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Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes – Review

May 26, 2018 Comments off

The latest 5E D&D book hit Friendly Local Gaming Stores this week: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. I purchased this book thinking it would be essentially a supplementary monster manual along the lines of the classic Fiend Folio. In fact, this book follows the format provided in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

The first section details classic D&D struggles of Demons vs. Devils, Elves vs. Drow, Dwarves vs. Duergar, Githyanki vs. Githzerai, and… Halflings vs. Gnomes?! Not really, but they wanted to include some new material for the little guys so they threw them together at the end. The second section is a more traditional bestiary with monster stat blocks, as well as stats for NPCs that the DM could use to illustrate the struggles detailed in the first half. There are brief sidebars representing personal notes from Mordenkainen about different sections of the book. Unlike the fun disclaimer in Volo’s or the entertaining condescending disdain in Xanathar’s, the sidebars here add little if anything. This is disappointing as a similar format was followed in one of my favorite 4E supplements, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and those side bars added really cool details and perspective.

There is a great deal of background information and flavor text detailing the various struggles illustrated in the first half of the book. This may provide excellent context for classic rivals like demons vs. devils or elves vs. drow and reasons behind these struggles. There is also quite a bit of detail associated with the pantheon of gods for each race including alignment, province (what they are known for) as well as suggested domains and common holy symbols. Each section spends some time on world-specific variants of races (Gully Dwarves in Dragonlance, cannibal Halflings in Dark Sun), but usually without stats to make them anything more than window dressing.

Peppered throughout the first section are a few player options and sub-races with traits and tables to help provide more character details for PCs, especially if you like playing Tieflings or Elves. Tieflings gain 8 optional sub-races to demonstrate allegiance or infernal origins associated with a particular layer of the nine hells (Asmodeus being the default described in the Player’s Handbook). New elven options include four distinct eladrin variants that correspond with the seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter), as well as a Sea Elf and the goth cousins from the Shadowfell, the Shadar-Kai. The Dwarven section provides the Duergar as a playable race. Githzerai and Githyanki traits and tables are provided as PC options as well. While additional halfling personality/ideal/bond/flaw tables are provided, the only new sub-race in the last chapter of the first section are deep gnomes (aka svirfneblin).

The bestiary second half of the book includes some fantastic dual-page artwork, as well as helpful indexes that sort creatures by type, CR, as well as typical environment.

This book is for DMs looking for inspiration using some of the classic D&D struggles detailed over the 40 years of monster manuals of every edition. It is also for players who may be looking for a particular sub-race they miss from a previous edition or more background details and inspiration for new characters. Should you buy it? Maybe. This one isn’t as essential as Xanathar’s as it isn’t as great a value for the money from a player options perspective. As a DM, if you already own the adventure Into the Abyss, there will be a significant amount of repeated stat blocks as all the demon lords are repeated here. If you’ve always wondered what the story was behind why demons and devils fight, or the origins of the elven diaspora, this is the book for you.

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