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Friday, December 15, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - Xanathar's Guide to Everything Review


You can buy Xanathar's Guide to Everything Here.
You can buy the DMs Guild Xanathar's Lost Notes to Everything Else here.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything is a book full of new sub-classes, rules, spells and more for Dungeons & Dragons. I'm going to go through the book, then talk about the art, then give my overall thoughts. I put most of my favorite pieces of art in this review.


Rules: We start this thing off with some rules clarifications. The very first one talks about how the DM is the final authority on how the rules work in play. It can be very hard to figure out when you should deviate from the rules. I tend to hand-wave rules too much, and I think it cheapens the game.

Most of the other entries in this section tell you not to stack things of similar type.

The most important of these, in my opinion, is this: "If you want to cast a spell that has a casting time of 1 bonus action, remember that you can't cast any other spells before or after it on the same turn except for cantrips with a casting time of one action."

I've seen a lot of confusion on that one.

Character Options
I'm not too big on this stuff, but it makes up the bulk of the book. There are new subclasses for every major class!

Here's my favorite things:

Barbarian Superstition: "If an elf looks you in the eyes, she's trying to read your thoughts."

Bard Instrument: "A tinker's harp of gnomish design."

Druid Mentor: "You were tutored by a dryad who watched over a slumbering portal to the Abyss."
How does a slumbering portal work? Does it require a key, but nobody knows what the key is?

Forge Clerics: You can imbue a weapon or suit of armor with magic, giving it a +1. You can create items through an hour-long ritual. Anything! You need to use metal (coins!) to form the item. It's a fun way of buying items when you're far from civilization.

Fighter: Fighter is probably my favorite class in D&D. The charts of details for them are a bit tame. The Arcane Archer is pretty cool. As you level, you can infuse your arrows with different magical effects.

Beguiling Arrow greatly amuses me. Basically, you're Cupid. Your target takes 2d6 psychic damage and has to make a save or be charmed by your chosen ally.

Samurai: Wow. You can give yourself advantage on attack rolls on your turn and 5 temporary hit points. You can do this three times before taking a long rest!

Monk: The monk stuff is just awesome. Monk monastery: "Your monastery is built beside a volcanic system of hot springs, geysers and sulfur pools. You regularly received visits from azer traders."

The monk masters are very cool. Whenever I think of a monk master, I think of that dude from Kill Bill vol. 2.

Drunken master! I love everything about this. I would be dying to hit 6th level so I could use "Tipsy Sway" to redirect an enemy's attack toward someone else.

Kensai: A weapon specialist that can parry and does extra damage with thrown weapons.

Story time: Long ago in 2nd edition, I made a hengeyokai (shapechanger) kensai. My job was to guard a woman who was going to become a goddess of good. Another member of the party became a super-vampire, and he decided he wanted to abduct her for his own evil purposes.

The super-vampire was extremely powerful! I squared off against him. He punched me, and I rolled to see if he knocked me out, as per the 2e rules. There was like a 5% chance. I rolled a d100 and got... a 02. He knocked me out with one punch.

Then he did horrible things to the lady and it's haunted me ever since.

Paladin Nemeses: "A rival paladin who trained with you became an oath-breaker and holds you responsible."

Oath of Redemption is one of those sort of "pacifist" character types. I haven't really seen that ever work in a campaign. The rest of the group kills and the pacifist is sort of neutered. I think it could be awesome with the right group.

Ranger: "Gloom Stalker" is such an awesome name for a subclass. The art seems completely wrong for this. A blonde-haired dwarf with a pick? Gloom stalkers should be creepy and dark. This one is  wearing bright green?

Horizon Walkers.... why didn't they call them Planewalkers? That's what they are, right? Maybe they're saving that term for a future book.

Aside from that quibble, horizon walkers are really cool. They can detect planar portals and, eventually, they can enter the ethereal plane. They get teleporting powers and everything. I love this one!

Monster Slayer! The name alone has me interested. They can look at monsters and find weaknesses, a handy way to avoid the "how much do I tell them?" problem when the group rolls an Arcana check for Monster knowledge. At 11th level, you can use a reaction to try to shut down a spell being cast.

This doesn't really feel like a monster slayer at all. They're not particularly monster-focused.

Rogue Benefactor: I really live this one. "A dragon didn't eat you when it had the chance, and in return you promised to set aside choice pieces of treasure for it."

An inquisitive is a detective, sort of. They can pick out lies. I was thinking that this is cool but nobody will use it, and then I saw the power that lets you make sneak attacks even if you don't have advantage as long as you can win a special opposed check. People will use it!

Swashbuckler! Wow. You get sneak attacks as long as no other creatures are adjacent to you. I love "Panache". You're so charming that your foe is distracted by your witty banter and has disadvantage  when trying to hit you. Love this one!

Sorcerer: I like this arcane origin: "You were made in a vat by an alchemist."

The shadow sorcerer  is just awesome. You draw your power from the Shadowfell, you can cheat death, and you can summon a "Hound of Ill Omen." They have a great list of quirks, too.

Warlock: They give some details on the relationship with a patron, something that I think could lead to tons of awesome stuff. Using the patron as a recurring NPC could be really cool.

I like this: "When you use an eldritch invocation, you must speak your patron's name aloud or risk incurring its displeasure."

Hexblades are epic. You can keep the spirit of someone you just killed as an ally that serves you until the end of a long rest. You could do so many cool thing with this!

Wizard: Lots of great charts. Only one Arcane tradition: War Magic. Normally, I don't care about stat stuff too much, but this strikes me as a bit weak in terms of power.

You can give yourself a bonus to your AC as a reaction, but you can't cast anything but cantrips until the end of your next turn. Then at 6th level, you can give yourself a few points of extra damage if you use counterspell or dispel magic successfully.

Counterspell is a real downer. I use it on my players once in a while, and it seems to hurt the overall experience. I don't like the idea of encouraging it with this class.

I guess it could be fun, but honestly I feel like I almost feel like I am bullying my players when I use it. The spellcaster character is completely shut down.

This Is Your Life

This is an extensive series of charts that let you randomly determine your background. I love this thing.

I'm making a character for a charity game that will take place tomorrow. I'm making a fire genasi forge cleric.

My idea is that my character is grim and gritty, but also relentlessly positive. So, basically, I'll angrily hiss at someone: "I offer you unconditional love!" and then punch a wall. Let's roll my life:
  • I know who my parents are, I have no siblings.
  • Lifestyle: Wealthy!
  • No permanent residence. We moved around a lot.
  • Why am I a folk hero? A parent or one of my relatives was an adventurer, and I was inspired by their courage.
  • Why did I become a cleric? A supernatural being in service to the gods called me to become a divine agent in the world.
  • 2 life events: 1. I fell in love and got married...? 2. I made an enemy of an adventurer. I am to blame for the rift. Sounds like this is my wife!
My Wife: Let's randomly determine the details of my estranged wife with the charts on pages 72-73:
  • She's Neutral
  • She's a cleric! Like me!
  • She is alive and well.
Putting it Together: Huh. So why did we break up? The DM told me that I found a relic, and that's what I draw my cleric power from.

My character is a good guy. Maybe she just wasn't "good" enough. Maybe we came upon someone who needed help, but she didn't want to take the risk. Disgusted, I went to help. Maybe she reluctantly followed and almost got us killed, and that was it for me.

Maybe..! She's the only other person in the world who can also draw power from the relic, and she wants to take it from me.

I rolled pretty tame on these charts but I still ended up with good stuff that I wouldn't have come up with on my own. This is my favorite thing in the whole book.

Feats: There's some Nine Hells stuff in here! I definitely get the sense that a future product will be tied to the Nine Hells in some way. Here's the hell feats:
  • Flames of Phlegethos: Phlegethos is a fiery layer of hell ruled by Belial and his daughter, Fierna. They have a creepy relationship. The feat gives you a stat boost, a fire damage boost, and you can call forth a protective wreath of flame that does a little bit of damage.
  • Infernal Constitution: Resistance to poison/cold, +1 CON. This one feels like it could use some pizazz.
Dungeon Master Tools


DM stuff! We start off with some rules notes.

Sleeping in Armor: If you take a long rest in medium or heavy armor, you only regain only 1/4th of your hit dice and no levels of exhaustion are removed. That seems fair. Players HATE taking off their armor when sleeping. Make sure you know how long it takes to put armor on. Plate takes forever.

Knots: When tying someone up and using a knot, a sleight of hand check determines the escape DC..

Tools: Then comes a great part. They expand what the different tools can do.

For example, if you use your Cook's Utensils to prepare a meal at the end of a short rest, you give everyone a +1 to every hit die spent! These are really great and should not be overlooked.

Spell Info: We then go into some rules about identifying spells being cast, the shapes of spells, and encounter building.

Traps: This section details more elaborate traps. I tried some out. They worked fine. I would have preferred it if they put the countermeasures near the top of the block, but no big deal.

Downtime: I went over all this when it was being playtested. This section elaborates on what happens during downtime. I like it, but I still feel like it's not detailed enough.

Awarding Magic Items: This helps you figure out how many magic items the party should have at different levels. The charts confuse me a bit, because they are listing the total items an entire group gets, but how big is the group? I assume that it is 4 players, so that means each character finds 25 items from levels 1-20.

I like having this as a guideline, but I enjoy dumping lots of items on the group. They can only attune to 3 at a time, and the ones with attunement are the most powerful!

Common Magic Items: These are very weak items. They're great! I love the tankard of sobriety: You can drink alcoholic beverages without becoming inebriated.

Spells

There's a lot of spells in here. Quite a number of them are taken from the Elemental Evil Companion, which is a bit of a bummer. That said, there's a lot of cool stuff in here.

Charm monster is in there. They have been really careful about summoning and charming monsters, haven't they?

I love ceremony, a utility spell that lets you make holy water, conduct marriages (giving the couple a +2 to AC when they're 30 feet of each other.. lasts one week).

Healing Spirit is very cool. You summon an entity that can move around and heal allies each round for up to 1 minute!

My favorites are the devil and demon summoning spells.

Summon lesser demon and summon greater demon lets you summon them for up to 1 hour. Lesser summoning calls forth a random number of low-level demons who do not follow your orders. Greater demon summoning lets you control your demon a long as you maintain concentration.

Infernal calling is similar. You summon a devil of up to a challenge rating of 5. Commanding it to do things requires an opposed check.

I just love the idea of summoning demons and devils. It seems like a really cool thing for a character to do and could lead to all sorts of great moments. It's nice to have concrete, simple rules for doing it.

Character Names: Then we get a massive pile of character names. This is so handy! Any time your group meets a random NPC, you can pull a name out of here real quick. They even put it in the back of the book, so it's easy to flip open to and find.

The Art

The art is good, but in most cases, not too exciting. There's no "edge" to anything. In some cases, they make fantasy worlds look mundane. I was able to post most of my favorites in this review, but I also LOVE the fountain on page 122, which has the "badass" quality I think 5e art is lacking. I also love the halfling vs. the ettin on page 15.

Full Pagers: My biggest observation is that the art on the full page spreads just don't work. The piece on page 6 is very dark, not too detailed, and looks very mundane.

I get that a fantasy world should look "lived in", but to me, these come off like photos from the set of a low budget fantasy movie.

The one on page 76... most of it is an owlbear's arm. We can't really see the heroes and they don't look cool. It feels like the space wasn't used well.

These spreads also focus on the 5e halfling. The 5e halflings have really weird proportions and they just don't look right to me. 

Recycled Art: There's a lot of recycled art in this. I don't have a big problem with that, as most of the recyclables are mauled to death by the page rips, so you won't really notice. I still wish they'd actually let us see the full landscape art in these books.

Overall

It's hard for me to say anything negative about this book when it is apparently the best-selling D&D book of all time. You can't argue with success.

I guess I like it. The fact that a lot of the content in Xanathar's was released as playtest material long ago left few surprises. Using all of those spells from Elemental Evil kind of took the air out of my tires, too.

When it comes down to it, the subclasses are cool, many of the new spells are a lot of fun, and the name list is handy. Xanathar's Guide to Everything is sort of like the 1e Unearthed Arcana book, but much better.

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