What are the 3 Most Important D&D Books?

The 3 Most Important D&D Core Books – What You Need to Know

If you’re just getting started playing Dungeons and Dragons, you’ve probably come across a whole bunch of books, and want to know which ones to buy.

In this article, we outline the most essential books for players and dungeon masters, as well as point you towards the other available options if you’re still looking for more.

#1 – The Player’s Handbook (aka PHB)

What is it?

The Player’s Handbook is practically the bible of DnD. It covers all the rules, from adventuring and combat to resting and recovery. It also covers character creation, including an outline of all the races and classes.

If there’s a #1 core book for DnD, this is definitely it.

Who’s it for?

Everyone – you can get started with the free basic rules, but eventually you are going to want the full ruleset, which you’ll need the player’s handbook for. You’ll want a copy of this both as a DM or as a serious player (beginner players can probably get away without their own copy for a while). To start with you’ll probably want at least one of these at your table, but eventually you’ll possibly want at least 2 at your table (one for the DM and one for the players to share) if not more.

What does it contain?

The Player’s Handbook contains the following:

  • The main rules – including those for adventuring and combat
  • Other rules eg. for traveling, resting, currency
  • Explanations of all the races and classes
  • Rules and advice on how to create a character
  • Directory of spells and rules on how they work
  • Directory of items including magic items

Do you need it?

In one short word – yes. If you’re going to get one book for DnD, make it this one. It has all the rules for DnD, so is really everything you need to create characters and get started playing the game.

#2 – The Monster Manual (aka the MM)

What is it?

The Monster Manual is basically an encyclopedia of the most popular monsters in DnD. It has a well fleshed out bestiary, containing the likes of classic monsters like dragons, giants, mind flayers and mimics. There are statistics for using the monsters in combat, and the artwork and monster backgrounds will provide your imagination with plenty of inspiration.

Who’s it for?

Dungeon Masters, both new and experienced. It will give you a whole range of monsters to challenge your players in campaigns, either as a reference for pre-made campaigns or as inspiration for monsters to fight in your own campaign.

Along with the basic stats on how the monster will fight, the book is written to help make your monsters seem real. There is history and information about the monsters to help you understand how they would roleplay and fight, and their place in the DnD world.

What does it contain?

The monster manual contains:

  • Stats on all the monsters
  • Monster history and lore
  • Guidelines for using monsters in the game
  • Rules to create monsters

Do you need it?

You can technically get away without this, but it’s very, very useful. You can find other sources for the monster stats online or in modules, and there are other core books or 3rd party supplements that also contain monsters. But the monster manual contains all the iconic monsters in Dungeons & Dragons and many campaigns will reference the Monster Manual. If you are looking for a 2nd book to get, this is the one to buy.

#3 – The Dungeon Masters Guide (aka the DMG)]

What is it?

The Dungeon Masters Guide is the book to get if you want to learn how to be a dungeon master. It teaches you how to run a game and tell a story.

It has extra rules about how the world works in DnD, the background of the DnD world, and tables to help inspire and generate stories to your heart’s content. It also is packed with tips and tricks on how to be a great dungeon master. 

Who’s it for?

This is strictly for Dungeon Masters, you definitely don’t need it if you intend on just playing. But if you are a dungeon master (or a beginner dungeon master) it provides so many handy resources that you’d be doing yourself a disservice to try and figure this all out on your own.

What does it contain?

The dungeon masters guide contains:

  • Rules for running adventures
  • Principles of great storytelling so you can create complex, immersive, and believable worlds and adventures.
  • Guidelines for creating non-player characters
  • Lists of magic items
  • Dice-based generation tables to help throughout the game

Do you need it?

Truth be told, you can get away without this book. If you’re imaginative and a good storyteller you can make do with the Players Handbook for the rules, and the Monster Manual for the monster stats. But this book does make your life a lot easier, it will teach you how to be a good DM, how to tell a good story that hooks your players, and give you inspiration and ideas on what to put in your adventures.

Other Sourcebooks

There are a number of other supplemental books that provide extra rules for DnD. Here’s a summary of the most popular available so that if you’re interested you can go and check them out:

  • Xanthar’s Guide to Everything – an expansion on the rules in the player’s handbook, for example, it expands the rules on traps and magic items. The best bits of this book though is an expansion to character creation. It provides new character classes that are a lot of fun, as well as inspiration for adding to the backstory of your character.
  • Volo’s Guide to Monsters – This provides extra information about monsters. It has the rules for additional playable races that are non-humanoid, such as lizardfolk or tabaxi (catfolk). There’s also an extended bestiary to add to those from the monster manual, with all the same goodies of lore and history that the monster manual has.
  • Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything – provides more character options – extra classes, subclasses, class features, and feats. It also adds a bunch of magic to your world, adding more spells, magic items, and magical tattoos. There are extra rules, such as environmental hazards, sidekicks, how to negotiate with monsters and puzzles.
  • Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes – This book is meant to be the writing of a great wizard from DnD lore, and it has a bit of everything. It has chapters on the history of conflicts in DnD to help provide depth to the DnD world. It has over 150 monsters, with a focus on “out of this world” monsters like demons and devils. It also provides more races and subraces, though these are generally advanced variants of existing races.

There are also books that outline different settings in the DnD world, and books that have pre-built campaigns so that you can run an epic adventure without creating it. We’ll be doing a full guide on all the available official books in the future.

Conclusion

With so many sourcebooks, if you don’t know what to look for it can be pretty hard to know what to get. The DnD world basically agrees that these top 3 books make up the core of Dungeons and Dragons.

For a beginner who’s not necessarily ready to commit to the expense of these core books, we still recommend you start out a bit lighter (see our how to start D&D guide).

But if you play Dungeons and Dragons on the regular and don’t yet have the Player’s Handbook, or if you DM and don’t yet have the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual or Dungeon Master’s Guide, do yourself a favour and go and pick them up. You can thank us for the recommendation later as your game will be all the richer for having them.

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