Reopening Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes
  • Reopening Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes


    Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes is so packed with material, my first review mainly focused on the lore and race options. Now we'll address the other half of the book – the bestiary.


    One of the complaints about the Monster Manual was the relative scarcity of higher level creatures, especially ones that weren't demons, devils or dragons. MToF addresses the deficit, but since only 20 creatures presents have a challenge rating of 20 or more, none of them greater than 26 and some of them previously appeared in Rage of Demons, fans of high level campaigns – or sadistic DMs – won't be fully satisfied.

    That's not to say the bestiary portion is bad or insufficient. The mix of new creatures and updated monsters gives DMs a lot to work with. Let's be honest – gamers just always want more.

    Which is why the bestiary entries that support the species listed in front part of MToF are so useful. Want to explore more about Drow or Duergar or the Gith or Shadar-kai culture? MToF has a variety of non-player options like Drow Inquisitors, Duergar Soulblades, Githyanki kith'rak, and Shadar-Kai Gloom Weavers provide more insight to the cultures, interesting NPCs and lethal adversaries.

    Fans of older editions might enjoy Moloch, whose statue graced the cover of the Players Handbook for many years. His background entry has a variety of story hooks DMs can use. Giving him a 21 Intelligence seems odd considering how badly his schemes have failed, but arrogance and intelligence often work at cross purposes. At a +15 to hit, his Many-Tailed Whip is a formidable weapon, though I expected higher damage levels to go with it.

    (Yes, technically the statue could also be described as a Sacred Statue not currently inhabited by an Eidolon. Both get stat blocks in MToF.)

    One of the creepiest new monsters is the Oblex. You can discover its connection to the Make-a-Wish Foundation here.

    Nagpa tie into the Raven Queen's history and are a nasty adversary that could be discovered accidentally in ancient ruins or pulling the strings behind various schemes and plots. With a 17 CR, big list of spells, corruption and paralysis abilities, your players will hate them, and you can tie a mythic thread through your campaign to the Raven Queen if you wish.

    Ogres and Trolls gain more variety. The Ogre Howdah can lead to some fun tactics as the players fight it and the smaller creatures it carries around. Miniature painters can also have a lot of fun customizing that one.

    The variant Trolls occur when they regenerate in an area that has encountered a vast amount of death, disease, etc. Spirit Trolls are especially tricky due to the combination of incorporeal and regeneration. If that plus Rot Trolls, Dire Trolls and Venom Trolls aren't enough options, it would be easy to come up with your own variants using these as models, though it doesn't provide an official guidance for that. Vaprak the Destroyer also gets a small sidebar to give DMs even more ideas.

    Two words I never encountered before are “Drow constructs,” and the Retriever is a scary prospect. Designed to capture demons, it's a daunting opponent, and its sleek, spidery appearance is both awesome and nightmare inducing.

    Speaking of constructs, the Iron Cobra gets an update with really nice artwork (though I've consistently enjoyed the art style used in this edition). Additionally it, the Bronze Scout, Oaken Bolter and Stone Defender have charts for Clockwork Enchantments and and Clockwork Malfunctions that can be used to customize them or other constructs.

    For a more difficult challenge, there are also the Steel Predator. While they originate in Sigil, the entry provides ideas for justifying a rogue Predator. Between its immunities, resistance, and attacks, it's a fearsome creature that never needs to rest or eat.

    Tortles make it into MToF but, like the Giff, only as stat block creatures, not playable races. I've already had players ask me to allow them as PC races, and I'm sure I'm not the only DM hearing that. Tortles are rather adorable, and they do start at a low enough CR to make adapting to a player race easy.

    If you like eldritch horror and elder evil, the Star Spawn are very useful. Star Spawn Grue are a weak challenge that could hint at things to come as you gradually introduce the more powerful Star Spawn Seers, Hulks, Larva Mages, and Manglers. As heralds, servants and soldiers of ancient evil, they could be worked into various conspiracies with multiple double crosses if you pair them with other evil factions.

    D&D fans eager for a return of the classic settings have been trying to read the tea leaves to guess which one will follow the well-received Ravenloft revival, Curse of Strahd. MToF doesn't make it easy. It has an obvious interest in planar conflict and creatures, especially the Marut, that might hint at a Sigil-based adventure coming next, but as Mike Mearls recently pointed out, Spelljammer ships don't fly through space. They move between planes. References to Dark Sun and Dragonlance (Kender!) will likely encourage fans of those settings, too. Only time will tell which guess is right. I'm hoping for Planescape since that makes adding the other settings easy from a story perspective.

    No D&D supplement will ever please everyone, especially one containing a bestiary. There's always a demand for more monsters than were provided or more of a different type of monster or a different level, etc. That said, MToF hits the sweet spot of providing enough lore, creatures with stat blocks, DM inspiration and player options to make it a useful purchase for players and DMs. As much as I liked Xanathar's Guide to Everything, I'll probably use MToF far more, regardless of which side of the DM screen I am on.

    contributed by Beth Rimmels
    Comments 49 Comments
    1. gyor's Avatar
      gyor -
      Tortles are AL legal, you can find rules for playable Tortles in the Tortle Package on DMGUILD.
    1. dwayne's Avatar
      dwayne -
      I got my special edition cover version, and I love it but was disappointed for no Greyhawk stuff. I too hope for planescape, i ran it back in the day 2nd edition and still have all my stuff so an updated verson would be a bonus.
    1. gyor's Avatar
      gyor -
      Quote Originally Posted by dwayne View Post
      I got my special edition cover version, and I love it but was disappointed for no Greyhawk stuff. I too hope for planescape, i ran it back in the day 2nd edition and still have all my stuff so an updated verson would be a bonus.
      There is some Greyhawk stuff, I believe there is a reference to Greyhawk in the Dwarves section and some of the Gods are originally Greyhawk Gods.
    1. Zaukrie's Avatar
      Zaukrie -
      It seemed like every drow could defeat about half the arch devils in combat.... Are those hit points low for a couple, or what?
    1. ShadoWWW's Avatar
      ShadoWWW -
      The Blood War fluff is much more boring than anything in Volo's Guide to Monsters. In fact, just Elves and Halflings and Gnomes sections match the quality of Volo. I like Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, but VGtM was superb and much more interesting and readable than MToF.
    1. MonsterEnvy's Avatar
      MonsterEnvy -
      Quote Originally Posted by ShadoWWW View Post
      The Blood War fluff is much more boring than anything in Volo's Guide to Monsters. In fact, just Elves and Halflings and Gnomes sections match the quality of Volo. I like Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, but VGtM was superb and much more interesting and readable than MToF.
      The blood war is not for everyone. Personally I loved that chapter more then anything in Volo's guide.
    1. guachi's Avatar
      guachi -
      I was disappointed in the nagpa. As far as I'm aware, the creature first appeared in module X4 Master of the Desert Nomads and, like the Tortle, is a Mystara creature.

      The nagpa's Corruption ability is really weak now. The name is the same but the ability now charms instead of corrupting and destroying items (even magic items). That's a nasty ability.
    1. Jeffrey Robbins's Avatar
      Jeffrey Robbins -
      Is it me or do the Nagpa look like the Skeksis from "The Dark Crystal".
    1. Polyhedral Columbia's Avatar
      Polyhedral Columbia -
      Yeah, the Nagpa, originally from BECMI D&D (Mystara), are based on Dark Crystal.
    1. Vymair's Avatar
      Vymair -
      I've always liked Githyanki, so that lore chapter was quite interesting for me.
    1. PrintableHeroes's Avatar
      PrintableHeroes -
      I was a bit disappointed by how many of the new monsters from MToF didn't include art - We got more art for a relatively generic Duergar, but not for the new Duergar constructs for example. The Star Spawn were another where the art was lackluster. All of these new and different Star Spawn and the only are is for a re-purposed larva mage.

      That said there, much of the art that is there is fantastic and there's lots of great stuff in there to inspire DMs.
    1. vincegetorix's Avatar
      vincegetorix -
      Quote Originally Posted by PrintableHeroes View Post
      I was a bit disappointed by how many of the new monsters from MToF didn't include art - We got more art for relatively a generic Duergar, but not for the new Duergar constructs for example. The Star Spawn were another where the art was lackluster. All of these new and different Star Spawn and the only are is for a re-purposed larva mage.

      That said there, much of the art that is there is fantastic and there's lots of great stuff in there to inspire DMs.
      After reading the book at a friend, I canceled my amazon shipping exactly because of that reason. I'm someone who use as much the lore as the art to spark new ideas. Having many creatures lack art or having a lot of reprinted art hurt the book IMO. I also have a specific artist that I cant help but to hate its work and everytime I see its design my love for a book decreases. Compared to Volo's with the great lair maps and all, its hard to justify buying it for me. I'll use the book ''on demand'' with a friend Beyond account, and I'll skip it for my personal collection.
    1. MonsterEnvy's Avatar
      MonsterEnvy -
      Here is the unused 5e art for the spawn Grue and spawn Seer.
      Name: FoulspawnGrue.jpg ► Views: 3196 ► Size: 164.6 KB
      Name: FoulspawnSeer.jpg ► Views: 2530 ► Size: 311.4 KB
    1. gyor's Avatar
      gyor -
      Quote Originally Posted by vincegetorix View Post
      After reading the book at a friend, I canceled my amazon shipping exactly because of that reason. I'm someone who use as much the lore as the art to spark new ideas. Having many creatures lack art or having a lot of reprinted art hurt the book IMO. I also have a specific artist that I cant help but to hate its work and everytime I see its design my love for a book decreases. Compared to Volo's with the great lair maps and all, its hard to justify buying it for me. I'll use the book ''on demand'' with a friend Beyond account, and I'll skip it for my personal collection.
      Even I have to admit that the book has a shockingly low amount of art for a WotC book.
    1. PrintableHeroes's Avatar
      PrintableHeroes -
      @MonsterEnvy I don't suppose you happen to know why those weren't included? Quality-wise it's on par compared to some of the other illustrations, but I could see the direction being too similar to Ghouls - that would be my issue with them.
    1. vincegetorix's Avatar
      vincegetorix -
      Quote Originally Posted by gyor View Post
      Even I have to admit that the book has a shockingly low amount of art for a WotC book.
      Right? I probably dont need art for every creatures in the books (beasts for example), but creatures with specific look from another plane might require a visual representation. 4e even had good pictures of the star spawns, I'm sure they retain the rights to the art even in new editions, right? I'm usually a big fan of 5e books, I own them all and I often buy them based on the art, but this one feels a little bland.
    1. HawaiiSteveO's Avatar
      HawaiiSteveO -
      I was concerned as DDB version seemed light on art, even though it's supposed to be exactly the same as the books (and has been to date). Guess that's the way it is, too bad!
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      I did a count, and out of all the monster illustrations there are 28 stat blocks not tied to a specific picture. In about all cases I saw, the stat blocks sans picture were for creature entries with multiple stat blocks and one primary picture.....for example, tortles have a picture but not necessarily a picture of a normal tortle and a druid tortle. One Duergar works for me; it would have been nice to have multiple duergar (such as how githyanki and shadar-kai are represented), but not a deal breaker by any stretch.

      Every single entry creature definitely had a picture to go with the stat block....but I agree the star spawn entries could have used more than the worm guy picture. Other than that, I think the assertion that this book was low on art isn't matching my perceptions; it's heavier on text and pages, though, that's for sure.

      All in all this book has proven to me to be a MUST BUY. It's going to get a lot of use.
    1. Doctor Futurity -
      Quote Originally Posted by Polyhedral Columbia View Post
      Yeah, the Nagpa, originally from BECMI D&D (Mystara), are based on Dark Crystal.
      I'm sure halflings or gnomes are intended here, but I feel like we could use an entry on the "totally not gelflings" as well to go with the nagpa!
    1. MNblockhead's Avatar
      MNblockhead -
      I'm enjoying the book, both the art and text a great deal. The only book 5e book that was a bit disappointed in and could have done without is Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, but even that wasn't as bad as some complained. MToF is a solid book and one I expect to get a lot of use out of.
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