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D&D Sourcebooks Explained: What You Need to Play

If you’re brand new to the world of Dungeons & Dragons, you might be feeling a bit mystified. D&D is a complex game, sure, but it’s also a bit hard to learn about. There are some things you need to start playing: dice, books, and more – but you don’t have to break the bank just to roll the first time.

So whether you’ve just starting playing Dungeons & Dragons or you’ve been playing a few sessions, you might wonder: do I need this Player’s Handbook everyone has and talks about? What about all those other D&D sourcebooks? Do you need those too?

I’ll be completely honest: I started playing D&D without any sourcebooks; I purchased the Essentials Kit and learned the very most basic rules by reading that and starting to play. But as I got more interested, I quickly realized that having the sourcebooks would help me play better – and understand what I was doing as I played.

In this post, I’ll share more about each of the D&D sourcebooks, and which ones I think you need to start playing. Read on to get the straight facts about sourcebooks, and then you can decide how many you personally need to play.

The Three Core D&D Sourcebooks

What You Need to Start Playing D&D - Sourcebooks

Player’s Handbook (PHB)

The Player’s Handbook (PHB) is an essential sourcebook for playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) because it contains all the basic rules for creating and playing a character. It provides players with the necessary information to choose their character’s race, class, abilities, and equipment. The PHB also includes detailed descriptions of spells, combat rules, and other game mechanics.

Without the PHB, players would not have access to the necessary rules to create a character or understand the game’s mechanics. It is the foundation upon which players build their understanding of the game. It also provides a common language and set of rules for players to communicate with each other and the Dungeon Master (DM), ensuring that everyone is on the same page and playing the game correctly.

The PHB is also important because it sets the tone and style for the game. It provides guidance on how to role-play, make decisions, and engage with the game’s world. It encourages creativity and imagination while providing a structured framework for gameplay.

In short, the PHB is an indispensable guide for playing D&D, and it is necessary for both new and experienced players to have access to it when playing the game.

Buy the Player’s Handbook on Amazon.

Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG)

The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) is the core rulebook for the game master, also known as the Dungeon Master (DM). It contains guidance and rules for creating and running adventures, creating non-player characters (NPCs), designing encounters, and understanding the game’s world-building mechanics.

Buy the Dungeon Master’s Guide on Amazon.

Monster Manual (MM)

The Monster Manual is a book filled with a collection of creatures, both friendly and hostile, that players will encounter during their adventures. It provides detailed descriptions, stats, and abilities for a vast array of monsters, including dragons, goblins, orcs, and giants.

Buy the Monster Manual on Amazon.

.Other D&D Sourcebooks

These three sourcebooks are the basic requirements to get started with D&D, and they provide everything necessary to run and play the game. However, there are several other sourcebooks that can enhance the gameplay experience:

  • Xanathar’s Guide to Everything – Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is a sourcebook that provides additional character options and rules for players and DMs. It includes new subclasses, spells, feats, and magic items, as well as rules for downtime activities and creating traps and puzzles.
  • Volo’s Guide to Monsters – Volo’s Guide to Monsters is a sourcebook that expands upon the Monster Manual by providing additional lore and information about creatures. It includes new monsters, as well as detailed descriptions and histories of existing ones.
  • Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything – Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is a recent sourcebook that provides new character options, rules, and spells for players. It includes subclasses, feats, magic items, and spells that are not found in other books. Additionally, it provides a new way to customize a character’s ability scores and racial traits.
  • Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide – The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is a sourcebook that focuses on the game’s fictional world of Faerun. It includes detailed information on the regions, cultures, and factions of the Forgotten Realms, as well as additional player options and adventure hooks. (This is the one I’m going to buy next, as I’ve really enjoyed playing the Starter Set and Essentials Kit on the Sword Coast.)
  • Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount – Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is a sourcebook that introduces the world of Wildemount, which is a campaign setting that was created for the popular D&D show/podcast, Critical Role. It includes new character options, spells, and magic items, as well as detailed information on the regions and factions of the world.
  • Mythic Odysseys of Theros – Mythic Odysseys of Theros is a sourcebook that introduces the world of Theros, a world based on Greek mythology. It includes new character options, races, subclasses, and magic items, as well as detailed information on the gods and creatures of the world.
  • Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is a sourcebook that expands on the lore and creatures of the D&D multiverse. It includes new monsters, as well as detailed information on the history and conflicts between different planes of existence.
  • Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica – Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is a sourcebook that introduces the world of Ravnica, which is based on the popular trading card game Magic: The Gathering. It includes new character options, races, subclasses, and spells, as well as detailed information on the factions and guilds of the world.
  • Eberron: Rising from the Last War – This is a sourcebook that introduces the Eberron campaign setting, a world of magic, intrigue, and warforged constructs. It includes new character options, races, and classes, as well as detailed information on the world’s nations and organizations.

Overall, these sourcebooks provide an extensive set of rules and information that will help you create engaging and immersive adventures in the world of Dungeons & Dragons.

Do Players Need Sourcebooks other than the Player’s Handbook?

D&D Sourcebooks - Dice in a Book

You don’t need the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) to play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). The DMG is primarily intended for the Dungeon Master (DM), providing them with tools and guidelines to create and run a D&D campaign. It includes rules for creating adventures, designing encounters, and managing the game world. It also provides guidance on creating and balancing custom rules, magic items, and monsters.

However, the DMG may still be useful if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the game’s mechanics or if you might interested in learning how to run your own D&D campaign in the future. The DMG includes information on how the game is structured and how the various elements of the game come together to create a cohesive experience.

Similarly, you don’t need the Monster Manual to play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). The Monster Manual is primarily intended for your DM, providing them with a variety of monsters and creatures to populate their game world. It includes detailed descriptions of each monster’s abilities, behaviors, and combat tactics, as well as rules for customizing and creating new monsters.

As for the other sourcebooks, none of them are essential if you’re a player – unless your DM tells you otherwise.

New players can get away with just the [PHB]. A lot of the information you can get from the DMG and MM can be found by doing a Google search. Another option, if you feel like you need the physical DMG or MM, is to split the cost with a group of people you are playing with.
– Garrett, Expert Player

So there you have it – a straight answer on which D&D sourcebooks you need to start playing: the Player’s Handbook. Have any questions about getting started playing or the other D&D sourcebooks? Let me know in the comments below.

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Like you, I am a (barely-not) brand new player – and also love DMing! I started this site to help you get a sense for D&D and hopefully get hooked, too!

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