Master of Worlds, Adventures, and Rules: A Look at the 5e DM’s Guide

Posted January 15, 2015 by Chris Lincoln in Nerdy Bits

It’s here, guys! My Triforce of D&D books is finally complete! The Player’s Guide was the piece of courage, giving heroes what they needed to get started on the road to adventure; The Monster Manual was the piece of power, giving dungeon masters the raw elements needed to combat the courageous; and now, at long last, I have my wisdom, The Dungeon Master’s Guide. This wonderful tome has all the advice and help a dungeon master needs to go from simply running a game to breathing life into a world all their own.

5e DM Guide

Or undeath, if that’s your thing.

I’ll only speak briefly on the book’s physical quality, as this 5th-edition guide is just as nice as the others. The glossy cover, glossy/matte back, thick paper, and gorgeous art are all back. The art alone makes this book worth it, if only for one particular section, which I’ll touch on later.

The book opens with a description of what it means to be a dungeon master and a breakdown of the three parts of the book: Master of Worlds, Master of Adventures, and Master of Rules. These three sections cover creating your world, breathing life and conflict into your world, and the nuts and bolts of how all of this works when you hit the table. The last page of the intro section has a useful breakdown of the basic types of players and how to best engage each. This last part is particularly insightful, as I’ve been running games for years and this one page has already helped me design a more engaging campaign for my home game.

After this, The Dungeon Master’s Guide gets started in earnest

Big Picture DM Guide

The Master of Worlds section begins big, asking you to consider the broadest facts about your world. How old is it? How prevalent is magic? Are the gods constantly interfering, vaguely known, or entirely absent? Are monsters even a common sight? Maybe your world is highly developed, with little untamed wilderness causing monsters and magic alike to fade from most people’s memories. That’s one setting for a campaign right there, and with only these broad questions you can craft a truly interesting world with plenty of adventurous opportunities.

Mapping Region DM Guide

Once you’ve got the basics of your world fleshed out, you can begin creating the land in more detail. The Dungeon Master’s Guide gives you a set of guidelines to help you map out your world and begin building the cities, towns, and other locations your party will come across. There’s also a nice little list of questions to consider when creating a new settlement. Basics like size, defenses, where to get a drink or a new sword, and other helpful attributes that make a location feel real. The guide reminds you that you don’t necessarily need all of this information up front; more details can always be added in at a later date. As with the rest of the books so far, you are reminded often that you can tweak and modify things however you like.

Not only does the Master of Worlds section give you ideas for types of government or noble hierarchies, but it reminds you to create an atmosphere for a location, something I myself often forget to do.

From there it’s all about campaign building, going in the reverse of world building and starting small. You don’t need to map out every encounter, combat or other, before you begin. You only need a base of operations for the party and an adventure site or two to begin. Rumors of a goblin raid nearby? Strange noises from the caves in a nearby mountain? Let the players get used to everything before you shake things up and broaden their horizons.

World Shaking DM Guide

There are plenty of options.


The Master of Worlds section also contains a description of the different tiers of play, how the game should work and what the general scope should be as the players increase in level/power. Along with this are options you can use for different flavors, such as fantasy types, intrigue, swashbuckling, even wuxia. It even touches on bringing D&D and our own world together in some fun ways.

In addition to all the world and campaign building is a detailed description of the standard planes of existence, even the Outlands and Sigil, the City of Doors. I’m hoping this means we’ll see some Planescape material published for 5e.

Planes Map DM Guide

Now we come to the Master of Adventures sections, and wow, is it a doozy. Not only is it packed full of ideas and some basics you need to consider, but there’s a chart for almost everything you could imagine. In theory, with this book, you could randomly generate everything you need to flesh out a full campaign. Random encounters divided by location type, villains and their methods, environments, settlements and what they contain, everything has a chart you can consult. You are reminded, as always, that you can make up whatever you need and the charts and tables are there to help speed things up and give you inspiration.

Charts DM Guide

All the tables you could ever need.

There’s a lovely section on downtime, detailing options for handling and spending days not out adventuring. I love that D&D Next has a mechanic for handling this; it makes time spent outside of adventures so much easier to handle.

After all of that is the big draw of this book, and the part that makes it a must-have manual: Treasure.

Treasure DM Guide

That’s a good start.

Magic items and how to identify them. Cursed items. Tables full of properties for any item that needs a history or a quirk. The magic items, in particular, are what really sell everything. Not only are they varied and many, but a good deal of them are illustrated. For the first time we can see these amazing items, armors, and weapons beautifully illustrated. Sending stones have faces in profile. A bag of holding has a face on it. Wait…there’s a bag of devouring? I love this book!

Bags DM Guide

Always check the face on your new bag.

The magic items are the one piece of D&D that was really missing in this new edition. The group I brought in from the D&D Next Playtest was at level 7 and they deserve better than a plain +1 anything. Someone needs a dancing blade, or some gauntlets of ogre power, or the cape of the mountebank! The bag of beans alone could cause an entire campaign! These aren’t just rewards; they can be the focus of entire adventures. And I can’t say enough how great it is to see so many of them illustrated. They really look fantastic, and seeing them helps you imagine how truly mighty your characters must look.

Cloak of Eyes DM Guide

For example.

Last is the Master of Rules section, which isn’t as bland as it might sound. The section does deal with rules, but mostly how to handle them smoothly as well as handling other kinds of situations. There are options for combat, using hexes instead of squares, conditions, even how to run a chase sequence.

Table Rules DM Guide

Number 3 there is pretty important.

This section also includes the dungeon master’s workshop, a chapter with loads of options, rules for building monsters and NPCs, and rules for building entire dungeons. There are atmospheric options, lists of traps and treasures, even what type of structure the dungeon is. There’s also a super handy chapter full of monster lists. Not only do they list monsters by challenge rating, but there are lists of monsters by environment type. That last one really helps you understand what an area is like in it’s wild state and helps you build appropriate encounters.

The last few pages of the book are some of the most useful, as they’re dedicated to a series of sample maps. I couldn’t be happier that they’re here. A tavern, dungeons of various sizes, some regional maps, and my favorite, two basic boats. I’m always at a loss as to how to map out a boat.

Boats DM Guide

“Never get on the boat.”

And that’s it for The Dungeon Master’s guide. There is so much more than I could cover here, but I hope I gave you a good taste of how useful this book is. The authors really know what the core of D&D is and how to teach it to a new generation of dungeon masters. So go grab The Dungeon Master’s Guide and start creating something.

Build a world you can be proud of.

Modrons DM Guide

And watch out for modrons.

About the Author

Chris Lincoln

A gamer through and through. A first class nerd. All games are his realm, but the tabletop is where he sits upon his throne.