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D&D's last core book is your comprehensive guide to breaking the rules

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The Dungeon Master's Guide, the last of the core rulebooks in the 5th edition of the classic tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, will hit the street tomorrow. Its release marks the culmination of a months-long rollout that began in July with the release of the D&D Starter Set, followed closely by the Player's Handbook in August and the Monster Manual in September.

After reading through the new release, Polygon traded emails with Jeremy Crawford, part of the research and development team behind this 5th edition of D&D, to find out more about what went into the publication of the DMG.

For the uninitiated, the DMG is a dungeon master's best friend. It's the one book to rule them all, the most comprehensive and powerful set of resources needed to run a game of D&D. It's strange to see it released so late in the process, to have players sent out into the wild without the game's most comprehensive document to guide them. Crawford told Polygon that this was a necessary compromise to get people playing as soon as possible.

"Our small team couldn’t finish the books at the same time and also ensure their high quality," Crawford wrote. "We could either stagger their releases, or we could sit on the books until all three were finished.


"We opted for staggering the books’ releases, which would give people time to absorb each book on its own. We also wanted everyone to be able to dive into the game and play right away, so we led with the Starter Set, which provides five levels of play. We supplemented that set with the free Basic Rules online, with the intention of making it as easy as possible for people to join a D&D group."

The DMG then is the big payoff, the reward for player's investment in the material so far. It is by far the densest of the rulebooks yet released, but shares the same cover price — $50 in the US.

"The DMG has a lot of material," wrote Crawford. "The focus throughout the book is inspiring DMs to make the game their own."

In order to do that the DMG is broken into three parts. The first section eschews rules almost entirely and spends nearly 70 pages on world-building, covering topics like religion, topography, politics and the planar multiverse. The emphasis throughout the document is on sparking creativity and encouraging customization.

The DMG is the big payoff, the reward for player's investment in the material so far.

That same kind of freedom is extended to the rules themselves. We've noted in the past how light the ruleset of 5th edition is. The DMG seems to pull the game in the opposite direction, and each page is filled with rabbit holes of nuance and detail to scurry down if you feel like it.

Of particular note is the final portion of the book, titled "Dungeon Master's Workshop." Here you'll find a bewildering assortment of optional rules for adding depth and complexity to your game. There are rules for adding additional layers to player skills with a proficiency system, rules for adjusting gameplay based on character sanity, rules for playing with fear and horror, using firearms, explosives and alien technology. There are even rules for playing the game using miniatures on a hex grid.

Crawford says that the goal of the book, and this final section in particular, isn't merely to help give the DM the tools they need to improvise and adapt for the players at the table. The DMG is about giving players permission to make the game their own, and supporting them with resources that make them confident to do so.

"The person who is best equipped to give a group the version of D&D that suits its tastes is that group’s DM," Crawford said. "We want our DMs to feel empowered to dig in and change rules when necessary.

"The book’s optional rules are also there in recognition of the fact that people have played D&D in many different ways over the years. The public playtest drove home that fact to us over and over. Sometimes D&D fans want very different things from the game, so we strive to support as many play styles as possible, without compromising the game’s core identity."

The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons is going to be more open than the last.

All of this freedom, Crawford says, runs in line with the development team's desire to make this version of D&D more open to content creators.

"We are looking into ways to allow people to use the 5th edition rules to create content," Crawford said. "We’ll share more information when it’s ready. Several members of the design team — including me and Mike Mearls — worked on [Open Game License] products before coming to Wizards of the Coast, so this isn’t a theoretical question for us; it’s very practical.

"The more ways people have to cut their teeth as [tactical roleplaying game] designers, editors, and whatnot, the healthier roleplaying games will be, I think."

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