I have been waiting, for what seems like forever, to get my hands on any content relating to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGtE). My wife and I waited excitedly for any news about it and I even tried to preorder the book at my friendly local gaming store way ahead of when they would be taking preorders. Finally, after a long awaited release, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has hit the shelves of game stores everywhere and I was lucky enough to grab a hold of a limited edition copy of the book.
After speed reading my copy as fast as I could, I can declare Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is more than I could have ever hoped for. The book’s content is evenly divided between material for players as well as for Dungeon Masters (DM). Consequently, regardless of your role in your group, you will be not disappointed with your purchase.
I loved everything from subclasses and racial feats to the book’s expansion of tool proficiencies and many of the new spells. I did have issues with some particular subclasses and feats, as well as the fact that some classes got gimped (again) with spells. Ultimately though, as the name suggests, this book has almost everything in it and is probably one of the few necessary purchases for your collection.
The book is 192 pages and is laid out as follows. Chapter 1 is character options. In this section, we have a variety of new subclasses, how to roll for a background on your character, as well as racial feats. Chapter 2 is a plethora of DM-related materials. The highlights of this chapter include options on how to apply tool proficiencies in relation to skills, information on traps and how to make them, several encounter tables, and an expanded section on down time activities and common magic items. Chapter 3 contains new spell lists and spell descriptions for a variety of classes. Lastly, in Appendix A, the book discusses shared campaigns in the same vein as those from the Adventure’s League and in Appendix B, the book provides seventeen pages of names for humanoids and non-humanoids alike.
You can see a more comprehensive breakdown of the book as shown in the table of contents pictured here.
Strengths of this Product
I, like so many others, was hyped for this product, especially after the first teasers were distributed through Extra Life events. Additionally, because it is one of the first large supplements of its kind for 5th edition, my expectations for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything were high. Fortunately, I can say that the book has an overabundance of strengths. I could probably rave about almost every page in the book, but after considering brevity and my editor’s sanity, I have decided to focus on the most defining points that this product has to offer.
One of the main selling points of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is its 27 new subclasses. All, which one way or another, have appeared in previous releases of Unearthed Arcana (http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/unearthed-arcana). A lot of these subclasses fill several niches that 5th edition was lacking thematically or mechanically. For instance, the Way of the Kensei Monk (XGtE. pg.34) can focus ki through a set of mastered weapons. Similarly, the Favored Soul Sorcerer (XGtE. pg.50) and the Celestial Warlock (XGtE. pg.54) are both celestial options for classes that lacked one. Overall, most of these subclasses are fantastic and will have players and dungeon masters building characters and mixing builds for months—if not years—to come.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything provides a great resource for players and DMs alike to roll characters and NPCs with fleshed out backstories. Through a series of tables (XGtE pg. 62), a player can develop interesting backstories. These tables include everything from whether your parents are alive or dead, to details about other family members. In addition to these tables, there are tables for your character’s background and class to help you decide why you became a criminal bard, or a folk hero barbarian. From start to finish these tables help you roll a backstory for a character, which can be great for new players who are unsure of how to create a character or fun for old players who want to quickly roll up a random character for a new campaign.
Compare to prior editions of Dungeons and Dragons, players of 5th edition have been feat starved. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything blesses us with the first official feats since the release of the Player’s Handbook in 2014. Although they are limited to only racial feats, a good amount of these racials feats are great. They succeed at adding depth and flavour to several races and also allow a player’s choice in a race to make a more substantial difference in that player’s playstyle. An example of this is the Halfling Feat Bountiful Luck (XGtE pg. 73), which allows a halfling to allow an ally to reroll a 1 on any attack, ability or saving throw as a reaction within 30ft. Not only is this feat a cool extension to the Halfling Lucky feature, it gives the Halfling new ways to interact with other players and be helpful in combat.
An awesome addition to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is its content on tool proficiencies. The product greatly expands upon tools and clarifies how skills and tools should interacts while bringing tools more into the forefront of the game. In my opinion, skills within 5th edition have often trumped tool proficiencies in most cases. Most tools have few mechanics written about them and players are often only incentivized to take them for roleplaying or flavor reasons, not gameplay ones. Wizards of the Coast seems to even admit this in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything when discussing tool proficiencies, “the use of tools sometimes overlaps with the use of skills, and it can be unclear how to use them together in certain situations” (XGtE pg. 78). The good news is that this product expands upon tools, making them as useful as their skill counterparts. For example, if you now take proficiency in Cobbler’s Tools, it gives you and your companions the ability to travel for an extra 2 hours a day without suffering exhaustion. For an added bonus, you can craft hidden compartments into shoes with 8 hours of work (XGtE pg. 80). These interesting and amusing expansions to tool proficiencies allow players who pick these proficiencies to be rewarded for their choice mechanically. Likewise, it brings something long desired by those of us who love to have tools and want to use them as often as skills in game.
While there are rules for traps in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the material in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything expands on the sneaky devices in a helpful way. Personally, I have rarely touched traps in my campaigns outside of official adventures. I have always had a hard time making meaningful traps, as opposed to something that is just a small nuisance for my players. Now, DMs are given tools to create simple and complex traps that can be intricate, interesting, and meaningful. For both simple and complex traps, the book helps with building traps of appropriate level and explaining the elements of traps: the trigger, the effect, and the countermeasures. The book also provides instructions on how to run traps in your game. Beyond that, it details multiple examples of traps to help DMs design their own.
Another great part of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is that downtime activities have been expanded from the few pages we get in the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide to a whopping eleven pages. These pages contain everything from crime, to selling a magical item, to participating in pit fighting (XGtE pg. 123). Each of these downtime activities are presented with possible complications as well as options for crafting rival characters, who can oppose your players during their downtime activities. Speaking that roleplay is one of the three pillars of D&D, this is a much needed addition and will make downtime more exciting when it happens.
5th edition hasn’t seen any new spells since the release of Princes of the Apocalypse in 2015. In this supplement we are blessed with over two dozen new spells. Each caster class receives a handful of new spells that fill in some noticeable holes in that class’s spell list. Some examples are the Temple of the Gods spell (XGtE pg. 167)) that acts similarly to the spell Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion but for clerics and the Create Homunculus spell (XGtE pg. 152) that finally lets you create one of those cute constructs from the Monster Manual (pg. 188). As well, some of the neglected wizard schools, like the Illusion School, actually receive some much needed love and attention in this book.
As I mentioned above, in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything there is 17 pages devoted to character names. This section is holistic, including names for specific races to names from real world cultures. Sure, it is a simple section, but finding the perfect name for a character can be difficult, especially since you might be roleplaying that character for several months or even years. So if you’re like me and one of the hardest things when making a character is choosing your name, you’ll love this tool. Similarly, if you are a DM who needs to name NPCs on the fly, this section can be a lifesaver.
Weaknesses of this Product
Now, I have praised this product for many things from subclasses to character names. Nevertheless, I also had issues with the same things that I loved in the book. These criticisms don’t undermine the book entirely. In fact, I might even consider them a bit nitpicky myself, but they are important to know about before buying Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
While I loved a good number of the subclasses from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, there were a couple subclasses that became worse than their initial version in Unearthed Arcana. The deterioration in quality stems from two issues, either the writers added mechanics that were not that good broadly speaking, or the mechanics they added did not connect to the original idea’s theme. Two example of the mechanics just being flat out bad were the Samurai Fighter with its clunky temporary HP at 3rd level (XGtE pg.31) and the War Magic Wizard with its 6th level Power Surge feature (XGtE pg.59) . Going into why these features are bad would take another blog post in itself, but simple to say, I generally question the mechanical thinking behind these features. An example of the mechanics not matching theme is the Oath of Redemption. I originally loved this subclass back in Unearthened Arcana because the Armor of Peace and Warrior of Reconciliation features felt like important concepts to the theme of the subclass. But now, these features have been removed, and what replaced them poorly supports the redemption theme.
While feats were something needed in 5th edition, some of these feats in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything are down right too good or just a waste when compared to another feat or an ability score improvement. A lot of people I’ve spoken to about the book are banning the Elven Accuracy (XGtE pg.74) feat from their table. The feat allows an elf or half-elf to re-roll one of their dice when they have advantage. In other words, this feat more or less gives super advantage to the player who take it. In contract, racial feats like Orcish Fury (XGtE pg.75) which gives you one extra damage dice per short or long rest and an extra attack when using your Relentless Endurance feature, flops hard, especially against other powerhouse feats like Sharpshooter or Great Weapon Master (Player’s Handbook pg.167).
To be fair, a good amount of these racial feats bring something new to the game and in some ways, D&D already had trouble with mandatory feats long before this product’s release. Yet, for this being the first official release of feats to hit our hands since the Player’s Handbook, it can be a disappointing to see feats that are so strong that they will likely get banned at tables or feats that are so weak, players will likely never pick them.
Although Xanathar’s Guide to Everything includes new information on downtime activities and tool proficiencies, the product, as far as I can tell, adds nothing to the crafting system found in the Player’s Handbook (pg.187). While some people dislike crafting, I am one of the those people who loves it. As a player, I have often crafted items in games and as a DM, I have let my players craft fun and cool items for themselves. Unfortunately, both I and my players have found “better” ways to do crafting than the method detailed in this product.
To put it simply, crafting just doesn’t make sense in this book. Players can never get better at crafting. Likewise, the time it takes to make things is inefficient. Players are better served doing other downtime activities to make money and buying what they need, rather than crafting tools or items for their adventure. This is disappointing for a player and a DM like me. I felt like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was Wizards of the Coast’s chance to devote more time into crafting and make a system that is fun and dynamic. Instead, we are given more of the same.
Lastly, while a good amount of new spells were added with this supplement, I felt like a few subclasses were shafted with their spell selection, particularly paladin and cleric. Clerics only receive seven new spells and paladins receive only three. Looking through the selection of new spells available to other classes, I felt like more could have given to either class. This is especially necessary since both the cleric and paladin have been neglected in supplements for several years now.
I loved many aspects of this product from its subclasses to its vast number of tables devoted to character names. The book is inclusive and contains content about almost every topic in D&D. The main problem with the product though is that certain topics the book covers should have been expanded on in greater detail. This may seem like a trivial comment, but with the speed at which official 5th edition content comes out, we may not see more of this kind of content for years to come.
Nevertheless, I still rate this book highly. Both the art and the mechanics are top-notch, even for official content. Therefore, I give Xanathar’s Guide to Everything 5 out of 5 shields.
Overall Score – 5 / 5 Shields
As with most official material, this book will make a fine addition to your bookshelf. I encourage you to grab a copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything from your friendly local gaming store, but if you can’t, you can always grab it from Amazon or other relevant site.