Mordekainen’s back! Everybody’s favourite wizard brings us world lore, racial lore, and a nice selection of monsters to charm and slaughter (or die of, to be honest).
The book looks pretty much standard for the fifth edition: hardcover, gloss varnish, pretty artwork. I actually like the cover art of the standard edition (by Jason Rainville) more than the special edition by Vance Kelly.
So, what’s inside the book that promises that we’ll discover the truth about the great conflicts of the universe?
There are six chapters full of goodies, and the review will discuss them all, because that’s more fun:
- The Blood War: description of the eternal war between devils and demons;
- Elves: sub-races, gods, day-to-day living;
- Dwarves and Duergar: the war, dwarven and duergar ways of living, duergar characters;
- Gith and Their Endless War: long-awaited lore and rules for Githyanki and Githzerai;
- Halflings and Gnomes: lots of lore about the small races;
- Bestiary: 140 monster stat blocks, with the emphasis on demonic and devilish creatures.
TL;DR: A quality supplement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the racial lore, as I’m a bit sentimental about the amount of write-up that used to accompany bestiary entries in AD&D. I like the new monsters, especially those above CR10 – it’s always nice to have something that will challenge players who got too cocky.
Chapter 1: The Blood War
The war between Lawful Evil Nine Hells and the Chaotic Evil Abyss is eternal – at least when looked at from a humanoid perspective. It’s ranging everywhere from Lower Planes, to Material Plane, to anywhere possible, really. Put a demon and a devil in one room, and the hilarity (also known as bitter struggle for dominance) will ensue. The book gives rather short description of the history of The Blood War itself – and I’m glad it kind of skips over it; I’ve read way too many pages on the lives and wars of Phoenix Kings to ever enjoy the dry, over-detailed chronicles of any world, including the one I’m living in.
So, as I much prefer the social history (especially in combination with military), I was happy to see the different points of view on the war, and its consequences on mortals. The books lists and describes each of the archdevils ruling the Nine Hells (Asmodeus, Zariel, Dispater, Mammon, Fierna and Belial, Levistus, Glasya, Baalzebul, and Mephistopheles), as well as their diabolical cults (no more generic cultists! Give them new abilities and signature spells!). There’s also an interesting snippet on the gender of devils, and how they’re used to taking any form that gives them an edge in an encounter.
Rules-wise, there are new options for tieflings – they can now be connected to any of the Lords of the Nine Hells, which brings their own perks, although they’re just variants for ability score increases and known spells. Anyway, more options for character creation are just something I love, so I’m not complaining. Also, tables for devil customisation: honorifics (‘the Perciever’, ‘Chainer of Demons’, ‘the Shatterer’ etc.), personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws.
Next section covers demons and their spread over the planes. Again, we get to meet demon lords (Baphomet, Demogorgon, Fraz-Urb’luu, Graz’zt, Juiblex, Orcus, Yeenoghu, Zuggtmoy) and their cultists, and the boons they can impart on their followers (+8 to Constitution, anyone? Just pledge your undying loyalty to Juiblex and kiss your mental ability scores goodbye). The chapter closes in the demon customisation tables: personality traits, ideals, bonds (just one! I am a perfect product of creation, destined to one day shape the cosmos to my whims. Everything I do verifies my destiny), flaws and unusual demon features, like belching flies, snake hair, bleeding wasps (yeah, really?). Also, fiendish cult random generation tables.
Overall, a solid 30 pages. Incredibly useful if you want to incorporate the Capital ‘E’ Evil to your campaign.
Chapter 2: Elves
Elves! The race I could never get behind (I have a list of issues with long-lived races, or rather their progression/development speed). However, reading the lore on the sub-races and the childhood/adolescence of the elves in society, I was actually fascinated with the whole idea of souls going away and returning. I don’t know if I missed it previously, but the reincarnation actually explains a lot about the elves (and my issues with them). I think there’s quite a good couple of pages of lore there. Even better is the following thorough description of the elven philosophy, especially its long-term part, as well as discussion on the elven adventurers.
A short piece on elven magic (including rather unique mythals – like the one in Myth Drannon – and bladesongs) is quickly followed by the elven pantheon, The Seldarine, which is a nice addition. In true D&D style, there’s a table with deities, their alignments, provinces, domains and symbols. The more known deities are also described in more detail: Corellon Larethian (really, it’s hard to find a more iconic elven deity), Hanali Celanic (god of beauty and love), Labelas Enoreth (god of time, history and memory – a rare nod towards the ‘ancient’ aspect of the elves), Rillifane Rallathil (god of nature and beasts), Sehanine Moonbow (god of mysteries, travel and death), and Deep Sashelas (god of sea and knowledge). A couple of paragraphs on elven ‘paradises’, Arvandor and more achievable Evermeet, conclude the god-oriented part.
Let’s carry on: there are goodies ahead of us. A piece on Eladrin and the Feywild (yes, there are stats for the season-aligned eladrin, and they’re more or less playable), followed by way longer description of Drows, complete with societal descriptions and the drow pantheon (of course that includes Eilistraee, the only good diety of drows). More interestingly, the next section covers the Raven Queen and the Shadar-kai, her elven followers from Shadowfell.
The tables at the end of chapter cover new character creation options: rules and traits of the eladrin (separate for each season), the sea elves (water-breathing!), and the shadar-kai (come with necrotic damage resistance and built-in short-ranges teleport). Couple extra tables cover elf-specific trinkets and adventure hooks (separate for drow and non-drow adventurers). Pretty good options in those!
Chapter 3: Dwarves and Duergar
Yes, there are more dynamic, action-filled artworks in this section of the book. But this one has a dog, so…
We start the chapter on dwarves and duergar with the description of their conflict, as promised by Mordekainen. It’s not too long – more of an overview, really, just enough to give you an understanding of the reasons behind the still simmering (blazing?) hatred.
Afterwards we’re faced with the main tenets of the dwarven life: path to perfection, the legacy of the clans, the stability of the stronghold. They make up the pillars of the dwarven society and psychology, and I have to admit, they’re rather well-written as well. I really appreciate that the book creators decided to discuss the different variants of the dwarves in more than one setting: there are dwarves of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. We’re introduced to dwarven deities (yes, there’s more than just Moradin – I can make this joke, as I only even bothered to know Moradin, and I’m not happy with my own ignorance). Next sections cover the standard dwarven enemies (dragons, giants, orcs and duergar), clans and dwarven adventurers.
Duergar, the evil dwarves, get their own section of the book. It’s more of an dark mirror image than the opposite: there are still the main tenets (Our pockets are never full, Our fight is never done, Our resolve is never shaken), but it all lacks the feeling of society, happiness or satisfaction. With just two deities (Deep Duerra and Laduguer), duergar feel the least developed in this matter, but it’s rather fitting. There’a a section on psionic talents of duergar, as well as duergar adventurers, which includes some tips on roleplaying such characters. Also, rules for creating duergar characters (120ft darkvision, some magic and resistances + sunlight sensitivity).
The Dwarf Tables include random generators for dwarves on the move (caravans, patrols, travellers etc.), duergar raiding parties, for clans, adventurer story hooks and quirks (my favourite is duergar The outside world is a giant cave, and nothing will convince you otherwise).
Chapter 4: Gith and Their Endless War
If you’re, like me, fans of Planescape: Torment, you’ve probably waited for the appearance of Gith in D&D 5E. I mean – who doesn’t want to see more Dak’kons? By the way, he was brilliantly voiced in Polish edition of the game, and I loved Gith ever since.
It’s comes as no surprise that this chapter starts with the description of conflict between githyanki (lawful evil) and githzerai (lawful neutral). Both are motivated by their intense hatred of mind flayers (centuries of slavery do that to people), but their choices and ways differ considerably. While githyanki are merciless raiders, githzerai are more mind-oriented pacifists.
A section aboyt githyanki covers their goddess-queen Vlaakith, the history of the servitude to illithids, description of their society, the order of knights, skyships, and the city of Tu’narath, githyanki capital on the Astral Plane.
Githzerai, described here as strong-minded philosophers and austere ascetics, revere their great heroes more than they hate everything that’s not them. Their fortresses are located in the Chaos Plane of Limbo, where githzerai learned to manipulate the Chaos to their own uses. They wage the war against githyanki and the mind flayers, although it’s rather through precise attacks instead of full-blown assault.
The chapter covers long-awaited (again, at least by me) rules for creating gith characters, both sub-races having access to some psionics and either extra proficiencies (githyanki) or advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened (githzerai). Extra tables cover gith names, personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, as well as githyanki raiding parties and githzerai groups.
Chapter 5: Halflings and Gnomes
Often overlooked, but thoroughly enjoyable, smaller races have been described here in pretty much the same amount of detail. What makes them stand apart is that they are not enrolled in any great conflict – they’re actively avoiding it by trying to go unnoticed. They live peaceful lives, making desserts and gizmos.
Section of halflings covers their daily living and psychological make-up. A nice addition is the small boxed-out with halfling superstitions – a cool way of adding a bit of extra flavour to you characters or NPCs. They vary from wearing flowers on your hat to ward off evil faeries, to rules regarding planting turnips. All in all, delightful. There are also the deities, all of them described in detail (Yondalla, Arvoreen, Sheela Peryroyl, Charlamaine, Cyrrollalee, Brandobaris and Urogalan). We get some text on the halfling adventurers as well, and the descriptions of halflings in the multiverse. The usual tables cover personality traits, ideals, bonds, flaws and reasons for adventuring.
Gnomes are presented as ingenious toymakers, lovers of life, easily fascinated with various ideas and peoples. There’s a section about each of the sub-races (rock, forest and deep gnomes), as well as about the gnome gods – again, with detailed information on all of them: Garl Glittergold, Baervan Wildwanderer, Baravar Cloakshadow, Callarduran Smoothhands, Flandal Steelskin, Gaerdal Ironhand, Nebelun, Segojan and Urdlen. There are also The Golden Hills, the home of the gnome gods. Usual section on adventurers and their love of travels.
Rules-wise, there are notes on creating svirfneblin (deep gnomes), and the gnome tables (classic choice of personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws).
Chapter 6: Bestiary
After a long trip we’ve arrived to the all-new pile of monsters. There are entries complementing all previous chapters – a lot of fiendish and demonic monsters, drows, shadar-kai, duergar and gith. The challenge rating varies between 1/8 (young kruthik) and 26 (Demogorgon, Orcus and Zariel). With 140 stat blocks, that makes a nice selection of opponents.
As I intend to write a separate article on the monsters in this bestiary (there’s so many cool entries to discover), I’m just going to add that the chapter ends in useful tables, grouping the monsters by creature type, challenge rating and environment.
All of the illustrations are taken from the Mordekainen’s Tome of Foes and/or the promotional images, and are obviously not mine.