Sunday, June 3, 2018

Some thoughts about Mordenkainen's Tome of WORDS


Words Words Words

Words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words oh God make it stop.

It is legitimately difficult to read the first five chapters. Eyes go glazed like a donut almost immediately. It is so bloated, so vacuous, so pointless. It's the text equivalent of using sawdust to extend mashed potatoes. Sifting through for the interesting stuff is a chore, made worse because there is actually good stuff in there, but there is a tenth as much usable material in a book of this length as there should be.

The Blood War is nonsense

I actually really like the law / chaos division between devils and demons, I even like them fighting each other, but this is nonsense. An entire chapter is spent detailing in painful specificity their endless conflict, and not once did I see the prhase

"relatavistic kill vehicle wreathed in holy fire accompanied by hosts of kung-fu orbital drop shock angels."

in the entire blasted thing. It's a prime scenario for the players to get their E1M1 on, and there is no support for that whatsoever. There's some babblety-bibble about keeping balance between the two forces so that neither wins, but that is boring.

Devil military units being named like Culture spaceships is cool though.

The new elf lore is pretty okay when you strip away the WORDS

Corellon is an abusive dad-mom who has entrapped his/her children in a neverending cycle of death and rebirth, unable to permanently return to elf heaven, in which they are perpetually reminded of all their past lives and the boundless disappointment of their mother-father, because he-she disapproves of their life choices. The book tries to frame this as a good thing, but Corellon's really just an asshole.

The whole "elves can transition their sex" thing is limp-wristed faffery, so I am going to stat up Gethenians instead

Gethenian player characters receive the following traits:
  • +1 to two chosen attributes, +1 CON
  • Immunity to all cold weather effects above freezing, and resistance to all cold damage.
  • Kemmer - Gethenians have a 26-28 day sexual cycle, as follows:
    • Day 1 - Day 21 / 22 - Sexually inactive, no outward sex traits.
    • Day 18 - Preparatory hormonal changes are triggered, individual remains androgynous.
    • Day 22 / 23 - Individual enters first stage kemmer. Will only gain sex traits in the presence of another individual also in kemmer. Establishment of sex takes 2-20 hours. The sex assumed by an individual in kemmer is random.
    • Day 24 - 28 - Culmination of kemmer, height of sexual drive. If conception has not taken place, individual returns to latent state within a few hours. A pregnant individual will remain female for 8.4 months gestation and further 6-8 months of lactation.

Lolth is Darth Vader now

The book inadvertently her look sort-of in the right, at least in the beginning. She started out heading the faction of primal elves that wanted static bodies so they could do something with their lives instead of farting about being fey and twee and mystical all the time.

She immediately takes a heel-turn into weird femdom fascism, so that doesn't last long.

I should note that, in circumstances where elves are not nature spirits intrinsically linked to the earth, I prefer drow (for many strange and silly reasons, stone me as appropriate), so I am absolutely reading this as pro-Corellon propaganda and presuming that there is a far longer period of being a hero for a people who just want to live their own lives outside of the whims of their mom-dad before she falls and goes femdom fascist.

Also Ellistrae is Luke, I guess.

The Duergar did nothing wrong

Moradin is just a dick who blames the victim. They're got the best lore so far, too - duergar are teetotalers because booze triggers their horrific ancestral-memory PTSD.

The Astral Plane is apparently just space, but filled with god corpses

Right then, I know where we're headed in the future.

The art is excellent 

This really isn't much of a point, as the official 5e stuff is overall fantastic. This keeps up the good trend.There are a few re-used assets here and there, but hey, I don't own those books.

None of the archdevils are wearing business suits, though

This is a silly way of saying that I don't feel that there's enough stylistic differentiation in how devils and demons are presented. The archdevils do not say "this is a being of terrible law" to me. The demon designs are okay, though. They get the point across.

The bestiary is A++  

Now we get into the actual good stuff. The major complaints are done and over with, this is the worthwhile part of the book. They brought their A-game, and it's nice to see that there's life still the dusty corporate bones


While part of me says it'd make more sense for hippo-headed guys to be demons, on account of the oceans of bloodshed that inventively follow in their wake, I love seeing them. You can do silly British voices for them, it's great.

Seasonal Eladrin get a thumbs up 

Anything that makes elves more nature-spirit-like and less like humans with pointy ears is great in my book. The art for them is fantastic, too. It's mostly just ornamental, but hey, it's something. 

Sorrowsworn are better demons than the demons are

They're the embodiments of mundane aspects of suffering: anger, hunger, loneliness, being lost, overall wretchedness. They make sense as lost souls given in to despair. I want to use these guys to that very end. They get the point across.

Star Spawn get the short end of the stick

Five monsters with one piece of art. There's so much space wasted on elf gods and halflings being twee, but we get no support for the big lads from beyond the stars. There's a name list and some cultist blessings, and that's it. Why bother having them, then? Devote to your bit, guys! They have always felt like a fifth wheel, and that's because they never get the support that's needed. I'd almost want to devote a lore chapter to them, but that would involve making a large new lore thing that shakes up the status quo. Having nothing is probably better.

Final thoughts

This is a book that epitomizes "if you want something done right, you'll have to do it yourself." If you want it to work, you have to work for it. In a lot of cases I would say that the work required isn't worth it, but here that's not really the case. Long expanses of WORDS are annoying only as long as I have to read them, and I shan't be doing much of that. I've got sticky notes, I can find what I like and ignore the rest. The bestiary is what I am here for, and it has delivered. I'm interested in 5e for the first time in a very long time, so that is an accomplishment in itself. I want to run something with this book. It seeks to be used...

Guess what time it is, kids

You know exactly what time it is.


  1. It's not a Planescape supplement, but as with horseshoes and hand grenades, "close enough" works.

  2. You stated up the Gethians. Left Hand of Darkness is one of my favorite books of all time. I goddamn love you Dan.

    1. I finished the book just recently, and it's absolutely one of the best pieces out there.

  3. I agree with your thoughts on it. WORDS are there mainly for two reasons. They need to justify the list price, development cost, and time between releases. And they want the book to be valuable to players and DMs. Regardless, I still think it's the best release they've had so far.

    They're supposed to be announcing several new setting books soon, so there's still hope for a Planescape supplement/primer. Though expectations are for Eberron, Dark Sun, and Spelljammer.

  4. What does the whole "delativistic" spiel mean?

    1. A very stupid non joke. The actual sentence is

      "relatavistic kill vehicle wreathed in holy fire accompanied by hosts of kung-fu orbital drop shock angels."

      Actually, yeah, I'll edit that.