With D&D’s Next Rulebook, Character Creation Will Never Be the Same

With D&D’s Next Rulebook, Character Creation Will Never Be the Same

Although Dungeons & Dragons’ fifth edition has added as many classes, races, and rules as it has since it first began, for the most part, the way players create characters has stayed the same. You pick a race, that race defines certain things about you, and so on. But the game’s next sourcebook is giving players the opportunity to change that forever.

Today, Wizards of the Coast lifted the lid on Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, the next major Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook. Cut from the same cloth as Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is a cohesive book filled with new spells and abilities, new creatures, “new” subclasses (more on that later!), new magical items and the aforementioned ways to roleplay your mighty adventuring hero — and additional tools for Dungeon Masters to expand the way they tell stories in the lands of the Forgotten Realms and beyond.

Cauldron of Everything will frame these new items and abilities through the lens of a powerful, iconic D&D character: the titular Tasha, one of the oldest and most potent spellcasters in D&D lore. She’s been an adventurer, an icon of Greyhawk, an enemy, and, in her guise as Iggwilv, one of the most sinister archmages in the entire D&D cosmos. Oh, and being famous for her hideous laughter, the one spell to Tasha’s name in spite of her vast power.

“[There’ll] be a few new Tasha spells,” D&D Lead Rules Designer Jeremy Crawford told press via a live-streamed conference call. “Because we figured if we’re going to have a book named after Tasha, we should add a few more spells to join Tasha’s Hideous Laughter that bear this mighty wizard’s name.”

Those few new spells aside, Cauldron of Everything will be a chance for readers to catch up on the history of this powerful mage, one of the few spellcasters in D&D to have a spell named after themselves in the first place, even if it is only one right now. “Tasha is one of the most storied characters in the D&D multiverse,” Crawford explained. “She was raised by the arch hag, Baba Yaga herself. Tasha goes on in her life to become a great adventurer in the world of Greyhawk, rubbing shoulders with other Greyhawk luminaries and even becoming the frenemy of people like Mordenkainen.”

But Tasha’s journey isn’t just one of adventuring heroics. In the pursuit of more knowledge and power — and in the creation of some of the potent magical items that will be littered throughout Cauldron of Everything — her morality and allegiances twist, as does her own identity. “She transforms into a demigod like figure, renames herself Iggwilv, and then becomes a rival to many D&D adventurers in some classic adventures, so her history is vast,” Crawford continued. “It includes the creation of dread artifacts like the demonomicon but also includes heroism in her days as an adventurer. She is a wonderfully complex character — and a character who will be providing the point of view in this book, just like Xanathar commented on the content of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Tasha comments on the different bits that are boiling inside her cauldron and her perspective is delightful.”

While Cauldron of Everything will give us material from across Tasha’s vast history, it is not a book about her specifically. We will, just as Crawford noted with Xanathar in the Guide to Everything, primarily see her lens through notes she leaves littered around the new spells, items, and mechanics the book will explore. “Tasha is a person who is unfazed by beings of many sorts — in addition to having consorted with darker beings, she also has consorted with, you know, beings of the upper plains,” Crawford said of how the character will come across in her notes. “Basically, Tasha, in her brilliant curiosity, is untroubled by the various moral variations in the planes of existence. If there is knowledge to be learned and to power to possibly be gained, Tasha is unafraid to face it.”

While Tasha’s personality comes through in these notes, she offers an unfiltered lens on all kinds of things featured, evil or heroic. “I would say Tasha is a wonderful example of a character where if we were going to assign an alignment to her, Tasha is whatever alignment suits her for the day,” Crawford joked. “So I guess in that sense she is true neutral. She is very much her own person, and that comes through in her comments in the book.”

Baba Yaga, Tasha's adoptive mother, watches closely over the young witch. (Image: Brian Valeza/Wizards of the Coast)
Baba Yaga, Tasha’s adoptive mother, watches closely over the young witch. (Image: Brian Valeza/Wizards of the Coast)

Tasha also serves as the inspiration for one of the most important additions in Cauldron of Everything. The sourcebook includes a new section that fundamentally re-writes character creation as D&D players currently know it, giving them more freedom than ever officially supported. “Just as Tasha had this amazingly magical origin, many D&D characters have special origins — their players come up with backstories that helps set one character apart from another,” Crawford said. “And so we wanted to make sure that in this book, players felt like they had the tools in the game to create the truly unique character they wanted to create.”

Currently, at the very beginning of the character creation process, racial traits and abilities players are given when they build a character are what initially define them. For example: Elves get +2 to their Dexterity, the Darkvision trait, and are proficient in the Perception skill as baseline. These racial guidelines also include alignment suggestions: going back to Elves, currently the dark-skinned Drow subrace — an entire people — are described in the Player’s Handbook as “more often evil than not.”

In Cauldron of Everything, players are given the framework to throw all those mandated traits and benefits out the window and build their own benefits, regardless of the race they want to choose for their character. “We provide a new rules option that allows you to take some of the traits in your character’s race — Elf, Dwarf, Half-Orc, or something else — and modify those traits so that you can better reflect the story you have in mind for your character,” Crawford said of the new process. “We even include in this book a template for creating a lineage for your character that is completely disconnected from any of the race options in the game. It’s basically just us saying ‘fill in the blanks.’”

A suitably ticked-off Wizard zaps a troglodyte with Mind Sliver, one of several psionic spells featured in the book. (Image: Andrew Mar/Wizards of the Coast)
A suitably ticked-off Wizard zaps a troglodyte with Mind Sliver, one of several psionic spells featured in the book. (Image: Andrew Mar/Wizards of the Coast)

It’s not just the first steps of character creation that Cauldron of Everything blows wide open — the book supports more ways to customise the growth and development of your characters than anything 5th Edition has seen before.

“I think the thing that’s going to surprise people most is how much liberty they have to customise their character,” Crawford added. “There are a bunch of new feats in this book, and if you combine them with the new class feature options, the new subclasses, the ability to create your own lineage or to customise an existing race, the group patrons, or even the ability to have your character have magic tattoos on their body…combine [them] with the new magic items, new spells. There are even more new levers that people will be able to use to customise their characters than even Xanathar’s had to offer.”

But for all the new complexity this level of freedom will bring to character creation, Cauldron of Everything also includes the rules for Sidekick classes, first detailed in the revamped “Essentials Kit” starter set released last year and explored in the online Unearthed Arcana Apocrypha. Originally an accompanying character that leveled alongside your adventurer, now players can choose to take on one of the Sidekick classes themselves — The Warrior, the Expert, and the Spellcaster — for a simpler D&D experience. “We have tuned [Sidekick classes] in response to feedback to be as easy to dive into as possible,” Crawford explained. “I think many players are going to look at those pick options and say, ‘You know what, I just want a sort of chill, easy D&D experience, focus on role playing, focus on the story.’ Those sidekick class options are going to be a great path for some players to walk down to have that kind of simple experience.”

This broadening of the abilities and ideals in character creation — that have, so far, explicitly linked to racial stereotypes — is the first step in Wizards of the Coasts’ recently revealed plans to address issues of race and inclusivity within Dungeons & Dragons. “This is one of multiple books where we will be demonstrating a shift in how we handle certain things in the game, including the character race option,” Crawford said. “This rules option will give people a major tool in creating a character who is not bound by different species archetypes in the game.”

[referenced id=”1224453″ url=”https://gizmodo.com.au/2020/06/dungeons-dragons-team-announces-new-plans-to-address-race-and-inclusivity-in-the-game/” thumb=”https://gizmodo.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/19/bitbqpne967rmswjr1m6-300×169.png” title=”Dungeons & Dragons Team Announces New Plans to Address Race and Inclusivity in the Game” excerpt=”Dungeons & Dragons has made strides in recent years to ensure the Forgotten Realms (and the planes beyond it) better represent the world we live in, and a playerbase that is more diverse than ever before. But in light of ongoing reckonings across the world against issues of systemic racism,…”]

Another upcoming book in sync with this approach is an updated version of the beloved adventure Curse of Strahd featuring updated discussions of the module’s Vistani characters, which were previously criticised for their reliance on outdated Romani stereotypes. That one is set to release a month ahead of Cauldron of Everything. For Crawford, it’s not just about addressing previously longheld bias and privileges in races of the game — such as the negative stereotypes against Orcs and the aforementioned Drow, dark-skinned fantasy races that have been interpreted as the game’s take on minority characters in the past — but also giving players the freedom to pick whatever race they want while creating a character that doesn’t feel like a specific exemplar of that race.

“We put this right in the book with the Player’s Handbook, which asks you like, you know, choose one of these character types, and maybe you pick Elf,” Crawford said of the old system. “Everything said about Elves, including their racial traits [in the Player’s Handbook], is really about creating sort of the archetypal adventuring Elf. It’s Elfy McElferson — and the thing is, many people want a character who doesn’t hew to those archetypes.”

The push doesn’t just come from members of D&D’s design team; according to Crawford, it’s another example of the team incorporating feedback they’ve heard from players for years. Players who, without official support, have taken it into their own hands to allow for more diverse character creation with fan-made supplements like Arcanist Press’ Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e. “We’ve gotten feedback for quite some time that also some people are uncomfortable by things like ability score modifiers being built into a person’s species or culture,” Crawford added. “That’s why we, in this book, just say ‘disentangle the two,’ and that that is something that everyone’s going to see more of in our future books. We can’t, of course, make what’s in the player’s handbook just vanish — so what we’re doing is giving people the option to walk down the path they want to walk down with their characters, allowing characters of different types to coexist.”

What’s in the Player’s Handbook means that, as in the past, what Tasha adds to 5th Edition — even as game-changing as it is for D&D — is still optional material. If people want to make a character like they always have, they can, it’s just that now there’s an alternative. “If a person wants to play Elfy McElferson from Player’s Handbook, they still can,” Crawford noted. “But if you want your Elf to know…your Elf skipped longsword practice and doesn’t have proficiency in long swords, and speaks a language other than Elvish, and has a bonus to your charisma instead of your dexterity, Tasha’s Cauldron is going to give you the ability to do that and to do it very easily.”

“Everything in this book is optional, just like Xanathar’s is a guide. This is an optional expansion to the game,” Crawford stressed of the sweeping changes. “One of the things that we have maintained throughout the life of 5th Edition is that you can always play only with the core box if you want to. Anything beyond the core books is optional. That said, we expect a lot of groups will adopt this new option to customise their character’s origin, because we know a lot of people would really love when they’re making their character to not feel like the fact that I picked a dwarf, for instance, [gives me] this feeling that it forces my hand into particular character classes. It’s going to really open up for people that they can play the type of character they want to play.”

Another major choice and source of vast player feedback that Cauldron of Everything “officially” inducts into 5th Edition is something some D&D fans will already be intimately familiar with: the Artificer class, first published in the November 2019 sourcebook Eberron: Rising from the Last War, as well as its subclasses from the online playtesting program Unearthed Arcana.

“The entire Artificer class appears in this book because we realised after publishing [it] in Rising from the Last War, tons of people want to get their hands on this class, whether they’re playing [a campaign] on Eberron or not,” Crawford said of the decision to reprint the Artificer alongside the additions to the class previously released for playtesting online. “We’ve taken the whole class, it reappears here in [Cauldron of Everything] — we have tweaked little bits of it so that it’s at home in any D&D world, not just Eberron. We’ve added some new artificer infusions and we also include a new artificer subclass, the Armorer, which is another piece of content that appeared in other Unearthed Arcana [playtests], and people loved it.”

A Human Artillerist Artificer and a Tiefling Psionic Soul Sorcerer, just two new subclass additions being inducted into Tasha's. (Image: Brian Valeza and Kieran Yanner/Wizards of the Coast)
A Human Artillerist Artificer and a Tiefling Psionic Soul Sorcerer, just two new subclass additions being inducted into Tasha’s. (Image: Brian Valeza and Kieran Yanner/Wizards of the Coast)

It’s not just the newly updated Artificer that’s officially coming to Cauldron of Everything, however. Taken from the last year of playtesting by the D&D community since their debuts in Unearthed Arcana articles, 22 additional subclasses for each other class in the game will make their “proper” 5th Edition debuts in the book (as well as reprints of five subclasses added in Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, and Mythic Odysseys of Theros).

“Many of the subclasses that appeared over the last year in Unearthed Arcana appear in this book because the sequence of subclasses that we shared with D&D fans [online] over the past year have been some of the most highly rated subclasses we’ve ever done for the game,” Crawford said. It’s another example of how Wizards wants to put community feedback directly into the game they’re all playing together. “Based on playtest feedback that we’ve received, [the subclasses are] balanced so that they play well next to each other,” Crawford continued, “so it’s going to it’s going to lead to everyone getting brand new options for classes that they already love — and now suddenly their class gets to feel new all over again.”

Cauldron of Everything then, to Crawford, represents the next major step forward for Dungeons & Dragons as it exists in 2020. It is both a bold re-imagining of some of the game’s most fundamental aspects, to better reflect the ideals and identities of the people that play it, and an expansion of those fundamentals based on those same players’ thoughts and feedback.

“I often like to say that our work on the game is a conversation with the community that never ends,” Crawford concluded. “And it’s a delightful conversation because the community does such a good job of sharing with us what they want to see in this game we all love. And then we go to our workshop and make sure we deliver that as best as we can.”

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything will be available from November 17.