Christmas 2022Beginners Guide to D&D Sourcebooks

Beginners Guide to D&D Sourcebooks


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Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) isn’t the easiest of hobbies to get into. The rules alone are often enough to overwhelm the hardiest of tabletop players out there. Add on the abundance of official supplement books you have to sift through, and you may find yourself wanting to quit before you’ve even started.

To make things a little easier for you, I’ve narrowed down the 50+ official books into 7 bitesize recommendations. For the sake of keeping things beginner friendly, I won’t go into overwhelming detail. Instead, I’ll simply provide concise summaries of what each book has to offer, along with their target demographics.

I’m also strictly limiting this guide to the core and supplement sourcebooks. Campaign and adventure books are an entirely different kettle of fish, and both are deserving of their own separate articles.

Is playing for free an option?

Before getting into this, I’d like to start off by reminding players that you don’t need to purchase ANY books in order to begin playing D&D. The basic rules, character customisation options, monsters, and prewritten adventures, can all be found for free over at D& That, in my opinion, is the perfect way to dip your toes into the water, and get a taste of what D&D has to offer.

However, if you are set on giving yourself a wider array of options, then the books we will be discussing today are a great place to start.

Core Books (Essential Buys)

Player’s Handbook

One book that every D&D player should own is the Player’s Handbook (PHB). This, for all intense and purposes, is rightfully considered to be the 5th edition bible. It contains easy to understand explanations of the basic ruleset, along with step-by-step guides to help you create your characters. 

The myriad of customisation options that comes packaged within this book will service you for your entire tenure as a D&D player. No matter what you fantasise playing as, the PHB can assist you in making that dream become a reality.

Included in this book are:

  • 40 subclasses
  • 42 feats
  • 13 backgrounds
  • and a wide variety of helpful tooltips.

Beyond the initial setup, the PHB is also the book you’ll refer to the most during your gameplay sessions. Want to know how much something costs in a shop? Perhaps what ability a specific spell does? Or maybe how a status effect will impact you? All of this and more can be discovered in the PHB.

Without a doubt, if you only intend to buy one D&D book, you should make it this one.

Monster Manual

This one comes with a bit of an asterisk attached. If you intend to be a player, then you really don’t need to seek this one at all. On the other hand, if you are an aspiring Dungeon Master, then you probably should add the Monster Manual (MM) to your arsenal ASAP.

Enclosed within the MM are 150 readymade monsters for your campaigns. This alleviates a lot the pain of having to come up with your own set of balanced creatures. Instead, you get to sit back and relax whilst choosing which monster you want to torment your players with. Speaking of the monsters, the MM covers just about everything you could ask for. From Dragons and Goblins, Unicorns and Beholders, and, my personal favourite, the Mind Flayer.

Compact stat blocks also accompany each monster in the MM, allowing you to locate, manage, and run an encounter effortlessly. Alongside this, each monster is also provided with a description of its appearance and den. You may not think that is important now, but illustrating an image in your players mind is a fantastic way of immersing them into the game.

Lastly, the challenge rating system ensures you can safely pair a monster to your party’s current level. While it isn’t perfect, the system often does prevent you from accidently wiping your party… so, that’s nice.

Overall, the content found in here will allow you to run games for years to come.

Supplement Books (Non-essential, but recommend)

Dungeon Master’s Guide

Some players genuinely place the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) into the essential category. Whilst I can certainly see their reasoning behind placing it there, respectfully, I would have to disagree with their assessment.

Player characters don’t benefit all that much from having this on hand. Likewise, if you are a self-reliant DM, particularly in the creative department, then this book will also be a wasted investment. That isn’t to say that the DMG is complete waste of time though. On the contrary, it can be a great source of inspiration.

There are a ton of tables for you to roll on that allow you to create basic dungeons, settlements, and NPCs. In addition to this, there are optional game rules for you and your players to tinker around with, along with extra tips on how to better DM your D&D games. Best of all though, the 50 odd magic items detailed in the DMG are exceptional dungeon/questline rewards.

All in all, the DMG is a useful resource to have. Though, like I said earlier on, it isn’t exactly necessary. I’d really only recommend picking this up if you want to boost upon the core gameplay experience, or, if you want some help in curating your world.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGtE) can best be described as a companion piece to the Player’s Handbook. Inside, you’ll discover additional subclasses, racial feats, and spells, that allow you to further diversify your characters skillset and identity.

Dungeon Master’s can also take advantage of this book by exploring the plethora of new DM tools. To name a few, these include, combat encounter tables, dungeon trap examples, and, intriguing ways to highlight player tool proficiencies.

In keeping with streamlining the preparation process, XGtE also provides you with a handy name generator based on race and language origin. This is unbelievably reliable, and a true lifesaver when you need to quickly come up with an NPC name on the spot. Oh, and much like the DMG, you also gain 50 new magical items to add into your campaign.

However, the element I love the most about XGtE, and one that I constantly refer back to, is the discussion surrounding downtime activities. Fundamentally, this section details various ventures you can offer to your party during the less hectic moments. It helps to keep the game moving forward, and give you time as a DM to prep the next big thing.

Undoubtedly, XGtE is one book I am happy to have on my shelf. Having said that, you don’t really need to pick up this book immediately. I would still recommend it, especially if you’ve had your fill of the PHB content, but it’s not necessarily something you need on day one.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Similarly to Xanathar’s Guide, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (TCoE) expands upon the core customisation and ruleset options of 5th edition. In addition to extra subclasses, feats, and spells, TCoE also allows players to fully customise their characters origins via changing their racial traits. Essentially, this allows you to create a character ideology and personality, then pair it to the confines of the game. For example, if you wanted to play an intelligent Orc, or a stealthy Goliath, well, now you can! If that wasn’t enough, Tasha also comes bundled with an entirely new class centred around crafting, aptly called the Artificer.

DMs also gain some additional toolkits. These range in usefulness, from how to add and mange a party sidekick, all the way up to intricately designed puzzles. Though, if you really want to impress your players, you can now offer them the ability to gain a magical tattoo.

‘What are they?’ I here you ask. Well, more or less, these operate in the same way as a standard magical item. The only difference, as the name implies, is the magical power is directly etched onto a characters body. Realistically, this is strictly included for flavour purposes. But it give you another way as a DM to help foster a characters identity.

I love this book, as do the dozens of players I run the game for. Out of all the optional recommendations I have in this list, I’d probably place this one at the top. Yet, much like XGtE, you can wait until you’ve had your fill of the PHB before going out of your way to buy this.

Monsters of the Multiverse

If the villainous foes in the Monster Manual aren’t quite cutting it for you, then you may want to look into the Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (MotM). This contains over 250 new monsters that have been assembled from two other sourcebooks, those being Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. Now, rather than having to buy two separate books, you get both of them for the price of one!

As is standard with 5th edition bestiaries, each monster comes with its own stat blocks and descriptions. However, unlike the aforementioned Monster Manual, MotM simplifies the way that spellcaster variants work. This makes running encounters with the likes of witches and wizards so much smoother for us DMs. — As a side note, I hope the monsters in the MM will retroactively receive this update upon the release of One D&D. — To cap it all off, players also receive a whopping 30 fantastical races to mess around with.

Truth be told, I reach for this book a lot more often than I do for the Monster Manual nowadays. Depending on which creatures you like, you may want to opt for this book over the MM. The only problem I can foresee in doing is missing the stat block breakdown and explanation in the MM. Though, this can easily be remedied by reading the basic rules section over at D&

Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons

As the name implies, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons (FToD) is a large compendium of Dragons. Over 80 Dragon related monsters are packed into this tome, all of which come with beautiful descriptions and, you guessed it, independent stat blocks. You even have chapters dedicated to discussing what you might find in a Dragons lair, ranging from things like magical items to Draconic gifts.

Although there are a couple of new subclasses and player options, both of which unsurprisingly revolve around Dragon themes, FToD should primarily be thought of as a bestiary. And, a very niche one at that. As such, this book is mainly aimed at DMs that have a fascination with Dragons. But, as with everything else in this category, it really isn’t required.


So, there you have it. A very brief insight into what official D&D supplement books you should be on the lookout for. Depending on which medium you prefer, you can purchase these either physically or digitally at all reputable retailers. As one last piece of advice, you can also pick these up as part of a set. Going down this route has the added benefit of being more cost efficient.

The core set includes:

The expansion set includes:

As a reminder though, you don’t actually need to purchase any book to begin playing D&D. Instead, you can find plenty of free resources on Wizards of the Coast’s official digital platform, D& Furthermore, places like Reddit and YouTube offer a ton of homebrew ideas and settings. The content found on those platforms is enough to last anyone a lifetime. I implore you to check those out first before you commit to purchasing any official product.

Lee Fairweather
Lee Fairweather
A lifelong video game lover turned games journalist and historian. You can find me playing anything from the latest AAA PC releases, all the way back to retro Mega Drive classics.

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