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A Beginner’s Guide to Every Dungeons and Dragons Book

On August 19, 2014, Wizards of the Coast released the Player’s Handbook for the 5th Edition of the world’s oldest roleplaying game.

Nerds on Earth was among those earliest publications supplied with review copies of the books, so we’ve had the privilege of watching the game grow from its very first days.

And grown it has! D&D 5e is now undoubtedly the most popular edition of Dungeons and Dragons, regularly boosting record sales, often buoyed by celebrities playing the game online in live events.

But this article doesn’t exist to tell you how popular D&D is – you likely already know that. This article exists to help you sort of the years of D&D 5e hardcovers that have been released. In fact, we’ll go through each book, one by one.

D&D 5th Edition Hardcover Complete List

Player’s Handbook (August 2014)

I’d venture to say that this book has sold infinity copies.

It’s svelte and beautifully made, setting the tone for the art direction and design guidelines for the books to follow. It holds up as the book to get, and since it’s the book that introduces D&D 5e to players, that is perfect, because it’s the book to get.

Player Options: Indeed. This is the first book you’ll want to get.
Monsters: None.
Ready-to-go Adventures: None.
Setting Support: Very minimal; a few glancing references.

–– Get the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

Hoard of the Dragon Queen (August 2014)

This thin 96 page hardcover was released simultaneously with the Player’s Handbook to provide adventure support for the new edition of the game.

As is understandable with a game launch of this magnitude, the Player’s Handbook was being codified simultaneous to the development of this first adventure. As a result, HotDQ was outsourced to a 3rd party developer who, all things considered, delivered a fine meat and potatoes adventure.

Player Options: Scant. Background and hooks only.
Monsters: A few appendix pages plus NPCs.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Of course, it’s the thrust of the book.
Setting Support: All good adventuring begins in a village, and this is true here, as Forgotten Realms is set up. Includes beautiful maps to further intro the setting.

–– Hold off on this purchase. See below.

Monster Manual (Sept 2014)

As a kid in the 80s, most of my love for D&D was developed through reading through monster write-ups. Releasing a few short months after the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual captured the imagination of a new generation of D&D fans. I mean, just look at the beholder on the cover.

Player Options: None.
Monsters: Of course! This is the first book to get for creatures.
Ready-to-go Adventures: None.
Setting Support: None, other than providing general suggestions around habitat, etc. of creatures.

–– Get the 5E Monster Manual

Rise of Tiamat (Nov 2014)

This was the followup book to Hoard of the Dragon Queen. And since the name of the game is Dungeons and Dragons, this is the adventure that put players in the path of the biggest, baddest dragon of the them all…Tiamat.

Again, it was being developed parallel to 5th edition rules being codified, so its a little wobbly in places, but it’s a fire-breathingly appropriate adventure to launch a new edition.

Player Options: None.
Monsters: None.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Of course. Higher level that picks up where Hoard of the Dragon Queen leaves off.
Setting Support: A deepening understanding of the Forgotten Realms as the narrative unfolds.

–– Hold off on this purchase. See below.

Dungeon Master’s Guide (Dec 2014)

Joining the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual, the Dungeon’s Master’s Guide completes the “Big 3” books necessary for the launch of an edition of D&D.

This book for DMs only further frames the rules, particularly those necessary to craft and create your own adventures. Included are such things as tables of magic items or guidance around using monsters well in encounters.

Player Options: No, but it does provide NPC creation rules and magic items.
Monsters: Provides guidance for adjusting and creating monsters.
Ready-to-go Adventures: No. This instead paves the way for “home-brewed” adventures.
Setting Support: Offers guidance for creating home settings.

–– Get the 5E Dungeon Masters’s Guide

Princes of the Apocalypse (April 2015)

This adventure book is actually the reimagining of an old school classic and we did a full review, so I’ll send you there if you are interested in more.

Player Options: Yes, sort of. Although the material does not appear in the hardcover, Wizard’s offered a downloadable Player’s Companion that was tied to the adventure.
Monsters: A few.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Of course. In fact, this is an adventure that appeals to a broad swath of the player base.
Setting Support: Solid. Takes place in the Sword Coast region. Plus, PotA detailed a few small towns in the Forgotten Realms that will tie-in tangentially in future adventures.

–– Get the 5E Princes of the Apocalypse

Out of the Abyss (Sept 2015)

The Underdark is studied by scientists and mistaken for the Upside Down, but it’s actually a classic part of the Forgotten Realms and features some of D&D most iconic characters and creatures. As such, it was a welcome book early in 5th Edition’s release cycle.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: A few.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Absolutely, but likely not for the brand new player. A little bit of experience with D&D might be required here.
Setting Support: Yes, as we detailed here, OotA doubles as a setting book, allowing DMs to run their own adventures set in the Underdark.

–– Get Out of the Abyss

Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (Nov 2015)

Making a departure from adventure-first books, WotC produced their first book dedicated to the setting of Forgotten Realms. Alas, it was a thin volume and a book that was considered a half-hearted effort.

While it included a large variety of locales, information on each was slim. Still, I love setting books, so it remains a favorite of mine.

Player Options: Yes. New archetypes, lots of backgrounds, and more.
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Nope.
Setting Support: Yes!

–– Get Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide

Curse of Strahd (Mar 2016)

Curse of Strahd is the imagining of the classic Ravenloft adventure and featured contributions from Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, the original creators.

It’s gothic horror and features the iconic vampire Strahd. [Our full review here.] Curiously, it’s being re-leased as a deluxe set later this year.

Player Options: A single Background. Monsters: A few adventure specific.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yep, and based on a classic.
Setting Support: Raventloft operates as its own “pocket” dimension setting.

–– Get Curse of Strahd

Storm King’s Thunder (Sept 2016)

We’re now a couple years into the release of D&D 5e and players have fought dragons and vampires, plus have ventured into the Underdark. It was time for giants and what better way to do that than to reimagine and expand the classic Gary Gygax Against the Giants trilogy.

Our full review here.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: A few adventure specific.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes, featuring a more wide open format that offers hooks and links to other adventures, inviting players to zip around.
Setting Support: Yes. The book features locales from previous books and deepens support for the Sword Coast region of the Forgotten Realms.

–– Get Storm King’s Thunder

Volo’s Guide to Monsters (Nov 2016)

Not only did WotC begin to have a little fun here, but they broke with a 40 year pattern of the way monster books were organized.

Volo’s Guide schtick is that Volo–a famed character in the Forgotten Realms–is publishing his travel journals that have insights into monster lore.

Is Volo a reliable narrator? Well, it doesn’t matter: Volo’s Guide was a really fun book, and although it wasn’t “wide” in terms of the number of monsters included, it took them “deep” in an engaging way.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: Yes! Including lore.
Ready-to-go Adventures: No.
Setting Support: Yes. The book details monster culture, habits, locals, etc., which deepens the Forgotten Realms.

–– Get Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Tales From the Yawning Portal (April 2017)

Yawning Portal is a compilation book set in a tavern that can whisk adventurers to far-flung settings.

The seven includes adventures aren’t linked to form a narrative story, but they do often pay homage to some of the classic adventures of D&D’s past.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes, of the modular stand alone variety.
Setting Support: Sort of. The overall conceit of the book is a plausible option to explore various settings but none with real depth.

–– Get Tales from the Yawning Portal

Tomb of Annihilation (Sept 2017)

This is the first book that really explored the exciting places that the Forgotten Realms offers by taking place in Chult, a southern area filled with jungles.

Because it is a jungle-based adventure, interesting play types were introduced as well, such as battles against the elements and hex crawling.

Here is our full review.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes, and set in an interesting locale!
Setting Support: Excellent. The book allows adventurers to fully immerse in Chult, a jungle-covered region of the Forgotten Realms.

–– Get Tomb of Annihilation.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (Nov 2017)

Taking what they learned from Volo’s Guide, WotC utilized the same idea, only this time the central figure was the Beholder Xanathar and the focus was on player options, not monsters.

Every player at your table will want this, as it is necessary to flesh out the narrow options of the Player’s Handbook.

Player Options: Yes! In fact, this is the 2nd volume players will want to buy after the Player’s Handbook.
Ready-to-go Adventures: No.
Monsters: No.
Setting Support: No.

–– Get Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (May 2018)

WotC again incorporated a famed D&D character for a monster book. This one is great as well. It dabbles in the deep lore like Volo’s Guide but ultimately lists a ton of monsters like the Monster Manual would.

As such, it sort of operates as the unofficial Monster Manual 2, yet with a little more flair and creativity.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: Yes!
Ready-to-go Adventures: No.
Setting Support: No. In fact, it muddies things because Mordenkainen is a Greyhawk character and the book dabbles in the lore of various settings without providing real direction.

–– Get Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (Sept 2018)

Waterdeep is a famed city in the Forgotten Realms and this book gives players an urban adventure set there.

It also features a chapter that is among my favorite ever in any roleplaying product. Our full review here.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: No, just NPC support.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes! And it is structured in a way that offers incredible variety and variability.
Setting Support: Yes. Waterdeep is one of the fabled cities of the Forgotten Realms and this book provides a colorful look at it.

–– Get Waterdeep: Dragon Heist

Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (Nov 2018)

Whereas Dragon Heist took players to mid levels, Dungeon of the Made Mage takes players deep below the city of Waterdeep.

It’s also an adventure that plays homage to the “super dungeons” of yesteryear, featuring oodles of dungeon levels.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes, although the through line story is thin. It’s 20+ levels instead offer a more module approach; pick and choose, zip in and out.
Setting Support: Little. Although set in Undermountain, deep below Waterdeep, the book is more of a broad toolbox than anything resembling detailed setting lore.

–– Get Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica (Nov 2018)

WotC dropped a setting book out of nowhere with Ravnica, a setting that is central in the lore of Magic: The Gathering.

Our full review here.

Player Options: Yes! 5 new races plus sub-classes specific to the setting.
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: A low-level introductory one.
Setting Support: Yes! Ravnica is a setting in the Magic: The Gathering card game and this book provides all you need to know to run a D&D campaign there.

–– Get the D&D 5e Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica here.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh (May 2019)

Similar to Yawning Portal, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is another compilation book that contains several stand alone adventures that have in common that they are loosely aquatic based.

Our full review here.

Player Options: No
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes, and a fair variety of tones and styles as well.
Setting Support: Limited. Interestingly, Saltmarsh intros the classic Greyhawk setting yet doesn’t give much support outside of a single fishing village.

–– Get Ghosts of Saltmarsh here.

Acquisitions Incorporated (June 2019)

This is one of D&D 5e’s most interesting books, yet it certainly can be considered niche. Acquisitions Incorporated is the adventuring name of the popular live streaming shows with Penny Arcade.

The book pulls the biggest themes, NPCs, and more into a codified system that allows home groups to introduce and build their own adventuring organizations.

The book is also legitimately laugh-out-loud funny. Our full review.

Player Options: Yes! Players can get a job.
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: A low-level introductory one.
Setting Support: Yes. The book fleshes out a new way to play in the Forgotten Realms via commerce, professions, and organizations.

–– Get the Acquisitions Incorporated sourcebook.

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus (Sept 2019)

This is a full adventure book that takes adventures straight to the gates of hell….well, a descent into Avernus or whatever the D&D terminology is for dastardly and devilish stuff.

Player Options: No.
Monsters: Yes, a few that are pertinent to the setting.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Nine Hells yes.
Setting Support: Some, specifically as it pertains to outlining the famed city Baldur’s Gate.

–– Get Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus.

Tyranny of Dragons (Oct 2019)

Horde of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat were written simultaneous to the game being finalized, so they are wobbly in places. So WotC gave them a quick refresh, collected them, and released them as a hardcover exclusive to game shops.

Player Options: No
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes!
Setting Support: Yes, just as the originals did, this hardcover fleshes out the Forgotten Realms in the course of adventuring.

Eberron: Rising from the Last War (Nov 2019)

After dropping a teaser PDF on dmsguild.com, WotC released a proper hardback for the Eberron setting.

Old school Eberron was great and this updated version is fun as well. Here is our full review.

Player Options: Yes!
Monsters: No.
Ready-to-go Adventures: A brief intro adventure.
Setting Support: Yes, it fully introduces Eberron for 5e.

–– Get the Eberron setting book.

Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (March 2020)

Coming after Eberron is another setting book. This one introduces the world Matt Mercer created for the popular streaming show Critical Role.

That means it marks the 2nd setting book (after Acquisitions Incorporated) to pull from a popular streaming show.

Player Options: Yes, including races, subclasses, and backgrounds.
Monsters: Yes, a few that are setting specific, including a variety of NPCs.
Ready-to-go Adventures: Yes, the book does a nice job of providing a little bit of everything to get you started in this new setting.
Setting Support: Yes.

–– Get the Wildemount setting book.

Mythic Odysseys of Theros (July 2020)

Less than two years after WotC released a setting book that brought Magic: The Gathering lore into D&D, they released a second.

This book takes the Magic spin on Ancient Greece and makes it playable for D&D.

Our full review.

Player Options: Yes, particular races that are specific to Theros.
Monsters: A few setting specific.
Ready-to-go Adventures: A single level adventure only.
Setting Support: Yes, the second Magic setting for D&D.

–– Get Mythic here.