Opening Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes

Unlike 4th Edition, 5th Edition D&D has had a much slower pace for book releases. While some fans grumble, the change has worked in WotC's favor, making each release an event, and interest is doubled for source books like Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes.

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While Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (MtoF) is a rich resource for both players and DMs with 144 monster stat blocks, new options for elves, dwarves, tieflings, halflings and gnomes, and a host of inspiration, it also reads a bit like a story that reveals the cosmology and pre-history of the D&D multiverse. That fulfills Mike Mearls’ goal of explaining the driving forces in the D&D multiverse so that a new player or DM would have a good sense of the world.

Much like Xanathar's Guide to Everything, MtoF uses the conceit of having been written by someone within the D&D multiverse – Mordenkainen, the legendary wizard from Greyhawk who believes in maintaining "the Balance" out of fear that any victor in the war between good, evil, law and chaos would become a tyrant. This allows the book to use epic conflicts as the organizing theme, and it's a good choice.

The first chapter explains the Blood War, the ongoing battle between demon and devils with details on the demon lords of the Abyss and the devils that rule the Nine Hells. It answers the common question, "Why don't evil beings join forces to conquer the multiverse" rather well, providing an excellent viewpoint for devils.

MtoF provides ways to customize NPC cults according to the associated demon or devil lord. Cambions, devils, demons, and tieflings also get customization options. The demon lords detailed in Rage of Demons are reprinted here for simplicity and to keep everything together, but they're modified with increased hit points and often higher damage attacks.

The primal history of the elves explains not just how Drow became outcasts, but why there are so many types of elves. Rather than make "they're evil" the motivation, it's a more complicated origin akin to Lolth and Corellon as parents who turn on each other, leaving their children to suffer for it. The origins of the Raven Queen, Eladrin and Shadar-Kai also tie into this epic conflict. If the upcoming D&D movie succeeds, this bit of history could make a good prequel.

Elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes and tieflings get various player options including charts for quirks, personality options, etc. and more details on the various deities and their relationships with their followers. If you ever wondered what an elf experiences during reverie and why, MtoF answers that along with the Drow counterpart, how elves punish crime and more.

A much talked about teaser for the book revealed the new ability, Corellon's Blessing. Because the creator of the elves can change into any shape, with the DM's approval, this ability allows an elf to change their gender once a day, after a long rest. Mechanically, it's a simple gift, but it led to some fan debates as to whether the "Player's Handbook +1" rule would limit players who wanted this ability to MtoF, preventing them from using it with the class options from Xanathar's Guide to Everything. While MtoF doesn't specify, the free PDF, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes Primer, which is available on DriveThruRPG and the DM's Guild web sites, indicates that for official play, Corellon's Blessing, along with some deity choices for elves, dwarves, halflings and gnomes, are not limited by PHB+1.

After explaining their intertwined origins, sea elves, Shadar-Kai and Eladrin become player options in MToF with the latter gaining variant options of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter Eladrin. These options are subject to PHB+1 for official play. However, in a D&D Beyond interview designer Jeremy Crawford cautioned that the Eladrin listed in the monster section in the back of the book are not player options.

Much like the history of the elves, dwarves and their tragic fight with the duergar (now a player option) is another key piece of lore. Deities of both groups are explained, which makes sense since fealty to and hatred of Moradin is at the core of the split between the two. The sidebars on the effects of alcohol on dwarves and duergar are interesting and could be used to add depth to one's role-playing.

Gith also become player race options in MToF, but Giff do not. The latter are a hippo-headed, military race from Spelljammer with art that makes everyone who sees it want to play one. It would be relatively easy to homebrew an option using the monster stat block as a foundation.

Official play for the Githyanki and Githzerai requires that they be members of the Sha'sal Khou, a group of radicals seeking to reunite the two groups into one Gith species. Much like how organized play requires lawful evil characters to be members of the Zhentarim, this requirement gives the DM a way to rein in characters since Githyanki tend to be lawful evil.

Between the Gith entry and the duergar, there are numerous references to mind flayers and their long-gone empire, so it's a bit surprising that it's not detailed in the book. It would have been a logical addition. The creatures in the bestiary have higher challenge ratings to accommodate characters 10th level and above.

Considering the number of planar creatures in MToF, I suspect Sigil may be part of an upcoming release, with a revival of Spelljammer as a close second guess – especially since Mike Mearls noted in a recent video that Spelljammer ships cross planes instead of sailing through space.

The book's covers are well done, though the limited edition cover (my follow-up review displays that cover) by Vance Kelly is far more impressive in person. It's downright stunning, but photographs don't show off the metallics or details well whereas the mainstream release cover by Jason Rainville do.

My only real complaint about MToF is its length. At 256 pages, it's substantial but several parts could have been expanded further without the book feeling bloated. The options provided give players a lot to work with for character-based adventures. DMs will find a wealth of inspiration and creatures to challenge parties of any level. It's very much a success.
contributed by Beth Rimmels
 
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

guachi

Hero
Thanks for the overview.

This confirms that the book's content isn't my cup of tea. The book goes into D&D lore that I don't really care about.
 

unknowable

Explorer
I love the lore and the options for players, but I would have liked the player options to be more organised (like they are in volos guide). This feels like a step backwards.

I would have also liked more monsters and stat blocks overall, make a bigger book even if it included reprints (like the princes of elemental evil for instance, why the heck weren't they reprinted? I own the PotA book but that isn't the point)

Overall I think it is a weaker book than volos though.
 

Kobold Boots

Banned
Banned
Review good - Seems like the "Dr. Strange" guide to the D&D multiverse with the way you've described Mordy.
[MENTION=6919689]brimmels[/MENTION] - Do you think the work would also benefit experienced DMs who might find some cool nuggets to yoink into their own settings or is it re-hashing existing concepts with a tweak towards 5e?

Thanks,
KB
 


Aguirre Melchiors

Banned
Banned
my only complaint is that racial feats would fit very well in this book, or some racial boons and magic itens, i found the meta narrative of the elf race kinda limiting, too deity oriented
 

I'm very happy with the book. The fluff stuff isn't bad, though I'm not as rigidly wedded to D&D lore as some are. But the monsters are really, really good. They all have excellent hooks for portrayal and how I might use them. Mechanically I'm also very impressed. Couldn't be happier.
 

Kobold Boots

Banned
Banned
my only complaint is that racial feats would fit very well in this book, or some racial boons and magic itens, i found the meta narrative of the elf race kinda limiting, too deity oriented

I agree about the matter of having deities appended to everything.

That said, it's a small matter to rework the narrative and keep the shiny parts you like. Fact is that D&D when using a default setting will always be too limiting for some when they build their expansions into their default setting.
 

Aguirre Melchiors

Banned
Banned
we had a joke in my group that elves dont have genitals, they have only a oak leaf in its place. Elves are so pure and magical that instead of sex they just lay togheder and hug for a long time
 

Aaron Good

First Post
This review says that the hitpoints and damage values of the Demon Lords are generally higher in ToF than their OotA counterparts. This is not true. Over half the Demon Lords have lower hitpoints and damage values in ToF. Some have gone unchanged but most have been nerfed, not bufffed.
 

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