Some thoughts on the new 5e DMG

Yup. Authentic DM.

I got the new Dungeon Master’s Guide from Santa, and now I’ve spent some time browsing through it.

And I must say I definitely like it.

I like that the book actually strives to give DM’s tools to construct and create stuff rather than just interpret or guide them.

I also like that the book offers a multitude of options for the same thing, and that it caters to different genres of fantasy gaming by offering tips on how to customise stuff to facilitate various gaming flavours.

To compare, I leafed through the other two DMGs I own: the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide and the AD&D 2e Dungeon Master Guide (Yes, they are actually named a bit differently).

The 1e DMG is the original and what all other DMGs come from. It’s an awesome book, although I must confess that Gary Gygax’s choice of language always put me off a bit, as did the lack of organisation. Back in the day it was also my least used book, as I most often looked for things in my well-thumbed Moldway-Cook b/x books instead. Looking at the book now, I must say it’s a most useful and solid thing.

As I left AD&D about when 2e came out, I have no play relation to it, but I got the core books cheap a few years back and I quite like them. The 2e DMG offers better language and organisation and also differ in content. I especially like the discussing nature and the offering of various optional methods for doing things. Sadly, there is also a notable absence of random tables and good advice on how to construct your own worlds and adventures.

I have never read the 3e or 4e DMGs so I can’t comment on them, but I’ve read the Pathfinder Core book and it bored the hell out of me with all little snippets of rules-es and balance-es. Bought it, read it, sold it.

Other books with very solid DM sections are Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, where topics you have never seen before are discussed – like religion and the nature of the immortal soul. FH&W is actually not that different from 5e, but retain backwards compatibility with the old editions of the game.

I also like the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. It has a lot of advice for DMs and on how to construct and run a game. And it is actually the first D&D book where I’ve seen a discussion on analysis/balancing of encounters (see pages 100-101 of the RC). The system is way too complicated, but as can be seen it’s not a new concept at all as the RC is from 1991.

Things I’m less fond of in the 5e book are XP budgets and the (in my mind) overtly complicated rules on balancing encounters, how many “rests” a bunch of murder hobos should have in an “adventuring day” and other meta-gamey stuff. I’m also disappointed with the hit point bloat for monsters. Come on, 100-200 hit points? Why? It can be that the designers wanted a way out of the “characters level up, so monsters must be bigger and badder”-thing, but I’m not sure this is the right way. I guess that that will be evident when we are approaching high level play…

Also, this book with all it’s options might suit an old DM dog well, but I imagine it would be quite daunting for a newbie DM at first.

To conclude – the 5e DMG is what pushed me over the “hesitation threshold” over GMing a 5e game. Good stuff, and usable for DMs of any edition of D&D or any OSR game really. I’m not 100% convinced that 5e is my game yet, but it’s a darn good mix of cool things from all editions and above all a fun read.

Well done, Mr Mearls and co-workers 🙂

Now we just wait for the PDFs, right?


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