In the Greyhawk campaign setting, a wizard of great power and renown exists. Her story is wrapped in magic, mystery and demons. Tasha, or to use her birth name, Iggwilv, was raised by the demon Mother of Witches Baba Yaga and became friends (and sometimes enemies) with other legendary adventurers like fellow author Mordenkainen. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is the next big expansion for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, bringing more character choices and other options that can be utilised within your world to give your players a whole new experience, complete with notes from the witch herself. In her own words, she has “sought out mysteries and wonders that beg for descriptions” and encourages you to “summon your courage, and take a peek.”
Chapter 1. Character Creation
We all have to build a character at some point. They may be a prominent NPC. Or perhaps just a regular old character that you want to take into a world of your Dungeon Master and see what happens. Usually, they kill some creatures and shenanigans happen. The Player’s Handbook gives you the building blocks for creating your character, by offering the original classes and races, and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything provided even more subclass options for your character build to give you just what you wanted. Now though, Tasha’s gives you even more subclass options and addresses a common complaint.
Starting characters in the Player’s Handbook and other books are given specific racial bonuses. Some are generic abilities that offer some support in the campaign, like the half-orc’s Relentless Endurance trait. Others are pretty much useless. (I’m looking at you, Stonecunning!) They also include the ability score improvements, which some players found restrictive, including me. It effectively pigeonholed certain races into specific classes; the racial bonuses meant it wasn’t mechanically worthwhile making a half-orc wizard who has more muscles than brains.
However, Wizards of the Coast have rectified that with Tasha's Cauldron Of Everything. They have now introduced the option to lean away from the archetypes by letting players switch the increases granted by a race to any of the six stats you want. Want to play an elf who grew up among dwarves so had to swing a hammer? Go for it! A wizened old goliath druid whose muscles have faded but their mind is as sharp as ever? Heck yeah! You get the idea. And it’s not just the ability scores that are now optional. You can change up the proficiencies your character may have gained from just growing up so you can customise your character just the way you want it. Languages, skills, weapons, armour and tools can be swapped as and when you need them.
And if the whole race thing is too restrictive for you, you can just throw it out the window and play a custom lineage. “Build what you want” is screamed at you and I’m personally grateful for it.
Oh, and that’s just the first two pages of the chapter. There are 70 pages of new subclasses. Updated from the original Unearthed Arcana, Tasha’s Cauldron Of Everything giveS a greater variety of characters that you can play. AND! The Artificer class is included too, letting you play that tinkerer you’ve always wanted. Finally, a number of feats are also included in this book. This gives more upgrading options when you hit those key milestones of levelling. These include letting characters dabble with other classes without having to multiclass, which is significant for the players who like the idea of multiclassing but don’t want to be limited with the mechanics of the whole new class and restricting the abilities of their primary class. This is very welcome news and I’m excited to see where this will lead in the future.
Chapter 2. Group Patrons
We all need to tie our characters together somehow. It might be by a sudden dragon attack, a hoard of evil dwarves or a simple drinking contest. This chapter of Tasha’s Cauldron Of Everything gives you a new way to bind your characters into one mostly functioning group – the introduction of patrons. The patrons suggested in the book are there to give you inspiration. Examples include an academy that might need certain materials procured for their class. Or perhaps a sovereign who needs a rival to disappear. Each of the groups listed in the book give certain perks that let you develop your game and your party as they spend more time pleasing their patron. Among the options are guilds, which can be used alongside the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica.
Tying your characters together via a patron is a good way to let them explore the world in specific ways whilst letting them have their own autonomy. They can choose to follow up on missions from a specific place. But also they can also follow up on some clues dropped as you progress through the story and explore on their own. It also gives them an out if they end up too deep in the metaphorical doo-doo that they may have dropped themselves into. I like the attention to detail that is given to each of the possible patrons. The abilities given by each group differ significantly enough to let the players dabble in different campaigns. Gold star here.
Chapter 3. Magical Miscellany
Unsurprisingly in a book written by a witch, there is a whole section devoted to magic. 21 spells and more than 40 items are now newly available in Tasha’s Cauldron Of Everything. This includes my new favourite artefact – the Teeth of Dahlver-Nar. This particular item gives you twenty crumbs of stories and legends wrapped up in a bag of teeth which give a character some incredible buffs. It sounds crazy, but don’t we need a little crazy in our games?
There are also notes on the customisation of spells, in particular, the cosmetics of the spell. My favourite piece of art in this book is a farmer using the Magic Missile spell and those missiles look like chickens. Who doesn’t want such evocative description in their games?!
Chapter 4. Dungeon Master’s Tools
There are tools in Tasha’s Cauldron Of Everything that are designed to help players get through the game with the most enjoyment. From notes on how to run a Session Zero, to establishing safety tools and limits and house rules, these elements are key to integrate into your campaigns.
There may well be some out there who think this isn’t necessary. Sometimes it isn’t. But do you want to be caught in the times when it is? People change and it is always good to open the dialogue so that players feel comfortable raising concerns that touch a little too close to the bone. You also want to build a game to fit the playstyle you and your players want to experience. The opening section of this chapter gives you the tools to open that dialogue.
Something that has been an issue for D&D is the assumption of a party needing to be of a standard size of four to be effective. That doesn’t always work out. People get busy or you can’t get a group together for an extended period of time. This is where the new Sidekick rules come in. It lets your players add to their party an NPC that fits general niches, such as the Expert, the Warrior and the Spellcaster. If your party of three bards needs a little extra muscle, bring in a Warrior to come along and cut down the big bad guys who might be ruining your performance.
These creatures can be any monster in the Monster Manual (or other books with stat blocks) but they must not be higher than a challenge rating of ½. This gives the character room to grow alongside you and not overshadow you. Robin isn’t more powerful than Batman, is he?
Finally, there are hints and tips for how to deal with the motivation of monsters in the world. An example is parleying with them so that it’s not just a murderfest. There are descriptions of how the world will fight back against the players as they stray into various environmental hazards and puzzles that will change a wizard’s tower from a place of learning into an escape room in reverse.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is an excellent addition to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Like Xanathar’s, the newest expansion gives everyone a vast selection of choices. There are a bunch of optional class options I didn’t even cover in the first part of this review. I love this book. I think more choice is a great thing for players, and for me as a permanent Dungeon Master, I love to see how new stories will be formed as a result of my players trying new things. Even doing the same subclass option as another player doesn’t mean the two will be identical.
Being able to customise your character is a really key step and it’s something players have been crying out for. There’s no denying that there are some problematic things that are seen within the original source textbooks. Now we’re looking at them with modern eyes are not ok anymore. By making the step towards variation within races and lineages, we’re opening the door for a new generation of gamers to come in and just play. Diversity is necessary, so let me highly recommend you delve into the Cauldron and pull out everything.
There are some subclasses that are inherently weaker than others, including some of the ones which came before. I get it, not all barbarian subclasses are going to be like the Totem Warrior. This book doesn’t care that the mechanics of certain options feel weaker, it is all about the story. And with the range of content, you can definitely write stories you and your players will remember for years to come.