So far, 5th edition has been doing great in my book. It’s a new edition with new possibilities and new ground to explore. What better book for the job than the Dungeon Master’s Guide!? While this edition has been hitting crits everywhere so far, will the DMG have the same luck?
The Intro to this mighty tome explains what a DM is and does, explains the three main parts of book. Does good job on preparing the reader for the content ahead. It dives into the three parts of the book: Master of Worlds, Master of Adventures and Master of Rules. Worlds dives into the realms around the PCs, Adventure being the epic quests they shall pursue, and Rules being the mechanics to help make their dreams of fame and wealth come true! Well, or not… as not all games end happily! But no matter, this brief blurb sets the reader up for the rest of their journey into running the game…. part by part!
PART 1 – Master of Worlds
Part 1 sets up the core assumptions of the game. The base concepts are pretty general, very flexible (which is better than 4th’s rather restrictive assumptions) by vague yet descriptive enough notions (The world is old, has magic, has greater power, etc.) The DMG says staright that it aims to support multiple playstyles right in the first bit. IT’S YOUR WORLD, after all! The segment on Gods examines types of pantheons like what was in the PHB. This segment uses the 4E Pantheon as an example, even though it could have fleshed them out a little more. What makes this section especially applicable for me is that it examines philosophy priests (whose faith is in an idea rather than a defined godly force), as found in Planescape and Eberron. Then it goes into sense of scale within world of campaign; town vs kingdom vs continent and more! In a way, it helps give idea for how big you want game to be, as well as how much world to venture into. Within these towns and cities, the DMG goes into trade and guilds, politics, related social order within the realm. Beyond economics and government, we’re take a look at the use and function of magic. We see how much is present vs how effective it is plus how it affects world and greater society. In terms of the campaign, this section dives into the scale of game, how to form plot hooks/major events and the joys of discovering something new. Beyond that, we get some nice bits on the function of time in the world and effects, as well as ending the game. If you’re adventuring on the demiplane of time (or some other realm where time is irrelevant), this might not apply to your games. My favorite part of P1 dives into genre and playstyle, with ideas on modding the game to fit needs. Each section examines kinds of fantasy and playstyles. For fans of grim and gritty swords and sorcery/dark fantasy, this book mentions a few nasty goodies to apply to your rules for your pain-loving pleasure (but not THAT kind of pain-loving pleasure… usually). Meanwhile, for the more epic heroic fantasy fighters, there’s plenty of references to make your game awesome!
Chapter 2 travels right into the Planar stuff. Inner/Outer/Transitive planes, pretty standard stuff for the veteran. For the new player, they get a good basis for what makes up the planes around them. In fact, each plane includes optional mechanics to really spice up adventures. Personally, I don’t like them pushing the 4E cosmology within the Great Wheel. I wish they had options for removal and replacement right off the bat, but whatever. This leads to me being slightly fearful about the future of Ravenloft (in regards to canon.) Other planar models are mentioned, not fleshed out (Perhaps a Manual of the Planes will come out later.) Goes into vague description about various “Material Plane worlds”; Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Eberron, Dark Sun, Birthright, and Known World. Nice throwbacks are seen all around, but I’m cautious about how they’ll update Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Birthright, and Mystara. Given treatment of Eberron, Dark Sun, and ESPECIALLY Forgotten Realms; one can’t help but have some anxiety. With all that said, I’m enjoying their overall treatment of everything else planar. For what it is, it’s pretty informative for anyone wanting to adventure beyond the prime.
PART 2 – Master of Adventures
Part 2 starts with tropes of the adventure, or the basis for an adventure. If world is part 1, happenings are part 2. Compares to three act play, dives into various types of adventures, goals, and motives. Gives great ideas for events, as well as how to really build up the villain. For alternative methods of play and genre, we have in depth advice for mystery and intrigue… And lemme tell you, I’m always up for games involving mystery and intrigue! Dives into complications in the plot, like moral dilemma and plot twist. Allow for pushing characters out of comfort zone, examine more angles of game. Goes to how to create objectives and make encounters interesting; dives into common tropes. More in depth look at balancing and creating combat encounters, adding variety, and the like. Brings back the random encounter probability, takes from later encounter based tables. Next we have creating memorable NPCs; tables on what they look like and what they do and what they believe. Even says how they can be used for players; contact, nemesis, adventure buddy, etc. Dives into villains and what makes them cool. Also we get some cool options for antagonistic characters; death domain (which is still kinda bullshit) and the Oath breaker Paladin (also known as the “Blackguard”). Next up, we look at Adventuring Environments. It’s a nice chapter with the ins and outs of where to throw a classic dungeon! We have locations, the weirdos that created this place, what purpose it was for, and the dark histories of this eerie series of corridors! Beyond that, we’ve given advice for what has adapted to the environment and difficulties within the dungeon itself. Moving forward, there’s a list of features that are at home within the traditional dungeon. Past the dungeon, we explore the great outdoors. In the wilderness portion, they discuss length of travel and mapping the area. From lairs to civilized frontiers, we get a look at a vast country space. Not to mention, we get a look at some ideas for battles against the elements; both mundane and supernatural. Settlements give options for a quick and easy town or city; the businesses, governance, and local sights are all laid out for you. In fact, there’s even a random chart for weird encounters common to the urban setting. This lead to a pleasant surprise in information for adventuring in water or in the sky itself!
Next up is a personal favorite of mine, traps! I won’t deny that I enjoy throwing down all sorts of nasty puzzles and brutal set-ups to snag an adventurer or two. We’re given an assortment of tables varying on how deadly and challenging each trap is; with a whole list of complex traps and challenges as examples. What makes me giggle like a lunatic is that they brought back the infamous Sphere of Annihilation in its entirety! For those out of the loop, entering this massive sphere of doom results in your character being obliterated. (Hence the name!) After a serving of nasty tricks, we’re given ideas on how to expand upon an adventure. First, we’re given the options on linking many adventures and plot points. Another is granting PCs a fair amount of downtime. Now, downtime can be used for running business, creating/maintaining a base, messing around (with mixed results), crafting necessary, gathering/spreading rumors/conspiracies, and honing your skills through training.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the DMG without an assortment of nice treasures and trinkets! First, we get a run down on the value of various items (like gems and fine art) as well as magical items. We get a quick look at the makings and workings of magical items, including chaos caused by incompetent users. What makes this even better is that there are random charts for making your magic items truly unique. In fact, I once rolled up a magic sword made by fire elementals that can float on water; it was used in a brutal massacre, but makes the user feel very happy… So, you can get some pretty interesting results from this. Deep within the huge tables of random items, we have some beloved classics! Favorite artifacts like the Apparatus of Kwalish, Bag of Holding, Broom of Flying, Decanter of Endless Water, Deck of Many Things, Giant Slayer, and Wand of Fear all make a return for epic mayhem and adventure to be had with. Some classic epic artifacts like Orb of Dragonkind, The Book of Vile Darkness and the Hand/Eye of Vecna make their appearance too! The magic items alone provide quite the blast of nostalgia. And of course, it wouldn’t be a blurb on magic items without their dark asshole cousin; cursed items! I won’t deny that I take sadistic glee with handing out these items and 5e delivers! While 4th’s take on cursed items (and “detrimental effects” in general) proved to be horribly dull, we jump back to absolute nastiness here. Now, if cursed items and even magic items might not be your thing, you can reward your players in the form of “boons”; rewards of great power for completing a task of epic importance.
Part 3 – Master of Rules
The last couple chapters deal with the rules of the game and running the “crunchy bits”, as they’re called. This goes into running the encounters, keeping games on track, and dealing with different groups. Ability scores and checks are expanded upon with a greater explanation than what the PHB had in terms of abilities and skills. A lot of the other bits like proficiency and advantage/disadvantage are explained well enough in the PHB, so nothing new. As for inspiration, we’re given an even better idea on how to use it and what’s so great about it in the first place. Inspiration is a more codified version of “Bennies” form Savage Worlds, or bonus points to spend on extra actions and things in the game, if you want the rules in a nutshell. A cool idea to encourage roleplaying among newer players, but I don’t have much opinion on it. The bit on exploration feels like it overlaps with a lot of previous information on checking out lands, noticing threats, and travel speeds. But no biggie, I love to explore! Social interaction dives into the ins and outs of character roleplay, NPC reactions, and the chaos that emerges as a result of player shenanigans. While combat has a lot of overlap with the PHB and MM, we’re given some modules for playing on hexes and squares as an alternative to the “Theatre of the Mind” approach to gaming. Also, the DMG finally clarified what “flanking” meant in a more tactical game, something players have been asking for a long time. Beyond this, we get some classic wargaming concepts such as facing to enhance the war-game aspect of tactical games. This adds more options for players and DM alike who favor that method of gameplay. To keep things from getting complicated, this portion has some great tips for cover combat on the fly; whether it’s improv damage or areas of effect from certain things. Behold tactical gaming, there’s plenty of elements here to up the action in your games; siege weapons, diseases, chases scenes, and even the horrors of madness!
Our final chapter gives us a “Dungeon Master’s Workshop” for us to smash together our own mechanical bits for the game. As a lover of homebrew design and 3rd part developer, this is truly something I needed! Here we’re given suggestions for building races, spells and monsters. We’re also given variant rules on skills/proficiency, honor/sanity, hero points, horror, spell points, alternate methods of resting and levels of technology. We also get a handful of tactical combat options for initiative, disarming, scaling creatures, marking, pushing and tumbling. For more gritty games, we’re treated to injuries, morale and shock inducing injury! So, for fans of the Souls games, now you can have a gritty enough game to fit! Not to mention, the examples provided are pretty sweet too! Nods towards the 4e-based teleporting celadrin elf as well as the Planescape-y Aasimar are provided as examples of what you can do using the DMG as a guideline, as well as an expansion on 5e’s inclusive message. Overall, this chapter greatly pleases me, emphasizing 5th edition’s mission for modularity!
Wrapping it up, we have appendixes for random dungeon creation on the fly, for the DM on the go! Taking note from previous chapters, we have easy to make dungeons for players to explore on the fly. If you’re feeling especially adventurous too, you can keep generating stuff at random, resulting in a Lovecraftian sense of architecture! Next up, we have lists of monsters by ecology and environment. If you’re looking for a specific environment to explore, now it’s easy to fill it with all sorts of friends and foes alike. Despite it not being in the MM, we have an index of monsters by challenge here. Better late than never, right? The third appendix supplies some sample maps to provide inspiration for your games. All in all, they look pretty good, but I have the feeling I’ve seen all of them before. That said, some context behind each of them would have been nice. To top it off, we get a revamp of Appendix N from the classic Dungeon Master’s Guide! Here, we have an assortment of essential books to dive into as inspiration and research for your games. However, this one builds upon the Appendix N section from the PHB. This section showcases inspiration for building a heroic fantasy game set in the realms of D&D, the history of the game, and the ins and outs of game theory.
To call this book my favorite out of all the 5e core out now is no lie! A great resource from start to finish and a great way to get your games moving at top speeds! This book was considerably more inclusive than the Player’s Handbook was (except for compromised cosmology), allows for many styles of play; old school, new school, etc. It greatly helps newcomers build a world without focus drifting away like in previous DMGs (which were mostly big books of MAGIC ITEMS!!!) The Dungeon Master’s Guide receives a roll of 9 on a 10-sided die. Keep on rolling!