Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes Interview with Mike Mearls

Todd Kenreck: The D&D multiverse is vast and it depends on a balance, but there are those that would upset that. That's why we're talking to Mike Mearls about D&D's latest book Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes.

Mike Mearls: The new book, our first book for 2018 is Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, not Tomb of Foes as we showed off in the stream. The perils of picking up something off someone's desk. Structurally it's very similar to Volo's Guide to Monsters. Both books have a good chunk of lore they're presenting and then they also have big chunks of new monsters. Where Volo wrote about the culture of some of the most common monsters in Dungeons and Dragons like orcs and mind flayers, Mordenkainen takes a bit more of a cosmic approach to things, but Mordenkainen being Mordenkainen he's very interested in conflict. His writing and his research focuses on the history of some of the big conflicts that have spanned the cosmos of D&D.

He writes about the struggle between the elves and the drow. He writes about the Blood War. He writes about the gith and their war both with the mind flayers and among themselves, and he talks about these creatures in a big picture, cosmic sense. Then the other really exciting thing about this book for me at least is that we've seen a lot of feedback of people asking for higher level monsters, so our goal with this book, and now I don't have the final table of contents so things may have shifted in play testing and as we made our final development, but our goal was for half of the monsters presented in this book to be challenge 10 or higher. We really wanted to focus on very powerful creatures, ones that would pose a real threat to your campaign and to help build out levels 10 and higher.

We know now as we're entering ... It's kind of funny to say this, it's year five now of the edition, or depending how you count, and so we think players now want broader range of levels, both players and DMs. We know most campaigns don't reach beyond level 10, but we want to not only provide that aspirational element, but also give dungeon masters some very powerful creatures that you might just use as part of the events of your campaign world. Maybe not something that you're meant to fight, but maybe something you interact with, or a creature that threatens a region that you might defeat not by fighting it, but by say enacting a ritual to banish it, things like that.

We really wanted to show off that higher end of power for monsters, and so when we look at the complete collection of creatures that we've made for the game, we have some more balance brought in across challenge ratings. Volo's was very much focused on lower challenge creatures, so we thought this would be a nice way to balance that off. When we look at why this book, there's obviously a lot of different things we can do. Why this? The first thing we saw was that we had a very positive response to Volo's. The reviews were very positive. The community feedback was great, and the sales were really good. We're very happy with the sales. We knew we had a formula that seemed to work.

Now, one thing we try to do though is avoid becoming too predictable. There is a little tension there though in the sense that we have other types of creatures and places that we do want to go into detail about to provide some more lore about, so we didn't want to just scrap a format that seemed to work for the sake of being different, but we also didn't just want to repeat what we did in the past. The main two things that drove this book and its differences were first this idea that looking at feedback from players and dungeon masters there was a demand for higher challenge creatures. We wanted to really focus on what are very powerful creatures that can come in later on in the campaign, or that can present a really daunting challenges for parties below 10th level.

As we thought of that, that told us we needed to think big picture. We needed to really think cosmically about D&D. One thing we tried to do, there are many methods we do to settle on the final form of a book, but in this case we thought to ourselves having Volo as the voice again just didn't feel right. Then we thought, well, Mordenkainen seemed to be a good candidate. We had a few people to choose from, but we liked Mordenkainen because of this idea that he focuses on this concept of the balance. To Mordenkainen today's friend could be tomorrow's enemy. He's really concerned with this idea that if any faction or any group becomes too powerful in the cosmos of D&D that could lead to not an apocalypse in the sense that the cosmos is destroyed, but that one faction could just rise to dominate everything, similar to how the mind flayers at one point ruled almost the entire material plane.

Mordenkainen not only would look at evil creatures, he'd also look at good creatures and he would keep a close eye on any of the conflicts that had gone on for a very long time in D&D, essentially that were just part of the background element of the cosmos of D&D like the Blood War or like the feud between the drow and other elves. These would be things he would keep tabs on because quite likely if one of those struggles went from the low-level, constant level of intensity, no one side getting a decisive advantage, if one of those tipped and one side was to win decisively and end that conflict that could be something that signaled the end, that the balance was coming to an end, and that he would have to step in or he would have to work with others to try to restore it.

The way I like to think of it is you might think a cosmos dominated by lawful good, well, that would be a lawful good place. The way Mordenkainen sees it is, well, in the lawful good universe the neutral-good people are the last ones sent to prison for the rest of their lives, that eventually the classic thing: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, that the cosmos functions because of the nine alignments and because they are largely kept in balance.

Todd Kenreck: Very much more cosmic focus.

Mike Mearls: Yeah. Really going back to the distant history of D&D and how it reflects today. Why is it that we have drow living in the Underdark and elves and their relationship with Corellon, with Lolth. The dwarves, what's their origin and their ongoing war with the duergar? It also looks at a variety of the player character races, and I think if you're looking at the players' handbook, all of the common races are at least touched upon except humanity. Humanity is kind of a different beast, but it talks about dwarves, covers their history, culture, and their ongoing war with the duergar and its origins, elves and the drow, and then it talks about gnomes and halflings and how they stand out, especially halflings as not really being embroiled in these cosmic, long-term struggles that the other folk of the world are.

It gives you some insight into why these folk have become so prominent across the many worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, and how they ended up not only where they are today, but why we time and again see in D&D worlds that humans typically are the most numerous and most powerful, even though if you were to look at elves and dwarves they live much longer, they have much tighter connections to their deities. What is it about their culture and about their gods that stops them from achieving the ubiquitous power and empire building that we see out of humanity? Not that it's impossible, but typically it's humans who engage in that kind of endeavor.

Todd Kenreck: If you are a new person to D&D entirely, this is one of the first books that you can just hand this to them and like, "This is the D&D multiverse."

Mike Mearls: Yeah. That's one of the things we wanted to do was create something where a new player or dungeon master could read the chapter on dwarves, if you're playing a dwarf, and really understand what it means to be a dwarf in Dungeons and Dragons. Now, the background and definitions we give don't determine all dwarves. We know there are always exceptions, but we wanted to build a good starting point to really let you get inside the psychology of a dwarf. How do dwarves think? How do they see the world? Applying that to elves, halflings, gnomes, the giff, demons and devils too. The Blood War gets a similar treatment.

We don't go so much into their history, but we do talk about demons and devils. For devils their society. For devils, they actually have a hierarchy and a government, a bureaucracy, where demons are more, well, we wanted to flesh out what does it mean to be a demon, how do demons think. They're chaotic evil. They don't have maybe these real strict organizations. They don't have a hierarchy in the sense of someone is appointed leader and they tell others what to do. How is the abyss anything other than just a realm of complete random chaos and violence? We talk about a bit how demons organize themselves, and we show how that is reflected in the Blood War, the ongoing war between demons and devils that rages across wherever the River Styx goes in the lower planes demons and devils fight, or at least try to fight.

Todd Kenreck: You don't get into the divine, though, so much in this.

Mike Mearls: Not so much here. We do talk about deities, for instance Moradin and his relation to the dwarves, Corellon and their relation to the elves. Corellon really doesn't have a gender. Really though use that rather than say here are the gods' abilities and powers, we focus a lot more on the cultural and mythic influence that these figures have. Since they tower over the folk they've created and have an enormous direct influence on them, they really shape their culture, their attitude, and their viewpoints. We really want to illuminate what that would mean for playing a dwarf, or thinking about dwarves as you're building your campaign. Like everything we write, this is just a point of view of the typical D&D world. We know for instance that in Dark Sun elves are very different than they are, say, in Faerün, but we also have some ideas of why that is. We don't really touch on that too much in this book.

Todd Kenreck: You can preorder Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes right here on by clicking on the link in here. I'm Todd Kenreck thank you for watching.




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