D&D General Essential supplements for each edition

JEB

Legend
Out of curiosity, what would you consider the essential non-core sourcebooks for each edition of D&D? The general rules expansions, books of races and classes, and so forth that were considered key additions to the core game. This can be either general observations, or just for your own group.

Ones that seem like pretty obvious general choices off the top of my head:
  • Original D&D: All four supplements, but especially Greyhawk.
  • Moldvay Basic: Expert Rulebook (the only option).
  • BECMI: Expert, Companion, and Master Rules. (Less sure if folks considered the Immortals Rules essential.)
  • 1E: Unearthed Arcana (though I gather some considered it pretty broken, I've seen people call the game D&D 1.5 from then onward). Maybe Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II?
  • 2E: Not sure here, as there were so many. Maybe the Player's Option books (which I've seen described as part of a D&D 2.5)? Tome of Magic?
  • 3.0: Epic Level Handbook, since it wound up in the SRD. Probably also Psionics Handbook and Savage Species.
  • 3.5: Expanded Psionics Handbook, since it also wound up in the SRD. PHB II and DMG II. Maybe the 3.5 version of UA?
  • 4E: All the additional "core" books (PHB 2/3, MM 2/3, DMG 2).
  • 5E: Xanathar's, and Tasha's (which is definitely shaping up to be 5E's analogue to 1E's UA). Probably VGTM and MTOF, until they were supplanted by MOTM.
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
2e had a ton of Complete X Handbooks. I thought the most useful of them were the Complete Fighter's Handbook and the Complete Bard's Handbook.

Of 1e's non-core supplements, the one I got the most use out of was Oriental Adventures. We started using the monk along with their martial arts in non-OA games because the original 1e monk was so terrible.
 

OD&D: never played, so no idea

BECMI: Creature Catalogue, but the core rules were really solid by themselves

1E: Unearthed Arcana was problematic in some ways, but overall a positive IME

2E: ugh, so many of them... I'd probably go with either Arms & Equipment Guide, but that's personal preference not biased to any class/race (which had good "complete guides)

3E: as with 2E so many... but most of them not nearly as good, so I'll duplicate Arms & Equipment Guide for similar reasons. A lot of the later books were not used by my group as DMs limited games to PHB only

4E: honestly, none of them really stood out to me, but the Adventurer's Vault probably got the most use

5E: Xanthar's, no question. Tasha's had better player facing content, but the DM side was almost useless to me.
 

Egon Spengler

"We eat gods for breakfast!"
OD&D1: This game is sparse enough that all of the supplements feel core, but The Strategic Review contains vital clarifications on combat and magic as well as three whole classes (rangers, bards, illusionists). I also consider the blue-cover Basic Set to be the indispensable introduction to this edition, since it plugs even more holes than the newsletter.

AD&D1: Deities & Demigods really is the fourth core rulebook; it contains at least one piece of vital information lacking in the PHB (what happens if you have an ability score of 19, which is entirely possible for a 1st level elf, dwarf, halfling, or half-orc PC?). While I hold the Monster Manual II and Fiend Folio in higher esteem than all the later hardcovers, I don't think I can call them "essential."

OD&D2: If we consider the Basic through Immortals Sets and the Rules Cyclopedia to all be "core," there are really only a handful of candidates for "essential" supplements — the AC (Accessory), GAZ (Gazetteer), and PC (Creature Crucible) lines. Of these, it's really only PC1–4 that have semi-core status at my table. (Although the Creature Catalog — AC9/DMR2 — also sees frequent use in my campaigns, it's once again just an extra monster book, not something I can call truly vital to running a game.) The Gazetteers that expand on demihumans (GAZ5, GAZ6, GAZ8, GAZ10) are useful but probably not essential.

AD&D2: So many candidates here. Books I personally wouldn't run a game without: the Complete Psionics Handbook, Complete Ninja's Handbook, and Complete Barbarian's Handbook, plus Player's Option: Combat & Tactics and DM's Option: High-Level Campaigns. Oh, yeah, and The Scarlet Brotherhood — gotta have the official 2e monk!

D&D3: Once again, so many books to choose from. If I were ever to run a 3e campaign again, I'd probably need the Psionics Handbook and Oriental Adventures at the very least. Maybe Savage Species and Unearthed Arcana. Quite possibly The Book of Nine Swords (or as it's sometimes affectionately called, The Book of Weeaboo Fightan Magic) would prove essential to combatting caster supremacy.
 
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payn

Legend
I really liked PHB II for 3.5E. Libris Mortis, DMG II are pretty great too.

Imma put in for Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide for rulebook and Inner Sea Guide for one of the best setting books.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
  • Original D&D: The Strategic Review, Greyhawk and maybe Eldritch Wizardry. The others are far from essential.
  • Holmes Basic: N/A. Probably better treated as a supplement to OD&D.
  • Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert: Nothing. The core books are all you need, although if you want to go third party, the B/X Companion by Jonathan Becker from 2010 is excellent.
  • BECM: Nothing. Masters is probably inessential. Maybe Companion as well, although it gives you the domain stuff that Moldvay/Cook is missing, and without that I guess what's the point of playing BECM rather than B/X? The Larry Elmore art, I suppose. And M-Us and Elves being allowed to learn more spells than just 1 per level, but I always house rule that in B/X.
  • 1E: Fiend Folio and MM2 for adding to the variety of monsters and the improved random encounter charts. Unearthed Arcana is pretty much trash.
  • 2E: I would say the Complete Handbooks for Fighter, Cleric, Wizard and Rogue. Tome of Magic is a contender. Certainly Forgotten Realms Adventures if you're playing in that setting.
  • 3.0: Sword & Fist, Tome & Blood, Song & Silence, Masters of the Wild, Defenders of the Faith
  • 3.5: Unearthed Arcana. PHB II probably. The Complete series got a lot of use at our tables too.
  • 4E: Adventurer's Vault, PHB 2, MM 2 & 3, DMG 2, Monster Vault & MV: Threats to the Nentir Vale. The Rules Compendium. Arcane Power, Divine Power, and Martial Power are all also great.
  • 5E: Xanathar's.
 
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Stormonu

Legend
Out of curiosity, what would you consider the essential non-core sourcebooks for each edition of D&D? The general rules expansions, books of races and classes, and so forth that were considered key additions to the core game. This can be either general observations, or just for your own group.

Ones that seem like pretty obvious general choices off the top of my head:
  • Original D&D: All four supplements, but especially Greyhawk.
  • Moldvay Basic: Expert Rulebook (the only option).
  • BECMI: Expert, Companion, and Master Rules. (Less sure if folks considered the Immortals Rules essential.)
  • 1E: Unearthed Arcana (though I gather some considered it pretty broken, I've seen people call the game D&D 1.5 from then onward). Maybe Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II?
  • 2E: Not sure here, as there were so many. Maybe the Player's Option books (which I've seen described as part of a D&D 2.5)? Tome of Magic?
  • 3.0: Epic Level Handbook, since it wound up in the SRD. Probably also Psionics Handbook and Savage Species.
  • 3.5: Expanded Psionics Handbook, since it also wound up in the SRD. PHB II and DMG II. Maybe the 3.5 version of UA?
  • 4E: All the additional "core" books (PHB 2/3, MM 2/3, DMG 2).
  • 5E: Xanathar's, and Tasha's (which is definitely shaping up to be 5E's analogue to 1E's UA). Probably VGTM and MTOF, until they were supplanted by MOTM.
Epic Level Handbook can die in a fire.

Moldvay: Expert, B4 (it had gear bundles that were handy, and a good mini-campaign).
BECMI: Rules Encyclopedia & Creature Catalog. Forget the Immortal rules. The various Gazetteers are generally really good too.
1E: Unearthed Arcana, Fiend Folio, MM2, World of Greyhawk and the DM's screen. Wilderness/Dungeoneer's Survival Guide is good too, especially for NWP's and the adventuring rules.
2E: Tome of Magic, The first four "Complete" books, Arms & Equipment, Encyclopedia Magicka, Wizard's Spell Compendium, Priest's Spell Compendium, Gray Box FR and Aurora's Whole Realms Guide
3.0: Sword & Fist, Tome & Blood, Defenders of the Faith, Masters of the Wild, Song & Silence, Savage Species, MM2
3.5: Complete ... series, Races of ... series, Frostburn, Stormwrack, Spell Compendium, Rules Compendium. Some will argue Tome of Battle, but I do not agree
5E: Xanathar's, Monsters of the Multiverse
 

delericho

Legend
Covering only the editions I know reasonably well...

BECMI: I don't know if they even count as supplements, but the Expert and Companion rules. We never got as far as Master, so obviously I don't consider that essential.

2nd Ed: You'll probably want some extra Monstrous Compendium volumes (or the Monstrous Manual). The "Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide" is essential for a DM who wants to do worldbuilding - and indeed is essentially edition agnostic.

3.0e: Nothing. Maybe some more 'monster' books, but third-party materials are probably a better bet than WotC's offerings.

3.5e: Nothing. Maybe some more 'monster' books, but third-party materials are probably a better bet than WotC's offerings.

5e: You'll probably want some more 'monster' books, but the third party might be a better source than WotC.

After long experience, I've come to the fairly painful realisation that most supplements actually make the game worse, not better.
 

deganawida

Adventurer
  • 2E: I would say the Complete Handbooks for Fighter, Cleric, Wizard and Rogue. Tome of Magic is a contender. Certainly Forgotten Realms Adventures if you're playing in that setting.
  • 3.0: Sword & Fist, Tome & Blood, Song & Silence, Masters of the Wild, Defenders of the Faith

Seconded for 2e and 3.0. The four base class handbooks in 2nd edition were great and expanded the game without too much cheese or without adding too much complexity, keeping speed of play paramount. The kits were all flavorful and broad, and the various role-playing sections were fantastic. I also liked the references to literary sources in the line as a whole; I got a lot of good reading from some of those recommendations.

3.0's class floppy books were also solid and did the same. Personally, I loved Sword & Fist's prestige class that did offensive spells through weapon attacks, using potion guidelines; I thought that was really clever and flavorful.
 

OD&D and BECMI, the creature catalogue only.

1ed: FF, MM2, L&L and the DSG. Manual of the Planes is also quite good.

2ed: Arms and Equipment Guide, Aurora's whole realm catalogue.

3.xed: The epic level Handbook, all the classes books and the various MM.

4ed: Nothing save the MM 2 and 3.

5ed: MToF, VGtM. All the rest is fluff and non essential. Fun to have, but non essential.
 


I have started using this in my 5e game too. It's still pretty useful for ideas and flavor.
I still use it too. At first, this supplement went under the radar but I always found it priceless. I have two of these and I do not regret it one iota. One is in mint condition, the second well used as players are using it and still wonder why no other supplement ever copied it...
 
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Enrico Poli1

Adventurer
I will only mention the editions I played, answering three questions: what products are essential to play this edition of the game, in your opinion? What products are highly desiderable to fully enjoy this edition of the game? What products make the game lame and are banned?
  • Mentzer: I consider Basic, Expert, Companion the essential material. Highly desiderable: the Master set, The Grand Duchy of Karameikos gazetteer, the iconic adventures per tier (Keep on the Borderlands, Isle of Dread, Test of the Warlords). Banned: Immortal set, Wrath of the Immortals, Poor Wizard's Almanac
  • AD&D2: PHB, DMG, MM, Complete Psionics, The Will and the Way, and either Complete Fighter or Combat and Tactics. Highly desiderable: High Level Campaigns, at least one major Campaign Setting (Dark Sun original box, Ravenloft original or revised box, City of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms gray box, Dragonlance Tales of the Lance box, Planescape, Spelljammer). Banned: Skills & Powers, Spells & Magic
  • D&D3e/3.5: PHB, DMG, MM, Tome of Battle. Highly desiderable: Complete Fighter/Mage/Divine, Epic Level Handbook, at least one major Paizo Dungeon Magazine Adventure Path (Age of Worms, Savage Tide). Banned: Psionics Handbook and Expanded Psionics Handbook, The Book of Exhalted Deeds
  • D&D5e: PHB, DMG, MM. Highly desiderable: Starter Set, at least one major adventure (Curse of Strahd, Tomb of Annihilation, Descent into Avernus, Rime of the Frostmaiden). Banned: Xanathar's, Tasha's.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
3x: Tome of Battle, Arms and Equipment Guide, DMG II, Eberron Campaign Setting, d20 Modern w/Urban Arcana

Pathfinder: PFSRD.org

4e: Core Sequels, Martial Power 1 & 2, Arcane Power, MMIII, Monster Vault. Do not buy: Anything labeled Essentials.
 

Swedish Chef

Explorer
1st Ed - we enjoyed the hell out of UA.
2nd Ed - personally, I loved the Forgotten Realms grey box, the first Undermountain box, Complete Thief's, Complete Psionics and just about every thing Al Qadim. I just loved what they were trying to do with that setting, despite the obvious tropes.
3/3.5 - Personally, I loved the Draconomicom, just to read.
5e - nothing yet stands out to me, but I do have Xanathar's, Tasha's, et. al.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I never bought anything outside of the PHB before 5E, though I flipped through a bunch here and there.

For 5E, beyond the Core rulebooks, the Rules Expansion Gift Set (Xanathar's, Tasha's, Monsters of the Multiverse) basically set players and DMs up for anything general that they need. The Setting books have been great, but obviously they are more specific in focus.
 

4e: Core Sequels, Martial Power 1 & 2, Arcane Power, MMIII, Monster Vault. Do not buy: Anything labeled Essentials.
That's a bit hard to do, because Monster Vault is labelled Essentials.

For my list, I'm only familiar with WotC editions, so...

3e: Champions of Valor, Races of the Dragon, Complete Arcane, Complete Divine, and (as much as people liked to crap on it) the Book of Nine Swords. All are full of flavorful, interesting options. There's also a relatively obscure supplement, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, which is pretty neat. These are mostly "books that have stuff I like," because 3e just had SO. DAMN. MANY. books.

4e: PHB1 and 2, DMG1 and 2, Divine Power, Martial Power 1, MM3, Monster Vault, MV: Threats to Nentir Vale, various Dragon Mag articles. Some nice-but-not-critical ones include The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea and Heroes of the Elemental Chaos (simply because the Elementalist is the first truly, legitimately simple caster class D&D has ever officially offered.)

5e: Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, Xanathar's Guide to Everything, Monsters of the Multiverse. Tasha's has set the tone for 5e thereafter; Fizban's fixes dragonborn and has some cool, flavorful options in it (particularly the Drakewarden, which is a much superior subclass to the Beast Master in both flavor and being actually effective); between XGE and TCE, the only "missing" subclass worthy of inclusion is the Arcana domain. (The other missing ones--Long Death Monks, Banneret Fighters, Crown Paladins, Battlerager Barbarians--are mostly "pretty meh," except Banneret, which is just not very good at all.)

Frankly, with these four books, you have very nearly the entire panoply of what the game offers. A smattering of subclasses exist elsewhere (e.g. Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft), but TCE, FTD, and XGE cover almost all the player-facing options, and MotM is your one-stop-shop for monsters.
 

I never bought anything outside of the PHB before 5E, though I flipped through a bunch here and there.

For 5E, beyond the Core rulebooks, the Rules Expansion Gift Set (Xanathar's, Tasha's, Monsters of the Multiverse) basically set players and DMs up for anything general that they need. The Setting books have been great, but obviously they are more specific in focus.
Not at all surprised; I almost didn't include FTD in my list above, but the actually-not-sucky dragonborn, plus the actually-not-sucky pet-based Ranger subclass, pushed it into "yeah this is probably important." Plus, while some folks think dragons are overused or trite, I think they're awesome, and they are in the title. A supplement helping you use and integrate dragons into your game is relatively important.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
AD&D: The Wilderness Survival Guide and The Dungeoneers Survival Guide. First instance of skills.

AD&D 2ed: Essential? Man, that's hard to pare down. We liked all of the Complete splat books with their kits. But then Skills and Powers and it's ilk came around and changed the game a lot.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Not at all surprised; I almost didn't include FTD in my list above, but the actually-not-sucky dragonborn, plus the actually-not-sucky pet-based Ranger subclass, pushed it into "yeah this is probably important." Plus, while some folks think dragons are overused or trite, I think they're awesome, and they are in the title. A supplement helping you use and integrate dragons into your game is relatively important.
Oh, I love Fizban's, for sure: but if aomeone was just starting, the Core Set and Rules Expansion Gift Sets would get them set for their "Essential" needs, I feel. The rest is awesome expansions.
 

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