Dungeon Master Tools In D&D's 'Xanathar's Guide to Everything'
Todd Kenreck: Xanathar's Guide not only has a lot of content for players but dungeon masters as well. I talked to Jeremy Crawford about some of the DM tools in the book.
Jeremy Crawford: Xanathar's Guide is jampacked with new tools for the dungeon master. In fact, its second chapter is simply called "Dungeon Master's Tools." And this chapter is constructed to be the companion to the Dungeon Master's Guide. It is filled with an array of options that touch on almost every major aspect of the game. These are all new options. The dungeon master is ... Their hands are not tied by any of them. We say at the start of this chapter use only what you want. Basically if you see something here that's gonna make your life easier, use it. If you see something that is just going to complicate your game, walk away. Don't look at it again. Because this is meant to make our DMs happier, make their lives easier, and it's a mix of us providing some new rules options to providing clarification on rules that already exist in the Dungeon Master's Guide or in the Player's Handbook, and then also in a few cases we revisit some of the rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide and give a brand new take.
Here's an example of the latter, which people have seen on Unearthed Arcana. We revisit downtime and we also revisit traps and encounter building, three topics that are touched on in the Dungeon Master's Guide but here now with fresh takes after several years of people playing the game and seeing ways in which we could make these areas of the game serve dungeon masters and their campaigns even better. As people saw on Unearthed Arcana, we provide now a more sort of systematized approach to building traps. We also have a much more detailed downtime system that includes, for instance, a more detailed way of building magic items and what have you. Again, these are only options, entirely under the DM's purview. We provide what we think is a simpler way of determining whether a combat encounter is gonna be a TPK or not, although of course you never know absolutely for sure until you're playing. But I've been using the new encounter building guidelines in Xanathar's Guide for many months now in my home campaign, and I find certainly it's easier than the spreadsheet I had set up based on our rule in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Although this new approach is really an extrapolation of the rule in the Dungeon Master's Guide. It's a re-presentation of what's there, but I think in a more user friendly way.
The chapter for DMs also includes random encounter tables for all of the major environment types that the rules already talk about and for different levels of play, and these encounter tables include not only potential combat encounters but also potential non-combat encounters. And there are even some little story hooks sprinkled around in those tables. And so these are here, again, to make our DMs' lives easier, so if there's an adventure going on in mountain, and particularly maybe a mountain range that you didn't expect your player characters to wander into, you can go to the mountain tables and either roll on them or just read them for inspiration to see the kinds of things your player characters might encounter in that place.
This chapter also includes, and this is something people have not seen yet until they get this book, includes a new way of awarding magic items. In the Dungeon Master's Guide the distribution of magic items is presented as largely a random thing. Of course a DM can always choose which magic items end up in the hands of the player characters, or in the case of a published adventure it's often already decided for you. But otherwise the Dungeon Master's Guide says, "Roll on these tables." And we did that, A, to give the DM some fun, but also to make the DM's life easier, to just if you want just roll, and these tables are gonna tell you what treasure ends up in the hands of the heroes.
In Xanathar's Guide, we give an approach that is for the DM who wants to choose the items but still wants to do so in the same framework provided by those tables. Because what's going on which those tables, and in the DMG we tell you we expect in a typical campaign you're gonna roll a certain number of times on these tables. What's going on behind the scenes there is those tables are designed to make it so that a typical party between first level and 20th level, that party is typically going to end up with about 100 magic items, and that hundred is going to be distributed over certain magic item rarities. So what we did in Xanathar's Guide is we exposed all of that background stuff behind the treasure tables in the Dungeon Master's Guide. So if you just wanna choose items but end up with the same basic results as the tables in the DMG, you can now do that given the guidance we give you here in Xanathar's Guide.
Also a little behind-the-scenes thing here that I'll talk about: we put this in this book also for our adventure writers, because our adventure writers often want to know, "How many magic items of various rarity should I be putting in this adventure?" Xanathar's Guide now is gonna help you answer that question.
Xanathar's Guide also exposes something else that's going on about our magic items in the DMG is that really magic items are divided into a minor item and a major item category. We expose that for you now. We even put all the magic items in the DMG into tables. And then, partly just because we thought it would be fun to do so, we also introduce in the book an array of new common magic items. So all of this, great example of a set of new tools for the DM to try out not only in play but also in adventure design.
We give you some new rules to tool around with in spellcasting. We answer questions like, What happens if I target a creature that's not a valid target for a spell? How do I determine what spell someone else is casting while I watch them cast it? These are kinds of questions this book answers. What happens when you fall from a really great height? Can the fall actually be broken up over multiple rounds? Xanathar's has answer to that question. Are you using areas of effect in spells on a grid? The DMG has a really brief rule on areas of effect being used with a grid. We give you more guidance in Xanathar's Guide with diagrams to help you do that very thing. We talk more about sleep. What happens to you if you don't get enough? We talk about tying knots.
We have a whole new section on tool proficiencies. One of the questions that has come up over the last few years in Fifth Edition play is, "Let's say my character has a choice between taking a skill proficiency or a tool proficiency. And if the two have a certain amount of overlap, why would I ever pick the tool proficiency? Because in most cases a skill is going to have broader use than a tool is." So what we do in the Dungeons Master's Tool chapter is delve into ways that the DM can allow player characters to use their tools in interesting and creative ways.
Again, none of these rules are being inserted to campaigns suddenly. This is an array of options that players and DMs can talk about, including to give their characters a new twist and also really, especially when it comes to things like tool proficiencies, to present things that players and DMs might not have thought of when they're wondering, "Well what the heck do I do with this musical instrument proficiency? What good is it to me if I have proficiency with tinker's tools?" We provide some suggestions here in the book for the good that you can do with that proficiency.
And so I think when the DM sees all of these different options combined with the random name tables at the back of the book, which a DM can use to roll up names of various NPCs, this book is gonna end up being the DM's little buddy next to the DM's other little buddy the Dungeon Master's Guide. And my hope is at the end of the day my fellow DMs will have the same response I've had to this book of, "Oh, goody, there's some table I get to roll on and, phew, that just saved me 15 minutes of work."
Todd Kenreck: You can find all those DM tools in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. That book is available for purchase on dndbeyond.com by following the link in this video description, and you can earn pre-order bonuses as well. I'm Todd Kenreck. Thank you for watching.