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.

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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
 
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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

I mean, to be fair, it's not like [MENTION=5038]Greg K[/MENTION] needs to justify his decision not to buy a game supplement.

Do I personally think he's likely missing out? Sure. I'm disappointed I haven't gotten my copy yet, and I'm looking forward to it. But as decisions go, not purchasing a book is pretty much a valid one regardless of reason.

(Unless it's one of my novels, of course. Then it's a crime. But other than that... ;) )

It does raise interesting questions about intent when posting in a forum. Since it's a public discussion, taking about why you aren't going to buy something inevitably may raise eyebrows for others who are not on the same train of thought....and being a public forum, it becomes hard not to weigh in on the content. I, personally, usually don't waste time even reading a thread on a book I don't have interest in, but I suppose if I had a really specific reason for not getting the book, and felt that if that reason had been satisfied then I would have, and hoped that maybe the creators of said product might drop in to realize the error of their ways at a lost sale, then I suppose that could be a good excuse to raise the topic (from a certain point of view).

But it's still just kind of funny as I see it.....there's no way that the highly specific need described can be met with the finished product now, nor ever since future products won't reincorporate this requirement until there's a 6th edition at minimum, and ironically even the original source requirement accomplished what was needed in 5+ books no less. So sometimes a justification feels a bit like a reason in reverse. "I can't buy this book, but I need a reason that sounds good....ah, this works!" Thus why I think a few people here were perplexed at the logic behind the reason.
 

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SirGrotius

Explorer
I'm enjoying the writing, lore, and art so far in the book. I remember buying the Planescape boxed set for 3rd edition IIRC, which was fun. This is a great synopsis and again the writing is so top notch the quality has spoiled me.
 

dungeonguru

Villager
Yeah, my lore had them created from experimented on humans, so thats weird.

Will likely line that out.

Who says that the experimentation on humans (or near-human humanoids) didn't change the process of reproduction.

Technically, humans do come from eggs.

This doesn't remove the old lore so much as modifies it to a very weird place (as it should). I can see whole shelves lined with half-developed embryo and fetuses in some of the more bizarre laboratories of the mind flayers, some of which they still use with stats similar to the crawling claw or constrictor snakes. The mind flayers are probably still trying to recreate their success with the gith with a more docile or controllable race.
 

JonnyP71

Explorer
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.

Agreed, I would be very tempted to adjust that to fit the B/X version - I have fond memories of X4, despite it being very railroady it had a great flavour to it, and the Evil Abbey at the end was just brilliant. The Bhuts terrified me as a 12 year old!
 

Bitbrain

ORC (Open RPG) horde ally
BLOOD WAR
Disliked this chapter, aside from the Beelzibub, Dispater, Levistus, and Zariel tieflings.

ELVES
I get the distinct impression that Sehinine Moonbow, Deep Sashelas, and Eilistrae are the nicest of the elven deities.
Glad to see an official 5e Sea Elf, although I really wish they had been given Strength instead of Constitution.
I also wish they had included some setting-specific information on the Sea Elves of Dragonlance.

DWARVES
Aside from the fact that the Duergar seem to have the moral high ground over the dwarves, this is my second favorite chapter.
Absolutely love the details on the dwarves of Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance. So much so, I created a number of NPC factions, all based on the different sub-races.
I also really enjoyed the little Dark Sun Easter egg.

GITH
Meh.

HALFLINGS AND GNOMES
My favorite chapter!
References to Dark Sun Halflings, Dragonlance Kender, and Dragonlance Tinker Gnomes!
I don't think there was a reference to the Ghostwise halflings of Faerun, which is a pity, because they sounded pretty cool in the Sword Coast Adventures Guide.
 
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gyor

Legend
BLOOD WAR
Disliked this chapter, aside from the Beelzibub, Dispater, Levistus, and Zariel tieflings.

ELVES
I get the distinct impression that Sehinine Moonbow, Deep Sashelas, and Eilistrae are the nicest of the elven deities.
Glad to see an official 5e Sea Elf, although I really wish they had been given Strength instead of Constitution.
I also wish they had included some setting-specific information on the Sea Elves of Dragonlance.

DWARVES
Aside from the fact that the Duergar seem to have the moral high ground over the dwarves, this is my second favorite chapter.
Absolutely love the details on the dwarves of Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance. So much so, I created a number of NPC factions, all based on the different sub-races.
I also really enjoyed the little Dark Sun Easter egg.

GITH
Meh.

HALFLINGS AND GNOMES
My favorite chapter!
References to Dark Sun Halflings, Dragonlance Kender, and Dragonlance Tinker Gnomes!
I don't think there was a reference to the Ghostwise halflings of Faerun, which is a pity, because they sounded pretty cool in the Sword Coast Adventures Guide.

I think that is because Ghostwise Halflings only evolved in FR due to Setting unique circumstances, but I agree with you, should have at least gotten a mention as the Ghostwise atarted the only Halfling civil war in the multiverse as far as I can tell, which fits the theme of MTOFs better then the nearly conflict free chapter they gave us.
 

gyor

Legend
My brief thoughts on the chapters

Blood War, not a whole lot new, aside from making the Devils feel more like antiheroes then villians. The Cambion section is a great way to make more diverse Cambions while using little space, small with the cults. The Tiefling subrace section made sure there is a Tiegling subrace for every class and interest, Tieflings went from no subraces in the PHB to having several variants in the SCAG and now more subraces then Elves on MTOFs.

Also I'm find with Shadar Kai being Elves, but they made them way too depressing, showing didn't understand the races, appeal, people mistakenly think the Shadar Kai are emo Goths, when they are Ambitious stubborn BDSM lovers who bring the hope and optimism to the Shadowfell in order to survive.

Instead in 5e they are damned to the Shadowfell, the least passionate of all Elves, we're they run errands for the Raven Queen and seem to have no sense of autonomy, and we're death is no release. Depressing. They've been stripped of all their zest.

They also don't explain how to integrate the new Shadar Kai lore with the old, FR lore.

They unvieled a bunch of new gods and told us nothing about them aside from what was in the tables. I shouldn't have to use wikis to use this book, yet I did.

Dwarves we're mostly dull,, aside from the Deurgar, although that Dwarf get drunk to remember is cool as are a few of the Dwarf Gods (one of the new ones looks like an Azer).

Halfling and Gnome chapter didn't even mention Luiren the Halfling nation or ghostwise Halflings the Halflings that are actually cool, but the annoying Kender get a mention.

Gith are awesome, but could use some more cultural diversity.

The Beastiary was the best part of the God aside from Race/Subrace mechanics and Gods tables.

Oblex is my favourite and Dybbuks, but lots of great choices and they mention Elder Evils.

Eladarin NPCs we're disappointing, no Celestial versions.

I will note an unspoken advantage of Eladarin and Ahadar Kai is that they are immune to some of the powers of their NPC counter parts with exclude members of their own races from the effect.
 
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E

Elderbrain

Guest
my only wtf moment (so far): Gith lay eggs?

That was a detail of Gith biology that was (to my knowledge) first introduced in the Planescape accessory "A Guide to the Astral Plane", which had a section on the Githyanki. (Githzerai apparently reproduce the way other humanoids do. The reason for the difference is unknown...) The Gith War chapter of MTOF stuck fairly closely to the 2e "canon", as opposed to other sections of the book. The egg-laying threw me for a loop when I read it in the Planescape book way back when... :erm:
 

E

Elderbrain

Guest
I am mostly happy with the book. My main gripes are 1) Only one ruling Archdevil was included - Zariel, and 2) No Avariel! Even if they didn't want to make them a PC race, they could've mentioned them and included a monster stat block or two. I got a lot of the regular demons, devils, and Yugoloths I wanted, and I like the new seasonal Eladrin, even though they aren't Planescape Eladrin (I'll use them as substitutes in my game.) Nice to get high-level Drow, and love the fact that I can now play a Githzerai or Githyanki.
 

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