D&D 5E Mordenkainen Presents Monsters of the Multiverse: An In-Depth Review

Every new D&D book comes with its own share of hype and debate. In the case of The D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set, it has also come with a lot of speculation.

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Thanks to comments made at the Future of D&D Panel, fans have a lot of questions. Reviewers are trying to “read the tea leaves” as to what changes to the previously-released books might indicate for the future of Dungeons & Dragons. Our latest data point is the new (but not so new) book Mordenkainen Presents Monsters of the Multiverse.

This is a quibble, but I think the D&D team missed an opportunity with the book's title. After all, the other two books in the set called Tasha's Cauldron of Everything and Xanathar's Guide to Everything, so why not use the simpler Mordenkainen's Monsters of the Multiverse? Personally, I think Mordenkainen's Monsters of Everywhere would be fun, but it appears the D&D team is leaning hard into the multiverse, probably to lay groundwork for the return of Planescape and/or Spelljammer later this year.

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What's in Monsters of the Multiverse?​

One of the misunderstandings concerning MPMotM is what it contains. As the table of contents leaks have demonstrated, MPMotM contains much more than Volo's Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. It contains creatures from VgtM, MToF, Princes of the Apocalypse, Eberron: Rising from the Last War, and Mystic Odysseys of Theros – but even that isn't accurate because MPMotM also includes the demon lords from Out of the Abyss, dinosaurs and other creatures from Tomb of Annihilation, a few creatures from Ghosts of Saltmarsh, and Zariel, Amnizu, and others from Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus. I also found a few carryovers from The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, though those creatures were straight reprints without changes.

Jeremy Crawford said they collected all of the creatures that could be found anywhere in the multiverse even if it's usually associated with a specific part, like the Feywild. So it contains Korred, who were in The Wild Beyond The Witchlight, but doesn't include Living Dolls from the same book. I could make a case for including the latter, but I guess they had to draw a line somewhere.

In terms of other creatures, whether animals, NPCs, or monsters, MPMotM contains 261 stat blocks. That's a substantial amount consolidated in one book for ease of DM use, but since the Monster Manual has about 500 stat blocks, I wish MPMotM did have more entries from the prior books. Then again, like most DMs, I always want more creature options.

In terms of player options, MPMotM has the character races from VGtM – Aasimar, Firbolg, Goliath, Kenku, Lizardfolk,Tabaxi, Triton – in addition to Aaracoka, Bugbear, Centaur, Changeling, Deep Gnome, Duergar, Eladrin, Fairy, Genasi (Air, Fire, Earth, Water), Githyanki, Githzerai, Goblin, Harengon, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Minotaur, Orc, Satyr, Sea Elf, Shadar-kai, Shifter, Tortle, and Yuan-ti for a total of 33 playable races not detailed in the Players Handbook.

I'm rather surprised it doesn't contain the Owlin. I'd say it was because Strixhaven: A Cirriculum of Chaos is based on a Magic the Gathering setting, but so is Mythic Odysseys of Theros, and content from it is included.

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Player Options​

MPMotM continues the ability score flexibility introduced in TCoE. This means that you can create the character you want without ability score disadvantages. If you prefer the classic ability score assignments, use can still use them.

While MPMotM has a lot more player race options, you might not want to toss your copy of VGtM. The older book has more flavor information on the races it contains. For example, the VGtM Aasimar entry has information on Aasimar as celestial champions, guides, hidden wanderers, conflicted souls, and sample Aasimar names, to name a few. The MPMotM has a much more limited introductory information.

The VGtM version also has variants like Protector Aasimar, Scourge Aasimar, and Fallen Aasimar. Instead, Aasimar players have Celestial Revelation once they reach 3rd level and can choose from Necrotic Shroud, Radiant Consumption, or Radiant Soul, which were options assigned to variant Aasimar in VGtM.

Those three abilities are mostly the same with a few tweaks. The VGtM versions lasted for one minute. The MPMotM versions last until the end of your next turn. Damage dealt by the celestial ability is equal to the player's proficiency bonus instead of being equal to their level.

Creature type, age, size, speed, darkvision, the light bearer ability, and celestial resistance are the same in both. Alignment is dropped in the new version because players can choose whatever alignment fits their character concept (and fits the campaign/DM directives).

The Aasimar Healing Hands ability changes. In VGtM, it only heals the creature you touch for the same number of hit points as the Aasimar's level and this ability recharges after a long rest. In the MPMotM version you roll a number of d4s equal to the Aasimar's proficiency bonus and heal for the result rolled. It still recharges after a long rest.

The Changeling can alter their appearance and voice but can't imitate someone they've never seen. The change is confined to creatures of small or medium size, and they don't get any abilities innate to the creature they're copying. Neither clothing nor equipment changes.

Shifters, by contrast, are the descendant of someone with full or partial lycanthropy. They can't fully change but instead can take on a bestial aspect like Beasthide (temporary hit points), Longtooth (fangs for attacking), Swiftstride (extra speed), or Wildhunt (advantage on Wisdom checks).

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The Bestiary​

MPMotM consists almost entirely of creature information, either configured as player options the bestiary. Very little explanation outside of that is provided. Instead, it directs readers to the Monster Manual for more detailed information on things like creature type, size, where they dwell, etc.

The small amount of material that is provided are things like explaining dinosaurs are all grouped together under that heading (instead of looking up all demons under “D” rather than their actual name as the Monster Manual does) and that if a class is listed in a monster's name or under it in parentheses then it's considered part of that class. When weapons and spellcasting behaves unusually, it explains that it's a feature of the creature and has no bearing on that weapon or spell elsewhere.

Detailing changes to every entry isn't feasible so I'm focusing on a handful of illustrative examples from the earliest versions that are updated. But first, a few overview points.

As with some of the more recent books, alignments have had “typically” added in front of them. That means if you prefer old-school assigned alignment versions of the creatures the alignment is there. If you want to change it, well, DMs have always had that option, and 5E in particularly has empowered DMs to change material as needed to tell their story. Having “typically” in front of the alignments is just a handy reminder of that.

The stat blocks for NPC professions get the “any alignment” designation. So do many of the stat block versions of species that are now player options in the front of the book, unless something in that version lends itself to an alignment. In that case then it gets the “typically” moniker. An example of this is the Shadar-kai. The stat block for the Shadar-kai Shadow Dancer is “any alignment” while the Shadar-kai Gloom Weaver and Shadar-kai Soul Monger stat blocks have “typically neutral evil.”

Speaking of stat blocks, the stat block layout is the same, but the information within the stat blocks have changed, usually with a focus on streamlining the spellcasting ability and making it easier for a DM to run them while also maintaining the creature's specific flavor. Occasionally hit points have changed, usually to increase. Challenge Rating (CR) values are largely the same.

MPMotM addresses the issue of DMs using CRs in less-than-optimal ways but not by changing the CR value. Instead, the creatures' actions have been recalibrated to make it easier for a DM to ensure the creature packs the right punch. In some cases, the body text that accompanies the creatures in the bestiary section is the same. In most cases the body text has between tweaked or rewritten to fit the new entry even if it substantially provides the same information. Here’s some examples:

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Example: Shadar-Kai Gloom​

In the case of the Shadar-kai Gloom Weaver, everything in its MPMotM stat block down to the Fey Ancestry entry matches the MToF entry exactly except for two items. “Typically” is added to the alignment and a Proficiency Bonus (+4) is provided next to its CR value. Its Misty Step Reaction is mostly the same, only instead of recharging after a short or long rest, now it recharges on a d6 roll that results in a natural 6, so in theory, it could be used more than once in a fight.

One of the universal changes made in MPMotM is that the spellcasting trait has been replaced by a spellcasting action. Instead of having a spell list and spell slots, creatures get a more focused list of spells with notations as to how many times a day they can cast them or if they're at-will spells. Their spell save DC and spellcasting ability is cited as well as a spell attack bonus, if relevant. If they don't need spell components to cast that is also noted.

In VGtM that means Shadar-kai Gloom Weavers had Chill Touch, Eldritch Blast, Minor Illusion and Prestidigitation as at-will spells and three 5th level spell slots that they could fill with some combination of Armor of Agathys, Blight, Darkness, Dream, Invisibility, Fear, Hypnotic Pattern, Major Image, Contact Other Plane, Vampiric Touch, and Witch Bolt. In the MPMotM version this is streamlined to being able to cast Arcane Eye, Mage Armor, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, and Speak With Dead at will. They can also cast Arcane Gate, Bane, Confusion, Darkness, Fear, Minor Image, and True Seeing once per day each.

Its martial attack, Shadow Spear, changes a little. The spell is still +8 to hit and 1d6+4 damage as the base piercing damage plus 26 points of necrotic damage, but it no longer inflicts different piercing damage if used as a two-handed weapon. Instead the spear returns to the Shadar-kai's hand immediately after making a ranged attack.

The Gloom Weaver still has a multiattack, but in the VGtM version they can make two spear attacks and one spell attack. In MPMotM they get three spear attacks per round and can substitute a spell for one of the spear attacks, giving DMs more flexibility without making it more complex.

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Example: Conjurer Wizard​

Most monsters in MPMotM get a multiattack of some kind. The exception is very low CR creatures. Sometimes the multiattack is specific. For example, in the Conjurer Wizard NPC stats, the multiattack is specific to their Arcane Burst ability, and they can do three Arcane Burst attacks per round. Arcane Burst can be used as a melee or ranged attack (120' range), and it does 3d10 + 3 force damage to one target.

The Conjurer Wizard still gets Benign Transportation, but it recharges now on a roll of 4-6 instead of after casting a conjuration spell of 1st level or higher, and it counts as a bonus action. Summon Elemental also changes from being a 5th level spell for the Conjurer Wizard. The old version had two 5th level spell slots. Now Summon Elemental is a bonus action that can be done once a day.

In lieu of spell slots the DM has to keep track of, the Conjurer Wizard gets Mage Hand, Dancing Lights, and Prestidigitation as at-will spells. Twice a day they can cast some combination of Fireball, Mage Armor, and Unseen Servant, and once a day they have a choice of Fly, Stinking Cloud, or Web.

The Conjurer Wizard has the same CR 6 rating in both entries. However, the new version gets more hit points (58/13d8) compared to VGtM version (40 HP/9d8).

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Example: Hobgoblin Devastator​

The Hobgoblin Devastator has the same amount of hit points and stats in both versions. It loses Arcane Advantage, which I think is a shame, but it was probably removed as part of the streamlining. It keeps Army Arcana, and gains multiattack in the form of two quarterstaff attacks or two Devastating Bolt attacks.

Instead of the earlier version, which had spells up to 4th level, Hobgoblin Devastators get Mage Hand and Prestidigitation at will and can cast Fireball, Fly, Fog Cloud, Gust of Wind, and Lightning Bolt at a rate of twice a day each. Additionally, instead of Magic Missile, they get the action Devastating Bolt, which does 4d8 + 3 force damage and knocks the target prone. Because it's not Magic Missile you do have to roll to hit with a +5, but Devastating Bolt can be performed twice a round so it's rather effective.

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Other Book Notes​

MPMotM uses some art recycled from prior books, along with new art, so the overall look isn't as uniform as some other recent books have been. Despite that, none of the styles are wildly different so it works. My only real artwork complaint is that the images for the demon lords are detailed but rather dark so you lose some of the intricacies.

The cover art by Grzegorz Rutkowski is nice, but I wish the design wasn't so dark so the detail was more visible. The cover has a foil treatment just like the editions of TCoE and XGtE in the set. The foil treatment distinguishes them from the cover art on the original books.

Entries that didn't have artwork in VGtM do get artwork in MPMotM, like the Warlock of the Great Old Ones and the Illusionist Wizard. The art for the NPC classes is especially evocative and attractive.

Speaking of the NPC class entries, many of them get a table to help customize the NPC further. For example, the Archdruid has a chart for favored shapes, the Archer has a table for specialized arrow fletching, and the Bard gets a list of performance types.

While the book's title is “Mordenkainen Presents...” it doesn't just have commentary notes from the wizard himself. Tasha also adds her opinions and some pages have dueling notes from the rivals. Mordenkainen's are a bit pompous (which I expected) and a little dull (which I didn't). Tasha's are more amusingly snarky, and she even points out that dealing with monsters doesn't always have to involve a fight; you can sometimes learn more by having a drink with them.

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Tasha's, Xanathar's & the DM Screen​

Of course, MPMotM isn't the only item in the D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set. It also comes with updated versions of TCoE and XGtE, and a DM's Screen. While I haven't done a line-by-line comparison the updated versus the original versions I did check key points. The only things I found updated were items previously marked for errata. The covers for these two books are the same as before only with a foil treatment.

The DM screen has new art. The interior layout is fairly standard with the usual information on conditions, what can be done on a player's turn, etc.

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Should You Buy It?​

I like MPMotM. Having the monsters consolidated in one book, though I wish it really did collect ALL of the creatures from the prior books. I especially like the abundance of player race options, and the changes to streamline creature attacks look good.

If you don't already own XGtE and TCoE, this Rule Expansion Gift Set is a no-brainer because it contains a wealth of information for both players and DMs. If you do already own one or both of those books, you might want to wait until MPMotM is released as a solo book this May.

How does it stack up in comparison to other D&D book releases?

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Final Score: B+​

MPMotM would have gotten an A if it had more material about how to use the creatures and/or their habitats, lifestyle, etc. Rating the whole set is a bit trickier because I could rate it on its weakest part or an average of all three books. The later would qualify as an A-, but when I think about how a few 2021 D&D books exceeded expectations, a B+ rating might be most fair. It's still a very good rating that reflects the abundance of player options and smart changes to existing monsters.

And like everyone else, I'm looking forward to hearing what D&D will be announcing next.
 
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I'm rather surprised it doesn't contain the Owlin. I'd say it was because Strixhaven: A Cirriculum of Chaos is based on a Magic the Gathering setting, but so is Mythic Odysseys of Theros, and content from it is included.

Maybe because the content in Strixhaven was just a statblock and hardly anything else? Are the 33 races given some lore elements or just statblocks? You mention that previous had more lore, but it is unclear to me whether there is lore about races reprinted/modified in this book, albeit little?
MPMotM continues the ability score flexibility introduced in TCoE. This means that you can create the character you want without ability score disadvantages. If you prefer the classic ability score assignments, use can still use them.

It's telling that a reviewer feels the need to mention that half-orcs are still allowed to but their ASI in STR and elves in DEX...


Those three abilities are mostly the same with a few tweaks. The VGtM versions lasted for one minute. The MPMotM versions last until the end of your next turn. Damage dealt by the celestial ability is equal to the player's proficiency bonus instead of being equal to their level.

A straight nerf.

The Aasimar Healing Hands ability changes. In VGtM, it only heals the creature you touch for the same number of hit points as the Aasimar's level and this ability recharges after a long rest. In the MPMotM version you roll a number of d4s equal to the Aasimar's proficiency bonus and heal for the result rolled. It still recharges after a long rest.

Unless I am mistaken, healing level HP is generally superior to healing PBd4. With a d4 having an average of 2,5, it's superior only when PB is 2 (levels 1-4), 3 (levels 5-7), 4 (level 9, tied on level 10) and no longer after that. So over the 1-20 levels, it's a more powerful during 8 levels, tied during 1 level and less powerful during 11 levels. Levels when, admittedly, the game is reputed not to be played much anyways, but still, I'd say the original version is marginally more powerful. I didn't have a lot of aasimar characters so I didn't detect any imbalance, but that's just me.


The Changeling can alter their appearance and voice but can't imitate someone they've never seen. The change is confined to creatures of small or medium size, and they don't get any abilities innate to the creature they're copying. Neither clothing nor equipment changes.

Does it mean the changeling can effectively change size by shifting appearance?

The Bestiary​

MPMotM consists almost entirely of creature information, either configured as player options the bestiary. Very little explanation outside of that is provided. Instead, it directs readers to the Monster Manual for more detailed information on things like creature type, size, where they dwell, etc.

I'd have titled this book Szasstam's Cyclopedia of Statblocks from Somewhere, then.

I'd say the final mark would depend heavily on whether one had the previous books.
 


Bolongo

Herr Doktor
The small amount of material that is provided are things like explaining dinosaurs are all grouped together under that heading (instead of looking up all demons under “D” rather than their actual name as the Monster Manual does) and that if a class is listed in a monster's name or under it in parentheses then it's considered part of that class.
This sentence is confusing. Is there a "not" missing somewhere in there?
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
Did they fix the very low hit points for demon lords and arch devils? Can they actually damage each other now.... They didn't have magic weapons and did regular damage types....
 


Zaukrie

New Publisher
I just find the fiction of demon lords having less hit points than drow mind boggling. Of greater devils not having magic weapons very sloppy or lazy in terms of fiction.
 

Gadget

Adventurer
It sounds like, and I could be wrong, the devs are going a little more in the direction of 4e design with monsters by giving them more abilities and mechanics that are unique to themselves, rather than just mimic player abilities. This makes them both easier to run, and is a step towards getting rid of the every popular "Oh, but that's a DM spell!" when one of the many subpar spells in the PHB is complained about.
 



Jer

Legend
Supporter
It's a little weird how NPCs like the Gloom Caster and the Conjurer look like much more interesting characters to play rather than actual characters built with the PC rules.
What do you mean by this? Do you mean that as a player you'd rather play the Gloom Caster or the Conjurer with those simplified mechanics, or do you mean as a DM they look like they'd be more interesting characters to play with their simplified mechanics than an NPC built with character rules?
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
What do you mean by this? Do you mean that as a player you'd rather play the Gloom Caster or the Conjurer with those simplified mechanics, or do you mean as a DM they look like they'd be more interesting characters to play with their simplified mechanics than an NPC built with character rules?
I meant the former.
 

It sounds like, and I could be wrong, the devs are going a little more in the direction of 4e design with monsters by giving them more abilities and mechanics that are unique to themselves, rather than just mimic player abilities. This makes them both easier to run, and is a step towards getting rid of the every popular "Oh, but that's a DM spell!" when one of the many subpar spells in the PHB is complained about.

I felt like the monsters were the best part of 4e. Easy to run and lots of variations. I am all for monsters playing by different simplified rules.
 

The D&D team is leaning hard into the multiverse, probably to lay groundwork for the return of Planescape and/or Spelljammer later this year.

I'm guessing an "and" where we get Spelljammer ships as planar vehicles. I think for a lot of people Spelljamer exist more as their "Camelot" in that what Spelljammer could have be vs what it was. After the first two products, the implementation went downhill.

It also wanted to play both sides of the field of being Master & Commander along with also being Swashbuckling, which are two different tonal shifts in your naval gaming. e.g. I use my floating ship to let me jump through a 4-story window to save the day vs I use my floating ship to drop rocks on a target to win the day.

And for me, it's sort of weird that while giant space hamsters were too silly for some but they still find "Go for the eyes" hilarious. (I think they are both funny.)
 

It's a little weird how NPCs like the Gloom Caster and the Conjurer look like much more interesting characters to play rather than actual characters built with the PC rules.
Welcome to about every other edition of D&D. It's an effect of trying to create a variety of cool caster villains to fight the PCs vs trying to balance out PCs among themselves.

Eventually every wizard player/DM conversation:
Player: "Why can't I make a cool floating castle?"
DM: "Because you were out adventuring!"
Player: "Then why did I go adventuring in the first place?!"

It's also part of the fluff vs game mechanics part of the game as well.
 


JThursby

Adventurer
So there’s nothing new in the book, just revisions of older material? How is this worth my money? If they wanted to revise old stuff they should do so after the next core books or edition update, not this weird in between that will be outdated soon anyways. I just can’t agree that abridged versions of old content with nothing new to add is worth $50 and a B+ score.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
I'm guessing an "and" where we get Spelljammer ships as planar vehicles. I think for a lot of people Spelljamer exist more as their "Camelot" in that what Spelljammer could have be vs what it was. After the first two products, the implementation went downhill.
I love the concept of Spelljammer but never really liked the implementation. The whole "crystal spheres and phlogiston" felt way too prescriptive to me. The desire to make all of the various D&D worlds inhabit the same fantasy space also never sat well with me - I always felt that they were "alternate prime material planes" not planets in the same fantasy universe.

But then my preferred published campaign setting was always the Known World/Mystara, which had a crashed spaceship as part of its history, so I wanted my fantasy space to be largely compatible with a sci-fi version of space but with magic.
And for me, it's sort of weird that while giant space hamsters were too silly for some but they still find "Go for the eyes" hilarious. (I think they are both funny.)
Everyone has their own limit to their suspension of disbelief. For me giant space hamsters were hilarious and worked, but everyone's taste is different.
 

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