The Xanathar holds a special place in my own D&D history. My first extensive encounter with D&D was the DOS video game, Eye of the Beholder. The ultimate villain of that was Waterdeep’s own the Xanathar. So when I heard Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was coming out, I was beyond stoked.
Now that the Xanathar’s guide has been out for a month, DMsGuild pubs are bubbling up, compounding the exhaustive expansion of offered. When I saw that DMs Guild Adepts, headed by Ruty Rutenberg, had compounded a compilation to go along with the guide during the ChariD20 on Geek and Sundry, I instantly snatched it up and began poring over it with my fellow DM, Jeremy Hunter.
This review seeks to go through the book and highlight the elements I am inclined towards using and allowing in my own home campaign, the Skull and the Eye. Rules are just a suggestion on how to use a product, a guideline. Always keep that in mind when the primary goal of the game is to have fun.
Xanathar’s Lost Notes to Everything Else has three sections: Character Options, Dungeon Master’s Options, and a new adventure in Chult, where Tomb of Annihilation takes place, “All Eyes on Chult.” Additionally, there is an Appendix with expand dryads and introduces the Gen, diminutive genie-kin. For $20, it is a lot of content! However, there are a substantial amount of typos and awkward wordings through out that need to be read carefully to make sense of (edit: many of the typos have been corrected in an update). I will be examining the character and DM options.
The most prominent feature is the 25 new subclasses. Going one by one, I will give a quick opinion of each of these classes from my reading, ultimately stating a Yay or Nay on if I would use them in my own games.
Barbarian Primal Paths:
-Path of the Courageous Heart: Reminds me a lot of the pugilist, but invokes more inspiring moments. Barbarians without their weapons lose a lot, but this is one that will certainly be able to keep pace with its versatility. Yay!
-Path of the Red Reaver: Talking about seeing red, blood fueled barbarian. A bit too vampiric feeling, but I did the animalistic Sanguine Scene and Blood Hound features. Yay!
-Path of Sacred Kin: Spell casting barbarian. I see where the flavor of this class is going, but just feels unfocused. I really dig the idea of savage/primal magic, the execution of this class is not for my games. Nay.
-College of Discord: If Abbath was a D&D character, this is about where he would be. I do not fully like the Battaglia ability (feels a lot like misty step, maybe reduce it to 10 feet). Honestly, I want to make an Immortal frost giant legend that uses this college (i.e. Abbath). Yay!
-College of Keys: The lock & trap whisperer. There is a level of intimacy with those objects this subclass really delivers. I love the idea of a singing/dancing bard going through a hall of traps. Yay!
-College of Mourning: Deathrock bard, I like it. Grief Note is a keen ability too and provides offense and defense support simultaneously. Yay!
Cleric Divine Domains:
-Entropy Domain: Unreal levels of counterspelling with advantage on all death saves? The channel divinity abilities are just too cool. Yeah I dig this rules and flavor wise. Yay!
-Survival Domain: Cleric with expertise in ranger skills, from the get go. Also enhanced spare the dying, that reload every short rest is bonkers. None of the abilities here are particularly breaking, but close. Yay!
-Circle of Seasons: Alternate uses for wild shape hearkens back to 3.5, I dig it. Also seasonal themes (like the eladrin) are a blast. But sheer area of control with a lot of flavor. Yay!
-Circle of the Spiritlords: A flexible caster with a familiar. This subclass has access to a ton of cantrips with the ability to penetrate/resist certain damage types. Feels a bit underpowered, but looks like a lot of fun! Yay!
Fighter Martial Archetypes:
-Dragoon: A light mounted character that is the complement to the cavalier in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Lot more versatility here and a hyper mobile fighter looks like a blast to play. Yay!
-Runeguard: Certainly a complicated subclass, it lets the fighter have access to little superpowers. Really reminiscent of the dragonborn from Skyrim. Yay!
Monk Monastic Traditions:
I have not allowed monks in my game for decades, so these are weird for me to review. That said, my yay or nay is if I find them fun and interesting.
-Way of Atonement: Asceticism is a common monk theme, but this one takes it farther. They get gnarly abilities, but at the cost of taking a ton of damage during their next rest. Yay!
-Way of Empathy: You are a damage battery, able to charge off other characters. I do like that this is a super team player, but I have never really thought of a monk as the party leader type. Nay.
Paladin Sacred Oaths:
Oath of Predation: A lawful-evil subterfuge paladin, I am intrigued. This would be an option the character, Phaedra, in my previous campaign, Toell’s Bed, would have taken a look at. Too often paladins are all show and not subtle enough. Yay!
Oath of Providence: This comes off as a classic chosen paladin. Self-righteous and bolstered by destiny. As a DM, this would be fun character to try to break. Yay!
Burghal Explorer: Loved urban rangers ever since reading the Complete Ranger’s Handbook as a kid. Grazing Strike is a great mechanic that allows for called shots, but without substantial game slow down. Yay!
Wasteland Wanderer: This is a great subclass, but with one problem: the Revised Ranger. The Vigilant Guardian directly interfaces with the PHB’s printed ranger rules. However with a slight tweak, this subclass can work well with the much better Revised Ranger rules. Yay!
Divine Herald: Divine rogues are an intriguing lot. This version brings radiant damage to sneak attack, while also instilling sorcerer style casting to cleric spells (at a very slow progression). Takes me back to Eye of the Beholder, where my party always included a gnome cleric/rogue. Yay!
Fey Magic: Sorcerers needed more origins in the fey (honestly I can think of a player in my group that would love this). But bringing in the druid list to sorcerer is magnificent. Nature’s Armor is well balanced too, with the hour limit. And LOVE Sylvan Embrace, adding options for sorcerer points is always welcome. Yay!
Warlock Otherworldly Patrons:
The Chaos: Strings Attached is a neat mechanic, more chaotic than wild magic. However, I find it potentially disruptive to the party. Too many charts to roll on too. Looks like fun, but may delay the game’s progress too much. Nay.
The Noble Genie: Now this is a patron I have been wanting to see. The Gen Vizier fills in the role of a familiar, but one that serves extra function via Spell Fetching and Genie Form. With the Skull & the Eye having a friendly, foreign nation that is heavily influenced by Arabic folk tales, this could fit right in. Yay!
Wizard Arcane Traditions:
Beguiler: Incorporating Sneak Attack into spell casting is a call back, as is this class entirely. I like having a wizard that focuses on both enchantment and illusion together. Yay!
Mage Hunter: Wizard with disruption and almost ranger style mechanics. This may be a subclass that spreads itself too thin, trying to do too many things. Nay.
School of Reconstruction: The only wizard spell that healed at low levels I ever liked was in 2nd edition’s Chronomancer. This subclass wants to do something wizards just do not do. Nay.
When I saw that 5e incorporated backgrounds as a core element, I had mixed feelings. Not that I disagreed with the way they were implemented, but that there were only so many. Well that quickly changed over the last few years. The five new backgrounds are all solid and can serve to inspire some great characters: Dead, Heretic, Legendary Lineage, Polymorphed, and Retired Adventurer.
Feyblood is the race introduced. 5e has tried to bring races that have wings into the fold, but there is some distinct fear of them being overpowering. The Feyblood subrace, Sylphi, addresses this by initially allow the wings to be used to feather fall and glide. When they can fly, it is only for 10 minutes per long rest. The other subrace, Dryashi, can camouflage and turn invisible. Feyblood get +2 Charisma, like a few other races. But ultimately there are too many Charisma based races and too many Charisma based casters in 5e. I could see allowing these into my game, but not without distinct reservations.
Moving into the Dungeon Master’s Options, the first things offered are Critical Hit Effects and Critical Failure tables. Supplementing critical hits beyond just double the dice adds a degree of variability to the game and is something my group has been pursuing. The table provided is diverse with hits knocking targets back, causing AC to be lowered, making them lose their attack next turn, or even causing magical disruptions. These are in lieu of double damage. I like a lot of these results, but find them to be good to do instead of double damage. They can make combat more dynamic but with the penalty of slowing down combat due to table rolls and the effects resulting. That said, we have been using Nord Games critical hit decks and they are probably comparable in terms of “slow down.” (which isn’t much).
So far as Critical Failures go, these can be awfully punishing. We decided not to use these for our game in any form and make it more relevant to the action at hand. That all said, they can be funny and make for awkward moments. Maybe only have them happen when a 1 is rolled with disadvantage.
The section on Death and Returning, calls back to 2nd edition rules about Constitution going down every time a character back. I have always liked that rule, but these on having the permanent death save failure is amazing! I could see this making for a half-way Character Death Real experience. I am also a big fan of Matt Mercer‘s rules in Critical Role: Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting. Ultimately, I think how dead characters are dealt with is one of the most personal choices for a gaming group, so more options and ideas, the better.
The Expanded Injuries rules presented are something I want to focus on. I have gone through iterations of my own house rules for these and not settled on anything yet. Currently we are using these Lingering Injuries rules, with some mild modifications. But the ones presented in Xanathar’s Lost Notes to Everything Else are making a great argument to use them. I was making them a Constitution saving throw, but that severely favored saving fighter types from getting injured. The rules as presented in this supplement, a d20 roll is triggered when a critical hit, going to 0 hit points, or failing a death save by 5 or more (as presented in the DMG on page 272). On a 1-9, they get an injury. Higher, nothing. In addition, a new Expanded Lingering Injuries chart chart is presented and uses a d100 roll. There are a LOT more options here. Included are even rules for when attacking paralyzed or unconscious creature, instead of getting a critical hit to deliver a distinct injury to them (leave that villain with one less toe). Honestly, this section is the best of the supplement for me and will harry my players well.
Another handy DM tool is the Story Item table. This table is a list of various mundane items, but ones that lend themselves towards revealing clues about a person or place. They can be a favored board game from an foreign area indicated a group has migrated. A bag of local candy, indicating the individuals have been through a town and had a sweet tooth. Those are all little things that can lead to big things or even get players off track back to where they need to be to advance the plot line.
The DM section also has a seven page list of new magical items. This includes some classics like Healer’s Crossbow and Staff of Lordly Might. Cannot go wrong with more magic items. Also, I am a full supporter of this recent trend towards lower powered magical items. The DMG set up some really high end stuff, but was light on the low end. That is being remedied and this supplement helps.
Finally, there is a an adventure, “All Eyes on Chult.” Looks well laid out and uses the area of Chult well without being tied directly to Tomb of Annihilation. That campaign has kind of put me off (despite having the Green Devil Head tattooed on my left), but making this indirect I could see incorporating it into almost any campaign with a kind of wild coastal area.
An update to the PDF has been made. It fixed all the typos I noticed while also adding in pregenerated characters of all the subclass, suited for tier 1 and 2 play. This is a great addition for anyone wanting to just dive right in and play one of the new exciting classes. Even better for play testing as a Dungeon Master before knowing whether you want to allow a class into your game.
Overall, this is a MUST HAVE supplement from the DMsGuild, especially for $20. While Xanathar’s Lost Notes to Everything Else is not perfect front to back, there is a lot to work with. I think that is what D&D 5e has really given the community, a genuine, on-going project. The highlights for me are the design of the fey elements for classes and race, the ranger subclasses, College of Discord, Circle of the Seasons, Fey Magic Sorcerous Origin, and the Expanded Lingering Injury Tables. If this is an indication of the quality, in content and form, that the Guild Adepts will be putting out then I am game!