Customize Your 5E D&D Game with Character Options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted dive into the front half of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything he latest fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons book splits the difference with about half of the content pertaining primarily to player character material and the other half resources for Dungeon Masters. The modular content in this book is dense! The DM tools drew my attention first but the most recent examination put a notion in my mind and I’m curious to see if the Character Options holds any water in this regard. So let’s get into it.
Make a 5E D&D character’s origin your own
When I mentioned the density of each of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything’s modular chunks of content chapter one’s Character Options illustrates this terrifically. Perhaps no other two pages of published content for 5E D&D (or any other edition for the matter) generate as much let’s say discussion. Customizing Your Origin, Changing a Skill and Changing Your Subclass occupy two full pages following the book’s introduction with simple guidelines for new options to help players create the sorts of adventurers they want to play.
One of the more frequent reactions to the material I’ve encountered is disappointment from seasoned players of not only 5E D&D but also longtime D&D enthusiasts who express familiarity with the spirit of these options arisen through experience. They’ll state the idea of modifying what’s presented in the Player’s Handbook and other sources to better represent a culture or individual adventurer is nothing new or groundbreaking — people have been doing this in their games for years or even decades.
In one particular case I suspect this perspective lands on the side of overstatement. But even in this edge case of floating Ability Score Increases the idea of discussing changes to character race or background components with the DM isn’t too wildly outrageous. Some of the same voices I’ve encountered expressing indifference over the character options in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything because they were already doing these sorts of things in their games are the same wishing for more crunchy rules and procedures for this process. So, which is it?
I’m viewing Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything through two lenses and both show me a pretty remarkable collection of content for 5E D&D. One of these views leads me to consider the book incredibly important for exactly the reason some folks find it lacking. All those years of experience through which distinct groups and players develop a lot of these notions on their own doesn’t do everyone not those players any good for starters. Groups who’ve already branched out from the game as presented in the Basic Rules or more commonly the core set of books — PHB, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual — discover how flexible and versatile D&D can be and that’s great. Publishing these ideas in an official source means all the thousands (millions?) of other players who didn’t yet arrive at this point can expand their games in new ways. They certainly could have already of course but now there’s material from the creators explicitly pointing in this direction.
The other and more important view shows Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything truly is a magical tome. Here’s why. While I continue to deep dive into the DM tools it dawned on me how much more accessible this makes the DM role in 5E D&D. Session Zero, Sidekicks, Parleying with Monsters, Supernatural Regions, Magical Phenomena, Natural Hazards and Puzzles explore lots of different ways a DM can employ drama and tension, problem solving and changing circumstances as well as get a group started in the first place. My guess (and great hope!) is after players absorb all the cool new subclasses they’ll grow curious about the back half of the book and they’ll feel encouraged to take up the DM role themselves. On the flip side those players who most often take the DM seat can find some support and inspiration from the character options too.
What are all these character options everyone’s been talking so much about?
Customizing your origin in 5E D&D
The PHB presents race as one of the components affecting your ability scores and traits along with cues for building a character’s story including cultural tendencies. The book points out how these details are suggestions and how adventurers can deviate widely from the norm for their race. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything elaborates on this concept and describes race as a representation of a character’s fantasy species combined with cultural assumptions.
Customizing your origin following the optional guidelines in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything addresses four mechanical areas comprising racial traits. The first — and most widely talked about — are Ability Score Increases. This optional rule provides ultimate flexibility to assign increases however the player wishes. This seems to have evoked strange reactions from players who feel this option invalidates character race. “Everyone will only play mountain dwarves!” is something I’ve seen touted as evidence of this (because they get two +2 increases). The weirder flex is a derisive notion that race doesn’t matter as much now because people will simply choose the one with the “better” traits without considering the number crunching finesse of working around static Ability Score Increases. Good?
Look, players whose concern lies purely in the mechanical output of any game element more than likely weren’t too concerned with the narrative implications of their character’s race anyway. Someone playing a Volo’s Guide to Monsters era orc wizard probably isn’t too worried about optimization for example. But perhaps now these same players might discover opportunities for a lot of different characters they’d otherwise never tried.
In contrast — and this is where the appeal for DMs comes in — the options for customizing your origin present exciting worldbuilding implications. Players can follow these guidelines to help realize their vision for the kind of individual they want to play and a DM can just as easily use them for worldbuilding. Maybe the elves in their world are typically hearty and intuitive with higher Constitution and Wisdom bonuses while halflings are densely muscled and charming reflected in generally higher Strength and Charisma.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything puts languages, proficiencies and even personality traits on the table when it comes to customizing your origin. The last of those is particularly noteworthy for being part of the rules for social interaction in 5E D&D. Did you think a character’s personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws were all purely fluff? Think again.
Putting the power into the hands of players to think about character race in their games on a macro and micro level is huge for 5E D&D. Bog standard elves, dwarves, halflings and the like can work perfectly well for a campaign setting with these options helping players translate their imagination into game mechanics. An individual player’s notion of their specific character might even inspire a DM to include a whole new culture into their world, perhaps collaborating closely with the player to develop ideas. This is fantastic!
One last thing about this majority section of the character options is the Custom Lineage sidebar. If a player does not take interest in any of the race options available in all of 5E D&D a custom lineage gives guidelines for controlling a wholly unique origin. If I’m honest this is one area where Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything fell flat for me. Something more akin to the species customization options in Hyperlanes (a wonderful science fiction hack of 5E) would have been really neat to see. Customizing Your Origin makes this part of character creation incredibly flexible and basically makes distinct racial traits the juice. I can’t imagine any player would find none of the race options appealing and opt for this but nevertheless it’s there as desired.
Changing a skill in 5E D&D
This very brief section of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything feels like a quality of life option more than anything. Locking a character into choices made before a campaign begins rarely caused any frustration in my experience. But going back to what I mentioned earlier allowing for a change of skill because it doesn’t fit, never comes up or simply isn’t very much fun is something I’ve seen countless times. Now there’s an official source suggesting it’s okay to do these sorts of things. I’ve got to think this is a revelation for no small number of players out there.
Frankly I would love to have seen a simple second paragraph suggesting some narrative opportunities related to changing a skill. A character who begins with proficiency in Animal Handling who wishes to change this to Medicine can employ this option to swap it out when they reach a level granting the Ability Score Increase feature but what does this mean? Were they a folk hero who hasn’t experienced the same interaction with animals since starting on the road to adventure but developed an interest in physiology along the way?
Changing your subclass in 5E D&D
Yet another case of “we were already doing this” now in official published form I’ve seen this cause some pearl clutching here and there too. The main concern I’ve encountered is players theoretically switching their subclass choice once a particular feature becomes obsolete. I don’t have any examples to share because none of the outcry I’ve seen mentions anything specific either and I can’t think of any myself.
For me this optional rule makes tremendous sense. There’s a lot of subclasses in 5E D&D now and it feels very punitive to insist a player continue a campaign with a character they don’t enjoy. Eldritch Knight can sound really awesome when a fighter reaches 3rd level but maybe a player finds the mix of magic and swordplay uninteresting or not very useful to the party as a whole. On the other hand Purple Dragon Knight feels like a better fit for their campaign of courtly intrigue.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything presents two paths for changing subclass. One of them assumes a natural transition achieved when a character dedicates time and effort to learning a new discipline. This training time might take place during downtime, between adventures or however the player and DM decide. (This makes an excellent opportunity for roleplaying too!) I love how the book mentions incorporating a quest into the training time too.
The second and equally exciting possibility is a sudden change. Profound discoveries and significant life altering events can bring about immediate changes and the book shares a few examples to spark the imagination.
Both methods for changing your subclass touch on representing these modifications in the game, which is great. Again this is an area I’d like to see more of but introducing the concept at all is a success. And hey! It gives creators like Nerdarchy space to expand on how these options can add fun new qualities to your games so I’m not going to complain too much. Believe it or not our Patreon rewards for December 2020 incorporate the idea of changing your subclass right into the module we’ve been developing for a few months now. Dark Paths: Thought Thief presents a new Roguish Archetype for stealing thoughts and memories taking the spotlight through a cruel villain. Adventurers who encounter this particular module might face an opportunity to immediately change into the Thought Thief subclass on the spot…
5E D&D Character Options and you
I want to hear from you. Do you like the new character options in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Were you already doing some of these things in your game, or has your group’s minds been blown by the possibilities? If you’re primarily a player have you looked at the Dungeon Master’s Tools or otherwise been inspired to run your first 5E D&D game? If you’re usually a Dungeon Master have you discovered by worldbuilding or adventure inspiration in the book? Let me know in the comments and as always, stay nerdy!