Saying that a book is a guide to everything is a pretty big claim. At first glance, with only 192 pages (yet priced at $49.95), how could Xanathar's Guide to Everything possibly cover everything? Turns out, pretty well. Although a more accurate title might be Xanathar's Guide to a Bunch of Really Cool Stuff.
The titular character is the strange creature depicted on the cover, commonly known as a beholder for the uninitiated. He's a criminal Mastermind (a new rogue subclass) that brokers in information, and you can find his witty comments sprinkled throughout the book.
The book itself is broken down into three chapters, Character Options, Dungeon Master's Tools, and Spells, along with two appendices, Shared Campaigns and Character Names. That may not seem like a lot, but there is a ton of information crammed into each section.
Have you ever dreamed of forging a pact with a unicorn to become a Celestial Warlock? Ever want to shoot magical arrows that can turn corners or even phase through solid matter? Check out the Arcane Archer. There are a whopping 33 new subclasses introduced in chapter one, with most classes having three new options for adventurers to try out. This is really where the best material is offered up. Not everything is completely new: the Bard's College of Whispers is a throwback to the bards of Athas (from the old Dark Sun Campaign Setting), specializing in espionage and deceit. The Hexblade, a Warlock subclass, is also based on a subclass of the same name introduced in D&D fourth edition. Both, however, have been fully re-imagined and updated for fifth edition and offer new takes on old classics.
If you're a player looking for new options, then you really must take a look at what's on offer.
Chapter two is a pretty mixed bag of things aimed for use by the Dungeon Master. When I run a game, there are a lot of mundane rules that I just ignore. Encumbrance, for example, is a popular one because who really wants to think too hard about how much 1,000 gold coins weigh and how exactly a character is going to carry them without falling over. So when new rules are added for falling from different heights or sleeping in armor, I am more inclined to simplify them or ignore them altogether—I just do not want to get bogged down with too many rules for mundane things. That said, if you do enjoy getting into the nitty-gritty or if someone does happen to jump out a window, you can hold up the books and say "there's a rule for that!"
The section on Tools lays out a lot of new and interesting things for characters to do during downtime. One of my characters has been carrying around a set of woodcarver’s tools that I have never used. Well, surprise, I could have been using the tools to make up to five wooden arrows or repair a damaged wooden object as part of a short rest. There are tons of new options for Alchemists, Forgers, Painters, Poisoners and more!
There are a lot of new tables detailing ways to select monsters for encounters that are very helpful. One of my players often comments that encounters tend to be too easy--now I can easily ramp that up with a quick glance at a solo-monster chart or multiple-monster chart. There are also 20 pages of random encounters organized by level and environment (swamp, forest, underwater, etc.).
Traps! This is one of my favorite parts of the book. Designing a good trap is always fun, even if your players manage to puzzle it out and avoid getting hurt. Several examples of both simple and complex traps are offered up along with thorough rules on making your own. The Sphere of Crushing Doom is downright devious and I cannot wait for the opportunity to use one in a game.
One of the biggest complaints about fifth edition when it first came out was a lack of pricing for magical items. Collecting magical items while out adventuring is part of what makes the journey fun, but sometimes you just want to buy a shiny new magical sword without going on some quest. Previous editions of the game offered up lengthy price lists, yet none of that made its way into fifth edition until now.
A lot of new spells have been added to the game in chapter three, some more useful than others. The bulk of the spells are for arcane classes, so if you're playing a Sorcerer, Warlock or Wizard, then you will definitely want to take a look. I won't go into detail here, but most of the spells will be familiar to anyone that has played D&D before.
Lastly, we come to the two appendices. The first is on running a shared campaign, meaning two or more Dungeon Masters alternating control of the game. As it happens, I am in a shared campaign at the moment and I have found it to be a handy guide on how to manage character advancement with checkpoints instead of milestones or straightforward XP.
Appendix B is a collection of names. Literally just lists of first names for the various fantasy races and human names from a wide range of different cultures (from Arabic and Celtic to Slavic and Spanish). I suppose this is handy if you're really stuck, but I find this to be of rather limited use.
On the whole, I really like the book and have already started using material from it. It's definitely not a must for players since you may only ever use bits and pieces. For Dungeon Masters, there's a lot more to work with and there are a lot of handy things to reference, but your mileage may vary.
Like: Great new subclasses, expanded trap creation rules, magic item pricing.
Dislike: Price, some mundane rules you'll never use, sections with limited use.