Venturing into the Realms
Dungeons & Dragons has a long and storied history. One of the most popular settings in the game — the Forgotten Realms — transcended every edition to become the default adventure setting for 5E. Supplanting Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Eberron, Mystara, and many others, “the Realms” are great for some serious high fantasy in role-playing. Prior to 5E, I wasn’t Realms fan; Dragonlance was always my D&D home. After picking up the game again in 2014 — following a near-20-year hiatus from the hobby — I was gradually drawn into the world of Faerun and its mythology.
The characters, themes, cities, factions and history are highly developed to a point where it’s possible to spend an entire session simply exploring cities like Waterdeep or Balder’s Gate. Famous bard and historian, Volo, authored several guides throughout his time traversing Faerun, making him the authority on matters in the Forgotten Realms. Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep cemented my fascination with the well-known, sprawling Faerun city. My introduction to Xanathar through Volo’s Guide instantly endeared the character to me, and I even used him in my Tyranny of Dragons campaign a few years ago.
Now he’s back in Fifth Edition D&D’s first major rules expansion, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
Simultaneously interesting and terrifying, beholders are D&D institution. Beholders are gruesome creatures with a magic-dispelling central eye, surrounded by several smaller eye stalks. A huge, gaping maw below the central eye and a keen intellect, on top of their ability to shoot various debilitating rays from their eyes, make beholders a force to be reckoned with for even high-level characters. Even the cover for the Fifth Edition Monster Manual has one of these beasts prominently displayed on the cover. Xanathar is the moniker of a certain blue beholder in the city of Waterdeep, who collects as much information as possible in the hope it can one day know everything. For more information about beholders, the Second Edition supplement I, Tyrant is a superb resource.
The book is divided into three chapters, with two appendices. Chapter One covers new character class options, while Chapter Two dives into tools for the Dungeon Master. Chapter Three is all about new spells. The 10 rules at the beginning are quite useful and should make for a better game experience. It will certainly help with problematic situations involving players.
The book comes with two covers, the standard version and the FLGS version (pictured above). Nerdvana was provided with a copy for this review, which features a beautiful rendition of Xanathar’s goldfish, viewed through the eyes of the beholder itself.
Throughout the book, Xanathar breaks the “fourth wall,” discussing various aspects of what appears on certain pages. This is accomplished to hilarious effect and makes reading each section an exercise in sheer fun. I found myself chuckling aloud at many of the beholder’s observations. The artwork is what one would expect form this edition’s sourcebooks and is utilized at just the right intervals to make the book visually appealing. Our story begins with new player options.
As the book is quick to point out, this section contains several of the more popular player options from past Unearthed Arcana features. Many of the class options look quite promising, but there are certainly a few duds.
Barbarians and bards seem to have some of the more interesting options. I quite like the idea of the shadowy whispering bard or having a barbarian who can somewhat control the weather. I was disappointed with the clerical options, however. They seem rather mediocre. The forge domain may provide some interesting role-playing, but the grave domain turned me off the idea entirely. I did, however, like the idea of clerics harboring a secret and/or having an artifact related to their faith.
Monks have some neat options, such as the drunken master that I’m interested in trying out, while paladins are given a few new oath options, conquest and redemption. The remaining options for rangers, fighters, rogues, druids, wizards, sorcerers (shadow magic is awesome) and warlocks are interesting and can certainly add some depth and entertainment to any campaign.
The end of the chapter contains the “this is your life” section, which gives players expanded options for fleshing out their character origins, followed by some new feats specifically for particular in-game races.
If you’ve been following Unearthed Arcana for the past few years, you may already be familiar with some of these, or perhaps even used them. They make for some excellent extended player options and expand the game in a deeply positive way.
Fun for DMs, too!
The next section covers some updates to Dungeon Mastering. For DMs using a grid during play, the spell effects section provides superb insight into spell effect areas, illustrated by dice on a board. Some incredibly useful random encounter tables and instructions on the best way to build an encounter make this a wonderful tool for DMs. Traps and magic items are expanded later in the chapter, including a few new not-necessarily-useful magic items. Honestly, though, who wouldn’t want Heward’s Handy Spice Pouch in real life?
Casting my spell on you
A vast array of new spells make their debut here. Many of the spells seem to be high powered, with an emphasis on offense. There are defensive spells here — Guardian of Nature is one example — but most of them seem to be elemental attacks and summons (Bones of the Earth, Absorb Elements, Dust Devil, Earth Tremor, etc.). They seem fun and useful, especially if your group is playing Princes of the Apocalypse. Our favorites around here are the Investiture of Flame/Stone/Ice/Wind spells.
Rounding out the proceedings are the two appendices. Appendix A discusses shared campaigns, providing superb insight into how to keep a game going, should the DM be unavailable. This section feels right at home in this book and would have been a great stopping point. I highly recommend reading it/incorporating it into your game at the beginning, if possible.
Appendix B, however, seems superfluous. To say I’m unimpressed with it is a gross understatement. Are fifteen — fifteen — pages of random name tables even necessary? This seems like something that could have been replaced with more spells, setting conversions, monster templates, equipment or just about anything else. It’s easy enough to use the Player’s Handbook, DonJon’s Random Name Generator or simply make something up for names. Spending this much time on name tables seems egregious and would be better relegated to D&D Beyond. It’s not the worst thing to have in the book, but it’s not as useful as some of the other content, especially in my game.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything doesn’t quite have it all, but it’s a start. As a supplement to the amazing Fifth Edition of the D&D game, it helps refine some of the unclear aspects of the game and ultimately provides options for player and DM alike, to keep the game fresh. The tables can be incredibly useful and Xanathar’s wit throughout makes it a fun read.
In addition to the printed versions, the book is available digitally on Fantasy Grounds and D&D Beyond, and will soon be available on Roll20. So, pick your poison and get ready for what may prove to be a very interesting expansion of your own D&D game.
Images courtesy Wizards of the Coast