05 February 2018
Fifth Edition levels up in its first major expansion
It can be a little tricky to describe what Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGtE) represents. The core of the book is a wealth of new options for building and playing Dungeons & Dragons characters, but there are also clarifications or refinements of existing rules, as well as fresh advice on encounter- and campaign-building far beyond what you would expect of a simple supplement.
In many ways the slightly unfocused air of XGtE is a reflection of how modern games – both tabletop and digital – are no longer static products, eternally fixed at version 1.0. It was clearly shaped by community feedback and directly addresses many of the questions and concerns that regularly crop up in Reddit threads and Twitter feeds.
Sometimes this means clearing up ambiguous rules, such as setting out the penalties for sleeping in armour or determining whether player characters can tell what spell an enemy mage is casting. Mostly, however, it involves setting out a whole load of new rules for sub-classes, equipment and spells.
Even these new options are based around what the D&D community has been looking for – or, at least, what the most vocal part has been looking for. Many of the character options are designed to take routes that some players felt were missing from the initial release, such as a ‘death’ cleric that focuses on helping the fallen rest for good rather than turning them into cackling zombies.
There’s also been a real focus on letting players translate some less traditional fantasy archetypes from their head to the tabletop without the need for reflavouring or house-ruling existing content. For example, with the inquisitive rogue sub-class you can now create a Sherlock Holmes-esque investigator with an eye for detail and a fighting style based around reading enemy movements, while new spells allow brawny warrior-wizards to mix it up in close combat and still pump out damage.
Barring one or two missteps – the designers have already acknowledged that some groups may want to house-rule an ultra-efficient healing spell – the new character options presented in XGtE are great fun and slot snugly into the existing ruleset.
In many ways, the fact that the new rules feel fun without seeming over-powered is perhaps the book’s biggest success of all.
Major RPGs such as D&D tend to suffer from a phenomenon known as ‘power creep’. This is where the developers feel the need to push out new content – classes, races, magic items and so on – that begins to eclipse the earlier options in terms of raw power or usefulness. D&D's fifth edition has thus far steered well clear of this problem and has showed considerable restraint in terms of new supplements but, as XGtE is arguably the first major content update, many veterans were keeping an eye out for the telltale signs of the creep.
For the most part, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. There are a few things that appeal to the power gamers out there, but this is always going to be the case and none of them seem to make any existing abilities or characters completely obsolete.
Indeed, plenty of the content doesn’t have any impact on the gameplay whatsoever, such as a guide for generating character backstories or long tables of random names for the DM to consult when players insist on speaking to everyone in the tavern.
The best way to describe XGtE, perhaps, is that it upgrades your experience to D&D 5.1. It’s a huge content update that tweaks things here and there, presented with all the usual top-notch design and writing work we’ve come to expect from the D&D team. Arguably some of the rules clarifications should be presented as errata or an update to the existing core books rather than requiring you to buy a new one, but when that’s the biggest complaint going you know you have a success on your hands.
It’s a little on the pricey side for what you get, but Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is an excellent way to upgrade your group’s Dungeons & Dragons experience.
Designer: Wizards RPG team
This review originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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