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

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
People compare The Blessed of Corellon to Trans or Gender Fluid, but its more like Machihembras, a rare medical condition where a child is born a girl, hits puberty then turns into a boy. Except TBOCL have more control ovet it and can make a change daily. Its interesting.

From the DMG 1E, p. 145:

Girdle of Femininity/Masculinity: This broad leather band appears to be a normal belt used commonly by all sorts of adventures, but of course it is magical. If buckled on, it will immediately change the sex of its wearer to the opposite gender. Its magical curse fulfilled, the belt then loses all power. The original sex of the character cannot be restored by any normal means, although a wish might do so (50% chance), and a powerful being can alter the situation, i.e., it takes a god-like creature to set matters aright with certainty. 10% of these circles actually remove all sex from the wearer.

Oh the halcyon days of the late '70s... simpler times. :cool:

These kinds of things have substantial button-pushing possibilities for many folks, especially when one makes it the feature of a race. The WotC group live in Seattle and are pretty open about their views on these issues---it's in the PHB5E on p. 121, where they talk about some elves being androgynous, in the image of Correlon Larethian---but not every player or reader is going to want to "go there". Ultimately, you need to know your group.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
That was misinformation we got, the Drow's souls dob't die when their body dies, they simply don't get reincarnated like a regular elf, they just go to the afterlife like a human.

Before replying to correct someone on something, you should probably read the thread.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
Core+1?
It's also in Xanathar's Guide to Everything as a suggested rule, and is generally a good house rule. Meals has recommended it several times. So it's not just AL-only like CapnZapp keeps pretending.
"You get one thing that makes you special: your class or your species. Not both."

If I ever play Pathfinder again, I'm using that rule as well.

It's a much better rule than "PHB Only" like I've seen many DMs rule.

It's a crap rule at my table. I allow ANY D&D stuff to be trialled. We write our own. Why would I bother buying all the books or let my players do likewise if I did not want them to use them. Why have a DMGuild? We are VERY open to using all types of material and giving it a go. I would NEVER limit my players thus.

It is also a very poor rule for the brand b/c we have to reprint so much stuff. But AL is not even to blame for things like repeating Demon Lord stats. That is DM material anyway. If a DM wanted those, I am pretty sure they are fine with buying "Out of the Abyss" even if they will probably never run the adventure, like me. But now that I have bought it for the extra stuff it is useless b/c they have gone and reprinted the stuff I bought it for, and even worse, changed them!

I can put up with the odd reprint of players material, but DM stuff like that is frustrating.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Core+1?
It's also in Xanathar's Guide to Everything as a suggested rule, and is generally a good house rule. Meals has recommended it several times. So it's not just AL-only like CapnZapp keeps pretending.
It is definitely not a rule anywhere outside the AL.

It may be an option, but unless you make it a rule at your table, it isn't.

And you didn't need Xanathar to do that.

So who's pretending...?
 

It's a crap rule at my table. I allow ANY D&D stuff to be trialled. We write our own. Why would I bother buying all the books or let my players do likewise if I did not want them to use them. Why have a DMGuild? We are VERY open to using all types of material and giving it a go. I would NEVER limit my players thus.
You can do what you want at your table. I also tend to allow everything in my 5e game, because there's relatively little content and less room for interactions. And because I like to homebrew, so why not also allow it and some of the best of the DMsGuild?
But in a few years when there's more feats, spells, races, subclasses, and magic items, I can see more room for abusive combinations. It makes sense to have the rules in place to prevent abuse now rather than trying to add them in the middle of a campaign.

Allowing everything a great option, but it shouldn't be the default assumption of the game. Players shouldn't assume everything goes. Meanwhile, assuming "core only" is also less fun. I had my fair share of DMs like that during 3e, who got burned by the splatbooks or Living Greyhawk play.

But that doesn't make it a crap rule. Because YOU disagree with it and don't like it doesn't make it a bad rule or an unnecessary rule.

Listen in on some high level Pathfinder Society for an example of a campaign without it. People use a dozen books for their characters and it's impossible to know what to expect from anyone's character. When someone walks up to a table with a Spirit Walker Mesmerist Vishkanya with the Deceptive and Subtle Appearance alternate racial traits. What do you expect that character to do? What do they look like? As the DM, what should you be expecting and how to you prepare to adjudicate that characters?
The thing is... you can't. Having run a bunch of high level (10-12th level) Pathfinder Society at cons, you just smile and nod. When a player says they can do some BS thing, you just accept it because going down the rabbit hole of fact checking eats up too much time in the limited slot.
There's a reason Pathfinder Society created an alternate version of the campaign that is Core only.

AL splits the difference as doesn't have two competing campaigns and instead limits players.

It is also a very poor rule for the brand b/c we have to reprint so much stuff. But AL is not even to blame for things like repeating Demon Lord stats. That is DM material anyway. If a DM wanted those, I am pretty sure they are fine with buying "Out of the Abyss" even if they will probably never run the adventure, like me. But now that I have bought it for the extra stuff it is useless b/c they have gone and reprinted the stuff I bought it for, and even worse, changed them!

I can put up with the odd reprint of players material, but DM stuff like that is frustrating.
I doubt they've reprinted a single line because of AL.
As you say, they didn't reprint the demon lords because of it. The reprinted monsters are likely because it made sense and they're not assuming every DM buys the storyline adventures. (I wasn't a fan of that reprinting either, though.)
I imagine the subclass reprinting was more to do with having a few extra pages in the book and deciding to reprint from a less popular book (and revise) rather than printing a subclass people were not excited about and needed more work.

AL is a surprisingly small number of players. A relatively insignificant fraction of the fanbase. More people probably use that rule in their homegames because Meals suggested it than use it because they're in AL.
Core+1 is just a widely used houserule. Like critical fumbles. Or having a natural 20 automatically succeed on a skill check or saving throw. It started in the AL, but is no longer limited or confined to that play program, having been mentioned in the actual rulebooks. It's as valid as any optional rule in the DMG.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Listen in on some high level Pathfinder Society for an example of a campaign without it. People use a dozen books for their characters and it's impossible to know what to expect from anyone's character. When someone walks up to a table with a Spirit Walker Mesmerist Vishkanya with the Deceptive and Subtle Appearance alternate racial traits. What do you expect that character to do? What do they look like? As the DM, what should you be expecting and how to you prepare to adjudicate that characters?
The thing is... you can't. Having run a bunch of high level (10-12th level) Pathfinder Society at cons, you just smile and nod. When a player says they can do some BS thing, you just accept it because going down the rabbit hole of fact checking eats up too much time in the limited slot.
There's a reason Pathfinder Society created an alternate version of the campaign that is Core only.

AL splits the difference as doesn't have two competing campaigns and instead limits players.

This.

Pathfinder is the worst offender, but even back in 3e there were PDFs of available and unavailable options by book that you would have to cross-check (or, most likely just accept the player at his word that Robilar's Gambit isn't on the banned list). And the ban list was a losing race against the char-ops boards for how quickly they could plug Pun-Pun level combos. For public play, I have ZERO problem with the PHB+1 rule. Thankfully, 5e hasn't needed it that much due to it slow release schedule and lack of dozens of fiddly micro-options, but its better to have it when its not needed than try to put it in later when it becomes an issue.

And if I was ever to GM Pathfinder again (1e or 2e) I'd probably use the CRB+1 rule with it as well.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
[MENTION=21556]Jester[/MENTION]David
I can't really disagree with anything you said. Pretty sure we are on the same page. :) Barring the fact they HAVE reprinted player material so the right combos are together for AL. As we both said AL is not to blame for DM stuff. Clearly we both find that frustrating - that was my main point.

And it still remains a crap rule for MY table. ;)
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
This.

Pathfinder is the worst offender, but even back in 3e there were PDFs of available and unavailable options by book that you would have to cross-check (or, most likely just accept the player at his word that Robilar's Gambit isn't on the banned list). And the ban list was a losing race against the char-ops boards for how quickly they could plug Pun-Pun level combos. For public play, I have ZERO problem with the PHB+1 rule. Thankfully, 5e hasn't needed it that much due to it slow release schedule and lack of dozens of fiddly micro-options, but its better to have it when its not needed than try to put it in later when it becomes an issue.

And if I was ever to GM Pathfinder again (1e or 2e) I'd probably use the CRB+1 rule with it as well.

That is great for conventions and AL, but again, why are we printing books to please a small % of player base? Anyway, as stated, I don't mind the odd player combo to be reprinted (which is for that rule), but swathes of DM material irks me a lot. Especially when I buy a book about the ABYSS for the demons and demon lords and they reprint them AND change them (for the worst it seems). Just print NEW demon lords in Mordenkainen's. There are plenty of them! And some of the more interesting ones have never been statted out whilst others have MANY times (inc TWICE in this edition now) :(
 

SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
snipped.... Especially when I buy a book about the ABYSS for the demons and demon lords and they reprint them AND change them (for the worst it seems). Just print NEW demon lords in Mordenkainen's. There are plenty of them! And some of the more interesting ones have never been statted out whilst others have MANY times (inc TWICE in this edition now) :(

This confuses me as well.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
This.

Pathfinder is the worst offender, but even back in 3e there were PDFs of available and unavailable options by book that you would have to cross-check (or, most likely just accept the player at his word that Robilar's Gambit isn't on the banned list). And the ban list was a losing race against the char-ops boards for how quickly they could plug Pun-Pun level combos.

I've never played Pathfinder, but the old 3.X days were getting kind of nutty with all the third party content. Some of it was quite good but there was just A LOT. Factor in the official WotC books and the number of options was seriously out of control near the end of 3.X. 4E had the benefit of the Character Builder (which was sometimes a dubious benefit) but WotC seemed constitutionally unable to declare anything obsolete, so it got crazy after a while, too.


For public play, I have ZERO problem with the PHB+1 rule. Thankfully, 5e hasn't needed it that much due to it slow release schedule and lack of dozens of fiddly micro-options, but its better to have it when its not needed than try to put it in later when it becomes an issue.

Yeah, for public play it's a good idea. I think there are more nuanced ways of doing it, but the benefit it has is being simple and easy to check. I do wish that things like the melee cantrips like Greenflame Blade in SCAG had either been reprinted or made public, mostly so I could otherwise not carry the otherwise fairly useless book around.
 

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