A Nerd Dad’s Review of Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse

Fans of Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition have been joking for some time about the so-called “5.5 edition” in light of major updates to character generation rules. The latest book, Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, represents WoTC’s next phase of this update and it is a bit of a doozy …. at first.

Full disclosure: I was initially uninterested in book, but in light of season 12 rule updates for Adventurer’s League starting in July, several older books were rendered obsolete.1 My hobgoblin Mandalorian clone was not legal to play anymore until I updated him, for example. Further, my kids were super excited to play new character races such as fairies, and updated kenku (more on that later) so, for their sake I bought a hard copy.

After taking the book home, my first read-through was disappointing. The first 20% of the book is a brief set of stats and descriptions for character races to play (beyond the classic ones in the Player’s Handbook), but gone were the lengthy cultural descriptions from Volo’s Guide to Monsters or Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. Interestingly, many Eberron character races were included, making them now mainstream, as well as surprising editions such as minotaurs and satyr (such those from the Mythic Odysseys of Theros rule book which I reviewed here).

In effect this consolidates not just Volo’s and the “old” Mordenkainen books, but also Eberron, Theros, Wild Beyond the Witchlight, Elemental Evil Player’s Companion and probably some others I am missing. It’s an attempt to reboot the entire player character race options beyond the Player’s Handbook into one, cohesive presentation. WoTC’s decision to not include detailed cultural descriptions of these races is meant to free them of some of the “lore baggage”. For example, the classic Orc character is either portrayed as the classic villain (a la The Lord of the Rings), or as a shamanistic defender in the Eberron setting. So which is it? The new Mordenkainen book decides to avoid biasing one way or another. Still, I wish they had maybe added at least a little more lore content for each race, perhaps as an “optional” background settings, just to stimulate character design. Instead of one page each, perhaps two? Knowing Elvish deities was hugely helpful in making my elf forge cleric character. This is where deprecating both Volo’s and old Mordenkainan’s books hurts the most perhaps.

Unfortunately, the remaining 80% of the book is monster stats we’ve see in the previous books above but with slightly different format. Many of the spell-casting classes now use an odd mechanic which just grants them X castings if a spell per day, more in line with other monster abilities. It’s sensible, but definitely a change. There are other minor updates to stats and abilities, but these vary on a per monster basis and too large to go into here. The monsters are laid out in purely alphabetical order rather than by type, but I am OK with this since the old Mordenkainen book had a confusing format.

Initially, I lamented buying the book. It felt like a big waste of money given how many of the older books I already owned, but now forced to abandon for Adventurer’s League.

However, that same weekend, I let my kids roll up new characters using the new Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse book, updated character generation options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (reviewed here) and a new setting. My son picked a Kenku wizard which would have been unlikely in the old rules, but perfectly fine in the new ones. Kenku are no longer bereft of speech, but do retain their penchant for mimicry.

My daughter made a fairy, which included some fun flavor options she liked. Since we started at lvl 3, I rolled a sidekick character for them: an Eladrin Ranger, Beast Master archetype, which would have been unthinkable previously: beast master mechanics were very problematic (but fixed in Tasha’s), and the Eladrin racial stats were not a good fit. Plus, the Eladrin race has been fixed in other ways in new Mordenkainen’s by giving them more flexible proficiencies (in “old” Mordenkainen, they had none specified).

In addition to other changes, the goblinoid races all inherent Fey traits than before which actually makes sense to me, given their traditionally “dark fey” origins in fantasy lore. And yet they retain uniquely goblinoid features, too. I updated my kid’s sidekick character in our home Eberron campaign to the new rules pretty smoothly. The Help action is now uniquely useful in combat for a hobgoblin, while bugbears have some pretty useful abilities too. On the other hand, Aasimar were consolidated into a single archetype (presumably to match their counterparts, the Tiefling). The “size” of various character races has been solved somewhat in an interesting way by allow some races to choose between “small” and “medium” size, while allowing some other races to “count” as large when it matters most with the Powerful build feature.

In summary, I think the true value of the new Mordenkainen’s book comes into play when combined with Tasha’s updated ruleset. The focus on player character races has shifted away from uniqueness through racial stats to uniqueness through racial features (many of which got much-needed fixes and consistency updates), while giving a standard method for character generation through newer Tasha’s rules. It does tend to homogenize things somewhat, both with the loss of lore, and with the rebalancing of races, and it’s hard not to have mixed feelings about. My son still wanted to play a “mute” Kenku more in line with the old rules, rather than the new ones, but still enjoys the new character generation process more.

So, on the whole, I’ve warmed up quite a bit to the newer rulesets provided by Tasha’s and new Mordenkainen’s, but it takes some adjustment. I also am not entirely happy with the idea that 80% of the book was monster stats which I am unlikely to use, and honestly too scary for my younger kids to even look at. I would have preferred that the new Mordenkainen’s book (and the old one, to be honest), had been broken up into two distinct books: one for character races, and the other for monster stats. Given how expensive rulebooks, it’s a bit hard to swallow, but I have to admit the new setup does grow on you once you get used to it.

As with any Dungeons and Dragons edition, there’s nothing actually compelling players and DM’s to keep purchasing rulebooks and updating their rulesets. A group can keep playing, say, 3.5 edition until they drop dead. Similarly, for 5th edition folks, there’s nothing that compels you (outside of official play) to invest in the newer rules and format. If your group is content with the older books in 5th edition, that’s perfectly fine. The newer books do provide a more consolidated, consistent format to deal with the gradual sprawl that was crept up for the last 8 years,2 but the choice to reinvest in the new rules vs. the old is an entirely personal one. For the sake of my kids, I went with the new rules, and so far it’s been a blast.

That said, having put Tasha’s and new Mordenkainen’s into practice, I am looking forward to an updated Player’s Handbook to match the new ruleset, and possibly an updated Xanathar’s Guide as well. While WoTC is unlikely to revisit the debacle between D&D Third Edition and 3.5-edition, it is making noticeable updates to the rules and formats, and I found once I got used to the idea I am happy to continue playing them.

P.S. Had to sneak in one last post before taking a retreat. 😙

P.P.S. It was using the latest rulesets that I made my TMNT clone character.

1 This is part of a larger initiative by WoTC to focus on favoring the newest ruleset if ever there’s an overlap.

2 I still own my first-print Player’s Handbook from 2014. It’s well-worn and I would like to purchase a newer, updated one, but holding out in light of potential, further updates.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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