Five Favorite Things About the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide

For some reason every time I start delving into a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons I usually end up buying the Dungeon Master’s Guide last, even though I’ve run more games than I’ve ever actually played in. The only reason I’ve ever been able to come up with to explain this odd phenomenon is that I prefer figuring out how to handle things my own way with my players, rather than relying on a book. However I do enjoy using the guides as a resource that I can fall back on when there’s something I have little to no idea how to approach. In preparation for our first real sojourn into 5th Edition I picked up a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide today, and I have to say there’s a ton of great information presented here. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite with you all, in case anyone was curious about what they’d find inside this tome of secrets.

1) Bag of Beans

Inside the Dungeon Master’s Guide you’ll find an entire chapter devoted to the fantastic treasures that the adventurer’s in your party might encounter during a campaign. One of my favorites was without a doubt the Bag of Beans, and oddity that immediately put me in mind of Jack and the Beanstalk. As it turns out this is a far more interesting bag than whatever burlap sack Jack kept his beans in. The bag contains 3d4 dry beans and if you dump the bag’s contents out on the ground they explode blasting everything within a ten feet of them. Far more interesting than that however, is what can occur if your players choose to plant one of the beans instead. Based on a d100 roll there are quite a few possible outcomes, some of them good, some bad, and others just plain strange. The bean might sprout into anything from an enchanted statue or a geyser of liquid to an enormous beanstalk towering as high as the GM wishes. This is one of those rare items that I love because it is rooted in a story we all grew up with, and it makes for a fun introduction to Dungeons and Dragons all on its own.

Let’s say your party encounters a group of drovers arguing over the bag after trading some of their livestock to a passing traveler for it. Perhaps the others are upset and think their companion who made the deal a fool? Maybe they’re arguing about what to do with the beans. Perhaps they planted one of the beans and an oddity has already erupted from the soil by the time the adventurers arrive on the scene. However events play out it’s an interesting adventure hook and one that I think any party might enjoy before delving into anything like saving the world from Tiamat.

2) Chapter Two: Creating a Multiverse

Many players know that there’s more than one plane of existence in most Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings. However not everyone knows what all of the planes are or how they’re actually related to one another. This chapter explains not only those aspects of the various planes, but how a dungeon master can go about creating a multiverse that is entirely unique to their campaign. It explains that at minimum most D&D campaigns require the following: a plane of origin for fiends, a plane of origin for celestials, a plane of origin for elementals, a place for deities, the place where mortal spirits go after death, a way for getting from one plane to another, a way for spells and monsters that use the Astral Plane and Ethereal Plane to function. Sounds simple enough and it even states that some of those element can pull double duty. The chapter explains how all of the planes interact, how to create your own planes, and how to use them in a campaign. It’s a fantastic chapter and it has a wealth of information that’d been divided up among various source books in past editions of Dungeons and Dragons. It was nice of Wizards of the Coast to collect everything and put it in one place this time around.

3) Tracking Monster’s Hit Points

There’s a small excerpt that explains something it took me a while to figure out how to do properly in my own campaigns, I wish that I’d read this back then because it would have made things much simpler. Basically it explains some of the ways to keep track of how damaged monsters and NPCs are during encounters. One of the easiest ways is of course to use unique miniatures, or to mark identical miniatures in some way to help differentiate between them. The really interesting thing though was how to answer the player question about how injured a monster or NPC is. The manual reminds dungeon masters to never feel pressured about revealing exactly how many hit points a creature has left, but it is safe to assume that if its been reduced to less than half of its hit points it would have visible injuries.

That was one thing I struggled with when I started running campaigns. A friend let me in on the idea of saying that not every successful attack constitutes a tangible wound to the opposition. At the time I was running a Star Wars Saga Edition campaign and it made much more sense to handle things that way when dealing with blasters and lightsabers. The example my friend use was the duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi that took place at the end of Revenge of the Sith. As the two of them were battling one another amid the lava flows how many successful hits would have been scored had they been players in a campaign? Enormous creatures like dragons, giants, and chimeras can certainly take a few arrows or sword wounds without much complaints, but people are far more fragile.

4) The passage on random settlements in chapter 5 is something that I believe any new dungeon master can put to excellent use. My friend Sebastian is embarking on his first foray into dming and one of the things he’s struggling with is world building, as such coming up with names and distinct features for the places in his world is proving difficult. This passage reduces the process to something as simple as rolling a couple of d20s and consulting a few tables. You can roll to determine racial relations, the ruler’s status, notable traits, what it’s known for, and a current calamity. Sounds pretty cut and dry doesn’t it? Well the result can be very compelling. For example you might end up with a settlement where the various races inhabiting it are managing to dwell in harmony, despite the fact that their ruler is on his deathbed and various individuals are competing for power. As this settlement is the center of the wool trade in the region and known for the powerful guilds that exist there this situation has resulted in an economic depression as guild leaders vie for power. That’s just one example of something that could be created using this section, and I think it is an invaluable tool for new dms.

5) Flavors of Fantasy

In the very first chapter the book details a variety of ways to approach a campaign and gives examples of each. Heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, mythic fantasy, dark fantasy, intrigue, mystery, swashbuckling, war, and wuxia are all examined. This plays into the question of what kind of campaign do you want to run? It also allows you to better build your campaign to meet with the interests of your players. I love when ideas that can be adapted to suit a wide variety of ideas are presented so well and concisely so that they’re not overwhelming for people are just getting started. Anyone regardless of age or their level of experience can find something of worth here.

Before wrapping up I’d like to add that the artwork for this book is phenomenal, and if you’re looking for something to help inspire you try flipping through it and just looking at the pictures. This is probably my favorite Dungeon Master Guide to date, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest.