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So basic background: I am an experienced 3.5 player moving to 5th. I rarely use pre-made adventures and like to homebrew campaign settings based on as many published rules as possible.

While it is clear as to what the Core books are for, the Wizards of the Coast website does very little to explain the contents of the "adventure modules". Are these similar to old-school splat books or do they merely contain adventures?

Googling and this Elemental Evil Player's Companion PDF seem to imply these books contain character classes and new spells. The information on what is in each book though seems very sparse. Wikipedia for example has no articles on the individual books whatsoever and the D&D wikis out there have not managed to answer my questions.

If I want access to all of the spells, character classes, etc., am I required to purchase all of the new books, or do only some contain game rule information? Is there a definitive list anywhere that I have missed stating which classes (etc.) are included in each of the new books?

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Short answer: To get all the "official" things you can use for player characters, buy the Players' Handbook (PHB), Xanathar's Guide to Everything (XGtE), Dungeon Masters' Guide (DMG), Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (MToF), and Volo's Guide to Monsters (VGtM). Also download the Elemental Evil Players' Companion (EEPC) (because Aarakocra and Genasi are not available in any other book).

Note that the DMG, MToF and VGtM books are primarily for those running games but do contain some character options.

Depending on the game you are in, you may or may not consider Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (SCAG), The Tortle Package, Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron (WGtE), and the Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica (GGtR) to be "official". These are setting-specific books (the first two are for the Forgotten Realms).

There are character options in the Aquisitions Incorporated source book, but I'm not sure if you'd consider that "official" as it is a fairly different game from D&D 5E.

To summarise player-character-oriented rules:

D&D Basic Rules (free)

This is a subset of the rules in the PHB, designed as a free introduction to the game. As well as character and game rules, it contains some monsters and magic treasure and advice on running a game.

  • Races
    • Dwarf: Hill, Mountain
    • Elf: High, Wood
    • Halfling: Lightfoot, Stout
    • Human
  • Classes
    • Cleric: Life domain
    • Fighter: Champion archetype
    • Rogue: Thief archetype
    • Wizard: Evocation school
  • Spells: Cleric and Wizard.
  • Backgrounds: Acolyte, Criminal, Folk Hero, Noble, Sage, Soldier

Player's Handbook

  • Races
    • Dwarf: Hill, Mountain
    • Elf: High, Wood, Dark
    • Halfling: Lightfoot, Stout
    • Human
    • Gnome: Forest, Rock
    • Half-Elf
    • Half-Orc
    • Dragonborn
    • Tiefling
  • Classes
    • Barbarian: Berserker, Totem Warrior
    • Bard: Lore, Valor
    • Cleric: Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery
    • Druid: Land, Moon
    • Fighter: Champion, Battle Master, Eldritch Knight
    • Monk: Open Hand, Shadow, Four Elements
    • Paladin: Devotion, Ancients, Vengeance
    • Ranger: Hunter, Beast Master
    • Rogue: Thief, Assassin, Arcane Trickster
    • Sorcerer: Draconic Bloodline, Wild Magic
    • Warlock: Archfey, Fiend, Great Old One
    • Wizard: Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Transmutation
  • Spells for all classes
  • Backgrounds: Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Folk Hero, Guild Artisan, Hermit, Noble, Outlander, Sage, Sailor, Soldier, Urchin.
  • Feats

Xanathar's Guide to Everything

  • Classes:
    • Barbarian: Zealot, Storm Herald, Ancestral Guardian
    • Bard: Glamour, Swords, Whispers
    • Cleric: Forge, Grave
    • Druid: Dreams, Shepherd
    • Fighter: Samurai, Cavalier, Arcane Archer
    • Monk: Drunken Master, Kensei, Sun Soul (also in SCAG)
    • Paladin: Conquest, Redemption
    • Ranger: Horizon Walker, Monster Slayer, Gloom Stalker
    • Rogue: Inquisitive, Mastermind, Scout, Swashbuckler (also in SCAG)
    • Sorcerer: Divine Soul, Shadow, Storm (also in SCAG)
    • Warlock: Celestial, Hexblade, and several new Eldritch Invocations that can be used by any subclass.
    • Wizard: War Mage
  • Feats
  • Spells (including those first printed in the EEPC).

Elemental Evil Player's Companion (free)

This information (except Deep Gnome and Goliath) is also contained in the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure book. The idea of the free download is that players can use the material without having to purchase the book.

  • Races
    • Aarakocra
    • Gnome: Deep (also in SCAG and MToF)
    • Genasi: Earth, Air, Fire, Water (also in the appendix of the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure)
    • Goliath (also in VGtM)
  • Spells: Bards, Druids, Rangers, Sorcerers and Warlocks, Wizards (not Clerics or Paladins).

Dungeon Master's Guide

While primarily for DMs, this book has a few player options.

  • Classes
    • Paladin: Oathbreaker oath
    • Cleric: Death domain
  • Races
    • Aasimar (this is different from the Aasimar in VGtM)
    • Eladrin (this is different from the Eladrin in MToF)

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

  • Races
    • Dwarf: Duergar
    • Elf: Eladrin, Sea Elf, Shadar-Kai.
    • Gith: Githyanki, Githzerai
    • Gnome: Svirfneblin (Deep Gnome) (also in SCAG and EEPC)

Volo's Guide to Monsters

  • Races
    • Aasimar
    • Firbolg
    • Goliath (also in EEPC)
    • Kenku
    • Lizardfolk
    • Tabaxi
    • Triton
    • Short notes on monstrous characters, including Bugbear, Goblin (also in GGtR), Hobgoblin, Kobold, Orc, and Yuan-ti Pureblood

Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide

Resources for games set in the Sword Coast region of the Forgotten Realms,

  • Races
    • Dwarf: Grey
    • Gnome: Deep (also in EEPC)
    • Additional options for Half-Elf and Tiefling
  • Classes
    • Barbarian: Elk and Tiger totems for Barbarian Totem Warrior, Battlerager path
    • Cleric: Arcana
    • Fighter: Purple Dragon Knight
    • Monk: Way of the Long Death, Way of the Sun Soul (also in XGtE)
    • Paladin: Oath of the Crown
    • Rogue: Mastermind, Swashbuckler (also in XGtE)
    • Sorcerer: Storm (also in XGtE)
    • Warlock: The Undying
    • Wizard: Bladesinger
  • Spells: Four cantrips for Sorcerers, Warlocks and Wizards.
  • Backgrounds: City Watch, Clan Crafter, Cloistered Scholar, Courtier, Faction Agent, Far Traveler, Inheritor, Knight of the Order, Mercenary Veteran, Urban Bounty Hunter, Uthgardt Tribe Member, Waterdhavian Noble

The Tortle Package

Resources for games set in the Snout of Omgar in the Forgotten Realms (a region briefly described in Tomb Of Annihilation).

  • Races
    • Tortle

Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron

Resources for games set in the Eberron campaign world.

  • Races
    • Changeling
    • Kalashtar
    • Shifter
    • Warforged
    • Lots of subraces for the PHB races
    • Marks (a way of customising a race with a magical effect)
  • Backgrounds: House Agents for the 13 major Houses

Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica

Resources for games set in the Ravnica campaign world (the world of Magic the Gathering).

  • Classes
    • Cleric: Order
    • Druid: Circle of Spores
  • Races
    • Centaur
    • Loxodon
    • Minotaur
    • Simic Hybrid
    • Vedalken
  • Backgrounds: Boros Legionnaire, Dimir Operative, Golgari Agent, Gruul Anarch, Izzet Engineer, Orzhov Representative, Rakdos Cultist, Selesnya Initiate, Simic Scientist

Online Supplements

There are Online Supplements for some of the hardback adventures, containing magic items, monsters and spells that are used in the adventure, so that you don't have to buy all the compendiums.

Curse of Strahd doesn't have an online supplement but does have a player options document with a new background and some gothic trinkets. It also has some downloadable maps and handouts.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh includes some new backgrounds but does not have a downloadable supplement or player options document.

Download links: Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Rise of Tiamat, Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, Curse of Strahd, Storm King's Thunder, Tomb of Annihilation.

Also consider Unearthed Arcana

Extra rules, including classes, that might end up in a future rulebook, presented for the community to preview and critique.

Personal note: I don't own Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica and Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron. I filled in the items above based only on the ToC.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Technically, the monster manual has a vampire option, though it's meant more for DMs who want to do something with dead characters. \$\endgroup\$ – Spiral_fishcake May 25 '17 at 2:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ WGtE is still considered playtest material though, so while it's technically "official" it isn't really more so than UA. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jun 10 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ New Backgrounds were also added in Ghosts of Saltmarsh. \$\endgroup\$ – sirjonsnow Jun 11 at 19:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ One Grung Above also has options for creating Grung characters, they’re not AL legal though. Here is a PDF preview of the intro: watermark.dmsguild.com/pdf_previews/223738-sample.pdf Speaking of AL, they also have character options not listed in the rule books. \$\endgroup\$ – Liam Morris Jun 12 at 1:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how one could justify the statement that the 2019 Acquisitions Inc. book is "a fairly different game from D&D 5E." It is expressly D&D 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – mdrichey Jul 12 at 3:20
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With respect to the Classes part of the question, and even the options for characters, the answer is no. There are several products, and not all of them provide character class options. Some of the books don't really provide any character options whatsoever, and as the product line expands, that trend will increase.

With respect to the etcetera, almost a yes, because every book is going to at least try to be useful, with a splat background option here (like the Abyss book) and a new low level spell there (like Sword Coast), or a monstrous manual with a playable race hidden in the pages (like Volos), but there will inevitably be books, guides, etc. that will present material wholly useless to character building.

Please note that the Box Set, for instance, has all of its options already covered in the PHB. There will be products you do not need for character creation because the material is duplicated elsewhere. The Goliath, for instance, is duplicated in both the elemental supplement and in the volo book.

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Player Character Options Can be Purchased Separately - but the Savings Vary

As others have noted, different books offer different races, classes, backgrounds, feats, and spells. If you want access to all of these and have a love for paper then yes, you will have to buy many books.

However, if you're not opposed to digital content, you can purchased sourcebooks piecemeal on dndbeyond.com. This allows you to buy only tools for character creation, without having to spend money on elements from these books that might not interest you.

Example: Sword Coast Adventurers Guide (SCAG)

Check out the store page for SCAG here. If you want background info on the the Sword Coast, you need to buy the entire Compendium. However, if you just want the spells, races, subraces, subclasses, and backgrounds, you can buy those individually, or as entire lots.

Cost Savings?

Note that buying all of the SCAG character features would cost you $23.95, where as the entire book (including extra lore stuff, maps, etc.) costs $29.99, so you end up saving $6.04 (not including tax and shipping). The savings from only buying character features differs depending on the book. For example, you can buy all of the character features in Volo's (a $29.99 book) for $12.98, saving you $17.01. For Xanathar's, buying just the character features only saves $4.03.

If you're pretty sure you'll never DM, buying only character features for a book like Volo's seems like a good bet. But still, perhaps there is some slim chance you might want to own the entirety of these books one day - if that's the case, you should ask yourself if it's really worth saving just $6.04 on Sword Coast or $4.03 on Xanathar's.

Additionally, the digital books, like their print counterparts, go on sale every once in awhile. I do not believe these sales ever extend to purchasing individual components of the books, so this will change the math significantly.

I won't go through the math on all of the books because it seems to me the calculation is very subjective, depending on which character features you most covet, and which books contain additional maps, lore, stat blocks, and adventure modules that interest you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch It does, but not not for individual components of the books. Will add a note. \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Jun 10 at 19:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a community-maintained thread of discount codes here. The codes are generally either for single book purchases or for the Legendary Bundle; the sourcebook and adventure book bundles haven't yet had codes that work for them. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 10 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe that if you purchase an individual component from a book that is applied (at least in part) as a discount if you later buy the whole thing. This significantly reduces the downside of buying what you're interested in now. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 12 at 2:23
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Short answer: No. Every player option can be found in the Player's Handbook or the EE Player's Companion

So far the only classes you'll find are in the Player's Handbook, while the Elemental Evil Player's Companion offers some additional options, such as spells and new races/subraces (covering all of those included the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure book).

The adventure books themselves only offer the adventures as well as some campaign setting background information and side missions, as well as some magic items and monsters found in those specific adventures. Exclusively DM material other than the EE content. Very good DM material though, these are very extensive modules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth mentioning the DMG includes the Death Domain for clerics and Oathbreaker paladin; might also be worth mentioning class variants offered in the Unearthed Arcana PDFs. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin T Jun 9 '15 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Isn't there an extra race in Rise of Tiamat? \$\endgroup\$ – detly Jun 10 '15 at 4:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer was correct as of the second year of 5e, but is out-of-date now. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Dec 23 '16 at 17:52

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