Tasha, Break My Game!
This is the companion article to my review of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, the latest D&D hardcover rules supplement, and also the first installment of my new “Break My Game!” series of articles. This article, as well as the other “Break My Game!” articles, will go into specifics as to how the contents of various D&D rule sources can cause the DM strife and embarrassment if not carefully handled. There will not be any spoilers, but if you’re a player reading this in order to figure out how to trick your DM, shame on you. Broken games are no good for everyone, including the players… unless you’re the kind of jerk player who thinks it’s a fun time to snicker about putting the DM in a tight spot and distracting everyone else from the adventure at the same time. All right, enough warnings. Read on in good faith, and let’s avoid broken games for the good of everyone.
This article will cover potential problems for your game that rise out of the new Tasha’s Cauldron rules supplement, with a couple of notable exceptions.
I will not be examining every class option ever offered for 5E, every spell, or every magic item, in order to find corner-case synergies or interactions that would result in a character being overpowered. That’s way beyond the scope of this article, and it’s actually way beyond the scope of this site. I strongly recommend that DM’s take a look at their players’ current character builds when making decisions on optional rules or other content to include: it’s not a problem for a DM to check four or five characters for issues, but I can’t even come close to that sort of analysis for a few dozen subclasses and hundreds of spells.
I will try to predict possible sources of trouble when I see them, but I’m not going to claim to have an exhaustive list. Even without looking at thousands of possible interactions, there’s plenty of ground to cover, and I’m only one DM with a website. Your mileage may vary.
For Tasha’s Cauldron, I’ll look at the various optional class features that are provided for each base class, and I’ll also check out the subclasses that are introduced. I will not do anything with the Artificer class, because I really dislike Eberron, and going over a very Eberron character class is not my idea of a good time; I probably wouldn’t do a good job or make a fair assessment due to personal feelings, and I’m not going to create a slipshod rant.
I’ll also look at spells and magic items, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, any magic item that is an “artifact” should automatically be under suspicion as a breaker of games, and I won’t be dealing with Tasha’s artifacts for that reason. Also, I would advise being very careful with any legendary magic items, as well as any spells of 7th level or higher. Magic item rarity isn’t a fully reliable indicator of problem potential, but being a legendary magical item is.
As far as spells, I would advise DM’s to lay claim to veto power over any player spell choice, because there will always be problem spells, both in general and for specific characters or adventures. Just because the book says that the characters get to choose a certain number of spells of a certain level does not mean they should get blanket permission to choose any particular spell.
So, on we go. I’ll try to cover the content from Tasha’s mostly in the order it appears in the book, for the sake of simplicity. If something needs to be cross-referenced, I’ll make a note in both locations that points back to the other one.
Yes, I Understand What “Optional” Means
I’m going to say this right here and get it out of the way. I am fully aware that Tasha’s Cauldron says that all of the rules options contained therein are completely optional, and that DM’s are allowed their own discretion as to whether to include any specific new rule.
That’s good. DM’s need to be able to choose what new rules to bring into their games. But you knew that already.
The problem that comes up here is that DM’s have a right to expect that new rules that are included in a rules supplement will have been carefully developed and tested. We should be able to bring these rules into our games without having to stress over the bad things that might happen. But that trust is often misplaced.
Saying that new rules are optional sidesteps the issue of whether the new rules have to actually be any good. It’s easy for WotC to give themselves an escape hatch: if you don’t like something that our rules did to your game, that’s your fault, because you didn’t have to include them.
That’s a load of nonsense, and that’s why this sort of article needs to exist.
Class Features and Subclasses
Tasha’s offers a number of new subclasses, as well as some optional class features that are meant to apply to any subclass. Optional class features tend to be presented at the very beginning of each section where new subclasses are introduced. Remembering that I discussed subclasses that I liked in the review, let’s take a look.
Good Optional Class Features
There are some optional class features that are actually pretty good additions. For one thing, the expanded spell lists are generally worthwhile. That doesn’t mean that every single spell is completely appropriate and free of game-breaking synergies, but it’s nice to have some other spell options for players who are trying to create a niche character. The extra spells also include the new spells from Tasha’s, which is necessary to integrate them into the game.
Also, the ability to choose new spells to replace the ones that you thought you were going to use, but then didn’t. That also goes for things like rogues and bards choosing their Expertise skill. I’ve been doing this in my games all along, but I guess it’s nice to have permission. Or something like that.
Optional Barbarian Rules
I’ll just point out here that the Path of Wild Magic has a Wild Magic Table that beats hell out of the Wild Magic Sorcerer’s table. As in it actually consistently has beneficial and non-LOL-random effects in it. Bad thing, or good thing? I don’t know, but I strongly suggest that DM’s read that table and consider it carefully before running a game with a wild-magic barbarian in it.
My primary concerns would be item 4, which changes your weapon damage type to force damage; not a lot of things resist force damage, and many things are only vulnerable to force damage. Item 8, which allows the blinding of enemies, is also quite a powerful effect; to a blinded creature, it’s as if all of its enemies are under the greater invisibility spell effect, which is a substantial advantage.
Optional Bard Rules
The College of Creation has massive potential to wreak havoc on your game economy. Please bear in mind that I’m not talking about an economy in the real-world sense; game economy here just refers to the idea that there are items in the game world that are easier or harder to find than others, and that rarity tends to determine the price or value of those items.
The Performance of Creation feature basically allows a bard to create something out of nothing. And not necessarily a small something, either. It could be a Large something at 6th level, or a Huge something at 14th. Granted, the value of the item created is limited… until 14th level, when it isn’t anymore.
So, what happens when bards can create solid diamond elephant sculptures? Well, they still disappear on their own after about 5 hours, but it absolutely destroys the notion of buying and selling within your game world. Granted, creating diamond elephants would be rather an abuse of the game mechanic; well-intentioned players would probably stick to creating ropes and bedrolls and 10-foot poles when they’re needed. Is one of your players a diamond elephant douche? Be certain of that before using creation bards in your game.
Optional Cleric Rules
First off, the cleric class is given two new features: Harness Divine Power, and Blessed Strikes. These directly affect the amount of healing and damage that a cleric can put out. Harness Divine Power gives them more spell slots, and Blessed Strikes allows the cleric to add a d8 of radiant damage to cantrip and weapon attacks on every single turn. Either of these can unbalance your combat encounters significantly.
There’s also a problem lurking in the new Twilight Domain. The Eyes of Night feature gives twilight clerics darkvision out to 300 feet, and even allows them to share that 300 foot darkvision with the rest of the party. Bear in mind that standard darkvision from the PHB extends for 60 feet, and that even drow amped-up darkvision only goes out to 120 feet. To put this as simply as possible, darkness isn’t just some meaningless attribute of a dungeon area. It’s an environmental hazard, and a dangerous one. Eyes of Night essentially removes that by extending the twilight cleric’s darkvision to a ridiculous degree, and then providing that same benefit to the whole party is just acid on the cake.
If you really want a thorough analysis of the problems with darkvision in D&D, this article is for you. Skip down to the third section for the part about darkvision.
Optional Druid Rules
First, the Fungal Body feature from Circle of Spores makes it so spore druids can’t be afflicted with most status effects, and also can’t be critically hit. Being immune to being deafened isn’t a big deal, and being immune to being frightened is also not something that will likely see a lot of use. Being immune to being blinded is a big deal, because blinded creatures essentially have to act as if everyone else is invisible (which makes sense), but they also auto-fail all saves that require sight. And that’s going to include almost all of the DEX saves that will ever come up, which means taking full damage from most of the high-damage spells out there.
And that’s not even getting into immunity to poison, which we’ll get to right now.
Poison damage is probably the most common elemental (yes, using that term loosely) damage type from monsters, and it’s also a source of a lot of ongoing status effects from monsters. If you look at the MM, you see a lot of “while you are poisoned in this way, you are also paralyzed.” Or unconscious, or charmed, or whatever. The point here is that the poisoned condition is very often used to create much bigger problems than just the rolling with disadvantage which is the basic poisoning detriment.
Yes, the Purity of Body feature for monks also grants immunity to poison, but that doesn’t mean that Fungal Body isn’t overpowered. Probably they both are. Also, I shouldn’t need to explain at all why not being able to take extra damage from critical hits is a huge advantage, so I won’t.
Rune Knight Silliness
This isn’t a game-breaker, but I just wanted to point out that the Rune Knight fighter subclass has an ability that will turn your small-sized halfling or gnome fighter into a large-sized halfling or gnome fighter. Only for a minute, but really?
Optional Monk Rules
Probably the worst thing in the entire book for class options are the general monk rules. All of them.
Dedicated Weapon essentially gives the monk class access to most of the martial weapon list, and therefore to more damaging weapon attacks. Also, if you have this, what’s the use of Way of the Kensei?
Ki-Fueled Attack provides an extra attack as a bonus action, for those of you that feel that bonus unarmed strikes, flurries of blows, and so forth don’t give monks enough attacks per turn.
Also, you have Focused Aim, which means that you can increase an attack roll by 2, 4, or 6 points on the d20 roll. The numbers crunch thusly: an AC of 18 is pretty sturdy for any monster, and most will have considerably less armor. Averaging out your d20 rolls, you’ll need to have a bonus to your attack roll of about 7 in order to hit an AC 18. If you can add 6 to your d20 rolls as a monk using Focused Aim, that means that on average you can’t miss. After all, when you consider ability scores and proficiency bonuses, you’ll always be able to add at least 1 to your d20 rolls. Looking at this another way, with a bonus of 6 points from Focused Aim, and a conservative estimate of a 6 point modifier from ability and proficiency, a monk can hit that AC 18 enemy with a roll of 6 or better. Or of 8 if we only spend 2 ki points, or 10 if we only spend 1.
But that’s not my favorite. Quickened Healing gives monks a self-heal feature, and not the kind of Second Wind self-heal that fighters get (and only fighters get). Spend a couple of ki points, roll a Martial Arts die (generally a d6 or d8) and regain HP. To be as fair as possible on this, all of these extra rules would probably be good if you wanted to play a monk for a single-player campaign… because when you can’t miss and you can heal yourself, why would you actually need other PC’s in your party?
Optional Paladin Rules
Paladins are kind of obnoxious anyway, so there’s not much here except for new and different ways for paladins to annoy players and DM’s alike. The same Harness Divine Power feature as for clerics is added for paladins, with essentially the same problems… except paladins will use the feature to get extra smite spells instead of extra healing spells.
Optional Ranger Rules
Surprise! I like all of the new ranger options. I said so in the other Tasha’s article, but for the purposes of this one, I don’t see any game-breaking possibilities. Game-changing, yes, and rightly so.
Optional Rogue Rules
The Phantom subclass has a few lurking issues, mostly involving Wails from the Grave. Sneak attack damage has long been a mainstay of rogue combat, but Wails allows sneak attack damage to be applied to a second target, albeit at half power. In the description of the ability, it specifies that there are limited uses based on the rogue’s proficiency bonus, but then it turns around and says in the next section that you can sacrifice a soul trinket to use Wails without burning a charge.
And how do you get a soul trinket? Well, a creature has to die nearby. You don’t actually have to kill it yourself, in fact. So, as long as enemies keep dying, a phantom rogue can keep dishing out sneak attack damage to additional enemies indefinitely. It’s not like enemy creatures dying is something that only happens occasionally in D&D. For phantom rogues, you can basically create a self-perpetuating bloodbath.
I’m not sure whether the Soulknife subclass is going to break anything or not. The psychic blades don’t seem unreasonable for game balance, but I would really have to try the subclass out before making a decision. Using a psionic energy die to boost d20 rolls has the feel of bardic inspiration, but it seems like you don’t actually have to expend the psionic energy die unless changing the d20 total results in a success, which seems a bit off to me.
Optional Sorcerer Rules
First off, the optional class rules include Seeking Spell as a metamagic option, and Magical Guidance as a class feature. Both of these allow a re-roll of a d20 throw that failed, either for an attack roll or for an ability check. It’s not entirely clear whether a save would count as an ability check for the purposes of Magical Guidance, but I could see some good arguments in favor of either way. What all of this amounts to is that a sorcerer gets to grant herself advantage on d20 rolls, whenever that’s needed. You might also expect some interesting interactions between this re-roll mechanic and the inspiration system.
The Revelation in Flesh subclass ability for the Aberrant Mind subclass would be unusual but reasonable, but allowing multiple effects to be used at once is questionable. Granted, you have to spend additional sorcery points for each additional effect, but sorcery points are often not at a premium. Should there be a possibility for the sorcerer to change into a flying swimming invisibility-seeing magical snot wad?
And Clockwork Soul? Well, I guess the artificer needs to have someone to keep him company on the lightning train…
Optional Warlock Rules
I’m not inclined to bash on new Pact of the Tome invocations, because so far there haven’t been many particularly good things for tome warlocks. Gift of the Protectors, however, will stop party members from dying when they otherwise would, essentially granting the half-orc Relentless Endurance trait to everyone (although only the first to fall actually gets to use it). Considering the infrequency with which PC’s are ever actually reduced to 0 HP, this seems excessive. Of course, I’m a PC-killer DM, so you can take that with a dash of salt.
The whole bit with the genie patron where you can vanish (perhaps with friends) into your magic genie bottle is rather bizarre. I’m not entirely clear on whether people in the bottle are safe from harm, or whether a solid stomp on said bottle would cancel any benefits. Either way, this is along the same lines as spells like rope trick and tiny hut, so if you don’t like those, the genie patron is probably not for you either.
Optional Wizard Rules
Probably the biggest game-breaker of everything in Tasha’s is in the Bladesinger subclass, which is a bit different from the Bladesinger in previous books. The issue here is that the Bladesinger’s extra attack feature now allows the character to substitute a cantrip for one of the attacks.
I have a love-hate relationship with cantrips. On the one hand, I’ve been using a house rule since 3E that all of the cantrips (and orisons, when we had those) could be cast for free. A lot of the reason for that was the way spell slots worked: it used to be that wizards had to prepare exactly which spells they thought they were going to need beforehand. Basically, if you had four first-level spell slots, you might choose to prepare magic missile twice, acid arrow once, and knock once (please don’t worry if these aren’t actually first-level spells in 3E, because I’m not looking that up and it doesn’t matter to the example anyway). So you prepare your spells, and maybe it turns out that having three magic missiles would have been better, because you didn’t actually need knock or acid arrow. Awkward, but having unlimited cantrips helped, because they were basically the utility spells.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when 5E came out with unlimited cantrips. I was even happy to see that there were attack cantrips, because frankly requiring wizards to have a crossbow or something to plink away at enemies with when they were out of spells was pretty silly. But then my happiness was ruined, because it turns out that the attack cantrips get stronger as your spellcaster levels up.
We don’t need to get into exactly why I don’t agree with that here, but suffice it to say that I am firmly of the opinion that your attack cantrips are there to avoid the stupidity of the wizard taking pot shots at enemies with a crossbow that he’s not even very good with. A crossbow that does about a d8 of damage. Why do we have attack cantrips that are dealing out three and four times as much damage for higher-level casters? More to the point here, why are we allowing Tasha’s bladesingers to use a cantrip as part of their multiattack?
Take a look at your bladesinger’s melee weapon attack damage, let’s say at about 6th level, when the extra attack ability starts. You’ll be using a one-handed melee weapon, which would be a d8 worth of damage, plus maybe 2 extra points of damage from your DEX modifier. Your average damage for the weapon attack would be 7 points of damage, with a maximum of 10 points of damage. Shocking grasp, which is probably your best melee cantrip, will do 2d8 worth of damage, which averages out to 10 points of damage, with a maximum of 16 points of damage. So already, the average damage from the cantrip is better than the maximum damage from the weapon.
Fast forward here to 11th level, when cantrips increase in power again. You still have that same weapon, with the same d8 of damage, and probably 4 points of damage extra from DEX. You might even have a +1 or +2 weapon by this point, so your average damage will be 11 points or so, and your max damage is 14 points. Your cantrip now deals 3d8 damage, which averages to 15 points, with a max of 24 points. And so it goes.
The reason why this places the bladesinger in such an advantageous position over other melee combatants is that characters with multiple weapon attacks will never come close to a bladesinger’s attack-plus-cantrip. When you look at the numbers from above, your 6th-level non-caster with 2 weapon attacks is going to get an average of 14 and a maximum of 20 points of damage per round. Your bladesinger with a weapon and a cantrip will get an average of 17 and a maximum of 26 points of damage per round.
The probability curves here are a little different due to the flat bonus added to the weapon die roll, but I think you’ve gotten the idea. Should bladesingers get a second weapon attack? I would say that it’s reasonable, based on how most martial classes get one. Should they be able to substitute in a cantrip? Absolutely not. Bladesingers can fight as a martial class, or as a spellcasting class, but not both at once.
Feats, Feats, and Feats
The most pronounced overall problem with the feats in Tasha’s are that many of them will allow characters to use another class’ features. While I disagree with this from a perspective where character creation is part of the game and allowing a lot of exceptions removes the necessity to balance options when creating characters, there’s also a more mechanical game-breaking issue.
When you allow feats like Eldritch Adept, Fighting Initiate, and Metamagic Adept into the game, you’ve opened up vast possibilities for skill and spell synergies. There are too many possibilities here to even begin to list, but here’s an example that literally took me three minutes to come up with.
Tempest Cleric plus Metamagic Adept
The Tempest Domain for clerics includes a channel divinity feature that lets the cleric use the maximum damage (instead of rolling for damage) for spells that deal lightning or thunder damage.
Add the Metamagic Adept feat, and the tempest cleric can have the Transmuted Spell metamagic option, which allows most elemental damage types to be exchanged for another elemental damage type.
So, your tempest cleric can now cast a spell like Fire Storm, which is on the cleric list to begin with, use the metamagic to exchange fire damage for lightning damage, and then channel divinity to max out the spell damage (which is conveniently now of a type that the channel divinity applies to). Your fire storm is now a lightning storm, and will deal a cool 70 points of damage within a fairly large area of effect, guaranteed.
Now, is it unreasonable that tempest clerics should actually have access to some high-level lightning spells? I think that it’s perfectly reasonable. The point I’m making here is that mixing abilities from two separate classes creates unpredictable results… and we’re not even talking about multiclassing, which has its own drawbacks to balance out the possible unusual synergies. If a player wanted to make a multiclass character that was a tempest cleric and wizard, in order to get spells like chain lightning to use with channel divinity, that would involve careful planning as well as a certain amount of sacrifice while the needed levels were being gained. Being able to just add a feat creates a class ability buffet, where you can just pick and choose.
Maybe you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound so bad. Why shouldn’t players be able to optimize these sort of skill synergies into their characters if they want to? I could go on about meaningful decision processes and the dangers of min-maxing stats and all the rest, but I won’t. DM’s, if you want to have other class abilities available for PC’s by using feats, it’s your game. Go for it… but don’t go in blind.
The other feat to watch out for here is Poisoner. Being able to make poisons is very useful. Being able to ignore poison resistance when dealing damage is extremely useful. Being able to poison your weapons and ammunition as a bonus action is ridiculous. Poisoning weapons has always been a thing, but it was a strategic move: because it took time to set them up, poisoned weapons had to be used carefully to get a meaningful effect. One of my favorite PC’s from previous games was a rogue who wore a bandolier of daggers, each with a different poison applied to it, so she could draw the right dagger and stab in the right poison for the moment. The poisoner feat eliminates the need to choose and use your poisons carefully, in favor of just slathering them all over everything on the spur of the moment, and the potential for damage and inflicting status effects needs to be carefully weighed by the DM before letting this feat into the game.
As mentioned earlier, any magic item with the “artifact” type should be automatically suspect. My favorite game-breaking artifact from Tasha’s is definitely the Crook of Rao. Whenever you use its primary feature, which is to banish fiends, you have a ten percent chance of ending the world as we know it. Iggwilv’s Curse releases one fiend every six seconds for the next 18 years… that’s a grand total of 1,576,800 fiends. Unless, of course, there weren’t that many in the Crook already… maybe. It’s hard to parse.
As far as non-artifact items, you’ll want to be careful with the different shards that can be attuned by sorcerers. Metamagic is a powerful ability on its own, but the shards also create another effect whenever metamagic is used, and those effects are not insubstantial.
Also, the feywild shard brings the Wild Magic Table into the mix, even if the sorcerer is from a different sorcerous origin. If the sorcerer is from the wild magic origin, it’s actually not terribly clear what the difference is between feywild shard rolls and just regular wild magic rolls, except that regular wild magic rolls are sort of optional and shard wild magic rolls seem to be mandatory.
So, the way it breaks down seems to be something like this. The sorcerer casts a sorcerer spell with metamagic, at which point the DM can require a d20 roll to decide whether to roll on the Wild Magic table (hereafter the WMT), because the spell was cast. Let’s suppose that the DM does call for the roll, even though it seems to be optional. There’s a d20 roll, and a natural 1 comes up, at which point we roll on the WMT. Some random thing happens. But because metamagic was used, there’s another mandatory roll on the WMT from the feywild shard, and without the d20 roll to see if it’s needed.
A lot of the WMT effects last for one minute, so it’s possible to have several of them going at once. After all, the normal wild magic mechanic requires a roll on the WMT about five percent of the time, but the shard requires one every single time. So, have fun keeping track of all of the ongoing effects you’re going to have stacking up. Or just leave out the feywild shard.
Another questionable shard is the outer essence shard, where the good option does bonus healing and the evil option does bonus damage, to the tune of 3d6 points. When you use the twinned spell metamagic, you essentially have the sorcerer casting three spells instead of two, and 3d6 is a substantial amount of either healing or damage.
The Reveler’s Concertina
The reason that this item is on the list is because Otto’s irresistible dance is one of those spells that’s a little too good. Essentially, it incapacitates a creature of the caster’s choice without a saving throw, with the only exception being for creatures that can’t be charmed. Which means that the ancient dragon can be doing a goofy dance in place as soon as the spell is cast. Sure, the dragon can make a WIS save on its next turn to end the effect, but there’s no way to avoid the effect when it’s cast.
Also, the whole notion of monsters doing a silly dance is well… silly. My group got a laugh and a half when irresistible dance was cast on a remorhaz, but the spell basically strips otherwise impressive enemies of their dignity, and that makes the victory less meaningful. Not that any of that will break your game mechanically, but tone is important too.
Anyway, back to the concertina. It casts the irresistible dance spell, which is a problem of its own, but it also bears consideration that irresistible dance is a 6th-level spell. That can be a bit much to cast from an object, when you consider the level of spells that can be cast from most magical objects.
Conclusion, and Exhortation
That’ll wrap it up for my assessment of game-breaking rules and mechanics in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Please remember to read “game-breaking” in a gentle way, because there’s a difference between a game-breaking feature and a broken feature. In the sense in which I’m using it, game-breaking just means that a rule or option is likely to upset the balance of power and ability in the game.
When I’m talking about power and ability balance, there are two types to think about. The first is the overall balance between the party and their enemies. If that balance gets seriously tipped in the favor of the PC’s, then the feeling that the party might fail can be lost. Without a sense of danger, there’s no sense of achievement when the party wins a battle. It’s the reason why we DM’s tend to not throw low-level enemies at high-level characters: slaughtering goblins and kobolds just isn’t much fun, because you can’t lose. One of the things that breaks games, in the context of this article, is when high-level characters can defeat high-level enemies without any trouble. If you can snuff dragons and pit fiends without any problems, that erodes the overall danger of the world. And again, without the possibility of failure, there’s no joy in victory, and the game breaks.
The second type of balance has nothing to do with the strength of the enemies that the party faces. 5E is heavily weighted in the favor of the player characters, and the party is essentially going to win all of the battles they ever get into. That’s why some of the powers and abilities that have to be in balance are the powers and abilities of the PC’s. If one of the PC’s ends up much more powerful than the others (or even than just one of the others), that makes the game less fun for everyone else. Nobody likes a glory hog, and that’s where games really get broken.
Now, having said all of that, if you’re a player and you started reading this article to find out how to put one over on your DM, I hope you won’t. Messing up the sense of danger for the party, and upstaging your gaming friends, are horrible things to do. Don’t be a horrible person and take advantage of the system… especially if you couldn’t figure out how to do it on your own. Just don’t.
And, for the DM’s out there, I know that it can seem harsh to keep players from using new rules, and mechanics, and items. Everyone has something new and shiny that they want to play with, and it’s no fun to tell your players that they can’t play with their favorite thing. After all, it’s in an official book, right? Well, no, not right. You need to be the responsible one who keeps the balance that keeps the game fun and entertaining. Sometimes that means keeping the cookie jar shut.