Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.
- Lots more of full colour art. I've been saying this throughout this iteration of D&D, but it's been consistently good and plentiful. My favourite illustrations continue to be the more photorealistic style environment shots.
- New monsters are provided for Dungeon Masters. About half the book is basically a Monster Manual. Many of them are generally useful demons, devils, humanoids and undead.
- New player options are provided here in the form of subraces, and one new race. These get a fair amount of detail. Treat these as a bonus though as this is a rather Dungeon Master focused book.
- Well written exploration of the Blood War (yes please, one of my favourites), gith, dwarves, gnomes and elves.
- The limited edition covers have looked consistently good and the option being present is nice. I also like this limited edition cover.
- At 256 pages, this book is about 60 pages fatter than Xanathar's Guide to Everything, which I felt was getting too light. Great to see the page count go back to roughly 250.
- A nice breakdown of monster by environment, and challenge rating. Not too impressive page count wise but so very useful.
Could Go Either Way:
- Topics such as the Blood War, gnomes and elves are well covered in previous editions. This reduces the value of the book for those that already read about these things in previous editions and aren't curious about the changes made for this one.
- A more even distribution of challenge ratings compared to the Monster Manual. About 2/3rds of the creatures are challenge rating 7 or higher.
- My copy had quality issues. Both of my books had improperly cut pages that were folded into the book. Now, this doesn't make the book impossible to use but I'd recommend taking a careful look when picking the book out at the store. If you see a section with folded corners, there's a good chance it'll have this issue. Look below for pictures.
- The demon princes are taken from the existing adventure Out of the Abyss. If you don't have that adventure you won't notice but for those of us who do, the usable page count of the book decreases.
- No PDF*
* Denotes nitpicking.
|The standard cover (left) and deluxe cover (right). Not bad, right? I prefer the deluxe one myself.|
It's been rather quiet this year on the D&D book front, however the silence has now been broken. Having a full release on May 29, Mordenkeinen's Tome of Foes bring new subrace player options (which also nicely double as things we DMs can use), monsters, and more to help build worlds and adventures. The Blood War is back. Gnomes and elves are getting attention. If I had to describe it in one sentence I'd say it's a rather good book that's a sprinkle of Player's Handbook and mainly Monster Manual, which should have been expected from a name like Mordenkeinen's Tome of Foes. And with that description, let's jump into the meat of the book.
New Player Options
The new player options here are in the form of new subraces (8 tiefling, 3 elf, 1 dwarf, and 1 gnome) for established races and a new race for gith. They also come with flaws, bonds, and other roleplay goodies. As always, this also can double to aid the creative Dungeon Master in creating NPCs. If you were looking for a lot of mechanics and crunch to help create new characters, there is some but you might be left wanting more. The majority of this first section is instead chronicles what these groups look like from a society and history stand point. Naturally this is interesting to both Dungeon Masters and player. It also includes ideal, flaw, bond, and some organization tables such as what a traveling group of dwarves looks like. It's a good read, but as always with this sort of thing it may be lost on you if you are running your own campaign where dwarves, tieflings and elves are drastically different from their published versions.
First thing's first, there are some repeats from previous books. In particular the demon lords from Out of the Abyss return along with their art. If you missed that book you'll probably like it, but if you have Out of the Abyss this does reduce the useful page count a bit.
The monsters themselves span a very impressive range. Earlier books, such as the Monster Manual, tended to have a clustering of low level monsters and then a sprinkling of higher level ones. This book, on the other hand, has a more even distribution of creatures. Roughly 2/3rd of the creatures are challenge rating 7 or higher. The basic rules, SRD and Monster Manual provide a good basis for low level campaigns so an emphasis on higher challenge ratings is what I think we needed.
Quite a few of the monsters here have a gimmick. Chokers can suffocate players on a critical, for example. Again, this is what I like to see since it prevents combat from devolving into hitting a hit point pinata and instead allows for interesting things to happen. And outside of combat, there are many monsters that just beg for an adventure to be written about them. I'm glad to see the boneclaw back, and vampiric mist seems like a fun one to run too. Since the Blood War is a focus of this book, there are a lot of fiends. There's also a lot of humanoids as you'd expect with chapters on drow, gnomes, and dwarves. There's also a smaller number of undead, constructs, monstrosities and aberrations. If you are planning to run a devil centred campaign, this will come in very handy. Humanoids, demons and devils are very common in campaigns so I wouldn't call these creatures niche either. High level creatures are less general purpose but challenge rating 20 creatures and higher tend to be unique.
Since we have demons, and cults, there are boons provided here. These boons are granted to cultists from their patron and enhance them in some way. I really like these. It allows for easy customization of cultists, and makes a whole lot of sense. They provide stat bonuses, and special abilities to cult member and cult leaders. And of course, you can use them as templates for making your own. Or disregard them because you have a better idea for one of your cults.
There is quite a bit of emphasis on world building here. From the Blood War to the gith, to the Raven Queen, many different aspects get focus. A common theme through this book is that the knowledge presented isn't the be all and end all. For the Raven Queen, for example, is mysterious and the text provided details doesn't sound definitive. This is really nice from a Dungeon Master perspective because it gives us leeway and leaves a lot in our hands. I like this aspect of this edition in general.
It's interesting and well written. The Blood War in particular was a bit overdue for this edition so it's really nice to see it here. Many a campaign had the Blood War as a backdrop including one of my earliest. The other sections (gith, dwarves, deurgar, halflings, gnomes, and elves) are also well written. I may be a bit biased towards the Blood War though. There are also a good number of tables to help you customize these groups. This is very useful and I love this addition. The only big problems I could foresee here is people not liking some of what is done in this edition with things they already knew from previous editions, and that it would be familiar to D&D veterans. If D&D 5th edition is your first, I think you'll have a pleasant read.
|Gith image from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. Rather typical example of the art style in this book.|
If you've bought any books in this edition you know what to expect. Art is plentiful and maintains the same style found in the previous books. Typically this means stylized depictions of monsters, people and places with the occasional water painting like location. The water painting style was always my favourite of the bunch and the rest didn't appeal to me in the same way. I've also included the cover images for both. I think I prefer the deluxe version again. Unfortunately, the art for the demon lords is reused from Out of the Abyss. It's not bad, and the two page spread of Zuggtmoy still looks great to me, but it would have been nice to have some new art too. In the original Monster Manual I really liked the depiction of the wraith. In this one, image I've included below was one of my favourites. This style is an outlier in this book though. Other monsters deserving a shoutout are the boneclaw, astral dreadnought, and leviathan.
|One of my favourite images from this book. The environment art continues to be great. More of this please.|
Book Build Quality
The overall design of the book, the quality of the pages and the cover are all things we've seen before. Put this book on a shelf with another book from this edition and they'll look like they belong together. However, both of my books had some quality issues. It looks like the pages were improperly cut and folded into the book. It's easier if you just look at my example picture. This occurred on both my deluxe and standard edition so I'd suggest that if you are picking up the book from your local game store, take a quick peek for any folded corners.
|Keep an eye out for this when picking out your book. The pages weren't properly cut.|
Nothing new here. MSRP is $50 USD for both the standard and limited editions, and you can get it for cheaper by looking online and going used. If the quality issues I mentioned above concern you, the extra cost of getting the book in person may very well be worth it.
What I felt was Missing
This is a solid book. However, I would have liked to see more maps and lairs in the same vein as Volo's Guide to Monsters. This book is heavier on the crunch for new monsters, but maps are always a big help for Dungeon Masters looking to run them. We also have a lot of monsters included here and I would have liked to see some encounter groups included in Dragon+ and linked on book page on the Wizards of the Coast website. We got the stats for some archdevils but it would have been nice to have all of the archdevils defined here as well. As it is now, you read through the section on the current archdevils, and are disappointed when your favourite doesn't have stats.
These later books have not been as consistent for free stuff as some of the older ones. Indeed, this book doesn't lend itself to it as well as the adventurers where the introduction section like Death House could be given out for free. Actually, I think we got more stuff in the form of free maps from previous adventures leading up to this edition (I'd recommend taking a look for those here). The adventure there, The Risen Mists, is also of interest in that edition. It's a bit odd that the free things don't directly advertise the new book, but I guess that what keeps people playing helps in the long run. You can see some art from the book. That's mostly it. So unfortunately, not much free material for this particular book.
Overall, I enjoyed this book but by far enjoyed the Blood War, githzerai and githyanki, and monster sections the most. This easily takes up more than half the book, so I'd say it's an interesting book for Dungeon Masters wanting to throw more creatures at their players. It's well written, and the subject matter is widely applicable to campaigns thanks to the focus on common creatures like devils, demons, undead, and humanoids. These creatures are also more spread out than previous books, and many monsters are meant to challenge higher level characters. It'll be a harder sell to veteran players who already know these topics, but the second half being a mini Monster Manual will still make it tempting. Just keep an eye out for the defect I mentioned.