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D&D Sourcebooks: Hard Copies vs Virtual Copies
Hey all – Rich here.
I just wanted to start this with a little clarity on physical vs virtual books before we go into the reviews. It’s important to note here, that there are situations where you might be adding multiple copies of these books.
I know that because I have both the hard copy of many of these and a virtual copy on DnDBeyond…and, uh…Fantasy Grounds…and, well, I think that’s it.
The short version is this:
Hard Copy: Pretty self-explanatory. You go to your local book store or grab a copy from Amazon and you have a beautiful hardcover book in your hands ready to go. An example is the 5th Edition Players Handbook. If you’re someone like me who loves the hardcovers, and/or are only playing in-person games at a local game store or your house, this is pretty much what you need.
Virtual (Digital) Copy: Again as you might guess, this is distinct from the physical copy. You do NOT get any coupon, code, or discount for owning the physical copy. If you go to DnDBeyond’s Players Handbook and try to click on a section, you’ll be taken to a page to buy the digital access to the source material for $29.99.
Once you buy it, you “own” it digitally on DnDBeyond. Now if you need this or not depends on what you plan to do. I personally play online. I use FoundryVTT as my virtual tabletop. We create our characters on DnDBeyond and import them into our games.
The great thing about DnDBeyond is that if ONE person owns these books, he or she can share them with you for your sessions. Here you can see my sessions and note the “Content Enabled Sharing”. We all chipped in for the sourcebooks, one person bought them and shared them with everyone.
The same goes for FantastyGrounds and other VTTs. So just be aware of how it works before you decide what to buy. Now… on to the reviews!!
Core Rulebooks For DnD 5e: The Fundamental Set of Dnd Rules
The core rulebooks are the essentials. You’ll find these at just about any D&D table and they are worth the investment. You will likely find yourself coming back time and time again to check the rules included in these.
Every other book or adventure published by WotC assumes you have access to the content within.
Player’s Handbook (PHB)
The PHB is the book that should be at every single table. It contains the core rules you need to build and play a character within 5th edition D&D. This guide has all of the main playable races, classes, backgrounds, and spells, along with the main rules that any player or DM needs to know about D&D.
Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG)
The DMG covers two main topics; how to be a DM and how to create adventures. Everything from creating a multiverse to running an NPC is here.
The title says it all, it’s the book to have if this is your first time running a session or your hundredth campaign. Time and time again a DM will find solace in the multitude of tables, rule clarifications, and helpful hints put forward in this book.
Monster Manual (MM)
The monster manual is essentially a 352-page bestiary. Where the DMG introduces a few staple creatures the MM brings the universe to life. It starts off with a very helpful 10-page guide to how creatures work and then gets right to it.
More than just a list with pretty pictures, each monster has a full description with a very straightforward stat block. I would suggest getting some bookmarks (I use sticky notes) for this bad boy.
D&D Basic Rules
While not technically a ‘book’ this small compendium of knowledge is the free access version of information shared between the three rulebooks above. This is a great place to start if you want to learn about D&D without a price commitment.
The trade-off is that most information is abridged in some way. For example, only four races and classes are listed in this pdf.
Get it here.
Supplemental Rule Books
D&D is always evolving, and typically each year brings us a new release of content to sink our teeth into. The supplemental rule books provide us with new rules, monsters, classes, and more to keep the game fresh for new and veteran players alike.
Each of them has a specific theme of some type and is written by an in-world author of incredible renown.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters (VGtM)
Volothamp Geddarm, an adventuring author in the Forgotten Realms, brings you a guide to monsters that is made for the lore-divers out there. There are three sections, Monster Lore, Character Races, and Bestiary.
The first takes give us an insightful view of the lives and habits of the creatures introduced in the MM, think Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Then we get some ‘less standard’ character races such as the Aasimar or Tabaxi and we round it off with a bestiary that introduces the stat blocks for over 100 new characters.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGtE)
Xanathar the beholder and his pet goldfish Sylgar bring us this excellent expansion upon the rules of 5e D&D.
This book introduces us to a slew of new subclasses and other character options, along with some wonderful dungeon master tools. It feels a lot like core rules 2.0 and expands upon the multiverse in a lovely way.
With plenty of fun comments from the many-eyed crime lord himself, such as “Music is stupid. Wait. I changed my mind. Music is fun,” this is an excellent addition to any enthusiast’s shelf.
Mordenkainen’s Tomb of Foes (MToF)
Written by the famous wizard Mordenkainen, the namesake of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion, this book is part bestiary and part deep dive into lore, much like Volo’s guide.
This tome focuses on the histories of demons, dwarves, elves, and gith, providing a deep look into many wars fought throughout the multiverse. Included in these histories are several stat blocks for playable races such as the dwarf subclass of the duergar.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (TCoE)
Perhaps one of the most important things mentioned in this book is “It’s all optional.” Tasha, perhaps best known for Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, gives us an in-depth guide to options that exist when you sit down to play D&D.
Much like Xanathar before her, Tasha expands on the existing rules, subclasses, and choices that exist for players and DMs alike. While there is a heavy emphasis on magic, this book mainly serves to give guidelines on how best to customize your experience.
From an official discussion about a session zero to explaining how to change your character’s subclass while telling a story, the witch gives a lot of insight on the importance of making the game your own.
Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons (FToD)
The definitive guide to dragonkind in D&D 5e, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons presents players with a whole heap of guidance (both mechanical and narrative) for weaving dragons – not to mention a panoply of dragon-adjacent monsters, like the vile Dragonflesh Grafter and the deeply upsetting Dragonbone Golem – into a campaign.
In addition to an overwhelmingly scaly and monstrous bestiary, the multiversal draconic creation myth, tips for characterizing dragons as schemers, tyrants, benevolent patrons and more, rules for creating dragon lairs, magical items (including the fabled Dragonlance and, as far as I can tell, a magic gun?), new spells, and a suite of draconic gifts, Fizban’s Treasury also introduces a third subrace of noble dragons.
From crystal to amethyst, the noble family of Gem Dragons bursting with psionic powers is officially introduced into the official 5e ruleset, along with a heap of new flavors for their corresponding species of dragonborn. Lastly, this book takes the idea of Ancient Dragons and says “pfft. Weak”, introducing the final stage of draconic ascension: the Greatwyrm.
D&D owes its name to more than Gary Gygax’s (nominatively determined?) fondness for alliteration, and Fizban’s Treasury is packed with dozens of reminders why dragons, in all their weird, wonderful, apocalyptic forms, are arguably the best thing about this game.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
Grab you foam fingers and backpacks of holding, it’s time to go back to school with Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. This book brings us to the MTG setting with one purpose, to teach and inspire mages from across the multiverse.
If you’ve ever taken a sorting hat quiz online this just might be the setting for you to explore, as characters in this campaign are designed to be students enrolled in one of the five colleges of Strixhaven: Lorehold, Prismari, Quandrix, Silverquill, and Witherbloom. Enroll in extracurriculars, get a campus job, and fend off your healthy dose of sinister threats all while trying to pass your exams.
In addition to some amazingly thought-out downtime rules and some of the best backgrounds known to 5e, this sourcebook brings not one adventure, but an entire campaign meant to bring characters through their first three years on campus (levels 1-10). Of course, it also has all the characters, locations, and plot hooks you need to build your own campaign from the ground up.
What are you waiting for, enrollment starts now!
Sage Advice Compendium
While not technically a book, this pdf is an excellent supplement to the core rules as it serves to clarify any confusion DM’s and players might experience around the various contradictions within the rules.
This is my go-to for dealing with any court sessions brought on by rules lawyers and is a great starting point for discussions about rulings on the table.
This short guide also contains links to any errata (corrections) made after the publishing of any major WotC D&D books.
Check it out here.
Campaign Setting Books
Campaign setting books introduce us to the many worlds of D&D. These are chock full of lore and location-specific content. They can be used to set up entire campaigns or as reference books for specific published adventures.
Races, classes, monsters, and locations are among the many contents that can be expected within the pages of these books.
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
This campaign book focuses on a region within the Forgotten Realms known as the Sword Coast. It provides players and DMs with knowledge about the world of Toril in general, focusing in further on the specific region on the continent of Faerun.
It then goes on to introduce several common races that might be found on the Sword Coast along with various subclasses and backgrounds.
Eberron: Rising From the Last War
Eberron is very much the arcanepunk (steampunk, but make it magical) world of D&D.
This guide provides DMs and players with everything they need to start adventuring in the world, as far as to give an actual adventure for 1st level characters.
It’s notable for including the first release of a new class since the PHB, the artificer who combines magic and machines to create a wonderful new character.
For DMs, the setting of Sharn City of Towers on the continent of Khorvaire is explained in depth along with an explanation of how to make Eberron your own.
Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica
Fifth edition’s first crossover with Magic the Gathering, the GGtR is an excellent jump into the plane of Ravnica. This introduces new and exciting races, along with explaining the Ravnican significance of more common races like humans and goblins, and also introduces a few new subclasses themed wonderfully for the world.
While explaining the city-planet, and more specifically the Tenth District, the book introduces us to backgrounds that really matter: Guilds.
The guilds of Ravnica dictate the lives of most citizens of the world and characters are given the opportunity to rise through the ranks, commanding armies or even becoming a chieftain of a clan.
DMs get the full scoop on everything Ravnican they need to build their own adventures centered on scuffling between guilds, along with a 1st level adventure that serves as the building blocks for a larger campaign.
Mythic Odysseys of Theros
Theros is a world of mythological heroes, gods, and demigods native to the cards of MTG. This book explores new races with their roots in mythology, such as satyrs and minotaurs, along with two new subclasses, the college of eloquence bard and the oath of glory paladin.
Where this book shines is its deep dive of the gods of Theros and the important role they play in the world of heroes.
Following the precedent set by other campaign setting books, this includes instructions on how to create adventures specific to the world and comes stocked with a 1st-level intro adventure.
The quirky Acquisitions Incorporated series explores the idea of an adventuring party being a part of a business, and the guide allows you to build your own franchise within whichever world you wish to adventure in.
Rather than provide you with a specific world, this book gives you the tools to change the flavor of the world you want to play in.
The included adventure even brings characters all the way up to level 6, making this basically its own adventure book as well.
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
Possibly the most popular D&D series at the moment, Critical Role has amassed a huge following. If you’re getting into D&D you’ve probably at least heard the name Matthew Mercer in passing.
This guide introduces you to the four regions of Wildemount and builds the world for you to adventure in.
Many of the mechanics used in Critical Role are carried into this guide, such as subclasses, magical weapons, and backgrounds that connect to the world known as the heroic chronicle system.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
Ravenloft is a horror-themed campaign setting for D&D that has been around since 1983. Home to the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich, this area of the Shadowfell is home to terrifying creatures and is THE destination for parties looking for goosebumps around the table.
While this book is incredibly useful for building the world of Ravenloft and inhabiting it with nightmarish beings, it also serves as one of the best guides out there for creating a truly suspenseful horror story arc.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
Releases November 16th, 2021. Strixhaven University is a school of magic native to the MTG multiverse, which continues to combine with that of D&D in exciting new ways.
Let me just geek out for a moment…this book brings you a way to ‘pick your Hogwarts house’ inside of the multiverse of D&D!
Quandrix, Prismari, Lorehold, Silverquill, and Witherbloom are each exciting colleges with loads of personality and a style that your character will be able to feel at home within.
And of course, since this takes place in a University, the adventure guides within this book are all based in a campaign that takes you through a multiyear campaign of learning, hijinx, drama, and adventure leading all the way up to your graduation. I’m excited, okay. More will be revealed.
Exactly as they sound, these books contain fully fleshed-out adventures or campaigns for DMs to run.
Players can and should completely avoid this section unless they are in the business of ruining their own fun.
Now that they’re gone, these adventures contain EVERYTHING you need to run their adventures, with plenty of plot hooks to explore, all the way down to specific NPCs so you don’t have to panic and pull out Boblin the Goblin.
DM’s should consider investing in at least one adventure book, even if they are dead set on homebrewing everything. The thought and testing that goes into these adventures is far more than the work of one person can easily do, and serve as great lessons in world-building.
Curse of Strahd
This gothic horror adventure in the Shadowfell is centered around the vampire wizard Count Strahd Von Barovich. Adventurers will travel around Barovia, encountering various terrifying creatures and powerful allies, and discovering magical artifacts until they eventually find themselves at Castle Ravenloft, home to the legendary vampire.
Since this adventure is horror-themed, there’s a strong chance of the whole party dying at any point in the campaign. Players will need to be creative and cooperative to best this timeless adventure.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen
This is the first adventure in the Tyranny of Dragons campaign, which is made up of two separate adventures culminating in an epic battle against Tiamat. This adventure book focuses mostly on the Cult of the Dragon’s activity along the Sword Coast.
Adventurers will seek to thwart the attempts of the cult to amass a hoard of wealth for Tiamat’s return and to stop them wherever they can.
The Rise of Tiamat
Picking up where its predecessor left off, The Rise of Tiamat does the final build-up for Tiamat’s return over four stages played out in nine episodes. Adventures find themselves up against wizards, cultists, demons, dragons, and more in an attempt to stop such a force of evil from being set free upon the world.
Fortunately, the party will work alongside the Council of Waterdeep so that good may prevail.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
Icewind Dale is a horror-themed adventure that takes a different approach to horror than other adventures like Curse of Strahd.
Instead, this adventure focuses on themes of isolation and paranoia to set the tone. Icewind Dale is a realm of the Forgotten Realms that for the purpose of this story is cursed by a neverending winter.
While the adventure is very clearly laid out, there are plenty of pieces that can be moved, changed, or developed for your purposes as a DM.
Also, there is a huge bestiary in this book with plenty of new monsters to catch your players off guard.
Lost Mine of Phandelver
This adventure is excellent for D&D beginners and newcomers to 5th edition, which is probably why it’s in the Starter Set. The adventure book alone contains everything you need to run the adventure, as far as including a brief intro on the responsibilities of a DM.
The adventure is split into four parts culminating in a tour of the titular lost mine, where adventurers will have to best many creatures and humanoid factions to be able to return triumphant.
Out of the Abyss
Taking us all the way to 15th level, Out of the Abyss is a huge campaign. Adventurers will begin as slaves of the Drow and as they escape they will travel the Underdark, fighting terrible creatures from giant spiders to mind flayers.
Ultimately, the party will seek to close the portal to the Abyss, but what they may have to face will be no easy feat.
Princes of the Apocalypse
This adventure has a myriad of plot hooks for adventurers to set their teeth into. Four prophets of the Elder Elemental Eye are amassing armies and cults to bring forth the apocalypse.
Players must be clever and resourceful to overtake the cults and stop an apocalypse that threatens the multiverse itself.
Storm King’s Thunder
Giants! No, you’re not climbing up a beanstalk in this adventure, but you will be encountering plenty of giants. The Storm King, Hekaton, who was tasked with keeping the giants in check has gone missing and it’s up to your adventurers to save the realms from the chaos being unleashed.
Unlike most published adventures, this book gives your party plenty of options on how to proceed, with their decisions having a great range of effects on the outcome of the campaign.
Player’s will need to utilize giant’s rune magic to uncover evil and stop a war between giants and smaller folk from breaking out.
Tales from the Yawning Portal
This adventure book is a compilation of seven epic adventures rather than a single campaign. This is an excellent companion for DMs who wish to introduce exciting adventures into a larger campaign, or for those looking for exciting one-offs to run.
Each of the adventures showcases a different style of story and dungeon to encounter and is pulled from various adventures in D&D’s history. Even DMs who lean heavily towards homebrew content can gain a lot from the structures provided in each of the ‘tales’.
Tomb of Annihilation
A mysterious death curse spreads through the lands, slowly draining the life from them until they die, and magic that could normally save these souls is having no effect.
Your adventures take up the mystery and travel to the Chultan peninsula to search for the cause. These tropical lands are home to dinosaurs, pirates, lizardfolk, and many monsters for your players to engage with.
Starting in Port Nyanzaru, the adventurers will have many paths of intrigue to travel upon, eventually traveling deeper into the forests for answers, with or without the help of a guide.
While the main campaign is truly something to behold, there are plenty of side adventures for your players to enjoy as you travel the lands.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
This exciting treasure hunt through the bowels of Waterdeep, a city on the Sword Coast, will put adventures face to face with well-known characters such as Volothamp Geddarn and the crime lord Xanathar.
Somewhere in the city lies a hefty treasure, which has caught the eyes of many nefarious groups. Your players will have to tread carefully to stop these riches from falling in the wrong hands.
A little National Treasure or Ocean’s Twelve, depending on the choices your players make along the way. This book not only gives you an epic adventure, perfect for new players, it also gives you the city of Waterdeep to use for any further campaigns you wish to play.
Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage
This adventure picks up where Dragon Heist leaves off, or a bit later should your player choose to explore more of the city before venturing into the depths. And there are depths.
Almost all of this entire adventure takes place within an ancient dungeon 23 levels deep. At the bottom of the Yawning Portal lies this dungeon which stretches out under all of Waterdeep, akin to the elaborate catacombs of Paris.
What will your adventures find here? Plenty, pick up the book to find out more.
Dragon of Icespire Peak
This is the adventuring book included in the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit. You can purchase this on its own through DNDBeyond if you wish, but it is made for beginners to experience along with the other contents of the kit.
This adventure puts players on the Sword Coast and gives them plenty of adventure hooks to latch on to, choosing which quests to pursue as they go along.
There are three starting adventures, six follow-up adventures, and the dragon of Icespire Peak, Cryovain, to hunt down and defeat. The quests are presented in such a way to give players plenty of agency and an excellent introductory experience of D&D.
Beyond the Dragon of Icespire Peak
These adventures are a follow-up to the adventure in the Essentials Kit, spanning over three parts. Adventurers find themselves aiding citizens in the rebuilding of the town of Leilon.
Soon they learn of nearby evil forces, each beholden to a certain god, who seek to unleash chaos nearby. The story will involve your players conquering these threats, along with many smaller threats in an attempt to protect the town.
Storm Lord’s Wrath
Sleeping Dragon’s Wake
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
Has anyone ever told you to go to hell? I think they were politely suggesting that you pick up this adventure. Adventures will travel into Avernus, the first layer of Hell.
Find yourself at the front lines of the Blood War, a demonic feud that spans across many planes of existence. Your players will even get access to infernal war machines, customizable vehicles fueled by the souls of the damned.
Talk about a renewable energy source. Seriously though, this is an exciting cosmic adventure that gives players the chance to feel like their characters are a part of something so much larger.
While D&D can quickly become a huge investment of time and money, WotC does give you the opportunity to get started for substantially less cashola.
These sets contain adventures, rules, and dice so that you can buy these and almost immediately start playing, like it’s a board game you pulled from the shelf.
Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set
- Lost Mines of Phandelver
- Rulebook for playing characters levels 1-5
- 5 pregenerated characters (two human fighters, a hill dwarf cleric, a lightfoot halfling rogue, and a high elf wizard)
- A set of 6 dice
This is an excellent and simple kit, exactly as advertised. We describe the adventure above, but the characters and rulebook provide just about everything needed to run a successful game (successful = fun).
It’s a great one-time purchase, and will set you and your table on the path of deciding just how much you want to invest in “the world’s greatest roleplaying game.”
- Check It Out Here (Amazon)
Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit
- Dragon of Icespire Peak introductory adventure
- Six blank character sheets
- 11 dice
- 33″ × 8.5″ Dungeon Master’s screen
- 81 cards for magic items, sidekicks and more
- 21″ x 15″ double-sided poster map for use with the adventure,
- code for 50% the digital version of the Player’s Handbook and access to supplementary content, including additional adventure materials to continue the story into higher levels of play.
Running for about the same price as the starter kit, this is a way better bang for your buck as far as beginner’s kits go.
There are a few reasons I say this: the adventure is far more free form, creating characters is half the fun for new players, physically more content, and most of all, a follow-up adventure is already designed and purchasable.
It should boil down to which adventure your table is more excited for, but if you’re looking for the better purchase, this is it.
- Check It Out Here (Amazon)
Stranger Things Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set
- Stranger Things Adventure book
- 5 Stranger Things character sheets
- 6 dice
- Demogorgon figure
- Paintable Demogorgon figure
Netflix’s Stranger Things has no doubt had an impact on the resurgence of D&D in today’s youth (oh god, am I old?) and WotC brings an exciting option for players who find themselves wondering what Will and friends were doing before things got out of hand.
Explore the Upside-Down with the character’s premade adventurers and learn the secrets of the Thessalhydra in this themed adventure.
- Check It Out Here (Amazon)
Dungeons and Dragons vs. Rick and Morty
- The D&D (plus Rick and Morty) Rulebook
- “The Lost Dungeon of Rickedness” Adventure Guide
- Full set of dice (2d20s, 1d12, 2d10s, 1d8, 4d6, 1d4)
- D&D vs Rick and Morty DM screen
- 5 Pre-generated Character Sheets (featuring the D&D characters of the entire Sanchez/Smith family… plus the barbarian Meatface because every party needs a tank)
L-l-listen Morty, if you like the show, and you are even *BURP* halfway into D&D, you gotta play this adventure. Okay, Morty? J-just do it! It’s based on a comic we’re in Morty, listen we can even let Jerry play alright? A-as long as he doesn’t get too weird about it. Alright just shut up and let’s roll those dice, Morty.
Seriously though, great game, check it out if it even remotely interests you, Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!!
- Check It Out Here (Amazon)