There are advantages to WotC’s book release schedule for 5e. Many D&D gamers are pretty much feening for a new book by the time one comes out! Keep in mind, a lot of us have been trained back in 3rd Ed. It often felt like you could hardly take a nap between book releases! However, just because a book has come out, doesn’t make it worth the print. Is Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes worth buying?
The answer? That depends.
My Cop-out Answer
There, I’m admitting it. ‘Depends’ is a total cop-out. Go ahead. Lock me up. I apologize, but really, did you expect a different answer? If this was about the Player’s Handbook, I’d give it to you straight, but Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is DEFINITELY an optional book. I told you I was going to focus on giving advice that actually helped you at the table. Sorry, WotC, I’m a huge fan, but I’m an honest one. Now that is out of the way, let’s get down to defining what circumstances would make MToF worth buying, shall we?
What’s In The Book?
There is a lot of great chatter out there about this or that awesome thing in MToF. Teasers were announced by those with pre-release access. Since the book got into bloggers’ hands, there are some great chapter by chapter breakdowns. If that’s what you are looking for, I suggest you check out This Post by Sean at Power Score, or This Review by Gavin at Bleeding Cool. Maybe it’s just me, but that sort of thing just isn’t what I’m looking for when I’m deciding whether to buy a book or not.
What I want to know are some of the numbers… So here they are!
For the DM
140 New Monsters!
As other reviewers have pointed out, there’s a strong emphasis on dwarves, elves, halflings, and gnomes, as well as the obvious demonic theme (Hi Tieflings!). But what exactly, you might ask, is the breakdown? Well, here it is!
|8 Aberrations||8 Giants||1 CR 1/8th||2 CR 6||4 CR 14||2 CR 22|
|11 Constructs||31 Humanoids||7 CR 1/14||11 CR 7||3 CR 15||5 CR 23|
|9 Elementals||12 Monstrosities||2 CR1/2||5 CR 8||6 CR 16||2 CR 24|
|4 Fey||3 Oozes||6 CR 1||6 CR 9||2 CR 17||1 CR 25|
|42 Fiends||1 Plants||11 CR 2||9 CR 10||3 CR 18||3 CR 26|
|– 19 Demons||11 Undead||9 CR 3||7 CR 11||2 CR 19|
|– 17 Devils||6 CR 4||6 CR 12||3 CR 20|
|– 6 Yugoloth||5 CR 5||6 CR 13||4 CR 21|
Naturally, as a DM who often runs home-brew adventures, more monsters are more options. This is definitely a key selling point for making MToF worth buying. As you can see, there are a few trends to the book and a couple of questions that these numbers don’t answer. For instance, 31 Humanoids is a very unhelpful number.
Trends Within the Humanoids
- 6 are Drow
- 9 are Duergar
- 5 are Gith
- 3 are Elves (also, the 4 Fey are actually Eladrin elves).
This means if you are planning an Underdark themed campaign, you’ve got a solid set of additional creatures. This is especially true as the Duergar occupy a good deal of the Low to Mid CR bracket, while the Drow are additions to the Upper-Mid CRs.
Likewise, while 19 new Demons and 17 new Devils sounds awesome, 8 of the 19 are Demon Lords and 6 of the 17 are Archdevils. Still, 11 each of the two main fiend types is a strong incentive if you’re planning a devilish or demonic themed campaign.
Rules for 9 Devilish Cults and 12 Demonic Boons
There are 9 different subtypes of tiefling. All the tiefling subtypes follow basically the same progression as the PHB version. In addition, MToF gives some interesting rules for adding a unifying theme to devilish cults. This really helps set them apart from rank and file ‘cultists’ from the Monster Manual. These cult outlines suggest signature spells, typical cult NPCs, and one or more special abilities to hand out to various cult members. Signature spells can be swapped out of spell lists without adjusting CRs for an easy thematic adjustment. Meanwhile, the varied cult powers offer a variety of interesting tools to differentiate between cults. These include a number of powers that disadvantage one cultist to the benefit of another, which I thought was particularly fitting.
Likewise, Demonic Boons are a great way to give benefits out for an association with a powerful demon prince, or even one of the greater demons like a Balor. These boons suggest statistic increases, as well as granted special abilities and definitely provide a way to tie together disparate NPCs or Monsters with their demonic patron.
Lore, Lore, Lore… 81 Pages of Lore
If ever there was a confusing book of lore, MToF probably took lessons from it to attempt to master the craft. The lore in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is widespread and detailed, which is obviously a good thing. The one downside is that it tries to cover the lore from numerous published settings and put it all into one book. Thus, we end up with Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Eberron, and Greyhawk lore all meshed together.
For demons and devils, this isn’t necessarily as bad as for the player-races. There is a lot more crossover in lore there. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of Mordenkainen arguing with Elminster over goodly drow as much as the next guy… But I think it makes the lore both more and less relevant. More relevant to the home brew campaign who wants to pick and choose. Less relevant to the die-hard fan of any particular setting as they have to hunt and peck for the correct information.
For The Players
14 New Subtypes
- 3 new Elf subtypes (Eladrin, Shadar-Kai, and Sea)
- 1 Dwarf subtype (Duergar)
- 1 Gnome subtype (Deep)
- The aforementioned 9 new Tiefling subtypes.
Honestly not a bad addition to your options for creating new characters, but worth buying the book? That’s pretty hard to say, as stats and abilities are already available to the simplest google search. The tipping factor is in your own desire to roleplay your character and the detailed lore that is included for these new subtypes.
For myself, I really enjoyed reading the gnome entry while helping my prettier half build a gnome wizard. It brought back memories of my favorite gnome character. As well as various gnomes from great fantasy books that shaped my childhood imaginings.
However, if you’re not really worried about incorporating a race’s history and personality into your character, I’d say MToF isn’t for you.
A New Race – Or Is That Two?
The Gith make their way into the hands of 5th edition players. Much beloved and maligned, the Githyanki and Githzerai are understandably presented as a single race with two subtypes. However, much of my previous thoughts on added subtypes holds true for the Gith also. The only real reason the Gith would make the book worth buying would be if you had a desire to read the 10 pages of lore included in their entry.
Scant Little Else For Players
I’m sorry to say it, but MToF has scant little else intended for player use. If you aren’t a DM, MToF just may not be worth buying. Unless you’re a pokemon book collector.
- DM’s get lots of new monsters for Underdark or fiendish campaigns. As well as a few fiendish rules for cultists and followers… And tons of lore.
- The lore is a bit of a mishmosh of many published settings but is plentiful and detailed.
- Players who don’t care about the lore of the race they’re playing should just use google to create a character of the new race/subraces.
In other words, DMs are likely to love this book, particularly if they build their own campaigns, but players could easily regret the purchase price. That’s what the numbers tell me, anyway. I bought mine through Amazon and got release-date shipping which was pretty awesome. You can find yours here. I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on MToF’s value to you. Fortunately, there’s a box for that kind of shindig below!