Overlooked by many, RPG sourcebooks are a fantastic source of tone, inspiration, and often prove to be a fantastic read. While DMing can be one of the most demanding jobs in the world of tabletop gaming, curling up with a good game text can be a fantastic way to start your prep or just immerse yourself in a fully realised world.
Here are ten of our favourite sourcebooks for running your in-universe campaign, or just providing some prompts for your next homebrew masterpiece. Starting with-
10. Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016)
Written as an in-universe manual, Volo’s guide gives fresh, 5th edition insight into the world of the forgotten realms. The book features a wealth of creatures that didn’t make it into the original 5th edition sourcebook and gives advice on bringing them into play. This comes with extra tips and tricks on adding wrinkles to your challenges to surprise the most experienced of players. And, if you’re looking for further guidance, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes adds more fearsome high-level enemies and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything features our favourite Beholder…and his pet goldfish.
9. Things from the Flood (2016)
Set in the now-antique world of the 90’s, Simon Stålenhag’s acclaimed book sets you up as teen sleuths dealing with deceit, danger, and death. Capturing the tone of shows like Stranger Things and the Amblin back-catalogue of, this sourcebook is a gorgeous marvel. Asking players to juggle day-to-day teenage life and high-tech adventures, the game features tremendous art from the author and incisive prompts for session after session. And, if you’re looking for more, the original Tales from the Loop is still available and now an acclaimed TV series from Amazon
8. Dungeon Masters Guide 1st Edition (1979)
More of a cultural artefact that a source of contemporary guidance, the 1st edition rulebook is where it all began for the world of D&D. Written by Gygax himself, this features the punchy original rules and provides detailed explanations for running gruelling combat encounters. While compatibility with modern engines may be a bit an issue, the book is a fantastic way to get a ‘stripped back’ look at your sessions and refine your gameplay. This makes it perfect for running a no-frills one-shot or creating an involved dungeon-delve for your high-level players.
7. Fiasco Classic
Inspired by the Cohens and designed to create stories for compelling idiots, Fiasco is a light touch roleplaying masterpiece. In addition to a detailed rulebook, the game gives detailed guidance on running sessions that can be applied to almost any tabletop RPG. This covers improvisation, collaboration, event resolution and more; giving readers a grab-bag of tools to break through roadblocks in your campaign. The manual’s prompts and structure also act as a fantastic inspiration for designing your own sets – letting you quickly break down your story into distinct elements. And the game engine is also a surprisingly helpful writing prompt for your next story or creative writing project.
6. Paranoia (1984)
A delight from start to finish, Paranoia’s rulebook nails the seam of black humour that runs throughout the series. Proving to be an exceptional read as well as instruction manual, the book provides a wealth of gags, tools, and items to slot into the hands of your Troubleshooters. While there are a number of books to wade through since the game’s launch in 1984, volumes like Internal Security, High Programmers, and the recent Project Infinite Hole give more than enough material to bring your next session to life.
5. Inquisitor (2001)
When we think WH40K, we think fluff. Lurid tales of genetically tailored Space Marines, fearsome Orcs (with a ‘K’), and sinister cults on Mars are staples of the series – but little of the backstory truly makes its way to the table. Until now. For fans of the grim dark future of the 41st millennium, the Inquisitor books give fresh insight into the unbridled horrors of the imperium. And when players are cast as terrifying witch hunters whose sole aim is to root out heresy, things can get out of control very quickly. Fun and flexible, the gamebook gives players incredible scope to journey throughout the universe…and declare exterminatus on the odd planet or two.
4. Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition Core Book
Ever wanted to learn about the minutiae of vampire society? Because you’re gonna. The game allows players to become every vampire type imaginable, immersing gamers in a blood-soaked universe. This lets players feast on humanity, carefully manipulate the internal politics of vampire society, and maintain the vital ‘masquerade’ that keeps the undead safe. Dense, detailed, and incredibly moreish, VTM is an exceptional choice for players looking to flesh out their universe. And speaking of vampires-
Part of D&D lore since 1st edition, the ominous realm of Ravenloft is a gothic delight. Dripping with theme, the worlds of Ravenloft occupy a darker corner of the game’s universe and let DMs or players enjoy a change of scenery. This tonal shift is also fully mapped out through the source text and helps provide several jumping-off points for your own adventures – making it a perfect pit-stop for groups who are no longer scared of the dark. The source texts are great at letting players refine and define the atmosphere of the world or spin off into your own tales. And for those working with newer editions, the recently released the Curse of Strahd, is a brilliant retelling of the 2nd edition original.
2. GURPS (1986)
Forgotten by many, Steve Jackson’s innovative Generic Universal Roleplaying System was designed to let players do…anything! Whether it’s combing the depths of space, fanning your hammer in the wild west, or unsheathing your sword in a fantasy world – everything is possible. With over three decades of sourcebooks to comb through, this award-winning series is full of novel stories, killer hooks, and unique mechanics to steal for your campaigns. Perfect for newbies, veterans, and everyone looking to tell a good tale.
Genuinely alien, endlessly innovative, and a stunning feat of creativity – the world of Planescape and the city of Sigil is a masterwork that has arguably never been bettered. One of the most fully realised and compelling fantasy worlds ever created, the Planescape setting is an essential read for all tabletop fans. Skid through the dimensions, learn more about the higher planes of the D&D universe, and meet the Lady of Pain – one of the most enigmatic RPG characters ever created. And for those looking for a solo adventure, Beamdog’s recent remaster of the timeless Planescape Torment is available on consoles, handhelds, and smart devices – making it easier than ever to immerse yourself and draw inspiration for your next session!
Which is your favorite sourcebook? Share it in the comments below 🙂