Dungeons & Dragons is experiencing an unprecedented renaissance, with more people than ever before picking up and enjoying the original role-playing game. Published adventures are easy to come by, and you can even find starter sets and dice on the shelves at your local big box retailer. But did you know that D&D now offers what amounts to downloadable content, some of which you can grab for free? Here’s how it works, plus some picks for the very best downloads available.
D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast offers something called the System Reference Document, or the SRD. It contains just about everything you need to play a basic version of D&D, and you can download it for free at the company’s website. However, it’s not really intended to be a starter set. Wizards makes the SRD available under the Open-Gaming License (OGL) in order to provide a template for other companies to publish games and supplements using the D&D ruleset.
One of the features of the SRD is that whatever you make with it, isn’t allowed to exist inside the canonical worlds of D&D. But, the same rules don’t apply to the Dungeon Masters Guild, a partnership between Wizards and OneBookshelf that began in 2016. The DMs Guild is an online marketplace where you can post fan-created content, and that content can make use of the established canon of the game. At the DMs Guild you can find materials that are compatible with Wizards’ Forgotten Realms setting, but also Ravenloft, Eberron, and even Magic: The Gathering’s plane of Ravnica.
“The Dungeon Masters Guild was an idea that I had back in 2010,” says Wizard’s Chris Lindsay, the creator of the DMs Guild. “The goal was to create a place with little or no barrier to entry for fans who wanted to create content and show it off to the world, and perhaps even make a few dollars off their creations.”
Wizards even publishes templates so that everything looks just like the official books that it sells on store shelves. The result is a whole library of fresh content — everything from single magical items to hundreds of new playable races — that’s easy to integrate into your home campaign.
My first proper introduction to the DMs Guild came when I was looking for a quick one-shot adventure to run for my friend’s birthday. That’s when I stumbled upon The Wild Sheep Chase, a simple module with a hilarious comedy hook and great role-playing opportunities. Best of all, it’s available for free.
You can even search through the DMs Guild by the campaign setting that you’re running at the moment. One of the biggest selections is for the city of Waterdeep, the setting for two official 5th edition modules. Most recently I spent $10 to download the floor plan for the 5th edition version of the iconic Castle Ravenloft. It’s made my life much easier as a DM trying to lead a group through count Strahd von Zarovich’s deadly lair. I’ve taken to cutting the pieces out and mounting them on black foam core for ease of use at the table.
Lindsay says that the very best stuff in the DMs Guild comes from his retinue of Guild Adepts, which doubles as a farm team for Wizards itself.
“These are folks that have become prominent contributors to the Dungeon Masters Guild,” Lindsay said. “I have basically put together a digital writer’s room and I give them advanced views of our content and let them go crazy.”
Returning Adepts include M.T. Black, James Haeck, James Introcaso, Rich Lescouflair, Ginny Loveday, and Ashley Warren. New additions for 2020 include Stacey Allan, Celeste Conowitch, Ashley Michaela “Navigator” Lawson, and Hannah Rose. Searching for their names in the DMs Guild will return plenty of excellent modules to add to your game.
Here’s some highlights, hand-picked by Lindsay himself:
- Down Came A Blackbird by Stacey Allan is a four-hour adventure perfect for characters below 5th level. Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock had written a high-fantasy thriller and you’re on the right track.
- College of the Opera gives D&D’s classic Bard class an exciting and powerful new subclass that uses the singer’s voice as a spell-casting focus. Written by Hannah Rose and Kelli Butler, it’s also available in Spanish.
- If you’re jumping into Wizards’ newest campaign setting, Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, Lindsay recommends Taverns, Inns, and Taprooms: In Hell. Written by DropTheDie, Blinne Emersyn, Celeste Conowitch, and James Woodman, it includes several new locations perfect for finding sidequests while tearing about the Nine Hells in a demon-powered war machine.
- If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, Lindsay recommends Complete Adventures of M.T. Black Vol. I. It gathers together 14 different adventures from one of the Guild’s best and most experienced writers.
- Finally, Wizards runs an organized play series known as the D&D Adventurer’s League. You can find all of its past 5th edition content online, available for a nominal price. It’s among the most polished content on the DMs Guild, with playtesting provided by customers at game stores around the world.