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

CapnZapp

Legend
SCAG is an excellent case in point. Judging by its terrible light-weight-ness it should have sold poorly, forcing WotC to give us better value for our money in future supplements.

But the dearth of material has pretty much meant WotC gets away with it, since people apparently buy everything regardless of how shallow and sparse it gets...
 

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guachi

Hero
WotC is making everything they can to cram everything into every book: player's options, campaign material, and monsters.

The idea is that a PHB2 would not sell to DMs, and a MM2 not to players. Amounting to lower sales.

As long as us customers buy *everything* regardless of how low ratio we get, WotC has little reason to change.

Alternatively, customers buy nothing because of the cobbled together nature of the product. It's neither fish nor fowl.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Alternatively, customers buy nothing because of the cobbled together nature of the product. It's neither fish nor fowl.

When that starts to happen, Wizards will change their approach. But right now despite complaints from people on the internet their products are selling better than they have in a while.

I actually suspect that this strategy will work for them for a long time. Because with the slow trickle of content every book could be essentially a massive hardback issue of Dragon magazine and it would still sell well.
 

gyor

Legend
These are pretty much established trends in 5e books, I wonder why people are still surprised about them:

- Books are light. There is a lot less material compared to typical 3e books. For core books this is actually a good thing that mostly has to do with the game being simpler and actually needing less written stuff; so the 5e PHB has the same potential as the 3e PHB, even more classes and races actually, and lots of spells were merged, but overall the material needs less words (just check the difference in text size and space occupied by artwork). OTOH, for supplements it may not be that positive, but WotC doesn't have nearly as many designers it used to have in 3e, and they made it clear they won't release stuff unless they are sure about it (personally I think it's a bit bogus, I think they are now just caught into the habit of simply cutting down any UA material down to 2/3 just because, even if it would be fairly balanced already). Anyway, that's just to say that it is quite annoying to see people still expecting twice the stuff it could fit in a 5e book with the current layout, and then be disappointed.

- Stuff gets reprinted. Whether they do it because they need some filler, or because they genuinely want to help those who don't buy adventures or settings book, it's going to happen again.

- Books are hodgepodged. A book might have a theme, and a slant towards a certain type of material. But ultimately they release only 1 non-adventure book per year (maybe 2 in 2018), so it's inevitable that they will always have players' stuff that DMs don't need, and DM's stuff that players don't need. They probably won't double the release schedule, and they certainly won't leave 2 years between releasing a book that a DM or a player would buy. They also don't really plan books, but rather collect scattered ideas all the time through UA, and then figure out a possible theme.

- The AL rule of "PHB+1" is going to stay, unless there is a change in management or there is a crisis with the popularity of AL. Just deal with the rule if you want to play AL, and remember that just as it could have been "PHB+2" it could have also been "PHB only". Anyway, due to the reprinting practice, I wouldn't be surprised if one day they release a "Best of 5e" book to effectively break the PHB+1 rule without formally dropping it.

I have no plans to stop pushing for the extremely poor PHB +1 rule to be dropped so we shall see.
 

Remathilis

Legend
I have no plans to stop pushing for the extremely poor PHB +1 rule to be dropped so we shall see.
Are you playing in Adventurer's League? If not, its a nonissue. If so, I'm sorry you can't play a Triton Storm sorcerer with lightning lure. But the alternative is a ever-growing list of allowed and banned options, so pick your poison.
 

Thanks for this. One suggestion: I'd prefer that the "PHB +1 rule" be explained when you first mention it. I suppose from reading on, you're talking about Adventurers' League play - though the many who are in AL may be baffled (as I was) by this.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I have no plans to stop pushing for the extremely poor PHB +1 rule to be dropped so we shall see.
I agree the PHB+1 rule is extremely poor. If it were up to me, AL would be PHB only. :)

Or better yet, Basic Rules only. Because with each new supplement, the game gets less and less newbie-friendly, which is bad.
 

gyor

Legend
I agree the PHB+1 rule is extremely poor. If it were up to me, AL would be PHB only. :)

Or better yet, Basic Rules only. Because with each new supplement, the game gets less and less newbie-friendly, which is bad.

How about one race and one class with one skill and one melee attack and no spells. Now that would be newbie friendly.

Or you can just explain things to newbies and suggest to them they stick with PHB or PHB +1 until they feel comfortable with the rules. Other players with multiple books doesn't impact on them.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
They have a Goddess of Love and a Goddess of sex and a God of Hedonism, plus a Drow God of Hedonism, the Elves in D&D ain't that "pure" and thank heavens for that.

Definitely, and before the whole War Among the Seldarine, Correlon was getting down with both Sehanine and Araushnee, though I guess it depends on which of the various origin stories you believe.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
I'm in the opposite camp. I've been running a campaign for 3 years and the PCs are engaged in multiverse-changing events. I imagined, very early on, they would be facing a Demon Lord and the Daelkyr alien horrors from the Realm of Madness. The PCs all have legendary items, artifacts, and their first Boon. They have yet to face a Demon Lord but it's going to happen. The last great horror they faced killed their leader with a Finger of Death, requiring a very costly True Resurrection. I'm eager for them to fight a worthy Demon Lord, but he won't be from Tome of Foes.
Just do some upgrading, say more hit points and add some damage to their attacks and you're pretty much back to the OotA versions, it looks like. IMO one really big thing is to make sure to use lair actions and legendary actions appropriately, and to make sure they have appropriate backup.
 

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