This Christmas, I was gifted three Dungeons and Dragons books. The first was the Monster Manual, much to the dismay of my party (just kidding), while the other two were Table Fables: A Collection of Tables for the Weary Dungeon Master by Madeline Hale and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Today’s post is going to be a review, primarily of XGE but also mentioning Madeline Hale’s book as well.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the newest D&D 5th edition resource book from Wizard’s of the Coast. This book includes resources for player and DM alike; new subclasses, spells, and names are designed to make character and NPC creation easier, and magic items, traps, and encounter building seem primed to assist DM’s in campaign creation. But just how effective does Xanathar’s Guide seem to be?
- Character options
One of the first things readers see when opening the book is the range of new class options. All of the original classes from the Player’s Handbook get at least one new subclass. The wizard only received one new school of magic, but as the class with the most versatility of choice in the original book, it is understandable why WOTC did not feel so inclined as to include more options in this supplemental guide. Rogues are provided the most options in this book, with a grand total of four new subclasses: Inquisitive, Mastermind, Scout, and Swashbuckler (a personal favorite of mine for years based purely on principle thanks to the Connor Kostick novel Epic). Many of the subclasses are slightly adjusted versions of what was released as Unearthed Arcana over the past couple of years, such as the Samurai subclass for the Fighter and the Way of the Sun Soul for Monks. Although my experience with the Unearthed Arcana was limited, from what I have seen it appears that WOTC did a good job listening to playtesters and adjusting the subclasses to be more balanced. While it is difficult to judge the uniqueness and effectiveness of each of the subclasses without testing them all, most of them appear to be interesting and different from what has come before, providing potential and experienced players with a wide array of options for their characters.
Similarly, XGE has an entire section entitled “This Is Your Life” that can help any new, uncertain, or adventurous person to determine their character’s life and backstory. Within the section, there are random tables about one’s origin (parents, birth order, birthplace, family), personal decisions involving backgrounds and classes (the reason why they became what they did), life events (tragedies, crimes, wars) and other supplemental elements (alignment, social status, relationship to others in the family). If a player is new and uncertain on what to do for their character, or perhaps if an experienced player wants to try something new and let the dice choose their fate, these random tables are perfect. None of the tables are intertwined with any other and can be used completely separately from any other, making the whole section flexible and extremely useful. Additionally, if players are stuck on a name for their new character, there are roughly seventeen pages of names in Appendix B, ranging from Dragonborn to Half-orc and even to Polynesian or English-sounding human names. For players, this book is certain to be an excellent supplement to the PHB when building new characters.
Another important element to note for players are the new racial feats added within the book. There are twenty new racial feats introduced in this book, ranging from Dwarven Fortitude (increase in Constitution and the ability to use a Hit Die when taking the Dodge action) to Prodigy (allows half-elfs, half-orcs, or humans to gain a skill proficiency, a tool proficiency, and a language, as well as providing them expertise in one skill that the character is proficient in). There are even different feats for some subraces; drow, high elves, and wood elves all receive their own unique feat, while also gaining access to a feat that is applicable to elves of any kind. If counting the elf subraces as separate, then the race that gains the most options is halflings, with a total of four new feats. It is interesting to note however that all of the new racial feats are directed at the original nine races; there are no racial feats available for Tabaxi, Kenku, or any of the other new races introduced in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Perhaps down the line WOTC plans to release another supplement with new racial traits once the Tritons and the Lizardfolk take off, but until then it appears that what is in Volo’s Guide will simply have to do.
The final notable thing for players in XGE is the range of new spell options. Each spellcasting class comes with new spells, some with a greater range than others. Paladins receive the least with only three new spells (Ceremony, Find Greater Steed, and Holy Weapon), while Wizards get the most, coming in with over seventy new spells (although several of the new options overlap with other classes, such as Danse macabre, a necromancy spell which is available to both Wizards and Warlocks). This increase in spell availability could be a unique way to diversify one’s character and provide more options to get around obstacles a DM throws at you.
- Dungeon Master options
One of the notable things about XGE is its usefulness to both player and DM. While the guide has many great options for players, many of the options included for players are actually quite useful for DMs too. This Is Your Life, the spell lists, and the naming tables can all help a DM to create unique and interesting NPCs as well as spice up some villains for a campaign. If you are a DM looking for a supplemental book to the PHB and the Dungeon Master’s Guide but don’t want more monster material, XGE is the book for you.
In addition to the character related stuff, the entire second section is devoted to DMs. The chapter starts out with clarifying some rules or providing variant ones for situations such as falling, sleeping, and tool proficiencies. The book spends quite a few pages discussing both complex and simple traps, how to build them, and how they work, and also provides an insight for how area of affect spells can work on a grid battle map, the kind that many DMs use for their games. Another useful section in the book discusses encounter building. As someone who has never really looked into the math involved with Challenge Ratings for monsters but rather gone by what Kobold Fight Club says is a hard or deadly encounter, I found this section to be quite useful. There is one chart in particular that shows a suggested max CR of a solo creature depending on the size of the party (from 4-6) and the level of the characters. The book also explains a DMs options when dealing with PCs of varying levels, which can be helpful for DMs who play with experience points but reward based on roleplay as well as combat. Another great element is an entire middle section filled with random encounter tables. The encounters are broken up by terrain first (arctic, coastal, desert) and then by character level (1-4, 5-10, etc.). Some of the encounters are not even directly tied into a monster, providing the characters for a chance to explore or roleplay. If you as a DM love random encounters, then this section is a gold mine for you.
Despite its love of traps and monster, perhaps what XGE focuses on the most are casual downtime activities. Not only does the book provide tool descriptions, uses, samples DCs, and skills, the book also provides a list of activities, from buying or selling magic items to relaxing or even working. Each activity comes with an explanation of the time and resources required of the activity, the check and/or result, and potential complications from each. These options are great for games that lack murder hobos and instead possess players that are invested in roleplay and the lives their characters live. However, if your players are more interested in who they get to kill next, then you are probably better off leaving these activities and tools alone.
Last but certainly not least for DMs, XGE provides a small section on magic items. There is a small section devoted to suggesting how to distribute magic items to a party depending on their level. One table explains the distribution by tier (divided by minor and major items) and another table explaining it by rarity from common to legendary (also divided by minor and major). It is natural of course that the exact distribution will vary per campaign, so this section is a minor one. What is particularly important however is the introduction of several new common magic items. XGE acknowledges the lack of common items in the DMG and seeks to rectify that with these new additions. Some of the items are relatively useful, such as the Candle of the Deep, a candle that can be used underwater. Others however are of a sillier nature, like the Cloak of Billowing, which allows to user to “use a bonus action to make it billow dramatically”. That’s literally all it does. The array of new items provides some unique additions to the game, allowing you to take your campaign to unique and dramatics places while offering silly and whimsical options as well. Additionally, on pages 140-145 there are tables of magic items (including those beyond XGE), separated by rarity and divided into minor and major. The tables contain the name of the item, their type, and whether or not they need attunement. Personally, I find deciding what loot to give to my players troublesome because there is quite a bit to choose from and a lot to read about, so having this table that I can simply glance at and see what is available to me is extremely handy. To those who prefer to roll their loot randomly or like to run low-magic campaigns, this section might not be useful, but I know that I personally will find great use for this section in my campaign in the future.
- Random tables
One of the greatest strengths of Xanathar’s Guide is the random table that it provides players and DMs with. Nearly everything in the book comes with a random table, which can be excellent for indecisive or uncertain players, new DMs, and those who just want their experience to be random and weird. I personally haven’t used random tables before, but I have been starting to warm up to the idea of using them in order to maximize efficiency and provide new ideas as a DM. Particularly as a DM who is working and going to school, random tables allow for an easier time prepping. While the tables in XGE are quite excellent, another book that I received from my parents for Christmas is Table Fables: A Collection of Tables for the Weary Dungeon Master by Madeline Hale. The book consists entirely of random tables that can be used by a DM or GM of any RPG. Dreams, villain traits, weather, food, and hundreds of other types of tables can all be found in this book. While there are tables that can be found online, the book is unique in its versatility between systems and would be a handy addition to any gaming table. If you as a GM are a fan of using random tables or are a new GM unsure where to take your players, this book would be an excellent supplement.
Overall, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is a unique and fun addition to the WOTC canon. While certainly not necessary for optimal game play, the spells, feats, and character creation options give players a wide range of things to try for their characters, while the sections on encounter building, traps, and magic items are all good for both new and old DMs. While some of the races and classes are a little underserved in the book, XGE does a good job of balancing classes and races throughout all the books. I do hope that sometime soon we see racial feats for the new races from VGM, but as for this book, I think that it is a worthy addition to the D&D books due to its vast array of new information and usefulness to both players and DMs. If you are looking to try some new things for your campaign, I would highly recommend picking up XGE for your gaming needs.
Rating: Four out of five stars
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