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“I am super excited about people getting this book, not only because it has been so fun to design this content and develop it, but also because so much of this content we developed in conversation with the community,” Crawford says. “People are going to meet a lot of old friends in this book, because they will have met them before in our Unearthed Arcana process. They were able to give us feedback on those elements, and then we were able to analyze that feedback and incorporate it into the final version.”
New DM Tools
“I’m also excited because the book includes things they haven’t seen before,” he continues. “It includes a bunch of new magic items that I think are gonna knock people’s socks off. It includes, you know, new tools for the DM including the puzzles, the magical environments… just all sorts of goodies. Now that people get all of this tied together, I think it’s a really strong package of new options that I think will enrich D&D games of all sorts.”
The DM Tools chapter kicks off with a full-page portrait of the titular witch, Tasha, playing an intense round of Wizard’s Chess with the famed wizard Mordenkainen.
“Putting in the wizard’s chess in that painting was sort of a little spark of inspiration that occurred when we were writing the art order,” says Crawford. “It was largely inspired by a series of old Dragon Magazine covers that features wizard chess, where the pieces on the board come alive and battle each other. So, that painting is actually a homage to a series of old Dragon Magazine covers.”
The DM Tools chapter also includes rules and suggestions for what are being called “Supernatural Regions.” These otherworldly locations include (among others) haunted realms where restless spirits wander freely, the Lovecraftian nightmare of a world beyond the known sphere of existence, or a delightfully horrifying colony of mimics.
“The Far Realm, as the name implies, is this far off dimension that is outside the great wheel of existence,” Crawford explains. “It’s this mind-bending reality that is not bound by the rules of the rest of the D&D multiverse, and it is that reality that creatures like mind flayers and beholders originally come from. It’s one of the reasons why those creatures are so terrifying to pretty much everybody else in the D&D multiverse. And not just humanoids, you know – even dragons are probably like, ‘Oh no.’ And we have a massive table of different effects that player characters might have to face in a place where that alien dimension has erupted into the material plane.”
“The Haunted Realm is, in some ways, the classic ‘spooky horror area’ that a group might wander into; and just as we did with the Far Realm incursion, here we give DMs a set of mechanical options for spooky things a group of heroes might face if they wander into this place that’s haunted by the unquiet dead or some other disquieting presence. And for both the Haunted Realm, the Far Realm incursion, as well as the other supernatural regions in the book, each one has a set of triggers that we’ve provided where, if one of these triggers occurs, then one of these rules options can click into place. Giving the DM essentially a menu of things that can suddenly cause the haunted region or the Far Realm region to suddenly jump into action. And in each case, those triggers are tailored to the particular supernatural regions so that you really get the sense of being in this place, saturated with a particular type of magic or supernatural power. And those triggers are a mix of story events occurring and mechanical things occurring.
“We love including in most of our books dashes of whimsy, and sometimes the whimsy gets mixed up with the horrifying,” Crawford laughs. “And [the mimic colony] is a great example of the whimsical and the horrifying hanging out together. We just thought it would be delightful – slash terrifying – to have this whole region you wander into and have this dawning horrific realization that everything we’re looking at is a mimic. And so we provide rules for what happens when you discover you’re in a mimic colony. And that even includes providing a set of what are essentially lair actions for the mimic colony itself. We also include in those rules some… subtle enhancements for mimics that are in that colony, like them suddenly gaining the ability to communicate. So you could suddenly discover you’re getting telepathic messages from a chair, which could be played very whimsically in a particular campaign, or could be a source of great fear.”
The Whole Cauldron
Here you have the entire contents of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, covering everything from the new character origin options to magic items, puzzles, and the DM tools detailed above. We talked with Mr. Crawford about a great many aspects of the book, so we’ve included a transcript of our discussion below.
IGN: You and the design team have spoken at length about the new options for players wishing to change the abilities associated with a character’s lineage, but it looks like players can also change their character’s skills and subclasses?
Jeremy Crawford: Changing a skill and changing your subclass are great examples of the fun nuggets we like to include in a book like this that weren’t necessarily in Unearthed Arcana, because we always like there to be a few surprises. People saw a version changing skills back in Unearthed Arcana in our Class Feature Variant article where we explored this as an option, customized for each class, but we decided when finishing the book, it was better to just provide a general rule for everybody.
Changing your subclass, though, is truly something people haven’t seen. We give you concrete guidance on when is a good time to change your subclass, how you might go about it, some comments for the DM on whether some in-world training should be involved in this transformation of your character. This is the kind of thing many DMs let their players already do with their characters, but what we often find is that some DMs are hesitant to allow this sort of liberty unless we, basically, give “official permission” to do it.
So this is really us telling DMs, “It’s okay to let people do this.” You know? If they find their subclass just isn’t playing the way they’d hoped, or if there’s been a major story transformation for their character, changing your subclass is a great way to address those different things… These all go under what I often refer to as the “follow your bliss” umbrella of giving people the permission – and the encouragement – to make tweaks that will enhance their enjoyment of their character and of D&D more broadly.
IGN: So how do you balance that sense of flexibility or experimentation while still writing hard and fast Rules™ for D&D?
JC: So we make things as airtight as possible when you get into, say, a class feature, or a spell – really anything that we expect to go on your character sheet – we design it so that it can be run the way it’s written. But the moment we start giving the DM tools, or we’re talking to the player directly about the decisions they make about the character, that’s where we like to inject these reminders and these encouragements to explore new options, change things, try out homebrew, that kind of thing.
We have this balance that we always maintain between very rigorous, solid design of player-facing game mechanics, while at the same time encouraging playfulness, exploration, modification, when talking to dungeon masters and directly to the player. It’s sort of like, when we’re in a way, talking to the character, which is, you know, “Here are your class features, here are your spells, here’s a feat potentially, that you’re going to take,” then it’s very much, “This must be worded as well as we can, as clearly as we can, be as balanced as well as it can be. This is a rule and it’s meant to be played this way.” But the moment we turn and look to the player and the DM, the mode shifts to, “All right, these rules are here, you can play them the way they’re written, but if you want to explore another direction, if you want to experiment with how this particular class feature functions, go for it.” And we hold both of those perspectives in our minds at the same time.
IGN: Regarding subclasses – of the 30 included in Tasha’s (not including variant class features or new options for existing subclasses), 22 are making the jump from playtest material to Official Subclass. What determines which subclasses get to formally become part of the D&D pantheon?
JC: When we’re first concepting a subclass as a possible addition to the game, we’re typically looking at what I refer to as “functional gaps” for a class. And what I mean by that is, we’re looking for places where a kind of area of functionality is not currently addressed by another subclass in the game.
IGN: Like giving players who typically focus on melee combat a way to try chaos magic with the Barbarian’s Path of Wild Magic?
JC: Yeah – we also look for story gaps, where there might be an archetype associated with a class that we’re not serving particularly well yet. So we think, “Oh, we need to design a new subclass to really dig into this particular archetype.” A great example of this would be the [Fighter’s] Psi Warrior. Until Tashas, we had not done a fighter powered by psionic energy yet. This is a great example of a story archetype that we wanted to address because it’s something that has appeared in D&D before.
We then send out our drafts to the community through Unearthed Arcana to get their impressions. We want to find out: “Does this option resonate with you? Does it excite you? Do you notice things in here that you love, and are there some things that you’d love to see improved?” We then take all of that feedback and we analyze it, and we look for ways that we can improve each of the options… We’ll then take that and make improvements, but then – in some cases – we’ll get feedback on something where the message we’re getting is, “People liked this, but they want a lot changed about it.” And in cases like that, we’ll then sometimes release yet another version of it in Unearthed Arcana. You saw that with the genie, where we had an initial version called The Noble Genie, and then a revised version that we released later in Unearthed Arcana called simply The Genie.
And then, after all of those rounds of playtest analysis, game balancing, editing the text, et cetera, then the new subclass – or spell, or Feat, or other new game option – gets to finally come home and be in a book like Tasha’s.
IGN: Were there any subclasses that didn’t make the jump to Official Material in Tasha’s?
JC: Not many! This past year and a half of Unearthed Arcana generated mostly positive feedback, so there were very few casualties in this design process. One of the ones that comes to mind is the Onomancy Wizard option, the “True Names” wizard. It wasn’t a [mechanical] balance reason that caused it not to make it in, it was simply because the community told us, “Eh, we don’t need to see any more of this.”
Our general goal whenever we’re refining anything for the game is – and this is for every class – we want to make new options as easy to use as possible. We want them to be fun and interesting, but not to slow down play too much […] I think [the Onomancy wizard] was a mix of complexity that wasn’t balanced by enough fun, and people have conflicting notions of what true names are and how they should function, not only in D&D, but in a fantasy world in general. So, there was also some static about the very archetype itself.
IGN: I see a lot of cantrips from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide in the Spells section. Are those simple reprints or have there been updates made to them?
JC: When we decided to bring in the Bladesinging subclass for the wizard into this book and remove the [Forgotten Realms*]-specific elements of it – which includes removing the requirement that a person be an elf or a half-elf to be a member of that subclass, so we’re very officially opening the subclass up to everybody – we decided that if we’re going to bring in Bladesinging, then we should bring in the cantrips that we originally designed to go along with that subclass. So that’s the main reason those cantrips appear in this book. Then, in the process of bringing them over, we decided to make a few tweaks to those spells so that the wording would better align with our original design intent […] Any of the changes that people see there really are just bringing those spells into alignment with how we always meant for those spells to function.
IGN: The’res a section of Tasha’s dedicated to puzzles in the DM Tools chapter – can you give us a bit more insight into what those might look like?
JC: These puzzles were all designed by Elisa Teague, she is a fabulous puzzle designer […] and she created puzzles that are meant to be engaging on their own, but also engaging as content that can be put into a D&D campaign. We really were looking for puzzles that are also fully D&D; that a DM could take, drop into a particular adventure, and provide a new play experience. Many campaigns are filled with splendid role-playing, sweeping storytelling, exciting battles, but sometimes DMs are hesitant to add puzzles into that mix. And so we wanted to take some of that intimidation factor away with these puzzles, showing not only can you incorporate these and do so without too much fuss, and also provide suggestions for customizing these puzzles so that you could reuse them, and maybe inspire you to create puzzles of your own.
I won’t ruin the solution, but one of the puzzles I really like in the book, it comes with a map of an island, and part of solving the puzzle is figuring out connections between different things you see on that map. I love this one because (A) it’s a fun puzzle, but (B) it’s a great example of us making a puzzle that is fully D&D, because a DM can also use that island map as the location for an adventure or even a whole mini-campaign.”For me, the thing I’m most excited about – aside from the things I’ve already talked about that I’m excited about,” laughs Crawford, “is people seeing the complete package. When leading up to a book, it can be fun to zero in on this element or that element, but what people won’t get to experience until they have the whole book in their hands is how all these pieces fit together. And that’s one of the things that was especially satisfying for me and the rest of the team to craft: looking at how the new class feature options, the new subclasses, the new feats, the new spells, and the new magic items can all be used together, and how the combination of all of these elements will be able to create some radically new D&D experiences. And so again, as, as much as I love each of the individual pieces, in some ways I’m even more thrilled about how all those pieces come together.”
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is available in print starting on November 17 in North America and December 1 in Europe and Asia, with digital versions available for pre-order at Roll20 and D&D Beyond.
JR is a Senior Editor at IGN and could literally spend all day talking about D&D – and has! You can follow him for more TRPG and gaming content on Twitter.