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I have GM'd several RPGs before that are not D&D (Fate, Deathwatch, Star Wars). We first tried to play D&D using the 3.5 edition and it went horribly — too many books and too many options with no idea of where to start.

I have been told that 5E takes care of all that and is easier and more fun so I want to try that but I would like a definitive list of what I need.

I expect that the kinds of books we need divide up like this:

  • Rulebook for me as GM
  • Rulebook for players
  • Fluff for everyone
  • Monster book for me as GM

Links to these would be helpful as we got very confused with the 3.5 books — who should use what books confused us.

What other things do we need to play a campaign? I expect things like:

  • Dice: what kinds and how many of each kind, roughly.
  • Models and maps. Do we need these? Does 5E need models and a grid or can it be played without (which is preferred)?

Is there anything else that we need that I haven't anticipated?

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All you need to play 5e is the Basic set, some pencils and paper, and the standard 7-die RPG dice set.

The basic set player pdf has the four core classes, fighter, wizard, cleric & rogue featuring the most simple of their sub-class options allowing player to easily slide into the game and learn it. Additionally it covers the various pantheons of gods in the many D&D settings (as well as historical polythestic belief systems such as those held by the norse or the egyptians) and includes information on the 5 factions that NPCs and PCs can join and interact with.

In the DM pdf there is 63 pages, most of which is a fairly decent monster appendix for you to use to fill up your dungeons and towns and wild areas wit foes for the party to fight. It breaks down how to understand and use the monster stat blocks as well as what various monster abilities and monster types mean within the combat system as well as the default story setting for the game. Furthermore there is a section on how to build appropriate combat encounters for your party and a short section on the use of magic items within the game along with a small selection.

You can add options and complexity overtime by picking up the published books 1 at a time.

While the PHB, MM, and DMG make up the traditional trio of core books for 5e, you in no way need the 3 of them all at once to utilize any one of them. All 3 could be used individually with the materials in basic set to enhance your game. If you pickup basic and your players like it, I would suggest picking up the books in order from PHB -> MM -> DMG. The PHB itself will expand both your player's options as well as your materials as a DM (though on a much smaller scale for the DM). The MM will give you oodles of creatures to populate your world at various difficulty levels and provides a wealth of background information about the creatures helping you to roleplay them as well as providing inspiration for world building. Finally, the DMG offers a ton of optional rules, guidelines for customization, lots and lots of magic items, as well as a plethora of tables you can use for ad-hoc creation in your game on the fly.

Both Grid & Minis based combat and Theater of the mind/WYSIWYG styles of combat are supported by 5e

Spell descriptions, creature speeds, and ranges are all given in terms of feet. This allows for a more narrative approach to combat such as theater of the mind where all of it is run in heads of the players' and the DM, maybe with some scrap paper used to help illustrate rough positioning. It equally lends itself to using a ruler for WYSIWYG wargaming rules as well as simply dividing the distances by 5 to make use of a hex or square grid map. One of 5e's stated design goals was that it have lots of optional rules and approaches to allow you to play the game the way your table would prefer it to be played (and also to broaden market appeal).

Additionally WOTC will be releasing free, monthly supplemental game materials in it's Unearthed Arcana series.

The first of which just released this week. It includes some races (warforged, shifter, changling), optional rules (Action points based on the Hero points rules option put forward in the DMG) as well as a whole new class path (Wizard: Artificer). Not all of it has been playtested and you may need to tweak it for balance, but it is more free material.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is almost identical to the answer I was going to give when I saw the question. +1. It may be worth noting that the Wizards website is now going to be adding articles to expand the game on a monthly basis (as small beta tests for future products). \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Feb 4 '15 at 17:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Aviose good point, ill add a mini paragraph about the unearthed arcana starting up \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Feb 4 '15 at 17:11
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You need the basic rules and dice. A few standard sets (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, d%) for the table should do fine for getting started) and you could use an electronic dice roller if you really wanted.

Everything else is optional.

The PHB gives you (lots) more options for creating characters.

The DMG gives you lots of advice, alternative rules, and guidance for specific situations that would be especially worthwhile someone new to GMing in the style of D&D.

The MM gives you lots of monsters that you can just start using instead of designing your own or sticking to the ones in the basic rules.

You can pick them up after having a couple of sessions of the basic rules to see if you like the system.

Models and grids were more-or-less essential in 4e and heavily referenced in 3/3.5. In 5e they are very optional. I wouldn't use them for strict movement, but might dig them out to show rough positions in a complicated area (or just make pencil marks on a sketch map).

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What you need is going to depend on how you want to play.

There is the free Basic game, which is a good place to start. (No monetary commitment)

However, it might be helpful to know what my gaming group does, and how we interact with the various material available.

For starters, what we have at the table.

We don't use maps, and we don't use minis. In general, I have the playerhandbook and monster manual stacked next to me with the published adventure book open on top of the stack.

The players pass around the player's handbook as needed. Which is normally about 2 times per 2 hour session.

I rarely use the monster manual, except when needed for the module. For the DMG, I read through it twice, and took a few pointers for our game table, and asked my players which things they liked, but other than that, we don't use it at the table much. If I was creating my own adventure, or creating a random adventure, I would use it much more often. (We took the moral and wounds table rules, and story based leveling up and aren't using anything else for this adventure.)

Other gaming groups will have a different set up, but I wanted to share what works for us, because I don't feel that the basic free game is fun enough on its own.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your "advantage dice" link is broken. Would like to see this, can you find a new link? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Apr 25 '16 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson I added a picture. Hope they still make/sell them! \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Apr 26 '16 at 10:02
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In the real-example spirit of GMNoob's answer, but with a little-bit different take: here's my minimalist playset: that small amount I'll take while traveling to ensure family can play if we get socked in by a rainy day.

  • Campaign materials: if it's my own, it's a binder; if published, just the module.

  • Reference: just the PHB. Monster and NPC stats are in the adventure, and between those and the PHB there are enough stat blocks to improv other things.

  • Dice: my "small bag" contains two-times (2d20, d12, d10, d8, 2d6, d4), in two distinguishable sets. Basically, a "players' set" and a "gm set", though they all stay central so anyone can grab whatever's needed. However, on-plane we'll go as light as just the d20 and d6 that live in my pocket--with those I can simulate any die without needing re-rolls. (See below.)

  • Paper and pencils. Golf pencils are easy.
  • Depending on who's playing and their tastes, we may use minis. My minimalist set doesn't contain minis: we use whatever's around. Lego minifigs and ponies abound in my circles; I'll usually make an origami balloon with a cartoon face.

Beyond all this, I thoroughly second the framework that Joshua Aslan Smith lays out in his answer for augmenting with further materials.


d4: d20 mod 4

d8: roll d20,d6. If d20<17, d8=d20 mod 8. If d20>16 and d6<4, d8=d20 mod 8. If d20>16 and d6>3, d8=(d20 mod 8) + 4.

d10: d20 mod 10

d12: roll d20,d6. If d20<11, d12=d6. If d20>10, d12=d6+6.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you label the stuff in that last section? I'm not sure what to parse it for. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 29 '17 at 18:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered doing d8 as doing "d20 mod 4" and then roll even odd d6 for high low? Example. Roll both dice. d20 comes up 15. That's a three or a seven. The d6 comes up odd, it's a 3, d6 comes up even, it's a 7. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 16 '18 at 19:59

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