Another Delve Into Xanathar's Guide To Everything

Xanathar's Guide to Everything packs a lot of useful content for both players and DMs in its 192 pages. Here I'm going to expand on the first part of my review to cover the section that will probably be used the most by its readers – character options.

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The Player's Handbook defines classes as a calling that affects the player's world view, not just a job. So while a fighter is a "master of martial combat," the paladin is a "holy warrior bound to a sacred oath" and the ranger is "a warrior who uses martial prowess and natural magic to combat threats on the edge of civilization."

Subclasses begin with "a character-defining choice at 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level that unlock features not available to the class as a whole. The subclass chart in XGtE illustrates briefly how these features also affect the character's purpose and world view. For example, the Gloom Stalker Ranger is "unafraid of the dark, relentlessly stalks and ambushes foes" while the Horizon Walker "finds portals to other worlds and channels planar magic" and the Monster Slayer "hunts down creatures of the night and wielders of grim magic."

The Barbarian subclass options in XGtE provide more variety than the ones in the PHB or Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. The PHB had the Berserker and Totem Warrior. SCAG added additional totem options for the latter and the Battlerager, which was essentially a Berserker customized for Dwarves.

The three Primal Path options in XGtE add true variety. The Ancestral Guardian Primal Path is geared toward defending others than charging into battle. The Path of the Storm Herald creates a Barbarian whose powers are Thor (or other storm god) inspired. It's likely to be a player favorite because causing lightning damage to your opponents is always fun. Affects of the storm aura even vary by terrain – desert, sea or tundra.

The Path of the Zealot is a sort of divinely empowered Barbarian. The name goes against what I typically think of as barbarian characteristics, but that's just me. Players are more likely to be disappointed that the 3rd level ability simply means that spells used to raise the Zealot Barbarian from the dead do not need material spell components. In comparison to things like the Storm Herald Barbarian's Storm Aura at 3rd level, it does seem like a weaker feature. However, they also get Divine Fury at the same level, dealing extra damage to the first creature hit on each turn with a weapon.

The Bard Colleges in SCAG provided more flavor than practical benefits. The three presented in XGtE actually make me want to play a bard.

The College of Glamour is inspired by the Feywild, where its practitioners either honed their abilities or trained under those who did. Its abilities are geared toward influence and appearance. The College of Swords is more daring-do in flavor. Players who want a character akin to Syrio Forel, the water dancer from A Game of Thrones will like this option. My only complaint is having to choose between dueling and two-weapon fighting at 3rd level, though I understand the reason for it from a game design perspective. I just want a duel using a two-weapon fighting style.

I like the College of Whispers both thematically and mechanically. Bards who act as spies and specialize in manipulation find a home in this category.

However, the subclass description suggests that members of this college hide their true nature to avoid bias from others and to better use their skills of infiltration. From a story standpoint, that makes perfect sense. In actual play, it's very difficult because even parties that try not to metagame are going to notice the difference between the player's statements of action to the DM versus what is said in-game. There are ways around it, but in my experience they only last so long. When any class description suggests that a character try to hide what they are, I'd like to see the class features offer a way to do that in game with some sort of misdirection or concealment ability.

The PHB gave clerics seven domains to start with, and the Dungeon Master's Guide added the Death Domain for NPCs (or at DM's discretion for players). SCAG added the Arcane Domain. XGtE adds the Forge and Grave Domains.

Anyone glossing over the Forge Domain, assuming it's boring, would be missing out. While gods of the forge might be seen as having more of a supplementary role, their clerics are able to use their abilities to increase weapon damage, improve armor and, eventually, withstand fire and non-magical weapon attacks.

The Grave Domain was mostly created to appease players whose DM's did not allow the Death Domain (or Adventurer's League players since AL forbids both the Death Domain Cleric and Oathbreaker Paladin). Don't mistake that as being a weaker version of the original. The Grave Domain has its own formidable abilities, such as the 2nd level Path to the Grave, which allows the cleric to curse a creature with a vulnerability to damage by yourself or an ally.

Druids get two new subclasses – Circle of Dreams and Circle of the Shepherd. The former is influenced by the Feywild so it focuses more on hidden pathways, creating havens for healing and dreamwalking.

Thematically, I love Circle of the Shepherd, but something about the features feel less inspiring. Characters can speak to beasts, though it doesn't automatically convey friendship or control of them. The list of spirits that can be called – hawk, bear and unicorn – also feels a bit skimpy. As a DM, I might tweak this subclass a bit, though I haven't decided how yet.

In the PHB, Fighter subclass options were the Champion, which focused on raw power, the Battle Master, which was more of a tactician, and the Eldritch Knight, who could cast spells. XGtE adds the Arcane Archer, Cavalier and Samurai. The first is likely to be the most popular. Who doesn't love magical arrows and similar stunts? The other two classes were discussed previously.

The Monk's Way of the Sun Soul allows characters to channel ki into bolts of light. While thematically very different from the Storm Herald Barbarian, there are some commonalities from a feature standpoint, which makes perfect sense. The Way of the Drunken Master was described in my prior XGtE article. The Way of the Kensei focuses on weapon mastery.

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Much like how the Grave Domain appeals to those who want to play Death Domain Clerics, the Oath of Conquest Paladins seem designed to appease Oathbreaker Paladin fans. Conquest Paladins might even worship archdevils for their harsh infliction of law. Oath of Redemption Paladins are the exact opposite and the closest 5th Edition has come to the pacifist cleric. These paladins can and will fight creatures like undead, devils, etc., but their primary abilities are protective.

Gloom Stalkers are rangers for the Underdark, though they're not limited to that. Delving into shadow to fight evil is their purpose. Monster Slayers are complements to Gloom Stalkers by seeking out evil fey, vampires, and other magical threats. Horizon Walkers explore the multiverse and protect against planar threats.

Rogues get the most subclasses at four, though two of them – Mastermind and Swashbuckler – are carried over from SCAG due to AL's "PHB +1" rule for character creation. The Inquisitive Rogue is geared toward Sherlock Holmes (or Moriarty) type characters.

The Scout is such a classic Rogue variant I'm surprised it wasn't in the PHB. XGtE does a nice job of distinguishing this wilderness character mechanically from rangers.

For Sorcerers, Storm Sorcery also carries over from the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Shadow Magic is the other addition. Unlike most of the others, it gets two abilities at 1st level and none at 3rd with one of those abilities making it a little tougher to kill them. Hound of Ill Omen summons a creature a darkness. I'm confident players are going to enjoy that ability.

Warlocks get a wider range of Eldritch Invocations in XGtE, plus the Celestial and Hexblade options. Players and GMs familiar with the Blackrazor sword, which is even featured in one of the story options for Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, will recognize the latter.

War Wizards are mentioned in SCAG but only get a full class option in XGtE. They were discussed more thoroughly in part one of the Xanathar review.

As someone who has been DMing 5th edition since the first public play tests, the class options in XGtE make me really want to switch to playing. Each enriches the PHB options thoughtfully, widening game options for players and DMs, especially when combined with the "This Is Your Life" section and class background options in the same chapter.

Note that errata for XGtE is being compiled at the bottom of the page for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything though as of this writing, only two items are cited.

contributed by Beth Rimmels
 
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

I have a couple of issues with some subclasses.

- I don't get why people find having a Death Domain for Clerics so wrong. Clerics of Death, and the reverence of Death are historical things. Why can't you play them? Why is this worse than having Necromancers?
- Will the advent of the Hexblade mean that nobody will pick anything else for the Pact of the Blade from now on?
- Similarly, is the War Wizard essentially a replacement for both Abjuration and Evocation Schools, in effect meaning that we have seven schools rather than eight now?
- I found the Ranger sub-classes a bit non descriptive and thematically weak; indeed the entire Class is a bit problematic in the 5E.
- Are the Paladin subclasses actually all that playable for most groups?


That said, the new options for Fighters, Rogues and Sorcerers really make those Classes really good.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Why are nobody talking about the near-complete lack of extra options for EXISTING characters?

Playing as a Zealot Barbarian or Scout Rogue might be fun and all, but it also means playing a *new* character.

For my L5 Berserk Barbarian or L10 Swashbuckler Rogue? These options do nothing.

I would like reviews like these to start questioning why existing characters get so little.

Also this review is way too chirpy in tone - it doesn't even mention several subclasses are reprints that add zero value for gamers that already have all the few supplements there are.

Thank you however for pointing out the odd possible disappointment here and there.

Sent from my C6603 using EN World mobile app
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Why are nobody talking about the near-complete lack of extra options for EXISTING characters?

That's a result of a combination of the the design principles of bounded accuracy and the PHB+1 rule. And honestly, it's not that bad of a thing, having to dredge a half dozen or so splatbooks for one character is a bit of a chore.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
For current PCs, there are Racial Feats, right? What else is there to modify 'current' PCs really? Spells? Well there are several of those too.
[MENTION=12731]CapnZapp[/MENTION] I understand frustration, as yes, most of this is for your next PC, but what were you looking for for current PCs? Just curious :)
 

Bolares

Hero
Why are nobody talking about the near-complete lack of extra options for EXISTING characters?

Playing as a Zealot Barbarian or Scout Rogue might be fun and all, but it also means playing a *new* character.

For my L5 Berserk Barbarian or L10 Swashbuckler Rogue? These options do nothing.

I would like reviews like these to start questioning why existing characters get so little.

Also this review is way too chirpy in tone - it doesn't even mention several subclasses are reprints that add zero value for gamers that already have all the few supplements there are.

Thank you however for pointing out the odd possible disappointment here and there.

Sent from my C6603 using EN World mobile app

Well, there are feats, new spells, the part combining tools and skills, the Between Adventures part, the magic item part....
What kind of options do you want for existing characters?
 


kbrakke

First Post
Why are nobody talking about the near-complete lack of extra options for EXISTING characters? EN World mobile app

Other than feats, new spells, new totems, new maneuvers, and new invocations what could existing characters get? This books has 3 of these so I think they're doing most of what they can for existing characters. New Maneuvers is fairly niche, so I doubt they will ever make new ones, and they already did new totems. Existing characters can also multiclass in to one of these many new archetypes. Expanded details on tool proficiency also gives DMs and players new ways to use existing things.

Honestly, the way 5e is designed prevents sweeping changes for existing characters. It's exceedingly rare to make choices about your character after you pick your archetype unless you get spells. This is one of the main reasons I think 5e can never become as complex as pathfinder, players have two big decision points, race/class at the beginning and archetype after that. If they only make those choices their character will be fine. If they like making more they can be one of the many many spell casters or multiclass.

So most people aren't talking about this issue because other than two sub-class specific things they literally couldn't add more. (I'll concede that if you are a non-phb race playing a non-spellcasting class, you don't get anything explicitly new, other than the ability to multiclass in to one of the new archetypes eventually.)
 

CapnZapp

Legend
That's a result of a combination of the the design principles of bounded accuracy
Huh? If you prefer a low-crunch game, feel free to just say so.

Don't try to argue there's something fundamental about 5E that makes it unsuitable to system mastery or character depth of complexity. (Other than that the devs simply have underserved this market, that is).

PHB+1 rule
Now I'm really confused :confused:

What has the publisher's tournament format do to with your or my game? Stop calling it a rule (at least outside the AL forum), thx
 

CapnZapp

Legend
[MENTION=12731]CapnZapp[/MENTION] I understand frustration, as yes, most of this is for your next PC, but what were you looking for for current PCs? Just curious :)
Feel free to browse through previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons for a multitude of ways to create a much more crunchy character than currently possible in 5th edition :)

One thing not readily apparent is how 5E arguably creates more involved characters than previously, right out the gate (that is, comparing only PHB options). This is good. But it's been three years. Crunchers wanna crunch! :)

For example, while your subclass choice does add a layer of crunch on top of your Fighter or Rogue or whatever, it's still only a single decision point. Once you've made your choice, you're set for the rest of your career.

Even if there weren't more actual crunch, more decision points would be warmly welcomed.

Say you re-affirm your choice of subclass every three levels or so. In other words, at levels 3, 6, 9, 12... you get to continue on your current subclass or switch to another.

Even if this doesn't actually add more options, it does add more decision points.

And really, it's more decision points that is my answer, even if we aren't talking about prestige classes, kits, feat chains, dragonmarks/tattoos/branded runes/bloodlines/etc or archmage specializations, psionics, "leader" abilities (aka warlordian nonmagical buffs), epic level rules... (just to pick some :) )

Sure Xanathar allows you to play something new next time you roll up a character, but it helps very little with mixing things up when you play your second Evoker or third Battlemaster...

Thank you for asking and hope you're satisfied with the answer :)
 

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