There have been plenty of books released for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but there has not been much in the way of new mechanical content. Most of the official supplements have been campaigns and adventures, with new player options limited mostly to additional backgrounds in appendices to those campaigns, in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, and some new races in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, which releases in hobby stores tomorrow (November 10, 2017) changes that, for the first time introducing significant new player’s options, along with a little bit of everything that you’d find in core book extensions – new monsters, new magic items, new spells, and some new GM advice and systems.
As for the title, the book isn’t written from Xanathar’s point of view (if you don’t keep up with this sort of thing, Xanathar is a title assumed by a series of beholders operating a criminal guild in Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms – he’s powerful like all beholders, but I would say that the current Xanathar is not necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed). Xanathar provides his “insights” in humorous ‘notes’ at various places in the book, although they are concentrated in the character options section. For example, he notes that one should always try to keep an eye on one’s minions and, therefore, one should have only 10 minions, 11 tops.
Each of the character classes gets new options for the character’s big defining choice – domains for clerics, colleges for bards, martial archetypes for fighters, etc. There are 31 in total:
- Barbarian: Path of the Ancestral Guardian (protects others), Storm Herald (storm aura when raging), and The Zealot (religious motivations);
- Bard: Colleges of Glamour (fey magic), Swords (swashbuckler or other fancy fighting), Whispers (sinister mental manipulation);
- Clerics: Domains of the Forge and the Grave (keep people alive or finish them off);
- Druid: Circles of Dreams (healing, guarding, short teleports) and the Shepard (summons enhanced nature spirits);
- Fighter: Martial Archetypes of Arcane Archer (magic arrows), Cavalier (mostly mounted combat), and Samurai (rapid strikes);
- Monk: Ways of the Drunken Master (unpredictable movement), Kensai (weapon use), and Sun Soul (fire and light attacks);
- Paladin: Oaths of Conquest (Order Above All) and Redemption (protective abilities);
- Ranger: Archetypes of Gloom Stalker (take the fight to the dark), Horizon Walker (planer ranger), and Monster Slayer (what it sounds like);
- Rogue: Archetypes of Inquisitive (master detective), Mastermind (master tactician and manipulator), Scout (woodsy rogue), and Swashbuckler;
- Sorcerer: Origins of Divine Soul, Shadow Magic, and Storm Sorcerer;
- Warlock: Pacts of The Celestial and The Hexblade (curse magic from a shadowy entity); and
- Wizard: War Magic Arcane Tradition (combination of evocation and abjuration for battlefield magic).
Warlocks also receive about a dozen new options for their Eldritch Invocation class feature. These new subclasses occupy about 60 pages, but that overstates the content, as some of it is class-specific random tables for things like what kind of tattoo your Barbarian has or how the community views your sorcerous powers.
There are 15 new feats in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, all of them racial feats that play on some aspect of the character’s race, or transform them to be more in tune with some aspect of their race’s lineage. For example, there are two Dragonborn feats, one which lets the character cause fear with its breath weapon and one that causes the character to grow tougher scales and claws. My personal favorite is the tiefling’s Infernal Constitution, which increases provides resistance to cold and poison.
New Magic Items (“First, they work, and then they don’t. On, off, on, off – in the blink of my eye!”)
This section of the book focuses on “common” magic items – items that are nifty and flavorful, but don’t do much (if anything) from a combat or serious power point of view. These items include Heward’s Handy Spice Pouch (so you will always be able to flavor that meal to perfection), the Candle of the Deep (a candle that isn’t extinguished when put under water), Clothes of Mending (magically counteracts daily wear and tear), and the Staff of Birdcalls (yup, it imitates bird calls). Not everything is without combat applications though. The Clockwork Amulet lets you take 10 on an attack roll once per day, and I’m sure there are gamers out there who would pay to be able to avoid a bad roll from time to time.
Snilloc’s snowball swarm lives! Also charm monster, mass polymorph, magic stone, cause fear, Melf’s minute missiles (not as important as his acid arrows, but still nifty), enervation, horrid wilting, and twenty more pages to boot.
In addition to guidance on the application of some existing rules, Xanathar’s Guide to Anything includes alternative rules for encounter building, more elaborate rules for traps (11 pages), expanded downtime activities (12 pages; activities include carousing, commerce, researching, crafting, etc.)
There are a lot of random tables in this book. A lot. Ten pages of backstory random tables (in addition to the smaller ones specific to the classes). Twenty pages of random encounter tables. Half a dozen pages of magic item tables. Fifteen pages dedicated to random name generation. That’s over a quarter of the book.
There’s half a dozen pages on expanded uses for skill tools – cartographer’s tools, a gaming set, a disguise kit, and so forth.
It’s really great to get some serious new mechanical content for D&D5E. If you like D&D and you’re the sort who’s hungry for lots of options for character creation, you’ve been pretty starved until this point (well, at least from the printed books; WotC has been offering some of these options up on their website). There’s a solid array of subclasses available, covering options for both the purest of good guys and the most sinister of scoundrels. If you want more character options for D&D, Xanathar’s is the place to get them.
I also find many of the common magic items rather charming – I’ve always been a sucker for minor persistent effects, and something like a billowing cloak or a semi-endless supply of spices appeals to me. In particular, I would point any old school player to the Pole of Collapsing, which finally make sit practical to carry that 10-foot pole around. I do wish there had been a few more ‘serious’ magic items added in. Maybe instead of some of those tables.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.