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This is my first time DMing, and I already have the Player's Handbook. I'm wondering which core book I should get next: the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Monster Manual? I am creating a campaign for four players, and I already have some of it done, but I would like to have better sources for the rest of the campaign. Which one is more useful?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by V2Blast, Erik Schmidt, ravery, Purple Monkey, Jason_c_o Aug 15 '18 at 0:21

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please don't answer in comments. Whether you think one book is more important, or neither is, or both are, or that it depends, that's basis for a full answer. Take the opportunity to explain the greater context, why your stance is useful, and if there's a "depends" component in your response, take a bit of time to explain so readers can judge for themselves which one they should get based on their needs. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 1 '17 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this question is primarily opinion-based; while there's some opinion in it, the answers below show that there are concrete reasons why the DMG is a better choice. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Aug 1 '17 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire Even if it's not, I think this a question usefully answered by pointing out it's a matter of opinion which is better and/or it can go either way. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 1 '17 at 19:44
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The DMG is much more important.

First, it's worth noting that it's pretty important to have all three books.

That being said, the DMG contains lots of useful information for a new DM. While more experienced DMs might scoff at the advice inside, there are still a lot of useful tables, maps, and suggestions in the DMG that are good for getting off the ground.

Additionally, the DMG contains the list of magic items, as well as guidelines for creating your own monsters and magic items. With the sample monsters in the PHB and the creation guidelines, you could create your own monsters fairly easily.

A lot of Monster Manual is (legally) available online.

The Open Gaming License legally makes a large list of monsters available for free. You can access this list at various places on the internet (here, for example). The list is missing some classic monsters, like the beholder, but for practical purposes it doesn't really matter.

On the other hand, a lot of the DMG advice and creation guidelines are not legally available on the internet (though many magic items are). Thus, buying the DMG gets you a lot more stuff you couldn't get otherwise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Dungeon Master's Guide describes rules, mechanics and context of the game experience and it's good for you to familiarize yourself with the 'runtime' and formulate questions to others and start thinking about the whole picture. You could consider the Monster Manual as a 'department store' for selecting a type of creature to populate one aspect of that world. \$\endgroup\$ – user117529 Aug 2 '17 at 1:01
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I'd recommend getting the DMG first. You can create your own monsters (stat up natural animals, they're likely to be adequate for first level characters), stat up NPCs from playable races in the PHB, and save the "monster" stuff for later adventures. You will, however, certainly want the additional rules in the DMG; the PHB presents only the player-facing subset, and isn't in itself enough to run a game even if only PC races are present on both sides.

For monsters, between the Basic Rules DMG and the SRD, both available at WoTC for download, most (but not all) of the monsters used in D&D are available. That inventory of monsters is enough to run a long campaign. (Some of the product identity monsters like Beholders and Illithids are only in the Monster Manual).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I found creating stock "NPC"s to be very helpful as a new DM. Need a rogue? Good thing you have one made already! \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Aug 1 '17 at 22:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PipperChip Even better, if you have a roster of stock NPCs, you can automagically create recurring characters. That random rogue you encountered in the tavern your first night in Everdark? Turns out he's also the guy you were just hired to catch after he stole the duke's heirloom diadem. And the fellow behind the gang of cutpurses recently plaguing the dockside district. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Aug 2 '17 at 11:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ The PHB also has a selection of low-level monsters at the back; (things that can be summoned, things that can be used as mounts, things whose form a familiar or steed can take, things a druid can wildshape into, things that can be beastmaster companions) which give you a selection of monsters that you can use. You can use them as they are, modify them using the guidelines in the DMG, or use them as a baseline to help judge the strength of any monsters you build from scratch. \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Aug 2 '17 at 12:22
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Neither.

If you must purchase one of the two, since you've indicated you're making your own campaign then I guess the choice would be DMG, given that you'll have plenty of SRD monsters to populate your world but the worldbuilding and campaign design bits of the DMG aren't freely-available. (Then again: the lore-parts of the MM that aren't SRD are pretty awesome and would stand in for a lot of world-building. Still, on "Encounter Design" and "Adventuring Day" and a few tables and sample maps I'd lean toward DMG, personally. If you had to choose one of those two.)

But you're not constrained to buy one of those two, there are lots of RPG products out there!

Buy the Starter Set. Or one of the hardcover adventures. (But the Starter Set's better.)

The Starter Set is designed specifically for you: it assumes a new GM and does a few nice things to help you along:

  • presents the players a restricted set of options (drawing from the Basic Rules) so that you don't have to have twelve classes' features at the tip of your brain, just four;
  • annotates the adventure with GMing sidebars relevant to the material at hand, pointing you to rules on hiding, or overland travel, or exploration, or social negotiations at times where they're likely to come up;
  • fleshes out a scenario large enough for players to wander around and have some freedom in, but small enough to easily keep in your head.

Other benefits to you:

  • there's a network effect: you'll find plenty of other new (and experienced!) GMs who've run the Starter Set and can share experience, vs. the zero other people who've run your custom adventure;
  • it's got a natural endpoint: you don't run the risk of disliking a setting that your players love and feeling obligated to run it a year past your expiration date;
  • using a written adventure allows you to pay more attention to the player-GM dynamic, to rules-questions, to spotlight management... all things that will, in time, become second nature but which will occupy more bandwidth in your early games.

Then seek out advice when problems arise.

Talk with your players. Talk with other GMs. Read questions here. Browse forums. Read GMing blogs. Play in other GMs' games.

With actual quandaries in hand you'll get much more from these resources than you will reading--even memorizing--the DMG. Because the DMG, containing many good things (and hints), is as well laid out as almost any D&D (TSR or WotC) product: it's a great reference once you already know (basically) how to do the thing it purports to present.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I find it hard to recommend the starter set. I found too many groups turned away from the game entirely because of it, as the game seemed "too limited". Which, within 5e's framework, is actually saying somoething. \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Aug 2 '17 at 8:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Encounter design and adventuring day are contained in the DM basic rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Aug 2 '17 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good catch! (I was looking at SRD.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 2 '17 at 14:40
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As a general rule I typically go PHB > GM Guide > Other stuff in that order. Mostly because the PHB and GM guides tend to compliment one another (your mileage may vary). Which is to say that the GM guide may refer to specific examples from the players guide or add additional clarifications to rules. On the other hand, books such as the Monsters Manual are more reference material for things that you can throw into your game.

Additionally, I would also do a couple of web searches for GM tips (aka free advice). For the most part game mastering can be genericized to a point. Which is to say there are problems, and solutions, that all game masters have. Going into more specific problems can be asked with further questions here.

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