Ethan Gilsdorf gets a sneak peak inside the definitive nerd Bible

Of the triumvirate of Dungeons & Dragons holy texts – the Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual, the Dungeon Master's Guide — it was always the last that most enthralled me. How do you manufacture a potion? How long might a wood elf live? What chance might my character have engaging in "non-lethal and weaponless combat," or fighting something while riding on a flying carpet? The DM's Guide had the answer to every question I had.

Not to mention the tome was a vocabulary builder extraordinaire. A mere look at the "Random Harlot Encounter Table" in the old 1st Edition AD&D DM's guide resulted in many an adolescent boy's mind being blown by the possibilities. Slovenly trull? Brazen strumpet? Saucy tart? Expensive doxy? I had no idea what these words meant, but I was motivated to find out.

The new 5th Edition Player's Handbook was released in August, the Monster Manual in September. Now, like the long awaited final chapter to a movie trilogy, comes the final book in D&D's revamped core rule books. The 5th edition Dungeon Master's Guide, which officially goes on sale December 9, promises to be "Everything a Dungeon Master needs to weave legendary stories for the world's greatest roleplaying game" and to provide "the inspiration and the guidance you need to spark your imagination and create worlds of adventure for your players to explore and enjoy."

I've got an advance copy myself and I've given it a quick look. While I've promised Wizards of the Coast not to divulge too much about its guts, I can tell you a few things. First, like the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual, its design is gorgeous, and the art is evocative and painterly, without being cartoonish or trying to mimic video-game art. Like the other two volumes in the set, this one is also priced at $49.95, making part 3 a significant investment. At 320 pages, the DM's Guide is a hefty read, but much better organized, more readable, less unwieldy, and not as crammed with random or little-used information, compared to that first edition.

The Guide also captures the spirit of the game by beginning with text that describes the pivotal role of the DM. The introduction is divided into sections, such as "The Dungeon Master," "How To Use This Book." The subhead "Master of Worlds" advises, "Your world is more than just a backdrop for adventures. Like Middle Earth (sic), Westeros, and countless other fantasy worlds out there, it's a place to which you can escape and witness fantastic stories unfold." It also suggests that "Consistency is a key to a believable fictional world." In the section "Know Your Players," which details various facets and styles of role-playing — acting, exploring, instigating, fighting, optimizing, problem solving, storytelling — DMs are advised, "Once you know which … activities each player in your group enjoys, you can tailor adventures that satisfy your players' preferences as much as possible, thus keeping them engaged." Good counsel.

"The Dungeon Master's Guide is a nod to Gary Gygax's original, with the addition of some hard-earned lessons from the past 40 years of D&D history," said Mike Mearls, co-lead designer for all three volumes and head of research and design on D&D at Wizards of the Coast. "It makes it easy for Dungeon Masters to create adventures by providing tons of random tables, advice on how to make adventures and worlds, and ideas for building campaigns from scratch. It also provides a variety of rules modules, options you can introduce to your game to make it deadlier, emphasize storytelling, or otherwise modify the game's rules to match your preferences."

The book's "Appendix D: Dungeon Master Inspiration" even nods to the original DM's Guide "APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING, which suggested game referees read widely, from A (Poul Anderson) to Z (Roger Zelazny) to broaden their idea of what their D&D campaigns might be.

Below are a few sneak peeks inside the new Dungeon Master's Guide. Inevitably, D&Ders will make comparisons to past editions. What was your favorite edition? What are you hopes and fears about the new 5th edition? Please join the discussion and give us your thoughts.

DMs, may you be hard, but not too hard, on your players. And players, keep on rolling those natural 20s.


Magical Staffs. Obliterate evil with fiery death hurled from the end of a stick! In this two-page spread of magic staffs, see examples of the most iconic wizard spell casting implement. The Dungeon Master's Guide details each one's unique powers. Most of the magic items (and all of the ones on this page spread) were done by the art studio Conceptopolis. Wizards of the Coast says that using a single art studio helps maintain consistency for similar images like the 250 magic items in the DM's Guide.


Elven citadel. An ancient elven citadel grown within the dark heart of the High Forest takes on an ethereal demeanor, and can be as dangerous as any dragon's lair when approached by uninvited outsiders. Art by Claudio Pozas, an RPG writer who has collaborated with Wizards of the Coast on numerous occasions. He lives in Brazil. Wizards of the Coast Works with artist from all around the world: England, New Zealand, Japan, Hungary, Germany, Australia, Russia, France, Croatia, Turkey, to name a few.


The Great Modron March. Mechanical-looking creatures called modrons, which are based on geometric shapes with human-like limbs. From the plane of Mechanus, they tend to its eternally revolving gearworks. Here is a full view of the cropped image seen in the opening page of the Dungeon Master's Guide. Artist: Justin Gerard


Deck of Many Things. Examples of the cards from the "legendary" magical item. As you draw a card, its magic takes effect. Artist: William O'Connor


Figurines of Wondrous Power. Speak the magic word and these statuettes become living beings under your character's command. Artist: Conceptopolis


Magic Rings. A page showing several of the magical rings described in the "Treasure" section of the new DM's Guide. Artist: Conceptopolis


Ingredients. Full page art of ingredients of the sort that might be used to create sentient magic items. Artist: Cyril Van Der Haegen


Magic item table. Full page of possible magic items from the Dungeon Master's Guide, with three items highlighted: a Censer of Controlling Air Elementals, Nolzur's Marvelous Pigments, and a Headband of Intellect. Artist: Conceptopolis


Creating NPCs. A page from "Chapter 4: Creating Nonplayer Characters." Here, some poor red shirt faces a beholder. Artist: Jason Juta


Creating a race. In this page, advice is given to DMs for how to create a new race. Artist: Matias Tapia


Creating a dungeon. "When your map is done, consider adding doors between chambers and passages that are next to each other but otherwise not connected…" and other advice from "Appendix A: Random Dungeons." Artist: Jon Hodgson, Wayne England



Planes. Two pages about "Other Planes," from "Chapter 2: Creating a Multiverse." Artist: William O'Connor



Poisons. Assassin's Blood, Carrion Crawler Mucus, Midnight Tears, Purple Worm Poison, Truth Serum: some of the poisons detailed in the new 5th edition DM's Guide.