Monsters of the Multiverse

I’ve been sitting on Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (hereinafter referred to as Monsters of the Multiverse or simply Multiverse, because Mordenkainen’s got his name on another book already, and now he’s just attention-seeking) since January, as I’d been hoping to make more headway through some of the other books on my shelf. But, well, it’s just been released as a freestanding volume, and everyone’s talking about it, so I can’t let it sit any longer.

Monsters of the Multiverse collects 260 monsters—all the ones from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, as far as I can tell (ETA: Nope—the orc stat blocks from Volo’s are omitted, probably because they’re tied directly to the Forgotten Realms pantheon), plus the new dolphin delighter—and collects them in one volume, with revamped stat blocks. (Multiverse also collects all the post–Player’s Handbook race options that aren’t inextricably associated with some other specific setting, such as Ravnica or Ravenloft. Curiously, Eberron’s changelings and shifters are included, but kalashtar and warforged aren’t. PC options are outside the purview of this blog, anyway, so that’s all I’ll say on the topic.)

Multiverse is getting savaged by Amazon customers, although not as badly this week as it was last week, with the top recurring complaint being that it’s just a cash grab, selling Dungeon Masters content they already have. No. 1, I’m pretty sure that Wizards of the Coast never represented it as anything other than a revision of previous content, so don’t get mad at your own poor reading comprehension, and No. 2, I’m not sure that reviews of the product (the articulate, multi-paragraph kind, appearing in what we call “the media”) have made it clear just how much revision went into it.

Going through every stat block, a to z, I count only 60 that either aren’t changed at all or are changed only cosmetically. That leaves 200 that have received significant updates based on public opinion, playtesting or both.

Since I do happen to be pushing a book of tactical recommendations based on the stat blocks as they appear in Volo’s and Mordenkainen’s, I’m sure readers are wondering (a) what I think of the changes in Multiverse and (b) whether my tactical recommendations hold up after the changes.

In brief:

  • Mostly, I think the changes are very good. They’ll certainly make your job as a DM a lot easier. I do have a couple of quibbles, but they’re subjective in nature.
  • It depends on the monster.

Now to elaborate.

Certain formatting changes have been made across all stat blocks. The first one everyone will notice—and this has been called out many times in all those articulate, multi-paragraph reviews—is that bonus actions have been broken out into their own section, in between actions and reactions. That’s an immediate, obvious quality-of-life benefit. But DMs who aren’t trained editors may not notice other small improvements, like the fact that the names of attack actions are now always capitalized within stat blocks—it’s always “Bite,” for instance, never just “bite”—and lair actions and regional effects are named the same way traits and actions are.

The most common mechanical change is adjustments to hit dice. Many monsters have received a teensy buff of a single hit die, that one handful of additional hit points being sufficient to keep them from feeling like pushovers, while the yuan-ti anathema is beefed up with a whopping 11 more hit dice than before. Meanwhile, poor Zariel—too tough, was she?—has had 11 hit dice taken away. Most of the time, though, you can count the hit dice gained or lost on one hand.

Although I’ve never run a campaign that ventured into the lower planes, I’m inferring that barbarians have hitherto posed a big problem to high-level fiends, because Monsters of the Multiverse seems to take every one of their attacks that formerly dealt physical damage (bludgeoning, piercing or slashing) and converted that damage to an elemental or mystical type (acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder, necrotic, psychic, radiant or force), perhaps to ensure that all that damage makes it through rather than get lopped in half by a barbarian Rage. Meanwhile, the Magic Weapons trait has been axed entirely, probably because being resistant to physical damage from nonmagical weapons is a monster thing, not a PC thing. Also, if a PC should happen to summon a monstrous ally with that kind of damage resistance, the issue is moot if you’re already replacing the physical damage from monsters that used to have Magic Weapons with other damage types. First and foremost, though, I think it’s an anti-barbie measure.

Keen senses of all sorts are a thing of the past; monsters that used to possess them now have double proficiency in Perception. I’m of two minds about this change, mainly with respect to Keen Smell. I liked, and still like, the idea that there are creatures that know you’re there and can figure out where you are even if they can’t hear or see you. On the other hand, having advantage from one source nullifies any advantage you might receive from some other source. A creature that previously had Perception +3 and Keen Smell and that now has Perception +5 can potentially gain advantage from some other source and jack that up to an effective +9 or +10. Also, it’s easy to forget that lightly obscured visibility imposes disadvantage only on Perception checks that rely on sight. A monster can always choose to listen for its enemies, or sniff the air, and make its Perception check straight, rather than with disadvantage. It will simply have to make its attack roll with disadvantage if it knows where you are but still can’t see you.

There are only three creatures with False Appearance in Monsters of the Multiverse (the sacred statue, the stone cursed and the trapper), but in each case, the way this trait works has been changed. Instead of effectively granting automatic surprise, the creatures’ disguise is penetrable by a DC 18 Intelligence check, a big boon to PCs with the Observant feat. In return, False Appearance grants advantage on initiative rolls, increasing the likelihood that these creatures will get their two licks in before the PCs can respond. This change is constant across all three stat blocks, and I expect that we’re going to see this new implementation become universal in the not too distant future.

I intend to come back to spell lists another time and examine them in greater detail than I have this past week, but one thing I notice at first glance is that certain spells of a particularly coercive nature seem to have been purged from all monster stat blocks. Feeblemind, geas and imprisonment, as far as I can tell, are history, presumably on the principle that PCs should never be knocked out of the action completely. (ETA: A couple of monsters can still cast feeblemind. The greater issue is probably that geas and imprisonment both take 1 minute to cast, and the Spellcasting action now comprises only spells that take 1 action to cast.) Charm person/monster and dominate person/monster still exist, but these spells at least allow PCs’ players to roleplay a heel turn for a bit rather than be relegated to spectating.

Much has been made of the collapsing of Spellcasting and Innate Spellcasting into a single trait, called Spellcasting, that designates spells as either “at will” or “n/day.” This change is a real mixed bag, and it’s the one area in which I have some reservations about Monsters of the Multiverse, but it does have one indisputable benefit: It cuts back on the supermarket fatigue generated by long lists of spells. True, the bookkeeping problem of tracking spell slots isn’t eliminated by tracking uses per day instead. But one thing you can do is write your monster’s spells on a sheet of paper as part of your prep, then cross them off, or write tally marks across them, as your monster casts them. That’s far more manageable.

One objection to this change in monster spellcasting is that it drastically reduces the utility of counterspell, as many monsters have had offensive spells replaced with spell attack actions that aren’t technically spells and therefore can’t be countered. I don’t think this criticism is invalid, but I do think it’s somewhat overblown, since the new spell attack actions are mostly just damage-dealing “zaps” without lasting side effects aside from hit point loss. In fact, I think a bigger objection than whether they can be counterspelled is that they’re just not that interesting. They’re mage lasers. They’re the kind of thing that video games use to enable spellcasters to deal damage, since the full range of what’s imaginable with spellcasting is far too broad to implement in a video game, and as such, they come off to me as extremely video-gamey.

Meanwhile, the marut’s Justify action has been changed to an ability to cast plane shift three times per day. Before, it was just doing a thing. Now, it’s casting a spell—which means it can be counterspelled! The unerring, unstoppable marut suddenly has a loophole! That, to me, is a lot wilder than turning fireball into Ball of Fire, the ranged spell attack.

Anyway, the other thing I find disappointing about the change in Spellcasting is that warlocks’ spells are always cast at their base levels, never boosted. To me, that’s a tremendous loss. The fact that boostable spells are automatically boosted in power as warlocks increase in level is one of the most interesting things about warlocks. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see “(as a 5th-level spell)” after just one spell in a warlock stat block.

Aside from these things, there are a handful of minor, clarity-improving language tweaks, making traits and actions easier to read and adjudicate (“up to four of its allies,” for instance, becomes “up to four other creatures,” eliminating the need to think about who is and isn’t an ally). Also, a new boilerplate trait, Unusual Nature, has been added to many creatures’ stat blocks to spell out that they don’t need to eat, sleep or breathe, in case you were unsure. Finally, in the sensitivity realm, references to madness and insanity have been scrubbed (with one exception that slipped through: the regional effect of an elder brain lair that makes creatures feel like they’re being followed, which is now called “Paranoia”).

By and large, these changes are improvements. Given a choice between using the old stat blocks and the new, I’d lean toward the new. In some cases, it’s not even a contest: New is better. If you already own Volo’s and Mordenkainen’s, even if you’re on the fence about buying Monsters of the Multiverse in hardcover, I’d strongly suggest unlocking access to the new stat blocks in D&D Beyond, for instance, if you use that service (I plan to). But really, the hardcover isn’t a bad purchase, either. If you can’t comfortably afford to buy it, you can probably do without it, but if you can comfortably afford it, it’s worth getting.

I’d almost say, in fact, that Monsters of the Multiverse is less of a must-buy if you don’t already have Volo’s and Mordenkainen’s, and the reason for that is the indispensable lore content in the latter two books, particularly with respect to hags (in Volo’s), fiends (in Mordenkainen’s) and gith (also in Mordenkainen’s). This lore content is absent from Multiverse, I assume because it’s not multiversal enough, which is a terrible shame; it should be available somewhere. Mind you, some of the other lore content in those books is about as far from indispensable as you can get—I’m thinking in particular of the elf stuff—and even the best material has elements that you can feel free to discard. But let me tell you, without the boost I got from “Hags: Dark Sisterhood” in chapter 1 of Volo’s, I couldn’t have created Baba Obmorozhenya, the grandmother bheur hag in my upcoming book How to Defend Your Lair.

Now, for those of you who are wondering whether to buy MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing—or have bought it already and are wondering how it holds up in conjunction with Monsters of the Multiverse—I have some good news and some bad news.

Here’s the good news: Sixty monsters are unchanged, or essentially unchanged. Eighty-six are altered in small ways that don’t affect their tactics at all. Together, these account for slightly more than half of Monsters of the Multiverse.

Now the bad news: One hundred twelve monsters have had changes to their traits and/or actions significant enough to have an impact on their tactics, and I’ll be examining those in the coming weeks. (Correction: It’s actually 87 altered in minor ways and 111 altered significantly. You’re keeping track, I’m sure.)

Even this news isn’t all that bad, though, because one thing that hardly ever changed in any of these stat blocks was a monster’s ability scores. Only four creatures—the archdruid, the flind, and the warlocks of the Fiend and the Great Old One—underwent changes to their ability scores, and these changes were minor. (OK, there was a fifth, the meenlock, whose Strength was raised by 1—which had no effect on its Strength modifier. This change may be the most mystifying in the entire book.) Point being, if the ability scores don’t change, the ability contour doesn’t change; if the ability contour doesn’t change, the combat role doesn’t change; and if the combat role doesn’t change, then tactic selection is mostly a function of what actions (bonus actions, reactions, spells) are available. In many cases, if something you were planning to do is missing from the new stat block, you can just skip it and move on to the next best thing.

That said, there are also interactions between traits and/or actions to consider, as well as changes to action economy (e.g., actions becoming bonus actions), and that’s what I’ll be focusing on in upcoming posts as I work my way through those 112 significantly altered monsters. So go ahead, buy the book, then check back here for updates!

Unchanged (or Essentially Unchanged)

champion, chitine, cranium rat
darkling, darkling elder, derro, dinosaur (all of them), dolphin
elder tempest
frost salamander
giant strider, gnoll flesh gnawer, gnoll hunter, guard drake
kobold dragonshield, korred
maurezhi, meazel, mindwitness, Mouth of Grolantor
oblex spawn, ogre bolt launcher, ogre chain brute
quickling
redcap, retriever
sea spawn, sorrowsworn (the Hungry, the Lonely, the Lost and the Wretched), spawn of Kyuss, star spawn grue, star spawn hulk, star spawn seer, steeder (female and male), swashbuckler, sword wraith warrior, sword wraith commander
tanarukk, tlincallis, tortle
vampiric mist, vegepygmy, vegepygmy chief, (vegepygmy) thorny
warlord, wastrilith, wood woad

Minor Changes

abishai (black, white), allip, annis hag, archer, armanite, astral dreadnought
balhannoth, banderhobb, berbalang, bheur hag, bodak, boggle, boneclaw, bulezau
cadaver collector, canoloth, catoblepas, cave fisher, choker, clockworks (bronze scout, iron cobra, oaken bolter, stone defender), corpse flower, cranium rat (swarm)
death kiss, devourer, dhergoloth, draegloth, drow house captain, duergar hammerer, duergar screamer
eidolon, eladrin (summer), elemental myrmidon (all)
fire giant dreadnought, firenewt warrior, flind, frost giant Everlasting One
gauth, gazer, giff, girallon, githyanki kith’rak, gnoll witherling, gray render, grung, grung elite warrior, grung wildling
hellfire engine, hobgoblin Iron Shadow, howler
kobold inventor, kruthik (young, adult, hive lord)
meenlock, merrenoloth
nabassu, narguzon, neogi, neogi hatchling, neothelid, nightwalker, nupperibo
ogre howdah
phoenix
rutterkin
shadow mastiff, shadow mastiff alpha, shoosuva, skulk, sorrowsworn (the Angry), steel predator, stone cursed, storm giant Quintessent
trapper, troll (dire, rot, spirit, venom)
yeth hound, yuan-ti broodguard
zaratan

Changes to Traits/Actions/Spells

abishai (blue, green, red), alhoon, alkilith, amnizu, archdruid
babau, Bael, Baphomet, bard, barghest
choldrith, cloud giant Smiling One
deathlock, deathlock mastermind, deathlock wight, deep scion, Demogorgon, derro savant, drow arachnomancer, drow favored consort, drow inquisitor, drow matron mother, drow shadowblade, duergar despot, duergar kavalrachni, duergar mind master, duergar soulblade, duergar stone guard, duergar xarrorn, dybbuk
eidolon sacred statue, eladrin (autumn, spring, winter), elder brain
firenewt warlock of Imix, flail snail, Fraz-Urb’luu, froghemoth
Geryon, githyanki gish, githyanki supreme commander, githzerai anarch, githzerai enlightened, Graz’zt
hobgoblin Devastator, Hutijin, hydroloth
Juiblex
kirin, kobold scale sorcerer, kraken priest
leucrotta, leviathan
martial arts adept, marut, master thief, maw demon, merregon, Moloch, molydeus, morkoth
nagpa, neogi master
oblex (adult, elder), ogre battering ram, oinoloth, Orcus, orthon
shadar-kai (gloom weaver, shadow dancer, soul monger), sibriex, skull lord, slithering tracker, star spawn larva mage, star spawn mangler, stone giant Dreamwalker, swarm of rot grubs
Titivilus, tortle druid
ulitharid
vargouille
war priest, warlock (Archfey, Fiend, Great Old One), wizard (apprentice, abjurer, conjurer, diviner, enchanter, evoker, illusionist, necromancer, transmuter)
xvart, xvart warlock of Raxivort
yagnoloth, Yeenoghu, yuan-ti (anathema, broodguard, mind whisperer, nightmare speaker, pit master)
Zariel, Zuggtmoy

17 thoughts on “Monsters of the Multiverse”

  1. Part of what surprised me in the book was the lack of overall organization compared to previous books. There were a few things that were kept together like all the drow were with each other and all the duergar were in one section, but like the demon princes were just scattered around the book, and chitines and choldriths weren’t together. For the most part related monsters weren’t grouped together or anything like they have been in previous books.

  2. I don’t own the book (and don’t plan too any time soon, I don’t have so much disposable income to justify it) but I have had a quick look at some of the stat blocks for comparison. Not that many though. I didn’t notice many big changes. The quality of life stuff is fine, happy to see it. The change to spellcasting I have mixed opinions on. I never had trouble with the default spell slot system, but even I have to admit its partly because I try my best not to run more than one spellcaster at a time (more if they aren’t complicated spell lists). And the new system tends to slash some flavourful non-combat spells, and I liked those. But I’ll admit right now that my argument is weak. I know full well that tons of other people found managing spellcasters in combat tricky, so all in all I agree with the change.

    The one stat block I noticed that was actually overhauled was the winter eladrin. If other stat blocks with major changes got this kind of update, then I’m all for it. It always seemed odd to me that the winter eladrin essentially only had actions available for two rounds before it had to bounce. The overhaul not only makes its melee attack worthwhile, but lets it combine spells and attacks, while swapping its big damage spells for field control effects. This puts it much more in line with the other three rather than being the odd outlier of a blasty evocation wizard in a lineup of tricksy spellblades

  3. I disagree that folks who take issue with that it’s just reprints lacked reading comprehension. I have emails from D&D Beyond that literally say “GET NEW MONSTERS!”

        1. That email literally does not say “GET NEW MONSTERS!”

          Plus the product page that email leads to – in every single bullet point it mentions that it is updating and bringing together material from other books. Then in the rest of the product description it even clearly states it is “Compiling and updating monsters that originally appeared in Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.”

          In the Amazon description, the second sentence is literally “Compiling and updating monsters that originally appeared in previous D&D fifth edition releases, these creatures represent some of the most benevolent and malevolent forces that D&D heroes might face.” And, yet again, the entire rest of the description mentions repeatedly that the book is updates and bringing together existing material from into one book.

          So if it is not a failure of reading comprehension, then it is willful misinterpretation and ignoring what it written right there in the product description.

          1. You’re right. It doesn’t say GET NEW MONSTERS. I misremembered. It does however say “New Monsters are Here” and again use language in the initial pitch like “**Fresh** Stat Blocks” “Exciting **New** Content.”
            They’re clearly using language that doesn’t read as “updates and errata.” They aren’t lying. it is a Fresh Stat Block. There is some new content. But if you say NEW CONTENT 30+ RACES AND 250 MONSTERS you don’t think that reads like “oh some of these monsters and races are new?”

            I’m honestly not trying to start a fight or get involved in a back and forth. I’m too bloody old for it and frankly there is too much of it in this hobby to begin with. But if you think nothing else of what I say please consider this. Not everyone who plays D&D has their eye on every announcement and update that comes down the line. Or is so involved in the community that they might create or design their own products. There are loads of casual fans out there and if they get an email that says “New Monsters are Here” and “Fresh Stat Blocks” “Exciting New Content etc” Come on and buy it! and then they found it to be updates of monsters they already have? Its a bummer.

            I don’t think this is a bad product. On the contrary. I think its a good book full of cool monsters ESPECIALLY for a new player or DM. (some updates I don’t love but in general the monsters from those orig books are interesting and remain interesting) They can buy 1 book instead of 2 and it combines a bunch of far flung races into 1 place. That’s great. This is clearly the first step toward 5.5e. I however do take some issue with how it was casually marketed. Again you can think whatever you want, go ahead and call all those people willfully ignorant or whatever. But clearly there are a number of people who didn’t think it was terribly clear.

  4. I must admit I am a little bit disappointed by the changes to spellcasting. Gripes about what counts as a spell aside, the choice to remove flavourful, non-combat, or “un-fun” spells is very disappointing because it changes to focus for these monsters from NPCs to combatants. Spells like Scrying or Geas are very important for how monsters act outside of combat, because they directly inform the monster’s available choices when trying to achieve their goals. Whilst I agree that imprisonment is not a fun spell to be hit with as a PC, that sort of advice is more in the territory of what constitutes good DMing than good monster design – there are many, many ways to make combat boring for a single player without casting imprisonment, but removing the spell entirely strips us of wonderful opportunities to build plot hooks and story beats around imprisoned enemies. I’m aware that DMs are empowered to change whatever they like about statblocks and I’ve heard the argument that you can just change whatever you want as a DM, but it misses the point that good dm tools make the job much easier. Furthermore, new DMs who start with multiverse will not have the historical precedence to add interesting non combat features to monsters, encouraging a new generation of players to think of the game as combat first and a role playing living world second.

    1. Agreed. Removing a spell like Geas from a creature’s repertoire also removes the encounter building-block that such a creature is likely to have Geas’d minions. The whole game diminishes as a result.

      1. To expand even further, it’s not even as though Imprisonment is a spell that players are in danger of being hit by; it’s got a full minute of casting time, with material components, meaning even a concealed creature with Subtle Spellcasting will reveal both their position and the fact that they are casting a spell the second they begin. I can’t think of a single combat encounter that actually lasts a full ten rounds, without it being a gigantic, end-of-campaign finale featuring multiple BBEGs. And even then, all that is needed to shut it down and force a restart is for the paladin to go supernova and deal damage so massive that the concentration check DC is literally too high to meet, because, oops, casting a spell with a casting time greater than an action/bonus action/reaction requires concentration. Even the cleric that chose violence and prepared Harm could achieve this. It’s just a complete nothing of a complaint.

        And even then, you can always spin things so that there’s something for the player to do. Maybe they do get Imprisoned, inside a cage-shaped demiplane. Well, cool. The interior of the cage is inscribed with arcane runes that bind them to the demiplane, but the PC is a wizard and now has an opportunity to make Arcana checks to learn the spell. Or maybe they decipher a weakness within the runes and relay it via Sending to their comrades in battle, allowing the Imprisonment to be dispelled by less than a 9th-level Dispel Magic. Or maybe they’re not a caster at all, and the interior of their prison contains a bas relief spelling out a secret weakness of the imprisoning caster, allowing the imprisoned PC to continue participating via learning this secret in pieces during their turns. Like. Just be a good DM. Pew-pew spells make combat a little simpler, but if I wanted pew-pew spells I’d just turn on Dark Souls and run Soul Arrow. The changes bother me because they reduce a game that is built upon complex problem-solving and imagination to something much more bland and generic. Oh well.

  5. Thank you, as someone that owns virtually every book Mordenkainen’s draws from I was debating whether there was any point in getting it. This was a very useful article.

    It sounds like the changes are a real mixed bag as, for example, I hate losing flavorful spells like Geass on monsters but I do like the ability to determine a chest is a Mimic by making an Investigate check.

  6. WotC explained some of the changes pretty well in a blog post.
    https://dnd.wizards.com/sage-advice/creature-evolutions

    Here is the part about Spellcasting.

    The Spellcasting action doesn’t use spell slots. A creature can cast the action’s spells a certain number of times per day.
    The only spells that appear in the Spellcasting action are ones that take an action to cast. If a spell requires a bonus action, a reaction, or a minute or more to cast, that spell must appear elsewhere in the stat block. This change ensures that bonus actions and reactions—such as misty step and shield—aren’t hiding out in a list of spells.
    We’re more selective about which spells appear in a stat block, focusing on spells that have noncombat utility. A magic-using monster’s most potent firepower is now usually represented by a special magical action, rather than relying on spells.

    This is why Geas, and Imprisonment are gone.

  7. Most people believe that errata and updates on existing content should not require additional payment on digital content)?
    Isn’t it legitimate?

    1. People’s belief that they shouldn’t have to pay for the work that other people do shouldn’t be taken seriously.

      Producing Monsters of the Multiverse clearly required an enormous amount of work.

  8. Having both Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes in digital, I was looking forward to buy Monsters of the Multiverse in hard cover and I was quite motivated.

    But at the last minute I realised that all the monsters lore when out of the window, which was a good third of the previous books.

    It was imho the best things in these books, esp. in Volo’s, and now the new version is just players races and monsters stats block.

    I think this is disappointing to the point where I would recommend to a new DM to get the old books and forget about this one.

    Stat blocks are immensely overrated, there are already tons of them everywhere (Draconix, Kobold Press, Monte Cook, and many more…) and they’re not what a DM needs cause it’s easy to create your own.

    Stories behind Beholders or Mind Flayers are of much more value cause they trigger your imagination in a more effective way.

    So MMoM is clearly disappointing, especially after Fizban Treasury of Dragon which made a huge deal of sparkling imagination for adventures and campaigns.

    I think the intention was good (it was not just cash grabbing to me) but the execution is a failure.

    Too bad.

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