Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything brings a variety of additions to the rules of 5th edition, the first of which being changes to race bonuses. This comes as a response to the discourse around the community regarding the more unsavory aspects of the racial system in D&D. A problem that is symptomatic of the problematic tropes that D&D was originally built on, as well as the reluctance of Wizards of the Coast to employ BIMPOC voices to help erase those tropes. Seems like a pretty heavy topic to handle in… two pages. Let’s take a look at these pages and see how well the Wizards of the Coast handle this issue.
This section starts with an explanation that the stat bonuses for races serve as reinforcements for archetypes that those races usually fall into. They also go on to clarify that these reinforcements aren’t necessarily indicative of every member of the race. This seems to indicate that it’s meant to help newer players build characters with little direction. I have several issues with this. The first being that it reinforces problematic stereotypes, such as the orcs being simpletons. This is an issue that Wizards has stated they’ve rectified with books like Eberron and Wildemount, which is all well and good, but then why didn’t they reprint those changes in this book? They’ve already reprinted a good number of subclasses in this book (an entire class from Eberron even) which seems to be for the purpose of keeping everything fairly condensed. This is good for the budget of the game, but works against their point of progress.
The second issue I have with this mentality of archetypes is that it is limiting from a game design perspective. It assumes that players only have access to the books and no other pieces of information, which is ignorant given the world we live in. If players find themselves unsure of what way to build their character, then they can do a simple search and find the countless tutorials that await them. That also assumes there isn’t any way to elegantly nudge players towards archetypes. There is. There are many ways that have been designed by the wonderful community, my favorite of which being GabeJamesGames’s Class Modifier Module.
Now on to the actual changes Tasha’s Cauldron brings to race. The first is the ability to shift stat bonuses around. This is a fine change, if an uninspired one. It’s not going to break the game in any way to have your Tieflings be strong and dragonborn be wise. And with the limitations on stacking bonuses, changelings keep their crown as the only race to get a bonus of three to one stat. It feels like a bandaid solution, and a bare minimum one at that.
The next change is a lift of restrictions to languages. This is a good change, since it allows for more interesting characters. It also helps to make characters more cohesive with the story. If a GM wants to run a dwarf centric story, the players aren’t pressured into picking a race that knows dwarven to be able to communicate. Another change has been made to proficiencies, and it’s the only change that feels fleshed out to me. They’ve added a table for swapping proficiencies provided by your race. This means more than just a skill for a skill, going even for swapping a weapon proficiency for a tool one. This is a change that is sorely needed, and can lead to a lot more options with builds. You can bet I’m about to build an elf that wields a war hammer.
The final addition to the race rework is the custom lineage stat block. This is meant to be a blank template to use for your race in order to have full control and choice over it. The problem is that there is not a whole lot of choice here. It feels like a modified variant human with a few additional choices. I was rather disappointed in this, because it feels like lazy design. I would’ve liked to see a more complex system that allows you to add the powers and proficiencies you see in the other races. Perhaps a system akin to the point buy system that exists for stats. As it stands now, you’ll probably be better off using the variant human as your race and just saying you look like whatever you’d like. Overall, this stat block just feels tacked on; yet another missed opportunity.
Off the topic of race, but still in this section of Tasha’s Cauldron are the additions to general class options. They include suggestions for if you want to change your subclass, or a skill granted by your class. They also provide helpful ideas for implementing these changes, such as the timing, costs, and reasoning behind them. These serve as nice reminders that the players are not locked down by the rules if those rules mean they are no longer enjoying the game. It is a reinforcement of their rule zero, which they lean on a bit too heavily, the rule that the GM can change the game as they see fit.
The race rework in Tasha’s is rather disappointing. It feels tacked on in response to the discourse that happened in the community not too long ago. My hope is that this is just a small sample of changes to come. But for now it seems that it is up to the community to pick up after Wizards’ mess. That doesn’t mean we can be dismissive of them if they try to pass this off as their attempt to fix things. In fact I believe it’s important to criticize their work so that they will do better by the people who love their game so that the game can become better with each iteration. But in the meantime we can work together as a community to help fix this game’s glaring errors and truly make it our game.