Review: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

A surprising three years after the last D&D rules expansion, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and Wizards of the Coast has finally released the next player-facing book for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. As the similar name implies, the contents are much the same, with new subclasses and spells along with several pages of… other. 

Image Copyright WotC

Like past books with new player options, the content in this book was previewed in Unearthed Arcana over the past year, with classes revealed & reviewed, tested and tweaked. Some of the ideas made it in and some of the classes were rejected for one reason or another. This means the player content in this book has been reviewed and playtested, which is something that can’t be said for much of the player content in past versions of D&D (other roleplaying games). 

What It Is

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is a relatively svelte book. Only 192-pages. The same length as Xanathar’s but two-thirds the size of the Player’s Handbook while being comparable in cover price. Unsurprising, it is a full colour hardover book, with an alternate cover that can be found in local game stores. (Or non-local game stores that have an online presence.)  

(Like all modern D&D books, this is not saddle stitched, and the book may need to be gently broken in to ensure its longevity.)

The book has new and newish subclasses for every class in the game, including the artificer, which has been entirely reprinted. There are four artificer subclasses (one new), two subclasses for the barbarian, two for the bard (one reprinted), three clerical domains (one reprint), three druid circles (one reprinted), two fighter archetypes with some new manuevers and fighting styles, two monk subclasses, two paladin oaths (one reprinted), two ranger conclaves, two rogue subclasses, a couple sorcerer bloodlines, two warlock pacts, and two wizard specializations (one new). Phew. 

Also in the book are group patrons (semi-reprinted from Eberron: Rising from the Last War); a handful of spells; 45-plus magical items, with many being potent artifacts;  sidekick rules for the Dungeon Master, semi-reprinted from the Essentials Kit; supernatural terrain and hazards; and ending with 20 pages of puzzles.

The class section of the book also includes some alternate features, granting players the ability to swap out cantrips or slightly customize their class by swapping in an alternate feature. In a few places, these are designed as subtle balance tweaks to “correct” issues (such as the ranger) without entirely redesigning the class. 

The Good

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As mentioned, the classes and content here is well balanced and well thought out. Because the D&D team has been relatively stable and one of the creators of the edition is still working on the game, the people who wrote this book are very well versed in the subtleties of the design and why things are written the way they are. 

As mentioned, the book contains a stealth rebalancing for some classes and new small powers. Some seem less necessary–like the barbarian gaining more skills and a movement power or the rogue feature to grant themselves advantage—but others do fill in gaps that have emerged, such as the 2nd-level bard inspiration variant that works with a caster-heavy party or the druid ability to finally get a pet. The ranger alternate rules have been especially requested, giving first level rangers an actual combat feature while providing a fairly substantial alternative for  the beastmaster ranger’s pets. There’s even an attempt to give something for the monk’s Way of the Four Elements, but this isn’t as successful. 

The book begins with common rule reminders. Handy clear and simple clarifications for oft forgotten or subtle rules. It’s nice to have these, even if this page was also in Guide to Everything—you don’t know what rules expansion will be someone’s first.  

There’s also rules for customizing races, letting you swap around some proficiencies, such as replacing proficiency with medium armour or battle axes with longbow and rapier proficiency. This allows you to play a character like a high elf that wasn’t raised among elves and doesn’t know how to use a bow, but was adopted by orcs and knows how to swing a greataxe like a champ. I’m not the biggest fan of the absolute freedom offered by these pages (for reasons I’ll get to in the next section) but I am aware not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of physical and cultural bonuses being baked into races. And because some people are uncomfortable with it, I applaud WotC for listening and including this section. And for people like me who have issues, I’m thankful the preceding spread that reminds DMs that everything in the book is optional and I can just ignore that.

The fifteen feats here are decent enough. Many are a way to build a hybrid character without multiclassing. They’re very workable. And Skill Expert will be very useful for a lot of character concepts. 

I enjoyed the idea of sidekicks in the Essentials Kit, which allowed me to play some one-on-one games with my 10-year-old son. I was happy these were being reprinted here and it’s great that they were expanded out to full 20-level classes. Sadly, they didn’t reprint the generic statblocks, but the concept was expanded to include any monster that is CR 1/2 or lower. Which is simply brilliant, as it not only allows humanoid creatures like the scout, thug, or cultist to be used but also a war horse or mastiff. Or even a blink dog. I expect whole books to flood the Dungeon Master’s Guild with CR 1/2 pets, like young faerie dragons, juvenile owl bears, and hatchling couatls.   

With nineteen pages of new magic items, this is the biggest loot drop of 5th Edition to date. Some time ago I had predicted the next rules expansion would expand the gear in the game, as new magic items have been rare and treasure is a pretty vital reward. When Cauldron of Everything was announced, I just didn’t expect the magic expansion to be this book. And I certainly didn’t expect a half-dozen new artifacts. 

The patron rules are… fine. They’re fine. They offer some decent advice and quite a few roleplaying hooks. This section is largely common sense and advice rather than concrete rules. If you were already thinking about what it would be like having the PCs working for the king or thieves’ guild, this probably won’t give you many new ideas. I rather expected more, especially after hearing about the perk system and seeing what was done with reputation in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica. I anticipated perks to have more heft than just “you are protected from the law” and “your patron covers your expenses). This would have been a neat way of adding some minor new options and benefits for characters, because it doesn’t imbalance the party as every member would have the same perk. 

I quite like several of the subclasses in this book. The armourer is a nice, simple addition to the artificer, and an idea I’m surprised I didn’t consider. (And I worked hard to think of new artificer ideas when working on my DMsGuild artificer book). The Path of the Beast for the Barbarian is just cool. Multiclassing dips aside, I haven’t played a barbarian before, but this moves the class to the top of my “to play” list. And I’m very pleased with how the Phantom rogue subclass evolved. The Soulknife is also a nice update to this classic concept, first being seen in 3rd Edition. And it could be easily house-ruled into something non-psionic by swapping the psychic damage for necrotic and naming it the “shadowblade”. (Shadeblade? Gloomblade?) And I adore the take on the Genie patron for the warlock. I’ve done my own take on this in the past, but this is really interesting and I love how it makes use of the genie’s vessel.

The Bad

While not my biggest complaint, let’s get to the pet peeve I teased earlier. Customizing ability scores. Glad they did it. Not entirely happy that it’s so unrestricted and not swapping a physical ability score boost for another physical, or choosing to swap one, or mandating +2/ +1. Mostly because of elements like the mountain dwarf who gets a +2/+2, because their second boost is to Strength—which benefits martial classes—but they also get medium armour proficiency, which is redundant for paladins and fighters. The double twos keep them desirable for that trope. But if you can freely swap the Strength bonus to +2 Cha or +2 Int then the mountain dwarf becomes a fantastic spellcaster. The ability score bonuses were designed to encourage tropes and playing to type but making them unbounded encourages min-maxing and actually limits the potential choices of races to the few origins deemed “most optimal.” 

This is mostly a complaint for my table and likely Adventurer’s League. Where the optional rule won’t be used to tell creative stories and make interesting characters with fascinating backstories but instead be used to see how many bonuses can be accrued.

Image Copyright WotC and stolen from IGN

The fighter section has a page-and-a-half of Battlemaster Builds. Suggested designs for characters using that subclass. I’m not sure who this is designed for, as making an archer or duelist with the fighter wasn’t particularly hard already. 

The book has almost twenty-pages of puzzles including handouts. It’s nice to have some quick puzzles handy, but it’s unfortunate they’re in a book that is generally player facing and will be referenced by the players at the table. I wouldn’t use these puzzles for anything but inspiration. The difficulty listed in the puzzles also feels exceptionally arbitrary; the very first puzzle is listed as “easy” despite being functionally equivalent to the last puzzle, which is “hard.” And this is despite the latter puzzle being more overt in its solution. 

Testing the options with Unearthed Arcana is inarguably a good thing for the quality of the book. The best ideas (read: the most popular ideas) get published and the stuff that is problematic is left out. However, as class content is “previewed” everyone has favourite classes that didn’t make the cut. I was excited for the College of Spirits bard as a tarokka bard sounded awesome and Ravenloft A.F. And I’m sure someone was excited for the wizard arcane tradition of onomancy/ truenaming. 

The clerical Love domain didn’t make it in either. Neither the original version or the revised “Unity Domain.” For anyone unfamiliar with the internet drama regarding this  subclass, people became upset on Twitter over the presentation of the Love domain (because people are alway getting upset on Twitter; it’s basically a platform design to enrage you or let you rage), with the complaint being how the subclass focused on enchantment, and forcing someone to like you isn’t love. Not an unfair criticism but, Twitter being Twitter, people came down HARD on the authors, quickly becoming abusively critical. The document was quickly pulled, reworked, and re-released with the aforementioned Unity domain. But the damage was done and unlike other rejected subclasses, the document isn’t available online. Because of moral outrage, a D&D subclass was effectively censored. Which is a big trigger for me as I value the freedom of information. And, y’know, like options for D&D games, and the concept of an enchantment focused clerical domain (a lust domain if you will) is a nice narrative gap and fits many gods in classical mythology (like Aphrodite, Freyr, Ishtar) and D&D deities like Sune.  

This book introduces a few psionic classes. The fighter has the psi warrior, the rogue has the soulknife, and the sorcerer has the aberrant mind bloodline. I’ve been a longtime fan of psonics since 2nd Edition, so I’m a little sad they didn’t manage to get a full psionicst class done for this book. Including one later will unfortunately mean having psionic options spread out over multiple books. 

There are always some less impressive subclasses. There’s always got to be a last pick. The Rune Knight is so-so. Because of the design, by the time you hit the subclass’ cap you’ve chosen five of the possible six runes. For 10th and 15th level you’re just picking between the options you already chose not to take last time, which is somewhat unsatisfying. Neither ranger subclass really seems great compared to the interesting ones in Guide to Everything

The Ugly

I hate the name. 

This book was always going to be “Proper Noun’s Noun of Pronoun”. Elminster’s Volume of Stuff. Warduke’s Collection of Trophies. Because that’s how they’re naming things this time round. But “Cauldron” is a weird choice and repeating “of Everything” makes it easy to confuse with Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, which I often shortened to “Guide to Everything” so I don’t have to remember how to spell “Xanathar.” I’m going to continually see people confused while referencing “Guide to Everything” and “Cauldron of Everything.” And I expect some kid over Christmas is going to ask his parents for “the new D&D book… the Everything one” and get the wrong book.

Like Guide to Everything, the titular character—the witch Tasha—makes comments throughout the book. This worked well in Guide to Monsters and Tomb of Foes but Xanathar was more annoying than insightful and frequently anachronistic. Tasha is somehow worse. Her little 1-3 sentence blurbs feel less like commentary (“insights, guidance, threats and critiques” like her introduction suggests) and more forced meta-jokes. It reads far less like an ancient witch offering thoughts on a subclass or option and more like someone trying to compose witty PR tweets or make amusing captions for a brochure. And unlike the small sidebars in past products, which seemed designed to fill negative space and flesh out pages, Tasha’s Tweets came before every subclass and section, leaving more gaps at the bottom of pages, while also making the little comments more forced. Mandated distillations of humour. When reading some I could just picture the D&D team brainstorming them at a meeting.

Having read many, many other RPG products with in-world text and a first person speaker, I have seen this done significantly better. Good use of a narrator can turn a mundane book of monsters into one of your favourite RPG books.

The book features a LOT of reprinted content, including subclasses published earlier this year! Eight of the thirty new subclasses—a full quarter of the class options—are reprints. This also includes the entire artificer class and all three subclasses published in Eberron: Rising From the Last War

This unfortunately makes the Magic the Gathering D&D books (Ravnica and Theros) trap purchases for people who just want the new crunchy rules options. And anyone who bought those books for the rules options to add to their game rather than the setting material  (raises hand) completely wasted their money. It’s definitely going to make me reconsider purchasing future MtG settings when I know I can just wait and get that content elsewhere.

Now, in fairness, this does mean those class options are now easier to make available in Adventurer’s League. Which will be nice for the small minority of players running in organized play games.But that’s probably a very small minority of players. 

Ditto the artificer. While I appreciate having the full class here (even if it means I’ve purchased it three times, including Wayfarer’s Guide to Eberron) they could have chosen to only reprint one or two artificer subclasses, so people who owned the Eberron book would have something exclusive to that tome.

The Awesome

The picture of Tasha on page 82. That is just amazing. And while discussing art, I know it’s just a throw-away Easter Egg, but I loved seeing Azalin Rex in the Patrons chapter. And there’s a Planescape reference as well. 

Image Copyright WotC

There’s a table listing all the new spells on page 105, and it very concisely says what school they are, their level, and if they require concentration. This is pretty handy. (Curiously, there’s also a column saying if they can be cast as a ritual and for all of them it’s “no”, so that feels somewhat redundant.) 

Included in the new spells are a handful of new monster conjuring spells that make it much simpler to be a summoner. While I like being able to summon specific creatures as an option, these are much more useful in play and don’t require the player to slowly flip through the Monster Manual to find an appropriate fey or elemental (especially when the creature by type table is in the DMG). 

Baba Yaga’s mortar & pestle!

They removed the attunement requirement from the prosthetic limb magical item (and this is also the case for the next print run of Eberron, already being in its errata). This was a complaint of many as it made receiving a prosthetic detrimental as you could use fewer magic items. (As I mentioned this in my review of the book.) Nice to see that WotC agrees. 

Similarly, the armourer artificer lets you have magical armour that functions like a lost limb. Contrary to a recent webcomic, I do like the idea of enabling people to play adventurers with disabilities. The armourer artificer is awesome (even if it is a tad too Iron Man, if that’s possible). 

I like that you can take the psi warrior fighter subclass, beg your DM for a flame tongue, and play a Jedi in D&D. 

The collection of supernatural terrains is nicely done. And I quite like how they handled the activation, offering suggestions rather than hard rules but situations that are likely to happen but not be too regular. There are some good ideas in here, and it’s easy to read through this section for inspiration or a neat magical feature to place in a location.

Included in the terrain section is a funky page on mimic colonies. This isn’t just noteworthy for the juvenile mimic statblock (conveniently <CR 1/2, so… sidekick!) or the lair actions, but the absolutely bonkers art at the top of page 167. I’m just sad we didn’t also get a stat block for a Large or even a Huge mimic. 

While I’m not wowed by the puzzles I think it is worth noting how this book really focused on aspects of the game other than combat. There’s patrons, which drive the actual story and offer great roleplaying hooks. There’s the encounter terrain that feeds into the exploration pillar and makes overland travel or just being in a strange place more interesting. And there are the puzzles, which encourage the players to be challenged with something other than tactics and strategy. This is great to see and probably should be encouraged. Because it’s too easy to make a book like this and only focus on combat encounters or have “puzzles” reduced to the characters making a quick Intelligence check.

Final Thoughts

For a book people have been expecting for three years, it feels like I should have more to say about Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. That my review should be somehow even longer. But it just doesn’t feel like there’s much here. Yes, there’s a newish class and thirty subclasses but there’s only 22 options we haven’t seen—fewer both in total and number of new options than Guide to Everything (and a matching number of feats). That’s a book I described by saying “with so little official content released this small smattering of appetisers feels like a feast.” A statement that also applies to Cauldron of Everything

What’s here is generally good. There’s not any outright bad options or weak pages. And it certainly doesn’t have the endless tables of Guide to Everything. But I also didn’t finish reading and have five or six new characters I was burning to play. I had one. And I still wish we’d see a lot more optional and variant rules for Dungeon Masters. Advice on Session Zeroes are all well and good, but that’s information you could find on a dozen blogs or YouTube advice channels and all over Reddit. Rules on mass combat, other methods of gaining experience, variant crit & fumbling rules and the like will have a much larger audience in an official book. 

But if everyone who gets this book ends up with one beloved character and plays that character for six or even eighteen months, then that’s pretty good for a gaming book. And unlike past editions, every subclass here will probably see play at a few tables. There’s no options that will never see use and only exist to fill pages.

Shameless Plugs

If you liked this article, you can support me and encourage future reviews. My disposable income, which is necessary to buy RPG products, is entirely dependent on my sales.
Seriously. After returning to work after being unemployed for 4 months (in part due to Covid-19) I’ve found myself quarantined after a potential exposure and unable to work for another fortnight. My finances and ability to pay for books to review is dependant on sales.

I have a number of PDF products on the DMs Guild website, including Who’s Doomed, a book of 5e stat blocks of darklords for the Ravenloft campaign setting, which is a huge passion product. And if it sells well, I’ll add additional darklords to the product. And it’s newly released companion Allies Against the Night, which takes classic Ravenloft heroes and makes them into sidekicks.

Others include the Blood Hunter Expanded, my bundle of my Ravenloft books, the Tactician a level 1 to 20 class, Rod of Seven Parts, TrapsDiseasesLegendary Monsters, a book of Variant Rules.

Additionally, the revision of my book, Jester David’s How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding is on DriveThurRPG, available for purchase as a PDF or Print on Demand! (And now in colour!) The book is a compilation of my worldbuilding blog series, but all the entries have been updated, edited, and expanded to almost two-hundred pages of advice on making your own fantasy world.

Plus, I have T-shirts available for sale over on TeePublic! The art of which can also be put on cloth masks.

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