Last month I did a post about making a BBEG stand out. I decided to follow up on that topic with a suggested reading list for DMs on making their BBEG’s and game worlds that much better. Given that DnD and a lot of RPGs are high fantasy, many of the books on warfare from Babylonian times until the rise of the Musket are perfect reference material.

General Reading List for BBEGs

Art of War by Sun Tsu

Written in the 5th century BC, this treatise on Chinese Military Tactics and Stratagems should be a must read for all DMs. Personally, it is one of my 5 must read books that recommend to everyone. It is also the first of three must read Asian books on warfare to appear on this list. Divided up into 13 chapters, it lays out basic tactics for how an army commander should approach war and battles. Much of this is common sense but its still a valuable guide to handling conflict from interpersonal conflict to all out war. If you run a lot of Hobgoblins or other militarized races/kingdoms in your game, this is essential reading to flesh them out. This book will help the DM’s not play a tactical or strategic genius like a moron and actually give the players a difficult opponent to counter.

There are a ton of translations out of there of this book. I personally have 10 different translations in my library. My favorite is Thomas Cleary’s translation Sun Tzu: Art of War

36 Stratagems

The second of my 3 must reads of Asian Warfare, this work is about 1500 years old. It is roughly 36 proverbs that are related to Chinese history and folklore. Often bundled in books with The Art of War, this work takes the abstract nature of the Art of War and distills it into realistic scenarios. It topics like tricking an ally to attack a foe, then attacking the ally are useful for nations at war or even war-bands made of different groups with different motivations. Use the ideas presented in this book to flesh out your militaries and as a springboard to exciting conflicts.

Much like the Art of War there are numerous good translations of this work. I would suggest [Military Strategy Classics of Ancient China( Shawn Conners.

Book of Five Rings

The last of my must reads of Asian Warfare, this is the newest of the 3 written in 16th Century Japan by Miyamoto Musashi. Perhaps the greatest swordsman every to live, Musashi was famed for never being defeated in a duel. His writings detail how he approached a duel and how he countered anything someone could throw at him. This book, as well as the previous two, are useful for handling interpersonal conflict as well as warfare. This is a common sight in pretty much any college Business program as well as military academies across the world.

This is another book where I own a few translations. My favorite again is the Thomas Cleary translation. Find it here: Book of Five Rings

The Mongol Art of War

For millennium, the nomadic horse tribes of the steppes have been the scourge of the “civilized” nations of Eurasia. Sweeping out of the Steppes, tribes of Scythians, Huns, Goths, Maygars and countless others have devastated cities, nations and cultures. Perhaps the greatest of these nomadic Steppe tribes were the Mongols. Spreading out from East Asia, they conquered cities and destroyed entire nations from  China into the Indian Sub Continent through the Middle East and into Europe as far west as modern day Hungary. This book covers why the Mongols, specifically, and horse tribes of the Steppes in general, were so devastating and could take on 5x their numbers and still win. If you are world building and looking for a model of a people to be threats to major Kingdoms this book will give you the basics of how to do it.

Timothy May’s The Mongol Art of War is a good place to start. For audio buffs, check out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History 5 part “Wrath of the Khans” series for history and color of these interesting people.

Manufacturing Consent

This book by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman is a controversial addition (but not the most controversial) to this list I am sure. There are plenty of valid criticisms for and against the ideas in this book. I include it because it is one of two books on Social engineering that I recommend for new DMs. A bad DM railroads their party, a good DM railroads his party but lets them think it was there idea the whole time. This book could also be for ideas on how to flesh out a BBEG for your campaign. Covering the idea how media is used by the power to shape ideas of the populace, it can add a level of detail and flesh out a BBEG or an evil church or something along those lines.

Manufacturing Consent

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

One of the best books out there on Social Engineering, it gives you 6 steps to persuade people and defend yourself against it. Social Engineering is like magic, it is something that can be used for good or evil, so use it wisely with your players. Understanding basic psychology is useful for “guiding” your players down the path you want. It has a lot of other useful ideas for outside of the game including becoming a better sales person. Even if you aren’t working sales, you still need to sell yourself and your skills. This book can help with those skill sets.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

The Prince

The Prince is a book on to acquire and keep political power. Written in the 16th Century, it was either meant to be a guide book on how a Ruler should rule, or a satirical take on what not to do. People seem divided on the intent of this book really is. Either way, it paved the way for politicians for the next few centuries and became the goto playbook for them. Duplicity and cunning rule the day in this book. Want a throughly despicable villain that seems impossible to dislodge from power? Then this book is a perfect way for you to get the background you need to flesh them out. For real world examples of Machiavelli’s The Prince at work, look no farther then Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Mein Kampf

Probably the most controversial book on this list and rightfully so. Its been said a million times, a good villian is the hero of their own story. This book is unique because it shows from a 1st person view how a monster is created. It gives insight on how such a person is created and how they can rationalize the most vile of ideas. While not something that should be in everyone’s library, it is a book worth reading at least once.
Mein Kamph by Adolph Hilter.