D&D Buyer’s Guide

buyer's guide

This video was recorded in December of 2014. For my full updated guide, read on below the video!

This Buyer’s Guide was last updated 7/11/15

Back in December of 2015 I filmed a Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition buyer’s guide intended to help people who are new to D&D determine what they need to buy to get started. I thought it would be wise to have a text version of that buyer’s guide here as well because my opinions have changed on some of the products and more products are being released! I’ll do my best to keep this article updated as new products are released for 5th edition. Let’s dig in!

So, what do you need to buy to get started? The short answer is – NOTHING. But you probably came here seeking a little more information than that, so I’ll give you plenty. What we’ll do is we’ll take a brief look at what has been released so far for D&D 5E, and then I’ll give some more detailed information about what I’d recommend people actually buy, depending on where they are with D&D.

Part I – The Product Line so Far

1. Free PDFs

Wizards of the Coast has made the D&D Basic Rules a completely free PDF that can be downloaded from their website. This is a great way to try D&D without needing to spend a dime, and it should definitely be the first stop for anyone considering trying the game.

You’ll get the basic rules (obviously) as well as character creation information for Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and human races. For classes you’ll get Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard.

The Dungeon Master’s basic rules are also a great free download if you plan to try your hand at Dungeon Mastering. While these free PDFs are really great, if you have a group of people who are all fairly new to tabletop roleplaying games, I’d highly recommend the D&D Starter Set.

The free PDFs can be downloaded here.

2. The Starter Set

“Everything you need to start playing the world’s greatest role-playing game”, is written on the box of this set and that claim holds true. Here’s what comes in the box:

  • A rulebook for playing characters level 1-5
  • A 64-page pre-written adventure
  • Five pre-made characters with character sheets
  • One set of polyhedral dice

While the Basic Rules are good enough to get anyone going, the Starter Set is better for new players because of the inclusion of pre-made characters (character creation can be a bit daunting for new players) and especially the inclusion of the pre-written adventure module, entitled The Mine of Phandelver. Coming up with an adventure and story is not out of the realm of possibility for a new DM, but people completely new to tabletop RPGs will benefit a lot from this high quality pre-written module. When I was new to the hobby, pre-written adventures were the only way I was able to be confident enough to run a game.

3. The Player’s Handbook

The Player’s Handbook (PHB) is the first of the three core books and it is the complete rulebook for playing and DMing Dungeons & Dragons. It is the staple of the game system and most people who are in it for the long haul won’t want to be without this one.

The PHB has several more options for character race than are found in the Basic Rules, adding Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Tiefling, Gnome, and Dragonborn. For character classes it adds Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, and Warlock. There are more backgrounds for characters, twice as many spells, and a lot more information that DMs and players will find helpful.

4. The Monster Manual

The second core book, Monster Manual (MM) is a massive tome of frightening creatures DMs can use to populate their game worlds. While the DM’s basic rules and the PHB do have a decent selection of monster and animal stats, this book has the motherload. Coming in at 352 pages, the Monster Manual is  full of great art, vivid descriptions, monster ecology and more. I’d only recommend getting this if you are planning to DM, and if you are running the Starter Set you won’t need this yet as monster stats are included in the pre-written adventure.

5. The Dungeon Master’s Guide

The third and final core book to be released was the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG). This book contains general considerations and tips for dungeon masters (DMs) as well as loads of tools to help DMs build their game own game world, create adventures and greater campaigns, and customize the rules to fit their own style and preferences. The book also contains about 75 pages worth of magic items for your game with detailed descriptions. While the DMG is likely the most optional of the three core books, I’ve found it invaluable, and as a fairly new DM I’m glad I don’t have to run games without it.

6. Pre-Written Adventures

While I absolutely love building my own game world and adventures with the aid of the DMG, I also find it comforting to know that there are pre-written adventure books for D&D for those times when the DM wants a guide. These books contain everything you need to run an adventure: setting information, story line and quests, adventure hooks, maps, and more. The Tyranny of Dragons Adventures are contained in two books: The Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and The Rise of Tiamat. While I’ve heard they are decent, I’ve heard better things about the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure, which is a bigger book and is less linear in nature. In order to run these, you will probably also want the Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. It is also worth mentioning that many more of these will come. Out of the Abyss is the most recently announced adventure, slated for release in September of 2015.

Part II – Buying recommendations

For this section we will imagine a few possible scenarios.

The new player wanting to run a game – Let’s imagine you don’t know anyone who plays D&D and you want to get started with your friends or family. If this is the case, I highly recommend the Starter Set. Why? It’s cheap, and it has everything you need to get going in the game. Do you need it? No, you could just get the basic rules and the dungeon master’s rules PDFs for free, but then again, you would likely need a set of polyhedral dice. At that point you are already up to $5-10 (U.S.). In addition, the pre-written adventure will be very helpful for new DMs so that they can get a feel for how the game works before trying to write their own adventures. It’s quite well done.

The new player wanting to join an experienced group  – Let’s imagine you know people who play and you want to join in. If this is the case, you don’t really need to buy anything at first. Check out the basic rules free PDF, and read up if you feel like it. You might want to buy a set of dice (see links below). But chances are other players will have some for you, and a good DM will help you learn the rules as you play.  Now let’s say you’ve played a couple times and you are liking it enough to know you are in. At that point I’d recommend buying the Player’s Handbook, so you can have all the rules and all the options in a nice glossy hardcover book with some great art.  You don’t need it, but it’s a high quality book that I can’t imagine you’ll regret owning.

The more experienced player/DM – Now, let’s talk about scenarios in which you might want to buy some of this other stuff.  As I mentioned in the product description if you are going to be DMing (beyond the Starter Set, that is), you’re probably going to want the Monster Manual. The free DM rules PDF has a decent amount of monsters already, somewhere around 100 – but man I love my Monster Manual. In my video (above) I said I thought the DMG was a bigger priority for most, but I’ve changed my mind on that. I think it won’t be long before you’ll want more options for monsters than the free PDF gives you, so I think the Monster Manual makes the most logical sense for a second purchase, the PHB being the first priority. I just love sitting with my Monster Manual and reading more about the colorful and obscure creatures inhabiting the worlds of D&D. The book is fascinating and a lot of fun to read or flip through. It’s a great coffee table book, if you don’t mind horrifying your guests with visage of a deadly Beholder.

As has been stated above the Dungeon Master’s Guide is the most optional book of the core three. However, if you are feeling like you’d like more tools to help you build a world, run encounters, or want some of those optional rules, the DMG is full of tools and inspiration that I have found well worth the money. See some of the inside of the book in my video here.

What about the pre-written adventure books?   For newcomers I’d recommend holding off on these until you’ve run the starter set adventure, the Mines of Phandelver. After that, if you are still wanting more pre-written adventure and don’t have the desire to jump into crafting your own adventures or worlds, then maybe you’d want to pick these up. It’s worth noting that even if you don’t ever run the adventure within, I know many DMs who enjoy having them simply for the ideas and inspiration they can give for their homebrew campaigns. I’ve heard mostly positive things about them, and hey, it’s another pretty hardcover book to add to the collection. I know it’s a matter of taste, but I’d recommend buying most of the other books before getting these.

RELATED PRODUCTS you might want to check out.

    • Polyhedral Dice

    • D&D Spellbook Cards from Galeforce Nine

    • The Dungeon Master’s Screen

    • Miniatures

  • A battlemat/map – see my version here


Back to Beginner’s Guide to D&D main page


    • Sort of, yeah. It was a new kind of game, but in order to get the full rules for combat, you had to get the war game rules, Chainmail, which Gary Gygax also wrote.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *