Hidden deep within the lore of the city of Waterdeep is a mysterious guild of criminals ruled over by a terrifying figure known only as Xanathar. This crime boss sees and knows all that happens within the city (allegedly) and has a deep desire to gain knowledge of all which occurs throughout the multiverse world of Dungeons and Dragons. This book – Xanathar's Guide To Everything– is the collation of the notes the mad beholder has gathered and shared with only their goldfish, Sylgar.
And now, of course, us.
The collection of content is the first great expansion to the 5th Edition D&D world, bringing new options and delving into the infinite realm of possibilities that await adventures, their adventures and the world they live in. Having spent a couple of years with the book and running a world with it, I will break down each chapter and give you the highs and lows of this tome.
This is not essential to run your D&D game, it’s not a fourth core book to join the Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Masters Guide, but I hope to help you decide if this is worth it. I’m going to make some assumptions that you, dear reader, are already somewhat familiar with D&D and with 5th Edition in particular. If you’re not, I highly recommend checking out some of our other blogs which cover the core books, like this one reviewing the Player’s Handbook.
So strap in for my guide to the Guide to Everything!
Chapter 1. Character Creation
New character, who dis? Everyone has the dilemma when their character gets to certain levels. What do I specialise in? The options provided in the Player’s Handbook may be enough for you, but in case they’re not, or they don’t quite fit the image you’ve built, check out the new subclass options Xanathar's Guide To Everything presents. Want to be a cleric of Hades that isn’t all about death? Welcome to the church of the Grave domain cleric! Fancy being a pirate? Enter the Swashbuckler Rogue! These are two of the 31 subclasses available to you within the book, though some of these are reprints from previous books, like the Sun Soul Monk who appeared in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. This is for the benefit of those who play in the Adventurers League, though.
I love the additional diversity in the options, but I was a little saddened to find that there was just one wizard subclass. Mind you, it is a class that had the most subclasses originally, but still, love me a wizard! Not only that but Xanathar’s gives you guidance on the backstory elements which you may want to incorporate into the life of your character, such as any life events which made your character who they are now.
Chapter 2. Dungeon Master’s Tools
This is the section of Xanathar's Guide To Everything that gives me the most delight. Whilst I like seeing what my players come up with, I don’t get to use the character creation section myself. This chapter though… this opens my toolbox in new and wonderful ways.
First off, there are a few clarifications regarding some background mechanics such as sleep and falling, but it also brings in some excellent updates to some sections of the Dungeon Masters Guide, such as Traps and Downtime. The two best parts of this chapter for me though are the random encounter tables and the magic items section. The random encounters are broken down by terrain and give you options across the four tiers of play. So if your level 11 party are ambling through the mountains, you can roll (or choose) what creatures are going to cross their path. Not all of these are straight up encounters – for example, “a wide crevasse, its depths shrouded in mist” pops up on a roll of 76-80, whereas a 21-25 conjures up a “red dragon gliding through the sky above the highest mountains”, both of which bring new narrative challenges to your game.
Chapter 3. Spells
Do you believe in magic? I hope so because this has always been a key part of a D&D campaign. The spellcasters utilised within the game have a huge list of options but now, some new spells have been uncovered. Maybe they fell down the back of the sofa, who knows? Like in the Player’s Handbook, the spells are split out by class, but they also include the school of magic the spell comes from. This makes life easier for the wizard who just has to write down every transmutation spell, or the eldritch knight who needs the abjuration list in a hurry. The majority of the spells are focused on the lower levels of play, because, let’s be honest, most campaigns live in that section between levels 3 and 13. However, there is plenty to give your chosen caster many chances to surprise and delight.
The last part of Xanathar's Guide To Everything is the appendices. Appendix A gives guidance on the world of a shared campaign, collaborating with a potentially larger number of players and rotating DM’s, keeping the game going in a world where life gets in the way a lot. To be honest, this part felt unnecessary for me personally and I’ve never really read it but there is a big caveat to this. I’ve been running a game with the same group of players for five years now, spread across two campaigns, and we have managed to make it work for us all that time, usually by running one-shot games should I not be available or a large number of players are busy. This might be for you, particularly if you play in an RPG club that has rotating DM’s, but for me, it wasn’t something I needed.
The second appendix though is something I needed quite badly. Enter the Character Names lists. These names are given in pretty standard groupings, particularly gender and racial lines, but the book goes further for the human names. Long lists of names grouped into either historic categories or by specific locations are great for those Dungeon Masters who need to pull a name out of a hat at a moments notice and don’t hold the names in their head. They also give great inspiration for the nomenclature of the non-human races (who knew Dragonborn had such complex clan names!)
I’ve had the Xanathar's Guide To Everything since it came out and I’ve found it a very trusty companion to design my world. I love the little notes scattered throughout the book from the point of view of Xanathar. They give a comedic thread through the book and the features given to make life so much easier for players and dungeon masters alike. The table of wild shape options in the druid section was greatly lacking from the Player’s Handbook, so including it here takes the frantic shuffling of pages in the Monster Manual away from the game table.
I said at the start of this post that this book isn’t essential to your gameplay. Well, sorry, I lied. The pure diversity of options within this book makes it essential and lets your players enter a wider realm of storytelling. So what are you waiting for? Enter the mind of the trickiest beholder and explore the unlimited possibilities of “Everything.”