There have been many books released for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. With all the options out there, it can be difficult to know what to choose. How do you know which are the must-have books for D&D 5e, and which are the ones you can skip?
There are some books that will always be essential to D&D 5e. You can’t play the game without any classes, monsters, or magic items, right? Some tools are simply essentials that you really can’t skip over.
Beyond just the basics, you want books that enhance your experience and make it more enjoyable for both the Dungeon Master and the players.
Let’s talk about the top must-have books for D&D 5e in order to make sure you get the best books possible.
The top must-have books for D&D 5e include:
- Players Handbook
- Monster Manual
- Dungeon Master’s Guide
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- Several others, depending on your situation
Tier 1 (Must-Haves for D&D 5e)
The books in this tier are absolute essentials. Of everything on this list, these are the THE must-have books for D&D 5e. Make sure to have these books in your collection, if nothing else!
1. Player’s Handbook
The Player’s Handbook is your ultimate guide for how to play D&D. It is necessary for gaining a basic understanding of player rules and character creation. It contains every major character class (except Artificer), the basic major races, backgrounds, and more. This one of the top must-have books for D&D 5e and is required to play the game.
The Player’s Handbook contains:
- Character skills.
- Base races.
- Most major classes.
- Rules for character creation.
- Basic equipment.
- Basic spells for every magic class.
You must have this book in order to play the game and build your characters. D&D is a system that has balance and limitations built into it. So if you don’t have this book, your group will be like kids on a playground making up random rules to make the coolest character.
2. Monster Manual
The Monster Manual is an essential book for the Dungeon Master (DM). If your DM doesn’t have this book then they will be severely limiting themselves in combat and narrative situations.
The Monster Manual includes:
- A vast collection of monsters.
- Formulas for balancing encounters.
- How to choose monsters for your party’s level.
At its heart, D&D is a combat game, so naturally you need something to fight! This is the book that makes it possible. The only downside is that the challenge rating system (which is used to balance monsters by party level) isn’t exactly perfect. This book would be nearly perfect if they could have fixed the balance or chosen some other way to identify how powerful a monster is.
Luckily, there is a table on page 274 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide which helps you fix this problem. We’ll talk about that book next.
3. Dungeon Master’s Guide
The Dungeon Master’s Guide is another one of the must-have books for D&D 5e. It provides helpful guides for DMs, as well as rules on how to handle traps, environments, lore, and more.
Probably the most interesting part of the book is the magic items section. You will be referring to this section a lot to figure out what treasure you should give your players. Even if you aren’t using the other features, the sheer wealth of magical items is enough to make this book a must-have.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide includes:
- Rules for environments.
- How to create a campaign setting.
- The lore of Forgotten Realms D&D.
- Guidelines for how much treasure to give out.
- Extensive lists of magical items.
- General tips to help you improve your game.
The only downside to this book is that the treasure tables aren’t balanced well for random rolling. In addition, some of the more advanced elements are either lacking or incorrect. You might find some hidden gems like how to create monsters and adjust their health (page 274), but you have to hunt through the book to find these nuggets. The section on Downtime has problems as well. Regardless of a few issues here and there, this is a must-have book for the Dungeon Master to own.
Tier 2 (Must-Haves For Advanced Players)
The books in this tier are very high quality. While not as essential as Tier 1, these choices will add new and interesting options to your game. They are recommended for more seasoned players and DMs, or anyone who wants to move beyond the basic materials.
4. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is quite literally a book of everything. It was one of the first major additions to D&D 5e and the book still holds its important status today.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything includes:
- New subclasses.
- More spell options.
- Magic Items.
- Fixes for many problems in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything tries to cover it all and mostly does a good job of it. It gives a little bit of everything, with probably the most important part being the fixes for many contentious parts of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. This includes how many magic items to give out to players, downtime, and more.
For your players, the most important part of this book is the new races and subclasses. These new options are amazing and are still widely used today. If you have an advanced group who wants to play a campaign with more choices, this book is a great place to start.
4. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
If you have ever heard of the term power creep, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is more like a power jog. This was the most recent addition to D&D 5e and is at least big as Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was when it came out. Almost every experienced player will want to use this book.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything features:
- New class options.
- More spells.
- Racial options.
- A brand new full class.
- Magic Items.
- Information on dealing with patrons.
This plethora of new choices affect everyone by giving them more powerful options to work with. The new magic items are quite impressive compared to some of their older counterparts. Combine this with new spells, feats, and numerous new options will allow your players to become even stronger.
Tier 3 (Situational Based on Your Game)
Books in this Tier can add a lot of flavor to your game. While none of these books are absolutely essential to run your game, they are still worth looking at. Depending on your situation, one or more of these books could be a great addition.
5. Volo’s Guide to Monsters
Volo’s Guide to Monsters is a book almost wholeheartedly dedicated to extending the number of monsters that are available. However, it is worth noting that they are not as widely applicable as the monsters in the Dungeon Master’s Guide or the Monster Manual. What this book lacks in versatility, it makes up for in interesting character races.
Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces:
- 7 new character races.
- Over 100 new monsters.
The only unfortunate part about this book is that the monsters are very situational. There are some that can be used almost anywhere, like the Archer and Champion. But a Orc Claw of Luthic probably won’t be relevant most of the time. This is why Volo’s Guide to Everything is more appealing for the seven character races it introduces than the plethora of new monsters.
6. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is a book like Volo’s Guide to Monsters. But its focus is a little different.
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes introduces:
- New races and subraces.
- More versitile monsters.
While Volo’s Guide to Monsters introduces more races for players to use, this book focuses more on subraces. These subraces are great, but I do wish they applied to every race instead of just a few. In addition to this, Mordenkainen’s has a much better breadth of monsters compared to Volo’s. Star Spawns, Chokers and so many more just add to what the DM is able to throw at the players in almost any setting.
This increases the DM’s lineup with interesting options that can easily be input into almost any campaign. Furthermore, these new monsters provide options to take the campaign in a different direction and broaden your players’ D&D experience.
7. Explorer’s Guide to Wildmount
Explorer’s Guild to Wildmount is the book you want to get if you would like to play in Mathew Mercer’s campaign setting. He is the DM who has been in charge of the podcast Critical Role for a long while now.
If you want to run a game in the world of Exandria, you need to have this book. It features:
- The history of Wildmount.
- Character options.
- New subclasses.
- Special adventures.
- Special treasures.
- A few new monsters.
This book is only necessary if you wish to run a game in Exandria. If not, you can likely skip it. That being said, this book has some interesting subclasses that you might want to incorporate into your game.
The Echo Knight, Chornurgy and Graviturgy magics are amazing and tempting to play in almost any setting. Add Dunamancy spells and you might want to buy this book just for the subclasses and spells!
8. Ebberon: Rising from the Last War
Have you ever wanted to play D&D in a high fantasy setting? One where magic advances over time to include airships, railroads, and robots? If so, Ebberon: Rising from the Last War is the book for you.
This book contains:
- New character creation rules.
- Nations and factions.
- A geography of the land.
- Special treasures.
- A few new monsters.
- A guide on how to create Ebberon adventures.
This book is only necessary if you wish to run a game in Ebberon. If not, you can skip it. While Ebberon sounds great at first, it always takes place during the same time frame, “after the war.” No other time frame exists, and every campaign might seem a little bit repetitive because of this fact.
With all that being said, there are still a few really cool races in this book. Everyone loves Warforged and I have had a few Kalishtars in my games because they are just so cool! For the races alone, I could see you getting this book.
9. Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
Contrary to the name, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft isn’t a book just about Ravenloft or Barovia. While you do get more information about Barovia, you also get a whole lot more from this book.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft features:
- New races and backgrounds.
- New subclasses.
- Dread domains.
- Tips on how to run horror games.
- A few new horror themed monsters.
This book is great for those trying to run horror for the first time, or if you just want some new races, subclasses, and backgrounds. You don’t need to be running Curse of Strahd for this book to be worthwhile, which is different than many other setting books.
That being said, this is primarily focused on horror. So this book will really be worthwhile if you plan on running a campaign in a horror setting.
If you are interested in running an adventure in Ravenloft or Barovia, check out our full review of Curse of Strahd.
10. Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica
This is the final book I recommend in this tier. Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica gives you just a little bit of new information.
- Specific races
- Outdated subclasses
- Guilds of Ravnica
This book is a setting book, but many parts of it are outdated. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything has updated the subclasses from this book, and the only reason you would get it is to use the Ravnica setting.
This being said, you get one plane of existence that is just a large city. This makes this a rather weak and limiting setting, but you could pick up this book if it really interests you. The only other reason you might be interested in this book aside from the setting is because of the new backgrounds. They can add some flavor to your characters and the world, but this is up to you.
Tier 4 (Very Situational Content)
If you are looking for books that offer something very specific, these might be for you. If you already have a good collection of D&D 5e books, these can offer you even more content.
11. The Tortle Package
Do you want to play a Tortle? A race with high defense to compliment your wizardly frailness? If you are interested in Tortles, you will need this book. Inside you will learn everything about Tortles, where they came from, what their culture is like, and how to play one.
Beyond Tortles, you will also explore the Snout of Omgar. This is the home of the Tortles which gives you a new campaign setting to play around with. Try this out if you are interested in the setting or playing a Tortle.
12. Mordenkainen’s Fiendish Folio
This small folio of monsters contains a few demons and devils…and that’s about it. There really isn’t much else to say here. If you are leading a campaign into hell you might find some use for this book. Even then, other monster books should have you covered. I recommend this to someone who is looking for more variety in their devils and demons.
It is important to note that this book was originally created as a fundraiser for Extra Life and wasn’t meant to be anything big like the Monster Manual. Despite this, for only costing $5 it gives you a fair amount of fiends to choose from. This can be worth it if you just want to add a little bit more to your game for a fair price.
D&D Books to Skip
The books in this section are ones I do not recommend. The content is outdated, or other books cover it better. Save your money and get some of the other books on this list instead.
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide was created at the very beginning of D&D 5e, and it shows. Almost everything is outdated. The only thing you might get from this book is some basic information about the world of Faerun or the Sword Coast. All the subclasses, spells, and more mechanical features have received updates in different books.
As for lore, you can learn about the Forgotten Realms or other worlds pretty easily on YouTube. If, however, you want a compact source of basic information, you might want this book. My recommendation is to just skip it and watch a Jorphan YouTube video instead.
Mythic Odysseys of Theros
This book provides some interesting insight into the world of Theros, but I personally have not heard of anyone playing in this setting. Theros is the Magic the Gathering universe, which doesn’t seem all that popular in the D&D community.
We discussed how Wizards of the Coast is possibly trying to merge the worlds of D&D and Magic the Gathering together in our latest article on changes to the D&D canon. In addition to this, the setting of Theros isn’t one of the more interesting settings that belongs to Magic the Gathering.
All the subclasses in this book are outdated. The only interesting part is the setting, which might appeal to you if you want to run a Greek mythology inspired campaign. Theros is primarily taken from Greek legends and lore, so you can get some fun out of this book if you and your friends are really into this. Otherwise, you can skip this book.
One Grung Above
This book focuses solely on the Grung and their society. Inside you will find traits for Grung character creation, as well as a few descriptions of Grung NPCs. Volo’s Guide to Monsters covers the Grung (and a lot more), which makes it a much better overall choice.
The descriptions in this book are very limited. You might be able to glean something about their society and the very basics of character creation, but that’s really it. For how short this book is, it really doesn’t warrant the $5 price tag. Unless you love all things Grung, just skip this book and get Volo’s instead.
It can be difficult to narrow down which are the absolute must-have books for D&D 5e. With so many options to choose from, naturally you want to spend your money wisely and choose the most helpful.
Some of the most essential books include the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. If you are looking beyond the basics, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are excellent choices. If you want even more to enhance your game, there are several books beyond this depending on what you are looking for.
I hope that this article has helped you understand what are the top must-have books for D&D 5e, and what books are worth skipping.
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