As almost any tabletop gamer will tell you, game changes and additions will please some and anger others. This is true of technical expansions as well. Knowing this, I took to the shops and chatted with friends regarding the newest Dungeons & Dragons source book Mordenkainen’s Tome Of Foes. I had already heard from a couple of buddies that impressions were polarized after the exclusive release at hobby and game shops on May 18th, with the rest of the merchants shelving it on May 29th. With that in mind, I wanted to take a more critical look at it from the eyes and mouths of other gamers, but of course I will add my own impressions to the review.
Initial impressions were quite similar, lots of new information and several expanded creatures including variants and customizable concepts. Long story short, my take on this is that it is an expansion for the Monster Manual, though I am reminded of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition Fiend Folio because of the content and same edition’s Unearthed Arcana due to the cover. There’s a bit of history that comes from the title character’s travels but can be easily adapted for any campaign or homebrew. Everyone seemed to agree that the content is useful but only for truly high level characters.
I think an important point I would like to point out is that this is really a supplement for the showrunner, the dungeon master. Players will find this interesting, but it could potentially do more harm than good if they were to see this as a player reference instead of the informational codex that it is. Sure, there are pieces that players could use to personalize their characters or, in the case of tieflings, create a specialty subrace. But these are discretionary additions, subject to DM approval. I mean, I would love to play a cambion, but I have yet to find a game where it is allowed. Of course, in my mind, a tiefling is a distant descendant of a cambion anyway, so it is not that far of a stretch, right? Yeah, right. But anyway, I digress.
Now, I mentioned that this is based around a character’s adventures, from Greyhawk, by the way. The histories involving The Blood War really help create a great backstory and the tables therein are spectacular for generating unique creatures, both demonic and celestial. These explorations into the other worlds and planes of existence truly set this up for higher experience levels and more powerful non-player characters. But it was brought to my attention that extracting just a tidbit of this and introducing it at lower levels would be a great way to introduce planar travel at a later time, foreshadowing if you will. With that in mind, I spent far too much time chatting with a nice young lady at a game shop in Waco, Texas about elves and specialized skill sets based around their deities. And not just the basics or about the drow, either. Side note, that is pronounced drow as in rhymes with cow. Do not even think about arguing with me, I asked this at GenCon and that is the answer I got from a TSR writer, so nyeh! Anyway, the tables and charts in this book are perfect for a DM who wants to really dig into his own world or introduce particulars over time into any ongoing game.
Last week I found myself in a book and hobby shop in Lafayette, Louisiana, talking about the chapter on the Gith in this book. The older gentleman that was shopping in there was most emphatic about this section and the depth to which it explores the Githyanki and the Githzeri. Full transparency, these two deviations of the same race have never really interested me. Probably because first edition rules did not lend themselves to a lot of psionic characters. Sure, mind flayers, yadda yadda yadda, but seldom did any playable race have access to mind powers so, yeah. But this guy was so excited to share his love for these creatures and he spoke at length regarding the new options provided for fifth edition rules thanks to this Tome of Foes. I am actually smiling while writing this. It is always a pleasure to see someone so happy about their favorite game/race/character/movie/what-have-you. I geek out constantly, so I can appreciate others doing the same.
Several pages are dedicated to dwarves and gnomes, too! Most notably to this is that there is a distinction between the different settings, namely Greyhawk, Faerun, Athas, and Krynn. Having said that, I can only explode with the words GULLY DWARF! This made me so happy that I cannot completely express it. I spoke with an old friend that I used to game with and we both got quite the laugh at that. The Dragonlance series would have been far less entertaining without them, I am sure of that. It was disappointing to us both that the Kender were not as well explored, however. Nonetheless, these sections were a pleasant, though slightly odd, addition to this reference book.
That covered the first hundred or so pages of this release, with it being comprised of mainly prose and tables. The next hundred and forty pages or so are dedicated to a bestiary of more than a hundred monsters and creatures that are sure to spice up any game. This where it starts to look like the Monster Manual, with stat blocks and creature varieties. This is also where gamers start to take sides on the question of compatibility. Arranged alphabetically, I found this to be an excellent way to deliver the information. There are tables and lists after this section that break everything down by type, challenge ratings, and environment.
It was my impression, conversation after conversation, that everyone seeks an all-encompassing list that meets every need, every time. This is not to be, my friends. This is not an Excel file where you can add new lines and then sort by predetermined characteristics or data. Mordenkainen’s Tome Of Foes is, at its core, an expansion for the game, an additional list from which dungeon masters can draw characters and creatures. Would I like a personalized version of this in physical form? Sure, but I can do that by better planning and organization. A few people also mentioned that several of the listings are duplicates from earlier releases. This is true, but it is less than a dozen, so I found that complaint to be more nitpicking than a real issue.
All said and done, I found this to be a worthy addition to the collection. The lore from the first half of the book and the significantly high end listing in the second half create a wonderful balance of information and world building. Longtime DMs will find this extraordinarily useful for many of the reasons I mentioned above and probably several personal ones that they discover upon perusing this book. Will it be a perfect fit for everyone? No, I think I made that abundantly clear. However, it holds value for those who seek to grow their knowledge of not just the game, but also of the original source materials. Mordenkainen was, after all, a character played by the late Gary Gygax, founding father of this game we all love to play. It is nice to see some references to those early days of D&D.
I hope you enjoyed the review, folks. If it sounds like something up your alley, please grab a copy. I must also say there are two covers, so be sure to check them both out! Thanks for reading!
Discover the truth about the great conflicts of the D&D multiverse in this supplement for the world’s greatest role-playing game.
This tome is built on the writings of the renowned wizard from the world of Greyhawk, gathered over a lifetime of research and scholarship. In his travels to other realms and other planes of existence, he has made many friends, and has risked his life an equal number of times, to amass the knowledge contained herein. In addition to Mordenkainen’s musings on the endless wars of the multiverse, the book contains game statistics for dozens of monsters: new demons and devils, several varieties of elves and duergar, and a vast array of other creatures from throughout the planes of existence.