princes of the Apocalypse
The Rise of Tiamat
Hoard of the Dragon Queen
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide

There are more, and we will be doing an in depth review of all of these adventures in the coming weeks. With this many adventures at your fingertips, plus all the fan created ones at Dungeon Masters Guild, you shouldn’t be running out of them anytime soon.

This info should get you off to a quick start, and provide you with all the information you need for a great introduction to D&D. In the next article we will be covering dice, their roll (pun intended) in D&D, different types, and what you want to have on hand during your adventure.

Go To Part 2

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