Navigating Natural Hazards from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Since the release of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons I’ve been captivated by the Dungeon Master’s Tools in chapter 4 of the book. Taking time to let new content and concepts roll around in my mind and really consider the value for all 5E D&D players gave me a deep appreciation for the material. Like the other sections — Session Zero, Sidekicks, Parleying With Monsters, Supernatural Regions, Magical Phenomena and Puzzles — this last bit of content to cover isn’t very long but Natural Hazards comes packed with great ideas and inspiration. So let’s get into it.
Embrace what makes 5E D&D special
One criticism I’ve seen leveled at Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is there’s not enough substance to DM resources, a perspective I find utterly bewildering especially from 5E D&D commentators and influencers. There’s no way text in a book could encompass the fluid quality of 5E D&D or any tabletop RPG and no amount of tables, charts or words of guidance can provide blueprints for a completely smooth, hiccup-less adventure.
What Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything does remarkably well is providing a framework for inspired creativity. The RPG community celebrated 5E D&D’s mantra of rulings over rules when the edition launched and it’s strange to me to see a growing call for more crunchy rules. I can’t help feeling if an entire book devoted to Natural Hazards released it wouldn’t satisfy these folks either. Perhaps players would glom onto deeply complex rules because this provides a path to game the system and then we’d be back to earlier editions, which became a frustrating slog for many DMs.
(Aren’t you glad for these editorial asides in your Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything coverage?)
In the case of natural hazards the material in the book builds on existing content found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to represent perils of exploration and a few specific situations. Avalanches lead the way with guidelines found in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. Other components of wilderness survival from the DMG’s chapter 5: Adventure Environments illustrate different ways to incorporate things like weather, extreme temperatures and altitude. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything adds to this with a handful of scenarios like falling into water or falling onto another creature.
Spell equivalents of natural hazards
My favorite part of the natural hazards section in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is very brief — just a single chart — but speaks volumes to me as a frequent DM and also designer. There’s currently 520 spells in 5E D&D official sources making a tremendous pool of possible effects to simulate natural hazards. The book lists 23 examples along with spell equivalents from chromatic orb to represent ball lightning and gust of wind for a windstorm.
What I dig about this approach is how it sets your mind thinking in a different way. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when there’s tons of mechanics already developed. Rather than spoil what’s inside the book I thought it would be fun to find some other places to plumb for natural hazards or other circumstances in a 5E D&D game. They’re not necessarily natural (in fact several are definitely unnatural or supernatural) or hazardous but the point is you can repurpose pretty much anything in the game. Here’s what I came up with:
- Adrenaline burst (Rage). You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws and resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage
- Deep Relaxation (Song of Rest). If you regain hit points at the end of the short rest by spending one or more Hit Dice you regain an extra 1d6 hit points
- Hallowed Ground (Turn Undead). Each undead within 30 feet must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw it must spend its turns trying to move as far away as it can and it can’t willingly move to a space within 30 feet. It also can’t take reactions.
- Sacred Plants and Wood. Characters have advantage on death saving throws while in a grove of yew, advantage on Strength checks in a grove of ash or oak and advantage on attacks with thrown weapons in a grove of alder.
- Effortless Terrain (Second Wind). You can use a bonus action to regain hit points equal to 1d10 + your character level.
- Dense Foliage (Defect Missiles). You can use your reaction to deflect or catch the missile when you are hit by a ranged weapon attack. When you do so, the damage you take from the attack is reduced by 1d10 + your Dexterity modifier + your character level.
- Tranquil Pool (Divine Sense). You know the location of any celestial, fiend or undead within 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover. You know the type — celestial, fiend, or undead — of any being whose presence you sense but not its identity.
- Abundant Resources (Natural Explorer). When you forage, you find twice as much food as you normally would.
- Unusual Geometry (Sneak Attack). Once per turn you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll.
Like I mentioned these are neither natural nor hazardous (they’re mostly beneficial!) but the point stands. Looking to official sources to provide tools and resources for every potential situation arising in a campaign simply cannot be done, or leads to a frankly unwieldy game system with lots of contention at the table. Instead try embracing the 5E D&D credo of rules over rulings and find creative inspiration for your games throughout all the content we’ve already got. And while you’re doing all that of course stay nerdy!