D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide: An Illustrated Early Review For Old & Young Adventurers Alik

Fabio Andrea Rossi, from Italy, has sent along a more detailed first impressions review of the Dungeon Master's Guide -- "DISCLAIMER: I got blessed by the Old Twenty Faced One and got my copy of the DMG early so I thought to share my opinion with some head start, but I only had some hours to skim through it and this is the mere opinion of a long, long lasting D&D fan at first glance. The photos are low quality and only meant to give a clearer understanding of the points I make: I’m not a professional blogger and I just want you to get a clearer picture on whether this book is for you. Spoiler: it’s a great book. Now, let’s rock…" As a note, English is not Fabio's first language, but I have presented the review verbatim.

[lq]The king is back, all hail the king![/lq]

Let me say it straight on: the 5th edition DMG is a wonderful book and it keeps up the very good quality of the Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. It goes on with the new edition philosophy of going back to the earlier spirit of D&D capitalizing on the experiences of its previous 4 editions (or however you want to count them). It has some flaws, but nothing to stop the true Dungeon Master from getting it.

Now, some more details..

The book makes it clear this from the very beginning, that is the humorous disclaimer which also contains some useful info which may be recapped as: you are a DM so you’ll need to keep the show running, whatever dirty trick it takes. Man, I like this.


The book is divided in three parts and four appendixes plus the introduction.

The introduction is some pages long and it’s all about giving a preview of the contents and giving some hints to understand what’s important to your players.

Part 1 is all about creating a world…and a multiverse to go with it. It’s very well done and probably the most useful part for a new player with lots of indications on how to set the tone you want for your campaign. It discuss how religion, magic and geography will influence the game. It’s good for new players which will find good suggestions like this one on ending a campaign properly:


It’s also good for old timers which will probably like indications on how to set a game aligned with more refined tastes like in the “starting equipment by level and magic intensity” here:


It offers great contents on the planes, a lengthy part indeed, including optional rules on the effects these places have on the PCs. Want to know how it is to endlessly fight a hero’s life in Ysgard? The DMG got you covered.


Part 2 discuss adventuring and all the related issues like inventing good plots, creating encounters (yes, balancing them and all the CR difficulty stuff for the unenlightened needing it is in) , mapping, traps, NPCs and villains. And Treasure. Above all, treasure.

It all starts, once again, with some solid piece of advice: players matter:


Amen, brother.

The NPC and new villainous class option part is not long: only a new cleric and paladin archetypes. One could hope for more, an example of a place where less tables and more meat could have been welcome, in my opinion. Do we really need a random building generator?


Where part 2 shines, thought, is the magic items. Lots of magic items, nearly all with some truly inspiring drawing capable of drawing life even into the most boring items (which are not so many). Also, finally you’ll know what Marvelous Pigments look like:


Some good ideas from the playtest era are back like magic items properties where a Guardian armor can give suggestions and forewarning to the bearer (grantin a +2 initiative bonus), very nice.

Being 5th edition a callback to earlier iterations of the game, most (probably all) of the great classics are back in full form. Even better, items are rated by rarity and rarity corresponds to character level. This, coupled with the requirement to ATTUNE the most powerful items should offer hints to new DMs about how much game breaking some items may be. It’s not perfect: a legendary APPARATUS OF KWALISH is probably not remotely as “dangerous” as a Luck Blade which can grant wishes on a daily basis, but it’s accurate enough.

Downtime activities are expanded to include options to train to gain levels, basic rules on how to run a business or create magic items (more on this and on creating new spells later in the book). It’s quite general and not a detailed system, but I think it copes well with 5th edition “power to the DM” style. This part also includes perhaps the most evoking pieces of art of the book, not only in the form of items’ illustrations but also for full page art like an adventurer with more treasure he can use (like yourself with this book) or a downtime landscape. What’s behind the gates? The flash mysteriously hides it from you:


Finally, part 2 also includes “other rewards”. Don’t be fooled by the bland title: here you can find options for high level powers and special “charms” and “gods’ blessings” which vary from one-shot otherworldly boons from the Far Realm to permanent special abilities gained during play by the characters. “Epic boons” are in fact a suggestion on how to manage characters above 20th level and are high-power addition. This is a great but brief section which I would have liked to see expanded more and more reliant on already existent spells or magic item powers, but it was somehow unexpected and it’s a nice addition.

Part 3 is the ”Master of Rules” part and it’s where most of the modules are. “Modules” are rules variant meant to satisfy different styles of play like lingering wounds, longer resting, tactical fights (yes, they are in), combat variants. They are well done, concise, and mostly elegant. One example to rule them all: the variant skills rules are elegant and well explained, getting inspiration, I believe, from the most inspired OSR retro clones out there.

Don’t like the binary approach success/failure of the standard D20 approach? There’s a rule for success for a cost. Want to empower more the players with storytelling? Plot points are there, including a crazy option to switch DM during a game:


Once again, these rules options are mostly quick and right to the point. Some admirers of 3rd edition complexity may disregard these as TOO short, so if you look for an extremely detailed approach you probably won’t like many of these rules, but I think that the clarity and elegance of these modules allow “plug and play” insertion in your campaigns which is a really welcome addition worth the admission fee.

Also, when a variant rule impacts on how the game is played (like longer resting periods and lingering wounds) this is called in the text so you’ll know in advance.

Here a taste of the tactical rules:


Finally, this part teaches how to create new monsters, classes, spells and (if that’s your thing) firearms and even alien technology (don’t worry: it’s brief). It also discuss variants to manage fear, horror, madness and other unexpected things like “honor” which will be welcome by anyone thinking Oriental Adventures or Ravenloft.

Finally, the book closes with the Appendixes. They are a (tables intensive) section on how to build random dungeons, an appendix of beautiful maps for any occasion , the much-missed Monster Manual list by CR and environment and a final appendix on Dungeon Master inspirational readings.

All in all, a very solid release.

The book offers high product values, it’s choke full of valuable advice on how to create and run campaigns and adventures, it has more magic items that you could hope and it includes lots of the promised “rules modules”.

My only complaint is a certain overabundance of tables to determine…well, everything. While these are often quite useful, there are really lots of them, some more than needed. I mean, with all that valuable content, I would have liked more modules and less tables.

That said, with over 70 pages of illustrated magic items, tons of rules options an insight on how to build a full-fledged campaign and good adventures for different tastes the new DMG really brings the old magic back to full circle.

It wasn’t a dream: the king is back, all hail the king!

Fabio Andrea Rossi

PS. I warned you: new DMs will like it. Want a proof? A proof you get:



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The Hitcher

Great review! I actually really like the idea of a random building table. Random treasure is all well and good, but it's the mundane stuff that is more painful to come up with on the fly.


I LOVE the table too. On my website I have LOADS of tables for things like professions and buildings already. My only fear, is these may become obsolete :( (Or I will have to expand them to inc options here ;)).

I love information presented in tables b/c you can roll if you want, choose if you want. When options and ideas are just in a paragraph I have to read through to separate the different options...b/c I ALWAYS roll ;)

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