The great wizard Mordenkainen puts pen to paper with this thoughtful tome detailing some of his favorite conflicts throughout the multiverse! I mean honestly, he must have been thinking of us when he decided to hover, by magelight, over a desk in his study regaling us with tales of these embittered battles (via dictation to Bigby if I’m told correctly) that often span eons. Actually, I’ve heard this work may have been somewhat pilfered, but surely he meant it to help one day yes? Well, whatever the case I’m digging it. This is an excellent way to give us some choice cuts of lore. All followed by even more details on subraces and racial choices a character might make. Lastly, just in case we need even more, this record rounds things out with a bestiary of truly devious monsters to contend with and a touch or two of more details on favored races. Let’s dive in shall we? (CAUTION: Be wary of Sahuagin as you dive).
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is divided into five chapters detailing some of the more iconic clashes in Dungeons & Dragons lore, with a lead in Preface that adds a little touch of intrigue about the book and what we are in for (and possibly how we received it). The Gith, Devils and Demons, etc. fill the pages of these first chapters followed by a sixth chapter which brings us a large bestiary with some truly bizarre and dangerous additions to any Dungeon Master’s regime. I’ll regal you with details from each chapter…
I feel I need to begin every review of any new tome, book, manual, or what-have-you from Wizards these days with pure praise on it’s quality craftsmanship and dedication to high quality artwork. The books in the 5th edition line have somehow managed to capture the nostalgic essence many of us crave from bygone years while updating the pages to match the “new” that 5e has brought to the table as well.
I also can’t help but truly applaud the choice to craft alternate covers for their latest fare as well. It would be enough to maintain the already excellent artwork by Jason Rainville but here we also have a cover, by artist Vance Kelly, that evokes not only the machinations of Mordenkainen but also his view from afar on the denizens involved in the dark battles they wage across the Multiverse. Thank you WotC team, for this additional bit of pleasure to our eyes.
CHAPTER 1: THE BLOOD WAR
Devils and Demons loathe one another, and those of the material plane fear both. With good reason of course. What many may not know, or at least not fully understand, is the basic fact that these two factions of our nightmares are locked in an eternal struggle known as the Blood War. Regimented Devils rule the Nine Hells and constantly maintain a line of battle against their chaos driven Demonic foes from the Abyss.
In this chapter the reasons these two immortal races wage war is laid bare for us to ponder. I really enjoyed the two early portions of this where we get to read each group’s mindset for why they find themselves in bitter conflict. For the archdevils and their well defined forces it’s as much as you would guess but I love the passage explaining the why of the demonic leaders and their swarms, it belies a canniness one might not expect from the howling horde. It’s also interesting to get their separate view on the use of mortals.
The rest of this chapter lays out each individual archdevil and lord of the demons, with a deep dive into each one’s personal lore. With that comes a few pages of extra spice you might add to cultists who follow the devils and powers for the those foolhardy enough to seek the boon of a demon lord. We are also introduced to some more information about Infernal and Demonic Cambions, being those born of mortals with devilish or demonic parentage as well.
As for the Player Character – This is your chapter that lays out some solid subrace additions to the Tiefling. We are introduced to traits from each of the archdevils your character might have a special link to. This will allow players to have a little bit more malleability with their core stats boosts, as each of the Nine Hells Lords have their own specialties. Each subrace is also equipped with a “legacy” related to your chosen path. This will grant your character a cantrip initially followed by further spells as they gain levels. I think there’s a lot here for Tiefling lovers.
CHAPTER 2: ELVES
For those who love the long lived grace of the Elves you’ll find yourself revealing in this chapter. So much excellent detail on their history and especially what divided them into their “light” and “dark” paths. This chapter is interesting to me because though the Drow and the surface Elves hate one another their conflict doesn’t define them the way it does for devils and demons and the Gith, even the Dwarves and Duergar are a bit more at each other’s throats directly. That Elves and Drow are in conflict isn’t up for debate, they certainly are, but both groups spend plenty of energy on other facets of day to day living. The Drow have their desire to reign with superiority over all creatures, surface elves may hold some special disdain but “the Drow rule supreme” if one were to put it into a quote. Surface Elves of course have so much more to concern themselves with than just focusing on their cousins well beneath.
A fair bit of time is spent on detailing the Seldarine (the elven gods), both light and Dark. Lore like this has always held interest to me. I am personally a religious individual so the idea that a player character I might run would, at least in part, be driven by the desires and characteristics of their chosen deity appeals to me greatly. Another nice touch in this chapter is the inclusion of more information on the Feywild. With that, of course, comes the addition of one of my favorite 4th Edition Player Character choices,the Eladrin.
As for the Player Character – Beyond the excellent storytelling you’ll find here to round out your character’s backstory, and reasoning for actions, there are some more concrete options for the character sheet. Three new elven subraces grace these pages. We have the Eladrin, Sea Elves, and Shadar-Kai.
The Eladrin are far more fey than they were represented in 4e, but despite this change in pace I’m loving the new look. They now appear to be almost impossible to pin down when it comes to understanding their raw emotion, and as for actual looks, they take after the seasons. Love that vibe. They still have Fey Step though, such a great little power. Now though this power works through the conduit of whatever season your Eladrin bears the shroud of, with pretty cool effect.
Sea Elves… always sounds like a cool idea, but I don’t know if I would ever take on the challenge of an underwater campaign! Of course, saying that now I kind of want to try it out somehow. It would be a challenge, that’s for sure. As for these guys themselves they come packaged with everything you’d expect, swim speed and the ability to somewhat “Aquaman” with sea creatures. We are introduced to a new conflict though, that between the Sea Elves and the Sahuagin (told you to look out). This conflict is even more dynamic than that between surface and underdark elves. If only because the Sahuagin are unrelenting savages who feel the concept of any other intelligent being residing under the waves to be an affront. Honestly it would have been interesting to hear a little more about this particular conflict but for now we only have a few snippets.
I really enjoyed the portion of this chapter that detailed more information on the Shadar-kai, it really is an excellent read. As for their subrace details I feel like they are somewhat disappointing compared to their flashy mirror opposites, the Eladrin. Only because there is only one subrace choice though, and it has some cool aspects to it. It would have been interesting to try and make some darker reflections of the seasons to add some spice to this subrace but it is pretty cool on its own.
Rounding things out in this chapter we have some tables that help you pad the character sheet for and elven player character, or even an NPC. Trinkets and story hooks, plus a table detailing Drow House specialties.
CHAPTER 3: DWARVES AND DUERGAR
I always felt like Duergar had the potential to be far more interesting to me than their elven counterparts the Drow. Probably only because I grew up during the heyday of R.A. Salvatore‘s Drizzt novels and was frankly over saturated with Drow knowledge. I like the lesser known things oft times, and Duergar weren’t nearly as touched upon. So I immediately made a beeline for this chapter, as those who follow me on Twitter can attest. I don’t know if the story in these pages detailing the schism between the Dwarves and Duergar has been embellished to this point before, but if it was I missed it and am grateful for the story told in full here. I mean, I knew about the involvement of the Illithid in the twisting of the Duergar, but I’ve never heard it told like this. A great read if you’re a fan of these races, and their bitter conflict with one another. I mean damn… the dwarves kind of deserve these enemies. I have a newfound respect for the Duergar, despite finding their methods loathsome.
For the dwarves in this chapter we are treated to discussions about their what drives them, their strongholds, and their deities. What I think is kind of interesting is there is a portion of the chapter dedicated to information about dwarves in differing portions of the multiverse. Specifically the dwarves of Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance. This wasn’t present in the other two chapters really but seems like an excellent addition. Honestly it makes some sense considering how dwarves tend to differ in various realms a bit more than elves do.
As you can probably tell I have found the Duergar to hold most of my interest in this chapter. This has been my favorite introduction to their society I’ve encountered thus far. This book would make a most welcomed resource for the Dungeon Master attempting to run Out of the Abyss for this alone, not to forget the details on the Drow in the previous chapters. Enough so that it almost becomes a must have for anyone attempting the campaign. Laduguer, one of only two deities regarded by the Duergar, is a truly interesting character to be fleshed out by this chapter. There’s even a small side note story regarding how he made his deal with Amadeus and how his stoicism helped pave the Three Rules of Conduct followed by Duergar society. Quite the shrewd fable.
As for the Player Character – There are no new dwarven subraces to mention but we are given a stat block for the Duergar. They have some pretty nice additions, including Superior Darkvision that allows for even better sight in the deep darkness where they live. So you can’t have Duergar without a touch of psionics. Considering there aren’t really any rules set forth for such a thing yet these skills take the form of some innate magic spells they can cast. Honestly I await the day we see some true psionics in 5e, which may not be too long as they have done some work on it in Unearthed Arcana, but this does well for now.
We also have a ton of useful tables to help you pad up character traits and background details like clan statuses and allies. The Duergar allies are especial interesting!
CHAPTER 4: GITH AND THEIR ENDLESS WAR
Mind Flayers. Why is it always Mind Flayers!? They corrupted the Duergar and we are soon informed in this chapter that the Gith were similarly enslaved. They also overthrew their Illithid overseers but upon doing so disagreement over their future society rent them into two factions, the Githyanki and the Githzerai. The two forces have been in bitter conflict ever since, though it appears both like to take a crack at their previous slavers from time to time.
The bulk of this chapter provides background lore for the Githyanki. Laid bare are details about their litch queen Vlaakith and her promises to the loyal warriors who do her bidding. We also learn about the method the Githyanki use to terrorize the realms of the Multiverse, in fact we learn a great deal about their airships. Lastly the fabled “City of Death” Tu’narath is revealed to us. I love a good rundown of interesting cityscapes (my twitter name is Sharndm mind, you) and Tu’narath is highly interesting. It’s carved from the calcified remains of a long deceased deity for goodness sake! Definitely a fun read there. I love the little inroad allowed by the District of Discards by the way.
The portion on the Githzerai may be a bit shorter but there’s some good lore to pad a character sheet available here as well. Here we are introduced to their physically powerless leader, Menyar-Ag, who hosts a mental aptitude of titanic proportions despite being unable to lift a finger. Their major cities are described in good detail as well, allowing for a number of interesting locales to derive stories from, or host them. Lastly we learn about how the Githzerai function beyond their borders in Limbo. This portion of the text would be great for helping a player flesh out their nomad Githzerai.
As for the Player Character – Traits for both Githyanki and Githzerai are available here. Again, the psionics inherent to this race has been presented in the same way a racially known spell would be added rather than craft actual psionic rules. The remaining details presented here in the form of tables that help round out player characters with names, personality traits, ideal, etc.
CHAPTER 5: HALFLINGS AND GNOMES
Perhaps no contest of arms, no bloodbath, no other contest of divided peoples can measure up to the horrific warfare between the Halflings and the Gnomes. SCORES of these smaller folk perish at the hungry blades they wield against one anoth… ok, ok I’ve had my fun. I actually like this chapter plenty. I think its focus on the ability of these two races to work behind, between, and beneath the scenes of these larger conflicts makes for some excellent reading. Plus, I’m really digging the extra details on all these other gnome types!
First we explore the Halflings, a people I think I would love to be a part of. The natural innocence, the ability to roll with the punches and disregard some of the more troubling aspects of what’s going on in the world around them (certainly a desirable trait in real life right now!) makes for a lifestyle I find myself envying. The Halflings presented here honestly come across far more “hobbit-like” than some iterations of the D&D Halflings, there’s even a bit on “Bad Apples” in the Halfling race that allow evil to twist them into paranoid, crueler, creatur *cough**GOLLUM!**GOLLUM!**hack*… whew… sorry, something got caught in my throat there.
The Halfling gods and myths are fun stuff to parse, especially as deities in D&D are often times such ponderous things to read about. I really like the addition of the tactics each community studies put forth by their war god Arvoreen, even prepping for combat in a Halfling village sounds like fun.
Following this we dig into what drives the Halfling adventurer, because the race as a whole does not come off as a very exciting group. Far more prone to enjoying the simpler pleasures in life. Adventurers are born though, and can certainly rise to the same levels of legend as any of the larger folk out there!
Where dwarves work their forges and dig their mines out of stoic duty and honor Gnomes seem filled with a never ending lust for knowledge to drive them. We are introduced to a few varieties of gnomes here. The Rock Gnomes are incredible tinkerers, approaching their alchemy and artifice with a veritable scientific methodology not seen in other races. The Forest Gnomes seek to assist animal kind and master the craft of illusion. Lastly we meet the Deep Gnomes, otherwise known by the moniker Svirfneblin (the name that one player at the table insists the dungeon master always use, and expects phonetic perfection). Unlike their other Underdark counterparts, the Drow or Duergar, Deep Gnomes aren’t a full on danger to their surface kin. No, while they are certainly a bit grumpier and more stoic this is simply because they endure the hardships of the Underdark to seek their gain.
The gnomish gods are many and hold a large array of domains, here they are all given a nice background. I especially loved reading about how Garl Glittergold instigated a forever hardship between Gnomes and Kobolds. There is even a place for evil among the pantheon that might surprise some. There is also an aside that details how many Gnomish gods like to travel the multiverse disguised as ordinary gnomes. A rarity among D&D gods.
Lastly we visit a few Gnomish communities and then dive into what makes for a Gnome adventurer. As one would expect there’s a lot of curiosity and desire to learn behind most. Many communities may send their young adults away with a purpose to hope for new knowledge to be brought back.
As for the Player Character – Less than the other chapters. We are presented with the traits for the Deep Gnome only, but there is also an optional feat called “Svirfneblin Magic” that may be of interest to the player who picks these sturdy Gnomes as their character’s race. Interestingly Deep Gnomes are not subject to Sunlight Sensitivity.
CHAPTER 6: BESTIARY
Here we have the second half of this book. More than a hundred additional monsters and humanoids span these pages for the Dungeon Master to throw at his table. Plenty are old favorites, that missed inclusion in the Monster manual resurrected for the new edition. I always liked the Boneclaw for example. One would have to suspect that many wizards fail in their attempts to become a litch, and fall even further into depravity as a Boneclaw. Plenty likely try long before they amass the power to do so. Such an eerie creature, can’t wait to use it again.
Beyond that we see a lot of stat blocks for creatures brought to life by the conflicts described ion the earlier chapters. The different types of Eladrin, or the many ways to make up a Dueragar or Drow raiding party can be found here. Devils and Demons that have not yet gotten he privilege of being presented in earlier 5e books finally find a home. We also have tons of Gith choices to help expand what a group met on your travels might look like. Perhaps one of those Githyanki airships appears before your hapless players’ eyes.
For challenge ratings the Bestiary ranges from CR 1/8 all the way to CR 26. There’s a good mix there too, you could likely run entire campaigns with only the monsters located within these pages.
APPENDIX: MONSTER LISTS
This was a glaring omission in the Monster Manual that is thankfully added, in many fashions, here. The table of contents lists the monsters in alphabetical order, not by page number. Here in the appendix we have three other methods available. Stat blocks by Creature type comes first, Constructs, Humanoids, Fey, etc. Secondly there is the ever important stat block by Challenge Rating, Lastly we have creatures listed by environments. I’ve always liked that last one.
I’ve obviously gushed, I like the book a lot. I’m sure there’s something here I will think of later that I feel is missing, or could have rounding things out a bit nicer, but everything I’ve read thus far has been really great. Granted, I’m a lore hound and this book has that in spades. I think the fashion in which they’ve presented this lore is very creative and I really hope they continue this trend. The book feels alive, it isn’t just a glut of dry information put out there for us. Great care was taken to make this manual fun and interactive. I actually enjoyed reading it! I continue to be impressed with the team behind this edition of the game.
Mordenkinen’s Tome of Foes is an excellent read, full of lore on the great conflicts that rage across the multiverse and finishes with a veritable gush of monsters for the Dungeon Master to play with. This manual will serve the needs of both Dungeon Master and Player alike with the edge of most use being to the DM, though there are new character options available in nearly every chapter.
Release Date: 29 May, 2018
Item Code: 978-0-7869-6624-0
WHERE CAN I BUY IT?
You can find more information about this book via a “Podcast of Foes” event where the WotC team chats with notable RPG Podcasts about the book that is currently underway, you can listen in on either iTunes or Google Play, (please note the strong RPG Academy Network presence here! Proud of my network as always!) here is the schedule:
Sun, May 13:ITU Trash Crew
Sun, May 20:Return to Greyhawk
P.S. Dear Wizards of the Coast team. Thank you for the stickers! My library kids will love them!