Oh my, do I love getting additions to the Dungeons & Dragons compendium, especially when they can expand how I can play the game. This month, Wizards of the Coast added a brand new rulebook to the 5th Edition collection with Xanathar's Guide To Everything, first releasing the guide to hobby stores on November 10th (which included the special cover you see below that we were ever so happy to receive for review) and everywhere else on November 21st. Today we're going to pour over the resources you now have at your disposal and whether or not they truly benefit the game.
Much like Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide and Volo's Guide To Monsters, Xanathar's Guide is a resource guidebook and not a dead-set list of rules you have to follow. As always, when building a character from scratch or creating a new campaign, you adhere to the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide (respectfully) to get you started. What Xanathar's Guide does is offer new options once you get all the basics done and you want to explore new options. Unlike previous books, this has three main sections: Character Options, Dungeon Master's Tool, and Spells. The first two take up the majority of the book while the last take up maybe an eighth. Regardless of space though, everything in here is brand new to play with.
Starting with the Character Options, everyone gets something new. For the sake of having some fun with it, we'll refer to these as "career options" as they can take your traditional archetypes into new directions that will either enhance your game or mess with your party to some degree. There are at least a couple different options per character type, Rogue has the most at four and Wizard with the least at one, most everyone else with two or three. Without getting super spoilers for those who wish to read and explore, we'll graze over a few of these. The Clerics have a few new domains including Forge and Grave, the latter dealing with life and death as you balance the line between them. Rangers have a few extra tricks up their sleeves with Gloom Stalker, Horizon Walker, and Monster Slayer (this one being the most epic). Warlock now has a couple new ways to mess with people, which includes the Hexblade (dealing with hexes) and The Celestial which essentially makes you a walking angel who isn't afraid to fight and heal.
As we mentioned before, the Rogue definitely gets away with the most out of this expansion with options that out to make people extremely jealous. These include Swashbuckler (speaks for itself, ya pirate), Scout (which basically turns you into a stealthy ambusher), Mastermind (which turns you into a spymaster of sorts who deals in secrets and keeping people off-track of what you're doing), and my new favorite as Inquisitive (which makes you a fantasy version of Sherlock Holmes). Those four archetypes together could turn your party into a weird band of misfits that any DM could have a lot of fun with if they chose to go down that path. Its a shame the Wizard gets so little out of this, but what they do get is impressive as they have War Magic, which essentially turns them into a tactician who uses magic to help the party out in times of combat rather than being some magical force of random lightning strikes.
The last bit of the character selection is called "This Is Your Life", which focuses more on developing your backstory. To be clear, all of this has absolutely no bearing on the game whatsoever, it's simply here for you to randomly pick what happened to you in the past. What's your family's lifestyle? Who are your family? Do you know them? What kind of parents did you have if you do know when and where were you brought up? Any siblings? And if so, how many and where were you born in order? This is the kind of random stuff you can now roll up, and if you choose to have it, you can share it with the DM for them to maybe one day incorporate it with the story. All of it is rolled with different dice and can make for fun times ahead, depending on how you wish to play.
Getting to the Dungeon Master's Tools, there's a lot to take in here, but the keyword you'll find is "variety". First off, there are new mechanics for falling and sleeping for you to apply to your characters, which can come in handy since so many of them seem to fall off cliffs. There's a new set of proficiencies to tools and kits you can apply to all of the classics, including whether or not some of them break! Depending on the kind of land you're in, you can now turn your campaign into a game of Final Fantasy with Random Encounters, with a set of encounters you can do on several plains like deserts, forests, mountains, and urban areas. You know, just in case you're party hasn't already almost died a dozen times before this and you feel like making them face a manticore or a couple ill-tempered crabs.
Creatures not good enough to mess with them? There's now an expanded traps section where you can put more tricky and elusive traps that even the most skilled Rogue will have issues with. Pit traps will be the most fun to play with, along with firey blasts and poison needles. But there's also a section that is designed to make you think about traps so you're not just being a random jerk about their placement. Why are they here to begin with? Don't just place them for randomness, place them with a purpose. There's also an expanded section on Downtime and how to best manage it from gambling to committing crimes to side-work for your characters to engage in. You can even explore options like having your holier characters deal with their religion, or get some rest and relaxation out of the downtime.
The last section dealing with Spells is exactly what you would assume it is: a spellbook. You're given a list of new abilities and spells that can be obtained for Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards. If you're looking for anything super powerful, this may not be the book for you as nothing here goes above Level 9. But there are some gems in here including Psychic Scream, Mass Polymorph, and Temple of the Gods. Most of these are going to be variations on spells you've dealt with before, but primarily on the enemy side as they've been cast on you, so it's nice to be able to turn the tables a bit and hone your skills on the people who have been casting it on you.
Overall, Xanathar's Guide To Everything is pretty awesome and nearly a necessity. I say nearly because if the book didn't exist, you could still play the game without missing a step, same as Sword Coast and Volo's, and that's an important thing that needs to be pointed out because we recognize that collecting all these books can be a pretty penny. That being said, this is a must-own for those who need to spice things up and are looking for something out of the ordinary for a character they've played a dozen times over. I love playing Paladins and Rogues myself with the occasional Warlock, but I've created so many combinations over the years that its easy to get into a rut. This book will change that and create new combos for you to explore that you never thought could be possible in D&D.