Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is a highly anticipated rule and mechanics supplement from Wizards of the Coast. Since the string of Unearthed Arcana articles released near the end of 2016 to about halfway through of 2017, the perceived notion by myself was that everything was a precursor to a new rulebook or supplement. This latest supplement presents new character options, new rules and mechanics options for Dungeon Masters including traps, encounters, and awarding magic items; and finally new spells. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything can be found in your local FLGS and will hit wider distribution on November 21st, you can reserve your own copy through our Amazon link here.
This 200-page supplement seems dainty compared to it’s larger cousin, the Player’s Handbook, space was an afforded luxury and resulted in a book jam-packed with material. Character options take up 70-pages or roughly a third of the printed pages. Dungeon Master’s Tools take up another 70 with Spells consisting 25 pages with the remainder being tables of character names. Discussing and covering the material would go beyond the comfort zone of a regular blog post, and therefore I shall break up the content into three separate reviews.
For the character options review, we shall assess the differences between the original Unearthed Arcana printings, there is also additional material from the D&D Beyond videos with D&D creators discussing the design changes and what sort of feedback was given. With that information on hand, we shall continue the work of assessing the overall character options across the board and evaluate them within their class. This will be part of a multi-blog series, due to the size and scope of information, the class options will be broken down in three pieces, and the subsequent sections will be divided into digestible chunks.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything Review:
Familiar Faces and Plenty of Changes
Many of the classes in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything come from many of the Unearthed Arcana playtest materials, I went extensively on them across many different articles. New options wise, the Wizard received the least (but granted it had the Bladesinger from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide) while of the other classes received at least three or more new options. There are some reprinted ones, namely the Rogue’s Swashbuckler and Mastermind archetypes along with the Sorcerer’s Storm Sorcery origin. You can also learn more about the various classes and their changes from the designers on D&D Beyond’s YouTube channel.
Barbarian Paths – Honoring the Ancestors, Gods, and the Storm
You can read my review on the Barbarian options in my previous articles (click here).
I enjoy the new superstition table as it adds some additional layers of roleplaying a barbarian that may have some inkling of mystical powers but not a full grasp or understanding of how these abilities manifest. The Path of the Ancestral Guardian received quite an overhaul from the UA material, the Ancestral Protectors feature triggers to the first creature that is attacked by the barbarian, causing disadvantage on attack rolls if the target tries to aim for any other creature besides the barbarian. The Spirit Shield received an overhaul and now scales as the barbarian levels up, reducing damage up to 4d6 by 14th level. Consult the spirit now mimics clairvoyance or augury depending on the need, which honestly makes the language clearer regarding what the barbarian can ask and less vague interpretations of the Dungeon Master. The Vengeful Ancestors feature connects with the Spirit Shield feature and now deals more damage than the original concept, while it may not seem a lot of damage, it does add up over time.
The Storm Herald barbarian also received some adjustments, though I wasn’t entirely convinced with the idea of making the tundra aura mostly a buff and debuff choice while desert and sea improve the barbarian’s damage per round. The Raging Storm capstone features are vastly improved and though tundra felt short strawed with losing the ability to cause the area in the barbarian’s aura to be difficult terrain. It might be considered too powerful, yet it made sense in the initial design, but no instead, creatures make a saving throw to avoid being trapped in the frost.
The Path of the Zealot received the least amount of adjustments, though the former Zealot Focus has changed to the Fanatical Focus. I honestly think the Fanatical Focus was much better as it does not stop the barbarian from raging and allows them to continue their assault whereas the original felt disjointed with the rage ending to auto-succeed a saving throw. Zealous Presence now has a limited amount of allies it that it can bolster but it’s still significant enough to affect a normal adventuring party.
Bard Colleges – Across the Feywild, Blades, and Whispers
The bard colleges were presented with two different UA materials, but I still reviewed one of them (click here).
The College of Glamour bard had minimal changes to the overall presentation from the Unearthed Arcana though it’s capstone, Unbreakable Majesty received a massive overhaul. Instead of allowing the bard to cast Sanctuary as a bonus action. The new version essentially allows the bard to gain an otherworldly beauty that befuddles foes and causes them to possibly attack elsewhere instead of the bard if they fail a Charisma saving throw. It frees up the action economy for the bard and allows the character to cast more spells or dish out more Bardic Inspiration.
The College of Swords received quite a rewrite compared to its original version. It initially described the image of a dervish wielding two weapons but evolved to include dueling as a fighting style. Additionally, the original version felt too much of carbon copy of the College of Valor except you had the Blade Flourishes. The new version releases the Bard from the action economy when implementing the Blade Flourish effects, triggering on melee weapon hits, which in others means that the bardic inspiration is almost like the Battlemaster Fighter’s Superiority Dice. This particular bard has to very situationally aware when to give inspiration and when to keep it. A careless inspiration can be disastrous for the Swords Bard.
The College of Whispers was the second most revised option for the bard. Instead of poison damage blades, the blades now deal psychic damage, and the class feels akin the D&D 3.5’s Lurk which was a psionic infiltrating assassin class. The most notable change from focusing on poison damage and instead becoming psychic damage. Venomous Blades became Psychic Blades and scaled to keep up with rogues. Word of Terror is mostly the original concept with cleaned up jargon and fits well with a bard that inspires terror. The Mantle of Whispers and Shadow Lore remain primarily unchanged from the original version, it’s one of the most iconic powers of the Whisper College Bard and truly embodies this concept of “wolf among the sheep.” Impressively the change to psychic damage made more sense ultimately in a flavor sense for this bard/rogue combination.
Cleric Domains – From the Forge to the Grave
The cleric domains were presented in a previous Unearthed Arcana article that I also reviewed (click here).
The Forge domain received little updates other than the clarifications on the Channel Divinity: Artisan’s Blessing feature and Soul of the Forge. Artisan’s Blessing now specifies the equipment tables on Chapter 5: Equipment in the Player’s Handbook, there is still a monestary restriction but overall the language was cleared up. Soul of the Forge lost its extra damage to constructs but honestly it didn’t fit with the overall theme of the Forge Cleric, yes they know how mechanical things work and knew where to hit a construct to make it hurt but there are not as many construct type enemies that would cause such a concern plus it’s very narrow of a niche. The Forge Cleric also now gains proficiency with smith’s tools along with heavy armor proficiency, a minor addition but one that befits the theme of the class option. Additionally, the switch between the shield spell and identify removed less combat centric spells from the domain spells and went for more utility which ideally fits better for this type of cleric.
The Grave domain also received some upgrades, Eyes of the Grave has been reduced in some measure of potency though the cleric is aware of the presence of undead that are not protected by anti-divination magic, plus the feature gains multiple uses compared to the previous incarnation. Sentinel at Death’s Door equally received the same “multiple uses” fix up, which makes this Cleric domain one of the few that has the most uses of their features. The language for Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave has been polished and simply now grants a vulnerability to damage to the cursed target whenever its struck by an attack, the curse ends, and combat resumes. It’s quite potent of an ability especially against creatures like dragons with damage resistances or immunities. Finally, it’s capstone Keeper of Souls had an increase in its range, now up to 60 feet which makes this Cleric quite compelling in a room full of minions and allies slaying them. I would even like to test this domain’s healing potential against the Life Domain Cleric.
Druid Circles – Dreams of the Feywild and Shepard of the Many
The druid circles premiered in an Unearthed Arcana material as well and were also reviewed (click here).
The Circle of Dreams druid toned down on some of its healing and buff outputs and even its capstone was altered significantly. The Balm of the Summer Court functions identically from its previous version minus the increased speed buff in its original form. The speed buff felt a bit much in early analyses and didn’t quite fit well thematically. Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow remained unchanged, and Hidden Paths got a range increase to 60 feet of teleportation of yourself while still retaining the 30 feet cap for teleporting an ally. Hidden Paths previously featured a cooldown effect but since then has undergone changes and now sports the good ol’ “multiple uses equal to your Wisdom modifier” fix. Such cooldown mechanics were from previous editions while it was pleasing to see an attempt to revitalize them, the design direction current exemplified in 5th Edition does not seem to well with them, at least for player options. Purifying Light was replaced with Walker of Dreams, Walker of Dreams is quite potent as it grants access to spells after finishing a short rest. The ability to cast either dream, scrying, or teleportation circle are all useful utility spells that aid the party either by sending messages, looking ahead, or getting out of danger and solidify their positions. While the original Purifying Light seemed to tie more to the Summer Court of the Feywild, I appreciate the attempt to reduce Feywild politics in the features granted by this class option.
The Circle of the Shepard was your druid summoner option, the flavor has been changed, and now this druid works with totem spirits that manifest into physical forms like beasts or fey. The Spirit Totem feature replaced the original Spirit Bond and included new options like a Unicorn Spirit instead of a Wolf spirit. The three spirit totem options facilitate and harness the three focuses of a druid class: attack, endure and defend. Speech of the Woods replaced the Beast Speech feature but allowed the Druid to gain proficiency and literacy with Sylvan, which I’m always a happy person to welcome additional proficiencies and languages. It fits well thematically and remains unchanged from its original version. Guardian Spirit received a significant overhaul, it ties together the ability to summon beasts and fey and granted them benefits while inside the Shepard Druid’s Spirit Totem aura, while it does not give deathward anymore, that would be counterproductive with the capstone feature: Faithful Summons. Faithful Summons, as the name implies, summons beasts to defend the Shepard Druid’s unconscious body, which would prove to be difficult to achieve if the druid had deathward naturally cast on them. Granted, the druid can receive the boon of having someone else cast deathward on them, but to have it innately felt counterinuititve to the main draw of the capstone.
Final Impression so Far…
Based on the class options reviewed, Wizards of the Coast has taken great strides to listen to the community regarding how players play their classes and what sort of features either work mechanically or integrate well flavorfully. I enjoyed the Bard colleges the most along with the Barbarian choices, there seem to be reliable references more to spirits and the Feywild this turnaround, which might suggest something else shortly, which I may discuss in another blog post. Overall, I like the changes, and for the most part, most of them seem unique and fun. We’ll discuss more in our later series as the reviews continue.
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