5 Questions to Help Pick Your Next D&D 5e Book

Reading Time: 10 minutes

If you only buy one D&D 5e book, which should it be?

D&D next 5e book
image by Simon Yule

Some would argue that being a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast doesn’t have to be an expensive past-time.

Sure, you could play with just a single set of dice and a downloaded PDF of the basic rules, of course you could. But where’s the fun in that? Don’t you need to own things?

More likely you’ll want to at least get a copy of the Player’s Handbook, a gigantic pile of dice of all shapes and sizes, some fancy minis to represent the many characters you’re going to create, and then, perhaps, one of the many supplementary official D&D books to boot. But how do you choose which one?

So far, Wizards of the Coast have published five official 5th edition books (excluding the three core rules books and six campaigns), and are no doubt planning many more. Those five include the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, Tales From the Yawning Portal, Tales From the Yawning Portal, and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

Each of these releases contains additional material that players and DMs can use in their games. From player character options, to extra rules, dungeons, and monsters, Dungeons & Dragons fans have a lot to choose from. But how do you know which 5e book to buy? Especially when you consider the +1 rule for the official Adventurer’s League games (this lets you use the Player’s Handbook plus one extra source to build your characters).

Maybe the following five questions can help:

  1. Who is this book intended for?
  2. Can the content be found elsewhere?
  3. What are the highlights of this book?
  4. Are the any drawbacks to the content?
  5. Is it worth the money?

Note: If you want help picking your next D&D campaign book, this article might be of more use.

Elemental Evil Player’s Companion The supplement to 2015’s Princes of the Apocalypse. RRP: Free download from the D&D website.

D&D 5e books
image by Simon Yule
  1. Who is this book for?

This companion is intended for players, but is also a useful resource for DMs. It was the first 5e book released and had the first official new playable races, as well as new elemental themed spells.

  1. Can the content be found elsewhere?

Yes. Most of the content in this book has since been duplicated. The elemental spells are included in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (discussed later) and some of the playable races find themselves in The Sword coast Adventurer’s Guide and Volo’s Guide to Monsters. That being said, there is still some unique content; the race information and flavor text for the Aarakora and Genasi is not reproduced elsewhere.

  1. What are the highlights of this book?

This was a great  supplement because it came first. As soon as I read it I wanted to play a goliath and I was using some of the elemental spells for my very first characters. As a companion for Princes of the Apocalypse this is an essential resource for players and DMs, as it details all of the new elemental spells that players and NPCs have access to and lets you play some exciting character races that aren’t presented in the Player’s Handbook.

  1. Are the any drawbacks to the content?

This is easily the shortest 5e supplement available and therefore has the least amount of content.

  1. Is it worth the money?

Absolutely. This is available as a free PDF from the Wizards of the Coast D&D website – why wouldn’t you get it? Even if you’re not planning on playing or DMing Princes of the Apocalypse, this is a fantastic tool for expanding on the player options from the core handbook.

Sword Cost Adventurer’s Guide Your no.1 companion across The Sword Coast and the most famous locations in Faerûn. RRP: $39.95

D&D 5e book
image by Simon Yule
  1. Who is this book for?

Both DMs and players alike will get a lot from this 5e book. While it may have been crafted with players foremost in mind, it’s DMs that may actually get the most from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Especially useful if running Storm King’s Thunder. It also contains lots of new player character options.

  1. Can the content be found elsewhere?

While some of the player content is available in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, such as some of the extra spells and subclass options, it’s the lore and the details of the history of the Sword Coast that make this book unique, and that detail is not found in any other official 5e book.

  1. What are the highlights of this book?

Like Xanathar’s, this 5th edition book has lots of useful flavor detail for character creation, as well as additional backgrounds, subclasses, subraces, and spells that aren’t in the Player’s Handbook. But, as mentioned above, that’s not the real jewel in the crown; there is so much information here for DMs. This book makes the Sword Coast come alive. No longer just a place with a cool name, some well-known cities and not much else, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide turns the Sword Coast into a living, breathing location, complete with legends, rumors and recent history.

  1. Are there any drawbacks to the content?

Players expecting new playable races or classes will be disappointed with this book as it contains none of these.

  1. Is it worth the money?

Yes and no. It you’re looking to run an adventure that focuses on the lesser known locations around the Sword Coast then you should definitely invest in this 5th edition book, especially if you’re thinking of running Storm King’s Thunder. However, if not you may want to look elsewhere, as a lot of the player options have been covered or improved upon in subsequent books.

Tales From the Yawning Portal A collection of classic D&D dungeons and campaigns brought into fifth edition. RRP $49.95

Fellow Geekdad Rory Bristol reviews Tales from the Yawning Portal here.

D&D 5e book
image by Simon Yule
  1. Who is this for

This was the first DM-only 5e book and is really more of a campaign book than anything else. It has a number of chapters that each contain a different dungeon which can all be linked together through the eponymous Yawning Portal Tavern.

  1. Can the content be found elsewhere?

The dungeons and details in Tales From the Yawning Portal are not available elsewhere in 5e. They are, however, all reprints or updates of well-known dungeons and stories from previous editions.

  1. What are the highlights of this book?

Each of the mini-campaigns in the book are great. I’ve written about my experience running the Tomb of Tamoachan, but there are more highlights here than just that. This book also contains unique monster stat blocks and cursed magic items that aren’t in any other 5e book, such as the Centaur Mummy and the Stone of Ill Luck. Also it is the first attempt in 5e to bring the Tomb of Horrors to life, this has since been re-imagined as the final dungeon in Tomb of Annihilation, but thankfully none of the actual content is duplicated.

  1. Are the any drawbacks to the content?

This book is purely for DMs. There is very little here that will help players, and even less they can actually use. What’s more, while this book is called Tales From the Yawning Portal it doesn’t actually contain the legendary dungeon (Undermountain) which the Yawning Portal famously leads to, either in part or in its entirety. This seems like an oversight, especially seeing as that’s exactly where my players wanted to go when they entered the Yawning Portal tavern.

  1. Is it worth the money?

Kind of. For DMs wanting to run some classic dungeons from D&D’s past in the modern 5e context it is absolutely worth the money. However, if you’re looking for a resource tool to either help you build better dungeons, run a better game, or create different characters then look somewhere else.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters Volothamp Geddarm presents monster lore, character races, and a bestiary of some of the most iconic monsters in the Forgotten Realms. RRP $49.95

James Floyd Kelly reviews Volo’s Guide here.

D&D 5e book
image by Simon Yule
  1. Who is this book for: Players or DM?

Both. While this 5e book is primarily suited to DMs as it contains additional monsters and monster lairs, there is also a fairly large portion of this book devoted to new ‘monstrous’ playable races which players will enjoy.

  1. Can the content be found elsewhere?

Some of the monsters are duplications found in theTales from the Yawning Portal (Adventure Guide) DnD 5th Edition Nextcampaign book, but other than that, most of the content is unique to this book. What’s most useful are the intricate details and lore of some of the monsters. There are whole chapters dedicated some of D&D most iconic creatures, such as Mindflayers, Beholders, and Gnolls.

  1. What are the highlights of this book?

For me, the section on Mindflayers has been the most useful so far. But reading through any of the segments on monster lore really allows DMs to start developing plot hooks and is generally great for inspiration. Also, the maps of monster lairs are a great addition, making this book more than just monsters and flavor text. Highlight for players include character options for building Tabaxi (cool cats), Kobolds (dragon minions) and Firbolgs (who knows!)

  1. Are the any drawback to the content?

None that I can think of. A part from the fact that I lost almost an entire week reading and re-reading the monster lore section, trying to create the best beholder lair that I could.

  1. Is it worth the money?

Yes. Where else can you get the player options of building a goblin, bugbear or kenku character? This is also a real treat for DMs as it the perfect tool for creating unique and memorable monsters for your players not appreciate.

Note: the Beholder I spent a week creating was killed in minutes by my party of over-zealous murder-hobos. They never got to discover his gentler side or realize his love of small kittens.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything The first major expansion for 5e, offering new rules and story options. RRP $49.95

D&D 5e book
image by Simon Yule

Note: Rory Bristol delivers a great review of Xanathar’s alongside WoTC’s latest offering Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes which can be found here

  1. Who is this book for: Players or DM?

This 5e book is designed very much for both. Players get the opportunity to expand their class options, with each class having additional subclasses here. These include 3 new primal paths for barbarians, 3 new bard colleges, 3 new routes for fighters and monks, 2 paladin oaths, as well as new options for rangers, rogues and spellcasters. Meanwhile DMs will have access to a whole host of new content like new traps, common magic items and expanded spell books. There are also new tables for random wilderness encounters and new options for what characters can do in their downtime.

  1. Can the content be found elsewhere?

Some of the class material available in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has been published prior to this on the Dungeons & Dragons website as part of its Unearthed Arcana segments, where the material is released for free and then play tested and fine-tuned before publication here. Otherwise very little of the book can be found in other 5e books or releases. In fact, most of the DM material here is alternative options for things found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, such as options for encounter building, sleeping and using tool proficiencies.

  1. What are the highlights of this book?

There is so much content in this book. It really deserves the mantle of the first major expansion. For players the standout highlight is all the additional detail available for creating character back stories and origins. While for DMs the best bits are found in the Dungeon Master’s Tools in Chapter 2 as well as the comprehensive lists of character names in the appendixes. The lists of names is a very useful feature than any DM will appreciate when creating NPCs.

  1. Are the any drawbacks to the content?

The main complaint players have of this 5e book is the lack of any additional classes. Wizards of the Coast released a number of play tests for Artificers and Psychics in their Unearthed Arcana blog, but unfortunately none of these made it into this book.

  1. Is it worth the money?

Yes. Like Volo’s Guide to Monsters, this 5e book will appeal to players and DMs in equal measure, and has new and unique content that you will be excited to add to your D&D games. The only problem is in deciding in whether you go for The Hexblade Warlock with a shadowy pact, the Monk following the Way of the Drunken Master, or the Samurai, courtly, mighty and elegant. This is definitely another book that will swallow your time.

 Overall

So which 5th edition supplement should you buy? Well, you should definitely start by downloading the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, it is free after all! Then, it really depends on exactly what you’re after.

For players, if you’re looking for more class options Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the best bet, for more race options Volo’s Guide to Monsters is the right choice. Remember, if you’re looking for Adventurer’s League legal content you can only use your Player’s Handbook plus one of these supplements.

For DMs, Volo’s Guide has some of the most interesting monsters and lore out there and is essential for building those memorable, fantastic encounters. Meanwhile, both Tales From the Yawning Portal and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide are valuable tools, but are definitely more specialist in terms of usefulness.

In any case, Wizards of the Coast will continue to release 5e books that coincide with and run along their annual campaign releases, so soon there will be even more choice. What’s more, if you’re not worried about official Adventurer’s League play, you should check out the DMsguild for additional D&D content. There is more there than anyone could ever play in a lifetime of delving into dungeons and fighting imaginary monsters.

One final supplement that’s worth a look, and is also Adventurer’s League permissible, is the Tortle Package from Wizards of the coast, available on the DMsguild. This has content for both DMs and players, and is well worth the $9.99. Especially as all proceeds go to the D&D ExtraLife charity to help sick and injured kids.

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