Dungeons & Dragons (the brand) has never been too shy about publishing a plethora of books to support players and Dungeon Masters alike. From modules and lore supplements to partnerships with high profile partners like Penny Arcade and Critical Role, just within the main line there is a lot to get a grip on. Spend enough time in the hobby though and eventually you do hit that end point though. If you already have everything from Acquisitions Incorporated to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, where do you go next?
I’ve discussed in previous articles the different systems one might branch out into if mainline D&D isn’t your thing but there are even options out there to expand your horizons within the game itself. Wizards of the Coast uses an Open Game License in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, meaning that other designers and companies can use the baseline rules and mechanics of their game without being officially licensed. A lot of times you will see these sorts of books in local game stores with a big twenty-sided die logo with a “5E” in its center to denote this. It means that while not officially branded as a Dungeons & Dragons™ book, it is absolutely a dungeons and dragons book.
Obviously, I hit that threshold a long time ago.
Nowadays any time I go into my local game store (shout-out to Guardian Games and Rainy Day Games, in Portland and Aloha, Oregon respectively), I am always beelining it to the shelf just next to all those books with the fancy ampersand. Third party books, as they’re referred to, come in all shapes and sizes. You never know just what you’ll find out there, and today I’d like to highlight a few books and companies that can help grow your own game if you have a mind to!
One of the largest third party publishers right now is Kobold Press, probably best known for their line of expansive monster manuals including Tome of Beasts 1 and 2, as well as the Creature Codex. Less known, but equally significant, Kobold Press was contracted to produce the first two modules published in D&D 5e, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat. These two adventures served as many folks’ first campaigns using the newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, so checking out many of the other adventures made by Kobold Press will feel fresh but familiar.
Among them is the expansive line of products set in the Midgard setting created by the company’s creative team. Two of these books, Midgard Heroes Handbook and Deep Magic, serve as great additions to any game of 5e with the former adding tons of new races and subclasses while the latter is an entire book devoted to spells for every class in the game.
If hewing to a more old school aesthetic is what you're looking for, then look no further. Goodman Games has what you’re looking for! While they also publish a line of books using modified older rulesets, their conversions of classic D&D modules using 5th edition is what I’m here to talk about. These lovingly reprinted hardcovers contain everything you need to run some of the best classic D&D modules in the newest ruleset. The Original Adventures Reincarnated series has seven books in total (as of this writing), though the most recent publication is a bundle of two. Each contains the original artwork and design philosophies of D&D’s earliest adventures. It’s all about slaying monsters, getting gold and delving into the dungeons. Simple, straightforward and, at times, punishing to the unwary adventurer.
A personal favorite of mine is the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (seeing as it’s the only one I’ve run to completion). In it adventurers from a baseline fantasy world find themselves exploring the ruins of a retro-futuristic spaceship. Leaning into the Conan the Barbarian meets The Jetsons vibes that this presents is some of the most fun I’ve had running a pre-written module. I highly recommend it for any dungeon master who finds the idea of describing sci-fi technology like fluorescent lighting and movie theaters in a way that a fantasy character might understand.
Saving some of the best for last, Loresmyth is on the smaller side of publishers but they have made a huge impact on my personal DMing. Their two notable works to date are Remarkable Inns & Their Drinks and Remarkable Shops & Their Wares, with a new book, Remarkable Cults & Their Followers, due out early next year. These books, while technically ruleset agnostic, fit very well into any fantasy adventure game including those played in 5th edition. They add locations and characters associated with them (be it Inns or Shops) that can be dropped neatly into any campaign and make the life of any harried DM easier in the process. When one of your players asks for the barman’s name, you’ll actually have it ready to go!
Less lauded but no less impactful, Loresmyth also produces a series of card decks that can be utilized in any game which help generate unique discoveries. From random detritus, odd encounters to magical treasure, these cards are great for DMs (like myself) who thrive on randomization and improvisation to help spice up their games.
Many smaller third party publishers do similar things, which is one of the joys of exploring what they have to offer. So if you find yourself reaching the limit of what the mainline books have to offer, why not go wandering off the beaten track to see what else is out there!
To see what else Mike Gorgone has written, check out the TTRPG page here!