The newest 5e Guide is a smorgasbord of options for players and DM’s alike. Among the many items on the table are the official releases for a host of previously play-tested Unearthed Arcana character class options, over thirty in all (inclusive of things like cleric domains and sorcerous origins), new spells, magic items and a plethora of encounter building aids.
In sum, there’s a lot of content in Xanthar’s Guide to Everything.
Out of all the 5th Edition supplements, just a quick look-through of the guide and I feel like this is probably going to be the most used supplement I will refer to outside of the core books for the system (PHB, DMG, MM). Why? Because the book has a lot to like. (Make no mistake, Xanthar is definitely an rules expansion compendium, but that’s okay by me)
When it comes to player content, as much as I look forward to crunch/mechanical build options, what really turns my page is ‘fluff’. That is one thing that 5e has over 4th edition and to some extent, with each new supplement, I feel its gaining ground on earlier editions as well.
Xanthar’s character options offers not only new character builds, but does an excellent job of presenting great role-playing hooks for each of these builds and for the base classes too. For instance, the bard has tables for what type of instrument they use to create their eloquence as well as a table for an embarrassing moment that left an indelible mark on their character. This immediately took me to literally every table I’ve ever gamed at where players share some small nugget of the their character’s past that they wanted to share as soon as they sat down. It’s an excellent addition to the guide and helps new and established players alike get even more ideas for their creations. Each class has these neat little juicy bits to add to their characters and its a great part of the guide, possibly my favorite. Good job wizards.
Aside from the class specific options, the guide has a ton of tables on other character building options; things like name tables, life event tables, tables that generate a characters reason for coming from specific backgrounds, new tools and racial feats.
A quick look over the racial feats in particular and while I like their flavor, the majority of them don’t stand out overall. There are a few ones that stand out of course: the Dragonborn Dragon Fear feat which I think thankfully decouples character level from effectiveness unlike their base dragon breath ability, and the return of the Fade Away feat option for gnomes, allowing gnomes to become invisible after taking damage (an awesome ability that I enjoyed immensely in all my 4e gnome characters). In addition, I do wish to have seen some of the expanded races been given some of their own feats as well.
The tool options, which now include the potential for advantage on certain skills while players are interacting with other characters or their environment is a excellent rule addition to the game and really goes a long way into incorporating elements of the game that I feel players and DMs get excited about but may not be able to fully integrate into the game.
After reading some other reviews much of these tables may seem like filler material but personally, I think these are excellent tables and perfect for this particular supplement. I think that Xanthar’s Guide is a nice composite of earlier editions expanded DMGs and character supplements. I can see how Wizards is really trying to create books that are useful for both players and DMs (it literally states this in the opening of the book), rather than splintering the two groups, similar to how the old Dragon and Dungeon magazines appealed to different types of D&D gamers. I think this is a excellent approach. Additionally, I think these player creation tables and the DM encounter tables are at this point in the edition’s run, kind of necessary considering this is a new edition to the game and they need to update these concepts to these new rules, and introduce potentially new gamers to these types of supplements. Lastly, the tables themselves remind me a great deal of AD&D books, which again is how a lot of 5e material feels in their attempts to appeal towards this exact type of nostalgia.
This section of the guide include encounter and magic item tables that are useful but personally the best parts of this section are the downtime activities and new common magic items for the game.
A good deal of the DMSGuild supplements I have personally bought have included these items that always seem welcomed by my players. The biggest and most helpful info is the magic item crafting time and cost section.
Based on PHB and DMG timelines, items, scrolls, wands and the like appeared to require months and years to create. The example from the PHB states that a nonmagical suite of plate armor at 1,500 gp market value takes 300 days to complete, thanks to 5-gp increment. This meant that items like potions of healing, something relatively simple, took 3 days to make– a tad outrageous. The new crafting rules max out legendary items at 50 workweeks, and uncommon items are a mere 2 workweeks, a much more reasonable amount of time. Potions of healing now only require a single days work and cost half as much as their market price. These were much needed changes and may even be leading towards developing a functional alchemist class somewhere down the line (fingers crossed).
While the chapter provides more traps and details on creating them, I think this is something the guide really could have gone all-out on and provided a good deal number of more pre-made examples as I feel traps in 5e are somewhat much less commonplace than in earlier editions. However, the other supplements, like Curse and Tomb do have a number of examples which may be why they didn’t have too many in this particular guide.
Additionally, the DM section includes nice new common magic items section that present excellent flavor items that I really love. They are definitely going to see some use in my games.
At first blush, the rule updates for this entire section feel like a good deal of positive moves, but I’ll have to give the guide an in-depth read before I pass final judgement.
Many of the spells in Xanthar’s are apparent reprints of The Player’s Companion to Elemental Evil, spells like Investiture of Stone, Mold Earth, etc. It’s nice to have them in hard-cover, but somewhat disappointing to think the space could have been used for wholly new material.
I do enjoy many of the new spells, both from a mechanical standpoint and a purely fun roleplaying viewpoint. Tenser’s Transformation, a quirky bunch of affects that turns a wizard into a fighter for a period of time, Tiny Servant, which creates miniature spies, Summon Lesser and Summon Greater Demon/s which essentially do what you’d expect them to and Create Homunculus (finally!) are all really enjoyable spells to read and hopefully see implemented. As much as many folks disdained 4e, I really thing 5e benefits from the clarity of having spells that have both clearly defined mechanical effects along with older editions commitment towards imaginative descriptive affects.
As I stated in the opening, Xanthar’s Guide is probably going to be my most used supplement outside the core materials, and quite possibly rival each of these, simply for practical in-game use. Despite their objections, this definitely feels like a new, additional Core book. The tool section alone offers some great ideas on how to implement 5e skill challenge mechanics and the same can be said about the downtime activities which can easily be modified to in-game complications. All of the player options, including backgrounds, families, boons, events and class options can also easily be re-skinned for NPCs and make excellent plot hooks for DMs.
So do I enjoy Xanthar? Yes, very much so. Great job Wizards!
*Addendum: So far, day 1, the binding is still intact. However, I do notice a not altogether pleasant odor from the pages of the Guide, distinctly different from your typical book page smell.