Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was the first significant supplemental ruleset for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons that I purchased, and perhaps one of the most important supplements for both players and Dungeon Masters. Where Volo’s Guide to Monsters was released as a supplement the year before focusing on monsters, monster lore, and character races; Xanathar’s Guide to Everything provides a resource focused on character options, optional rules, and resources for running the game. Published in 2017, the book was the result of a massive collaboration with dozens of playtesters (who are credited in the inside cover, and likely many more from the larger community). As both a player and a Dungeon Master, I find myself using this book nearly as often as I do the core rulebooks. I love the synergy of many of the new subclasses and character creation options, and the additional rules and mechanics are brilliant. Within the scope of 5th Edition, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything falls under the “must have” list for me.
In the largest addition to subclasses in 5th Edition, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything brings new offerings to each main class with 31 new subclass options. Some are updates or republished subclasses found in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, such as the Mastermind archetype for the Rogue or the Way of the Sun Soul monastic tradition for the Monk. The subclasses are diverse and relevant across D&D settings and adventures, offering viable options when compared to their counterparts in the Player’s Handbook. Some are popular and well-known, such as the Hexblade Warlock; others are thematic and dynamic, such as the Way of the Kensei Monk; and even a few have underappreciated capacities, like the Scout Rogue. There are not many subclasses that I would consider bad options, and several that have amazing and powerful potential, either on its own or through intentional and clever multiclassing.
Beyond the new subclasses, there is an expanded section focused on character origins and tables. These are clearly presented as “ideas, not rules” for players looking to draw inspiration for creating their characters, rather than creating them from scratch on their own. There are four main sections, breaking down key aspects of a character prior to them entering or joining in an adventure, presented in tables from which to choose from or to roll on for a result. There are Origins, focusing on who you are and where you’re from, looking at a character’s family and where they grew up. Next is Personal Decisions, exploring how you chose or came to have your particular background and class, along with relevant details for both. Following that is Life Events, where a memorable happening has had a profound effect on your life. Lastly are the Supplemental Tables, some of which are referenced in earlier sections (such as rolling for or choosing a Tragedy from the Life Events section) or to add significant people to your character’s past, such as a close friend or mentor. All these details serve to flesh out the backstory for a character, making them more than just a combined background and class, giving them depth and nuance and hopefully more interesting significance in light of the larger game.
An interesting addition of this book is the inclusion of fifteen new Racial Feats. Each has a specific purpose for their designated race, thematically designed to represent a transformation or deepening connection to a character’s race. The feats provide for a growth or expansion of the character, giving distinction to the strengths of different races, and are great additions to the available feats for 5th Edition. They are each beneficial and powerful, often synergizing thematically and mechanically with options that fit well with particular races. The combinations lent through these feats have great potential for players looking to lean into the heritage of their character’s race.
Dungeon Master’s Tools
The first section in the chapter addresses optional mechanics and rules that are designed to help the game run more smoothly, offering alternatives to the rules found in the core rulebooks. These options include mechanics for falling, with optional rules for rate of falling and the mechanics of flying creatures and falling; sleep, including waking someone, sleeping in armor, and forgoing a long rest; and additions for adamantine weapons and tying knots. Later on, there are expanded rules regarding spells and spellcasting.
One of the greatest additions in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the optional rules for tool proficiencies and how they can combine with different skill proficiencies. Each set of tools is explored along with how they overlap with which skill(s), expanding their uses beyond just the base tool offering. The section has explanations of special uses with the tools, such as proficiency with a poisoner’s kit allowing a character to add their proficiency bonus when trying to identify a poison or in combination with the Medicine skill while treating someone afflicted with poison. At the end of each tool subsection, there is a list of activities with suggested DC which I have found helps when determining the difficulty of a corresponding task.
A central section regarding resources for Dungeon Masters that is often overlooked is the Encounter Building portion when combined with the random encounters tables, along with the lists of traps, both simple and complex. The encounters are broken down by environment and challenge rating tier, providing dozens of different and unique encounter possibilities. This is a particularly useful resource for adding encounters between large plot points in an adventure, or to make extended travel more engaging. This is a great starting point for beginning Dungeon Masters who are looking for inspiration for their encounters, or to just pluck straight from the book to plug into their adventures. The section regarding traps goes beyond that of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, addressing simple and complex traps, their many effects and difficulties, and suggestions for creating original traps.
The Downtime Revisited section is a huge addition, offering great changes to some of the frustrating aspects of downtime from the Dungeon Master’s Guide that made it less of a viable option for certain pursuits. Of all the options in this book, this has been the most welcome update to the rules for myself and the rest of my home group, and we nearly always reference this updated ruleset over that of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. From crafting magical items to gambling, the options provided are useful to any campaign looking to allow downtime as a usable mechanic.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has almost 100 new spells across all eight spellcasting classes (excluding Artificer, which was not added until later sourcebooks), and they are creative and broad in their uses and applications. There are a dozen new cantrips which are wonderful (who doesn’t love at-will abilities?). Several of the spells contained in this book have become my personal go-to spells for my spellcasters, from the accessibility of word of radiance and frostbite, the flavor options with shadow blade and Aganazzar’s scorcher, to the downright terrifying and potentially bloody addition of high level spells like mass polymorph and psychic scream.
The two Appendices are more niche, but both have been useful in my own experience on multiple occasions. Appendix A addresses the concept of shared campaign, a campaign where more than one player at the table can be the Dungeon Master. This type of play is great for inconsistent groups or when coordinating the full group to play together is a challenge. In shared campaigns, the game sessions are episodic, and each one comprises a complete adventure. To support that unique type of play, this section in the book provides considerations for preparing encounters, creating characters, advancement, and variant rules as the style of a shared campaign differs from a traditional campaign with a single story and Dungeon Master. My first D&D home game was adapted into a shared campaign, which was a wonderful opportunity because that allowed me to experiment with being the Dungeon Master within an established world with the help of those who had already been creating it.
Appendix B is just an extensive list of character names and is so incredibly useful. These are divided into sections by race, then broken down to male, female, and family or clan names. A few are further broken down by adult and child names (such as for elves) or by ethnicity (for humans). This is one reference I continue to come back to, whether I am looking for inspiration for character names or, more often, the name NPCs within a setting.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything might be the most useful resource for Dungeon Masters and players alike for 5th Edition. It is useful, clearly presented, and the additions create clarity for the game rather than muddy the water with confusing rules and non-viable character options. This is largely thanks to the massive undertaking in working with the community following the heavy reliance of Unearthed Arcana playtesters for the different subclasses that were explored throughout the playtest material in the year leading up to its publication. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is a cornerstone of the foundation of my personal Dungeons and Dragons library, and is likewise for so many other Dungeon Masters I know, from the subclasses, to the rules for mechanics, skills, tools, and traps; to the lists of supplemental names lists, this book is certainly a must have for 5th Edition D&D.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is published by Wizards of the Coast.
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