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SYFY WIRE Dungeons & Dragons

New 'Dungeons & Dragons' book collects player races and monsters alike

Monsters of the Multiverse, part of the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Expansion Gift Set, collects existing D&D content and gives it a huge update. 

By James Grebey
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For a Dungeon Master, getting all the various materials needed to run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign can sometimes feel like an epic fantasy quest itself. That’s why the iconic tabletop game is streamlining things with the upcoming D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set, featuring a new book, Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, which collects and updates content that was previously strewn across several various sourcebooks and adventures. This means getting a whole bunch of player options and monsters in one place — but even if experienced DMs have seen them before, they haven’t seen them quite like this. 

D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set, which hits shelves on Jan 25, consists of three books. There’s Xanathar's Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, previously released books that expand on the core rules laid out in the Player’s Handbook. But, it’s Monsters of the Multiverse that’s the real draw, as the book rounds up content that appeared in scattered books like Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, Princes of the Apocalypse, and many more, into one new package. It’s basically everything that doesn’t appear in the Player’s Handbook or Monster Manual, collected and changed in ways that signal the direction that Dungeons & Dragons is going as the popular 5th Edition continues its run.

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The first half of Monsters of the Multiverse consists of 33 player race options, all of which have appeared in one form or another in a previous release.

The turtle-like Tortle race, which before this was only available through a digital “Tortle Package,” makes its print debut, alongside retooled favorites like the goblins, genasi, elf variants, and more. The biggest change to all these races is that they no longer have standard ability scores. Instead, they go with the flexible rules introduced in Tasha’s last year. This change reflects the game’s attempt to rectify some of the inherent racist elements that have long been a part of the game. It’s all fantasy, sure, but there’s perhaps something icky about stating that all High Elves are, at a base level, +1 smarter than all Orcs, for example. 

(Aware of the potential backlash to this change, D&D’s Lead Rules Designer Jeremey Crawford stresses that DMs are totally free to use the standard array of stats for their table. That just isn’t the default anymore.)

The new rules disconnect cultural characteristics from the physical or magical ones, which Crawford says has other benefits, too. For one thing, the new book removes setting-specific information about the races, which combined with the more flexible stat alignment should make them easier to slot into any fantasy world rather than be constrained by the mythology of the Forgotten Realms setting, for instance. That’s a big focus of the book, as the "Multiverse" in the title implies. All the player races and monsters in it are meant to be as universal as possible.

Furthermore, the old way of creating characters made it so some races were poor choices for certain classes. A gnome with a +2 Intelligence stat was always going to have a leg up as a Wizard over a Dragonborn whose +2 to Strength would be wasted on the spellcaster.   

“For quite some time, we have not liked how the choice of race in the game had often too much weight on the players’ choice of class,” Crawford said at a press preview. “That connection between race and class is not something as game designers that we actually desire.”

Additionally, many of the player races in Monsters of the Multiverse have gotten buffed since their original appearance, gaining new spellcasting abilities, resistances, or other tweaks that make them more powerful (and appealing) options. The exact nature and full extent of these changes have yet to be revealed.

“In general, these races all got more powerful. And part of that was when we looked at them all together, we needed to bring some of them up,” Crawford says.

Not every race got changed for the book, though. The Fairy and Harengon races, which made their debut in last year’s Wild Beyond the Witchlight adventure, are the same, in part because Crawford revealed that those two races were actually supposed to debut in this book rather than Wild Beyond the Witchlight. Supply chain issues pushed the D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set’s release back and Witchlight came out first. (Those supply chain issues are also why D&D is releasing a “gift set” the month after Christmas.)

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The second half of Monsters of the Multiverse features monsters, some 250 of them. Almost all of these monsters will be familiar to 5th Edition die-hards, as they’ve been collected from previous releases. What few “new” monsters feature in the book are, for the most part, variants of existing foes. A sidebar in the entry for the Shadow Mastiff in Volo’s Guide to Monsters tells DMs how they could customize the beast to make a stronger Shadow Mastiff Alpha. Monsters of the Multiverse goes the extra mile and just makes a full stat block for the canine variant. Another newer monster, a Delighter Dolphin, is a telepathic, teleporting fey spin on the existing dolphin entry. 

“To be clear, most of the monsters in this book are friends and foes that have previously appeared in this book,” Crawford stresses. “Most of them are creatures like the Shadow Mastiff alpha that were suggested in the previous book but are now fleshed out here. It’s not like there are a bunch of new monsters but you’ll meet them here and there as you go through the book.” 

But, the bestiary section or Monsters of the Multiverse is hardly a straight-up reprint — and even if it were, having all these scattered monsters in one place and properly alphabetized would still be a godsend for DMs who no longer have to juggle a half-dozen or more books. 

Crawford says the D&D team “created a set of monsters and NPCs that DMs will be happy to use no matter what kind of D&D campaign that they’re running no matter what corner of the D&D multiverse they’re in.”

That meant tweaking some of the lore to make the beasts more setting-agnostic as well as efforts to make each monster feel like “the best version of itself” — a monster that could be a worthy opponent to any adventuring party, anywhere. For many monsters, that means they got stronger. 

“Many of these monsters, especially the higher challenge rating ones, are far more dangerous than the last time they appeared in print,” Crawford says, explaining that while no CR has been changed, many monsters have been given more options. Previously, many monsters needed to be run a very specific way by the DM in order for them to live up to their challenge rating. If a DM didn’t play them in an optimized way, they underwhelmed. To fix this, many monsters have additional options a DM could call upon in combat, giving them more paths to being the threat their CR implies. 

In general, the monsters section of the book aims to make DMs’ lives easier, like by simplifying how monsters cast spells. Rather than have to flip over to the Player’s Handbook to run a magical monster whenever they cast a spell, DMs have everything they need right in the stat block.

“We’ve made a number of spellcasting monsters easier to run,” Crawford says.“They still have spellcasting but it’s going to be a bit less overwhelming for DMs to use those monsters.”

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The D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set retails for $169.99 and will be available on Jan 25.

A standalone physical copy of Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse won’t be for sale until May 17, with preorders starting today. The Gift Set will have a standard edition and an alternate version with distinctive art available exclusively at game stores, as has been the trend with recent D&D releases. 

Monsters of the Multiverse is an interesting release from D&D. Though it’s far more than just a reprint of old material, it is essentially an updated version of existing content. That’s neat, but it also is a signal of where D&D is going. The game’s 5th edition has been around since 2014 and is only getting more popular. As such, there isn’t really an incentive to throw it all away and start over from scratch with a 6th edition. And yet, there’s a lot about the game that needs to be updated or tweaked. Monsters of the Multiverse is doing just that, and there’s more to come.

During the press preview, Crawford teased that there were plans to give DMs more guidance on how to run a game in future products, as well as backwards compatible revisions of the core rules. 

“We are working on revisions of the core rulebook that will be backward compatible and that was in our mind as we worked on Monsters of the Multiverse,” he said. “When we were working on it we were already doing our other work as well and this book will be not only ready to go but will be ready to keep going for years to come.”