Book Review: Dungeon Master’s Guide (Version 5)

Dungeon Master’s Guide (Version 5), by Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins, and James Wyatt

During a recent visit to the home of some friends of mine from church [1] for a night of tabletop gaming, I volunteered to be the DM (Dungeon Master) for our next game in a bit more than a week, and as is my general fashion, I like to be prepared for such matters by reading up on them. The last time I had read up on any of these matters it was for Version 3.5, and so there are a few changes in the latest version that I had not been aware of. Suffice it to say that for the reader who is interested in playing tabletop role playing games, as I enjoy doing from time to time where there are sufficient people to do it with, this book is a thorough guide to those who wish to be skilled DMs over the long haul of an extended campaign, and much of the information included in this book is of use to people who are working with long scenarios. Given this, there is a great deal of information that is not required for those who are starting out, and additionally, this book is a summary and not an exhaustive guide of everything one can do when guiding and creating an adventuresome and compelling fantasy world.

In terms of the contents of this book, the organization is straightforward and detailed. The introduction of the book introduces the role of the DM, how to use this book as a resource and guide, and stresses the importance of knowing one’s players and how to best encourage them to roleplay successfully. The first part of the book contains the first two chapters, the first chapter of which discuss elements of worldbuilding such as religion, geography, settlements, languages, organizations and political factions, the role of magic, campaigns, play style, tiers of play, and different subgenres of fantasy that can describe the world, and the second chapter of which discusses how to build a multiverse including not only the material plane (the physical world and other physical planets) but also a variety of other planes that include travel between different planes and a description of the dangers and features of those planes and what might lead a group of higher-level heroes into such dangerous territory. The second part of the book contains chapters three through seven, which give a detailed look at gameplay. Chapter three involves the creation of adventures, including taking advantage of published adventures (something I plan on doing at the beginning of the campaign I DM) and structuring adventures as well as creating encounters and allowing for random encounters. Chapter four gives advice on how to design NPCs, ranging from NPC party members to contacts, hirelings, extras, and villains. Chapter five discusses adventure environments, mapping dungeons, wildernesses, and settlements where adventures take place, and which root adventures in a firm sense of place where player characters develop a sense of belonging and commitment. The sixth chapter looks at what happens between adventures, including linking adventures and dealing with recurring expenses and downtime activities that set up future activities. The seventh and longest chapter gives a detailed breakdown and explanation of treasure, mostly magic items, that can be found in adventures. The third section of the book examines larger matters of running the game including objects, combat, chases, diseases, siege equipment, mental health, experience points, and a chapter that looks at creating monsters, spells, magic items, and new character options for the particularly seasoned DM. The book then closes with four appendices on random dungeons, monster lists, maps, and inspiration, followed by an index.

It is clear that a book like this has a particular target audience in mind, and forms part of the core literature for those who enjoy and participate in story-based role playing games. As such it is a notable and successful reference guide that can be of use to those who are serving to run and organize such games, giving far more items and statistics than anyone needs to use, and also providing encouragement and resources for people to become proficient and then move beyond it, possibly. The main area of criticism that one can have is that the book is somewhat unbalanced in its contents, as the book is about three hundred pages, more than a hundred of which are devoted to one small part of one chapter. It is possible the book could have given more detail to areas of geography and worldbuilding had so much space been taken up by detailed explanation of magical items. It is pretty clear that this book focuses on the loot, which makes sense as that is likely what many players would like to focus on as well. Such an imbalance makes this book a bit harder to read, though.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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