Come to that Fantastic Note with College of Creation from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted strike a cosmic chord to discuss the College of Creation Bard College for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. When it comes to storytelling potential this Bard College from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything hits the ground running with extremely evocative introductory text. This flavorful section even folds some new lore into the D&D multiverse through the concept of the Song of Creation, which points to legendary draconic entities Bahamut and Tiamat as the first singers of this cosmic music. While my approach to 5E D&D starts with story more than mechanics I’m discovering the latter impacts my perspective more than it used to, at least as we continue these deep dives into the subclasses found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. So far they’ve all been oozing with storytelling potential but in many cases the mechanics either fall flat or illustrate power creep. I’m curious to see where the College of Creation falls so let’s get into it.
Storytelling through mechanics of 5E D&D
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything brings two new Bard Colleges into 5E D&D. College of Eloquence first appeared as official content in Mythic Odysseys of Theros and we covered it already. Like all new 5E D&D subclasses the College of Creation also began as Unearthed Arcana along with Unity Domain clerics and Clockwork Soul sorcerers and of course we shared our impressions of those options too. Back then College of Creation only offered three features and now there’s four. The extra one I suspect developed through feedback on how these bards weren’t really creating anything of note. (See what I did there?)
I mentioned in the initial preview from Unearthed Arcana how this Bard College immediately makes me think of one of the best comic book series ever — Red Rocket 7 by Mike Allred. This holds true today but at the same time my perspectives about 5E D&D have changed a bit since musing on this over a year ago. Part of this changed view includes feeling like the game is transitioning into a niche game within the roleplaying game genre as a storytelling game. I’ve explored this idea deeper in the context of the Fey Wanderer Ranger Archetype and Path of Wild Magic Primal Path.
“Storytelling games de-emphasize rules in favor of creating a believable story and immersive experience for all involved. I don’t know if this sort of thing is ever discussed internally at WotC but the anecdotal evidence I see through interactions with the D&D community (and in this job it’s quite heavy!) shows me this is the case for many players. Based on the tremendous growth of the game during this 5E D&D era I can’t argue with the expansive variety of playstyles out there. And while I’m far removed from being a crunch enthusiast it does seem strange to me and a little disappointing considering the vast array of other RPGs out there.”
College of Creation continues to illustrate this point. Where it lands on flavor adds fun new dimensions to a 5E D&D experience but under some pretty specific circumstances. In addition this subclass really blurs the line between player driven mechanics and Dungeon Master fiat. Two of the class features (one of which simply expands the scope of the other) really rely heavily on DM involvement to implement. This makes me wary for two reasons. On one hand I feel pretty sure players will abuse and exploit the feature to the dismay of DMs and possibly the other players too. In contrast because it’s so open to interpretation and DM permission I can easily see it not being useful or having much impact in a similar way to illusion magic.
Another College of Creation feature allows bards to exert magical control over existing inanimate objects, which at first confused me since there’s no creation involved. After thinking more about it though I can see how these bards’ keen awareness of the Song of Creation lets them manipulate the cosmic frequency in all things and control it so I’m cool with this feature now. In fact because most of the other features come across in a very kludgy way I circled back around on this one and decided I’d have rather seen this aspect of the Bard College at the forefront of their suite of features. As it stands my takeaway is there’s a disconnect between the incredibly evocative and flavorful introduction and the mechanical features offered through the College of Creation.
For the narrow range of 5E D&D players for whom this Bard College holds appeal from a storytelling perspective I suspect in practice it’s a lot of fun. Since so much of these features leave plenty of room for interpretation of how they manifest in the game I’m sure lots of players will experience wonderful moments as College of Creation bards. But I would steer other sorts of players towards alternative bard options unless a character is dipping into bard as a multiclass option and only gaining 3-4 levels in the class basically just to get the core bard stuff and an terrific enhancement for Bardic Inspiration.
Perhaps my overall less than stellar view of the College of Creation stems from my very first impression of the subclass as thematically reminiscent of Red Rocket 7. I expected a much deeper connection to this Song of Creation along with more quirky and well defined mechanics. I’m definitely not picking up the “teach the mountains to sing and dance” vibe and it seems weird dwarves would be drawn to this Bard College too given their penchant for creating works with their own two hands. If I’m honest I dig the connection to Bahamut because I think Bahamut is really cool but nothing in the mechanics reflects this either.
We’ve still got quite a few subclass options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything to go and I hope the remaining ones leave me excited to play them more as I felt with the Rune Knight and Fey Wanderer. You’ll have to keep an eye on the site to find out. In the meantime if you’re interested in the specific College of Creation features I’ve been musing about and you didn’t get your fill from the video above here’s the breakdown along with some commentary:
College of Creation features
- Mote of Potential. For the bard focused on supporting their team this feature sets them on a great path. Bardic Inspiration is already a fantastic class feature and this gives it a major boost. The standard benefits apply but in addition when the inspired creature uses a Bardic Inspiration die while one of these Tiny intangible and invulnerable motes orbits them an extra benefit takes place too. The benefit depends on the type of roll — ability check, attack roll or saving throw — and grants a reroll, extra damage or temporary hit points respectively. I like this feature quite a bit for the versatility it grants Bardic Inspiration especially since I’m a huge fan of support style characters. What I don’t like in a broader sense is how it sort of steps on the toes of the College of Valor bard by granting extra damage (the only additional perk for those bards’ Bardic Inspiration) as well as two other options.
- Performance of Creation. Creating a mote of potential was child’s play compared to this feature allowing bards to create nonmagical items out of thin air. There’s limitations to the size, value and duration of the item’s existence but within those parameters it’s wide open to interpretation and usefulness. Features like this one with somewhat vague mechanics, interpretive language and implicit Dungeon Master buy in seem like they’d either wind up rarely used by players or on the flip side grossly abused.
- Animating Performance. Did I mention something about abusing class features? College of Creation bards can use their musical magic to bring Large or smaller nonmagical items to life and control them for one hour. The feature includes a stat block for this Dancing Item, which has stats affected by the creator’s bard level so there’s some calculations involved. Well worth noting is the text does not indicate the item cannot be worn or held and I can’t see or think of anything described in this feature to prevent a bard from, say, transforming an enemy’s plate armor into a Dancing Item. All of a sudden a College of Creation bard takes on a bit more sinister light huh?
- Creative Crescendo. When College of Creation bards reach their capstone this feature empowers their Performance of Creation and now they can create multiple items at once. This feels quite underwhelming for a high level subclass capstone and also suffers from the same drawbacks noted for Performance of Creation, the feature it enhances. The lack of discrete application and overall weakness in comparison to other Bard College capstones doesn’t fill me with inspiration. What am I missing?
College of Creation bards seem best played by 5E D&D players looking for strong interaction with the physical world and a DM who is on board for some unusual scenarios created through their features. While I dig the flavor presented from the introductory lore I’m not feeling it represented through the mechanics and without buy in from the DM to incorporate these elements into a game it would really lose a lot. For a more theatrical take on a Bard College including some magical legerdemain I think our own College of Mirrors hits the mark I’d be looking for in this regard. You can find this inside Dark Paths: Pool of Bliss here and remember when you sign up for Nerdarchy the Newsletter one of the things you’ll receive is $9.99 in store credit for whatever you want. Learn more about it and snag a couple of free gifts right here.
*Featured image — A dragonborn College of Creation bard animates a statue to dance in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]