With new subclasses, spells, rules and DM’s tools, it’s not quite a guide to everything, but definitely a guide to quite a lot of stuff!
Xanathar the Beholder, Waterdeep resident, guild leader and seeker of knowledge has placed much of what he has learnt of the D&D universe into a single book – Warning, this may be false advertising. While Xanathar’s Guide to Everything may be a slightly tongue in cheek name for a book that clearly doesn’t contain everything, it does contain plenty. Including notes from the slightly awkward (and definitely unpleasant), floating eye monster which add a little spice to the book. It’s certainly a useful addition to your D&D library and makes for an excellent support book and expansion of the rules from the Player’s Handbook.
|Loads of great subclass options||Some of the rules add unnecessary complexity|
|Great new spells||Too much focus on random encounters rather than supporting DM preparation|
|Lots of rules clarifications|
What is Xanathar’s Guide to Everything?
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the first expansion on the rules and elements found in the Player’s Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons. In its 192 pages, It adds 32 new subclasses (at least 1 for each class in the Player’s Handbook), several rule clarifications, a host of alternative and expanded rules, a variety of DM tools for things like random encounters and NPC names and a host of new spells (95 to be exact).
Xanathar’s Guide contains the following sections:
- Character Options
- Dungeon Master’s Tools
|Print Length||192 Pages|
|Publisher||Wizards of the Coast|
|Publication Date||21st November 2017|
|Publication Type||Supplement Book|
This is the real meat of the book and probably the main reason you’ll want to pick up Xanathar’s Guide. It offers an eye-watering (pun absolutely intended) 32 new subclasses to use for character creation.
There’s a lot of options here and a lot of variety on show. D&D’s great ability is that you can play in a whole host of ways and by adding new class options allows players to approach the game in fresh ways. We’ve summarised all the new subclasses for you below:
- Path of the Ancestral Guardian – Barbarians that draw on their ancestrl spirits to enhance their combat ability
- Path of the Storm Herald – Transform their rage into a mantle of primal magic
- Path of the Zealot – Inspired by their deity to throw themselves recklessly into the fury of battle
- College of Glamour – Trained in the Feywilds to use magic that delights and captivates others
- College of Swords – Daring entertainers that use combat and weaponry within their performances. They’re also skilled warriors
- College of Whispers – Exploitative bards that trade in knowledge and secrets, using them to extort and threaten
- Forge Domain – Clerics that worship patrons of artistry and metalwork
- Grave Domain – Clerics that worship Gods of death and the afterlife
- Circle of Dreams – Guardians of the natural world who use their powers to bring joy and mend wounds
- Circle of the Shepherd – Protectors of defenceless creatures, particularly animals and those of the Feywilds
- Arcane Archer – Archers that weave elven magic into their attacks
- Cavalier – Mounted combatants, born of nobility, tasked with protecting the weak and those of great importance
- Samurai – Skillful, unbreakable combatants of incredible discipline
- Way of the Drunken Master – Unpredictable warriors that excel in deceiving opponents with an expected incompetence an unorthodox fighting patterns
- Way of the Kensei – Relentless weapons masters
- Way of the Sun Soul – Channel their life energy into searing bolts of light
- Oath of Conquest – Unceasingly seek to crush the forces of chaos
- Oath of Redemption – View combat as a last resort and that all are capable of redemption
- Gloom Stalker – Rangers that operate in the darkness to defeat those that operate there
- Horizon Walker – Guardians against threats from other planes or ravagers of the worlds
- Monster Slayer – Hunter of monsters and wielders of grim magic
- Inquisitive – Sharp-minded rogues that excel in rooting out secrets and solving mysteries
- Mastermind – A wordsmith, a keeper of secrets and a master-manipulator
- Scout – A stealthy survivalist that’s more at home in the wilderness than on the city streets.
- Swashbuckler – A master of the blade, relying more on skill and finesse than heavy armour and brute strength
- Divine Soul – A sorceror whose magical source comes from a divine source like an angel or as part of the fulfillment of some prophecy
- Shadow Magic – A sorceror whose ability comes from the Shadowfell itself, perhaps through lineage or through exposure to its fell energy
- Storm Sorcery – A sorceror whose magic comes from the power of elemental air
- The Celestial – A warlock who has made a pact with one of the beings of the upper planes such as a solar or an ancient empyrean
- Hexblade – A warlock who’s patron is a mysterious entity from the Shadowfell
- War Mage – Specialising in empowered and defensive casting to achieve optimal magical abilities in combat
While some subclasses are better than others, it’s important to note that no subclass is game breaking. Each fits into the game seamlessly and most offer fun new options to play. We did feel that there wasn’t much about the samurai’s abilities that enticed us to play this subclass. We also felt that the war mage’s abilities became quite complicated with abilities only working under certain conditions. The inquisitive roguish archetype also felt like a missed opportunity with some fairly weak skills or skills only usable in limited situations. On the whole though, the subclasses presented in this book are generally excellent.
This is your life
As part of an effort to simplify the creative process, Xanathar’s guide is replete with various rollable tables you can use to create randomly generated character aspects that can help you build backstories. There’s admirable variety here and while I prefer to come up with my own ideas for characters, it’s easy to see how this approach can be useful for those that don’t want to spend the time conceptualising their character or want some fresh ideas to help them build their character.
Xanathar’s Guide also provides some additional options for feats specific to certain races. These are optional and usable at the DM’s discretion but added some nice, fresh options for different characters. We like that Wizards have gone with a flexible approach to races in that anyone from any race can be anything, but we also like that each race brings something new and different to the table and these feats offer another option to do this.
The feats here are generally useful and add greater nuance to different characters and are a welcome addition.
Dungeon Master’s Tools
Remember I mentioned that Xanathar’s goes to great lengths to make playing/running D&D easier. We’ll this is a whole section dedicated to making things easier for the DM.
There’s a plethora of explanations and rules on how to handle certain situations and generally the approach is either to clarify rules (such as the impact of area of effect spells) or to provide a set of rules for when certain situations arise such as using a type of tools, handling traps or creating random encounters. Often, these come in the form of demonstrating how difficult an action is with a DC or tables that can be rolled on to determine an outcome (such as many, many tables for rolling for random encounters depending on the level and location of the group).
Personally, I haven’t used this section much for two reasons; the first, is I’m not a big fan of truly random encounters. While I often still need to adapt on the fly, I like my encounters to be carefully considered, at least so they match the story of the campaign but also so they offer the right kind of challenge for the party and isn’t just another thing to hit. The 2nd reason is that there’s already so many rules in D&D that I don’t want to have to go look up another stat to check what DC a player needs to get to manage to perform a certain action. I prefer my games to have a quicker pace than that and while knowing the essential rules is important, I don’t like getting bogged down in endless book checks so would rather determine these things on the fly.
Obviously, not everyone is like me and many will appreciate this kind of support when DM’ing so they don’t have to worry about making things up as they go. For those that like to DM this way, this section is very useful.
Where I have found this section useful, has been when building more complex traps. There’s perhaps a little too much said on this section in here, but it has helped me formulate better and more complex traps for my players to encounter.
Below, we’ve listed out all the elements of this sections:
- Rule clarifications
- Using tools
- Spellcasting rules
- Encounter building
- Random encounters
- Magic items
Who wants more spells? Of course everyone wants more spells which is why this is a great section with 95 new spells to add to your repertoire. The additional spells are a little light in numbers for clerics and paladins (especially considering that clerics are dedicated spellcasters with only 7 new spells while paladins only get 3 new spells).
However, it’s a lot of new magic to wield and these spells do feel fresh and nicely thematic helping players build a spellbook that suits the style of their character
The appendices offers a few extra rules, ideas and variations on rules that DMs can opt to use such as options for leveling up at checkpoints rather than based on xp, options for obtaining magical items and duration of sessions. The meat of this section, and surprisingly, the most useful, is the character name tables (there’s literally 18 pages of them)!
If you’ve ever DM’d, you’re obviously going to encounter instances where players will meet a character you’ve not prepared for and coming up with a name on the fly can sometimes be the hardest part. I’ve definitely had my fair share of daft NPC names because I couldn’t think of a decent name on the fly. These name tables give literally hundreds of ideas for each of the main races, for males and females and even for characters from different regions. It’s an extremely useful resource, even if you’re coming up with names in advance of the session, especially for non-human races whose names I’m generally unfamiliar with.
As with other D&D publications, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything also comes with various related products that you can get a hold of. As usual, you can get a stunning, rare, alternative cover version. There’s also a bundle containing the 3 core supplement books in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (which also comes with a DM screen). This pack also has an alternate cover option. You can also get the 95 new spells in card format for ease of use. You can also get a Xanathar Miniature as part of Gale Force Nine’s Waterdeep: Dragon Heist line.
Xanathar’s Guide is 2 things; it provides extra options for players and DMs in the form of character creation and spells to add greater variety to the game. In this area, Xanathar’s Guide is excellent with satisfying new options that’re interesting, unique and plentiful and in this area, the book is an easy 9/10.
The 2nd part of the book is about clarification and making DM’ing easier. The content around these areas is generally good but your mileage from these areas is going to depend on your style of DM’ing. For me, information around names and traps is useful but many of the rule clarifications feel like they make the game more complicated, though such things may be appreciated by those that want a consistent source from which to handle various situations. On top of this, many of the random generation tables feel like they don’t suit my style of DM’ing but other dungeon masters may find them more useful.
To sum up, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is certainly a useful companion guide to the Player’s Handbook and offers a wide variety of extra options and rules. Your mileage form the guide will very much depend on your style of DM’ing, but it remains easy to recommend as there is still plenty for everyone within the book.