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Where to Begin with Third-Party D&D Content

Third-party D&D content beginnings featured image is from Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. This article contains affiliate links to put gold in our coffers.

Do you think Wizards of the Coast are the only people that know how to write for D&D 5e? Guess again. There are hundreds of incredibly capable talents who have stuck to third-party content creation for this game, or that have even wound up getting recruited by Wizards of the Coast for the official design team! People like Justice Arman, Celeste Conovitch, Ashley Warren, M.T. Black, and Dan Dillon all got their start in third-party work before getting picked up to work on official books at one time or another.

The world of “professional homebrew” is a wonderful, messy place that I’m happy to have made my own space in the D&D YouTube realm. Since D&D homebrewing is how I make my living these days, Flutes Loot asked me to give my recommendations on what third-party content people who are new to this side of the game should check out first, and I was happy to oblige. But before we go too much further, I’ll clarify some terminology real quick:

By “third-party content,” I don’t mean something like a Reddit post. I mean something designed to be sold as a product. I’m happy to pay the money to get the polish third-party content creators are usually putting into their work over getting a wall of text typed in Word for free. However, due to the immeasurable amount of third-party content out there, this article is in no way comprehensive. We’re just dipping our toes into the ocean here, and only focusing on professional content.

Third-Party D&D Content Categories in this article:

Third-Party D&D Content for Players

Once you’ve got the Player’s Handbook, you might be trying to get more information on how you’re supposed to fight in Dungeons & Dragons or have a certain character in mind that the official books don’t allow. This is where you can step into the wonderful, messy world of third-party Dungeons & Dragons classes and guides. 

Third-party D&D Content Providing Guidance for Players

If you’re looking for advice on playing the game to better understand why some mechanics function the way they do, there’s one book I can easily recommend to get you a deeper understanding of the “meta” of Dungeons & Dragons combat.

Live to Tell the Tale

Keith Ammann

This is a follow-up to Ammann’s award-winning The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, which presents the combat simulator aspects of the game to players in a way that communicates how their classes are intended to be played based on the class load-outs.  It does so by comprehensively explaining the combat simulator and what function you play as a “unit”, in a way that isn’t reductive to the art of the game.

The internet is full of opinions on the “best way” to play a character, so it’s refreshing to have a book trying to inform you of how to make the “best choices” towards the ever-evolving situations that play out in combat, rather than one sweeping “definitive way” to play your character. The book pushes the philosophy of adapting to combat scenarios instead of defaulting to the strongest answer you picked for all your problems (see: fireball). 

Character Options for D&D 5e Players

If you’re looking for new flavors to your favorite official classes, new race options, or possibly new backgrounds, feats, and spells, the following splatbooks are extremely well-polished pieces of third-party content that expand on base 5e in a way that will make you rethink what a 5e campaign can be.

Midgard Heroes Handbook

Wolfgang Baur, Dan Dillon, Richard Green, Chris Harris

Published by Kobold Press, the Midgard Heroes Handbook was developed as a book of character options for Kobold Press’ Midgard campaign setting, but the options it grants are agnostic enough to fit in any standard fantasy fair. It also expands the palette of what magic can mean to your world through a series of new schools and a rune magic system. This book also contains a set of martial techniques if you find your table wants to expand on combat that way and doesn’t mind the additional complexity.

If I’m trying to get the most bang for my buck out of a book, it’s hard to knock Midgard Heroes Handbook’s very generous $39.99 price point as a hardcover. That’s pretty standard MO for Kobold Press; huge volumes of content in a nice package for about $10 below the official books. It’s worth noting that the races here aren’t updated for the 2019 changes to the 5e race design philosophy; so your table may have to do some homebrewing of your own to make these feel “compatible,” but I’d definitely say the bigger draw for the book is the overall amount of stuff you can pick and choose from to plug into your game.

Playing Dead

Steve Fidler, Alex Tanner, Andrew T. Ha, BornToDoStuff, Caitlin Bradburry, Elias Garoufalias, heavyarms, Israel Moreira, Proph, Rain-Junkie, Ryan Miller, Ryan Rose, Yorviing

Only on the Dungeon Masters Guild, Playing Dead is a supplement of character options entirely built around more grim themes of death, available as a PDF and as print-on-demand. Undeath is a theme a lot of designers have taken a swing at, but this book is the most well-put-together, comprehensive, faithful, and reasonable set of mechanics I’ve seen for putting these typically stat block-exclusive types of creatures in the hands of the players.

There are some real stand-outs in the book, with personal favorites of mine being the Undeath Domain Cleric, Druid Circle of the Host, the Dry Vein Sorcerous Origin, and the ability for Ranger to gain a zombie beast companion. Should you decide to allow player characters to persist beyond death and don’t mind players getting some pretty nutty power, there are even options in here to simply gain new undead features at certain levels for custom liches, undead werewolves, and more. It handles these themes with maturity and care for the content and its readers, and makes for some perfect horror campaign archetypes.

Ultimate Adventurer’s Handbook

Benjamin Huffman, Ross Leiser, Willy Abeel, Leon Barillaro, Lyde Van Hoy, Amber Litke, Proxy Bacchus Quick, Tyler “Walrock” Reed, Sean vas Terra, Matthew Whitby, Jasmine Yang

The Ultimate Adventurer’s Handbook is a compilation of all the material present in the acclaimed Complete Handbook series by Benjamin and Ross, as well as several new additions from several other prominent designers on the Dungeon Masters Guild. Also worth noting here is that it includes Benjamin and Ross’ highest-selling classes, the Pugilist Class and the Accursed Class, as well as a few new subclasses for Matthew Mercer’s Blood Hunter class. That’s all before getting into just how many brand-new spells, magic items, races, and feats are in this thing.

The real benefit to Ultimate Adventurer’s Handbook over the other supplements I listed here is that it doesn’t ask a whole lot from the dungeon master to slot the options into their world. The creators are clearly intending to add to fifth edition, rather than rewrite core aspects of the system.

Third-Party D&D Content for Dungeon Masters

The dungeon master is the person most likely to have the core rulebooks (the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Masters Guide), and is also the person most likely to start scouring online for more things to use in the game. 

Bestiaries (Monsters) and Monster Ideas

If you’re looking to expand your arsenal of monsters to throw at the party, there are tons of options for you dungeon masters out there. Bestiaries are one of the most popular types of third-party works, and plenty of books have become a go-to source of inspiration when I’m trying to plan a session.

Kobold Press Bestiaries

Kobold Press

This includes both the Creature Codexes and Tome of Beasts series. Kobold Press puts out some of the highest-quality third-party content in terms of pure polish on the product. However, dungeon masters out there should be aware that these stat blocks are a bit above par for what typical 5e monsters will throw out. While the creatures in these books can definitely deliver terrifying plots, Kobold Press knows how to bring the absurd comedy that brings many people to the game. With stat blocks for gigantic fishbowl oozes with a living shark inside, or a tavern brawl as a swarm of humanoids, all put in a gorgeous hardcover with top-tier artwork? Seriously, watch any YouTuber who displays their TTRPG books in the background, and you’ll undoubtedly see these spines.

Home-Field Advantage

Trekiros, Sean Vas Terra, Taron Pounds, Boyan Valev, Kirsty Kidd, Xhango Games, Zavier Bates, Devlin DM, Joe Gaylord

Disclaimer: This is a product I worked on.

Trekiros had a vision for Home-Field Advantage; that nearly every monster in the game could make for an epic boss encounter by giving certain monsters unique lair actions. The premise sounded great when I was first hit up about the project in 2021, and the team absolutely killed it to the point of us winning an ENnie in 2022 for the book. I think the work really speaks for itself and I don’t want to get too much into promoting my own work here, so go check it out on the DMsGuild for yourself!

Monster Manual Expanded


While the Monster Manual is totally serviceable, there’s definitely an issue of level relevance where it feels as though suddenly lower-level monsters just disappear from the world once the party has leveled up enough to make them irrelevant. If you’re in the market for a simple, elegant bestiary of potential boss monsters, look no further. 

Likely the best-selling third-party series of all time on the Dungeon Masters Guild, Dragonix’s Monster Manual Expanded bestiaries are a loadout of beefed-up variants of the Monster Manual creatures, with new aesthetic applications to suit multiple different themes. A huge boon to picking this up now is that it was updated in 2022 with gorgeous new cover art that blends in much better with the 5e books on your shelves. The price is a bit steep compared to official books, but this supplement is one of the safest buys you’ll find if you’re worried about how much use you’d actually get out of it.

Adventure Modules from Third-party D&D Content

It’s rare that you’ll find a third-party, full-on adventure module that wasn’t published by a company like Paizo or Kobold Press, so we’re mostly focusing on one-shots here. However, I will make mention of two such endeavors taken on by one of the best adventure writers in the world, JVC Parry:

Call from the Deep

JVC Parry

Encompassing the 1st to 3rd tiers of play, Call from the Deep was a massive undertaking unlike anything seen on the Guild before. I don’t want to spoil anything that the cover doesn’t already, so I’ll be brief here. You’re getting a full-on 260-page adventure about aliens and pirates that can easily serve at multiple points as a segue to Spelljammer, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, or many of the other official modules on the Swords Coast. It definitely embraces more dark elements than official books, so for those of you looking for a slightly eldritch mystery to uncover, Call from the Deep may be just for you. 

Side Note: Thousands of people have been begging for Call from the Deep to get a print-on-demand release, but it was unfortunately never approved, and Parry stated it was unlikely to ever get approved. By purchasing the book, Parry does give you the assets to get it printed to look extremely similar to the official 5e books, but this is likely to be about $100+ to get yourself a physical copy.

Dragon Relics

JVC Parry

A more traditional fantasy story of killing dragons by collecting artifacts, Dragon Relics feels like a classic sword-and-sorcery campaign and serves as a fantastic introductory campaign for any group that wants to embrace those tropes.

One-Shot Adventures from Third-party D&D Content

These are all adventures meant to be completed in a single session, the most common type of adventure you’ll find in third-party work outside of a big publisher.

Complete Adventures

M.T. Black

M.T. rose to prominence during the early years of the Dungeon Masters Guild, earning a reputation as one of the strongest adventure writers in the world. Each of the adventures in his Complete Adventures bundle can be easily run as a one-shot or slotted into any world for a long-term campaign.

Blue Alley

M.T. Black

What a fantastic short dungeon romp. Blue Alley feels like “Wipeout” or “Fall Guys” was actualized as a dungeon. I’ve now run it twice; once for a convention and again for my home game as a spur-of-the-moment sidequest when I needed some time to prep the next branch of the campaign. Both times, the players were standing up around the table engaging with the game like a group of 3rd-graders trying to play with the classroom hamster. While it had been originally introduced as something to be supplemented into Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Blue Alley can be easily slotted into any world, and should absolutely be printed inside the future Dungeon Masters Guide as a sample dungeon. 

In my opinion, Blue Alley is the Sunless Citadel of one-shots and should be in every DM’s repertoire.

Shore of Dreams

Florian Emmerich, JVC Parry, Poison Potion Press

If Blue Alley’s the best dungeon crawl one-shot on the Dungeon Masters Guild, Shore of Dreams is the best intrigue one-shot. Dungeons & Dragons adventures tended to be more Eurocentric, and Shore of Dreams bucked that trend for the  Japanese-inspired setting of Yokotoro (which I’m now wondering if that’s an homage to video game developer Yoko Taro…). Again, I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but the best thing I think Shore of Dreams does right off the bat is help dungeon masters with a new tool for running mysteries, while keeping information secret. It’s a $10.95 softcover that is well worth the price of entry.

Auxiliary Systems and Supplements

The Exploration pillar of play is undoubtedly the most underdeveloped of all of 5e, with Interaction coming in at a very, VERY close second. Because of this, dungeon masters have been shopping around for systems to supplement these seemingly missing two-thirds of the game in a satisfying way that doesn’t require a ton of new mechanical study. Luckily, there have been several great supplements over the years that took on the challenge and delivered something lightweight, intuitive, and much-needed.

Armorer’s Handbook


The one that really established heavyarms as one of the top designers in the world, The Complete Armorer’s Handbook remained within the top 20 most popular products on the Guild for well over two years. Heavy’s system of crafting, upgrading, enchanting, and runic inscription filled a lot of holes that the core rulebooks just seemed to hand-wave. There’s some complexity that comes with Armorer’s Handbook due to the abundance of modularity involved, but I believe most people looking for more out of the Interaction pillar know they’re signing up for that. Influencers have been pushing the Complete Armorer’s Handbook as the answer, and heavy followed it up with…

Alchemy Almanac


Alternative rules for brewing potions in Dungeons & Dragons is such a common Google search that I decided to use it as the intro sentence for this paragraph for optimized SEO. Flutes Loot and I both reviewed it on our channels, and heavyarms created a system that feels naturally 5e, and it doesn’t ask a whole lot from the players or DM to understand. I plan to adapt my Alchemist class to heavy’s system because I believe he got the absolute closest to “the definitive alchemy system” that I’ve seen thus far.

Guidance for DMs in Third-Party D&D Content

Rather than in alphabetical order, I’m going to list these in order of what I feel is the priority that you should pick them up. There’s some information in these books that drastically benefits newer DMs over seasoned ones.

4E Dungeon Master’s Guide

Wizards of the Coast

Okay, so I know it’s not a third-party book, but stick with me here. Wizards of the Coast has even admitted the 5th edition Dungeon Masters Guide fell short in helping newer dungeon masters to run the game. Its heavy focus on the Forgotten Realms and lack of support for techniques to use as a dungeon master make it feel more like a campaign setting book at times rather than the “holy text of DMs.” In 2017, I was hearing about how the 4th edition Dungeon Masters Guide should have just been copy-pasted into a revised Dungeon Masters Guide for 5e, and I was able to track down a copy. 

I was shocked at just how much incredible information you get in even just the first 20 pages of it. The book includes a lineup of useful dungeon master tools, a chapter on understanding different player types and catering your campaign to satisfy them, as well as a sample town, region, and dungeon to inspire your own worldbuilding. All of that encompasses just under a quarter of this book. While the chapters on encounter building within 4th edition may not be incredibly helpful for new DMs, over 80% of the book is relevant philosophy for any tabletop roleplaying game. There was a time around 2018 when this book was going for upwards of $100.00 on eBay, but you can easily find it online now for under $25.00 if you don’t mind some wear and tear.

There was also a “part 2” expansion of the 4e Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Sly Flourish’s Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master

Mike Shea

Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master proves that Wizards of the Coast really needs to hire Mike Shea as a consultant on the next Dungeon Masters Guide at the very least. Over-prep is a big contributor to DM burnout, and the temptation for newer dungeon masters to cover every fringe event that might come up in a game rather than what is likely to can waste your precious time when planning your games. 

Shea has developed a process for session prep that helps you to understand what needs to be prioritized, and how you can get 4 hours of play out of an hour or less. Whether or not it was the intent, I find that Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master also improves your self-confidence as a dungeon master by presenting Shea’s research from hundreds of dungeon masters into how they prep. Even if you do enjoy spending hours on your prep work, this book will help you to get the most results out of that time.

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing

Keith Ammann

It’s odd how no matter how much D&D you’ve played as a player character, you can feel completely lost when you step behind the screen despite having essentially infinite control and–in most cases–fewer features on your monsters than a player character has to manage in combat. This ENnie-award-winning work from Ammann is a sort of “combat guide” for how to navigate this odd new territory while you run monsters as a dungeon master. However, this is admittedly an oversimplification of what The Monsters Know What They’re Doing truly is. In a way, the book can be thought of as both an AI for running monsters faithfully to their nature with an overview of monster roleplay philosophy. Both are handled by ponderings on the nature of these monsters and why exactly it is they would fight the party.

The beautiful thing about this book is this AI doesn’t take agency away from you as a DM; it eases the decision paralysis that can come with managing enemies and playing them in combat more faithfully. Each creature type gets a full breakdown on if or when the creature would run from combat, what action they’d reasonably and likely take on their turn (basically whatever it has advantage on), and tips on running some of the more exotic features in particular stat blocks. Due to its popularity, you should easily be able to find The Monsters Know What They’re Doing at any Barnes & Noble, alongside the official books.

Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas

Courtney C. Campbell

Campbell’s independently-published Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas feels similar to the Grimtooth series of books on various trap ideas, though wholly distinct in character and coverage of content. This is a handy guide to have on hand when prepping your sessions. The descriptions for building materials, types of buildings and rooms, and breakdown of the mechanisms of traps are sure to beef up your improv lexicon for scene painting.

Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide

TSR, Inc

Boy, what a bizarre but totally useful tome of guidance here from decades past. I luckily stumbled across the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide at a local used bookstore that took in a bunch of old Dungeons & Dragons material from an estate sale. This isn’t a high-priority purchase by any means, but if you’ve picked up books like Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas and the 4e Dungeon Masters Guide, the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide is a decent addition to your collection of adventure planning texts.

This one’s a guide on dungeon craft, as well as a sort of overview of how the guys at TSR would prep their games, and the experience they gained told through “war stories” of tables they ran throughout the 70s and 80s. 

Settings and Lore for DMs

Exploring Eberron

Keith Baker (KB Presents)

This is the campaign setting book for Eberron we should have gotten over Eberron: Rising from the Last War, and what set the standard for campaign settings moving forward in my opinion. This absolutely massive book comes directly from the brain that conceived arguably the most popular non-Forgotten Realms D&D campaign setting. Exploring Eberron gives an insane amount of detail into the factions, events that shaped Khorvaire, and mystical on-goings of the universe of Eberron. It also includes a sizable amount of character options that honestly make Eberron: Rising from the Last War feel like an underwhelming quasi-module by comparison.

Cormyr: Land of the Purple Dragon

Matthew Lee Myers

The Forgotten Realms has received a ton of coverage over the course of 5e. However, one of its most interesting and compelling regions, Cormyr, has been woefully neglected in favor of coverage on the Sword Coast. Cormyr is a region steeped in political turmoil and classic Arthurian-inspired fantasy tropes. If you haven’t picked up on it yet from this article and my class designs, I’ve got kind of a soft spot for that flavor. Of all the regions throughout the land of Faerun, Cormyr has the most present elements of nobility and feudalism that defined medieval society, and campaigns held within the region are basically required to feature a dragon in some capacity. 

So, why specifically do I mention Cormyr: Land of the Purple Dragon for this? As a one-man team, Matthew Lee Myers created one of the most comprehensive works on the lore of a region. At 255 pages, you’d be understandably mistaken if you thought this book was covering an entire world. It’s clear from just looking into the worldbuilding put into a single town that Myers has a deep love for this area, and it’s the kind of book you’d most assuredly keep on hand at all times when prepping and running sessions throughout Cormyr. If any of this sounds appealing to you, and you’re possibly a little tired of the Sword Coast, you need to check this book out. 

Tools to Assist DMs

Sly Flourish’s The Lazy DM’s Workbook

Mike Shea

I often find book recommendations for dungeon masters to have handy at the table are–more often than not–just collections of random tables. While The Lazy DM’s Workbook most definitely has a series of random tables, they occupy 7 and a half pages of the 47 pages of content in this book. The remaining 40 pages are chock full of amazing quick references, though I will say The Lazy DM’s Workbook does get a ding from me due to not having a table of contents for quick referencing.

Remarkable Shops

LoreSmyth, JVC Parry, Alex Clippinger, Richie Lewin, E. Vesala

This one serves as a great introduction to what LoreSmyth tends to bring to the game; a new way to think about the minor setpieces of your world. While you get a lineup of shops here, it’s not a simple load-out of dozens of item lists. By diving into how Alex Clippinger and JVC Parry think about shops, you can see how these master adventure designers can sneak sidequests into just about any nook and cranny of the world. There are lots of previews of this one out there so you can see exactly what I mean before picking it up.

What Third-Party D&D Content Do You Enjoy?

Cast Message in the comments to tell us about your favorite third-party D&D content. Let us know if you are going to dig into any of the recommendations in this article! Would you add any third-party D&D content to the list?

Good luck with your next adventure!

2 thoughts on “<b>Where to Begin with Third-Party D&D Content</b>”

  1. Definitely Armorer’s Handbook, Keith Amman and any Loresmyth ones. Great stuff to expand your world whether you’re just a starting or already on your 20th campaign. Also shoutout to Indigo for being a big bookstore here in canada and carrying all the keith amman books on their shelves. Suprised me the first time seeing a third party book somewhere thats not a hobby shop.

    1. I love this kind of 3PP content as it freshens the game after playing for so many years, especially as I’ve developed my own frustrations about what’s missing from the game. And kudos to that bookstore!

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