Monday, May 27, 2024

Tasha’s Cauldron Of Everything Brews Up Big Changes for D&D, But Still ends Up A Little Lacking

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As anyone who’s played Dungeons & Dragons will tell you, nothing is ever set in stone. Well, runes usually are. But other than that, nothing is set in stone, not even the rules of the game. While every edition of D&D has had expansions, rules patches, and new creations released through all kinds of medium (subscribe to Dragon magazine, kids!), Wizards has upped the ante quite a bit thanks to the regular release of 5e’s Unearthed Arcana. These regular releases contain playtest additions to the game that players can try out and take a survey of. Xanathar’s Guide To Everything was the first release in Fifth Edition that collated the best of the released UA into one book and make them official.

Now, three years later (give or take a few days), Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything looks to do the same thing again. For anyone who’s avidly been following the releases, the information in the book isn’t terribly novel. It’s mostly finalized versions of things we’ve seen already, balanced and tweaked to make up for where they’re strong, weak, or just not working. But even if you have seen these, the book is a vital addition to Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons with a ton of new things to expand and improve the game in exciting ways. Wizards was kind enough to send me a copy to review, but I can’t possibly capture everything contained within. This is just the best/most important new additions to the game (I’ll be doing some more detailed spotlights later this week)

The book comes with two different covers: the one depicting Tasha at her cauldron with the standard D&D font is the one you’ll get online while the alt cover by Wylie Beckett is the alt cover you can only get at brick and mortar shops. As always they went all out for these, but they definitely knocked it out of the park with this cover. It’s extremely stylized and mystical, capturing the bizarre and dangerous nature of the book’s titular character. The font for the title is a bit hard to read, but that’s a minor nitpick.

Artificers Explode Into The Forgotten Realms

Artillerist Artificers focus their abilities on maximizing boom

The biggest addition to the game is the official introduction of a brand new class to the greater world of D&D: The Artificer. Originally restricted to the Eberron setting, where magitek and steampunk invention is the norm, the Artificer can now officially be played in the Forgotten Realms (or Grayhawk or Mystara etc.). The class itself is basically unchanged from the one we see in Eberron: Rising From The Last War, except for a few accommodations for the more medieval setting of The Forgotten Realms. Gun powder, for instance, isn’t necessarily a given so it’s up to the DM how much it can be a thing. But otherwise you can do alchemy, make cannons, and build clockwork robots to your heart’s content.

This section is also where we get a good look at Tasha, who has a lot of opinions throughout the book. Pretty much every subsection has an annotation from her commenting on or, usually, snarking about the subject. The Artificer section is fun because it’s mostly just her making fun of them the whole time (though she seems to have some respect for Battle Smith artificers).

A Note On Character Creation

A much-ballyhooed inclusion is the new way the book lets you customize your character’s origin and specifically their race. After coming under fire for the unfortunate implications of built-in racial traits and alignments, this is Wizards of the Coast’s attempt to allow for more flexibility. The new system lets you mix and match different bonuses to reflect your individual background. Now, as some have pointed out, this doesn’t really solve the in-universe problems as the fluff is entirely unchanged to reflect the changes. A non-evil Drow or an agile Dwarf are more exceptions than examples of more diverse racial rules. It’s good to see that Wizards is trying, but this change had a lot of hype behind it but the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Mushrooms, Genies, and Anime Monks

Aberrant Mind Sorcerers descent from strange psionic beings

The new subclasses are probably the thing that players are going to find most interesting, and boy there are some cool ones included here. Some longtime favorites like the Circle of Spores Druid (mushroom magic) and Oath of Glory Paladin (professional show-offs) have made in in alongside some weird ones like The Fathomless Warlock Patron (which gives you lots of wet and tentacle-y abilities). The Monk’s Way of the Astral Self feels like something straight out of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure while the Cleric’s Peace Domain opens up a lot of roleplaying possibilities. It’s a really interesting grab bag of subclasses that is going to allow for even more versatility for players going forward.

There’s also a few alternate class features here and there that try to help edit classes, especially as Wizards tried desperately to make The Ranger actually be viable beyond “boring arrow guy.” Some of these are interesting sidegrades (like letting Paladin’s access blindfighting) and others feel pretty necessary (The Ranger’s transferable “favored foe” ability that goes a little way towards making the class less terrible).

Players also can acquire patronage for their adventuring group using the same system as the one in Rising From The Last War, though there again have been some changes to fit into the more medieval, more high fantasy tone of The Forgotten Realms and other settings. It’s also much less detailed than the version given in the previous book, giving only a framework and very little in the way of ideas for what in-universe group patrons might already exist.

More Wonderful DM Toys

Even the storms are eldritch now

After some new magical additions, the back half of the book is devoted to new things for DM’s to add to their games. This is a pretty mixed bag, but it starts out strong by codifying things like a Session Zero and setting boundaries with your players before you start a campaign or adventure. These are things the fanbase has already kind of done on their own, but it’s good to see these things get a proper seal of approval.

though the best part is definitely the introduction of sidekicks to the game. These NPC’s,which can be Experts, Spellcasters, or warriors, are given their own progression system and ways to adapt and remain useful to their party. Rather than just a pack mule or cannon fodder, Sidekicks can now feel like a fully fledged part of their party.

The book ends by adding in lots of environmental hazards to the game as well as new puzzles to be added and unraveled by players. The environmental hazards can be terrifying (a sandstorm that flays you alive), silly (magic mushrooms with different effects), or a bit of both (evil mirror people). The Puzzles are interesting, but I’m not sure how applicable they are. There’s a lot of creativity in their creation and design, but it might be hard to plug some of them into campaigns. As a jumping off point for creativity, though, it’s a good start.

The Verdict

I like a lot of the additions to the game contained within Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, but is it an essential purchase? No, not really. If you want to add some diversity to your choices as a player, there’s some fun stuff here. And it’s always good for DM’s to add to their repertoire of items, traps, and scary environments. But you’ll be able to get along fine without the book, which doesn’t have as many of the radical rules changes that people were expecting. I do recommend the book though, and I think anyone should check it out and access the tools within, I’m just not sure its a “must-buy” like some thought it might be.

You can pick up Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything starting today from your FLGS, where you can also grab the beautiful alternative cover, or through Amazon. It will also be available through digital outlets like Roll20 and FantasyGrounds.

Images and review copy via Wizards of the Coast

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