Opting for 5E D&D Character Options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Hey folks! With the release of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons players and Dungeon Masters alike have been given a number of exciting new character options for Customizing Your Origin and creating a Custom Lineage. Strangely these new options seem to be met with mixed responses but like any optional rules they are merely a source of inspiration and variation to be adopted or not as individual groups of players see fit.
Using Custom Lineage for 5E D&D worldbuilding
Many of these options represent things in use at tables for ages across the editions. In a number of cases these options have been present in published rules for previous editions as well. D&D has a long pedigree and from the very beginning the game has been written with the idea players should make the game their own. The character options in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything really help the new generation of the game come up to speed with decades of acquired gaming wisdom from the past. One of the best things these new optional rules do is to provide a framework and a language for players to explore their own optional choices and go beyond what has been published in the book.
While the character options in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything seem to be written with individual player options in mind they also present some great options for worldbuilding as well. I put together a few options for customizing your origin in 5E D&D. The first is an urbanized high elf, which could represent all elves who have spent multiple generations in a city or fit the background of a single character. Next is a variant hill dwarf representing a population of dwarves adapted to a forest culture. The last examples are derived from common literary and other media tropes.
City elf (variant high elf)
You grew up in the elven enclave of a large city of many people and many cultures. While you grew up with your own people you may have never seen the great forest kingdoms and the wildlands, instead knowing them only through the teachings of your people. Life in the city has necessitated new ways and skills from your ancestral ways.
Ability Score Increase
Life in urban environments meant less of a need for fleet footedness though the grace of your species remains. Mingling and trading with so many other species in such a confined space led to your developing a natural affinity and charm, aided by the common perception of your ancestry.
Substitution. This variant elf trades the normal +2 Dexterity for a +2 Charisma and reassigns the normal +1 to another ability score granted by a subrace to Dexterity to reflect the diminished but still naturally graceful abilities of the elves living in cities over generations.
Languages remain unchanged. Your people have kept their cultural roots and still speak their own Elvish language as well as the common tongue. You may still choose an extra language. This will usually be one of the languages you have encountered living in the city.
Living in the city has made knowing the ways of the bow and blade less important. While self defense is always a necessary ability no matter where you live, your urbanized kin have moved toward weapons more polite in the context of city living. In addition, living among the hustle and bustle of the city has dulled your once keen senses.
Substitutions. Instead of the normal Elf Weapon Training you now have proficiency in longsword and shortsword. Longbow and short bow proficiencies have been replaced by the choice of a tool kit and a gaming set to reflect your trade and your pastimes. Instead of the keen senses normally possessed by elves of all sorts, you have developed a keen sense for the people around you giving you proficiency in Insight.
Your elven blood remains and with it so does your affinity for and the traditions of teaching magic. You still retain your ability to see in darkness. Darkvision, Fey Ancestry and Cantrip features remain unchanged.
Forest dwarf (variant hill dwarf)
Long ago your people moved from the mountains to the hills and then into the forested glens and lowlands. As time went by they retained their hearty nature and their stoic work ethic but these were turned to the mastery of wood rather than stone.
Ability Score Increase
Having adapted to your forest home has done nothing to diminish your dwarven fortitude but becoming accustomed to the tangle of the underbrush and climbing of trees has made you more agile than your more alpine kin. You retain your +2 to Constitution.
Substitutions. This variant dwarf trades the normal +1 to Wisdom for a +1 to Dexterity to reflect the adaptation to their woodland environment.
Your languages do not change. You still speak Common and Dwarvish.
A life in the forests and working with wood has changed your people. Left behind are the ringing hammers and picks of your kin, replaced by the chopping of axes of all manner and size and weapons bearing a striking resemblance to those used in cutting brush and trimming branches.
Substitutions. You retain proficiency in battleaxe and handaxe. Your proficiencies in light hammer and warhammer are replaced by proficiency with greataxe and sickle, both weapons of the forests. Your tool proficiencies are now selected from smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies or woodcarver’s tools.
Forest living has done little to change your sturdy dwarven character. You retain your Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience and Dwarven Toughness.
Substitutions. While not expressly stated in the guidelines for custom origins as written in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything you now have an ability called Woodcraft which functions identically to Stonecunning except it now pertains to woodwork, carpentry and carvings made of wood rather than stone. This change is made in the spirit of the rules and not so much by the letter of the rule.
Weak but skilled
Sometimes a customized origin might represent a fantasy trope more than a subrace as the examples above. There are a number of these tropes but one of the most common is the weak, but skilled trope often used to depict heroes who are less physically able in some way but superior or gifted in more cerebral pursuits. Raistlin from Dragonlance is one such character and to some degree Loki is the godly equivalent of this trope. In the TV series Vikings, Ivar The Boneless fits into this trope. Such a character can be built by customizing an existing character race or by using the Custom Lineage option.
Ability Score Increase
In this trope consider swapping out physical ability score bonuses for bonuses in Intelligence, Wisdom and on occasion Charisma.
Where appropriate characters built to this trope should have as many Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma based skills as possible. Trading weapon proficiencies for tool proficiencies is also advisable to make the character as learned, cunning and crafty as possible. If the DM allows it might be worth considering exchanging weapon proficiencies for other skills or languages. While not rules as written this should not tip the balance of play too much and is still keeping with the spirit of the options presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
If you are using the Custom Lineage rules try to select feats to build upon this theme. Feats granting skills, spells or magical abilities are recommended. Feats granting special resistances or abilities beyond skills and spells but not specifically combat or physical benefits are also good for this trope.
Eldritch Adept, Elemental Adept, Fade Away, Fey Touched, Healer, Keen Mind, Linguist, Lucky, Magic Initiate, Metamagic Adept, Observer, Poisoner, Prodigy, Resilient, Ritual Caster, Shadow Touched, Skill Expert, Skilled, Skulker, Spell Sniper, Telekinetic, Telepathic, War Caster.
A variation on the weak, but skilled trope is the gifted humanoid. This trope varies by applying a much greater degree or cunning, intellect or even charm to a humanoid species than typical. To achieve this variation use any humanoid race of your choosing and put a high score in their signature physical ability score (Strength for orcs, Dexterity for kobolds and so on) then modify their +2 Ability Score Increase to apply to one of their mental ability scores. This should produce a character who is smart and physically capable. You can reinforce this by changing as many weapon and armor proficiencies to skills using Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma or to tool proficiencies.