Xanathar’s Guide to Everything Review
As many before me have stated, Wizards of the Coast (WotC), has been starving us for material. So when something comes out, we tend to pounce on it quickly to see what it reveals about the state of the default campaign setting, seeming directions in creative thought, and whether or not we can incorporate the material into our own games with ease or if there’s going to be some adjustments needed to make it fit smoothly. So here’s the POCGamer review of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, the latest offering from WotC for the Dungeons& Dragons line.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGE) is, in my estimation, the equivalent of the Unearthed Arcana (UA) books and Dragon Magazine alternates of previous editions. It presents a selection of new subclasses, all tested in the new online UA format being used by WotC, as well as new spells, extensive random roll tables for making backgrounds for characters and NPC’s, new equipment and magical items, and vast swathes of random encounter tables to use to spice up those “travel from point A to point B” sessions. There is also sections on names, downtime activities, and so on. The book is designed to be a tool for both players and DM’s, and as per WotC’s trend to slim volumes, is a trim 192 pages.
I rate this as fair, bordering on good diversity as far as art goes. There are 47 images of identifiable player races in the book, of which 11 are of or include POC of some sort or another, coming it at 23% of the total if you include POC demihumans (Drow Elf, Gold Dwarf). This is good. Ideally, I’d to see about 25% to 30% of images be inclusive, but this is a good start. The fault I have with it is that the first image is of an POC in an NPC role, and it isn’t until page 103 that you see the first, and only, picture of a POC taking action/being cool. The rest are static, non-kinetic images. This was an issue I identified in the Tomb of Annihilation (ToA), POC are there, but not doing anything. On the gender/sex side, there’s solid diversity, with lots of practically dressed and outfitted female adventurers doing adventurer stuff. This book has a very solid performance there.
What Went Well
Almost everything. The subclasses, are, for the most part, solid. The art is good, and as a toolbox for everyone involved in the game, it definitely has value. I think the largest aspect of use, past the obvious class related stuff and equipment, is the tool kit and downtime sections. The tool kits are great space savers and hand-wavers on the old equipment section, as, within reasonable assumption, they will contain everything a character needs to perform a given task whether it be cartography or affecting a convincing disguise. The Downtime sections were needed, since they allow for a more natural, and productive, passage of time between adventures or even during a long running campaign to break things up and let characters develop along their own routes.
What Went Poorly
Once again, we see the spectre of issues with integration with other products and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (FRCS) in general. This cropped up in a few areas.
One that linked several areas was a lack of “jungle” tables. Druids and the Random Encounter tables took this on the nose, as virtually every other major terrain type is there (arctic, coastal, desert, forest, grassland, hill, mountain, swamp, underdark, underwater, and urban), jungle was conspicuously missing. Now, I understand that ToA was just released, and that it’s packed with jungle related stuff, but it doesn’t have any jungle druid tables, and there’s no direction in XGE to ToA. This is another lost chance to interlock Chult (and jungle settings in general) more strongly into the mainstream of the FRCS, and for players or DM’s who aren’t looking to buy the campaign module books, a lost chance to attract them.
Two of the Fighter and Monk subclasses were a bit problematic as well. Mostly because TSR, and later WotC, never really did a great job with “Oriental Adventures” (the name itself is an issue), or with integrating far eastern staples like monks, ninja, and samurai with conventional western fantasy. Now, while the kensai subclass can be easily integrated, the samurai and drunken master are a much harder, especially given the lack of good, recent, or coherent, support for the Unapproachable East and Kara-tur in D&D. Monks have been trouble since day one, mostly because D&D has such as strong western fantasy aesthetic that they clash and seem out of place because they have such a strong eastern aesthetic. The combination can be done, and has (largely in JRPGs and Japanese takes on Western Fantasy), but D&D has not met the challenge, and the Drunken Master, with its Jackie Chan action roots, is a hard one to include. Samurai are a similar animal, largely because they’re coming all the way from furthest edges of Karat-tur, and have an immense amount of cultural baggage and assumptions that come with them. Personally, I think these might have been better to release with material supporting the eastern half of the continent, along with solid writing as to why they’re migrating west for adventure and how they integrate into the western fantasy setting that is the core of the FRCS.
Finally, there was the magic item and magic economy section. This is going to be a blog post in itself, so I’ll keep it brief. D&D, under both TSR and WotC, have never been able to cobble together a sensible or realistic economy around magic items, spells, or spell ingredients. In an effort to try to retain a “realistic” world, while somehow having arcane and divine magic, gods who can walk the earth, hordes of monsters, and so on bolted on, has resulted in a mess that this book perpetuates for no good reason.
D&D continues to make strides forwards in WotC’s new inclusiveness oriented operational plan, but keeps tripping on itself at the same time. The book is worth picking up, as it is an invaluable tool that will easily support gaming in most regions of the conventional FRCS. For a DM who forgot to plan a session, it’s worth it’s good for quickly creating an encounter or two to flesh out the night. The art is good, the material is solid (save where noted above), and it companions well with last year’s Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Volo’s Guide to Monsters, even though it lacks any solid connections to them in the form of references or directions. That said, it’s still a long way off from the comprehensive campaign setting book that is needed right now.
Excellent overview. Still haven’t cracked open my copy yet, but glad to know that what’s waiting for me is worth the paper it’s printed on.
I’d love to read more on integrating cultural aspects and archetypes into campaigns and systems, too. It’s something I still struggle with when developing my own settings.
Thanks for the like! I’ve got a worldbuilding series in the works, and that will be a component of that.
After giving this some thought, I came to the conclusion that the Way of the Drunken Master was rather similar to real world Capoeira – a style developed by slaves who couldn’t risk drawing attention to the fact that they could actually fight well.
Thus, in my revised version of Maztica I also made it into a style developed by slaves.