Dungeons & Dragons is bigger right now than than it’s ever been before, and its designers have spent nearly eight years building on its latest incarnation. A new introductory collection wants to tie all of those post Player’s Handbook design decisions together, and cut a path towards whatever’s next.
Next week D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast will release the D&D Rules Expansions Gift Set, a new collection of three source books meant to help players expand their campaigns with new creatures, items, race options, and more, with exclusive covers, a slipcase, and a Dungeon Master’s screen. Two familiar rules books are included, the already released Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. But even if you’re a diehard collector who already has those, there’s still a compelling reason to check it out: The early release of the next, most comprehensive rules and stats book for fifth edition, Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse.
“This is the true companion to the Monster Manual and to the Player’s Handbook. It is a fantastic collection of creatures and NPCs, many of whom appeared in Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tomb of Foes—but now integrated together and updated,” D&D’s principal rules designer Jeremy Crawford told press in a recent event. For Crawford and D&D’s designers, Monsters of the Multiverse presents the evolution of nearly a decade of change for fifth edition, collecting hundreds of monsters and oodles of playable races introduced in prior books and digital releases, while making character creation and the use of a wide array of those creatures and races in a campaign easier than ever—or just as mechanically complex as either a player or a Dungeon Master wants them to be.
“We looked at a lot of the monsters that appeared previously in print and thought, ‘We can make a number of these a more streamlined experience,’” Crawford said. “We’d talked publicly at D&D Celebration that we’ve made a number of our spellcasting monsters easier to run. They still have spellcasting, but it’s going to be a bit less overwhelming for DMs to use those monsters. We’ve also, in various places, created new traits. As you go through the book, you’re going to find some monsters where at first you’re like, ‘I know this one!’—but when you look at its stat block, you’ll go ‘well, there’s a new twist.’”
For Crawford, this didn’t just mean iterating on rules for streamlining or change’s sake, but making creatures feel like they’re at their maximum potential. “Is this monster the best version of itself? Is there a way we can make Zuggtmoy even more Zuggtmoy?” Crawford asked. “We were looking for opportunities in every case to enhance the monster, make it easier to run... and make them far more dangerous to run than they were the last time they were in print.”
The reason for that last point is, really, that the current iteration of D&D has been around for eight years now, and even as plenty of newcomers join the game’s community, there’s plenty of seasoned veterans who are used to the creatures as written nearly a decade ago. Perhaps in some cases, those creatures were never as dangerous as signified by their assigned “CR,” or Challenge Rating, a shorthand that denotes how threatening a creature should be an average adventuring party.
“We’ve gotten pretty consistent feedback since the core books in 2014 that a number of our high CR monsters felt a bit too weak, like they were punching below their challenge rating,” Crawford admitted. Monsters of the Multiverse won’t fundamentally change previously established Challenge Ratings, but will instead punch up a creature’s stats to make sure they warrant the CR they were previously assigned.
“Part of this work was also us changing how these monsters earn their challenge rating. In those previous books, the monsters did hit their challenge ratings, but we used a different method to hit it. In the past, all a monster had to do was have a set of combat options that, if the DM chose that right set, the monster was that challenge rating. Here’s the issue with that approach: if the DM doesn’t happen to pick that golden path, a number of those monsters then fall out of their challenge rating,” Crawford explained.
“That’s exactly why the math supports the fan feedback we got by many groups,” he said. “But then we’d have other DM’s say the monsters seemed exactly as they were as printed, because those DM happened to pick the optimal sequence of things that created the monster’s optimal challenge rating. In Monsters of the Multiverse, we’ve changed the approach. We’ve now made it so that each of the monsters has multiple choice sequences that lead to the same CR. And so what that’s going to do is give groups who never fought the optimal version of the monster [a challenge that feels] way more powerful... We also did protect their non-combat options, so it is possible for a monster to not be as threatening as its CR may suggest, but we made it clearer to the DM when they are taking that path. The DM will be able to make a more informed choice.”
Crawford sees this sort of revision as the true core of what Monsters of the Multiverse is about for players, rather than just a collection of hundreds of monster and race entries and their associated stats. It will also make that information from across reams of sourcebooks available in one convenient place, offer information to integrate those rules into games conveniently, and deliver them in a more accessible manner. That doesn’t just apply in the rules sense, but, in perhaps the most geekiest of all things you could possibly wonder about even for a Dungeons & Dragon book: organization.
“One of the things I’m most excited about having to do with DM convenience, is, when I’m prepping a game with this book, we’ve changed the alphabetization of all the monsters,” Crawford gleefully explained. “So, going back to Zuggtmoy, for instance, if you wanted to look up the state block of the demon lord, Zuggtmoy, you wouldn’t find her if you went to ‘Z’—you’d have to remember she was a demon lord, and look her up under ‘D’. Now, if you go to ‘Z’ you’re going to find her! It’s a small thing, but I think this change alone will make many DM’s lives easier. There are still a few little categories—those are in the table of contents and will become clear when you go through the book—but for the most part, when you think of the monster’s name, you will go to it. As a part of that reorganization of all the monsters, all of the NPCs that previously appeared in an appendix at the back of, for example, Volo’s Guide—they are now integrated into the book in alphabetical order.”
Re-organizing rules also meant taking old suggestions for creature customization and integrating those into an archetypal stat block alongside the original. “What we did when we brought creatures in from previous books, we looked for any place they might have suggested, ‘here’s how you customize the monster to make a different monster’—if we felt that that customization option was compelling enough for DMs to use in campaigns wherever they are in the D&D multiverse, we did the work for the DM and created a new stat block. There are a number of new stat blocks like that, we now just give you that other monster with its own stat block,” Crawford explained.
It also gave the team the chance to add in some entirely new creatures in the process. “One of the most delightful ones is the Dolphin Delighter—a fae dolphin,” Crawford teased. “When I was putting together the dolphin page for this book, I realized dolphins in the game had often been associated with seals, which are also in the book along with other fae aquatic folk. We finally introduce a telepathic, teleporting fae dolphin!”
From a storytelling perspective the book reads as Mordenkainen introducing readers to creatures that exist in forms across all the planes of existence in Dungeons & Dragons, so re-presenting rules gave the design team to add a little narrative flair and flavor. “We made sure what we say about the monsters is the most applicable no matter what world you’re in. What that allowed us to do is add in some really juicy bits of multiverse lore because we weren’t just talking about them in a specific world. These are truths about the creatures on a multiversal level. That allowed us to put in some really neat details that go into some of the D&D’s old lore,” Crawford added.
All this means Monsters of the Multiverse lays the groundwork for something beyond refinement of what came before; according to Crawford, it also should prepare players for whatever comes next for Dungeons & Dragons as they approach 2024, the game’s 50th anniversary, the game’s next evolution. “We are working as we speak on revisions of the core rulebooks that will be backward compatible [with fifth edition material], and all that was in our mind as we worked on Monsters of the Multiverse,” Crawford said. “This book is ready-to-go and will continue to keep going for years to come.”
The D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set is available from January 25, 2022, while Monsters of the Multiverse will be available separately, in both digital and physical formats, from May 17.
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