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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons - Tasha's Cauldron of Everything Review

 

I got a bunch of stuff in the mail:

What do you say we go through Tasha's and see what's in there? You might remember that I did a ridiculously huge Guide to Tasha (aka Iggwilv) right here. I'm definitely interested in seeing what new lore we can learn from this.

Real quick, if you don't know anything about Tasha, here's some essential info:

Review

Most of this article involves me going over what's in the book, describing my favorite parts, and going off on tangents. If you just want a general idea of whether this book is good or bad, let me save you some time.

This is one of the best books put out for 5th edition so far. That includes the adventures, the settings, everything. 

It has an absolute ton of subclasses, and almost all of them are cool. I don't think I've ever read a supplement that actually got me excited about so many different character options.

On top of that, it is loaded with magic items and spells - some new, some updated from previous editions. 

Then we get all sorts of useful DM stuff to drop into our games, including puzzles and magically-touched regions. 

My favorite thing of all is that everything is described succinctly. In just a few sentences and paragraphs, we are given everything we need to use a particular item or subclass. Most of this book is a breeze to read through, and the ideas are so good that you just jump from one thing to the next.

This definitely has the "late in the edition" feel, when the creators have a good handle on everything and the creative juices are flowing.

The Art

Before I run down what's in the book chapter-by-chapter, I want to talk a bit about the art. As I've mentioned before, 5e art is generally good, but not great. There are no "superstar artists" anymore, and landscapes tend to be the best art for whatever reason.

In this book, there's a few pieces of art that look a bit too rough, but in general it's all fine. There are no double-page spreads (which might be for the best, as the page split tended to maul the center of each image). 

After flipping through the book, I notice that there are four full-page images of Tasha, depicting different moments from her life. What a great idea. The first image by Brian Valeza may be one of my favorite pieces of 5e art. 

Young Tasha

That is a young Tasha sitting in the Feywild just outside her home, the Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga. Brian also did two of my favorite pieces of art from Rime of the Frostmaiden (the remorhaz eggs and this town/barge).

There's a really good one of Tasha talking to Graz'zt via a magic mirror by Livia Prime (who did a great yawning portal image here), and then there's this one by Svetlin Velinov:

Mordenkainen vs. Tasha

My first reaction to this image of Tasha and Mordenkainen playing chess is that I wish they were playing dragonchess, but then I realized that they might be using one of Iggwilv's items: "A magic chessboard whose pieces shift to represent enemies and allies." 

This chessboard was actually depicted on the cover of Dungeon Magazine #149. Check it out:

I absolutely love the idea of depicting different scenes from the lives of major D&D NPCs in each of these books. 

There is an ongoing issue in the books with images coming out darker in print as opposed to how they look digitally. On page 165 there is an image of an enchanted spring. The rocky area behind the waterfall is dark/black. But if you look at the same image online, you can clearly see a huge face carved into the rock. In fact, the whole image is much, much brighter: 

by Robin Olausson

Table of Contents

Looking at the table of contents, I see that there's about 20 pages worth of magic items. Baba Yaga's Mortar and Pestle, the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, "Planecaller's Codex," and the Teeth of Dahlver-Nar.

Optional: We are told that "everything in this book is optional."

Ten Rules to Remember: We get a quick rundown of little rules things that are hard to keep straight; When reactions happen, how casting a spell as a bonus action works, always round down, etc. 

This listing really drives home how much I like 5th edition. They really hit it out of the park. If you never got to play older editions, you have no idea how bad it was handling the rules and players who exploited the rules. 

Even 4th edition, which really clamped down in an effort to control game balance, had certain "exploits." I remember a player at the game store who made some combination of feats that, when paired with a blade spider mount, gave them infinite attack rolls or something. 

Tasha Introduction: "Tasha" writes a long introduction. She mentions her studies with Zagig Yragerne (one of Gary Gygax's real life characters), and dealings with Mordenkainen (check out my Guide to Mordenkainen here).

Let's check it out.

Chapter 1: Character Options

We get a ton of new subclasses, most of which have appeared in Unearthed Arcana over the last year or two. I wrote about most of these already in my Dragon+ reviews.

The thing I like the most about these is that many are tied to a D&D concept, like the Astral Plane or Mechanus. 

Artificer: This class comes with a bunch of subclasses. I really like the artillerist, who gets an eldritch cannon at 3rd level. It can be a flamethrower, a force ballista, or a protector that grants temporary hit points. 

Barbarian: I love wild magic, so I'm pretty interested in the path of wild magic. Elves, tiefling, aasimar, and genasi often become "magic-infused barbarians." When they rage, they roll on a chart to gain an extra added benefit such as teleporting, blinding a foe, summoning a flumph, all sorts of fun stuff. Once they hit 6th level, they can actually touch a spellcaster and let them regain a spell slot.

Bard: The College of Creation bard can create a "mote of potential," which is an amusing term. The mote gives the target a bonus die on a certain roll. 

Cleric: The peace domain is interesting. I always like to see how each edition handles a pacifist-type character. My favorite class in 4e was the warlord, who was all about granting other characters attacks. It was a lot of fun to play.

The channel divinity: balm of peace (I love that phrase so much) allows you to move without provoking opportunity attacks and "...when you move within 5 feet of any other creature during this action, you can restore a number of hit points to that creature equal to 2d6 + your Wisdom modifier (minimum of 1 hit point). A creature can receive this healing only once whenever you take this action."

Druid: The Circle of Stars druids draw on the power of starlight. They can take on a "starry form," where constellations appear on them that can do different things, like changing a roll of 9 or lower on a d20 as a 10. What a cool idea. 

Fighter: The rune knights can create magic runes that give them special abilities. For example, the fire rune lets them restrain a foe with fiery shackles once per day.

Monk: "A monk who follows the Way of the Astral Self believes that their body is an illusion. They see their ki as a representation of their true form, and astral self." They can summon a pair of extra arms that have an extended reach and some other benefits.

Paladin: The Oath of the Watchers protect mortal realms from extraplanar creatures, which is interesting. That could mean demons or devils. It could mean modrons, too, right? They have the ability to turn aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, or fiends. 

Ranger: The Fey Wanderer is pretty cool. Each has a feywild gift, such as: "Your shadow dances while no one is looking directly at it."

Rogue: I really like the Phantom. At 9th level, they can take a "soul trinket" from someone they've killed. The trinket can be used to gain advantage on death saves, do extra damage, or it can be asked a question. 

Sorcerer: The Clockwork Soul is a person who has somehow become entangled in the machinations of the modrons. They have the power to cancel advantage or disadvantage. 

Warlock: There's a genie patron. You get your own genie lamp, more or less, that you can go inside and stay in! "The interior is appointed with cushions and low tables and is a comfortable temperature. While inside, you can hear the area around you as if you were in its space." You can do so much with that.

Wizard: The Order of Scribes is all about magic spellbooks. They get a magic quill and the book lets you swap damage types and cast rituals much, much faster.

Chapter 2: Group Patrons

A group patron is an entity or organization that sends the heroes out on quests and adventures. For each one, we get information on what they are and how they work. 

Museum of Dreams: This one seems like it could lead to some cool Inception-type adventures, and I'd imagine night hags would play into things prominently. "Shared dreamscapes connect a network of wide-ranging specialists."

Lich: That could be fun... I used an arch-lich (from 2e) as a sort of patron and the group was fairly into it. There is an image in this book of Azalin, the lich from Ravenloft, as a sample patron. He was a big deal in 2nd edition, at least, to me.

Pirate Fleet: "This alliance of pirate captains is unified under a ruling captain or admiral and adheres to a strict code of honor. They converge only in response to an outside threat."

Planar Conscripts: Warriors include conscripts pressed into service in the Blood War, fodder in the thrall of ruthless yugoloth mercenaries, or members of a glorious celestial host defending against fiendish incursion."

Undead Hunters: I love this one. Van Richten! Your contact could be "Mysterious Text: The gradual translation of a secret holy text points you toward the next step of a divine destiny.

On page 103, we get a piece of art set in the city of Sigil. The caption: "In the city of Sigil, Guildmaster Rhys realizes that finding capable recruits is one of the main challenges of being a patron."

I can't find the actual art online, but the artist is Scott Murphy, who did this pretty badass depiction of Zariel. Here is the 2e art of Rhys:

Rhys by Tony DiTerlizzi

I wrote a guide to the factions of Sigil (which almost drove me nuts) and now I get to use it. I don't remember who Rhys is but I can check... here we go. She runs the Transcendant Order, a faction that believes that you must be impulsive, follow your instincts. They believe that once you sync up your body and mind, you will be in tune with the multiverse. 

Factol Rhys is a "master of the spirit," a neutral tiefling who has achieved internal harmony and can inspire others to greatness. She becomes important post-Faction War, because she suddenly becomes one of the most politically powerful people in the new Sigil government.

This chapter is decent, useful for DMs who are in the planning stages of a campaign.

Chapter 3: Magical Miscellany

by Titus Lunter

This is the stuff I'm most interested in. Here in chapter 3 we get new spells and magic items. We start off with spells. Check out this 7th level spell:

Dream of the Blue Veil: "You and up to eight willing creatures within range fall unconscious for the spell's duration and experience visions of another world on the Material Plane such as Oerth, Toril, Krynn, or Eberron." The spell (10 minute duration) ends with them being transported to the world they had a vision of.

This is accompanied by a sidebar called "Traveling to Other Worlds." It talks about how, long ago, there was a single reality called the First World that was shattered by a cataclysm that created the multiverse. This sounds sort of like the story of Monte Cook's Praemal campaign, which I wrote about here.

The sidebar also discusses two other methods of traveling between worlds:

  • The Great Journey: A voyage filled with peril in a vessel powered by magic (aka Spelljammer).
  • The Leap to Another Realm: Using a teleportation circle linked to another teleportation circle on another world.

Summon Spells: There are a pile of summoning spells, all of which are linked to a different type of creature (beast, fiend, elemental, etc). It acts as your ally, obeys your verbal commands, and remains for up to 1 hour. 

 You summon a specific "spirit" with its own stat block. There's a celestial spirit stat block, a construct spirit statblock, and so on. 

There are a few new Tasha spells:

  • (lvl 1) Tasha's Caustic Brew: You shoot a line of acid that does 2d4 acid damage.
  • (lvl 2) Tasha's Mind Whip: A psychic attack that does 3d6 psychic damage and dazes the target, more or less.
  • (lvl 6) Tasha's Otherworldly Guise: You can draw on the magic of the Lower Planes or Upper Planes, and then gain a suite of powers and enhancements linked to those planes, including wings and a +2 to AC.

There are a lot of magic items. Many of them are of the same type - magic spellbooks. Each spellbook type has a unique name but they all follow the same pattern:

  • It has about 7 listed spells
  • Can function as the character's actual spellbook.
  • Can be used as a spellcasting focus.
  • Has 3 charges which can be used to activate specific abilities, such as teleporting to dodge an attack, impose disadvantage on certain rolls, "take on a semblance of undeath" for 10 minutes, etc.

Magic Tattoos: There are also a number of magic tattoos. I really like how they set it up so that the size of a tattoo correlates to how rare it is. A tattoo that is common fits on your hand. A tattoo that qualifies as a very rare magic item covers two limbs, or the chest, or the upper back.

Random Properties: A lot of the more potent magic items have "random properties." The DM is meant to roll on the tables in the "Artifacts" section of the DMG, 2 minor detrimental properties and 1 minor beneficial property. I've never been a big fan of that, but no big deal I guess.

The Demonomicon of Iggwilv: The 5e version of the Demonomicon is pretty cool. They added some lore to it - it contains  part of a nascent layer of the Abyss. I added the details to my Guide to the Demonomicon of Iggwilv.

Baba Yaga's Mortar and Pestle: This gets a full page and a piece of art. This item has been mentioned in previous editions. This does a lot. It can summon ingredients, magically grind stuff, the pestle is a +3 weapon that does extra force damage, and you can sit in the mortar and magically transport you from one locale to another.

Luba's Tarokka of Souls: This is a magic tarokka deck that allows th wielder to cast certain spells, and they can draw a card that might aid or hinder a creature within 15 feet. The deck also contains trapped souls, which can manifest in cool ways.

We get a sidebar explaining who Luba is a good-aligned halfling vistani who led a tribe of vistani in the Shadowfell. She was something of a rival to Madame Eva. Luba disappeared long ago, leaving her tarokka deck behind. 

Teeth of Dahlver-Nar: It works like this: You pull a random tooth out of the sack, and you can either sow the tooth (place it on the ground) or implant it (put in your mouth). 

A sowed tooth transforms into a certain monster, anything from 9 cats to an ancient red dragon. 

An implanted tooth gives you special powers. 

The chart is great, tons of cool results that I don't want to spoil.

Chapter 4: Dungeon Master's Tools

by Titus Lunter

We start off with a discussion of "session zero," which includes a handy table with ideas on how the party knows each other or meets.  

Then we get into the "social contract," which is very interesting stuff. They give us a typical social contract, which includes commitments to four points. I'm actually going to write these out right here:

1. DM: "You will respect the players by running a game that is fun, fair, and tailored for them. You will allow every player to contribute to the ongoing story and give every character moments to shine. When a player is talking, you are listening."

2. Players: "The players will respect you and the effort it takes to create a fun game for everyone. The players will allow you to direct the campaign, arbitrate the rules, and settle arguments. When you are talking, the players are listening."

3. Cohesion: "The players will respect one another, listen to one another, support one another, and do their utmost to preserve the cohesion of the adventuring party."

4. Kicked Out: "Should you or a player disrespect each other or violate the social contract in some other way, the group may dismiss that person from the table."

I'm not sure where we are at right now in 2020 when it comes to dysfunction in D&D groups. I can tell you that, in the past, dysfunction and "toxic" behavior was rampant. It only takes one person to ruin it, and it was present in the majority of groups I met or played with. 

There is a whole subreddit devoted to RPG horror stories. I just looked. There's 176,000 members! 608 people are in there right now!

So how it is going in all of these Zoom quarantine D&D groups out there? Are people able to make it work? Or is the campaign crashing and burning? 

In my opinion, the thing that stopped D&D from growing even bigger than it did in years past was due the behavior of the participants. Most players are cool. But then you get to that 15% - the "ruiners," you could call them. At the game store, I saw entire groups of people try and then quit the game after one single session thanks to one toxic DM or player. It happened over and over.

I literally started this blog just so I could talk about this issue. Nobody would say out loud what it's actually like running games at a con or a game store. Sometimes it was fun, but a lot of times it sucked.

Anyway, I could ramble forever on this topic. As far as this social contract goes, I like it. The problem is getting people to buy into it. How do you make this the standard? How do you get everyone on board? 

The problem seems like it transcends the game. It involves how people behave when engaging in a group activity. Sort of like the family that gets into a vicious fight while on vacation at Disney World. As a DM, it is a really weird and unexpected thing to have to deal with.

Sidekicks: We get rules for creating and leveling up a sidekick. A sidekick can be any monster with a challenge rating of 1/2 or lower. Then you add the sidekick stuff to it. "The starting level of a sidekick is the same as the average level of the group."

There are three sidekick classes: Expert, spellcaster, and warrior.

Environmental Hazards: I love these so much. Each area has a random chart that you roll on under certain conditions.

Far Realm: I'm really interested in this one, because I've always had a hard time using the Far Realm in a fun way. Tentacles, insanity, that's about it. But I am seeing here an awesome image of mind flayer nautiloids so let's check it out.

After death, some souls get pulled into the Far Realm and are twisted into abominations or elder evils. 

Someone used the words "pernicious" and "propagate" in the same paragraph, which is some epic word usage in my humble opinion. 

This chart involves a region "touched by the Far Realm, not actually in it. The charts results involve plants coming alive, bizarre appendages rising from the ground, that sort of thing. One result involves a gibbering mouther, which really is a top notch D&D monster in 5e. I've never liked them as far a aesthetics go, but I think it's the rare example of a monster that is made cool by its stat block. 

Mirror Zone: This is a really fun one, involving an area touched by a mirror realm. My favorite effect is the one where a creature's skin becomes silvery and reflective.

I'm pretty sure Expedition to the Demonweb Pits has a bunch of Mirror Realm stuff.

Also, when I was a kid, my friend ran an adventure called Skarda's Mirror. This involved a monstrous ape using magic mirrors to strike at the heroes and then escape before being harmed.

The DM specifically told us that if we split up, we're going to die. What did my friend Stan do? He split from the party. He died. He had a real defiant streak for a while, there.

by Sam Keiser

Mimic Colonies: This might be my favorite thing in the whole book. Mimics come together to create buildings, cliff faces, statues, and more. The colony can communicate via telepathy with creatures within 120 feet. 

I love the idea of making friends with a mimic colony and living in it, bringing it monsters to eat as payment.

Puzzles: This book wraps up with a section on one of the hardest things to pull off in D&D - puzzles. I have had such a hard time with puzzles in D&D. They're either too easy or too hard. They either eat up way too much table time or none at all. 

As a DM, I eventually learned to give the group puzzles and riddles that they can mess with as they go on adventures. They can think about it between sessions, mess with it while taking a long rest, whatever. That way it isn't a roadblock that grinds the session to a halt. 

I don't want to spoil these by overly describing them, but I can say that they are really fun. Especially "reckless steps" and "material components."

Overall

This is a great book, maybe one of the best, yet to come out for D&D 5th edition. It is jam packed with stuff, each thing described in just a page or two. I guess I could have used a bit more lore, but it's no big deal. 

Thanks for reading!

2 comments:

grodog said...

Thanks for the run down Sean, I'm planning to pick the book up and retro-fit some of its ideas into my 1e Greyhawk games!

Allan.

KKRP said...

The "mimic colony" reminds me of the city of Nimicri on the plane of Gehenna in Planescape & the village of Lost that wanders the land of Droaam in Eberron. Always wanted to use one of 'em in a game.