Review: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Wizards of the Coast has released Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which is a rules supplement along the lines of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything… if you couldn’t guess that based on the titles, of course. This review will cover the good and the bad of the new book, but if you want the ugly, you’ll have to go to this article’s companion piece, “Tasha, Break My Game!” for the gritty details. What should you expect from Tasha’s, and should you even spend the money on it? Read on for my take.
Should I Buy This Book?
We’ll get to the meat of this review right up front. If you want details about why I’m making recommendations for whether you should drop thirty bucks (or fifty, if you go by the official price on the back) on this book, that’ll come later. Should you spend the money in the first place? Consider the following.
Duplication Of Material
First, let’s get to probably the worst thing about this book, at least in terms of whether you should buy it or not: Tasha’s cribs content from four other D&D hardcover books. Not newly-approved content from Unearthed Arcana, mind you, which is sort of the point of these rules-supplement books, but from actual other rules-supplement books, some of which you might have already purchased.
So, if you already have the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, Eberron: Rising from the Last War, or Mythic Odysseys of Theros, you might end up paying for some content twice if you buy Tasha’s Cauldron. That being said, here’s a breakdown of what exactly is in Tasha’s, so you can figure out what you might be duplicating.
What’s In Tasha’s Cauldron?
We’ll break it down by section. Since I don’t actually own all four of the other books, I can’t tell you what comes from where, but I have every confidence you can figure it out. Also, bear in mind that there are probably some adjustments made to some of this content from the original published sources; I did notice that the Bladesinger in Tasha’s is a little different than in SCAG. However, without the books to check through, I can’t provide a lot of details there either. So, here’s what Tasha’s has to offer:
Each class also has one or two general options as possible modifications, but most of those will come up in the Break My Game article and don’t need to be detailed here. As far as classes and subclasses, here’s what’s in Tasha’s:
Artificer: includes the general class, as well as subclass options for Alchemist, Armorer, Artillerist, and Battle Smith.
Barbarian: subclasses for Path of the Beast and Path of Wild Magic.
Bard: subclasses for College of Creation and College of Eloquence.
Cleric: subclasses for Order, Peace, and Twilight Domains.
Druid: subclasses for Circles of Spores, Stars, and Wildfire.
Fighter: subclasses for Psi Warrior and Rune Knight, as well as a handful of new Battle Master maneuvers.
Monk: subclasses for Way of Mercy and Way of the Astral Self.
Paladin: subclasses for Oath of Glory and Oath of the Watchers.
Ranger: major fixes to the base class, more on that later in this article. Subclass options for Fey Wanderer and Swarmkeeper, as well as some options for Beast Master animal companions.
Rogue: subclasses for Phantom and Soulknife.
Sorcerer: subclasses for Aberrant Mind and Clockwork Soul, as well as some new metamagic choices.
Warlock: subclasses for Fathomless and Genie patrons, as well as some new eldritch invocations.
Wizard: subclasses for Bladesinger and Order of Scribes.
Spells and Magic Items
I’m not going to go into every spell and magic item, because that would be extremely tedious. Suffice it to say here that there are some new “Tasha’s” spells, as you might expect. For the purposes of this blue-boxed don’t duplicate content, you’ll just have to run the extremely underwhelming risk of getting the same spell more than once.
I’ll also discuss the new magic items later in this article, but for here let’s just say that the magical tattoos form a major part of them.
For the DM’s, Tasha’s contains some not-exactly-groundbreaking information on creating patron organizations for an adventuring party, as well as some pre-made puzzles to include in your adventures; more on both of those later.
Also, there’s some decent material on creating magical weather and other environmental conditions.
So, after that lengthy blue box, you should be able to decide whether you actually need to buy Tasha’s Cauldron based on what books you already have. Which leads us to the next section…
Who Should Buy Tasha’s Cauldron?
Probably only one person from any D&D group needs to own this, because the information and options are really targeted to a very specific audience. If you’re a player, and you like the sound of some of the subclasses, you might want access to the book, but you might not want to buy your own copy for the sake of a page and a half of material that interests you.
That being said, if you want to play a ranger of any type, you probably have the most need of Tasha’s Cauldron. If nobody else from your group gets it, you should buy your own copy if you want to be a ranger.
DM’s can find some useful material in Tasha’s, which I think is probably worth the purchase price. The puzzles section is worth reading, and the magical weather and enchanted regions are also useful if you want to homebrew. If you’re a DM, and you have the money sitting around, go ahead and buy the book. Get your players to chip in if they have subclasses that they want to check out, but you probably want to be the one to have the book on your bookshelf, if only because the puzzles section is useless if your players happen to read it.
That wraps up the basic purpose of this article: if you’re wondering whether you should care about Tasha’s Cauldron at all, you now have my considered recommendation. The rest of the article will be a discussion of some of the more interesting content in Tasha’s, and I think it’s worth a read, but my review has now served its ultimate purpose.
The Good And The Bad
So, what does Tasha’s Cauldron do right, and what does it massively screw up? The rest of this article will be my considered opinion of what I think is the most important content of the book. There will be no spoilers here, so this is safe for both players and DM’s. Remember, there’s a separate article to go over the worst things in Tasha’s in more detail, so this will deal more in generalities. With that being said, let’s get some caveats out of the way.
The Wizards of the Coast Caveat
It’s only fair for me to reiterate the caveat that the authors have repeated ad nauseam throughout the entire book, which I will paraphrase here:
“Using any of the content of this book is completely optional, and your DM has full discretion concerning what to include or exclude from your game.”
What does that mean? Basically it places the responsibility on individual DM’s for any havoc that ensues from following these rules… because they’re really just suggestions anyway.
That’s utter nonsense, of course, because the whole point of a book like Tasha’s Cauldron is to present DM’s with tested and reliable rules that they can trust to work as described. Still, individual DM responsibility is WotC’s caveat, and they have said it over and over, and thus I have included it here.
Now, I’d like to add my own personal caveat, which I hope is not utter nonsense.
The CNDM Caveat
I always try to base my comments in my articles on personal experience as a player or a DM. However, Tasha’s Cauldron is a brand-new book, and that means I haven’t had any opportunity to play-test any of what’s in it.
So, any claims, comments, or criticisms in this article are based solely on my decades of experience as a DM, including the designing and hacking of D&D rules. If you’ve read my articles, you can judge for yourself if that’s sufficient for you accept what I have to say in this article.
Now that we’ve got that over with, here’s what you can expect from Tasha’s Cauldron.
Tasha’s Cauldron creates some interesting mechanics, and makes some slight adjustments to existing ones. For the most part, these are somewhere between inspired and indifferent, with some things that I think will eventually be problematic.
Short-Rest and Long-Rest Ability Recharging
A lot of the class and subclass abilities introduced in Tasha’s use a slightly different recharge mechanic than has been previously used. Instead of giving a specific number of uses for an ability per short rest, a character gets a number of uses equal to his proficiency bonus for each long rest.
This tends to work out about to about the same number of uses per “adventuring day” either way, if you stick to the idea that two short rests and one long rest should pretty much cover the party’s daily activity. I tend to use a much shorter version of the short rest, meaning that the party can take one more often due to not needing a location where they won’t be bothered for a solid hour, so this change means that my players will be able to use their hit dice as often as they can, but without swamping their ability economy. Overall, a decent change; you might notice that this is an adjustment made specifically for Tasha’s when material from older books is being re-used.
“Summon” Spells vs. “Conjure” Spells
The spell section in Tasha’s introduces an interesting variation on the “Conjure” spells that are used in the PHB. These spells are called “Summon Creature” instead of “Conjure Creature”, and they make use of a sort of general stat block template instead of requiring actual stat blocks. For those of you who aren’t familiar with stat blocks, a little explanation is in order.
Basically, a stat block for a monster or NPC is like a very abbreviated character sheet that the DM has to use for every living thing in the world other than the PC’s. For the most part, players don’t need to worry about stat blocks that much, except in a few specific situations… and then it can get hairy.
The druid’s Wild Shape ability and the various “Conjure Creature” spells require players to use stat blocks for the various beasts and other creatures involved, and when you consider the number of creatures that can be conjured or transformed into, that can get out of control very quickly. Adding to that problem, players don’t always have access to stat blocks; a lot of them tend to just be in the Monster Manual, and players typically don’t own a Monster Manual (and most DM’s don’t want them to, either).
Enter the “Summon” spells in Tasha’s Cauldron. These spells have the same mechanical result as the “Conjure” spells, in that they bring allied creatures to fight alongside the party, but they use a general stat block to represent those creatures, rather than using a specific Monster Manual stat block. A good example here is for Summon Elemental: the stat block gives general parameters for any kind of elemental, but specifies different damage types, resistances, and movement for air, fire, earth, and water elementals.
So, if you’re a wizard who only occasionally casts a spell to bring an elemental onto the team, you only need to write down one stat block to cover your options. If you tend to use that spell more often, or if you’re a druid who wild-shapes into elementals, you’ll probably have better results with individual stat blocks. Either way, it’s nice to have a choice.
Spell and Ability Trade-Ins
I’ve been doing this for a while now, but it’s nice to see it actually written down in an official source: when a PC has a spell (maneuver, cantrip, invocation, and so forth as well) that they don’t like or don’t use, they should be able to trade it in for something that they do like and will use.
Life is too short for players to have to suffer along with choices that they thought would be a good idea when they created the character or leveled it up, but that have now turned out to be useless. Just let them trade for something else, DM’s… if you haven’t been doing it already, you might as well start now.
Also, there are expanded spell lists for the different classes, and they don’t look unreasonable. I’m not going to break it down spell by spell, though, so don’t read too much into “not unreasonable”.
Being able to change a character’s subclass is fairly controversial, and by and large I am against it. That’s not to say that I haven’t done it before, and that’s also not to say that it always turned out poorly. The fact of the matter is that sometimes a character’s subclass needs changing, and as the DM it’s my job to figure out when that’s appropriate and how to effect the change. However, as far as I’m concerned, a subclass change generally needs to be a decision between the DM and the player, out of game. Maybe we can figure out a good way to integrate it into the story, and maybe we just hand-wave it, but the decision is not in-game and neither is the process.
Tasha’s Cauldron gives mechanics for characters to change their subclass, in-game, and I think that’s a mistake. Changing a subclass is really a more extreme version of changing a useless spell from the last section: you’re fixing something broken, not just adjusting a preference, and having requirements for downtime and spending money to change a PC from one subclass to another makes it just another in-game option. Not to mention that the notion of “letting your previous skills atrophy” is ridiculous: can a PC actually forget that he could once cast spells (Eldritch Knight) in order to discover that he’s actually psychic instead (Psi Warrior)?
Tasha’s also says that if the player wants to go back to a previous subclass, there’s no charge for that. I find the idea that whoring around different subclasses is not only acceptable practice, but also has rules governing it, to be both very odd and very troubling.
DM’s and players, if you need to change a subclass, do it for the sake of the player at the table… and don’t feel you have to justify it in the story, because you probably won’t be able to come up with a really satisfying in-character rationale. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to work it into the story, but it’s not a deal breaker if you can’t.
Also, I will add that sometimes I’ve changed a character subclass as a result of a major in-game event, but that’s not the same thing as giving the player the option to shuffle subclasses. If a warlock patron gets changed, or a paladin fails an oath and needs a new one, those are DM decisions based on the story. I try to make sure that the player is OK with the change, but the idea is that there are events that can change a character’s entire life. Those don’t come often, and they don’t come easily. And they certainly don’t come from spending some gold and downtime.
Class Options That Work
There are a lot of class and subclass options in Tasha’s, but I think a few are particularly worth mentioning. First and foremost…
Finally, A Fix For Rangers!
There are a couple of subclass options for rangers as well, but the Deft Explorer and Favored Foe optional class features are something that I’ve been waiting a long time for. Essentially, they take the Natural Explorer and Favored Enemy ranger features and replace them with something that’s actually useful.
As a bit of a recap, the PHB gives Natural Explorer and Favored Enemy as basic class features for the ranger. Natural Explorer grants the ranger a type of favored terrain, which provides some benefits for overland travel and activities like foraging and tracking. Favored Enemy allows the ranger to take advantage on d20 throws to track that particular type of enemy, as well as on throws to recall information about that enemy. Both of these features are almost entirely useless.
Deft Explorer takes the place of Natural Explorer, but it actually provides real benefits. We’re talking about swimming and climbing speeds, temporary hit points, and better skill checks. Favored Foe replaces Favored Enemy, but instead of providing vague benefits concerning a certain type of enemy, it provides immediate combat benefits against a specific foe, right there and then. I haven’t been able to see how these work in actual gameplay, of course, but all of my DM instincts are screaming things like “great idea” and “it’s about time”.
There’s also a significant fix for the Beast Master subclass, that’s also been a long time overdue. The PHB rules make the animal companion rather useless, mainly because the animal can’t attack without the PC forgoing her own attack. Not that combat is the be-all and end-all of D&D, but what exactly is the use of having a bond with a fearsome creature that can’t fight for you on its own?
The new Beast Master options provide for generalized stat blocks for animal companions, along the lines of the generalized blocks from the new “summon” spells. This allows the ranger to choose a land, air, or water-borne animal, and of course the player is free to describe the specific choice however she wants in terms of cosmetic appearance. But, best of all is that commanding the beast only requires the ranger to use a bonus action, rather than a full action, meaning that the ranger and the beast can both attack during each round. For those who are interested, rangers are still allowed to sacrifice an attack of their own to allow the beast to attack an extra time. Again, my experience as a DM places me firmly in support of this as a mechanic.
So, well done for the rangers, Wizards of the Coast. Cheers, ladies and gents.
Also Worth A Mention
Various subclasses will appeal to different players, of course, but I think that some of the options offered in Tasha’s are especially useful, or just especially cool (in a completely objective sense of “cool”, of course).
Path of the Beast: if you’re a player who’s been wanting to play a lycanthrope, or if you’re a DM who’s been trying to figure out how to house-rule a lycanthrope PC, the Path of the Beast for barbarians is a decent way to go. The barbarian rage system stands in nicely for the sort of controlled transformation that’s needed for PC lycanthropes, and the abilities granted make a lot of sense in terms of granting natural weapons and buffing up physical damage and general violent impact.
Circle of Stars: this is one of those subclasses that I just think is a neat idea for druids. Instead of choosing beast wild-shapes, Circle of Stars druids can select a starry form that increases combat, healing, or mental focus. There’s also a way to use a sort of divination process to affect future d20 rolls; it trespasses a little on the School of Divination for wizards, but I’m not seeing a big problem there. Maybe because hardly anyone chooses the School of Divination; if the subclass were echoing Spell Sculpting, I would probably be more critical.
Swarmkeeper: having a ranger whose special connection to nature is being able to summon and control swarms of tiny creatures is a very cool idea. There’s a nice extension from the classic ranger animal companion ability here. Also, having an army of tiny twig blights is adorable in a really terrifying way.
Also, as a general sort of group, I’m rather impressed by subclasses like College of Eloquence and the Fathomless patron. Giving some attention to often-neglected campaign styles and themes is very considerate here, especially because there haven’t been a lot of class choices so far in 5E that are specifically geared for adventures that focus on social interaction… or that happen underwater.
Which brings us to the part of the review where I get very critical of Tasha’s Cauldron. You knew it was happening eventually…
Spoiled For Choice
This will be the most opinionated part of the entire article, because there’s an overarching tendency throughout the character options in Tasha’s Cauldron that I want to address clearly and up front. Please remember that in this article I’m not talking about individual details that have the potential to screw up your game. This is a criticism of a concept, and the concept is that D&D players should never have to deny themselves anything when they create a character. This happens in two ways: adjustment of race attributes, and generalization of class abilities.
Racial Attributes Free-For-All
Tasha’s Cauldron starts off by laying out new rules for customizing D&D races, and these rules basically say that players should have blanket permission to change the existing D&D races to better suit the character they want to create. This takes two basic forms. First, the stat increases for each race and subrace are supposed to be optional, and can be rearranged at the player’s whim. Second, any proficiencies with tools, skills, or weapons can be shuffled, again at the player’s whim.
I would identify myself as a purist concerning D&D, but being a purist carries the unfortunate connotation that those who don’t agree with you are dirty or contaminated… the opposite of pure. Instead, call me a traditionalist: I place a lot of value on the way things have always been done, and I’m naturally skeptical and critical when those customs are shaken or broken. Tasha’s system of allowing changes to racial attributes bothers me, and not just for mechanical reasons.
To quote the book directly, “if you’re a dwarf, your Constitution increases by 2, because dwarf heroes in D&D are often exceptionally tough.” So far, so good. But then it continues: “This increase doesn’t apply to every dwarf, just to dwarf adventurers.” This, somehow by extension, means that players should feel free to reassign racial stat bonuses however they want, as long as they don’t stack bonuses or increase a stat score above 20. That means we can have fragile dwarves, clumsy elves, puny half-orcs, and all the rest… no problem, right? I beg to differ.
When we’re dealing with races in D&D, we’re not dealing with the “races” of the real world, which are probably better described as “ethnicities” or your favored synonym thereof. Instead, we’re talking about species. (By the way, credit is due to the authors of Tasha’s Cauldron for mentioning that distinction.) The fact that we’re talking about species means that we’re completely justified and correct in ascribing certain enhancements to abilities for D&D races. The reason you don’t find fragile dwarves and clumsy elves is the same reason you don’t find slow cheetahs or courageous mice. It isn’t in their nature.
Tasha’s also allows the player to exchange racial proficiencies for ones they like better, which poses a similar problem to the stat increases: can you really remove something like elves’ Perception proficiency without fundamentally changing what elves are? Elves have keen hearing and eyesight, and not just in D&D, but in the whole scope of fantasy literature. Myopic elves don’t work for the same reason that clumsy elves don’t work… you can’t just exchange what you are. Also, some of the racial proficiencies provide very powerful advantages, like the elves’ proficiency with longswords and longbows, and that can cause some serious imbalances if you can give that proficiency to any race you choose.
Ultimately, though, this isn’t an issue about races, species, and the rest. It’s not even necessarily an issue about tradition and innovation. All of those concerns are important, but I think the main issue here is grounded in the fact that D&D is a game, and that the game has rules because games need to have rules. Rules are deliberate, and they serve a purpose.
Having races that are not flexible is necessary to guide the character creation process. For example, when you’re creating a wizard, high elves are a good choice: their natural proclivities for magic are a benefit, and the player can invest stat points elsewhere, knowing that the character will get an INT boost due to race. Could you make a dwarf wizard? Sure, no problem, because CON is useful to any character, and stat points can still be assigned freely. If you need a dwarf character with high INT, you can assign points to that stat. How about a half-orc wizard, then? It’s an unusual choice, because half-orcs tend to be more inclined to physical prowess, but that doesn’t make it impossible, just more difficult… and adventurers can have difficult lives. Many players get a lot of satisfaction out of playing an unusual PC and dealing with the problems that come up because of their odd choices.
Don’t mistake me here: I’m not saying that players won’t be able to make the decisions needed to create a character if they have too many choices. My point here is that part of the challenge of any game that has an element of strategy is that you have to make meaningful choices, and that means choices with consequences. D&D is a strategic game, and character creation choices are just the first of many meaningful choices that players need to make.
Creating a D&D character requires trade-offs. You choose your race, class, skills, and all of the rest, knowing that you’ll have to give up certain options in order to gain others. Choosing is part of the game, and it’s a fun part. Crafting a character is satisfying, especially when you find that combination of options that feels solid, so that you look forward to playing that character and seeing how it works out.
I know (and have known) players who love creating characters as much as any other part of the game. I don’t think I’ve ever met a D&D player who really wanted to play a pregenerated character beyond the first few sessions, and I’ve even had to refer to the pre-gens that I make myself as “lovingly hand-crafted” or “artisanal” to remove the pre-gen stigma. Even the players who appreciate a lot of technical assistance with math and rulebooks when they roll up a character want to make the character creation choices themselves.
When you remove choice and consequence from the game, you lose a fundamental part of what makes it satisfying to play. Ultimately, the racial attribute modification system proposed in Tasha’s Cauldron removes significant choices and consequences, and in my considered opinion should be disregarded for that reason. There are also game-breaking possibilities inherent in that system, but that’s not the only or the best reason to reject it. On a conceptual level, allowing changes to the classic D&D races willy-nilly is just faulty.
Your Class Is Not Special
Allowing players to adjust racial attributes however they want is only the first transgression here. The following portion of Tasha’s is full of character options, and there’s a similar tendency towards allowing players to have whatever they want when creating their characters. The way that this comes out is in additional rules, traits, and feats that take the hallmark features of various character classes and make them available to all characters. This is a mistake, and as with the racial attribute shuffling it’s a conceptual mistake as well as a mechanically game-breaking one.
If you consider the various D&D classes, you’ll notice that each of them has a particular feature or two that is unique to that class. Druids have wild shape, sorcerers have metamagic, bards can grant bardic inspiration, and so forth… and those features aren’t shared around between classes. You can’t just pick and choose when you’re creating a character; as noted in the previous section, there are going to be trade-offs, and that’s a feature, not a bug.
Of course, Tasha’s Cauldron does let you pick and choose, in a couple of relevant ways. Feats are introduced that can essentially give any character some of the class-specific abilities of other classes. Additionally, many of the extra class options and subclass options allow characters to duplicate features of other classes.
I’ll use metamagic as my primary example here, because that’s something that has always been very specific to the sorcerer class in 5E. If you want to do things like cast your spells faster than usual, or hit more than one target with the same spell, you need to be a sorcerer, with all of the other benefits and detriments that come with that class. End of story. Until now, that is.
Tasha’s introduces the Metamagic Adept feat, which makes metamagic available to any character who can cast spells. Sure, you don’t get as many metamagic options as a full-on sorcerer would get, but you do get a couple of them, and you get to choose which ones you want the most. There are a solid handful of feats like this, in fact. If you want to have an artificer’s tools, or a warlock’s eldritch invocations, or a fighter’s fighting styles, you can have them even if you don’t want to choose that class. Just pick a feat, and these things can be yours.
There are also several of the extra class and subclass options in Tasha’s that extend similar benefits. For example, the optional Harness Divine Power for clerics is essentially a powered-down version of wizards’ Arcane Recovery. Druids can now have familiars like wizards do, and Circle of Wildfire basically gives them an animal companion like a Beast Master ranger. The Superior Technique fighting style gives Battle Master maneuvers to all fighters, and if you consider that the Fighting Initiate feat lets anyone choose a fighting style, that means that any character who can use a martial weapon can use maneuvers as well. The list goes on, but I’m out of energy with which to belabor this point.
Now, we’ve had things similar to this for a while now, but this is a new and unfortunate direction to take. Multiclassing has always been an option in D&D, and it’s still an option in 5E. 5E also has some subclasses that cover some popular multiclass options; Arcane Trickster and Eldritch Knight are both responses to the popular wizard-rogue and wizard-fighter multiclass characters of previous editions. You also have subclasses which make it possible to fill a particular role without being tied to a single class, such as Divine Soul which makes a healer option that isn’t a cleric. And, finally, there are some vanilla feats from the PHB that grant some limited class features, like Magic Initiate which gives a couple of basic spells to characters that otherwise wouldn’t have spellcasting.
The options that Tasha’s Cauldron presents are not the same thing, though. We’re not talking about multiclassing, which usually requires some rather severe sacrifices to overall character utility while the different class levels are raised to the point where they grant desirable benefits. We’re also not talking about a subclass option like Arcane Trickster that allows a player to avoid multiclassing in the first place, or Divine Soul which grants access not to a class but to a role. Even something like Magic Initiate only grants access to spellcasting in general, which is hardly the exclusive property of any particular class.
The ultimate result with Tasha’s Cauldron’s character options is that the character creation process has become something of a buffet: you choose your main class, but then you can add features from other classes to your plate as well. Sometimes you can even choose features that actually define another class to add to your own. The end effect here is that creating a character becomes sort of a free-form exercise, where you don’t actually have to make any sacrifices or face tough decisions. Choices and consequences make character creation a meaningful part of the game, and when you don’t have to give anything up, the things that you are willing to sacrifice for have less value.
Dungeon Masters’ Candy
After that last part, I’ll close out this article by saying some nice things about options that Tasha’s Cauldron provides for DM’s. I really like the fact that when I said “options” just now, it really meant “options”… things that the DM can use or include, and not the sort of rules-but-you-don’t-have-to “options” that are in much of the book.
Magical Atmosphere and Environment
There are some nice environmental effects and tools for DM’s to use in the last part of Tasha’s, especially if you’re the kind of DM who likes to homebrew without inventing your own mechanics for everything you create. The magical inclement weather effects are well thought out, and there’s a nice table which helps to connect spell effects to mundane weather effects. So, if you need to create weather with falling debris, like a hailstorm, the table suggests that you look at conjure barrage or conjure volley as a place to start.
The section on Supernatural Regions is also quite good, especially if you’re planning on sending the party on planar adventures, where the terrain can get really strange. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the save DC’s or when to roll them, but the various effects for the different regions are a good inspiration. Maybe the statistical bits are up to par as well, but I can’t speak to that without testing.
The section on how to create NPC “sidekicks” for the party or for individual PC’s looks very promising. So far, DM’s have had really only two options when creating NPC helpers or other assistants. Either you created a fully-formed character sheet using the PHB rules, or you used some kind of pre-made NPC stat block. The full character sheet is time-consuming, and it’s difficult for either the DM or one of the players to run in addition to their other tasks. The stat block tends to be overly simplistic, and doesn’t level well with the party; if you’re looking for a primary spellcaster, there’s not much middle ground between a CR6 mage and a CR12 archmage. The new sidekick system has the possibility to change all of that.
The general idea is that sidekick characters can be created and leveled up using a very simplified set of rules. There are only three classes (spellcaster, warrior, and expert), and they level up using a skill system based on full-blown character classes, but with less complexity. The result is an NPC helper for the party that fits basic roles, can be increased in power as the party levels up, and is fairly simple for either a player or the DM to keep track of.
As with many other things, I can’t give a definite verdict on this without testing it out in practice, but I think the idea is a good one, and the design looks solid. There’s potential here, and I hope I’ll have a chance to use it sometime soon and form some better insights.
The Puzzle Section
First, let me say that I think it’s about time that a D&D source book gave some attention to puzzles as part of D&D adventures. Creating puzzles is a different challenge than creating stories, or dungeons, or even traps, and I think that integrating puzzles is something that DM’s have gotten the idea that we need to do, even though we don’t necessarily know how to pull it off.
That having been said, the section of Tasha’s on puzzles is kind of a mixed bag. However, there are definitely some helpful considerations, both from what the section does right and from where it goes wrong.
The really difficult thing to capture about a good D&D puzzle is that it needs to lend itself to group effort. One of the example puzzles in Tasha’s is essentially a sudoku puzzle… and there’s no such thing as “team sudoku”. If you give the party a sudoku puzzle to solve, you’re going to have one or two players independently working on the answer while the rest just sit around being bored. And that’s if you’re lucky. You might have zero players solving the puzzle, and instead we all get on our phones for the rest of the night.
That’s lesson one, then. If you’re going to present a puzzle, it needs to be something everyone can work on at once. Maybe not everyone will, because there are players who aren’t much interested in puzzles, but everyone needs the opportunity to participate. If they don’t all take the opportunity, that’s fine, but it has to be offered.
Another thing to consider when presenting a puzzle is how many levels of solution it has. A lot of Tasha’s puzzles are too complex in this way: a solution is reached, but then that solution needs to be solved again in order to get the right answer. To avoid spoilers, I’ll give an example puzzle that isn’t from the book.
Puzzle: The Law of the Jungle
The party is presented with an incomplete sequence of tiles: the first one has an etching of a dog, the second a square, the third a circle, the fourth a triangle, and the fifth with an etching of a housefly.
Around the puzzle area are tiles with different animal pictures on them, of all different sorts, but all of them are the right size to replace any of the tiles with shapes on them.
There are four slots to the side of the sequence, arranged vertically, and numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4.
The solution to the puzzle is to find the animal tiles that complete the sequence: the correct tiles are a cat, a bird, and a spider, in that order. The rationale for the answer is that each animal in the sequence will chase or eat the next, dog-cat-bird-spider-fly.
Then, the PC’s need to put the solution tiles into the slots. The cat tile goes into slot 4, because the square etched on the second tile in the original puzzle has four sides. That means the bird goes in slot 1 (a circle has only one side), and the spider in slot 3 (a triangle has three sides). Slot 2 is left empty, because there isn’t a two-sided shape.
Then the door opens or whatever you like.
There’s a problem with that example puzzle, especially as far as a D&D puzzle, because it needs to be solved twice. If the party just had to find the right three animals to complete the sequence, and the puzzle ended there, that would be fine. If there were no animals, and the number of sides of different shapes was the key to the puzzle, that would also be fine.
But, figuring out the animals and then having to figure out the shapes is too much: how do the players know when they can stop solving the puzzle? That’s a problem that a lot of the Tasha’s example puzzles run into, but it’s easily fixed by taking out a layer of solutions.
There’s a difference between easy and simple when you’re talking about puzzles: a Rubik’s Cube is a hard puzzle, but it’s simple to look at and see how it should look when it’s solved. If you’re making a puzzle for D&D, where you’ll have minimal visual aids bolstered by verbal narration, it needs to be simple.
So, enjoy the puzzles in Tasha’s, and be inspired by them. Some of them are good to use as they stand, and some can be improved with a little simplification. I would not recommend you trust the book’s determination as to what’s easy, medium, and hard, though, because that’s far more dependent on individuals and groups than a book written for the mass market will be able to handle.
I hope at this point you have an idea whether Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is something that you want to spend your money on. If you’re planning on buying it, I do encourage you to buy your copy from your local game store to support local business and D&D in your community. On the other hand, you can probably save about twenty bucks by buying it from Amazon instead, so no judgements there.
And, if you do decide to buy a copy, I hope that the observations here will help you enjoy your new book a little more. A last reminder for DM’s is that my other article on Tasha’s Cauldron goes into the various game-breaking pitfalls that I anticipate will be problematic for those who use it: this article is about support and criticism of concepts, but “Tasha, Break My Game!” is about specifics.
For players… well, if your DM buys this book and lets you use your favorite subclass or spell from it, remember to share the love and bring cookies or something. DM’s love cookies. Also whiskey… if my players are reading this, bring whiskey.