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Dungeon Master's Guide (D&D Core Rulebook) Hardcover – December 9, 2014
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As the game grew, and more and more options arose for building characters, the basics of play moved into the Player’s Handbook, and the DMG relinquished XP values to the Monster Manual and most of the combat rules to the PHB. In the process, it morphed into a nuts-and-bolts toolbox, starting off with rules on combat management, followed by practical sections covering environmental hazards, towns and villages, NPC generation, NPC character classes, and so on. In both 3E and 4E, it opened with a narrow focus and gradually got wider and wider in scope, with the culminative chapters advising the DM on how to run a campaign and build a world.
The new edition does exactly the opposite, and therein lies its genius.
If there’s one thing that D&D is always about, it’s the experience of stepping out of this world and into another. The fifth edition DMG establishes how important that notion is by putting the world- and cosmos-building chapters up front. Creating a fantastical environment for players to adventure in and journey through is no longer something you eventually get around to by the end of the book; it’s front-and-center as the DM’s first responsibility. You don’t arrive at the “It’s Your World” headline half or two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through the book: it’s on the opening page of Chapter One.
From world-crafting, the book moves into storytelling, with chapters on designing and running adventures, populating them with colorful personages, and linking them with character-oriented downtime. It’s important to note that the magic item catalog resides in this section, because in this version of D&D magic items are not just buffs for players to enhance their characters’ abilities with; they’re the payoff for stories, and they’re explicitly supposed to feel unique, with their own origins and stories attached.
To create that feeling, the new DMG does what no other ever has: it copiously and beautifully illustrates the magic item section with free-standing images of the items themselves. The drawings spread across a third of every page, luxurious close-shots with nary a character in sight, making it plain that these are not mere accessories, but truly objects of sorcery and enchantment. If you’re an old-school gamer and you have any kind of sentimentality to you, you owe it to yourself to go a bookstore and have a look. The illustrations are so glorious they have to be seen to be believed. I literally got choked up looking at the dozens of perfectly imagined rings, robes, rods and staves around the 200-page mark. It’s natural to expect a cool picture of a flametongue or some figurines of wondrous power, but the art directors for this book went the extra mile and found artists who could render wands and rings jaw-dropping.
Of course, even the most beautiful rulebook – which this one is – ultimately succeeds or fails on the basis of its gaming content. Here too, the new DMG is a remarkable success.
Tables and charts are a longtime staple of RPG books in general and DMGs in particular, and this case is no exception. What is unusual is how richly imaginative and story-driven many of the tables are. The table of magic item quirks doesn’t just customize the game effects of items; each entry provides a sense of background and reality, or a dash of personality to spur creative role-play. The 3.5 DMG had a table of 100 NPC traits. In 4.0, there were two tables for mannerisms and appearance. Here, the tables for generating NPC details stretch across six pages and provide specific game-applicable hooks for motives, methods, and personalities that simultaneously provide quick tools to generate unique antagonists and also a source of inspiration for jumping off in any number of story directions. Even the table describing costs for magic item creation is a story driver, because when you do the math (one day of work for every 25 g.p. in an item’s manufacturing cost), you find that legendary items take about 54 years for a 17th level mage to craft. Who has that kind of time? Obviously, only an elf, a particularly obsessive dwarf, or some spellcaster of a shorter-lived race who has learned the secret of near-immortality. A vorpal weapon is therefore not just a set of game mechanics that let you lop off heads on a natural 20 – it’s someone’s life work, or at the very least an elf archmage’s long-term hobby.
In short, every element of this book – the art, the rules tables, the text, the graphic design – has been carefully designed to make you, as a dungeon master, want to be your most creative. To imbue your campaign and its adventures with all the potential these pages promise. You may disagree with some of the specific choices – perhaps you’d rather enable adventuring characters to craft a ring of invisibility by taking a few months off from dungeon-crawling. But as always, the book actively encourages you to throw out whatever doesn’t suit your needs.
My group is in the final stages of a massive campaign from another game, but I’m bursting over with excitement to put this book to use at the first available chance.
And yes, for the first time in ... what, 20 years? ... the belt/gauntlets/hammer combo lets you kill giants instantly. If that means something to you, get this book.
Now, lets get down to business: To say there are a lot of table in the 5e DMG is an understatement. This book is packed full of tables. Every section has tables to help the DM use the mechanics quickly and easily. All the tables reminded me of the original 1e DMG, whihc was a good thing. Here is the breakdown:
Chapter 1: A World of Your Own
Whether you're a new DM who's never played before or you're a player who hasn't played in a very long time then this chapter provides a great introduction to world-building. If you're an experienced DM and you've played any previous edition of D&D in the last few years you can quickly peruse this section.
However, for the experienced DMs the only things that you may want to take a look at quickly is the section on Factions & Renown and Tiers of Play.
The Faction section lacks the details about special missions you can run your PC's through. The Renown section talks briefly about attitudes of members and special privaleges. There are new rules on losing renown and new rules for how to use renown for pious characters to measure their devotion. The four basic tiers of game play are covered, namely:
Levels 1-4: Local Heroes
Levels 5-10: Heroes of the Realm
Levels 11-16: Masters of the Realm
Levels 17-20: Masters of the World
There are also guidelines for beginning play at higher levels and a sidebar that establishes how much equipment, money and magic to give PCs starting above level 1 in low magic campaigns, standard campaigns, and high magic campaigns.
Chapter 2: Creating a Multiverse
Ah the multiverse! Its no longer a Joss Whedon concept, (and I surmise that Mr. Whedon himself got this term from playing D&D) If you are an experienced DM who has familiarity with the Manual of the Planes (any edition) then you can likely skip this chapter too. It's essentially condensed material that covers the many worlds, or Multiverse, of the D&D plannar worlds. It's a handy section to cover if your campaign spans the Multiverse, but for everyday adventures, especially the kind you generally see at low levels and introductory play, this is too much too soon. I am very thrilled to see that the Shadowfell, the Feywild and the plannar city of Sigil make a return to 5th edition in this section. I predict we will see a future supplement covering these.
Chapter 3: Creating Adventures
This chapter is the meat and bones of the DMG. The chapter begins with a comprehensive breakdown of what makes a good adventure and then talks about the difference between playing a published adventure and one you make up yourself. There are lots of tables that present numerous options detailing the different types of adventures, complications like plot-twists and side quests, how to create encounters with a strong focus on objectives and monsters, and how and when to use random encounters. This section rounds up with the in's and outs of creating exciting encounters for your party.
Chapter 4: Creating Nonplayer Characters
NPC's or Non Player Characters, are the world of D&D. These are played by the DM, and mastering how to play these can truly make a game shine. This chapter offers insights and tables for personalizing and really bringing these rather 2 dimensional characters to the 3rd dimension. The optional Loyalty Rules are covered in this section.
Villains, the quintessential antagonists of the D&D verse are given three huge tables which give the DM plenty of options to choose or roll when they need a quick villain that's not your standard bad guy. The crowning jewel in this section are the Villainous Class Options. Cleric can chose the Death Domain and the Paladin can choose Oathbreaker. My only disappointment with this section is that only one domain is covered. I truly hope that we will see future Domains covered, but for now this is the only one given to the DM. The Oathbreaker, or Anti-Paladin, in particular can actually atone and change back into a good aligned Paladin, but it's a difficult undertaking.
Chapter 5: Adventure Environments
This chapter is really handy for DM's who have never built environment encounters before because it talks about campaigns that take place outside ot the typical city, or in a dungeon, in the wilderness, or in an urban setting. It covers how to describe these settings, how to map them, filling them with challenges and monsters, and how to survive in the harshest of environments.
The section on Adventures in Unusual Environments, which essentially covers environments such as underwater or in the sky, are handy for the DM to have and were entertaining to read through. However, the real highlight of this chapter was the pages which covered traps. After a very brief overview of how to use traps, there are 11 great sample traps. I am certain that all DMs will find clever and creative ways to use these deadly traps in their campaigns soon enough.
Chapter 6: Between Adventures
What happens when your adventurers are not saving damsels or slaying dragons? Here the DMG gives a few additional options beyond those already described in the PHB. Here's a sample of Awesomesauce to wet your palate:
Building a Stronghold: Spend 60-1,200 downtime days and 5,000-500,000 gp and you've got yourself a brand new stronghold.
Carousing: When you want to party like it's 1999 then spend those downtime days on some serious partying.
Crafting Magic Items: Aside from the time and resources required to actually acquire the materials that the DM decides you need to make your magic item, you have to spend some downtime days.
Gaining Renown: Want to rise through the ranks of your faction? Spend some downtime days to make a name for yourself.
Perform Sacred Rites: Pray long enough and you'll get inspiration for it. How much is up to the DM.
Running a Business: Adventuring is hard work, so when the monsters are defeated come home, relax, and work at your day job.
Sell Magic Items: In a world with few magic items there are fewer still who can afford to buy them. It takes many downtime days to find a suitable buyer. Maybe you should just keep the item?
Sowing Rumors: Now the Bard and the Rogue can put those social skills to work by slandering your enemies and making the party sound more heroic than they really are. The bigger the town the longer it takes.
Training to Gain Levels: (This is one Im using at the 3rd tiers and higher) As a variant rule the DM may require you to train before you can advance to the next level. Don't worry it'll only take 10-40 days depending on your level.
Chapter 7: Treasure
This is the quintessential section of the DMG that covers the description of magic items. This is my favorite section of the DMG. The art is stunning--Ive never seen its like before in any previous DMG. Most items have full colour pictures which always makes an item seem special. Some of the illustrations pay homage to previous editions of D&D. Here we see the Manual of Bodily Health, the Talisman of the Sphere, which is shaped like the demon face carving some may recognize from the Tomb of Horrors, the Deck of Many Things shows the faces of nine cards. Also included after all the descriptions of magic items are details for sentient items and good old artifacts.
Also included are 11 tables for randomly determining gem and art objects. They're not as detailed as the ones in the classic 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide hardcover, but they'll certainly do the job. There are also good options presented on attuning items, identifying items, and cursed items. There is a table in this DMG that lists some possible consequences of mixing potions.
Rounding out this chapter, there are six pages that talk about other rewards beyond gold pieces and magic items. These include things like blessings, medals, land, favours, strongholds, and training. The last section in rewards is Epic Boons. They're only available to PCs who are level 20 and they are truly epic.
Chapter 8: Running the Game
Much is this is expanded material that is already covered in the free DMG Basic Rules PDF that Wizards of the Coast has made available on their website as a free download: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules
For new DMs this section gives you everything you need to know to run a good session. It covers a lot of details but each section is very short and to the point.
We are further given a few optional or more advanced rules in this chapter including ways to adjust monster damage severity, as well as guidelines for using maps (grids or hexes, which is almost the default style of D&D combat) and how to determine the tactical aspects that come with it such as flanking to gain advantage and facing rules. There are rules for handling chases, stats for siege equipment, and two pages on poison including the details for some of the deadlier varieties.
Chapter 9: Dungeon Master's Workshop
This chapter presents the reasons this is the best DMG of any previous editon of D&D. Many optional rules are presented here and I hope this section is what inspires new DMs to see the beauty of 5th edition.
Much of this chapter is not material that is expected to appear at every game table. In true sand-box style, If you like or dislike something you read in this chapter, talk to the players and DMs in your group and as a group collectively divide which ones you think will work and which ones wont.
Proficiency dice replace the flat modifier in your traied skills. Instead you get a proficiency dice to roll when using skills you're trained in. It eliminate auto-success and allows you to try some crazy and wacky stuff knowing that if you roll really well it just might work.
Hero points are basically the 3e action points. You get a set number of hero points and when you spend one you roll 1d6 and add it to the check. You can also just cash in the points to do cool things including automatically stabilizing if you're dying.
Honor and Sanity scores. If you want to play a game with a traditional Asian feel or you want to port in your Call of Cthulhu campaign to D&D, now you have mechanics that will help you do both.
Healing and resting options allow you to speed up healing by using healing surges like we did in 4e and making a short rest take only 5 minutes. Or you can slow down healing making short rests 8 hours and long rests 7 days.
Firearms and Explosives are introduced here. Want to play a D&D game where your adventurer's are magically transported to a wold of 6 Guns & Sorcery? You got the rules right here. What about visiting the famous D&D world of Boothill? It has you covered. Plot points borrow heavily from FATE system (and that is a good thing). If you want something to happen or you want to change the scene as its unfolding, use a plot point. One interesting variant is to use plot points to change DMs mid-adventure. Initiative variations include doing group initiative for team heroes vs. team monsters, applying speed factors to individuals based on weapon type, and my personal favourite, making initiative a passive Dexterity check for everyone all the time.
So you have the Monster Manual but you can't find the exact monster you need? No problem. Now you can create you own monster. There is a 20-step procedure for making monsters that literally breaks down each line of a the monster's stat block. As you add each ability, power, or magical spell the tables explain how the monster's power level and CR change. This is the most in-depth monster creation I've seen in any edition yet it's quite simple and easy to follow. Experienced DMs will love this. You can even give monsters class levels and spell casting abilities.
Best part? You can create your own Magic Items as a DM!
Finally there are guidelines for adjusting what's already in the PHB including new sub-races, adjusting the classes and making your own backgrounds. The Eladrin and Aasimar, covered in previous editions of D&D, are both presented as example sub-races.
Appendix A: Random Dungeons
Quick and dirty rules for creating your own dungeons. There are 12 pages filled with tables allowing the DM to randomly roll up a dungeon in just a few minutes, (however, the DM can just as easy pick and chose from these tables if a less random approach is desired). It covers everything fom doors, stairs, the dungeon's purpose, to the state of the dungeon when the PCs arrive, to traps, and all kinds of dungeon dressing.
Appendix B: Monster Lists
Contains supplemental material and tables for the Monster Manual which do not belong in the MM (for DM's eyes only). Monsters listed by 11 different types of environments and monsters listed by challenge rating.
Appendix C: Maps
Quick and accessible sample maps for handy use on the fly. This appendix covers these in full, stunning color and detail.
Summary: This is the DMG to own. Even if you play Pathfinder or other Fantasy RPG this book is the quintessential Reference Manual for fantasy gaming and belongs on every essential reference library.