Dungeons & Dragons has books published throughout the year, some with new settings, some have new adventures, and others have new rules. These are great resources for your game, and because they come from the source, you know that it will have a level of fluidity with the current rules, as well as a level of quality that can be expected.
However, D&D, being such a homebrew friendly game, also has an amazing community of creators that want to bring new ideas to this game that we love. If you are unfamiliar with any 3rd Party D&D sourcebooks, the first thing I would suggest is to go check out Dungeon Masters Guild (dmsguild.com) and just peruse their offerings. You can create a book regarding D&D, and put it up on the site, choose your price, and anyone can check it out, give you feedback, and you can begin to grow a following. There are even some free options if you are just dipping your toe in the waters of 3rd party. Also, because D&D isn’t the only TtRPG (and maybe even not the one you’d love the most) you should also check out DriveThruRPG.com for 3rd party books for many other great games that deserve your attention.
Anyway, there are 5 books that I love to have ready and available at my D&D table, that I would strongly suggest you take a look at. Not all of these will be your cup of tea, but some might inspire some new ideas, or give you a new place to look for fresh rules that can mix up your game.
Quick note, by and large these are rules and guides, as opposed to adventures or settings. You don’t need to start over your campaign to begin implementing these books into your planning sessions.
Also, this is not sponsored, and I get nothing from this post. This is just my love of these resources, that I want to share with you.
Strongholds and Followers by MCDM
I’ve talked a lot about Matt Colville on this site, and I’m going to continue to do so, because he’s great. Anyway, his new(ish) company MCDM (Matt Colville Dungeon Master/Master Class Dungeon Master) released a book of his a few years ago. Traditionally when people played D&D, as they began to collect riches greater than they could spend, the “obvious” solution was to then build your own stronghold. Whether that’s a castle, a tower, a temple, or a bar, players wanted to have a home base, and begin to be involved as a mover/shaker, as opposed to a Rat Catcher. This book shows you how to make your own Stronghold, the various upgrades and upkeep associated, as well as break down how being a person with such a place inevitably leads others to want to follow you, or work for you. Some of the Followers might be up-and-coming adventurers that want to help, others might be military units that want to defend your castle. Whatever it is, there are unique and dynamic rules that can easily slot into an adventure you’re having, that really solves a lot of upper-tier play blank spots you might be dealing with.
Also, if you find you like Strongholds and Followers, the sequel Kingdoms and Warfare will be coming out soon, which expands on these ideas, to the next logical direction. Also, they have created their own magazine, like the days of Dungeon and Dragon magazines, called Arcadia, which is full of usable ideas, such as monsters, subclasses, locations, and more.
The Lazy DM’s Workbook by Sly Flourish
Whether you’ve been a DM since 1977’s AD&D, or you’re about to run a game for the first time, you’re going to find yourself asking “Did I prepare enough for this session?” and as anyone who HAS run at least one session can tell you, “No.” You will never prepare enough, it is literally impossible, because even if you spend a full year preparing for four hours of content, your players are going to say or do something that you didn’t think of, and you will have to think on your feet. Enter the Lazy mindset, where because you know you can never do it all, just focus on what you need to do, and how to trust yourself to run the game when the time comes.
There are a number of checklists to run through, a series of random tables for generating monsters or encounters, a series of basic maps for dungeons, castles, docks, and more basic locations, and a few more ideas on how to prep as little as possible, before the time you spend begins to get diminishing returns.
Also, if you like the book, Sly Flourish also as the Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, which gives you a bit more planning, and again stops before you are spending too much time on things that might not matter in the end. A great combo of books to use.
The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters by Keith Ammann
As much as I love a good combat in my D&D game, I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t understand what makes great combat stand out, in the same way I can with the social aspect of the game. It’s just not one of my natural talents, which is fine, because no one is naturally good at everything in the game. Well, I use this amazing book to help me. Keith Ammann first had a blog called TheMonstersKnow.com, where he began exploring how the monsters in the Monster Manual would fight, based on their abilities and lore. What’s the difference between goblins and kobolds? Orcs and Ogres? I don’t know, so before each session, I take a look at my fights I’m expecting, check out the blog/book, read a thousand words, and have a dynamic fight that makes the monsters feel more like a bag of hit points, where everyone just stands in a room and slaps each other until someone drops first.
If you are using monsters from Volo’s Guide or Mordenkainen’s Tome then you need Moar! Monsters Know What They’re Doing. If you feel like it’s unfair of you as the DM to have a toolkit, and not the players (a foolish idea), or you’re a player and you want to make your DM scared for once, then check out Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters.
The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Worldbuilding Guide by James D’Amato
Are you building your own setting? Well, in addition to reading my two articles on the topic (Top Down and Bottom Up), you could also check out this great guide. Between a variety of questions, points of interests, aspects of worldbuilding, this is a great thing to read as you’re creating a world. As anyone who has built a world before can tell you, you’ll never build in any kind of organized order. Some things you’ll instinctively know an answer, and other things you’ll sit there and question until something else has been built first, and it’s a surprise when the answers fall into place later.
Or, perhaps you have a Character you want to run as a PC, but feel they are a little two-dimensional, and there’s nothing beyond the Race/Class/Background combo for your DM to work with. Well, then James D’Amato also has The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide, which also runs through 272 pages of questions for you to build out an interesting character.
Kobold Press Collection
Lastly, I have to mention Kobold Press. This collection of hundreds of books can help you with everything, from new settings, new monsters, secret societies and cults, spells and more. There is so much here, that finding something won’t be the hard part, but figuring out where to start will be. Add into this the blog that expands on some ideas, and has new ideas that haven’t been in a book yet, and you can explore and expand your toolkit for years.