D&D 5 Basic DM Guide Review

Author: Andrew /

So I absolutely understand that you're all chomping at the bit to see the D&D Player's Handbook review, but alas, 'tis a mighty tome and a beast of a read.  I've thoroughly skimmed it and read approximately the first third of the book in depth and, to quench your thirst for opinions, in lieu of a proper review for now I will say it's excellent.  It's simple, clear, and presents a large amount of variety and is absolutely worth getting.  I may even make it mandatory that each player in games I run have one.  That having been said, on to what this article is really about!

The D&D Basic Rules (which can be found here) were a major hit.  They present all the rules a player needs to create a simple character that's playable in a session of D&D and the good folks at WotC even made them absolutely FREE!  It's a brilliant idea and a wonderful way for prospective fans or those who're just curious about tabletop RPG's in general to poke their noses in, get their feet wet and see what all the hubbub is about without spending a cent.

Following the success of the Basic Rules PDF release (which, as of 8/12/2014, has been updated from it's 0.1 version) they have now released the Dungeon Master's Basic Rules v0.1 which  is essentially a 100% free mini Dungeon Master's Guide.  I just finished reading through it and it is coooool!  And with that, we're gonna break it down right now so you can get an idea of what's so cool about it.


The monsters section is, I feel, one of the most looked-forward-to things they've released since the limited release of the Player's Handbook this past week.  Up until now, there has been very limited information on monsters that weren't part of the play test.  Now, quick disclaimer, it is noted that these rules are a work in progress, and as both the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master's Guide have not been released yet (expected releases are in October and November of 2014 respectively) changes can still be made.  That being said, these can be expected to be very close to the expected results, if not 100% the final product.

The beginning of this section opens with a rundown on monster-based terminology.  Some of these things are very simple, such as size categories spanning "Tiny" (which can occupy a space of 2.5" x 2.5") all the way up to the largest size "Gargantuan" (which occupies 20" x 20" or larger).

They then go into "Type" which covers what kind of creatures will exist in the world, hitting all the expected categories with verbal elaboration of a small paragraph apiece.  I learned a few new things, one of which was that Ogres and Trolls are also technically under the "Giants" category.

After hitting other small things such as movement types, how hit points are dealt with, special traits (Innate Spellcasting, Spellcasting), etc, they did talk about Challenge Rating (CR) and it helped me understand a deal about it. (Note: this does include some info that was included after the monsters were actually listed, but I wanted to put it all together)

Challenge Rating: "A monster's challenge rating tells you how great a threat a monster is.  An appropriately equipped and well-rested party of four adventurers should be able to defeat a monster that has a challenge rating equal to it's level without suffering any deaths."

So, monsters all have a CR number in their individual description.  This number goes from 0, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and then 1-30.  This means that, ideally, a party of four adventurers should be able to take on one monster of that CR.  An example is an Adult Red Dragon, which is a CR17.  This means that a normal sized party of 4 level 17 adventurers should be able to take one on and reasonably expect to tackle it without character deaths.

CR also factors into encounter building (this is the portion where they specifically make note of these rules being a work in progress).  They recommend building encounters in 4 steps:

1. Note Encounter Difficulty Thresholds - Using the Encounter Difficulty XP Per Character table.

The table has character levels (1-20) running down the left side, with 4 columns labeled with difficulties (easy, medium, hard and deadly).  Each column has a suggested XP amount which is equal to approximately how much "XP-worth" of monster will give a character of a given level an easy, medium, hard or deadly time.

An example is level 1.  Easy = 25 xp, Medium = 50 xp, Hard = 75 xp, Deadly = 100 xp.  So, a monster worth 25 or less xp should be easy for a single level 1 character to deal with.  In contrast, a monster worth 100 xp or more would almost definitely kill them.

2. Add Up Encounter XP - Total the XP values of each enemy in the encounter to get the encounter's XP value.

3. Adjust Encounter XP based on the Number of Monsters - (This is an interesting one) - Based on the number of monsters in the encounter, multiply the encounter's XP by the matching multiplier from the Encounter XP Multipliers table.  Note: This doesn't change the actual XP award for the encounter, it simply helps to show the real difficulty.

1 Monster - no multiplier, 2 = x1.5, 3-6 = x2, 7-10 = x2.5, 11-14 = x3, 15+ = x4

4. Compare the Encounter XP Value to Party Encounter Difficulties -  So, you get the levels for your party and find the recommended XP value for however difficult of an encounter you'd like to build.  (For example, if you want a medium encounter for 4 level 1 characters, your target is 200, because medium for one Level 1 character is 50).  You then add up the XP values of each monster you've selected for your encounter, multiply that by the appropriate multiplier, and see how they compare.  If it's too hard or too easy, adjust accordingly.

It's a relatively simple system when you see the charts and gives a good guideline for building meat-grinders to throw the adventurers into.  They do make a point of noting that these are merely guidelines.  When you play, you'll gauge how your players handle certain things and you'll get a feel for just how to challenge them appropriately.

The Monsters Themselves

The monsters themselves are well done and varied.  They look easy enough to run and many come replete with some cool features.  Each monster has it's AC (and in parenthesis what their AC is coming from), their HP and Speed.  This is followed by their 6 ability scores and modifiers, any skills / senses they have, languages, and their CR.  After that, it's just simple abilities (like the Goblin's nimble escape) and then their Actions, which are made up of their attacks, followed by a sentence or two of flavor.

In comparison to 4th ed, these are very tight, no more powers that won't get used!  The attacks are simply that, attacks.  The amount to hit, range, amount of targets and damage.  This makes monsters much easier to manage, as they're all organized the same way.

The monsters also run the gamut of levels (or CR's), from less than 1 - 17.  This makes me think the Monster Manual ought to be jam-packed with some big baddies!  Also included are stats for NPC's such as Commoners, Knights, Guards, Acolytes, etc.
Magic Items

The last portion covers Magic Items very briefly with a few examples.  We get a look at +1 Armor and Weapons, which very simply add +1 to your AC and +1 to attack and damage rolls respectively.  The other items, however, were a deal more interesting.

There are items now, such as the Amulet of Health.  This item, in past editions, has awarded additional HP or the ability to heal a small amount, etc.  Now, it very simply replaces your constitution score.  It states that when you're wearing the item, your Constitution score becomes 19, but if your Constitution is higher than that, it has no effect.

This, to me, is a very interesting way of dealing with items like this.  It stops a player from over-stacking items of a certain type to push beyond certain boundaries and helps maintain an even balance.  One issue with some past editions were numbers getting out of control.  This edition shows evidence of things being reigned in, for the better, in my opinion.

One aspect I noticed related to Magic Items, also, was the idea of attunement.  Certain items will state that they require attunement to use.  To do it, you take a short rest and concentrate on the item, and they make an explicit note that it cannot be the same rest it takes to identify the item and what it does.  The concentration period must be uninterrupted.  An item can only be attuned to one person at a time and you can only be attuned to up to 3 items at once.  Also you can only attune to one item per short rest.  Attunement ends if you've been more than 100 feet away from the item for 24 hours or if you die.

Conclusion (or TL:DR):

This is a great little document, coming in at 61 pages.  It's choc full of monsters, some solid rules for them, and good encounter guidelines, as well as a thorough explanation of challenge rating, which was confusing me up until this point.  On top of that, we get our first good peek at magic items which should allow the DM's out there to hand out just a bit more phat loot, and who doesn't like that?!