24 September 2018
Devils and demons for your Dungeons & Dragons
It can be quite hard to describe what the latest addition to D&D: Fifth Edition’s line-up actually is. There are plenty of new monsters to use and vast swathes of lore and setting detail, but isn’t quite a new bestiary, nor is it a sourcebook. The only way to really sum it up is that it brings more to the table: more creatures, more background, more player options, more everything.
In that way, you could perhaps view it as a companion piece to last year’s Xanathar’s Guide to Everything but, where that book was primarily aimed at players, Tome of Foes is mostly here for the person sitting behind the DM screen. It helps them to expand their game, both with new rules and mechanics, and storytelling hooks and wild ideas that can spark the imagination and propel a campaign from scuffles with local threats into a journey across the planes.
The section that will probably get the most use, however, is the one containing new monster statistics. This accounts for around half of the book’s page count on its own and is packed with all manner of nasty creatures that can spice up adventures and ruin heroes’ days in equal measure.
While a long list of modifiers and attacks may seem a little dry, the sheer imagination on display is infectious, and most DMs out there won’t be able to keep a smile from creeping across their face as plans for using these horrible new tools spring into their mind. Some of the standout creatures on display could easily form the heart of an adventure all on their own, with the memory-stealing oozes known as ‘oblex’ an instant classic in the making.
Beyond that, Tome of Foes has clearly been designed with high-level play in mind, and the monsters on display average out as being around twice as challenging as those found in the original Monster Manual. This includes everything from Lovecraftian star spawn to powerful elder elementals, as well as an entire pantheon of evil archdevils and demon lords that could easily take on an entire party of well-armed adventurers single-handed.
This feeds in to a major theme of the setting information that accounts for the first few chapters, detailing the differences between the superficially similar demons and devils as well as their endless battles over which strain of fiendish evil is best suited for universal domination.
While these make for an enjoyable read that helps to set up the wider world and provide ideas that could potentially be woven into stories and campaigns, ultimately it seems a little lacking in hooks for getting players directly involved in the conflict. This limits its actual use out of very specific campaigns and adventures and feels as though it’s being planted to set up another product further down the line.
Something much more likely to actually crop up at most tables are the chapters spelling out a little more information on the major non-human player races included in the game, such as elves, dwarves, halflings and gnomes. These are great reads that go into detail on each race’s culture and religion, with a focus on why some of them leave the safety of home and wander off to become heroes, making them useful for both players and DMs alike.
All these are peppered with a handful of new options for players, most of which are focused on alternate takes on existing races, such as the Shader-kai – gloomy cousins to elves – and the sinister ashen-skinned dwarves known as Duergar.
If it sounds as though there’s a lot packed into the pages of Tome of Foes, that’s because there is. It feels as though the designers have made a deliberate step away from pitching one book at players and another at DMs, and rather just mixed it all together so that every new purchase gives a little something to the gaming group as a whole.
The biggest downside to the book as a whole is that the first half is less useful for groups who play in extensively homebrewed worlds, but even then there’s plenty of information that can be modified or twisted to fit. Beyond that, the initial run of books has been hit by a few production issues including typos and occasional errors, while a large number of books arrived with scratched or damaged covers – something that is hard enough to ignore from small RPG publishers, let alone the biggest name in the industry.
Ultimately though, this really is an instant pick-up for long-term D&D fans, especially those who are interested in taking games to a higher power level. Just try to resist the temptation to try out that new astral dreadnaught on your third-level party, okay?
New monsters, new lore and a few new player options make this a great addition to the Fifth Edition line-up.
Designer: Wizards of the Coast team
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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