For decades, Dungeons & Dragons has been the most recognizable name in tabletop role-playing games, inspiring generations of fans to create their own fantasy-themed campaigns in which to immerse themselves. During this past summer, following nearly a year and a half of play-testing, Wizards of the Coast began releasing Dungeons & Dragons’ fifth edition. The core of the game consists of three books—the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide—which taken together as a set, offers a solid foundation from which players young and old can launch all-new adventures.
Dungeons & Dragons has long combined group storytelling and dice-rolling, and the fifth edition is no different. One player serves as the Dungeon Master (DM), setting the stage by describing the campaign’s goals, enemies that the party encounters, locations to explore, etc. Prior to the adventure actually beginning, the other players can personalize their in-game counterparts by choosing among different creature types—along with humans, they can play as dwarves, elves, a particularly exotic-sounding type called the Dragonborn, and more—and classes. For the latter, think fighter, wizard, ranger, etc. Many of these terms will probably sound familiar to anyone who’s ever read J.R.R. Tolkien, or has watched The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings movies (As it happens, Tolkien was a major influence on the Dungeons & Dragons).
The Player’s Handbook contains an encyclopedia’s worth of information about the different creatures and classes, as well as their attributes, to go with illustrations that hint at the breadth and scope made possible by the game. But just as importantly, the handbook goes into extensive detail about play mechanics—the structural elements that counterbalance the more open-ended aspects of game play: For example, an entire chapter is devoted to situational rolls such as ability checks, which is when a player rolls the dice to determine whether an action with a chance of failure is successful. The book does a good job of explaining the formulas and/or systems used with the dice rolls. In addition, the text includes plenty of hypothetical situations for when such rolls would be necessary, which is useful for getting new players into the mind set of using them.
Both the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual are similarly comprehensive and laden with painterly illustrations. With regards to the former, it introduces aspiring DM’s to their role as chief architect and storyteller, and offers instructions on how to create their universes, how to populate them, what kind of magical artifacts and items to include, etc. It also seems focused on teaching newcomers how to be the most effective DM possible: Indeed, roughly one-third of the book is devoted to adjudicating the ability checks, saving throws, and elements of game play mentioned in the Player’s Handbook; however, the guide looks at them from the DM’s perspective.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide also gives tips on matters that might easily be overlooked by newbies, such as the fact that some players are more interested in the problem-solving aspects of Dungeons & Dragons, while others are more invested in the monster-fighting. Learning how to make the game interesting for different types of players, the book argues, is a key element to being a quality DM. Meanwhile, for those who can’t tell a lich from a nothic, the Monster Manual is an invaluable resource: Not only does it offer a snazzy introduction to a dictionary’s worth of strange creatures, but when combined with the other two tomes, it provides the aforementioned foundation from which the previously uninitiated can cut new adventures from whole cloth, or utilize prepackaged epic storylines via separate modules.
While experienced Dungeons & Dragons players will likely make the transition from earlier editions without too much fuss, on the other hand, those audiences who are completely new to the game may find all the up-front information a bit overwhelming. For the latter group, the likely solution is to create a campaign, gather some friends, play out the scenario, and repeat the steps until the rules and objectives are all second nature. Only then will they, following along the path of previous generations of gamers before them, be on their way to becoming a true master Dungeon Master.