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Tasha’s Cauldron of No Change

It’s been a year for D&D. The year started strong, but rapidly devolved into scandal as their claims of diversity and inclusion came into question and began to collapse under serious scrutiny following the revelations of former marginalized employees. I even formally announced that my D&D related material was all on hold until there was concrete movement on the deep issues around race that the game had suffered from for decades. But there was a lifeline. Prior to the scandals breaking, Jeremy Crawford (D&D’s current principle rules designer) announced that they’d “heard” us, and that changes were coming later this year (2020) to address this long standing set of problems. [1] So how did that go down? Time to break the pause on D&D posts.

To say I was immediately suspicious was an understatement. I was clear in my initial analysis on Twitter that any changes had to be baked into the game, not optional rulesets. Why? Because optional rules are just that, “optional”. If it wasn’t a full shift, complete with Adventurer League integration, it was just a pointless exercise of literal virtue signalling. It wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t already being done by groups who were tired of the racism. It wouldn’t start to push back against the weight of decades of psychological anchoring on highly problematic, racist stereotypes and narratives.

Fast forward to now, November 2020. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything releases to predictably thunderous and largely uncritical applause. Most of the book is consumed with optional and updated material for classes, magic stuff, and what looks to be an interesting DM section as far as world building goes. But the part I’m interested in, the part that Jeremy Crawford talked up, the part that was supposed to address the deep problems around race in D&D? One page. One.

So what was on that page? To be honest, sweet fuck all that’s substantive. It’s a very basic, uncreative, and status quo supporting rough guide to homebrewing your player race a little bit. The “stereotypes” it chose to address were the simple physical ones, like “not all dwarves are tough”, so that +2 CON modifier could be used elsewhere! Or “not all high elves are proficient with long swords”, so talk to your DM and pick a different weapon! And of course, that perennial issue of “maybe I don’t know X language because of my background”, so talk to the DM about a different appropriate language! There was literally nothing in it addressing anything close to what had been hinted at or what marginalized people had been pointing out.

More than anything, what this release told me, and likely tells many others, is that Wizards is still not serious about dealing with the racism and bioessentialism in their books and game. It told me that they’re entirely happy with the status quo, and that their promises of change, diversity, and inclusion are as hollow as they were revealed to be this summer, and that their apology was empty. [2] [3] It’s been just over three years now since I wrote the first part of the Tomb of Annihilation review series. [4] Three years since Kotaku dropped a feel bad bomb on D&D for its botched attempt at a non-European coded area. [5] Three years of Wizards saying “they’d make it right” and “they’d do better”. They haven’t; and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything is worse than I thought it would be. Where it could have started meaningful change, instead it offers the most superficial of change to the point where it’s not actually worth the money it cost to print the page its on.

I’d say “Do better Wizards”, but I don’t think they want to or will, so I’ll save my breath.

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