So here are some books I've picked up recently.
First up is this 3E Fast Play from the d20 System Dice package that was sold by WoTC back in 2000. This is the "Free Game" which wasn't really free because these dice:
were waaaaay overpriced ($6.95) and came in a big-ass box:
That's right. Seven dice and a sixteen page booklet were the only things in that box. For $7. I paid less, of course.
The PDF of this Fast Play is still available on the WotC website. Still, it's nice to have a print version.
The Practical Guide to Monsters. This was published by a WotC imprint, Moonstone Books, and is aimed at the middle-grade reader (6 to 9 year olds). It's got descriptions of D&D monsters and acts as a gentle introduction to the monsters of fantasy games. What's great is that it is all description, no stats. Here, for example is a shot of the Manticore entry:
As you can see, it is brief, focuses on description, and lacks stats. Also, there are plenty of maps of monster lairs and such for many monster types, and the art is pretty damn good--better than the usual stuff WotC churned out for 4e. Alas, it references Krynn a lot (I usually abhor Dragonlance . . .) and is part of the series of "Practical Guides to . . ." that WotC churned out for kids in 2006–2008. Which brings me to . .
The Practical Guide to Dragons. This evidently the kids bestseller list at the New York Time. There were a couple of spinoffs, including a series of middle-grade fantasy novels. It references Krynn extensively, so if you can't stand Dragonlance, you might hate this (I just grin and bear it). That said, it's a gorgeous book, lavishly illustrated, and worth finding used just for the illos alone. The book covers the anatomy and habitat of most dragons featured in the D&D, and provides lots of material to mine for atmosphere, including lair sketches and the like. I'll leave this section with a shot of the entry on Black Dragons:
Finally, I managed to find a second edition of the Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Jeff had mentioned this awhile back, so maybe it sounds familiar to you. I already had the first edition, and this second edition adds a number of entries and maps. Most of the entries concern fantasy lands from classic and English literature; new to this version is extensive coverage of the geography of the Harry Potter universe, most likely because of its popularity. Of course, Middle-Earth is covered in detail by several entries, too, and Earthsea pops up, too, but there is still no entry for Amber, Lankhmar, or any of the lands from the Conan mythos (although there are a few cursory nods to the Lovecraftian mythos--there's a great city map of Arkham).
The version of the first edition I have is an over-sized coffee table book, but I like this second edition better because it is easier to photocopy pages. Still, either edition makes for a great resource. In fact, you'll be even better off getting both versions because they dropped some entries from the first to add the new stuff.