For Dungeons & Dragons, the name Mordenkainen has resonated through all iterations, Gygax’s character from Greyhawk. He stands at the forefront of balancing good and evil. The latest official Dungeons & Dragons book, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, delves into various major factions that permeate all planes of existence in the multiverse.
To lead off with the facts of this book and its organization, there are two major parts. The first details the conflicts that go beyond the prime material plane, whether the Blood War or the fights among the various dwarven kinds. This spans about 110 pages. The second is an exhaustive bestiary, with over 140 pages of monsters found in these conflicts, as well as a few to fill in gaps of the Monster Manual. If I was to parallel this book to another classic, I would put it on par with the Fiend Folio. Furthermore, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes offers commentary throughout, similar to Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, with the title character providing insight into their interactions and observations of the various conflicts and creatures.
As mentioned, the focus of this work is on the conflicts: namely the Blood War between the demons and the devils, the mixture of elves in the multiverse (including the Shadar-Kai), the rivalry of the dwarves and duergar, the epic war among the gith, and finally a unique look at the halflings and gnomes neutral position in the multiverse. While all the background provided to these various conflicts is a treasure trove for conspiring Dungeon Masters, players may be interested to know precisely what options this book provides them.
- Expanded tiefling subraces based upon which archdevil they are the progeny of.
- Full deities list of elves and dwarves, including suggested domains.
- The eladrin elf subrace, updated where their season affects their fey step ability.
- The sea elf subrace.
- Shadar-Kai, now an elf subrace.
- Specialized elf trinket, adventurer story hooks, and drow house specialty lists.
- Duergar dwarf subrace.
- Dwarf adventurer hooks and quirks tables.
- Gith race, including subraces for githyanki and githzerai.
- Halfling and gnome deities list, personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws tables.
- Deep gnome subrace, including feat to gain their magical abilities.
All in all, this book has very specialized material for players, much like Volo’s Guide to Monsters. As such, it may not be something every player will want to have.
Moving beyond the player character’s perspective and back to that of a Dungeon Master, this is where the book really shines. The religious aspects of the elven and dwarven cultures are made more explicit here. This is something I wish I had earlier in my campaign. Having them listed in such a way makes it really easy to adapt them and play à la carte with them. Along with a primordial explanation of the schisms amongst these kind, specifically with the drow and duergar, it makes the tensions among them more explicit while not resorting to the “dark ones are the bad guys because they are evil.”
The section about the gith I found enlightening. Despite having played D&D for almost 30 years, I have never really given the gith any real attention. But the organization of this section brought to light the intrigue and issues they face. I honestly see this section as providing the most usable material for original campaigns out of this book. My campaigns have dabbled in the astral plane, but never gone out of their way there. The only critique I have of including the gith, especially the githzerai, as PCs is without solidified psionic rules, they feel mildly wedged in.
Regarding the halflings and gnomes, I was surprised to see this in this book. Being that this is the “Tome of Foes,” this chapter comes off rather friendly. Towards the end of my last campaign, Toell’s Bed, the gnomes and halflings founded their own town (Smidgton). The resources here could certainly help me flesh out the culture of that emerging settlement in my current campaign, a sequel .
The Blood War is by far one of my favorite elements of cosmic D&D. Demons and devils being at odds works so well and makes so much sense. The Fiendish Codex volumes of 3.5 detailed the demons and devils independently. While elaborately detailed, those books failed to provide a direct juxtaposition. This chapter succeeds in that regard.
I will say this about all these chapters from the first section: they lack maps. I wanted to see some more. While I do understand that a lot of these places detailed are abstract and shifting, or located across planes, I was a bit surprised not to see a map of the Hells at the least. That aside, the art is gorgeous and thorough with only a minimal amount of it recycled.
Moving on to the next section/chapter is the Bestiary, features just over 130 monsters from all over the planes. From Dukes of Hell to common ogres, this is where Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes earns its name. The bulk of these creatures are geared towards epic level play, with plenty over CR 20! You want your big bad villain for your campaign? It can be pulled directly from these pages.
What there is for lower level minons are geared towards the conflicts detailed in the book: lots of new drow, duergar, demons, devils, and my favorite, yugoloths! A few of my favorite to use critters from 3.5 are back, something I really appreciate since a good portion of my miniature collection is from that time period. Furthermore, indexes are provided to show you were different creatures might appear, along with an index by monster type.
If you are a dungeon master, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is a must buy after Volo’s Guide to Monsters. It is a companion piece, filling in the planar elements. The only questionable book that has been officially released by Wizards of the Coast has been Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, and even then it is not horrible only passable. Tome of Foes is the pacing I expect and want from 5th Edition release going forward, from the DM’s perspective.