Dungeons and Dragons is one of the most diverse, imaginative, and challenging games on the market.
In this world, the Dungeon Master is the player who controls all aspects of the game. They are responsible for staging monsters, designing dungeons, controlling non-player characters, and making decisions in response to player actions.
There is a craft to being a great DM. In this role, you have to develop several skills to make your games as epic, captivating, and fun as possible.
But this “homework” doesn’t have to be a chore!
These are the 6 books that every Dungeon Master needs to read!
Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master
As a Dungeon Master, you want to run the best game possible for your players. You want them to have fun and enjoy their experience at your table.
Preparing for a roleplaying game session can be fun, but it can also take up too much time. It takes a lot of work just to get ready to prep and then even more time actually doing the prep work itself. This is especially true if you are new or relatively inexperienced as a DM!
The problem is that the more you prepare, the less time you have to actually play your game.
It’s a vicious cycle!
You want to come prepared with great adventures and interesting NPCs, but then there’s always a player who asks “Can I do X?” or “Is this possible?”
Suddenly all of your prep work goes out the window. Do you railroad your players into doing what you have prepared (that’s no fun!) or do you let them explore your world despite having spent several hours preparing the area that they aren’t expressing interest in?
Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master helps streamline the preparation process by focusing on only those elements that will make the biggest difference in your game sessions with regards to both preparations and play during actual games.
Sly Flourish is a huge name in the TTRPG space with a ton of experience and insight for DMs. This guide takes out all of the guesswork about what is most important so that you can spend less time preparing and more time playing!
The Monsters Know What They’re Doing
A lot of DMs will run their combats the same way over and over again. The enemies and abilities change, but it just tends to always become a head-on brawl. This is because it’s easy to do, but can get boring for both players and DM.
Monsters are supposed to be scary, not predictable!
If you’re looking for a way to make your games more exciting (and less repetitive), then this book is exactly what you need. It outlines tons of new tactics that enemies can use during combat so you can keep things fresh every time your players face off against an enemy with a brain.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I very commonly sing this book’s praises!
This book includes over 500 pages highlighting the tactics used by nearly every enemy in the Monster Manual.
Keith Ammann has written detailed descriptions on how each creature might approach combat differently than other creatures with similar stats or abilities. After all, a Mind Flayer is going to use wildly different tactics than an Orc!
With tips on how to properly apply these tactics at all levels of play, this book makes it easy for anyone who wants their encounters with monsters in D&D 5e to feel more dynamic and unique to do so!
Being able to present detailed maps to your group is an incredibly fun feeling that also greatly adds to the immersion in your game.
The problem, though, is that it’s hard to create maps that look authentic. Drawing fantasy maps can be intimidating, especially if you’re not a professional artist.
Fantasy Mapmaker is a guide that takes you through the process of creating your own RPG map step-by-step from scratch. You’ll learn how to draw everything from forests and mountains to bridges, shields, and coats of arms!
Even if you favor using digital tools to create maps for your world, this book will also give you enough of the “theory” to really zero in on your vision and make it a reality.
The author, Jared Blando, is a professional cartographer who works in the gaming industry. He does a great job at giving you a clear step-by-step guide to creating maps just how you envision them. Even if you aren’t artistically inclined, Blando’s method will have you cranking out impressive maps in no time!
Fantasy Mapmaker will show you how to draw your own unique style of fantasy map using a popular tabletop game style as an example. This guide will teach you how to add all the little details that make your map stand out as a professional piece of work done by a true fan!
The War of Art
I don’t think it’s possible for me to create a list of my favorite books without immediately including this one. I read it at least twice a year and have lost track of how many copies I’ve given away to friends.
Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” has absolutely nothing to do with D&D or gaming in general, yet it’s been my most trusted companion when planning campaigns.
You know that you need to write, but you can’t seem to get started. Every time you sit down with the intention of getting something done, your brain shuts off and your internal critic takes over.
That’s when the voices (your Resistance) start up:
“Your players won’t enjoy this. They’re just being polite!”
“Everyone will make fun of you for taking the premise from a movie!”
You start to feel demoralized and creating something fun has started to feel draining. You’re considering just saying “forget it.”
If this sounds familiar then The War of Art is the book for you.
It’s a pretty quick read but it gives clear steps on how to overcome Writer’s Block and Resistance so that you can finish your creative projects. Pressfield dishes out some tough love in this book, but it works wonders!
This book will help anyone who has ever experienced writer’s block or fears finishing their creative projects because they fear rejection or failure. While it definitely belongs on the shelf of any Dungeon Master, I would recommend it for anyone with a drive to do something creative!
Save the Cat!
Every DM has been there…
You’ve got a great story idea for an adventure, but you don’t know how to craft it into a fun and compelling experience for your players.
You need to keep your players engaged and entertained, but it can feel like such a daunting task. It’s not easy to come up with an exciting storyline that will have the right amount of action, drama, humor, suspense…and loot!
“Save the Cat!“, written by Blake Snyder, is designed specifically to help screenwriters create better stories that will ultimately translate well onto the silver screen. But in this book, he also includes some of his advice on creating memorable characters and crafting great storylines.
By applying these lessons from one medium onto another we can create D&D adventures that are truly epic!
Take full advantage of what Blake has learned through years of writing screenplays. He knows how to tell a good story!
Blake’s tips on building character arcs are perfect for D&D campaigns that will fully engage your players! His methods for crafting engaging plotlines are a great way to make sure that each of your sessions is filled with twists and turns that will always leave your players excited for the next game!
This book has been used in Hollywood for years now and it just so happens that this same advice works perfectly when writing an RPG campaign as well. By following these steps you’ll be able to craft the perfect adventure script which will help keep your players engaged from start to finish while telling a story that your whole table will never forget!
Kobold Guide to Game Design
I feel like it would be a sin to not include this gem on this list!
Game design is a difficult art and many DMs struggle to create compelling worlds for their players. There are tons of books out there that will teach you how to design a game, but none of them really tell you what it takes to make a great RPG.
Whether you are a DM who is looking to master your craft or an aspiring game designer who dreams of creating something brand new for the TTRPG community, it can be overwhelming!
This book is a masterclass that explains everything about tabletop RPGs from actual designers’ points of view. It’s like having David Lynch teach you filmmaking, Penn & Teller teach you magic tricks, or Gordon Ramsay teaching you how to cook.
The Kobold Guide To Game Design (2nd Edition) contains essays from some of the biggest names in gaming today including Wolfgang Baur, Ed Greenwood, Keith Baker, Monte Cook, Amber Scott, and more!
In this book, they share their secrets for creating compelling characters and stories as well as building worlds with rich history and culture. They also explain why certain mechanics work while others don’t.
While all of the Kobold Guides are fantastic resources, this one takes the cake.
If you’re looking for incredible advice straight from successful designers then look no further than this guidebook!
Conclusion – The 6 Best Books for Dungeon Masters
There is a craft to being a great Dungeon Master and these books are essential to mastering it.
Read these books and really dive into what insights and experiences the authors are providing and your games will reach entirely new levels of awesomeness!
After all, being a DM is a skill and any skill requires practice and study to get better!
I hope you’ve found this list useful!
Are there any books that have helped you as a DM? Let me know in the comments!
You might also like my article that covers the best adventures for new players!